Did Sayyid Kamal al-Haydari belittle the scholars?

Did Sayyid Kamal al-Haydari belittle the scholars?

03) Did Sayyid KamÁl al-ÍaydarÐ belittle the scholars?

Someone might argue that Sayyid KamÁl al-ÍaydarÐ’s words belittled the scholars, or else what other name would you give to him drawing a distinction between a scholar of law and a scholar of religion? Are not all of our scholars scholars of religion rather than scholars of the permissible and prohibited? His words imply that he doubts the intellectual ability of our scholars, and this causes the ordinary people to doubt their intellectual ability and the religious validity of following them.

To this, we respond: If Sayyid al-ÍaydarÐ has described some scholars as scholars of the permissible and prohibited rather than scholars of religion, then Ayatullah KhumaynÐ (qs) has famously described some of them as ‘scholars of menstruation and spotting.’ He said that they ‘dressed themselves in holiness, vipers, quicksand, backwards fools, who break the back of the Prophet (saaw); amongst them are mercenaries and stooges, amongst them are those whose evil is worse than that of YazÐd b. MuÝÁwiyah, while others run after their stomachs…’[1] So what do we say about these words of Ayatullah KhumaynÐ? Do these also belittle the scholars?

The same can be said of the words of ShahÐd MuÎammad BÁqir al-Ñadr in his famous statement that the Hawzah has demonstrated its bankruptcy, and this is first and foremost the fault of those who are affiliated with it before it is that of anyone else.[2] Who are those affiliated with the Hawzah who are responsible for its bankruptcy about whom al-Ñadr speaks? Are they not scholars too? Do we think these words belittle the scholars?

In addition to these words, I found other statements from ShahÐd al-Ñadr which describe the conditions of the Hawzah, and they can be found in a letter which he sent to Shaykh ÝAbd al-HÁdÐ al-FaÃlÐ in response to a letter which the latter sent to him after his visit to Najaf. Al-Ñadr says: ‘The truth is that I am deeply troubled by the fact that the condition of the Hawzah is such that few people like you are within it to raise their heads and be as living flesh upon the bones of this Hawzah which – in spite of all its waste – is supposed to nurture a student within it by virtue of his dedication until he reaches this eminent level of merit, morality and culture. In any case, whether I am near or far from the Hawzah, you are one of the hopes of the Hawzah and its luminaries. I hope that you will not be apart from it save temporarily.’[3]

What are these conditions which ShahÐd al-Ñadr mentions in his letter? Do his words suggest that he was pleased with the state of the Hawzah and its scholars?

How can we understand the import of the words of ÑÁdiq al-Ñadr when he uses the term ‘silent Îawzah’ and criticizes the ‘silent scholars.’ This can be found in his recorded lectures. At the same time he described those affiliated with the Hawzah as those who have been overcome by ‘selfishness, generation after generation.’ He calls them ‘scholars of istikhÁrah’ and ‘collectors of religious taxes’ who are only good for four things: ‘Leading prayers, teaching, collecting religious taxes and giving legal opinions which are usually connected to individual matters; doubts [in prayer], going to the bathroom, ritual purity and impurity.’[4] What do we think of these words? Are these also belittling our scholars? Are not the words of Sayyid KamÁl al-ÍaydarÐ and his description of ‘scholars of permissible and prohibited’ more polite than the words of others?

Criteria for choosing a marjaÝ

Sayyid KamÁl al-ÍaydarÐ speaks about the issue of taqlÐd and the criteria related to choosing a marjaÝ. He says: ‘One of the most important issues in the subject of ijtihÁd and taqlÐd is that of the measure by which one can identify the most learned and most appropriate scholar [to follow]. When I say ‘the most appropriate’ I do not mean from the dimension of organizational skill, rather I mean ‘the most appropriate’ in learning and the most capable of using his knowledge to protect Islam and the school of Ahl al-Bayt (a3). Therefore, when I say ‘most learned’ and ‘most appropriate’ I refer to this in the sense of guarding the borders of the school of Ahl al-Bayt (a3); the most learned to defend the foundations of this school and protect those who live in the realm of the Ahl al-Bayt [a] and suffice them in intellect and doctrines. If the candidate is not a scholar of religion in the sense that I already mentioned, then how can he protect the religion. Something which does not possess a quality cannot bestow that quality on anything else! How can he be a fortress to resist the attacks of the enemy?

After this, Sayyid KamÁl expresses doubts about the efficacy of using the traditional criteria by themselves in the process of choosing the most knowledgeable scholar, such as renown (shiyÁÝ) and asking experts for advice. He says: ‘I believe that in the present situation we cannot rely completely on these standards, because they do not usually yield correct results, especially with the expansion of the hawzahs.’

