By: Hussein Al-Rumaithi
Majority of the religions on earth are emotionally, spiritually and physically attached to a specific destination or a geographic region that is directly associated with their belief. This association can be linked to the origin of that belief, historical grievances, residence of a holy figure or his/her burial and a socio-religious importance that has been accumulated through time. Shia Muslim are among the religious sects and groups within Islam and even other religion, which has the highest numbers of holy sites, cities and towns. The holy sites and cities of Shia Muslims are divided into two categories. First category are the sites and places that are shared with rest of the Muslim sects and second category are the sites that are sacred and glorified by Shia Muslims exclusively. A combined list of these sites and cities is as following:
By Hussein Al-Rumaithi
In 1961 when Amnesty International was founded by Peter Benenson to draw attention toward human rights abuses and mobilize international attention toward this matter to put pressure on states and government to end these violations. Rights of women, children, slavery, human rights and prisoner of conscience were among the primary focuses of this organization. However, this noble cause has failed to address the historic aspects of these violations to numerous reasons, which include political sensitivities and complexities. Therefore, as a result some of the oldest violations in these aspects have been marginalized and sidelined, which has minimized the effectuality of such organizations in some parts of the world. When it comes of human rights violations and prisoners of conscience and persecutions based on belief and right of expression, Shia Muslims can be identified as the first victims of such violations and atrocities.
Regardless of the sectarian and theological division that segregates Shia Muslims from rest of the Islamic world, the rationales behind oppressing this large minority are beyond apprehension and tolerance. The first type of oppression against Shia Muslims began through verbal labeling and decrying, which was the notion of identifying the Shia Muslims as infidels and REJECTORS (Rafidha). Assigning such a demeaning label to Shia Muslims was a preparation for physical elimination and persecution, which lasted centuries and resulted in displacement, death and imprisonment of millions.
Persecution Based on Assumption and Allegation
Modern political accusations, which are used to penalize and persecute an individual or a specific group are not as modern as we think they are, a historical facts indicate they have used in the past to eliminate groups and individuals. During the time of Muawiya Ibn Abi Sufyan, governor of Syria during the time of third Caliph Othman Ibn Affan, and later on raged a war against Imam Ali, these political accusations were used to eliminate and persecute the followers of Imam Ali. When this man became the Caliph of Muslim and established what is today considered as the Islamic Empire, he formed an entire force to pursue, find, imprison, torture and kill the followers of Imam Ali and Shia Muslims. History books mention that Muawiya ordered his forces to arrest people based on assumption or even a fabricated accusation, and persecute them. Therefore, what is considered as human rights and freedom of expression in modern day definitions was oppressed and banned during the era of this man.
During the time of Hajjaj Al-Thaqafi, the notorious governor of Iraq during Abdul Malik Ibn Marwan (The Umayyad Caliph), Shia Muslims and their leaders were arrested and punished only for being Shia and followers of Imam Ali. Sunni and Shia traditions narrate incidents and events, where this man arrested entire tribes and killed them due to their belief, and how this man pursued the leaders of Shia communities and humiliate them and killed them in cold blood.
History is filled with events and incidents that mark the earliest cases of human rights violations and prisoners of conscience, who were penalized for their belief and religious affiliation. Therefore, if modern human rights organizations and groups are serious about gaining credibility among oppressed populations, they should consider acknowledging these historic grievance and condemn them to certify these types of violations through all times. Political tendencies and complexities have existed and will remain, as means of legitimacy and survival justify the methodologies of states. However, acknowledging a specific violation whether historical or contemporary shall not create sectarian tensions and instability, as there is no intention to blame these atrocities on an entire sect or religion.
Who are the scholars that Shias around the globe follow?
By: Hussein Al-Rumaithi
In a previous article, the rationale behind the notion of following a scholar or an Ayatollah by all Shi’a Muslims was clarified and presented. In addition, the article presented a clear definition about the legitimacy, characteristics and details of a qualified jurist, who is eligible for this post according to the narration of Shi’a Imams and Prophet Mohammad. However, in this article we shall present the names of current prominent and legitimate scholars who are being followed by millions of Shi’as around the world.
As discussed in the previous article, the statement of Imam Al-Askari clarified the notion that the possibility of rouge and corrupt scholars is always present, and therefore, he have clear and specific guidelines for identifying such cases. Nevertheless, at the present time there are eight prominent scholars, who are being followed by millions of Shi’a Muslims around the globe, and these scholars are agreed to be the most pious and knowledgeable by all sides and schools of thoughts.
