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Authority from Shi-ite Perspective

 

In this paper I propose to describe the teachings of Shi'ite Islam about authority in a manner accessible to Catholic partners in dialogue. For this purpose, I will contrast Shi'ite views on these issues with those of Catholics, and those of Sunni theologians, and I will also mention a few of the differences of opinion on these matters among the various Shi'ite sects and Sufis.

To begin with, we need to clarify what is meant by authority. Needless to say, there is no concept in the Muslim intellectual traditions that is exactly equivalent to the concept of authority as understood by Christians. The differences between Shi'ite and Catholic thinking about what Catholics would describe as issues of authority, are likely to lead to misunderstandings if not directly addressed.

Authority is multifaceted. There is political authority, teaching authority, sacramental authority, spiritual authority, legal authority, and more; but it may be convenient to limit ourselves to these five facets of authority.

Next we can speak of de facto and de jure authority. Someone has de facto authority when he holds a position, and by virtue of holding that position is accorded authority. The person holding the position is able to carry out various activities that are not permitted to persons who do not hold the position. De facto authority may be challenged by those who claim that the person who holds the position does not do so legitimately. They claim that although the person holding the office may have de facto authority, the person lacks de jure authority.

Finally, we should speak of the ways in which authority is conferred, and its source or sources. Various sorts of authority are won by military strength, knowledge, appointment by God, popular approval, birth, wealth, and by other means. Of course, not all of the ways in which people gain positions of de factoauthority are considered acceptable. Bribery is a means of gaining various sorts of de facto authority, but it is never a means of winning de jure authority.

After discussing the facets, propriety, and transfer of authority in a rather abstract fashion, we can turn to an examination of how Catholics and Shi'ites understand these issues.

Once we have examined authority, we will turn very briefly to the issue of tradition. Our approach to tradition will not, however, review the relevant concepts in all their generality, but only as they pertain to issues of authority.

Authority and Wilayah

There are various types of authority. Teachers have authority over their students. Employers have authority over their employees. Parents have authority over their children. None of these sorts of authority are absolute. Parents do not have authority to abuse their children. Authority is not mere liberty to command. The limits on authority are especially pronounced in Islam. All authority belongs ultimately to God, and different people exercise specific types of authority according to the responsibilities given to them. One who exercises authority may be required to use personal discretion, but discretion is always to be employed in order to carry out one's duties in the best possible way, and does not imply that one has a free hand to do whatever one wants.

If there is any absolute authority, it is the authority of God. (This sentence questions if there is any absolute authority…. How about: The only absolute authority is the authority of God. )Here, however, there is a difference between Shi'ite and Ash'arite views. Most Sunnite theologians accept an Ash'arite position, according to which all moral obligation derives from divine commands, and that since it does not make sense to speak of God commanding Himself, He is not constrained by any moral obligations. It would not be wrong for Him to command murder and stealing, but rather, if He commanded them, they would become morally obligatory. Shi'ites, on the other hand, along with the Mu'tazilites, hold that what we know by reason to be wrong, could never be commanded by God. The Ash'arites object that this seems to imply that reason—or the absolute moral values discerned by reason—has an authority above the authority of God. Heaven forbid! Shi'ites respond that this is a misunderstanding of the nature of authority. God cannot command what is wrong because He is essentially just, not because He is subservient to justice or reason, or because He lacks sufficient power to be unjust. God has absolute authority, not in the sense that He could command what is wrong, but that He does whatever He wills, and He necessarily wills what is just and what is better than justice, e.g., grace, because He is essentially just and merciful. The God of Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be with him and his progeny and with them all) is no Pater Liber.[1]

The absolute authority of God does not mean that God is at liberty to do evil, but neither does it imply that He is not at liberty. Likewise, the expertise of a craftsman does not mean that if the craftsman were to produce something unbefitting his skill, then he has the authority to do so because of his expertise. Neither does it imply that the craftsman who exercises his skill is not at liberty to make what he wants. God does whatever He wills, but His will is not arbitrary. God does whatever He wills, but His willing is never evil, because this would contradict His essence.

In Shi'ite sources, there is no general term for authority as it occurs in Western languages, used for the concepts of divine authority, scriptural authority, church authority, etc.. Occasionally, one who has the power of command is referred to by the word sulţān (from which comes the English “sultan”),malik (sovereign), mālik (owner, possessor), and hujjah. Among the Names of God mentioned in the Qur'ān, we find al-Malik (20:114), and Mālik al-Mulk (which has been translated as “Master of the Kingdom”, “Owner of All”, and “Master of all sovereignty”). There are no divine Names based on the roots ofsulţān or hujjah, although reference to divine authority can be found in which such terms are employed. Other terms that are used to indicate divine authority are: al- Haqq (the Truth), al-Rabb (Lord), Dhê al-Jalāl (Possessor of Majesty), and a number of others, each of which repays study with a greater appreciation of the nature of divine authority in Islam. The notion of authority is closely related to that of obedience; so, we should also look at what the Qur'ān has to say about obedience and following in order to get a clearer picture of how authority is viewed in Islam.

Let's begin with sulţān. What is most characteristic of the use of this word in the Qur'ān is that it is used to condemn idolatry as unauthorized, in contrast to which the missions of the prophets are described as authorized.

The following verses may be grouped together because they all pertain to the condemnation of unauthorized idolatry [which is contrasted with the authorized message of monotheism (tawhid) brought through the prophets]. We could say that these verses indicate a negative concept of authority, in that they deny authority for idolatry. These verses are relevant to teaching authority, for they condemn false unauthorized religious teachings, and to sacramental authority, for they condemn unauthorized worship of false gods.

سنُلْقِى فى قُلُوبِ الّذِينَ كَفَرُوا الرّعْب بِمَا أَشرَكوا بِاللّهِ مَا لَمْ يُنزِّلْ بِهِ سلْطناً وَ مَأْوَاهُمُ النّارُ وَ بِئْس مَثْوَى الظلِمِينَ

We shall cast terror into the hearts of the faithless because of their ascribing to Allah partners for which He has not sent down any authority, and their refuge shall be the Fire; and evil is the abode of the wrongdoers. (3:151)

وَ كيْف أَخَاف مَا أَشرَكتُمْ وَ لا تخَافُونَ أَنّكُمْ أَشرَكْتُم بِاللّهِ مَا لَمْ يُنزِّلْ بِهِ عَلَيْكمْ سلْطناً فَأَى الْفَرِيقَينِ أَحَقّ بِالأَمْنِ إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ

How could I [Abraham] fear what you ascribe as partners, when you do not fear ascribing to Allah partners for which He has not sent down any authority to you? (6:81)

قُلْ إِنّمَا حَرّمَ رَبىَ الْفَوَحِش مَا ظهَرَ مِنهَا وَ مَا بَطنَ وَ الاثْمَ وَ الْبَغْىَ بِغَيرِ الْحَقِّ وَ أَن تُشرِكُوا بِاللّهِ مَا لَمْ يُنزِّلْ بِهِ سلْطناً وَ أَن تَقُولُوا عَلى اللّهِ مَا لا تَعْلَمُونَ

Say, 'My Lord has only forbidden indecencies… and that you should ascribe to Allah partners for which He has not sent down any authority… (7:33)

أَ تُجَدِلُونَنى فى أَسمَاءٍ سمّيْتُمُوهَا أَنتُمْ وَ ءَابَاؤُكُم مّا نَزّلَ اللّهُ بِهَا مِن سلْطنٍ

…Do you dispute with me regarding names that you have named—you and your fathers—for which Allah has not sent down any authority? (7:71)[2]

مَا تَعْبُدُونَ مِن دُونِهِ إِلا أَسمَاءً سمّيْتُمُوهَا أَنتُمْ وَ ءَابَاؤُكم مّا أَنزَلَ اللّهُ بهَا مِن سلْطنٍ إِنِ الْحُكْمُ إِلا للّهِ أَمَرَ أَلا تَعْبُدُوا إِلا إِيّاهُ ذَلِك الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ وَ لَكِنّ أَكثرَ النّاسِ لا يَعْلَمُونَ

You do not worship besides Him but names that you and your fathers have coined for which Allah has not sent down any authority. Sovereignty belongs only to Allah… (12:40)

وْ لا يَأْتُونَ عَلَيْهِم بِسلْطنِ بَينٍ

…if only they would bring some clear authority concerning them [gods besides Him]… (18:15)

أَمْ أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ سلْطناً فَهُوَ يَتَكلّمُ بِمَا كانُوا بِهِ يُشرِكُونَ

Have We sent down to them any authority which might speak of what they associate with Him? (30:35)

وَ يَعْبُدُونَ مِن دُونِ اللّهِ مَا لَمْ يُنزِّلْ بِهِ سلْطناً وَ مَا لَيْس لهُم بِهِ عِلْمٌ

They worship besides Allah that for which He has not sent down any authority, and of which they have no knowledge… (22:71

The link between authority and knowledge is important. Those without legitimate authority don't know what they're talking about. This would seem to indicate a lack of teaching authority, since the reference to eavesdropping indicates that those condemned lack knowledge on which to base their pronouncements. They are ridiculed by God in the following verse:

أَمْ لهمْ سلّمٌ يَستَمِعُونَ فِيهِ فَلْيَأْتِ مُستَمِعُهُم بِسلْطنٍ مّبِين

Or do they have a ladder whereby they eavesdrop? If so let their eavesdropper produce a manifest authority. (52:38)

No one becomes privy to the divine knowledge by illegitimate means:

يَمَعْشرَ الجِْنِّ وَ الانسِ إِنِ استَطعْتُمْ أَن تَنفُذُوا مِنْ أَقْطارِ السمَوَتِ وَ الأَرْضِ فَانفُذُوا لا تَنفُذُونَ إِلا بِسلْطنٍ

O company of jinn and humans! If you can pass through the confines of the heavens and the earth, then do pass through. But you will not pass through except by an authority. (55:33)

Likewise, the attribution of polytheistic doctrines about God is declared to be unauthorized and not based on any knowledge.

قَالُوا اتّخَذَ اللّهُ وَلَداً سبْحَنَهُ هُوَ الْغَنىّ لَهُ مَا فى السمَوَتِ وَ مَا فى الأَرْضِ إِنْ عِندَكم مِّن سلْطنِ بهَذَا أَ تَقُولُونَ عَلى اللّهِ مَا لا تَعْلَمُونَ

They say, 'Allah has taken a son!' Immaculate is He! To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. You have no authority for this. Do you attribute to Allah what you do not know? (10:68)

This verse has figured prominently in theological disputes between Christians and Muslims, but the point is general, and asserted in much the same way against polytheists who held that the angels were the daughters of God. Christians respond that they do not hold that the second person of the Trinity is a son in the sense condemned in the above verse. However, this is not the place to review the history of that discussion. What is at issue here is that improper religious beliefs are condemned as being taught without authority; and once again, it is primarily teaching authority that is at issue, and those condemned for unauthorized teaching are condemned for making attributions without knowledge.

أَمْ لَكمْ سلْطنٌ مّبِينٌ

Do you have a manifest authority? (37:156) [asked of those who hold that Allah has begotten daughters]

إِنّ الّذِينَ يجَدِلُونَ فى ءَايَتِ اللّهِ بِغَيرِ سلْطنٍ أَتَاهُمْ إِن فى صدُورِهِمْ إِلا كبرٌ مّا هُم بِبَلِغِيهِ

Indeed those who dispute the signs of Allah without any authority that may have come to them—there is only vanity in their breasts, which they will never satisfy…. (40:56)

Next we have verses that declare the divine authorization of the prophets, for whom Moses stands as an exemplar. These verses indicate a positive concept of authority, the divine authorization given to the prophets. Here, the authority is not limited to teaching, but has legal and political dimensions, as well.

وَ ءَاتَيْنَا مُوسي سلْطناً مّبِينا

…and We gave Moses a manifest authority. (4:153)

وَ لَقَدْ أَرْسلْنَا مُوسى بِئَايَتِنَا وَ سلْطنٍ مّبِينٍ)69 (إِلى فِرْعَوْنَ وَ مَلايهِ فَاتّبَعُوا أَمْرَ فِرْعَوْنَ وَ مَا أَمْرُ فِرْعَوْنَ بِرَشِيدٍ

Certainly We sent Moses with Our signs and a manifest authority/ to Pharaoh and his elite, but they followed Pharaoh's dictates, and Pharaoh's dictates were not right. (11: 96-97)

ثمّ أَرْسلْنَا مُوسى وَ أَخَاهُ هَرُونَ بِئَايَتِنَا وَ سلْطنٍ مّبِين

Then We sent Moses and Aaron, his brother, with Our signs and a manifest authority… (23:45).

This is similar to (28:35), just Moses is mentioned with the signs and manifest authority at (40:23), (51:38). Moses tells Pharaoh that he has a manifest authority from God at (44:19), where opposition to freeing (giving over to Moses) the Israelites, “the servants of God”, is considered rebellion against God. So, the authority given by God to the prophets is over whoever God wishes, and is not confined to the prophet himself or his people. Moses has de jure authority over Pharaoh, even if Pharaoh refuses to recognize it.

وَ لَكِنّ اللّهَ يُسلِّط رُسلَهُ عَلى مَن يَشاءُ

…but Allah gives authority to His apostles over whomsoever He wishes (59:6)

While various people challenge the authority of the prophets, the prophets acknowledge that whatever authority they bring is only by the permission of God. Here the authority may be indicated in the form of a miracle, or sign indicative of their mission.

قَالُوا إِنْ أَنتُمْ إِلا بَشرٌ مِّثْلُنَا تُرِيدُونَ أَن تَصدّونَا عَمّا كانَ يَعْبُدُ ءَابَاؤُنَا فَأْتُونَا بِسلْطنٍ مّبِينٍ )10 (قَالَت لَهُمْ رُسلُهُمْ إِن نحْنُ إِلا بَشرٌ مِّثْلُكمْ وَ لَكِنّ اللّهَ يَمُنّ عَلى مَن يَشاءُ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ وَ مَا كانَ لَنَا أَن نّأْتِيَكُم بِسلْطنٍ إِلا بِإِذْنِ اللّهِ وَ عَلى اللّهِ فَلْيَتَوَكلِ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ)11(

…They said, 'You are nothing but humans like us who desire to bar us from what our fathers used to worship. So bring us a manifest authority.'/ Their apostles said to them, 'Indeed we are just human beings like yourselves, but Allah favors whomever of His servants He wishes. We may not bring you an authority except by Allah's leave, and in Allah let all the faithful put their trust.' (14:10-11)

Another important instance of negative authority, or authority denied, is the case of Iblis, or Satan. What is denied here is not specifically teaching authority, but a quasi-political/legal right to rule over or command.

إِنّ عِبَادِى لَيْس لَك عَلَيْهِمْ سلْطنٌ وَ كَفَى بِرَبِّك وَكيلاً

As for My servants, you [Satan] shall have no authority over them (17:65)

وَ قَالَ الشيْطنُ لَمّا قُضىَ الأَمْرُ إِنّ اللّهَ وَعَدَكمْ وَعْدَ الحْقِّ وَ وَعَدتّكمْ فَأَخْلَفْتُكمْ وَ مَا كانَ لىَ عَلَيْكُم مِّن سلْطنٍ إِلا أَن دَعَوْتُكُمْ فَاستَجَبْتُمْ لى

…Satan will say, 'Indeed Allah made you a promise that was true and I made you a promise, but I failed you. I had no authority over you, except that I called you and you responded to me… (14:22)

Just as Satan admits that he had no legitimate authority over man, the idols will testify against their worshippers at the end of the world:

وَ مَا كانَ لَنَا عَلَيْكم مِّن سلْطنِ بَلْ كُنتُمْ قَوْماً طغِينَ

…we [what wrongdoers used to worship] had no authority over you; no, you were an insolent people… (37:30)

Satan does exert a sort of de facto authority over man, as is indicated by the words I called you and you responded to me, but this is not a legitimate form of authority. It merely means that Satan is obeyed by men. We see the same distinction in the following verses.

إِنّ عِبَادِى لَيْس لَك عَلَيهِمْ سلْطنٌ إِلا مَنِ اتّبَعَك مِنَ الْغَاوِينَ

Indeed as for My servants, you [Iblis] do not have any authority over them, except the perverse who follow you (15:42)

إِنّهُ لَيْس لَهُ سلْطنٌ عَلى الّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا وَ عَلى رَبِّهِمْ يَتَوَكلُون)99) إِنّمَا سلْطنُهُ عَلى الّذِينَ يَتَوَلّوْنَهُ وَ الّذِينَ هُم بِهِ مُشرِكُونََ

Indeed he [Satan] does not have any authority over those who have faith and put their trust in their Lord./ His authority is only over those who befriend him and those who make him a partner [of Allah]. (16:99-100)

The possibility of de facto Satanic authority is the result of the free will granted to human beings. Satan is able to tempt:

وَ مَا كانَ لَهُ عَلَيهِم مِّن سلْطنٍ إِلا لِنَعْلَمَ مَن يُؤْمِنُ بِالاَخِرَةِ مِمّنْ هُوَ مِنْهَا فى شكٍ َ

He [Iblis] had no authority over them, but that We may ascertain those who believe in the Hereafter from those who are in doubt about it… (34:21)

Often the believers have been protected by God from the de facto authority of tyrants:

وَ لَوْ شاءَ اللّهُ لَسلّطهُمْ عَلَيْكمْ فَلَقَتَلُوكُمْ

…had Allah wished, He would have given them authority against you, and then they would surely have fought you. (4:90)

There is a recurrent association of tyranny and the illegitimate exercise of authority, the taking up of idols, the failure to follow the prophets, and disputing religious tenets without divine authority.

الّذِينَ يجَدِلُونَ فى ءَايَتِ اللّهِ بِغَيرِ سلْطنٍ أَتَاهُمْ كبرَ مَقْتاً عِندَ اللّهِ وَ عِندَ الّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا كَذَلِك يَطبَعُ اللّهُ عَلى كلِّ قَلْبِ مُتَكَبرٍ جَبّارٍ

Those who dispute the signs of Allah without any authority that may have come to them—[that is] greatly outrageous to Allah and to those who have faith. That is how Allah seals the heart of every arrogant tyrant. (40:35)

Authority often has the sense of permission. The signs brought by the prophets are by the permission of God. The religious/legal permission to take retribution for murder is also described as an authority.

وَ مَن قُتِلَ مَظلُوماً فَقَدْ جَعَلْنَا لِوَلِيِّهِ سلْطنا

…and whoever is killed wrongfully, We have certainly given his heir an authority (17:33)

Likewise permission for self-defence against hostile idolaters is described as an authority, perhaps better translated in this case and the above as authorization. The authorization here pertains to what is to be considered lawful, not to teaching, spirituality, or worship.

وَ أُولَئكُمْ جَعَلْنَا لَكُمْ عَلَيهِمْ سلْطناً مّبِينا

…and it is such against whom We have given you a clear authorization. (4:91)

When the hoopoe doesn't show up on time for Solomon, he says:

لأُعَذِّبَنّهُ عَذَاباً شدِيداً أَوْ لأَاذْبحَنّهُ أَوْ لَيَأْتِيَنى بِسلْطنٍ مّبِينٍ

 'I will surely punish him with a severe punishment, or I will surely behead him, unless he brings a clear authority (27:21)

The meaning of “authority” here is also that of an authorizationor excuse. When one has no excuse left to offer, one is said to lack authority:

هَلَك عَنى سلْطنِيَهْ

My authority has departed from me (69:29)

This is spoken by the sinners who are given their books in their left hands on the judgment day and have no legal excuse on the basis of which to seek to avoid punishment.

Treachery is seen as an invitation to disaster, as if one were giving permission to God to make one wretched. Of course, God does not need the permission of humans for anything; yet by failing to carry out the conditions needed for being granted a reward, it is as though one gives permission to the authority not to grant the reward.

يَأَيهَا الّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا لا تَتّخِذُوا الْكَفِرِينَ أَوْلِيَاءَ مِن دُونِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ أَ تُرِيدُونَ أَن تجْعَلُوا للّهِ عَلَيْكمْ سلْطناً مّبِينا

O you who have faith! Do not take the faithless for friends instead of the faithful. Do you wish to give Allah a clear authorization against yourselves? (4:144)

Every believer seeks divine guidance, and so seeks an authority from God. Divine authority is associated more with divine authorization, assistance, signs and guidance than with having free reign or liberty to rule. Here the authority mentioned is more clearly associated with spiritual guidance than those previously mentioned.

وَ قُل رّب أَدْخِلْنى مُدْخَلَ صِدْقٍ وَ أَخْرِجْنى مخْرَجَ صِدْقٍ وَ اجْعَل لى مِن لّدُنك سلْطناً نّصِيرا

And say, 'My Lord! Admit me with a worthy entrance, and bring me out with a worthy departure, and make for me a helping authority from Yourself.' (17:80)

The examination of these verses and the above-mentioned reflections enable us to reach the following conclusions about the concept of authority in Islam.

