Guardianship of the Jurist – It’s reality, extent & evidences (Part 2)

So far we’ve covered authority over the issuance of religious edicts (fatwas) and adjudication and huduud/executing the law. On these two subjects we have so far not seen any major differences between the scholars, who one way or another, see that the religious jurist is duty bound to ensure these responsibilities are taken care of.

Obviously, this can’t happen without a state and institutions. Someone must have the authority in order to enforce these adjudications and establish justice amongst the people. And if this person cannot, for whatever reason, do this from a position of leadership, he should at least demand authority over the judicial institutions. (this view is held by the majority of Shia scholars)

The fourth level of authority under question is what is known as authority over the ‘permission to act’ (couldn’t come up with a better translation), which is related to any social matter requiring consent of the guardian/ruler/person in authority, when an individual wants to do something that could affect his community and/or the environment, things to do with property, finance, security etc (See Sh al-Ansari in ‘al Makasib, vol3 pg553: He sees that this authority is extremely important and covers ALL social aspects when an action of one affects the lives of others. And this authority, he says, is the same authority given to the Prophet and Imam, and violating the ruling of the religious jurist in this instance is like violating the ruling of the Prophet and Imam). Again, this authority requires the jurist to be in a position of leadership for him to be able to manage the affairs of the people and ensure a stable and just society is established. He uses the following narration as evidence:

وأما الحوادث الواقعة فارجعوا فيها إلى رواة حديثنافأنهم حجتي عليكم وأنا حجة الله

‘.. for the occurring incidents turn to the narrators of our hadith, since they are my hujja on you, and I am God’s hujja..’

Therefore, all these authorities that have been given to the Imam, are passed down to the religious jurist, since they are his representatives, and he is the representative of God, who has been given guardianship over such matters.

Important to note that the Imam says go to the religious jurist and obtain his view/ruling on ‘the occurring incidents..’, and not: ‘go to the jurist to obtain God’s ruling on the matters’. And Sh al-Ansari considers this to be the main argument for the absolute guardianship of the religious jurist during the greater occultation.

So if this is the view of Sh al-Ansari, who helped put Najaf on the Shia hawza map, and he explicitly states in his book that there is no dispute over this concept amongst Shia scholars (of his time), how is it such a taboo subject nowadays? And more importantly, how can Seyyed Al Khoei claim that there is no explicit statement from the Imam giving such absolute authority to the religious jurists during the greater occultation?

Up to here, we can safely say that there is consensus over these four levels of guardianship and authority. However due to the scholars distancing themselves from positions of government (because of various reasons), this has affected the cultural mindset of people in to thinking that the extent of guardianship given to the religious jurist is limited to issuing religious edicts/fatwas and resolving disputes. Here’s Sh. Al Najafi with the clearest of statements on this matter (his book al Jawahir, vol21, pg 396-7):

الجواهر، ج21، ص396 و 397:  قال الكركي في المحكي من رسالته التي ألفها في صلاة الجمعة اتفق أصحابنا على أن الفقيه العادل الأمين الجامح لشرائط الفتوى المعبر عنه بالمجتهد في الأحكام الشرعية نائب من قبل أئمة الهدى في حال الغيبة في جميع ما للنيابة فيه مدخل بل القطع بأولوية الفقيه في ذلك بعد أن جعله الإمام عليه السلام حاكماً وخليفة وبأن الضرورة قاضية بذلك في قبض الحقوق العامة والولايات ونحوها بعد تشديدهم في النهي عن الرجوع إلى قضاة الجور وعلمائهم وحكامهم بعد علمهم بكثرة شيعتهم في جميع الأطراف طول الزمان وبغير ذلك مما يظهر بأدنى تأمل في النصوص وملاحظتهم حال الشيعة وخصوصاً علمائهم في زمن الغيبة وكفى بالتوقيع الذي جاء للمفيد من الناحية المقدسة وما اشتمل عليه من التبجيل والتعظيم، بل لولا عموم الولاية لبقي كثير من الأمور المتعلقة بشيعتهم معطلة. فمن الغريب وسوسة بعض الناس في ذلك أنه ما ذاق من طعم الفقه شيئاً

‘..our associates are in agreement that the just trustworthy religious jurist who encompasses the necessary conditions to issue religious edicts, otherwise known as mujtahid in the religious laws, is a deputy of the Imams of Guidance during the occultation in ALL that which this deputation is associated with. In fact, they are certain of this matter, since the Imam has made him (the jurist), a ruler and khalifah, and due to the necessity of obtaining the public rights themselves, since the people have been prohibited from resorting to the unjust judges and their scholars and rulers. This matter becomes evident after a little contemplation over the available narrations, and understanding the state of their Shia and their scholars during the occultation, especially from the letter that was given to Sh. al Mufid reverencing and venerating such scholars. In fact, if it wasn’t for this general guardianship, a lot of problems of the Shia would remain unresolved. I find it strange that some still doubt this, it can only be due to his lack of knowledge in religious jurisprudence…’

The fifth level of authority is where the main dispute becomes evident.  Our starting point for this type of guardianship is the quranic verse:

النَّبِيُّ أَوْلَىٰ بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ مِنْ أَنفُسِهِمْ

‘The Prophet has a greater claim on the faithful than they have on themselves..’ [33:6]

What does ‘a greater claim‘ mean in this verse? Is it absolute or constrained? There is consensus amongst the specialists of quranic exegesis (of all sects) that this claim is absolute (see Al Tabari, Tabataba’i). So if a muslim wanted something, and the Prophet wanted something else, related to a worldly or afterlife matter, then the Prophet’s view has priority.

