Sayyid ‘Abd al-Husayn Sharaf al-Din was born in 1290 A.H. (1871 A.D.) in Kazimayn, Iraq, where his father Sayyid Yusuf was engaged in religious studies. There was scholarly strain in the young boy’s blood since his mother was the daughter of Ayatullah Sayyid Hadi Sadr and the sister of Ayatullah Sayyid Hasan Sadr, two of the prominent ‘ulama ‘ of those days. Al Sharaf al-Din and Al Sadr, were branches of the same Musawi family, being descended from Ibrahim al-Murtada the son of the 7th infallible Imam of the Prophet’s Household, Musa al-Kazim (‘a).
The two branches had produced some of the leading scholars of Islam, and incidentally the great 5th century A.H. prodigies of Baghdad, Sharif Murtada and Sharif Radi, also traced their lineage to Ibrahim al-Murtada. Sayyid ‘Abd al-Husayn Sharaf al-Din who was 38th in line of descent from Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.), was thus a fresh and unique face, and he has provided a lively account of the history of his family in his book titled Bughyat al-Raghibin fi Al Sharaf al-Din.Education
At the age of 8, Sayyid ‘Abd al-Husayn Sharaf al-Din returned to his ancestral place Jabal ‘Amil after completion of his father’s studies in Iraq.By the time he reached 17, and before leaving for the holy city of Najaf in Iraq for higher studies, he had learnt grammar, syntax, logic, usul, and the art of rhetoric (bayan) from his father. The next fifteen years were spent in mastering the sciences of jurisprudence, philosophy, exegesis, usul, hadith, and the chain of narrators.
Among his teachers were such learned men as Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Yazdi, Sayyid Isma’il Sadr, Akhund Khorasani, Shaykh al-Shari’ah Isfahani and his own maternal uncle Sayyid Hasan Sadr.Sayyid ‘Abd al-Husayn Sharaf al-Din soon established his reputation in Najaf as a brilliant scholar who never wasted a moment in his quest for knowledge. His restive spirit brought him into contact with the ‘ulama’ of Karbala’, Kazimayn, Samarra’ and other cities of Iraq, which he used to visit in order to engage in discourses and exchange of viewpoints with them. His sharp memory, keen intellect and analytical brain coupled with his authority over fiqh, usul and hadith, brought him admiration from even his seniors. He later gave a book form to his debates and discourses with the ‘ulama’ of Iraq and titled it ‘Madarik al-Ahkam.Probing of Facts
Upon his return home to Jabal ‘Amil from the theological centers of Iraq at the age of 32 around the year 1903 A.D., he found that his reputation as a young mujtahid had already preceded him. Syria, however, was a different turf when compared to Iraq and the young Sayyid Abd al-Husayn Sharaf al-Din was too dynamic a scholar to limit himself to the Shi’ite areas of Jabal ‘Amil and Ba’labak. Therefore, having sensed the need of Islamic awakening, he settled in Tyre and embarked on enlightening minds with the realities of Tashayyu’ in order to promote affinity between the juristic schools of Islam. He had access to a vast corpus of literature in hadith, sunnah, exegesis of the Holy Qur’an and history, which he widely and authoritatively reflected in his writings. He did not contend himself with his learning but made it the base for rationalistic expansion of Islamic sciences, thus making new springs of knowledge to flow.
In fact, he gave practical shape to the sayings of the infallible Imams, that be wu’at al-ahadith and not merely ruwat al-ahadith (Transmitters of traditions). Wu’at is the plural of wa’i which means having a correct perception and comprehension. The First Martyr in his al-Lum’ah al-Dimashqiyyah has given a beautiful description of wa’i. As a contemporary researcher Muhammad Reza Hakimi says, the genuine hadith is but an explanation of the universal outlook of the Holy Qur’an, and that the knowledge of the human mind, however vast, is like a candle in front of the bright sun when compared to the wisdom of the Holy Book. The hadith corpus thus requires proper probe and understanding and should be reciprocally substantiated by the contents of the Holy book for its genuine application, and this is what Sayyid Sharaf al-Din has tried to reflect in his works. He was not just a transmitter but a philosopher and reformer well versed in these sciences, which he gave new and practical meaning.