1. Divine authority is beneficial. What God commands is for the good of those commanded. Because of this, practical reason is understood to endorse obedience to the divine commands.

2. Divine authority is always presented in contrast to usurped authority or deceitful authority, which is arbitrary, selfish, and of no real benefit, although appearances to the contrary commonly deceive many.

3. Divine authority is guiding, while de facto authority without divine permission is oppressive and misleading.

4. Authority is backed up by signs, by reason, and by knowledge. It is linked to proof (hujjah) and clear explanation (bayyinah). The recognition of authority is by appeal to individual conscience and reason. No one can be forced to recognize the divine authority given to the prophets.

5. The divine authority given to human beings is limited. For example, one is permitted retribution, but one must not be excessive in this. Divine authority cannot be abused because it is conditioned on proper exercise. As soon as one acts abusively, one forfeits any claim to divine authority. No one can claim divine authority for oppression.

6. The divine authority given to the prophets is not divided. Through them, divine guidance is provided in all areas of life: legal, spiritual, sacramental, teaching, political, etc. For example, rules of good hygiene are woven into the rules of ritual practice; moral teachings are not separated from religious law; and spirituality informs the political decisions of the prophets. On the other hand, authority delegated to others is limited to specific authorizations, e.g., retribution.

7. Authority is authorization. One has authorization for what has a good reason, for what excuses one, for what one has been given explicit divine permission, and for what has been divinely commanded.

Our examination of the above verses suffices to establish that the source of authority in Islam is God. This is not surprising. God's authority, however, is not arbitrary. God does whatever He wishes, but His wishes are not capricious. This point is one on which Shi'ite theology differs with the Ash'arite theology that is common among Sunni Islam.

The above verses also demonstrate a principle by which authority is transmitted: by authorization. God delegates authority to the prophets, peace be with them.

The difference between Shi'ite and Sunni accounts of the succession to the Prophet is often portrayed as a political dispute. This is misleading. There is a dispute about the political leadership of the Muslim community, but this is secondary to a more fundamental disagreement about authorization. According to the Shi'ah, the ultimate basis of authority is not what anyone wants—neither the will of the people, nor anyone else. Even the will of God can only be considered the source of authority because of God's essential justice and mercy. Of course, authority is granted by God's will, but it is not because God wills capriciously for the prophets to have authority that they have it; rather, God wills that the prophets have their authority because of His wisdom and mercy, and the prophets' capacity to provide guidance. He chooses whoever He wills in accordance with His wise and beneficent plan for humanity.

God wills justice, for He is just. Justice means that everything should be in its proper place. Those who require guidance should obey those who can best provide it. Thus, God sends His messengers with authority to provide guidance that will enable those who obey His Messengers to arrange their relations with God and men in the way they can acquire virtue and thereby move toward Him.

Likewise, the succession to the Prophet through the Imams is neither determined by heredity nor by the arbitrary selection of the previous authority, but through divine selection announced through the appointment of each of the Imams by the one who held the authority prior to him.

The Prophet Muhammad was authorized by Allah to bring a law for the people that differed in some respects from what was current among the Christians and Jews of the time, although there were many points in common among them. The successors of the Prophet were not authorized to bring any other law. In this sense there is a difference in the legal authority given to the prophets and to the Imams. Both are given authority in the sense of authorization to guide the people, with a right to obedience from the people, not for their own sakes, but in order to fulfil the divine mandate. However, the law promulgated by the Imams is the law that had been given to Muhammad, and the scripture they taught was the scripture given to Muhammad.

The authority given to both the prophets and Imams to guide the people and which requires obedience is called wilāyah.Wilāyah is a special friendship with God, which is usually translated into English as sainthood, but the waliy in Shi'ism is not understood as the saint in Catholicism. Sometimes wilāyahand walāyah are distinguished, so that the former means the guardianship and right to obedience that characterizes the relation of the mawlā over his followers, while the latter is used to characterize the special friendship and devotion to God of thewaliy Allah, as well as the love and devotion of the people toward him. Shaykh Saduq tells us that the most noble servants of Allah are those whose waliy is the waliy Allah and whose enemy is the enemy of Allah. In practice the terms are often confused, and the markings that would distinguish the wordswilāyah and walāyah are often omitted in Arabic texts.

Like the Catholic saint, the waliy is a very holy person, one who has an especially intimate relation with God expressed as love and devotion. However, the waliy also takes the utmost care to follow the path prescribed toward God through the guidance given His Prophetص, and because of his success in following the way toward God, he becomes the means through which God guides others to Himself, too, and thus God grants him the right to leadership and to the obedience of the people.

One of the most important narrations on which the authority of Imam 'Ali is based is that of Ghadir, according to which the Prophet appointed 'Ali as his successor after the farewell pilgrimage. It is reported that he brought 'Ali before the people, raised 'Ali's hand in his own and said: “For whomever I ammawlā, this ('Ali) is his waliy. O Allah, befriend those who befriend him and have enmity for those who have enmity toward him.”

An early claim to authority that invokes the concept of wilāyahmay be found in a hadith according to which the grandson of the Prophet, Imam Husayn, is reported to have written the following in a letter to the Shi'ah of Basra:

God has chosen Muhammad from among his people, graced him with His prophethood and selected him for His message. After he admonished the people and conveyed His message to them, God took him back unto Himself. We, being his family (ahl), his devotees (awliyā), his trustees, heirs, and legatees, are the most deserving among all the people to take his place.

In this statement it is clear that the sort of authority understood by the Imam to have been given through the appointment of the Prophet includes the authority to command, that is, to provide political leadership to the community, and that this authority is based on spiritual authority through which the Imam guides his followers toward God. Furthermore, the political authority is also rooted in the spiritual authority, for the political direction of the community is not for the sake of merely worldly benefits or by the arbitrary exercise of power, rather, the community is guided politically by the waliy so as to provide an appropriate framework for the spiritual perfection of its members. However, the guidance of the community is not only in order to provide this framework for individual spiritual perfection. The Muslim community or ummah also has a moral and spiritual role to play in the greater community of nations.

The political and spiritual guidance of the community and its members by the Prophet and Imams would not be possible if it were not based on a proper knowledge of the divine Will. Because of the possession of this knowledge, the waliy has teaching authority.

Authority may be further delegated by the Prophet or Imams to others. For example, although the authority to bring a covenant with God in the form of religious law ends with the Prophet Muhammad, the legal authority to issue rulings based on this law and to interpret how the law is to be applied in new circumstances is delegated to those who have gained the appropriate knowledge of the law and are God-fearing. Likewise, teaching authority is further delegated to those who have the appropriate knowledge and are pious, regardless of whether that knowledge is of the law, doctrine, hadiths, the recitation of the Qur'an, its interpretation, etc.

Sacramental authority is a special case that deserves attention given the great differences in this between Catholicism and Islam. There is no priesthood in Islam. There are no sacraments, or special rituals that serve as vehicles for obtaining grace, that require a special person with specific authority to perform them. All of the major sacraments of Islam (if we may be allowed to use the Catholic terminology for them here), that is, bearing witness, prayer, alms, fasting and hajj, can be performed by any Muslim with knowledge of the relevant laws without the presence of the clergy (although leading prayers requires both knowledge of the ritual and justice). There is no power or authority invested in any person by any Muslim religious institution for the performance of any ritual or for the issuing of any decree of Islamic law or for the statement of doctrine.

To find something analogous to the Catholic notion of religious authority in Islam, we would do best to take a glance at the Sufi Orders. According to Sufis, spiritual authority has been passed down through a chain of specific designations, called a silsilah, on the basis of which claims are made to spiritual authority. Among both Sunni and Shi'i Sufis, these chains go back to the Prophet through 'Ali. This not only provides the Sufis with a doctrine of spiritual authority derived by appointment or designation, but it also introduces a sort of sacramental authority that is absent from non-Sufi Islam. The Sufis hold that the pledge between the master and disciple, called bay'ah, is a vehicle of divine grace or barakat, in a manner comparable with Catholic teachings on the sacraments. This initiatory ceremony must be conducted by the Sufi master or someone appointed by him and the initiate. This provides an approximation to the Catholic idea of a sacrament that also can be found in Islam, although it does not correspond to any particular Catholic sacrament. An even closer approximation in Sufism to a specific Catholic sacrament, that of Holy Orders, may be found in the appointment of a shaykh by the Sufi pir, although this is in some ways more like the appointment of a bishop than like the sacrament through which one becomes a Catholic priest. At any rate, even these analogies to Catholic sacraments are only found in Sufi Islam, whether Shi'i or Sunni branches of Sufism. In non-Sufi Shi'i Islam as in non-Sufi Sunni Islam, there is nothing like a sacrament that requires performance by a religious authority.

Sunni and Shi'i theologians differ on the nature of political authority. For the Shi'ah, the wilāyah of 'Ali is comprehensive, in the sense that it includes spiritual, teaching, legal and political authority. For Sunni theologians, the wilāyah of 'Ali is such that he can be recognized as a spiritual authority, (although his spiritual authority is not comparable with that of the Prophet), but this is held to have no political implications. 'Ali's political authority is limited, in Sunni Islam, to the period of his caliphate. He is recognized as a teaching authority, but only to the extent that he had knowledge of the Qur'ān and the teachings of the Prophet. He is accorded legal authority in Sunni Islam because of this same knowledge. The political authority of the caliphs, according to Sunni Islam, is based on the virtues of the caliph and on his acceptance by the Muslim community. The authority of the Imams in Shi'ite Islam, on the other hand, does not require acceptance by the Muslim community. Their authority is appointed whether anyone recognizes it or not. In theory, there is no significant difference in this regard among the various Shi'i sects. Ismaili Shi'a, for example, accept the same basic theory of Imamate as the Twelver Shi'a, but differ as to the identity of some of the Imams.

In traditional Sunni Islam, legal authority is confined to four schools of jurisprudence: Hanbali, Hanafi, Maliki, and Shafi'i. Although there are Sunni Muslims who have called for a re-examination of the formulation of Muslim law in these four schools, the traditional opinion has been that the doors toijtihad (the independent deriving of the law from its sources) are closed. In Shi'i Islam, on the other hand, the doors toijtihad have never been closed. For the Shi'ah, legal authority requires not merely a knowledge of the sources, it implicitly also requires the wisdom to derive rulings on specific issues in changing circumstances. Legal authority to derive such rulings is based solely on knowledge and intelligence (as well as piety), however, and does not require any specific sort of permission, according to the dominant view among the Shi'i 'ulama, calledusuli. During the Safavid period, there was a debate betweenusuli and akhbāri schools of Shi'i jurisprudence; and theakhbāris argued that any sort of religious authority, whether legal or merely for the narration of hadiths, required permission from a previous authority. Although many Shi'i religious authorities continue to receive permission from their teachers or from the seminaries for ijtihad, there are notable mujtahidswho have practiced ijtihad without obtaining any such permission.

According to Twelver Shi'a, religious authority and wilayah is currently accorded to the Twelfth Imam, who is in a state ofghaybah, or occultation. The period of ghaybah is divided into two: minor and major. During the minor ghaybah, the 12thImam appointed deputies in order to attend to various affairs of his followers and to provide guidance on some matters. The period after the death of the last deputy, who acted as an intermediary between the people and the Imam, marks the beginning of the major occultation. So, the question arises as to where religious authority is to be found during the major occultation. For this purpose we need to distinguish authority needed for practical affairs and authority pertaining to doctrine. With regard to teaching, the Qur'ān and the hadiths are available to all who have the ability to understand them. Teaching authority is based on knowledge. There is no magisterium to settle doctrinal disputes in Islam. Such disputes can only be settled through strength of argument, reason and knowledge of the relevant sources. It is the duty of each Muslim to ascertain the truth of the fundamental teachings of the religion by his own intellectual efforts, and merely taking the word of an expert is specifically forbidden.

With respect to legal and political matters, however, some criterion for action is a practical necessity. In matters of religious law, each Shi'a must either have competence to derive the law from its sources or follow the rulings of someone who has such competence. Those who are not experts are advised to investigate, by asking who devote their lives to the study of Islamic law; and on the basis of this investigation to follow the pious mujtahid they believe is the most knowledgeable as a source or marji' of imitation (taqlid) in matters of the practical laws of Islam.

According to some hadiths, not only did the Imams refer people to the scholars of Islamic law for legal rulings, but also for arbitration of disputes. This has been taken by many Shi'i scholars to indicate a general delegation of practical authority over disputed issues to the 'ulama. The political form of this idea of delegation is known as the doctrine of wilayah al-faqih, the guardianship of the jurisprudent. Imam Khomeini also argued on rational and practical grounds for the need of religious government. The basic idea is that Islam includes teachings about social, economic and political affairs that can only be put into practice through an Islamic government, a government guided by the teachings and rulings of Islam as understood by those with appropriate expertise in such matters.

There are various interpretations of the doctrine of wilayah al-faqih, which differ on such issues as the qualifications for the position and the scope of its authority; however there is general agreement that the institution is based on exigency and the application of reason to various principles of Islam and governance. It is not a position, like that of the papacy, authorized through something like apostolic succession. One of the most famous statements of the doctrine in recent history is that of Hajj Mulla Ahmad Naraqi (1771-1829):

As for the jurists' duty over people's affairs and over what they have full and all-embracing wilāyah we, by divine grace, say that a just jurist's wilāyah lies in two matters. First, everywilāyah possessed by the Prophet and the Imams (who were the sovereigns and pillars of Islam) is bestowed upon the jurists as well, except what is excluded by juridical proof such as ijmā'(consensus) or nass (established text)…. Secondly, every action concerning the people's faith and worldly affairs is necessary and inescapable according to reason and habit or according to Shar' (law)….

It is obvious and understood by every common or learned man, that when the messenger of God is on a trip, someone behind him is assigned as his substitute, successor, trustee, proof…. This person will accrue all the power that the Prophet enjoyed over his community. There is no doubt that most nusus (texts) concerning the awsiyā (heirs) of the infallible Imam imply the transfer of all power, not merely some of it. This becomes clear especially in connection with the traditions concerning the rank and place of jurists, who are the most excellent men after the Imams….

When we look through the history of Shi'i political thought, we find that from time to time there have been groups of Shi'a who have taken a position diametrically opposed to that expressed above by Naraqi. One of the most extreme of these groups has been the hujjatiyyah, who argue that during the greater occultation of the Twelfth Imam, the Shi'a cannot enforce Islamic law, carry out its punishments, or hold Friday prayers. Others, such as Shahid Mutahhari, argued that during the major occultation, many of the responsibilities of the Imam can be carried out by the office of wilāyah al-faqih, but that some remain as the exclusive authority of the Imam. The dominant view among the Shi'i 'ulama today, however, tends to favor the position that there are no specific areas of authority that are reserved by the Imam and cannot be carried out by the office ofwilayah al-faqih.

Despite precedence in Shi'i theological writings, such as the above quote from Mulla Ahmad Naraqi, the doctrine ofwilāyah al-faqih was not put into practice in the formation of a government until the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979. Since the Revolution, the office has become recognized in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Clerical authority in Shi'i Islam, however, takes various forms. At the core is the capacity for ijtihad, the ability to derive the rulings of religious law from its sources. The conditions traditionally given for one to have this ability are knowledge and piety. Not all who wear the Shi'i clerical robes and turban have reached the level of ijtihad, however. In an Islamic government, the judges will be appointed by the wali al-faqih. Even in the absence of Islamic government, however, it has been common for Muslim communities to appeal to their local scholars to act as judges in various sorts of disputes. One who has reached the level of ijtihad is able to issue a legal ruling on the basis of the sources of Islamic law, called a fatwa. One who issues such rulings is called a mufti (although this term is not widely used among contemporary Shi'a).

As mentioned above, every Shi'i who is not able to derive religious rulings on the basis of their sources must follow one who has this ability. The mujtahid who is followed is called amarji' taqlid (source of following). Traditionally, the conditions given for being a marji' taqlid were that he should be the most learned of the pious scholars. In order to determine who has such qualifications, one should himself be a scholar or one should consult with those who have sufficient expertise. In recent years, however, it has been suggested that the condition of learning includes deep awareness of contemporary issues and views, as well as social and political problems. In the case ofwilāyah al-faqih, the person who is to occupy this position should be a mujtahid, he should be pious and just, he should have administrative talent and courage, and he should have social and political insight.

In addition to ijtihad, maj'iyah, wilayah al-faqih, and judgeship, the Shi'i clergy plays many other roles, such as leading prayers, teaching, leading people in the performance of hajj, giving sermons, doing research on theological issues, etc. Each of these positions has its own specific requirements. In general, however, the appeal to the clergy to perform any such function is based on the requisites of knowledge and piety.

With regard to the recognition of authority, there is no compulsion. Each believer is advised to use his own reason to accept the authority of those best qualified for its exercise. No one can be compelled to accept any particular person as marji'. Even with respect to the office of wilāyah al-faqih, the current Leader himself, Ayatollah Khamenei (may Allah protect him), has ruled that no one can be compelled to accept his authority and if one erroneously rejects this authority on the basis of his own reasoning, he is not to be considered a sinner because of this. However, failure to recognize authority is no excuse for disobedience of the law or criminal activity.

Tradition and Sunnah

In both Catholicism and Shi'i Islam, tradition may be seen as a source for religious teaching second only to scripture, and thus as authoritative. However, what is meant by tradition differs in these two faiths, although there are also several common points. Both Catholics and Muslims agree that divine guidance has been delivered by scripture and by the passing down of narrations from one generation to another. However, for Christians, scripture is also a record of what was passed down about the life of Jesus and his apostles, the epistles of Paul, and other written documents that were selected by the Church as authoritative, while for Muslims, scripture is the record of the revelation given to the Prophet. To Muslims, the New Testament looks more like a book of hadiths than the direct revelation (wahy) of God. Nevertheless, Christians and Muslims, along with Jews and Zoroastrians, are recognized by the Shi'a as ”ahl al-kitab”, people of the book; and the books in question are taken as containing divine messages for their peoples. These books reach contemporary believers in any of these faiths by being handed down from one generation to another, that is, by tradition.

For Catholics, however, Church tradition is itself authoritative. Catholics believe that the history of the Church, the decisions made in its councils and the statements of doctrine enunciated by its popes are guided by the Holy Spirit, and as such have divine authority. For the Shi'a, on the contrary, there is no analogous belief. Theological doctrines that were common at one time may be rejected later if good reason is found for so doing regardless of traditional acceptance. Because of this, for example, Shaykh Saduq's theology was largely superceded by that of Shaykh Mufid, and later the akhbari school of thought was displaced by the usuli school. The fact that a given doctrine or practice becomes accepted by the majority of scholars at any given time carries no theoretical weight for other scholars. Each scholar must use the best of his own cognitive abilities to study the sources and reach his own conclusions. In this sense, the Shi'i approach to religion is a rationalist one.

Sunnah, which is often translated as “tradition”, is indeed authoritative for Muslims, but not the sunnah of the clergy, of the seminaries, or of the Muslim community; rather, it is thesunnah of the Prophet (s) that is taken by Muslims as second in authority only to the Qur'an.

In Islamic jurisprudence, four sources of legal rulings are commonly mentioned:

1.    the Qur'an

2.    the Sunnah

3.    reason (Shi'i) or analogy (Sunni)

4.    consensus.

The reliance on consensus in Sunni legal theory is in some respects similar to the Catholic reliance on tradition, although Catholics have focused more on doctrinal issues while Muslims have been more concerned with practical rulings. However, for the Shi'a, consensus is reduced to the Sunnah, since it is valid only when it unveils the view of the Prophet or the Imams. Hence, for all practical purposes, in present circumstances the sources of legal rulings among the Shi'a are limited to the first three mentioned above: the Qur'an, the Sunnah, and reason.

Sunni and Shi'i Muslims are in agreement that what is meant by the Sunnah is the example of the Prophet (s) in word and deed as recorded and passed down in the form of narrations, called hadiths. For the Shi'a, however, narrations of the words and deeds of the twelve Imams are also taken as authoritative. Sometimes this is justified on the grounds that knowledge of the Sunnah of the Prophet (s) was best preserved in his household, his ahl al-bayt. Nevertheless, the authority of the Imams is seen as derivative relative to the Sunnah of the Prophet (s), and the Imams themselves often justified the stance they took with reference to the Sunnah of the Prophet (s).

