In this text, Luis Alberto Vittor clearly explains the essence of Shi'ite Islam on its own. Without the need of putting down any other sect of Islam, Shi'ite Islam can be understood truly for what its basic fundamentals and teachings.
The method of transliteration is based mainly on the one employed by Ghulam Sarwar, with some minor modifications regarding the representation of dipthongs and the shaddah. We have also chosen to ignore the initial hamzah. The practice of placing diacritical marks on English words of Arabic origin to ensure their proper pronunciation is taken from Ghulam Sarwar and Ian Netton, among other scholars of Arabic and Islām.
While it is customary to say subhānahu wa ta‘ālā after the name Allāh, ‘alayhi al-salām after the name of the Prophet, and radiyya Allāhu ‘anhu after the names of the Companions, we have chosen to drop them, to maintain the flow of the English. While these phrases are not included, they are intended, and readers are free to use them.
Bismillāh al-Rahmān al-Rahīm
(In the Name of Allāh, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful)
بِسْمِ اللّهِ الرَّحْمـَنِ الرَّحِيمِ
ادْعُ إِلِى سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ وَالْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ وَجَادِلْهُم بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَن ضَلَّ عَن سَبِيلِهِ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِالْمُهْتَدِينَ
Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and reason with them in the better way. Lo! Thy Lord is best aware of him who strayeth from His way, and He is Best Aware of those who go aright.
Professor Luis Alberto Vittor is a Professional Technical Support Person for Scientific Research at the Center for Research into the Philosophy and History of Religion (CIFHIRE) [Centro de Investigaciones en Filosofía e Historia de las Religiones] which forms part of the Department of Philosophy of the School of Graduate Studies at John F. Kennedy Argentine University. He is a writer, research scholar, lecturer, cultural journalist, and translator. His areas of expertise include medieval literature, religious symbolism, and the philosophy of Eastern religions, particularly with relation to Islām, the Middle East, Asia, and the Far East. He has reading comprehension of classical and Semitic languages.
From 1989 to the present, he has served as a Professional Technical Support Person for Scientific Research. He has collaborated on the Critical Spanish Edition Project of the Coptic Library of Nag Hammādī under the direction of Dr. Francisco García Bazán. This project is sponsored by the National Commission for Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET), an organism dependent on the Secretary of Science and Technology (SECYT) of the National Government of the Republic of Argentina.
As part of his work as a Professional Technical Support Person for Scientific Research, he edits and reviews work in his areas of expertise, including graduate and post-graduate research projects. In his role as Professional Technical Support Person for Scientific Research, he has contributed to many different projects, including, Dr. John A. Morrow's Allāh Lexicon Project at Northern State University's Department of Modern Languages in South Dakota. From 1989 to the present, Luis Alberto Vittor has been the Editorial Secretary for the academic journal Epimeleia: Revista sobre Estudios Tradicionales, the official organ of the CIFHIRE.
He is also the Director of the Mullā Sadrā Center for Islāmic Research and Documentation (CEDIMS) and the Editorial Center for Digital Islāmic Texts (CETEDI). These research centers function within the Department of Social and Political Studies for Africa and the Middle East with offices at the Universidad Católica Argentina de La Plata (Sede Bernal) as entity associated in research projects, translation, and edition of traditional Islāmic texts with the Center for Oriental Studies at the Universidad Nacional de Rosario (Santa Fe, Argentina) and the Department of Modern Languages at Northern State University in South Dakota in the United States.
As textbook Editor, Luis Alberto Vittor has been also the Director of Collections of Fraterna Publishers of Buenos Aires from 1989-1991; Literary Director of the Cultural Supplement Letras e ideas from 1990-1992; Director of the Journal of Oriental Studies, Atma-Jñana, from 1989-1992. As a cultural journalist he has published various articles and essays dealing with Islāmic literature, thought, art, culture, and spirituality.
As an author, he has published Simbolismo e iniciación en la poesía de Alberto Girri, [Symbolism and Initiation in the Poetry of Alberto Girri], Fraterna Publishers (Buenos Aires 1990) and El Islām Šhi'ita: ¿ortodoxia o heterodoxia? in digital format, prepared by the Biblioteca Islámica Ahlul Bayt in Seville, Spain, in 1998.
His forthcoming books include: Los templarios y el Islām: milicia temporal y caballería espiritual (2006) and Arquitectura de luz y edificación espiritual: el simbolismo antrópico del Imām en el arte constructivodel Islām [Architecture of Light and Spiritual Edification: The Anthropic Symbolism of the Imām in the Constructive Art of Islām] (2007), both of which will be published by Editorial Sotabur in Soria, Spain. In collaboration with Dr. John A. Morrow and Barbara Castleton, Professor Vittor has completed the book Arabic, Islām, and the Allāh Lexicon (2006) which is published by the Edwin Mellen Press.
Dr. John A. Morrow is an Assistant Professor of Modern Languages at Northern State University in the United States. He has an Honors B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, and completed Post-Doctoral Studies in Arabic in Fez, Morocco, and at the University of Utah's Middle East Center.
He has studied the Islāmic Sciences for decades at Western universities, independantly, and at the hands of Sunnī and Shī'ite scholars. A prolific, internationally recognized research scholar, his publications on literature, linguistics, and Islāmic Studies have appeared in over a dozen countries and in several different languages. He is the author of Arabic, Islām, and the Allāh Lexicon (Edwin Mellen Press, 2006), the Encyclopedia of Islāmic Herbalism, and numerous other books.
Luis Alberto Vittor's Shī'ite Islām: Orthodoxy or Heterodoxy addresses many essential issues concerning the split between the followers of Ahlul Bayt and the followers of ahl al-sunnah. Transcending the historical, the author focuses on ahistorical aspects in the genesis of adherence, stressing the esoteric foundation of Shī'ī Islām, as opposed to the exoteric foundation of Sunnī Islām which forces it followers to find spirituality in various Sūfī orders.
Vittor's book challenges the prevailing view among Western academics, namely, the contention that Shī'ite Islām is “heterodox” while Sunnī Islām is “orthodox.” He contends that there is nothing non-orthodox or un-orthodox in Shī'ite Islām, since the very principles that give life and identity to Shī'ite Muslims are deeply rooted in the Sunnah of the Prophet and the Twelve Imāms.
According to Vittor, definitions such as “orthodox” and “heterodox” are misnomers when applied to Islām: they are Western impositions on an Islāmic construct which are entirely false. As the author explains, if one respects the meaning of the word “orthodox,” which implies adherence to a specific set of beliefs and instructions, Shī'ite Muslims are as orthodox as Sunnī Muslims. The book challenges the common misconceptions of Western academics, their bias towards Islām, and their tendency to interpret Shī'ite Islām through Sunnī lenses.
Unlike polemical publications dealing with the Sunnī-Shī'ī debate, the work does not belittle or put down the followers of ahl al-sunnah. The author explores Shī'ite Islām from within and examines the religious tradition on its own terms. As a result, he has produced a work of great critical importance, revealing the spiritual depth of Shī'ism to which many Shī'ites are oblivious.
As one reads the work, one develops a greater understanding of the inner meaning of essential elements of Shī'ite faith and religious practice. The work is sure to have great resonance during the month of Muharram, a time whenShī'ism is more or less viewed through Sunnī lenses. When Shī'ites commemorate the martyrdom of Imām Husayn, they are often assaulted with questions and criticism.
Unless the spiritual foundations of Shī'ism are fully understood, Shī'ite efforts are expended to rebuttal at best or attack of ahl al-sunnah at worst. Both a defensive and an aggressive approach to inter-Islāmic understanding are futile and reinforce the status quo. The solution to any Sunnī confusion regarding 'Āshūrā' will not be resolved in the realm of the political, but in the sphere of the spiritual. As Vittor's work reveals, the sweetness of Shī'ite Islām is to be found in the inner meanings of the outer rituals.
The chapter on Mukhtār al-Thaqāfī is particularly revealing. Although I.K.A. Howard has provided a good historical rendition of Mukhtār in al-Serat, Vittor captures the sense of spirituality emanating from his uprising. In the words of Howard Zinns, there is a certain moral and spiritual outrage which is nurtured through the sort of awareness that develops over time, a sense of indignation that is missing at least today. As one reads Vittor's work, one senses the deep suffering and empathy that Shī'ites feel for the suffering of Ahlul Bayt.
Although not a survey of the Shī'ite faith, Vittor's work covers the spiritual foundation of the Imāmate to a sufficient degree. His work also touches upon the treatment of the Shī'ite minority in the face of oppression, and the role of silent and quietist revolution as a means of protest, an approach which stands in stark contrast to the violent modes of expression and opposition seen in the Muslim world today.
Rather than radicalize, Vittor's work helps to sensitize Shī'ites, an achievement of incalculable importance in the aftermath of the Iraqi quagmire. These are times of reconciliation, not revenge. These are times of unity and not division. Despite the dark moments that Shī'ites have suffered, and continue to suffer, the tide of time is changing in the right direction, and many people are realizing the spiritual force of Shī'ite Islām, made obvious through its supplications, prayers, and salutations, as well as its Qur'ānic commentaries and scholarly works, all of which are all grounded in spirituality.
Luis Alberto Vittor's Shī'ite Islām: Orthodoxy or Heterodoxy is a very concise book, and the greater portion of the work consists of highly informational scholarly notes making it an easy read for the novice or even the beginner. Due to its academic value and accessibility, its intellectual integrity, and its call for Islāmic unity, we tremendously recommend this book, and hope it will be largely disseminated for the purpose of dawa'h and tablīgh.
15th of Sha'bān / August 28, 2007
Ahlul Bayt Digital Islāmic Library Project
Considering the current Sunnī-Shī'ah conflict occurring in the Middle East, Luis Alberto Vittor's Shī'ite Islām: Orthodoxy or Heterodoxy could not come at a more opportune time. Radically departing from the confrontational polemicist propaganda of the past, Vittor demonstrates that the greatness of Shī'ite Islām does not reside in a denigration of Sunnī Islām.
Shī'ite Islām is great in an of itself. One does not need to criticize the Companions or the Caliphs to exalt the Twelve Imāms. The Imāms of Ahlul Baytare great in an of themselves. One does not need to criticize the Imāms of the Sunnī schools of jurisprudence to exalt Imām Ja'far al-Sādiq. The Sixth Imām is great in and of himself, having left legions of scholars as a legacy.
Unlike some authors, who approach Shī'ite Islām from an apologetic perspective which seeks to appease Sunnī Muslims, Vittor approaches Shī'ism from a position of strength, examining the religious tradition independently, in and of itself, from within, and on its own terms.
He makes no apologies for Shī'ite beliefs and practices and does not compromise on questions of principle. Unlike some overly enthusiastic authors, Vittor does not exalt Shī'ism at the expense of Sunnism. As an honest, objective, and open-minded academic, he treats both of his subjects with respect, viewing them in complement rather than opposition: there would be no Shī'ism without Sunnism, and there would be no Sunnism without Shī'ism.
Although the works of Muhammad Tījānī have their value, they are viewed by many readers, both Sunnī and Shī'ī, as an example of negative marketing, which focuses on belittling one's adversary, as opposed to positive marketing, which focuses on the qualities of your candidate.
In our experience, works like Then I was Guided, Ask those who Know, To be with the Truthful, and The Shī'ah are (the real) Ahl al-Sunnah are not the most effective tools used in Shī'ite da'wah. Although these books have brought many Sunnis into Shī'ite Islām, we would argue that they have driven as many Sunnis away from Shī'ite Islām.
Had the author spoken exclusively about the Prophet, citing the Qur'ānic verses and ahādīth in favor of the Ahlul Bayt, his books would have had an even greater resonance among Sunnī Muslims. Casting doubt on the character of the Prophet's Companions in order to replace them with the Twelve Imāms is a misguided effort of marketing. The Imāms themselves criticized such comportment. Had Tijanī allowed the historical sources to speak for themselves, that would have been enough to make his point.
In order to guide an interested Sunnī into Shī'ite Islām, all one has to do is cite the Qur'ān, repeat the words of the Prophet, and demonstrate the wisdom of the Imāms, and that will be sufficient. One must address issues of faith, and the importance of the imāmah and wilāyah, before tackling controversial issues from the early days of Islāmic history. Once a person has accepted the divine authority, everything else will fall into place, and then, and only then, are converts to Shī'ism ready for the informative works of Tijanī. His works certainly have an important place, but not necessarily in the first line of da'wah.
Many Shī'ite Muslims seem to forget that taqiyyah is a form of tact and every educational endeavor must proceed by stages. As Imām Ja'far al-Sādiq has said: “This affair (amr) [the Imāmate and the esoteric meaning of religion] is occult (mastūr) and veiled (muqanna') by a covenant (mīthāq), and whoever unveils it will be disgraced by Allāh” (Kulaynī). Certain things are better left unsaid when dealing with people who are potential enemies of Ahlul Bayt. As Imām Ja'far al-Sādiq warned:
Keep our affair secret, and do not divulge it publicly, for whoever keeps it secret and does not reveal it, Allāh will exalt him in this world, and putlight between his eyes in the next, leading him to Paradise…[W]hoever divulges our affair publicly, and does not keep it a secret, Allāh will disgrace him in this world and will take away light from between his eyesin the next, and will decrease for him darkness that will lead him to the Fire…Taqiyyah is of my religion, and of the religion of my father, and who does not observe taqiyyah has no religion…[I]t is necessary toworship in secret and it is necessary to worship openly…the one who reveals our affairs is the one who denies them. (Kulaynī)
Imām Ja'far al-Sādiq also condemned those who spread the secrets of wilāyat Allāh among the common people, saying: “Our secret continued to be preserved until it came into the hands of the sons of Kaysān and they spoke of it on the roads and in the villages of the Sawād” (Kulaynī).
Imām Ja'far al-Sādiq warned his Shī'ites to: “Fear for your religion and protect it (lit. veil it) with taqiyyah, for there is no faith in whom there is no taqiyyah” (Kulaynī). He also advised his followers to: “Mix with the people (ie., enemies) outwardly, but oppose them inwardly so long as the Amirate is a matter of opinion” (Sadūq).
The Imām always avoided controversy and conflict, saying: “Verily, when I hear a man abusing me in the mosque, I hide myself behind a pillar so that he may not see me” (Sadūq). On one occasion, Zakarīya ibn Sābiq was enumerating the Imāms in the presence of Imām Ja'far al-Sādiq. When the Companion reached the name of Muhammad al-Bāqir, he was interrupted by the Imām who said: “That is enough for you. Allāh has affirmed your tongue and has guided your heart” (Kulaynī).
The Imām also said that “Verily, diplomacy (al-ri'ā') with a true believer is a form of shirk (polytheism); but with a hypocrite in his own house, it is worship” (Sadūq). These traditions are not saying that Shī'ite Muslims should not be sincere, and that they form some sort of secret esoteric sect. They are simply saying that they should not be stupid and that they should only share their beliefs with a receptive audience so as to avoid provocation and enmity.
Rather than promote division and conflict, Imām Ja'far al-Sādiq urged Shī'ites to pray with Sunnis: “He who prays with them standing in the front row, it is as though he prayed with the Prophet in the first row” (Sadūq). The Imām also encouraged Shī'ites to treat Sunnis as their brethren: “Visit their sick, attend their funerals, and pray in their mosques” (Sadūq). Since the improper behavior of followers reflects poorly on their leader, the Imām told his followers to “Become an ornament for us, and not a disgrace” (Sadūq).
He also called upon his Shī'ites to encourage good-will among all Muslims, saying: “May Allāh have mercy on a person who inculcates friendship towards us among men, and does not provoke ill-will among them” (Sadūq). This Shī'ite spirit of Islāmic unity was shown by 'Allāmah Sharīf al-Dīn al-Musawī who ruled that the Shī'ites of Lebanon should celebrate the birth of the Prophet on the same day as the Sunnis. Imām Khumaynī took this one step further, declaring the entire week, from the Monday to the Friday, as Islāmic Unity week.
In twenty years of Islāmic activism, we have observed that works like al-Muraja'āt by 'Allāmah al-Mūsawī, which are calm, courteous, gentle, and convincing, are far more effective than caustic criticism. We have also found that the most effective tools in Shī'ite dawah are the works of the Imāms themselves, Nahj al-balāghah by Imām 'Alī ibn Abī Tālib, the Sahīfah al-sajadiyyah by Imām 'Alī Zayn al-'Abidīn, the Lantern of the Path by Imām Ja'far al-Sādiq, as well as other biographical books such as The Book of Guidance by Shaykh al-Mufīd, which demonstrate the depth of knowledge of the Imāms, as well as their profound wisdom, and piety.
Many Shī'ite Muslims would be well-advised to live what they learn, to exhibit the true characteristics of followers of Ahlul Bayt, to live according to Islām, and to lead by example. The best converts to Shī'ite Islām never received a book. They were moved by the piety of Shī'ite Muslims, and their devout love and attachment to the Prophet and his family.
It should also be understood that spreading Islām is wājib kifāyah, it is the obligation of certain members of the community, and should be left to the knowledgeable, competent, and qualified. The Prophet and the Imāms warned us to never argue with the ignorant. In order to ensure that Islām was rightly represented, the Twelve Imāms trained Muslim missionaries to propagate the faith properly.
As any business professor can explain, attacking a rival is never good marketing. An advertiser should never point out the faults of others. It is not permitted in the best of mediums and is never good policy. The selfish purpose is always evident. It is unfair, impolite, unbefitting of a Muslim, and counter-Qur'ānic. As Almighty Allāh says:
“Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and reason with them in the better way” (16:125).
The Most High has also said:
“Revile not those who invoke other than Allāh, lest wrongfully they revile Allāh through ignorance” (6:108).
If Muslims are forbidden from making a mockery of the beliefs of polytheists, the prohibition is even greater when it comes to the beliefs of other Muslims.
While negative advertising has some advantages, it can evoke aggressive responses towards the source of the advertising. While it can motivate base support, verbal assaults against the opponent can alienate non-sectarian Muslims and outrage committed Muslims from the other camp, radicalizing rhetoric.
What is worse, negative advertising often produces a backlash, which can result in violence, destruction, and death. While some Sunnis and Shī'ites may pledge to refrain from negative marketing when discussing their differences, the pledge is often soon abandoned when the opponent is viewed as “going negative,” inciting a series of retaliatory remarks.
Negative advertising is also entirely un-academic as campaigners from one camp present twisted or spun information under the guise of bringing hidden negatives into the light. Such individuals have no place in the Sunnī-Shī'ite debate as they have the wrong intention from the onset. Their goal is not to unite, but to divide. They come to the table with a closed mind.
They are not genuinely interested in inter-Islāmic dialogue. They prepare their cases like lawyers. They are concerned with winning the case, rather than searching for truth. They concentrate on being quick, witty, and winning the argument, rather than analyzing the issues at hand. They use rhetorical devices such as straw man or red herring arguments to insinuate that an opponent holds a certain idea.
The Sixth Imām was highly critical of the superfluous debates of skilful verbal gymnasts: “When you debate, the nearer you are to truth and tradition on the authority of the Prophet, the further you are from it: you mix up the truth with what is false. A little truth suffices for what is false” (Mufīd). Without a judge or moderator to keep parties disciplined, Sunnī-Shī'ite debates soon degenerate into slander, libel, and defamation of character. Such efforts are of no benefit to the Islāmic Ummah as they increase tension between the Sunnī and Shī'ite communities.
The very idea of “debate” between Sunnis and Shī'ites is misguided as “debate” implies opposition with each party trying to defeat the other. It is foolish to believe that any party could actually “win” such a debate considering that Muslims have been polarized into two camps for over 1,400 years. The very idea of Sunnī-Shī'ah debate should be cast aside and replaced by inter-Islāmic dialogue.
In order for Shī'ites and Sunnis to move towards reconciliation they need to recognize that any extreme polar position is only going to aggravate the conflict. For starters, all Muslims, Shī'ite, Sunnis, and 'Ibadīs, must cease cursing Companions of the Prophet and cursing one another as such actions merely increase animosity. We have witnessed Salafīs insult Fātimah, 'Alī, Hasan, and Husayn; Sunnī Muslims insult the Ahlul Bayt, Twelver Shī'ites insult the Sunnī Caliphs, Ismā'īlis insult Imām Mūsa al-Kazim, Sūfis insult Sunnis, and 'Ibādīs insult Imām 'Alī.
Surely such behavior must cease from all sides. As Imām Ja'far al-Sādiq warned: “Do not revile them, lest they revile your 'Alī” (Sadūq). What goes around comes around, and it is time for a truce if not a treaty of perpetual peace.
As any historian of early Islām is aware, the Companions of the Prophet had their differences, cursed each other, and killed each other. Surely, the sound of mind do not seek to perpetuate such belligerent behavior ad-eternam. Questions of who was right and who was wrong are a matter of personal belief and need not be professed publicly in contexts which arouse undue emotion. Muslims need to let differences die with those who differed.
Over the course of 1,400 years of Sunnī and Shī'ite sectarianism, positions have become polarized and differences have become deeply entrenched. Muslims need to leave a little room for ambiguity. Despite what most Muslims would like to believe, early Islāmic history was not black and white, and not everything was cut and dry. Muslims need to open up to uncertainty, move from the black areas into gray areas, and creative processes will emerge.
If Shī'ites and Sunnis are sincere in seeking reconciliation, if they are honest about starting a dialogue, then they must agree to talk with respect. Both sides of the conflict must be recognized. Both have wronged and both have been wronged. Muslims need refrain from belligerence and leave room for forgiveness. They need to set emotion aside or moderate it with intelligence. They need to stop trying to prove each other wrong. They must unite on the basis of the values and beliefs that they hold in common.
When outsiders look at Islām, all they see are Muslims. They do not distinguish between various sects. If they were to examine issues of 'aqīdah between the various Muslim groups, they would be hard-pressed to find grounds for division. The Sunnī Muslims believe in:
They are also fond of combining both faith and belief in Five Pillars of Islām, consisting of:
The Twelver Shī'ite theologians prefer to separate creed from practice, presenting two lists, the Foundations of Faith, and the Branches of Faith.
For all intents and purposes, the Zaydiyyah share the same beliefs of the Ithnā 'Ashariyyah. The main difference between both groups is in their concept of the Imāmate, and the fact that Zaydiyyah fiqh is closer to Sunnī Hanafī and Sunnī Shāfi'ī fiqh, with some elements of Shī'ah Ja'farī elements.
The Ismā'īliyyah theologians have organized their beliefs into Seven Pillars of Islām, consisting of:
'Ibādiyyah theologians have organized their beliefs into the following Five Pillars:
As can be appreciated from this overview, all Muslims believe in the following articles of faith:
Although non-Sunnis do not list the divinely revealed books (kutub) or the angels (malā'ikah) in their creeds, these are fundamental aspects of beliefs for all groups. If they are not cited as individual items it is because they are assumed to form part of the belief in God and His Prophets.
The 'Ibādiyyah and some of the Sunnis adds qadar or predestination to their articles of faith while other groups insist on free will. The 'Ibādiyyah, along with the Shī'ite groups, focus on 'adl or divine justice whereas some of the Sunnī insist on qādir or omnipotence. This difference is the result of philosophical differences in which the Sunnī stress Allāh's Omnipotence over His Justice, while the Shī'ites stress Allāh's Justice over his Omnipotence.
In practical matters, the hierarchical differences between divine attributes are inconsequential and do not make or break a Muslim. In fact, the majority of Muslims are completely unaware of such philosophical subtleties. If a Muslim does not believe in tawhīd, he is outside the fold of Islām.
If a Muslim does not believe that Muhammad is the Final Messenger of Allāh, he is outside the fold of Islām. If a Muslim does not believe in angels or in the Day of Judgment, he is outside the fold of Islām. If a Muslim prioritizes the attributes of Allāh differently, he is a complete and total Muslim: he merely follows a differently philosophical school.
The Shī'ah Ithnā 'Ashariyyah, the Shī'ah Zaydiyyah, the Shī'ah Ismā'īliyyah, and the 'Ibadiyyah all believe in imāmah although their chains of Imāms are different as are their qualities, attributes, and qualifications. In many respects, the Shī'ite and 'Ibadī belief in imāmah is similar to the Sunnī belief in khilāfah.
Whether it is an Imām or a Caliph, whether he inherits his title or is elected, whether he is a righteous leader or an infallible Imām, Sunnī, Shī'ite, and even Sūfī Muslims believe in some form of religious authority, both spiritual and political, which should rule the Ummah an establish the sharī'ah.
As can be seen, all Muslims share the same creedal concepts and religious practices. They all believe in one God, the Prophethood, and the Day of Judgment. They all believe in angels and revealed books. They all pray, fast, make the pilgrimage to Makkah, and pay charity. Although the Sunnis do not list khums, the 20% tithe, jihād, promoting the good, and forbidding evil, in their creed, all Sunnis accept these as religious obligations.
Although a Nasībī would reject the obligation to love the Prophet's Family, and the prohibition of dealing with those who hate the Prophet's family, every true Sunnī loves and blesses the Prophet and his Family. And evidently, every true Muslim, follows the shar'īah, be he Sunnī, 'Ibādī, Shī'ī Ithnā 'Asharī, Shī'ī Ismā'īlī, Shī'ī Zaydī, or Sūfī.
Although most Sunnis and many Twelver Shī'ites consider the Ismā'īliyyah outside the fold of Islām because they do not perform salāh, fast during the month of Ramadan, or perform the hajj, the Ismā'īliyyah as a whole cannot be condemned as kuffār. The Nizārī or followers of the Āghā Khān, who are approximately 90% of Ismā'īlis, do indeed believe that the sharī'ah has been abrogated.
Like some Sūfī sects which believe Islāmic law no longer applies, the Nizārī are misguided and should be encouraged to mend their ways, complete the five daily prayers, fast in Ramadān, and perform the pilgrimage so as to integrate entirely into the Islāmic Ummah. It should also be remembered that there are Twelver Shī'ites, Sunnis, and Sūfis who do not pray, do not fast, do not eat halāl, and commit all sorts of harām, insisting that faith is sufficient for their salvation.
Muslims should be careful to cast all Ismā'īlis in the same light as the Musta'alī, and their off-chute the Dāwūdī Bohras, who follow the Fātimid school of jurisprudence, all observe the sharī'ah and are very close to Ja'farī jurisprudence in practice.
If there are any differences between Sunnī, Shī'ite, 'Ibadī, and Sūfī Muslims, they are relatively minor and revolve around aspects of religious practice. Muslims need to recognize and respect their tiny technical differences, remembering that jurisprudence is not a goal in and of itself but a means to a goal, namely, the remembrance of Almighty Allāh. As important as proper observation of Islāmic practices may be, far too many Muslims focus on the form of worship as opposed to the essence of worship.
Islāmic unity certainly does not mean uniformity. It does not mean that all schools of fiqh [jurisprudence] should merge into one. It merely means that there is more than one “right way” to do things, that jurists have differences of opinion, based on different interpretations of the Qur'ān and Sunnah, and different methodologies. Every ruling is “right” according to the jurist who derived it. Every opinion is “correct” depending on one's point of view.
All jurists agree on the issue, but they view the issue from a different perspective. One issue can be viewed as harām, makrūh, and halāl [permissible / reprehensible / forbidden]. In Islām, every issue can be seen from a 360 degree angle and there is ample room for a wide range of opinion.
Take the issue of consuming the meat of ahl al-kitāb [People of the Book]. According to most Sunnī scholars, it is permissible for a Muslim to eat meat from animals slaughtered by Christians of Jews. They base themselves on the Qur'ānic verse:
“The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them” (5:5).
Some Sunnī scholars say that while it is permissible to eat the meat of Christians and Jews, it is preferable to eat halāl meat if available. Yet other Sunnī scholars forbid the consumption of the meat of the Christians and Jews. They argue that the Christians and Jews of today are not truly “People of the Book,” that they no longer slaughter animals in the name of Allāh, which is a condition for the meat to be halāl, and that there is no guarantee that the meat in non-Muslim countries was even slaughtered by a Christian or a Jew.
It could easily have been slaughtered by a secular liberal, an agnostic, an atheist, a polytheist, a heathen, a Satanist, or other unbelievers. Twelver Shī'ite scholars have always been unanimous that the meat of Jews and Christians is harām. Their reason, however, is based on lexical hermeneutics. As we read in Mir Ahmed 'Alī translation of the Qur'ān:
According to Imām Ja'far ibn Muhammad al-Sādiq the word ta'ām implies food made of grains not containing flesh of permitted animals. The Jews and the Christians do not follow the prescribed method of slaughtering the animals, nor do they seek Allāh's pleasure before killing the animal, therefore, to eat flesh of any animal offered by them is not lawful for the Muslims. “Whosoever denies the faith, his deeds will be rendered useless” clearly lays down the principle that good deeds cannot be of any use unless one believes in Allāh, His Messengers and guides appointed by Him, and the Day of Judgment.
According to Ayātullāh Pooya Yazdī: “This verse gives permission to the Muslims to eat the food (made of grains) offered by the people of the book.”
As can be seen, the Islāmic attitude towards the meat of Christians and Jews ranges from halāl to makrūh and harām opinions which are equally valid. Muslims, as muqallidīn of mujtahidīn [followers of jurists], are free to follow any of the rulings of their particularly madhhab [school of law] with confidence that they have acted correctly, complying with a valid interpretation of the Qur'ān and Sunnah.
In many areas of Islāmic law differences of opinion are mainly differences of degree. These differences are a mercy and a blessing from Allāh. No Muslim is obliged to submit to one set of rulings. Each Muslim is free to follow the rulings of the mujtahid [jurist] of his choice, to leave the taqlīd [emulation] of one faqīh [jurist], and to commence the taqlīd of another he deems to be more learned. Since all people are different, they have different levels of dīn [religion], different levels of faith, and different levels of understanding. No Muslim is subjugated or coerced to act a certain way.
In the absence of halāl meat, a meat-loving Sunnī Muslim who cannot find meaningful sustenance out of salad is free to feed himself the meat of ahl al-kitāb. As Almighty Allāh says in the Holy Qur'ān:
“No soul shall have a burden laid on it greater than it can bear” (2:233).
For another Sunnī Muslim, being a part-time vegetarian while traveling in dār al-kufr [the land of the unbelievers] is not a hardship, and he may wish to abstain from the meat of ahl al-kitāb. Merely because one is stricter does not make one better as all actions are judged on intention, and Allāh judges all people according to their intellectual abilities.
As far as we are concerned, the arguments allowing the consumption of ahl al-kitāb meat are weak and the Shī'ite argument is the strongest. This does not mean that we wish to impose the Ja'farī ruling on others, not does it imply disrespect to some of the Sunnī rulings. They are opinions we respect, but opinions we do not share. When a Salafī Shaykh was asked regarding Nūh Ha Mīm Keller's belief that the references to the “hands” of Allāh mentioned in the Qur'ān (38:75; 48:10; 51:47) were figurative, representing the power of God, the Shaykh said that Allāh indeed has literal hands and anyone who said otherwise was a kāfir [infidel].
This is exactly the type of outrageous behavior that is unacceptable in Islām. If the Salafiyyah wish to follow the Qur'ān literally, they have the freedom to do so. They do not, however, have the right to denounce others as unbelievers because they believe the Qur'ān contains allegorical and metaphorical meanings. It is clear that many Muslims need a lesson not only in moderation and tolerance, but in basic manners.
The role of Islāmic law is to set the limits of what is permitted and what is prohibited. When differences of opinion exist among Muslim jurists, it is the least restrictive ruling that becomes the law. If some fuqahā' [jurists] believe that women can show their faces and hands, and others believe that they must veil their faces, the most accommodating ruling becomes the law of the land, and veiling the face becomes an issue of personal choice.
Attempts of extremists in Afghanistan, Iraq, and abroad, to impose the most severe interpretation of the sharī'ah have been detrimental to the public image of Islām, alienating Muslims and non-Muslims from the Islāmic religion. It should also be recalled that the implementation of the sharī'ah by the Prophet was gradual and progressive, an example which must be emulated by any Muslim state.
The punishment for theft cannot be enforced until unemployment and poverty are eradicated. The punishment for adultery cannot be enforced until temptation has been eradicated through modesty and marriage. Proper conditions must exist for Islāmic punishments to be administered. The creation of socio-economic and spiritual justice is a necessary precursor to sharī'ah law.
In closing, we would like to encourage all Muslims to unite on the basis of their common beliefs, remembering that unity does not imply uniformity. Muslims may come from various legal, theological, and philosophical traditions, but they are all one in the Oneness of God. Muslims must reject absolutist literalist attitudes and embrace a Universal Islām, becoming multi-dimensional Muslims far removed from the fundamentalist fallacy.
They need to embrace Islāmic pluralism and Islāmic diversity in accord with the Oneness of Allāh and the Qur'ānic message brought by the Messenger of Allāh, an Islām which includes rather than excludes, an Islām which enriches rather than impoverishes, a centrist, middle-road Islām (2:143), which opposes extremism, for as Almighty Allāh says:
“Do not be excessive in your belief” (4:165;5:81).
While Islām rejects religious relativism and exoteric religious pluralism, it does accept that all revealed religions share the same esoteric spirit. Whether its Judaism, Christianity or Islām, all revealed religions believe in One God, the Prophets, the Day of Judgment, and the Ten Commandments.
However, before Muslims can unite with Jews and Christians, they must unite with themselves, embracing Islām as a totality, accepting the entire Islāmic pie rather than a single piece. If the Europeans say: “All roads lead to Rome,” we say that “All roads lead to Allāh.” And this is precisely what the Prophet said: “The numbers of paths to Allāh is equal to the number of human souls.”
15th of Sha'bān / August 28, 2007
Dr. John A. Morrow, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Modern Languages
Northern State University
Aberdeen, South Dakota
Body and soul are the two components of human beings; one is the husk and the outer shell while the other is the kernel and an inner spirit. Both dimensions need nourishment as well as protection. Almighty God says,
”[I swear] by the soul and Him who shaped it [perfectly], and then inspired it [the innate ability to understand] what is right and wrong for it! Indeed successful is he who purifies it and indeed failure is he who corrupts it.” (91:7-10)
Each human being has the potential of soaring to the level higher than that of the angels and that top place in the pyramid of God's creation can only be reached by developing one's spiritual dimension.
Islām guides humans on both planes of their being: the ritual as well as the spiritual. The Prophet Muhammad instructed the people on simple matters of hygiene, such as cleanliness, wudū' and ghusl, as well as on loftier matters of spiritual ascension; he urged his followers to be physically strong to defend themselves in battle-fields and also charted for them the heavenly path of spiritual wayfaring.
After the death of the Prophet, regrettably the majority of Muslims were unable to combine the ritual and the spiritual dimensions in their religious life. They experimented with their faith in different ways: from the absolute freewill theory of Mu'tazilah to the disguised predetermination [kasb or iktisāb, lit.”acquisition”] of Ash'arī, from literalism or “fundamentalism” of the Hanābilah to the esoteric explanations of the extremists, from indiscriminate adherence to hadīth by the Mālikis to the personal opinions [qiyyās] of Abū Hanīfah. Eventually, the Sunnī Muslims settled with the Ash'arī theology and the jurisprudence of their Four Imāms. However, the lack of spirituality in this strand of Islām gave rise to Sūfism among the Sunnis.
All along there was a minority which maintained, preserved, and spread the wholeness of Islāmic teachings, and that was the Shī'ah strand of Islām headed by the Imāms from the family of the Prophet, the Ahlul Bayt. Shī'ism emerged as the natural product of Islām which combined within itself its ritual as well as the spiritual dimensions.
It is a path whose theology, jurisprudence, and spirituality flow from the same spring, the Ahlul Bayt. And, therefore, you will observe that the Shī'ah very rarely felt the need to form distinct spiritual fraternities like the Sūfis among the Sunnis. You will indeed find 'urafā' [scholars who specialize in gnosis] among the Shī'ah but not murshidīn [spiritual masters] as found among the Sūfis.
A Shī'ī Muslim refers for all his religious guidance–from theology to jurisprudence, from ritual or spiritual–to the Ahlul Bayt. Even if he just follows the rituals with understanding and comprehension, he will be led to the spiritual path. For example, a simple recitation of the Du'ā' Kumayl, taught by Imām 'Alī, elevates a Shī'ī from the basic level of worshiping God out of fear [khawf] to the level of worshiping God out of love [hubb]. And so there is no wonder when we see that almost all the Sūfī fraternities trace their chain of masters back to one or the other Imām of Ahlul Bayt.
In this background, it was indeed a pleasure to read and review the English translation of Professor Luis Alberto Vittor's Shī'ite Islām: Orthodoxy or Heterodoxy translated by Dr. John Andrew Morrow. The book has excellently captured the exoteric as well as the esoteric dimensions of Imāmate. I am sure that readers will come to realize that while Sunnism is more a legalistic aspect of Islām and Sūfism is more a spiritual, mystical dimension, Shī'ism is the true legacy of the complete Islām of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny).
May Almighty Allāh bless the writer as well as the translator and commentator for their worthwhile contribution towards the understanding of Shī'ah Islām.
Jumādā II 1427 / July 2006
Hujjat al-Islām Sayyid Muhammad Rizvī
Jaffari Islāmic Center
Luis Alberto Vittor's Shī'ite Islām: Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy provides a privileged and sublime view into the core and essence of Shī'ism as well as the early history and development of Islām. Written for a Western audience, it restores Shī'ism to its rightful place as a fully fledged aspect of Islām, rather than as a rebellious offshoot which does not adhere to core Islāmic beliefs and standards. In this task, the author's analysis of Islām and the meaning of sect and schism went the full distance in establishing Shī'ism's complete legitimacy.
Further, the author takes the reader back to the birth of Islām and the profound influence of the Prophet Muhammad to demonstrate the partnership he intended to create between the secular and spiritual lives of Muslims via the wilāyah or guardianship of the correctly appointed Imām. While not a Muslim myself, I could sense the generations' long frustration of those who believed that the very trajectory of Islām was altered by the ego/tradition driven actions of a few powerful men.
Analogy is perhaps the most eloquent means of describing what Shī'ah Muslims believe happened with the appointment of Abū Bakr, instead of 'Alī, to the Caliphate. If a rocket is intended to land on a certain lunar crater 238,856 miles from Earth, the calculations must be precise to a ten-thousandth of a fraction.
Any slight variation will mean that not only will the space craft not land on the right spot, but it may miss the moon entirely. I believe that the Prophet Muhammad's designation of 'Alī as his successor was based on just such infinitesimal calculations; a complete knowledge of the Qur'ān and its divine message as well as a realization of human frailty.
The appointment of 'Alī was meant to inhibit the incursion of human ego into the burgeoning acceptance of the Qur'ānic message. When that did not occur, the human manifestation of Islām altered. The message and means remained pristine and perfect, but human interpretation was clouded by personal interests and a reluctance to release power. This volume offers a clear and rational look at events, ideas, and the essence of Muhammad's intentions. For believers and non-believers, it is an authoritative source of arguments rarely heard.As such, it is a gift to a more complete understanding of this world-class religion and the place of Shī'ism within it.
Jumādā II 1427 / July 2006
Barbara Castleton, M.A.
Ohio State University
Athens, Ohio, U.S.A.
In 1994, our friend and colleague Hector Manzolillo, a prolific professional translator, presented us with two volumes of the academic journal Epiemelia which contained the article “El Islām Šhi'ita: ¿ortodoxia o heterodoxia?” [Shī'ite Islām: Orthodoxy or Heterodoxy?]. He asked us to read the article and wondered whether we could translate it from Spanish into English.
At the time we had recently completed our Honors B.A. at the University of Toronto, and were starting graduate school. While we were impressed with the arguments made by the author Luis Alberto Vittor, and we appreciated the scholarly contribution of his work, we declined the request to translate the article due to lack of time. We assured Hector Manzolillo and Luis Alberto Vittor that we would translate the book at some time in the future.
It was only in the summer of 2004 that we were able to devote our time to the translation of the article in question. We had completed our M.A. and Ph.D. in in 2000, and found a position as an Assistant Professor at Park University in Kansas City in 2001. It took us several years to get settled in, both academically and financially, before we could devote our time to translating the article. It was thus, in the summer of 2004, that we informed Luis Alberto Vittor, now a close friend and colleague, a spiritual advisor and academic mentor, that we were ready to get to work.
Due to the specialized nature of the work, we felt it necessary to add extensive notes to make it more accessible to non-experts. While a scholar of Islām, a Muslim philosopher or an intellectual might comprehend the allusions being made by the author, most of them would escape the average reader as many of his sentences could be a paragraph, many of his paragraphs could be a chapter, and many of his chapters could be a book. What was supposed to be a small summer project turned into a major two year endeavor as we found ourselves continuously expounding upon his arguments to the point that the article gradually turned into a full-fledged book.
The final product, a critically annotated translation of Luis Alberto Vittor's Shī'ite Islām: Orthodoxy or Heterodoxy, was thus finally completed. Reviewed by several Islāmic scholars, including Dr. Liyakat 'Alī Takīm, Shaykh Feisal Morhell, Professor Hasan 'Abd al-'Alī Bize and Sayyid Muhammad Rizvī, the book was embraced by Mr. Muhammad Taqī Ansariyan. As most academics who read the book have acknowledged, the value of the work resides in the fact that it is the first scholarly study to deal with Sunnī-Shī'ī polemics from an esoteric and metaphysical perspective while providing a general criticism of Western Orientalism.
Luis Alberto Vittor's criticism of Western Orientalism is amply justified and is certainly not the first. As is well-known, Edward Sa'īd condemned Orientalism categorically, claiming that it served political ends. It is indeed correct that Orientalism was used to justify European imperialism in colonial times. It is equally correct that Orientalism is used to support American and Zionist interests in the Muslim world in contemporary times. While there is truth in Sa'īd's statement, it remains an over-generalization. The mistakes made by some Orientalists are not necessarily malicious. Many merely have a limited view because they never release their own history when looking at another's. As Barbara Castleton explains,
It should be remembered that people can only look at something from a perspective they have experienced. While de Toqueville managed a brilliant analysis of America after being here a mere six months, this is not the norm. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that he wrote as an observer. An Orientalist, Arabist or Islāmicist, can never bring real veracity and authenticity to a subject that they are merely observing.
For some scholars, Islām is like an ocean which they explore from the shoreline.They can dip their toes in it, they can wade in it, and kick their legs up forcefully, but they never really learn to let go and swim in the sea. They never let go of the edge to feel the swirl of their topic ebbing and flowing all around them.
Despite their shortcomings, many of these Orientalists have made contributions to the field of Islāmic Studies. Others, however, are arrogant, insolent and openly hostile to the Muslim faith. These scholars have never approached the ocean of Islām. Rather than revel in its riches and drink from its pristine purity, they stand firmly on its shoreline, pouring pollutants into its waters, vainly seeking to cloud its clarity.
While the English version of Luis Alberto's book is sure to be embraced by Shī'ite scholars and open-minded individuals, it might be criticized or conveniently ignored by some Western Orientalists who will allege a lack of objectivity on the part of the author. Ironically, they may accuse him of their own single greatest shortcoming: subjectivity. They might claim to see a mote in his eye while being blind to the beam that veils their own vision (Matthew 7:5).
They might complain that the author is writing from a Shī'ite perspective and has not remained impartial, a rule which apparently applies only to Muslim scholars since most Christian scholars rarely detach themselves from their own religious and ideological points of view. In the worst of cases, Christian scholars do not even pretend to remove themselves from their own biases, prejudices, stereotypes, and other professional vices.
After calling into question his objectivity, this sector of Orientalists might move on to their second line of attack: Vittor's approach and methodology. Despite the author's expressed aim to present the Shī'ite position–in all of its esoteric and metaphysical dimensions–he might be criticized for writing from a religious perspective. To be succinct, this would be a polite way of saying he is subjective, biased, and partial.
They might argue that the book is directed to English-speaking Muslims, rather than recognizing it as a scholarly work aimed at an academic audience. If Luis Alberto Vittor had said that Shī'ite Islām was a Persian creation, that the Qur'ān was the work of Muhammad which was copied from Jews and Christians, and that the corpora of prophetic traditions were mere legends, he would be embraced like a brother, cited incessantly, invited to conferences, and given generous grants.
Eventually he might even be appointed to a prestigious Chair of Islāmic Studies or counsel the American President regarding policies in the Muslim world. While some Orientalists are eager to attack scholars who study Islām objectively, they rarely dare to criticize the pro-Christian perspectives of some of their most distinguished colleagues.
Rather than dealing with concrete facts and responding with sound, solidly-based arguments, some Orientalists might dismiss the author's scholarship as subjective. These are the same scholars, however, who have shown little concern for the subjectivity of their own colleagues. There almost seems to be a consensus that Islām must only be studied by non-Muslims. If this is the case, it is certainly a strange double-standard as most scholars of Judaism are Jewish, and most scholars of Christianity are Christians, yet one rarely hears any of them being criticized for being biased.
It does not require much effort to find Orientalists responsible for reductionist readings of the Islāmic faith. Take, for example, the attitude of the Islāmologist Félix María Pareja who argued that “Islām is the religion of the sword.” If a Muslim academic said that Christianity was a religion of Crusades, Inquisitions, and genocide, Western scholars would never let their roar of outrage recede.
God forbid if a Muslim academic dared to say that Judaism was the religion of Zionism, Jewish imperialism, Palestinian concentration camps, Dayr Yāsīn, Sabrā and Shātīlā, as well as the mass expulsion of Muslims. The words of Father Pareja, however, are not denounced by Western religious scholars. On the contrary, they are cited, and passed from textbook to textbook without the author's objectivity being called into question. As a priest who wrote from a Catholic perspective, can he be truly objective?
Rather than questioning the scholarship produced by Muslim scholars, Western Orientalists might consider criticizing the likes of Asín Palacios. Many Spanish Orientalists and Arabists now openly admit that he was slanted. Paradoxically, they continue to use his work as standard reference material despite his claims that Sūfism was merely a Christianized form of Islām.
If the thesis is wrong, the entire argument leading up to it is equally erroneous and needs to be discarded. The inconsistencies of Western philosophers are so widespread that Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont have spoken of “intellectual imposters” who rely on verbosity to cover their argumentative deficiencies. Unfortunately, there are some Western Orientalists who remain “slaves of old ideas,” unable to appreciate the value of works written with academic freedom.
Despite their allegations of subjectivity with regards to the author, Western Orientalists would be hard-pressed to present a concrete criticism of the present work as its content is objective and scientific, both methodologically and epistemologically. While the work may have its shortcomings–for example, focusing only on certain aspects of the topic due to limitations of time and space–this certainly does not invalidate the text as a whole.
That would be like discarding an Armani suit because the sewing-lady overlooked a tiny detail in the lining. Finally, what some Orientalists will find the most annoying about the current work of Luis Alberto Vittor is that it is a scientific study completed within the framework of the Islāmic faith, without succumbing to bias or attempts to proselytize.
While their criticism may seem harsh to some, scholars like Edward Sa'īd, Ahmad Ghurāb, and Luis Alberto Vittor, are neither “assassins of Orientalists” nor propagandists for the Islāmist cause. They are not out to destroy Western Orientalism nor do they have any missionary agenda. On the contrary, their comprehensive criticism addresses important methodological mistakes.
It is a call for true scholarship at the service of science rather than political and economic ambitions. For Edward Sa'īd, Ahmad Ghurāb, and Luis Alberto Vittor, Orientalism should be a means of rapprochement, a means of knowing others, not turning them into alter-egos, not demonizing them, not exoticizing them, not eroticizing them, and certainly not undermining them.
According to Sa'īd, Ghurāb, and Vittor, certain subjects are sacred, and while they can be studied scientifically and critically, this must always be done with an attitude of respect and tolerance. Whether it is Hinduism, Taoism or Buddhism, whether it is Judaism, Christianity or Islām, all religious traditions merit to be studied without being slighted, tarnished or disrespected.
This applies equally to any discussions of Shī'ite Islām which, due to Orientalist opinion, has been stigmatized as sectarian. Showing a blatant disregard for etymology, many Orientalists have equated Shī'ism with the schism, claiming that the very word shī'ah signifies “sect” when it merely means “followers.” This misrepresentation of the Arabic language and Islāmic reality was opposed by J. Spencer Trimingham almost forty years ago when he explained that:
In Western thought a 'sect' is regarded as a group which has broken away from the parent religious community because of differing views. On such criteria Shī'ism is not a sect in its origins, since it springs directly from the main stream of Islāmic development, which branched into two streams, following different interpretations, hardening into doctrines, about the origins and ordering of Islāmic society. (79)
Clearly, Islām is not composed of a single Sunnī stream, from which heretical sects flow out as rivulets, drying out in the sands of infidelity and heresy rather than reaching the sea of eternity. If anything, Islām is an eternal tree. Its roots are the pillars of Islām; its trunk is the sharī'ah; its branches are its interpretations; and the fleeting leaves are its followers, coming and going with each revisited season. The dialogue between Shī'ism and Sunnism, however, has been far less poetic, ecumenical, and fraternal.
As experts in the field are aware, the debate between Sunnism and Shī'ism has provided a large body of polemical literature. The Shī'ite scholarship on the subject tends to be characterized by a scholarly approach. The Sunnī and most particularly Salafī work, however, tends to be characterized by an attitude which is both divisive and destructive. In the best of cases, the authors are misinformed and misrepresent the teachings of Twelve Imām Shī'ite Islām. In the worst of cases, they lance allegations against Shī'ites based on dubious documents, fabrications and fantasy, in order to accuse them of heresy.
The classical Sunnī heresiographers and polemicists include Abū al-Hasan al-Ash'arī (d. 935-6), Abū al-Muzaffar al-Isfarā'inī (d. 1078-9), Abū al-Qāsim 'Abd al-Wāhid b. Ahmad al-Kirmānī (d. before 1131), Abū al-Faraj 'Abd al-Rahmān ibn 'Alī ibn al-Jawzī (d. 1201), Shahrastānī (d. 1135) and Mu'ī al-Dīn Mīzrā Makhdūm (d. 1587). More modern authors include Ahmad b. Zaynī Dahlān (d. 1886), a Shāfi'ī muftī from Makkah, and Mūsa Jār Allāh (d. 1949). In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Salafīs, rather than Sunnis, have been at the forefront in producing polemical anti-Shī'ite tracts.
The most notorious of these authors include Ahmad al-Afghānī, Sayyid Abū al-Hasan Nadvī, Abū Amīnah Bilāl Philips, Shaykh 'Abd al-Rahmān Dimashquī, Shaykh Yahyā Silmī al-Saylanī, and Shaykh Faisal. Some of these people, like Bilal Philips, a Canadian convert of Jamaican origin, have been supported by the Saudi establishment and represent the pro-Saudi Salafīs.
Others, like Shaykh 'Abdullāh al-Faisal, a Jamaican convert formerly known as Trevor William Forrest, represent the anti-Saudi Salafīs. Shaykh Faisal is presently in prison in the U.K, convicted to a nine year term in 2003 for incitement to murder. In his defense, he explained that the teachings he was given were “in accordance with the same at Imām Muhammad ibn Sa'ūd Islāmic University in Saudi Arabia” and that “all my teachings are from the Koran and Saudi Arabia” (Gillan).
To accuse Shī'ite Muslims of “heresy,” as many Salafīs do, is to play judge and executioner. It is well-known among Muslims that Islāmic Law prescribes the death penalty for heretics and apostates. Of course, not all authors are so subtle as to call Shī'ites heretics and then drop the issue. There are those like Ahmad Shāh Mas'ūd from the Afghan Mujāhidīn and Northern Alliance, Gulbuddīn Hekmatyār, founder of the Hezb-i Islāmi, Mullā 'Omar from the Tālibān, and Usāmah ben Laden, Ayman al-Zawāhirī and the recently deceased Abū Mus'ab al-Zarqāwī from al-Qā'idah, who have openly advocated murder, declaring Shī'ites to be worse than infidels, and claiming their blood was halāl.
Books like Talbīs Iblīs, [The Devil's Deception of the Shī'ites], extremist websites, and anti-Shī'ite pamphlets are often all it takes to incite ignorant fanatics to vigilante violence. The massacres of Shī'ite Muslims in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq are partly the result of anti-Shī'ah propaganda. The individuals responsible for encouraging and committing these atrocities are true terrorists with innocent blood on their hands.
In many Western nations, like Canada, there are laws against hate literature. It is time for all supporters of human rights to demand their application, put a halt to anti-Shī'ī hate propaganda, prohibit its dissemination, and press for the prosecution of those who produce it, distribute it, and profit from it. If Canada, the United States and other nations can ban David Irving, the Holocaust revisionist, from entering their countries, then surely they can ban extremist Salafīs.
In the past fifty years, the ruling family and government of Saudi Arabia has indoctrinated millions of Muslims into the Wahhābī ideology through its Islāmic universities at home and affiliated institutions abroad, through its publishing houses, and through its network of Islāmic organizations, mosques and associations.
The vast majority of mosques in North America are controlled by ISNA, the Islāmic Society of North America, which is the “official organ” of Saudi Salafism in the Western World. Frank Gaffney, founder and President of the Center for Security Policy in Washington and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy under President Ronald Reagan, reveals that:
[T]he Islāmic Society of North America is a front for the promotion of Saudi Arabia's Wahhābī political, doctrinal, and theological infrastructure in the United States and Canada. Established by the Saudi-funded Muslim Students Association, ISNA has for years sought to marginalize leaders of the Muslim faith who do not support the Wahhābists' strain of 'Islāmofascism,' and, through sponsorship of propaganda and mosques, is pursuing a strategic goal of eventually dominating Islām in America.
ISNA provides indoctrination materials to about 1,100 of an estimated 2,500 mosques in the North American continent. Through its affiliate, the North American Islāmic Trust (NAIT)–a Saudi government-based organization created to fund Islāmist enterprises in North America–it reportedly holds the mortgages of between 50-79 percent of those mosques. Through this device, ISNA exerts ideological as well as theological influence over what is preached and taught in these institutions and schools.
Saudi oil money has spread Salafism to such an extent that, for a great part, Sunnism has morphed into Salafīsm. The “Muslim fundamentalist” menace has now hit home and Saudi Arabia is facing the return of their prodigal sons. Surely, Saudi dollars would best be spent delivering humanitarian aid to Muslim countries, supporting economic development, and encouraging Islāmic unity, rather than encouraging Islāmic extremism.
On December 7-8, 2005, a symbolic step towards Islāmic unity was taken with the “Makkah al-Mukarramah Declaration” of the Third Session of the Extraordinary Islāmic Summit Conference in which member states, including Saudi Arabia, reaffirmed their “unwavering rejection of terrorism, and all forms of extremism and violence.” As Saudi King 'Abd Allāh bin 'Abd al-'Azīz declared: “Islāmic unity would not be reached through bloodshed as claimed by the deviants” (“Moderation and Tolerance Urged at OIC Summit: Stress on Combating Extremism,” The Dawn, Dec. 8, 2005: Internet: http://126.96.36.199/2005/12/08/top1.htm ).
Considering the rise of sectarian violence in Iraq and the threat it poses to the entire region, Saudi Arabia should reassess its state-sponsored Salafism and decide to work towards Islāmic unity. As Mustafā Rāfi'ī, Dr. Kalīm Siddiquī, Zafar Bangash, Shaykh Ahmad Deedat, Imām Muhammad al-Asī, Imām 'Abdul-'Alīm Mūsā, Amīr 'Abdul Mālik 'Alī, 'Abd al-Malik Mujahid, Dr. Shahīd Athar, and other mainstream Sunnī Muslims have impressed, the fundamental beliefs which Muslims have in common far outweighs the historical differences which emerged after the passing of the Prophet.1
Regardless of whether they are Sunnī, Shī'ī or Sūfī, regardless of the school of jurisprudence they follow, Muslims are Muslims first and foremost and should pose a united, non-sectarian front when confronting the enemies of Islām. Opinions regarding the succession of the Prophet and interpretations of Islāmic law are primarily personal convictions belonging in the private domain. They can be addressed in the proper academic context, to increase knowledge, and to develop an appreciation for the various expressions of the Islāmic faith. There is no place, however, for divisive argumentation in Islām.
In contrast to the Sunnī side, where calls for unity remain voices in the wilderness, the Shī'ite side has a long history of scholarship with a fraternal foundation. With rare exception, it has been the general consensus of Shī'ite scholars that the followers of ahl al-sunnah are bona fide believers; the only heretics being the Kharijites, the earliest Islāmic sect which traces its beginning to a religio-political controversy over the Caliphate and which holds that 'Alī and his followers became infidels; the nawāsib, those who profess hatred towards the Prophet's Family and the ghulāt, the extremists who deify 'Alī.
Among the first Shī'ite scholars to formulate the fundamentals of faith of the Twelver Shī'ites from a polemicist perspective was Shaykh Sadūq, one of the scholarly pillars of Shī'ism, in his famous I'tiqādāt, translated loosely as A Shī'ite Creed. He lived during intolerant times, a period of rampant takfīr [or accusations of infidelity] when tensions ran high between the various schools of thought in Islām, each one vying for supremacy.
Although he was a deeply-committed Shī'ite, he was forthcoming in presenting Shī'ite beliefs clearly and concisely in comparison with other currents in Islāmic thought. Shaykh Sadūq's I'tiqādāt was commented upon by one of his students, Shaykh al-Mufīd, under the title of Sharh 'aqā'id al-Sadūq, and remains a popular theological text to this date. Numerous other Shī'ite scholars wrote valuable books in which they contrasted Sunnī and Shī'ī beliefs, including Shaykh Abū Ja'far al-Tusī (d. 1067-8) and 'Abd al-Jalīl al-Qazwīnī (d. c. 1190), who put forth some strikingly moderate view, as well as 'Allāmah al-Hillī (d. 1325).
In the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the leading figures of inter-Islāmic ecumenism have included Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Kāshif al-Ghitā, Ayātullāh Muhammad Husayn Burujerdī–who worked to unite the various schools of Islāmic jurisprudence–'Allāmah Muhammad Jawād Mughniyyah, Ayātullāh Shariatmadarī, Ayātullāh Hasan al-Shirāzī, Imām Mūsā al-Sadr, and Ayātullāh Marashī-Najafī–who had the unique distinction of having ijāzah [permission] of riwāyah [to teach Islām] from nearly 400 Shī'ī, Sunnī and Zaydī scholars–as well as Ayātullāhs Beheshtī, Muntazerī, Mutahharī, among many others, all of whom defended the cause of Muslim unity.
In recent years, Ayātullāh al-Uzmā Sayyid 'Alī al-Husaynī al-Sistānī, has repeatedly called for calm between both communities in the most trying of circumstances. The greatest advocate of Islāmic unity in recent history was none other that Imām Khumaynī. In fact, the late founder of the Islāmic Republic ruled that:
Muslims should be awake, Muslims should be alert that if a dispute takes place among Sunnī and Shī'ite brothers, it is harmful to all of us; it is harmful to all Muslims. Those who want to sow discord are neither Sunnī nor Shī'ite, they are agents of the superpowers and work for them. Those who attempt to cause discord among our Sunnī and Shī'ite brothers are people who conspire for the enemies of Islām, and want the enemies of Islām to triumph over Muslims. Muslim brothers and sisters will not be segregated by the pseudo-propaganda sponsored by corrupt elements.
The source of this matter–that Shī'ites should be on one side and Sunnī on the other–is on the one hand ignorance and, on the other hand, foreign propaganda. If Islāmic brotherhood comes to the fore among Islāmic countries, they will become such a great power that none of the global powers will be able to contend with them. Shī'ite and Sunnī brothers should avoid every kind of dispute.
Today, discord among us will only benefit those who follow neither Shī'ah nor Hanafī. They neither want this nor that to exist, and know the way to sow dispute between you and us. We must pay attention that we are all Muslims and we all believe in the Qur'ān; we all believe in tawhīd, and must work to serve the Qur'ān and tawhīd.
This message of Islāmic unity is one that all Muslims, be they Sunnī, Shī'ī, or Sūfī, should remember, as many of them seem to have forgotten it. While Imām Khumaynī worked tirelessly towards Islāmic unity, some Shī'ite scholars have failed to follow in his footsteps and have promoted proselytism and sectarianism, rather than Islāmic pluralism. Fortunately, for those interested in Islāmic unity within diversity, there exists an excellent body of literature.
While there are many excellent books on Sunnī-Shī'ah dialogue, perhaps the finest work of scholarship on the subject was produced by the Lebanese erudite 'Abd al-Husayn Sharīf al-Dīn al-Mūsawī in his legendary Murāja'āt or The Evidence, a discussion by correspondence which took place between the Shī'ite sage and his Sunnī counterpart, Shaykh Shaltūt, the Dean of the University of al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt.
In fact, the debate was so productive in increasing Sunnī-Shī'ite understanding that it resulted in Shaykh Shaltūt issuing a historic fatwā recognizing the Ja'farī Ithnā 'Asharī madhhab as a legitimate school of jurisprudence inIslām which all Muslims are permitted to follow freely. The work is a model of the proper Muslim mores which are to be observed in any and all debates.
Another well-known polemical work is Peshawar Nights. While claims have been made that the book is of dubious origin, perhaps produced for propaganda purposes as part of Shī'ite missionary activities, this does not debilitate the arguments it contains. In recent years, the Tunisian Muhammad al-Tījānī, has written several valuable books including Then I was Guided, The Shī'ah: The True Followers of the Sunnah, Ask Those Who Know, and With the Truthful, all of which have been translated into numerous languages.
On the positive side, these books present a wealth of information and documentation supporting Shī'ism and have served to bring many Sunnis closer to and even into Shī'ism. On the negative side, the author is neither an academic nor a traditional scholar of Islām, as he readily admits. As a result, his books are not always free from error, contradiction, value judgments, and unbridled enthusiasm. At times, his arguments are expressed in terms which seem abrasive to some Sunnis, sometimes accentuating division rather than attenuating it.
This applies even more to websites like answering-ansar.org and certain articles published on shianews.com. While both of these websites are informative, they fight fire with fire when they should be fighting fire with water. In the Preface of Devil's Deception of the Nasībī Wahhābis which appears on answering-ansar.org, 'Abdul Hakeem Orano clearly explains that “This book takes the method of attack.” Evidently, this is an inappropriate approach. As Almighty Allāh instructs,
“Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance” (16:125).
As can be observed from the previous survey, the most serious shortcoming of scholarship in the area of Shī'ite-Sunnī dialogue is that it centers on the exoteric aspects of the religion. It deals with concrete, down to earth doctrines, as opposed to matters of spirituality, mysticism and metaphysics. The present study, Luis Alberto Vittor's Shī'ite Islām: Orthodoxy or Heterodoxy takes the debate between Shī'ism and Sunnism to a higher plateau elevating arguments to the spiritual sphere in his profound philosophical tract.
In closing, we would like to thank Professor Luis Alberto Vittor for trusting us with this translation. We have remained as faithful to the text as possible and attempted to render it into a scholarly yet idiomatic English. We would like to thank Mr. Abū Dharr Manzolillo, a true friend and father figure, who has stood by our side for almost two decades.
We would like to thank all the scholars who shared their knowledge with us, from Sayyid Muhammad Zakī Bāqrī and Sayyid Muhammad Rizvī in Canada, to the Grand Ayātullāhs in Qum and Najaf. We are equally indebted to our early guides and mentors, Ahmad Haneef, Khalid Haneef-Jabari, and 'Alī Muhammad Shaheed Hasīb.
We would like to thank our wife, Rachīda Bejja, for repeatedly reviewing, correcting, and editing the Arabic transliteration, as well as our son, Yasīn al-Amīn Morrow. They both served as a constant source of support and solace and this work could never have been completed without them.
We would also like to send a special thanks to Mr. Muhammad Taqī Ansariyan for graciously supporting this scholarly endeavor and commend him for his inestimable contributions to the field of Shī'ite studies through the publication and distribution of academic titles.
We hope and pray that the following translation will be a welcomed contribution to scholarship in the field of Islāmic Studies, will benefit both scholars and students of Islām, serve as a wake-up call to Western Orientalists, and bring about a greater degree of understanding and appreciation for the unity within the diversity of Islāmic orthodoxy. Finally, as the translator and Editor of the following work, we accept full responsibility for its content and commit ourselves to correcting any shortcomings that it may contain in future editions.
Jumādā II 1427 / July 2006
Dr. John A. Morrow, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Modern Languages
Northern State University
Aberdeen, South Dakota
Dr. Kalīm Siddīquī was one of the leading intellectuals and Islāmic movement activists of the modern era. Founder and director of the Muslim Institute, London, he helped forge the philosophy of the contemporary Islāmic movement. He was a staunch defender of Islāmic unity.
