Ayatullâh Murťadhâ Muťahharî, one of the principle architects of the new Islâmic consciousness in Iran, was born on February 2nd, 1920, in Farîmân, then a village and now a township about sixty kilometres from Mashhad, the great centre of Shî`a pilgrimage and learning in Eastern Iran.
His father was Muhammad Ĥusaîn Muťahharî, a renown scholar who studied in Najaf and spent several years in Egypt and the Hijâz before returning to Farîmân. The elder Muťahharî was of a different caste of mind then his son, who in any event came to outshine him. The father was devoted to the works of the celebrated traditionalist, Mullâh Muhammad Bâqir Majlisî; whereas the son’s great hero among the Shî`a scholars of the past was the theosophist Mullâ Sadrâ.
Nonetheless, Āyatullâh Muťahharî always retained great respect and affection for his father, who was also his first teacher, and he dedicated to him one of his most popular books, Dastân-e-Rastân (“The Epic of the Righteous”), first published in 1960, and which was later chosen as book of the year by the Iranian National Commission for UNESCO in 1965.
At the exceptionally early age of twelve, Muťahharî began his formal religious studies at the teaching institution in Mashhad, which was then in a state of decline, partly because of internal reasons and partly because of the repressive measures directed by Ridhâ Khân, the first Pahlavî autocrat, against all Islâmic institutions. But in Mashhad, Muťahharî discovered his great love for philosophy, theology, and mysticism, a love that remained with him throughout his life and came to shape his entire outlook on religion:
“I can remember that when I began my studies in Mashhad and was still engaged in learning elementary Arabic, the philosophers, mystics, and theologians impressed me far more than other scholars and scientists, such as inventors and explorers. Naturally I was not yet acquainted with their ideas, but I regarded them as heroes on the stage of thought.”
Accordingly, the figure in Mashhad who aroused the greatest devotion in Muťahharî was Mîrzâ Mahdî Shahîdî Razavî, a teacher of philosophy. But Razavî died in 1936, before Muťahharî was old enough to participate in his classes, and partly because of this reason he left Mashhad the following year to join the growing number of students congregating in the teaching institution in Qum.
Thanks to the skillful stewardship of Shaykh `Abdul Karîm Hâ’irî, Qum was on its way to becoming the spiritual and intellectual capital of Islâmic Iran, and Muťahharî was able to benefit there from the instruction of a wide range of scholars. He studied Fiqh and Uŝűl - the core subjects of the traditional curriculum - with Āyatullâh Ĥujjat Kuhkamarî, Āyatullâh Sayyid Muhammad Dâmâd, Āyatullâh Sayyid Muhammad Ridhâ Gulpâyagânî, and Ĥajj Sayyid Ŝadr al-Dîn as-Ŝadr. But more important than all these was Āyatullâh Burujerdî, the successor of Ĥâ’irî as director of the teaching establishment in Qum. Muťahharî attended his lectures from his arrival in Qum in 1944 until his departure for Tehran in 1952, and he nourished a deep respect for him.
Fervent devotion and close affinity characterized Muťahharî’s relationship with his prime mentor in Qum, Āyatullâh Rűhullâh Khumaynî. When Muťahharî arrived in Qum, Āyatullâh Khumaynî was a young lecturer, but he was already marked out from his contemporaries by the profoundness and comprehensiveness of his Islâmic vision and his ability to convey it to others. These qualities were manifested in the celebrated lectures on ethics that he began giving in Qum in the early 1930s. The lectures attracted a wide audience from outside as well as inside the religious teaching institution and had a profound impact on all those who attended them. Muťahharî made his first acquaintance with Āyatullah Khumaynî at these lectures:
“When I migrated to Qum, I found the object of my desire in a personality who possessed all the attributes of Mîrzâ Mahdî (Shahîdî Razavî) in addition to others that were peculiarly his own. I realized that the thirst of my spirit would be quenched at the pure spring of that personality. Although I had still not completed the preliminary stages of my studies and was not yet qualified to embark on the study of the rational sciences (ma`qulât), the lectures on ethics given by that beloved personality every Thursday and Friday were not restricted to ethics in the dry, academic sense but dealt with gnosis and spiritual wayfaring, and thus, they intoxicated me. I can say without exaggeration that those lectures aroused in me such ecstasy that their effect remained with me until the following Monday or Tuesday. An important part of my intellectual and spiritual personality took shape under the influence of those lectures and the other classes I took over a period of twelve years with that spiritual master (ustâd-i ilahî) [meaning Āyatullâh Khumaynî].”