                                                                                                                                                                                   By Dr Muhammad Legenhausen

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Authority and Tradition




Dr. Ghasem Kakaie

Authority, in Islamic terminology, may be defined as ”wilayah”. Literally, this term means intimacy, assistance, love, and tenure of office. He who has such qualities is called ”wali”. According to the Holy Quran, God is to be known as “wali”. God owns all existence[1] and as a result, He leads the universe.[2] Since God is Wali and Guardian of the entire world, He is its “Guide” as well. God, Who has authority over the entire existence, guides every type of existent to its own way of perfection. Unlike most of the existents, human perfection is to be achieved consciously and freely. Therefore, man is in need of teaching so that this consciousness and freedom may grow.

There are two types of divine guardianship:

·    Generative Guardianship (al-wilayah al-takwiniyah): God has authority over the entire existence and leads the entire world to perfection. This authority is deterministic and undeniable.

·    Legislative guardianship (al-wilayah al-tashri'iyah): Human beings are endowed with another kind of guidance. Through prophets, human beings are provided with divine law, and they are free to accept it and act accordingly. If they accept it, they will attain happiness, and otherwise they will go astray. Revelation grants human beings what they need for happiness, and meets their spiritual and individual needs through individual and devotional commandments, including supplications and prayer.

According to Islam, human beings' otherworldly happiness passes through this world and, therefore, human beings must be actively involved in the social life. One of the striking aspects of the Holy Quran is that it announces plans and rules for social life. In this regard, there are four duties for the Holy Prophet:

I Receiving what revealed by God.

II Communicating the revelation to people.

III Interpreting the revelation. In the reception and communication, the Prophet should be infallible and free of mistake. The language of revelation is sometimes of certain complexity, however; thus it should be explained and commented upon. The Prophet himself was responsible for interpretation of the Qur'an and explaining divine law in a more detailed account. In this detailing and commenting upon the revelation, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) was infallible and free of mistake. At the same time, people are asked to act as the Holy Prophet (pbuh) instructs them: “And whatsoever the messenger giveth you, take it. And whatsoever he forbiddeth, abstain (from it)” (59:7). Whatsoever issued by the Holy Prophet (pbuh) is of a revelatory origin: “Nor doth he speak of (his own) desire. It is naught save an inspiration that is inspired” (53:3/4). Thus, the Holy Prophet (pbuh)'s sayings are absolutely valid and should be accepted. This is also true about his conducts: “Verily in the messenger of Allah ye have a good example” (33:21). Thus in addition to the Holy Quran, God's legislative guidance has been revealed in the Holy Prophet (pbuh)'s sunnah, i.e. his saying and conducts.

IV Administering the divine rules: Islam has many social, political, and economical commandments. Clearly, the mere existence of rules cannot guarantee society's happiness. These rules should be executed and rule the society. Here, the Holy Prophet (pbuh)'s fourth duty entrusted to him by God is execution of rules and establishment of a State. In other words, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) has authority here. This is not only a right, but also an obligation entrusted to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) by God. For example, in the Holy Quran, God commands the Holy Prophet (pbuh): “thou mayst judge between mankind by that which Allah showeth thee” (4:105).

However, Islam draws no sharp line between this world and the other world, between devotional points and political ones. But rather many Islamic devotional commandments are at the same time political ones as well. No one has cast doubt in the fact that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) had established a State in his own era, during which he led Muslims and appointed some persons for certain positions. Moreover, in some occasions, he issued certain instructions in which rulers' responsibilities had been clarified. Also, to settle disputes among people, he appointed judges. He executed Islamic Penal Statute. Between him and other tribes and sects, pacts were concluded. In order to study people's and tribes' problems, he had appointed some persons to collect information; assigned natural resources, according to rules, to some people to exploit these resources. To collect Islamic taxes, a systematic organization had been established; and many times, he organized and dispatched peoples to resist attacks by other tribes and states. Such activities made sense only in the light of a State led by the Holy Prophet (pbuh).

After the Holy Prophet (pbuh)

For Muslims, Muhammad is the last and final prophet. In other words, after his demise reception of revelation and communication of revelation had come to an end. But as mentioned, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) had two other offices as well, one of which was infallible explanation of revelation. The other was that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) had authority and based on this he implemented the divine law and presided the state. After the Holy Prophet (pbuh)'s death, some questions arose about these two last responsibilities. Did infallible commentary upon religion come to an end after the Holy Prophet (pbuh)'s death? Is there no other reference whose explanation of the religion cannot be questioned? On the other hand, is there any one appointed by God to execute God's religion and social rules of the religion? In reply to these questions, two general views were formed. The first one, which is that of Sunnis, considers the Holy Quran's revelation and the Holy Prophet (pbuh)'ssunnah to be sufficient, and in this view no one has been appointed by God to execute the religion. In other words, according to them, there is no special authority for an Islamic State.

The Shi'a, on the other hand, believe that after the Holy Prophet (pbuh)'s death, his daughter, Lady Fatima (s) and twelve Imams were infallible. After the Holy Prophet (pbuh), they undertook to comment upon and explain the religious laws in the same way that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) did. In other words, in the same way that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) took religious sciences from an infallible source and communicated them to people, and declared commandments which had not been apparently described in the Holy Quran for them, after him the aforementioned persons are of the same office, free of mistakes in commenting upon the religion, and infallible. According to what is said in Shi'i traditions (hadiths), they are aware of all apparent and hidden aspects of the Holy Quran. These persons are of three characteristics. The first one is that they are infallible. The second is that they have knowledge of the hidden world, and the third is that they have been appointed by God to this superior office and introduced by the Holy Prophet (pbuh) to Muslims, and have occupied office of Imamate one after the other. They are perfect human beings and have the highest human characteristics. Thus, in the same way as that of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), their tradition, i.e. their sayings and conducts, is a firm argument as well. In other words they do not receive the revelation, but they comment upon the Scripture (the Holy Quran) infallibly. In addition to explaining the revelation, these perfect human beings are in charge of execution of divine commandments and establishment of religious state.

Within 250 years of the presence of Imams, they had such scientific position that even scholars from all schools of Islam benefited from their knowledge. In this period, Imams (a) trained many disciples in Islamic sciences. Their spiritual appeals were of great influence on Muslims, and they left many supplications and hadiths.

As for administrative system and establishment of a State, Imams (a) were confronted with many obstacles created by opponents and oppressors, and these obstacles led to martyrdom of first eleven Imams; and apart from a short period at the end of Imam Ali's life and at the beginning of Imam Hasan's Imamate, there was no possibility for other Imams to establish a State. Finally, there came the twelfth Imam. Here, the Shi'a reached a new stage, and theory of concealment which was predicted in Shi'i and Sunni religious and ideological resources, was realized. In other words, at this time the twelfth Imam is concealed from view, but like a sun concealed by clouds, he shows his existential blessings. In other words, his generative guidance continues to spiritually guide people; but people are deprived of his legislative and apparent guidance. According to Shi'i belief, he is still alive, and at the end of the time, he will come together with some prophets including Jesus Christ (a); and establish justice and a just State. Belief in savoir which is part of fundamental creeds of all religions makes itself apparent in Shi'i view in the existence of Imam of the Time (a). The Shi'a always await for his return. Such a faith grants a spiritual power to human being that, in spite of all problems and difficulties, he considers himself to be happy and remains hopeful.

Occultation and the Issue of Religious Authority

During the lives of Imams, many scholars benefited from their knowledge. When the minor occultation started, access to this source of teaching and infallible commentary upon the scripture was very limited. After this time, esoteric role of Imams to some extent was inherited by mystics and saints, and their legislative authority was inherited by jurisprudents. There have been, of course, people who have had both dimensions.

All great Sufis were, mediately or immediately, under training and guidance of Imam Ali (a) and other Imams (a). For example, Kumayl is attributed to Ali (a), Ibrahim Adham to the fourth Imam, Bayazid Bastami to the sixth Imam, Shafiq Balkhi and Boshr Hafi to the seventh Imam, and Ma'ruf Balkhi to the eighth Imam. These Sufi masters who considered themselves to be inspired by Imams, brought others to perfection and appointed them their successors; and in this way, various chains of Sufism were formed. Contrary to Sunnis, these great Sufis believe that God's religion is not only the Scripture and the Holy Prophet (pbuh)'s tradition so that it may come to an end upon his death; but rather there should be Imam and an authority along with the Scripture to comment upon the latter; and this office came to Ali (a) and his successors. Thus, this kind of mysticism is to some extent similar to esoteric Shi'ism.

Exoteric aspect and legislative authority of Imams were inherited by jurisprudents. At the beginning, however, religious scholars contented themselves to narrate sayings and conducts of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and Imams. Gradually and with appearance of various, intricate, and new needs, the need for reflection on, and analysis of, hadiths arose, and reason was recognized for deduction from the Scripture and tradition; and juridical discretion, i.e. rational deduction of new commandments from the Scripture and sunnah emerged as a discipline. Because of the stress that the Shi'a have put on reason, natural theology and philosophy elevated to a high place among the Shi'a.

A religious jurist is he who becomes able, through studying certain sciences and mastering them, to deduce religious rulings from their sources. The difference between a jurist's view and that of Imam is that the former may be mistaken, unlike the latter. Here a jurist is like any expert in any discipline that may make mistake, yet the lay should follow him. Indeed, following e.g. a jurist is following knowledge and expertise and not the person of the jurist as such. Thus, authority of jurist (wialayat faqih) means, in fact, authority of jurisprudence. According to Shi'i jurisprudence, a religious jurist whom they follow should be alive so that he may recognize requirements and needs of the age and deduce pertaining Islamic rulings from the holy Quran and sunnah. This grants vitality to the Shi'i jurisprudence, instead of being stuck with the views of the early jurists.

Authority of Jurist in Society

As mentioned before, in addition to individual rulings and devotional issues, Islam has many social, political, and economic rulings. Moreover, Islam is concerned with the happiness of all mankind and not only those who lived in a particular era. In the eras of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and Imams, they were responsible to do their best for establishing a sociopolitical system in which Islamic rulings could be practiced and human happiness could be secured. In the age of occultation, however, on the one hand such task cannot be abandoned and people cannot be deprived, and on the other there is no Imam available. Thus, the question is: who is in charge with and competent to undertake such responsibility.

There are two outstanding characteristics of Imams that make them distinct from others: infallibility (i.e. being free from mistake and sins) and immense knowledge. When there is no access to Imams naturally people should refer to someone who resembles them the most i.e. someone with highest level of piety and knowledge. This is why the Shi'a believe that in the time of the occultation it is the responsibility of the just jurist whose piety, knowledge and competence are more than others to be in charge of the Islamic state. This is the same idea which has been crystallized in the Islamic Revolution of Iran and is known as authority of jurist.

This State, however, takes its acceptability from people. For, according to Shi'i Islam, without acceptance of people, the State will be a despotic one. For this reason, Islamic State in Iran emerged as Islamic Republic. The term “Republic” determines the State's form, and the term “Islamic” specifies its content. Islamic Republic means a State whose form is democracy and its president is elected by people, and its content is Islamic. The role played by a jurist in an Islamic country, i.e. a country in which people have accepted Islam as their way of life is that of a supervisor or an ideologue. His duty is to supervise execution of strategies and overall running of the state. Thus people have to elect from among jurists the most competent one and, by listening to him, give him power to practice his authority.

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Approaches to the Understanding of the Qur'an

The study of the Qur'an is essential for every committed Muslim, since it is the main source and foundation of the religious thought and faith. Whatsoever gives meaning, essence and sanctity to his existence lies in the Holy Qur'an. 

 

The Qur'an is not just like other religious books which are content to discuss the problems of existence of God and creation in cryptic tones, or like those which merely convey a series of simple moral advice and counsels, so that those who believe in them are hopelessly left to search for guidance in other sources. Unlike such books the Qur'an formulates the tenets of faith besides communicating the ideas and views that are essential for a man of faith and belief. Similarly, it also lays down the principles of moral and ethical values for the purpose of social and familial existence. It leaves the job of explanation, interpretation, and occasionally that of ijtihad and application of principles (usul) to secondary matters (furu') to be dealt with through ijtihad and sunnah. Accordingly, utilization of any other source depends on the prior knowledge of the Qur'an. The Qur'an is the criterion and standard for judging all other sources. We should judge hadith and sunnah in the light of the Qur'an. We can accept it only when it is in accordance with the Qur'an, otherwise we do not accept it. 

 

There are four more books that come after the Qur'an, and are regarded as the most sacred and the most authentic sources (by the Shi'ah Muslims). They are: Al-Kafi, Man la yahduruhu al-faqih, Tahdhib, and Istibsar. There are also other sources like the Nahj al-Balaghah, and the prayers of al-Sahifah al-Sajjadiyyah. All these books are secondary to the Qur'an, and their authenticity of source is not so absolute as that of the Qur'an. A hadith from al-Kafi is as trustworthy as it may be in conformity with the Qur'an, and reliable so far as its words comply with the teachings of the Qur'an and do not go against it. The Prophet (S) and the infallible Imams have said that their traditions should be checked in the light of the Qur'an; if they do not coincide with the words of the Qur'an, they should be regarded as false and fake, and as being wrongfully attributed to them; since they have not said anything that can go against the Qur'anic teachings. 

 

 

Approaches to the Understanding
of the Qur'an

 

 

1. Authentication:

 

It means that the first step towards the research study of any book is to see to what extent the book in our hands is authentic, whether all the things recorded on its pages are genuine, or if only a part of it is authentic. Moreover, what criteria and standards should be employed in order to judge the authenticity and genuineness of authorship? By what logic can the authenticity of any book be totally rejected or affirmed? 

 

The Qur'an is absolutely exempt from all such criteria that may be applicable to all worldly books. It is regarded as the exclusively singular book since the ancient times. No book of ancient days has remained above doubt to such extent despite a long lapse of several hundred years. No one can ever say about it that such and such a surah has a questionable authenticity or such and such a verse that is present in such and such a manuscript is missing from another manuscript. The Qur'an stands above the notions of manuscript reading. There is no place for the slightest doubt that all of the verses that exist in the Qur'an are those conveyed to Muhammad ibn 'Abd Allah (S) who communicated them as the miraculous Word of God. Nobody can ever claim that another version of the Qur'an existed anywhere, or still exists. There has not been any Orientalist either who would begin the study of the Qur'an by saying, "let us trace from the earliest of the manuscripts of the Qur'an to see what was included in it and what was not." The Qur'an is absolutely free from this kind of investigation necessary in case of such books as the Bible, the Torah, or the Avesta, or the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, or the Gulistan of Sa'di and every other ancient or not so ancient work. 

 

Only for the study of the Qur'an no such questions arise, and the Qur'an is far above the usual norms of authenticity and the craft of manuscript reading. Moreover, besides the fact that the Qur'an is one of the heavenly scriptures and has been regarded by its followers as the most basic and authentic proof of the Prophet's (S) claim to prophethood, and as the greatest of his miracles, the Qur'an, unlike the Torah, was not revealed at one time and was not subject to later difficulties in distinguishing the true manuscript. The verses of the Qur'an were revealed gradually during a span of twenty-three years. From the very first day, the eager Muslims memorized its verses, preserved and recorded them. Those were the days when the Muslim society was quite a simple society. No other book existed besides the Qur'an, and the Muslims were inevitably inclined to memorize its verses. Their clear, unmarked minds and their powerful memory, their general ignorance about reading and writing, all these factors assisted them in acquiring and retaining their information regarding the Qur'an. This is the reason why the message of the Qur'an, which was so congenial to their sensibilities and their natural propensities, got effectively imprinted on their hearts like inscription on stone. Since they believed it to be the Word of God, it was sacred to them also. They couldn't permit themselves that a single word or even a letter of it be altered or replaced in its text. They tried to acquire the nearness to God by reciting its verses. It should be noted here that from the very early days the Prophet (S) had engaged a group of scribes for the purpose of writing down the Qur'an, who were known as the "Scribes of the Revelation." This should be regarded as one of the merits in favour of the Qur'an from which all other ancient books are excluded. The absence of any alteration and change in the Word of God was on account of this process of writing and recording from the very beginning. 

 

The other reason responsible for the popularity of the Qur'an among the people was its extraordinary, supernatural literary and artistic dimension depicted in its rhetoric and eloquence. It was this strong literary attraction towards the Qur'an, which had an appeal for the people, that prompted them to immediately memorize its verses. But unlike other literary works like the Diwan-e-Hafiz and poems of Rumi, which are exposed to meddling by admirers who think they are improving on the original, nobody could ever give himself the permission of meddling with the sacred text; for the Qur'an immediately declared in one of its verses: 

 

Had he [the Prophet (S)] invented against Us any sayings, We would have seized him by the right hand, then We would surely have cut his life vein. (69:44-46) 

 

 

2. Analytical Study:

 

This sort of understanding is, however, concerned with the subject of the book, and is relevant in regard to all kinds of books, whether it is the medical treatise of Ibn Sina, or if it is the Gulistan of Sa'di. It is possible that a book may lack an outlook as well as a message, or it may contain an outlook but not a message, or it may contain both. 

 

Regarding the analytical study of the Qur'an we shall have to see, in general, what sort of problems does the Qur'an deal with, and what is its manner of presenting them. What is its manner of argument and its approach to various problems? Does the Qur'an, being the defender, presenter and protector of faith, and its message being a religious message, view reason as a rival to its teachings, and clings to a defensive posture against it, or whether it considers reason as a supporter and protector of faith and relies upon its power? These questions and various other queries, arise during the analytical study of the Qur'an. 

 

 

3. Study of the Sources of Ideas:

 

This kind of study regarding Hafiz, or any other author, implies the study of the source and roots of the author's ideas and thought. This sort of study is secondary to an analytical study; that is, firstly the contents of the author's thought should be completely understood, and afterwards an attempt should be made to identify its roots and sources. Otherwise, the result of one's effort will be something like the works of certain writers of history of various sciences, who write without any thorough knowledge of the subject, or similar to the works of those writers of philosophical books, who undertake, for instance, a comparative study of Ibn Sina and Aristotle, without any knowledge of either. After superficial comparison and on discovering some literal similitudes between the works of the two great thinkers, they immediately sit down to pass a quick judgment. Although, for the purpose of a comparative study, very deep and profound knowledge of the ideas and thoughts of both of the philosophers is required. A lifetime of study is necessary for such a task; otherwise, it has no more value than can be given to blind imitative conjectures. 

 

For the study and understanding of the Qur'an, an analytical study must be followed by a comparative and historical study. That is, the contents of the Qur'an should be compared with other books that existed at that time, specially the religious ones. For the purpose of such a comparison, it is essential to keep in mind the conditions and relations of the Arabian peninsula with other parts of the world, and the number of educated Arabs living in Mecca at the time. Only then we can arrive at an estimation of the influence of other books of those times on the contents of the Qur'an, and if we find something common in them, discover its proportions. We can then see whether the material that has been borrowed from other books is used in an original manner or not. Does the Qur'an go even further to the extent of playing a role in amending the contents of those books and setting right the errors occurring in them? 

 

 

The Three Distinguishing
Characteristics of the Qur'an

 

But the study of the sources of the Qur'an, and confirmation of its originality, depend upon the analytical study. So I resolve to open this discussion with the analytical study of the Qur'an. We shall first see what is the subject matter of the Qur'an, what kind of problems are discussed in it, what type of problems have been given priority, and in what manner those subjects are presented in it. If we are successful in our critical analysis, and acquire a sufficient understanding of the Qur'anic teachings, it will bring us to an acknowledgment of its principal aspect, which is the Divine aspect of the Qur'an, the quality of its being a Divine miracle. 

 

 

Conditions Necessary for the Study of the Qur'an

 

The third condition essential for the understanding of the Qur'an, is the correct knowledge of the sayings of the Prophet (S). He was, according to the Qur'an itself, the interpreter of the Qur'an par excellence. The Qur'an says: 

 

We have revealed to you the Reminder that you may make clear to men what has been revealed to them ... (16:44) 

 

It is He who has sent among the illiterate a Messenger from among them, to recite His sings to them, and to purify them and to teach them the Book and the Wisdom. (62:2) 

 

A very important point to remember during the initial stages of study, is that we should try to understand the Qur'an with the help of the Qur'an itself; because, the verses of the Qur'an constitute a completely united integral whole, a coherent unified structure. If we single out any verse from the Qur'an and try to understand it in isolation from the rest of the Book, it would not be a correct method. However, it is possible that we may happen to understand it, but the method is not recommended by caution, as certain verses of the Qur'an are explanatory for certain other verses. All great commentators of the Qur'an have affirmed this method; the infallible Imams also had approved of this manner of interpretation of the Qur'anic verses. The Qur'an has its own specific mode of discussing various problems. There are instances where if a solitary verse is studied without placing it in its proper context, it gives quite a different sense than when it is seen under the light of the verses dealing with a similar subject. 

