In the galaxy of the outstanding Shia Scholars two brothers from an eminent
family of the descendants of the Prophet (saw) outshone all the others due
to their extraordinary brilliance in their time. They were al Sharif al-
Murtada, who occupied the chair of his teacher as his successor to the
marji'iyyah of the Shi'ah world of scholarship, and his younger brother al-
Sharif al-Radi, acclaimed to be a great genius of versatile talents, still
unprecedented in the history of Islamic scholarship and Arabic literature.
Al-Radi (359-406/970-1015) died young, much earlier than his elder brother,
but left his mark on the history of Muslim thought and poetry, which in no
way can be described as less significant than that of any other Imamiyyah
scholar who lived much longer than him. He shone on the bright horizon of
the fourth century Hijri, regarded as the most extraordinary period of all
round intellectual and cultural renaissance in the history of Islam, lived
for a short period of forty-seven years but generated enough light to
lead human quest for excellence for centuries.
Al-Rad'i's parents' lineage came directly from the Imams (as) of the Prophet's
Family. From his father's side he descended from al-Imam Musa al-Kazim (as)
ibn Ja'far al-Sadiq (as) ibn Muhammad al-Baqir (as) ibn 'Ali Zayn al-'Abidin
(as) ibn al-Husayn (as) ibn 'Ali (as) in the following order: Abu Ahmad Husayn
Tahir al-'Awhad Dhu al-Manaqib ibn Musa ibn Muhammad ibn Musa ibn Ibrahim
al Mujab ibn Musa al-Kazim (as). All his forefathers were eminent in their
own right. From his mothers side he descended from the famous al-Nasir al-
Kabir also known as Nasir al-Haqq (225 or 230-304/840 or 844-916) who
descended from the second son of al-'Imam 'Ali ibn al-Husayn (as) ibn Ali (as).
Al-Sayyid al-Murtada, in Nasiriyyat, a commentary upon al-Nasir al-Kabir's
book Mi'at mas'alah, writes that:
My mother Fatimah [was] the daughter of Abu Muhammad al-
Husayn al-Nasir (al-Saghir) ibn Abi al-Husayn Ahmad ibn
Abi Muhammad al-Hasan al-Nasir al-Kabir (the conqueror
and ruler of Daylam) ibn al-Husayn ibn 'Umar al-Ashraf
ibn Ali ibn al-Husayn ibn 'Ali ibn Abi Talib.
Al-Sharif al-Radi's name was Muhammad and his kunyah was Abu al Hasan. He
was the second son of al-Husayn ibn Ahmad, known as al-Tahir al-Awhad and
Dhu al-Manaqib. Al-Radi's title 'al-Sharif' was a common title used for
those who were descendants of the Prophet (saw) from both the maternal and
The word which is now commonly used for al-Sharif is al-Sayyid in Persian and
Urdu. Al-Radi's father was the most eminent among the Alawids of his time. He
held all the important positions which a Shi'ah could attain under the 'Abbasid
regime during the fourth century H.
Al-Thalibi (d. 429), in Yatimat al-dahr, a bibliography of poets and
writers of Arabic, writes about the father of al-Radi:
His forefathers were held in high respect by the people
of Iraq. His father, Abu Ahmad for a long time occupied
the post of Naqib of the Talibiyyin, a position that
empowered him to look after the Sayyids of Abu Talib's
lineage. At the same time he held the office of the Nazarat
Diwan al-mazalim (headship of the highest court of appeal)
as well as the office of the chief of hajjaj (pilgrims to
the Holy Ka'bah). In the year 380/990 he relinquished these
posts in favour of his son al-Sayyid al-Radi.
Ibn Abi al-Hadid (d. 655 or 656/1257 or 1258), in his preface to the Sharh
Nahj al-balaghah, confirms this statement saying:
His father al-Naqib Abu Ahmad was held in high regard
at the courts of Banu 'Abbas and the rulers of Al
Dayalimah, and was entitled as al-Tahir Dhu al-Manaqib.
Baha' al-Dawlah al-Daylami called him al-Tahir al-'Awhad, which meant
"uniquely purified". He was appointed the Naqib of the Talibiyyin five
times, and apart from this job; he occasionally performed duties of great
political sensitivity also; for instance, he served as a negotiator to
settle certain disputes between the Caliphs and the Buwayhids on the one
hand, and the Hamdani rulers on the other. Because of his political
influence he was so feared by Baha' al-Dawlah's son 'Adud al-Dawlah
(reigned 367-72/978-83), that in 369/980 he imprisoned him in a fort in
Fars, where he underwent the hardships of prison life for seven years.