He adds: ‘Perhaps if we had a single hawzah with a hundred students and three teachers of baÎth al-khÁrij, it is possible for a person to say: ‘This one is the most knowledgeable.’ But if we look at a hawzah like that of Najaf, with its illustrious history and many personalities, how can a single person possible acquaint himself with the learning of all these great scholars in order to determine who the most knowledgeable is today? If we add to this the hawzah of Qom, which contains sixty thousand students and tens, if not hundreds, of great scholars and teachers, how can any person or item of evidence possibly determine who is the most learned? How can we possibly scrutinize the output of all of these scholars? Especially when we know that many of them don’t have written works, rather we find in a single time that one group says ‘This scholar is the most learned!’ While another says: ‘No, this scholar is!’ We find as many as fifty groups, all of whom claim a particular person as most learned.’

As for renown, Sayyid al-ÍaydarÐ says: ‘As for renown during the age of the communications revolution, it is more easy to be renowned than ever before… I do not wish to discount this out of hand, but I want to say that this is not by itself a safe and certain method of arriving at the goal.’

He explains further: ‘I found a statement belonging to a great scholar. Sayyid MuÎammad Íusayn ÓabÁÔabÁÞÐ relates that Shaykh MuÎammad Íusayn KÁshif al-GhiÔÁÞ was asked about the duty to follow the most learned; can this be identified through renown in our present time, while many corrupt political agendas have become widespread, or must there be some evidence [that a particular scholar is more learned]; and if these two contradict, then which has precedence?’[5] In other words, if there is a conflict between one scholars renown, namely is he the more capable and a better candidate or is someone else, then what is the criteria by which this can be resolved?

ÓabÁÔabÁÞÐ continued: ‘Shaykh KÁshif al-GhiÔÁÞ responded by mentioning a very important criterion after a detailed introduction which I will omit for the sake of brevity.’ Of course, he annotated the book and related this statement from the book SafÐnat al-najÁt. He said: ‘We mentioned in our annotations on the book SafÐnat al-najÁt, volume one, page 28, footnote 61, what is the correct criterion without doubt…[6] He said: ‘And how many claimants there are for this rank! Especially in these unfortunate times! And how many are led astray by them out of ignorance or because of some agenda; agendas make people deaf and blind… we have mentioned the best criterion for judging the veracity of this claim or its falsity [meaning the claim that someone is the most learned] is his scholarly output and the number of his useful writings. The way of the ImÁmiyyah from the time of the Imams (a3) themselves to this very day is that religious authority and leadership belong to those who produce many works, like Shaykh al-MufÐd, Sayyid al-MurtaÃÁ and Shaykh al-ÓÙsÐ, whose works are almost in excess of four hundred different writings [and not all of them are on law alone; he has written on tafsÐr, doctrines, responding to doubts, kalÁm and ÎadÐth.].[7] Shaykh al-ÑadÙq wrote three hundred different works! This is the correct measure and the right criterion to the time of Sayyid BaÎr al-ÝUlÙm who wrote al-MisÁbÐÎ, Shaykh KÁshif al-GhiÔÁÞ and Shaykh al-AnÒÁrÐ.’

As for after Shaykh al-AnÒÁrÐ, Sayyid KamÁl says: ‘You find that the most learned candidates, when we look at their output, which is almost seventy volumes or a hundred… you find they are all one-dimensional; they are solely concerned with the permissible and the prohibited…

But in truth and fairness it must be said that the likes of Imam KhumaynÐ, Sayyid al-KhuÞÐ, MuÎammad BÁqir al-Ñadr and the great figures in the hawzah of Qom today – whose names I will not mention – when you look at their works, you see that they include fiqh, uÒÙl, rijÁl, tafsÐr and doctrines.’

Sayyid KamÁl adds: ‘And when I say ‘doctrines’ you must note that the discipline of ÝaqÁÞid has two fundamental aspects:

The first is an explanation of the principles of belief which we hold. The second is the discipline of polemics (khilÁf). If you refer to our fundamental books on the Imamate, you will find that they are usually written as part of polemics; namely, our opponents say that ÝAlÐ was the fourth caliph while we say something else. But as for who the Imams are, what their ranks are, what do they know, what is their level and do they have wilÁyah takwÐniyyah? All of this is left aside; there are no complete treatises on this matter.’

Then he returns to his discussion of the criteria for choosing a marjaÝ. He says: ‘We believe that one of the most important – although I do not say the most important – criteria is scholarly output. And when I say scholarly output, I do not necessarily mean written works; someone could be occupied for about sixty years teaching various texts in the hawzah… you might see someone who has taught fiqh in the hawzah for thirty years without having composed a single book on the subject… but what is important is that he is known to be a great teacher of these disciplines – tafsÐr, doctrines, philosophy, ÝirfÁn – to the extent that we have already mentioned.

