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Sayyid Muḥammad Ṣadr

Place of birth: Najaf – Iraq


Sayyed Muhammad al-Sadr was born in the holy city of Najaf in 1943. He was an only child. His father Sayyed Muhammad Sadiq was a mujtahid (qualified to make independent juridical decisions), his grandfather and great-grandfather were marjas. His mother was the daughter of the late Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Muhammad Rida AleYasin, a prominent marja.

Ayatollah Sayyed Muhammad al-Sadr was a member of a distinguished Iraqi family who traced their genealogy back directly to the Prophet Mohamed (hence the title of Sayyed) and whose ancestors had lived in the region of Jabal Amil in present-day southern Lebanon.

Education and Teachers

Sayyed Muhammad al-Sadr was educated in Najaf, where in his advanced studies (Dars al-Kharij) his principal teachers were Sayyed Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, the Grand Ayatollah Abul-Qasim al-Khu’i and Sayyed Ruhollah al-Khomeini (may their soul rest in peace).

He became a mujtahid in the mid-1970s and in the early 1990s he published his own collection of fatwas in jurisprudence, his risala amaliyya, called al-Sirat al-Qaweem (“The Straight Path”) thereby signaling him to be recognized as a marja.

His Personality 

He was also known as a spiritual person; he prayed at night and was assiduous in arranging his time. Some charged him with ingratiating himself with the regime in Iraq, but the fact is that he had a considerable following among the Iraqi people which seems to have increased after the assassination of two marjas, the Ayatollahs Burujirdi and Gharawi, in April and June respectively last year.

Just over a year ago Ayatollah Sayyed Muhammad al-Sadr re-established the Friday Prayer and Sermon (khutba) in the great mosque of Kufa, a town outside Najaf, where the first Imam, Ali ibn Abi Talib, was murdered in AD 661. He instructed his deputies to do likewise in other towns throughout Iraq.

At the Friday Prayer a few weeks before his demise and wearing only a funeral shroud (kafan), which is considered a most pious act, albeit not a usual thing to do, the Ayatollah seemed to sense that his death was imminent when he urged the thousands of worshippers to continue praying the Friday Prayer after his death.


Sayyed Muhammed Al-Sadr was the author of many published books. The most important are his monumental four- volume encyclopedia (Mawsua) of the Imam al-Mahdi (the 12th Imam of the Shia, who is believed to have gone into occultation in AD 873/74) and his massive work on jurisprudence, Ma wara al-fiqh, of which more than 10 volumes have been published. He also wrote a book on Islam and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a volume on the fundamental beliefs of Islam (Aqaid). At least 20 works remain in manuscript form.


The February 19, 1999 AD on 4 Dhul-Qi’dah 1419 AH was a sad day for the family and the Muslim world. The Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammed Mohammed-Sadiq Al-Sadr (57 years), along with two of his sons, Sayyed Mustafa al-Sadr (34 years) and his younger brother Sayyed Mu’ammal al-Sadr, where murdered by Saddam’s regime in Iraq.  Riots erupted as a result of the masses hearing the news. Demonstrations took place throughout the world’s major cities. The news was covered extensively by many newspapers and news groups

The late Grand Ayatollah anticipated an attack on him yet he persisted in leading the Friday prayers at the historical mosque Kufa, which was filled to the brim, and people would spill out into the streets. The Mosque could accommodate 100 to 120 thousand people. He wore his funeral shroud when giving those sermons, preparing for death at any moment.

On Friday, February19, 1999 the Grand Ayatollah the martyred Sayyed Mohammad Mohammad-Sadeq al-Sadr, the popular leader of the Shia Muslims of Iraq, got into his car to drive to his house, as he did every day, from his office on the outskirts of the holy city of Najaf near the Euphrates, southwest of Baghdad. With him were his two sons, Sayyid Mustafa al-Sadr and Sayyed Mu’ammal, who acted as his chief assistants, and a driver. Two of his sons remaied alive, Sayyed Murtada al-Sadr and Sayyed Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Sadr movement who fought the US occupation troops for ten years in Iraq.

They never reached home. In the first detailed account of the assassination, when the car entered a roundabout, it was hit by machine-gun fire from one or more positions. Within seconds, the gunmen lying in ambush riddled the car with bullets and the men inside were dead or dying. Relatives say Iraqi security forces immediately sealed off the area and would not allow even an ambulance through.

The assassination was almost certainly the work of agents working for the Iraqi government. Baghdad has always feared the religious leaders of the Iraqi Shia, who make up about 55 per cent of the population, but who for centuries have been denied political power. In the past year, two other prominent Shia clerics have been killed and others attacked by gunmen in and around Najaf.

The government insisted that Sayyed al-Sadr be buried immediately with a minimum of mourning. But this was not enough to prevent the most widespread popular disturbances in Iraq since the Shia uprising in 1991, in the aftermath of the Gulf War, which almost overthrew President Saddam Hussein.

The scale of the outbreaks has become clear only in the past few days as witnesses reach Jordan and Iran.

The outbreaks happened because Sayyed al-Sadr, who for six years presided over his community with the tacit approval of the government, had gradually acquired a mass following among Shia youth, townspeople and tribal leaders.

Respected for his piety, he had become open in holding the regime – as well as the US and its allies – responsible for the miseries of the Iraqi people.

When his death was announced by the official news agency, demonstrations and clashes erupted throughout southern Iraq, where Shia are in the majority. In Baghdad, worshippers at a mosque in Saddam City (later renamed Sadr City), a vast slum, poured into the street, shouting: “God is great”. The security forces immediately shot dead two brothers. Iraqi sources in Iran say 13 people died elsewhere in the city.

About Alireza Mosaddeq

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