Projects of legal reform and renewal, a reading and a correction
IJ: Successive criticisms and attacks have been made against projects aiming to bring about renewal in Islamic Law; how do you appraise the initiatives to promote legal renewal and reform which have been put forth until now? What means do their followers have at their disposal to bring about renewal in Islamic Law?
KH: This is not one question but five! I will confine myself to speaking in general terms, otherwise if we entered each of these topics, it would take a lot of time!
Man is naturally accustomed to what is familiar. The issue of renewal, reform and change is something promoted by the prophets from Day One. Is there any prophet who brought a divine code and did not face opposition? Not from the majority of people, but only from those who had interests bound up in the status quo. Look at Western society today, that lives on the basis of freedom and democracy; in the United States today you find tens and hundreds of thousands of people protesting against how their nation’s economy has been managed, namely against Capitalism.
The question is: How has the existing order managed to oppose them while supposedly resting on the principles of Freedom and Democracy? The ones who have opposed them are those who have an interest in maintaining the status quo. This is a general rule and not one that only applies to one society but not another, nor to one group but not another. Whenever there is a group, it has bases, interests and special classes that profit from these interests. So when someone comes and wants to alter the axioms on which this all rests, he will face strong opposition. I do not mean to say that all calls for reform were one hundred per cent correct. No, what I am saying is that it is human nature that when there is a particular order that rests on particular foundations and promotes particular interests, and this order lasts for a generation or two, or even a century or two, and someone comes calling for renewal, reform and change, it is only natural that they will face opposition from those with a vested interest in seeing the status quo maintained.
Therefore it is fanciful for us to imagine that we can simply call for a movement of reform, renewal and change, and no one will react to that. This is pure fantasy; it is impossible to please everyone.
Yes, a reformer, who calls others to a reform movement, to the extent that he is able, must avoid clashing with popular principles. This is important to me, why? Because he wants to mobilize for the sake of the people, but entrenched interests are able to manipulate the ordinary people to stand against these movements of reform and renewal, just as they did with regards to many movements. The QurÞÁn makes plain that Pharaoh said: ‘I fear that Moses will replace your religion!’ He said this because he wanted to stir up people’s emotions and feelings in order that they oppose Moses’ movement.
Therefore, on this basis, I believe that this is one of the established methods (sunnah min sunan) of bringing about change to which we should pay attention; namely, that when you put out a new idea for the sake of the people, other groups with a vested interest in preserving the current condition of the people will oppose you. Our hawzas are no exception to this rule.
For example, there are now a collection of official textbooks studied in the hawzas, whether at the level of uÒÙl al-fiqh or fiqh itself. But we have seen that in the last hundred or fifty years there have been new books written and new scholars trying to update the syllabus. And yet these efforts were rejected – why? I do not believe that this necessarily results from ill intent; probably those who rejected these efforts probably only did so because they were not proficient enough in the new texts to teach them, so they feared they would lose their scholarly position within the hawzas.
For example, someone who has spent his entire life teaching KifÁyat al-uÒÙl in the hawzas and who has organized his life on the assumption that he is always going to be teaching KifÁyat al-uÒÙl, when an initiative that would result in removing the book KifÁyat al-uÒÙl from the hawza, he will most certainly oppose this change because he will lose his position. It is not necessary for this person to be morally corrupt for him to oppose this, rather it is natural – given the circumstances – that he will respond negatively to renewal and reform.
The programme of study in hawzas today is predicated on the idea that someone must devote all of his time to studying fiqh and uÒÙl for twenty, thirty or even forty years in order to become a marjaÝ. When someone calls for reform – as we do now – and focuses on the study of tafsÐr, doctrines and their principles and philosophy amongst others, then of course these scholars will not accept this and will respond with criticism.
Therefore the general rule is that any sort of renewal or reform will face opposition, whether this reform is at the level of scholarship or at the level of institutions.
The hidden background behind the criticism of KamÁl al-ÍaydarÐ’s marjaÝiyyah project
IJ: There are those who talk about the existence of a background, sometimes ethnic, sometimes intellectual, that is behind your marjaÝiyyah project. At times, the discussion focuses on the fact that an Arabic marjaÝiyyah has been prevented from emerging in the ShÐÝah community, and at others on the danger of proponents of philosophy and intellectual sciences from attaining the rank of marjaÝ – how do you assess the sort of discussions taking place at the moment?
KH: In reality, this question is two questions in one. First: The ethnic background to the issue, and second: the intellectual, doctrinal and philosophical background to it.
As for the intellectual background, I believe that the school of Ahl al-Bayt has two readings: one which rests upon the principles of kalÁm and one which does not. Or, to put it another way: one which rests on a legalist approach and one which does not.
The approach prevalent in our hawzas today is that of approaching the school, with all of its dimensions and disciplines, from a legalistic viewpoint. I imagine that many of our great scholars follow this approach and believe that if someone becomes a faqÐh in the lesser fiqh, then they have the right to assume a position of religious leadership during the Occultation.