In about 1946, Āyatullâh Khumaynî began lecturing to a small group of students that included both Muťahharî and his roommate at the Fayziya Madressah, Āyatullâh Muntazarî, on two key philosophical texts, the Asfar al-Arba`a of Mullâ Ŝadra and the Sharh-e-Manzuma of Mullâ Hâdî Sabzwârî. Muťahharî’s participation in this group, which continued to meet until about 1951, enabled him to establish more intimate links with his teacher.
Also in 1946, at the urging of Muťahharî and Muntazarî, the Āyatullâh Khumaynî taught his first formal course on Fiqh and Uŝűl, taking the chapter on rational proofs from the second volume of Akhund Khurâsânî’s Kifâyatal Uŝűl as his teaching text. Muťahharî followed his course assiduously, while still pursuing his studies of Fiqh with Āyatullâh Burűjerdî.
In the first two post-war decades, Āyatullâh Khumaynî trained numerous students in Qum who became leaders of the Islâmic Revolution and the Islâmic Republic, such that through them (as well as directly), the imprint of his personality was visible on all the key developments of the past decade. But none among his students bore to Āyatullâh Khumaynî the same relationship of affinity as Muťahharî, an affinity to which the Āyatullâh Khumaynî himself has borne witness to. The pupil and master shared a profound attachment to all aspects of traditional scholarship, without in any way being its captive; a comprehensive vision of Islâm as a total system of life and belief, with particular importance ascribed to its philosophical and mystical aspects; an absolute loyalty to the religious institution, tempered by an awareness of the necessity of reform; a desire for comprehensive social and political change, accompanied by a great sense of strategy and timing; and an ability to reach out beyond the circle of the traditionally religious, and gain the attention and loyalty of the secularly educated.
Among the other teachers whose influence Muťahharî was exposed in Qum, was the great exegete of the Qur’ân and philosopher, Āyatullâh Sayyid Muhammad Ĥusain Ťabâ’ťabâ’î. Muťahharî participated in both Ťabâťabâ’î’s classes on the Shifâ` of Abű `Alî Sînâ from 1950 to 1953, and the Thursday evening meetings that took place under his direction. The subject of these meetings was materialist philosophy, a remarkable choice for a group of traditional scholars. Muťahharî himself had first conceived a critical interest in materialist philosophy, especially Marxism, soon after embarking on the formal study of the rational sciences.
According to his own recollections, in about 1946 he began to study the Persian translations of Marxist literature published by the Tudeh party, the major Marxist organization in Iran and at that time an important force in the political scene. In addition, he read the writings of Taqî Arânî, the main theoretician of the Tudeh party, as well as Marxist publications in `Arabic emanating from Egypt. At first he had some difficulty understanding these texts because he was not acquainted with modern philosophical terminology, but with continued exertion (which included the drawing up of a synopsis of Georges Pulitzer’s Elementary Principles of Philosophy), he came to master the whole subject of materialist philosophy. This mastery made him an important contributor to Ťabâ’ťabâî’s circle and later, after his move to Tehran, an effective combatant in the ideological war against Marxism and Marxist-influenced interpretations of Islâm.
Numerous refutations of Marxism have been essayed in the Islâmic world, both in Iran and elsewhere, but almost all of them fail to go beyond the obvious incompatibilities of Marxism with religious belief and the political failures and inconsistencies of Marxist political parties. Muťahharî, by contrast, went to the philosophical roots of the matter and demonstrated with rigorous logic the contradictory and arbitrarily hypothetic nature of key principles of Marxism. His polemical writings are characterized more by intellectual than rhetorical or emotional force.
