He was born Shaikh Murtada ibn Muhammad Hussain Mutahhari in 1338 AH in Fariman, Iran. At the early age of 12, he began his religious education in the Shia seminary in Mashhad, where he mainly studied religion as well as philosophy. With the rise of the Qom seminary under the leadership of Shaikh Abdul Karim Haeri, Shaikh Mutahhari moved there and began studying under some of the greatest teachers of jurisprudence, including Sayyid Muhammad Hujjat Kohkamri, Sayyid Muhaqqiq al-Damad, Sayyid Muhammad Ridha Gulpaygani, Sayyid Hussain Burujardi, and Sayyid Muhammad Hussain Tabatabai. His main mentor in Qom, however, was a young scholar by the name of Sayyid Ruhollah Musawi Khomeini.
Shaikh Mutahhari was extremely fascinated and impressed by the personality of Imam Khomeini. He first studied the philosophy of Mullah Sadra and Mullah Hadi Sabzwari under him, later encouraging him to take up the teaching of jurisprudence and its principles. While Imam Khomeini trained dozens of scholars and jurist in the famous Madressa Faiziyya, many of whom would later become leaders of the Islamic Revolution, he had the strongest affinity towards Shaikh Muhattari, whom he often referred to as his son and as the fruit of his life's work.
In 1371, Shaikh Mutahhari moved to Tehran, where he took up a job teaching philosophy at the University of Tehran. In those days, Marxist, materialist, and secularist literature was widespread in Iranian society. Shaikh Mutahhari began to first study and then refute the major texts written in each of these philosophical disciplines. The interesting thing about his writings is that he had studied under some of the greatest teachers and jurists of the seminary – including Allama Tabatabai and Ayatollah Burujardi – and therefore he countered these ideologies from a very traditionalist and unapologetic Islamic point of view.
As Ayatollah Khomeini began to publicly denounce the Pahlavi regime's atrocities, Shaikh Mutahhari took it upon himself to mentally prepare the masses for the impending Revolution. His books on such vital social topics as Hijab, family structure, gender roles, youth, and the role of scholars in society laid the intellectual foundation for the mass movement that would eventually vote in overwhelming numbers to create an Islamic government in Iran. Unlike his colleagues in the seminary, Shaikh Mutahhari's books were not academic in nature and were aimed at the lay reader. Many of these books have been translated into English and are available online, the most popular ones being Man and Universe, Woman and Her Rights, The Islamic Modest Dress, and Light Within Me (which he co-authored with Imam Khomeini and Allama Tabatabai).
During Imam Khomeini's exile in Iraq and then France, Shaikh Mutahhari publicly spoke in favor of the Imam's ideas and encouraged others to support the revolutionary movement. Along with Martyr Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Beheshti, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei, and Hujjatul Islam Muhammad Jawad Bahonar, he founded the Warrior Clerics Association in 1397 AH and the Council of the Islamic Revolution in 1399 AH. With the climax of anti-Shah sentiment in 1399 AH, the monarchy was abolished, and Imam Khomeini returned from exile to lead the Revolution and the establishment of an Islamic Republic in Iran.
Shaikh Mutahhari was considered one of the greatest minds behind the Revolution and would have been a tremendous asset for the future success of the Islamic Republic. However, his role in the leadership of the Revolution would not last long. In 1399 AH, while he was returning from a meeting of the Council of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran, he was fatally assassinated by a member of the terrorist Furqan group. Amid an outpour of grief from scholars and the masses alike, his body was taken to Qom, and he was laid to rest next to Shaikh Abdul Karim Haeri in the courtyard of Lady Masooma's (peace be upon her) shrine. Today, his martyrdom anniversary is commemorated as Teacher's Day in Iran.