Know Your Marja | Grand Ayatullah Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei(r.a)

Shaoore Wilayat Foundation

Grand Ayatullah Al-Sayyid Abū l-Qāsim al-Mūsawī al-Khoeī (1899 - 1992) was an influential religious authority of Shi'a, scholar of Rijal and the author of 23-volume set of Mu'jam rijal al-hadith and also the author of the exegetical work, al-Bayan fi tafsir al-Qur'an.
The official beginning of al-Khoei's authority is considered to be after the demise of Ayatollah Burujirdi and the demise of Ayatollah al-Hakim is considered the beginning of his supreme authority especially in Iraq. During fifty years of teaching, al-Khoei taught a complete course of advanced level in jurisprudence, six advanced courses of principles of jurisprudence and one short course of exegesis of the Qur'an. Scholars including al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, Mirza Jawad Tabrizi, al-Sayyid Ali al-Sistani, Husayn Wahid Khorasani, al-Sayyid Musa al-Sadr and Sayyid 'Abd al-Karim Musawi Ardabili are mentioned as Ayatollah al-Khoei's students.

Born in the Iranian city of Khoy, West Azerbaijan province in 1899, Khoei grew up in Iran. Around the age of 13, he moved to Iraq and took up residence in the holy city of Najaf where he began studying Shia theology with the scholars of that city. He eventually attained the rank of Ayatollah and was subsequently made a marja. Khoei would continue to live in Najaf, becoming a teacher for the remainder of his life, and overseeing the studies of scholars who would be qualified to issue fatwas based on Shia theology.

The monumental achievement of his late holiness Abul-Qasim al-Khu’i is his development and improvement of Najaf's theological school known as al hawza al ilmiyya, the inclusive school of knowledge and scholarship over which he presided in 1970 after being elected successor to the late Ayatullah al-Uzma Sayyid Muhsin al-Tabatabai al-Hakim.
He is described by his students as a compassionate father, a man who believed in moderation and who led a most austere life in strict adherence to the tenets of the Islamic faith. Al-Khu’i had attained the coveted title of “Ayatullah” when he was in his early thirties. The hawza at al-Najaf al-Ashraf has been for the past ten centuries attracting students from all over the world. The main topics taught at the hawza are: philosophy, theology, and jurisprudence, and the number of its students and teachers during its hay days reached 10,000.
It contains several libraries where ancient and rare manuscripts are treasured and guarded as one would guard a gold mine. In Najaf in general and around the premises of the hawza in particular, bookstores outnumber grocery stores. The hawza also accommodates facilities for the use of manuscript copiers.
Learning at it is a full-time career, and students actually live and learn at the same place where they are offered very modest accommodations. There were dark periods when this great center of learning was fought and its teachers hunted. To be exact, that was the period when Iraq was placed by strong foreign nations under the British mandate.
The British, who claim to be the most civilized people in the world and the champions of learning, chased Muslim theologians because of the latter's opposition to their presence in Iraq. One teacher recollects how he and other fellow teachers during that dark period of persecution by the British had nothing to eat all day long, so, they would wait till the dark to go out to the streets looking for the skins of watermelons whereby they could sustain themselves.

Imam al-Khu’i kept in touch with his followers worldwide through a very well organized and centralized network of representatives. The latter have been charged with duties such as: making sure that the social, educational, theological, cultural and even financial problems of their respective communities are properly addressed and solved.
He proved his administrative genius in handling the financial aspect of running such a huge and intricate network of charitable trusts overseen and supervised by the Khu’i Foundation which has been building schools and religious and cultural centers wherever there is a sizeable following community.
During the Afghani struggle against the Russians, Ayatullah al-Uzma al-Khu’i organized aid for Afghani war victims. When natural disasters hit Bangladesh, India, Kashmir (chopped off into Pakistani and Indian slices), and Iran, al-Khu’i issued orders to spend generously on the victims of these disasters regardless of their schools of Muslim law.
Moreover, he was credited with the task of establishing projects to dig wells and irrigation canals for the believers who live in isolated villages in East Africa and the Indo-Pakistani subcontinent, for undertaking numerous housing projects, schools and both mobile and permanent clinics, all funded by voluntary contributions from the Shi'a faithful under his supervision and administrative guidance.