 

For instance, the specific mode and style of the Qur'an may be noticed from the distinction drawn between al-ayat al-muhkamat (the firm verses) and al-ayat al-mutashabihat (the ambiguous verses). There is a prevalent view regarding the muhkamat and the mutashabihat. Some people imagine that al-ayat al-muhkamat are such verses as whose meaning is quite simple and clear, whereas the meaning of al-ayat al-mutashabihat is cryptic, enigmatic and puzzling. According to this notion, men are only permitted to cogitate upon the meaning of al-ayat al-muhkamat, and al-ayat al-mutashabihat are basically inscrutable and beyond their understanding. Here, the question arises, what is the philosophy underlying al-ayat al-mutashabihat? Why has the Qur'an put forward such verses that are incomprehensible? A brief answer to this question is that neither muhkam means "simple" and "clear", nor mutashabih means "ambiguous", "cryptic" and "enigmatic." "Ambiguous" and "enigmatic" are adjectives applicable to sentences that do not convey the meaning in a direct and simple manner, as are sometimes met in the writings of various authors. For example, when Sultan Mahmud rewarded the poetic efforts of Ferdowsi with a reward of an insignificant and humiliating amount of money, Ferdowsi did not accept it, and instead he accused Sultan Mahmud of the trait of parsimony in his versified lampoons. Some of them were quite clear and obvious whereas the others were not devoid of ambiguity and a lot of enigma. Ferdowsi is quite direct when he says: 

 

Had the king's mother been an honourable lady,   
He would have rewarded me with knee-high gold and silver. 

 

The palm of king Mahmud, the conqueror of lands,   
Was nine times nine and three times four, 

 

We shall see whether there are actually any enigmatic and abstruse verses in the Qur'an. Such an assumption contradicts with the text of the Qur'an which unequivocally states that it is a clear and comprehensible book whose verses provide guidance and shed light. The core of the problem is that some of the issues dealt with in the Qur'an are related to metaphysical matters and the transcendental world, which cannot be expressed in ordinary language. In the words of Shaykh Shabistari: 

 

The word fails to encompass meaning,   
The ocean cannot be poured into a pot. 

 

(Some) faces on the Day shall be bright, looking towards their Lord. (75:22-23)

 

Uniqueness of the Qur'an

 

Vision perceives Him not, and He perceives all vision. (6:104) 

 

He sent down upon thee the Book, wherein are verses firm (ayat mahkamat) that are the essence of the Book. (3:6)

 

 Is the Qur'an Understandable?

 

Among the Shi'ah scholars of three or four centuries ago, there appeared a group which believed that the Qur'an is not a hujjah ("proof", meaning a legal source usable for vindication). Among the four sources of fiqh that have been regarded as the criteria and standard for the understanding of the Islamic problems by Muslim scholars, i.e. the Qur'an, the sunnah (tradition), 'aql(reason) and ijma' (consensus of opinion), they did not recognize three of them. Regarding ijma', they said that it belongs to the Sunni tradition and they could not follow it. Concerning reason, they maintained that reason can also err, and reliance on reason is not legitimate. About the Qur'an they respectfully asserted that the Qur'an is greater in station than being subject to study and comprehension by us humble human creatures. It is only the privilege of the Prophet and the Imams to ponder over the verses of the Holy Qur'an. We ordinary human beings have only the right to read and recite them. This group was that of the Akhbariyun or Akhbaris. 

 

The Akhbaris regarded hadith and chronicles as the only permissible sources of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). One may be astounded to learn that in some of the Qur'anic exegeses written by these people, they mentioned only those verses about which the tradition existed, and refrained from mentioning other verses as if they are not a part of the Qur'an. 

 

Such a kind of practice was an injustice to the Qur'an. This shows that a society that could neglect and alienate their own heavenly book and that too of the standard and stature of the Qur'an, is not at all up to the Qur'anic standards. Besides the Akhbaris there were other groups who also regarded the Qur'an as inaccessible to the ordinary human intellect. Among them the Ash'arites can be named, who believed that the knowledge of the Qur'an does not necessarily mean that its verses should be pondered over, but the real meanings are the same as that the words literally communicate. According to them, whatever we understand from the outward meaning, we have to be satisfied with it. We should not be concerned with the secret and inner meanings. It was quite natural that this sort of thinking regarding the Qur'an, very rapidly, gave rise to serious deviations and grave misunderstandings. Since they were forced on the one hand to the task of interpretation of the meaning of the Qur'anic verses, and, on the other hand, banished reason also from the realm of religious learning, as a result, they were forced to adopt merely vulgar and superficial interpretations of the Qur'anic verses. On account of their faulty way of thinking, they deviated from the regular course of correct thinking, and thus gave way to distorted and faulty religious vision. As the result of this type of religious thinking, heretical beliefs like the personification of God the Almighty, and numerous other distorted ideas like the possibility of visual perception of God, His possession of physical characteristics etc., came into existence. 

 

Opposing the group which abandoned the Qur'an, another group came into existence which used the Qur'an as the means to fulfill their selfish aims. They gave the Qur'anic verses such interpretations as were favourable to their selfish interests, and wrongfully attributed certain ideas to the Qur'anic text that were not at all in agreement with the spirit of the Qur'an. In answer to every objection that was made against them, they said that none except themselves could understand the esoteric and secret meaning of the Qur'anic verses, and whatever they stated was based on the understanding and knowledge of the esoteric meaning of the verses. 

 

The champions of this movement in the history of Islam consist of two groups: the first group are the Isma'ilis, who are also known as the Batinis (secret sect), and the other are the Sufis. Most of the Isma'ilis are found in India and some of them are in Iran. They had formed an empire in Egypt known as the Fatimid caliphate. The Isma'ilis are so-called Shi'ahs who believe in six Imams. But all the Twelver Imami Shi'ah scholars are unanimous in the opinion that in spite of their belief in six Imams, the Isma'ilis stand at a greater distance from the Shi'ite faith than the non-Shi'ite sects. The Sunnis, who do not believe in any of the Imams in the same sense as the Shi'ah do, nevertheless are nearer to the Shi'ah than these "Six-Imami Shi'ahs." The Isma'ilis, on account of their batini beliefs and secretive practices have played a treacherous role in the history of Islam and have had a big hand in causing serious deviations in the realm of Islam. 

 

Besides the Isma'ilis, the Sufis are also charged with distortion of the Qur'anic verses and had a long hand in interpreting them according to their personal beliefs. Here I present a specimen of their exegesis so that the extent and method of their misinterpretation may be known: 

 

The anecdote of Ibrahim (A) and his son Isma'il is described by the Qur'an as follows: It occurred to Ibrahim (A) in his dream that he has to sacrifice his son for the sake of God. At first he is perplexed regarding such an instruction; but as he repeatedly has the dream reiterating the same theme, he becomes certain of the Will of God and decides to obey the Divine command. He puts the whole matter before his son, who also faithfully accepts his father's proposal of executing the Divine command: 

 

"My son, I see in a dream that I shall sacrifice thee; consider what thinkest thou?" He said, "My father, do as thou art bidden; thou shalt find me, God willing, one of the steadfast." (37:102) 

 

It is obvious that such interpretation of the Qur'an is like wanton treatment of it, and presents a distorted perspective of its teachings. It is in the context of such deviate interpretations of the Qur'an based upon personal or sectarian bias and interests that the Prophet has said: One who interprets the Qur'an according to his wish, should be certain of his place in hell. 

 

This kind of frivolous attitude towards the verses of the Qur'an amounts to the betrayal of the Qur'an and that too of a grievous degree. The Qur'an itself strikes a middle course between the stagnant and narrow-minded attitude of the Akhbaris and the unwarranted and deviate interpretations of the Batinis. It recommends a course of sincere, disinterested study and asks for unbiased and unprejudiced meditation over its meanings. Not only the believers and the faithful, but even the infidels are invited by it to contemplate over its verses. The Qur'an demands that it verses should be first contemplated over, before forming any adverse opinion against them. Addressing the opponents, it says, why they don't ponder over the Qur'an, what sort of hearts they possess, they are as if shut close and sealed: 

 

What, do they not ponder the Qur'an? Or is it that there are locks upon their hearts? (47:24) 

 

(This is) a Book We have revealed to you abounding in good, that they may ponder the verses. 

 

That those endowed with understanding may ponder its signs and so remember. (38:29) 

 

Because the Qur'an is not for an exclusive age or for an exclusive people. 

 

 Issues in an Analytical Study of the Qur'an:

 

The Qur'an has dealt with a vast range of subjects, and in this process, it is more concerned with certain subjects and less with others. The universe and its Creator are among the most recurring themes of the Qur'an. We must try to see how it treats this theme. Is its outlook philosophical or gnostic? Is its treatment similar to that of other religious books like the Bible and the Torah? Is it similar to that of the religious books of Hinduism? Does it deal with this problem in its own independent manner? 

 

The other problem that is repeatedly treated by the Qur'an is the problem of the universe or the world of creation. We must examine the outlook of the Qur'an about the universe. Does it regard the universe and all creation to be an exercise in vanity and futility or does it regard it as being based on coherent truth? Does it consider the state of affairs in the universe as being based upon a series of laws and principles, or does it regard it as a chaotic phenomenon in which nothing is the cause or condition of any other thing? Among the general issues dealt by the Qur'an is the problem of the human being. The Qur'anic outlook regarding the human being must be analyzed. Does the Qur'an possess an optimistic outlook of man? Does it speak of him in pessimistic and negative terms? Does the Qur'an consider man as a despicable creature, or does it acknowledge his nobility and dignity? 

 

The other problem dealt with in the Qur'an is the problem of human society. We have to see if the Qur'an considers the society to be primary and the individual as secondary or whether it subordinates the society to the individual. Are societies, according to the Qur'an, subject to laws governing their life and death, their rise and decline, or are these conditions applicable to individuals alone? In the same way, its conception of history also needs to be clarified. What is the Qur'anic view regarding history? What are the forces that control the dynamics of history? To what extent can an individual's influence affect the course of history in the view of the Qur'an? 

 

The Qur'an deals with numerous other issues. I shall enumerate some of them here. One of them is the point of view of the Qur'an about itself. The other issue is related to the Prophet (S) and its manner of introducing and addressing him. Another issue is its definition of a believer (mu'min) and his characteristics and so on. 

 

Furthermore, each of these general issues possesses various branches and divisions. For example, when discussing mankind and its situation, it is natural to speak about morality. Or, when speaking about society, the problem of human relationships also unavoidably enters the discussion. The same is true of such notions as "enjoining good and forbidding evil," and the problem of social classes. 

 

 

How does the Qur'an Introduce Itself?

 

The Qur'an describes its other function as the presentation of the Prophetic mission, which is aimed at guidance of humanity, by delivering it from darkness and leading it towards light: 

 

A Book We have sent down to thee that thou mayest bring forth mankind from the darkness into the light... (14:1) 

 

That thou mayest bring forth your people from the darkness into the light ... (14:5) 

 

The exegetists of the Qur'an emphasize the point that whenever the Qur'an mentions darkness, it always uses it in the plural form although it always uses light in its singular form. This means that the word, (darkness) includes all sorts of darkness, all of the evil ways that lead towards darkness, and that (light) signifies one single right path --the path of righteousness, whereas the ways of deviation and perversion are many. In Suurat al-Baqarah, the Qur'an says: 

 

God is the Protector of the believers; He brings them forth from the darkness into the light. And the unbelievers --their protectors are taghut, that bring them forth from the light into the darkness ... (2:257) 

 

 

The Language of the Qur'an

 

The comprehension of the meaning of the Qur'an has certain peculiarities to which due attention must be paid. While other books are read for the purpose of acquiring the knowledge of novel ideas that merely involve reason and the rational faculties of the reader's mind, the Qur'an must be studied with the intention of educating oneself. The Qur'an itself clarifies this point: 

 

A book We have sent down to thee, blessed, that men possessed of mind may ponder its signs end so remember. (38:29) 

 

That which is termed here as the heart, is the great source of profound feeling that resides within all human beings. This is sometimes also called "the sense of being", i.e. the feeling of relationship between human existence and the Absolute Being. 

 

One who knows the language of the heart, when he addresses the human being in this language, can move the inner depths of his being. It is not merely the mind and the intellect alone which is affected, but his whole being, which is profoundly influenced. This sort of influence can perhaps be illustrated by the example of music. The various forms of music share the common quality which is stimulation of human feelings. Music appeals to the human soul and immerses it into a specific world of feeling. The nature of feelings, excited by different kinds of music, of course, varies. Certain types of music may be associated with the passions of valour and bravery. In the past, on the battlefield, the effects of martial music were evident. Sometimes its effects were so strong that the frightened soldiers who would not dare come out of their bunkers, were made to march in fervour despite fierce attacks from enemy's ranks. It is possible that certain other kinds of music may excite sensual feelings and invite the listener to succumb to sensual vices. The results of such music are noticeable in the moral waywardness of our own times. Perhaps no other thing could have so effectively broken down the walls of morality and chastity to the extent of this kind of music. Other kinds of instinctive feelings and passions, whether aroused by means of music or by some other means, can be controlled when addressed in the language that appeals to them. 

 

One of the most sublime instincts and emotions present in all human beings is the urge for religion and the natural quest for God. It is in the same heavenly echoes that the Qur'an speaks to the Divine instincts of mankind. The Qur'an itself recommends that its verses be recited in fine and beautiful rhythms; for it is in those heavenly rhythms that it speaks to the Divine nature of man. The Qur'an, describing itself, maintains that it speaks in two languages. Sometimes it introduces itself as the Book of meditation, logic and demonstration; at other times as the Book of feeling and love. In other words, it does not merely seek to nourish the intellect and thought, but also nurtures the human soul. 

 

The Qur'an lays great emphasis on its own specific quality of music, a music which more than any other music, is effective in arousing the profound and sublime feelings of the human heart. The Qur'an directs the believers to devote a few hours of the night to reciting its verses, and to recite them during their ritual prayers when their attention is turned towards God. Addressing the Prophet, the Qur'an says: 

 

O thou enwrapped in thy robes, keep vigil the night, except a little (a half of it, or diminish a little, or add a little) and chant the Qur'an very distinctly. (73:1 -4) 

 

It were the same rhythms of the Qur'an that became the singular source of spiritual joy and strength, and the means of producing inner purity and sincerity among Muslims. It was the same music of the Qur'an which, in a very short period of time, converted the barbarous tribes of the Arabian peninsula, into a steadfast nation of committed believers, who could grapple with the greatest powers of the age and overthrow them. 

 

The Muslims did not merely view the Qur'an as a book of moral advice and instruction alone, but also, as a spiritual and ideological tonic. They recited the Qur'an with devotion of heart during their intimate nightly supplications, and during the day, they derived from it the strength to attack the unbelievers like roaring lions. The Qur'an had just such an expectation of those who had found their faith. Addressing the Prophet, it says: 

 

Obey not the unbelievers, but struggle against them with it [the Qur'an] striving mightily. (25:52) 

 

When the Qur'an calls its language "the language of the heart," it means the heart which it seeks to purify, enlighten and stimulate. This language is other than the language of music that occasionally arouses sensual feelings. It is also different from the language of martial music that arouses the spirit of heroism in the hearts of soldiers and strengthens and enhances their enthusiasm. Rather, it is the language which converted the Arab Bedouins into inspired mujahidin, for whom it was said: 

 

They carried their visions on their swords. 

 

Standing in prayer during nights,  
fasting during daytime. 

 

It is on account of this characteristic, that the Qur'an is a book of the heart and the soul. Its appeal overwhelms the soul and brings tears flowing from the eyes and makes the heart tremble. It stresses this point and considers it true even of the "People of the Book": 

 

Those to whom We gave the Book before this believe in it, and, when it is recited to them, they say, 'We believe in it; surely it is the Truth from our Lord; even before it we were of those who surrender. (28:52-53) 

 

And when they hear what has been sent down to the Messenger, thou seest their eyes overflow with tears, because of the truth they recognize. They say, "Our Lord we believe; so do Thou write us down among the witnesses." (5:83) 

 

God has sent down the fairest discourse as a book, consimilar in its oft repeated parts, whereat shiver the skins of those who fear their Lord; then their skins and their hearts soften to the remembrance of God ... (39:23) 

 

 

The Qur'an's Addressees:

 

It is but a reminder unto all beings, and you shall surely know its tiding, after a while. (38:87-88) 

 

We have not sent thee, save as a mercy unto all beings. (21:107) 

 

And We sent down with them the Book and the Balance so that men might uphold justice ... (57:25) 

 

The Qur'an declares that its followers are those who have a clear and pure conscience. They are drawn to it solely by the love of justice and truth, which is ingrained in the nature of all human beings ---not under the urge for material interests and worldly desires and allurements. 

 

 

Conception of Reason in the Qur'an

 

It is to be seen whether or not the Qur'an acknowledges the "authority" (hajjah) of reason --as the scholars of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and usul put it. This means whether or not we should respect the judge-ments of reason and act according to them if they happen to be correct and rightly deduced by it. Moreover, if one acts according to the dictates of reason and occasionally falls into error, will God exonerate him for it, or whether He will punish him on account of that error? And, if one fails to act according to the ruling of reason, does he deserve punishment? 

 

 

Evidence in Favour of the Authority of Reason

 

 

1. The Qur'an's Emphasis on Rationalism

 

Surely the worst of beasts in God's sight are those that are deaf and dumb and do not reason. (8:22) 

 

It is not for any soul to believe, save by the leave of God... (10:100) 

 

And He lays abomination upon those who do not reason. (10:100) 

 

Say: Bring your proof if you are truthful. (2:111) 

 

Were there gods in them [earth and heaven] other than God, they would surely disintegrate ... (21:22) 

 

 

2. References to the Law of Causality

 

God changes not what is in a people, until they change what is in themselves ... (13:11)

 

The Qur'an urges Muslims to study the conditions and circumstances of societies of the past and to take lesson from their history. It is evident that if the destinies of races and nations were random, or dependent upon accidents, or were prescribed from above, the advice to study and draw a lesson would not have any sense. By laying emphasis on it, the Qur'an intends to remind us that a uniform system of laws governs the destinies of all the nations of the world. It also reminds us that if the conditions of a society in which we live, are similar to the conditions prevalent in a society of the past, the same fate awaits us too. Elsewhere, the Qur'an says: 

 

How many a city We have destroyed in its evildoing, and now it is fallen down upon its turrets. How many a ruined well, a tall palace. What, have they not journeyed in the land so that they have hearts to understand with, or ear to hear with ... ? (22:45-46) 

 

 

3. Rational Basis of Divine Commands

 

Indeed prayer forbids indecency and dishonour ... (29:45) 

 

Prescribed for you is the Fast, even as it was prescribed for those that were before you --haply you will be God-fearing. (2:183) 

 

 

4. Combating Deviations of Reason

 

The human mind can, in many cases, fall into error. This fact is acknowledged by all of us. However, this danger is not limited to the intellect alone, but can equally befall the senses, and feelings as well. Just for the sense of vision, scores of visual errors and optical illusions have been pointed out. In the case of reason, too, there are times when people frame an argument and rationale and draw an inference on its basis, but later on they realize that the basis of their conclusion was erroneous. Here the question arises, whether the faculty of reason should be suspended on account of its occasional failures, or whether we should employ other means for discovering the errors of the intellect and seek to avoid such errors. In answering this question, the Sophists said that reason should not be relied upon, and that, basically, argumentation and reasoning is an absurd practice. Other philosophers have given a fitting reply to the Sophists, and said that though the senses can also err like reason, but no one has ever recommended their suspension. Since it was not possible to discard reason, the philosophers resolved to find ways of making reason secure from error. During their efforts in this regard, they discovered that all arguments consist of two parts, namely, matter and form. Like a building which has various ingredients in its construction, like, lime, cement, steel, etc. (matter), to acquire a specific structure (form). In order to attain the permanence and perfection of its construction, it is essential to procure proper material as well as to draw a perfect and faultless plan. For the correctness and accuracy of an argument, too, it is essential that its content and form be both free of error and defect. For judging the validity of the form of any argument, the Aristotelian or formal logic came into existence. The function of formal logic is to determine the accuracy or inaccuracy of the form of an argument, and help the mind to avoid errors in the process of reasoning. 

 

But the major problem that remains is that solely formal logic is inadequate for this purpose, because it cannot alone guarantee the validity of an argument. It can give assurance about one aspect alone. To obtain the perfection of the material aspect, the use of material logic is also essential, that is, we need certain criteria for controlling the quality of the rational material. 

 

Thinkers like Bacon and Descartes strove hard to evolve some kind of material logic similar to the formal logic of Aristotle, which was devised for formal reasoning. They did obtain certain criteria in this regard, though they are not as universal as those of Aristotelian logic, but are, to a limited extent, helpful in preventing the mind from committing errors in reasoning. Some may be surprised to know that the Qur'an has presented such principles for the prevention of any lapses in the process of reasoning, which surpass in merit and precedence the efforts of philosophers like Descartes and others. 

