Ayatollah Durche’ī – the Marj’a of Moderation

Below is a translation of Rasul Ja’fariyan’s book review on the life and views of Ayatollah Durche’i, the teacher of many well known 20th century scholars.

Source: Syed Mohammad Bāqir Durche’ī marja’ mu’tadil dar urseh andīsheh hā yeh shi’ī by Rasῡl Ja’fariyān in Majmῡ’ eh maqālāt tārīkh islām va īrān, p. 293 to 298

Syed Mohammad Bāqir Durche’ī was one of the most outstanding and distinguished jurists in the past century. After many years studying in Najaf and Isfahan he was considered to be amongst the best teachers of fiqh. He spent his time mainly teaching in Isfahan, and due to the constraints of that city he remained relatively unknown, and towards the end of his life he attained the rank of marj’a taqlīd. It can be briefly said that Marhῡm Durche’ī was born in the year 1262 in Durcheh, Isfahan. After spending a number of years in Najaf he returned to Isfahan in the year 1303, and after many years of teaching and spiritual guidance, in the year 1342 under the oppression of the government of Ridhā Khān he passed away and was buried in the same city he was born in, or as some say, he was martyred.

Marhῡm had a large number of students of which a number of them would become some of the more celebrated scholars of contemporary Iran. The most prominent student of his was Syed Burῡjerdī. Other recognisable names are Syed Abul Hassan Isfahānī, Hāj Aqā Rahīm Arbābi, Aqā Jamāl Gulpaygāni, Mohammad Jawād Sāfi Gulpaygāni, Aqā Najafī Qῡchāni, Mīrzā Alī Shīrāzī, Aqā Shaykh Mohammad Bāqir Kirmānī, Murtadhā Ardkānī, Shahīd Ashrafī Isfahānī, Syed Mohammad Ridhā Khorāsānī and Jalāl al-Dīn Hamā’ī.

The most notable aspect in the life of this great man was that he was a pure and refined scholar, and in respect to Shi’ī doctrinal matters he was moderate, far from any forms of extremism or shortcomings (ifrāt wa tafrīt). From this perspective he has a distinction over many other scholars of his time. There are numerous accounts that discuss how his moderation was passed down to Syed Burῡjerdī through his works, and Burῡjerdī himself was influenced by the views of his teacher. Shahīd Mutahharī in his book [1] has also touched on this. Hāj Aqā Rahīm Arbābi who remained busy teaching in Isfahan till the end of his life, and who never put the turban on his head despite his knowledgeable status, was also influenced by Durche’ī.

As for the accounts of moderation narrated about Marhῡm Durche’ī, many stories have been mentioned, some of which have truth and some which are no more than rumours and fabrications. These false stories narrated about him had become so widespread that an entire book called Takht fῡlād was published a few years before the revolution which misrepresented the personality of Durche’ī, showing him as a religious reformist. During that time in Isfahan there were many scholars who sought to reform the general state of the Shi’ī community, even within the field of doctrinal matters where they openly contested views held by lecturers and scholars. At that time, and also sometime after, a number of his students rejected as false many of the stories contained within this book. This book has once again been published by Umīd Farda publications, a publication which is generally very critical of the scholars.

Now this new book Sitāre īh az sharq has attempted to collect all the stories about Marhῡm Durche’ī from his works and memories narrated from his students and scholars. To be fair the compiler of this book has done a great job and has been very fortunate to put this together. There are a number of points mentioned in this book about his godly personality which are thought-provoking and highly informative. It should be noted that the father of the compiler, Ayatollah Syed Musavī, was the nephew of Marhῡm Durche’ī and his son in law as well, thus making the compiler a descendant of Durche’ī from his very own daughter. This close family proximity has helped the compiler in being aware first hand of the situation and condition of Marhῡm Durche’ī. The compiler two years ago issued another book Qiseh hā yeh māndanī az chehreh hā yeh māndanī, this book is 900 pages long and in respect to many other books that have been published about the lives of scholars which are nothing but baseless stories and popular rumours which people held about certain scholars, in particular during the time of Ridha Shāh, this book has the potential to show the spiritual prowess of a high ranking scholar in a city like Isfahan.