Zafar Bangash, a close colleague and associate of Dr. Kalīm Siddīquī, is currently the director of the Institute of Contemporary Islāmic Thought. He is the former Editor of Crescent International, the leading publication of the international Islāmic movement.
Shaykh Ahmad Deedat was a famous South African scholar specializing in Comparative Religion. A transcript of his speech on Sunnī-Shī'ah unity can be found on the following web page:
Imām Muhammad al-Asi is the elected Imām of Washington D.C.'s Islāmic Center, a regular contributor to Crescent International, and a leading activist in the Islāmic movement. He is a staunch opponent of sectarianism.
Imām 'Abdul-'Alīm Mūsā is a Muslim activist and director of Masjid al-Islām in Washington, D.C. He is also the founder and director of the al-Sabiqūn movement which provides social and spiritual services to urban America. A supporter of the Islāmic Revolution of Iran and Imām Khumaynī, he made several visits to Iran as a representative of American Muslims and a supporter of the Islāmic revival.
Imām Mūsā has spent the past two decades bridging the gaps between Muslims and stresses that the success of the Islāmic movement depends upon Sunnī and Shī'ah unity. Amīr 'Abd al-Malik 'Alī is one of the leaders of al-Sabiqūn. His speech opposing the present Shī'ah-Sunnī fitnah and encouraging Islāmic unity is widely distributed on the internet through various podcasts.
'Abd al-Malik Mujāhid, is President and director of the Sound Vision Foundation and an Imām in the Chicago area. His “Call for Shī'ah Sunnī Dialogue” and “Resolution” to be distributed to Imāms, preachers, mosques, Muslim organization, and opinion leaders, can be found on the following web page:http://soundvision.com/info/muslims/shiaSunn ī.asp
Dr. Shahīd Athar is a Muslim activist from Indianapolis, Illinois. A Sunnī by creed, Dr. Athar is an advocate of Islāmic unity. His writings, many of which demonstrate his appreciation for Islām in all of its dimensions, can be found on the following web page: http://www.Isl ām-usa.com/
The present book is the first English edition of an article which was published in an academic journal in 1994 under the name “El Islām Ši'ita: ¿ortodoxia o heterodoxia?” [Shī'ite Islām: Orthodoxy or Heterodoxy?]. The article was well-received in academic circles and was soon widely circulated on various Islāmic sites on the Internet thanks to a digital edition published by the Biblioteca Islámica Ahlul Bayt in Sevilla, Spain.
Thereafter, in the year 2000, the article was published in three parts in Az-Zaqalain, a Spanish language academic journal published in Qum, Iran. In response to the interest received by the article, Dr. John A. Morrow decided to translate it, edit it, and turn it into a book. As often occurs in such cases, the challenge of turning an article into a book relates to its amplification. Dr. Morrow resolved this problem by including an exhaustive amount of notes and bibliographical information from Arabic and Persian sources which, due to their quantity and quality, should be seen as a notable contribution to the original work of the author.
For all intents and purposes, this book constitutes a slightly modified version of that article originally published in Epimelia: Revista de Estudios Sobre La Tradición. The journal in question is the official academic organ of the Center for Research into the Philosophy and History of Religion (CIFHIRE) [Centro de Investigaciones en Filosofía e Historia de Las Religiones] at the Department of Philosophy of the School of Graduate Studies at John F. Kennedy Argentine University.
The book, in its present form, contains nothing new with the exception of the valuable critical and biographical notes, the translator's preface, and the detailed index, provided by Dr. Morrow. It also contains a prologue by the author and an appendix in which we further expound upon our criticism of Orientalism, from the point of view of the philosophy of the history of religion, to the broader field of social studies. Besides these addendums, we have not modified the original text in any substantial fashion for obvious reasons.
For starters, it would be impossible to alter the sentences without changing their original intent. Furthermore, any such changes might arouse suspicion, leading some readers to believe that they were done for Editorial reasons. And finally, one of the main reasons for not making any changes, save those slight details brought to our attention by those who reviewed the original Spanish version or its English translation, is that the work was written with great haste in the space of two months.
It was produced with the specific purpose of responding to endless allegations of Orientalists who, unsatisfied with characterizing Shī'ism as a fundamentalist form of Islām, stubbornly insisted on labeling it as a heterodox sect. By doing so, these scholars were merely echoing old Orientalist prejudices and supporting Muslim reformists. This reformist sector was quickly embraced by Western Orientalists as proponents of “moderate” Islām” while the traditional sector was labeled as representatives of “extremist Islām,” dangerous “fundamentalists” who make militant and violent interpretations of faith based on the Qur'ān.
The purpose of the original study, which has now been converted into a book, was to address this conceptual error which is incessantly repeated, ad nauseam, in academic circles and which passes from textbook to textbook. However, when the time came to review the book for publication, we felt much less optimistic with regards to our goal of conveying to Western readers that Shī'ite Islām is not an extreme, heterodox, fundamentalist or fanatical sect.
Evidently, we never pretended to provide a definitive “solution” to such a complex problem. Any such effort would require broader and more detailed studies. We acknowledge that many of the issues related to the topic remained outside the scope of our study. Although we are most conscious of the gaps in our study, we would never even dream of trying to fill them in the space of this exposition. Such exclusion is the understandable result of the need to assume a determined perspective, forcing us to be selective in our choice of the material covered.
In order to avoid confusing or misleading our readers, we must point out that we never proposed to write an introduction to Shī'ite Islām. This book does not study certain aspects which are crucial in the understanding of the political and metaphysical thought of Twelver Shī'ism. It may touch upon them, it may gloss over them, but is certainly does not study them in depth. Although we have drawn from primary sources in Arabic and Persian, presenting various legal and theological views with respect to issues like consensus [ijmā'], as well as traditional exegesis, both ancient and contemporary, it was not the objective of this book to expound exhaustively upon the views of every school of thought.
Our immediate and most pressing goal was to demonstrate that Shī'ite Islām is a genuine, legal and spiritual expression of traditional Islām, both in orthodoxy and orthopraxy. In the same way that Sunnī Islām is based in doctrine and practice on the basic principles of the Qur'ān and prophetic tradition, so is Shī'ite Islām, which, in its traditional form, has the added advantage of having been preserved and reaffirmed by a continuous and direct line of successors, the Holy Imāms, the natural heirs of the wilāyah, the Cycle of Prophecy.
The goal of this book, then, is to demonstrate that, far from being a heretical schismatic sect or fundamentalist form of Islām, as one hears over and over again, and which is more or less groundless, Shī'ism is the living expression of original Muhammadan Islām, perfectly preserved by his successors, the Holy Imāms from the Prophetic Household [Ahlul Bayt].
It was for this reason, that we proposed, without any polemical or apologetic intent, to present the Shī'ite point of view, with the highest possible degree of objectivity, without any concession to influence by the prejudiced views of its detractors, be they Muslim or non-Muslim. We have presented Shī'ite Islām from a Shī'ite point of view. We made sure to put aside outside influences received during our academic formation for, as G. Bachelard has pointed out, these can turn into real epistemological obstacles which impede objectivity.
Readers should not be offended if, at given moments, they get the impression that they are reading a panegyric. This impression is to be expected as this work does not contain the redundant repetition of pejorative postulations presented in Orientalist works which claim to present Islām and the Arab world “objectively.” Despite the overt contempt its secular ideologists manifest towards Islām, the West remains cynically passive.
This attitude, however, can only be understood within its historical context. The Western animosity towards Islām forms part of a long history of cultural encounters through which the West attempted to impose its hegemony on the East. It should come as no surprise that the unrepressed hatred towards Islām and Arabs forms the very basis of much Western Orientalism.
In many cases, Orientalism has been more or less officially at the service of the intellectual self-satisfaction of secular illustrated despotism and the conservatism of Western imperialist authoritarianism. Be it politically, militarily or intellectually, Western imperialism rarely hides its overwhelming aversion towards those who resist being physically or economically annexed as colonies, and those who refuse to be assimilated culturally, linguistically, mentally and spiritually.
It should be known from the onset that we are not unaware of the various aspects which have fallen outside of the reach of our study. Despite shortcomings related to time and space, we have attempted to develop our arguments in the most satisfactory fashion, using all our abilities to help readers overcome their resistance to the topic, the result of heightened sensitivities caused by events of worldwide repercussions which, directly or indirectly, involve Shī'ite Islām.
Since this book was written so rapidly as a response to current events, it cannot be considered an introduction to Shī'ite Islām. Any such claim would do a grave injustice to Muslim scholars who have devoted their entire lives to the study of one of the many fields which this book has merely surveyed with a bird's eye view. We have merely shown some of the scenery of Shī'ism, not its depth and detail. However, in our own defense, the general overview we have provided may be justified by the fact that it is not the fruit of improvisation.
This book is the result of years of study on the origins of Shī'ite Islām. Even though the book was written during the first semester of the 1994 academic year, it should be mentioned that its final form was based on various preliminary versions and partial drafts from courses and lectures we delivered in the Seminarios de historia, pensamiento y cultura del mundo islámico [Lectures on the History, Thought, and Culture of the Islāmic World] between 1991 and 1992.
This series of lectures was organized by the Argentinean Institute for Islāmic Culture and the Cultural Bureau of the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires and took place in the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires. Any good which comes from this limited contribution to the topic of Shī'ite Islām is due, in great part, to the valuable critical interest displayed by colleagues, friends, and students, whose questions and observations contributed considerably to the preparation of the final version of the book.
The very idea of writing an article on the basis of those classes and lectures owes much to the guidance of Dr. Francisco García Bazán, Dean of the Department of Philosophy, and Director of the Center for Research into the History and Philosophy of Religion at John F. Kennedy Argentine University, as well as the Editor of the journal Epimeleia. Dr. García Bazán must be thanked, first and foremost, for encouraging me to write this article.
He deemed the article a necessary contribution to scholarship. He understood, much better than most Orientalists, that Shī'ism, although representing a minority tradition, represents a spiritual current of Gnostic illumination, law and theology, which is entirely Islāmic in orthodoxy and orthopraxy, to the same extent as mainstream and majority Sunnī Islām. To be sincere, we must recognize that it was our director, Dr. García Bazán, who revived our interest in writing that article which was always in an indefinite state and which we could never come around to completing.
Dr. García Bazán's constant encouragement gave us an almost journalistic rhythm of redaction and, in little time, he granted us the time and the confidence to transform those initial rough drafts into a completed work. We are greatly indebted to the generous spirit of Dr. F. García Bazán, who, besides always knowing how and when to help us, from start to finish, has been of great benefit due to his scholarly knowledge and experience, counseling and guiding us with mastery in many ways. We will always consider it a privilege and an honor to have worked besides this great master of philosophy and comparative religion. We also thank him for permitting us to republish our work.
We are equally grateful to Hujjat al-Islām wa al-Muslimīn Feisal Morhell of the World Center of Islāmic Sciences of the Hawzah 'Ilmiyyah from Qum in the Islāmic Republic of Iran, who also happens to be the Director of Cultural Affairs for the Fundación Cultural Oriente and Editor of the Spanish version of the academic journal Az-Zaqalain, for his interest in republishing the article which gave origin to this book.
Hujjat al-Islām wa al-Muslimīn Feisal Morhell is a young specialist in traditional Islāmic sciences who is not alien to this work since he proof-read our Arabic and Persian translations and, furthermore, provided us access to all of the primary Islāmic sources which appeared in the original article. The bibliography for the book, however, has been greatly amplified by Dr. John A. Morrow.
We would also like to thank Hujjat al-Islām wa al-Muslimīn Murtadā Beheshtī, General Director of the Islāmic Thought Foundation of Tehran, and the Editor-in-Chief of the Spanish version of the journal Az-Zaqalain; Hujjat al-Islām wa al-Muslimīn Sayyid Muhammad Rizvī, the resident 'ālim at the Ja'farī Islāmic Center in Toronto, Canada, and Dr. Liyakat 'Alī Takīm, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Denver, whom we thank especially for reviewing the doctrinal, juridical, and historical aspects dealt with in the present book, with truly limitless dedication, patience and generosity.
There is no doubt whatsoever that we would have faced many difficulties during the preparation of this work were it not for the constant advice and observations made by these great scholars and brilliant Muslim. Thanks to their help, however, we have overcome many obstacles and we will be certain to include their contributions in a future edition of the Spanish version of the book.
There are many people in Argentina, the United States, Canada, the U.K., Spain, and Iran, who collaborated with us during the preparing of this study, in its dissemination, and in its first English translation. In this sense, we are particularly grateful to Mrs. Sumeia Younes from the World Center of Islāmic Sciences of the Hawzah 'Ilmiyyah in Qum in the Islāmic Republic or Iran and Editorial Secretary for the journal Az-Zaqalain, for reading the manuscript of the first Spanish article, as well as the American linguist, Mrs. Barbara Castleton, from Ohio University, who had the kindness of proofreading the English translation and preparing a commendatory preface.
To Mrs. Rachīda Bejja for painstakingly correcting the Arabic transliteration and for Mr. Gustavo César Bize, Associate Professor of Arabic and Islāmic Thought in the Faculty of Social Sciences of the Universidad de Buenos Aires and at the Universidad Nacional de 3 de Febrero in Buenos Aires who was in charge of reviewing the English translation. We are also grateful to the following young Islāmologists, Mr. Ángel Horacio Molina and Mrs. María Eugenia Gantus, who read the final Spanish and English versions of the work.
They are both young research scholars at the Center for Oriental Studies, School of Letters, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, at the Universidad Nacional de Rosario, in Santa Fe, Argentina, an institution associated with the Mullā Sadrā Center for Islāmic Studies and Research (CEDIMS) [Centro de Estudios y Documentación Islámicos Mullā Sadrā] at the Universidad Católica Argentina de La Plata (Sede Bernal). We are particularly grateful to its General Coordinator, Dr. Horacio López Romano, for the generous institutional space he has provided to us, opening us the door to his installations and Dr. Sonia Yebara, Director of the Center for Oriental Studies of the School of Literature of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the Universidad Nacional de Rosario for their unselfish institutional support.
Other friends and colleagues read fragments or complete version of my rough drafts, providing an impressive volume of critical observations and facts. It would be impossible to mention them all. Nevertheless, we would like to express our gratitude to the following persons, whose constant kindness and cooperation facilitated our task: Mr. Ángel Almazán de Gracia, the Spanish cultural journalist, writer, and historian, who specializes in Sorian culture and Numantine archeology, for enthusiastically reading this work and citing it in many of his articles and books, as well as his generous and selfless support.
To Mr. Mikail Álvarez Ruiz, Director of the Biblioteca Islámica Ahlul Bayt from Sevilla, Spain, to whom we owe the first digital version of the Spanish original, and which has been well-received and distributed over the Internet. He was the first to conceive of the idea of turning our article into a book and he is also one of the most energetic promoters of our work on the Internet.
It was on the basis of the digital edition that he prepared that Dr. John A. Morrow based his English version. The valuable collaboration of Mr. Héctor H. Manzolillo, one of the most prolific and recognized translators of Islāmic texts in Spanish, also stands out. He was kind enough to review the notes to the English translation, making corrections which were greatly appreciated by the translator and Editor.
Finally, we would like to express our endless gratitude to the Editor, Dr. John A. Morrow, Assistant Professor of Modern Languages at Northern State University in the United States, to whom we owe the first English edition of our work, as well as his scrupulous critical annotations.
The exchanges which resulted from his translation have allowed us to know a marvelous human being, wise yet humble, who honors us by his irreplaceable friendship. We would also like to thank our wife, Mónica Delia Pereiras, for supporting patiently and lovingly our domestic “absences” through all the time it took us to write and correct this book.
We would also like to thank our three daughters, Ruth Noemí, María Inés and María de los Ángeles, whose affectionate interruptions made the labor of this book both pleasant and possible; to our parents, Saturnino and Elvira; to our brothers, Daniel and Cristina; and to all our family and friends for standing by us, unconditionally, in a thousand and one ways. And, last but not least, we would like to thank Mr. Muhammad Taqī Ansariyan and Mawlanā Muhammad Rizvī for encouraging and supporting this academic endeavor.
Professor Luis Alberto VittorProfessor Luis Alberto Vittor
Center for Research into the Philosophy and History of Religion (CIFHIRE)
Department of Philosophy, School of Graduate Studies
John F. Kennedy Argentine University
Mullā Sadrā Center for Islāmic Studies and Research (CEDIMS)
Department of Social and Political Sciences in Africa and the Middle East
Catholic University of Argentina de la Plata (Sede Bernal)
Associated with the Center for Oriental Studies
Faculty of Arts and Sciences, National University of Rosario
As a result of the popularity of Shī'ite Islām: Orthodoxy or Heterodoxy, many readers have inquired about its genesis. In light of such interest, we decided that it would be worthwhile to contextualize the historical moment in which the work was created as well as its ultimate objective. As a close friend and colleague of the author, it is our privilege to share our inner knowledge of the works origin.
Although some rough drafts had been presented in the course of classes and conferences, it was not until 1994 that Luis Alberto Vittor felt the need to complete Shī'ite Islām: Orthodoxy or Heterodoxy. The author's desire to finish the work was motivated by two violent events: the explosions of the Israeli Embassy and the Asociación Mutal Israeli-Argentina or AMIA which occurred in Buenos, Aires, Argentina on March 17th and July 18th, 1994, terrorist attacks which were both attributed arbitrarily to Shī'ite Muslims.
Due to the circumstances in which it was written, the work was redacted rapidly in response to an urgent need to confront journalists, specialists, and international observers who joined together to label Shī'ite Islām as a “sect” which was “heterodox” with respect to “orthodox” Sunnī Islām. The author was also responding to seditious attempts to separate the Sunnī and Shī'ite schools of thought, labeling Shī'ites a minority of hard-core religious fanatics with a history of violence.
The enemies of Islām rallied around the tragic events in Argentina denouncing Shī'ites as “fundamentalists” and “terrorists.” Their objective was clear: a callous attempt to isolate Shī'ite Muslims from the Islāmic Ummah as an unorthodox faction composed of radical extremists.
In an unparalleled fashion, many Argentinean and American Orientalists, made tabula rasa with everything written about Shī'ite Islām from Corbin to the present, and started to echo the most hostile attitudes towards Islām expressed by early Orientalists and which had long been rejected. It was evident from the onset that certain academics were benefiting from the terrorist attacks in Argentina to launch an ideological assault against Shī'ite Muslims.
In their zeal to prove that Shī'ite Muslims had been the instigators or perpetrators of the most serious criminal attacks ever suffered by Argentineans, Argentinean and American academics stressed the minority character of Shī'ite Muslims, characterizing them as a group of sectarian zealots who stood in clear contrast to the moderation and orthodoxy of the Sunnī majority. Academic specialists, journalists, international observers, so-called “experts” on the Middle East, along with ex-intelligence officers, and military envoys, stressed the minority status of Shī'ites in order to accentuate their sectarianism.
Like cockroaches crawling from the under the wood-work in the dark hours of night, these “experts” on Islām attempted to give the Shī'ah Ithnā 'Asharī traits which belonged to other Shī'ite schools like the Ismā'īliyyah or the Zaydiyyah. They associated Twelver Shī'ites with Zaydī revolutionaries, and the Ismā'īlī Hashashīn or Assassins, in order to establish that Shī'ites were historically a group of extremist rebels who never hesitated to use radically violent methods against their enemies. The enemies of Islām employed Iblīsī analogies to say that Shī'ite Muslims were all murderers. They argued that since the Hashashīn or Assassins were Ismā'īlis, and the Ismā'īlis were Shī'ites, then every Shī'ite was a potential assassin.
Evidently, both the premises and the conclusion were false. Nevertheless, this syllogism had the expected effect. The press and the airwaves were soon speaking about Shī'ite terrorism, Shī'ite fundamentalism, Shī'ite extremism, as if they were all synonyms. It was imperative for someone to come forward to demonstrate that these terms were the result of false logic or a false logical construct whose sole objective was to demean Shī'ite Muslims.
In an attempt to give credence to accusations against Shī'ite Muslims, there are those who continue to insist that the terrorist attacks which took place in 1992 and 1994 in the city of Buenos Aires were the work of Shī'ite Muslims. In effect, the majority of encyclopedias continue to attribute these crimes to Hizbullāh or the Islāmic Republic of Iran. Despite such stubbornness, nobody in Argentina believes in these accusations and Argentinean authorities are now exploring an Israeli trail. As a result, Washington is putting pressure on the Argentine government to put an end to its investigation which is starting to annoy the United States and Israel.
The Argentinean people, however, want the guilty parties brought to justice as the events were not without deadly consequence for Argentine society. On the 17th of March of 1992, a violent explosion destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aries and seriously damaged the adjacent Catholic Church and school. Twenty-nine people were killed and 242 were injured. The deaths were gruesome. Argentine television broadcasted streets littered with human remains and rubble, pieces of mutilated corpses, like the leg of a woman with a sock and shoe which was severed from her body.
In the early days of the investigation, efforts were directed towards the Islāmist trail. It was believed that the attack had been committed by a Palestinian suicide bomber who drove a mini-van full of explosives. It was suggested that he was a member of Islāmic Jihād who wanted to avenge the death of 'Abbās al-Mūsawī, the head of the Lebanese Hizbullāh, and his family. According to this version, the Buenos Aires operation had been prepared by a group of Pakistanis and coordinated by Mohsen Rabbanī, the Cultural Attaché from the Iranian Embassy. This later was even detained, one year later, while he was in Germany, only to be liberated later due to lack of evidence.
On July 18th, 1994, another explosion devastated the Buenos Aires building of the Asociación Mutual Israelita-Argentina (AMIA) resulting in 85 deaths and 300 injured. The investigation into this new terrorist bombing also attempted to uncover an Islāmist trail. The attack was attributed to a so-called Islāmic “kamikazi:” 29 year old Ibrāhīm Husein Berro who supposedly drove a vehicle full of explosives.
While it is true that Ibrāhīm Husein Berro existed, his brother demonstrated that he died in Lebanon several years before and not in the attack in Buenos Aires. Whoever drove the vehicle full of explosives, it could not have been Ibrāhīm Berro. Years later a warrant was released for the arrest of Imad Mughniyyah, a member of the Lebanese Hizbullāh. Later, the ex-Ambassador of Iran in Argentina, Hade Soleimanpur, was detained in the United Kingdom but had to be released due to lack of evidence.
All of these elements, which seem to be definitive conclusions, have been reflected for years in various encyclopedias, books, and journalistic articles, although nothing can confirm them. The most interesting thing is that with the passing of time some Argentinean investigative journalists have debunked the versions of events proposed by the Israelis and the Americans, developing their own hypothesis which is the exact opposite. According to investigations conducted in Argentina, the two attacks were committed by Israeli agents in order to counter the growing anti-Zionism of the Jewish community in Argentina. This discovery, however, took place after Vittor published his article in Epimelia.
At present, the supposed intellectual or material connection of Islāmists to the Buenos Aires attacks has largely lost credibility. The Islāmist trail is simply inconsistent with the facts and it for this reason that the American and Israeli government are pressuring the Argentineans to put an end to their investigation. While it is presently possible to speak about these events with hindsight and tranquility, the only individual who dared speak about such events, and defend Shī'ite Islām when it was being attacked by international public opinion, was Luis Alberto Vittor.
Like Prophet Yahyā, Luis Alberto Vittor was a voice in the wilderness, exposing himself to criticism, threats, and physical danger. Unlike some of the official Islāmic authorities who stood still, making themselves complicit through their silence, Vittor raised his voice and pen in defense of Shī'ite Islām at a time when doing so was associating oneself, explicitly or implicitly, to a Muslim minority of “extremists” and “terrorists.”
Putting his trust in Almighty Allāh and the solidarity of his fellow Muslims, all of whom were simple believers with no power or political influence, Vittor produced the present work which was viewed as a moral and intellectual duty. Surely, in this lies the greatest value of his work.Shī'ite Islām: Orthodoxy or Heterodoxy must be viewed as a work of service in defense of the followers of Ahlul Bayt. At the time it was written, there was not a single Orientalist, Arabist or Islāmologist, in Argentina or abroad, who was willing or capable of defending Shī'ite Islām.
While the Shī'ite community was being attacked from all sides, some Sunnī Muslims sought to separate themselves from the Shī'ites, echoing the arguments of the enemies of Islām who claimed that the followers of Ahlul Bayt were sectarian extremists (ghulāt).
As if that were not enough, Shī'ite convertswere accused of having links to so-called “Iranian-inspired Islāmic terrorism.” In order to divert attention from themselves, some sectors of the Sunnī community insisted on proving the Orientalists thesis correct, accusing the Shī'ite community of committing the terrorist bombings when the real perpetrators of the atrocities were not even Muslims.
As a result of these actions, many Shī'ites, both Iranians and Latinos, suffered from severe social discrimination. Many mu'minīn [believers] lost their jobs. Many mu'minīn [believers] were forced out of university, including a group of Iranian medical students. Being both Shī'ite and Iranian was seen as synonymous with terrorism and criminality. Fear ran so high during those days that, out of the entire community, only six or seven brothers, two of them converts, dared to attend the sole Shī'ite mosque in the city.
Rather than coming to the rescue of Shī'ite Muslims who were falsely accused of being violent sectarian terrorists, Orientalists like Bernard Lewis came forth to add fuel to the fire, arguing that there was a historic continuity and an ideological bond between medieval Muslims assassins, who were Ismā'īlīs, and contemporary Shī'ite fundamentalists or extremists, who were Ja'farīs. For those who dabble in academic dishonesty, they were one and the same: socially maladjusted minorities who resorted to violence and terrorism as their only means of expression.
When one reads Shī'ite Islām: Orthodoxy or Heterodoxy, it is important to remember the context in which it was created. At a moment in which the enemies of Islām were attempting to divide the Ummah, Luis Alberto Vittor pulled up his sleeves and pulled out his pen to demonstrate that Shī'ite Islām, despite being a minority, was as orthodoxy as the majority Sunnī Islām.
And not only that, the author demonstrated that Shī'ite Islām was the only group which remained faithful to the will of Allāh and the Prophet Muhammad: to hold fast to the Two Treasures, the Qur'ān and the Household of the Prophet.
Besides presenting the Shī'ite position, the author's goal was to reestablish the balance between Sunnism and Shī'ism which some sectors were attempting to destabilize, labeling one group as orthodox and another as sectarian, heterodox, extremist, and heretical. It is for this reason that the author devotes so much time to explaining why it is improper to label Muslims as “fundamentalists.”
Considering the context and extraordinary circumstances in which the book was written, completely changes one's critical appreciation of the work. Shī'ite Islām: Orthodoxy or Heterodoxy was a lone voice denouncing despots in the desert, a strident voice denouncing the indifference of academia and the vested interests of those who sought to define Shī'ite Islām as a radical, sectarian, heterodox form of Islām rather than a traditional expression of its orthodoxy and orthopraxis.
Although the author has accepted that his work to be annotated, he has always insisted that it remain intact as a reflection of the socio-historical context in which it was created. Attempting to modify certain concepts would undermine the very objective of the work, reducing it to a vain theoretical discussion. The author's goal, of course, was other: to demonstrate that the claims made by the detractors of Shī'ite Islām were false and illogical and that the fact that Shī'ite Islām has a minority status does not imply, from an Islāmic point of view, that it represents a sect in the sense in the Western Christian sense of the term.
The events of 1992 and 1994 which occurred in the city of Buenos Aires are not a thing of the past. Attempts to support the allegations made against the Shī'ite Muslims of Argentina continue to be made, accusing them of implication in the terrorist bombings. Despite the fact that thirteen years have passed since this work was originally published, it continues to be current. The enemies of Islām never sleep and nor do we.
15th of Sha'bān / August 28, 2007
Dr. John A. Morrow, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Modern Languages
Northern State University
Aberdeen, South Dakota
The article “Shī'ite Islām: Orthodoxy or Heterodoxy” was first published in 1994 in the journal Epimeleia: revista de estudios sobre la tradición. It was written with the purpose of analyzing the various arguments and approaches employed by Western scholars and opinion-makers to characterize “Islāmic fundamentalism,” an ill-defined and ill-understood social phenomena occurring in the Muslim world.
The very term “fundamentalism,” as applied to Islām, is inappropriate and arbitrary, and finds its sole justification in the language of the press. The immediate objective of the article was to explain why such a characterization of Islām was not only erroneous in application, but a serious oversimplification, a tendentious interpretation motivated by a hidden agenda.
The article also sheds light on questions related to the use and abuse of certain arguments. It exposed some of the mistakes made by Orientalists and corrected, once and for all, a series of serious shortcomings. It demonstrated how well-known Arabists and Modernist Muslim thinkers repeatedly misapply various terms. It exposed their misappropriation of Western religious terminology–filled with false assumptions and prejudices–and how they indiscriminately apply them to a wide variety of spiritual traditions.
Those who profess expertise in the study and understanding of Islām and Shī'ism, often without possessing even basic proficiency in Arabic and Persian, take terms from the Western world and attempt to apply them to the Eastern world. They take Christian terminology and attempt to impose it upon Islām.1 Not only are these technical terms misappropriated, they are applied to traditional Islāmic concepts which are taken totally out of context.
This common practice is as ludicrous as taking Islāmic terminology and applying it to the Christian world. Some scholars could argue that the Catholics are “Shī'ites,” followers of the “infallible” Popes. Others would argue that the Catholics are the Sunnis, and the Catholic Church is the Caliphate. The Protestants would be labeled as “Shī'ites,” sectarian heretics who broke from the main body of believers.
Yet others would say that the Protestants are “Wahhābis” since they are literalist fundamentalists while the Catholics are “Shī'ites” because of their hermeneutical tradition. Christianity would not be without its Sūfis like Saint Theresa of Avila, San Juan de la Cruz, Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, Master Eckhardt, John Tauler, and Henry Suso and “martyrs” like Saint Joan of Arc.
As misguided as it may be, this practice of imposing a Western religious framework on the Islāmic faith has been done with impunity so much so that authors have not even seen the need to justify their extrapolations, to confirm their correctness, or to consider their relevance.
When we first wrote the article, we focused our criticism on Western Orientalism. Now, however, we have extended our critique–and most justifiably so–to the social and political sciences in general. In recent decades, these two fields have erroneously employed certain scientific and non-scientific terms.
This includes terms like “fundamentalism” which the social and political sciences apply to anything in the Islāmic world which seems reactionary or conservative. In fact, the half-religious, half-political phenomenon they are observing has nothing to do with “fundamentalism.”
According to its original meaning, “fundamentalism” denotes a dry literalist spirit, a concept which is completely alien to the Islāmic tradition. As a result, the application of the derogatory term “fundamentalism” to Islām is a distortion of the true nature of things. It reflects an attempt to impose a label by lexical manipulation. To make matters worse, the application of the term “fundamentalism” gives a false impression of Islām to Westerners. Rather than presenting Islām as it is, they present it as it is not.2
Sacred tradition–the source of all spirituality–and religion, which is its outer aspect–cannot be subjected to the same scrutiny as the pure sciences. One cannot approach a spiritual tradition like a physicist deals with gravity, a biologist deals with life, a meteorologist deals with the climate or an entomologist deals with insects.
Studying religious tradition is not the same as observing natural phenomena. For the sociologist, political scientist or philosopher, it is impossible to split religious phenomenon into bits and pieces with the same callous indifference a coroner employs to dissect a cadaver. According to Positivism, such an aloof attitude is natural and to be expected of any scientist.
While the social sciences are not pure sciences, researchers in these fields also focus on observation. Social scientists employ rigorous methods of research, documentation, and analysis when studying a social system.
They use statistics to bring together all the determining factors and conditions in order to describe social change. They attempt, to the highest degree possible, to be as strict and exhaustive as physicists and biologists when dealing with human factors. This scientific spirit forms the very basis of research in the social sciences. However, unlike the pure sciences, which are based on scientific facts, the social sciences rely on human factors, information provided by people, and so-called public opinion, making them particularly susceptible to subjectivity.
From the time the original article was written to the publication of this first English edition, over a decade has elapsed. During that time, we have observed how English terms like “fundamentalism” and “radical Islāmism,” along with Spanish and French terms like integrismo and intégrisme, have been consistently interchanged as if they were equivalents.
These terms were treated as synonyms by specialists in Islāmic Studies. They have been and continue to be used by social critics and political analysts when commenting upon foreign policy and international affairs. These spokespersons are often the initial source of public opinion. Subsequently, whether it embellishes or minimizes, public opinion is one of the greatest influences on public life in the Western world.
A nation's likes, dislikes, admiration, indifference and contempt are all sentiments which are based on public opinion. One has only to look at the popular media in the United States for proof of this assertion. The powers that be are notorious for using public opinion to their advantage to bring people in line with their plans. It is apparent that wars of conquest are no longer waged in the name of expansionism and imperialism.
Whether it is called the New World Order of the Freemasons, the Illuminati, George Monbiot, and George W. Bush; the Jewish Conspiracy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Adolf Hitler, and Henry Ford; Karl Krause's World Republic; Aldous Huxley's Brave New World; George Orwell's Big Brother; the World Arrogance or the Great Satan of Imām Khumaynī; the Z.O.G. of the Neo-Nazis; the Evil Empire of Paul Hellyer; the Shadow Government, the Trust, the Syndicate, the World Government or the Invisible Empire from popular culture; globalization–the new term for socio-political and economic world domination–is now being carried out in the name of democracy and freedom of expression, effectively muzzling opposition from human rights activists.
People are no longer conquered and colonized, they are “liberated” and brought into the fold of Western-style “democracy,” the new imperialism with its extreme economic model of carnivorous and cannibalistic capitalism. As for the “freedom of expression,” it only applies to imperial propaganda aimed at manufacturing public opinion on the basis of its socio-economic and political interests.
Since the message which is emitted serves the interest of the powers that be, it comes as no surprise that it has been systematically manipulated.3 While such spin can be detected by expert analysts, it usually passes unnoticed by the masses. In many cases, the message is diluted by means of subliminal mechanisms which are not recognizable or even perceptible at a conscious level.4
This public opinion–which is really nothing more but the opinion of the socio-economic elite–is controlled and constructed by means of the mass media. Public opinion influences the minds of people and affects many aspects of their lives: from personal relations to group relations, from religious to political convictions, and even questions of personal taste.
If public opinion is manufactured, as Noam Chomsky has eloquently postulated, the social sciences, which depend on the daily offerings of the mass media, find themselves in a particularly dubious position. Within the framework of this conundrum, it is imperative to examine how attempts to construct public opinion by means of the mass media result in what Jürgen Habermas calls a “non-public opinion.”5 It is a “non-public opinion” because–in reality–it merely reflects the interests of a certain sector of political and economic power.
The creation of public opinion serves social, economic, and political purposes. Part and parcel of this political and economic sector is to use derogatory terms like “fundamentalism,” intégrisme or integrismo to describe Muslims. By doing so, the nouveaux maîtres du monde, the new rulers of the world, as Jean Ziegler calls them, group all Muslims with violent extremists, and isolated groups of radical reformists. In this way, themanufacturers of public opinion act as if the term “fundamentalism” could be universally applied to all those who legitimately defend their traditional political and religious beliefs.
Considering the fact that the mass media is manipulated on a mass scale, the question begs to be asked: “Should the social sciences cast aside their objectivity and simply submit to this 'virtual reality' built upon falsehood and deceit?” The obvious answer is no. It should not and it must not. However, when we look at the cultural landscape in the Western world, when we read newspapers and watch television, we see that many social scientists are merely echoing false and deceitful public opinion.
In fact, many of them use the same concepts and terms that social engineers use to falsify the facts. The situation has become so blurred in the social sciences that scholars need to seriously reassess their basic assumptions, academic objectives, and research tools. They need to start addressing these preoccupying epistemological problems. As Barbara Castleton explains:
We live in an age in which a selection of a dozen or so buzz words can turn a nation from protector to aggressor. We live in an age where lies revealed bring no shame in the liar, merely a restatement of the lie in a configuration that both extends and perpetuates it. Ours is not the first era in which this has occurred. History is replete with such episodes, notably the Crusades and the Holocaust.
But the direction taken by the West in its pursuit of “terrorists,” and in America's attempts to “protect the homeland” from said “terrorists” through a “war on terror” has ceased to have any meaning beyond the utterance of the words themselves.
As any scientist or scholar knows, true science and epistemology is contrary to opinion because opinion is a notoriously flawed source of information. Opinion, be it personal or public, is subjective, and impossible to be validate scientifically. As Gaston Bachelard has pointed out, opinion does not think and when it does, it thinks poorly, turning need into knowledge.6 Since public opinion is constructed, it can contribute nothing to science unless it is deconstructed à la Jacques Derrida.
The role of the scientist is to overcome opinion, to be utterly objective, to uncover the facts, and to let them speak for themselves. This is even more important for social scientists, those who work with human factors, since prejudice and falsehood can creep into opinion, interfering with the scientific spirit in a multitude of ways.
Unless social scientists can overcome this epistemological obstacle–the perilous problem of tainted sources–their results will be flawed and their conclusions will be distorted. If social scientists compromise the scientific spirit, allowing distorted data to interfere with their observations, the result will be a slanted view of reality. These methodological mistakes will be implicit in their theoretical framework, inevitably leading to erroneous conclusions based on false premises.
Unfortunately, due to its reliance on public opinion, the field of social sciences now abounds with bias, resulting in a reductionist rendition of social reality. We could not have it any other way since public opinion, as generated by the mass media, reflects the surreal attitude of those who inhabit the world of “virtual reality.”
This virtual world has no relation whatsoever to the real world, with actual and factual representations of reality. The virtual world is merely a reflection of television which deforms images, creating a slanted vision of the world. Journalism, too, both oral and written, is aimed at creating public opinion. And it is from journalism that social scientists draw their material for the study of conflicts in the Middle East.
Journalism, to a large extent, is merely officially falsified information. It describes the Islāmic world with inaccurate and tainted terminology. In some cases, it is not only social scientists, but commentators and philosophers, who draw from this same terminology, who err in this way. These professionals, rather than clarifying concepts, employ terms as primitive weapons tossed at one's opponent in a grand scheme of international intrigue.
Within the field of social sciences are those who believe that traditional Islāmic society can be conveniently split apart for the purpose of study. They attempt to separate Islām's sociopolitical aspects from its religious and legal ones. They attempt to separate Islām's outer aspects from its inner ones. By isolating elements, rather than studying them as parts of a cohesive system, they attempt to depict Islām as a type of reactionary conservatism.
In order to make the definition even more damaging, they label Islām as “fundamentalist,” intégriste or integrista. None of these verbal constructions are capable of providing a proper definition. To use the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the signifier and the signified are simply not the same.7
If this terminological incoherence, reminiscent of the Tower of Babel, existed solely among Western sociologists and political scientists, there would not be much at which to marvel. However, some modern Arab sociologists like Fātimah Mernessi, and even Islāmized Western philosophers like Roger Garaudy, have joined this chorus of confusion.
By embracing erroneous terms like “fundamentalism” and intégrisme, scholars like Mernessi and Garaudy give them scientific and philosophical legitimacy. Sociologists, political scientists, historians, and social thinkers, all use the terms “fundamentalism,” intégrisme and integrismo with complete confidence, as if these words expressed a positive reality and a defining characteristic of Islām. What is worse is that some of them use these terms in radically different ways. If we were to apply the judgment of R. Otto with respect to the term “irrational,” we would say that social scientists have made a “field day” or a real obsession of these words.
There are those who argue that sociology, political science, and history– being reality-based sciences–must work within the framework of facts, concepts, terms, and materials provided by the mass media. However, since the terminology these social scientists use is drawn from the press-which is loaded with inaccuracies–the very basis of their studies can be called into question.
If the terminology is incorrect, it undermines the understanding of the social phenomenon being studied. The terms “fundamentalism,” intégrisme and integrismo are examples of terms which journalists use abusively and irresponsibly. While these concepts can describe a positive reality when used appropriately according to their scientific sense, they are misused by the press, presenting readers with an erroneous interpretation of social events.
It makes little difference to the mass media whether “fundamentalism” is a cause or whether it is a response. For the social sciences, the phenomenon is studied in isolation. It is examined independently of its causes. As a result, the true nature of the subject is lost in thought, pigeonholed, and given the pejorative label of “fundamentalism,” intégrisme or integrismo.
One must wonder whether this biased approach–which fails to contextualize its subject–is not the most blatant form of fundamentalism. Whether it is close reading, the Feminist Criticism of Simone de Beauvoir, Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray, Hélène Cixoux; the New Historicism of Michel Foucault, Walter Benjamin, and Mikhail Bakhtin.
ThePsychoanalytic Criticism of Jacques Lacan; the Structuralism of Roman Jakobson, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Roland Barthes; the Marxist Criticism of Georg Lukács and Keith Ellis; the Postcolonial Criticism of Edward Sa'īd, Homi Bhabha, Benita Parry, Kwame Nkrumah, Albert Memmi, Aimé Césaire, Derek Walcott, and Gayatari Spivak or the Phenomenological Hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur, Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer or Mario Valdés, a subject should never be studied outside of its context. As I.M. Lewis asserted almost fifty years ago, “Islām can be analyzed sociologically only within the context of the actual life and…beliefs of living Muslim communities” (2).
On what basis, then, do social scientists apply the label of “fundamentalism” to Islāmic movements? Have they conducted fieldwork among Muslim activists? Have they analyzed the socio-political and economic causes of Islāmic activism? On the contrary, much of what has been written about Islāmic fundamentalism has been based on the media. One such book, dealing with the Islāmic Revolution of Iran, was based exclusively on newspaper and magazine articles. Since such work is neither scholarship nor investigative journalism it does not even merit to be mentioned by name. Clearly, if social scientists persist in viewing their subject in isolation, no religious or political movement which resists globalization will be safe from the labels of “fundamentalism.”
This is the same reductionist and essentialist attitude adopted by Formalism and New Criticism with regards to literature. Unless the methodology of the social sciences is modified, unscientific slurs such as “fundamentalism,” intégrisme or integrismo will continue to circulate. Rather than describing and defining social behavior and concepts, terms like “fundamentalism” confuse them, diluting and distorting their true meaning. The only purpose these words play is to obfuscate, disqualify, discredit, abase, and reject…They reflect the very worst of sociological jargon.
As a result of this terminology confusion, it is necessary to clarify certain concepts like “Islāmic fundamentalism,” intégrisme islāmique, integrismo islámico, and “radical Islāmism.” Despite the fact that these terms are used synonymously in the mass media as well the academic world, they refer to different political attitudes and currents. The only thing they have in common is that they are rooted in the Islāmic cultural universe.
Introducing the term “Islāmism” or “radical Islāmism” into our discussion is relevant as it is another label which is pinned to Muslims on top of “fundamentalism,” intégrisme and integrismo which have been worn down through constant use. As for Shī'ite Islām, it is commonly considered the very manifestation of “radical Islāmism” in its most militant and combative form.
In the lexical world, there exist words which are erroneous from every perspective: whether considered etymologically, semantically or lexically. One such term is “Islāmic fundamentalism” which is erroneously employed in the French and Spanish sense of intégrisme or integrismo. All of these terms are drawn from modern Christian religious experience and all predate the phenomenon wrongly labeled as “Islāmic fundamentalism,” intégrisme or integrismo.
Despite this fact, they are almost exclusively applied to Islām, without taking into consideration that the term “fundamentalism” was introduced into Christian theological language as the result of a Protestant controversy which took place at the beginning of the twentieth century. After that, the term was adopted into the language of secular philosophers and historians who were more or less unabashed enemies of both Christianity and Islām.
If we look beyond the present frenzy for the word “fundamentalist,” we see that the concept serves to supplant an earlier term: intégrisme or integrismo. Despite the fact that “fundamentalism,” intégrisme and integrismo have different etymologies they all express the same incorrect concept.
As a result, they are interchanged without distinction and are considered synonymous. Rather than a desire for terminological precision, these terms reflect an ideological motive, a means of legitimizing sociologically what is in reality a political objective. A Catholic writer, when speaking about traditional Islām, might employ the term “fundamentalist,” associating it with Protestant conservatism.
A Protestant, Marxist or secular liberal–all anti-Catholic to the core–might opt for the term intégrisme or integrismo, associating it with the reactionary conservative Catholicism of the nineteenth century. As can be seen, the choice of terms depends on the ideological inclination or conviction of the social scientist or philosopher. The selection of terms like “fundamentalism,” intégrisme, integrismo, and “radical Islāmism” are not casual or arbitrary. They are used as part of a deliberate and intentional political policy.
The general application of terms like “fundamentalism,” intégrisme, integrismo, and “radical Islāmism” to every Islāmic group which opposes Western secularism and cultural imperialism misleads those who seek to understand the true nature of Islām. This terminological mudslinging leads to confusion, giving the impression that traditional Muslims reflect the same reactionary and conservative attitude as some recalcitrant sectors of Christianity.
It gives the impression that Muslim “fundamentalists” are the Islāmic equivalent of Christian fundamentalists. The use of terms like “fundamentalist,” intégriste, integrista, and “radical Islāmist” may be well-established in the press; however, the language of the media merely reflects the vague, imprecise and indefinite terminology from the colloquial language. Consequently, it is not well-adapted to the use of science. It can only be of relative value to those who hide their ideological motives under the façade of a pseudo-scientific language.
The use of imprecise notions to describe the socio-political reality of Islām is clearly objectionable. It is inappropriate because it forces the reader to make mental contortions in search for the meaning behind such empty terms such as “fundamentalism,” intégrisme, integrismo and “radical Islāmism.” There is no doubt that reality-based sciences are based on information taken from daily life.
This applies to psychology, sociology, political science, history, and so forth. However, one cannot construct something concrete on the basis of concepts which are predicated on an entirely different socio-historical experience. If concepts are transformed into fact, they will vanish as soon as one attempts to reduce them to an abstract formula. Consequently, any sociological concept which is devoid of an intelligible and objective structure is inconceivable. Any sociological concept must refer to the concrete relation with an object. It must constitute a typical plexus of the significant intentions grouped together in the definition of the social reality. Let us analyze, then, the term “fundamentalism.”
Examining any aspect of the Islāmic world on the basis of erroneous terms like “fundamentalism,” intégrisme or integrismo can only lead to perilous postulations. As we explained before, these terms are erroneous because they fail to consider the correlations between doctrine and social groups. As a result, the use of such terms prevents an objective analysis of the relationship between traditional Islāmic thought, the Modernist mentality or any other political and religious currents.
No religious or political movement can be understood from the outside. It is essential to examine any such movements within the broader doctrinal controversies from which they surge and develop. In the case of traditional Islāmic thought this is particularly relevant. When applied to Christianity, the term fundamentalism fits the context: it has antecedents, off-chutes, and aberrations. When applied to Islām, the term fundamentalism is outside the framework of its socio-religious evolution.
Unlike Christian fundamentalism, which has a history and a development which can be traced, Islāmic fundamentalism does not reflect a concrete doctrine like liberalism, fascism, socialism, communism or anarchism. The terms Islāmic fundamentalism, Islāmic fascism, intégrisme and integrismo are applied to a vast array of imprecise ideas covering virtually every political current in Islām. These multifarious manifestations of intégrisme or integrismo share a combination of social concern with religious doctrine. At the same time, they constitute other complex realities which are frequently only definable by their opposites.
As we have seen, the mass media is responsible for spreading falsehood and legitimizing slanderous and scientifically inaccurate terms like “fundamentalism,” intégrisme, integrismo and “radical Islāmism.” This does not mean that the mass media is the mother of all evil–quite the contrary–it is the very concept of secular modernity and globalization, the “progressive” anti-traditional attitude of modern man which poses the greatest threat to humanity.
From the time concepts like secularism and Positivism first emerged in the West, the world has been transformed into a “global village,” according to the definition of Marshall McLuhan. It is not the mass media, then, which is the cause of certain aberrations of interpretation which offend the good sense of any critic. It is part and parcel of the Western worldview.
As for us, we will continue to criticize social scientists and philosophers for converting “opinion” into “fact.” While we risk sounding like a “fundamentalist,” intégriste or integrista, our stance forms part of a long line of spiritual resistance to all attempts to homogenize the world and the word, seeking to lower language to the lowest common denominator; in this case, taking the language of science down to the level of the mass media.
As social scientist and philosopher, we find it difficult to digest that scholars in the social sciences–particularly anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists and modern historians–have refused to redefine the terms “fundamentalism,” intégrisme or integrismo. Despite the rich body of terminology at their disposition and their ability to coin new terms, they have failed to reconsider the terms “fundamentalism,” intégrisme or integrismo.
This scholarly stagnation is startling considering the central importance of scientifically accurate terms to the social sciences. At the very least one would have expected social scientists to employ different terms than the biased ones used by political commentators and opinion makers. It is certainly strange to see social scientists and philosophers give credibility to terms like intégrisme or integrismo when their use is technically inappropriate.
Such terms contribute nothing to scholarship, nor do they enrich the language of journalism. When people speak of “Islāmic fundamentalism,” they often forget that “fundamentalism” is a modern Christian term. Even though the concept has left its Christian origin and found broader applications, it continues to convey the idea of American Protestantism. Its application to Islām, which is completely distinct, contributes nothing to the understanding of the social reality in question. The term “fundamentalism” may be appropriate as an analogy when comparing Christianity to Islām.
In the Muslim world, the term “fundamentalist” might be partially applicable to radical reformist movements like Wahhābism or Salafism.8 However, if the term “fundamentalism” ceases to be used as an analogy and is considered as a definition, the end result is an erroneous oversimplification. We must always remember that fundamentalism is rooted in American Protestantism. The term does not refer to a universal phenomenon and is applicable exclusively to certain Christian currents in the United States.
Fundamentalism, per se, refers to a form of American Protestantism which opposes scientific and hermeneutical methods of scriptural criticism. Christian fundamentalists adopt a reactionary attitude which insists on a literal interpretation of the Bible. This is especially so with regards to those parts of the Scripture which refer to Creation.
As a result of a literalist reading of Genesis, Christian fundamentalists reject the modern theory of biological evolution. As a result of this attitude, the issue of teaching evolution in public schools became a political controversy. Defending the infallibility of Scripture, Protestant fundamentalists attempted to organize a solid Christian block against Darwin's theory of evolution. Besides American Protestantism, there are other doomsday cults and charismatic evangelical movements who interpret contemporary events in light of biblical prophecy.
Not only are they opposed to Western secularism, they are fervent defenders of the cultural supremacy and religious hegemony of Christian civilization. Religious fundamentalism, in the true sense of the term, is a purely Western phenomenon. It is the product of the “cultural wars” which took place at the beginning of the twentieth century and which have polarized American society into secular liberal democrats and neo-conservative right-wing Christian fundamentalists
The origin of Christian religious fundamentalism in the United States traces back to 1830. This was a period in which evangelical Protestantism had essentially become the official religion of American civil society. National identity was based on the perception that the United States was a Christian country. The defense of Christianity was viewed as the law of the land. During the nineteenth century, and despite the process of secularization and the separation of Church and State, Protestant Evangelism undeniably maintained its hegemony with regards to the religious, cultural and social life in the United States.
It was in this context, between 1910 and 1915, that a group of 64 Anglo-Americans published a series of twelve booklets titled The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth which caused a controversy between two Christian currents: a radical conservative one and a more theologically liberal one. Written from a conservative Protestant perspective, the goal of the work was to confront modern liberal Christians who interpreted the Gospel in light of secular modernity. As a result of advances in science and scholarship, these liberal Christians came to view certain Biblical passages as allegorical and metaphorical rather than historical. This was fiercely opposed by Christian fundamentalists who insisted that the Bible was the literal word of God which could not be subjected to scientific scrutiny.
As a whole, The Fundamentals established five points which became the basis of Christian fundamentalist identity: 1) the belief in divine inspiration and the infallibility of the Bible; 2) the belief in the divinity of Jesus, including his virgin birth; 3) the belief in his physical resurrection; 4) the belief in redemption through Christ's sacrifice on the cross; and, finally, 5) the belief in the immanent second coming of Jesus Christ. Adherence to these five fundamentals became a symbolic starting point for the fundamentalist movement.
The title of the publication was used to identify this literalist movement within American Protestantism, which already had a long history. As can clearly be gathered, fundamentalism is Christian in origin and is undoubtedly associated with Protestantism. Fundamentalism developed in the United States as a modern reaction of American conservatism. It is essentially anti-liberal and anti-modern. It opposes the critical analysis of the Bible, the secularization of the educational system, and Darwin's theory of evolution. Furthermore, it opposes socio-cultural, linguistic and racial diversity in American society.
It was only in the 1920's that Protestant fundamentalism joined its forces to fight its cultural and legal battles. They declared war against “heretical” modernism, secular humanism, and the liberal ideas circulating among Christians who were open to Darwinism, Freudism, and Marxism, which were being taught in high schools and universities throughout the country. Stressing the infallibility of the Bible and the messianic mission of the American people, Protestant fundamentalists struggled against modern liberal thought which they viewed as a foreign influence on the “American way of life.”
For most of the twentieth century, Christian fundamentalists viewed Catholicism, secularism, and Socialism, as the greatest threats to their ideology. The first line of battle between fundamentalists and secular liberals was drawn around the teaching of evolution in the public school system. While the fundamentalists were able to win cases against Darwinist professors, the fall-back from public opinion was costly as Christian fundamentalists came across as backwards and intolerant.
Their anti-modernist rhetoric had little resonance with an American society firmly focused on perpetual progress. It is on the basis of this pre-existing public opinion of Christian fundamentalists that the mass media constructed the image of “Islāmic fundamentalism,” associating it excessively with the American Protestant fundamentalism of that period.
Protestant fundamentalism spread much easier in the southern states and the Mid-West than it did in the western and north-eastern states. The fundamentalist lobby was so strong in Tennessee that the state effectively prohibited the teaching of the theory of evolution, the culmination of the famous trail against Professor John Thomas Scopes in 1925. The law was later deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1968.
Despite this set-back, fundamentalist efforts opposing the teaching of biological evolution have continued to this day under the guise of presenting a “balanced view” of the two theories–evolutionism and creationism–and the recent incorporation of the “theory of intelligent design.” After 1925, Protestant fundamentalism lost much of its credibility.
Unable to unite the nation under the banner of fighting the enemies of Christianity, the fundamentalist movement remained relatively inactive in American society for the next fifty years. Nonetheless, the years of absence from the public sphere helped renew the ranks of the fundamentalist forces. The fundamentalists survived as a marginalized religious movement and remained vigorously persistent. It was thus that a Protestant fundamentalist sub-culture came to be created in the United States. Although not numerous, Christian fundamentalists represents a solid, well-organized group with a strong identity.
Protestant fundamentalists have attempted to present themselves as an alternative to liberalism, Catholicism and, in recent decades, to Islām, which has spread rapidly among African Americans. As part of their evangelical mission, fundamentalists have created their own particularly powerful press on top of their already Abundant body of publications thus helping to spread their theological message.
In the early 1930s, the programs Old Fashion Revival and Lutheran Hour greatly increased the fundamentalist presence in the mass media. In 1941, Carl McIntire, one of the leading fundamentalists in the Presbyterian Church, created the ACCC, the American Council of Christian Churches, to counter the creation of liberal organizations organized around the ecumenical FCC or Federal Council of Churches.
After the Second World War, the ACCC became one of the founders of the International Fundamentalist Council and one of the main opponents of the World Council of Churches. McIntire, the founder of the ACCC, and host of 20th Century Reformation Hour, became the most fervent and closest collaborator of Joseph McCarthy, the Senator for Wisconsin and Chief of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, notorious for the famous “witch hunts” he started during the presidency of Harry Truman. McIntire, the fundamentalist leader, would prepare black lists of pastors suspected of collaborating with the Communists and would hand them to McCarthy.
McIntire, who crusaded against communism, ecumenism, and liberal theology, was convinced that the new translation of the Bible, the Revised Standard Version, was the result of a “red conspiracy.” All of these factors contributed to the resurgence of fundamentalism in the public sphere and political activity in the 70's and 80's and its impact on Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush has been decisive. In the most recent Presidential elections in the United States, the neo-conservative protestant fundamentalist camp turned towards George W. Bush just like secular liberals turned towards John Kerry.
In light of the above, it can be seen that the term “fundamentalism”–as applied to Islām–has a pejorative connotation. Originally, the term fundamentalism represented an intolerant attitude combined with a literalist interpretation of the Scriptures which was devoid of spirituality. When applied to Islām, however, the term “fundamentalist” represents a categorical rejection ofmodernism, secularism, and pluralism.
While the meaning of the word has shifted semantically, it also serves as a politically motivated slur which poorly describes a social phenomenon. As regards the other term, integrismo, it was first used in 1898 by Cándido Nocedal, a Spanish politician and journalist of Catholic faith, founder of the Partido Integrista.
The term was used in the party's political organ, La Constancia. It was also used by Cándido Nocedal's son, the Spanish journalist and playwright, Ramón Nocedal y Romea, the founder of the newspaper El Siglo Futuro. The term integrista was employed by the Partido Integrista to designate a political attempt to integrate and unite all Catholic and Republican forces opposed to progressive liberal policies under the banner of Isabel II and the Spanish monarchy.
In our days, the words “fundamentalism,” intégrisme and integrismo are applied to completely different issues, thus impeding a correct understanding of the actual phenomenon. Unfortunately, these terms continue to circulate from article to article and from book to book, gaining more contemptuous connotations with each subsequent use. To add chaos to confusion, there are scholars who insist that there are different types of “fundamentalism,” intégrisme and integrismo.
This amplification, multiplication, and variation of these base terms–which are inherently flawed–makes it increasingly difficult to differentiate between the American Protestantism–which is truly fundamentalist–and traditional Islāmic thought emanating from the Muslim world. The very ambiguity of the term “fundamentalist,” intégriste and integrismo, should be sufficient to demonstrate that they do not designate anything objectively. They merely gather everything which is deemed intolerant under the same subjective umbrella.
The terms “fundamentalism,” intégrisme and integrismo do not provide an objective description the Islāmic phenomena they are supposed to describe. As a result, the validity of these terms cannot be acknowledged. They simply do not meet the scholarly standards established by the social sciences.
Rather than reflecting a reality, the application of terms like “fundamentalism,” intégrisme and integrismo to Islām manifests a psychological problem on the part of the observer. Since the observer is biased, the observer is subjective. Since the observer is subjective, the observer makes value judgments, dismissing as backwards anything which is contrary to personal concepts of progress and modernity.
The observer views Islām as an obstacle to personal advancement. The observer is terrified by the term “fundamentalist,” particularly when preceded by the adjective “Islāmic,” reflecting the observer's insecurity as well as an utter ignorance of the true nature of Islām. In fact, if what is wrongly labeled “Islāmic fundamentalism” were properly defined, it would no longer arouse fear.
To object to the shortcomings of terms like “fundamentalism,” intégriste, integrista, and “radical Islāmist” it not a mere intellectual exercise. Besides being used a weapons against Islām, these terms are full of conceptual flaws. They impede a proper description of the phenomena in question because they identify it erroneously.
When Westerners think about “Islāmic fundamentalism,” they are not thinking about a spiritual tradition, but rather a type of Christian religious extremism characterized by a rejection of science, an attitude which is completely alien to Islām. If it is an opposition to modernity which they wish to characterize, then it might be proper to qualify some types of Islāmic activism as “traditionalism.” This term, it should be noted, is coined for descriptive purposes. It is not used pejoratively as we have no malicious intent to discredit those who oppose the Western worldview.
As a result of this terminological confusion, we wrote a series of articles between 1994 and 1998 in which we attempted to differentiate between Protestant fundamentalists and Catholic integristas from the ill-named “Islāmic fundamentalists” or integristas.9 We referred to the latter as “principialists” rather than integristas or “fundamentalists.”10 The term “principialist” is far better suited to describe those who adhere to the principles of faith than term “fundamentalist,” with its strong right-wing Christian connotations.
The term “principialist” is also the correct translation for the Arabic usul al-dīn or the Basic Principles of Faith. We proposed the term principialist, not to add another label, but as an objective acknowledgment that in Islām following the principles of faith is neither backwards nor the reflection of a medieval mentality. The principles of faith [usūl al-dīn] are the pillars [al-arkān] on which any interpretation [ijtihād] of Islām rests: its formulation, articulation, and development.
At the same time, the usūl al-dīn represent the metaphysical or transcendent principles of the illuminative wisdom of Islāmic Gnosis. The concept of the usūl al-dīn can also be translated as “roots,” “bases,” or “basic components” of faith. The usūl al-dīn represent the cultural foundation of what is erroneously labeled as Islāmic fundamentalism.
The usūl al-dīn are the roots or foundation of Islām because the term asl, the singular form of usūl, contains all of these shades of meaning. The correct term to describe those who defend the integrity of traditional Islāmic principles would be “Islāmic principialists,” which is far better than “Islāmic fundamentalists,” as the term “principialist” indicates a call for a return to the principles of Islām.
What we refer to as “traditional principialism” is the common cultural foundation of Islāmic thought. Like a polished diamond, “traditional principialism” presents multiples faces, reflecting different points of view with respect to political and doctrinal questions, yet which always emphasizes a strong Islāmic identity.
Whether they are from the East or from the West, whether they are traditional activists or radical reformists, Muslims have no doubt that Islām is the solution to all the problems faced by the world today. This conviction is based on the fact that the Prophet Muhammad, as the Final Messenger of God [Rasūl Allāh], brought forth a revelation, the Qur'ān, which would last until the end of times.
However moderate or radical Muslims may be in the eyes of the Western world, they universally agree that Islām can solve every single economic, political or personal problem. On the same token, these principles constitute the pillars or foundations [al-arkān] of the Islāmic tradition. These principles have governed the formation of Islām, its expression, and the development of its legal code. At the same time, these principles are the metaphysical foundations of Islām.
They transcend the limitations of the legal experience. They extend to speculative or contemplative matters of Gnostic illumination. They lead to Divine Truth, the Primal Cause, the source from which all knowledge flows as a guide to human beings, covering every dimension of human existence. For Muslims, the usūl al-dīn are universal unitarian principles which allow us to perceive the multiplicity within Divine Unity [al-tawhīd].
Besides Islām, all of the great religious, philosophical or legal traditions of the world are principialist because they are all based on their respective doctrinal principles. As the famous saying of Latin philosophers goes, nihil est sine ratione, “Nothing is without a reason.” For many people, including a large number of specialists, the first problem posed by a study of Islāmic movements is as elementary as the inappropriate use of the term “fundamentalism.”
In general terms, the word “fundamentalism” can be used with extraordinary dexterity. It can be applied to many differing religious, political, and social phenomena. This very versatility, however, is the single greatest proof the term is nothing more than an insidious and malicious label rather than the true formulation of a concept solidly grounded in a sociological, political or historical description. Furthermore, the use of the term “fundamentalism,” with regards to Islām, excludes the notion of spiritual tradition.
This is because the term “fundamentalism” refers to modern attitudes which, by definition, are anti-traditional. In the Islāmic context, so-called “fundamentalism” is actually a traditional attitude in defense of the immutable principles of divine truth. It is certainly strange to see how quickly certain ideas spread, imposing themselves with authority, when in fact, as in the case of “fundamentalism,” they are a recent invention.
Considering this background of bias towards Islām, no sociological, political or historical study on so-called “Islāmic fundamentalism,” intégrisme or integrismo can be entirely objective. Rather than attempting to understand the phenomena, they have simply labeled it, avoiding any other explanation. At no point in time have Western scholars considered that what is perceived on the outside as “fundamentalism,” intégrisme or integrismo, may in fact corresponds to an entirely different type of social conduct.
They very term “fundamentalist” has become hopelessly confused due to excessive comparisons to the Christian model: be it Protestant fundamentalism or Catholic intégrisme or integrismo. The use of terms like “fundamentalism,” intégrisme and integrismo to refer to Islāmic activism manifests “the fallacy of comparing Christian phenomena to Muslim phenomena. It is the proverbial case of comparing apples to oranges or, in this case, apples to cactus. By doing so, one commits an implicit logical error.
Once established, however, and conveniently disseminated, terms like “fundamentalism,” intégrisme and integrismo have become accepted by specialists as official truth and objective reality. As we have seen, however, these terms are not the least bit objective; they were drawn from Christian religious terminology and imposed on Islām when the model simply does not fit the mould.
Terminological half-truths can only be maintained by eradicating any conceptual differences, thus negating any distinctive traits in the observed phenomena. When one wishes to mislead, to misguide, to conceal and to camouflage a reality, there is nothing more fitting than reductionism. As a result, whether they are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Hindu or Muslim, those who adhere to their principles of faith, their traditional belief, and reject modernity, secularization and globalization, are denounced as irrational “fundamentalists,” without the desire to understand or expose the reasons for their resistance.
The result of this biased outlook, this desire to assimilate, to confine, to reduce, and to redefine reality, can be seen in the social sciences when scholars attempt to make the facts fit the definition. By doing so, they undermine a true interpretation of “Islāmic fundamentalism” as a legitimate form of traditional resistance against an invading cultural force.
What is erroneously described as “Islāmic fundamentalism” is the normal defensive mechanism of a healthy organism against a foreign body, a phenomenon described as “Occidentosis” by Jalal-I Ahmad and “Westoxication” by 'Alī Shariatī. Clearly, the biased approach of the social sciences is self-evident. The stubborn desire to follow a line of thought which goes against the observed facts, blindly following footsteps founded on fallacy, impedes any possibility of real research.
Social scientists need to be reminded that the term investigate comes from the Latin investigare which means to “carefully research,” “to follow the path,” and to “discover.” It is derived from vestigare which means “to follow the track,” “to find the path,” and to “discover the traces,” in other words, the vestigio, from the Latin vestigium or “trace.” Any approach which claims to be critical and scientific, but which does not meet these conditions, does not merit to be called investigation or research.
If one wishes to identify scholars who seek to subvert Islām, it is quite simple: their works have the sole purpose of reinforcing the belief in “Islāmic fundamentalism.” As a result of their myopic approach, they refuse to examine any evidence that might lead to a rectification or refutation of the concept in question, replacing the inexact term with one of greater precision. In other words, the approach of these scholars is biased from the beginning.
Rather than being empirical from the beginning, letting the facts lead them to a conclusion, they commence their research with a thesis they seek to confirm at any cost. In science, the theory needs to fit the facts. In pseudo-science, the facts are made to fit the theory. When studying Islām, many scholars collect evidence to support their hypothesis that Muslims are “fundamentalists,” failing to pursue other possibilities that might invalidate their arguments. As can be appreciated, this is not the approach of a scientist. It is the approach of a dogmatic fanatic: one who holds on to his dogma at all cost, refusing to examine other avenues.
When it comes to describing a social reality, sociology and political science already have a large body of technical terms. These words gain credibility through their use in the daily press which loads them with popular notions, giving rise to substantial interference. Considering this rich body of terminology, it is inconceivable that there does not exist a noun which can describe the phenomenon knows erroneously as “fundamentalism.”
Of all religions, Islām is the tradition which is the most opposed to the literal interpretation of Scripture. It opposes any reading of the Qur'ān which does not consider the various layers of meaning and their interrelationship. The Qur'ān itself is opposed to literal exegesis. As the Prophet Muhammad explained, the Qur'ān has seven layers of meaning, and each of these seven levels contain numerous other levels of meaning which help interpret the others.11
Both Sūfī and Shī'ite Gnostics share this point of view. Since Sūfism and Shī'ism are both spiritual branches of Islām, they are the ones that least deserve the groundless label of “fundamentalism.” None of these two branches of Islām engage in a dry literalist interpretation of the Scripture or the Prophetic Traditions and neither of them adopt characteristics of Catholic political conservatism known as integrismo.
Islāmic activists are not “fundamentalists.” With the exception of the Wahhābis, they are not literalists. Islāmic activists are not opposed to science and modernity. They are opposed to secularism. Merely because they are opposed to liberalism does not mean that they are conservatives. They are political and economic centrists. If one does not wish to accept our proposal to replace the term “fundamentalist” with that of “traditional principialists,” then it would suffice to simply refer to them as “traditionalists.” Islāmic activists are traditional Muslims who advocate a re-rooting in the principles of faith.
Our goal in writing this preface to the English edition is to call for greater accuracy in socio-political, religious, and philosophical terminology. Besides providing a proper definition for the term “fundamentalism,” we explained the nature of this religious phenomenon. We examined whether its application to Islām was justified and found that it was excessive.
The term “fundamentalism,” when applied to Islām, simply fails to distinguish between radical reformist literalists like the Wahhābis and genuine Muslims, disenchanted with secularism and liberalism, who wish to defend the fundamentals of faith of Islām from outside interference or distortion.
We noted that the term “fundamentalist,” traditionally applied to literalist Protestants, is now almost exclusively applied to radical, violent, and intolerant expressions of Islām, without analyzing the problem in depth. When properly contextualized, so-called “Islāmic fundamentalism” is not a cause, it is an effect. It is not an action, it is a reaction. It is not aggressive, it is defensive. It is a response to centuries of Western colonialism and cultural imperialism.
As part of its anti-Islāmic onslaught, the Western world tries and tests the patience of Muslims, deliberately provoking them by insulting their faith, its religious symbols, mocking their lifestyle, the values they most treasure, and even slandering the Prophet Muhammad. These provocations are not isolated incidents. They form part of a campaign to offend Muslim sensibilities organized by Western operatives and agents-provocateurs.
Their purpose is two-fold. Their first goal is to determine the depth of commitment to Islām in a certain region, to see whether more political pressure needs to be placed or whether it can be eased. The second goal is to incite violent reactions from Muslims in order to depict them as intolerant and backwards. In most cases, Western media focuses exclusively on the effect, and not on the cause. In the event that they mention the cause, they never contextualize it.
They trivialize the offence to make the reaction seem all the more absurd to Western readers and viewers. Western arrogance, with its notions of cultural supremacy towards traditional cultures continues to be a source of permanent conflict throughout the world. Unless people are Westernized in their attitude, attire, and lifestyle, they are condemned as backwards. This attitude of cultural superiority is no longer a simple prejudice. It has become a motive to encourage cultural, linguistic, and political assimilation of the entire Islāmic world.
Many “progressive” Westerners are fascinated with showing off their “cultural superiority.” They are fond of contrasting their “tolerance” with traditional cultures which, for the sole fact that they are not ostentatiously “modern,” are deemed backwards. In the Western world, it suffices for a Muslim student to appear in public with some “ostentatious” religious symbol like the hijāb to offend the sensibilities of a European President.
As soon as an incident like this comes to the fore, reactionary secular fundamentalists, the guardians of the flame of liberty which burns in the altar of modernity, rush forth in the name of “democratic values.” They rise up to show off their “progressive mentality” and their incomparable “cultural superiority.”
They pass laws suppressing the civil and religious liberties of Muslim women which, had they been passed by so-called “Islāmic fundamentalists,” would have been denounced as backwards and medieval when in fact the laws of modesty called for by Muslim activists are merely a normal defensive reaction to so-called “progressive” and “modern” ideas.
In the Western world, “freedom of expression,” “democracy,” “liberalism” and “secularism” have all been used as a double-edged sword. As the Native American saying goes: “The white man speaks with a forked tongue.” With the help of the mass media, terms like “freedom of expression,” “democracy,” “liberalism,” and “secularism” are a highly effective instrument.
They serve to construct public opinion in accord with the interests of the powers that be, supporting or discrediting any movement in accord with their interests.
The Muslims of the world have long understood the hypocrisy of Western rhetoric. However, as Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlullāh observed in the 1980's, the West claims to defend human rights and international justice while violating them at home and abroad: “Human rights are for them, not us.”
Proud of its double-speak and unveiled hypocrisy, the Western world demands the Islāmic world to respect freedom of religion and freedom of conscience while at the same time denying those liberties to the Muslims living in their midst, by prohibiting “ostentatious displays of religious symbols.”
If Muslims nations require women to cover themselves, it is denounced as an oppressive violation of human rights. If Western nations oblige Muslim women to uncover themselves, it is viewed as an act of progress. The double-standards of the Western world speak for themselves.
Safar 1427 H/ March 2006
Professor Luis Alberto Vittor
John F. Kennedy University
Buenos Aires, Argentina
The latter work is available in a Spanish translation under the title of La opinión pública, Compañía Fabril Editora (Buenos Aires 1949). The third and eight parts are especially relevant. For more recent work on the topic, see: Price, V., Public Opinion, Sage Publications (Newbury Park, California, 1992).
For a clear example of media manipulation used to influence public opinion, we need look no further than the treatment of the war in Iraq. The media coverage of this war by major broadcasting corporations like CNN highlights the way information is perverted by what Mattelart has labeled the “global democractic marketplace” in which the economic elite has become the political elite. During the Gulf War and the present invasion and occupation of Iraq we have witnessed various strategies of disinformation and media manipulation.
Information has been censured, altered, and even invented in order to manipulate public opinion. This transmission of falsified information could only have been made possible through the complicity of the media conglomerates and the military and political establishment. This has been highlighted by Susan L. Carruthers who denounced the fact that the Rendon Group was hired to organize the clandestine propaganda campaigns of the Pentagon. Cfr. Carruthers, S. L., The Media at War, Ed. Macmillan Press Ltd., (London, 2000), 142-43. She says:
Indeed, to understand how television became 'Pentavision,' it is necessary to consider not just how negative dimensions of the management system prevented news media from reporting certain aspects of the war but how readily reporters succumbed to the positive side of news management, relaying event through the eyes, and in the terminology, of the military. […] Euphemisms were the order of the day. Emitting a stream of 'bovine scatology' (one of Schwarzkopf's more colorful coinages, though applied by him to journalists' stupid questions rather than to the briefings) the briefer used opaque jargon to obscure reality, so that civilian casualties became 'collateral damage' while 'degrading capabilities' was the preferred substitution for bombing.
For more on this issue, see: Mattelart, A., Historia de la utopía planetaria. De la ciudad profética a la sociedad global, Ediciones Paidós Ibérica, (Barcelona 2000), 431-32.
The mass media acts like a system of transmission of messages and symbols for the average citizen. Its function is to entertain and to inform as well as inculcating values, beliefs, and modes of behavior in people that will ensure that they integrate into the institutional structures of society. In a world in which wealth is concentrated and in which there are great conflicts of interest between the classes, the fulfillment of such a role requires systematic propagation.
La science…s'oppose absolument à l'opinion. S'il lui arrive, sur un point particulier, de légitimer l'opinion, c'est pour d'autres raisons que celles qui fondent l'opinion; de sorte que l'opinion a, en droit, toujours tort. L'opinion pense mal; elle ne pense pas: elle traduit des besoins en connaissances. En désignant les objets par leur utilité, elle s'interdit de les connaître. On ne peut rien fonder sur l'opinion: Il faut d'abord la détruire. Elle est le premier obstacle à surmonter. Il ne suffirait pas, par exemple, de la rectifier sur des points particuliers, en maintenant… L'esprit scientifique nous interdit d'avoir une opinion sur des questions que nous ne comprenons pas, sur des questions que nous ne savons pas formuler clairement.
[Science…is absolutely opposed to opinion. If it happens to confirm opinion, it is based on reasons other than opinion because opinion, in and of itself, is always wrong. Opinion does not think properly. It does not think for itself. Opinion turns need into knowledge. By designating objects on the basis of their need, opinion prevents a proper understanding of them. Nothing can be based on opinion: it must first be destroyed. Opinion is the first obstacle which must be surmounted. It would not suffice, for example, to correct some aspects of it at the moment… The scientific spirit forbids us from having an opinion on questions which we do not understand, on questions we do not even know how to formulate clearly.]
“Revivalism” is thus an inadequate term, not only because it alludes to evangelical movements, but because Corbin has used it to refer to sectarian movements like the Bābis and the Bahā'ī who were opposed to Shī'ite Islām. The term “foundationalism” can also be discarded as it refers to any theory in epistemology that holds that beliefs are justified based on what are called basic beliefs.
The Arabic term usūlī conveys the sense of “foundationalist;” however, it is inextricably linked to the struggle between Shī'ite rationalists, the usūlī, and the traditionalists or akhbarī. Despite the fact that it is used in the field of bioethics and jurisprudence, with the sense of respect for beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, the neologism“principialism” remains the most adequate term to describe “fundamentalist,” “revivalist” and “activist” Islām.
The author, of course, does not limit the term “principialism” to its ethical uses. In reality, by selecting the term “principialism,” the author follows in the footsteps of French metaphysician René Guénon, a revert to Islām and naturalized Egyptian citizen, who took the name of 'Abdul Wāhid Yahyā. Guénon was the first to use the term “principial” to refer to the transcendental principals of faith which constitute the roots [usūl] or pillars [arkān] of a traditional doctrine. By using the term “principialism,” the author is echoing notions which are more metaphysical than they are legal, ethical or philosophical, although from a traditional perspective none of these aspects exclude one another.
Each inner level is more profound than the previous one, yet each level contains and illuminates the others. According to some sources, each dot on the Arabic letters of the Qur'ān contains 70,000 meanings. The numbers 7, 70, 700, and 70,000 are symbolic in nature. They are used to indicate that the interpretation of the Qur'ān is limitless and inexhaustible. Attempting to empty the Qur'ān would be as absurd as attempting to empty the ocean in a glass. The Qur'ān will always be protected from any such attempts eminating from literalist or Gnostic sectors. As Imām 'Alī has explained,
There is no Qur'ānic verse but it has four meanings: an outer one [al-zāhir], an inner one [al-bātin]; a limit [hadd] and a divine designation [mutlaq, lit. “something which is absolute”]. The outer meaning is for oral recitation. The inner meaning is for in-depth understanding. The limit determines the legal and the illegal. The divine design is what Allāh proposes to achieve in humankind by means of each verse.
The Sixth Imām, Ja'far al-Sādiq, said that:
The Divine Book contains four modes: enunciated expression ['ibārāt], allusion [ishārāt]; hidden meanings relating to the subtle word [latā'if], and elevated metaphysical truths [haqā'iq]. The enunciated expression is the one which applies to all believers ['awāmm]; the allusion concerns the spiritual elite [khawāss]; the hidden meanings are the domain of the awliyyā' Allāh [the Holy Friends of the Divine]; and the elevated metaphysical truths belong to the Prophets [anbiyyā'].
In a concise chapter dealing with Shī'ism, Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen Gibb echoes a persistent prejudice: the categorical affirmation that Shī'ite Islām, with respect to Sunnī Islām, is “the other main sect of Islām–the only important schismatic sect.”1
To him, Shī'ism is the ubi consistam [essence] of the definition of sect which, according to his understanding, embraces diverse “systems of Islāmic doctrines and beliefs which are generally repudiated by the orthodox…as heretical” (81). To speak of “heresy” in Islām, however, requires a sufficiently clear understanding of its meaning.2
When Gibb uses the word “heretical,” however, he does not use it as descriptive adjective nor is he necessarily making a value judgment. For him, it is merely a matter of fact which needs to be analyzed. The most disturbing aspect of this conception of Shī'ism, however, is not the simplistic explanation it gives to its historical development, but rather its excessively broad scope. It does not say anything for want of saying too much.
Gibb attempts to give a broad definition of “sect” and “heresy,” applying it to everything in Islām that remotely resembles other Eastern traditions. The evidence he provides, however, is far too scarce. He insists on demonstrating, at any cost, that Shī'ism is inherently schismatic and sectarian.
He uses the literary elasticity of the word “sect” [in English] to explain that Shī'ite Islām, due to its minority status in the Muslim world, must constitute a doctrinal off-shoot or a split from the Islāmic majority. At the same time, he wishes to prove that true “orthodoxy” is to be found almost exclusively in the Sunnī doctrinal tradition.3
The erroneous application of the term “sect” to Shī'ite Islām, however, does not resolve the problem of its historical origin. A true understanding of Shī'ite Islām cannot be obtained through insufficient scholarship. It can only be reached through a close analysis of its religious and spiritual psychology as manifested in the Islāmic world.
The definition of Shī'ism as the only “sect” of Islām is due in part to its more profound esoteric character which stands in contrast to the essentially exoteric character of Sunnī Islām.4Although there are no substantial differences between the fundamentals of faith of Shī'ite and Sunnī Islām, Shī'ism seems to possess something more profound in the spiritual realm.
Despite this fact, Western scholars tend to view the differences between Shī'ite and Sunnī Islām as the result a mere political dispute relating to the succession of the Prophet Muhammad rather than a transcendental metaphysical matter.5 However, it is only through an understanding of the mystical dimension of Shī'ism that one can understand why it appealed to Hindus and Persians while at the same time some of the Arabs viewed it with reticence.
In fact, even when some scholars stubbornly persist on calling Shī'ism an “Aryan Persian creation,6” history is clear on the issue: Shī'ism was introduced into Persia in the 16th century by a Turkish dynasty, the Safavids, who were, as is well-known, a tarīqah or Sūfī brotherhood.7
Until then, the Persians were mainly Sunnis. Shī'ism was only unanimously accepted among them ten centuries after the death of 'Alī ibn Abī Tālib and the events that contributed to the creation of Shī'ism.8
We are not going to get down to details at this point. For now, what needs to be stressed is the perfectly orthodox nature of Shī'ite Islām and its reality as an integral part of the Islāmic revelation.9
This fact is so clearly manifest that it cannot be overlooked on the basis of tendentious historical arguments that insist on confining Shī'ism within the imprecise bounds of concepts like “sect” or “heresy.” In this aspect, modern Western criticism of Shī'ism is unjustified and misguided. Contrary to the common views of Orientalists, Shī'ite Islām is not a “sect,” a “heterodox” form of Islām or anything else that fits into the definition made byGibb or any other specialist.10
One of the most common mistakes made by Orientalists is the attempt to study Shī'ite Islām on the basis of such simplified sectarian parameters. It is all the worst when this approach reinforces the argument that Shī'ism is the result of a separation, when this Western concept of religious schism is totally alien to traditional Islāmic thought.
If we wish to move beyond these objections against the orthodoxy of Shī'ite Islām, we should first note that Westerners often consider Islām, in contrast to the multifarious branches of Christianity,11 as a conglomerate of mutually contradictory doctrines which is patently not the case. We are not claiming that real differences never existed within Islām.
They did indeed exist, particularly during its initial period between the seventh and tenth centuries. It was then that a great variety of philosophical, theological and theosophical theories started to manifest themselves in all areas of Islāmic thought. These different ideological currents that flourished were not “sects” in the true sense of the term and are most adequately called “schools of thought.”12 While some of them survived to the present, most of them have disappeared, leaving us only their names.13
In any case, we must not overlook the process of cultural and ideological interaction which takes place when Islām comes into contact with foreign cultures. Such contact is an important aspect of what differentiates the Islāmic tradition from others. Although there are many traditions within the tradition, Islām has always maintained its cohesion and unity, a fact that often draws the attention of outside observers.
Although Islām is united, it is not uniform. The sciences studied in any traditional civilization–namely, a civilization based on divine revelation–depend on the metaphysical principles and the religious fundamentals of that revelation. Consequently, Islāmic doctrines, regardless of their modes of expression, have always reflected and echoed the central doctrine of divine unity [tawhīd]. It is due to the centrality of tawhīd that Islām was capable of integrating various systems of thought into its perspective and final objective.
The presence of diversity within the Islāmic tradition does not undermine its transcendence and interior unity. Rather, as Seyyed Hossein Nasr explains, it is the means that assures the spiritual unity in a world composed of a conglomerate of diverse cultures, languages and races (Shī'ite Islām 3-28). It is in this sense that it is appropriate to speak of sects. In order avoid any possible misunderstandings, however, it is essential to clarify the sense of the term.14
Author's Note: The book is not very favorable towards Islām. For starters, it defines Islām as “Mohammedanism” when it is well-known that Islām does not demand a personal adherence to the Prophet like that of Christianity towards Jesus.
Editor's Note: As Massignon explains: “If Christianity is fundamentally the acceptance and imitation of Christ before the acceptance of the Bible, Islām, on the contrary, is the acceptance of the Qur'ān before the imitation of Muhammad, as the Prophet himself explicitly declared” (94-95).
If, under certain circumstances, anyone has labeled himself as a “heretic,” it has been as an act of opposition against all “heretics,” those who have made “order” out of their own “disorder,” considering it an “orthodox” norm. Shī'ism is a reaction, if we can say so, against those who have become “disordered.” It can thus be seen as a “disorder” which attacks the previous “disorder” in order to reestablish the old original order, from which the Muslim majority has become “separated.”
On this basis, it can be understood why Imām al-Shāfi'ī called himself a “heretic” (rāfidī, from the Arabic “rejecter”) when he declared that “If loving the Family of Muhammad is 'heresy'…May the Two Precious Treasures testify that I am a 'heretic'!” (in kāna hubbu āli Muhammad rafdun fa ushhidu al- thaqalayni annī rāfidī). One can be a “heretic” with respect to another “heresy” as in the case of Prophet Abraham who, according to Islāmic tradition, confessed to being a “heretic.” The same applies to Muhammad with respect to the idolaters.
Editor's Note: With its balance between the exoteric and the esoteric, Shī'ism can also be viewed as the true legacy of complete Islām which reestablishes its function in the face of incomplete Islām which is either legalistic in the cases of Sunnism or spiritual in the case of Sūfism.
The author of this book, Luis Alberto Vittor, does not make an exclusive claim to orthodoxy; rather, he recognizes the orthodox nature of mainstream Sunnī and Shī'ah Islām. This is the same position taken by Seyyed Hossein Nasr who writes that “Shī'ism and Sūfism are both, in different ways and on different levels, intrinsic aspects of Islāmic orthodoxy” (Sūfī Essays 104-105). According to Nasr, Sunnism and Twelve-Imām Shī'ism stand in the middle of the spectrum of Islām as far as orthodoxy and heterodoxy are concerned (The Heart of Islām 86). In Western studies, however, “orthodoxy is limited to its exoteric aspect” (86) which is inadequate as ”[t]here is an exoteric orthodoxy and orthopraxy and there is an esoteric orthodoxy and orthopraxy” (86).
Exoterically, in practice, Wahhābis and Kharijites are orthodox. Esoterically, in spirit, in scriptural interpretation, they might be viewed as heterodox by mainstream Sunnis and Shī'ites. If they are hostile towards the Ahlul Baytand their followers, Shī'ites would view them as heretical. So long as they observe the sharī'ah, the Sūfis and the Ismā'īlis are orthodox. In orthopraxy, there is no objection against the Ahmadiyyah. It is in their 'aqīdah [creed], their belief in a prophet after Muhammad ibn 'Abd Allāh, where their heresy lies.
It should be noted, however, that the followers of Mīrzā Ghulam Ahmed split into two camps after his death: one who believed that he was indeed a prophet, the Messiah and the Mahdī, and one who believed that he was not a prophet, but a reformer (and the Messiah and the Mahdī based on a weak tradition within the corpus of Bukhārī). The former are known as the Ahmadī, and the later are known as the Lahori Group. Muhammad 'Alī, the author of The Religion of Islām, was a member of the Lahori group, known as the Lahori Ahmadis. The Moorish Science Temple, the Nation of Islām, the Five Percenters, the Ansār, and other cults, are evidently outside the fold of Islām in 'aqīdah [creed], orthodoxy, and orthopraxy.
In the polemical writings of the Sunnis, it is asserted that Sunnī Islām is “orthodox Islām” whereas Shī'ism is a “heretical sect” that began with the purpose of subverting Islām from within. This idea is sometimes expressed by saying that Shī'ism began as a political movement and later on acquired religious emphasis. (Chapter 1)
As Jafrī explains, “It is…difficult to speak, at any stage of its existence, about the 'political' Shī'ah as distinct from the 'religious' one” (2). The historian Matti Moosa acknowledges that “Shī'ism, or the support of 'Alī, grew in the early period of Islām as a spiritual movement, based on the assumption that the leadership of the Muslim community was a spiritual office and that 'Alī had been singled out from among all Muslims to fill it” (xv). Moosa confirms that:
It was in the time of 'Uthmān that the term Shī'ite, which until then had had only a spiritual connotation, began to assume a political significance. Those supporting 'Alī became known as the Shī'ites [partisans] of 'Alī, while those supporting 'Uthmān became known as the Shī'ites [partisans] of 'Uthmān. (xv)
The faction of 'Ā'ishah, Talhah and Zubayr [called the “People of the Camel” or ashāb al-jamal] and the Syrians [ahl al-Shām] were also known as the shī'at Mu'āwiyyah (Jafrī 95-96).
The spread of Shī'ism also helped protect the Safavīds from the Ottoman threat to the West and from the Uzbeks from the East. The Safawī period was a golden age for Shī'ite scholarship and produced such prolific scholars as 'Allāmah Majlisī, author of Bihār al-anwār. While this work is monumental in size, it is flawed in many aspects:
1) the author was unable to review it and correct it;
2) it is an exceedingly late compilation of traditions; and
3) it contains an enormous quantity of false and fabricated traditions.
Despite the author's enormous and commendable effort, the work has been given undue importance in recent times. Contemporary Iranian scholars have warned readers about this work, reminding them that it should not be placed on par with other more complete and reliable books of hadīth. While Majlisī planned to subject the traditions to critical analysis and due categorization, he died before being able to do so, and the subsequent Editors of his work have left it as such, without the editing it requires.
“Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance” (16:125).
While there were thousands of rays of reason, they all radiated from the same sun of tawhīd. The Prophet and the Imāms debated and discussed in an atmosphere of respect and tolerance with Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Manicheists, polytheists, and atheists. As Nasr explains, “On the basis of the Qur'ānic doctrine of religious universality and the vast historical experiences of a global nature, Islāmic civilization developed a cosmopolitan and worldwide religious perspective unmatched before the modern period in any other religion” (The Heart of Islām 40).
The decline of Islāmic civilization and culture is, in part, the result of the imposition of official orthodoxies. The exponential growth of science and scholarship in the early days of Islām was cut short when freedom of thought was suppressed and dogmas came to dominate.
The phenomenon of rapid evolution that came about through Islām applied to exegesis, jurisprudence, grammar, and a whole host of sciences. W.F. Albright's description of “cultural revolution” easily applies to Islām: “When a culture is replaced by another culture we almost always note a sudden change, a real mutation, with changes taking place in one generation which under normal circumstances would take a millennium” (88).
The word “sect” comes from the Latin sequi or sequor and means “to follow.” According to this definition, the term excludes the idea of schism or doctrinal rupture. In Christian usage, the term “sect” is not free from pejorative connotations although it is much better than the label “heretic.”
Nowadays, in Christian terminology, the word “sect” refers mostly to a body of people sharing religious opinions who have broken away from a larger body. “Sect” in the sense of “cult” refers to a group of people who follow the “revelations” made by its founder. Such sects, like the Mormons for example, differ from the Church, in the non-theological sense of the term, in that they recognize another new revelation.
The sect insists on the need to understand the neo-testamentary text which is different in essence from the sacred scriptures.1 Besides that distinction, and as can be observed within the Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses, the cult believes in collective, not individual salvation, which is exclusively limited to its members.2
It must be understood, however, that the sects which the Church opposes in the name of orthodoxy are merely other religions with their own rites and dogmas which are only heretical with respect to official orthodoxy. If we attempt to remove the slippery polish from the word “sect,” turning it into a simple technical term devoid of subjectivity, we will see that “the meaning of sect is closer to the Spanish word séquito [group of followers, adherents and devotees] than to what is commonly understood by secta [sect] and its derivative sectario [sectarian] which curiously and arbitrarily are applied to it” (García Bazán 114-18). 3
As has been regularly documented, a persistent residue has adhered to the word “sect” as a result of use and abuse. In its common meaning, it applies to exclusivist religious minorities which are opposed to a commonly accepted Church tenet. Sects are born through dissent and view themselves as a small flock of chosen ones. This is how quantitative differences come about between Church and sect.
For the Western religious historian, what defines a sect is its character as a separate group, much more than its minority status, which can eventually reach the size of a Church. This is where we see the motives which drive Western religious historians like Gibb to come up with unilateral interpretations of complex concepts and doctrines. They explain and analyze them in terms that prevent the possibility of truly understanding what a sect or religion, such as Islām, really represents.4
It can never be sufficiently stressed that the general application of Western terms like “orthodoxy,” “heterodoxy,” “church” and “sect” to Islām are grossly misapplied, especially as Islām does not have a Church to define orthodoxy or the powers to excommunicate.5 The use of such terms ends up simplifying complex issues, associating them with Western religious phenomena which do not have equivalents in the language of Islām. There is no place for such terms as “orthodoxy, “heterodoxy,” “church,” “sect,” and “heresy” in an Islāmic tradition rooted in the concept of divine unity.6
While there is diversity within Islām, there is not, simply by a slight difference in approach, a contradiction of its central doctrine of divine unity nor the gregarious separation in its fundamentals of faith or its community [ummah]. Rather, they are diverse tendencies that make up Islām and so long as they do not stray from the fundamentals of faith, they can all claim with some justification to represent its most authentic expression.7
With this understanding, one can appreciate that in Islām there does not exist a clear line between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. As a result, the various Islāmic currents are neither radically misguided groups which have broken from official orthodoxy nor are they separated from one another as are the Christian sects of today.
Unlike the Western world, the Islāmic world defines orthodoxy by means of the profession of faith or shahādah: Lā ilāha illā Allāh / Muhammadun rasūl Allāh [There is no god but Allāh and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allāh]. The shahādah is the most universal proclamation of divine unity and is not a strictly defined theological formula.
There exists, of course, an orthodoxy in Islām, without which no doctrine or tradition is possible. However, contrary to Gibb's affirmation, Islāmic orthodoxy has not been defined by ijmā' [scholarly consensus] in any restricted or limited sense. What is more, in Islām there has never existed a religious institution capable or deciding who is orthodox and who is not.8
Infatuated with every Western prejudice, Gibb seems to have translated the old axiom of divide et impera [divide and conquer] into the more modern: classify and discard! But to understand the history of Islām, however, requires more than merely counting or organizing dates. The eye of the scholar must be capable of discerning the profound print of his subject, its depth, its substance and its essence. He must belong to a tradition and provide us with comprehensive and broad formulas called critical approaches and methodologies.
Gibb easily forgets that in Islām, so long as a practice or a belief does not contravene the sharī'ah [Islāmic law] and can be traced back to the Qur'ān and the sunnah it is clearly orthodox and cannot be deemed heretical. This principle also applies to the genuine spiritual paths of Islāmic mysticism [tasawwuf] in the Sunnī world whose devotional practices and metaphysical doctrines cannot be judged on the criteria of “orthodoxy” that govern the exoteric forms of the religion.
This is particularly so since the esoteric can never face the exoteric on the same plane. Both operate on different but not divergent orders of the same reality.9 In other words, they constitute the “core” [al-lubb] and the “skin” [al-qishrah] of the religion.
In Nahj al-balāghah [The Path of Eloquence]–a collection of sermons, epistles, and aphorisms of 'Alī ibn Abī Tālib compiled by Sharīf al-Razī (406/1015)–the First Imām most brilliantly and masterfully settles the question of the diversity of schools and currents in Islāmic thought. He describes them as parts of the spiritual freedom given by God which are in accord with His Oneness:10
Praise be to Allāh who established Islām and made it easy for those who approach it and gave strength to its columns against any one who tries to overpower it … It is the most bright of all paths, the clearest of all passages. It has dignified minarets, bright highways, burning lamps, prestigious fields of activity, and high objective. (Sermon 105: 249)
This Islām is the religion which Allāh has chosen for Himself … He made Islām such that its constituent parts cannot break, its links cannot separate, its construction cannot fall, its columns cannot decay … It consists of columns whose bases Allāh has fixed in truthfulness, and who foundation He has strengthened, and of sources whose streams are ever full of water and of lamps, whose flames are full of light, and of beacons with whose help travelers get guidance. (Sermon 197: 408)
As one can gather from these words, the Islāmic tradition has, in a general sense, provided a broad umbrella which embraces a multiplicity of points of view as distinct as the doctrinal masters of thought who formulated them. The only tension between them–when there was any at all–has normally been between the exoteric and esoteric dimensions of the tradition. This tension has always alternated harmoniously within the same dynamic rhythm.
The temporal predominance of one over the other in the successive manifestations of the same living organism is comparable to the diastole and the systole of the heartbeat. Without alternation, these two essential movements continue in harmony, like the exoteric and the esoteric. Like any other tradition, Islām would cease to beat without them and would turn into a rigid form without a pulse.11
In other words, the orthodoxy of the distinct schools of thought in Islām does not manifest itself solely through the preservation of its outer forms. It is expressed equally by its natural development and, especially, by its capacity to absorb any spiritual expression which is not essentially alien to the doctrine of divine unity.12
It is true that in Islām there is what in the language of the West is defined as “sect.” The word “sect” in Arabic is firqah which comes from the Arabic farraqa which means “to separate” and “to divide.” Let us not make the mistake, however, of considering Sunnī and Shī'ite Islām as the two main sects of Islām. Let us not differentiate between them by applying normative and schematic judgments to decide, unilaterally, in accord with the mental and moral modes of historically European-based societies, which one of them is “orthodox” and which one is “heterodox.”
If we have acknowledged that there is diversity in Islām we need to recognize that there is also a means to understand its unity. The unity of Islām rests on one sole factor: the uninterrupted event of the Qur'ānic revelation. In synthesis, the oneness of God and Islām is manifested in every aspect of its doctrinal reach in the affirmation of divine unity [tawhīd], the proclamation that the beginning of existence is one as ratified by the apothegm al-tawhīdu wāhidun: “the doctrine of oneness is one.”
For Islām, divine unity constitutes the only raison d'être [reason for being] and the essential criteria upon which all “orthodoxy” is based, regardless of its contingent modes of expression. We can go further and affirm that, as far as Islāmic thought is concerned, the doctrine of “divine unity” is the common denominator shared by all traditional monotheistic faiths without exception, so long as they adhered to pure and original monotheism.13
We can expand upon this more and proclaim that the universal and the continuous in all things operate through this Unique Principle which invariably is everywhere and always identical to Itself.
The great metaphysical currents from East and West unanimously agree that the ultimate reality of all things, the essential state of all creatures, their beginning and their return, is divine unity.14 In this sense, this Islāmic concept runs parallel to those of Xenophanes, Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus.15
It runs parallel with those of Judaism, Taoism and Buddhism as well as those of the Advaita Vedanta, formulated by Master Sankara as a recapitulation of the Veda which, according to Muslim Gnostics, is the revelation God made to Adam.16 This also applies to Alexandrine hermeticism–to the extent that it is a continuation of the tradition of Hermes or Idrīs, as he is known in the Islāmic world–which is also embraced and integrated into Islām.17
The truth of the One Absolute, the identification of all things with a Sole Beginning, was revealed by the Qur'ān for Islām in the form of the shahādah.18 The divine profession of faith stresses that “He is Allāh, the One and Only” (112:1), “there is no god but Allāh” (47: 19) and that “He has no partners” [wahdahu lā sharīka lahu] or, as the chapter “Divine Unity” [Sūrat al-tawhīd] or “Purity of Faith” [Sūrat al-ikhlās] declares, “there is none like unto Him” [wa lam yakun lahu kufu'an ahad] (112:-4).
To be considered as orthodox, Islām requires a true and sincere belief in monotheism.19 The contrary of tawhīd is shirk: the attribution of partners or associates to God, idolatry and polytheistic paganism. Shirk is a mortal sin without possibility of pardon.20 It is heresy incarnate which is why the Qur'ān warns:
“Allāh forgiveth not that partners should be set up with Him; but He forgiveth anything else, to whom He pleaseth; to set up partners with Allāh is to devise a sin Most heinous indeed” (4:48).21
For Islām, the essential element which guarantees true orthodoxy is the belief in “monotheism.” This applies not only to its own schools of thought or spiritual paths, but also to any traditional religion prior to Islām.22 The term “monotheism,” however, is inadequate when it comes to translating the sense of al-tawhīd. The word “monotheism” can only be used to accommodate the lack of a better term in English and other Western languages, without giving it an exclusively religious connotation.
The doctrine of “divine unity” is essentially metaphysical in the true and original sense of the term. But in Islām, as in other traditions, it also implies–in its direct application to diverse contingent domains–a whole network of complicated and interlacing parts. These parts, within Islām, are not necessarily incompatible, despite their respective characters, as they are in the West since in Islām there is no division between the functions of “religion” and “state.”
Islām is a complete civilization and a complex culture in which all activities and spheres of daily life, individual, societal and governmental must reflect divine unity.23 Islām is not merely a “religion” if by religion one exclusively means an ecclesiastic system of belief and practice. More than that, Islām is a way of life with a faith or, if one wants, a traditional way of life [dīn] which, through the Qur'ān, the sunnah and the sharī'ah, proclaims a faith and establishes rituals.
It also prescribes an established social order on the basis of the “fundamentals of faith” or the “pillars of Islām” [arkān al-islām] for individuals and society in all areas that determine the condition and the raison d'être [reason for being] of the orthodox Muslim. An orthodox Muslim, as we have seen, is anyone who is sincere in his faith.
A 20th century Gnostic, al-Shaykh al-'Alawī from Mostagan, a qutb or spiritual pole of Sunnī Islām of the Shadhilī school,24 said that to be an orthodox Muslim it is sufficient to observe five things: to believe in God and recognize Muhammad as his final prophet, perform the five daily prayers, give the prescribed alms to the poor, fast, and make the pilgrimage to Makkah (Lings 23).25
The arkān al-islām or pillars of Islām, as a whole, are the formal expression of Islām and encompass everything which Western language designates as strictly religious.26 The pillars of Islām also include all of the social and legislative realms which in the Islāmic world integrate into the religion. Hence, the Western concept of separation between “religion” and “state” is something foreign to orthodox Islāmic thought.
Besides these five fundamentals of faith there are five other pillars of religion [usūl al-dīn] according to Shī'ite Islām which are in conformity with the sunnah of the Prophet.27 They include tawhīd, the belief in divine unity; nubuwwah, the belief in the prophecy; mī'ād,28 the belief in resurrection and the hereafter; imāmah, the Imāmate, the belief in the twelve Imāms as successors of the Prophet and depositories of his wilāyah [guardianship], the spiritual and temporal power of Islām and; 'adl or divine justice. Sunnis and Shī'ites agree upon the three basic pillars, namely, tawhīd, nubuwwah, and mī'ād.
They only differ on the other two. In terms of the Imāmate, what distinguishes the Shī'ite perspective from the Sunnī one is the insistence on the esoteric function and spiritual supremacy of the Imām. In Sunnī Islām, this difference is formerly overcome through gnosis [ma'rifah or 'irfān] of Sūfism [tasawwuf] in which the qutb or spiritual pole of the age represents the esoteric and initiatory role that the Imām plays in Shī'ism.29
In terms of 'adl or divine justice what distinguishes Shī'ism is the stress given to this attribute as an essential quality of the divine reality. In its concept of divine justice, Shī'ism considers this aspect as co-substantial with divinity.30 God cannot act unjustly because it is impossible for the Just to be unjust. There can be no division or contradiction in the One.
Finally, despite their external differences, Sunnis, Shī'ites and Sūfis share a stress on practice and conduct as opposed to doctrine. The faithful observance of the fundamentals of faith is what lies at the center of their thought and differences. It is only on the esoteric plane that every religious perspective can be placed so long as it does not contradict the transcendental unity which goes beyond any such limitations. It is this unity which is found in the external expressions of each religion or theological school.
The transcendental unity of all religions is not broken in any way by the transcendence of Islām.31Such unity is not a material extension and gradual development but rather the fundamental identity of the one within the multiple.32
Even if it varies to infinity, it responds in different ways to the needs of different human cultures and races.33For this reason, the establishment of “orthodoxy” in Islām, based on uniformity instead of unity, as it exists with other religious forms, especially in the West, could never depend on the ijmā' or the consensus of scholars. Gibb's reductionist doctrine wishes to liken Islāmic ijmā' to the “councils of the Christian Church” (90).
It is only the metaphysical doctrine of unity which can reconcile all types of differences while maintaining the unity of the Islāmic tradition, both exoteric and esoteric, over and above any tension or conflict of a political or religious order.
In this sense, Shī'ite Islām represents a balancing totality of various points of view. Due to the profoundly esoteric character of its doctrine, it represents a “middle path” between the excessive formal legalism of the jurists and the excessive introversion of the mystics.34 The tasawwuf, depository of gnosis in the Sunnī world, can be defined spiritually as the Shī'ism of 'Alī ibn Abī Tālib, the Fourth Caliph and First Imām of Islām.35 Both Sūfism and Shī'ism, in accord with the traditions of the Prophet, view 'Alī as the “gate” of initiation to the esoteric knowledge [bātin] of Muhammad who stated quite clearly: “I am the city of knowledge and 'Alī is its gate. Whoever wants to enter this city must first pass through its gate.”36
The symbol of the “gate” [in Arabic bāb] alludes to the esoteric function of the First Imām since it is through him that one gains access to initiation [from the Latin inire or to “enter”]. Found in many traditions, the “gate” alludes to initiation into the Muhammadan ”mysteries” or “secrets” [sirr].37
In its universal sense, the “gate” refers to the spiritual office as the “seal” of the absolute wilāyah [guardianship] and the esoteric pole of the prophecy who has opened the Cycle of Initiation [dā'irat al-wilāyah] which, at the same time, has been sealed by the Twelfth Imām, al-Mahdī, who closes the Muhammadan wilāyah.
In short, the completion of the doctrinal legacy of Islām explains, as does the absence of any unanimously accepted human authority who has received spiritual and temporal power from the Most High, the rather indefinite character of the notion of orthodoxy outside of what is established by the Qur'ān, the sunnah and the sharī'ah.
In specific, with the exception of the Mahdī, there does not exist in Islām a universally recognized magistrate capable of formulating new laws. The Ayātullāhs38from the Arabic āyāt, signs and Allāh, God] which in our epoch appear more and more as the jurists [mujtahidūn] and the depositories of the wilāyat al-faqīh,39 that is, the spiritual and political leadership of Shī'ite Islām, limit themselves to interpretating the prescriptions and mandates of the Qur'ān.
They do so in accord with a tradition passed down from generation to generation by the Twelve Imāms but with nuances and even considerable differences from one mujtahid to another.40 One thing that must be clarified as well is that when we speak of Shī'ism we refer to the ithnā 'āsharī or “Twelver” branch, also known as the Ja'farī school of jurisprudence.41
The term Shī'ism embraces many branches, each with its own interpretation of Qur'ānic doctrine. The term Sunnism embraces various exoteric branches, including the four most famous schools of Islāmic jurisprudence, the Shāfi'ī, the Hanafī, the Hanbalī and the Mālikī. The term Sūfism also embraces various branches. In the esoteric world of tasawwuf it is possible to distinguish spiritual paths [turuq] equal in number to the infinite variety of souls or beings.42 As Ibn Khaldūn explains in his Muqaddimah [Prolegomenon], the profession of divine unity is the very secret [sirr] of these doctrines.43
So far, we have examined the fundamental ubi consistam [point of reference] of Islāmic thought regarding the concept of “orthodoxy.” Clearly, Shī'ite Islām must not be removed from this definition. Excluding Shī'ite Islām from the realm of Islāmic orthodoxy–by omission or by excess–is one of the most common mistakes made by Western scholars who wish to give it a sectarian nature similar to reformist Christian sects. These scholars even go to the extreme of giving Shī'ism an allegedly “fundamentalist” character which, in the broadest sense, applies exclusively to certain forms of modern American Protestantism.
In present times, the term “fundamentalist” is commonly applied to Shī'ite Islām and to Islāmic groups characterized by a rejection of all manifestation of secularism in the Eastern world.44 This is despite the fact that, in every sense, Shī'ism represents the living tradition of Islām.45 Both in politics and religion, Shī'ite Islām is traditional.46
When faced with outbreaks of innovation [bid'ah] Shī'ite Muslims, like all orthodox Muslims, react with the same hostility as any who face a subversive movement which seeks to overthrow the established order.47 Due to its imminently esoteric nature and its acceptance of diverse levels of interpretation of the scriptures–each one more profound than the other–Shī'ism is, in the Islāmic world, what least resembles “fundamentalism” if understood in its correct sense of extreme superficial and sterile literalism.48
It may be worthwhile to mention at this point that “fundamentalism” is a purely Christian term. It seems to have come into use at the beginning of the twentieth century and describes, first and foremost, certain American Protestant sects, particularly those with a puritanical perspective. The sects in question are noted for interpreting the scriptures to the letter of the law, from a narrow-minded perspective.
They reject any profound interpretation of the Bible, prohibiting any hint of hermeneutics. Notably, the term “fundamentalist” is now applied on a daily basis by many Muslims but stripped from the pejorative sectarian sense. Through a strange semantic distortion, they give the term the erroneous meaning and the distorted sense of a “return to the fundamentals” of the Islāmic faith. They do so as if at some time in Islāmic history, the arkān al-islām [pillars of Islām] had somehow ceased to exist, visibly or invisibly, in all spheres of Muslim existence and in all their manifestations in the Islāmic world.
Even when they are relinquished or temporarily placed on the back burner–as in the atypical case of Turkey–they have always been fully maintained in the spiritual and esoteric order without which any return to original Islām is impossible.49In this sense, the integral restoration of the true and original sense of the revelation depends on the ta'ālīm [spiritual guidance] of the Imāms, the fundamental touchstone of the illuminative awakening of Islāmic gnosis.
They are invested with the initiatory function due to their condition as divinely-inspired men and perfect interpreters of His message, well beyond the literary and philosophical paraphrase of rationalist jurists and theological puritans like Ibn Taymiyyah50and those of 'Abd al-Wahhāb.51
A return to the fundamentals implies that a distancing or a partial separation [firqah] from them has taken place. If returning to the founding principles of the Islāmic faith is used in the sense of returning to the straight path, then this may very well require a reencounter with Shī'ite Islām since its doctrine has always remained firmly grounded in the teachings of the Imāms who are effectively the arkān [pillars] par excellence.52
In the Shī'ī view, the Imāms are the fundamental pillars of Islām in the sense that the essence of the revelation was passed on to them by the Prophet, both exoterically and esoterically, through the function of the Imāmate or spiritual inheritance ['ilm 'itrī], that is, the esoteric guidance of the prophetic bātin [secrets].
According to the famous hadīth al-kisā' [The Tradition of the Cloak], the Prophet called his daughter Fātimah along with 'Alī, Hasan, and Husayn, and covered them completely with his cloak.53This act symbolized the transmission of the universal wilāyah of the Prophet, through the epiphany [mazhar] of the partial wilāyah [wilāyah fātimiyyah], to the plethora of the Twelve Imāms, the Prophet's immaculate progeny [ma'sūmīn].54
Within the bounds of the excessively arid exteriorist “literalism” which defines Protestant fundamentalism, we can only include, in relation to Islām, the exceptional case of Wahhābism.55 This obscure puritanical and reformist sect [firqah], derived from Sunnī Islām's strict Hanbalī school of thought, was founded by Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhāb, who can be called, without exaggeration, the Martin Luther of the Muslim World.56
His doctrine was inspired by the ideas of Ibn Taymiyyah, a rationalist rigorist who opposed the ideas of Ibn al-'Arabī.57 'Abd al-Wahhāb found his ideological support in the political opportunism of the upstart emir of the Dariya tribe, Muhammad ibn Sa'ūd, the ancestor and founder of the actual Saudi dynasty which became the secular arm and executor of Wahhābism.58
Like Luther with respect to Christianity, 'Abd al-Wahhāb called for a “return to the fundamentals” of faith. These, however, were reformulated literally and were stripped of the doctrinal complement brought by the teachings of the Imāms and the exegetic and hermeneutical methods instituted by the Prophet as sacred sciences aimed at discerning the inner meanings of the scripture. A “return to the fundamentals” of Islām, as proposed by 'Abd al-Wahhāb, can only be brought about by the restorative action of the ta'ālīm or esoteric guidance of Imām Mahdī, the Hidden and Awaited Imām, and never through human initiative.59
We “return” [ta'wīl] the revealed letter [tanzīl] to the plane where it becomes real. The revelation [tanzīl], according to Shī'ite Islām, is both exoteric [zāhir] and esoteric [bātin]. The process of understanding consists in starting from the exoteric in order to reach the esoteric. Metaphysical internalization, the cornerstone of Islāmic Gnosticism, tends to revive, in the symbolic articulation of the scripture, its profound spiritual sense as revealed by Angel Gabriel to the Prophet according to its original enunciation.
Consequently, ta'wīl, [the allegorical interpretation], is the “returning ascent,” the march up country [anabasis] of the zāhir [exoteric] and the bātin [esoteric].60 The mission of the Prophet was the founding of the zāhir which implies a descent by the spirit to every formal point of expression of the scripture.61 The mission or ta'ālīm of the Twelfth Imām al-Mahdī is to lead the zāhir [exoteric] to the bātin [esoteric] in our present cycle. This is why he is called sahib al-zamān [the Lord of the Age].62
In order for there to be a “return to the fundamentals” of Islām, it is also necessary for there to be a universal restoration of the esoteric sciences in all of their traditions. For that same metaphysical reason, it requires a man who, besides being inspired by God and being a perfect interpreter who masters the exoteric and the esoteric scripture, is a spiritual heir, an inheritor and direct descendant of the Prophet from the line of Husayn, the Third Imām.
According to Islāmic metaphysics, which stems more or less directly from Shī'ism, the “heterodoxy” of any idea implies, in one way or another, the falsity of its formulations which are in absolute disagreement with the metaphysical and esoteric principles of the tradition. This is precisely what René Guénon63 warns of with respect to the Vedanta.64
According to this definition, orthodoxy lies in a constant balance between immutable principles. In the Islāmic tradition, these principles are contained in the Qur'ān. The balance between the letter and spirit of the revealed text constitutes the criteria of Islāmic orthodoxy which is founded on faith in the oneness of God.65
The discussion of Islāmic sects would be worthwhile if the term was restituted, as García Bazán demands, to the original sense the Romans gave it when they translated the Greek word hairesis as “sect” (114). The Greek word which has evolved into “heretic” merely means “selection,” “option,” or philosophical or religious “inclination” (115-17).
It does not imply the idea of difference, separation or breaking from a tradition, nor does it possess the pejorative connotation that it has in Western languages. As García Bazán explains, even the middle form of haireo and haireomai, from which hairesis derives, simply means “selection” or “option.”
In terms of Wahhābism, whose influence continues to be observed in Saudi Arabia and much of the Muslim world, “sectarian” deviations are not ritual or doctrinal: they are scriptural.66 With regards to the sacred text, the Wahhābi “heresy” consists in a deformation and literal reinterpretation of the Qur'ānic text and even of innovation in the Islāmic canon.67
They are “heretics” who are formally separated from the Islāmic community, not by ritual practice, but by scriptural deviation.68 These rigid rigorist literalists adhere to the external aspect of the written text and reject any extensions or interpretations transmitted through the oral and written tradition. In contrast, Shī'ite religious practice, as strict and legalistic as it may be, which assures a solid orthodoxy and orthopraxy, is accompanied, in the matter of faith, with a profound spirituality of a metaphysical and esoteric character which extends to its interpretation of the Qur'ān, the sunnah and the sharī'ah.
It is for these reasons, for its Gnostic character, that the application of the term “fundamentalist” to Shī'ite Islām is totally unjustified. In every sense, Shī'ite Islām represents Islāmic orthodoxy as much as Sunnī Islām.69 Without a doubt, it is the minority status of Shī'ism in the Muslim world, as opposed to ritual, doctrinal or scriptural deviation, that gives Westerners the impression that it is a “sect.”
From ancient times until the present, the notion of “sect” has not been freed from the prejudice that it applies only to small religious groups. As the old Latin proverb goes: Si duo faciunt idem, non est idem [If two do the same thing, it is not the same thing]. Obviously, these ideas about sects are applied by Westerners to whatever phenomenon they can reduce to this label.
Evidently, this is done without considering their inner aspects, where major spiritual differences are really hidden. Moreover, we cannot dismiss the ill-concealed aims of certain specialists to place all minority religions into the framework of a single verdict of justification or rejection. They wish to do this by exclusively considering the external manifestations of religion, which constitute the visible skeleton of orthodoxy, when it is essentially a question of interiority.
Finally, if we have spent more time than necessary dealing with term “fundamentalism,” it is because the general use of this term conveys a “sectarian” attitude. Its use is obviously misguided and distorted because it is born out of a fanatic and uncompromising attitude in favor of one party or one idea.
It is always convenient to give a sectarian nature to Shī'ite Islām by means of the “fundamentalist” label, without understanding that the real reason for its existence is clearly traditional. The phenomenon we refer to is a common vice. In fact, it is the main reason why the Western mentality is unable to understand the Eastern spirit. Clearly, it is not a question of cultural differences or contradictions in term but, to paraphrase the words of Suhrawardī,70 forms of spiritual participation or perspectives between an Orient of Illumination [ishrāq] and an Occident of Exile.
There is no point in denying that the most esoteric of these Islāmic sciences was related to neo-Pythagoreanism71 and hermeticism.72 It was through them that Islām came into close contact with the Sabians of Harrān.73They were responsible for transmitting astronomy, astrology and mathematics from Babylonian sources and later Chaldeans bound with the hermetic-Pythagorean ideas of Alexandria to Islām. All of this is true.74
It is also true that medicine and cosmology reached the Muslims by means of the Hindus and the Persians. These sciences were eagerly embraced by Islām since, far from being secular forms of knowledge, they were intrinsically linked to the central doctrine of “divine unity.” On the other hand, some aspects of classical Greek and Hindu culture, like the secular philosophies of the Epicureans,75 some of the cynics76 and the naturalism of the anatomists, barely aroused the interest of the Muslims.
It was impossible for knowledge of this type, based on sensuality and a dualistic relativism, to be integrated into Islāmic thought in a cohesive and cogent form since they were outside of the nature of the Gnostic experience. The Mu'tazilite's refutation of certain aspects of dualist and Trinitarian theories, however, brought Islām a theological solution in accordance with the concept of divine unity. In their defense of Greco-Alexandrian philosophy, the Mu'tazilites created favorable conditions for study and scholarship in Shī'ite intellectual circles.
This affinity and sympathy between the Mu'tazilites and the Shī'ites must not be confounded in any way as identity.77 On fundamental issues, such as the significance and function of the Imām, they differ completely. On that issue, the Mu'tazilite perspective is much closer to that of the Sunnī. What is clear is that during the entire history of Islām, the pre-Islāmic legacy of cosmological sciences and metaphysical doctrines were united, as they were in the Jabirian corpus or in the Rasā'il [Epistles] of the ikhwān al-safā' [The Pure Brethren / The Brotherhood of the Pure]78 in a perfect synthesis. Science and scholarship from external sources never ruptured Islām's monotheistic mandate.
Modern Muslim scholars like Seyyed Hossein Nasr, 'Allāmah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā'ī, Ahmad Ahmadī, and Orientalists like Henry Corbin,79 Titus Burckhardt, René Guénon, and Frithjof Schuon,80 teach us to view Islām from a perspective which appreciates the diversity within its unity.
The harmonious integration of diverse systems of thought within its unitarian perspective makes it all the more appealing particularly since it is the product of the Muhammadan spirit which is essentially metaphysical and ethical. Thanks to the research of these scholars and the research of those who follow in their footsteps like William C. Chittick, Christian Jambet, and Pierre Lory, to mention only a few, Islām is no longer a mass which crushes us under its enormous religious weight.81
It is also no longer a primitive pastoral religion of shepherds or an Arab imitation or adaptation of Judaism and Christianity.82 On the contrary, Islām is now presented as a type of intelligent filter that magically selects, cleans and purifies, preserving what is of value, while filtering out and rejecting what is harmful and useless, from profane secular knowledge.
Like these scholars, we view the transfer or transmission of the pre-Islāmic legacy as a natural unveiling of the universal continuity of the same spiritual inheritance.83 Due to its metaphysical nature, its development is indefinite. It manifests itself in given historical moments and takes root in the most fertile field to ensure its spiritual blooming. This is how we see things as opposed to embracing theories of “influx” and “imitation.” Our perspective is not a personal one. It is entirely in accord with the eternal sacred tradition.
But let us be candid. Even if we were to view Islām as the result of some historical “influx” or as a “copy” or a pre-Islāmic religious model–rejecting everything that is authentic and unique in its own revelation–we should recognize as well, as does Cruz Hernández, that even under such conditions no religion has turned out better than Islām.84
It was Cruz Hernández, the distinguished professor from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, who presented a staunch criticism of the methodology employed by Asín Palacios. As Cruz Hernández points out, Palacios' attitude is not only the product of his social context, and his training as a Catholic priest, it also reflects the state of scientific thought of his time (490). Like Cruz Hernández, our goal is not to cast doubt on the value of Asín Palacios work as a whole by criticizing a widely held prejudice against Islām which was also applied to other religions.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to Palacios for his important contributions to the knowledge of Islām during the period of al-Andalus. Although much of his work has merit, it must be stressed, however, that the methodology he employs, which is employed by Gibb as well, is completely wrong. Their approach is erroneous for the simple fact that it is based on a principle which is inherently flawed.
The problem with their approach is the belief that for religious studies to be scientific, to come to an understanding of religion in general and Islām in particular, it is necessary to narrow things down to a few facts.85 Once non-essential elements have been reduced to minimal terms, to abstract formulas and to skeletal hypotheses, all traditions can be condensed into an imaginary framework of classifications that conveniently explain certain similarities between the Judeo-Christian and Islāmic traditions through theories of “assimilation” or “successive reproduction.”86
As can be appreciated, we would exhaust ourselves uselessly attempting to criticize such an understanding of religion. The case has been judged and the verdict has been given. As René Guénon has observed in relation to the Vedanta, Eastern and Western concepts of “religion” are profoundly different.87 In order to prevent such confusion from extending to Islām, it is important to remember here that tradition, as opposed to religion, is the vital source of all religious forms.
A tradition does not have established dogmas or precepts; it has universal meanings which are applied to dogmas and religious precepts. At the end of this cycle and the beginning of the next cycle, it is exceedingly important not to reject tradition.88 So long as we believe that the part is present in the whole there will be religion. Revelation, faith, truth, and religion are neither fact nor are they ideas. They are expressions of a sole spiritual beginning.89 In the Western world, however, specialists have a very different conception of religion.
Some will argue that if you know one religion then you know them all. Others hold that if you know one religion you know none of them. And there are still others who hold that a religion outside of your own is incapable of teaching you anything and is not even worthy of consideration.90
These are the very same specialists who stubbornly insist on portraying Islām as an Arab invention based on Judeo-Christian traditions or a classic case of “assimilation” or “successive reproduction.”91Religious traditions from East and West do indeed share many similarities which are more or less obvious to scholars.92 Nowadays, most sincere scholars are willing to drop the term “religion” in favor of the more appropriate term “tradition,” a concept that acknowledges God as the eternal source of all revelation.
After Smith's death, Brigham Young became leader and transferred the movement to Salt Lake City, Utah (1847), where a prosperous community was established. When the practice of polygamy was stopped, Utah was incorporated (1896) into the Union as the 45th state. Mormons believe that The Book of Mormon is of equal inspiration with the Bible. The Church of Latter Day Saints is considered to some to be a cult.
The Seventh Day Adventists hold that Ellen G. White (1827-1915) was given the gift of prophecy by the Holy Spirit and was the Lord's messenger, her writings serving as an authoritative source of trust, guidance, instruction and correction. See “Fundamental Beliefs,” Seventh Day Adventist Church: http://www.adventist.org/beliefs/  fundamental/index.html. The Ellen G. White Estate, Inc. Website, explains that:
Seventh-day Adventists believe that Mrs. White was more than a gifted writer; they believe she was appointed by God as a special messenger to draw the world's attention to the Holy Scriptures and help prepare people for Christ's Second Advent. From the time she was 17 years old until she died 70 years later, God gave her approximately 2,000 visions and dreams. The visions varied in length from less than a minute to nearly four hours. The knowledge and counsel received through these revelations she wrote out to be shared with others. Thus her special writings are accepted by Seventh-day Adventists as inspired. (White)
On sait que les fuqahā', qui lisent le Coran en philologues ou en juristes, rejettent la lecture spiritualiste des soufis comme une nouveauté étrangère et infidèle au texte sacré. Or, parce que leur point de vue légaliste s'est imposé dans l'Islām officiel et est devenu pour ainsi dire le point de vue de l'orthodoxie, les soufis ont pris, aux yeux de l'histoire, figure de secte plus au moins hétérodoxe, leur lecture du Coran a été considérée comme une lecture tardive et étrangère à l'Islām primitif. (23)
[It is well-known that the fuqahā', who interpret the Qur'ān as philologists or jurists, reject the mystical interpretations of the Sūfis as a foreign innovation which is unfaithful to the sacred text. Since their legalistic perspective imposed itself in official Islām it became the orthodox position. In the eyes of history, the Sūfis were relegated to the status of a more or less heterodox sect and their interpretations of the Qur'ān viewed as a later development which was alien to primitive Islām.]
As Murata observes,
Though the proponents of al-kalām [scholastic philosophy] have often been looked upon by Western scholars as the representatives of 'orthodox' Islām, this is to impose an inappropriate category upon Islāmic civilization, as many other scholars have pointed out. In fact, by and large the criteria for being Muslim have been following the sharī'ah and acknowledging the truth of a certain basic creed. Beyond that, a variety of positions concerning the details of the creed were possible, and none could be said to be 'orthodox' to the exclusion of others” (8).
Tāriq Ramadān, grandson of Hasan al-Bannā, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, confirms that ”[a]ll Muslims–Orthodox, Sunnī, Sūfī, or Shī'ah–are part of the same understanding of the sharī'ah” (211-212).
Editor's Note: The work is also available in a Spanish translation titled La cumbre de la elocuencia. An abridged Arabic / French edition translated by Samih Atef El-Zein also exists but devoid of most of the sermons dealings with the status of the Ahlul Bayt .
Abū Sufyān no veía ni entendía cual era la misión de Muhammad (tenéis ojos pero no veis, tenéis oídos pero no oís, como decía Jesús). Lo único que veía y entendía era que la religión daba poder mundanal que era lo que él quería.
[Abū Sufyān could not understand the mission of Muhammad. As Jesus, peace be upon him, used to say, “You have eyes but you can't see. You have ears but you can't hear.” Likewise, the only thing that Abū Sufyān could understand was that religion leads to worldly power, which was exactly what he wanted.]
He even believes that “Pārsī and Hindū women may be taken in marriage, as also those who follow the religion of Confucius or of Buddah or of Tao” (615). He criticizes the narrow conception of the word ahl al-kitāb adopted by jurists and holds that “there is no reason why the Magians, the Hindus and others who profess a religion and accept a revealed book, should not be treated as such” (615).
Parmenides (c. 504-450 B.C.) was a Greek Eleatic philosopher. He regarded movement and change as illusions, and the universe as single, continuous and motionless. Plato (c. 428-c. 348 B.C.) was a Greek philosopher who was a follower of Socrates. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) was a Greek philosopher, pupil of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, and founder of the Peripatetic School at Athens (335 B.C.).
His philosophy grew away from the idealism of Plato and became increasingly concerned with science and the phenomena of the world. His analyses were original and profound and his methods exercised an enormous influence on all subsequent thought. Plotinus (205-70) was a Roman philosopher of Egyptian birth. After studying in Alexandria, he established his Neo-Platonic School in Rome (244). He used the metaphysical truths of Plato [esp. the dialectic of love] to create a mystic religion of union with the One through contemplation and ecstatic vision. Through Saint Augustine his theory of the human spirit entered into the mainstream of Western philosophy.
Editor's Note: Sankara was a commentator on the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita, writing in c. 800 A.D. He was an upholder of traditional monistic Hinduism, which reduces all reality to a single principle or substance.
The original Yūsuf 'Alī commentary was a fine work of scholarship. Over successive editions, however, the text and tafsīr [commentary] have been “purged” of any and all ideas which are not in line with Wahhābī ideology. The value of Shakir's translation resides primarily in its clear modern English. The Hamīdullāh translation, the product of two years of labor, adequately conveys the meaning of the scripture and is accompanied with a basic commentary.
The Masson, translation, however, the result of three decades of effort, is far superior stylistically. However, the modified Hamīdullāh version prepared in Saudi Arabia is the most perfect. While the Vernet translation manifest a pro-Christian bias which often substantially modifies the sense of certain figures of diction and classical Arabic formulas its literary value far exceeds the crude and vulgar translation made by Cortés. While the Vernet translation is more manicured, both the Vernet and Cortés translations manifest distortions and corruptions of the Qur'ān.
Vernet's introduction and notes are devoted to casting doubt on the authenticity of the text on the basis of sloppy scholarship which is easily dismissed by Ayātullāh Mīrzā Mahdī Pooya Yazdī's comprehensive criticism of tahrīf [textual change], “Originality and the Genuineness of the Holy Qur'ān in its Text and Arrangement” which accompanies Ahmed 'Alī's translation of the Qur'ān which itself is very poor and which can only be partially redeemed by its philosophical commentary. See also, Tahrīf al-Qur'ān: A Study of Misconceptions Regarding Corruption of the Qur'ānic Text” by Muhammad Bāqir Ansārī.
Ayātullāh al-Uzmā al-Sayyid 'Alī Khamene'ī has muqallidīn [followers] from mostly outside of Iran. Ayātullāh al-Uzmā al-Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlullāh, whose ijtihād [authority to interpret Islāmic law] is called into question by the Sources of Emulation in Iraq and Iran, is also very popular among young people due to the more pragmatic and lenient nature of his edicts; his greater accessibility to the laity, and his acquaintance with Western culture (Takīm). For links to all the leading scholars of Shī'ism, the Marji'iyyah al-dīniyyah (Religious Authority), see: Aalulbayt Global Information Center: http://www.al-shia.com/html/eng/p.php?p=  Miscellaneous &url= Ulama.
2. The Ja'farī school which is known as 'the madhhab of the ithnā 'asharī imāmī shī'ī' is a sound madhhab. It is permissible to worship God according to its teaching, like the rest of the Sunnī madhhabs.
3. The Muslims ought to know this and get rid of their undue bigotry for particular madhāhib. The religion of Allāh and His law do not follow, nor are they bound to, a particular madhhab. All [the founders of these madhāhib] are mujtahids [jurists], reward-deserving from Allāh, and acceptable to Him. It is permissible to the 'non-mujtahid' to follow them and to accord with their teaching, whether in devotions or transactions. (“Epilogue” Chirrī)
In an interview with Christiane Amanpour for the CNN investigative report God's Warriors,Ayātullāh al-Uzmā Yūsuf Sanā'ī stated that “Terrorists should go to hell.” For rulings against terrorism, see Hārūn Yayhā's Islām Condemns Terrorism http://www.geocities.com/  Islamicissues/terrorism.html which has been translated into Spanish by Abū Dharr Manzolillo; “Muslims against Terrorism,” Internet: http://www.islamfortoday.com/  terrorism.htm; “Muslims Condemn Terrorist Attack; http://www.muhajabah.com/  otherscondemn.php, as well as the following links: http://groups.colgate.edu/aarislam/response.htm  and http://www.cair-net.org/html  /911statements.html; http://www.unc.edu  /~ kurzman/terror.htm.
According to Nwyia, Sunnī exegesis is a tafsīr, an explication of the text at the level of the letter of alfāz whereas Shī'ite exegesis is more of a ta'wīl, that is, an interpretation at the level of the ma'nā: it seeks, beyond the literal sense, the hidden sense, the secret of which belongs to the Ahlul Bayt, the Family of the Prophet (33). The book then becomes an esoteric revelation, a sealed treasure which can only be opened by the Imāms, the retainers of ta'wīl and the guardians of the book (33).
To speak of Sunnī exegesis as literal and Shī'ite exegesis as profound is a groundless generalization since most tafāsīr, of both branches, is simply tafsīr, commentary. It is only the Gnostics, of both branches, who have interpreted the Qur'ān according to the ta'wīl. Nwyia's comments need to be further qualified as they imply an inaccessibility of the Scripture to all but an exclusive elite of initiates, the Prophet and His Family.
As Imām Khumaynī explains, “The Qur'ān is like a banquet from which everyone must partake according to his capacity. It belongs to everyone, not to any particular group; there is a share in it for everyone” (Islām and Revolution 424); “The Qur'ān possesses everything. It is like a vast banquet that God has spread out in front of all humanity and that everyone partakes of according to his appetite” (414). “The highest share,” however, “is reserved for the one to whom it was revealed: 'The only person who truly knows the Qur'ān is he who was addressed by it'” (415); “only he who was addressed by it fully understands it” (393-94); “Full benefit can be drawn from the Qur'ān only by the man to whom it was addressed–The Messenger of God” (392).
“All others are deprived of such complete benefit,” he continues, “unless they attain it by means of instruction from him, as was the case with the awliyyā'.” (392). We can understand only a given aspect or dimension of the Qur'ān; interpretation of the rest depends upon the ahl al-'ismah (365-66). This is consistent with the Qur'ānic verse which states that: “We bequeathed the Book on those of Our servants We chose” (35:32). As Imām Khu'ī explains, “the knowledge of the Qur'ān's reality is exclusively with the Imāms (A) and others do not have a share in it.” The Prophet made it clear that personal interpretation of the Qur'ān was forbidden.
He stated that: “Whoever interprets the Qur'ān according to his opinion, let him seek his abode in the fire” (Tirmidhī); and “He who makes tafsīr according to his own opinion has become an unbeliever” (Kashānī and Ibn al-'Arabī qtd in Murata 227). The interpretation of the Qur'ān lies with the Prophet and the Holy Imāms for as Imām al-Sādiq has said: “We are the custodians of Allāh's affairs, the treasurers of Allāh's knowledge and the containers of Allāh's revelation” (Kulaynī 2:1 74: hadīth 505). By tafsīr bi al-ra'ī, the Prophet and the Imāms were referring to interpreting the Qur'ān without the necessary skills.
The Qur'ān descended, then, from level to level, from degree to degree, until finally it assumed a verbal form. The Qur'ān is not verbal in substance; it does not pertain to the audiovisual realm … When the manifestation of God Almighty emerges from the unseen and descends to the world of nature or bodies, there is a vast distance separating this lowest degree from the infinite realms of the unseen, and beyond them, the first appearance of that manifestation. There is a correspondingly vast distance separating our perception from that of those superior to us, at the pinnacle of whom stand the awliyyā' and the prophets of God. (Islāmic Revolution 393)
The Qur'ān is a mystery, a mystery within a mystery, a mystery veiled and enveloped in mystery. It was necessary for the Qur'ān to undergo a process of descent in order to arrive at the lowly degree of man. Even its entry into the heart of the Prophet was a descent, and from there it had to descend still further in order to become intelligible to others. (409)
Or, as the Prophet put it, “This Qur'ān is God's banquet” (Dārimī qtd. in Murata 291).
As Mark Sedgwick explains, Traditionalism was developed in different directions by Schuon and by two other followers of Guénon: Baron Julius Evola (1896/8-1974), and the scholar Mircea Eliade (1907-86) who had a far-reaching influence in American academia. Over the second half of the twentieth century, “Schuon's Sūfī order remained secret, but grew in influence in Europe and America, and in Iran under the leadership of Seyyed Hossein Nasr (1933-). Although many of Guénon's followers professed the shahādah, not all Guénonian Traditionalists are Muslims.
Guénon died in 1951, shorty after become a naturalized Egyptian. Unlike Henry Corbin, who left no Muslim followers, René Guénon brought hundreds of thousands of people into Islām in France, the United States, Latin America, Spain and Portugal. Like many Sunnī Muslims, Guénon had many misconceptions about Shī'ites. He did acknowledge, however, that all Islāmic spirituality was Shī'ite, in the true sense of the term.
There are those who wish to dismiss Guénon for being a Freemason, however, it should be recalled that he wrote strong articles against modern Masonry and was even a member of the magazine La France Antimaçonique. It must be recalled that Masonic Lodges operate independently. There is also a major difference between the Masonry practiced in France and the Masonry practiced in Scotland, for example.
Guénon was opposed to the modern, anti-traditional, Speculative Masonry, not the traditional Operative Masonry of the middle Ages which build magnificent cathedrals. The original Freemasons disappeared in the XVII century and were replaced by a speculative Masonry based on Protestant ideas of free thought and progress. Despite being a Mason, Guénon lived and died as a pious Muslim, having brought many Masons into the fold of Islām.
Their doctrines are also far removed from Christian beliefs, with the exception of the belief in a Saviour, and some superficial similarities their ceremonies have with Christian rites. It has also been argued that the term Sabean is derived from the Hebrew saba [one who walks]; the Ethiopian Sbh [scattered souls], and even the Syrian sb [to baptize]. Some claim that the term probably derives from the Egyptain root sba which means “star-guide” and “star-god.”
This is quite possible as the Sabians of Harrān were the ancient Chaldeans who professed a doctrine containing neo-Pythagorean and Hermetic elements. As such, they were the last representatives of Alexandrine Hermetic gnosis. They are those with whom the prophet Abraham dealt with since he was born among “star-worshippers.” Muslim researchers have identified the Sabians of Harrān as the true Sabians mentioned in the Qur'ān and which are described as “star-worshippers” and “idol-worshippers.”
Both practices were very common among the Sabians of Harrān and Abraham struggled against them. Harrān was founded as a city some 4,000 years ago, as a business post for the city of Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, located on the commercial route of Mesopotamia. Despite the fact that they worshipped idols and celestial bodies, the Sabians of Harrān believed in one God, IL, unique and unknowable, beyond the comprehension of His creatures. They also believed in the need for messengers of God to educate humankind.
The Sabians believed that they had received their religión from Seth, the son of Adam, which is why they are identified with the Gnostic Sethians and with Idris or Enoch who is usually identified with Hermes Trismegisto. The Islāmic tradition recognized Hermes or Enoch as a prophet. The names Hermes, Idri or Enoch all refer to the same Person. Sabeanism flourished from the 9th to the 10th centuries under Islāmic rule. They Sabians produced philosophers, astronomers, medical doctors, and botanists.
The most distinguished figure from that renaissance was the great Sabean astronomer Thābith ibn Qurrah, one of the main trasmittors of ancient science to Islām, who attempted, unfruitfully to reform his religion and to free it from the superstitions of its priests. In the year 717, the Caliph Umar the Second, founded the first Islāmic university in Harrān. To get the university off to a good start, the Caliph invited the last Hermenesian philosophers from Alexandria to move to Harrān. In the 9th century A.D., there existed four hermenesian schools in Harrān.
In yet another of his letters from Cairo dated September 18th 1950, Guénon makes the following observations with regards to Schuon,Burckhardt, and other members of the tarīqah Maryamiyyah:
On the other hand, I received a letter from Burckhardt regarding my responses to M.L.[Martin Lings] saying that “the violence of my letters has deeply troubled him, and that he cannot understand the reasons for such severe remarks.” It seems to me that it should not be very difficult to understand! … It is shocking how far bad faith can go. I, for one, am not the least bit surprised since, from a technical point of view, the ignorance of those people, starting with F.S. [Frithjof Schuon] himself, if truly frightening…
Ex-members of the Maryamiyyah have revealed disturbing information about its founder and the ritual practices of the secretive tarīqah to several Muslim scholars, including a Shaykh from the Jerrahi Order. Some of the early followers of Schuon included Marco Pallis, Charles Le Gai Eaton, John Levy, and Léo Schaya. The Swiss born Charles Le Gai Eaton (1922-) embraced Islām in 1951 and is presently a consultant to the Islāmic Cultural Center in London.
Other Schuonian writers include: Thomas Merton, Huston Smith, Jean Borella, Joseph Epes Brown, Titus Burckhardt, Rama Coomaraswamy, Keith Critchlow, James Cutsinger, Victor Danner, Michael Oren Fitzgerald, Martin Lings, Jean-Louis Michon, Vali Reza Nasr, Osman Bakar, Roger du Pasquier, Whithall Perry, Philip Sherrard, Huston Smith, and William Stoddardt. Seyyed Hossein Nasr was a member of the Maryamiyya tarīqah, a discipline of Schuon, and is now his most influential student. Dr. Mark Sedgwick's academic website, traditionalism.org, describes Nasr as “the leading Maryami author” who took over from Schuon
As we have seen before, “election,” “option,” and “inclination” are some of the comprehensive meanings the Greek language gave to the term hairesis. These meanings were passed into Latin, with the necessary etymological adjustments, as hoeresis which conveys the ideas of “opinion,” “dogma,” “party” and “sect.” Dictionaries define the meaning of “sect” as a “body of people sharing religious opinions who have broken away from a larger body.”
It is often used as a term of disapproval and is thus inconsistent with its original meaning of “doctrine of a particular teacher who developed it and explained it and which is accepted and defended by a group of followers.” By straying from their original meanings and etymological roots, the words “heresy” and “sect” have been applied for centuries to those who professed “false” beliefs worthy of excommunication. In this limited sense, the word “heresy” has more in common with the Hebrew term herem, meaning excommunication and anathema, and the Arabic word harām, from the root harrama, which means to deprive, to anathematize, to remove and to excommunicate.
The words “heresy” and “sect” were used in ancient times to describe various schools of philosophy. Over the course of centuries, however, the terms acquired pejorative connotations which eventually came to dominate and replaced their original meanings. The terms “heresy” and “sect” came to be commonly applied to all religious groups which broke away from an original doctrine and who were in disagreement with the dogmas and rituals which were officially orthodox.
For the Roman Catholic Church, all protestant sects born from the Reformation were, in a strict sense, “heretical” and “heterodox” from the moment they broke away from the Vatican. From around 1971, the term “heretic,” with all of its connotations, was suppressed from the Catholic ecclesiastic lexicon.1
Consequently, there are no longer any “heresies,” these having been replaced with “mere doctrinal errors” which do not merit excommunication. The modern mentality was evidently unsatisfied with its classical lexical heritage and along with the older terminology it developed a wide body of new definitions. The Western world uses these terms in so many contradictory ways that they do not have a constant meaning.
They apply them to religious phenomenon which they view with suspicion but which they rarely try to understand. This state of confusion is created by the modern habit of calling everything into question.2 It is also a reflection of the total failure of the “opinion-makers” who insist on taking the concept of “sect”–as vague as it may be as their sole starting point.
As Rudolf Otto has explained, the use and misuse of terms likes “sect” and “fundamentalism” quickly reaches an irrational point. What is most surprising, however, is that this feeble conceptual chain has been forged and molded to subject the same unknown enemy who frequently changes forms like a many-sided proteose. The multitude of contradictory definitions proposed by the “opinion-makers”–in a dry attempt to describe diversity–actually impede proper classification.
The situation further complicates itself when some Orientalists, rather than researching thought, move on to studying ideological struggles. As a result, they divide themselves between scientific and political work. If we focus so much on this issue, it is because our critical stance requires us to do so. We are well within our rights to criticize the attitude of those who, deliberately or involuntarily, by a mere concession to modern language, spread falsehood and error.3
It is as if the terms “sect” and “fundamentalism” were merely simple theological references or epithets without any moral implications. We must ask ourselves: Is it really possible that the richness of classical definitions and terminology has been reduced to the point of describing general ideological types?
It should be noted that the term “sect” is unduly applied to Shī'ite Islām without doctrinal justification and without paying attention to whether such a definition is actually compatible with its perfectly orthodox and traditional spirit. If this is not a case of terminological standardization, then what is the point of insisting on its application? Should the generic sense of “sect” be applied by default to every religious minority on the basis of the same rigid and arbitrary interpretation?
We refer, of course, to those scholars who fancifully turn every minority tradition into a “sect” without considering the true meaning of its definition. In fact, these scholars often label certain religious groups as “sects” when their followers are numerically equal to the main groups within their tradition. Certain religious minorities which are considered as “sects” in the West are perfectly orthodox religious expressions.
Such is the case with Shī'ite Islām in the Middle East, Buddhism or Taoism in the Far East, to mention some of the most common examples. But, as we have seen, the tendency to give Shī'ite Islām the stigma of “sect” is premeditated. It is not by chance that some “opinion-makers” and Orientalists have agreed on applying this term. The definition of “sect,” as they know better than anyone else, can conveniently be substituted–in a theological and philosophical sense–by the more insidiously political and provocative one which defines a sect as a “group of partisans with extreme and violent ideas.”
Faced with simplistic and reductionist interpretations which are obsessed with grouping all religious minorities under one general label, the indiscriminate application of the term “sect” continues to be accepted. This is despite the fact that the commonly accepted meaning of the term is nothing more than a convention or a deep-rooted prejudice accepted by all without reserve.
Even among educated people, the very idea of “sect” always presupposes a deep-rooted reactionary and intolerant attitude, which is how the factio [sect] can be recognized and differentiated from the other majority “factions.” If anything novel is added to this connotation, it reduces itself to concrete applications that are called upon by the same semantic concessions of language that adapt to changing circumstances. We refer specifically to the neologism “fundamentalism” which implies an entire axiological classification which, when dealing with Shī'ite Islām, even descends to the basest contempt.4
The term “fundamentalist” can be correctly applied to American Protestantism since its attitude and behavior is consistent with such a definition. However, the new tendency is to give the term a political sense linking it even more strongly with Shī'ite Islām. The use of the term “fundamentalist” in a political sense is really a recent development. It traces back to the famous controversy between American Protestants and the supporters of Darwin's Theory of Evolution.
The dispute centered on the question as to whether state education should be separated from religion as a means to promote the atheist doctrine of evolution which is incompatible with the idea of God and divine creation.5At that time, the use of the term “fundamentalist” was far from commonplace.
The term “fundamentalist” has acquired a political connotation which every day is more effectively integrated into the vernacular, becoming normal in English and standard in other Western languages. It is applied to a series of Islāmic groups which resist and reject any type of Western interference. It should be noted that the French prefer the term intégriste and the Spaniards the word rigorista when they try to define the same phenomenon.
Due to limitations of time and space, we cannot examine in depth the reasons why the Western world insists on applying “sectarian” and “fundamentalist” labels to Shī'ite Islām. For the sake of brevity, we will limit ourselves to saying that the application of such terms to Shī'ism is a form of reductionism which attempts to tarnish an entirely orthodox expression of Islām. Not only do such labels impoverish understanding and distort definitions, what is worse today is that they are used without any conceptual contact with the true reality of its thoughts and doctrine.
Such definitions are often taken “lightly” because they do not destroy the doctrines of Shī'ite Islām. Nonetheless, we must avoid indiscriminately applying such labels to Shī'ism and other schools of thought since they imply inclusion or exclusion of Islāmic doctrines on the basis of the one and only orthodoxy.
The same definition of “sect,” with some slightly different shades, prevails among the Orientalists who wrote about Sūfism and Islāmic gnosis in the nineteenth century. Likewise, certain Orientalists have applied the label of “sect” to Shī'ite Islām. They were fond of giving a Christian character to certain Shī'ite beliefs and practices rather than recognizing them as entirely Islāmic in origin. These Arabists preferred the term “sect” to that of “heresy.”
They categorized Muslims on the basis of Christian standards. For them, the “heretics” were those Muslims who broke away from the doctrinal unity of the Islāmic “Church” while the “sectarians” were those who broke away from its socio-political hierarchy. In this respect, it is important to remember that, Saint Augustine, particularly in his admonitions against the Pelagian, Manichaean, and Donatist heresies, rejected reductionism.6 He categorically warned how difficult, if not impossible, it was to give a definition of “heresy” that corresponds exactly to its essential characteristics. For that reason, he warned against the temptation of labeling doctrines as “heretical” considering how harmful the label of “heretic” can be.7
From a subjective psychological perspective, the characteristics of heretics include intolerance, obstinacy, rebellion, and unsociability. Those who hold erroneous, misguided or false ideas, yet believe with good faith that their doctrine is the same as taught by the Church, cannot be labeled as heretics or sectarians.8
Imbued with such ideas, some Orientalists use the Catholic concept of heresy as their theoretical framework. As a result, they labeled the Sūfis as heretics because they were “mystics” who believed in doctrines which differed from those of the majority orthodox Sunnī “Church.” Despite the fact that they profess the same fundamentals of faith, the Shī'ites were labeled as sectarian because they broke away from orthodox Sunnism.
After drawing these dogmas from Christian doctrine, Orientalists rushed to apply them to Shī'ism, labeling it as “heretical,” “schismatic” and “sectarian” merely because it represented a minority tradition, a fact which in se and per se [in and of itself] does not constitute heresy. They failed to heed Saint Augustine's warning that appearances can be deceiving. 9
They reduced Shī'ism to the level of a “heretical sect” despite the fact that there are no doctrinal differences between Sunnī and Shī'ite Islām. Unfortunately, some contemporary Orientalists–the heirs of the old mentality–continue to stubbornly label Shī'ism as a “sect” outside the fold of Islām. Although Shī'ites profess to be Muslims and share the same beliefs as Sunnis, they are, in the eyes of these specialists, openly sectarian extremist heretics.10
In short, the tendency of some Orientalists to separate Shī'ite Islām's visible or exoteric aspects–social and political–from its esoteric aspects– mystical and metaphysical–started in the nineteenth century and intensified in the twentieth and early twenty-first century. According to Alessandro Bausani, the increasingly radical differentiation between a political and religious Shī'ism provides an opportunity for Arabists and Orientalists to eclipse the West from the spiritual, metaphysical and esoteric aspects of a formal traditional expression (4: 112-15).
We have reason to fear that this initiative is a last ditch effort on the part of the West to subject one of the last genuine reserves of traditional thought into an indefinite zone of relative obscurity and of temporal oversight. In other words, when some Orientalists and “opinion-makers” take interest in Shī'ite Islām, these professional polemicists are motivated by a desire to create a false and distorted image of Shī'ism, isolating and stressing its exclusively political aspect.11Is this not a most extreme case of ideological “fundamentalism?”
The one thing these theories–and others which are even more groundless and fanciful–have in common is a desire to single handedly understand the global reality of Shī'ite Islām in all of its dimensions: exoteric and esoteric, political and religious, metaphysical and spiritual. But in fact, the only thing they want to retain from their research is that Sunnī Islām is the rule and Shī'ite Islām is the exception.
The Shī'ites, they claim, view themselves as a small flock of chosen ones. They are those who split from the orthodox majority, those who were schismatic, who sought to foment dissent, spread discord, and provoke division, because of some political question related to the succession of the Prophet.12As will be seen, these claims made by scholars are based exclusively on Sunnī sources.13
And it is these Sunnī scholars who brought the idea to Western scholars that, like the councils of the Christian Church, the election of the Caliph or successor of the Prophet can be decided “democratically” by means of consensus [ijmā'].
Manichaeism is the religion founded by Mani (c. 216-c.276), a Persian who held that the universe is dually controlled by opposing powers of good and evil, which had become intermingled in the present age, but at a future time would be separated and return to their own realms. Mani's followers were to aid this separation by leading an ascetic life. The religion spread widely in Asia and around the Mediterranean, but died out in the West by the 6th c., although it was a major religion in the East until the 14th c. It influenced several early Christian heresies.
Donatism is a 4th century schism in the North African Church which followed the apostasies during the Diocletian persecutions. Donatists held that sacraments were invalid outside the one visible Church, that sinners should be excommunicated, and that the State had no rights in ecclesiastical matters. It is named after one of its leaders, Donatus, who was bishop of Carthage. The schism drew from Saint Augustine his lasting definition of the nature of the ministry and sacraments of the Church.
Orientalists who follow the Christianizing interpretation of Islāmic thought have attempted to present the doctrine of ijmā' as an accepted means of controlling “heresy” in Islām.1 According to Gibb, the doctrine of ijmā' can be viewed from the perspective of Christian orthodoxy and can be likened to the case of the council.
Despite their external differences, a certain analogy can be made between the concept of “consensus” of the Christian Church and the Islāmic concept of ijmā'. In some cases the results of both procedures were quite similar. For example, it was only after ijmā' was acknowledged as a source of law and doctrine that a definitive proof of “heresy” became possible. Any attempt to interpret Scripture in a way that negated the validity of a given and accepted solution was by consensus, a bid'ah, an act of “innovation” and “heresy” (Gibb 90).
Gibb's main thesis is that the concept of “council” in Islām forms part of a secular organism that mends Islāmic doctrine. It does so in light of a sovereign authority, thus fulfilling the work of purging and purifying matters of faith that can be assimilated into the work of ecclesiastic canonists. He understands the concept of “council” as a juristic entity, like a council of bishops. In order to protect the theological doctrine of the “Church,” the Islāmic Caliphate relied upon the doctrine of ijmā' as the basis for the orthodox refutation of “heretical” Shī'ite ideas.
When Gibb speaks of ijmā' in terms of councils or ecclesiastic consensus, the distinguished Orientalist maintains himself firmly within a Christianizing interpretation of Islām. The word “council” is derived from the Latin concilium which comes from cum, “with,” and calare, “to call” and “to proclaim,” hence the sense of convocation and assembly. The word “council” is a Latin term which defines, much like the Greek root of Church [lit. ekklesia, from ek and kalo] a flock or congregation of faithful Christians under the guidance and direction of their pastors.
It applies to a group of individuals with the same character in a double sense: active like convocation of bishops, and passive like a congregation of the same in an organization, a society or a collegial body. Viewing the doctrine of ijmā' through the Christian concept of council presupposes the existence of an orthodox “Church” in Islām which, like the Christian Church, can be recognized and differentiated from other “sects” or “heresies,” and as a juridical, hierarchical, sovereign, visible, empirical, and easily perceived institution for all to see.
Gibb's ecclesiastic conception of Islāmic consensus is misguided and even false. It fails to appreciate that in Islām both elements are identical: the doctrine of ijmā' as a source of law and canon of the Scriptures, on the one hand, and Islāmic orthodoxy, both internal and external, on the other. Both of them co-exist and coincide in the application of the sharī'ah and the sunnah of the Prophet as sovereign expressions of the Qur'ān in both Sunnī and Shī'ite Islām.2
Let us now turn from a general critique to some more specific observations. It must be noted that Gibb's Christianizing conception traces back to the 1950s, a period when the type of distinction we are discussing was not viewed with the same importance as it is currently. Hence, the absence of a broader and more elaborate perspective is fully justified. Many of the problems we are discussing here, such as the question of “sects,” had barely even been posed.
What we would have liked to observe, among the Orientalists who followed the same Christianizing line as Gibb, is a degree of academic, analytical and philosophical evolution. Above all, we would have liked them, starting with Gibb, the Orientalist from Oxford, to come to a better understanding of the questions raised by the study of Shī'ite Islām.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Besides a handful of honorable exceptions, the majority of research published in the West during the last decade of the fifties and even well beyond consists of nothing more than worthless compilations whose theoretical weakness is in sad contrast to the solid scientific work done by Orientalists in the past.3
These solid scholars include Reynold A. Nicholson, Louis Massignon, Jacques Berque, Miguel Asín Palacios and, why not, even Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen Gibb. Despite their incomprehension of the Islāmic spirit, they practiced and professed a science which was more consistent with their intellectual qualifications.
Their work is less suspicious of compromise with ideological controversy which reduces religious polemics, in all of its shades, into terms of extreme triviality and doubtful scientific integrity. It is the ancient affliction that appears to worsen in the West, especially in recent times, in which a host of “opinion-makers,” turned into “specialists” of Islām, have come forth like black heralds repeatedly croaking the same mistakes ad nauseam.4
Without doubt, the knowledge and analogical application of these theological principles must have seemed very convenient to Gibb in his work of comparing the Islāmic concept of ijmā' as a consensus of scholars with that of the Christian council as a consensus of ecclesiastics. This is even more evident when Gibb alludes to the role of analogy in his comparison and confesses that such a comparison is possible despite the external differences of the Christian councils.
This is absolutely false. Regardless of such esoteric formulaic divergences, there is no Church in Islām. Furthermore, there is no organized clergy in Islām in the ecclesiastic sense of the priesthood because Islām does not accept the mediation between God and man.
In Islām, there does not exist a religious establishment lead by a Pope with a hierarchy of bishops, cardinals and priests, all ranked according to their level of merit and the closeness to the central power of the Church. We must not forget that any attempt to look for examples of consensus in Islām comparable to the Christian councils of Nicea, Lyon, Letran, Trent, and the Vatican, would be useless.5
In the entire history of Islām, there has never been a case in which qualified scholars and jurists gathered in diverse synods to examine a doctrine that they considered erroneous and who then related their conclusions in letters to a prelate in which they asked for this error to be condemned as a heresy by the entire Islāmic community.
There were many times, however, when Caliphs or mujtahidūn reacted on the basis of arbitrary and erroneous decisions of incompetent authorities, ignorant of the very basis of the discussed doctrine. We are not claiming that “heretical” doctrines or misunderstood minorities have never been challenged, refuted, condemned and persecuted in Islām because the facts speak for themselves.6
We have the examples of martyrs for whoever would categorically deny any affirmation to the contrary. These include al-Hallāj, Suhrawardī, Uways al-Qarnī, Qanbar, Maytham al-Tammār and, among the followers of 'Alī, the very Imāms, of which the most tragic case was that of al-Husayn, sayyid al-shuhadā' [the Lord of Martyrs].7
Is it not clear that all of these deaths were the consequence of emphatic and arbitrary decisions? In any event, we have made no attempts to deny or to justify the persecution of those who were accused or suspected of heresy as this goes beyond the scope of this study.8
On the contrary, our goal here has been to demonstrate that the concept of consensus as a type of council is an erroneous misrepresentation of the function of ijmā' in Islām. In the Muslim tradition, the concept of consensus does not express an accepted mode of controlling heresy or the unanimous authority of all the scholars of the Islāmic community.9
We understand perfectly well that Gibb's goal is to present the concept of ijmā' in socio-religious terms that are more readily understandable in the West, by linking it to the Christian concept of consensus. In our opinion, however, such simplifications do nothing other than complicate any attempt to penetrate Islāmic thought, particularly when it is done by examples that are as divergent as they are foreign to the Islāmic faith. When we say that concepts such as “councils” are foreign we do not mean to imply that Islām is somehow backwards or less up to date as religious institutions in the West, particularly it terms of its formal religious expressions.
According to the generally accepted etymology given by Arabic linguists, the technical term ijmā' comes from the Arabic root jama'a. It has several definitions, each of which relates to the concept of agreement, the first of which is “consensus.” Hence, there can be no doubt as to the concept the word expresses. Both the Arabic word ijmā' and the Latin word consensus convey the idea of being free from coercion, being able to distance oneself from anything oppressive which limits freedom of choice.
The mujtahidūn [lit: “those who make an effort” in the personal interpretation of the law] define ijmā' as a “point of view” and, in such a sense, it is closer to the Vedic concept of darsana than to the Christian concept of council. In effect, ijmā' as a source of law and doctrine, does not present contradictory concepts, but rather different points of view and differing aspects of the same many sided concept.10
The doctrine of ijmā' is obviously found in both the Sunnī and Shī'ite traditions. However, both of these orthodox tendencies interpret and apply it differently. It is universally agreed that what has more weight in Islāmic law is the Qur'ān, the Sunnah, and the companions of the Prophet, those who lived alongside him, were chosen by him, and who heard his sayings directly.
This is followed by the followers [tābi'ūn] of the companions and, finally, the followers of the followers, those who received from their masters what their masters had received from their masters.
With the disappearance of this last generation, for the majority of Islāmic schools of jurisprudence the consensus now rests with the mujtahidūn, whose edicts [fatāwā] vary in accord with their philosophical postures. If Sunnī Islām declared that the door of ijtihād [personal deduction of the law] was closed in the 10th century [we know that some Sunnī 'ulamā' have now reopened the door], Shī'ite Islām, on the other hand, never recognized this closure.11
Shī'ite jurists and theologians, known as mujtahidūn, have always defended this right. Although enlightened individuals and scholars can appreciate the inner meanings of the sacred law in all of its dimensions, none can any longer claim perfection and infallibility. Since scholars, regardless of their erudition, are human, their understanding of the law can only be imperfect.12 Hence, they must allow themselves to be guided by the consensus of the sunnah of the Prophet and the authorized interpretations of the Holy Imāms.13
In conclusion, it is wise to recall that the fundamentals of faith and principles upon which the Muslim faith is based are irrefragable. Complete faith requires complete acceptance of tenets which are not and cannot be the work of men or the result of human consensus.14 God is the Sole Sovereign and the Final Source of Legitimate Authority.15
The essence of His law is immutable truth. His law is more immutable than the process of human thought for it is eternal and never changes.
According to Sunnī authors, the Companions (sahābah) derived answers to immediate problems from the Qur'ān and the Sunnah. When faced with unexpected issues, the Companions made an(ijtihād) to apply the spirit of the Prophet's teachings new problems. The ijtihād of the sahābah consisted of deriving judgments or legal norms from the teachings of the Prophet.
