When his father was around 16-17 years of age, he fell seriously ill and they thought he would not survive. When the relatives gathered around this young man, one of the family members heard a voice saying, “Do not worry, he will be fine, because he is going to be the father of Muhammad Taqi.” After this event, the youth soon recovered from his illness, got married a few years later and had several sons. He named his third son Muhammad Taqi in memory of the event of his childhood. However, in infancy, this child fell into a pond and was drowned. He had one more son after him, and he also named him Muhammad Taqi. This last son grew up to be the great scholar and ‘arif, Ayatullah Behjat.
His father was a reciter of marthiyya and he would often take the young Agha Behjat with him to his recitals, thus inculcating in him a deep and abiding love for Sayyid al-Shuhada (A.S.).
From a young age he showed signs of genius and a great thirst for acquiring knowledge. After his primary studies, he went straight into religious studies, and at the age of 14, he moved to Kerbala. Four years later he came to the famous seminary of Najaf, where he had an opportunity to study under some of the best teachers and scholars in the Muslim world. He studied Usul under Grand Ayatullahs Abu’l Hasan Isfahani, Mirza Na’ini and Shaykh Muhammad Hasan Gharawi Isfahani (known as Kumpani), and Fiqh under Ayatullah Mirza Muhammad Taqi Shirazi. He studied the philosophical texts of Ibn Sina and Mulla Sadra under Ayatullah S. Hasan Badkubeyi.
At the same time as attending the intermediate and higher levels of religious studies, he was very meticulous in his pursuit of spiritual and mystical instruction. In this regard, his teachers were Ayatullah Muhammad Hasan Isfahani and Ayatullah Sayyid Abdu’l Ghaffar, and finally, the Godly scholar, the matchless instructor, the giant amongst spiritual masters, Ayatullah Sayyid Ali Qadhi Tabataba’i. He remained with his last teacher for many years, learning from him the secrets of the higher paths of Akhlaq and ‘Irfan.
15 years later, he returned to Iran and settled in Qum. Here, in the company of Ayatullah Khomeini, Ayatullah Gulpaygani and other great future figures, he continued his studies under Grand Ayatullah Burujerdi.
His Character and Qualities
1. Piety and Self-Building
From his youth, Agha Behjat was constantly engaged in self-purification and self-building. In his ethical instructions, he always insists that one should work hard at this task and forego and abandon many luxuries in order to make headway against the endless demands of the soul.
He is of the opinion that in order to succeed in this jihad al-akbar, ethical purity (akhlaq) and knowledge (‘ilm) go hand in hand. In fact he considers knowledge without self-purification, to be the more damaging than anything else. His famous advice to youths is ‘to read and practise one hadith daily from the Chapter of Jihad al-nafs in Wasail al-Shi’a of Shaykh Hurr al-Amili.
By his deeds and words, this great scholar has always directed himself to God alone. A great mujtahid has said about Agha Behjat, "It cannot be just said about him that he is a man of piety; in fact he is the true essence and a manifestation of taqwa."
From his youth, Agha Behjat was constantly engaged in self-purification and self-building. In his ethical instructions, he always insisted that one should work hard at this task and forego and abandon many luxuries in order to make headway against the endless demands of the soul. Ayatullah Shaykh Javad Kerbalayi says about him, “One of his close students (in Najaf) reports that every night, or in fact at most times, Agha Behjat sits alone, deep in thought and contemplation. He never wastes a moment of his time, and does not participate in vain gatherings. When the time comes for his class, or his ziyarat of Amirul Mu’mineen (A), he gets up abruptly, puts on his cloak and leaves the house without interfering in the activities of others. He is extremely reserved and does not like to reveal anything about himself, especially about the special favours and extraordinary spiritual powers that God has granted him.”
2. His Asceticism (Zuhd) and Simple Lifestyle
The close servants of God always look at the reality of this world, contrary to other human beings whose eyes are fixed on its pleasures and luxuries. By foregoing material comforts, they attain spiritual strength, and while the rest of the people stumble in this dark world, these awliya soar in the illuminated heights in proximity to God.
Agha Behjat was one of the most glowing examples of these awliya in contemporary times. He was a mystic and scholar who had always lived a simple life, without the remotest material attachments. He had understood the reality of this world and the worthlessness of its pleasures.
