Jumuah lecture on Friday 4 June 2021 (22 Shawaal 1442)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Almighty Allah (SWT) says in verse 122 of Surah Tauba (chapter 9 of the Holy Quran):
وَمَا كَانَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لِيَنْفِرُوا كَافَّةً ۚ فَلَوْلَا نَفَرَ مِنْ كُلِّ فِرْقَةٍ مِنْهُمْ طَائِفَةٌ لِيَتَفَقَّهُوا فِي الدِّينِ وَلِيُنْذِرُوا قَوْمَهُمْ إِذَا رَجَعُوا إِلَيْهِمْ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَحْذَرُونَ
“And the believers should not all go out to fight. Of every troop of them, a party only should go forth, that they (who are left behind) may gain sound knowledge in religion, and that they may warn their folk when they return to them, so that they may beware.”
Naturally, this verse has vast area of topics to be explored.
This verse calls upon every community to dedicate a group of people for deep, thorough and proper understanding of religion (tafaqqahu fiddeen). It highlights how crucial this responsibility is, to the point where Almighty Allah (SWT) is calling for a group of people from every nation to embark on this field of expertise.
It is understandable that not everyone is able to leave everything behind to dedicate themselves in the study of religion. Therefore, the responsibility is placed on a group of people to be selected by every community to become experts on our religion. This responsibility is seen as mandatory from this verse, in the same way that every community requires doctors, nurses, engineers and professionals covering all the different areas to make a society to be functional.
The purpose is also clearly explained in this verse, for every community to have experts on our religion so that they can appropriately guide and remind their nation about the message of Almighty Allah (SWT) and the Hereafter. This is the very important point of “tafaqqahu fiddeen” highlighted in this verse, which is the deep, thorough and proper understanding of religion, way behind basics and primary information.
TAFAQQAHU FIDDEEN: DEVELOPING THE COMPREHENSIVE UNDERSTANDING OF ISLAMIC JURISPRUDENCE
It is this deep understanding of religion which resulted in a great movement in the history of Islam to understand our religion and specialise in different sciences of our religion, from theology to practical laws and all other branches.
The term “tafaqqahu fiddeen” used in the Holy Quran is very comprehensive. It is the understanding of deen in totality. However, in terminology, when we use the term “tafaqqahu fiddeen”, it is traditionally in reference to practical laws and matters of jurisprudence ie. the legal fraternity of Islam. Therefore, when we refer to the “fuqaha”, we are referring to people with the requisite expertise in the law of Islam. This makes them legal experts on Islamic law.
This particular field is very much relevant and practical, given its necessity in day to day life. As a result, the science of fiqh (jurisprudence) has been given added attention in the history of Islam. This is how different understandings of Islamic law and schools of thought developed over the years.
SUNNI VERSUS SHIA APPROACH TO THE EVOLUTION OF ISLAMIC JURISPRUDENCE
While Islamic law in its essence is one, different interpretations developed in the understanding of the Holy Quran and Prophetic Sunnah as the primary sources of Islamic law. This is how different schools of thought evolved.
In the case of our Sunni brethren, various interpretations of our religion from a legal perspective evolved, but there are four madha’ib which were formalized after the names of those who established them, namely Hanbali, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanafi. This represents four understandings of Islamic law.
When we come to the Shia approach, this understanding and evolution did occur. In the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s), the authority and source of interpretation is the purified progeny of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), the Ahlul Bait (a.s). Hence, their interpretation was taken as the authority or most authentic interpretation.
Now, this interpretation of our religion by the family of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) also evolved in the form of a full-scale structured school academically over the years, especially in the time of Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s), the 6th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s). This is where the academic approach to our religion took on the form of a full-fledged structure.
IS IT OK TO SAY I AM JUST MUSLIM AND NOT BOTHERED ABOUT DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO FIQH?
The question which may arise is why this developed at that time ie. during the life of our 6th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s)? While this is a detailed discussion, the socio-political conditions and certain academic conditions and challenges at time drove this particular Shia approach to reach its climax during the era of Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s).
As a result, it was him who put together the teachings of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) and their interpretations of Islam from the Quran and Sunnah in a structured form for the people. This is how this particular interpretation or understanding became known as the Jafari school or Madhab.
So, on the Sunni side we have the four major schools being Hanafi, Shafi’i, Hanbali and Maliki Madha’ib. And on the Shia side we have the Jafari Madhab.
It is very easy and naïve to say that I am not any of these schools and simply a Muslim, because we have to adopt a particular trend for our understanding of Islam.