However, for Muťahharî, philosophy was far more than a polemical tool or intellectual discipline; it was a particular style of religiosity, a way of understanding and formulating Islâm. Muťahharî belongs, in fact, to the tradition of Shî`a philosophical concern that goes back at least as far as Nasîr ad-Dîn Ťuŝî, one of Muťahharî’s personal heroes. To say that Muťahharî’s view of Islâm was philosophical is not to imply that he lacked spirituality or was determined to subordinate revealed dogma to philosophical interpretation and to impose philosophical terminology on all domains of religious concern; rather it means that he viewed the attainment of knowledge and understanding as the prime goal and benefit of religion and for that reason assigned to philosophy a certain primacy among the disciplines cultivated in the religious institution. In this he was at variance with those numerous scholars for whom Fiqh was the be-all and end-all of the curriculum, with modernists for whom philosophy represented a Hellenistic intrusion into the world of Islâm, and with all those whom revolutionary ardour had made impatient with careful philosophical thought.
The particular school of philosophy to which Muťahharî adhered was that of Mullâ Ŝadra, the “sublime philosophy” (hikmat-i muta`âliya) that seeks to combine the methods of spiritual insight with those of philosophical deduction. Muťahharî was a man of tranquil and serene disposition, both in his general comportment and in his writings. Even when engaged in polemics, he was invariably courteous and usually refrained from emotive and ironical wording. But such was his devotion to Mullâ Ŝadrâ that he would passionately defend him even against slight or incidental criticism, and he chose for his first grandchild - as well as for the publishing house in Qum that put out his books - the name Ŝadrâ.
Insofar as Ŝadrâ’s school of philosophy attempts to merge the methods of inward illumination and intellectual reflection, it is not surprising that it has been subject to varying interpretations on the part of those more inclined to one method than the other. To judge from his writings, Muťahharî belonged to those for whom the intellectual dimension of Ŝadrâ’s school was predominant; there is little of the mystical or markedly spiritual tone found in other exponents of Ŝadrâ’s thought, perhaps because Muťahharî viewed his own inward experiences as irrelevant to the task of instruction in which he was engaged or even as an intimate secret he should conceal. More likely, however, this predilection for the strictly philosophical dimension of the “sublime philosophy” was an expression of Muťahharî’s own temperament and genius. In this respect, he differed profoundly from his great mentor, Āyatullâh Khumaynî, many of whose political pronouncements continue to be suffused with the language and concerns of mysticism and spirituality.
In 1952, Muťahharî left Qum for Tehran, where he married the daughter of Āyatullâh Rűhânî and began teaching philosophy at the Madressah Marwi, one of the principal institutions of religious learning in the capital. This was not the beginning of his teaching career, for already in Qum he had begun to teach certain subjects - logic, philosophy, theology, and Fiqh - while still a student himself. But Muťahharî seems to have become progressively impatient with the somewhat restricted atmosphere of Qum, with the factionalism prevailing among some of the students and their teachers, and with their remoteness from the concerns of society. His own future prospects in Qum were also uncertain.
In Tehran, Muťahharî found a broader and more satisfying field of religious, educational, and ultimately political activity. In 1954, he was invited to teach philosophy at the Faculty of Theology and Islâmic Sciences of Tehran University, where he taught for twenty-two years. First the regularization of his appointment and then his promotion to professor was delayed by the jealousy of mediocre colleagues and by political considerations (for Muťahharî’s closeness to Āyatullâh Khumaynî was well known).
But the presence of a figure such as Muťahharî in the secular university was significant and effective. Many men of Madressah background had come to teach in the universities, and they were often of great erudition. However, almost without exception they had discarded an Islâmic worldview, together with their turbans and cloaks. Muťahharî, by contrast, came to the university as an articulate and convinced exponent of Islâmic science and wisdom, almost as an envoy of the religious institution to the secularly educated. Numerous people responded to him, as the pedagogical powers he had first displayed in Qum now fully unfolded.