- Grand Ayatollah Sayed Ali Al-Sistani. He is the highest religious authority of Shi’a Muslims at the present time, who resides in the city of Najaf in Iraq. There is no official survey about the number of followers this scholar has, but it is believed that he has the highest number of followers in the world. Ayatollah Al-Sistani was born in Iraq, but he migrated to Iraq when he was a child and remained there ever since. He is considered one of the great pupils of late Ayatollah Khoie, who is still considered one of the greatest scholars Shi’a Islam has ever known.
- Grand Ayatollah Sayed Mohammad Sae’ed Al-Hakeem. Ayatollah Al-Hakeem was born in the city of Najaf, Iraq in 1936. He attended the lectures of his late father, Ayatollah Sayed Mohammad Ali Al-Hakeem, his late Grand Father, Ayatollah Sayed Mohsin Al-Hakeem, Ayatollah Ali Al-Hilli and Ayatollah Khoie. Currently, Ayatollah Hakeem resides in the city of Najaf and he is followed by millions of Shi’a Muslims around the globe.
- Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Basheer Al-Najafi. Ayatollah Al-Najafi was born in the city of Jalandhar in 1942 (British India & Current Pakistan). He migrated to the city of Najaf, Iraq in early 1960s and stayed there for the purpose of studying in the religious seminaries of Najaf. He attended the lectures of Ayatollah Sayed Mohammad Al-Rouhani and Ayatollah Al-Khoie. He is still residing in Najaf, Iraq and his followers are millions of Shi’a Muslims around the globe.
- Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Ishaq Al-Fayath. He is from an Afghani origin, who was born in 1930 in Afghanistan. He migrated with his family to Najaf, Iraq when he was ten years old, and entered the Shi’a seminaries and started his long journey in religious studies. He attended the lectures of late Ayatollah Al-Khoie and many other grand jurists in the city of Najaf. Currently, he resides in the city of Najaf and has many followers around the globe.
- Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Wahid Al-Khorasani. He is considered the leader of Qom seminary, although he does not have an official post. Ayatollah Khorasani has millions of followers around the globe, and his religious authority is compared similar to Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq. He was born in the city of Nishabur, Iran. He migrated to the city of Najaf in 1962 and attended the lectures of Ayatollah Khoie and returned to Iran in 1972.
- Grand Ayatollah Sayed Sadeq Al-Rouhani. Ayatollah Rouhani is considered one of the few individuals who finished the high levels of Shi’a seminaries in his teenage years. He was born in the city of Qom, Iran in 1926. He migrated to the city of Najaf and attended the lectures of late Ayatollah Al-Khoie, Ayatollah Kompani, Ayatollah AboulHassan Isfahani and other Grand Ayatollahs. His extensive intellect and knowledge is acknowledged by many Shi’a scholars and he is considered one of the most knowledgeable scholars of modern era. Ayatollah Rouhani is followed by millions of Shi’a Muslims around the globe, and currently he resides in the city of Qom.
- Grand Ayatollah Sayed Sadeq Al-Shirazi. Ayatollah Al-Shirazi is part of a family line that has given so many scholars and thinkers to the Islamic nation. His father and brother were Grand Ayatollahs as well, and he is considered one of the most knowledgeable jurists alive at the present time. He was born in city of Karbala, Iraq in 1942, and he attended the lectures of his late father, Ayatollah Sayed Mahdi Al-Shirazi, his late brother Ayatollah Sayed Mohammad Al-Shirazi, Ayatollah Sayed Hadi Al-Milani and Ayatollah Sayed Mohammad Redha Al-Isfahani. Ayatollah Shirazi is followed by millions of Shi’a Muslims around the globe.
- Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Lotfollah Safi Golpaygani. Ayatollah Golpaygani is one of the oldest Shi’a scholars alive in the present time, as he was born in 1919, in the city of Golpaygan, Iran. He attended the lectures of Grand Ayatollah Borujerdi and many other great scholars. At the present time, Ayatollah Golpaygani resides in the city of Qom, Iran and he is considered one of the major religious authorities in Iran, who is being followed by many Shi’a Muslims.
