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TABATABA’I, MUHAMMAD HUSAYN ( 16 March 1903 – 15 November 1981), known to his contemporaries as `Allamah Tabataba’I, one of the foremost Qur’anic commentators and traditional Persian philosophers of the twentieth century. Born to a well-known family of Shi’i scholars of Tabriz in AH 1321/1903 CE, he carried out his early studies in the city of his birth, and when some twenty years old, he set out for Najaf, Iraq, to pursue more advanced studies in the juridical as well as philosophical sciences, reaching the highest level of ijtihdd in both domains. It was also at this time that he underwent spiritual training and was initiated into the inner dimension of Islam associated in Shi’i circles with `irfan (“gnosis”). In 1934 he returned to Tabriz, where he began to teach, but he did not become nationally known until the communist domination of the Iranian province of Azerbaijan forced him to come to Tehran and Qom at the end of World War II. He spent the rest of his life in Qom with some days of each month being spent in Tehran. He devoted his time completely to teaching and writing and died in Qom in 1981.

At once a great teacher, saintly presence, and prolific writer, Tabataba’I wrote a large number of works (see Tabataba’I, 1975, introduction, for his bibliography). Some of his works, some written in Arabic and others in Persian, deal with the Qur’an and specifically religious matters, the most important of which is the voluminous Al-mizdn, written originally in Arabic and translated into Persian mostly under Tabataba’I’s direction. Among his religious works are Qur’dn dar Islam (The Quran in Islam) and Shi’ ah dar Islam (Shi’ite Islam), both of which have been translated into English. A second category includes his numerous philosophical works, ranging from his major philosophical opus, Usul-i falsafah -yi ri’alism, to his last philosophical writings, Biddyat al-hikmah and Nihayat al-hikmah. Finally, there are the works dealing with current religious and philosophical debates, of which the most significant is Musdhabdt bd Ustad Kurban, containing some of his discussions with the French Islamist and philosopher, Henry Corbin.

Among Tabataba’i’s purely religious writing, the most influential is Al-mizdn, in which he used the method of commenting on a particular Qur’anic verse with the aid of other Qur’anic verses, while taking into full consideration classical as well as recent Qur’anic commentaries written by Sunnis and Shl’is alike.

Tabataba’i’s philosophical contributions include his refutation of Marxist dialectic on the basis of traditional Islamic philosophy, the revival of the teachings of Mulla Sadra, whose Asfar he edited with his own commentary, and his response to various Western philosophical and theological questions, which were usually discussed between him and Corbin in weekly sessions in Tehran during the autumn between 1958 and 1977 that drew many eminent scholars to their midst, the translation and commentary between Persian and French being made by Seyyed Hossein Nasr.

A person of great saintly countenance and piety, Tabataba’I was able to resuscitate Islamic philosophy despite the opposition of many `ulama’. He taught the philosophy of Ibn Sina and Mulla Sadra and gnosis and also gave spiritual direction to a small number of disciples. His students in the field of Islamic philosophy, among the class of `ulama’, included Murtaza Mutahhari, Sayyid Jalal al-Din Ashtiyani, and Hasan Hasanzadah Amuli. Although he shunned politics, some of his students, such as Mutahharl, became political activists, and many reached positions of prominence after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Tabataba’I also had students associated with university circles who extended his influence among those who attended Western-style institutions of learning and who were at the same time attracted to traditional Islamic thought.

Since his death, `Allamah Tabataba’i has been greatly honored in Iran. A university has been named after him, and his works continue to enjoy great popularity. His writings are also being translated to an ever greater extent into English, and he is becoming known throughout the Islamic world as one of the major intellectual and spiritual figures not only of Shiism but of Islam as a whole during this century.

[See also the biographies of Mutahhari and Nasr.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

`Allamah Tabdtabd’i Commemoration Volume. Tehran, 1983. Tabataba’I, Muhammad Husayn. Shiite Islam. Translated and edited with an introduction by Seyyed Hossein Nast. Albany, N.Y., 1975. Includes the author’s biography and bibliography.

Tabataba’i, Muhammad Husayn. The Quran in Islam: Its Impact and Influence in the Life of Muslims. Translated by A. Yates. London, 1987. Tabataba’i, Muhammad Husayn. Islamic Teachings: An Overview. Translated by R. Campbell. New York, 1989. Includes a translation of the author’s brief autobiography.

Tabataba’i, Muhammad Husayn. Bidayat al-hikmah. Translated by A. Q. Qara’i in Al-tawhid 8.3 (February 1991): 93-108; 8.4 (May 1991) 97-1o8; 9.2 (November 1991): 68-82; and 9.3 (April 1992): 92-III.

SEYYED HOSSEIN NASR

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/tabatabai-muhammad-husayn/
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