In addition to building his reputation as a popular and effective university lecturer, Muťahharî participated in the activities of the numerous professional Islâmic associations (anjumanhâ) that had come into being under the supervision of Mahdî Bâzârgân and Āyatullâh Taleqânî, lecturing to their doctors, engineers, teachers and helping to coordinate their work. A number of Muťahharî’s books in fact consist of the revised transcripts of series of lectures delivered to the Islâmic associations.
Muťahharî’s wishes for a wider diffusion of religious knowledge in society and a more effective engagement of religious scholars in social affairs led him in 1960 to assume the leadership of a group of Tehran `Ulamâ known as the Anjuman-e-Mahâna-yi Dînî (“The Monthly Religious Society”). The members of this group, which included the late Āyatullâh Beheshtî, a fellow-student of Muťahharî in Qum, organized monthly public lectures designed simultaneously to demonstrate the relevance of Islâm to contemporary concerns, and to stimulate reformist thinking among the `Ulamâ. The lectures were printed under the title of Guftâr-e-Mâh (“Discourse of the Month”) and proved very popular, but the government banned them in March 1963 when Āyatullâh Khumaynî began his public denunciation of the Pahlavî regime.
A far more important venture in 1965 of the same kind was the foundation of the Ĥusayniya-e-Irshâd, an institution in north Tehran, designed to gain the allegiance of the secularly educated young to Islâm. Muťahharî was among the members of the directing board; he also lectured at the Ĥusayniya-e-Irshâd and edited and contributed to several of its publications. The institution was able to draw huge crowds to its functions, but this success - which without doubt exceeded the hopes of the founders, was overshadowed by a number of internal problems. One such problem was the political context of the institution’s activities, which gave rise to differing opinions on the opportuneness of going beyond reformist lecturing to political confrontation.
The spoken word plays in general a more effective and immediate role in promoting revolutionary change than the written word, and it would be possible to compose an anthology of key sermons, addresses, and lectures that have carried the Islâmic Revolution of Iran forward. But the clarification of the ideological content of the revolution and its demarcation from opposing or competing schools of thought have necessarily depended on the written word, on the composition of works that expound Islâmic doctrine in systematic form, with particular attention to contemporary problems and concerns. In this area, Muťahharî’s contribution was unique in its volume and scope. Muťahharî wrote assiduously and continuously, from his student days in Qum up to 1979 the year of his martyrdom. Much of his output was marked by the same philosophical tone and emphasis already noted, and he probably regarded as his most important work Uŝűl-e-Falsafa wa Ravish-e-Ri’âlism (“The Principles of Philosophy and the Method of Realism”), the record of Ťabâťabâî’s discourses to the Thursday evening circle in Qum, supplemented with Muťahharî’s comments. But he did not choose the topics of his books in accordance with personal interest or predilection, but with his perception of need; wherever a book was lacking on some vital topic of contemporary Islâmic interest, Muťahharî sought to supply it.
Single handily, he set about constructing the main elements of a contemporary Islâmic library. Books such as `Adl-e-Ilâhî (“Divine Justice”), Nizâm-e-Ĥuquq-e-Zan dar Islâm (“The System of Women’s Rights in Islâm”), Mas’ala-yi Ĥijâb (“The Question of the Veil”), Ashnâ’i ba `Ulűm-e-Islâmî (“An Introduction to the Islâmic Sciences”), and Muqaddima bar Jahânbînî-yi Islâmi (“An Introduction to the Worldview of Islâm”) were all intended to fill a need, to contribute to an accurate and systematic understanding of Islâm and the problems in the Islâmic society.
These books may well come to be regarded as Muťahharî’s most lasting and important contribution to the rebirth of Islâmic Iran, but his activity also had a political dimension that admittedly subordinate, should not be overlooked. While a student and fledgling teacher in Qum, he had sought to instill political consciousness in his contemporaries and was particularly close to those among them who were members of the Fida’iyan-i Islâm, the Militant Organization founded in 1945 by Nawwab Safawî.
