Marja’iyyah: Present and Future In the Thought of Sayyid Kamal al-Haydari

Marja’iyyah: Present and Future In the Thought of Sayyid Kamal al-Haydari

MarjaÝiyyah: Present and Future

In the Thought of Sayyid KamÁl al-ÍaydarÐ

1)    The Project of Religious Authority According to Sayyid KamÁl al-Íaydari

SalmÁn ÝAbd al-AÝlÁ



The basis of religious authority according to Sayyid al-ÍaydarÐ

Sayyid KamÁl al-ÍaydarÐ begins his discussion with the following question: ‘What is meant by QurÞÁnic fiqh as opposed to formal fiqh?’ He answers as follows: ‘No one should think that this issue is something I have only recently raised for the first time – I highlighted this issue in a clear and detailed manner in my study of religious learning (tafaqquh fÐ al-dÐn)[1] under the heading of “The scope of learning: What does the QurÞÁn mean by fiqh? What is the difference between the formal meaning of fiqh that is common today and its meaning in the QurÞÁn?” I pointed out the two major differences in this matter, so our friends must not think that this is a question we have only just brought up now!  In fact, this is one of the major topics I believe to be part of the intellectual system of the School of Ahl al-Bayt [a3], namely that any religious scholar must devote his attention to a number of matters.’

He continues: ‘Before mentioning those issues which I believe every religious scholar must attend to, I want to discuss the terminology we find in the QurÞÁn and narrations in a general sense. The luminaries of the School of Ahl al-Bayt [a3] affirm in their words that fiqh, as a word, a technical term and a concept, is not restricted to discussions of the permissible and prohibited things, even if this is how most of us see it today, whether amongst students of the Hawzah, amongst religious people or even amongst people in general. Whenever someone says ‘fiqh’ one’s mind immediately turns to matters of the permissible and prohibited, or a practical legal manual written by one of our scholars. But this is not a proper understanding of fiqh.’

Fiqh according to the QurÞÁn

To clarify the QurÞÁnic meaning of fiqh, Sayyid al-ÍaydarÐ says:

‘When we refer to the QurÞÁn and to Allah’s saying: ‘Yet it is not for the faithful to go forth en masse. But why should not there go forth a group from each of their sections to become learned in religion, and to warn their people when they return to them, so that they may beware?[2] We see it clearly alluding to this fact.

I would like our friends to carefully study what the exegetes have said about this sacred verse; even those who believe that fiqh is restricted to the permissible and the prohibited say that this specialization is a manmade convention (Ýurf), whereas the meaning of the QurÞÁn is much broader than that.’

Sayyid al-ÍaydarÐ then mentions some of the views given by exegetes in this regard, saying: ‘Take, for example, Shaykh al-ÓÙsÐ in al-TibyÁn[3] says ‘Becoming learned (tafaqquh) means to study fiqh, and fiqh means to understand one’s duties – the meaning is implied rather than explicitly stated – but by way of convention (Ýurf) its meaning came to be restricted to knowledge of the permissible and prohibited.’

Then Sayyid al-ÍaydarÐ refers to the words of ÝAllÁmah al-ÓabÁÔabÁÞÐ, when he says: ‘Hence it is clear that the intended meaning of ‘becoming learned’ (tafaqquh) is to gain an understanding of all religious sciences, whether the roots of the religion or its branches,[4] and not just the practical laws (ahkÁm Ýamaliyyah), which is the formal meaning of fiqh amongst religious people. The proof for this is first, ‘to become learned in religion’ and second, ‘and to warn their people…’ because they can only warn their people if they have an understanding of all aspects of the religion, including that which will occasion divine reward or punishment in the Hereafter.’

Sayyid KamÁl concludes by saying: ‘It is clear that the matter of resurrection and the Hereafter is connected to discussions of belief and worldview, [and not merely the permissible and prohibited things.]’

Fiqh according to the narrations

Sayyid KamÁl al-ÍaydarÐ now adduces some narrations to support his position, saying: ‘As for the level of the narrations, we look at the following: From AbÙ ÝAbd Allah al-ÑÁdiq [a] who said: ‘Allah’s Messenger said: ‘Scholars (fuquhÁÞ) are the trustees of the messengers.’’[5]

Here Sayyid KamÁl asks: ‘Did the messengers come to their nations with only the permissible and prohibited? Or did they come to their nations with a complete system of disciplines? No one can say that the intended meaning of fiqh is only the permissible and the prohibited, otherwise a scholar (faqÐh) could not be the trustee of the divine messengers in a complete sense, rather he could only be a partial trustee in one aspect of the divine mission.’’