'Adud al-Dawlah (d. 372/982-83) arrested along with him his brother Abu
'Abd Allah ibn Musa and another influential 'Alawid, Muhammad ibn 'Umar,
also. Abu Muhammad, the chief qadi of Baghdad, and Abu Nasr Khwanshadh
were also arrested and imprisoned in the same year, that is 369/980. With
Abu Ahmad's arrest his entire property was confiscated, and his family had
to live for seven long years in dire poverty. It was, most probably, in
this period that al-Radi and his brother al-Murtada were brought to al-
Shaykh al-Mufid by their mother for being educated in fiqh and other
religious sciences. And perhaps it was during this period that Abu Ishaq
Ibrahim ibn Ahmad al-Tabari, a Sunni Maliki faqih, gifted a house to al-
Sayyid al-Radi when he came to know that the brightest of his pupils had no
residence of his own for his wife and had to live with his mother. During
the period of his father's imprisonment, al-Radi composed many poems to
pay tribute to him. Abu Ahmad was set free by Sharaf al-Dawlah, son of
Adud al-Dawlah, while proceeding to Baghdad from Kirman in 376/ 986-87 to
depose his brother Samsam al-Dawlah, who also had not released Abu Ahmad
and other captives. It is to be noted that 'Adud al-Dawlah was a Shiah of
Zaydi inclination, but for him, like most of the monarchs of the Muslim
world, political expedieney and interest were much more important than the
matter of faith. As even the 'Abbasid caliph of his time was afraid of al-
Radi's connection with the Prophet's Family and his influence among the
people, probably 'Adud al-Dawlah was also afraid of al-Radi's father,
fearing that if at any time he aspired to wrest power out of his hands he
could pose a serious challenge to him. Abu al-Faraj al-Jawzi has also
referred to the arrest of Abu Ahmad in the course of recording the events
of the year 369/979-80. The influence of Abu Ahmad and his family assumed
greater dimensions in the eyes of the rulers due to the tense and highly
explosive situation ereated by the rivalries and conflicts between the
Sunnis and the Shi'ah and the Turks and the Daylamites. These clashes
resulted in looting, killing and burning of al-Karkh, a predominantly
Shi'ah locality, for one week continuously, in the year 361/971-72, that
was repeated in 363/974. Moreover, there was a conflict between Bakhtiyar
al-Daylami, the vizier, and 'Adud al-Dawlah, in which the latter emerged
victorious later. Abu Ahmad was on good terms with Bakhtiyar also, which
was a sufficient reason for 'Adud al-Dawlah to regard him as an enemy.
Abu Ahmad died at the age of 97 in 403/1O12-13, and the high offices held
by him fell upon al-Radi.
From his mother's side al-Radi belonged to a lineage that was more
distinguished for its political activities than the former. His grand-father
al-Nasir al-Saghir al-Husayn ibn Ahmad (d. 368/979) was a pious and
respected man. According to al-Sayyid al-Murtada he was held in high
regard by Mu'izz al-Dawlah (reigned 320-56/932-967), who appointed him to
the office of the Naqib of al-Talibiyyin in 362/972-73 when Abu Ahmad was
stripped of this post. Al Wasir al-Saghir's father Ahmad ibn al-Hasan
served as a commander in his father's army, and was known for both his
valour and virtue. Al-Nasir al-Kabir whose name was al-Hasan ibn 'Ali, was
responsible for propagating Islam among the Daylamites after himself
conquering Daylam. He was a commander of the army of his cousin Muhammad
ibn Zayd al-'Alawi, popularly known as al-Da'i al-Kabir, who conquered
Mazandaran in 250/864 and laid down the foundation of the 'Alawis' rule
there. Al-Mas'udi, in Muruj al-dhahab, has mentioned him at two places as
al-'Atrush, which meant "the deaf". At one occasion, he writes:
Al-'Atrush appeared on the seene of Tabaristan (Mazandaran)
in the year 301/913-14, and drove away the 'Abbasids, called
"the Black robed people, from there. He was a gifted man
with great intelligenee,scholarship, knowledge and conviction
of faith. He lived for a long time among the Daylamites, who
were Zoroastrians, and some even pagans, living in complete
darkness. The people of Gilan also lived in the same
conditions. Al-Nasir al-Kabir invited them to worship the One
God, and they embraced Islam accepting his call. In those days
the Muslims reached Qazwin and the adjoinmg areas. Al Nasir
al Kabir built a mosque in Daylarn.
At another place, mentioning al-'Atrush's efforts to convert the Zoroastrians
to the fold of Islam, he writes that it was he who built mosques in the
cities of Tabaristan (Present Mazandaran and Gilan), and extended the
frontiers of the Muslim rule up to Qazwin and Chalus.