Question arises on whether this ‘greater claim’  or priority is related to social matters as well. Sh. Al Ansari’s view is that it is absolute and does include matters that affect society, and in this regard Seyyed al Khoei agrees. Also, in short, it is proven that this status is also valid for Imam Ali and his holy household. What we need to establish is whether this authority stands for the religious jurist, or not.

This is where Sh Al Ansari’s earlier comment (in Part 1 of this discussion) becomes clear, in that he considers all previous four aspects to be part of the guardianship of the jurist, except this particular authority of ‘priority’, for which he has not found evidence for its inclusion.


Guardianship Of The Jurist- Its reality, extent & evidences (Part 1)

The office of his eminence Ayatullah Seyyed Kamal Al Haydari have started uploading Kharej fiqh lectures from 5 years ago on two previously unreleased topics, namely wilayat-ul-faqih (guardianship of the jurist), and al insaan al kaamil (the perfect human). Considering this topic is still fiercely debated, and still confuses a lot of people (muslim and non-muslim alike), I hope that posting the videos and associated english summaries will benefit all. (Note: this is not just a translation of the most important parts of the lecture(s), but I will contribute as well with my own comments, so if you’ve got questions or issues with what’s written, please refer to the precise wording so I can differentiate between the two):

He starts the discussion by posing the two main questions that are the basis of this topic:

1) whether guardianship of all religious matters is valid for the religious jurisprudent during the greater occultation of Imam Mahdi (ajf), and whether it is not

2) If he is granted such authority and responsibility (in effect, the same responsibility -not status- of the Prophet and Imam), what is the extent of this guardianship/custodianship

He then asks: What are the known views on the permissibility of establishing an Islamic State during the greater occultation?

Answer to that, is that there are 2 distinct opinions:

a) that is it not permissible and forbidden

b) that it is permissible – and within this group, there are 2 sub-groups –

one that says it is obligatory to establish islamic rule, by all means necessary;

and the other, that it is permissible, if the right conditions and circumstances are present.

The first group had used the following narrations as evidence:

في (وسائل الشيعة, طبعة مؤسسة آل البيت, المجلد الخامس عشر, ص50, هناك بابٌ تحت عنوان: باب حكم الخروج بالسيف قبل قيام القائم×) مجموعة من الروايات, الروايات بعضها صحيحة السند, الآن لسنا بصدد بحثها

الرواية الأولى: >عن علي ابن الحسين× قال: والله لا يخرج أحدٌ منّا قبل خروجه (عليه أفضل الصلاة والسلام) إلاّ كان مثله كمثل فرخٍ طار من وكره قبل أن يستوي جناحاه فأخذه الصبيان فعبثوا به<. هذا تمثيل كل حكومة قبل قيامه (عليه أفضل الصلاة والسلام)

رواية ثانية: >قال أبو عبد الله الصادق×: يا سدير إلزم بيتك وكن حلساً من أحلاسه واسكن ما سكن الليل والنهار فإذا بلغك أن السفياني قد خرج فارحل إلينا ولو على رجلك< إذن هذه المدّة لابد أن تكون حلسة بيوتكم. >قال: يا ابن رسول الله أين نجد العافية أو الراحلة؟ قال: تسعة في اعتزال الناس وواحدة في الصمت< أولاً: أصلاً لا تختلط معهم, وإذا اضطررت للاختلاط اسكت, هذه روايات موجودة في تراثنا الفقهي

روايةٌ أخرى: قال في خطبةٍ له أمير المؤمنين >ألزموا الأرض واصبروا على البلاء ولا تحركوا بأيديكم

قال: >ألزموا الأرض واصبروا على البلاء ولا تحركوا بأيديكم وبسيوفكم في هوا ألسنتكم ولا تستعجلوا بما لم يعجل الله لكم, فإنه من مات منكم على فراشه وهو على معرفة حق ربه .. هذا أفضل…< إلى آخر ذلك

رواية أخرى: -ولعلها صحيحة السند- قال: >كل راية ترفع قبل رايته (عليه أفضل الصلاة والسلام) فصاحبها طاغوتٌ يعبد من دون الله عز وجل

The jist of these narrations is that it is a bad idea, and not advisable, and one should remain at home and in seclusion and not speak up. The last narration states that any banner that is raised before the appearance of the Imam, is a banner of taghuut that is worshipped beside Allah (swt).. so quite harsh words.

So the first group has a very easy and relaxed life, where they don’t involve themselves in any socio-political activity to lay the groundworks of an islamic state, or even if an islamic state was established by pure coincidence, or on the back of tanks, they would not involve themselves (at least they claim not to….).

As for the second group:

sub-group 1 is of the view that the laying the groundworks for the right conditions of establishing an islamic state is obligatory on all muslims by any means necessary (even by the use of force), just as ablution is obligatory before prayer. This is the view of Mirza Jawadi Tabrizi.

sub-group 2 is of the view that laying the groundworks for establishing the islamic state is obligatory subject to the right conditions to arise, as in the ruling with respect to hajj, which is only obligatory on those who are able to perform this religious duty.

So what’s our duty? The answer to this partially lies in the life of the Imams, to see how they reacted when faced with such a choice.

Seyyed Kamal considers this topic more important than any personal religious duty, including salah, and I hope you too appreciate why.

He then continues to pose the question on WHO should take charge of this hypothetical islamic state, assuming one is established by some means, and what is the extent of his authority/responsibility?

He makes it a point to clarify that the Jurist / Faqih in question here, is not the commonly known scholar of fiqh that gives religious rulings on personal religious matters, but the wholistic jurist combining all necessary qualitiies of a leader of the islamic state, which includes bravery and awareness of all socia-political, economic and other current affairs of the era he’s living in. CLearly these are not conditions to become a mujtahid of basic fiqh matters.

On the extent of the jurist’s authority there are 4 views:

1) One held by Seyyed Al Khoei (ra), where he claims that there is no evidence whatsoever that the jurist has any sort of authority over muslims, and that ‘his guardianship should be limited to non-litigious matters (al-omour al-hesbiah)[1] including religious endowments (Waqf)[2] judicial matters[3] and the property for which no specific person is responsible.’ (see wikipedia entry as reference to this sentence). If you require references, please let me know.

2) One held by Shaheed Al Sadr, where he suggests that his guardianship is limited to the ‘void’ left between the halal and haram matters (where he has No say in the matter), and the matters which are mustahab and makruh (where he does have a say in the matter, if the need arose).

First the Seyyed re-emphasizes Seyyed Al Khoei’s view, which is that he does not believe that the religious jurist has been given any guardianship whatsoever (even juristic), but he is duty-bound to deal with certain non-litigious matters out of necessity. So, the religious faqih does have a responsibility to deal with social matters in the islamic society, unlike the first group which rejected this responsibility. He shouldn’t just state what the religious ruling is, but make sure the judgement is executed in accordance with islamic law. (references available if required)

The 3rd theory, is a contemporary theory unheard of before the islamic revolution in Iran, and states that: the religious jurist (faqih), who encompasses all required qualities, has been given all responsibilities of the infallible Imam in order to manage the affairs of the islamic ummah, but on condition that the islamic nation elects him first.

To clarify more:

– the islamic nation has a religious obligation to elect a guardian (waliy), who has certain characteristics, these characteristics have been made clear by the infallible Imam

– the guardianship of the faqih has been given to the religious jurist by the Imam

– but in order for this guardianship to take effect, the islamic ummah has to elect the faqih, who has those all-encompassing characteristics.

As an example, we can say there is amongst us in the community someone who has all necessary qualities to lead the community in prayer, however the community decides against selecting him to be the Imam of the mosque. Therefore, all those qualities that he has are of no use to the community unless they select him to be Imam.

Again I re-emphasise, the Muslims DO NOT have a choice whether to elect a guardian or not, this is a religious duty, just as ablution is a religious duty before prayer. It is the duty of the Muslims to identify and elect the right leader to guide them to prosperity and progress.

Also, it is the religious duty of the religious establishment to educate the Muslim ummah in such a way in order for it to make the right choice! Otherwise, they would end up with the likes of those who followed after the death of the Prophet (s).

Evidence from narrations:

There are many, I will just list a few,


  >عن الإمام أمير المؤمنين× قال: دعوني والتمسوا غيري واعلموا إن أجبتكم< إذن الدعوة ممن؟ من الأمة >إن أجبتكم ركبت بكم ما أعلم ولم أصغ إلى قول القائل وعتب العاتب وإن تركتموني فأنا كأحدكم 

 ولعلّي أسمعكم وأطوعكم لمن وليتموه أمركم

 >وقد كان رسول الله’ عهد إليّ عهداً فقال يا ابن أبي طالب لك ولاءُ أمتي,  >فإن ولوك في عافيةٍ وأجمعوا عليك بالرضا فقم بأمرهم وإن اختلفوا عليك فدعهم وما هم فيه

قال رسول الله’ يقول لأمته >إن تولوها عليّاً تجدوه هادياً مهدياً


 >حتى إذا قبض الله رسوله<رجع قومٌ على الأعقاب وغالتهم السبل واتكلوا على الولائج ووصلوا غير الرحم وهجروا السبب الذي امروا بمودته

In short, this guardianship can be called ‘Guardianship by Election’.

One last point on this, is the verse in Surah Hadid:25

لَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا رُسُلَنَا بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ وَأَنزَلْنَا مَعَهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْمِيزَانَ لِيَقُومَ النَّاسُ بِالْقِسْطِ ۖ وَأَنزَلْنَا الْحَدِيدَ فِيهِ بَأْسٌ شَدِيدٌ وَمَنَافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ وَلِيَعْلَمَ اللَّـهُ مَن يَنصُرُهُ وَرُسُلَهُ بِالْغَيْبِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ قَوِيٌّ عَزِيزٌ﴿٢٥

Certainly We sent Our apostles with clear arguments, and sent down with them the Book and the balance that men may conduct themselves with equity; and We have made the iron, wherein is great violence and advantages to men, and that Allah may know who helps Him and His apostles in the secret; surely Allah is Strong, Mighty. (25)

First point: the apostles of GOd have been sent to make clear the religious teachings (fatwa), and then with the help of the people, to establish justice on earth. It is interesting that the emphasis is on the PEOPLE, who are duty-bound to establish justice, and not the apostle. And how can we establish this justice? With Iron. It’s no use to merely give speeches and to set up conventions and seminars, justice can only be established with a powerful security system in place.

The 4th theory: just a summary today, tomorrow will come the details, which is the absolute wilayah of the jurist, as defined by Imam Khomeini (ra).

All responsibilities of the infallible Imam have been given, by appointment of the Imam, over to the most capable individual -and not just the religious jurist- to guide the islamic ummah. Not just any individual, but he who has satisfied the characteristics defined by the infallible Imam.

So the 3rd theory was by election, this guardianship is by anointment, or by appointment of the infallible Imam, and the muslims have no say in this whatsoever.

Seyyed Kamal clarifies a point regarding the third theory (elected wilayah): that the consent of the people to elect such a leader has to have a form of external manifestation, which according to scripture is the bay’ah, or pledge of allegiance. These sources (Quran & Sunnah) are too numerous to list, and most are well known so no need to repeat here.

