The intellectual criteria of a Marja’ – Part 2 – Understanding Judicial Laws vs Understanding Religion

When we say that the problem of tradition and modernity can be solved through the process of ijtihad – bearing in mind that human development and modernisation comprises all aspects of life, including natural and intellectual dimensions – it is because the quranic meaning of fiqh is broader and more comprehensive than the mere judicial laws governing the relationship between God and the human being (as is commonly understood by contemporary scholars and the religious seminaries as a whole), but should also include the relationship between the human and his fellow human, and the human and his surrounding environment. Quranically, fiqh is not what is written in the books of practical laws (risalah ‘amaliyah), but should address all issues and problems in our daily lives, both on a personal level and in society as a whole.

On a religious level, this comprehensiveness must therefore include all aspects of ones belief, of which doctrines (aqa’id) should be at the forefront of a mujtahid’s specialisation. Aspiring scholars should ask themselves: should there be ijtihad in theology, philosophy, morals, etc?

This brings us back to the verse in the last postلِّيَتَفَقَّهُوا فِي الدِّينِ (‘to obtain understanding in religion’), where the word ‘fiqh’ linguistically means ‘to arrive at an unknown (piece of knowledge) through a known (piece of knowledge), so it is more specific than knowledge.’ [1]; since knowledge can occur by merely standing in front of an object, where that object is imprinted as a mental image in the mind, which is a piece of knowledge gained by the individual without any effort.

So ‘obtaining understanding in religion’ by necessity means to obtain understanding in all aspects of religion (in the absolute sense [2]) in order to answer and deal with all contemporary issues faced by muslim communities around the world. However, this isn’t generally the case when one investigates the current seminary system, or what is generally understood the role of the mujtahid to be (unfortunately and to the detriment of this respected establishment, however don’t be fooled in thinking that this has always been the case..! [3]).

Narrations supporting the Quranic definition of ‘fiqh’

1) ‘When a true believer dies the angels and the parts of earth where he worshipped Allah weep because of his death. Also the doors of the heavens through which his good deeds had been taken up weep and it causes an irreparable damage in the Islamic system. It is because the true believing Fuqaha, people of proper understanding in religion and its laws are the strongholds of the Islamic system just as the fortress around a city is a stronghold for it.’ [4]

So, if someone specialises in one aspect of religion, like judicial laws dealing with an individuals relationship with God, does that make him a protector of Islam? In fact, he is but one part of a larger ‘fortress’ that is protecting Islam, and not the entire structure.

And this is why we need to be more specific on who we class to be a specialist in lesser fiqh (in the commonly understood sense of the word), and those experts or mujtahids in greater fiqh (in the more general sense of the word, which includes doctrines and akhlaq, etc), since we will rarely find someone who will encompass and be knowledgeable in all aspects of religion.

2) ‘The scholars are the heirs of the prophets,…’ [5]

It is evident that the role of the Prophets wasn’t limited to explaining the judicial laws, especially considering that only 10% (or less) of the Quran deals with such matters. So for those who wish to become heirs to the Holy Prophet (s) and his pure progeny (as), should think deeply about these narrations and the preceding quranic discussion before taking on such a heavy burden…! Yet how easy it is to spend 5-10 years studying laws dealing with purity of water and doubts in salat…!! And yet even with such a limited and narrow view of the word fiqh, we find dereliction in dealing with contemporary issues of muslim communities living in the west.


[1] Al Mufradat (arabic lexicon of quranic words and their meanings), by Ragheb al-Isfahani, pg 642, under the root word (f q h).

[2] ‘Religion’ or ‘deen’, is quranically defined to mean that way of life that brings mankind happiness in this world with spiritual perfection in the herafter. (for further info see blog posts under ‘Philosophy of Religion’)

[3] One example of a traditional understanding of fiqh can be seen in the words of Imam  al-Ghazali and Sheikh al-Baha’i, who considered this contemporary definition of fiqh to be a new phenomenon unheard of in previous eras of scholarly work. Al Ghazali considered the word fiqh to mean the science of the hereafter and to understand the issues dealing with the soul and those deeds that harm it, and with the ability to understand the material world vis a vis other realms especially the hereafter. He uses the verse of warning (Al Tawbah:122) as evidence in this regard, since warning involves knowledge of those aspects of religion dealing with doctrines in general, and the hereafter in particular. (see Al Mahajah al Baydha’, by Faidh al Kashani, Vol1, pg81).

