KĀŠEF-AL-ḠEṬʾ, JAʿFAR B. ḴEŻR NAJAFI (b. Najaf, 1156/1743; d. Najaf, 1227/1812), Shiʿi scholar and jurist, broadly influential in both Iraq and Persia. His cognomen, meaning “remover of the veil,” alludes to one of his best known works, Kašf al-ḡeṭāʾ ʿan mobhamāt al-šariʿat al-ḡorrāʾ (“Removing the veil from the obscurities of the resplendent divine law”). Combined with āl (“family”), it also came to serve as designation for the scholarly lineage he inaugurated. He is sometimes known in the biographical literature as Šayḵ-e Akbar (“the supreme sheikh”) or as Šayk-e Najafi, for it was in Najaf that he spent the major part of his career; he left only for regular visits to Persia and in order to perform the Hajj, first in 1186/1772 and then in 1199/1785.
Sheikh Jaʿfar was born in Najaf in 1156/1743 to Ḵeżr, a scholar of some renown who had migrated there from Janāja, a village near Ḥella, and it may be presumed that his father was his first teacher. But far more significant was his training at the hands of luminaries of the resurgent Oṣuli school of Shiʿite jurisprudence, including Moḥammad Bāqer “Vaḥid” Behbahāni (d. 1205/1791), commonly regarded as the mojadded (“renewer”) of that school; Sayyed Mahdi Baḥr al-ʿOlum Ṭabāṭabāʾi (d. 1212/1797); and Sayyed Ṣādeq Faḥḥām. Among those whom he in turn trained were Moḥammad Ḥasan b. Moḥammad Bāqer Najafi (d. 1266/1850), commonly known as Ṣāḥeb-e Javāher, with respect to his well-known book, Javāher al-kalām; Hojjat-al-Eslām Moḥammad Bāqer Šafti (d. 1260/1844), an influential figure in Isfahan for much of the reign of Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah; Sheikh Moḥammad-Taqi Najafi, author of Hedāyat al-mostaršedin; Sayyed Ṣadral- Din Musavi ʿĀmeli; and Sheikh Aḥmad Aḥsāʾi (q.v.; d. 1241/1826), founder of the theological school known as the Šayḵiya. On the death of Baḥr-al-ʿOlum Ṭabāṭabāʾi in 1212/1797, Sheikh Jaʿfar became the most widely followed scholar in Iraq, Persia, and other areas of Shiʿi population. He consolidated the Oṣuli position as normative for Shiʿism and, by the same token, enhanced the social and even political role of the ulama.
For Sheikh Jaʿfar’s influence transcended the strictly scholarly sphere. Although he never learned any Persian, he was much respected in Persia, where he paid annual visits to collect for immediate distribution among the poor the religiously mandated payments known as vojuhāt-e šarʿiya; the relief and support of the indigent seems, indeed, to have been at all times one of his primary concerns. His influence extended as far as the Qajar throne. Echoing ʿAli Karaki’s fictive investiture of Shah Ṭahmāsp the Safavid in 930/1524, Sheikh Jaʿfar issued a proclamation in 1212/1797 in which he “permitted” Fatḥ- ʿAli Shah to mount the throne as his deputy (nāʾeb) on condition that a muezzin (moʾaḏḏen) be appointed to each brigade of the army and a prayer leader to each battalion and that the troops listen to a preacher once a week (Qeṣaṣ al-olamāʾ, p. 141). How closely Sheikh Jaʿfar scrutinized the fulfillment of these conditions is unclear, but he had occasion at least once to give annoyance to the monarch— precisely how, is unknown—who then attempted, unsuccessfully, to deny him access to the court (ibid., pp. 141- 42).
More significant tensions arose when Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah was suspected of favoring the Aḵbāri school of jurisprudence (see AḴBĀRIYA), which Oṣulis such as Sheikh Jaʿfar had effectively vanquished in Najaf but not rendered fully extinct. In the treatise, Kašf al-ḡeṭāʾ ʿan maʿāʾeb Mirzā Moḥammad ʿaduv al-olamāʾ (“Removing the veil from the vices of Mirzā Moḥammad, the enemy of the scholars”), a refutation of the sharply polemical defense of Aḵbārism made by Mirzā Moḥammad Aḵbāri of Nishapur (see AḴBĀRI, MIRZĀ MOḤAMMAD), Sheikh Jaʿfar accused his adversary of writing an anonymous commentary in the margins of a book written for the monarch that was designed to lessen his respect for the ulama. When Mirzā Moḥammad fled Najaf for Tehran, Sheikh Jaʿfar sent the monarch a copy of his treatise, warning him against the dangers of associating with this fugitive Aḵbāri. Mirzā Moḥammad Aḵbāri responded with a treatise fulgurously entitled al-Ṣayḥa be’l-Ḥaqq ʿalā man alḥada wa tazandaq (“The righteous outcry against the atheist heretic”), but it found no favor, and its author was obliged to return to Iraq. Revealing, although possibly apocryphal, is the story according to which the mother of Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah, on pilgrimage to the shrine cities of Iraq, begged Sheikh Jaʿfar to pray for her and her son: “Since my son is king, he [necessarily] commits much oppression and cruelty towards his subjects. I beg of you, contrive that God Almighty may forgive our sins and resurrect us with Hażrat Fāṭema” (Qeṣaṣ al-olamāʾ, p. 141).