There is a common misunderstanding regarding al-Nasir al-Kabir's faith. As
he supported the Daiis of the Zaydi rule and was instrumental in laying the
foundation of the Zaydi dynasty, he was called a Zaydi by many historians
as well as by the Zaydis themselves. Al-Najashi (d. 450/1058), a contemporary
of al-Radi and al-Murtada, dispels such claims:
Al Hasan ibn Ali ibn al-Hasan ibn 'Umar ibn 'Ali ibn al-
Husayn ibn 'Ali ibn Abi Talib Abu Muhammad al-'Atrush
believed in the imamah, and wrote several books in strict
adherenee to this faith, viz. Kitab al-'imamah, Kitab at-
talliq, a larger book on the Imamah, Kitah Fadak wa al-khums,
Kitabb al-shuhada', Kitab fasahat Abi Talib, Kitab ma'adhir
Bani Hashim fi ma nuqim 'alayhim, Kitab ansab al-A'immah wa
mawalidihium (up to the Twelfth Imam (as)).
However, it seems to be a mere conjecture that he was a Twelver Imami, for
al-Murtada, his grandson, in al-Nasiriyyat, criticized some of his views
for being against the Twelver Imami faith. 'Ali Dawani, subscribing to the
views of some early Shi'i 'ulama', holds that he was a Twelver Imami but
without any conclusive evidence. Most probably he was a Zaydi Shi'ah.
According to Ibn Abi al-Hadid, he fought battles against the chiefs of the
Samanids and died in Mazandaran in 304/916 at the ripe age of seventy-nine.
Ahmad ibn 'Ali ibn Dawud al-Hasani, known as Ibn 'Anabah (d. 828/1425), a
Sunni descendant of the Hasani Sayyids, in his famous work 'Umdat al-talib,
describes him as being called Nasir al-Haqq, and writes that he died in
Amul in the year 303/915.
Al-Nasir al-Kabir's father, 'Ali ibn al-Husayn, and his grandfather, al-
Husayn ibn 'Ali, were both regarded as eminent scholars and men of virtue.
The latter is reported to be a narrator of hadith also. 'Umar ibn 'Ali ibn
al-Husayn, son of the Fourth Imam (as) and known as al-'Ashraf, was among
the eminent personalities of the 'Alawids.) Al-Shaykh al-Mufid, in al-'Irshad,
writes about him:
'Umar b. 'Ali b. al-Husyn, peace be on them, was a man of
merit and of high standing. He was in charge of the endowments
(sadaqat) of the Apostle of God may God bless him and his
Family, and the endowments (sadaqat) of the Conmmander of the
Faithful, peace be on him. He was pious and God-fearing.
Dawud ibn al-Qasim, on the authority of al-Husayn ibn Zayd, who was a nephew
of 'Umar al-'Ashraf, described him to be extremely honest and cautious in
dealing with the matters related to the income of the endowments and their
proper management. Some traditions of the Prophet (saw) and the Imams (as) are
also reported on his authority. He was treated with respect even in the
court of the Umayyads.
Al-Sayyid al-Radi's mother Fatimah bint al-Da'i al-Saghir was a pious and
learned lady, who brought her two sons and daughters up with care and
arranged for their proper education during the seven-year period of her
husband's imprisonment. It is said that al-Shaykh al-Mufid wrote his book
Ahkam al-nisa' at her instance, as she asked him to compile a book according
to Islamic Law, which could serve as a guide for women. It was she who took
her two sons to al-Shaykh al-Mufid after al-Murtada and al-Radi had completed
primary stage of their education. Ibn Abi al-Hadid, in Sharh Nahj al-balaghah,
narrates a story which is indicative of the high position of this lady of
great virtue. The story goes that one night al-Shaykh al-Mufid dreamed that
Fatimah (as), the Prophet's daughter, came to his place in Karkh bringing her
two young sons, al-Hasan (as) and al-Husayn (as), and asked that he take up
the task of teaching them. Al-Mufid awoke amazed at the dream. The next
morning Fatimah, mother of al-Sayyid al-Murtada and al-Sayyid al-Radi, came
to his mosque surrounded by her servants, bringing her two small sons, asking
that he teach them. Al-Sayyid al Radi in his elegy on her death paid rich
tributes to her virtue, piety, religiosity, courage and other qualities of
the heart and the mind. She died in the month of Dhu al-Hijjah 385/995. Al-
Sayyid al-Radi was twenty-six years old at the time of his mother's death.
Al-Radi was born in 359/970 four years after his eldet brother al-Murtada.
His genius came to the notice of his family and teachers at a very young
age. He started composing poetry at the tender age of nine. His wit and
alertness of mind surprised all. He went to different teachers to study
various branches of Islamic sciences, Arabic language and literature. He
studied Sharh al-'Usul al-khamsah and Kitab al-'umdah under al-Qadi 'Abd
al Jabbar al-Mu'tazili (b. circa. 325/936, d.415/lO25), and studied Arabic
language and grammar under Abu Sa'id al-Hasan ibn 'Abd Allah ibn Marzban
al-Sirafi (284-368/897-979), an expert of Arabic language and literature.