What he tries to emphasise here though is this point: that all Prophets & Imams did not take guardianship or leadership by force, but through consent of their followers. None of them said, if you don’t elect me so and so will happen. None of them used the sword or force or terror to subjugate people into submission.  So one aspect of accepting Islam and the Prophet and the Imam relies on the shahadatayn (bearing witness), and the other to the pledge of allegiance, so that the guardian and his followers are TOGETHER able to establish justice and prosperity on Earth (while defending their religion), examples in history are many, one of which is Ghadeer Khumm, and the Prophet’s command to pledge allegiance to Imam Ali (as). The need for this pledge was the manifestation of the people’s consent to have him as their ruler and guardian, where verbal or visual consent is not enough.

He then continues to show why Bani Ummayah have tried since the times of Mu’awiyah to prove that the pledge of allegiance and the khilafah of Imam Ali is null and void, but I won’t go into that here.

Continuing with the 4th theory: 

we said that this guardianship is like that of the father over his son, where the son has no say in the matter. we also said that whatever authority and power given to the Prophet and Imam (by God), is given to the jurist/faqih during the greater occultation.

This theory has been attributed to Imam Khomeini (qs), and recently there have been accusations from here and there, that this theory is has no roots in the Najafi school (the neo-Najafi school post Sh Al Ansari), and is unique to the Qomi school… They claim that it is widely accepted by the scholars that this theory of absolute guardianship has no proponent, apart from Imam Khomeini. Is that true though? Let’s see what the following scholars (from Najaf), have to say*:

1) Sh Naraqi, student of Sh Ja’afar Kashif al Qhita’: in his book ‘Awaid al Ayam, pg 529: summary of what he says there is that the wilayah belongs to God essentially, and He has given it to the Prophets and Imams, and to the religious jurists who are the representatives of the Imam during the greater occultation and his wilayah entails a) all wilayah authority given to the Prophet and Imam, and b) every matter to do with the people’s worldly and religious affairs that have to be dealt with to resolve problems, disputes, protecting the countries’ borders, etc (as in S al Khoei’s theory).

2) Sh Muhammad Hussein al Najafi, in his famous book Jawahir al Kalam, vol40, pg15: there is evidence that during the greater occultation the religious jurist has guardianship over the judicial affairs (whereas S al Khoei said there is NO evidence for ANY kind of guardianship, even judicial), and that this evidence helps to conclude that absolute guardianship, as per the Imam, is given to the jurist.

Seyyed Kamal then pleads with his students not to belittle or ridicule others who do not accept this theory, or vice versa. These are opinions which should be respected, whether they agree or not. He also noted that these two scholars lived before the IRI even existed, so nobody can accuse them that the IRI had any influence on their judgement.

The exact phrase of Sh al Najafi is this:

 ويمكن بناء ذلك بل لعله الظاهر على إرادة النصب العام في كل شيء

على وجه يكون له ما للإمام عليه السلام

i.e every responsibility given to the Imam during his presence, is given to the jurist during the greater occultation.

His argument is based on the following proof:

– the famous narration of Imam Mahdi (ajf): فأما الحوادث الواقعة فارجعوا فيها إلى رواة حديثنا فأنهم حجتي عليكم وأنا حجة الله

Sh al Najafi comments on this narration, that ‘this necessitates that the jurists (the narrators of their hadith), are the Imam’s hujja on the muslims on EVERY matter that he is a hujja over them, except that which is proven otherwise.

Seyyed Kamal then shows that Seyyed Sabzawari is of the same view, in his book ‘Mahthab al ahkam, fi bayani al halal wal haram, vol 16 pg364-365. He’s even more explicit and states that the jurist has guardianship as if he IS the Imam.

Just goes to show that Imam Khomeini is not the only one who viewed guardianship to be absolute during the greater occultation, as we saw by these scholars who lived before the revolution in Iran.

Seyyed Kamal then briefly mentions the view of Sh al Ansari, who states that it is IMPOSSIBLE to prove that the jurist (who satisfies the necessary requirements) has the same guardianship as that of the Imam during the greater occultation. (see al Makasib vol3 pg 553)

It is of the Seyyed’s view, that the scholars did not resolve the main point of dispute, therefore he continues from now onwards to do so before arriving at some conclusion. This is the Seyyed’s approach with all religious concepts, and has done so most methodically, like no one before him, on the concept of Imamah (see his publications on the subject).

(Please note that these lectures came as a request from his students during the course of the regular sessions on khums, and therefore he doesn’t go into extreme detail)

From the following lectures it should become apparent what the true views of each scholar is, and whether they agree or disagree with each other.

First step is to define what the wilayah/guardianship that is given to the Imam actually is, so that we understand what we’re saying when we claim that ‘everything given to the Imam is valid for the religious jurist’.

There is no doubt in anybody’s mind, that wilayah belongs essentially and only to Allah swt, even the wilayah of a person over his own self and all his possessions, belongs to Him alone. The quranic and rational proofs divide the wilayah of Allah swt into two:

1) wilayah takweeniyah (existential guardianship)

2) wilayah tashree’iyah (legislative guardianship)

(for details see Tafsir al Mizan, vol6, ref the verse 5:55). Also see english translation on, short extract here:

al-Wilayatu ‘t-Takwimiyyah (The Authority Over Creation): Through this authority He manages everything and disposes the creatures’ affairs as He pleases and in whatever way He pleases. He says: Or have they taken guardians besides Him? But Allah is the Guardian…. (42:9);… you have not besides Him any guardian or any intercessor; will you not then mind? (32:4);… Thou art my guardian in this world and the hereafter;… (12: 10 1);… he has no guardian after Him;_ . (42:44). The same is the implication of the verses: …and We are nearer to Him than his life vein. (50:16);… and know that Allah intervenes between man and his heart, …(8:24).

al-Wilayatu ‘t-Tashri’iyyah (The Authority Over Legislation): Allah has ascribed to Himself this wilayah which concerns the believers’ religious affairs: Legislation of the laws, guidance, advice, help and so on. He says: Allah is the Guardian of those who believe; He brings them out of the darkness into light, …(2:257);… and Allah is the Guardian of the believers (3:68); and Allah is the Guardian of the pious… (45:19) The same is the theme of the verse: And it is not for a believing man nor for a believing woman to have any choice in their affairs when Allah and His Messenger have decided a matter; and whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he surely strays off a manifest straying (3 3:3 6).