 

 

The Qur'anic Viewpoint
Regarding the Sources of Error

 

If thou obeyest the most part of those on earth, they will lead thee astray from the path of God: they follow only surmise, merely conjecturing. (6:116) 

 

And pursue not that thou has no knowledge of ... (17:36) 

 

The second source of error in the reasoning process, which is particularly relevant in social issues, is imitation. Most people are such that they accept whatever beliefs that are current in their society. They adopt certain beliefs merely for the reason that they were followed by their preceding generation. The Qur'an bids people to carefully scrutinize all ideas and judge them by the criteria of reason --neither to follow blindly the conventional beliefs and traditions of their ancestors, nor to reject them totally without any rational justification. It reminds us that there are many false doctrines that were introduced in the past, but were accepted by the people, and there are also certain truths that were presented in the distant past, but people resisted them on account of their ignorance. In accepting any ideas or principles, men are advised to make use of their intellects and rational faculties, and not to indulge in blind imitation. Very often, the Qur'an puts imitation of ancestors in direct opposition to reason and intellect: 

 

And when it is said to them: 'Follow what God has sent down', they say, 'No; but we will follow such things as we found our fathers doing.' What? Even if their fathers had no understanding of anything, and if they were not guided ? (2:170)

 

God changes not what is in a people, until they change what is in themselves ... (13:11) 

 

A Third effective source of error pointed out by the Qur'an is 

 

Selfish motives tarnish virtue and merit,   
A cascade of curtains gallops from the heart towards vision. 

 

A problem of fiqh was put before al-Allamah al-Hilli: If an animal falls inside a well, and the carcass cannot be removed; what should be done with the well? Incidentally, during the same days, an animal happened to fall into the well in his own house, and it became inevitable for him to deduce an injunction to solve his own problem, too There were two possible ways to solve the issue: Firstly, the well should be totally closed, not to be used again; secondly, a fixed quantity of water should be emptied from the well and the rest of well's water would be clean and usable. The 'Allamah realized that he could not give a completely impartial verdict about the problem without interference from his own personal interest. Accordingly, he ordered his own well be closed. Then, with an easy mind, free of the pressure of selfish motives. he turned to deducing the details of verdict in the second case. 

 

The Qur'an contains a large number of warnings regarding the evil of submission to personal desires. The following is just one instance of it: 

 

They follow nothing except conjecture, and what the self desires ... (53:25)

 

 Qur'anic Outlook Regarding the "Heart"

 

Surely in that there is a reminder to him who has a heart ... (50:37) 

 

My heart was alarmed  
[on sensing the coming danger],   
While I, a thoughtless dervish,   
Do not know what  
this wandering prey has come across. 

 

In their hearts is a sickness, and God has increased that sickness ... (2:10) 

 

 

Definition of the Heart

 

In places where the Qur'an speaks of revelation, it does not make any mention of reason; rather it is merely concerned with the heart of the Prophet (S). This does not mean an absence of rational and demonstrative reception of the Holy Qur'an on the part of the Prophet, but it was his heart which, in a state that we cannot imagine, obtained the direct experience and awareness of those transcendental realities. The verses of Suurat al-Najm and Suurat al-Takwir describe the state of this union to some extent: 

 

Nor speaks he out of caprice. This is naught but a revelation revealed taught him by one terrible in power, very strong; he stood poised, being on the higher horizon, then drew near and approached nearer, two bow's length away, or nearer, then revealed to His servant that He revealed. His heart lies not of what he saw. (53:3-11) 

 

Truly this is the word of a noble messenger having power, of honoured place with the Lord of the Throne, obeyed, moreover trusty. Your companion is not possessed; he truly saw him on the clear horizon; he is not niggardly of the Unseen. (81:19-23) 

 

Wherever the Qur'an speaks of the revelation and the heart, al- though its import transcends the limits of reason and thought, its speech is not irrational or anti-rational. It expounds a vision which surpasses human reason and sensibility, and enters a domain which is, basically, beyond reason and intellect. 

 

 

Characteristics of the Heart

 

Prosperous is he who purifies it [the self]. (91:9) 

 

No indeed; but that they were earning has overwhelmed their hearts. (83:14) 

 

If you fear God, He will assign you [the capacity of] distinguishing ...(8:29)   
But those who struggle in Our [cause], surely We shall guide them in Our ways... (29:69) 

 

Our Lord, make not our hearts to swerve after Thou hast guided us ... (3:8) 

 

No indeed; but that they were earning has overwhelmed their hearts. (83:14) 

 

When they swerved, God caused their hearts to swerve ... (61:5) 

 

God has set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes is a covering ... (2:7) 

 

We lay veils upon their hearts lest they understand it ... (6:25) So does God seal the hearts of the unbelievers. (7:101) So that their hearts have become hard, and many of them are ungodly. (57:16) 

 

Human history itself is a witness to the fact that whenever despotic regimes have wanted to bring other societies under their autocratic rule, they have tried to corrupt their social spirit and pollute their social atmosphere. They provided enormous facilities for the people to indulge in licentiousness, and gave them every kind of freedom in this regard. A heart-rending account of this unholy treatment meted out to Muslims of Spain --a region which is regarded to have played an effective role in initiating the Renaissance, and had the most advanced culture in Europe-- throws enough light on this phenomenon. In order to divest Spain out of Muslims' hands, the Christians resorted to defilement of the morals of Muslim youth, by providing ample facilities for their debaucheries. They even went to the extent of alluring and enticing the army generals and government officials in topmost ranks. They thus succeeded in diverting Muslims from the path of determination and purpose, and in divesting them of their power, their strength of faith, and purity of soul, converting them into profligate weaklings addicted to drinking and licentiousness. It is obvious that it is not very difficult to subdue such individuals. Christians took revenge on nearly eight hundred years of Muslim rule in such a way that history is ashamed at recounting those deeds. The same Christians who, according to the teachings of Jesus Christ ("offer your left cheek if your right cheek is slapped"), were supposed to behave in a different way, surpassed the bloodthirsty tradition of Genghiz Khan by the massacre of Muslims in Spain. Nevertheless, the ruin that Muslims suffered was the result of their own spiritual degeneration and decay; it was their punishment for abandoning the Qur'anic commands. 

 

In our times, also, wherever the evil of colonialism exists, the same practices are vigorously adopted --a danger against which the Qur'an so emphatically warns us. The colonialists try to corrupt the hearts; when the heart is thus debilitated, reason, too, is not only lost and fails to function properly, but is itself turned into a terrible bondage. The colonialists and the exploitive powers are not afraid of establishing schools and universities: they even advocate popular education; but, on the other hand, they take good care to make arrangements to corrupt and destroy the spirit of students, and of the teachers as well. They are fully aware of the fact that an unhealthy mind and a sickly soul cannot make any decisive move, and readily yield to every type of exploitation and degradation. 

 

That is why the Qur'an gives ample importance to the idea of exaltation, edification, and purity of the soul of society. In one of its verses, it says: 

 

And help one another to piety and God-fearing, do not help each other to sin and enmity... (5:2) 

 

Here I shall mention two or three sayings of the Prophet (S) and the Imams (A) in order to elucidate this point. There is a tradition that once a person came in the presence of the Prophet (S) and told him that he wished to ask certain questions. The Prophet asked him whether he wanted to listen to the answers, or if he wished to ask questions first. He asked the Prophet (S) to give the answers. The Prophet (S) told him that his question was concerned with the meaning of virtue and goodness. The man affirmed that he intended to ask exactly the same question. The Prophet gently knocked the man's chest with his three fingers, saying: "Put this question to your own heart;" then he added: "This heart is so made that it is harmonious with virtue; it is put at ease by virtue and piety, but disturbed by vice and villainy. In the same way, as presence of an alien disharmonious object in the human body causes uneasiness and discomfort, and disturbs its order, the human soul is thrown off its balance and ease on account of faulty behaviour." What is commonly called the pain and torment of the conscience, is the same state of inconformity and alienation of the soul: 

 

[For an honest insight] ask your own heart, though the masters may have their own (different) opinion. 

 

Elsewhere, when the Prophet (S) was asked about the meaning of faith (iman), he said, "When one performs an ugly deed, and is overwhelmed with the feeling of reproach and displeasure, and when one performs virtuous deeds and feels happy and joyous, it means that he is endowed with faith." 

 

It has been quoted from Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (A) that when a believer liberates himself from all worldly bondages, he feels the delight of nearness to God within his heart; in this state, the whole world appears to him very small and insignificant; he strives with all power to liberate himself from the bondages of the material world. This is a reality attested by the lives of the men of God. 

 

In the biographies of the Prophet (S), it is written that once after his morning prayers the Prophet (S) went to visit the Ashab al-Suffah. They were a group of poor men who did not possess any worldly belongings, and used to live by the side of Prophet's Mosque in al-Madinah. When the Prophet (S) happened to see one of them, Harith ibn Zayd, who looked rather pale and emaciated, his eyes sunk deep inside his skull, he inquired, "How are you." He answered, "I have woken up a man of certain faith." The Prophet asked him what proved his claim. He answered, "I am bereft of sleep at nights and engage in fasting during the days." The Prophet told him that this was insufficient. "Tell me more about it," he said. Harith said, "O Messenger of God, my condition is such that I can clearly see and hear the people of heaven and those of hell. If you permit me, I will inform you about the secret thoughts and inner states of every one of your companions." The Prophet bade him hold his tongue, and say no more; but asked him, "What is your desire?" He said, "To fight in the way of God." 

 

According to the Qur'an, furbishing of the human heart exalts a human being to such a point that, in the words of Ali (A), even if the veils that conceal the Unseen be removed from in front of him, there is nothing that can enhance his faith. The teachings of the Qur'an are meant to educate man to become a being equipped with the power of knowledge and reason on the one hand, and possessed of a pure heart and sound feeling on the other. They aim to train a human being who is able to employ his reason and heart in the most proper and exalted fashion. The Imams (S) and their true pupils were examples of such human beings. 

 

                     The study and knowledge of the Qur'an is essential for every learned person as well as for all faithful believers. It is specially essential for those scholars who are interested in the study of man and society, since this book has been effectively instrumental not only in moulding the destinies of Islamic societies, but also in shaping the destiny of the human race as a whole. A brief glance over history would be enough to provide sufficient proof of the claim that there has been no such book that has ever influenced human societies to the magnitude of the Qur'an. It is for the same reason that the Qur'an automatically steps into the precincts of sociological discussions, and becomes the elemental constituent of the subjects of research in this discipline. This means that any deep study and profound research in the field of world history of the last fourteen hundred years, is impossible without the knowledge of the Qur'an.

 

 Now that the necessity of understanding the Qur'an has been confirmed, let us see what are the ways of understanding this book. Generally for the purpose of a profound understanding of any book it is necessary to study it in three ways: At this stage, we want to know to what extent the relationship of a book with its author is authentic. Suppose we want to study the Diwan-Hafiz, or the Ruba'iyyat of 'Umar Khayyam. At first, we have to see whether the work which is attributed to Hafiz, wholly belongs to him, or whether a part of it is Hafiz's work and the rest is an apocryphal annexation to it. Similarly in the case of 'Umar Khayyam, and others too, we must judiciously scrutinize their works. It is here that the matter of examination of manuscripts --and for that matter the oldest of them-- becomes relevant. Thus we see that none of these books can dispense with such a treatment. The Diwan-e-Hafiz printed by the late Qazvini, which has been based on some of the most authentic manuscripts of Hafiz's work, varies greatly from the ordinary editions of Hafiz.

 


 

printed in Iran and Bombay, which are usually found in homes. The editions of Hafiz's works published during the last thirty or forty years contain as much as twice the amount of Hafiz's original works. In view of certain modern manuscript experts of repute, they are fake; although we occasionally come across in them some verses which match the sublime heights of Hafiz's poetry. Likewise when we study the quatrains attributed to 'Umar Khayyam, we shall find nearly two hundred quatrains of the same poetical standard with only minor differences usually possible even among the authentic verses of a single poet. However, if we look back at the history of Khayyam's times, we shall notice that the number of quatrains attributed to him may perhaps be less than twenty. The authenticity of the rest of them is either doubtful, or may with certainty be said to belong to other poets. There are several other verses in the Qur'an that forbid forgery in relation to the Word of God.

 

The gravity of this sin as stressed by the Qur'an had profound impression upon minds and served as a severe discouragement in this regard. In this way, before any type of alterations could have taken place in its verses, they were repeated often, thus reaching a stage that it was impossible to increase, diminish or alter even a single word in this heavenly book. Accordingly, there is neither any need of any discussion about the Qur'an from the point of view of authenticity, nor does any scholar of the Qur'an throughout the world see any necessity of such a discussion. However, I think, it is necessary to remind the readers about the fact that, because of the rapid expansion of the Islamic domain and distance of the major part of the population living far away from Medina, which was the center of huffaz (those who memorized) of the Qur'an and the Companions of the Prophet, there arose the danger of occurrence of advertent or wilful gradual alteration in the Qur'anic text. But the prompt dexterity and timely awareness on the part of early Muslims averted this danger.

 

Within the first five decades, they utilized the services of the Sahabah (the Companions of the Prophet) and those of the huffaz of the Qur'an for the purpose of averting the chances of conscious or inadvertent alterations in the text of the Qur'an. They distributed approved copies of the Qur'an from Medina to the surrounding regions. They thus checked any chances of wrongdoing, especially on the part of the Jews, who are well-known champions in this field. During this stage of study and analysis of a book, it is essential to understand these things: the subject it deals with, the goal that it pursues, its outlook regarding the world, its point of view concerning man and society, its style and treatment of the subject-whether the treatment of the subject is in an intellectual and scholarly manner, or whether it has its own characteristic style. One more question that is relevant in this context is whether this book contains any message and guidance for humanity or not.

 

If the answer to this question is in the affirmative, then what is the message that it conveys? The first group of questions are, of course, concerned with the point of view and outlook of the book regarding man and universe, about life and death etc. In other words, these questions are associated with the, world-outlook of the book, and in terms of Islamic philosophy, with its al-hikmat al-nazariyyah(theoretical wisdom). But the second group of questions is concerned with the perspective of future of mankind offered by the book. They deal with the suggested basis for moulding the human kind and human societies. This aspect may be regarded as the "message" of the book. At this stage, i.e. after verification of authenticity of the authorship of a book, and after thorough study and analysis of its contents, we come to the stage of exploring whether the contents of the book comprise of its author's own original ideas, or, the ideas have been borrowed from some other source.

 

For instance, in studying Hafiz's works, after verifying the authenticity of the verses and making their analytical study, we have to see whether these themes, ideas and thoughts that have been incorporated into Hafiz's poetry and poured into the moulds of his words, phrases, couplets, language and style, are actually the creations of Hafiz, or whether only the words and phrases and the beauty, art and craftsmanship reflected in the verses come from Hafiz, whereas the thoughts and ideas belong to someone else, or have been borrowed from another source. After ascertaining his artistic originality, the intellectual originality of Hafiz's works has also to be established. Our study of the Qur'an acquaints us with three distinguishing characteristics of this holy book.

 


 

The first distinguishing characteristic is the absolute authenticity of its source. That is, without the slightest need of any comparison between the oldest manuscripts, it is evident that what we recite as the verses of the Holy Qur'an, are exactly the same words presented before the world by Muhammad ibn 'Abd-Allah (S). The second characteristic feature of the Qur'an is the quality of its contents: its teachings are genuinely original and have not been adopted or plagiarized. It is the duty of an analytical study to prove this fact. The third characteristic of the Qur'an is its Divine identity: its teachings have been delivered to the Prophet from a world that transcends his thought and mind. The Prophet (S) was only a recipient of this revelation and message. This is the result that we obtain from the study of the sources and roots of the Qur'an. The understanding of the Qur'an requires certain preliminaries which are briefly described here.

 


 

The first essential condition necessary for the study of the Qur'an, is the knowledge of the Arabic language, such as for the understanding of Hafiz and Sa'di, it is impossible to get anywhere without the knowledge of the Persian language. In the same way, to acquaint oneself with the Qur'an without knowing the Arabic language is impossible. The other essential condition is the knowledge of the history of Islam; since, unlike the Bible and the Torah, this book was revealed gradually during a long period of twenty-three years of the Prophet's life, a tumultuous time in the history of Islam. It is on this account that every verse of the Qur'an is related to certain specific historical incident called sha'n-i nuzul The sha'n-i nuzul, by itself does not restrict the meaning of the verses, but the knowledge of the particulars of revelation throws more light on the subject of the verses in an effective way. The Qur'an also says: According to the Qur'an, the Prophet (S) himself is the exegetist and the interpreter of the Qur'anic text. Whatever has reached us from the Prophet, is of great help in our understanding of the Qur'an.

 


 

For the Shi'ah, who believe in the infallible Imams (A) also, and believe that the Prophet (S) has transmitted everything he obtained from God to his spiritual successors (awliya'), those genuine riwayat (narrations about the Prophet (S)) that have reached us through the Imams, possess the same degree of authenticity as those obtained directly from the Prophet (S). Accordingly, the authentic riwayat of the Imams are of great help to us in our understanding of the Qur'an. However, when he remarks: what does he intend to say? Here Ferdowsi has made use of an enigmatic technique. Those who are interested would like to know the solution: 9 X 9=81, 3 X 4=12, and 81 plus 12 add up to 93. Ferdowsi says, the Sultan's palm was just like 93. It means that the fist of the Sultan was so tightly closed that only his thumb was free, and this thumb along with the index finger (which acquires the shape of 92 and other three fingers make 93. Through this obscure statement Ferdowsi wants to emphatically report the miserliness of the Sultan.

 


 

 Since the language of the Qur'an is the same as used by men, inevitably, the same diction is used for the most sublime and spiritual themes as we human beings use for earthly subjects. But in order to prevent any misunderstanding about certain problems, some verses have been devised in such a way that they need to be explained with the help of other verses. There is no way except this. For example, the Qur'an wanted to point out to a truth namely, seeing God through the heart; that is, to witness the presence of God by means of one's heart. This idea has been expressed in the following terms: The Qur'an makes use of the verb "looking," and no other word more suitable could be available for the expression of the desired sense. But to avert the possibility of any doubt, the Qur'an explains in other place: The second verse makes the reader distinguish between two different meanings conveyed by the same word. In order to avoid any possibility of ambiguity in its exalted themes, the Qur'an asks us to check the mutashabihat against the mahkamat: Thereby, the Qur'an means that there are certain verses whose firmness cannot be denied and other meanings cannot be derived from them, except their real ones. Such verses are the 'mother' of the Book (umm al-kitab).

 


 

In the same way as a mother is the refuge to her child, or a cosmopolitan city (umm al-qura) is the center of small cities, al-ayat al-muhkamat are also regarded as the axes of the mutashabihat. Al-ayat al-mutashabihat are, of course, to be cogitated upon and understood, but they are to be pondered upon with the help of al-ayat al-muhkamat. Any inference drawn without the help of the mother-verses would not be correct and reliable.  During the analysis and study of the Qur'an, the first question that arises is whether the Qur'an can be studied and understood. Has this book been introduced for the purpose of studying and understanding it, or whether it is just for reading and reciting and obtaining reward and blessing? The reader, possibly, may wonder at raising of such a question. To him it may appear beyond doubt that the Qur'an is meant for the purpose of knowing and understanding it. Nevertheless, in view of various undesirable currents, which due to numerous reasons came into existence in the Muslim world regarding the question of understanding of the Qur'an, and which had an important role in bringing about the decline of Muslims, we shall discuss this matter in brief. Regrettably, the roots of those degenerate and dangerous notions still persist in our societies. So I consider it necessary to elaborate on this topic.

 


 

 Here the aim is the expression of total submission and resignation towards the Divine decree. For the same reason the father and son are ready to execute the Divine command with whole-hearted purity and sincerity, but the execution of the command was stopped by the Will of God. But the same incident is interpreted by the Sufis in this fashion: Ibrahim here represents intellect and reason ('aql) and Isma'il represents the self (nafs); the Qur'anic anecdote is an allegory that hints at the attempt of reason to murder the human self (nafs). The Qur'an also says in one of its verses: That is, We have not sent the Qur'an to be kissed, embraced and put on the niche to gather dust, but for men to read and to contemplate about its contents: The above verse and scores of other such verses emphasize the importance of contemplation in the Qur'an and interpretation of the Qur'anic verses, although not an interpretation based on personal caprices and bias, but a just, truthful and balanced interpretation free of all traces of selfish interests. If we try to comprehend the Qur'an in an honest and unbiased way, it is not at all necessary to solve all problems that we find in it. In this regard the Qur'an is similar to Nature. In Nature, too, a number of mysteries have neither been solved yet, nor can they be solved in present conditions, yet are likely to be solved in the future. Moreover, in studying and understanding nature, man has to tailor his ideas in accordance with Nature itself. He is forced to interpret Nature in accordance with its reality. He cannot define Nature in terms of his own caprices and inclinations.