Sharaf al-Din’s efforts to split open the treasures of hidden knowledge bore fruits, because of his emphasis on the point that even the scholars of Sunni schools acknowledge as authentic, the traditions transmitted hy the Prophet’s AM al-Bayt. His keen mind dwelt on the dimensions of wilayat haqqah (authority of the divinely ordained), philosophy of politics and the ource of difference between Tashayyu’ and Tasannun, and analysed them.
Aqa Buzurg Tehrani says in this regard:
Sharaf al-Din read with diligence and analytical probe all hadith literature whether from the Prophet, his Ahl al-Bayt or his companions, both from the Sunni and Shi’ite sources, grasping their meaning and accurately outlining the issues as well as the obvious facts, that many scholars prior to him were ignorant of.
His knowledge of, and researches in history, ably substantiated his efforts to enlighten scholars of the concrete facts, thereby exposing the forgeries that had taken place in the earlier centuries.
One of his outstanding works in this regard was titled ‘Abu Hurayrah ‘. Sharaf al-Din in this book took a bold step by subjecting to close scrutiny the vast bulk of hadith quoted in Sunni works from Abu Hurayrah, who had accepted Islam only during the last two years of the Prophet’s life. The work is without the least prejudice and focuses on the life of Abu Hurayrah both before and after acceptance of Islam, his character, his inclinations, the period in which he lived and the political atmosphere of the times.
The dismantling of myths had an instant effect, and Shaykh Abu Rayyah, one of the leading Sunni ‘ulama ‘ of Egypt, wrote an identical research work titled ‘Shaykh al-Madayrah ‘, in which he presented the bare facts of Abu Hurayrah’s dubious personality and questioned the authenticity of most of his transmissions.
Aqa Buzurg in his voluminous account of scholars of the 14th century A.H., writes that Sayyid Sharaf al-Din subjected historical material to minute probe, sifting through the dusty accumulation of history with scientific precision, till be had separated the realities of Islam from myths and stories.
Quest for Islamic Unity
Sayyid Sharaf-al-Din had settled in the city of Tyre in southern Lebanon which had a sizable population of Sunni Muslims. In 1327 A.H., he published the book al-Fusul al-Muhimmah fi Tarikh al- Aimmah, emphasizing on the necessity of unity between the Sunnis and Shi’ites after outlining the dispute and differences between them.
One of the practical steps that he took towards Islamic unity was the celebration of Prophet Muhammad’s (S.A.W.) birth anniversary on 12th of Rabi’ al-Awwal, although according to the accounts of the Ahl al-Bayt the Prophet was born on the 17th of that month. He also used to visit the Sunni ‘ulama’ of Tyre on this day and felicitate them on the occasion.
His contention was: why should Muslims who believe in One God, one Prophet, one Book and bow towards the same qiblah five times a day, be divided in juristic matters because of their ignorance of the basic facts of their faith?
Travel to Egypt
He therefore set his eyes on broader horizons and in his quest for Islamic unity; he traveled to Egypt in 1331 A.H. (1912 A.D.). Egypt with al-Azhar as its religious centre was the prime seat of learning in the Sunni world, and here he had the opportunity to discuss his views with Egyptian ‘ulama ‘. Here he found eager ears, considering the fact that he was visiting the ‘Land of the Nile’, 15 years after the death of that prime torchbearer of Islamic unity, Sayyid Jamal al-Din Asadabadi, whose ideas and memory were very much alive in Egypt. During one of his speeches at al-Azhar on the differences between the Sunnis and Shi’ites, Sharaf al-Din used his now famous expression Farraqat huma al-Siyasah, Faltajma’ huma al-Siyasah, which means ‘Politics had separated them and Politics should join them’.