[4] Usool Al Kafi, Vol1, pg38, H3.

[5] Usool Al Kafi, Vol1, pg46, H5.


The intellectual criteria of a Marja’ – Part 1 – The Quranic meaning of ‘fiqh’

The Shia School prides itself in opening the door for ijtihad from the first days of Islam, but I will not dwell on its importance here and the evidence for its need to keep up with the changing times, since there is no disagreement on this aspect (although there are different views in defining ijtihad [1]). Shaheed Al Sadr says: ‘Ijtihad allows the muslims to apply islamic theory to daily life, since pracitcal application cannot happen until ijtihad defines the theory and its details.’ [2]

The differences in opinion arose with differing views on the role of the mujtahid and the extent of his responsibilities (although the responsibilites are clearly stated in the Quran and narrations as we’ll see below..).

Imam Khomeini’s view on Ijtihad: ‘We have limited ourselves to a small part of juristic laws, and left many aspects untouched and therefore many aspects of ijtihad remain strange to us.’ [3] He saw that the ijtihad being performed at the religious seminaries was not enough to tackle all the issues faced by the muslim nations, due to the wrong understanding of ijtihad and intellectual standstill due to the focus on the individual and not the society as a whole. The solution he proposed was: ‘Islam deals with all aspects of life, and gave corresponding laws for each (aspect).’

This is where the correct understanding of fiqh becomes critical in understanding the correct purpose of ijtihad and the correct role of the mujtahid. And, as always, to establish the correct meaning of any religious concept, we must go to the Quran:

وَمَا كَانَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لِيَنفِرُ‌وا كَافَّةً ۚ فَلَوْلَا نَفَرَ‌ مِن كُلِّ فِرْ‌قَةٍ مِّنْهُمْ طَائِفَةٌ لِّيَتَفَقَّهُوا فِي الدِّينِ وَلِيُنذِرُ‌وا قَوْمَهُمْ إِذَا رَ‌جَعُوا إِلَيْهِمْ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَحْذَرُ‌ونَ

‘And it does not beseem the believers that they should go forth all together; why should not then a company from every party from among them go forth that they may apply themselves to obtain understanding in religion, and that they may warn their people when they come back to them that they may be cautious?’ [4]

Before talking about the meaning of the word ‘fiqh’ or ‘tafaquh’ in this verse, another important phrase is ‘why should not’ (فَلَوْلَا), which is used as an exhortation to do a certain thing, in this case: ‘to obtain understanding in religion’, i.e. it is obligatory (for all or some) to obtain religious knowledge.

The verse then defines the role of those who obtained religious knowledge to be ‘that they may warn their people when they come back to them’, correlating understanding in religion with warning, deeming knowledge on its own to be insufficient without spreading it to those who lack it. But what does ‘when they come back to them’ mean? They must have gone somewhere to return to their people. It is evident, then, that migration of those tasked with obtaining knowledge and then returning to their people, having gathered all necessary information and experience, is fundamental to ‘warning’ them and providing themselves and others with the tools to counter any (intellectual) threat they might face.

Allamah al-Tabatabai’s view on the verse: ‘Hence it is clear that the intended meaning of ‘becoming learned’ (tafaquh) is to gain an understanding of all religious sciences, whether the roots of the religion or its branches, and not just the practical laws, which is the formal meaning of fiqh amongst religious people. The proof for this is first, to become learned in religion and second, and to warn their people… because they can only warn their people if they have an understanding of all aspects of the religion, including that which will occasion divine reward or punishment in the Hereafter.’ [5]

Knowledge in religion (tafaquh) in narrations

The narrations dealing with the importance of knowledge and the obligation of its acquisition are numerous, I will mention just one relevant to our discussion above:

Imam al-Sadiq (as) said: ‘Become learned in religion, for those who do not are desert dwellers (i.e. ignorant and lacking knowledge)’ [6]

The term ‘desert dwellers’ should not be taken as an insult, as the Quran has given a clear definition for this group in society:

قَالَتِ الْأَعْرَ‌ابُ آمَنَّا ۖ قُل لَّمْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَلَـٰكِن قُولُوا أَسْلَمْنَا وَلَمَّا يَدْخُلِ الْإِيمَانُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ

‘The dwellers of the desert say: We believe. Say: You do not believe but say, We submit; and faith has not yet entered into your hearts..’ [7]

The desert dwellers are far removed from the centres of knowledge and culture, which will have an effect on their spiritual and behavioural conduct.


