Appreciating a Scholar – a Century Later

One of the scholars of the 19th century that I came across during my readings in 2014 and have always been fascinated by is Shaykh Hadi Tehrani (1837-1905). Shaykh Hadi did his initial studies in Isfahan but later moved to Najaf to study under Shaykh Ansari (d. 1864). After the demise of Shaykh Ansari, he studied under Sheikh Abdul Husayn Tehrani and after his demise, he studied under Mirza Muhammad-Hasan Shirazi (famous for the Tobacco Protest in 1890).

Though he studied under Shaykh Ansari, later in life he became a staunch opponent of Shaykh Ansari’s views. He fell into conflict with one of the most prolific students of Shaykh Ansari, namely Mirza Habibullah. Shaykh Hadi was known for being blunt in his views and faced severe opposition due to that. This also created an excuse for some of his opponents to excommunicate him.

The behavior of the students of both Shaykh Hadi and Mirza Habibullah is also of relevance here. The students of Shaykh Hadi would exaggerate his status and consider him to be greater than the rest of the scholars of his time, even greater than the classical scholars of the past. Whereas the students of Mirza Habibullah would consider taunting Shaykh Hadi permissible and convinced a large portion of the population to do the same.

The propaganda against Shaykh Hadi became so extreme that many of his students left studying under him out of fear. He began giving lessons in his own home in the morning and during ‘Asr. He would give lessons in the summer evenings at a location on the roof of the shrine of Imam ‘Ali (a) and in the winter he would give them in one of the rooms in the courtyard of the shrine. He had about 15 students at most, and some of them would cover their heads with their cloaks so they would not be identified when attending his classes.

During those years, the works of Shaykh Hadi Tehrani, especially his critical remarks on Shaykh Ansari’s Fara’id al-Usul, were not accessible as they were still in manuscript format and very burdensome to read. In 2017, while sitting in one of the Wednesday evening gahdeh (weekly open gatherings) at Sayyid Ahmad Madadi’s house, a senior student of his, as well as a researcher and teacher of bahth al-kharij, Sayyid Muhammad Hasan al-Musawi ( – who would often be seen in these gatherings – started to speak about Shaykh Hadi Tehrani, and how he was almost finished working on the research of his critical remarks on Fara’id al-Usul and that the work should be ready for publication soon.

The work seems to have been published in 2018 in 6 volumes (although I could not locate its PDFs), but it seems that a second researcher also worked on the manuscript of this work & published it in 4 volumes in 2021 (PDFs are accessible online). Perhaps one of the most significant differences he has with Shaykh Ansari is the division of what a duty-bound agent’s conditions are when facing a legal matter. Shaykh Ansari divides it into: Certainty, Speculation or Doubt, whereas Shaykh Hadi believes it should be: Detailed Knowledge (al-‘ilm al-tafsili), Indeterminate Knowledge (al-‘ilm al-ijmali), or Unstated Knowledge (al-‘ilm al-iqtidha’i).

The story of Shaykh Hadi was very interesting and inspiring for me to read. It showed the steadfastness of a scholar upon a view, despite the harassment and ex-communication, the type of conflicts that would arise between high caliber scholars, and the role of followers in inciting and fueling certain disagreements. After a century, a few important scholars are now looking back and appreciating what Shaykh Hadi put forth, commending his depth of understanding, encouraging researchers to publish all of his works and even motivating students to write dissertations on him, though they may not agree with everything he believed in.

Sayyid Shubayri Zanjani quotes two anecdotes from two different dreams which seem to point out the great status of Shaykh Hadi Tehrani. Both of them can be read here: