Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi ibn Sayyid Murtadha Tabatabai was born in Karbala, Iraq, on thursday in the month of Shawwaal in 1155 A H. His father was a well-known scholar renowned for his piety, and traditions talk about his father having a vision of Imam Ali Ridha (peace be upon him) in his dream giving him a brightly-lit candle, which was supposed to represent the light of knowledge and guidance his son would bring to the world.Education
He studied in Karbala under his father and several local scholars.
Emigration to Isfahan, Iran
In 1186, he traveled to Isfehan, where he studied philosophy under Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi Isfehani, a well-known scholar and philosopher. One day, his teacher was so impressed by his knowledge and intelligence that he remarked, “Truly you are Bahrul Uloom (a sea of knowledge)!” After that occasion, he continued to be known by that title.
Return to Karbala
Upon returning to Karbala, Sayyid Mahdi continued studying under Shaikh Yusuf Bahrani, a well-known Akhbari scholar. However, like many of his colleagues, he was soon influenced by the lectures of Waheed Behbahani, who spoke in favor of Usuli methodology and the use of reason and intellect rather than the blatant literalism of the Akhbaris. Along with Muhaqqiq al-Naraqi and Shaikh Ja’far Kashif al-Ghita, Sayyid Mahdi soon renounced his former Akhbari ideas and joined Allama Behbahani in his struggle to reestablish Usuli thought.
Upon the demise of his mentor, Sayyid Mahdi was recognized as one of the Religious Authories in the Shia world. He wrote extensively on matters of Ijtihad and jurisprudence, and his Fawaid Rijaliya and Fawaid Usuliya are considered extremely important works on jurisprudence.
His students included among the top scholars of the time, including Muhaqqiq al-Naraqi and Shaikh Ja’far Kashif al-Ghita, who, despite being his contemporaries, attended his lectures in recognition of his extensive knowledge. In fact, Shaikh Ja’far showed his respect and admiration for Sayyid Mahdi by wiping his shoes with the end of his turban!
In addition to his knowledge, Sayyid Mahdi was well-known for his piety and his high spiritual status. In fact, due to his great devoutness, scholars have placed him in a rank right after the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them). He was known to have met the Twelfth Imam (may Allah hasten his reappearance) several times, often spending hours at end discussing complex issues of jurisprudence with him and seeking his advice. Several eyewitnesses testify that whenever he approached the shrine of Amirul Momineen (peace be upon him) in Najaf at the time of Fajr, the shrine doors would miraculously open for him. In the hot summers of Karbalah, whenever he walked through the streets, a cloud was seen to always provide shade to him. His students attribute his high spiritual status to his piety, devoutness, and strong adherence to the laws of the Sharia.
In 1212 AH, this fountainhead of wisdom, knowledge, and piety passed away from this world. He was laid to rest in Masjid Tusi in Najaf.
Books and Compilations Allamah has written innumerable books which are replete with the gems of knowledge and wisdom. We mention some of them here:
1.Masabih fi sharhe-Mafatih- The book was on the subject of Fiqh
2.Ad durratu Najafiyah – The book is based on Taharat and Namaaz and a thousand poems/verses and their explanations.
3.Mishkatul Hidayah – Under the instructions of Allamah, the exegesis to the book was compiled by Shaikh Jaafar Kashiful Ghita (r.a.).
4.Al Fawaedul Usuliyah
5.Hashiyah Ala Taharatish Sharaae’ of al-Muhaqqiq Al Hilli
6.Al Fawaedul Rejaaliyah
7.Resalah fil Feraq wal Milal
8.Tohfatul Keraam fi Tarikhe Makkah wal Baitil Haraam
9. Sharh Babil Haqiqah wal Majaaz
10. Qawaedul Ahkaam ash shakuk
11. Ad durrul Bahiyyah nazm baa’az al masael al usuliyah
12. Deewan (which has over 1000 couplets)
(Foqaha-e-Naader Shia, pg. 1295 by Abdur Rahim Aqiqi Bakshaishi pub. by Kitab Khanae Ayatullah Mar’ashi) The title of ‘Bahrul Uloom’ was a gift of Imam-e-Zamana (a.t.f.s.)