Since he took charge of Najaf's hawza, al-Khu’i became the caretaker of all Shi'a charitable institutions, mosques and husayniyyas, theological hawzas, etc. all over the world. Among the most significant of such institutes which he ordered to be founded, and which he supervised through his representatives, are the following:

1) in India, where there are an estimated forty million followers of his (according to his representative there Sayyid Muhammad al-Moosawi), he established the Educational Charitable Complex in Bombay which is regarded as the largest educational and theological project in the world, and it includes various departments each one of which specializes in a particular activity, and it is comprised of elementary and secondary (high) schools, various accredited colleges, a large hospital and a huge mosque, in addition to spending on attendants of theological centers in other parts of India such as Ali Poor, Nibras and Hyderabad;

2) Madeenat al-'Ilm, the city of knowledge, at the holy city of Qum, Islamic Republic of Iran, which is the largest theological institute in Shi'a world and where more than three thousand students are studying theology, and it includes dormitories for 500 married students, in addition to theological centers at Mashhad and Khurasan, spending, according to his representative in India Sayyid Muhammad al-Moosawi, more than one million Iranian toomans a month as grants to students of theology there;

3) Al-Khu’i's Mabarrah in Beirut, Lebanon, which provides cultural and social services for a large number of orphan children who have lost their families during the catastrophes to which Lebanon has been subjected, and it is a five building complex housing an orphanage, a vocational school and an institute, and it surely is a monument of what true charity can accomplish;

4) Ayatullah al-Khu’i's School and Library of Mashhad, Islamic Republic of Iran, the building of which is a masterpiece of a marriage between traditional and modern architecture;

5) Dar al-'Ilm School at Najaf al-Ashraf, Iraq, from which highly qualified jurists and mujtahids have been graduating, and which has accommodated more than 200 students of the higher level of theological studies, in addition to dormitories and a library, and it has been demolished by the filthy hands of Saddam Hussein's troops as part of a plan to demolish schools and mosques in Najaf, the holiest city for the Shi'as of the world;

6) numerous other theological studies styled after Najaf's hawza located in Thailand, Bangladesh (in West Bengal), India, Pakistan and other countries;

7) Imam al-Khu’i's Library at Najaf al-Ashraf, Iraq, which contains 25,000 books and 6,000 rare hand-written manuscripts, and it was established by his late holiness for the benefit of researchers, critics, and scholars of theology, and it used to publish and internationally distribute quality Islamic literature, but its press has been confiscated by the oppressive authority of Saddam Hussein's regime;

8) offices in Karachi and Islamabad, Pakistan, to disseminate religious education and the translation and distribution of quality Islamic literature; and

9) an office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the publication and distribution of religious literature.

In addition to all the projects enumerated above, his late holiness had ordered the establishment of an international charity to look after the followers of our creed in all corners of the earth and to establish a high quality cultural and social system; therefore, Imam al-Khu’i Benevolent Foundation was founded and first headquartered in Najaf al-Ashraf in 1988 with branches in Europe (including one in London, U.K.) and the Middle East.
The London branch office had been established by a select committee of nine highly respected dignitaries who formed its Central Committee. Those nine founding members were: 1) Sayyid Muhammad Taqi al-Khu’i (son of the late Imam al-Khu’i), 2) Shaikh Muhsin Ali al-Najafi, 3) Shaikh Yousuf Nafsi, 4) Sayyid Muhammad al-Moosawi (of Bombay, India) 5) Sayyid Fadil al-Meelani, 6) Sayyid Majeed al-Khu’i (son of the late Imam al-Khu’i), 7) Shaikh Hajj Kazim Abdel-Hussein, 8) Sayyid Muhammad Ali al-Shahristani, and 9) al-Hajj Mustafa Kawkal.
After the Rajab 1412 (March 1991) Intifada (uprising) of the people of Iraq against the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, the Najaf headquarters were transferred to London, U.K., where the said Committee was charged with overseeing the activities of all branch offices of al-Khu’i Foundation in India, Pakistan, U.S.A., Canada and Kuwait.
Kuwaitis who suffered untold atrocities at the bloody hands of Saddam Hussein after he had invaded their country secretly received huge sums of money from the late ayatullah who instructed his representatives there to help all families that suffered from the invasion regardless of their sect. No other Muslim organization in the world helped Kuwaitis who were trapped inside the country, or who lost their means of income because of the execution of their bread earners, as they were helped by al-Khu’i...
His benevolence also reached all families that suffered from the Iraq-Iran war, and his assistance to them infuriated Saddam's government and led the latter to once confiscate his entire funds at al-Rafidain Bank in Baghdad. The Deputy Director of the now London Headquarters is also Director of th al-Khu’i Foundation in New York which supervises cultural and theological studies of the Medina school and the Khu’i Center.
He is Mawlana Hujjatul-Islam Shaikh Fadil al-Sahlani who has been representing al-Khu’i in the U.S. and Canada since 1990. In addition to all the above, his late holiness also sponsored and funded the activities of students of theology in Syria, Turkey, Palestine and the African continent.
In Canada, he fairly recently established an Islamic school and center at Montreal. During the war between Afghani heroes and Communist kafir forces, the deceased Imam provided all support he could to the Mujahidin, and he even permitted the distribution of collected religious taxes to Afghani Mujahidin.

