The evidence for the thesis of comprehensive religious authority
IJ: You mentioned several points which I would like to clarify for our readers. For example: Is the quality you mentioned, namely comprehensive knowledge (shumÙliyyah), which existed until about two hundred years ago – did the Imams (a3) mention it explicitly during their own time, or have you derived it from what has been narrated from them and their own practices?
KH: When the QurÞÁn speaks about becoming learned in religion (al-tafaqquh fÐ al-dÐn), and when we find the Infallibles (a3) saying that ‘Scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets’ or ‘Scholars are the guardians of Islam,’ is religion restricted to those verses and traditions concerned with the permissible and the prohibited? When you look at the QurÞÁn and read the verse: ‘But why should not there go forth a group from each of their sections to become learned in religion’ is religion here restricted to only knowledge of the permissible and prohibited? Meaning does religion begin with the chapter of ijtihÁd and taqlÐd and end with the chapter on inheritance and compensation, or is religion a complete system of knowledge, comprising doctrines and ethics, as well as law?
In other words, when we refer to the QurÞÁn, we find that at least half of its verses speak about doctrinal issues; about Divine Unity, prophethood, Imamate and Allah’s attributes.
IJ: Divine Unity is the foundation of all other Islamic sciences.
KH: I am speaking about the system of Islamic learning, which Divine Unity (tawhÐd) is the basis of. The system of learning consists of half of the QurÞÁn, or more than three thousand verses! And yet, when we look at the lesser fiqh (i.e. Islamic law), the verses related to it do not exceed six hundred in number.
So why do we place so much emphasis on this component, while forgetting about the rest of the verses and failing to place enough focus on the rest of the religious sciences?
Look at the book al-KÁfÐ, is it only composed of the furÙÝ [i.e. legal traditions] or does it also have a section called uÒÙl containing other disciplines which the Imams discussed and which we are in need of today in our hawzahs.
Therefore the scholar who is a marjaÝ must be comprehensive in his learning so that he will be able to act as a deputy of the Imam (as) during the Lesser Occultation. Just as the Imam himself was comprehensive in his knowledge and was a leader in all areas of Islamic thought, so too must whoever stands in his place during the Greater Occultation possess these qualities.
IJ: Therefore you have derived these ideas from the qualities of the marjaÝ throughout our intellectual history?
KH: [No,] more important that – from the verses of the QurÞÁn and narrations.
What is meant by lesser and greater fiqh?
IJ: You mentioned the idea of a ‘lesser’ fiqh and a ‘greater’ one, what do you mean by that?
KH: When the term ‘lesser fiqh’ is used by our great scholars as a technical term amongst theologians, it refers to those things connected to practical affairs in the life of the human being – the permissible and the forbidden; what he should and should not do. On the other hand, when the term ‘greater fiqh’ is used it refers to matters of faith; what must a Muslim believe in and what must he reject. So the latter is the dimension of faith, whereas the former is the dimension of practice.
So, those things connected to the dimension of faith, like believing in Allah and believing in the Resurrection, these are not found in the practical dimension but only in that of faith. As for when we are discussion prayer, fasting and pilgrimage, these are practical dimensions.
As a technical term, one says ‘greater fiqh’ meaning those things which are called ‘the roots of the religion’ (uÒÙl al-dÐn), while I call them ‘matters of faith’ (umÙr ÐmÁniyyah), namely those things we must believe in. On the other hand the ‘lesser fiqh’ refers to ‘the branches of the religion’ (furÙÝ al-dÐn), or ‘matters of practice’ (umÙr Ýamaliyyah).
IJ: You said that one of the duties of the Imams was setting up a religious state; do you believe that it is the duty of the marjÁ in the present age to set up a religious state? Do you believe in setting up a religious state [at all]?
KH: Yes, in principle. But I do not wish to go into this topic now because it is a separate discussion. Yes, the marjaÝ during the Greater Occultation must try to actualize this according to the principles and conditions laid out. But what are these conditions? For example: Does he use democratic means to establish the state? I would prefer to leave this discussion for another time.