This is even applicable on the most basic of day to day requirements, such as Salaah for example. We need to adopt one of the prescribed ways to perform Salaah, and the same applies for Hajj, fasting and following Islamic laws in judicial matters or Muslim personal law and everything else in practical day-to-day life. At the end of the day one has to adopt an interpretation in the practical sense.
WHERE DOES THE JAFARI MADHAB FIT IN RELATION TO THE FOUR MADHA’IB OF AHLUS SUNNAH?
The Jafari Madhab developed before the four schools of the Ahlus Sunnah. Imam Abu Hanifa, who was the first from the Ahlus Sunnah to present a full-fledged structure to Islamic jurisprudence, was a student of Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s). Imam Shafi’i, Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Imam Malik are much later than Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s).
So, the evolution of the Jafari school occurred before it was established on the Sunni side.
Now, in the case of the Ahlus Sunnah, these four major schools of thought were recognised by the Abbasid government as the formal, official versions of Islam. None of the other formal interpretations of Islam were recognised officially.
That being said, they were there, and these other variations exist even today with different academic interpretation and understanding. But in the official sense, the Abbasid state only adopted these four, and none of the other interpretations got any official endorsement. This is how they closed the doors of ijtihad.
On the other side, in the school of Shia institutionalized by Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s), there was naturally no difference of interpretation for as long as there was direct access to the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s), since we believe they are infallible and therefore beyond reproach.
SUNNI VERSUS SHIA APPROACH TO IJTIHAD
After the occultation of Imam Mahdi (atfs), the twelfth Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Shia Muslims no longer have direct access to the infallible Imam. This is where the trend established in Sunni Islam with the endorsement of the four Madha’ib long before the period of Imam Mahdi (atfs) also became relevant in our paradigm as Shia Muslims.
Even the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s) in the manner presented by Imam Jafar Safiq (a.s) still requires interpretation and further explanation. This is why ijtihad started by fallible religious scholars, by deriving rulings from its legitimate resources, after the occultation of our living Imam Mahdi (atfs).
This is where we find great scholars emerging across the centuries.
On this point, we have a principle difference between the Shia and Sunni approach to Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). For our Sunni brethren, as noted earlier, the four Madha’ib were endorsed by the Abbasid state, whereby the people were compelled to follow one of the four Madha’ib. This is also when they officially closed the doors of ijtihad ie. research for newer interpretations, based on the ever-changing times.
Like I said earlier, this was the official position adopted, but ijtihad continued unofficially and still continues today unofficially amongst Sunni scholars. Now, in contrast, with the Shia approach after the occultation of Imam Mahdi (a.s), rich diversity in interpretation and difference of opinion appeared in the understanding of the school of Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s).
SUNNI VERSUS SHIA APPROACH TO TAQLEED
These differences in opinion on Islamic rulings therefore appeared in both Sunni and Shia approaches. However, the difference being that the gates of ijtihad were never closed in the Shia approach, whereas in the Sunni approach, only the four major madha’ib were officially endorsed. Therefore, the gates of research, independent research and ijtihad continues to evolve even until today in the Shia tradition.
On the issue of Taqleed (following a grand spiritual authority) we find that in Sunni tradition, you have to adopt the approach of one of the four major Madha’ib established centuries ago, whereas in Shia tradition, you have to also follow a grand religious expert, but must be one who is alive.
The difference therefore is that in Shia tradition, you cannot follow a grand religious expert who has passed away, whereas in Sunni tradition, you can only follow one of the four major grand religious experts from centuries ago.
Ijtihad – research and continuous understanding of our religion of Islam continues in the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s). Naturally, different interpretations appeared in the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s) and the Shia tradition throughout the history.
Different grand religious scholars presented their opinions and offered their interpretation and understanding to the people, all the way from Shaykh Tusi, Shaykh al-Mufeed, all the way down to our time with academic luminaries like Ayatollah Khui and Shaykh Murtaza Ansari, and of course Imam Khomeini and others.
IMAM KHOMEINI (R.A) EMERGES AS A REVIVER OF A FRESH APPROACH TO IJTIHAD
The Jafari school of jurisprudence (Jafari Madhab) has amazing capacity which allows scholars and thinkers to develop fresh opinions, while still operating very strictly within the boundaries of the Holy Quran and Prophetic Sunnah.
Imam Khomeini (r.a), who passed away 32 years ago on 4 June 1989, believed painstakingly in the unity of the Muslim nation (Ummah). At the same time, he very clearly stated in his final will that we are proud to be followers of the Jafari Madhab and school of jurisprudence, and our fiqh (jurisprudence) is an expansive ocean of knowledge, developed by Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s).
