During the days of my studies at the holy centre of religious studies at Qum, this nondescript came across the manuscript of a treatise whose title was Tuhfat al‑muluk fi al‑sayr wa al‑suluk, ascribed to our master, al‑Sayyid Mahdi Bahr al‑ `Ulum. This copy belonged to marhum Hujjat al‑Islam Hajj Shaykh Abbas Tehrani, and as I found it very absorbing I borrowed it from him to make a copy of my own, which I wrote in the year 1366 H. . This copy contained many errors, to the extent that it did not make any sense in some places. Accordingly I wanted to find an error‑free copy of it and to edit it. When I arrived for studies in Najaf Ashraf I found a copy of it with Hadrat Hujjat al‑Islam Ayatullah Hajj Shaykh Abbas Hatif Quchani, may his blessings be perpetual, and I borrowed it from him. But that copy was also full of errors and was not useful except for some corrections in a few cases. On my return from Najaf Ashraf in the year 1376 [1956), once in a meeting with my honoured teacher Hadrat Allamah Tabatabai, may his shadow endure forever, he said, "I have a fine copy of it which I have written myself." He added, "When I was engaged in studies at Tabriz I came across a manuscript and made a copy from it. When I went to Najaf Ashraf I found a similar copy with our teacher marhum Ayatullah Hajj Mirza Ali Aqa Qadi, may God be pleased with him. That copy was also full of errors and later I found out that he also had copied from the same manuscript from which my copy was made and both of them were from one manuscript. The copy possessed by marhum Qadi was written in an unsavoury hand as if written by a child in his early days at school. Hence one could see many errors in it. But afterwards I found a very good copy of it in a very graceful handwriting and written on an excellent kind of paper marked with lines in the possession of my teacher in mathematics and astronomy, marhum Sayyid Abu al‑Qasim Khunsari. I took it from him for making a copy which was made in the year 1354 H. , and the date of the manuscript from which my copy was made was 90 years older."
I asked him to lend me his manuscript, which he did with utmost generosity which was characteristic of him, and from it I made the present copy Accordingly, this copy is free of errors and reliable. This was an account of the textual background of the accuracy of this manuscript.
As to the authenticity of its ascription to marhum Sayyid Mahdi Bahr al‑`Ulum, may God be pleased with him, this nondescript himself has heard marhum Ayatullah Aqa Mirza Sayyid Abd al‑Hadi Shlrazi, may God be pleased with him, say, “It is highly probable that this treatise, excepting its last parts, belongs to Bahr al‑'Ulum and are in his own hand."
And I have also heard marhum Allamah Ayatullah Shaykh Aqa Buzurg Tehrani say "I also believe this treatise, excepting its last parts, to be by the pen of marhum Bahr al‑`Ulum." However, in his book al‑Dhari `ah, vol. 12, p. 285, he has written:
Risalah fi al‑sayr wa al‑suluk, in Persian, in two thousand lines, is attributed to our master Bahr al‑`Ulum ibn Murtada al‑Tabatabai al‑Burujerdi al‑Najafi (died in 1212/). But its authenticity is doubtful and a copy of it exists at Bahr al‑`Ulum's house at Najaf... I have seen another manuscript of it, with additions and expanded expressions and phrases, bearing the title "Tuhfat al‑muluk fi al‑sayr wa al‑suluk" ….. The Risalah fi al‑sayr wa al‑suluk, the Arabic translation of this treatise, has been mentioned on page 282.
On page 282 he writes:
Risalah fi al‑sayr wa al‑suluk is Arabic translation of the Persian [treatise] on sayr wa suluk ascribed to our master, Bahr al‑`Ulum. It was translated into Arabic by Shaykh Abu al‑Majd Muhammad Rida al‑Isfahani on the request of Sayyid Husayn ibn Mu`iz al‑Din Muhammad al‑Mahdi al‑Qazwini al‑Hilli, at his home in Najaf at "al‑Barrani” in the course of several nights, after the fifth hour of the night. Abu al‑Majd states that Bahr al‑`Ulum wrote it at Kirmanshah . . . . I say: The ascription of the last half of it to him, may God have merry upon him, is doubtful, because it is according to the taste of the Sufis. Hence if it is established that it is by him that would be true of only the first half of it, as will be mentioned on page 284.
