Chapter 2

Everything in existence is a trace for your steps

This sun too is a part of your prevalent shade

All friends have separated so I came seeking your shelter.”

Hope

As the caravan was approaching the City of Najaf, and after the appearance of the dome and minarets at sight, the blessings (upon Muhammad and his Household) were raised loudly by the travellers.

Karbala’i Nasr Allah al-Qatarchi emerged, being covered with dust from top of head to the foot sole, and merrily cried:

“Send blessings on Muhammad... send blessings loudly. Then blessings were raised loudly spreading everywhere, as if a new life has emanated inside the hearts of the travellers while rushing toward the shrine of the everlasting champion of Islam - ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib.”

Thereat Karbala’i Nasr Allah - who took the leadership of tens of caravans before - started, as usual, chanting a ballad in praise of ‘Ali:

“Send blessings upon the charm of the assembly intercessor, the Kawthar water-bearer the intrepid lion.”

After few steps cut by the caravan, the city ruins and traces of towers could be clearly sighted.

A murmur and mumbling prevailed among the travellers while being engaged in supplication and thankfulness. Muhammad Baqir felt as if his soul was hovering round about space of light, while looking at the everlasting dome... and unwillingly teardrops flowed out from his eyes like rainy clouds.

He was in fact approaching the wilayah (guardianship) tree. He started chanting a green du’a’ (invocation), whispering with himself: I wish I came here earlier... I wish I came with my father, mother and aunt to live in this shady paradise. No one was aware of what was the young knowledge-seeker thinking of. His rushness to caressing the walls and gates of the holy shrine, revealed his profound love... pure love whose roots grew and fountains spurted under ‘Ali’s patronage.

So the young man has paid homage to ‘Ali (A), going here and there looking for a relative or friend, settling down at last in a simple school.

Don’t Cry, Mother

Muhammad Baqir spent the first night arranging his simple luggage at a corner of a small dark room; with swinging phantoms of dear faces appearing before his eyes... faces of his mother, father and aunt were striking his imagination. His aunt seemed to him with her white veil, smiling and saying: You have become a man, a man forgetting everything even his old aunt.

He saw his father with his bright face, trembling voice, recommending him. O son, I am about to depart this world, and I am recommending you with things never to be forgotten: seeking knowledge, doing kindness to your mother, as she is the offspring of great men.

But his mother’s image remains more tormenting for him than others... with her weeping voice as bidding him farewell. He murmured: She approved of my travel but departure was so difficult for her to bear... Do not cry mother, I won’t remain poor forever, verily I shall strive to bring you to Najaf.

Thus Muhammad Baqir kept on communing with his mother’s image, till drowsiness overcame him, making the dreaming youth mount the winged sleep-horse, perambulating him through far-away worlds, infinite worlds.

With the dawn-fall, the young man got up from bed, despite his feeling tired, but he rose as if a call was inviting him to leave the warm bed.

He soliloquized to himself: Leaving night prayer, and sleeping like the dead, are not of the traits of man, so what about one living beside the everlasting history man. Thus he rose up ridding his face of the dust of “substance”, being so diaphanous, stepping forward through Divine worlds.

The only thing that tied him to the factual world, was the sound of adhan (call for prayer) resounding loudly through the blue sky.

He felt as if magnetic waves attracting him toward the shrine (haram), covering the entire city up to the farthest houses... attracting its people and attaching them to the holy shrine, at which they stay up till sunrise... the sun that never sets to include them with her warm lights.

Evening Hikmah School

The mosque was filled with knowledge-seekers, who have attended the class of philosophy under al-Sayyid Muhammad al- Tabataba’i al-Brujerdi.1

A 35-year, thick-bearded, wide-eyed man has seated himself near the door, and whispered in the ear of his companion:

“O Shaykh Mahdi! Look at that youth sitting near the rostrum... have you noticed how did he give reply to the teacher? “

“Whom do you mean? Is it that light-bearded young man wearing (Oriental) cloak?”

“No, I mean the one sitting at the left of the rostrum.”

“Do you mean that youth putting his head between the two covers of the book, as if intending to devour its papers?”

“Yes, it is said that he has reached Najaf recently ... I was told by Mirza Husayn al-Kashi2 that he is coming from your hometown. You are supposed to know him more than me.”

“Is he from Isfahan?”

“Yes... he claims to be the son of Muhammad al-’Akmal and of having uterine kinship to the teacher.”

“If he really be the son of Muhammad al-’Akmal, it is self- evident then to be so; since Muhammad al-’Akmal’s wife belongs to the teacher’s family, and both being the grandsons of al-Mulla Walih al-Mazandarani - the son-in-law of al- ‘Allamah al-Majlisi. Or rather the teacher (ustadh) himself being the nephew of al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi, so he is the grandson of al-Majlisi the first.”