Question: have both of these types of guardianships been given to the Prophet and Imams of Ahlul Bayt, or one and not the other?

This matter is disputed in the school of Ahlul Bayt:

1) The first view claims that the Prophet and Imams have not been given any guardianship. Their duty is to inform us of our religious duties and to explain the details. The miracles and supernatural favours are Gods’ acts and they have no role in those either except to pray to Him to fulfil those favours and requests.

2) The second group is of the view that the Prophet and Imams have authority over creation. The problem is, people seem to think this guardianship/wilayah means they are able to raise the dead for example, i.e. have the ability to influence the existential world, which is not what the scholars mean when they say wilayah takweeniyah. This wilayah is in reference to the role the Prophet and Imams play as intermediaries of Divine Grace (wasatah al faydh), which means they fall within the series of causes that brought this universe and everything within it into existence, everything that descends to this world has to pass through them, and everything that rises up to the Divine has to pass through them.

That’s very different to the ability to influence the existential world, the Quran even mentions some Jinn’s ability to do that.

Now does this view fall within the matter under dispute? No it does not, since these matters are existential and not subjective things that can be transferred from one individual to another.

So the question arises, has the religious jurist been given authority to issue religious decrees? Some have rejected this, like the akhbaris, while those who accept it, the usoolis, have to provide proof for this authority when they issue their book of decrees (risalah). Why is this an issue? It’s an issue because the jurist could be right or wrong, and the Akhbaris use the narration of Imam Ali (as), that any path that leads to disputes over fatwas is forbidden by God, which is what essentially ijtihad is.

This is not to be mixed with wilayah tashree’iyah, which is the authority to create religious law, which is specific to God, the Prophet and Imams, and is not transferred to the jurist.

The third wilayah is judicial authority, over which the same dispute as the second type of wilayah (religious decrees) arose, since the religious jurist overlooking a judicial matter could make a mistake, so how can it be given to him?

Seyyed Kamal initially reiterates the point regarding God’s essential wilayah/authority over everything.

Then he brings up 3 views on whether this wilayah (existential/takweeniyah) has been transmitted to the Prophet and Imams, and the extent of this wilayah (whether it’s just a matter of raising the dead or whether they are intermediaries to God’s Grace), again I won’t go over that since it’s outside of the remit of this study. If anyone is interested, please let me know I can elaborate.

On the subject of legislative authority (in its general sense, which includes authority over religious legislation, judicial matters and executive orders), we mentioned that the religious legislation have been given to the Prophet and Imams, however the jurist has only authority over the issuance of fatwas, which is different to the authority over religious legislation in the sense that he cannot come up with a new sharia, since he is not infallible and therefore can make mistakes. He is limited to ijtihad, whether usooli or akhbari, and nobody disagrees on this point.

For judicial matters, we know this has been given to the Prophet and Imams, but is it valid for the jurist as well? The answer is that all Shia scholars, usoolis and akhbaris are in agreement that this authority has been given to the jurist during the grater occultation. (Note: we have not touched on who this jurist is or what his qualities should be, and insha’Allah I’ll dedicate a separate thread for it, or point you to my posts on my blog on the matter). Scholars only disagree on HOW this authority has been deduced from the available evidence. Is it an explicit statement in a narration, or a rational deduction from the obvious need to resolve social disputes.

Sh al Ansari says we have an explicit statement from the Imam, whereas Seyyed al Khoei, as we mentioned earlier, disagrees and even goes so far that there is no evidence whatsoever for ANY authority of any kind. (see previous mentioned sources). S al Khoei also states that WHO should take on this authority is not specified, and that the priority should be given to the religious jurist, however, if one were not available, any other individual could take on that role.

The akhbaris put a condition that the (non usooli) jurist – or the narrator of hadith, as they call him – should find the appropriate hadith in order to resolve any dispute, since they consider ijtihad in such matters forbidden.

For the executive authority, the Prophet and Imams no doubt have the authority to issue the judgement then to order the execution of the ruling. This is where we have quite a substantial disagreement between scholars on whether this authority has been given to the religious jurist. There are 3 views:

1) First view claims that this authority belongs to the Prophet and Imam only. This group defends their ommitance of the chapter on huduud (executive rulings) in their risalah/book of fatwas.

2) The second view claims that this is such a problematic issue that we can neither accept or refute it…!

3) The last view states that this authority has been given to the religious jurist, with conditions. Seyyed al Khoei says again that this is necessary, but not due to any explicit hadith statement (see Mabani takmilat al minhaj,vol1, pg224). Again, WHO should take on this role in his view? Ideally the religious jurist, but can be anybody else.

The existential/cosmological dimension to the personality of the Imam

In the world of existence,  some things are a cause with specific effects on other things, like water (the cause) to quench the thirst (the effect) of a human being, and we can say that there exists an existential correlation between a cause and its effect. So, when we come to investigate the reality of the existential role of the Imam, we need to first investigate this correlation between causes and their effects, and to differentiate between ‘mentally posited’ (subjective) concepts and ‘existential (objective) ones.