His speeches had a great impact on the Egyptian audience. The enlightened minds of al-Azhar welcomed his ideas, considering the crisis of identity the Islamic world was passing through on the eve of the First World War, with European colonialists looking for the slightest opportunity to ruin the life and beliefs of the Muslims. The Dean of al-Azhar, Shaykh Salim al-Bishri, a venerable scholar in his seventies, was impressed by the young 37 year old Sayyid, and thus was paved the ground for a dialogue which would eventually remove the misunderstanding of centuries.
Impact of the Book al-Muraja’at
The result of the meeting and the subsequent correspondence between these two open-minded scholars from two different juristic schools of Islam was the book al-Muraja’at, containing 112 letters. It is not only a testimony of the analytical mind of Sayyid Sharaf al-Din, but stands as firm proof of the scholarly credibility of Shaykh al-Bishri, who never for a moment showed the slightest bias for the school in which he had been brought up, and who after elaborate research and discussion acknowledged the concrete facts of Muhammadan Islam.
Sayyid Sharaf al-Din says of his meeting with Shaykh al-Bishri:
Long before the exchange of letters between me and Shaykh Salim al-Bishri, I was thinking of writing on such a topic, since from my early youth the idea of understanding and unity between Sunnis and Shi’ites was beating in my breast like the lighting which flashes in cumulus clouds… I always thought of finding ways of promoting understanding between Muslims and removing hatred from among them…We should all hold fast to the Rope of Allah and like brothers should tread the path of truth, and should support each other in the building of a strong, civilized, knowledgeable and practical society.
Shaykh al-Bishri, at the end of the lengthy correspondence with Sayyid Sharaf al-Din which spanned several years, said the following:
I bear witness that you believe in the same basic principles of faith and observe the same religious rites as did the Imams in the posterity of Muhammad (S). You have made this fact quite clear and have unmasked what was concealed. No sane person will have any doubt about it, and to create any doubt or confusion about it will be tantamount to intentionally misleading others. You have made the matter quite transparent and have enabled me to look through it… Before the truth dawned upon me through you, I was in great confusion and obscurity due to what I had heard about your religion from the mischievous and unjust spreaders of disconcerting news. When Allah kindly brought us together, I followed you till I came under the flag of guidance and the lamp in darkness, and when I departed from you I was prosperous and successful.
As anyone who has read the al-Muraja’at would know, the intention of these two great scholars was not to demonstrate their dogmatic expertise nor to stubbornly defend illogical concepts that had descended as part of faith from generation to generation, but it was to arrive at the ultimate truth in a calm and logical manner keeping with the instructions of the Holy Qur’an. It was this scientific probing of facts that paved the ground for Shaykh Mahmud Shaltut to issue in 1959 his famous verdict, part of which I quoted in the beginning of the article. Shaltut adds in his verdict:
The difference between the Ja’fari and Sunni schools is not greater than the difference among the Sunni schools themselves. They (the Ja’ fans) believe in the fundamental principles of Islam as they are stated in the Glorious Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet. They also believe in all the rules whose inclusion in the religion of Islam is self evident and whose recognition is required for being a Muslim and the denial of which excludes the person from Islam.
“Thus, Sayyid Sharaf al-Din’s great work proved a ray of guidance for persons groping in sectarian darkness. The book is an undeniable proof of the truth of the path of the Ahl al-Bayt who provides a perfect frame for Islamic unity. The path of the Imams of the Prophet’s Household, as pointed out in al-Muraja’at, serves as an exquisite mirror for the teachings of the Holy Qur’an, without which Muslims would be bereft of any worthy model, both in their struggle to build up the ideal society of Islam and for the eternal journey of their souls in the hereafter. The book admirably works as an open invitation towards unity and for closing of ranks among the different denominations of the Ummah in order to confront the plots of the enemies of Islam.