- Grand Ayatollah Sayed Taqi Al-Qomi. He is the son of Grand Ayatollah Sayed Hussein Al-Qomi, who is known for his role in the Iranian constitutional revolution. Ayatollah Qomi was born in the city of Mash’had, Iran in 1923. He migrated to Iraq in 1936 and studied in the seminaries of Karbala and Najaf and attended the lectures of his father, and Ayatollah Sayed Hadi Al-Milani, Ayatollah Al-Khoie and many other scholars. Currently, he resides in the city of Qom, and has many followers around the world.
Concept of TAQLEED
By: Hussein Al-Rumaithi
Seeking the consultation of an expert has become a norm and a random measure, which any human would take, if he/she faces a problem that requires external help. A sick person would visit a physician, and someone who needs to repair his/her vehicle would seek the help of a certified mechanic. Therefore, this concept is something that humans have coped with and consider a necessity for life. Islam has given a substantial amount of importance to the concept of asking and consulting the knowledgeable and people of intellect and cognition. The 16th chapter of Quran in the 43rd verse say: “So, ask the people of knowledge if you do not know”. The 39th chapter of Quran in the 9th verse states: “Say, are those who know equal to those who do not know?” Therefore, there are numerous verses in the Quran and traditions and quotes by the Prophet and his holy household that suggest, Shi’a Muslims must always seek the help and guidance of a righteous Imam (leader).
Shi’a Muslims and Muslims in general believe that Islam is a way of life, and their religion has the answers to aspects of life, and therefore, due to the complexity of the literature and Islamic traditions, the necessity of experts in religion and theological subjects presents itself. During the time of the Prophet and his holy household, their presence filled the need for experts, since their absolute knowledge about the Quran and the real teaching of Islam was sufficient for their followers. In addition, Shi’a Muslims from all over the Islamic nation travelled to Medina and Mecca to meet the Imams and seek help for their questions and problems.
As discussed in previous articles, the notion of occultation is one of the mandatory beliefs of Shi’a Islam, which includes believing in the presence of the 12th Imam, who is Imam Al-Mahdi. Imam Al-Mahdi was born in 869, and in 941 his started his major occultation after a 72 years minor occultation. He is believed to be still alive, and present on this planet, and no one knows his real identity, although he lives among people and helps them all, when they seek his help. Therefore, some narrations suggest that when Imam Al-Mahdi returns and everyone finds out about his true identity, they all say: we have seen this man before. However, during the minor occultation, Imam Al-Mahdi communicated with his followers through four ambassadors, and those four ambassadors were chosen by the Imam, based on their piety and modesty. Prior to the beginning of Imam Al-Mahdi’s major occultation, which is still in effect, he wrote a letter to the Shi’a Muslims and announced the will of Allah, which mandated his being in an occultation, for a an unknown period of time, and he shall return at the end of time. Upon his return, Imam Al-Mahdi, shall fill this earth with justice and equality, after it has been filled with tyranny and oppression. However, the Imam orders his followers (Shi’a Muslims) to refer back to the narrators of Traditions (AHADEETH). Imam Al-Mahdi orders his followers to follow the scholars of his nation and seek their help in the issues of religion, and abide by their orders.
Imam Hasan Al-Askari, who is the father of Imam Al-Mahdi, in a long narration presents the characteristics of a scholar that Shi’a Muslims are supposed to follow and embrace. Imam Al-Askari states: “and whomever, from the jurists is maintainer of his soul, protective of his faith, opposing to his inclination, obedient to the orders of his master, therefore, it is for the ordinary people to follow him”. This narration by Imam Al-Askari, shows the necessity of the concept of following a scholars, which is called (TAQLEED) in Arabic.
However, Imam Al-Askari projected the possibility of rouge scholars exposing themselves as righteous individuals and asking random people to follow them. The Prophet of Islam, considers the notion of following a corrupt scholar, as being worse than a physical confrontation, since such an action would hurt physically, but following a corrupt scholar would result in annihilation and intellectual destruction. Therefore, Imam Al-Askari continues on with his tradition and gives the details about the characteristics of a righteous scholars, who is worthy of being followed and has the blessing of Prophet Mohammad and his holy household. Imam Al-Askari says: “and, that would not mean all Shi’a scholars, since the one who adopts the corrupts and undesired teachings of our enemies shall not be honored and followed. Therefore, do not accept anything from them, and they shall have no dignity. The large amount of admixture in our statements and teachings, would make some corrupt scholars to misuse, our words and distort the meanings of them, due to their lack of knowledge. Others, would lie and say what we have not said, so they can gain wealth or position from this world, which shall be their fuel in hell. Their lies and distortions, would expand and expand to an extent where Shi’a Muslims would consider their statements, as part of our legacy and traditions. These types of scholars are worse than the army of Yazid Ibn Muawiya, who killed Imam Hussein and his companions in Karbala”.