He also went to study the language and literary sciences to Abu Muhammad
al-'Asadi al-'Akfani, Abu al-Hasan 'Ali ibn 'isa al-Rummani (296-384/908-94),
Abu al-Fath 'Uthman ibn Jinn; (330-392/942-1002) and Ibn Nubatah (335-94/
946-1004). He studied hadith under Muhammad ibn 'Imran al-Marzabani (d. 378/
988) and Abu Masa Harun ibn Musa al-Tal'akbari (d. 385/995). His teacher in
fiqh, besides al-Mufid, was Muhammad ibn al-'Abbas al- Khwarizmi (d. 383/993).
Abu Hafs 'Umar ibn Ibrahim al-Kinani was his teacher in qira'ah and the
Quran. Most of his teaehers were eminent scholars and writers of Arabic. He
had started teaching at the young age of seventeen when he was himself
studying. He completed his education at the age of twenty. Very soon he
acquired fame as a scholar, commentator of the Quran, thinker and poet.
His fame as a poet overshadowed his excellence in all other fields. Among
his teachers a few other names may be mentioned: Abu 'Ali al-Hasan ibn AhmadX
al-Farsi (307-77/919-87), a Mutazili; Abu al-Hasan al-Karkhi; 'Ali ibn 'Isa
ibn Salih al-Rub'i (328-420/939-40-1029); and Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Ahmad
al-Tabari (d. 393/1002-3), a faqih of the Maliki school. In those days due
to a climate of tolerance at least among scholars and students, the Shi'ah
and Sunni students used to attend classes of teachers belonging to different
sects. A number of al-Radi's teachers were Sunni and Mu'tazili.
Al-Sharif al-Radi had intimate friendly relations of mutual respect and love
with eminent contemporary scholars, poets and writers professing different
faiths, which was an indication of his broad humanism and tolerance. Al-Sahib
ibn 'Abbad (326-85/938-95), one of the most influential of Muslim prime
ministers and a great scholar of his age, was a patron of scholars and poets.
Yaqut al-Hamawi says that five hundred poets composed qasa'id in his praise.
Al-Radi, despite being much younger to him, was highly respected by him. Abu
al-Hasan al-'Umari, who is reported to be alive till the end of the first
half of the fifth century Hijrah, was from the descendants of 'Umar ibn
'Ali ibn Abi Talib, and was an expert of genealogy. He was in close contact
with the al-Sharif family. Abu al-'Ala' al-Ma'arri (363-449/973-1057), one
of the greatest poets of Arabic, attended al-Murtada's lectures and was a
great admirer of al-Radi.
Upon receiving the news of al-Radi's death in his hometown, al-Ma'arri paid
rich tributes to him in an elegy, included in his book Siqt al-zand. Al-
Husayn ibn Ahmad al-Nili al-Baghdadi, known as Ibn al-Hajjaj al-Baghdadi
(d. 391/1001) was much respected by al-Radi, who compiled two selections
of his poetry, viz., 'al-Hasan min shi'r al-Husayn' and 'al-Ziyadat fi
shi'r Ibn al-Hajjaj, and also wrote an elegy on his death. Abu Ishaq
Ibrahim ibn Hilal al-Harrani al-Sabi (d. 384/ 994), a Sabaean by faith and
a confidant of the Buwayhids, was so close to al-Radi that once he wrote
in a poem addressed to al-Radi: When you get the caliphate, do not forget
my wife, son and family...
Al-Radi wrote a moving, emotionally charged elegy on his death, the first
couplet of which became very famous:
Do you know whose coffin people are carrying?
Do you know how was the light of our company extinguished?
People, particularly the Sunnis, admonished al-Radi saying how could a man
like him, belonging to the family of the Prophet (saw), praise a non-believer.
Al-Radi said in reply that he paid tribute to his learning and art, not to
his faith. Whenever he passed by the side of the grave-yard where al-Sabi
was buried, he used to get down from the horse as a mark of respect for
the departed soul of the friend and the poet.
Nine years after al-Sabi's death al-Radi happened to visit the grave-yard
and saw his friend's grave, he composed another qasidah addressing himself
to the departed soul in the following words:
Had my companions not been angry with me for stopping near you,
I would have saluted your grave O Abu Ishaq!
Al-Radi compiled a selection of al-Sabi's poetry Mukhtar Shir Ibn Ishdq al-
Sabi. Among al-Radi's close friends were two other scholarly persons. Shapur
Ibn Ardshir (d. 416/1025), who served as the vizier of the Buwayhids till
their fall at the hands of the Saljuqis, and who had placed his huge library
of rare value at the disposal of al Radi; and Fakhr al Mulk, the vizier of
Baha al Dawlah, who led al Radi's funeral congregation, and was himself
murdered by Sultan Dawlah in one year after al Radi's death, that is in