He lived in a simple house and had resisted the many offers from relatives and well-wishers to move to more comfortable accommodation. Ayatullah Misbah says, “For many years, he has lived in a rented house with two rooms. One of the rooms has a curtain, which he would draw when we would visit him. On the other side of the curtain his family would carry on with their household chores. We would sit on one side of this curtain and benefit greatly from his wisdom. Although simple, the atmosphere was always full of a special nur (light) and spirituality…”
Ayatullah Mas’udi says, “Many times people would sincerely offer to purchase a better house for him, but he would not agree. I myself told him, “Agha! This house is damaged, I doubt if even the sharia allows for a man to live in this sort of accommodation!”, but he would not pay any attention.”.
3. His Worship
Agha Behjat’s students report that he had a special closeness to God, that is immediately evident in his manner of worship. Those who have prayed behind him have described it ‘as a spiritually uplifting and unique experience’. In fact, the Fatimiyyah mosque at the end of the Guzarkhan market, where he had led prayers three times a day for over 40 years, was always full at prayer time. High ranking scholars made a special effort to come and pray behind him. Allamah Tabataba’i would also visit the mosque to pray. Almost as soon as Agha Behjat used to begin his prayer, tears flowed from his eyes - frequently he has to pause because his voice is choked with emotion - such is his awe in God’s presence.
One of the scholars remarks, “In the early days, Agha Behjat would go to the undeveloped part of Qum, past some farms, and recite his evening prayers with some companions in that remote location. One day, after the maghribain prayers, he commented, “If only the kings of this world realised how much pleasure a servant experiences in worship, they would never even glance at the worldly delights…”
Ayatullah Shaykh Javad Kerbalayi says, “Agha Behjat never misses his late night prayers (salaat al-layl) and spends a long time weeping in the middle of the night, especially on the night preceding Friday.”
A scholar reports, “I came upon him one Thurday night in Madressa al-Sayyid in Najaf. I saw him weeping and crying in prostration. He was repeating in a broken voice over and over, “Ilahi! Man li ghayruk, asaluhu kashfa dhurri, wan-nadhara fi amri?! (My Lord! Who have I got besides You, Who I can ask for relief and support and to look at my matters?)”.
4. His Ziyarat and Tawassul (Saluting the Ahlul Bayt (A.S.)
Despite his advanced years, the daily routine of Agha Behjat remained unchanged. Early every morning, he would present himself at the shrine of Lady Fatima Masuma (A.S.) to pay his respects and send salutations. With the greatest of humility, he stood near her shrine, and recited the Ziyarat of Ashura of Imam Husain (A.S.).
Sayyid Muhammad Husein Tehrani, in his book, Anwar al-Malakut, quotes Ayatullah Shaykh Abbas Quchani, the great scholar and spiritual successor of the famous Mirza Ali Qadhi Tabataba’i, as narrating: “While he was in Najaf, Agha Behjat would often go to Masjid al-Sahlah and spend whole nights alone there in worship and contemplation. On one very dark night, when the lights in the mosque were not lit either, he needed to go out to refresh his wudhu.
He went out of the mosque towards the wudhu area to the east of the mosque. Suddenly he experienced some anxiety and fear, perhaps due to the total darkness. Immediately, a light appeared next to him, by which he could clearly see his way. This light accompanied him while he went out, made wudhu and returned to his place in the mosque. Then it disappeared.”.
5. His Humbleness
One of his noticeable traits was his humbleness and simplicity, despite his fame and status as a leading contemporary scholar and jurist. For many years he had refused to print his religious edicts (tawdhih al-masail) and he only agreed after much pressure. When he was scheduled to lecture he would request that his name not be mentioned as the lecturer.
A scholar reports, “Once I went with my guest, Shaykh Nasrullah Lahuthi, to visit Agha Behjat. Agha Lahuthi said to his teacher, “Agha! I was in Mashhad and someone was criticising you, and I became very annoyed.” Agha Behjat responded, “We have reports in the ahadith, that if a scholar pays too much attention to worldly matters, then he will be criticized by others.” I remember thinking, “If the way Agha Behjat lives is called “paying too much attention to worldly matters”, then what about us!”
6. His Mystical Wayfaring (sayr wa suluk) and His Spiritual Station
Ayatullah Behjat has many decades of experience in mystical wayfaring, the special journey through established stations that the soul undertakes to attain proximity to God. He is one of the outstanding pupils of the great master, Ayatullah Sayyid Ali Qadhi Tabataba’i and had received special instructions from his teacher. Even as a youth, he had passed many stations of the spiritual path.