He left to the better world on Monday, the thirtieth of December, 1975 AD, the eighth of Jumada ath-Thaniyya,1377 A.H.
When the news of his death was announced, the people of the villages of Mountain Aamil gathered in Beirut to farewell their great religious leader. Beirut, with all its ulama, scholars, chiefs, politicians and the rest of people, went out. At the head were the ulama and the rulers. The honored coffin was put in a special airplane to Baghdad. The crowds of the Muslims were waiting for him. Baghdad and Kadhimiyya escorted him and then we went on towards Karbala. Every village on our way took its share of escorting. Karbala did the best in carrying funeral rites in a way that befitted the high position of the deceased man. When the coffin reached Najaf before the sunset, Najaf went out with its entire people; ulama, scholars, poets, notables and all classes of people. It was a memorable day that Najaf had never seen its like before. All that was because of the high position of the man inside the selves of all the classes of people due to his valuable works, his nonesuch scientific fame and his great favors on Islam and the Muslims.
The funerals were distinguished with quality and quantity in comparison with the other deceased ulama, who had been escorted before this man, although among them were some ulama, who had resided in Najaf and had the general authority of taqlid. He was buried in one of the rooms in the holy shrine of Imam Ali (s) on Wednesday, the first of January, 1958 / the tenth of Jumada ath-Thaniyya, 1377 A.H. with crying and moaning. The crowds of people cried and sighed bitterly over the great loss of this great man.
Here are the titles of his immortal works:
1. Al-Muraja’at: it is a sign and a miracle with its high eloquence, irrefutable evidences and honorable aim. It has been published twice during the lifetime of Sayyid Sharafuddeen and six times after his death. It has been translated into Persian, English and Urdu.
2. Al-Fusool al-Muhimma fee Ta’leef al-Umma: it is a loud cry in the way of uniting the umma. It has been published twice in Sayda (Sidon-Lebanon) and twice in Najaf (Iraq).
3. The Answers of Musa Jarullah: it is as answers on twenty questions offered by Musa Jarullah to the ulama of the Shia in the Islamic countries. These answers show his abundant knowledge and great information that suffice everyone looking for the truth. It has been published in Sayda in 1355 A.H./1936 AD. And another time in Sayda too in 1373/1953.
4. Al-Kalima al-Gharra’ fee Tafdheel az-Zahra’: It has been published in Sayda attached with the second edition Al-Fusool al-Muhimma. It shows the high position of Lady Fatima az-Zahra’ (s) and why she has been preferred to the all women of the world with irrefutable evidences.
5. Al-Majalis al-Fakhira fee Ma’atim al-Itra at-Tahira: it has been published in Sayda and Najaf. It shows the facts of the revolution of Imam Husayn
(s) and the favors of this revolution on Islam and the Muslims. Also it has sayings quoted from great foreign personalities, who have discovered the greatness of Islam via Imam Husayn (s) in his eternal revolution against the arrogants and injustice.
6. Abu Hurayra: It has been published in Sayda and then in Najaf twice. It is a new gate for understanding the prophetic traditions and interpreting them in the right way. He followed, in this way, the virtuous Egyptian allama Abu Riyya in his nonesuch book Sheikhul Madheera. How this umma is in need to approach to the truth and to be away from bad fanaticism!
7. An-Nass wel Ijtihad (this book): it is one of the profoundest Islamic studies in the present age. It has been published for the first time by the Society of Muntada an-Nashr in Najaf during the life of the author. Sayyid Sadruddeen Sharafuddeen (the author’s son) has published the second edition in Beirut with additions added by his father after leaving to the better world. It has been published by Darul Nahj Publications.
8. Falsafatul Meethaq wel Wilaya: published twice in Sayda. Although it is small in size, it is great in meaning and subject.
9. Masa’il Fiqhiyya (juristic questions): juristic subjects with profound research and accurate concepts showing the magnanimity and the abundant knowledge of the author. It has been published during the author’s life in Sayda and then in Egypt, Beirut and Kerbala.