He then adduces a second narration for his viewpoint, whose text is as follows: ‘I heard AbÙ al-Íasan MÙsÁ b. JaÝfar [a] say: ‘When a believer dies, the angels weep over him, as does the spot on the earth where he used to worship Allah, and the gates of the heavens through which would ascend his good deeds; a void opens up in Islam which cannot be filled, because the learned believers (muÞminÐn fuqahÁÞ) are the fortress of Islam, just as a fortress and its walls protect the city which they surround.’’[6]

Then he asks: ‘If what was meant by religion was only the permissible and the prohibited, then the scholar (faqÐh) will be a protective wall by virtue of knowing this. But if religion includes all the different religion sciences… then in order to be a fortress and a protective wall, the scholar must study all of these sciences, otherwise he will not protect the religion completely.’

He explains his view further by saying: ‘In other words, the religious scholar [who only knows the permissible and the prohibited] will protect Islam from one direction, while the other directions will remain open and exposed to their enemies – intellectual, doctrinal and religious. Therefore, in order to be a complete fortification and all-encompassing wall for Islam, the scholar must study all religious sciences, or else he would not be a complete fortress.’

The third narration he presents is from the chapter ‘On the merits of knowledge’ (KitÁb faÃl al-Ýilm) in the section ‘Knowledge’s description and merit’ (BÁb Òifat al-Ýilm wa faÃlihi). It reads: ‘Indeed scholars are the inheritors of the prophets.’

Then he asks: ‘What is the inheritance of the prophets? Is their inheritance only the [laws governing] what is permissible and prohibited? Or did they bequeath to us every discipline of religious learning, whether Divine Unity (tawÎÐd), Resurrection, prophethood, imamate or Divine Justice? Every one of these disciplines contains hundreds, no, thousands of discussions; a scholar must acquaint himself with all of these if he is to be an inheritor of the prophets…’

He adds: ‘If a person restricts himself [to studying] the matters of the permissible and the prohibited and a practical legal manual, will he not be a scholar? Yes, he is a scholar, but only in that regard. He is not a scholar of Islam, rather he is a scholar specifically in the subject he has studied. For example, he is a scholar of fiqh, but fiqh alone is only one part of the religion, or he could be a scholar of doctrines (ÝaqÁÞid), or ethics (akhlÁq). However, once he has studied all the religious sciences, only then will he be a scholar of religion and an inheritor of the prophets.

He follows on from this, saying: ‘As for the level of the practice of the Imams of the Prophet’s Household [a3], we ask: ‘Did they only bequeath to us only the furÙÝ of al-KÁfÐ, or did they bequeath the furÙÝ of al-KÁfÐ and its uÒÙl?[7] Which one is it? For this reason, the Commander of the Faithful [a] said: ‘The foremost part of religion is knowledge of Him.’[8] He did not say that the foremost part of religion is the chapter of ritual purification (ÔahÁrah),  following a jurist (taqlÐd) or the law of transactions (muÝÁmilÁt).’

The technical meaning of ‘fiqh

To further support his arguments, Sayyid KamÁl al-ÍaydarÐ adduces the technical meaning of fiqh as evidence by recounting the following statement [from Fayà al-KÁshÁnÐ]: ‘They have subjected the first term – fiqh (lit. ‘Understanding’) – to a process of specification (takhÒÐÒ), rather than transference (naql) or conversion (taÎwÐl);  they have restricted its meaning to knowledge of the branches [of religion] (furÙÝ) in legal rulings (fatÁwÁ), the study of the reasons for them, the abundant discussion thereof and the memorization of texts connected to them. The more someone delves into these matters and the more occupy themselves with them, the more learned (afqah) they people will consider them. But in the early period, this was not the case; The word ‘fiqh’ referred to knowing the path leading towards the Hereafter; namely, understanding what would harm men’s souls and ruin their good deeds, comprehending the triviality of this world, being well-aware of the felicity of the Hereafter, and allowing one’s heart to be overwhelmed by the fear of God. You can see this clearly in Allah’s saying: ‘to become learned… and to warn…’  It is with this knowledge and this fiqh that one is to warn and inspire fear in others, rather than going into the details of divorce, mutual imprecation, forward buying (salam) or rental (ijÁra) – because that is not something that acts as a warning, nor does it inspire fear!’

