Obituary: Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad al-Sadr

A. B. D. R. Eagle
Wednesday 24 February 1999 01:02 GMT

AYATOLLAH SAYYID Muhammad al-Sadr was a member of a distinguished Iraqi family who traced their genealogy back directly to the Prophet Mohamed (hence the title of Sayyid) and whose ancestors had lived in the region of Jabal Amil in present-day southern Lebanon. In recent Iraqi history one of their number, another Muhammad al-Sadr, was Prime Minister in 1948 while the great intellectual and scholar Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr was murdered along with his sister, Bint al-Huda, by the Baathist regime in 1980.

Muhammad al-Sadr was born in the holy city of Najaf in 1943. He was an only child. His father Muhammad Sadiq was a mujtahid (qualified to make independent juridical decisions), his grandfather and great-grandfather were marjas ("sources of emulation"). His mother was the daughter of the late Grand Ayatollah Shaykh Muhammad Rida Al Ya-Sin, a prominent marja.

Muhammad al-Sadr was educated in Najaf, where in his advanced studies (Dars al-Kharij) his principal teachers were Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, the Grand Ayatollah Abul-Qasim al-Khui and Sayyid Ruhollah Khomeini.

He became a mujtahid in the mid-1970s and in the early 1990s he published his own collection of fatwas in jurisprudence, his risala amaliyya, called al-Sirat al-mustaqim ("The Straight Path") thereby signalling his wish to be recognised as a marja.

Al-Sadr was the author of many published books. The most important are his monumental four- volume encyclopaedia (Mawsua) of the Imam al-Mahdi (the 12th Imam of the Shia, who is believed to have gone into occultation in AD 873/74) and his massive work on jurisprudence, Ma wara al-fiqh, of which more than 10 volumes have been published. He also wrote a book on Islam and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a volume on the fundamental beliefs of Islam (Aqaid). At least 20 works remain in manuscript form.

He was also known as a spiritual person; he prayed at night and was assiduous in arranging his time. Some charged Ayatollah Muhammad with ingratiating himself with the regime in Iraq, but the fact is that he had a considerable following among the Iraqi Shia which seems to have increased after the assassination of two marjas, the Ayatollahs Burujirdi and Gharawi, in April and June respectively last year.

Just over a year ago Ayatollah Muhammad re-established the Friday Prayer and Sermon (khutba) in the great mosque of Kufa, a town outside Najaf, where the first Shia Imam, Ali ibn Abi Talib, was murdered in AD 661. He instructed his deputies to do likewise in other towns throughout Iraq.

At the Friday Prayer a few weeks before his demise and wearing only a funeral shroud (kafan), which is considered a most pious act, albeit not a usual thing to do, the Ayatollah seemed to sense that his death was imminent when he urged the thousands of worshippers to continue praying the Friday Prayer should he die.

Last Friday evening, returning home by car from his office in Najaf, he, together with two of his sons, Mustafa and Muammal, was shot dead in the 1920-Revolution Square. The regime of Saddam Hussein denies vehemently that it had any hand in the assassination as it also did after the murder of the two ayatollahs last year. The burial took place speedily at dawn the following day. It is said that most of those present were government security agents. The customary procession was banned and the public were not allowed to attend the burial.

Sayyid Muhammad bin Sayyid Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, religious scholar and jurist: born Najaf, Iraq 24 March 1943; married al-Alawiyya Masarra bint Sayyid Muhammad Jafar (two sons, two daughters, and two sons deceased); died Najaf 19 February 1999.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in