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Balágí, Muhammad Jawád (anti-Bahá'í activist)

by Etan Kohlberg

published in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Volume 3
New York: Columbia University, 1989
BALĀḠĪ, MOḤAMMAD-JAWĀD B. ḤASAN B. ṬĀLEB B. ʿABBĀS RABAʿĪ NAJAFĪ, Imami author, poet, and polemicist. Born in Najaf in 1282/1865-66 (or, less probably, in 1285/1868-69 or 1280/1863-64) to a well-known family of scholars, he spent his early years at his birthplace (except for a sojourn in Kāẓemayn between 1306/1888-89 and 1312/1894-95), before departing in 1326/1908 for Samarra, where he lived for ten years. Following the British occupation of the city he moved back to Kāẓemayn and supported circles seeking independence for Iraq. Two years later he returned to Najaf, and devoted his time to teaching and writing. He was admired by many for his modesty and piety. In this last years he suffered from ill-health; he died of pleurisy on Sunday, 22 Šaʿbān 1352/10 December 1933.

Balāḡī was versed not only in the traditional Islamic sciences, but was also acquainted with some Western Biblical and Orientalist publications, and knew English, Hebrew (which he acquired mainly from Baghdadi Jews), and Persian. He was thus well equipped for the task which he had set himself in many of his forty-eight works (and which earned him the honorific al-mojāhed), proving the superiority of Islam to other faiths. In his two major works, al-Hodā elā dīn al-moṣṭafā and the more popular al-Reḥla al-madrasīya (both written in response to Christian missionary books), Balāḡī analyses passages from the Old and New Testaments with a view to proving that these are replete with inconsistencies, contradictions, linguistic errors, and blasphemous expressions, and that the Bible as we have it today (al-rāʾej) preserves little of the original book (al-ḥaqīqī). His opposition to Bahaism was particularly vehement, and he was actively involved in the successful campaign to deny the Bahais possession of the house in Baghdad in which Bahāʾ-Allāh had lived during his Iraqi exile, and which had become a Bahai shrine (cf. Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, Wilmette, 1944, pp. 356-60).

In addition to his polemical writings, Balāḡī wrote extensively on Imami oṣūl and forūʿ. His strong commitment to Imami Shiʿism was expressed in various ways: he composed a poem defending the belief in the Hidden Imam, and is also credited with reviving the ʿāšūrāʾ mourning ceremonies at Karbalāʾ.

Bibliography: Brockelman, GAL, S. II, p. 804. Aʿyān al-šīʿa XVII, pp. 67-104. Aʿlām al-šīʿa I, pp. 323-26. Jaʿfar Bāqer Āl Maḥbūba, Māżī al-Najaf wa-ḥāżerohā, Najaf, I, 1378/1958, pp. 377-78 (including Balāḡī’s photo), II, 1374/1955, pp. 61-66. Zereklī, Aʿlām VI, Beirut, 1980, p. 740. Kaḥḥāla, IX, p. 163. Aḥmad Ḥosaynī, preface to Balāḡī’s al-Reḥla, Najaf, 1382/1963, pp. 3-16. Tawfīq Fokaykī, preface to Balāḡī’s al-Hodā, Najaf, 1385/1965, pp. 6-21.

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