Therefore, the Imams of Shi’a Islam have clarified the path for their followers to determine their responsibility and tasks during the times of hardships and calamities. Following a scholar, would make life much easier for a Shi’a Muslim, since he/she does not have to spend years and learn the details and methods to understand the Quran. These righteous scholars and Ayatollahs spend decades in seminaries and religious schools, studying the knowledge of Quran and the traditions of Prophet Mohammad and his holy household. Their studies would include subject and other fields like: Mathematics, science, biology, finance, philosophy, theology, politics and many other fields of knowledge that enable a scholar in comprehending the world in a more clear way.
However, history of Shi’a Islam after the occultation of Imam Al-Mahdi is filled with examples of rogue and corrupt scholars, who led many people astray and away from the religion of Islam. Some scholars used this position as a mean of collecting wealth and prestige among the people, and others used it as a way to seek affiliation with the tyrants and oppressors. Nonetheless, the righteous and pious scholars of Shi’a Islam were always aware and cautious for these types of examples, and had a strict guideline, which they abided by. Therefore, every time they felt there was a need for a clear and public statement to expose a corrupt scholar, they did not hesitate to show their opinion and present the solutions for Shi’a Muslims.
The concept of Taqleed, is considered a logical and rational necessity, which is mandated by intellect and power of sense. Therefore, it cannot be considered as (Blindly following), since its purpose is to ease the responsibility of random people by seeking the help on an expert.
What it means to be a Shia Muslim
By: Dr. Hussein Al-Rumaithi
The misconceptions about the beliefs and ideologies of Shia Islam has been influenced by numerous factors such as, political, social and sectarian aspects. Every time the term Shia appears on TV or an article, observers tend to think of Iran and its Islamic government, Iraq and its Shia majority, Lebanon and its notorious Hezbollah group and Saudi Arabia with its oppressed Shia minority. However, all of these perceptions are factual and real, but what’s being ignored by majority of observers and readers is the reality of Shia Islam and its principles and beliefs. Therefore, it would be beneficial to distinguish the difference between this Islamic sect and other ones, since one side of the sectarian conflict on the Middle East are the Shia Muslims.
Fundamentals of Religion
In order for a person to identify him/herself as a Shia Muslim, he/she must believe in the following five fundamentals. A Shia Muslim is not allowed to follow a scholar in these matters, and he/she has to have full knowledge about them through dissection and research.
1. Monotheism: the belief that there is only one God. This concept are very obvious and definite according to its name and nature. Although all Islamic sects believe in this fundamental as a necessary part of Islam, the details and attributes of God, defined within the different sects make the difference. According the one of the sermons by Imam Ali (P.B.U.H), who is the first Imam of Shia Islam, he defines the concept of monotheism in the following form: “The foremost in religion is the acknowledgement of Him, the perfection of acknowledging Him is to testify Him, the perfection of testifying Him is to believe in His Oneness, the perfection of believing in His Oneness is to regard Him Pure, and the perfection of His purity is to deny Him attributes, because every attribute is a proof that it is different from that to which it is attributed and everything to which something is attributed is different from the attribute.
Thus whoever attaches attributes to Allah recognizes His like, and whoever recognizes His like regards Him two; and whoever regards Him as two recognizes parts for Him; and whoever recognizes parts for Him mistook Him; and whoever mistook Him pointed at Him; and whoever pointed at Him admitted limitations for Him; and whoever admitted limitations for Him numbered Him. Whoever said: ‘In what is He?’, held that He is contained; and whoever said: ‘On what is He?’, held He is not on something else.
He is a being, but not through phenomenon of coming into being. He exists but not from non-existence. He is with everything but not in physical nearness. He is different from everything but not in physical separation. He acts but without connotation of movements and instruments. He sees even when there is none to be looked at from among His creation. He is only one, such that there is none with whom He may keep company or whom He may miss in his absence”.