To conclude our discussion of this point, Sayyid KamÁl al-ÍaydarÐ summarizes his own opinion as follows: ‘We believe that we must draw a clear distinction between a religious authority (marjaÝ dÐnÐ), in the sense that we have already mentioned, and an authority in matters of the permissible and forbidden; each one has his own role to play, and there is no cause for this uproar which you have heard of late.’


I find no specific reason to disapprove of anything that Sayyid KamÁl al-ÍaydarÐ has said on this matter. Why is it that we find such sensitivity to his words when he draws a distinction between a scholar of religion and a scholar of fiqh (in the technical sense of the word), especially when he supports his opinion with verses from the QurÞÁn, some interpretations of the exegetes, narrations from the Imams (a3) and a study of the technical meaning of fiqh, in that he relates Fayà al-KÁshÁnÐ’s opinion that the word has been changed from its original meaning? Dear reader, can you find any fault with the argument he presents?

This is while you know that Sayyid al-ÍaydarÐ is not alone in holding this opinion; Shaykh MuÎammad MahdÐ Shams al-DÐn expressed the same idea in his book, TajdÐd al-fikr al-islÁmÐ, when he said: ‘Authority in religion (al-marjaÝiyyah fÐ al-dÐn) is a matter greater and more magnificent than authority in law (marjaÝiyyah fÐ al-sharÐÝah). A legal authority is any mujtahid with the necessary qualifications (jÁmiÝ li  al-sharÁÞiÔ). This is sufficient [for legal authority.] On the other hand, a religious authority goes beyond the level of religious law (al-Îukm al-sharÝÐ) to religious concepts (al-mafhÙm al-sharÝÐ) and knowledge of them. An authority in religious concepts must have a level of comprehension, depth and breadth in knowledge far beyond what would suffice a jurist. This point is difficult to grasp, but we must distinguish between a legal authority and a religious one; a religious authority has a wider and more-encompassing responsibility when compared to someone whose only responsibility it is to derive laws.’[9]

The above statement does not differ from that of Sayyid KamÁl al-ÍaydarÐ save in the words used by the author – the meaning of both is identical. Shaykh Shams al-DÐn uses the term ‘authority in religion’ in opposition to that of ‘authority in law,’ while Sayyid KamÁl uses ‘religious authority’ in opposition to ‘legal authority’ or ‘authority in matters of the permissible and prohibited.’ But both of these terminologies result in the same conclusion.

One might argue: ‘The problem is that when Sayyid al-ÍaydarÐ spoke, he implied that our great scholars were not religious authorities, rather they were only authorities in fiqh in the narrow technical sense of the word. This is where the problem lies.’

In response, I would say: ‘If we believed that the religious authority we attributed to them was the encompassing religious authority and not legal authority in the technical sense, then we must first prove that – at least to ourselves – so that we may be certain in our convictions. After that, we should not be concerned with what Sayyid al-ÍaydarÐ meant by his words. The real problem is that when we look at the words of many religious authorities, we find that they only concerned themselves with matters of fiqh in the technical sense (i.e. laws about what is permissible and prohibited) in the view of Sayyid KamÁl, or matters of law in the view of Shaykh Shams al-DÐn.

For this reason, we should put Sayyid KamÁl al-HaydarÐ and the interpretation of his words to one side and not hasten to pass judgement upon them. Let us instead study the reality of religious authority with regards to its lessons, studies, compositions and topics – are these directed only towards formal fiqh or towards all aspects of religion together? This is the most important matter for discussion – only then can we decide whether or not Sayyid KamÁl’s assessment was accurate.


[1] See al-Tafaqquh fÐ al-dÐn, 40

[2] Al-Tawbah (9):122

[3] Al-ÓÙsÐ, al-TibyÁn, 5/322

[4] i.e. Whether matters of belief (ÝaqÐdah) or practice

[5] Al-UÒÙl min al-kÁfÐ, 1/114 (kitÁb faÃl al-Ýilm, bÁb al-mustaÞkil bi Ýilmihi wa al-mubÁhÐ bihi)

[6] Ibid., 1/92 (kitÁb faÃl al-Ýilm, bÁb faqd al-ÝulamÁÞ)

[7] He refers here to two of the three major divisions of al-KulaynÐ’s collection, al-KÁfÐ: the uÒÙl (roots – concerning matters of belief), the furÙÝ (branches – concerning matters of practice), and the rawÃah (a miscellany).

[8] Nahj al-balÁghah, sermon no. 1

[9] See Shams al-DÐn, Shaykh MuÎammad MahdÐ, al-TajdÐd fÐ al-fikr al-islÁmÐ, 45