His elevated rank in these matters is well known by others who travel this path; immediately after the revolution, one of the first scholars that Ayatullah Khomeini visited was Ayatullah Behjat in Qum. Similarly, when Ayatullah Khamene’i assumed the position of Rahbar, he first came to Agha Behjat in Qum for spiritual instructions.
7. His Awareness of the Unseen (Ghayb) and his Wondrous Acts (Karamat)
Unlike the majority of men, who have no idea of the existence or happenings of the unseen world, Ayatullah Behjat has reached a station, by the grace of God, where he frequently witnesses the events that occur in that world.
In fact, a reminder of this ability is his constant repetition of the Divine name “al-Sattaar” - the Concealer. This dhikr and tasbih is constantly on Agha Behjat’s lips, whether he is walking or sitting. Ayatullah Misbah Yazdi says in this regard, “It seems that he is at the level where he witnesses many things from ghayb. Often he is aware of the real nature and inner secrets of those who sit around him, and he invokes God, who is the Concealer of defects - al-Sattaar al-‘Uyub, so that the secrets of the people around him may be concealed from him.”
This is usually the way of these close servants of God. Their humbleness is such that they would not like to display anything, or do anything, that will bring about even a trace of pride in themselves. And in return for their utter humility, God grants them even greater insight and status.
There is no doubt in the minds of those who know Agha Behjat well, that he is one of those for whom many secrets are revealed. Ayatullah Misbah says in this regard, “Those who have been around him for many years have seen things that he has done or said that are truly extraordinary. He sometimes says something that seems quite normal, but on later contemplation, one realises that it was due to some special knowledge that he possessed.
For example, when Imam Khomeini was in exile in Turkey, many of his students would make statements in his defence and get into trouble with the government. They would be imprisoned and frequently tortured. I remember distinctly when Agha Jannati was captured and no one knew where he had been taken. I mentioned it to Agha Behjat, who said, “Inshallah, you will soon inform me of his release.” Of course, some might say this was just a prayer, but in fact, he did not make such statements about every prisoner. Many times we would say, “pray for so and so,” but he would remain silent. Just as he had promised, Agha Jannati was released soon without having been hurt.”
One of his students says, “My wife was expecting a child. It was the month of Ramadhan, and I wanted to go on a journey, so I came to Agha Behjat to say goodbye. He turned to me and said, “In this month, you will be blessed with a baby boy, name him Muhammad Hasan.” This is exactly what transpired.” There are many such episodes that people have related about their encounters with Agha Behjat.
Agha Behjat himself dislikes a lot of fuss made about these episodes but his students occasionally narrate them so the mu’mineen may realise that there exist in our times certain individuals, to whom God has granted special favours.
Certainly, for the one who sincerely strives in God’s way, then He Himself becomes their guide, “And (as for) those who strive hard for Us, We will most certainly guide them in Our ways. (Ankabut, 29/69)”
Drinking from the Fountain of the Wisdom of Ayatullah Behjat
In this section we will examine several examples of the advice and replies of Agha Behjat to questions about different matters.
1. How to counter and cure riya (showing off or trying to impress others while engaged in acts of worship)
A student in the Hawza of Qum relates that Agha Behjat was once asked, “Sometimes a person decides to perform a virtuous act sincerely for God, but Shaytan converts his intention and the person starts to think instead about how people will be impressed, how he will become popular, etc., when he performs the act. Are these thoughts counted as riya, and do they nullify his virtuous act and make it worthless?”
Agha Behjat stated in reply, “Riya is only relevant in acts of worship (‘ibadat). And any act of worship that has riya associated with it is a sin, and it makes the act null and void.
However, riya itself can become a counter and cure for riya, by simply changing the focus of who one is trying to impress! If a man can approach a president to sort out his problem directly, would he waste time in trying to convince the president’s servants? In the same manner, if a man has sense, he would raise his sights from the people, and attempt to impress and perfect his actions for God, who is the Creator of man - this attitude would itself become the cure for his riya.”
At another time, he said, “About riya, there is a hadith that says, “Whoever tries to impress the people by his manner of prayers (salat), will be resurrected in the form of a donkey.” And this is quite true because what can be more donkey-like than a man trying to impress the slaves of God instead of dir