10. Hawla ar-Ru’ya: a religious thesis discussing the matter of the impossibility of seeing Allah in a scientific way and by convincing evidences. It has been published in Sayda in 1370 A.H.
11. Ila al-Majma’ al-Ilmi (to the scientific convention): In this book he refutes the fabrications ascribed to the Shia and sends advices to the scientific convention inciting it towards agreement and to avoid disagreement and separation. It has been published in Sayda in 1369 A.H.
12. Bughyatur Raghibeen (manuscript): includes biographies of the famous personalities of the family of as-Sadr and Sharafuddeen with biographies of their teachers and students besides photos from those ages. It is one of the good books that is considered to be at the head of the books of biographies.
13. Thabtul Athbat fee Silsilatur Riwat: In this book he talks about his teachers and the great ulama of the Islamic sects in a wonderful style. It has been published in Sayda twice.
14. Zaynab al-Kubra (great Zaynab): a good thesis, in which he has talked about the high position of Lady Zaynab (Imam Ali’s daughter) (s) and her eternal situations in Islam. It was a speech he had made in the holy shrine of Lady Zaynab (s). It had been recorded and then published in Sayda.His lost works
Sayyid Sharafuddeen had written many books other than these mentioned above, which would have enriched the Arabic library with great knowledge, but the storm of France willed to blow them away during the events of the twentieths. The French burned them as they had burned the house before them. Whenever Sayyid Sharafuddeen remembered them, his soul was about to leave his body because of regretting. In order to immortalize those books, we mention them here:
1. Sharh at-Tabsira: in jurisprudence and in three volumes about purity, judgment, witnesses and inheritance.
2. Ta’leeqa ala al-Istis~hab: from the theses of Sheikh al-Ansari in Usool, one volume.
3. A thesis about the will of a sick man (who is about to die).
4. Sabeel al-Mu’mineen: about imamate, three volumes. Sayyid Sharafuddeen told me once that this book was the best of what he had ever written at that time. 5. An-Nusoos al-Jaleela: about imamate too. It had forty traditions agreed upon by all the Muslims and forty traditions from the sources of the Shia.
6. Tanzeel al-Aayat al-Bahira: about imamate, one volume depending on one hundred verses from the Holy Qur’an revealed about the imams according to the Sunni Sihah of traditions.
7. Tuhfatul Muhaditheen feema kharaja feehi as-Sunna minal Mudha’afeen: a unique book that no book had ever been written like it.
8. Tuhfatul Ass~hab fee Hukm Ahlil Kitab.
9. Ath-Tharee’a fir-Radd ala al-Badee’a: Badee’a of an-Nabhani.
10. Al-Majalis al-Fakhira: four volumes; the first about the life of the Prophet (s), the second about the life of Imam Ali, az-Zahra’ and Imam Hasan (peace be upon them), the third one about Imam Husayn (s) and the fourth about the other nine imams (s).
11. The writers of the Shia in the first age of Islam: some of its chapters have been published in al-Irfan Magazine.
12. Bughyatul Fa’iz fee Naql al-Jana’iz: most of it has been published in al-Irfan Magazine. It refuted those, who thought of the prohibition of transferring dead bodies (from a tomb to another).
13. Sir Bughyatus Sa’il an Lathm al-Anamil: including eighty traditions from the Sunni and the Shia.
14. Zakatul Akhlaq: some of its chapters have been published in al-Irfan Magazine.
15. Al-Fawa’id wel Fara’id.
16. A comment on Sahih of al-Bukhari.
17. A comment on Sahih of Muslim: these two books show clearly the abundant knowledge of Sayyid Sharafuddeen about the traditions and his great ability in refuting and concluding.
18. Al-Asaleeb al-Badee’a fee Rijhan Ma’atim ash-Shia: depending on rational and traditional evidences that prove the permissibility of practicing the obsequies by the Shia on their occasions.