Shaikh Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn al-Hasan at-Tusi was born in the year 385 AH. Among his many teachers included Shaikh al-Mufid and Sayed Murtadha. Upon the death of Sayed Murtadha, Shaikh Tusi was recognized as the greatest spiritual authority of the Shi'a world. Under his tutelage, nearly 300 students became jurists, and the Shi'a faith began to strengthen and gain popularity in Baghdad.
The enemies of the Shi'a could not bear to see the faith flourish, and they began to devise various schemes to combat its rise. Several riots and disturbances were instigated in Shi'a neighborhoods. Shaikh Tusi urged restraint and patience. Seeing their plans fail, the enemies eventually went to the most extreme length. As its inhabitants stared in utter shock and sorrow, the entire neighborhood of Karb was burned down, including Shaikh Tusi's library. This collection housed 90,000 books and pieces of literature, an incomparable collection that contained original manuscripts of narrations and dictations by several companions and students of the Infallibles (peace be upon them), exegeses of the Qur'an, books and notes on matters of jurisprudence, as well as countless other irreplaceable gems of knowledge.
Upon this brutal atrocity against Shi'a academia, Shaikh Tusi decided that Baghdad was no longer safe. He and his students decided to migrate to Najaf, which was then a tiny village surrounding the burial site of Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (peace be upon him). The seminary he founded in Najaf continues to this day to produce eminent scholars and theologians, including the present Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani (may God protect him).
An brilliant jurist and scholar, Shaikh Tusi produced two of the four major "textbooks" used today in the seminary system – Al-Istabsar and Tahdheebul Ahkaam. These books contain narrations of the Infallibles (peace be upon them) on all matters, especially those pertaining to jurisprudential issues.
It is narrated that another book Shaikh Tusi wrote was seen as controversial among the scholars of his time. Three scholars in Najaf found great fault with Shaikh Tusi's work, and they eventually decided to fast for three days and then consult Imam Ali (peace be upon him) to get a verdict. The Imam appeared in each of their dreams and gave explicit support for Shaikh Tusi's book in the exact same words to each one. When the embarrassed scholars approached Shaikh Tusi for an apology, he commented, "You didn't believe me when I told you, but I suppose you believe it when Amirul Momineen tells you!"
Shocked that Shaikh Tusi must have received this knowledge from the Imam himself, the dissenting scholars expressed their regret and shame at having doubting him. Shaikh Tusi and his book's fame thus grew around the seminary. He was undisputedly recognized as the most knowledgeable and pious scholar of his time, and other jurists refused to issue fatawa (edicts) as long as Shaikh Tusi was doing so. In 460 AH, this vanguard of Shi'ism left the world. However, in recognition of his superior knowledge and wisdom, not a single jurist felt comfortable putting forward a dissenting ruling for the next 80 years after his death!
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.