Before I mention that which is related to the moderation of Marhῡm Durche’ī, it’s important that I mention something briefly. The compiler of this book has included a chapter where he brings a number of stories showing the devotion of Marhῡm Durche’ī to the Ahlulbayt so that none of the other stories narrated about him can be misinterpreted or lead to him being accused of not having respect for them[3]. It’s important that these stories are understood properly and not be interpreted inappropriately or taken out of context. All the stories mentioned within this book are based on the notion of moderation as seen by Durche’ī which can be split into two sections, one looking at the importance Durche’ī gave to Tawhīd and the other his strict attention to fabricated stories mentioned within the mourning ceremonies.

As for the first section, it should be said that Durche’ī strived relentlessly to mention the significance of understanding Tawhīd to everyone, and whenever he would wish to speak about the lofty position of the Ahlulbayt he would first commence with talking about Tawhīd. Hassan Modarris, a student of his who lived a long life and passed away not too long ago, asked his teacher about the position of the Ahlulbayt. Durche’ī responded that on the night of power I will discuss this issue on the pulpit. That night Durche’ī spoke in great detail about Tawhīd and from there moved on to speaking about the grandeur of the Ahlulbayt. In the words of Hassan Modarris, the doctrine of Durche’ī was that love for the Ahlulbayt only has value if it takes place under the shadow of Tawhīd. By saying this he didn’t intend to bring down the value of loving the Ahlulbayt even by an iota, but instead, he would stress that this love needs to be well founded and based on sincerity. Modarris adds, that after hearing this speech by his teacher his understanding of Tawhīd magnified [4].

Once again Modarris mentions: “Allāmah would explain the manner of upholding the different dimensions of Tawhīd when seeking intercession and the fulfilment of needs from the Imāms, so that a person’s understanding of Tawhīd would not be diminished and adversely affected while doing so.[5]” Hassan Modarris likewise mentions: “Marhῡm Allāmah Durche’ī had a famous saying which he would repeat commonly whenever he heard speakers talk exclusively in relation to the Imams and very little or nothing about Tawhīd: Dear, at least leave something (to speak about) for God!”[6].

Marhῡm Zind Karmāni who was also one of his students, would say about his teacher that it was falsely attributed to him based on rumours that he had weak belief in divine-like miracles of the Imāms. Those people who spread these rumours would tell people to stand in the streets and ask for charity from Marhum Durche’ī, and after he would give the charity they would goad him and say: “May Abul Fadhl give you a long life and keep you safe”. Since they knew Durche’ī could not tolerate this expression they would get people to gather around and watch his reaction. They would create this scene for Durche’ī almost movie like and those watching would hear Durche’ī say: “Abul Fadhl is unable to give long life!”, he would then immediately add: “Why do you not say instead: Oh God, for the right of Abul Fadh give long life. Why do you give Divinity to him when in reality these great individuals are slaves of God. How can you consider them as equals to Him?”[7].

From this, it can be seen that when it came to matters of Tawhīd Marhῡm Durche’ī was very attentive and was not prepared to say anything or to hear anything which could give the impression of attributing divinity to the Imāms or to any of their children.