The Qum headquarters of the Fida’iyan was the Madrasa-yi Fayziya, where Muťahharî himself resided, and he sought in vain to prevent them from being removed from the Madressah by Āyatullâh Burűjerdî, who was resolutely set against all political confrontation with the Shah’s regime.
During the struggle for the nationalization of the Iranian Oil Industry, Muťahharî sympathized with the efforts of Āyatullâh Kâshânî and Dr. Muhammad Musaddiq, although he criticized the latter for his adherence to secular nationalism. After his move to Tehran, Muťahharî collaborated with the Freedom Movement of Bâzârgân and Taleqânî, but never became one of the leading figures in the group.
His first serious confrontation with the Shah’s regime came during the uprising of Khurdad 15th, 1342/June 6th, 1963, when he showed himself to be politically, as well as intellectually, a follower of Āyatullâh Khumaynî by distributing his declarations and urging support for him in the sermons he gave.
He was accordingly arrested and held for forty-three days. After his release, he participated actively in the various organizations that came into being to maintain the momentum that had been created by the uprising, most importantly the Association of Militant Religious Scholars (Jami`a yi Ruhâniyât-e-Mubâriz). In November 1964, Āyatullâh Khumaynî entered on his fourteen years of exile, spent first in Turkey and then in Najaf, and throughout this period Muťahharî remained in touch with Āyatullâh Khumaynî, both directly - by visits to Najaf - and indirectly.
When the Islâmic Revolution approached its triumphant climax in the winter of 1978 and Āyatullâh Khumaynî left Najaf for Paris, Muťahharî was among those who travelled to Paris to meet and consult with him. His closeness to Āyatullâh Khumaynî was confirmed by his appointment to the Council of the Islâmic Revolution, the existence of which Āyatullâh Khumaynî announced on January 12th, 1979.
Muťahharî’s services to the Islâmic Revolution were brutally curtailed by his assassination on May 1st, 1979. The murder was carried out by a group known as Furqân, which claimed to be the protagonists of a “progressive Islâm,” one freed from the allegedly distorting influence of the religious scholars. Although Muťahharî appears to have been chairman of the Council of the Islâmic Revolution at the time of his assassination, it was as a thinker and a writer that he was martyred.
In 1972, Muťahharî published a book entitled `Illal-i Girayish ba Maddigarî (“Reasons for the Turn to Materialism”), an important work analyzing the historical background of materialism in Europe and Iran. During the revolution, he wrote an introduction to the eighth edition of this book, attacking distortions of the thought of Ĥafiz and Hallaj that had become fashionable in some segments of Irânian society and refuting certain materialistic interpretations of the Qur’ân. The source of the interpretations was the Furqân group, which sought to deny fundamental Qur’ânic concepts such as the divine transcendence and the reality of the hereafter. As always in such cases, Muťahharî’s tone was persuasive and solicitous, not angry or condemnatory, and he even invited a response from Furqân and other interested parties to comment on what he had written. Their only response was the gun.
The threat to assassinate all who opposed them was already contained in the publications of Furqân, and after the publication of the new edition of `Illal-e-Girayish ba Maddigarî, Muťahharî apparently had some premonition of his martyrdom. According to the testimony of his son, Mujtabâ, a kind of detachment from worldly concerns became visible in him; he augmented his nightly prayers and readings of the Qur’ân, and he once dreamed that he was in the presence of the Prophet (S), together with Āyatullâh Khumaynî .
On Tuesday, May 1st, 1979 Muťahharî went to the house of Dr. Yadullâh Sahâbî, in the company of other members of the Council of the Islâmic Revolution. At about 10:30 at night, he and another participant in the meeting, Engineer Katira`i, left Sahâbî’s house. Walking by himself to an adjacent alley where the car that was to take him home was parked, Muťahharî suddenly heard an unknown voice call out to him. He looked around to see where the voice was coming from, and as he did, a bullet struck him in the head, entering beneath the right earlobe and exiting above the left eyebrow. He died almost instantly, and although he was rushed to a nearby hospital, there was nothing that could be done but mourn for him. The body was left in the hospital the following day, and then on Thursday, amid widespread mourning, it was taken for funeral prayers first to Tehran University and then to Qum for burial, next to the grave of Shaykh `Abdul Karîm Hâ’irî .