Another indication of the broad influence that Sheikh Jaʿfar exerted was his success, in 1219/1804, in persuading Moḥammad-ʿAli Mirzā, commander of a Persian force invading Iraq, to halt his advance on Baghdad and to release the Arab and Turkish troops he had captured; this earned him the gratitude of ʿAli Pasha, the Ottoman governor of the city. The Ottomans reciprocated by helping him arm the inhabitants of Najaf to ward off the Wahhābis, who had been raiding southern Iraq for several years. Again in 1227/1812, he was able to persuade a Persian force to draw back from Baghdad. At around the same time, possibly somewhat earlier, he was one of the numerous ulama to deliver a fatwā proclaiming the war of defense then underway against Russia to be an instance of jehād ( jihad, on which, see ISLAM IN IRAN xi) (Algar, 1969, p. 79).
Sheikh Jaʿfar died on 22 Rajab 1228/21 July 1813 and was buried in Najaf, leaving behind both a formidable literary legacy and a lineage of prominent scholars that was to persist for several generations. The following appears to be a complete list of his works, most of them still unpublished: (1) Kašf al-ḡeṭāʾ ʿan Mobhamāt al-šariʿat al-Ḡorrāʾ, published in Tehran in 1271/1855, the book on the principles of jurisprudence that earned him his sobriquet, Kāšef-al-Ḡeṭāʾ, its excellence the more remarkable for being written while he was traveling without access to relevant works by his predecessors; (2) the similarly titled Kašf al-ḡeṭāʾ ʿan maʿāʿeb Mirzā Moḥammad ʿAduv al-ʿolamāʿ, discussed above; (3) al-Ḥaqq al-mobin fi taṣwib al-mojtahedin va taḵṭeʿat johalāʿ al-Aḵbāriyin (“Manifest truth in vindicating the mojtaheds [i.e., the Oṣulis] and refuting the ignorant among the Aḵbāris”), a somewhat conciliatory work, in that only “ignorant” Aḵbāris are harshly condemned, published in Tehran in 1316/1898 together with al-Qawāʿed al-šarʿiya, a compilation by Musā b. Moḥammad-Reżā, one of Sheikh Jaʿfar’s descendants; (4) Eṯbāt al-ferqat al-nājiya men bayn al-feraq al-Eslāmiya (“Establishing which of the Islamic sects is that destined for salvation”), an attempt to prove that Shiʿis are the sect uniquely destined for salvation, according to a Hadith, the authenticity of which has increasingly come under question; (5) Aḥkām al-amwāt (or al-janāʾez), regulations for washing and burying the dead; (6) Buḡyat al-ṭāleb fi maʿrefat al-mafruż wa’l-wājeb (“The desideratum of the student in the knowledge of the ordained and the obligatory”), a work partly on dogmatic topics and partly on ritual ablutions and prayer; (7) al-ʿAqāʿed al-Jaʿfariyya (“Jaʿfari creed”); (8) Resāla fi’l-ʿebādāt al-māliya (“Treatise on acts of worship involving the expenditure of property”); (9) Resāla fi’l-ṣawm (“Treatise on fasting”); (10) Ḡāyat al-morād (“The ultimate purpose”), a work on jehād, possibly identical with the fatwā he gave on the occasion of the First Russo-Persian War; (11) Šarḥ al-qawāʿed, a commentary on the chapter in ʿAllāma Ḥelli’s al-Qawāʿed concerning transactions; (12) Kašf al-eltebās bayn al-ḥayż wa’l-esteḥāża wa’l-nefās (“Resolving the confusion between menstrual, pre-menstrual, and post-parturitional discharge”); (13) Manhaj al-rašād le man arāda al-sadād (“The path of guidance for those who seek the right opinion”), a politely worded response to the denunciation of sundry traditional practices by ʿAbd al-ʿAziz b. Moḥammad, the Saudi chieftain; it counts as the first refutation of Wahhabism from either a Sunni or a Shiʿi pen (published on pp. 30-180 of Moḥammad Ḥosayn Kāšefal- Ḡeṭāʾs al-ʿAbaqāt al-ʿanbariya fi ṭabaqāt al-Jaʿfariya [Beirut, 1418/1998]; an extract translated in Algar, 2002, pp. 81-84). Sheikh Jaʿfar also wrote poetry, claiming to be both ašaʿr al-foqahāʾ (“the best poet among the jurisprudents”) and afqah al-šoʿarāʾ (“the most learned in jurisprudence among the poets”; cited in Modarres, V, p. 26).