Ayatollah Ardakānī who was another student of his has said in this regards: “Whenever someone would make the prayer in front of him, “May Hadhrat Abbās grant you a long life”, or “May Imām Hussayn solve your problems”, Durche’ī would respond: “Don’t say these things! It is God who gives life and solves problems. Hadhrat Abbās and Imam Hussayn should be made the means of intercession to reaching God (and not be the ends themselves!)” [8]. Marhῡm Ashrafī Isfahāni also recognised these accusations as rumours and said: “Yes, when it came to sayings which contained disbelief and polytheism, albeit just in the expression, he would oppose it.[9] ” Ayatollah Khorāsānī who was also a student of his and was the head of the seminary of Isfahan for many years before the revolution narrates that once a beggar came to Durche’ī while he was walking, when Durche’ī put his hand in his pocket to take out some money the beggar said “May Alī cure all your pain”, upon hearing this Durche’ī took his hand out, ignored the beggar and continued walking [10].

Other than stories related to Tawhīd and polytheism which Durche’ī showed great sensitivity too, there were also the issues of false narrations which were recited by poets and lecturers in mourning ceremonies where he was just as sensitive. This should be understood while keeping in mind Durche’ī was a proponent of azādāri and he himself would organise mourning ceremonies, however the reciters didn’t have the courage to recite anything (dubious) in front of him. In this regards a number of stories have been narrated. On one occasion a reciter was on the pulpit speaking while Durche’ī was sitting in an adjacent room listening to him. This reciter narrated a long story and in the end said: “The King said, because this Arab gave everything he had in his possession for me, it is only fair if I reciprocate and give everything I have for him. Imam Hussayn similarly on the day of Ashῡra gave everything he had for God, therefore God will give Imam Hussayn everything he had on the Day of Judgement and He will say to him: Take whatever you want and do whatever you please. And my Divinity is in your hands as well. You gave everything for Me, and I will do similarly for you.” Upon hearing this Durche’ī immediately came out of his room and shouted out: “Get down! Get down! Don’t say these inappropriate things! What a big mistake you have made. When will God ever do this?! [11]” On another occasion, a poet was reciting a couplet on the pulpit where he attributed the following line to Hadhrat Zaynab: “Oh how my wailing has made me old”. Durche’ī heard this and interjected loudly: “What are you saying? When did Hadhrat Zainab say this? [12]

To conclude it appears that the book sitareh ih az sharq is not only an excellent description of the life of Durche’ī but also a great insight into the religious history of Isfahan and to a further extent Iran itself. Even though at times the subject of the stories are quite scattered and at times the narrator of the story isn’t quite clear, the book contains many illuminating points worthy of reflection. It should be said the movement of Durche’ī was continued by his student Hāj Aqā Rahīm Arbāb, a great jurist and Shi’ī scholar who also took a zero-tolerance approach to innovation and superstition. It can be mentioned that Hāj Arbāb, in turn, continued this movement through a number of his students [13]. In Qom, Syed Burῡjerdī became the global marja’ for the Shi’ī community and the influence of his teacher Durche’ī was visible through his emphasis on Muslim unity, his effort in removing extreme practices in mourning and his very strict methodology in transmitting traditions from the hadīth corpora.

References

1 – Imāmate va rahbarī by Shahīd Mutahhari p. 35 where he says: “And they say that Aqā Durche’ī, the teacher of Syed Burῡjerdi in Isfahan rejected the third stage of Imāmate”

2 – Sitāre īh az sharq by Taqī Durche’ī, p. 349 to 359

3 – ibid, p. 360

4 – ibid, p. 344

5 – ibid, p. 344 – 345

6 – ibid, p. 361

7 – ibid, p. 362

8 – ibid, p. 363

9 – ibid, p. 365

10 – ibid, p. 422 – 423

11 – ibid, p. 427

12 – Hāj Arbāb’s most notable students who continued this path were Ayatollah Sālehī Najaf Abādi (infamous for writing Shahīd e jāvīd) and Syed Mohammad Jawād Gharavī (known particularly for his unorthodox jurisprudential rulings).

13 – An example of such views in the life of Syed Burῡjerdi would be his fatwa on the impermissibility in kissing the dharīh of Syeda Ma’sῡmah (refer to al-thawra al-hussayniya khasā’is wa mortakazāt by Sayyid Khamenei, p. 140)

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