With his newly-wed bride fast asleep next to him, the student was still thinking about the bizarre occurrences of the day. It had all happened so quickly. During one of his classes, the scholar announced that he was looking for a pious and morally upright suitor for his daughter. Without even thinking too much, the student had stood up and sat down, indicating his candidacy. The scholar hurried home with him, and upon obtaining the girl's permission, the marriage was performed. No questions were asked about the student's economic status, which was close to nil. The couple was given a room within the teacher's house to spend the night. And now, a few hours later, the student was even more bewildered to hear the sound of water sloshing outside in a bucket, followed by a knock on the door. "I know it is your first night together, but I have left some water here," the teacher called out. "Please perform the ablution and make sure you do not miss the Night Prayer!"
He was born Muhammad Hussain ibn Shaikh Ali ibn Shaikh Muhammad Ridha Kashif al-Ghita in Najaf in 1294 AH. He was a direct descendant of Shaikh Ja'far Kashif al-Ghita. His father, Shaikh Ali, was an erudite scholar in the seminary of Najaf, and Shaikh Hussain studied under him at the young age of six years before moving on to such great teachers as Akhund Khurasani, Sayyid Muhammad Kadhim Tabatabai, and Shaikh Muhammad Taqi Shirazi. When he was barely 15, he had already penned an extensive history of his family and their contributions to the Shia faith.
After completing his education, Shaikh Hussain settled in Egypt, where he was given a position at Al-Azhar University teaching jurisprudence and rhetoric. There, he met the great Muslim intellectual Sayyid Jamaluddin Asadabadi. During this time, Europeans were busy colonizing and exploiting most of the Muslim world, and Sayyid Jamaluddin initiated a movement to awaken the Muslim masses against the imperial injustices. After Sayyid Jamaluddin's death, Shaikh Hussain continued his message calling for unity among Muslims against the colonial onslaught. At a conference of Muslim scholars held in Palestine, Shaikh Hussain called for an end to sectarian conflicts and for Muslims to unite against the colonial powers or face destruction.
When World War I started, British troops ransacked much of Iraq. Shaikh Hussain immediately left Egypt for the Gulf, and along with many other prominent jurists and scholars, he issued an edict for Jihad against the occupiers. In fact, he recruited many of his students and colleagues to go out on the battlefield and face the enemy soldiers directly.
One of his most popular works at the time was Al-Deen Wa al-Islam Aw al-Da'wa al-Islamiya, a treatise calling for the reawakening of the Islamic revolutionary spirit and decrying the loss of their Islamic identity by the Muslims of the world. The book also called for a renewal of Islam and its practices and for the removal of extremism and superstitions from Muslim practices. The power of the pen and the sword must be combined if the Muslim world is to succeed, Shaikh Hussain argued. The book was translated into many languages and was vastly popular among revolutionary and anti-colonial movements around the Muslim world.
In addition to his political activities, Shaikh Hussain was quite active in the seminary of Najaf. The Kashif al-Ghita family had maintained the Madressa Mo'tamad for over a century, and he continued that tradition. Under his tutelage, the seminary produced some of the greatest minds of the Shia world, including Martyr Sayyid Muhammad Qadhi Tabatabai and Ayatollah Sayyid Mohsin al-Hakeem. The famous Arab writer Muhammad Jawad Mughniya was also among his students. He penned many books on religious topics, including Al-Firdous al-A'ala and Al-Mithl al-'Uliya.
During his old age, Shaikh Hussain retired to the small city of Karand, Iran. Soon, however, his condition began to deteriorate, and in 1373 AH, he passed away at the age ripe age of 79. His body was taken to Najaf, where he was laid to rest in the Wadi as-Salam cemetery.
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.