3 February 2022 (1st Rajab 1443)

Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid,

Ottery, Cape Town

Moulana Syed Aftab Haider

Today, the 1st Rajab, is the birthday of the 5th Imam of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s). He is the son of our 4th Imam of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s), and the grandson of Imam Hussain (a.s).

Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s) is amongst those Imams of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) who had the opportunity to teach people the pure and pristine teachings of Islam, which became very confusing previously, under the clouds of doubt and infiltration of different thoughts and ideologies over the years.

In fact, Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s), namely the father of Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s), is the one who established the very first academic movement, which was very much focused on teaching the true ideology of Islam.

Then of course, during the era of Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s) and gradually during the era of his son, our 6th Imam of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s), this movement of education to defend the borders of Islamic thought, philosophy and ideology reached its peak.

Imam Muhammad Baqir’s (a.s) title is “Baqir”, which means something which opens. He was called by the title “Baqir” because he opened up the expansive ocean of knowledge to the people.


We are also gathered here to remember a great student from this institution of Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s) and Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s): Ayatullah al-Uzma Lutfullah Safi Golpaygani, whom we are commemorating and paying our respects upon his passing.

If one reflects on various Islamic resources and teachings from the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s), such as Hadith, commentary of the Holy Quran (Tafsir), we will realize that probably 60% (if not more) has been narrated from these two Imams, namely Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s) and Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s). This is more particularly so, on the subjects of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence).

This great man whom we are honouring, Ayatullah Safi Golpaygani, was a Faqih (jurist) ie. someone who achieved the status of Ijtihad, which refers to the academic level achieved where you are able to extract laws of Almighty Allah (SWT) from its legitimate resources, namely the Holy Quran, Prophetic Sunnah, Ijma’ (consensus) and Aql (intellect), by using the expansive treasures left by these two Imams of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) ie. Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s) and Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s).

What an amazing coincidence it is, that it is on the birthday of this great Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s), that we see this grand academic and great scholar of this Imam (Ayatullah Safi Golpaygani) buried in the shrine of his master and beloved Aba Abdillah, chief of martyrs, Imam Hussain (a.s) in Karbala!

As you would notice, the academic excellence of Ayatullah Safi Golpaygani is a defining aspect I wish to highlight. He was an expert of jurisprudence (Fiqh) of Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) and dedicated his life to understanding the school of thought of this great Imam of the Ahlul Bait (a.s).


Another aspect of this great personality of Ayatullah Safi Golpaygani, which is not confined to him personally, is that he represents the institution of Marja’iyyah I wish to delve deeper into.

There are certain institutions in the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s) which we have proudly embraced and following, but we may not have properly digested them in our society, even though they may appear to be clear, ideologically.

Therefore, this discussion is not only to honour and respect this grand Ayatullah Safi Golpaygani, who was indeed a very pious scholar. Rather, it is an opportunity for us to understand and appreciate this great institution of Marja’iyyah, which Ayatullah Safi Golpaygani represented.

This institution of Marja’iyyah is unique to Shia Islam. It does not exist amongst our Sunni brethren. Hence it is crucial for us all to grasp and digest this, since it is strange for them.


In the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s), we as Shia Muslims place a great emphasis on the issue of leadership ie. IMAMAT. We all know this as the key point of differentiation between Shia and Sunni approaches to Islam, where we Shia Muslims believe in the leadership of 12 infallible Imams.

As Shia Muslims, we believe that after our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), leadership belongs to his purified Ahlul Bait (a.s), starting with Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s) as his divinely appointed successor as the first Imam. From there, Imamat is transferred to 11 further successors across the passage of time, culminating in Imamat currently being vested with the Imam of our time, our awaited saviour, Imam Mahdi (atfs).

We believe that these are our infallible leaders, as our:

1.       Spiritual leaders

2.       Academic and cultural leaders

3.       Socio-political leaders

We do not separate between these three areas of leadership. So then, when we revere Imam Ali (a.s), it is on all these three areas of leadership INTEGRATED.

We believe that the Imam of our time, Imam Mahdi (atfs), went into occultation a few years after his era of leadership started. Shia Muslims do not have any direct access to him. So then, the key question is, how will the leadership of this community of Shia Muslims continue (if we do not have access to him) considering that leadership is fundamental to our doctrine as Shia Muslims?


One can argue that on the level of spirituality, direct access to the leader is not a requirement, as the existence of the Imam is itself sufficient. A useful analogy to illustrate the point is when the sun is behind the clouds. We do not see the sun in that case, yet we continue to benefit from the sun, while it is concealed behind the clouds.