Marhum Allamah Sayyid Muhsin Amin Jabal‑`Amili in Ayan al‑Shi `ah, part 48, p. 170, states, "Bahr al‑`Ulum has written a treatise in Persian concerning the gnosis (ma’rifah)of God, the Exalted. But the author of Tatimmah Amal al‑Amil has categorically denied its ascription to Bahr al‑`Ulum."
Thereafter marhum Amin says, "Among things that are found in that treatise is the necessity of picturing one's teacher (murshid)in the mind while pronouncing the words "iyyaka na `budu wa iyyaka nasta`in." Another relates to the invocation of spiritual assistance from the planet Mercury and its citation of a quatrain (ruba `i) composed on this theme."
However, he has committed an error in this regard, because, firstly, in no place in this treatise is there any mention of the necessity of picturing one's murshid in the mind while reciting the words "iyyaka na budu wa iyyaka nasta`in."
Secondly, the invocation of spiritual assistance from Mercury‑as will be mentioned later on‑does not form a part of Bahr al‑Ulum's treatise but is by the copyist, who mentions it in the course of his own biographical account added at the end of the treatise and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the treatise itself. But the view of our teacher Allamah Tabatabai is as follows: "Some have said that this treatise belongs to Sayyid Mahdi Bahr al‑'Ulum Khurasani. But this is very improbable. Shaykh Ismail Mahallati, who was one of those who claimed to represent the Imam of the Age (ahl‑e da`wat), considered the whole of this treatise to be from marhum Sayyid Mahdi Bahr al‑`Ulum Najafi, excepting the twenty‑second, twenty‑third and twenty‑fourth items which relate to thought control (nafy khawatir), chanting (wird), and contemplation (fikr). The copy possessed by Shaykh Isma'il Mahallati did not contain these three items and his copy was a complete one from which these three items had been excluded." Allamah Tabatabai added, "Some consider it to be translation of a treatise by marhum Sayyid ibn Tawus and they believe that the Arabic original‑which is not presently extant‑bore the title "Risalah fi al‑sayr wa al‑suluk li Ibn Tawus," and I too have seem it in the title of the manuscript that I had borrowed from marhum Aqa Sayyid Abu al‑Qasim Khunsari. However, our great teacher, the sign of God, marhum Hajj Mirza Ali Aqa Qadi, may God be pleased with him, considered this treatise definitely and undoubtedly in its entirety to be by marhum Sayyid Mahdi Bahr al‑`Ulum."
One day this nondescript said to my teacher Allamah Tabatabai, may his shadow be enduring, "Although this nondescript has read many books on ethics, wayfaring and gnosis, I have not found any of them to be so comprehensive, inclusive, firm, well‑founded on the principles and useful as this treatise despite its brevity and conciseness which is such that one can put it in one's pocket and use it while travelling." He was surprised at my words and he said, "I have heard similar words from marhum Qadi, may God be pleased with him. He used to say, A book with its purity and richness of content has not been written on the subject of `irfan." Hadrat Ayatullah Aqa Hajj Shaykh Abbas Quchani, who is the successor (wasi)of marhum Qadi, says, "Marhum Qadi had a great respect for this treatise, but he would repeatedly say, `I do not permit anyone to carry out the awrad and adhkar mentioned in this treatise."' In any case, from the indications cited here it can be inferred that apparently all of this treatise is by Bahr al‑`Ulum and for following reasons.
First, as mentioned above in the citation from al‑Dhari`ah, the erudite and critical scholar, legist, theologian and jurisprudent marhum Shaykh Muhammad Rida Isfahani, author of the book Wiqayat al‑adhhan wa naqd falsafah Darwin, may God's mercy be upon him, considered it to be by Bahr al‑`Ulum and he also specified Kirmanshah as the place where it was written.
Second, marhum Qadi, may God be pleased with him, who was an authority on the subject and a versatile scholar of esoteric and exoteric sciences and a master of ethics and ma`arif (the esoteric sciences), considered it to be by marhum Bahr al‑`Ulum, and the witness of such a scholar and great authority in the realm of ma`arif is not something which can be overlooked.