2.Prophet Hood. This fundamental mandates all Shia Muslims to believe in the existence of all previous prophets and messengers, beginning with Adam and finishing by the seal of the prophets, Prophet Mohammad. The issue of prophecy in Shia Islam is considered one of the necessities of creation and it is linked to the notion of free will and evil. Therefore, since there is evil (Satan) and since God has given humans the power of will, there has to be messengers sent by God to show the right path, which God has intended for the humans. To reaffirm this notion the Quran says: “we are not punishers, unless we sent among them a messenger”. Therefore, the issue of prophecy is linked to the justice of Allah and his mercy upon humans.
3.Imamate. To believe there are twelve Imams (successors) after Prophet Mohammad. This is one of the major principles that differentiates a Shia Muslim with others. The majority of Shia Muslims are considered Twelvers, which means, they believe in the succession of Imam Ali after the death of Prophet Mohammad, and followed by his son Imam Hassan, and later his other son Imam Hussein, followed by nine Imams from the progeny of Imam Hussein until the last Imam, who is in occultation currently. Unlike, Sunni Muslims, the Shias believe that, the first three caliphates after the Prophets were extorters and tyrants, and they acclaimed a position, which was rightfully for Imam Ali. The continuance of Imamate after prophecy is also linked to the justice and mercy of God, since people needed the presence of an infallible model among them to implement the laws and orders of God, in the way he wanted them.
4.Justice. This concept is related back to God, and is considered the main attribute of God after absolute knowledge, ability and existence. God does not create evil, and evil is formed due to the desires of humans, and therefore, God’s justice and mercy has mandated the existence of prophets and Imams for the sake of humans. In addition, all events, misfortunes, calamities, good things are due to God’s justice, and even though some matters might seem unjust and undesirable, God’s knowledge and justice is for the benefit of humans.
5.The after world. All Muslims including the Shias must believe in judgement day and the after world. Eventually, this day would come, and all humans would be resurrected once again and gathered for judgement. On judgement day, God will determine the final punishment and reward of all humans according to their deeds and conducts.
Shia Islam VS other sects:
Here are some of the major concepts and beliefs that distinguish a Shia Muslim from a non-Shia.
By: Dr. Hussein Al-Rumaithi The term reformation if often used when an ideology or a set of conducts and norms are preventing advancement and progress within a specific group that share the same values and sets of beliefs. However, this term might be one of the most incorrect provisions, when it comes to the issue religion and relation of politics with religion. The approach, which this term tends to define religion is relative and bounds the content of the holy texts to be defined by social necessities and political tendencies that are in constant state of evolvement and change. Therefore, reformation is sought to be the proper mean of modification and rearrangement, to make religion an adaptable notion, which is compatible with mandates of each era, but according to the desires and necessities of mankind. Simplifying secularism as a philosophy will only be defined under the title of (separation of Church & State). However, the fact that is not being included in this definition is the contradiction of secularism’s own methodology, when it comes to separating church and state. Presuming that Church’s teaching were the reason behind the calamities of Europe in medieval era will only put secularism under further thorough dissection, to determine whether it has the been the legitimize methodology to govern an entity. Nonetheless, by claiming that head of the church authority were misusing the teachings of the holy book, would bring forward the question: why is there a necessity to separate the church and state? Wasn’t there a possibility to develop a system to assure misuses are prevented? Therefore, the feasibility and credibility of secularism would be under question, according to the second notion. The question that is being raised today by different scholars and observers of Islam, is the possibility of reform within Islam. Adopting an ethnocentric view of Islam will rationalize such a question, and would make such an inquiry very relevant about many religions and beliefs that the western world might differs with. Nevertheless, addressing this question is not a matter of choosing between black and white, and as a matter fact is not an issue of picking and choosing. It is a matter of comprehension and recognition rather than reform and rearrangement. By quoting the tern reform, an individual would refer to the notion of presenting a new alternative for an existing ideology, which might be very different in nature with the primary notion being subjected to reformation. Therefore, prior to answering the question of necessity of reform within Islam, the following inquiries should be made:
- Is reform needed and required?
- Is reform allowed? If yes, under what conditions, and which criteria?
- Is there any existing alternative, before bringing forward the notion of reform?
- Why is there an emphasis on reform within Islam, and by who?