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Ṭabāṭabāʿī, Muḥammad Ḥusayn

By:
Seyyed Hossein Nasr
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Ṭabāṭabāʿī, Muḥammad Ḥusayn

Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ṭabāṭabāʿī (1903–1981), known to his contemporaries as ʿAllāmah Ṭabāṭabāʿī, was one of the foremost Qurʿānic commentators and traditional Persian philosophers of the twentieth century. Born to a well-known family of Shīʿī scholars of Tabriz in a.h. 1321/1903 c.e., 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 ijtihād 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 Shīʿī circles with ʿirfān (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 move 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 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, Ṭabāṭabāʿī wrote a large number of works (see Ṭabāṭabāʿī, Shiʿite Islam, introduction, for his bibliography). Some of his works—some written in Arabic and others in Persian—deal with the Qurʿān and specifically religious matters, the most important of which is the voluminous Al-mīzān, written originally in Arabic and translated into Persian mostly under Ṭabāṭabāʿī's direction. Among his religious works are Qurʿān dar Islām (The Qurʿān in Islam) and Shīʿah dar Islām (Shīʿī Islam), both of which have been translated into English. A second category includes his numerous philosophical works, ranging from his major philosophical opus, Uṣūl-i falsafah-yi riʿālīsm, to his last philosophical writings, Bidāyat al-ḥikmah and Nihāyat al-ḥikmah. Finally, there are the works dealing with current religious and philosophical debates, of which the most significant is Mūṣāḥabāt bā Ustād Kurbān, containing some of his discussions with the French Islamist and philosopher Henry Corbin.

Among Ṭabāṭabāʿī's purely religious writing, the most influential is Al-mīzān, in which he used the method of commenting on a particular Qurʿānic verse with the aid of other Qurʿānic verses, while taking into full consideration classical as well as recent Qurʿānic commentaries written by Sunnīs and Shīʿah alike.

Ṭabāṭabāʿī's philosophical contributions include his refutation of Marxist dialectic on the basis of traditional Islamic philosophy, the revival of the teachings of Mullā Ṣadrā, whose Asfār 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 of the years from 1958 to 1977. These conversations attracted many eminent scholars to their midst, the translation between Persian and French and commentary having been made by Seyyed Hossein Nasr.

A person of great saintly countenance and piety, Ṭabāṭabāʿī was able to resuscitate Islamic philosophy despite the opposition of many ʿulamāʿ. He taught the philosophy of Ibn Sīnā and Mullā Ṣadrā 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 ʿulamāʿ, included Murtaz‥ ā Muṭahharī, Sayyid Jalāl al-Dīn āshtiyānī, and Ḥasan Ḥasanzādah āmulī. Although he shunned politics, some of his students, such as Muṭahharī, became political activists, and many reached positions of prominence after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Ṭabāṭabāʿī 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, ʿAllāmah Ṭabāṭabāʿī 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 MUṭAHHARī, MURTAZ‥ā; and NASR, Seyyed Hossein.]

Bibliography

  • ʿAllāmah Ṭabāṭabāʿī Commemoration Volume. Tehran, 1983.
  • Jahanbakhsh, Forough. Islam, Democracy, and Religious Modernism in Iran, 1953–2000: from Bāzargān to Soroush. Leiden, Netherlands, 2001.
  • Ṭabāṭabāʿī, Muḥammad Ḥusayn. The Essential of Islamic Metaphysics: “Bidāyat al-ḥikmah.”Translated from the Arabic by A. Q. Qara’i. London, 2003.
  • Tabātabāʿī, Muhammad Husayn. Islamic Teachings: An Overview. Translated from the persian by R. Campbell. New York, 2000. Includes a translation of the author's brief autobiography.
  • Tabātabāʿī, Muhammad Husayn. The Qurʿān in Islam: Its Impact and Influence in the Life of Muslims. Translated from the persian by A. Yates. London, 1987.
  • Ṭabāṭabāʿī, Muḥammad Ḥusayn. Shiʿite Islam. Translated from the Persian and edited with an introduction by Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Qom, 2002. Includes the author's biography and bibliography.
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