Obituary: Ayatollah Shaykh Murtada al-Burujirdi

AYATOLLAH SHAYKH Murtada al-Burujirdi, who was assassinated last month, was a leading religious scholar and jurist at Najaf in Iraq, one of the Shia Muslims' holiest cities since it contains the tomb of the first Shia Imam, Amir al-Mu'minin Ali ibn Abi Talib. Najaf is also the seat of the 1,000-year-old Hawza Ilmiyya, the oldest Shia university.

Burujirdi was born in Najaf in 1931 but his family originated from the vicinity of Burujird in Iran, some 140 miles south-west of the holy city of Qom. His father, Ayatollah Shaykh Ali Muhammad, was a jurist who had taught at the Hawza at Najaf and had then become a marja al-taqlid ("source of emulation") at Burujird where he died. At Najaf the young Murtada had done his intermediate studies under his father, but at the advanced level his principal teacher was the great jurist Ayatollah Abul-Qasim al-Khoi.

During this period, while still attending Khoi's lectures, Burujirdi became a mujtahid, (qualified to make independent juridical decisions), and taught at the Hawza. This was a feature of academic life at Najaf, where the most competent pupils of the leading ulema (religious scholars) were also teachers and scholars in their own right.

He published a 10-volume work which comprised detailed notes, complete with his annotations and comments, of Khoi's lectures on the monumental work of jurisprudence al-Urwa al-Wuthqa by Sayyid Muhammad Kadhim al-Yazdi.

In 1991, after the Shia uprising in southern Iraq, Burujirdi was imprisoned along with 70 other ulema but was released after three days. It had been his custom to say his daily prayers in the Rawda, the sacred enclosure of Imam Ali. The imam - the leader of the congregational prayers - Sayyid Muhammad Ridha al-Khalkhali, had also been put in prison, but since he was not released Burujirdi was appointed in his place.

The Baathist government, aware of the awe and esteem in which the Shia ulema were held by the people, had in the late spring of 1994 closed the Khadra Mosque in Najaf where Ayatollah Ali Seestani, today the principal marja in Iraq, was imam, on the pretext that essential repairs had to be carried out. They now asked Burujirdi to give up his post at the Rawda of Imam Ali. He refused vehemently.

Two years ago he was beaten up and a little over a year ago an attempt was made on his life when a hand-grenade was thrown at him. He suffered injuries to his legs and had to remain at home for two months. He still would not give up leading the prayers, however, although thereafter he never went to the Rawda alone.

What exacerbated matters even further was Burujirdi's decision to gain recognition as a marja and the subsequent publication, last year, of his own collection of fatwas, his risala amaliyya, in two volumes: Ayatollah Seestani had been virtually under house arrest for more than three years and the government was bent on promoting its own candidate Sayyid Muhammad al-Sadr (who is prepared to co-operate with it but who lacks the credentials for being a marja) as a rival to Seestani.

The spectacle of Burujirdi as a marja, readily accessible to his followers, in addition to his leading the prayers in the Rawda, was clearly the last straw. Burujirdi would have become a symbol of resistance to the Baathist government which has for the past 30 years pursued a policy of utter ruthlessness towards the Shia ulema. Recently he was visited by a delegation from the Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowments) demanding his resignation from leading the prayers.

Despite their abusive and threatening language he said that he would only agree if he received an order in writing from the government. He knew this would be unlikely since he had never got involved in any political activity.

On the evening of 21 April Burujirdi was shot dead, and two passers-by were injured, as he walked back home from the Rawda after the evening prayers. Next morning there was a funeral procession to the Rawda in which hundreds of people took part and there Ayatollah Sayyid Radhi al-Mar'ashi led the ritual funeral prayer over the deceased. Then the coffin was swiftly taken off in a car by security officers to the cemetery of Wadi al-Salam where the body was buried in haste with only Burujirdi's son, Shaykh Mahdi, and the gravediggers allowed to be present.

Murtada al-Burujirdi, religious scholar, jurist and imam: born Najaf, Iraq 1931; married Shawkat bint Mirza Ali al-Na'ini (one son, three daughters); died Najaf 21 April 1998.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Alloysious Massaquoi, 'G' Hastings and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
musicThe surprise winners of the Mercury Prize – and a very brief acceptance speech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
News
video
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teachers Required in King's Lynn

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in King's Ly...

Primary Teachers needed in Ely

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teacher needed in the Ely ar...

Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: KS2 Teacher needed in Peterborough a...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain