A Brief Biography of the
Late Al-‘Allãmah Al-Muhaqqiq
Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi
Birth and Education
Hazrat Ra’isu ’l-Muballighin, Ãyatullãh al-‘Allãmah al-Muhaqqiq al-Hãj Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi, son of the late Ustãdu ’l-‘Ulamã’ Maulãna Hakim al-Haj Sayyid AbulHasan, was born on 1st Rajab 1345 AH (5th January 1927 CE) in ‘Ushri Khurd, in the district of Siwan, Bihar, India.
He was the fifth in the consequent generations of ‘ulamã’ of his family: besides his father, there were four other ‘ulamã’ among his immediate ancestors, the most famous among them was Ãyatullãh Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi (d. 1929), author of the famous renown book Lawã’iju ’l-Ahzãn (in two volumes) which is still in print in India and Pakistan.
‘Allãmah Rizvi’s education began at his ancestral home in Gopalpur (Siwan); and then at the age of eight, he moved to Patna where his father was the vice-principal of Madrasah-e ‘Abbãsiyya. There he studied under his father and other ‘ulamã’. Then in 1942, he enrolled in Jãmi‘atu ’l-‘Ulum Jawãdiyya, Banaras (U.P.) which was one of the three advanced Shi‘a hawzas in India. While he was in Banaras, he also appeared in the advance level examinations for linguistics in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu conducted under the Allahabad Board (U.P.). The diplomas for these three languages were known as “Fãzil,” “Munshi,” and “Qabil” respectively. The ‘Allãmah passed all the exams with distinctions.
In 1946, at the age of nineteen, he graduated from Jãmi‘u ’l-‘Ulum Jawãdiyya with distinction and was awarded its highest theological degree, “Fakhru ’l-Afãdhil”.
The teachers under whom ‘Allãmah Rizvi was educated:
1. His father, Ustãdu ‘l-Ulamã’, Hakim Sayyid AbulHasan Rizvi (Patna).
2. Maulana Sayyid Farhat Husain (Patna).
3.Maulana Sayyid Ghulam Mustafa (Patna).
4. Maulana Sayyid Mukhtar Ahmad (Patna).
5. Maulana Shaikh Kazim Husain (Banaras).
6. Hujjatul Islam wal Muslimeen, Sayyid Zafarul Hasan Rizvi (Banaras).
7. Hujjatul Islam wal Muslimeen, Sayyid Muhammad Raza Zangipuri (Banaras).
Under these ‘ulamã, he had studied the classical texts of Arabic language and literature, logic and philosophy, jurisprudence (fiqh) and usulu ’l-fiqh, and theology and hadith.
Even after years of being active in the educational and tablighi spheres, Allamah appeared for his high school final exams (as a mature student) at the Aligarh Muslim University and was awarded the certificate with distinctions.
Religious & Social Activities
Right from his teens, ‘Allamah Rizvi had been actively engaged in the social, educational and religious upliftment of the community:
• In 1948, at the age of twenty-one, he succeeded his father as the Imam of the community at Hallaur, in the district of Basti, U.P. and continued in that position till 1951.
• From 1952 to 1959, he was Imam-e jum’ah at Husainganj, Siwan (Bihar) and worked as the Urdu and Persian teacher at the Husainganj Higher Secondary School.
Throughout these years, he spent all his holidays and free time serving the community, such as promoting the cause of Anjuman-e Wazifa-e Sadat-wa Momineen (AWSM) and of Anjuman-e Tarraqi-e-Urdu (ATU). AWSM promoted education among the Shi‘a youths by giving them scholarships for higher studies whereas ATU aimed at promoting Urdu among the Muslims in India. Some young Shi’as of those days who now hold good jobs were morally as well as financially helped by ‘Allamah to pursue their higher studies.
While he was in Hallaur, he was instrumental in the completion of the construction of the mosque. In the fifties, he was also the trustee of the mosque and imambara of Gopalpur, and when the Indian government confiscated the vast land (agricultural land as well as the big pond which produced fish) which was endownment (waqf) for maintenance and upkeep of the mosque and imambara, he successfully fought against the government’s decision in the court and got the land back for the community.
During the late 40s and 50s, ‘Allãmah was also very active in writing articles and books in Urdu on various Islamic issues. In June 1949 to June 1960, a series of articles were published in the monthly al-Wã’iz (Lucknow) entitled as “Islam awr Tadbir-e Manzil”. These twelve articles formed the basis of his English book, The Family Life in Islam (published in 1971). The Urdu version was published in a book form in 1997 as “Islam ka Nizam Khanawadigi”.
In 1374, an editor of a Sunni monthly, Ridhwãn (Lahore), published some questions as a challenge to the Shi‘as. The late ‘Allãmah was requested by some Shi‘as to respond to that challenge. He wrote the reply that was published as “Mudir-e Ridhwãn see Doo Doo Bateen” in a series of twelve articles in the monthly al-Jawãd (Banaras) from 1955 to 1958. The second of these articles on the issue of badã, a complicated theological issue, was so much liked by the scholars that Adib-e A‘zam, Maulana Zafar Hasan, the editor of Nur magazine in Karachi, published it in 1955 in a dialogue form entitled as “‘Allãmah Barzakhi kã Mukãlama apni Baigum see Mas’ala-e Badã’ meen.” (‘Allamah Barzakhi’s conversation with his wife regarding the issue of badã.) He wrote a note saying that he had not yet seen a clear and better writing on this subject in Urdu. These twelve extended articles (444 pages) were then published in a book form as “Itmam Hujjat” in 1986.
These were some of the scholarly works published in India before his migration to Africa.
Tabligh in Africa
In December 1959, he went to Tanzania (then known as Tanganyika) where he served the community as Resident ‘Ãlim at Lindi (December 1959-1962), Arusha (1963-1964) and Dar-es-salaam (1965-1969).
Within a week of his arrival in Africa, he started learning the Swahili language and observing the local conditions with a view to propagate true Islam amongst the indigenous population. In those days there was not a single Shi‘a Ithnã ‘Ashari of African origin in the entire continent; and the Shi‘a community as well as the ‘Ulama’ were oblivious of their duty of spreading the message of the Ahlul Bayt among the indigenous people. In 1962, he prepared a plan for tabligh and sent it to the Secretariat of the Khoja Shia Ithna-asheri Supreme Council, then located in Arusha. In 1963, the plan was discussed at length. At that stage it could not be implemented as suggested, but a pilot scheme was put into effect. (Also in 1963, he visited all the jamaats of East Africa and emphasized on strengthening the madrasa system and its evaluation; and, as a result of that tour, he also worked for standardization of the syllabus for the madrasahs [religious schools].) In 1964, the Secretariat prepared a memorandum based on his tabligh scheme, which was included in the agenda of the tri-annual Conference of the Federation of the Khoja Shia Ithna-asheri Jamaats of Africa held at Tanga. Thus, Bilal Muslim Mission came into being.
From that day, ‘Allãmah Rizvi spent all of his free time in tabligh activities. In 1968, Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania was registered. When the work increased, the late Ãyatullah Sayyid Muhsin al-Hakim (Najaf, Iraq) asked the K.S.I. Supreme Council of Africa to release ‘Allãmah from the Jamaat’s responsibilities, and from then on his expenses was payed from the account of the late Ãyatullãh al-Hakim and after him by the late Ãyatullãh al-Khu’i.
Global Rearch of the Mission: as a result of the Mission’s efforts tens of thousands of Africans have accepted the Shi‘a faith. Gradually through education, publications, and correspondence courses, the Mission’s field of activities has widened to include Thailand, Indonesia and Japan in the East, alongside Europe, U.S.A. and the Caribbean islands in the West. As a direct benefit of the Islamic Correspondence Course, now a Shi‘a community is flourishing in Guyana under Mr. Latif Ali who has successfully spread the message up to Trinidad and Tabago. Mr. Ali, who became a Shi‘a in 1972, describes the crucial elements in the growth of Shi‘ism in Guyana as follows: “‘Allãmah Rizvi, the tireless teacher by correspondence, and Latif Ali, the disseminator.”
