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Sketch of ‘Allama al-Hilli

Hassan ibn Yusuf ibn ‘Ali ibn Mutahhar al-Hilli, commonly known as ‘Allama al-Hilli or ‘Allama, was born 19 Ramadan 648/1250, and died 11 Muharram 726/1326. He studied jurisprudence and scholastic theology and the principles (usul), and Arabic and the other sciences of the law with his uncle, the Doctor of the people of the House (of the Prophet), Najmu’d-Din Abu’l Qasim Ja‘far ibn Sa‘id al-Hilli entitle Muhaqqiq-i-Awwal (d. 726/1325; see Browne’s “Persian Literature in Modern Times,” pp. 378, 405), and with his father Sheikh Sadidu’d-Din Yusuf ibn al-Mutahhar and he studied philosophical subjects with the master of mankind, Khwaja Nasiru’d-Din-i-Tusi (d. 672/1274; see Browne, p. 405), and others of the Shi‘ites and Sunnites.

‘Allama is said to have written 500 books. Among his works mentioned in the Qisasu’l ‘Ulama is “Minhaju’s-Salah,” which consisted of ten chapters. “Al-Bab al-Hadi ‘Ashar” was later added to this book as an eleventh chapter. The matn (text) only is the work of ‘Allama. The commentary was written by Miqdad-i-Fadil, also of Hilla, who lived and composed commentaries on theological works during the latter part of the eighth century A.H.

‘Allama was born just eight years before the capture of Baghdad by the Mongols. During his youth Persia was ruled by Il-Khans, the descendants of Hulagu. It was a time of bloodshed and confusion, but with the invasion of the Mongols there also came a revival of trade and of letters. The first Il-Khans were heathen, but they showed great favour towards the Christians, and carried on negotiations with the Christian rulers of Europe regarding a united attack upon the Muslims.

Accordingly, there was more freedom for the discussion of religious questions than had previously existed. Several of the Il-Khans were on the point of becoming Christians, but the influence of Islam finally prevailed, and at last in 1295 A.D. (when ‘Allama was forty-five years of age) Ghazan became a Muslim and threw his influence on the side of Islam. He showed great favour toward the Shi’ites, and enriched the shrines of Karbala and Mashhad.

Ghazan was followed by Uljaytu Khuda Banda, who had been baptized in infancy as a Christian, but who, on his accession to the throne in 1305 A.D., confirmed the Islamic laws of his predecessor. At first he was a Hanafite; later he inclined to the Shafi’ite doctrine, and finally, after seeing a vision on the occasion of a visit to the tomb of Ali at Najaf, he became a Shi‘ite. He was fond of religious discussion, and the doctors of the various schools were brought before him to expound their doctrines.

The following stories, which tell something of ‘Allama’s part in the king’s conversion, are taken from the “Qisasu’l-‘Ulama,” which was written in 1290 A.H. by Muhammad ibn Sulayman of Tanukabun (see Browne, pp 354, 355).

In the history of Hafiz Abru (see Browne’s “Persian Literature under Tartar Dominion,” pp 424-426) it is recorded that when the falsity of the faith of the people of tradition and agreement (the Sunnites) had, to some extent become clear to Sultan Uljaytu Mohammad-i-Khuda Banda (1303-1316 A.D., see Browne’s “Persian Literature under Tartar Dominion,” pp 46-51), he commanded the Imamite doctors be summoned. When ‘Allama came with the other doctors it was appointed that Khwaja Nizamu-Din ‘Adbu’l-Malik-i-Maraghi, who was the greatest of the Shafi‘ite doctors, and in fact of all the Sunnite doctors, should dispute with the honoured ‘Allama.

And ‘Allama disputed with the Khwaja and proved the uninterrupted succession of the Commander of the Faithful (‘Ali) and the fallacy of the claim of the three Sheikhs of the Sunnites with convincing arguments and clear reasons, and he set forth the pre-eminence of the religion of Imamites in such a manner that there was no possibility of doubt left to those who were present. And when the Khwaja heard the reasons of the honoured ‘Allama, he said, “The strength of the arguments is exceedingly plain, but since past generations have walked in a certain way, and men at present have drawn the curtain of silence over their mistakes in order to bridle the ignorant, and remove the differences in the faith (kalima) of Islam, it is therefore fitting that they should not rend the veil and curse them.”

A story is told of Sultan Uljaytu, who had a wife whom he loved very much. Once he spoke the triple divorce formula to her, and the lawyers of Islam said there was no way to take her back except by her first being married to another and having him divorce her. He inquired whether there was not some other sect which provided another way. They replied that the Imamites did, but they were few in number. So, he sent to Hilla for their doctors, and ‘Allama came to him.

On entering the room, he took off his shoes and came in with them in his hand. The courtiers blamed him for not prostrating himself, but he answered that one should bow before God only. Then they asked him why he had not left his shoes at the door. He replied that he had heard that the Prophet had gone to a meeting of Malikites and his shoes had been stolen, and since there were Malikites present he wanted to watch his shoes. They laughed at him for his ignorance, and told him that Malik had lived 100 years after the time of the Prophet.

He said he had forgotten; it was not the Malikites but the Hanbalites. Again, they corrected him, and so for all four of the sects of the Sunnites. “Then,” he said, “if all four of the Imams lived after the Prophet, how did they originate these sects?” And he completely refuted their doctrines.

We are told that ‘Allama was once going to Karbala on pilgrimage riding on a donkey, when a stranger joined him. They began to talk, and the stranger proved to be a very learned man. ‘Allama brought to him all his problems, and he solved them. He answered ‘Allama’s objections by referring him to certain traditions of which he was ignorant, giving book and page and line, and when ‘Allama later consulted these books, he found that all the references were correct. Finally, ‘Allama asked him whether the Hidden Imam could be seen or not. Just then ‘Allama’s whip fell to the ground. The stranger stooped and picked it up and gave it to him, saying, “Why not see him, when his hands are in yours?” and then he disappeared.

As for Miqdad-i-Fadil, the author of the commentary, I have been unable to learn anything of the story of his life from the biographies which I have consulted. He is not so well known as ‘Allama, but for our purpose his commentary is of more value than is the matn of ‘Allama, which is frequently too condensed to be wholly intelligible.