His son, Sayyid Abdel-Majeed al-Khu’i, says the following about his father, “My father was always smiling when he was with us. He always arbitrated between his sons whenever there was a dispute, and he was quite witty. If he saw one looking forlorn or happily excited, he would ask him about the reason, and every evening he would distribute candy for the children in addition to whatever other gifts he had received that day from the admiring faithful.”
Despite his extremely lofty status, he never hesitated to help his family in domestic chores, including kitchen chores. He never opened the mail coming to any of his family members. One of his sons told him once that nobody in the house had any secret to hide from him, and that it was perfectly alright with them if he opened their mail, but he insisted never to do so.
He always instructed members of his family to deliver funds for highly esteemed but impoverished families without doing so publicly, telling them to help those whom the ignorant ones mistake as wealthy because of their abstention from begging for help.

After the failure of the Intifada of March 1991, the Grand Ayatullah was briefly imprisoned then forced to appear on television with the Butcher of Baghdad Saddam Hussein who always kept pressuring him to issue fatawa, religious verdicts, supportive of Saddam and his government, something which he never did despite all the persecution to which he, his representatives and family members were subjected.

Because of refusing to cooperate with the dictatorial government of Saddam Hussein, he was put under house arrest till his death. Saddam also exiled, jailed, or assassinated many of the gifted students, representatives and distinguished followers of al-Khu’i and ordered the destruction of their mosques and libraries particularly those in Najaf and Kerbala.

As if the Iraqi government predicted the death of al-Khu’i, it cut off all telephone connections with his Kufa residence in the morning of Saturday, August 8, 1992 and with the houses of those who were close to him. Having performed the afternoon prayers that day, the health of his late holiness suddenly deteriorated and a severe chest swelling was visible.

Doctors in the medical team charged with supervising his health conditions was called in, but they could not tend to him early enough. He informed his family and those in his presence that last night he felt that it was the last night he was spending with his family. He asked for water to perform his ablution, and as soon as he finished his ablution his soul passed away to its Maker exactly at 3:13 pm.

Throngs of the believers started pouring into Kufa, surrounding his residence, and it was not long before the whole country came to know about the sad news. Military units of Saddam's “Special Forces” moved quickly to close all highways leading to both Najaf and Kufa as well as other cities in Iraq's central regions, then they moved to disperse the thronging crowds in the pretext of making preparations for the Grand Ayatullah's funeral the next morning.

Curfew was enforced in the cities of Najaf, Kufa and other central cities, and heavily armed police and military units started patrolling the streets. Armed forces stationed at Baghdad and in central and southern Iraqi cities were all placed under maximum alert in anticipation of a popular reaction to the sad news and to the ambiguous way it happened and was handled by the Iraqi government.

Patrol vehicles were visible throughout the streets of al-Thawarah, al-Shu'lah and al-Kazimiyyah, all of which are major Shi'a towns in metropolitan Baghdad. Iraq's radio and television stations suspended their usual programs to announce the sad news of the demise of the great leader, informing the public that his funeral services were scheduled for Sunday morning.

At midnight on Saturday, however, the family of the deceased was ordered to bury the Imam before sunrise. Local government authorities prohibited the public in Najaf and Kufa from taking part in his funeral services, angering the faithful in Iraq and the world. His body was washed Saturday evening at his Kufa house in the presence of a handful of his family members, and the funeral prayers were conducted by his eminence Ayatullah Ali al-Sistani, one of his closest aides and a member of his four-member juristic Shura (Consultative) Committee. (The other three members have been: Ayatullah Shaikh Murtada al-Burujardi, Ayatullah Shaikh Ali Azghar al-Ahmadi, and, of course, Ayatullah al-Uzma al-Khu’i himself.)
A three-day mourning period was announced by the government which prohibited the family of the deceased dignitary from holding the traditional Fatiha majlis, while the Ministry of Awqaf (Islamic Trusts) declared that it would conduct such majalis for his soul. Telephone connections between the cities of Kufa and Najaf and the rest of the world were by now cut off, too, till Sunday evening.
The hypocritical news media of the Butcher of Baghdad Saddam Hussein was busy circulating lies about the demise of Imam al-Khu’i, claiming that he had received a great funeral service wherein the people and representatives of the Iraqi government participated, that his corpse was carried around all religious sites in the area, and even calling him “the martyr of the nation and the country.”
Baghdad's official newspaper Al-Jumhuriyyah called him “the martyr of Islam and the nation,” publishing his photograph on its front page. International news agencies, on the other hand, published photographs of his coffin escorted by no more than six persons.
Shortly before his death, the greatest scholar and leader al-Khu’i expressed no concern about anything in this vanishing life more than the possibility of the loss of his precious manuscripts the writing of which had exhausted so many years of his life...

Surely the Islamic world will find it very hard to compensate for the loss of such a man, nay, a legendary institute and a lighthouse of knowledge and scholarship...
Team - Shaoore Wilayat Foundation