He was born Muhammad ibn Ahmad in a small family in Ardabil, in Iran, sometime in the early 10th century AH. Very little is known about his early life, until he arrived at the seminary of Najaf. Upon the demise of Shaheed al-Thani, he was acknowledged as the supreme religious authority (Marja) of the Shia community. In addition to being a great scholar, Muqaddas Ardabili was also an exceptionally pious individual. Due to his high spiritual rank, he was one of the few individuals through history who have been able to meet with the 12th Imam whenever they desired.
When he traveled, he would usually ride a mule. However, in order to be fair to his animal, he would ride half the way and walk the rest. He never used a whip, and he allowed the animal to walk at whatever pace it wished. If it wished to stop on the way and graze or rest, he would happily comply.
Once in order to travel from Najaf to Kadhmiya, he rented a mule from a local man. When he was returning from Kadhmiya, he was asked by a local man to carry a letter for him to a relative in Najaf. He agreed, but when he entered Najaf, people saw that he was walking instead of riding the mule. When they asked why, he told them that the mule's owner had only agreed for the mule to be used for traveling. Since he was carrying a letter for someone, he did not wish to transgress the owner's rights, and therefore decided to walk all the way from Kadhmiya to Najaf!
Another time, as he was walking through the streets of Najaf, a man approached him and asked him to wash his shirt. Muqaddas Ardabili was dressed in simple clothing, and the man had not recognized him. However, he simply took the shirt and began washing it in a nearby lake. A crowd soon gathered to see what the great scholar was doing. When the man was finally told about his mistake, he begged Muqaddas Ardabili for forgiveness and asked for his shirt back. Instead, the scholar told him that he was only fulfilling a fellow believer's rights, and that he would return the shirt once he was done washing it properly!
Since the rise of Hilla in previous centuries, the seminary of Najaf had declined significantly. Due to his knowledge and high spiritual status, Muqaddas Ardabili began to attract students back to Najaf, and it once again became the seat of Shia learning and religious authority. He trained more jurists than anyone else in history besides Shaikh Tusi. Among his famous students was the son of Shaheed al-Thani, whose book Mo'aalim became part of the seminary curriculum.
EDITOR'S NOTE: These articles are adaptations of lectures delivered by Maulana Sadiq Hasan in Karachi, Pakistan, during the 1980s on the lives of the great scholars of Islam. The Urdu lectures can be accessed at Hussainiat.com. For previous articles in this series, please look under the History section.