[1] See: ‘Ijtihad: its meaning, sources, beginning and practice of ra’y’

[2] Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr: ‘Future directions of the Ijtihad movement’, Al Ghadeer magazine, Dec 1980.

[3] Imam Ruhollah Khomeini, ‘Islamic Government’, pg65.

[4] Al Tawbah:122

[5] Allamah Tabataba’i, Tafsir Al Mizan, Vol9, pg337.

[6] Usul al Kafi, Vol1, pg31, H6.

[7] Al Hujurat:14

The correct understanding of the Imam’s role

The Imam’s role, as laid out by the Quran, can be summed as follows:

1) To possess the religious authority and source of emulation, and the juristic dimension of clarifying the religious concepts like doctrines, ethics and laws. From this follows that he should be the only one to be obeyed and followed, and therefore his words and actions are on par with the words and actions of the Holy Prophet (s). [1]

2) It is evident that this role requires the Imam to be infallible to the same extent as the Holy Prophet (s) was (i.e. any speech or action that goes against the position of servitude towards God). So the requirement of infallibility is for conveying the religious concepts, and not to prove his ability to lead the people and manage their affairs, as the Sunni school (mis)understood.

3) And once their infallibility is proven, the philosophy of selection/appointment becomes clear, since it (infallibility) is a hidden quality and cannot be established through election and choice of the people, but through divine selection and appointment.

4) The above points do not remove the fact that the divine scripture and narrations indeed have given the political leadership to the Imam as well. [2]

5) The continuity of Imamah will become clear when I address the existential dimension of the Imam in later posts.

So the framework for these posts should be clear with respect to the role of Imamah to consist:

1) The existential role (takweeni)

2) The juristic/religious role (tashree’i)

3) The political leadership

4) The best moral/ethical example

Also, the fundamental aspects of Imamah can be summarised to be:

+ Infallibility

+ Divine selection/appointment

+ Continuity

+ Special knowledge acquired through non-conventional means


[1] See Surah Al-Hashr:7 – وَمَا آتَاكُمُ الرَّ‌سُولُ فَخُذُوهُ وَمَا نَهَاكُمْ عَنْهُ فَانتَهُوا  – ‘And whatever the Messenger has given you – take; and what he has forbidden you – refrain from.’

[2] See Al-Ma’idah:3, 55 & 67 – 

الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي وَرَ‌ضِيتُ لَكُمُ الْإِسْلَامَ دِينًا – ‘This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion.’

إِنَّمَا وَلِيُّكُمُ اللَّـهُ وَرَ‌سُولُهُ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا الَّذِينَ يُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَاةَ وَيُؤْتُونَ الزَّكَاةَ وَهُمْ رَ‌اكِعُونَ – ‘Only Allah is your Vali and His Apostle and those who believe, those who keep up prayers and pay the poor-rate while they bow.’

يَا أَيُّهَا الرَّ‌سُولُ بَلِّغْ مَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكَ مِن رَّ‌بِّكَ ۖ وَإِن لَّمْ تَفْعَلْ فَمَا بَلَّغْتَ رِ‌سَالَتَهُ – ‘O Apostle! deliver what has been revealed to you from your Lord; and if you do it not, then you have not delivered His message’


Mulla Sadra – Proving His Sublime Existence

Know that the wayfarers who prove [His] attributes by [His] effects and by [His] attributes prove [His]  essence follow different ways. The best of them are two. The first is to know the human soul: ‘And in your souls.Will you not then perceive?'(51:21). THis is the best way next to the way [proof] of the righteous (siddiqin). [Mulla Sadra, Divine Manifestations, Part One – Second Manifestation, pg 23, English version] 