Secondly, when it comes to the academic and cultural leadership, it is still possible to a certain extent, in the absence of direct access to the Imam of our time. These 12 Imams of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) have left us with an expansive treasure, being their rich legacy of knowledge and guidance, which can direct us to a certain extent.

That being said, it is quite hard, because to have a questioned answered from their ocean of Hadith, traditions, education and teachings is a monumental task. Therefore, there is a constant need for someone who is capable to extract for us the applicable rulings and guidelines from the Holy Quran, Prophetic Sunnah and the teachings of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), to give us direction.

So then, the key question is, who are we going to ask during this era where we do not have direct access to the Imam of our time?

Thirdly, we constantly require socio-political guidance and leadership, even during the occultation of Imam Mahdi (atfs). Now, if we do not have direct access to Imam Mahdi (atfs), then are we in practical terms any different to the approach of Sunni Muslims? What is the reality of Shia Muslims then, after Imam Mahdi (atfs) went into occultation, if there is no system of leadership and guidance?


What we really appreciate is that the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s) left a system of guidance and leadership for us, during this time when we do not have direct access to our living Imam Mahdi (atfs). They asked us Shia Muslims to follow the direction given by the religious scholars and jurists. They are our leaders during this period.

There is a well-known Hadith defining who the rightful religious scholars are to follow. They are the ones who:

1.       Take care of themselves and conduct their lives righteously

2.       Guard religion

3.       Oppose their desires

4.       Obey the commands of Almighty Allah (SWT)

5.       Stand for justice

We are required to follow (Taqleed) such personalities in our midst and accept them as our leaders. With this leadership of religious and pious scholars in academic and cultural, jurisprudential and socio-political matters, this institution of Marja’iyyah was born, upon the dawn of the era of the occultation of our living Imam, namely Imam Mahdi (atfs).

Our Imams of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) established this framework of guidance very strongly, to the point where they have declared whoever rejects the authority of the religious scholars fulfilling the criteria described above (Marja) would amount to rejecting them, the Ahlul Bait (a.s).

The Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s) have declared that such religious leaders in our time are the trusted custodians of what Almighty Allah (SWT) considers Halaal (permissible) and Haraam (forbidden).


Imam Mahdi (atfs) specifically appointed four deputies while in occultation. During the time of the fourth deputy whom he appointed, he wrote a letter to his fourth deputy, stating that after his passing, there will be no further official appointment by him (Imam Mahdi (atfs)) of further deputies.

He further stated in this letter that it will be an open system, whereby whoever fulfils the criteria noted above from the religious establishment will be considered the rightful leader during this period of his occultation.

With this particular guideline from Imam Mahdi (atfs), the leadership of Ulama (religious scholars) gradually started evolving. It was not an instantaneous, overnight process. It was a gradual evolution into the institution of Marja’iyyah we see today.

This principle, that you have to follow a Marja (grand spiritual authority) if you are Shia, is unique to the Shia approach to Islam. Within the Sunni approach to Islam, people follow one of the four Madha’ib, namely Shafi’i, Hanafi, Hanbali or Maliki. However, they passed away more than a thousand years ago!

Sunni Muslims therefore have no relationship with these four respected jurists, and their affiliation is merely on the basis of following their religious decrees (fatwa). In contrast, Shia Muslims have direct access with the Marja (grand spiritual authority) whose leadership you decide to accept for guidance and religious decrees.


Another very important point in this regard, which made Marja’iyyah a very powerful institution, is that it was established from the beginning that you cannot follow a jurist who is no longer alive. The Marja you decide to follow MUST be alive.

Every Marja has an official metallic stamp, which they use to notarize their religious decrees (fatwa) or for stamping receipts in acknowledgement of funds received eg. khums (religious tax). An interesting tradition that always happens when a Marja passes away is that a number of people get together and they melt or deface the stamp which the Marja used.

This practice was again observed now with the passing away of Ayatullah Safi Golpaygani, where his stamp was broken, which means that his name cannot be used to endorse anything further, nor is anyone authorized any longer to receive money under his name, as he is no longer in this world. People therefore need to transfer their allegiance to a living Marja.

This dynamic institution of Marja’iyyah played a most crucial role in the survival of Shia Islam, in the face of all the challenges.

This is not a biased statement I am making, because even our enemies have acknowledged this fact, stating that one of the most powerful attributes of Shia Islam is this institution of Marja’iyyah, since we are directly connected to our leader, with the leadership and religious decrees we follow coming directly from the Marja and our religious taxes being paid directly to the Marja’s office or the representatives he has directly authorized. 


Naturally, the socio-political role which the Marja played certainly differed from time to time, based on the prevailing conditions operating in society then. However, the socio-political role of the Marja never disappeared! It certainly was always active and respected.