The Mission has a training center for the preachers (Hawza-e ‘Ilmiyya) at Dar-es-salaam which also has a spacious boarding house. There are nursery, primary, and secondary schools, as well Qur’ãnic madrasahs and a teachers’ training college. There are also several hauzas, and dozens of students have graduated from these and acquired scholarships in Qom, Najaf, Syria, and Lebanon. The Mission also works on various charitable projects for the African Shi‘as in Tanzania.
The Mission conducts three Correspondence Courses through which the light of Shi‘ism has reached far and wide. The Mission has published more than a hundred books in English and Swahili, the major portion of which consists of ‘Allãmah Rizvi’s books or their translations.
There are Bilal Muslim Missions in Kenya (established simultaneously with the Tanzanian Mission), Burundi, Madagascar, Congo, Rwanda and Mozambique. Inspired by the Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania, organizations with similar names have been established in Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Sweden and America.
A Long Sojourn to India & the West
In 1978, ‘Allamah Rizvi returned to settle down in India where he started the English translation of Tafsir al-Mizãn of the late ‘Allãmah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn at-Tabãtabã’i. Ten volumes of this translation have already been published. Besides this academic work, he was also a source and means of many charitable works including rebuilding of the ‘idd-gah and the imambargah, and repairing the mosque in Gopalpur.
His first visit to United Kingdom and United States of America was in 1981. (Although the purpose of this visit was for tabligh during the month of Ramadhan, he asked the central office of Anjuman-e Wazifa-e Sadat-wa-Momineen (AWSM) for list of Shi‘as who had been given qarz-e hasana for their higher studies and were now well-established in the USA but had not paid the loan back; he did that with the intention of calling them up so that with payment of their loan other deserving Shi‘a students could be helped.)
In December 1982, he went to London on invitation of the Imam Sahebuz-Zaman Trust. While in the region, he also worked with the late Hujjatul Islam Sayyid Mahdi al-Hakim in establishing the ‘World Ahlul Bayt(A.S.) Islamic League’ (WABIL); he was one of the three founding trustees of the League. He was the Director of the Preparatory Committee which drafted WABIL’s constitution and organized its first Constitutional Conference. The Conference was held in August 1983 in which –for the first time in Shi‘a history– eighty delegates from thirty countries from around the world participated. At that conference, the ‘Allamah was elected as WABIL’s Director General for two years.
In 1982-1983, he visited almost all the major Shi‘a centers in the USA and Canada, and also gave lectures at the first Shi’a summer camp held in Toronto.
Return to Tanzania
He returned to Tanzania in 1986 for a short visit; but the situation of Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania compelled him to return for a more permanent stay to supervise and strengthen the activities of the Mission. So he decided to make his base in Dar-es-Salaam, and divided his time between Tanzania, India, and Canada.
In the late 80s, he was invited to help with the setting up of the first hawza in north America, Hawza-E ‘IlmiyyaWali ‘Asr, in Medina, N.Y.
In 1991, the Ahlul Bayt(A.S.) World Assembly (ABWA) was established in Tehran, and ‘Allãmah Rizvi was appointed as one of the committee members of the Supreme Council. Also, he was the founder and Chairman of the Ahlul Bayt(A.S.) Assembly of Tanzania (ABATA).
In 1995, he established Bilal Charitable Trust (BCT) of India, Gopalpur. BCT was founded to formalize the charity work that was done by and through ‘Allãmah in Bihar for many decades. The Africa Federation, Al-Iman Foundation of Bombay and the mu’mineen in various countries, including Canada, have continued to strengthened the Bilal Charitable Trust in India. Till now, more than 25 mosques and Husainias have been fully or partially built and more than 39 houses for people with no habitation. BCT also has established and operates al-Mahdi Institute, Gopalpur, which consists of al-Mahdi English Medium School and al-Mahdi Institute of Information Technology. This all is besides the normal charity work of providing for food, clothing, marriage expenses, and medical help to the deserving brethren in faith in that region of India. BTC also conducts eye camps in different parts of Bihar.