Third, those who have denied Bahr al‑`Ulum's authorship of its last part have no grounds except their own impression of unlikelihood and it is evident that one cannot exclude any part from a book merely for its being unlikely, whereas it is possible that the Sayyid had envisioned a correct manner for the practice of the same passages.
Fourth, anyone who studies this treatise will find in it a uniformity of context and prose, written in an engaging and graceful style. There is no difference in this regard between the last part‑including even the three aforementioned fragments (twenty‑second, twenty‑third, and twenty fourth) and the rest of its contents, and it is evident that the entire treatise, from beginning to end, has been ordered, arranged and written by a single hand. This is not contrary to what we shall mention in the footnotes on this book, that some of its passages are found verbatim in the writings of earlier scholars, for the citing of statements that are in agreement with the writer's views and taste from earlier books has been something customary among writers and compilers from among eminent scholars and authorities. As to the ascription of the treatise to Sayyid ibn Tawus, may God be pleased with him, it is very improbable, because, firstly Ibn Tawus was a scholar of the 7th/12th century and a resident of Hillah and by origin an Arabic‑speaking sayyid, and consequently he could not have written Persian prose and that too in a style characteristic of recent centuries. Also, it is obvious from the style and character of this treatise that it is not a translation but an original work of prose. Besides, anyone who is familiar with the works of Ibn Tawus knows that the spiritual approach of Ibn Tawus was one that consisted of muraqabah, muhasabah, fasting, and supplication, and the character of wayfaring described in this book is quite different from the spirituality of Ibn Tawus.
From that which has been said it may be concluded that the authenticity of its ascription to Bahr al‑`Ulum is highly and strongly probable, though God knows best. This is true especially in view of the states of that marhum, who possessed a station of inner purity and an inner light and partook considerably of occult matters and mysteries.
It is stated in the A`yan al‑Shi`ah, part 48, p. 166:
Until today the belief of the generality of the people about him is that he was one of those who possessed exclusive divine secrets and partook of divine grace, occult knowledge and miraculous qualities. Among things that cannot be doubted is that he was marked by a tendency like that of the Sufis and gnostics which manifested itself in his asceticism, devotions and itinerancy.
In any case, after copying for myself the entire treatise from the manuscript belonging to Ayatullah Allamah Tabatabai, may his shadow endure forever, for a long time I used to read it repeatedly and benefit from it. Then I decided to write a brief gloss upon it clarifying some of its difficulties and mentioning the sources of the traditions and poetic verses cited in it. I thank God, the Exalted and the Blessed, for His favour in enabling me to carry out this difficult task to the extent of my capacity. I implore the learned and perspicacious readers to overlook any mistakes that they may come across and to remember me, in life and after death, in their salubrious supplications.
As to the biographical account of Bahr al‑`Ulum and description of the high degrees of perfection of that unique figure of his era and a rare personage of all times, it is beyond the range of the flight of this nondescript's thoughts and beyond the capacity of this destitute's pen.
What can I say concerning someone who was such that the shaykh of the fuqaha' and the mujtahids, Shaykh Ja'far Kashif al‑Ghita' would wipe the dust off his shoes with the lose end (hanak) of his turban (`ammamah) and who was such that the erudite researcher and the profound legist and possessor of outer and inner perfections, Mirza Abu al‑Qasim Jilani Qummi, once when he chanced to be present in one of his greatly enriching sessions during a pilgrimage to the Holy Shrines, asked him in the presence of a group of people: "May my father and mother be your ransom, what have you done that you have attained such a station!?" What shall I say concerning someone about whom there is no doubt that he had repeated and recurrent meetings with the Imam of the Age, Hujjat ibn al‑Hasan al‑Askari, may our spirits be his ransom, and this is regarded as a definite fact by eminent scholars or rather by all residents of Najaf Ashraf, and it can even be inferred from some statements of certain personages that the possibility was perpetually available to him of meeting that sublime Wali of the realm of contingency? And what shall I say about someone whom the Imam of the Age, that possessor of the station of greatest wilayah, took into his own arms?!
However, for the sake of the barakah and blessing of his remembrance, we will cite verbatim his biographical account given by Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Khunsari, who was his contemporary.
