Religious learning between cohesion and separation

Religious learning between cohesion and separation

Religious learning between cohesion and separation

IJ: We would like it very much if you would discuss those areas of Islamic learning that a marjaÝ must have mastered.

KH: First of all, I must clarify an important principle, and thereafter move to another discussion. I believe that Islam is a single, cohesive system of knowledge; a single body. Religious sciences are not islands separated from one another; they are a single body of knowledge. In fact, they are a single reality. Yes, we – for practical, pedagogical and literary reasons in our centres of learning – divide this religion into parts, saying: ‘These are the roots of the religion, those are its branches; this is the chapter dealing with prayer, that is the one dealing with fasting; these are individual issues, those are societal issues, but what is the reality? The reality is that these issues are a single unified body.

Let me give an example to clarify this matter for the reader: Look at any natural phenomenon, whether in astrophysics or biology. This natural phenomenon cannot be understood by simply studying a single science amongst the physical sciences – chemistry for example – as we must add to our reading of chemistry other physical sciences, such as physics, mathematics and astronomy; because this phenomenon has numerous dimensions. Yet, I ask you: when you go to universe to study these sciences, do you go and study them all at once, or do you specialize in them? I ask you: Why have these sciences been classified into mathematics, physics and chemistry, while the external reality they describe is unified? The answer is simple: to meet academic and pedagogical goals. If they did not do this, then you would need to study mathematics, biology, astronomy, chemistry and physics to understand any phenomenon at all…

For this reason our teacher, ShahÐd MuÎammad BÁqir al-Ñadr said in his book, Our Economics: ‘Islamic economics is part of a whole.’ What does ‘part of a whole’ mean? It means that if you want to understand social justice according to Islamic economics, you cannot do that without grasping the entire system of Islamic thought. You cannot detach social justice in Islamic learning from the discussion of Resurrection, Divine Unity, asceticism (zuhd) and piety (taqwÁ). And when you look at these subjects you find that one of them is connected to belief, another to personal piety and another to legal matters. Therefore, while we may come along and separate them into discrete units, they are all in fact one thing.

Knowledge which a marjaÝ must possess

If this is the case, then I believe that so long as someone has not studied all the fields of Islamic learning, he cannot give an opinion on any religious issue. In other words, when he wants to give an opinion in the lesser fiqh, he must be acquainted with the other fields of Islamic knowledge. He cannot say: ‘What does fiqh have to do with tafsÐr? What does tafsÐr have to do with kalÁm? What does kalÁm have to do with ethics?’ Rather one must say: ‘This is a single, coherent system of knowledge, and whoever wants to give an opinion on one of these topics, must have fully acquainted himself with all of them.’

But what are the fundamental subjects amongst these that a marjaÝ must be conversant in? We answer as follows:

First, QurÞÁnic sciences, because the Ahl al-Bayt (a3) made the QurÞÁn the foundation of their teachings, saying: ‘Compare our words with the Book of our Lord; if you find any basis for them therein then accept them, but if not then these are superficialities which we did not utter.’ Therefore how can anyone want to give his opinion on any issue – whether in belief or practice – without being fully acquainted with the edifice of QurÞÁnic knowledge?

Secondly, a marjaÝ must be familiar with the body of learning that came from the Ahl al-Bayt (as) as the Prophet (saaw) said to us: ‘I am leaving amongst you something which, if you adhere to it, you will never go astray after me: the Book of Allah and my family, the people of my household.’ No one can say that ‘The book of Allah is sufficient for us!’ Instead, as well as understanding the QurÞÁn, he must also understand the knowledge from the Imams of the Prophet’s Household. In other words, [the narrations] that have come down from the Prophet, ÝAlÐ, al-Íasan, al-Íusayn and so on until the final Imam. He must have thoroughly studied this system of knowledge, only then can he give his views on religious matters, whether these are matters of belief, ethics or practice.

And on this basis we put forward this idea of comprehensive authority (marjaÝiyyah shumÙliyyah). This is religious authority (marjaÝiyyah dÐniyyah), by which I mean that a marjaÝ is an authority in all fields of religious learning, not only in Islamic Law.

IjtihÁd in religion and the need for other disciplines

Therefore, whoever wishes to acquire the fundamental qualities for ijtihÁd must be fully acquainted with a body or system of scholarly disciplines associated with the QurÞÁn, another body or system connected to the Sunnah or, to be more precise, ‘My progeny, the people of my household’ (ÝitratÐ ahlu baytÐ) – according to us, the Sunnah in its most general sense is whatever has come down from the Prophet and the Imams. In addition to these two fundamental spheres of discourse, such a person must also master a collection of topics which are seen as preliminaries to ijtihÁd.

For example, one of these preliminaries is the study of the principles of jurisprudence (uÒÙl al-fiqh). The study of jurisprudence is also necessary, however – as you know – our hawzas today say that no one can become a jurist without studying the principles of jurisprudence. Even though these principles are not explicitly found in the words of our Imams, we found that in order to understand the words of the Imams, we must lay down rules for doing so. In the words of Sayyid al-Ñadr: ‘We must create a logic for them, and this is why the principles of jurisprudence are often called ‘the logic of jurisprudence.’’

And just as the lesser fiqh requires us to formulate a discipline like the principles of jurisprudence as a logic for it, so too must we formulate principles for understanding doctrines. Likewise, I believe that many of the issues we study today in our hawzas, like the intellectual sciences we often call ‘philosophy’, can act as preliminaries for our understanding of doctrines.

In other words, just as jurisprudence needs a science of its principles, doctrines also need a science of its principles, many elements of which we find in philosophical discussions.

Therefore whoever wants to study the religious sciences, in addition to the QurÞÁn and the Sunnah in the general sense, must also have grasped the principles of jurisprudence and its corollaries. They must also have understood the principles of doctrines and its corollaries, which include many philosophical discussions.