Then Sayyid KamÁl discusses the idea of scholarly output (turÁth ÝilmÐ) further, saying: ‘When I say my output is such-and-such, I am certain that I am speaking in this sense. I say it is possible for the experts and scholars to refer to these works, to judge them; the truth of the matter is in their hands and this is not a claim without evidence… our friends know that I have spent forty years teaching in the Îawzah and my works are available.’


Sayyid al-ÍaydarÐ mentioned that one of the necessary qualifications of a marjaÝ is that he must be the most-learned, meaning that he must be the most-learned and the most intellectually able to protect Islam and the school of Ahl al-Bayt, not the most able to organize and manage, according to his own expression.

But after that he expressed his doubts that we could identify the most-learned scholar by relying only on the well-known traditional methods like the testimony of experts or scholarly renown. A number of scholars disagree with this statement, as not all scholars believe that we must follow the most-learned jurist, just as this view of religious authority differs from that of ShahÐd al-Ñadr who referred to his project as ‘righteous leadership’ (al-marjaÝiyyah al-sÁliÎah) or ‘rightly-guided leadership’ (al-marjaÝiyyah al-rashÐdah), or other scholars who adopt ‘the most-active’[8] instead of – or in addition to – ‘the most-learned’ as a criterion. These scholars are not concerned only with the intellectual dimension or scholarly ability; they are also concerned with the organizational dimension and organizational ability.

Here I think it is appropriate to mention what Shaykh Shams al-DÐn has said about this issue – doing taqlÐd of the most-learned – when he says: ‘I have said this many times before, but the concept of supreme marjaÝiyyah – meaning the existence of a single person who we call the supreme authority – has no basis, whether in fiqh or in ShÐÝÐ Islamic thought. Rather this is something new that we have contrived; the ShÐÝah refer to one of their jurists and select him [as a marjaÝ], according to their own convictions, from amongst those jurists who possess the necessary qualifications. Even based on the idea of following the most-learned, which is a principle we believe in, the ShÐÝah in our time and before have become accustomed to disagreement about who the most-learned is. This means there are a number of jurists being followed; each of them considers himself to be most-learned and his followers think him to be the most-learned. As for the efforts being made now, some of them have no basis in the SharÐÝah and it is not clear whether others have a basis or not. This could result in [some people] claiming that there is only one marjaÝ by virtue of some sort of principles, arguing that he is the only suitable qualified individual, or the most suitable person to assume the mantle of supreme authority. This belief has no intellectual basis, nor any legal basis.’[9]

Then Shaykh Shams al-DÐn highlights a piece of information that many might not be aware of: ‘I say to history: In the age of Imam Sayyid MuÎammad BÁqir al-Ñadr, I was one of a group of people – may Allah have mercy on those who passed away and may He protect those who still live – we were the ones who invented this term in Najaf; we invented the term ‘supreme authority’ (al-marjaÝ al-ÝalÁ). Before the sixties no such term existed in the ShÐÝÐ Islamic intellectual corpus. This is the term we produced; Sayyid MuÎammad BÁqir al-ÍakÐm, Sayyid MuÎammad MahdÐ al-ÍakÐm, Sayyid MuÎammad BaÎr al-ÝUlÙm – and perhaps I can say that the role of Sayyid ShahÐd al-Ñadr (rh) was part of this troop, and he was the most brilliant one of them – and myself, MuÎammad MahdÐ Shams al-DÐn. We were a group who were working against the regime of the Marxist sympathizer, ÝAbd al-KarÐm QÁsim, in the form of JamÁÝat al-ÝUlamÁÞ, in the form of the journal al-AÃwÁÞ, and we wanted to present a political message to the outside world, whether the marjaÝiyyah of Sayyid al-ÍakÐm (rh) was the pre-eminent marjaÝiyyah though not the only one, or the marjaÝiyyah of Sayyid BurÙjirdÐ in Iran was pre-eminent. We devised this term and used it, and unfortunately it has become widespread in its usage while it has absolutely no basis! We used it and it was of great benefit to us, but we used it as a tool, not as a manacle or restraint.’[10]

As for following the most-learned scholar, Shaykh Shams al-DÐn says: ‘The famous opinion that for taqlÐd, the jurist must be the most-learned, this is a famous opinion amongst the latest moderns (mutaÞakhkhirÐ al-mutaÞakhkhirÐn) and I can almost say amongst the contemporary scholars (muÝÁÒirÐn) as well. It is an opinion which is in accordance with precaution for one who is able. I am not saying it is an opinion without scholarly merit, but one might be unable [to apply it in reality], and this is a separate discussion. There is an unnoticed connection between this idea and the term ‘supreme authority’ (al-marjaÝ al-ÝalÁ) which we devised. We see absolutely no basis for this connection. Making the quality of being most-learned a necessary condition for following a jurist is the respected and famous legal opinion amongst the latest moderns. It is not the same as the idea that we put forward.’[11]

Two final points

Before we conclude our treatment of this subject, we must highlight two points that Sayyid al-ÍaydarÐ mentioned at the end of his discussion:

First, as a response to those who reprimand him for claiming that he is more learned the other marÁjaÝ, which he did by saying that anyone who puts forward his marjaÝiyyah believes in following the most-learned and that he is the most learned.