‘Mentally posited’, or subjective, concepts like political leadership, vary with time, place, and human factors like the type of government and political systems in place, since it is the human population that decides who to elect and how. Populations can elect and overthrow a political leader/party/regime at a time (and method) of their choosing. The same applies to the concept of (subjective) ownership of consumer items like cars and private property, which can be transferred from one owner to the next with no limitations. There is no existential connection between the people and their leader, or a person and his house like that between a person and his eye-sight or the ability to move his/her arms. We are able to transplant body parts, but not the senses which utilize these body parts in order to function.

So the question is: has the infallible Imam been given a similar existential role in relation to the world of existence? If the answer is in the affirmative, and we are able to prove this existential dimension to the personality of the Imam, then it becomes self-evident that the political responsibility undertaken by the Imam is secondary to his existential role.

The theological scholars of the Sunni school, however, reduced the Imam’s responsibility to a single dimension, political leadership in the earthly realm (as mentioned in previous posts). This was the cause for the ‘frustration’ with their Shi’a counterparts with respect to this on-going dispute (the concept of Imamah), and that it (Imamah defined as political leadership) is out-of-date and debating it is a pointless exercise. Since the (Twelver Shi’a) 12th Imam is in occultation and therefore plays no role in people’s lives, so what’s the point in believing in his existence or his occultation if he cannot rule as leader of the Islamic nation? (We have refuted this fallacy in previous posts, and the refutation should be further clarified once the existential dimension of the Imam is demonstrated).

The theory behind the existential role of the Imam

Before we delve into this fascinating theory, we require some introductory points:

1) Mankind was created in this world for a reason and has itself a goal:

وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ

And I have not created the jinn and the men except that they should serve Me.                (Al Dhariyat:56)

which is to become servants of God through acts of worship. However, this goal is an intermediary station to the final one, which is to reach a state of ‘certainty’:

وَاعْبُدْ رَ‌بَّكَ حَتَّىٰ يَأْتِيَكَ الْيَقِينُ

And serve your Lord until there comes to you that which is certain. (Al Hijr:99)

This (certainty) is the most honourable goal a human being could attain, as is stated in the description of Prophet Ibrahim’s path to spiritual perfection:

وَكَذَٰلِكَ نُرِ‌ي إِبْرَ‌اهِيمَ مَلَكُوتَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْ‌ضِ وَلِيَكُونَ مِنَ الْمُوقِنِينَ

And thus did We show Ibrahim the kingdom of the heavens and the earth and that he might be of those who are certain.(Al An’am:75)

And the goal of certainty is to reach nearness to Allah (swt) and the return to Him:

أَفَحَسِبْتُمْ أَنَّمَا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ عَبَثًا وَأَنَّكُمْ إِلَيْنَا لَا تُرْ‌جَعُونَ

What! did you then think that We had created you in vain and that you shall not be returned to Us? (Al Mu’minun:115)

يَا أَيُّهَا الْإِنسَانُ إِنَّكَ كَادِحٌ إِلَىٰ رَ‌بِّكَ كَدْحًا فَمُلَاقِيهِ

O man! surely you must strive (to attain) to your Lord, a hard striving until you meet Him. (Al Inshiqaq:6)

2) Mankind is not able to identify what perfections it needs to seek and attain solely relying on its senses and intellect, for both its worldly and other-worldly happiness. Nor what the shortest way to reach these perfections could be. This is where the role of the divine religions comes into play, which show us which perfections to follow (certainty in their belief in God through reaching nearness to Him), and the quickest and shortest routes to attain them (‘the straight path’). And since mankind is unable to establish these two requirements by itself, it is in need of divine guidance, in its different forms:

a. The first is the innate disposition, which every human being is born with (fitrah):

فَأَقِمْ وَجْهَكَ لِلدِّينِ حَنِيفًا ۚ فِطْرَ‌تَ اللَّـهِ الَّتِي فَطَرَ‌ النَّاسَ عَلَيْهَا ۚ لَا تَبْدِيلَ لِخَلْقِ اللَّـهِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ وَلَـٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ‌ النَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

Then set your face upright for religion in the right state- the nature (fitrah) made by Allah in which He has made men; there is no altering of Allah’s creation; that is the right religion, but most people do not know. (Al Rum:30)

and is a fixed divine reality:

سُنَّةَ اللَّـهِ فِي الَّذِينَ خَلَوْا مِن قَبْلُ ۖ وَلَن تَجِدَ لِسُنَّةِ اللَّـهِ تَبْدِيلًا

(Such has been) the course of Allah with respect to those who have gone before; and you shall not find any change in the course of Allah. (Al Ahzab:62)

فَلَن تَجِدَ لِسُنَّتِ اللَّـهِ تَبْدِيلًا ۖ وَلَن تَجِدَ لِسُنَّتِ اللَّـهِ تَحْوِيلًا

For you shall not find any alteration in the course of Allah; and you shall not find any change in the course of Allah. (Fatir:43)

However, this innate guidance does neither specify the perfections, nor the path to attain them. It gives mankind the desire and motivation to attain limitless degrees of virtues and knowledge.

b. The second is the legislative guidance, embodied by prophets and messengers carrying divine messages to show mankind the path towards their intended goals and happiness (nearness to God).

c. The third is existential guidance, which can be also defined to be ‘aiding the traveller towards his goal’, whereas the second type of guidance (showing the path), does not guarantee the traveller to reach his goal. This type of guidance does not allow for deviation, since there is a guarantee that the one guiding the individual will take him to his intended goal.

