Religious authority: Role and responsibilities

Religious authority: Role and responsibilities

Religious authority: Role and responsibilities

The question is: To whom should we entrust the affairs of the ShÐÝah during the Greater Occultation? This is the fundamental issue from which we must derive the necessary qualifications of one who steps forward to claim such a position.

In order to acquaint ourselves with the necessary qualifications for one who claims a position of leadership and religious authority over the followers of the Ahl al-Bayt during the Greater Occultation, we must look at what the Imams did.

It is clear that the role of the Imams was not confined to explaining only one aspect of religious sciences, namely that which is connected to the permissible and the prohibited, or connected to the lesser fiqh. Rather the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt set out to explain the complete system of religious sciences, whether connected to the QurÞÁn, tafsÐr, doctrines and beliefs, ethics or law; whether connected to individual matters or social ones. The Imams set out to explain all of these areas – to the extent that they were able – to their followers and the Muslims in general.

So what are the conditions that the marjaÝ must possess during the Greater Occultation?

The marjaÝor mujtahid must perform the same function as the infallible Imam did. We only refer to him as a marjaÝ because he undertakes these matters, and because the Imam (as) did not confine himself to explaining the permissible and the prohibited in individual matters alone (i.e. to the extent of a practical legal manual – a risÁlah Ýamaliyyah), but rather would explain all aspects of the religion.

IJ: And respond to doubts

KH: Yes, and respond to doubts, and protect the boundaries of the religion from intellectual, cultural and doctrinal attacks. All of these functions became the purview of the marjaÝ during the Greater Occultation.

Between religious authority and legal authority

For this reason we believe that whoever wants to take up the position of general authority during the Greater Occultation must be an authority in all areas of religious learning. He cannot suffice himself with being an authority in law alone.

On this basis, in this new project which we have undertaken in comprehensive authority we have distinguished between legal authority and religious authority. By law (fiqh), we mean the lesser fiqh, in that we said that the marjaÝ cannot only be versed in Islamic law, and the most-learned – according to current terminology – in matters of the permissible and prohibited. He must be the most-learned – or possess a very high level of understanding – in all Islamic sciences.

This is what we have seen in our marÁjaÝ in the past. This is what we saw during the Lesser Occultation, or at least something similar to this. You find that Shaykh al-ÓÙsÐ was not only a jurist, he was a jurist and a commentator on the QurÞÁn, as well as a theologian (mutakallim). When we look at the writings of Shaykh al-ÓÙsÐ, we find that he did not only write in the subjects of fiqh and uÒÙl; he wrote on doctrines, tafsÐr, apologetics and polemics too. In fact, even before that we find that Shaykh al-MufÐd was first and foremost a theologian, and then a jurist. This reveals the nature and general framework of the authority enjoyed by those scholars.

This state of affairs persisted until not too long ago, two centuries or more. But since that time, the hawzahs, especially Najaf, have become one-dimensional and marjaÝiyyah falls to those who are most knowledgeable in the lesser fiqh – i.e. the laws of what is and is not permissible – alone, without any concern being given to their level of knowledge in other areas of learning.

I am not saying that these scholars know nothing about other non-legal disciplines, but what I want to say is that their primary concern and the focus of their scholarly writing is a single dimension of learning, namely fiqh and uÒÙl.

I imagine that this matter has led us to see, when we look at some of our centres of learning such as Najaf, that fiqh studies – meaning the study of Islamic law – and uÒÙl studies have developed well. On the other hand, when we look at other disciplines or other fields of inquiry in religion, such as tafsÐr, doctrines and polemics, we see that these have not been given a fundamental role as is the case with fiqh and uÒÙl, that is assuming they have not been neglected altogether!

In  other words, I believe that during the Major Occultation, the marjaÝ must possess the same qualifications as the Infallible Imam (as) in order to fulfil his functions. This is, of course, while paying attention to the distinction of the Imams by virtue of their infallibility and the divine knowledge which the Infallible enjoys. Infallibility in the Imams is reflected in the qualification of moral rectitude (al-ÝadÁlah), piety and self-control in the marjaÝ and the former’s divine knowledge is reflected in the comprehensive religious knowledge of the latter. Therefore we cannot say that the only condition for a marjaÝ is to be learned in the law; to that we must add comprehensive religious knowledge, through which the person becomes qualified to assume the lofty rank of marjaÝiyyah.