“Surprising!”

Al-Shaykh Mahdi seemed as intending to say something of importance, but the mosque attendant’s voice was raised announcing:

“O gentlemen! The teacher is sick today.”

A mumbling prevailed amongst the knowledge-seekers, who then embarked on departing the mosque in ones and groups.

Al-Shaykh Mahdi resumed his speech: “This guy then is affiliated to an inveterate family?”

“Yes, on maternal side. And on paternal side he belongs to al-Shaykh al-Mufid. Now let’s go toward him, he may have some news about my family. As you know, I am so worried since the Afghans’ onslaught, not knowing what happened to them. This guy may deliver me of my anxieties.”

Then the two men sat after saluting Muhammad Baqir who was busy collecting his books and note-books.

Al-Shaykh Mahdi said to him: “Welcome... I heard that you have come recently from Isfahan.” “Yes, before about three months.”

“Were you present during the tumult of the Afghans?” “Yes.”

“My family members are living behind the main mosque, I am worried about them, do you have any news about them?”

“I was not present there, but some friends have informed me that all that locality remained far from any aggression.” “I praise Allah, I feel at ease now.”

The Good Tidings

The Sun of Friday was gradually approaching the meridian... within two years after Muhammad Baqir’s coming to Najaf, and he is still cutting the distance between the haram (shrine) and the (theological) school, so quietly. The peddlers’ voices were raised loudly, while advertising for their simple goods, offered for sale on the pavements. The caravansary, close to the shrine, was so crowded with awaiting travellers.

As Muhammad Baqir was gazing at the caravansary, which seemed as old remains amidst a town looking like ruins left behind from the old times, he whispered:

“The caravansary has become only ruins... the schools are improper... meat, wheat, barley and vegetables are so expensive, and people usually eat dates, milk and bread.”

In the meantime, Sayyid Muhsin, who came to be acquainted with him during the philosophy lesson, said to him:

“Peace be upon you, Sayyid Muhammad Baqir. I see you so plunged in thinking.”

“And peace be upon you, he replied.”

“What is the matter? Have your ships sunk?!”

“I was thinking of the shrine of al-’Imam ‘Ali were in Iran, the city (Najaf) would have not been in such a situation.”

“Is there any trouble? We are all from one city, and the friend in need is the friend indeed - as it is said - so never be shy?”

“No, nothing happened... I was contemplating about the city, about these ruins, the caravansary, the schools, the cracking of the fence and towers, the drinking water. And an idea stroke my mind: had the shrine been in Iran, Najaf would have been like Mashhad.”

“You are right, the kings of Iran, despite their being corrupt and deviated from religion, try to fawn upon people through spending abundant money. The construction you witness here was only done by the king Tahmasb.”

“Excuse me, I am in a hurry. My father is sick, and I am here to look for ‘Awishan3.”

Then he added with a smile:“Is there anything I can do for you?” “Thank you.”

“Farewell then, see you later.” “May Allah protect you.”

After only very few steps, he returned saying: “Have you ever heard of Sadr al-Din al-Hamadani4?” “To some extent.”

“He is one of Qum ‘ulama’. He came to Qum from Najaf after the Afghans’ onslaught, and he is engaged now in teaching fiqh. It is said that he is very accurate in his lessons. He has learned under Fadhil al-Hindi, Jamal al-Din al-Khunsari and al- Shaykh Ja’far al-Qadhi.”

“I remember I was told about him by my father.”

“It is a good chance, or rather a good tidings for you, and be under Allah’s protection now.”

“In no hurry! I also have a good, fat and sweet news. You are invited to a dinner.”

“Where, is it at al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir’s house?!”

“No, it is at al-Sayyid Muhammad al-Tabataba’i’s house.

Your lunch will be on next Tuesday, the thirteenth of Rajab.” “What is the occasion?”

“A wedding ceremony.”

“Whose wedding? And who is the bridgroom.”

“Go now and buy “Awishan.”, lest the children’s mother should be angry. I will tell you later on.”

Al-Sayyid Muhsin interrupted him saying: “At last you became a bridegroom.” “Well-done.” They both laughed and separated.

The Festival Reactions

When the thirteenth of Rajab’s sun began to rise at the horizon step by step, Sayyid Muhsin was crossing the streets and alleys to reach one of the alleys leading to the shrine.

Before reaching half the alley, he heard the voice of ‘Ali al- Maddah, chanting with sweet voice:

With his perfection he reached highness,

With his prettiness he uncovered darkness,

All his traits being excellent,

Upon him and his Household send blessings.