The veritable sayyid and the pillar of trust, our master Sayyid Mahdi, son of Sayyid Murtada, son of Sayyid Muhammad, Hasani Husayni Tabatabai Najafi-may God grant him a long life and may He make everlasting his high station and the barakah and blessings that flow out from his being‑is a leader and imam the like of whom time has not offered to the world. A grand prince of great will and goals, a high‑flying spirit whose like the mother of time has been unable to bear for ages, he has been the sire of the scholars of eminence and the master of the learned of Islam, the most erudite figure of his era and the unique personage of his times.
Should he open a discussion about a rational topic, it would appear to you as if it were the Shaykh al‑Raris (Ibn Sina) that was speaking or a Socrates, a Plato or an Aristotle. And were he to discuss a scriptural (manqul)topic, you would say that it was a veritable `allamah in law and jurisprudence. One would not see him debate with anyone in the art of kalam without being prompted to swear, `By God, it is ‘Alam al‑Huda!' And were you to hear him while he is expounding the Noble Qur'an you would forget all that you had in your mind and you would imagine that it is as if he were the one on whom God had sent down the Qur'an! His noble birthplace is Karbala' Mu`alla and he was born on the night of Friday in the month of Shawwal al‑Mukarram 1155 H. [November‑December 1742] and according to the numerological value of the letters of the alphabet the date of his auspicious birth is represented by this phrase:
[Al‑Mahdi was born to help al‑Haqq]
He studied for a short time under his father, who was a pious scholar and a good and virtuous man, and also studied under a number of other teachers including Shaykh Yusuf Bahrani. Thereafter he went on to attend the lectures of our teacher the Allamah Aqa Muhammad Baqir Wahid Behbahani, may God grant them long lives. After that he went to Najaf Ashraf and took up residence there. His auspicious and blessed house is at the present time the cynosure, resort and sanctuary of eminent scholars and masters of the arts from among the learned.
After our teacher Allamah Wahid, Bahr al‑`Ulum‑may their station be perpetually high‑is the leading religious personality of Iraq and the absolute chief and guardian of the learned. The scholars of Iraq have all turned towards him and made him their resort, and the eminent from among outstanding scholars study under him. Bahr al‑`Ulum is like the ka`bah of Iraq, for the benefit of whose company people come from long distances, and he is a shoreless ocean. Moreover, he has displayed manifestly miraculous qualities which are not concealed from anyone and when a large group of Jews witnessed his miracles and proofs, all of them entered the fold of Islam and embraced Shi`ism. This episode with its clarity and vividness is so widely known that its fame has reached every ear and penetrated to every corner of the world.
To appreciate the greatness and splendour of this great man from whom such Divine signs have become manifest, it is enough to know that on the night of his auspicious birth his father, who was in the Hijaz at the time, saw in a dream that our Master Hadrat Rida, may the best of benedictions and Peace be upon him and his fathers and descendants, had sent him a candle through Isma’il ibn Bazi to be lit on the roof of his house and the light and radiance of that candle spread through the sky in such a manner that there was no visible end to it.
On meeting him and coming face‑to face with him when one's eyes fall on him one is immersed in a world of wonder and says to oneself, "This man is not a mortal!"
The things that we have mentioned are facts which have been mentioned in the Muntha al‑maqal concerning this sign of excellence and this true scholar, a personality whom God has confirmed with a variety of arts of perfection, granting him, rather, the gift of lawful magic and endowing him with an intoxication free from error in solving problems and resolving difficult issues and in devastating false ideas and demolishing during debates the notions of formidable scholarly figures of the era.
For his nobility and excellence throughout the world and in all it comers it is sufficient that no one has ever been awarded the appellation Bahr al‑ `Ulum, which means the `ocean of sciences.'
This was a brief biographical sketch of that paragon of knowledge and ma`rifah given by the Rawdat al jannat.
O Lord, forgive us and our brothers who have gone forth before us and do not make‑our hearts harbour any rancour against those who have faith. Our Lord, indeed You are most kind and merciful. And all Praise belongs to God, firstly and lastly, and our last cry is `All Praise is for Allah, the Lord of all beings.' Written by the mortal hand by this servant, hopeful of Divine mercy:
al‑Sayyid Muhmmad al‑Husayn al‑Husayni al‑Tehrani
23 Rabi` al‑Awwal 1393 H./[April 1973]