 


 

The Qur'an, like the book of Nature, is a book that has not been sent for a specific age and time. Had it been otherwise, all the secrets of the Qur'an would have been discovered in the past; this heavenly Book would not have presented its charm, freshness and vitality. But we see that the possibility of contemplation, reflection and discovery of new dimensions is inexhaustible in the case of this Holy Book. This is a point that has amply been emphasized and clarified by the Prophet and the Imams. In a tradition, it is related from the Prophet (S) that the Qur'an, like the sun and the moon, will present its movement and continuity; that is, the Qur'an is not static or monotonous. In some other place the Prophet has said that outwardly the Qur'an is beautiful and inwardly it is deep and unfathomable. In 'Uyun akhbar al-Rida, from the Imam al-Rida (A), it is quoted that Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (A) was asked about the secret of it that as the time passes and the more it is read and recited, the Qur'an increases in its novelty and freshness day by day. The Imam al-Sadiq (A) answered: The Qur'an has been sent for all ages and for all human beings. It is so composed that in spite of changes in knowledge, outlook and approach through various times and ages, it surpasses all learning and knowledge in all ages.

 


 

While it encompasses mysteries and abstruse intricacies for the reader of every age, at the same time it presents a great feast of meanings and ideas that can satiate the needs of every time in accordance with the capacity of that particular age.  Now we shall proceed to study the contents of the Qur'an from an analytic viewpoint. Of course, if we were to deal with every subject of the Qur'an separately, it would call for --as Rumi would say-- seventy tons of paper. So we will confine our discussion mainly to general and then a few particular issues. For the purpose of analysing Qur'anic themes, it is better to start by examining the opinion of the Qur'an about itself and its manner of self-introduction. The first and foremost thing that the Qur'an pronounces about itself is that all of its words, phrases and sentences are the Word of God. It makes clear that the Prophet (S) was not its author; rather the Prophet only related whatever was revealed to him through the agency of the Ruh al-Qudus (Gabriel) with the permission of God. Without doubt the darkness of ignorance is one of the vices from which the Qur'an emancipates humanity and leads it towards the light of knowledge and wisdom.

 


 

However, if merely ignorance were regarded as darkness, then the philosophers could have accomplished this job. But there exist other evils more dangerous than the vice of ignorance, and to subdue them is beyond the power of sheer knowledge. Among them are the vices of worship of material benefits, egoism, enslavement to desires, and greed, which are considered to be personal and moral vices. Social vices like oppression and discrimination manifest the spiritual darkness of a society. In Arabic, the word zulm (injustice and oppression) is derived from the same root as zulmah (darkness), which shows that injustice is a form of social and spiritual darkness. To struggle against such forms of darkness is the responsibility and mission of the Qur'an and other heavenly books.

 


 

Addressing Prophet Moses (A), the Qur'an says: This darkness, this shadow, is the darkness of Pharaoh's oppression and injustice and that of his clique. The light is the light of justice and freedom. The Qur'an determines its goal to be the breaking of the chains of ignorance, misguidance, moral and social corruption and destruction, or in other words, to dissipate all sorts of (darkness) and to guide humanity in the direction of justice, goodness and light. The other issue is that of gaining familiarity with the language of the Qur'an and the recitation of it. There are some people who think that the Qur'an is to be read merely for the purpose of obtaining spiritual reward (thawab) without need of understanding anything of its contents. They continuously recite the Qur'an, but if they are even once asked) "Do you understand the meaning of what you are reading?" they cannot answer. To recite the Qur'an is essential and good, being regarded as the first step necessary for comprehending its contents; and not merely as a means for gaining Divine reward. 

 


 

One of the functions of the Qur'an is to instruct and to teach. For this purpose, the Qur'an addresses human reason and speaks in logical and demonstrative terms. There is also another language that the Qur'an makes use of. But this language is not used to appeal to the faculty of reason, but to the heart. This is the language of feeling. Whosoever wants to acquaint himself with the Qur'an, should be familiar with both of the languages and be able to make use of both of them simultaneously. It is a grave mistake to separate one from the other. It asks the Prophet (S) to recite the Qur'an while standing for the prayers. Tartiil means to recite neither too hastily that words cannot be distinguished, nor too slowly that their connection be lost. It commands the Prophet (S) to recite its verses rhythmically, and at the same time to cogitate upon their meaning.

 

Again, in a later verse of the same surah, the Prophet is reminded that he needs enough sleep to effectively perform the daily chores of business or jihad in the path of God; nevertheless, he should not forget to seclude himself for worship. The Qur'an advises the Prophet (S) not to pay heed to the words of the infidels and to stand firmly against them equipped with the weapon of the Qur'an. It assures him that the ultimate victory shall be his. The life of the Prophet (S) itself is a positive proof of this assurance. He stood all alone against enemies without any support except the Qur'an, and the same Qur'an meant everything to him. It produced warriors for him, furnished arms and forces, until, ultimately, the enemies were totally subdued.

 


 

The Qur'an drew towards him individuals from the enemy's camp, and caused them to submit before the Messenger of God. In this way the Divine pledge was fulfilled. Those people carried their vision, their ideology, their religion and spiritual discoveries on their swords, and used them in the defence of those ideals and ideas. The notions of private and personal interest were alien to them. Though they were not innocent and infallible, and they did commit mistakes, yet they were those who rightly fitted the description: Every moment of day and night, they were in contact with the depths of Being. Their nights were passed in worship, and days in jihad. It describes a group of people who undergo a state of veneration and awe when the Qur'an is recited before them. They affirm faith in all the contents of the Book, declare everything in it to be nothing but truth and their veneration of it continues to increase.

 


 

In another verse, the Qur'an affirms that among the Ahl al-Kitab (The People of the Book), the Christians are closer to the Muslims than the idolaters and Jews. Then a group of Christians who believed and became Muslims on hearing the Qur'an are described in these words: In another place, while describing the believers, the Qur'an says: In these, as well as in many other verses (such as 19:58, 61:1, etc.), the Qur'an tells us that it is not merely a book of knowledge and analysis; but at the same time that it makes use of logical arguments that appeal to the intellect, it also speaks to the finer sensibilities of the human soul. Another point that has to be inferred from the Qur'anic text during its analytical study, is to determine the identity of those who are addressed by it.

 


 

There are certain expressions like "guidance for the God fearing," "guidance and good tiding for the believers," "to admonish and caution him who is alive," which often recur in the Qur'an. Here the question may arise: Of what need is guidance for those who are already guided, the pious and the righteous? Moreover, we see that the Qur'an describes itself in these words: Then, is this book meant for all the people of the world, or is it for the believers alone? In another verse addressing the Prophet, God the Most Exalted, says: A more detailed explanation of this matter would be undertaken during the course of later discussion regarding the historical aspect of the Qur'an. Here it is just sufficient to mention that the Qur'an is addressed to all the people of the world. It does not single out any particular nation or group.

 


 

Everyone who accepts the invitation of the Qur'an is assured of spiritual salvation. However, the verses which mention the Qur'an as the book of guidance for the believers and the God-fearing (mu'minun and muttaqun), clearly specify the kind of people who will be attracted towards it and others who will turn away from it. The Qur'an never names any particular nation or tribe as being its devotees. It does not take sides with a specially chosen people. Unlike other religions, the Qur'an never associates itself with the interests of any specific class. It does not say, for example, that it has come to safeguard the interests of the workers or the peasants. The Qur'an repeatedly emphasizes the point that its purpose is to establish justice. Speaking about the prophets, it says: The Qur'an advocates justice for all mankind, not merely for this or that class, tribe or nation. It does not, for example, like Nazism and other such cults, stir up the passions of prejudice to attract people.

 


 

Similarly, it does not, like certain schools of thought like Marxism, base its appeal upon the human weakness of interest-seeking and enslave-ment to material motivations to incite people; because the Qur'an believes in the essential primariness of the rational consciousness of man and his intrinsic conscience. It believes that it is on the basis of its moral potentialities and its truth-conscious human nature that mankind is placed firmly on the path of progress and evolution. This is the reason why its message is not limited to the working or farming class or exclusively to the oppressed and deprived. The Qur'an addresses both the oppressors as well as the oppressed, and calls them to follow the right path.

 


 

Prophet Moses (A) delivers the message of God to both Bani Israel and Pharaoh, and asks them to believe in the Lord and to move in His path. Prophet Muhammad (S) extends his invitation both to the chieftains of Quraysh and to ordinary persons like Abu Dharr and 'Ammar. The Qur'an cites numerous examples of an individual's revolt against his own self and his voluntary return from the path of deviation to the straight one. But, at the same time, the Qur'an is aware of the point that the restoration and repentance of those immersed in a life of luxury and opulence is comparatively more difficult than that of those familiar with the hardships of life: the oppressed and the deprived, who are, as a matter of fact, naturally more inclined towards justice; whereas the rich and wealthy, at the very first step, have to forgo their personal and class interests and abandon their wishes and aspirations. Heretofore we have discussed briefly the diction of the Qur'an, and said that, for the purpose of communicating its message, the Qur'an makes use of two types of languages, namely, the language of rational argument and the language of feeling. Each of these languages has a specific appeal.

 


 

The first type addresses and appeals to the intellect or reason, while the second one is meant to appeal to the heart. Now we shall examine the point of view of the Qur'an regarding reason ('aql). The issue of the authority of reason in Islam is certain. Since the earliest times until the present, none amongst the Islamic scholars --except for a very small number-- has ever negated the authority of reason; they have counted it as one of the four sources of Islamic fiqh. Since our discussion is about the Qur'an, I think it necessary to produce arguments concerning the authority of reason from the Qur'an itself. The Qur'an, in various ways, confirms the authority of reason. About sixty to seventy verses can be cited --and that, too, for just one of the various ways, as mentioned-- in which the Qur'an indicates that such and such a matter has been mentioned for reason to reflect on.

 


 

In one instance, the Qur'an refers to this issue in a striking statement: Of course, it is obvious that the Qur'an does not mean the physically deaf and dumb, but those who do not want to listen to truth, or those who, when they hear, do not wish to admit it with their tongues. In the view of the Qur'an, the ears which are unable to listen to truth and which are only used for listening to absurd and nonsensical things, are deaf. The tongue which is merely used to utter nonsense, is dumb. The people who do not reason, are those who do not make use of their intellect and their faculty of thought. Such are not fit to be called human beings.

 


 

The Qur'an includes them among the beasts. In another verse, while bringing up a subject related to Divine Unity (al-tawhid), the Qur'an refers to the issue of unity of Divine Acts, and says: After stating this profound issue --a problem which is not easily comprehensible to every human mind-- the Qur'an continues the verse like this: In these two verses, which I quote here for the sake of example, the Qur'an, in the terms of logic, invites us to ratiocination. There are many other verses in the Qur'an which, on the basis of consequential signification, can be said to accept the authority of reason. In other words, the Qur'an makes statements which cannot be accepted without accepting the authority of reason.

 


 

For instance, an opponent is asked to forward rational argument in favour of his position: This can only be inferred to mean the Qur'an's ratification of the authority of reason. In another place it uses syllogistic argument to prove the existence of the Necessary Being (wajib al-wujud): In these verses the Qur'an has framed a conditional proposition, which exempts or excludes the antecedent premise for arriving at a conclusion which is consequent upon it. Thus the Qur'an aims at emphasizing the role of reason and refutes the view of some of the religions that faith is alien to, or, is incompatible with reason, and that to embrace faith one has to suspend his rational faculty and concentrate upon heart alone, so that it may absorb the Divine light and become illuminated by it. This view is totally negated and refuted by the Qur'an. 

 


 

The other argument that supports the view that the Qur'an approves of the ultimate authority of reason, is that it defines various problems in terms of cause-and-effect relationship. The cause-and-effect relation-ship, or the law of causation, is the foundation of rational thinking. This law is honoured by the Qur'an and is also employed by it. The Qur'an speaks on behalf of God, the Almighty, the Creator of the system of cause and effect. Despite the fact that His Word transcends the limitations of causality, the Qur'an is not oblivious of pointing out to the system of causality operating in the universe; it views all phenomena and events as being subservient to this system. The following verse supports this view: The Qur'an intends to say that, although all destinies depend on the Will of God, He never imposes upon human beings such fate as is outside and alien to their determination, will and action.

 


 

The destinies of societies also change according to their intrinsic system of functioning. God does not extravagantly alter the destiny of a nation without any specific reason, unless they themselves bring about a major change in their system of social and moral values and their manner of performing their individual duties. From this statement, we can infer that the affirmation of the law of causality and the approval of the cause-and-effect relationship, imply the acceptance of authority of reason. Another argument which proves that the Qur'an believes in the ultimate authority of reason, is that the Qur'an always explains the rationale behind its commands, laws and precepts. The scholars of usul al-din (the principles of the Faith) maintain that the harms and benefits caused by human deeds are among the reasons behind laws and commands. For example, while at one place the Qur'an ordains the performance of prayers, in another place it explains the philosophy of prayer: It mentions the spiritual effects of prayer, and states how the prayer can edify man.

 


 

It explains that it is on account of this exaltation that man can dissociate himself from indecencies. Elsewhere, after laying down rules for observing the fast, the Qur'an explains the rationale for its command: Similarly, with respect to other commandments like those regarding zakat (alms) and jihad, the Qur'an clarifies their necessity for individual, as well as for society. In this way, the Qur'an, not withstanding the transcendental nature of Divine commandments, clarifies fully their worldly and terrestrial relevance, and asks men to cogitate upon their rationale until their meaning becomes explicit, so that it may not be imagined that these laws are based on a series of occult notions beyond the power of human comprehension. Another evidence in favour of the Qur'an's affirmation of the authority of reason --which is more conclusive than that mentioned above-- is the battle it launched against all those agents which obstruct the proper functioning of reason.

 


 

For clarification of this point, we are forced to mention certain things in the way of an introduction. Among various sources of error mentioned by the Qur'an, one is that of taking conjecture and hypothesis for certainty and conviction. If a person were to adhere to the principle of putting conviction only in certainties and of not confusing between conjectures and certainties, he would not fall into error. The Qur'an lays great emphasis on this problem, and has clearly stated in one place that one of the biggest errors of the human mind is pursuit of conjectures and hypotheses. In another verse, which is addressed to the Prophet (S), the Qur'an says: In another verse, the Qur'an says: This is the word of caution to mankind extended by the Qur'an, for the first time in the history of human ideas, warning mankind against this kind of error. The Qur'an constantly reiterates the view that the idea of antiquity of an idea is neither the evidence of its falsity, nor is it a testimony of its truthfulness.

 


 

Antiquity affects material objects; but the eternal truths of existence never become old and outmoded. Truths like: are true for ever and ever. The Qur'an asks us to face issues with the weapon of reason and intellect. One should neither forsake a belief for fear of becoming the target of others' ridicule and banter, nor should he accept a belief just because it is upheld by some important and well- known persons. We should ourselves study and investigate the roots of all matters and draw our own conclusions. Unless one maintains objectivity and neutrality in every matter, he is unlikely to think correctly. Reason can function properly only in an atmosphere that is free of selfish desires and motives. A well-known anecdote of al-Allamah al-Hilli, can illustrate this point. Perhaps I need not explain here that in the language of literature and mysticism the term heart does not mean the organ situated in the left side of the human body, which pumps blood into the blood vessels.

 


 

What is implied is the sublime and distinguishing faculty of the human soul, as can be readily understood from the following examples from the Qur'an and verses of Sa'di: These two examples make it obvious that the connoted meaning of the heart is quite different from the bodily organ. Elsewhere, the Qur'an refers to the ailments of the heart: To cure this sickness is beyond the powers of any man of medicine, even the heart specialist; only the doctors of the spirit can diagnose such diseases and suggest proper remedies. What is the definition of this heart then? An answer to this question is to be sought in the reality of human existence. Every human being, although he is a single individual, possesses myriads of existential dimensions. The human "self" encompasses myriads of thoughts, desires, fears, hopes and inclinations.

 


 

Like the ocean which links all rivers with one another, all these components of the human personality are related to the same center, which unites them with one another. The "self" itself is the deep and unfathomable ocean, whose depths no one can claim to have charted out and to have discovered all its mysteries. Philosophers mystics, and psychologists --each of them has tried in his own specific way to explore its depths, and has succeeded only to a certain degree in discovering its secrets. Perhaps the mystics, a bit more than others, have been successful in this regard. What the Qur'an refers to as the heart, is the reality of that ocean, which includes all that we name as the manifestations of the soul, to which all its rivers and tributaries are connected. Even reason is one of the various rivers associated with this sea. 

 


 

The Qur'an mentions all these things to show that these matters are basically beyond the range of rational understanding. Muhammad Iqbal offers a fine interpretation of this subject. He says that the prophet is one who, at first, imbibes the entire truth, and later on, in order to enrich the world and to alter the course of history, communicates everything that has reached him by the way of Revelation. The Qur'an regards the heart, also, as an instrument of understanding. In fact, the greater part of the Qur'anic message is addressed to the human heart --a message which is audible to the ears of the heart alone, and is inscrutable to other receptive faculties. Accordingly, it attaches great importance to the care, protection, and development of this instrument. In the Qur'an, we recurrently come across such notions as purification of the self, purity and enlightenment of the heart, and purification of the heart: And about the salvation and enlightening of the heart, the Qur'an says: Contrarily, the Qur'an recurrently reminds that indecencies infect and darken the human soul, and deprive the human heart of sublime inclinations and virtuous tendencies.

 


 

At one place, speaking on behalf of the believers, it says: Describing the qualities of the evildoers, the Qur'an says: The darkness of sin and injustice has engulfed their hearts: About the sealing and hardening of the hearts, it says: And also: All these verses point to the fact that the Qur'an recommends a sublime, spiritual atmosphere for mankind, and deems it necessary for every individual to strive to keep it clean and unpolluted. In addition, since an unsound social atmosphere renders fruitless the efforts of most individuals to keep pure and wholesome, the Qur'an recommends that the people should employ all their endeavour in the direction of purification of their social atmosphere. The Qur'an unequivocally propounds the view that the continued existence of all those sublime values, beliefs and ideas, and continued social receptivity to all its moral advice and counsels, depend upon individual and collective struggle to eradicate all types of meanness, sensuality, and lewdness. Men are, firstly, enjoined to pursue piety and are warned against sinning; secondly, they are asked to perform righteous deeds collectively, not individually. The Prophet (S) points out the fact that if a person endeavours to seek reality and truth with an open and impartial mind, his heart can never deceive him in this regard; it will always guide him towards the straight path.

 


Basically, as long as man is in search of truth and reality, and treads the path of truth, whatever he encounters in this course is nothing but truth. This is, of course, a very delicate point which is often misunderstood. When someone falls into misguidance and loses his path, it is because he was following a certain direction which was not determined by sincere search of truth. Answering someone who had asked the Prophet, "What is virtue?," he said, "If you really want to know what is virtue, then understand that when your heart is serene and your conscience at rest, whatever has caused them to be such, is virtue. But when you are attracted towards something, and that does not bring peace and serenity to your heart, then you should know that it is vice and sin."

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Ahlul Bayt (A.S.): Its Meaning and Origin

Message of Thaqalayn

Translated by M. Jalali 

 

Vol. 2, Nos. 2 & 3 

  
The term "ahl" signifies the members of a household of a man, including his fellow tribesmen, kin, relatives, wife (or wives), children, and all those who share a family background, religion, housing, city, and country with him. "Ahl" and "al" are both the same term with the exception that "al" is exclusively used for human beings and should come before the family name, but such a condition is not existent in the case of "ahl". 

"Bayt" refers to habitation and dwelling, including tents and buildings both. The "ahl-al-bayt" of any person refers to his family members and all those who live in his house (c.f. "Mufradat al-Qur'an" by Raghib Isfahani; "Qamus" by Firoozabadi; "Majm`a al-Bahrayn". 

 

The term "ahl-al-bayt" (people of the house) has been repeated twice in the Holy Qur'an: 

 

1. "... the mercy of Allah and his blessing are on you, O people of the house, ... (11:73)" 

 

 This verse refers to the people of the House of Ibrahim (s) (c.f. "Kashf al-Asrar wa `Uddat al-Abrar", 416/4 and other interpretations). 

 

2. "... Allah only desires to keep away the uncleanness from you, O people of the House! And to purify you a (thorough) purifying (33:33)". 

 

This verse, known as the "Tathir verse", refers to the Members of the Household of the Holy Prophet (s). The Imamiyyahscholars of hadith and fiqh, as well as some Sunni `Ulama, consider the "ahl-al-bayt" cited in the "tathir verse" to include exclusively Muhammad, `Ali, Fatimah, Hasan, and Husayn (peace be upon them all). They do not consider the Holy Prophet's other offspring, wives, sons of paternal uncles, and dwellers of his house as the Messenger's "ahl-al-bayt". 