Then blessings (salawat) were raised spreading over all the alleys, and from time to time a guest would enter to find someone guiding him toward his place inside the muddy room. Muhammad Baqir was sitting at the room corner, feeling so shy, keeping his head down to the ground, while the syrup tray was distributed among the attendants.

While sipping the cup of sweet drink, Sayyid Muhsin whispered with low voice.

“Welcome... welcome, well-done O Muhammad Baqir, you have made affinity with a reputed family.”

Then the table was spread, and those invited have had the food.

A Traveller from Isfahan

The school was filled with the students’ murmur, and Sayyid Sadr al-Din al-Hamadani was sitting amongst a group of his disciples.

Al-Sayyid Muhsin arrived and placed his hand on Muhammad Baqir’s shoulder, whispering at his ear saying. “I have news of your interest.”

“Why so speedily? I have important questions to put to the teacher.”

“Is there an end for your questions? Postpone them for tomorrow.”

“What happened?”

“Nothing... my brother Mirza Kazim has just arrived from Isfahan.”

“Well, then....”

“Let’s go now, come with me.”

They both departed the mosque, whereat Muhammad Baqir smilingly said:

“Do you mean Mirza Kazim who fell captive at the hands of the highwaymen?”

“Yes, have I told you what happened to him?”

“You told me last year... and mentioned that the chief of the burglars has set him free, after finding the collection of his poems (diwan) and realizing his being a poet.”

“I told you so to be safe from your tongue, informing you that poetry may be a means for delivering some people from perdition.”

“What happened now? Have the highwaymen ignored his poems this time?”

“What is that you utter? I have sad news for you and I know not the extent of your forbearance.”

“Of course I’ll be patient, unless it be the news of your death - God forbid - as I cannot endure such a misfortune.” “Leave jesting aside, I told you it is sad news.” “What is it?”

“I am sure you will be grieved.”

“There is no news more bitter and harder than the demise of my father (may God’s mercy by upon him).”

“My brother brought me the news of the death of your aunt, may Allah’s mercy be upon her.”

“May Allah’s mercy be upon all of our dead ones.” “Let’s go to the shrine.”

Unknown Men

The sun was effusing its burning beams over Najaf shanties. Despite it was close of day (asil), the heat flame was suffocating, and Muhammad Baqir’s house - like other houses - was about to melt due to flame. So the young knowledge- seeker has resorted, with his wife and little son, to the crypt.

As usual, the father was engaged in reading. The silence was broken by the sound of consequent knocking at the door. Muhammad Baqir rushed to see who the visitor was. He saw three unknown men, one being so advanced in years, with white hair, and so thin to the extent that his bones were protrusive in some places of his body. The men were wearing Iranian costumes. They said.

“We are sorry for bothering you at this time. We are strangers looking for the address of al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-’Isfahani.”

“Come in, please.”

“We are coming from ‘Qanawat’ and ‘Bebhahan’, and in need of something.”

“Make yourselves home, please.”

As they entered his house, Muhammad Baqir rushed and brought them sweet drinks. On taking their breaths, and resting for a while, the aged white-haired man said:

“My name is Imam Quli.”

Then he pointed at a mid-aged, frizzle-haired, tall-brown- faced man, saying: “And this man is Mirza Tahir.”

Then, introducing the third man who was bald, and seemed shorter due to having a paunch, he said. “And he is al-Hajj Qurban ‘Ali.”

Muhammad Baqir welcomed them with a smile, saying. “Have you had your lunch?” “Yes, at the caravansary.”

“What news you have about Behbahan?”

“All praise is Allah’s, everything is all right.”

“Was it attacked by the Afghans?” “Are they able to do so?”

Al-Hajj Qurban ‘Ali, who remained silent, interrupted them by saying. “People there are unselfish and sympathetic. The Afghans, led by Azam Khan, came toward us and...”

Imam Quli corrected him by saying: “It is Azad Khan not Azam Khan.”

“Yes, Azad Khan. They came, and halted behind the fences. They directed their cannons towards us, while we had but one cannon.”

Mirza Tahir said fervently: “I myself have fed the cannon.”

“The defenders were of the opinion that al-Sayyid. ‘Abd Allah al-Bahrayni starts to shoot the first shell, for seeking blessing. Fortunately the shell fell near the camp of the commander Azad Khan, who was inflicted with some wounds, causing him to draw an evil omen from that, giving his orders to retreat.”

“By the way, how is Mulla Muhammad Ridha? I hope he be well, he is my father’s cousin.”

A dull silence prevailed over the little muddy room, and the three men have exchanged glances. They said: “For this purpose we are here... may Allah’s mercy be upon him, and he remembered you as he was dying. We came to be at your service for this reason, people are awaiting your coming.”

