Written by Arsalan Rizvi   
Monday, 04 February 2008


ImageWhile the study of jurisprudence saw a temporary halt for almost a century after Shaikh Tusi's death, other Islamic sciences continued to flourish. Arguably the greatest work of Shia Tafseer (Quranic exegesis) was  produced during this period by Shaikh Tabarsi.

He was born Abu Ali Fadal ibn Hassan ibn al-Fadl al-Tabarsi in the year 468 AH. Although opinions vary, scholars tend to think that he was born in the province Tabaristan in present-day Iran. Little is known about his life. However, historians mention a fascinating incident that led him to write his famous exegesis of the Qur'an.

One day, Shaikh Tabarsi became unconscious. Doctors were consulted, who pronounced him dead. A funeral was quickly arranged, and the Shaikh was buried. In the grave, he became conscious and realized what had happened.

He didn't lose hope and made an oath to Allah: if he were to be rescued from the grave, he would write a monumental commentary on the Qur'an. As soon as the Shaikh made this vow, he heard digging noises. A "shroud thief" had found out that a person had recently been buried in this grave, and he had gotten there to steal the shroud. As the thief opened the grave, he was shocked to find a living person inside! The Shaikh promised that he would greatly reward him and wouldn't reveal his identity to anyone if he helped him out of the grave. The thief agreed, and the Shaikh's life was miraculously saved.

Returning home, he remembered his oath to Allah, and very soon he began working on his commentary of the Qur'an. Today, his Majma'ul Bayan Fi Tafseerul Qur'an ("Compendium of Elucidations on the Exegesis of the Qur'an") is considered the greatest work of Shia Tafseer ever written. Shia scholars have written commentaries of the Qur'an in nearly every century, but none has been able to match the eloquence and magnitude of Majma'ul Bayan. Although no English translations have been done as of yet, the 10-volume Arabic version can be purchased  online at

In 548 AH, Shaikh Tabarsi departed from this world. He was interred in the shrine of Imam Ridha (peace be upon him) in Mash'had.