An Introduction to the al-Mizan
Abu al-Qassim Razzaqi
The Author of al-Mizan
Al-Allamah al-Sayyid Muhammad Husayn al-Tabataba’I (1281 – 1360/1901-1980) is one of the greatest and the most original thinkers of the contemporary Muslim world. He was a prolific writer and an inspiring teacher, who devoted whole of his life to Islamic studies. His interests were varied and the scope of his learning was vast. His books number about forty-four, three of which are collections of his articles on various aspects of Islam and the Qur’an. His major contributions are in the fields of tafsir, philosophy and history of the Shi’ah faith.
In philosophy the most important of his works is Usul-e falsafah wa rawish-e-riyalism (The Principles of Philosophy and the method of realism), which has been published in five volumes with explanatory notes and commentary of Martyr Murtada Mutahhari. It deals with the Islamic outlook of the world, which is not only opposed to idealism that negates the reality of the corporeal world, but is also opposed to the materialistic conception of the world, which reduces all reality to ambiguous materialistic myths and fabrications. The point is established that while the Islamic world-outlook is realistic, both the idealistic and materialistic outlooks are unrealistic. His other major philosophical work is a voluminous commentary of al-Asfar al-‘arba’ah, the magnum opus of Mulla Sadra, the last of the great Muslim thinkers of the medieval age. Besides these, he wrote extensively on philosophical issues. His humanist approach is underlined by his three books on man – before the world, in this world and after this world. His philosophy is overloaded with sociological treatment of human problems. His two other works, Bidayat al-hikmah and Nihayat al-hikmah, are considered among works of a high order in Muslim philosophy.
He wrote several treatises on the doctrines and history of the Shi’ah. One of these books comprises his clarifications and expositions about Shi’ah faith in reply t the questions posed by the famous French orientalist Henry Corbin. Another of his books on this topic Shi’ah dar Islam was translated into English by Sayyid Husayn Nasr under the title The Shi’ite Islam. These books serve as a good means of removing popular misconceptions about the Shi’ah and can pave the way for a better inter-sectarian understanding among Muslim schools.
If a single work is to be named as his masterpiece, al-Mizan can be mentioned without hesitation, which is the outcome of the ‘Allamah’s lifelong labour in the sphere of Qur’anic studies. His method, style and approach are uniquely different from those of all other interpreters of the Qur’an. The present article is an introduction to this unique and brilliantly original tafsir. Though very sketchy, this article is selected for translation into English from among numerous articles written on his works and life, for it exclusively deals with the contents of al-Mizan. Recently a Persian translation of al-Mizan was published by the Intisharat-e Amir Kabir in twenty volumes corresponding with the twenty-volume set of the original Arabic text of the tafsir. Six volumes of al-Mizan have so far appeared in English, translated by Mawlana Sa’id Akhtar Ridwi, and it is hoped that the other volumes would be rendered into English by the same translator in the near future.
Among aspect of ‘Allamah Tabataba’I’s personality is his unprecedented success as a great teacher. Among his pupils we find a group of such luminaries and thinkers of eminence in their own right as Martyr Murtada Mutahhari, Martyr Beheshti, Hasan Hasanzadeh Amuli and Husayn Nasr.
The ‘Allamah was also a good poet. He composed the poetry mainly in Persian, but occasionally in Arabic also.