Even in the days when kings were ruling and the Marja did not carry major political power, these corrupt and illegitimate rulers were still wary of the highly influential role that the Marja has on the masses. These rulers remained scared of the Marja, despite the Marja having no political power or budget for that matter.

Let me share an example to illustrate this point. Grand Ayatullah Mirza Shirazi (r.a) was the supreme Shia leader of his time, in the late 1800s. This great Marja was based in Samarra, Iraq. In 1890, the ruling Shah of Iran at the time (Nasir al-Din Shah) signed an agreement with the British, which granted them control over the growth, sale and export of tobacco.

This Marja, sitting in Iraq (different country!) regarded this agreement with the British as a great threat, since it was an entry to the market which would mean controlling the resources of Iran at the time.  He issued a fatwa (religious decree) from Samarra, Iraq stating “today, the consumption of tobacco is like war with Imam Mahdi (a.s)!”

Grand Ayatullah Mirza Shirazi (r.a) wrote this one powerful sentence and embossed it with his official stamp. The next day, in the palace of the ruling Shah, his women broke all those tobacco pipes! The Shah was enraged with what his wives did, but they explained to him that the Marja gave a fatwa stating “today, the consumption of tobacco is like war with Imam Mahdi (a.s)!”

This fatwa, obeyed by the masses support for the institution of Marja’iyyah, resulted in the tobacco agreement, which Nasir al-Din Shan made with the British, falling apart. There are numerous such examples we can cite, which highlights the power of Marja’iyyah.


Marja’iyyah naturally went through very difficult times, with heavy pressures especially during the rule of the Ba’athist regime under Saddam in Iraq and before that as well. However, the institution of Marja’iyyah stood firm in their resistance to protect the Hauza (Islamic Seminary) of Najaf.

Of course, as we all know, this was the same institution of Marja’iyyah which could succeed in presenting to the world the only unique system of an Islamic Republic in our time. And this was by none other than a grand Marja, Imam Khomeini (r.a)!

In a traditional Shia setup, when people bring their Khums (religious tax), they will declare to the authorized receiver or custodian which Marja they are a follower of. This Khums can only be paid over to an authorized representative of the Marja, who will give you an official receipt for this Khums received on behalf of the Marja you follow.

The Islamic Revolution in itself, was led by a Marja, Imam Khomeini (r.a). Yes, he presented a model of Islamic governance for this era referred to as Wilayat-e-Faqih (authority of the jurist). After Imam Khomeini (r.a) passed away in 1989, the leadership of the Islamic Revolution under this model of Wilayat-e-Faqih continues under the supreme leadership of our leader and Marja, Ayatullah Khamenei, may Allah (SWT) protect him and prolong his life.

Let us look at the power of Marja’iyyah in Iraq, under the extremely powerful leadership of Ayatullah Sistani, may Allah (SWT) protect him and prolong his life. This highly revered man hardly makes public statements, but EVERYBODY knows that the most powerful person in Iraq is Ayatullah Sistani!

Allies and enemies are all acutely aware of this reality, but if you ask a non-Shia who their most powerful figure is, then they will not be able to share a name, because this identity of Marja’iyyah is not there. This should please not be misinterpreted as being sectarian. Rather, I am highlighting this so that we can realize the great blessing of this institution of Marja’iyyah and its profound impact across the ages.


This institution of Marja’iyyah runs the Islamic Seminaries (Houza al-Ilmiyyah) and provides guidance to the followers of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) everywhere in the world. Furthermore, we also see the institutions they established across the world, example by Ayatullah Sistani and Ayatullah Khui before him.

Similarly, I wish to highlight how caring this Marja was, whom we are remembering: Ayatullah al-Uzma Lutfullah Safi Golpaygani (r.a). Marja’iyyah is a shelter, and indeed, he was a shelter!

I can never forget, in the darkest days of our history of Shia Muslims in South Africa, when the horrific terrorist attack occurred at Imam Hussain (a.s) Mosque in Durban on 10 My 2018, which resulted in the martyrdom of Shaheed Abbas Essop.

We all know first-hand what a most difficult time this was for our Shia community across the country. Every Shia Muslim in every corner of South Africa was impacted on those days. I can never forget that I was sitting at the martyred body of Shaheed Abbas Essop at his home and my phone rang. It was the son of Ayatullah Safi Golpaygani calling, saying that his father (Ayatullah Safi Golpaygani) wants to speak.

Ayatullah Safi Golpaygani (r.a) gave extremely comforting words, reassuring that Almighty Allah (SWT) is with us and that Imam Hussain (a.s) is proud of us. Ayatullah Safi Golpaygani (r.a) further said that I should please share this with the parents of Shaheed Abbas Essop, reminding them that he is now in the care of Lady Fatima Zahra (s.a).