One should know that the soul from its physical conception to the end of its highest intellectual perfection is in constant change and alteration in its essence and continuous motion and revolution in its substance. Sometimes it is a physical power and some other times it is a natural form; sometimes it is a sensitive soul in its different degrees and sometimes it is imagining, recollecting and reflecting, and rational. It acquires theoretical intelligence after it gaining practical intelligence in different degrees, from potential intelligence to actual intelligence and the active intelligence that is called the ‘commanding spirit’ by Allah: ‘Say, The Spirit is of the command of my Lord’ (17:85). Evidently that which makes it leave the potential for the actual, and deficiency for perfection, must be absolutely actual in its essence, and its truth must be free from any potentiality to avoid the impossible regress. 

On the other hand, that being should either be necessary in its being or one of the intellectual angels, those who ‘do not disobey whatever Allah has commanded them’ (66:6). Nevertheless, the existence of an intellectual immaterial being is inconceivable unless through the existence of the exalted Necessary Being. This, next to the Proof if the Righteous (burhan al siddiqin), is the best argument though there insufficient space to explain it in detail. [Hasan al Nuri, Ashtiyani, Khamene’i, commentary on above passage]  

في إثبات وجوده تعالى – ملا صدرا

اعلم أنّ السالكين الذين يستدلّون بوجود الآثار على الصفات، و من الصفات على الذات، لهم طرق كثيرة، أجودها طريقان :
أحدهما معرفة النفس الإنسانية: ( وَ فِي أَنْفُسِكُمْ أَ فَلََاتُبْصِرُونَ). هذا أجود الطرق، بعد طريق الصدّيقين

«أحدهما معرفة النفس الإنسانية »، بأن يعرف أن النفس من مبدأ تكوّنها الجسماني إلى منتهى كمالها العقلاني دائما في التّحولات و الاستحالات الذّاتية و الانقلاب و التبدّلات و الحركات الجوهرية فتارة تكون قوّة جسمانية، و طورا تكون صورة طبيعيّة و أخرى تكون نفسا حساسا على درجاتها، ثم مصوّرة ثم مفكّرة ذاكرة، ثم ناطقة، ثم يحصل له العقل النظري بعد العملي، على درجاته من حدّ العقل بالقوّة إلى حدّ العقل بالفعل، و العقل الفعال المعبّر عنه بالروح الأمري في قوله تعالى: ( قُلِ الرُّوحُ مِنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّي

و ذلك الموجود إما واجب الوجود و إمّا ملك من الملائكة العقليّة، الذين ( لََا يَعْصُونَ اللََّهَ مََا أَمَرَهُمْ وَ يَفْعَلُونَ مََا يُؤْمَرُونَ) . و إثبات وجود المفارق العقلي لا ينفك و لا يتصوّر إلّا بإثبات الواجب تعالى.و أمّا كون هذه الطريقة أجود الطريق بعد طريق الصديقين، فالمجال لا يسع بيانه تفصيلا و الإشارة إليه إجمالا أنه: كما أن في طريقة الصدّيقين يحصل معرفته تعالى ذاتا و صفة و فعلا كذلك في هذه الطريقة، كما ورد عنه عليه السلام: «من عرف نفسه فقد عرف ربّه ». فتعرّف

Video: Sunni scholars celebrate their ignorance! – UPDATE: Video now added!

My video post showing the praise written in sunni books, on the greatness of Sheikh Al Mufid and his love of knowledge and teaching others. Then, one of the most famous sunni scholars celebrates his ignorance by admitting he never read a book written by Al Mufid.

Video: Hadith Al Thaqalayn – 1400 years of deception

My video post on the distortions in Prophetic narrations, and specifically the famous narration of the ‘Two Weighty Things (Al Thaqalayn)’, where the version of ‘the book of Allah and my Sunnah’ has been pushed as the most authentic for 1400 years. And here we show that in fact, this version has NO scientific basis whatsoever.

This video is a translation of Seyyed Kamal Al Haydari’s appearance on Al Kawthar channel on his weekly program ‘الاطروحه المهدوية’.