What I am saying is that the strongest interpretation is the other one. And what is this other reading? It is the reading that rests upon tafsÐr, doctrines and their preliminaries; philosophy, ÝirfÁn, QurÞÁnic sciences and others.
This disagreement is ancient and continues down to our present day. My personal opinion is that the view Imam KhumaynÐ presented of the school of Ahl al-Bayt did not rest on the basis of the first kind of reading. For this reason, we see all of these renewals that took place, did so entirely on the basis of the second reading. The theory of absolute wilÁyat al-faqÐh did not come from scholars with a legalistic reading of the religion, rather it came from scholars who followed a rational, philosophical, ÝirfÁnic and QurÞÁnic approach. Now you see in the hawzas, especially that of Qom, that they are the ones who safeguarded the vision of the Imam and called others to this reading of the religion as well.
Therefore, this is a methodological issue at a level prior to arriving at that of marjaÝiyyah. Whoever wants to present a reading of the principles of this school of thought must then first define the method upon which he relies. Does he wish to rely on a legalistic reading, or does he wish to rely on a rational reading? Be certain that the results and outcomes will differ depending on which approach he chooses, as will his approach to dealing with others.
Therefore, this is a very natural issue. I say it clearly and openly: I am not a scholar who employs a solely legalistic reading of this school of thought. I believe that we must have a holistic approach to the principles of our school as a result of this general view, and I think that we should show as much concern for our principles of belief as we do for our religious laws. When you come to religious laws now, for example, and when you ask about any legal issue, no one will give you the opinion of Shaykh al-MufÐd, Shaykh al-ÑadÙq or that of Shaykh al-ÓÙsÐ, nor even that of al-MuÎaqqiq al-HillÐ or his nephew, al-ÝAllÁmah; they will not give you the view of al-MajlisÐ or al-Àkhund al-KhurasÁnÐ (the author of KifÁyat al-uÒÙl), who lived a hundred years ago, nor that of al-IsfahÁnÐ. No, they will give you the opinions of living jurists. You might ask: ‘Why do you not refer me to al-NÁÞÐnÐ?’ But they will say: ‘No, because after al-NÁÞÐnÐ new legal theories have been put forward.’ This means that fiqh is constantly developing. But when you ask about an issue of doctrine, they will say: ‘Shaykh al-MufÐd says….’ And what does that tell you?
IJ: It tells us that there is no development, or at least very little.
The need for ijtihÁd and renewal in the sciences of KalÁm and TafsÐr
KH: Or that until now we are a thousand years behind in the development of our doctrines. It should be the case, on balance, that when we develop in our study of the principles of jurisprudence, we also develop in our study of the principles of our doctrines too, and that when we develop our jurisprudence, we develop our doctrine to an equal extent. This has not been the case. I believe in this fact. When you ask: ‘What is your opinion about the ritual purity of the People of the Book?’ They will respond: ‘Some jurists say they are ritually pure, others say they are not.’ On the other hand, when you ask about a doctrinal issue, for example whether or not the Imam has wilÁyah takwÐniyyah, you see they refer back to Shaykh al-MufÐd. In fact, what they should say is: ‘Some modern scholars affirm the wilÁyah takwÐniyyah of the Imam, while others reject it, and they have the right to do so because the discussion is ongoing; such-and-such evidence supports this view and such-and-such that, and someone might devise a third distinct option.’
I am saying we need a renewal of our doctrines, of the way in which we discuss our doctrines and of ijtihÁd in our doctrines just as we have all of these in jurisprudence. This is what we unfortunately lack in our hawzas today. The same is true of tafsÐr. Look now, if someone asked us: ‘Suppose Sayyid al-ÓabÁÔabÁÞÐ did not write his TafsÐr al-mÐzÁn, what sort of tafsÐr would we have had?’ We would have to say: ‘Well, Shaykh al-ÓÙsÐ says in al-TibyÁn…’ or ‘Shaykh al-Tab>rasÐ says in Majma’ al-bayÁn…’ but where are the views of the modern scholars? Yes, by Allah’s grace, in recent times Sayyid ÝAbd al-AÝlÁ al-SabzawÁrÐ and other notable figures, such as Shaykh NÁÒir MakÁrim al-ShÐrÁzÐ and Shaykh JawÁdÐ al-ÀmulÐ have begun to write other commentaries on the QurÞÁn, but for many years the science of tafsÐr was stagnant. I call our our hawzas to develop in the study of the QurÞÁn just as they have developed in fiqh and uÒÙl.
And I am saying we need to lay the foundations for the school of Ahl al-Bayt on something more than just those of jurisprudence; on rational foundations, QurÞÁnic foundations, ÝIrfÁnic foundations; we need to offer up an interpretation of all these foundations, not just the legal ones!