Sheikh Jaʿfar left behind three sons, ʿAli, Musā, and Moḥammad Ḥasan. He had a high opinion especially of Musā, thinking him the equal of such luminaries of Shiʿi jurisprudence as Moḥaqqeq Ḥelli (q.v.) and Šahid-e Avval, perhaps because he wrote a commentary on the latter’s al-Lomʿat al-demešqiya. In addition, Musā honored his father by writing a two-volume commentary on his Kašf al-ḡeṭāʾ ʿan mobhamāt al-šariʿat al-ḡorrāʾ and a briefer one on his Buḡyat al-ṭāleb. He also perpetuated his father’s legacy of anti-Akbāri struggle by delivering the fatwā which played a role in the death of Mirzā Moḥammad Aḵbāri in Kāẓemayn (q.v.; more important, perhaps, was the attempt by one contender for the governorship of Baghdad to employ Mirzā Moḥammad’s occult powers against his rival). Musā died in 1242/1826, and it was Ḥasan, who outlived Musā for a full twenty years, that proved the most influential of Sheikh Jaʿfar’s sons. Many regarded him as almost equal to his father in learning, and some as more knowledgeable (aʿlam) than all his contemporaries; this led to his recognition as sole marjaʿ al-taqlid (point of emulation) for Persians resident in the shrine cities of Iraq and, through their medium, for Persia itself. Noteworthy was his participation in the joint Sunni-Shiʿi assembly that convened in Baghdad in 1261/1845 to pass judgement on the claims of Sayyed ʿAli-Moḥammad “Bāb” (q.v.). He completed his father’s unfinished commentary on ʿAllāma Ḥelli’s al-Qawāʿed; wrote an introduction to his father’s Kašf al-ḡeṭāʾ ʿan mobhamāt al-šariʿat al-ḡorrāʾ and a commentary on the same work; and authored Anwār al-faqāha, a handbook on most concerns of jurisprudence, excluding only hunting, slaughtering, and the fixed penalties (ḥodud) for certain offenses. He died in 1262/1846 from the plague then ravaging Iraq.
Hamid Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 1785-1906: The Role of the Ulama in the Qajar Period, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1969, pp. 36, 54, 56, 58, 64-65, 72, 79, 163.
Idem, Wahhabism: a Critical Essay, Oneonta, N.Y., 2002, pp. 81-84.
Moḥsen al-Amin, Aʿyān al-šiʿa, Beirut, 1403/1983, IV, pp. 99-107.
Moḥammad Bāqer Ḵᵛānsāri, Rawżāt al-jannāt fi aḥwāl al-ʿolamāʾ wa’l-sādāt, Tehran, 1304/1887, II, pp. 200-206.
Moḥammad-ʿAli Ḥabibābādi, Makārem al-āṯār, Isfahan, 1972, III, pp. 852-56.
Moḥammad-ʿAli Modarres, Rayḥānat al-adab fi tarājem al-maʿrufin be’l-Konā wa’l-Laqab, Tabriz, n.d., V, pp. 24-28.
Hossein Modarressi Tabātabā’i, An Introduction to Shiʿi Law: a Biobibliographical Study, London, 1984, pp. 82, 91, 97, 117, 123, 124, 127, 128, 160, 167, 173.
Āḡā Bozorg Ṭehrāni, Ṭabaqāt aʿlām al-šiʿa, Mashad, 1404/1983, II:1, pp. 248-52.
Idem, al-Ḏariʿa elā taṣānif al-šiʿa, Beirut, 1403/1983, III, pp. 133-34, 485; VII, pp. 37-38; XI, p. 205; XII, p. 244; XIII, pp. 131-32, 365; XVI, p. 16; XVIII, p. 45; XX, p. 92; XXI, p. 61; XXIII, p. 186.
Moḥammad b. Solaymān Tonokāboni, Qeṣaṣ al-ʿolamāʾ, Tehran, 1304/1887.
Originally Published: December 15, 2011
Last Updated: April 24, 2012
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