His Writings & Publications
From 1949 to 2002, ‘Allãmah has written about 125 books of different sizes ranging on various topics from theology to comparative religions, from laws and ethics to history, from tafsir to hadith, from Urdu poetry to bibliographical and biographical works of ‘ulamã’. Of these publications, 85 are in English, 32 in Urdu, 12 in Arabic and 17 in Kiswahili; of which 98 have been published and 6 are on the process of publication. At the time of his death, he was engaged in writing three books in English, Arabic, and Urdu. Some of his books have been translated in twenty-two languages including Japanese, Gujarati, Indonesian, Thai, Burmese, Urdu, Hindi, Sindhi, Kashmiri, Farsi, Swahili, Hausa, Shona, Italian, French, Swedish, Turkish, Bosnian, Arabic, and Hollandaise languages.
The importance of his academic excellence can be gauged by the second book written as a text for the Islamic Correspondence Course, God of Islam, published in 1971. God of Islam is on the topic of existence and tawhid of the Almighty. A comparison of this book with volume five of Usul-e Falsafa wa Rawish-e Realism by ‘Allãmah Tabãtabã’I with very extensive commentary by Shahid Murtaza Mutahhari, published in 1975, will show the level of erudition of ‘Allãmah Rizvi on Islamic theology. The basis of arguments in both works are very similar but there is one importance difference: while the commentary by Shahid Mutahhari were put in philosophical jargon and style with description of how the philosophical arguments evolved historically, God of Islam never lets the reader sense that he or she is treading through a philosophical area of expertise. And therein lies the beauty of ‘Allãmah Rizvi’s work: the most complicated theological or philosophical issue could be presented in a very simple style devoid of technical intricacies.
In 1972, Nama-e Astan-e Quds (vol. 9, no. 1-2), the management organ of the Shrine of Imam Raza (a.s.) in Mashhad (Iran), published the Persian translation of some chapters of ‘Allamah’s book, Prophethood. In its introductory note, the editor writes: “In various chapters very beneficial and deep subjects have been explained in simple language, which has increased its usefulness and catches the attention; we are giving the translation of a few chapters of this beneficial book.”
His book on imãmat of Amiru ’l-Mu’mineen ‘Ali bin Abi Tãlib (a.s.) entitled as Imãmate: A Vicegerency of the Prophet has been published many times and distributed all over the world over by World Organisation for Islamic Services. Dr. Khalil Tabãtabã’I once mentioned to ‘Allãmah Rizvi that his book on imamate and other books on usul-e din, in spite of their brevity, cover all important issues and that they should also be made available in Arabic language. He said that books in Arabic on those subjects were either very brief or very detailed. The ‘Allãmah took it upon himself to translate that book and was published by Dr. Tabataba’I through Imam Hussain Foundation in Beirut in 1999.
‘Allãmah Rizvi also worked with the late research scholar al-’Allamah Ayatullah Sayyid ‘Abdu ’l-‘Aziz at-Tabãtabã’I of Qum in revising and updating adh-Dhari‘ah ila Tasãnifi ’sh-Shi‘a, the great bibliographical work of the late Agha Buzurg at-Tehrani in more than twenty volumes. ‘Allamah Rizvi went through the entire set of adh-Dhari’ah and wrote an addendum in Arabic for that book: 1000 notes and 1000 new titles were added by the late Tabataba’I in his Azwa ‘ala ‘dh-Dhari’ah. About twenty Grand Ãyatullãhs of Najaf (Iraq) and Qum (Iran) had granted him the ijãzah (authorization) for riwãyah (narration of hadíth), for judicial affairs, and also for handing any issue in which a mujtahid’s authority is necessary.
‘Allãmah Rizvi was a linguist, and he also composed poems in Urdu. He wrote, spoke and delivered lectures in Urdu, Arabic, English, Swahili and Persian. He also had knowledge of Hindi and Gujarati. Apart from extensive and repeated tours within East and Southern Africa, he has visited about 45 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America.
‘Allãmah Rizvi dedicated his whole life to the propagation of the path of the Ahlul Bayt.