Āyatullâh Khumaynî wept openly when Muťahharî was buried in Qum, and he described him as his “dear son,” and as “the fruit of my life,” and as “a part of my flesh.” But in his eulogy Āyatullâh Khumaynî also pointed out that with the murder of Muťahharî neither his personality was diminished, nor was the course of the revolution interrupted:
“Let the evil-wishers know that with the departure of Muťahharî - his Islâmic personality, his philosophy and learning, have not left us. Assassinations cannot destroy the Islâmic personality of the great men of Islâm…Islâm grows through sacrifice and martyrdom of its cherished ones. From the time of its revelation up to the present time, Islâm has always been accompanied by martyrdom and heroism.”
The personage and legacy of Āyatullâh Muťahharî have certainly remained unforgotten in the Islâmic Republic, to such a degree that his posthumous presence has been almost as impressive as the attainments of his life. The anniversary of his martyrdom is regularly commemorated, and his portrait is ubiquitous throughout Iran. Many of his unpublished writings are being printed for the first time, and the whole corpus of his work is now being distributed and studied on a massive scale. In the words of Āyatullâh Khamene’î, President of the Republic, the works of Muťahharî have come to constitute “the intellectual infrastructure of the Islâmic Republic.”
Efforts are accordingly under way to promote a knowledge of Muťahharî’s writings outside the Persian-speaking world as well, and the Ministry of Islâmic Guidance has sponsored translations of his works into languages as diverse as Spanish and Malay.
In a sense, however, it will be the most fitting memorial to Muťahharî if revolutionary Iran proves able to construct a polity, society, economy and culture that are authentically and integrally Islâmic. For Muťahharî’s life was oriented to a goal that transcended individual motivation, and his martyrdom was the final expression of that effacement of self.
This sketch of the life and works of Āyatullâh Muťahharî is based chiefly on Muhammad Wa'izzâda Khurâsânî’s, “Sayrî dar Zindagi-yi `Ilmî wa Inqilâbiîyi Ustad Shahîd Murtadhâ Muťahharî,” in Yadnâma-yi Ustâd Shahîd Murtadhâ Muťahharî, ed. `Abdul Karîm Surűsh, Tehran, 1360 Sh./1981, pp. 319-380, an article rich in information on many aspects of the recent history of Islâmic Irân. Reference has also been made to Mujtabâ Muťahhari, “Zindagi-yi Pidaram,” in Harakat (journal of the students at the Tehran Faculty of Theology), no. 1 (n.d.), pp. 5-16; M. Hoda, In Memory of Martyr Muťahharî, a pamphlet published by the Ministry of Islâmic Guidance, Tehran, April, 1982; and Āyatullâh Muťahharî’s autobiographical introduction to the eighth edition of `Ilal-i Girayish ba Maddîgarî; Qum, 1357 Sh./1978, pp. 7ff.
 `Ilal-e-Girayish ba Maddîgarî, Page 9.
 `Ilal-i Girayish ba Maddigari, Page 9.
 The authoritative statement of this view was made by Sayyid Qutb in his Khasâ’is al-Tasawwur al-Islâmî wa Muqawwimatuhu, Cairo, numerous editions, which was translated into Persian and had some influence on views toward philosophy.
 Muhahharî’s name comes ninth in a list of clerical detainees prepared by the military prosecutor’s office in June, 1963. See facsimile of the list in Dihnavi, Qiyam-e-Khunin-i 15 Khurdad 42 ba Rivâyat-e-Asnâd, Tehran, 1360 Sh./1981, Page 77.
 Text of Āyatullâh Khumaynî’s eulogy in Yâdnama-yi Ustâd-i Shahîd Murtadha Muhahharî, pp. 3-5.