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Ibn Tawus: A Brief Biography

Ali ibn Musa ibn Ja'far ibn Tawus is a renowned, reliable, devout, and great Shia scholar.

His lineage from his father’s side goes back to Muhammad ibn Ishak; one of the great-grandchildren of Imam Al-Hassan (a.s), who was called Tawus (peacock) because of the beauty of his face and rough surface of his feet (1).  From his lineage it becomes clear why he was named ibn Tawus, acknowledging that he shares this name with his brother Ahmad (2). He was known as Jamal Al-'Arifin (the mystics' beauty) because of his great ethical characteristic, piety, and constant attention to his deeds, spiritual experiences, and acts of wonder.
Al-Sayed Ibn Tawus began his education in Hillah, where he completed the fundamental stages of his educational path under his father and grandfather. Then He studied fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) for two and a half years, but believing that he no longer needed an instructor, he continued on his own (3). 
Most of his books, such as Misbah al-mutahajjid, Muhasabat al-nafs, Iqbal al-a'mal, and Kashf al-mahajja, dealt with moral and spiritual matters more than anything else. Ibn Tawus was less concerned with fiqh and declined to issue fatwas. He claimed that his refusal to answer inquiries regarding fiqh was due to differences among Shia scholars over fiqh issues, as well as his concern of offering an incorrect or personal viewpoint. He only had two volumes on fiqh, which dealt with daily prayer precepts (4). Anyhow, there is no doubt that his work influenced Shia culture and thought, as it is evident in the works and relations of his students such as Al-Shaykh Yusuf Sadid al-Din (the father of al-'Allama al-Hilli).
During his stay in Baghdad, he had a close relationship with the caliph, who offered positions in the government. However, ibn Tawus turned them down. He said that he was offered the position of giving public rulings, Sayyids leadership (niqaba), and even the caliph's ministry and companionship, all of which he declined. Yet for his own safety ibn Tawus accepted the position of niqaba in the reign of Hulagu Khan, in which he played a significant role in saving the lives of many people in Hillah (5).
On Dhu l-Qa'da 5 664/August 8, 1266, at the age of 75 ibn Tawus passed away in his hometown and was buried in Najaf, Iraq as he wished in the grave he bought during his life. Some believe he was buried in his hometown, as there is a grave attributed to him. 

(1)    Umdat Al-Talib, p.190. 
(2)    Al-Kuna wa Al-Alkab, v.1, p.339. 
(3)    Kashf al-maḥajja, p. 185.
(4)    Rawdat Al-Janat, v.4, p.329. 
(5)    Rawdat Al-Janat, v.4, p.338.


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