Ayatollah Mohsin al-Hakim used to offer the prayers and fasts for diseased individuals and would use that money to buy these books and manuscripts from their owners. With the success of the Bolsheviks in Russia, the Red movement started to gain extensive support around the world. Particularly in the Middle East, many Muslims saw communism as the solution to all their socio-economic woes, and communist parties around the Arab world began to attract massive numbers of disenfranchised youth, especially in Iraq. And yet, the disastrous results of communism were already foreseen by a seemingly out-of-touch old cleric living and teaching in the Shia seminary of Najaf, whose religious edict declaring communism equivalent to Shirk and Kufr (polytheism and disbelief) marked the end of communism in Iraq.
He was born Sayyid Mohsin ibn Sayyid Mahdi Tabatabai al-Hakim to a scholarly family in the holy city of Najaf in 1306 AH. He received his religious education in Najaf, studying under such great giants of the seminary as Akhund al-Khurasani, Sayyid Abul Hasan al-Isfehani, Sayyid Kadhim Tabatabai Yazdi, and Shaikh Muhammad Hussain Naini. Upon the demise of his teachers, Sayyid Mohsin al-Hakim was recognized as the de facto leader of the Najaf seminary, and upon Ayatollah Burujardi’s death in 1380 AH, he was accepted as the sole Marja Taqleed (Religious Authority) by Shias around the world.
Under Ayatollah Mohsin al-Hakim, the seminary grew extensively. He embarked on a program to collect various books and manuscripts that had hitherto been ignored or disorganized, culminating in his famous library containing over 30,000 books and nearly 5,000 various manuscripts. It is said that in times of financial shortage, Ayatollah Mohsin al-Hakim used to offer the prayers and fasts for diseased individuals and would use that money to buy these books and manuscripts from their owners. He also established several new religious schools, including the Madressa Sharif al-Ulema in Karbala, Madressas Sayyid Yazdi, Dar al-Hikma, and Ilmiya in Najaf, Madressa Ilmiya in Hilla, as well as a religious school especially for students of Afghan and Central Asian origin. His list of students includes such great names as Sayyid Abul Qasim al-Khoei, Sayyid Ruhollah Musawi Khomeini, Martyr Sayyid Qadhi Tabatabai, Martyr Sayyid Muhammad Baqir as-Sadr, Sayyid Ali Hussaini Sistani, Sayyid Sa’eed Tabatabai Hakim (his grandson), Shaikh Hussain Waheed Khurasani, and Shaikh Nasir Makarem Shirazi.
During his time, the seminary increased its international outreach efforts, and Ayatollah Mohsin al-Hakim used the seminary’s financial resources to establish mosques, Hussainiyas, and Islamic cultural centers all over Iraq, as well as in places like Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. His code of practice and hundreds of Islamic books was published in local languages such as Urdu and Pashto and made easily accessible to the masses in these places for the first time.
As the socialist Ba’ath Party went about creating an autocratic state in Iraq, Ayatollah Mohsin al-Hakim’s own sons Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi al-Hakim and Sayyid Baqir al-Hakim established the Islamic Da’wa Party along with Martyr Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr and Sayyid Murtadha al-Askari. The Party sought to counter the Ba’ath regime’s autocratic and un-Islamic practices, and as a result, many of its members were brutally killed.
Like Ayatollah Burujardi, Ayatollah Mohsin al-Hakim (and later, Ayatollah Abul Qasim al-Khoei) is accused of maintaining a “quietist” attitude during this period. However, one must remember that his religious leadership occurred during some very turbulent times. Revolutions do not take place overnight, and Ayatollah Mohsin al-Hakim recognized that in order to effectively counter the Ba’ath Party in the long run, there must be a dedicated group of scholars and jurists to lead the masses. Therefore, he let Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr be in charge of the resistance movement, whereas he himself concentrating on producing the next great crop of Shia academia. Indeed, many of his students and at least six of his sons were brutally persecuted and subsequently killed by the Ba’ath regime. Today, the influential Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) is led by Sayyid Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, one of Ayatollah Mohsin al-Hakim’s sons.
In 1390 AH, Ayatollah Mohsin al-Hakim passed away. He was laid to rest inside his library in Najaf, and the mantle of leadership in the Najaf seminary was passed on to Sayyid Abul Qasim al-Khoei.