This is the position of Imam Khomeini (r.a) in expressing great pride in this Jafari school of jurisprudence, while at the same time being the flagbearer of unity and respect amongst all Muslims. This Jafari school of jurisprudence which we subscribe to, provided Imam Khomeini (r.a) the ground to present his philosophy, which challenged this world and changed the direction of history.
There is no issue of debate, that we explicitly live in an era called post-Khomeini, and an era pre-Khomeini. This is the reality, whether we like it or not. Important to understand that Imam Khomeini (r.a) did not only establish a political revolution in the name of Islam. The key point to reflect on is that before the revolution in Iran is a political one, it is an ideological revolution first, based upon jurisprudence which he presented!
IMAM KHOMEINI (R.A) PRESENTS A DYNAMIC APPROACH TO WILAYATUL FAQIH
Imam Khomeini (r.a) presented the concept of Wilayatul Faqih, meaning the authority of the jurist. This concept had always existed in Shia tradition, as Wilayah (authority/guardianship) is a cornerstone of our ideology as Shia Muslims. However, Imam Khomeini (r.a) presented a very evolved version, based upon the same traditional principles and methodology.
This is what makes this visionary old man unique, in that he came up with a fresh and very progressive approach to Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) established by Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s). Having said that, his methodology for this progressive approach was in fact an old, traditional methodology! In fact, he used to say that he wants Fiqh of Jawahirul Qalam, which was a very traditional, classical piece of work in Shia jurisprudence.
This is what Imam Khomeini (r.a) emphasized and practiced, but with the same old, traditional methodology, he was able to present the theory of Wilayatul Faqih, which became the foundation for the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In a nutshell, Wilayatul Faqih means that the religious leader has the authority to lead and guide people, and thereby establish the Islamic system of governance.
IMAM KHOMEINI (R.A) MAGNETIZED THE MASSES TOWARDS ESTABLISHING THEIR DEMOCRATIC WISH OF ISLAMIC RULE
Another very unique approach of Imam Khomeini (r.a) is that he empowered the role of the masses in establishing the Islamic system! Again, this was not simply political expediency for Imam Khomeini (r.a) to focus on the masses.
He presented his case purely from the theological perspective, stating that the Islamic government is not a legitimate one if it does not have the support of the public! To be quite frank, this was a strange phenomenon to digest, even amongst the Shia hierarchy at the time.
Imam Khomeini (r.a) was a truly unique Islamic jurist in the history of Sunni and Shia Islam, who proudly promoted that democracy is very much compatible with Islam. This was not simply rhetoric, because Imam Khomeini (r.a) truly believed in it and acted it as well.
He was categoric, that dictatorship is in no way justifiable. And he made it clear that even Islam can never be imposed on the people.
After the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the first thing which Imam Khomeini (r.a) called for was a referendum on whether the masses want Islamic law or not. This left the clergy confused as to why he wants a referendum, because surely this is a rhetorical question. Obviously, the victory of the Islamic Revolution means that the masses want an Islamic system!
IMAM KHOMEINI (R.A) MADE DEEP UNDERSTANDING OF THE SUBJECT A PRIORITY BEFORE ISSUING FATWAS
The role of space and time was another amazing reality established by Imam Khomeini (r.a), when he presented that one cannot interpret religion, and issue religious decrees (fatwas) if you do not understand the time and society you are living in! Time and space are two crucial elements in issuing a fatwa!
While Imam Khomeini (r.a) was exiled in Najaf, he use to teach at a seminary. To get to this location, one needs to pass through a market. Imam Khomeini (r.a) use to challenge his students that they cannot discuss the Islamic laws of good business from the comfort of their classrooms, if they do not know what is happening in this market they are passing through!
You cannot give a fatwa on Islamic economics if you do not understand the banking system and how the economy works in this day and age!
We see this same progressive trend of Imam Khomeini (r.a) in his approach towards women’s rights, which displayed his deep understanding of how women’s responsibilities have evolved over time. There are many, many examples which one can cite regarding his progressive, dynamic approach to Islamic jurisprudence in the school of Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s).
His deep understanding of the challenges of the time meant people came forward to support him and make this Islamic Revolution to be victorious.
Imam Khomeini (r.a) passed away 32 years ago, but his thoughts, ideas and legacy continues to live strong! That being said, he did not make himself to be an “idol”. In fact, he issued a religious decree (fatwa) that you cannot follow a mujtahid who is no longer alive.
Imam Khomeini (r.a) was indeed an intellectual giant, but the evolution of knowledge and understanding does not come to an end with Imam Khomeini (r.a)! His principle guidelines are there forever, but the evolution of thought must continue!
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