3) Everything has been created for mankind’s utilization:

اللَّـهُ الَّذِي خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْ‌ضَ وَأَنزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَأَخْرَ‌جَ بِهِ مِنَ الثَّمَرَ‌اتِ رِ‌زْقًا لَّكُمْ ۖ وَسَخَّرَ‌ لَكُمُ الْفُلْكَ لِتَجْرِ‌يَ فِي الْبَحْرِ‌ بِأَمْرِ‌هِ ۖ وَسَخَّرَ‌ لَكُمُ الْأَنْهَارَ‌

Allah is He Who created the heavens and the earth and sent down water from the clouds, then brought forth with it fruits as a sustenance for you, and He has made the ships subservient to you, that they might run their course in the sea by His command, and He has made the rivers subservient to you.(Ibrahim:32)

وَسَخَّرَ‌ لَكُم مَّا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْ‌ضِ جَمِيعًا مِّنْهُ ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُ‌ونَ

And He has made subservient to you whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth, all, from Himself; most surely there are signs in this for a people who reflect.     (Al Jathiyah:13)

Some people think that this ‘gift to utilize’ is a privilege to humanity which they can exploit how they pleased. In fact, humanity’s abilities and intellect are the gifts given to them to utilise everything else that has been created in an intelligent and just manner. Therefore, the world is a responsibility on mankinds shoulders. We find in narrations that each part in our body has a right on us to treat it in the way God intended. So every blessing and gift given to us, has a corresponding responsibility attached to it. [1]

This is where the Quranic idea of ‘divine vicegerency’ becomes clear, since it means that mankind, as God’s representatives on Earth, have a divine responsibility towards all the things that have been created for them. Yet, they are able to refuse this responsibility as a result of their power of free will, and instead utilise these gifts in the path of evil and corruption instead of good and justice.

So, the Quranic system has promised the third type of (existential) guidance exclusively to the Imam. And the role of mankind is to follow in the footsteps of these 3 guidances towards divine closeness and its intended goal and perfection.


[1] Wasa’el Al Shi’a, Vol. 15, Book of Jihad of the soul, pg.172; or the Book of Rights, by Imam Zain-ul Abideen (as).

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’


Imamah – Clarifying the source of dispute

The Sunni school of thought’s starting point for understanding the concept of Imamah is to give the title of Imam or Khalifah (Caliph, Viceroy) to the elected political leader of the Islamic state, whose responsibility lies in managing various aspects of the affairs of the Muslim populace. They arrived at this conclusion after (claiming) to have referred to the Quran and Hadith/Sunnah (Prophetic narrations), without having found a clear and explicit statement defining the role of the successor of the Holy Prophet (s) (we will not judge or challenge the truth of their claim here), the method of his election/appointment, and his characteristics.

Therefore, the logical step (in their view) was to refer to actual events in the post-Prophetic era on the method of electing a leader (after arriving to the conclusion that a political vacuum is detrimental to the unity and strength of the young Islamic state). Hence, Shura council was adopted as one method, then, the first incumbent (who was elected), nominated and appointed his own successor. In the third instance, the second incumbent (who was nominated), appointed a committee of six men and charged them with the duty of selecting one out of themselves as the future leader of the Muslim community.

Secondly, since political leadersip is a ‘matter of the people’, it becomes logical that the people elect their leader and manage its own affairs (it’s human nature to reject the idea of a leader being appointed without them having a say in the matter). They usually point to this Quranic verse as evidence to their logic: ‘… and their rule is to take counsel among themselves, … ‘ (al-Shura:38). This in turn leads to the temporary nature of such an Imamah, since the arrival of the Imam to power relies on his election by the people (their pledge of allegiance to him, in the old terminology), if they chose to do so.

Thirdly, when the scholars of that school came to establish the necessary characteristics of the Imam, they did not find any need for infallibility, and settled for the virtue of justice in the fiqhi (juristic) sense. And with respect to his knowledge, it would suffice for him to possess knowledge that will allow him to perform his political duties.   

So we end up with the following aspects of the Sunni theory of Imamah:

1) it is a worldly matter of political leadership

2) it achieved through popular election or through a council of a few men

3) it is not continuous and is only established if the populace chooses to do so

4) it only requires the individual to possess the commonly understood virtue of justice, and not infallibility.

The consequences of this understanding of Imamah

We find that the theological method in the Shia school has not, in the most case, attempted to resolve the point of contention with the Sunni school on the concept of Imamah. Instead, it allowed itself to get dragged into a never-ending argument and counter-argument dispute, with the Shi’a scholars doing most of the counter-arguing.

Some see this as a normal debate between schools of thought, each with their own opinion on a fundamental religious matter. However, it soon dawned on them that the responsibilities of the Imam as a political leader, are not in harmony with the conditions and characteristics assigned to him by the Shi’a school, considering these conditions to be far wider in scope than required by a political leadership.

This has led to thinkers and some scholars to reject the theory of selection in Imamah. Others started to limit infallibility to a limited sphere, and unnecessary beyond it. Another group rejected infallibility in its entirety, arguing that those who advocate such a theory abandoned it during the greater occultation, allowing fallible leaders to take charge as Imams of the Muslim nation. They consider justice to be a sufficient personal quality for the Imam to do his job as required by Islamic law (some have dropped this requirement as well..).

Others consider this dispute of leadership after the death of the Prophet to be a pointless historic dispute. And finally, we need to address those who question the value of a hidden Imam, who is not able to guide and lead his followers.

The reader needs to bear in mind at all times when dealing with the above criticisms, that they come as a direct consequence of the Sunni understanding of Imamah, which is limited to political leadership.

