Prominent Iraqi family of Shiʿite religious scholars.
The Najaf-based Hakim family of ulama call themselves Tabatabaʾi Sayyids, or "descendants of the Prophet." In the family were Ali ibn Abi Talib and his elder son, al-Husayn, the second imam of Shiʿism. In the twentieth century the most prominent scholar in the family was Ayatullah al-Uzma Muhsin ibn Mahdi (1889–1970). He was educated at the hawza of Najaf by some of the greatest mujtahids of his time—Akhund Khurasani, Muhammad Kazim Yazdi, Muhammad Husayn Naʾini, and others.
Following the death in 1962 of Marja al-Taqlid Husayn ibn Ali Tabatabaʾi Burujirdi in Iran, Muhsin al-Hakim became the most widely followed marja in the world, but he never managed to acquire sufficient influence in Qom and thus never became supreme marja al-taqlid. Under the monarchy Hakim was regarded as a political quietist, but under the revolutionary regime of general Abd al-Karim Qasim (1958–1963) he became very active against the rising influence of the Communist Party, which was felt in the Shiʿite south as well as in Baghdad. This brought about a number of clashes between the Iraqi Communist Party and Hakim's followers. He
also openly criticized Qasim for introducing a secular law of personal status and called upon him to abolish it. At the same time, however, he maintained cordial personal relations with Qasim himself. This is also when he started to sponsor a young and ingenious activist mujtahid, Muhammad Baqir alSadr (1933–1980) who, in 1957, established the clandestine Daʿwa Party. Its purpose was to fight atheism and bring people, and in particular the Shiʿa masses, back to Islam. As a result of strong criticism leveled by conservative Shiʿite ulama against this Western innovation, however, in 1962 Hakim forced Sadr to distance himself from the Daʿwa, at least in appearance. But Hakim continued to sponsor similar activities performed through traditional channels. He sent some of his and Sadr's disciples as agents (wukala) to various parts of Iraq, as well as to Lebanon, to spread the message, and he dedicated great resources to the establishment of libraries, schools, mosques, and other educational activities in and outside of Iraq. Under the first Baʿth rule (1963) of the Arif brothers (1963–1968) relations with the regimes were frosty. The Arifs were regarded by the Shiʿites as extreme Sunni bigots, and Hakim considered their Arab Socialism a deviation from Islam's social teachings. Finally, he had strong reservations about their Nasserist panArabism.
In June 1969, less than a year after it came to power for the second time in Baghdad, the Baʿth regime initiated an unprecedented confrontation with the Shiʿite religious establishment. This came as reprisal for Hakim's reluctance to support the regime against the shah of Iran. The Baʿth decided to draft the students of religion, to eliminate the educational autonomy of the hawzat (the Shiʿite religious universities), and to control the huge funds donated to the Shiʿite holy shrines. They also accused Hakim's son Mahdi of espionage and forced him to flee the country. Hundreds of students and teachers had to escape to Iran, and the religious centers of Najaf, Karbala, and Kazimayn quickly deteriorated. Hakim led the doomed struggle and died brokenhearted in June 1970.
Mahdi al-Hakim eventually settled down in London, where he established a Shiʿite European political movement, Harakat al-Afwaj al-Islamiyya, and a cultural center, Markaz Ahl al-Bayt. In January 1988 he was assassinated by Saddam Hussein's agents at an Islamic conference in Sudan. His brother, Hujjat al-Islam (later Ayatullah) Muhammad Baqir, established in Iran in November 1981 the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI), the largest Iraqi Shiʿite opposition movement to the Baʿth regime. Supported by Iran, his movement's 4,000-strong military wing, the Badr Forces, participated in operations against the Iraqi armed forces during the Iran–Iraq War. Following the August 1988 cease-fire SAIRI's position in Iran became more precarious, but as long as there is no Iranian–Iraqi peace Hakim can still rely on his hosts for some support. In May 1983 Saddam Hussein imprisoned many members of the al-Hakim family, threatening that unless Muhammad Baqir stopped his opposition activities from Tehran his relatives would be executed. Between 1983 and March 1985 at least eight ulama members of the family, including sons, grandsons, and nephews of the late marja, as well as many other Shiʿite ulama, were executed by Iraq.
See also arif, abd al-rahman; arif, abd alsalam; baʿth, al-; marja al-taqlid; qasim, abd al-karim; sadr, muhammad baqir al-.