 

They base their argument on the genuine and authentic traditions narrated by the companions of the Prophet (s) recorded in the Sunni and Shi`i sources. Under the following headings, this article will delve into some of the said traditions and refer to some features of the "ahl-al-bayt" as narrated by the Sunnis: 

 

1. Kisa' tradition; 2. Mubahalah tradition; 3. Mawaddat al-Qurba tradition; 4. Safinah tradition; 5. Other traditions. 

 

1. Kisa' Tradition 

 

A. Jalaluddin `Abdul-Rahman bin Abi Bakr Suyuti (d 911 A.H.) in his commentary "Al-Dur al-Manthur", 198/5-199, Muhammad ibn `Isa Tirmidhi (3 279 A.H.) the author of "Jami' Sahih", Hakim Nishaburi (d 405 A.H.) in "Al-Mustadrak ala al-Sahihayn", Ahmad ibn Husayn Bayhaqi (d 458 A.H.) in "Sunan" (all three of whom have considered the Kisa' tradition as authentic), Muhammad ibn Jarir Tabari (d 315 A.H.), Ibn Munzir Muhammad ibn Ibrahim (d 319 A.H.), Ibn Mardawayh Isfahani, and Ahmad ibn Musa (d 410 A.H.) have quoted Ummu Salamah, the wife of the Holy Prophet (s) as saying that the verse "... Allah only desires to keep away the uncleanness from you, O people of the House! And to purify you a thorough purifying (33:33)" was revealed in her house. At that time, `Ali, Fatimah, Hasan, and Husayn (peace be upon them all) were in her house. The Holy Prophet (s) spread his cloak over them and stated: "These are the members of my Household, and Allah has purified them of all (sins and faults and uncleanness)." 

 

B. Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Hanbal, the Hanbali Imam, (d 241 A.H.), in "Musnad" 229/2 quotes Ummu Salamah as saying: "The Holy Prophet (s) was in my house. Fatimah (`a) came to her father holding a stone bowl filled with "harirah" (type of food made up of flour, milk, and vegetable oil). The Holy Prophet (s) stated: Invite your husband and two sons to come as well." `Ali, Hasan, and Husayn also came there and all sat down to eat "harirah". Then, the Holy Prophet (s) was sitting on a cloak in his resting place and I was reciting the prayer in the chamber. At this time, Almighty Allah revealed the verse "Allah only desires to ...". The Holy Prophet (s) covered `Ali, Fatimah, Hasan, and Husayn (peace be upon them all) with the cloak and then stretched his hand toward the sky and said: "Allah! These are the Members of my Household, so purify them of all uncleanness'. Ummu Salamah said: "I asked him: "Am I also with you?" He stated: "You are on good and virtue" (but did not say that you are a member of my Household)'." 

 

This tradition has also been narrated by Ahmad ibn Muhammad Tahawi (d 321 A.H.) in "Mushkil al-Athar" 332 and 334; Wahidi in "Asbab al-Nuzul" 268 and Muhib Tabari (d 694 A.H.) in "Zakhair al-`Uqba" 23 have related this tradition. In continuation of this tradition, Tabari has written that the Prophet (s) stated: "I am a friend of whosoever is friends with them and an enemy of whosoever is an enemy of them." The said tradition of similar statements have been recorded in "Manaqib" by Ibn Hanbal, 44, the microfilm copy of the book is available in the Parliament Library. Tabari remarked: "This tradition has been narrated from Umma Salamah by Ibn al-Qubabi in "Mu'jam" and Siyuti in "Al-Dur al-Mnthur" under the title of the "tathir verse", as well as by Ibn Jarir, Ibn Munzir, Ibn Mardawayh, Ibn Abi Hatam and Ibn Tabrani." 

 

C- Khatib Baghdadi, Ahmad bin `Ali, (d 463 A.H.) in "The History of Baghdad" 278/10, has quoted Abu Saeed Khidri S`ad bin Malik (d 74 A.H.) as saying that after the revelation of the "tathir verse", the Holy Prophet (s) summoned `Ali, Fatimah, Hasan, and Husayn (peace be upon them all) and covered them with the cloak he had on and said: "These are the members of my Household, and Allah has purified them (of every wrong and sin)." The same tradition has been narrated from Ummu Salamah by Muhammad ibn Jarir Tabari in "Jam`a al-Bayan" 7/22. 

 

D- In "Sahih Muslim" (narrated by Sayyid Murtada Firoozabadi in "Fadail al-Khamsah min Sihah al-Sitah" 214/1), Safiyah, the daughter of Shayba, has narrated `Aishah, the wife of the Holy Prophet (s), as saying: "One morning, the Messenger of Allah left the house with a cloak made of black material and bearing the design of a camel's saddle. Hasan ibn `Ali entered the place, and the Prophet (s) covered him with the cloak. Then came Husayn, Fatimah, and `Ali one after another, and all of them were also covered by the cloak. The Prophet (s) then stated: "... Allah only desires to keep away uncleanness from you, O people of the House! And to purify you a (thorough) purifying." 

 

This tradition has been narrated by Hakim Nishaburi in "Al-Mustadark" 14/3; Bayhaqi in "Sunan" 149/2; Tabari in the "Jami al-Bayan" Siyuti in "al-Durri al-Manthur" under the title of the "tathir verse". In addition, Ibn Abi Shaybah, Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Hanbal, Ibn Abi Hatam have narrated it from `Aishah. Zamakhshari in "Kashshaf" and Fakhr Razi in "Tafsir Kabir" have also related this tradition. It seems that the recorders of traditions are unanimous about the authenticity of this tradition ("Fadail al-Khamsah" 224/1). 

 

E- In the "Jami al-Bayan" Muhammad bin Jarir Tabari has quoted Shahr bin Hushab Ash'air (d 100 A.H.) as saying: "When Ummu Salamah heard news of the martyrdom of Husayn bin `Ali (`a), she cursed the people of Iraq and said: `May Allah kill the people of Iraq who deceived him and left him alone. May Allah curse them. Verily, I saw Fatimah while bringing a stone bowl of sweet paste for the Holy Prophet (s). The Holy Prophet (s) stated: `Where is your cousin?' She said: `At home.' The Prophet (s) said: `Go bring him here with his two sons.' Fatimah returned while holding the hands of Hasan and Husayn. `Ali also followed them, and they came to the Holy Prophet (s). The Holy Prophet (s) embraced Hasan and Husayn and made `Ali sit on his right and Fatimah on left. He then the cloak as the carpet on which we slept in Medina and placed it over Fatimah, `Ali, Hasan, and Husayn. He held the two sides of the cloak with his left hand. He raised his right hand toward the sky addressing Almighty Allah by saying: `O Allah, purify them of any uncleanness . O Allah, these are the members of my Household. Purify and cleanse them of any vice, wrong, and sin,' (He repeated this twice). I asked: `O Messenger! Am I also a member of your Household?' He said: `You come under the cloak.' I also went under the cloak, but only after the Prophet (s) finished his prayer for his cousin, his two sons, and Fatimah (peace be upon them all)." This tradition has been related by Ahmad bin Muhammad ibn Hanbal in "Musnad" 292/6: Tahwi in "Mushkil al-Athar" 335/1; and Muhib Tabari in "Zakhair al-`Uqba" 22/1. TheKisa' tradition which has been narrated in different forms by the Shias and the Sunnis is very sacred for the entire Imamiyyah, especially the Shia of Iran, the Indian subcontinent, Iraq, and Yemen. It is recited in "rawdah" sessions (mourning ceremony) to have the wishes fulfilled and problems removed. Some narration provide more details on this tradition. Some say that Jibraeel and Mikaeel were also among the disciples of the Kisa'or were present there. A divine revelation was descended on the Holy Prophet (s) to the effect that the world and whatever is in it is indebted to these five pure ones. 

 

2. Mubahalah Tradition 

 

Sixty chiefs and `Ulama of Najran, headed by Sayyid, Aqib, and Usquf (religious personalities) of the region in the 10th year A.H. came to Medina to clarify their religious and political stance vis-a-vis Islam which had spread over the Arab peninsula and to engage in discussions with the Messenger (s) of Allah to realize the essence and truth of Islam. 

 

 After lengthy discussions which have been presented in details in Ibn Husham's "Sirah" 573/1, no agreement was reached on the position and standing of Jesus. The Christians of Najran believed in the divinity of Jesus and considered him as the son of God. This is while, based on the explicit wording of the Holy Qur'an (3:59), the Messenger (s) of Allah considered him as a prophet and the servant of God. At the end of the discussions, the Prophet (s) suggested that the two sides engage in "mubahalah", in other words, to invoke divine malediction for the lying side. The following verse was descended in this regard: 

 

"But whoever disputes with you in this matter after what has come to you of knowledge, then say: come let us call our sons and your sons and our women and your women and our near people and your near people, then let us be earnest in prayer, and pray for the curse of Allah on the liars." (3:61) 

 

The 10th (and some say the 24th) of Dhul-Hijjah was chosen for "mubahalah". The Messenger (s) of Allah ordered that in a field outside Medina a thin black "aba" (men's loose sleeveless cloak open in front) be used as a shade between two trees. The Christian chiefs and dignitaries of Najran stood in orderly ranks on one side of the field, on the other side, the Prophet, together with `Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn came from the direction of Medina to the shade. Along this path, the Prophet (s), holding the hand of `Ali (`a), Hasan and Husayn walked in front with Fatimah behind them (c.f. "Majm`a al-Bayan". Interpretation of the Mubahalah Verse). With such simplicity and grandeur, they reached the shade and stood below the "aba". The Holy Prophet (s) recited the "tathir verse" and addressed the "ahl-al-bayt" by saying: "I will invoke malediction for them and you say `amin'." Seeing such glory and grandeur, the Najran chiefs lost their self-confidence and felt that they were very puny and could not stand against Prophet Muhammad (s) and his Household. They, therefore, accepted to pay "jaziyyah" and offered to give in to peace. On behalf of the Holy Prophet (s), the commander of the Faithful, `Ali (`a), signed a peace treaty with the Christians. 

 

The Christians were to annually offer twelve thousand exquisite clothes, a thousand mithqal of gold, and some other items to remain Christians under the umbrella of Islam. 

 

On the basis of the "mubahalah verse", Sunni interpreters such as Zamakhshari, Baydawi, Imam Fakhr Razi and others regard `Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn (peace be upon them all) superior to all other people and argue that Hassan and Husayn are the sons of the Messenger (s) of Allah. 

 

The term "anfusina" in the "mubahalah verse" proves the unity of the heart and soul of Prophet Muhammad and `Ali. The Holy Prophet (s) stated: "`Ali is of me and I am of `Ali." ("Fadail al-Khamsah" 343/1). The "mubahalah tradition" has been recounted in different books of "sirah" and history with various wordings. These include those of Tirmidhi ("Sahih" 166/2) which quotes S`ad ibn Abi Waqqas as follows: "When the mubahalah verse was recited, the Holy Prophet (s) summoned `Ali, Fatimah, Hasan, and Husayn and said: `O Allah, these are the Members of my Household." This tradition has been narrated by Hakim Nishaburi in "Al-Mustadrak" 150/3 and Bayhaqi in "Sunan" 63/7. Hakim regards this tradition as authentic. 

 

3. Mawaddat al-Qurba Tradition 

 

Based on the consensus of the exegesists ("Jam`a al-Bayan" Tabari 16/25, 17; "Hilyat al-Awlia" 251/3; "Al-Mustadrak" 172/3; "Usd al-Ghabah" 367/5; "Al-Sawa'iq al-Muharaqah" 101), the following verse has been revealed about the members of the Household of the Holy Prophet (s): 

 

"...Say: I do not ask of you any reward for it but love for my near relatives ..." (42:23) 

 

The term "Al-Qurba" in this verse, based on the traditions narrated from the Holy Prophet (s), embraces only `Ali, Fatimah, Hasan, and Husayn and no one else. The tradition from Ibn `Abbas' has it that when the "mawaddat al-qurba" verse was revealed, the Prophet (s) was asked: "O messenger, who are your near relatives who should be loved?" He stated: "`Ali, Fatimah, and their sons." This tradition has been narrated by Muhib Tabari in "Zakhair al-`Uqba" 25/1; Ibn Hanbal in "Manaqib" 110; Mo'min Shabilenji "Nural-Absar" 101; and Zamakhshari in "Kashshaf" as annotation to the said verse. In the "Tafsir al-Kabir", Fakhr Razi has related the said narration from "Kashshaf" and has said that based on this verse, `Ali, Fatimah, Hasan, and Husayn should be revered and sanctified. He has also cited lines of verse from the Shafii' Imam, Muhammad bin Idris Shafii' (d 240 A.H.) in this regard. A line of it is as follows: "If love for the members of the Household of the Holy Prophet is heresy, then the world should stand witness that I am a heretic." 

 

4. Safinah Tradition 

 

The virtues of the "ahl al-bayt" have been amply mentioned in the authenticated and Tawatur traditions narratted by both Shia and Sunni `Ulama. Using different words and phrases, these traditions have asked people to love the "ahl al-bayt" and follow thier teachings. For instance, the Holy Prophet (s) has compared his "ahl al-bayt" to Noah's ark. Whoever loves and follows them will attain salvation and whoever violates their sanctity will drown. 

 

The servant of the Holy Prophet (s), Anas bin Malik (d 93 A.H.), has been related as quoting the Prophet (s) as saying: "The example of the members of my Household among you is like the example of Noah's ark. Whoever boards it will attain salvation and whoever does not board it will drown." This tradition has been narrated by Hakim Nishaburi in "Al-Mustadrak" 343/2; Khatib in "Tarikh Baghdad" 91/12; and other great recorders of traditions ("al-Ghadir" 300/2-301). In this regard, Imam Shafii' has said the following: 

 

"When I saw different schools of thought directing people toward the seas of ignorance and deviation, I boarded the ark of salvation in the Name of Allah. This arc is verily crystallized in the "ahl al-bayt" of the Seal of the Prophets, Mustafa (s)." Among very famous traditions in which the "ahl al-bayt" have been resembled to the ark of salvation, reference can be made to the famous "Ishbah tradition" which has been narrated from the Holy Prophet (s) by Abu Hurayrah `Abdul-Rahman bin Sakhar (d 59 A.H.). 

 

"When Almighty Allah created Adam, the father of mankind, and breathed His spirit into him, Adam looked to the right hand side of the empyrean. There he saw five figures in the form of silhouettes engaged in prostration and genuflection. He asked: "God, have you created any one from the dust before me?" God replied: "No." Adam said, "So who are these five figures which I see resembling my own shape and form?" God answered, "These are five of your offspring. If it were not for them, I would have not created you. They are five people whose names are derived from My Own. If it were not for them, I would have not created paradise or hell, the heavens and the earth, the skies and the lands, the angels, the human beings and the jinn. I am "Mahmud" and this Muhammad. I am "Aala" and this is `Ali. I am "Fatir" and this is Fatimah, I am "Ihsan" and this is Hasan. I am "Muhsin" and this is Husayn. By My Glory, whoever bears even an atom's weight of grudge against them will be cast into hell. O Adam! They are My chosen ones. For them, I will save or cast others to perdition. If you want anything from me, you should resort to these five people." 

 

The Holy Prophet (s) said: "We serve as the ark of salvation. Whoever holds fast to this ark will reach salvation and whoever deviates from it will be cast into perdition. Whoever wants Allah to grant him something should resort to the `ahl al-bayt'." This tradition has been narrated by Shaykh al-Islam Hamu'i in the first chapter of "Fara'id al-Samtayn" and Khatib Khwarazmi in "Manaqib" 252 (c.f. "al-Ghadir" 300/2). The Ashbah tradition has been narrated by `Allamah Amini in another part of the al-Ghadir" (301/7) quoting Abul-Fath Muhammad bin `Ali al-Natanzi in "Alfaz". 

 

5. Other Traditions About the Virtues and Characteristics of the "Ahl al-Bayt" 

 

A- In the interpretation of the verse "And enjoin prayer on your household ..." (20:132), Jalaluddin Siyuti in "al-Durr al-Manthur", has related Ibn Mardawayh, Ibn `Aker, and in al-Najjar as quoting Abu Saeed Khidri as saying that after this verse was revealed, for eight months, the Prophet went to the house of `Ali every morning at the time of morning prayers and read this verse: "... Allah only desires to keep away the uncleanness from you, O people of the House! And to purify you a (thorough) purifying (33:33)." ("Al-Durr al-Manthur" 198/5 and 199; "Fadail al-Khamsah"; 226/1). 

 

Another tradition has it that from the fortieth day after the consummation of the marriage of `Ali (`a) and Fatimah (`a), the Prophet (s) every morning went to their house and said: "Peace be upon you, O members of the House and the mercy and blessings of Allah. I will fight with whoever fights with you and I will be reconciled with whoever is reconciled with you." He then recited the "tathir verse". 

 

Ibn `Abdul-Bar in "al-isti`ab" 598/2; Abu Dawud Tialisi in "Sahih" 274/8; and Firoozabadi in "Fadail al-Khamsah" 236/1 have put at forty the number of mornings when the Prophet (s) went to the house of `Ali (`a) and Fatimah (`a). In the "Jami al-Bayan" interpretation, Tabari has said that this was done for seven months. Siyuëi (in "Al-Durr al-Manthur", 199) has quoted Ibn `Abbas as saying that after the verse "And enjoin prayer on your household ..." (20:132) was revealed, the Holy Prophet (s) for nine months went to the house of `Ali (`a) five times a day at the time of daily prayers and called on the members of the house to keep up the prayer. Each time, he recited the "tathir verse". 

 

This is possible because the Holy Prophet's house was close to that of `Ali (`a). Its door opened inside the mosque. So whenever the Messenger (s) of Allah wanted to go to the mosque, he had to pass the house of `Ali (`a) and Fatimah (`a). 

 

 B- In "Al-Mustadrak alal-Sahihayn", Hakim Nishaburi quotes `Abdullah bin Ja'afar bin Talib as saying that when the Messenger (s) of Allah looked to the blessings coming down, he said, "Call on them." Safiyeh said, "O Messenger of Allah, whom should we call upon?" He replied, "The members of my Household: `Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn." They were called upon. Then the Prophet (s) placed his cloak over them and raised both hands and said, "O Allah, these are the members of my Household. Peace be upon Muhammad and upon the Household of Muhammad." Almighty Allah revealed the verse, "... Allah only desires to keep away ... (33:33)." Hakim Nishaburi said this tradition is an authenticated tradition. The Holy Prophet (s) taught them to send greetings upon his household ("`Ayan al-Shi`ah" 358/1; "Fadail al-Khamsah" 227/1; "Al-Mustadrak" 147/3). Ibn Jurir and Ibn Abi Hatam have quoted Qutadah as saying that in relation to the verse, "... Allah only desires to keep away ... (33:33)", the Prophet (s) stated, "These are the members of my Household, and Allah has purified them of any uncleanness and granted them His mercy. We serve as the tree of prophethood, the pillar of mission, the place of passage of angels, the house of mercy, and the wealth of knowledge" ("Al-Durr al-Manthur", 198/5-199). 

 

C- In "Al-Mustadrak al-Sahihayn", Hakim Nishaburi has quoted this authentic tradition from Ibn `Abbas: The Holy Prophet (s) stated, "Love Allah who gives you food out of his bounty and love me for His love and love the members of my Household because of love for me." He also relates this tradition which he considers authentic from Abu S`ad Khidri: "Whoever shows animosity toward us the members of the Household will be cast into the fire." ("A'yan al-Shi`a", 315/1). 

 

D- Hakim Nishaburi in "Al-Mustadrak", 149/3 and Ibn Hajar in "Sawaiq", 140 have related Ibn `Abbas as quoting the Prophet (s) as saying: "The stars are the source of the earth and the members of my Household are the source of the "ummah" (people)." Another tradition refers to the same: "The stars are the refuge for the dwellers of the heavens and my "ahl al-bayt" are the refuge for the "ummah" ("Kanz al-A'mal fi Sunan al-Aqwal wal-Af`al" 116/6). Another tradition has said: "the stars are the refuge for the dwellers of the skies. So if the stars are destroyed, the dwellers of the skies will also be destroyed. The members of my Household are the refuge for the dwellers of the earth. If they are destroyed, the dwellers of the earth also be destroyed" (Muhib Tabari in "Zakhair al-`Uqba", 17/1 and `Ali bin Sultan Muhammad Qari in "Mirqat al-Mafatih" 610/5, Egypt, 1339 A.H.). 