He clarifies this by saying: ‘When someone writes a practical legal manual and writes at its beginning: ‘Acting upon this manual fulfils your legal obligations God-willing’, then writes at the beginning of the chapter on ijtihÁd and taqlÐd that you must follow the most-learned… then he is saying that he is that most-learned scholar. He is saying you must follow the most-learned and writes a legal manual for people to follow – what does that tell  you?’

The second point is about his denial of the qualification to engage in ijtihÁd for some religious authorities, when he says: ‘I am not someone who denies the ijtihÁd of a marjaÝ in an absolute sense. All I said was that there was a view and a scholarly project – and because of this view, they are not really mujtahids in my eyes… I will draw an example to make the matter clear to our friends; if I now went and asked someone who believes in the uÒÙlÐ project and the uÒÙlÐ theory of ijtihÁd, namely someone who believes that a person must study the principles of jurisprudence for thirty years in order to derive jurisprudence, will they consider someone who has not studied these principles a mujtahid or will they say he is not a mujtahid?’

To this, he adds: ‘In clear terms: Does an uÒÙlÐ consider an akhbÁrÐ[12]a mujtahid or not? There is no doubt that he will say no, an akhbÁrÐ is not a mujtahid. Why? Because according to the view of ijtihÁd he holds, this person is not a mujtahid…!

Therefore, my friends, I do not deny that these great scholars and personalities are mujtahids in an absolute sense. I said that according to a viewpoint that you are free to agree or disagree with – so this is a relative statement rather than an absolute one – I do not deny it. Nor do I have any right to do so…’

So Sayyid al-ÍaydarÐ does not deny that these scholars are mujtahids in the well-known sense of the world, he only says that they are not mujtahids according to a specific view of ijtihÁd which he himself has constructed.

Sayyid KamÁl concludes his discussion of the video recordings by referring to a statement made by Shaykh KÁshif al-GhiÔÁÞ: ‘Finally, I would like to mention some words by Shaykh KÁshif al-GhiÔÁÞ – I only stress the personality of this great man because of the oppression that he lived through. I imagine that he lived through such oppression because he had a system of thought that differed from what was well-known at his time. He says: ‘In summary, the method of the ImÁmiyyah in determining who has the right to be a marjaÝ – the practice of the righteous forbearers from the time of Shaykh al-MufÐd to that of Shaykh al-AnÒÁrÐ – is to look at his scholarly output and service to the religion of Islam [and this is not just regards to theoretical services – for him to sit in his room and write, no this does not mean he is qualified to lead the Sect. He must have carried out services through various ways; organizations, foundations…][13] not through how much money he spends or invitations he issues for ulterior motives, may Allah protect us from every kind of evil.’[14]

This is how Sayyid KamÁl concludes his discussion about the intellectual project he is undertaking. I hope that I have been successful in conveying his thoughts and the scope of his project in the best way possible, while noting that I have changed, altered, appended and omitted some of his expressions for the sake of clarity. But this has not in any way affected the meaning the Sayyid had intended for his words, knowing that in most places I have kept his words as he uttered them without alteration.




[1] See Ibid., citing Imam KhumaynÐ’s famous speech about the scholars on 15th Rajab 1409

[2] See Ibid., citing KhiÔÁb al-miÎnah

[3] See, al-Shaykh, Íusayn ManÒÙr,ÝAbd al-hÁdÐ al-faÃlÐ tÁrÐkh wa wathÁÞiq, 248

[4] See Azimat al-Ýaql al-shÐÝÐ, citing Ra’Ùf, MarjaÝiyyat al-MaydÁn and al-Shaykh ÝAlÐ, Ightiyal al-shaÝb

[5] See al-Firdaws al-AÝlÁ, 79 question no. 5

[6] This is the comment which Sayyid ÓabÁÔabÁÞÐ relates from Shaykh KÁshif al-GhiÔÁ’s own annotations on SafÐnat al-najÁt

[7] This statement in parenthesis belongs to Sayyid KamÁl

[8] i.e. with regards to developing religious institutions

[9] Al-TajdÐd fÐ al-fikr al-islÁmÐ, p34

[10] Ibid., p45-46

[11] Ibid., p48

[12] i.e. A traditionalist – someone who believes we cannot rely on rationally-derived principles in deriving laws, as opposed to an uÒÙlÐ who believes that we can.

[13] The words in parenthesis are the commentary of Sayyid KamÁl

[14] KÁshif al-GhiÔÁÞ, al-Firdaws al-AÝlÁ, 79