Mirza Tahir said: “May God’s mercy be upon him, he was an upright man. After him we have turned to be like sheep whose shepherd has left them.”

Imam Quli stood up, put on his cloak and said: “We shall return to the caravansary, our caravan will set out the day after tomorrow. I’ll pass by you at the dawn of Wednesday, to know your opinion. Think about the matter please.”

“What makes you be in great haste?”

“We intend not to detract your attention of your lessons.

Concerning us, we may go to Karbala’.”

The three men went out and closed the door, while Muhammad Baqir came back to see his wife gazing him with patience, saying: “Who were your guests?”

“Men coming from Iran, asking me to go to their town.” “What was your reply?”

“Are you worried?” “No, at all.”

“I have not made up my mind, yet... but...” “But what?”

“I made a mistake in not meeting their request. They have traversed long distances for my sake, their town may be badly needing someone to guide them and teach them religion rulings. I must go... yes... I must.”

The Joining Trip

All the family members have gathered inside the house of al- Sayyid Muhammad al-Tabataba’i, who has let his grandson sit on his lap, starting to banter with him (saying):

“Laugh, O Muhammad ‘Ali, laugh for your grandfather.”

The wife (of Muhammad Baqir) said to him: “Take the lad from his grandfather, to let him rest for a while.”

“Let him be on his grandfather’s lap... look how he laughs.”

The grandfather continues bantering with his grandson. “O Muhammad ‘Ali! Do you intend to leave your grandfather alone and go away?”

Turning his face toward his son-in-law, saying: “Have you meditated well?”

“I am here to consult you in this regard.”

“It seems that the town people badly need someone to guide and teach them the principles of their religion. The Akhbaris - as you know - are so influential there, and people are in need for sound and proper thought. So I am duty-bound to go there.

“Since you believe this to be your duty, it is needless to consult, you can go and depend upon Allah.”

As Muhammad Baqir’s wife was preparing the supper table, she said: “Does he go? Shall we depart you so easy!!”

“When duty necessitates, there should be no delay. Can you be answerable on his behalf on the Day of Reckoning?”

“Then we must have our dinner, and be ready for travelling and enduring the bitterness of separation.”

O Imam Quli! Farewell

The sound of bells and travellers’ voices were prevailing all over the caravansary. Mirza Tahir and al-Hajj Qurban ‘Ali were sitting, waiting for the return of Imam Quli, who were to al- Sayyid’s house.

As his eyes were stuck at the caravansary gate, Mirza Tahir said: “To travel with this old man causes headache. Two hours have passed, and still he has not come back; the caravan may set out. What to do then?”

Thereat, al-Hajj Qurban ‘Ali stopped his hymn (tasbih), disapproving that by saying: “O Mirza, he is one of Allah’s friends... don’t be worried, he will verily arrive in due time.”

After few moments, Imam Quli appeared, saying: “Salam ‘Alaykum (peace be upon you).” “And peace be upon you, why are you late?” “But, as you see, I’ve reached in due time.”

“What news you have, is al-Sayyid coming or not?” “Yes, he is coming, next month.”

Qurban ‘Ali moved his woolen hood, mumbling: “Then we have to return to Najaf again.”

“It is better that one of us informs town people of this news, and the other two remain to accompany al-Sayyid in his trip.”

Mirza Tahir, being perplexed, said: “I don’t know what to do; shall we stay or leave?”

Imam Quli, angrily, said: “You are always in a haste... you can go and we shall stay here.”

Mirza Tahir became displeased, saying: “I am not a halfway comrade.”

Qurban ‘Ali said: “It is not as you believe, one of us should go to the town and apprise its people of al-Sayyid’s coming. O Imam Quli, you can go... the caravan is about to move.”

Imam Quli, mounting his came, said: “Farewell, is there any recommendation?” “Only peace... May Allah protect you.”

  • 1. He was one of the great fuqaha’ of his time, having his own opinion on the rational sciences. He has authored numerous books, the most known of which are: Sharh Mufatih al-fiqh; Risalah fi tahqiq al-’iman wa al-’Islam; Eayat al- Ma’sumin wa amakin dafnihim; Risalah fi hukm man yasum yawm ‘Ashura’ ; and Risalah fi asrar al-’ashkal al-khassah bi alif ba’ al-huruf.
  • 2. Belonging to the town of Kashan.
  • 3. It is a scented desert plant, with small leafs and short stalk, which is useful for indigestion.
  • 4. He was an eminent muhaqqiq (investigator) at his era. He has authored al-Shuruh al-wafiyah, consisting of more than 15 thousand lines. About him al-Sayyid Ni’mat Allah al-Shushtari said: He is the best man I have ever seen in Iraq, and was usually visited by Najaf people for seeking blessing and asking the solutions of judicial questions.