 

Some Sunni `Ulama regard the "tathir verse" pertinent to all kin and relatives of the Holy Prophet (s) including the wives, children, the Bani Hashim and Bani`Adul-Mutallib (Ash'ari in "Maqalat al-Islamin", 9). Based on a tradition narrated from Saeed bin Jubayer, Bukhari, Ibn Abi Hatam, Ibn `Aker, and Ibn Mardawayh have said that this verse has been revealed about the wives of the Prophet (s) and believe that they are the members of the Household of the Messenger (s) of Allah ("Fath al-Qadir", 27/4, Egypt 1350 A.H.). In addition to the wives of the Holy Prophet (s), Qurtabi and Ibn Kathir consider `Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn (peace be upon them all) as members of the Household to whom the "tathir verse" applies. But Tirmidhi, Ibn Jurir, Ibn Manzar, Hakim Nishaburi, and Bayhaqi who are all Sunni `Ulama have referred to the authentic tradition of Ummu Salamah and have thus considered the "tathir verse" applicable to `Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn (peace be upon them all). The Shias have mentioned several reasons and proofs that the "ahl al-bayt" of the Holy Prophet (s) are exclusively `Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn to whom the "tathir verse" applies. The most important of these reasons and proofs are: 

 

1. Based on an authentic tradition narrated from Ummu Salamah and Abu Saeed Khidri, the "tathir verse" has been revealed about the Holy Prophet (s), `Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn (peace be upon all). 

 

2. In the Kisa' tradition, it has been stipulated that after placing `Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn (peace be upon all) under his cloak, the Prophet (s) said: "O Allah, these are the members of my Household." This means that no one else apart from these is viewed as the "ahl al-bayt". 

 

3. In response to Ummu Salama who asked whether she was also a member of the Household, the Prophet (s) said: "You have your own place, you are virtuous." He said no more than this. If Ummu Salama, in whose house the "tathir verse" was revealed, is not a member of the Household of the Holy Prophet (s), the verse will surely not apply to the Messenger's other wives. 

 

4. Some traditions state that based on a request from Ummu Salamah, the Prophet (s) allowed her to come under the cloak but did so after saying, "Allah these are the members of my Household" and reciting the "tathir verse". 

 

5. `Akramah Bariri (d 105 A.H.) and Urwat bin Zubayr (d 93 A.H.) are among the people who have related that the "tathirverse" has been exclusively revealed about the wives of the Prophet (s). Of course, Akramah subscribe to Khawarij ("Al-`a'lam" Zarkali, 42/5) and Urwat ("`Ayan al-Shi`ah", 309/1). Also the pronoun in the said verse is masculine not feminine. Such a narration cannot contrdict the famous tradition related by `Aishah, Ummu Salamah, and Abu Saeed Khidri, who have considered the "ahl al-bayt" to be exclusively five people. They have said that the verses coming before and after the "tathirverse" are related to the wives of the Prophet (s), so this verse should also be relevant to them. 

 

Qur'anic verses are not classified based on the order of their revelation or contents. In addition, Zayd bin Arqam who has related the authenticated Thaqalayn tradition, has stated that the wives of the Holy Prophet (s) are not regarded as the members of his Household). He was asked: "Aren't the wives of the Holy Prophet (s) considered as the members of the Household?" He replied: "The wives of the Prophet reside in the Prophet's house but the Prophet's "ahl al-bayt" are those to whom the grant of "sadaqah" is religiously unlawful." Another tradition has it that Zayd was asked to name the members of the Household of the Holy Prophet (s). He was asked whether the Prophet's wives were among his "ahl al-bayt". He replied: "No, a wife lives with a husband for a while and then might be divorced and go back to her parents." 

 

6. After citing the "tathir verse", `Ali Qari in the "Annotation to Qazi Ayaz's Shifa" (as related in "`Ayan al-Shi`ah", 309/1) has mentioned that according to a tradition narrated by Ibn `Abbas, the Prophet's "ahl al-bayt" include his wives as well. According to Abu Saeed Khidri and some followers, the "ahl al-bayt" include `Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn (peace be upon all). He says: "There is no problem if we gather these traditions together and consider both groups to be members of the Household of the Holy Prophet (s). But It would go against the Shia idea that the "tathir verse" applies only to `Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn and that they are immaculate . Even the fact that they regard the consensus of Imamiyyah `Ulama as proof to the veracity of thiswould be rejected. Abu Saeed Khidri's tradition only shows that these four are members of the Prophet's Household and does not indicate that no one else is among the "ahl al-bayt". 

But Akramah's traditions explicitly quotes Ibn `Abbas as saying that verily the "ahl al-bayt" refers to the wives of the Prophet. On the other hand, Khidir's tradition says that the Prophet said: "Only these (i.e. `Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn) are the Members of my Household." This indicates exclusive membership. How then can these two traditions be combined? For this reason, the Imamiyyah `Ulama have consensus on following the traditions of the immaculate Imams (peace be upon them all) and the distinguished disciples to the effect that the "ahl al-bayt" of the Prophet (s) are only the five people known as the "Al-e-Aba" and "Ashab Kisa'".

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"Al-Ghadir" and its Relevance to Islamic Unity

Message of Thaqalayn

Ayatullah Murtaza Mutahhari

 

Translated by Mojgan Jalali

 

Vol. 3, No. 1 and 2 (1417 AH/1996 CE)

 

The distinguished book entitled "al-Ghadir" has raised a huge wave in the world of Islam. Islamic thinkers shed light on the book in different perspectives; in literature, history, theology, tradition, tafsir, and sociology. From the social perspective we can deal with the Islamic unity. In this review the Islamic unity has been dealt with from a social point of view. 

 

Contemporary Muslim thinkers and reformists are of the view that unity and solidarity of Muslims are the most imperative Islamic exigencies at the present juncture when the enemies have made extensive inroads upon the Islamic community and have tried to resort to different ways and means to spread the old differences and create new ones. We are aware that Islamic unity and fraternity is the focus of attention of the Holy Legislator of Islam and is actually the major objective pursued by this Divine religion as firmed by the Qur'an, the "Sunnah", and the history of Islam. 

 

For this reason, some people have been faced with this question: Wouldn't the compilation and publication of a book such as "al-Ghadir" which deals with the oldest issue of differences among the Muslims- create a barrier in the way of the sublime and lofty objective of the Islamic unity? 

 

To answer this question, it is necessary first to elucidate the essence of this issue, that is, the Islamic unity, and then proceed to examine the role of the magnum opus entitled "al-Ghadir"and its eminent compiler 'Allamah Amini in bringing about Islamic unity. 

 

Islamic Unity 

 

What is meant by the Islamic unity? Does it mean that one Islamic school of thought should be unanimously followed and others be set aside? Or does it mean that the commonalties of all Islamic schools of thought should be taken up and their differences be put away to make up a new denomination which is not completely the same as the previous ones? Or does it mean that Islamic unity is in no way related to the unity of the different schools of Fiqh (jurisprudence) but signifies the unity of the Muslims and the unity of the followers of different schools of Fiqh, with their different religious ideas and views, vis-a-vis the aliens? 

 

To give an illogical and impractical meaning to the issue of the Islamic unity, the opponents of the issue have called it to be the formation of a single Madhhab, so as to defeat it in the very first step. Without doubt, by the term Islamic unity, the intellectual Islamic 'Ulama' (scholars) do not mean that all denominations should give in to one denomination or that the commonalties should be taken up and the different views and ideas be set aside, as these are neither rational and logical nor favorable and practical. By the Islamic unity these scholars mean that all Muslims should unite in one line against their common enemies. 

 

These scholars slate that Muslims have many things in common, which can serve as the foundations of a firm unity. All Muslims worship the One Almighty and believe in the Prophethood of the Holy Prophet (s). The Qur'an is the Book of all Muslims and Ka'abah is their "qiblah" (direction of prayer). They go to"hajj" pilgrimage with each other and perform the "hajj" rites and rituals like one another. They say the daily prayers and fast like each other. They establish families and engage in transactions like one another. They have similar ways of bringing up their children and burying their dead. Apart from minor affairs, they share similarities in all the aforementioned cases. Muslims also share one kind of world view, one common culture, and one grand, glorious, and long-standing civilization. 

 

Unity in the world view, in culture, in the civilization, in insight and disposition, in religious beliefs, in acts of worship and prayers, in social rites and customs can well turn the Muslim into a unified nation to serve as a massive and dominant power before which the big global powers would have to bow down. This is especially true in view of the stress laid by Islam on this principle. According to the explicit wording of the Qur'an, the Muslims are brothers, and special rights and duties link them together. So, why shouldn't the Muslims use all these extensive facilities accorded to them as the blessing of Islam? 

 

This group of 'Ulama' are of the view that there is no need for the Muslims to make any compromise on the primary or secondary principles of their religion for the sake of Islamic unity. Also it is not necessary for the Muslims to avoid engaging in discussions and reasons and writing books on primary and secondary principles about which they have differences. The only consideration for Islamic unity in this case is that the Muslims- in order to avoid the emergence or accentuation of vengeance - preserve their possession, avoid insulting and accusing each other and uttering fabrications, abandon ridiculing the logic of one another, and finally abstain from hurting one another and going beyond the borders of logic and reasoning. In fact, they should, at least, observe the limits which Islam has set forth for inviting non-Muslims to embrace it: 

 

"Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good exhortation, and have disputations with them in the best manner... "(16: 125)

Some people are of the view that those schools of fiqh, such as, Shafi'i and Hanafi which have no differences in principle should establish brotherhood and stand in one line. They believe that denominations which have differences in the principles can in no way be brothers. This group view the religious principles as an interconnected set as termed by scholars of Usul, as an interrelated and interdependent set; any damage to one principle harms all principles. 

As a result, those who believe in this principle are of the view that when, for instance, the principle of "imamah" is damaged and victimized, unity and fraternity will bear no meaning and for this reason the Shi'ah and the Sunnis cannot shake hands as two Muslim brothers and be in the same rank, no matter who their enemy is. 

 

The first group answers this group by saying: "There is no reason for us to consider the principles as an interrelated set and follow the principle of "all or none". Imam 'Ali ('a) chose a very logical and reasonable approach. He left no stone unturned to retrieve his right. He used everything within his power to restore the principle of "imamah", but he never adhered to the motto of "all or none". 'Ali ('a) did not rise up for his right, and that was not compulsory. On the contrary, it was a calculated and chosen approach. He did not fear death. Why didn't he rise up? There could have been nothing above martyrdom. Being killed for the cause of the Almighty was his ultimate desire. He was more intimate with martyrdom than a child is with his mother's breast. But in his sound calculations, Imam 'All ('a) had reached the conclusion that under the existing conditions it was to the interest of Islam to foster collaboration and cooperation among the Muslims and give up revolt. He repeatedly stressed this point. 

 

In one of his letters (No.62 "Nahj al Balaghah") to Malik al-Ashtar, he wrote the following: 

 

"First I pulled back my hand until I realized that a group of people converted from Islam and invited the people toward annihilating the religion of Muhammad(s). So I feared that if I did not rush to help Islam and the Muslims, I would see gaps or destruction which calamity would be far worse than the several-day-long demise of caliphate."

In the six-man council, after appointment of 'Uthman by 'Abdul-Rahman ibn 'Awf, 'Ali ('a) set forth his objection as well as his readiness for collaboration as follows:" 

You well know that I am more deserving than others for caliphate. But now by Allah, so long as the affairs of the Muslims are in order and my rivals suffice with setting me aside and only I am alone subjected to oppression, I will not oppose (the move) and will give in (to it)." (From Sermon 72, "Nahj al- Balaghah").

These indicate that in this issue 'Ali ('a) condemned the principle of "all or none". There is no need to further elaborate the approach taken by 'Ali ('a) toward this issue. There are ample historical proofs and reasons in this regard. 

'Allamah Amini 

 

Now it is time to see to which group the eminent 'Allamah, Ayatullah Amini - the distinguished compiler of the "al-Ghadir" - belonged and how he thought. Did he approve of the unity of the Muslims only within the light of Shi'ism? Or did he consider Islamic fraternity to be broader? Did he believe that Islam which is embraced by uttering the "shahadatayn" (the Muslim creed) would willy-nilly create some rights for the Muslims and that the brotherhood and fraternity set forth in the Qur'an exists among all Muslims? 

 

'Allamah Amini personally considered this point - i.e. the need to elucidate his viewpoint on this subject and elaborate whether"al-Ghadir" has a positive or a negative role in (the establishment of) Islamic unity. In order not to be subject to abuse by his opponent - be they among the pros and cons - he has repeatedly explained and elucidated his views. 

 

'Allamah Amini supported Islamic unity and viewed an open mind and clear insight. On different occasions, he set forth this matter in various volumes of the "al-Ghadir'. Reference will be made to some of them below: 

 

In the preface to volume I, he briefly mentions the role of "al-Ghadir" in the world of Islam. He states: "And we consider all this as service to religion, sublimation of the word of the truth, and restoration of the Islamic 'ummah' (community)." 

 

In volume 3 (page 77), after quoting the fabrications of Ibn Taymiyah, Alusi, and Qasimi to the effect that Shi 'ism is hostile to some of the Ahl al-Bayt (the Household of the Prophet) such as Zayd bin 'Ali bin al-Huseyn, he notes the following under the title of "Criticism and Correction": 

 

"These fabrications and accusations sow the seeds of corruption, stir hostilities among the 'ummah',create discord among the Islamic community, divide the 'ummah', and clash with the public interests of the Muslims.

Again in volume 3 (page 268), he quotes the accusation leveled on the Shi'ahs by Sayyid Muhammad Rashid Rida to the effect that "Shi'ahs are pleased with any defeat incurred by Muslims, so much as they celebrated the victory of the Russians over the Muslims." Then he says: 

"These falsehoods are fabricated by persons like Sayyid Muhammad Rashid Rida. The Shi'ahs of Iran and Iraq against whom this accusation is leveled, as well as the orientalists, tourists, envoys of Islamic countries, and those who traveled and still travel to Iran and Iraq, have no information about this trend. Shi'ahs, without exception, respect the lives, blood, reputation, and property of the Muslims be they Shi'ahs or Sunnis. Whenever a calamity has befallen the Islamic community anywhere, in any region, and for any sects, the Shi'ahs have shared their sorrow. The Shi'ahs have never been confined to the Shi'ah world, the (concept of) Islamic brotherhood which has been set forth in the Qur'an and the 'sunnah'(the Prophet's sayings and actions), and in this respect, no discrimination has been made between the Shi'ahs and the Sunnis."

Also at the close of volume 3, he criticizes several books penned by the ancients such as "Iqd al-Farid" by Ibn Abd al-Rabbih, "al-Intisar" by Abu al-Husayn Khayyat al-Mu'tazili,"al Farq bayn al-Firaq" by Abu Mansur al-Baghdadi, "al-Fasl" by Ibn Hazm al-Andulusi, "al-Milal wa al-Nihal" by Muhammad ibn Abdul-Karim al-Shahristani "Minhaj al-Sunnah" by Ibn Taymiah and "al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah"by Ibn Kathir and several by the later writers such as "Tarikh al-Umam al-Islamiyyah" by Shaykh Muhammad Khizri, "Fajr al Islam" by Ahmad Amin, "al-Jawlat fi Rubu al-Sharq al-Adna" by Muhammad Thabit al-Mesri, "al-Sira Bayn al-Islam wa al-Wathaniyah" by Qasimi, and "al- Washi'ah" by Musa Jarallah. Then he states the following: 

"By quoting and criticizing these books, we aim at warning and awakening the Islamic 'ummah' (to the fact) that these books create the greatest danger for the Islamic community, they destabilize the Islamic unity and scatter the Muslim lines. In fact nothing can disrupt the ranks of the Muslims, destroy their unity, and tear their Islamic fraternity more severely than these books."

'Allamah Amini, in the preface to volume 5, under title of"Nazariyah Karimah" on the occasion of a plaque of honor forwarded from Egypt for "al-Ghadir", clearly sets forth his view on this issue and leaves no room for any doubt. He remarks: 

"People are free to express views and ideas on religion. These (views and ideas) will never tear apart the bond of Islamic brotherhood to which the holy Qur'an has referred by stating that 'surely the believers are brethren'; even though academic discussion and theological and religious debates reach a peak. This has been the style of the predecessors, and of the 'sahaba' and the'tabi'un', at the head of them.

 

"Notwithstanding all the differences that we have in the primary and secondary principles, we, the compilers and writers in nooks and corners of the world of Islam, share a common point and that is belief in the Almighty and His Prophet. A single spirit and one (form of) sentiment exists in all our bodies, and that is the spirit of Islam and the term'ikhlas,"

 

"We, the Muslim compilers, all live under the banner of truth and carry out our duties under the guidance of the Qur'an and the Prophetic Mission of the Holy Prophet (s). The message of all of us is 'Surely the (true) religion with Allah is Islam ... (3:18)' and the slogan of all of us is 'There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger.' Indeed, we are (the members of) the party of Allah and the supporters of his religion.

 

 

In the preface to volume 8, under the title of "al-Ghadir Yowahhad al-Sufuf fil-Mila al-Islami", 'Allamah Amini directly makes researches into the role of "Al- Ghadir" in (the establishment of) Islamic unity. In this discussion, this great scholar categorically rejects the accusations leveled by those who said: 'Al-Ghadir' causes greater discord among the Muslims. He proves that, on the contrary, "Al-Ghadir"removes many misunderstandings and brings the Muslims closer to one another. Then he brings evidence by mentioning the confessions of the non-Shi'i Islamic scholars. At the close, he quotes the letter of Shaykh Muhammad Saeed Dahduh written in this connection. 

To avoid prolongation of this article, we will not quote and translate the entire statements of 'Allamah Amini in explaining the positive role of "al-Ghadir" in (establishing) Islamic unity, since what has already been mentioned sufficiently proves this fact. 

 

The positive role of "al-Ghadir" is established by the facts that it firstly clarifies the proven logic of the Shi'ahs and proves that the inclination of Muslims to Shi'ism - notwithstanding the poisonous publicity of some people - is not due to political, ethnic, or other trends and considerations. It also verifies that a powerful logic based on the Qur'an and the "sunnah" has given rise to this tendency. 

 

Secondly, it reflects that some accusations leveled on Shi'ism - which have made other Muslims distanced from the Shi'ah- are totally baseless and false. Examples of these accusations are the notion that the Shi'ites prefer the non-Muslims to the non- Shi'i Muslims, rejoice at the defeat of non-Shi'ite Muslims at the hands of non-Muslims, and other accusations such as the idea that instead of going to hajj pilgrimage, the Shi'ahs go on pilgrimage to shrines of the Imams, or have particular rites in prayers and in temporary marriage. 

 

Thirdly, it introduces to the world of Islam the eminent Commander of the faithful 'Ali ('a) who is the most oppressed and the least praised grand Islamic personality and who could be the leader of all Muslims, as well as his pure offspring. 

 

Other Comments on "al-Ghadir" 

 

Many unbiased non-Shia Muslims interpret the "al-Ghadir" in the same way that has already been mentioned. 

 

Muhammad Abdul-Ghani Hasan al-Mesri, in his foreword on"al-Ghadir", which has been published in the preface to volume I, second edition, states: 

 

"I call on the Almighty to make your limpid brook (in Arabic, 'Ghadir' means brook) the cause of peace and cordiality between the Shia and Sunni brothers to cooperate with one another in building the Islamic "ummah."

'Adil Ghadban, the managing editor of the Egyptian magazine entitled "al-Kitab", said the following in the preface to volume 3: 

"This book clarifies the Shi'ite logic. The Sunnis can correctly learn about the Shi'i through this book. Correct recognition of the Shi'ahs brings the views of the Shi'ahs and the Sunnis closer, and they can make a unified rank".

In his foreword to the "al-Ghadir" which was published in thepreface to volume 4, Dr. Muhammad Ghallab, professor of philosophy at the Faculty of Religious Studies al-Azhar University said: 

"I got hold of your book at a very opportune time, because right now I am busy collecting and compiling a book on the lives of the Muslims from various perspectives. Therefore, I am highly avidfor obtaining sound information about 'Imamiyah' Shi'ism. Your book will help me. And I will not make mistakes about the Shi'ahs as others have".

In this foreword published in the preface to volume 4 of the"al-Ghadir", Dr. 'Abdul-Rahman Kiali Halabi says the following after referring to the decline of the Muslims in the present age and the factors which can lead to the Muslims' salvation, one of which is the sound recognition of the successor of the Holy Prophet (s): 

"The book entitled "al-Ghadir" and its rich content deserves to be known by every Muslim to learn how historians have been negligent and see where the truth lies. Through this means, we should compensate for the past, and by striving to foster the unity of the Muslims, we should try to gain the due rewards".

These were the views of 'Allamah Amini about the important social issues of our age and such were his sound reflections in the world of Islam.  Peace be upon him.

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