I can never forget those most loving, caring and compassionate sentences counselling us while the body of Shaheed Abbas Essop was in front of me. Hajj Muhammad Ali Panjbhai, the father of Shaheed Abbas Essop, was alongside me, listening in to these comforting words.

This was not a random person in the street sharing powerful and kind words to console. It was this Marja Ayatullah Safi Golpaygani, an authority, giving the guarantee that Imam Hussain (a.s) is proud of Shaheed Abbas Essop and he is in the care of our mother, Lady Fatima Zahra (s.a)!


This Marja was a true ambassador of the institution of Marja’iyyah, through his simplicity, humility, God-consciousness and absence from worldly temptations.

We saw on the Facebook video (  https://fb.watch/b4R9RfbRwD/)  how Ayatullah Safi Golpaygani places the turban (amamah) on the head of the qualified African student of Hauza in Qom and then kisses his hand afterwards. He did these kinds of things not to show off or patronize, but out of his humility and excitement for this student as a messenger of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) in Africa, which he explained is a great honour, and therefore kissed the hand of the graduated student.

I met this great man, Ayatullah Safi Golpaygani (r.a), on numerous occasions. And those who were part of our Ziyarat groups in 2011 and 2018 to Iraq and Iran also had the great privilege of meeting this noble personality. He was most excited and emotional to see us as the pilgrims of Imam Hussain (a.s).

When our mosque opening took place on the first weekend in December 2017 during the days of Milad-un-Nabi, we opened our program with the detailed written message which Ayatullah Safi Golpaygani sent especially for the grand opening.

Whenever I met him, he would always say that they are living a comfortable life in Qom, Iran and saying that we are the Mujahid, leading the struggle in this part of the world. I used to always feel ashamed of myself when he would say this, thinking who I am who has accomplished nothing in comparison to the superior rank of this great Ayatullah, yet he was extraordinary humble.


Another very important aspect of the personality of Ayatullah Safi Golpaygani (r.a) was his amazing passion for the Ahlul Bait (a.s), especially Sayyid-as-Shuhada Imam Hussain (a.s). The mere mention of Imam Hussain (a.s) would bring tears to his eyes.

He passed away now, at the age of 103 years old. During the days of mourning for Imam Hussain (a.s) and our beloved mother Lady Fatima Zahra (s.a), he would walk as part of the processions taking place in the streets of Qom, under the intense heat during the day. He did this consistently until Covid restricted mass gatherings two years ago. This is a glimpse into his dedication.

Another very important aspect of his personality was his dedication to the Imam of our time, our awaited saviour, Imam Mahdi (atfs). He has written many books about Imam Mahdi (atfs). Amongst these is a very beautiful compilation of all the Hadith narrated about Imam Mahdi (atfs).

He has also written works responding to the doubts about Imam Mahdi (atfs), such as his existence, his occultation, age etc. Doubt is the best weapon used by Satan to weaken our faith in Imam Mahdi (atfs). Please refer to this transcript Facebook https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=308824647953270&id=100064772106822 for a most impactful discussion on this subject of doubt as a Satanic weapon!

It was his tradition that whenever people would visit him, he would quote a Hadith about Imam Mahdi (atfs) or remind about Imam Mahdi (atfs) being our protector when we endure stressful times.

There was a lengthy Hadith about Imam Mahdi (atfs) which Ayatullah Safi Golpaygani (r.a) narrated from one of the Imams of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), who said that the people during the era of Imam Mahdi (atfs) will be better than the people during the era of Imam Ali (a.s) and our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA)!

The obvious question is how can this be? And the reason is that the people during the era of Imam Mahdi (atfs) have never seen him, but their intellectual capacity and level of spirituality reached the status where their faith and belief in Imam Mahdi (atfs) is higher and stronger than those who have seen the proofs of Almighty Allah (SWT) on the earth ie. Rasulullah (SAWA) and his Ahlul Bait (a.s).

It is a well established custom that Thursday night is special for the Ziyarat of Imam Hussain (a.s). Hence, scores of people congregate in Karbala on a Thursday night for the Ziyarat of Imam Hussain (a.s). There are authentic Hadith narrations describing how the angels and divine Prophets (a.s) descend from the Heavens at the shrine of Imam Hussain (a.s) on a Thursday night for his Ziyarat.

How privileged is Ayatullah Safi Golpaygani (r.a) to be buried on such a special night, in the sacred precincts of the shrine of Imam Hussain (a.s) in Karbala!

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