An alternative approach

When one studies the Quran and the undisputed narrations of the Holy Prophet (s) and his Pure Progeny (as), it becomes evident that the concept of Imamah, as understood by the Shi’a school, differs fundamentally and essentially to the Sunni understanding. The school of Ahlul Bayt (as) believes that the Quranic understanding of this concept gives the Imam roles that are far more important and requiring more stringent conditions, taking it out of the fold of branches of religion (politics, the social sciences and management of the affairs of the people, etc), and into the fundamental doctrines of faith. The Shi’a school considers Imamah to have two dimensions: the first being the juristic role (tashree’i), which necessitates infallibility, and the second being the existential (takweeni) role, or ‘wilayah’ (i.e. authority over the world of existence), which necessitates special knowledge not acquired through conventional means. And this is what martyr Mutahhari calls ‘the height of Shi’a understanding’ of the concept of Imamah. [1]


[1] Imamah, by Martyr Murtadha Mutahhari, pg 44-50.

Imamah in the Quran – A New Approach

I feel it is high-time that I share, with the non-Arabic speaking world, a new and fresh approach to understanding Islamic doctrines, in order for us to come out of this dormant, repetitive and unproductive state as a Muslim collective.

One such topic is the concept of Imamah (divine vicegerency). I believe that the theological method does not come near to give this topic its due, and in terms of content misses the high status of the Quranic definition, which in turn has created more problems than it has solved. This is not to say that the theological scholars like Sheikh al-Tusi, al-Murtadha and al-Mufid have not contributed to the development of the Shi’a Imamaiyah school of thought. However, they, and their followers, were dragged into reacting to accusations instead of establishment of Quranic concepts, which has left the Muslim collective in a divided state for over 1000 years. Some of these Quranic concepts (within the framework of Imamah), that have been left virtually unaddressed are the responsibility of the Imam, his knowledge, infallibility and divine appointment/selection.

The other (non-Shi’a) schools have limited Imamah to the responsibility of political leadership, with ‘Shura’ council as the means to electing the Imam. The Shi’a school responded with the theory of ‘divine appointment/selection’ of the Imam, even though there is no similarity whatsoever between the two theories, since the purpose of ‘divine selection’ lies somewhere else. Likewise, the issue arose with the concept of infallibility, where the other schools believed that the Shi’a give the status of infallibility to the political ruler, whereas infallibility applies to the (divinely appointed) Imam exclusively. This difference in understand has led the Sunni school to believe that the Shi’a have abandoned the condition of infallibility during the ‘greater occultation’ (of the 12th and final infallible Imam).

What I will try to cover in this series of posts, is to establish the Quranic view of the concept of Imamah, which gives 4 complete roles to the Imam, of which is the juristic role (in the holistic sense of explaining doctrines, ethics and that which is permissible and what is not, i.e. to explain the entire Quran), which requires infallibility, therefore making infallibility a necessary condition for the Imam to perform his duties and responsibilities, and not a condition for political leadership. Leadership is one of the responsibilities of the infallible Imam when he is alive and visible to his followers. Therefore the Shi’a school has not abandoned the condition of infallibility during the ‘greater occultation’, and the role of divine appointment is to reveal the infallible Imam and not the political ruler.

The same applies to the knowledge of the Imam, which is considered, along with infallibility, to be of fundamental importance to establishing a complete picture to the concept of Quranic Imamah. These two topics are so vast and deep, that even some Shi’a scholars and their adherents find difficulty in accepting. As for the Sunni school, they see no need for a religious political leader to possess any special knowledge (of the past, present and future), or the absolute infallibility the Shi’a school finds necessary.

Aspects of the new approach

The concept of Imamah according to the Quranic definition, begins by differentiating between ‘General Imamah’ and ‘Specific Imamah’, similar to the methodology used to differentiate between Prophethood as a concept (General Prophethood – the necessity of humanity for Prophets, its conditions and responsibilities, the necessity for infallibility of Prophets, miracles, etc) and the physical real life embodiment of this divine position (Specific Prophethood -who are the Prophets? what are the surrounding socio-political conditions during his mission? what is his miracle? why this particular miracle? etc).

The same method is applied when establishing the concept of Imamah as defined by the Quran (it’s the least we should do if we consider Imamah to be one of the 5 fundamental doctrines of the Shi’a sect). Similar questions must be asked in 2 steps: Is the Imam divinely appointed or elected by the people? Are infallibility and special knowledge necessary? Is Imamah continuous or temporary? Amongst other fundamental topics that define the general understanding of Imamah. Similarly, specific Imamah specifies who the Imams are, their specific characteristics, etc.

In this series, I will focus on establishing the general concept of Imamah according to the Quran, by tackling the following key features: infallibility, divine appointment/selection, continuity, and special knowledge. As for the responsibilities of the Imam, they are: the existential role, the juristic role of religious emulation, political leadership, and the ethical role model.

These features and responsibilities have been the focus of dispute between the two main schools of thought in Islam to this day, which I will detail and clarify in the next post, insha’Allah.


Imamah in the Quran

I will be posting a series of lectures related to Imamah (divine vicegerency, also known as the Ibrahamic Imamah) as defined in the Holy Quran. These will be mainly translations from the following sources:

1) Al Mizan fi Tafsir al Quran, by Allamah Tabataba’i (qs)

2) Hawza seminary lecture series of Imamah, by Seyyed Kamal Al Haydari

3) Al ‘Isma (Infallibility), by Seyyed Kamal Al Haydari

4) ‘Ilm al Imam (Knowledge of the Imam), by Seyyed Kamal Al Haydari