By end of 2013, I had already visited and sat in the open gatherings of Ayatullah Sayyid Shubayri Zanjani, which would take place before Maghrib prayers in his office, a few times and began to realize how important of a scholar he actually was. Before coming to Qom, I had never heard of him and never knew that he was one of the most knowledgeable Marja’s of our era.
Though I could not understand any of the academic discussions he would be having with his senior students, to be able to sit 2 steps away from him in that close proximity was very overwhelming. The most I could pick up during those days were some stories he would mention here and there about some scholars which were very fascinating to hear. I will share some interesting moments from those gatherings at a later time.
Near the end of 2013, I realized that two volumes of a book were published earlier in the winter of 2012 by the Shi’i Bio-Bibliographical Institute called Jurayee az Darya (A Drop from the Sea). These two volumes were a collection of articles and oral anecdotes regarding different scholars by Ayatullah Zanjani, the very same kind of anecdotes that I had already heard him narrating in those pre-Maghrib gatherings every now and then. Over the years, those anecdotes were recorded and saved by students and researchers and they managed to publish an entire two volumes out of it.
Me and my good friend and colleague Syed Hadi Rizvi were very much interested in purchasing these two volumes, but when we discovered the price for the 2 volumes, it was 40,000 Tomans each (around $15 CAD at that time). Purchasing 2 volumes would cost us both $30 CAD each. Due to my early years in the seminary and still being very cautious with how we spent our money, especially as I was paying rent, just recently had my daughter and life expenses had increased, we decided to purchase 1 volume each. We agreed that once each of us was done reading and skimming through a volume, we would exchange the book with one another and then read the other half. That is what we did in 2014. The book was so fascinating that it was also the year that I started to translate some of the shorter stories onto Iqra Online; see for example these 12 stories here: https://iqraonline.net/tag/drop-from-the-sea/
Later on, when my financial situation got a little better, I was able to purchase my own copy of one of the second volumes, as well as volumes 3 & 4 which were published later in the years.
This book single-handedly shaped so much of my perspectives on the Hawzah, the scholarly tradition, how to engage in studies, the diversity in how scholars put faith into action, the challenges they faced, how they made decisions in different circumstances, how serious they were with their studies, the extent they went to prioritize their intellectual pursuits, and most importantly, that the seminary was not as rosy as people from the outside may think. It is a place which demands a high level of commitment, and the lazy ones will not get too far despite how many years they spend. Every opportunity Allah (swt) put your way had to be ceased and negligence was hardly an option. This was obviously not as easy as it sounds, due to the complex structures in place, especially for foreign students, poor curriculum design, and different goals schools may have for you, but nevertheless, with strong willpower, a little bit of open-mindedness and right guidance of teachers, things were achievable and resources were plentiful in a place like Qom.