Choosing a marja'; ways, means and requirements

Choosing a marja'; ways, means and requirements

Choosing a marjaÝ; ways, means and requirements

IJ: Let us talk about another topic which you are interested in, namely what are the ways in which we can identify a religious authority in our hawzas? How do we choose him? Are there reliable methods we can use for this? As you know, some issues have been raised such as pre-eminence in knowledge (aÝlamiyyah) which, as far as I know, is a late development raised by some jurists – does it have any precedent? And what are its criteria? We would like very much for you to clarify this for us!

KH: In reality, the mechanisms in our hawzas today are centred around the following issues:

First: the writings and scholarly output of the marjaÝ – in other words, you look at his writings and from these you recognize his pre-eminence in knowledge. For example, how do we know that Shaykh al-MufÐd was one of the great scholars of our sect – in fact, the greatest scholar of his time? By looking at the writings of his which we possess today. Why do we not dispute that al-MufÐd was one of the greatest scholars in our history? Because these are his writings, this is his scholarly output, these are his books, all of which we can refer to and all of which demonstrate that he was clearly pre-eminent in his knowledge. Now let us turn to Shaykh al-ÓÙsÐ and we find the same is true, as it is for ÝAllÁmah al-ÍillÐ, ÝAllÁmah al-MajlisÐ and other great scholars.

In our present time, let us look at Sayyid al-KhÙÞÐ, how do we know that he was one of the greatest jurists of our age? By looking at his voluminous writings on jurisprudence. How do we know that he was one of the great rijÁlists of our age? By looking at his voluminous writings on the science of rijÁl. And so on. How do we know that Sayyid al-ÓabÁÔabÁÞÐ was one of the greatest QurÞÁnic commentators amongst all the Muslims who have ever lived? By looking at his tafsÐr, al-MÐzÁn. How do we know that ShahÐd MuÎammad BÁqir al-Ñadr was one of the greatest logicians of our age? By looking at his Ussus al-manÔiqiyyah li al-istiqrÁÞ. How do we know he was one of the greatest uÒÙlÐs? Look at his three books of UÒÙl al-fiqh!

Therefore the best way to know the specialty and ability of a candidate for religious authority during the Occultation is to look at his writings.

Second: Look at how much he has taught in the hawzas.

IJ: You mean his presence in the hawzas?

KH: Not just presence, but actual teaching; because he could be present but not teach, and we cannot estimate the value of this “presence.”

Therefore we must know his scholarly presence in the hawzas. This is something we have found amongst the great scholars today, whether in Qom or Najaf. Imagine that Sayyid al-KhÙÞÐ wrote nothing, but when we look at his students over the course of sixty years we find that they are some of the greatest scholars of our sect. This shows that their teacher was a specialist and himself a great scholar of the sect.

Therefore, the second way in which we can identify a potential religious authority is through his teaching and scholarly presence in the hawzas.

I believe that these two methods are the basis for determining whether or not a particular person is qualified for religious leadership during the Occultation.

The value of fame and renown in identifying a marjaÝ

Now, you might ask: ‘But what about renown (shÐyÁÝ) which they mention in their practical manuals of Islamic law?’

To respond, what is meant by renown is not renown amongst the ordinary people, because ordinary people are not experts in this matter [to be able to identify a true scholar.] Rather, what is meant is renown amongst experts and specialists in the hawza. If someone is famed amongst the senior scholars of the hawza, and they say that such a person is a leading expert, then there is no doubt that this sort of renown shows he is worthy of being a marjaÝ. However, when is this renown attained? This renown depends upon the first and second means I mentioned above. In other words, such a scholar is known either through his writings and scholarly output, or through his teaching and lessons in the hawza. There is no value to renown that does not accrue as a result of these two causes.

Therefore, I believe that the most important means at our disposal for identifying a marjaÝ are first his scholarly output and second his teaching and presence in the hawzas. The criterion of renown is accrued as a result of these two criteria; if renown stems from them then it has value, but if such renown merely comes from being in the media or from other reasons, then this sort of renown has no value in identifying a marjaÝ.