The sahābah had their own disciples and followers, the tabi'ūn, who consisted of Muslims who knew the sahābah and learned from them but never had the opportunity to meet the Prophet. The tabi'ūn were thus the second generation of Islām. The tabi'ūn, in turn, had their own followers, who consisted of disciples who had never met the sahābah, and they are known as the tābi'ī al-tabi'īn and represent the third generation of Islām.
The second and third centuries of Islām, known as the Century of the Companions, the Companions of the Companions, and the Great Sunnī Imams), were marked by the rapid expansion of Islām. During this time, many non-Arabs became Muslims, integrating into society, and greatly expanding the territory of the Islāmic community. Along with the influx of new Muslims came new questions. The new questions required new solutions and broad generalizations appeared which allowed for universal applications. In short, fiqh moved from a practical realm to a theoretical realm.
Prior to the formation of the major schools of jurisprudence, legal norms had not been organized in an orderly fashion. The early jurists did not engage in theoretical issues, dealing only with practical solutions to practical problems. Since no systematic study of law had been completed during the first and second generations of Islām, it would be inappropriate to refer to early Islāmic law as an actual legal science. Since the science of fiqh developed during the second century of the hijrah, the Companions cannot truly be called fuqahā'. In light of what we have explained, it can be said that Islāmic jurisprudence was born towards the end of the first century of the hijrah, namely, the beginning of the eight century.
During most of the first century A.H., Islāmic jurisprudence, in a strict sense, did not possess a legal corpus. The great center of Islāmic jurisprudence during the end of the first century A.H. and part of the second century A.H. was Iraq. Doctrinal influences from one school to another moved almost invariably from Iraq towards Arabia and the doctrinal development of the Medinan school was often surpassed by the school in Kufahh.
By the end of the first century A.H., we find the names of jurists whose existence can be confirmed as historical. These include Ibrāhīm al-Nakha'ī in Kufah and Sa'īd ibn al-Musayyab and his contemporaries in Madīnah. Not only did these ancient schools share a common doctrinal base, they shared the same legal framework and viewed law as a “living tradition,” a concept that dominated the development of Islāmic jurisprudence throughout the second century A.H.. Known as 'āmal or “living tradition,” the aim of Islāmic jurisprudence was to follow the spirit of the Muhammad's teachings. At the same time, this 'āmal was validated through consensus (ijmā'), which consisted of the common opinion of the learned representatives of each legal school.
Ijmā', as we have explained, was a powerful political tool. It was employed to ensure the election of Abū Bakr as the Caliph after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Later, it would be used to ensure the spread and implementation of the four schools of Islāmic law as sole representatives of orthodoxy. In both cases, ijmā' was employed to marginalize the authority of the Household of the Prophet.
Imām 'Alī was passed over as Caliph despite being selected as the Prophet's successor and the Ja'farī school was cast aside and considered orthodox despite the fact that is was the most ancient school and formed the basis of the Hanafī and the Malikī schools. Since the time of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, Muslim jurists had based themselves on the Qur'ān and the Sunnah in order to derive laws. In order to consolidate their political agenda, however, the ruling authorities were required to use ijmā' as a secondary source of legal authority which they did not hesitate to use against the Holy Imāms.
In the early days of Islām, ijmā' had not yet been consolidated as a secondary source of Islāmic law. It was only in the third century A.H. that ijmā' became codified as standard procedure.
During the time of the two first khulafā al-rashīdūn, Abū Bakr al-Siddīq, and 'Umar ibn al-Khattab, the analogical method was employed to deduce legal implications and to find solutions to new or unforeseen situations, turning to the Qur'ān and the Sunnah. When they found the solution they were looking for, they would apply it, and when they did not find it, they would gather a group of Companions and ask their opinions. Whichever opinion was the most prevalent was the opinion which prevailed. This selective practice represents the origin of “consensus” as a legal practice. In other words, until the time of the khulafā al-rashīdūn, the concept of ijmā' or consensus was an eminently political decision which had the force of law.
The Caliphs in Madīnah, as legal administrators, acted as legislators for the community, and the same example was followed by the 'Ummayad Caliphs and their governors. During the entire first century of Islām, the administrative and legislative activities of the Islāmic government were one and the same. The 'Ummayad governors appointed the first judges who would shape Sunnī law. These judges or legal arbitrators judged new cases on the basis of personal opinion (ray), basing themselves on traditional practices and customs but supposedly considering the the letter and spirit of the Qur'ān.
The need to establish an ijmā' al-ummah or community consensus surged from the unwillingness of some tribal chiefs to accept the designation of 'Alī as the Caliph or successor to the Prophet Muhammad. In the early days of Islām, consensus was not so much a legal necessity, as a political requirement.
When differences of opinion affected political matters, particularly relating to the succession of the Prophet, the Shī'ite had no other option but to speak out. As a result of the differences between early Muslims, and the prevalence of partisan politics, the Ummah of Muhammad split into 'Ibadīs, Sunnis, and Shī'īs. The intensity of the political debate accentuated other doctrinal differences leading to the division of the Ummah into three major groups of Muslims, Sunnis, Shī'īs, and 'Ibadīs, each employing their own form of ijmā' as a secondary source of Islāmic jurisprudence.
Although these groups were distinct, they were never separate from the broader Islāmic community. Even though the separation into factions was painful and accompanied with violence and diatribe, the universal spirit of Islām always prevented schism. Each new generation moved from the extreme positions of the generation which preceded it, embracing middle positions, and recognizing the right of each party to its particular position. If one examines the history of Islām, one will find that the first to call for Islāmic unity and the reconciliation of all Muslims were the Imāms Ahlul Bayt.
During the life of the Prophet, discord and disputes were resolved through revelation. The issue of the succession of the Prophet however, was left unresolved in the hearts of Muslims, and simmered below the surface. Despite the fact that the successor of the Prophet had been established and confirmed by the Qur'ān, Muslims were divided: some felt the successor should be elected by tribal leaders and others accepted that the successor had been chosen by divine decree.
Sunnī jurists have justified the use of ijmā' or consensus based on a hadīth from the Prophet Muhammad which states that:“My community will never agree on an error” (Tirmidhī). This hadīth served as the basis for turning ijmā' into a tool for deriving Islāmic laws. This tradition grants apparent infallibility to the consensus of Sunnī jurists, an infallibility no Shī'ite fuqahā' would ever claim for themselves as they rely on the legal and spiritual authority of the Holy Imāms who, as far as Shī'ite Muslims are concerned, are the only individuals worthy of being considered infallible (ma'sūmīn).
As far as Shī'ite Muslims are concerned, the Prophet and his Ahlul Bayt were, by divine design, perfect human beings from the moment of their birth. They were purified, and infallible due to the innate perfection they had been granted by divine grace. Although the need to recurr to political consensus might be invoked in the absence of divinely appointed leadership, the fact remains that the Prophet Muhammad appointed 'Alī as his successor in accordance with a divine decree. Despite the fact that no ijmā' was required, it was employed by the opponent of 'Alī in order to destitute him from his legitimate right to the Caliphate.
Had the Prophet Muhammad received a divine order to place the leadership of the Islāmic community into the hands of tribal leaders, he would have said so. We would have ample traditions in which they Prophet states: “When I die, hold elections and elect a Caliph.” The truth of the matter is no such traditions exist. What does exist is a large body of traditions in which the Prophet explicitly appoints Twelve Imāms as his successors, all of whom were individually named, the first of which was 'Alī and the last of which was the Mahdī. Rather than leaving his community in the lurch, the Prophet Muhammad had always emphasized the need for an Imām or divinely-inspired guide to lead the Muslim community.
It is important to remember that the Prophet Muhammad never considered the Islāmic Ummah as being infallible or free of error. When the tribe of Quraysh reached the peak of its aggression towards him, the Prophet prayed: “O Allāh, pardon my people for their ignorance.” Had the Islāmic community been capable of governing itself and acting in the best interest of Islām, there would never been a need for Allah to send Spiritual Guides.
The fact that Allāh had opened the wilāyah (Guardianship of the Imāms) upon the closing of the nubuwwah (Prophethood) is sufficient indication that the Islāmic community was in no position to guide itself and that it needed divinely appointed Imāms to guide it on the straight path. In this light, it could even be argued that consensus or ijmā' is an innovation (mustahdath) in Islām. Based on the pre-Islāmic tribal custom of shūrā, ijmā', as an Islāmic institution, was developed after the death of the Prophet in response to the political need to consolidate the power of the emerging Caliphate.
In the Twelver Shī'ite context, the use of ijmā' or consensus came at a much later date and coincides with the Greater Occulation of the Twelfth Imām. As far as Ja'farī jurists were concerned, the use of ijmā' could scarcely be conceived in the presence of Infallible Imāms. It is for this reason that Shī'ite jurists only started to employ ijmā' after the Greater Occultation of the Imām Muhammad al-Mahdī. It should be noted, however, that the concept of ijmā' for Shī'ite jurists differs completely from the concept of ijmā' held by Sunnī jurists. For Shī'ite scholars,ijmā' is used for religious matters and not as part of political ploys.
He who has given verdicts [in matters of religion] on the basis of his own opinion, has actually followed a religion which he himself does not know. And he who accepts his religion in such a matter, has actually contradicted Allāh, since he has declared something lawful and something unlawful without knowing it. (Kulaynī 152: hadīth 175)
And as the Prophet Muhammad has said: “He who interprets the Qur'ān from his own personal opinion will have a seat in hell” (Tirmidhī, Ghazālī).
In the preceding pages, we have addressed the issue of ijmā'. We have seen that, on the one hand, the Islāmic concept of consensus is interpreted as an intellectual acceptance of divine truth and, on the other hand, as an expression of trust in God and the Prophet. We have also noted that, to a certain degree, the Islāmic concept of consensus requires the acceptance of educated opinions acquired through a thorough study of Islāmic law and through the intellectual effort known as ijtihād.
It is thus the obligation of every observant Muslim to place his trust in the wisdom of others.1 The entire structure of Islāmic society is based on this trust in the rulings of scholars since, for all intents and purposes, the acceptance of these religious rulings constitutes an acceptance without reservation of revealed law.
The concept of ijmā' as a source of law and doctrine implies, in an objective sense, the acceptance of a body of divinely revealed laws which must be accepted in their entirety as a manifestation of the acceptance of the sovereign authority of God. In a subjective sense, embracing divine authority represents the sanctifying flux [barakah] instilled by God in the human soul through the bounty bestowed upon the Prophet.
Such submission is never blind and unconditional. Blind following is unacceptable when the motives that are expounded are not sufficiently convincing or do not coincide with the inner meanings of the revelation.2 If, as we have said, some Islāmic tenets, mandates or principles must be accepted completely, totally and wholeheartedly, it is because they are directly ordained by the revelation, which is free of errors,3 and because they are based on the authority of the Prophet and the Imāms. In Islām, in order for a norm or dictate to be accepted, it must be firmly based on God's revelation and the sunnah of his Prophet.4
In such cases, transcendental and ineffable reality becomes evident as soon as reason elevates itself beyond the sphere of sensible truth and attains the level of intelligent truth. It is for this reason that it is the obligation of every Muslim to refrain from submission to a dictate until he is convinced with certainty that what he is accepting is legitimate and in complete accord with revealed truth.5This is the teaching of Shī'ism as taught during the time of the Prophet and further developed on the authority of the Imāms as part of their prophetic supplement.
Regardless of their efforts and actions, ordinary human beings do not deserve the rank of absolute authority over others. Even the greatest of human efforts cannot be compared to the divine gift of prophecy and the grace of wilāyah. The authority of the Prophet was the result of revelation.
The Prophet passed his supreme status and the mandate of his mission, the spread of revealed truth, to his cousin and son-in-law Imām 'Alī ibn Abī Tālib. This divine authority was passed on to his descendants and successors who are the definitive authorities of Islām whose obligation was to amplify it and actualize it.
The human efforts of the Imāms would be of little or no benefit were it not for the fact that their external words and actions were accompanied by the rays of light which flow within them, the Muhammadan truth [al-haqīqah al-muhammadiyyah], the gnostic or esoteric reality, the divine presence in their hearts which are the true depositories of eternal wisdom. It is for this reason that they receive the titles of “legatees” and “executors” of the revelation. As can be appreciated in light of the above, ijmā' is an intellectual assent of divinely revealed truth, assent which does not exclude trust.
Whenever infallible divine authority is absent, human life loses its direction and ceases to be oriented towards God as a final destination. Although God calls all human beings to obedience and the straight path, not all are reached. And not all of those who are reached by His call respond to it, because not all are chosen, obey and submit to His authority.6 The Prophet and the Imāms are the most obedient and submissive to God's authority.
This is because they are the Chosen Ones, the purest souls on earth. They are epiphanies [mazhar, lit. “appearance” or “manifestation”], theophanies [tajalliyāt, lit. “illuminations” or “revelations”], and signs [āyāt] of the infallible divine authority. Such authority cannot be claimed by just anyone. Rather, it must be considered as a gift or grace from God. When 'Alī, the depository and inheritor of the infallible divine authority and the Vicar of God, was preparing himself to enter the scene of Islāmic life, not even the opposition and collusion of the followers of Abū Bakr could impede this apparition which was announced by the Prophet prior to his death and awaited by his family and closest companions. 'Alī struggled tirelessly against them and became their most dreaded enemy.7 He always upheld his right to the succession and debunked all of the arguments used against his legitimate aspirations. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
From the opposition and collusion of the followers of Abū Bakr, to the resistance and reaction of 'Alī and his followers, the historical development of the Caliphate revolved around the issue of the succession of the Prophet. They involved one another and illuminated one another. In light of authentic and trustworthy sources, the situation becomes clear and enables us to see that the historical emergence of Shī'ism was based on metaphysical and cosmological principles, even though the chain of secular conflicts have externally emphasized the political side. This leads us to the fundamental issue which interests us most: the concept that Shī'ite Islām was a divinely ordained development destined to convert itself into an invisible axis and visible hinge of the entire prophetic wilāyah. In order to understand this, it is necessary to examine its exoteric reality on the inside, starting with its esoteric and Gnostic interior.
In order to explain the transformation that Islām went through since the rise of Shī'ism, Muslim and non-Muslim historians point to two factors derived from the same cause: the political struggle for the Caliphate. The first factor was the political influence of the oligarchy which transformed itself into a timocratic power, a state in which political power increases with the amount of property one owns, through the support of the triumphant majority.
The second factor was the political will of a marginalized minority which became a medium of resistance. Depending on the personal inclinations of previous researchers, they argue in favor of one of these two factors. For us, both factors are two aspects of the same cause. For Western research scholars, it is not always easy to accept the idea that in Islām, the relationship between the religion and politics is much closer than it is in the West between the Church and State.
It is even more difficult for them to accept that, in Shī'ism, religion and politics are two aspects of the orthodox development of the same doctrine, rather than parallel or separate tendencies that revolve around the same sphere but without any effective connection between them.
”Recent studies,” says Bausani, “distinguish more between a political Shī'ism, which included the purely political partisans of 'Alī and his family…, a religious Shī'ism, which included activists impregnated with Gnostic ideas, who were based mostly in Kūfah, in Mesopotamia, and whose main representative … was the politico-religious agitator al-Mukhtār who took over Kūfah in 685-686. He preached Messianic doctrines and started some very interesting customs like the cult of the vacant throne and so forth” (112-113).
As a result of these events, some Orientalists attempted to establish a clear distinction between an “extremist” political Shī'ism, a “moderate” religious Shī'ism, and an “intermediate” Shī'ism. This latter, which shares both political and religious aspects, is at times “extremist” and at others “moderate” according to Bausani's definition of Twelver Shī'ism. It comes as no surprise that, centuries after the birth of Shī'ism, Orientalists seeking support for the “democratic” orientation of Abū Bakr would use this inappropriate division to supposedly distinguish between a political Shī'ism and a religious Shī'ism.1
The origin and early development of Shī'ite Islām is, to a great extent, a history of divisions, dissensions, and internal quarrels relating to the problem of succession. A considerable number of movements, some of which went from partial or relative dissidence to outright rupture [fitnah], were drawn into the center of this great storm as a result of the violence perpetrated by the political and religious authorities. It must be mentioned, however, that while some of these groups may have reached the state of sects [furuq] in the Christian sense of the world, in our view, even this barrier between differences does not produce clear-cut division.
On the contrary, under this umbrella, many branches flourished, some longer-lived than others, which developed alongside Shī'ism without breaking the tie, as weak as it may have been, with the Islāmic trunk from which they were born.2
In truth, the development of sects–that is, groups which diverge on the basis of important beliefs or practices–is the result of the closer ties established between Shī'ism and the surrounding esoteric traditions. The divergence and conflict between the distinct groups is related to the reaction towards an ocean of doctrinal wealth.
The Ismā'īliyyah,3 for example, have a doctrine which, in many respects, makes them the heirs of the Sabian tradition of Harrān which, as is known, was the depository of Hermetic and neo-Pythagorean doctrines combined with elements from Hindu occultism and Gnosis.4These Sabians must not be confused with the Sabaeans or Mandaeans from southern of Irak and Persia.5
One of the common mistakes made in relation to Shī'ah Islām is the attempt to compare it with the various schisms found in Christianity. Shī'ism is often portrayed as a schismatic coextension of dissident groups organized in small cells or brotherhoods driven by an uncompromising parochial spirit. The concept of inshi'āb [division] in the Islāmic religion must not be confused with that of fitnah, definitive division and irreparable rupture. In fact, Shī'ism suffered no “division” [inshi'āb] or rupture [fitnah] during the Imāmate of the first three Imāms: 'Alī, Hasan, and Husayn.
After the death of Husayn, however, the majority of Shī'ites placed their trust in 'Alī ibn al-Husayn Zayn al-'Ābidīn,6 while a minority, known as al-Kaysaniyyah, believed that the right to succession belonged to Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah. He was the third son of 'Alī, but not through Fātimah. As a result, he cannot be considered a descendant of the Prophet.7
Despite this fact, Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah was proclaimed by his partisans as the Fourth Imām and the promised Mahdī. During the time he sought refuge in the mountains of Rawdah, which form a cordillera in Madīnah, Mukhtār al-Thaqāfī served as his “representative.”8 It was believed that Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah would come down one day and appear as the rightly-guided and long-awaited Messiah. In accordance with Shī'ite thought, the Mahdī is a man motivated by God who is also a military chief and a warrior.
Even if the followers of Mukhtār al-Thaqāfī gave an extremist character to the eschatological idea of the Hidden Imām, the Islāmic figure of the Messiah as restorer of revealed religion is not an invention of Mukhtār or a Christian influence. The Mahdī is a spiritual synthesis of all revealed forms and not a mere uniform syncretism. It is a concept that is expressed in all its dimensions and depth in many ahādīth of the Prophet as well as many traditions of the Imāms.9
In synthesis, we can say that after the death of Imām Zayn al-'Ābidīn, the majority of Shī'ites accepted Muhammad al-Bāqir as the Fifth Imām, despite the fact that a minority followed his brother Zayd al-Shahīd, who were known from that moment on as Zaydīs.10 Imām Muhammad al-Bāqir was succeeded by his son Ja'far al-Sādiq the Sixth Imām and, after his death, his son Mūsā al-Kāzim was recognized as the Seventh Imām.
Nevertheless, an opposition group insisted that the successor of the Sixth Imām was his elder son Ismā'īl who had died when his father was still alive.11 This group split from the Shī'ite majority and became known as the Ismā'īlis. Others, instead, preferred 'Abdullāh al-Aftah and some even chose Muhammad, both sons of the Sixth Imām. Still, there were even those who considered Ja'far al-Sādiq as the Last Imām and were convinced that none would succeed him.
Likewise, after the martyrdom of Imām Mūsā al-Kāzim, the majority followed his son 'Alī al-Ridā as the Eighth Imām. But there were those who refused to recognize any Imām after al-Kāzim and came to constitute the brotherhood of the Wāqifiyyah.12From the Eighth to the Twelfth Imām, considered by the Shī'ite majority as the Awaited Mahdī, no important division [inshi'āb] took place within Shī'ism.
However it occurred, what is important to retain here is that, since its origins, Shī'ite Islām represents, more than a spiritual and political rebellion against illegitimate authority, a movement of “awakening,” like that of Sūfism in the Sunnī world. It was not a reformist movement in the Christian sense, like the one that took place in Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Shī'ite Islām represents an integral restoration of Muhammadan theosophy and metaphysics through the application and practice of all the teachings of the Holy Imāms, who linked the outer meanings of the text to the inner meanings of the divine word.
The root cause for the development of Shī'ism is utterly alien from worldly affairs. The source of Shī'ism is not a simple heresy or a political disagreement. Shī'ite Islām springs from a metaphysical reality, a process of epiphany which establishes a new logophonic manifestation of Prophethood. Shī'ism, as the Islām of 'Alī and the Ahlul Bayt , is the temporal and earthly pillar of the eternal and celestial reality of the wilāyah.
The wilāyah, the spiritual guidance of the Imāms, is a manifestation of Prophethood. The wilāyah is an inner or occult reality which is found in potential and action within the same Prophethood. The wilāyah is a manifestation of Prophethood that is revealed in a new way. The wilāyah is not the renovation of the anterior Qur'ānic revelation but its closure. The wilāyah is an unveiling of the esoteric and metaphysical truths found in the Qur'ān.
While the Prophet sealed the age of formal revelation, by means of the divine concession of the wilāyah and the Imāmate to his descendants, a new age of profound “revelations” was opened.13 Just as the pleroma of the Twelve Imāms represents the fullness of the Muhammadan Reality, their teachings and doctrines are flashes from the sole Muhammadan Light, the logophonic effusions and manifestations of the Qur'ānic revelation: its perfect synthesis and exact formulation.
Finally, in order for there to be a living branch from the Islāmic trunk, a favorable doctrinal terrain was required, a spiritual identity with its own characteristics which were qualitatively different from the other ideological options of its age. With such an understanding, the historical appearance of Shī'ism seems to be completely inevitable.
Without its presence, of course, the history of Islām and the world would have totally changed. In our judgment, any attempt to reduce the historical development of Shī'ism to a mere political problem related to the succession or to some insurgent elements is misguided at best. This applies to figures as fictitious as 'Abd Allāh ibn Saba', the Yemenite of Jewish extraction, and as real and historical as Mukhtār al-Thaqāfī.
Abd Allāh ibn Saba' and Mukhtār al-Thaqāfī are presented by Alessandro Bausani as “extremists” [ghulāt]14 and precursors of a political Shī'ism. Muslim and non-Muslim specialists have long disputed which one deserves the inappropriate title of “founder of Shī'ite Islām.”
The Italian Orientalist briefly refers to 'Abd Allāh ibn Saba' as an exalted personality, an ex-Jewish Yemenite who deified 'Alī during his lifetime. The feeble historical foundation surrounding someone considered to be no less than the “founder of Shī'ite Islām” should have ledBausani and other contemporary Orientalists to infer that they were dealing with a fictitious character or an insignificant individual whose existence had not even been faithfully documented by the annals of time.
It is shocking to learn, nonetheless, that the refusal to recognize Shī'ism as a historical and meta-historical reality profoundly rooted since the dawn of Islām has led certain Orientalists to discard the strongest evidence in favor of the weakest. In reality, 'Abd Allāh ibn Saba' is a literary character, a fabrication of Sayf ibn 'Umar al-Zindīq [the Atheist or Dualist], a famous falsifier of ahādīth or prophetic traditions.15
The absence of any convincing evidence to support the existence of 'Abd Allāh ibn Saba', partnered with the constantly contradictory and nebulous character of his life, convinced some Shī'ite scholars long ago that they were facing the figure of an imposter. Despite this body of bona fide doubts, it took longer than expected for this fact to be confirmed. In fact, it took no less than one thousand years before a perspicacious research scholar, the erudite Shī'ite 'Allāmah Sayyid Murtazā 'Askarī, shed light on this somber subject.
For many centuries, the detractors of Shī'ism used the tale of 'Abd Allāh ibn Saba' as a pretext to deny its purely Islāmic origin and to corrupt its genuine Muhammadan connection. They have stubbornly presented Shī'ism as the creation of an ex-Jew, thence as the political scheme of an upstart Muslim convert. As a result, the figure of the “convert” in the Muslim world continues to be the center around which all suspicions converge, whether reasonable or groundless.16
Along with 'Abd Allāh ibn Saba', Mukhtār al-Thaqāfī is often cited as one of the persons directly responsible for the creation of Shī'ism. He appeared as the inspiration for an armed resistance that took place in the year 40 of the Hijrah, during the regime of Mu'āwiyyah.
The revolutionary movement was directed against the Caliph and the powerful governors of the Ummayad clan who were all considered, without exception, as preachers of moral perdition and religious innovation. During the period of the first three khulafā' al-rāshidūn [rightly-guided Caliphs]–Abū Bakr, 'Umar ibn al-Khattāb and 'Uthmān–between the years 632 and 656, 'Alī ibn Abī Tālib and his followers were subjected to a considerable degree of political coercion which relaxed temporarily when 'Alī acceded to the Caliphate. After the death of 'Alī, however, the persecution of the Shī'ites became increasingly intense and intolerable under the Ummayad regime.17
With the proclamation of Mu'āwiyyah as the Caliph in Jerusalem in the year 660, the Caliphate was moved to Damascus and acquired an entirely different character than the one it possessed during the rule of the four rightly- guided Caliphs.18The defining characteristics of Mu'āwiyyah's rule were nepotism and tyranny. The Caliph turned into a “king” [malik] who governed as an absolute sovereign in the manner of the Persian and Byzantine emperors.19 With the death of Mu'āwiyyah, he was succeeded by his son Yazīd [680-683], described by historians as a degenerate drunkard.20
Successive uprisings against him broke out through all of Arabia, inspired and encouraged by the Shī'ites who despised the moral and spiritual decadence of the Ummayads. The Shī'ite revolts multiplied throughout the Ummayad Caliphate. The political reaction and righteous revenge for the death of Husayn, the youngest son of 'Alī and Fātimah, occurred in Karbala during the reign of Yazīd.
The revolution was led on behalf of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah, whom we have already mentioned, and its goal was accomplished by Mukhtār al-Thaqāfī of Kūfah in the year 685. It was in Kūfah, one of the holiest cities in Islām, that the various esoteric and political branches of Shī'ism appeared. Fond of the old Christianizing formula of the Orientalists, Hitti affirms that “the blood of Husayn, and the blood of his father, was the seed of the Shī'ite Church.”21
The unequal efforts of the distinct Shī'ite groups against the Ummayad regime, each distinct in nature, meaning, purpose and reach, definitively did nothing but lead the insurgents to disaster, to merciless, heartless, and relentless repression and to brutal martyrdom. But, despite these vagaries, they are not movements undeserving of attention. They have their place, which is not at all negligible, in the course of the historical evolution of the Shī'ism we attempt to trace. In short, Mukhtār al-Thaqāfī lived in a period of difficult transition in the history of Shī'ism.
As we have mentioned, it was to a great extent a time of violent dissent and disputes. Bribery and political crimes were routinely used by the Ummayad regime to suppress its opponents. As a result, the division of Shī'ite Islām into distinct parties or factions, each one following 'Alī and some of his descendants, became an instrument of political struggle and the sole means of liberation and hope for the oppressed.
It was then, during those dark days of despotism, that Mukhtār al-Thaqāfī appeared on the scene, transforming himself into one of the most active combatants and one of the most outstanding and ingenious revolutionaries of his time. It goes without saying that Mukhtār al-Thaqāfī was Shī'ite, and probably forcibly so. In the religious and social framework of his time, he was also a messianic revolutionary, illuminated by Gnostic ideas.
In line with the goals and aspirations of his political program, he accomplished his mission to kill 'Ubayd Allāh ibn Ziyyād and, in so doing, he avenged the death of the Third Imām, Husayn al-Sibt al-Asghar, the youngest grandson of the Prophet. The personality and character of Mukhtār al-Thaqāfī aroused a great deal of controversy in the early history of Shī'ite Islām. Some sources present him as an ambitious adventurer and a faithful follower of the political authority of Ahlul Bayt. For others, he was an enlightened being who was almost raised to the rank of a prophet by his contemporaries.
Although he never made such a claim himself, he did indicate directly and indirectly, as we will see shortly, that his actions were inspired by the angel of revelation. After overcoming some initial hurdles, Mukhtār's personal success was great and long-lasting. He finished his days with praise and acclaim, recognized as one of the bravest heroes and one of the most efficient military leaders of Shī'ism.
He was the implacable avenger of Husayn, the standard of the tawwābūn [penitents] who consolidated the aspirations of this revolutionary Shī'ite movement whose appearance was motivated by the tragedy of Karbala.22 The tawwābūn or penitents constituted the first avenging movement of Karbala. However, as soon as Mukhtār al-Thaqāfī appeared on the scene, the tawwābūn were assimilated, and perhaps rightfully so, into his brand of revolutionary Messianism.
Regardless of the reason behind Mukhtār's popularity, the question of his religious commitment coincides with the establishment of an initiatory hierarchy which is distinct from the Shī'ite structure. Since Shī'ite thought was already sufficiently delineated, we must say without hesitation that his divergent approach did not arouse much sympathy among the Shī'ites.
The cause for such aversion is to be found in an accidental slip related to Imām Hasan. During his conflict with Mu'āwiyyah, the Imām sought asylum in Madā'in, in the house of the governor Sa'd ibn Mas'ūd who was Mukhtār's uncle. Unexpectedly and inexplicably,Mukhtār suggested to his uncle that he should turn in Imām Hasan to the Umayyad Caliph, who was searching for him. He told his uncle that he could subjugate the deposed Caliph and declare that “The treaty made with Hasan is null and void. It is under my feet.” Obviously, the governor emphatically rejected the treacherous suggestion made by his nephew.
From this incident, we can only lament Mukhtār's political blunder which did not go unnoticed by the Shī'ites. They unanimously and severely reproached him for being so inconsiderate and disloyal towards the first son of 'Alī and the oldest grandson of the Prophet.23
Further on, in an isolated and equally accidental incident, he regained the confidence and the appreciation of the Shī'ites. This occurred when he refused to appear before Ziyyād ibn Abih, the Governor of Kūfah, to testify against Hujr ibn 'Adī, the leader of the one of the Shī'ite rebellions to overthrow the tyrant. It seems that, from that moment onwards, Mukhtār adopted a position that was increasingly favorable towards the Shī'ite cause.
At the same time, his revolutionary rhetoric acquired an undeniable messianic character whichoccasionally resembled revelation. Mukhtār was a man who possessed psychological qualities in line with his strong and unusually esoteric religious mentality. He quickly converted himself into a spontaneous orator. His rhetoric was smooth and eloquent. It overflowed with obscure reflections and periphrastic expressions, which gave it a poetic flow which superficially resembled the revealed word. His speeches gave the impression that they came from an inspired source. It was for this reason that Mukhtār often alleged that his spirit was illuminated by Gabriel, the Angel of Revelation, who, in an ineffable and mysterious way, warned him of the unexpected.
Mukhtār's ingenious rhetorical slips had a tremendous influence on his followers and convinced them of the appearance of the Awaited Mahdī, identified with Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah, who was coming to restore order and justice. Due to this deep-rooted Shī'ite conviction, he was considered by his followers as the “Representative of the Mahdī,” namely, a delegate of the third son of Imām 'Alī.
This is the manner in which he was recognized and allowed himself to be addressed. In the years 685 and 686, he established a Shī'ite-oriented government in Kūfah.24This was the first time this was done since the time of Imām 'Alī when he finally received his much delayed turn to occupy the Caliphate and to fully assume the supreme role he had inherited from the Prophet.
It must be remembered, however, that similar excesses on the part of Mukhtār caused, if not serious religious worries, at least considerable annoyance to the ruling religious authorities. His influence was great in the genesis of one sect, the Mukhtāriyyah, but did not shake the foundation of Imāmī Gnosis.
Although Mukhtār's ideas were not free from doctrinal errors, they did not radically alter the esoteric concept of the Hidden Imām which is the real touchstone of all Shī'ite thought: past, present, and future.25The repercussion of his ideas was sufficient to inspire the partial development of an erroneous path which, in its true sense, was nothing more than a stubbornness to maintain ideas which were contrary to those espoused by the majority of Shī'ites.
In fairness, the interesting and eventful life of this unique man brought him the opportunity to regain the sympathy of the Shī'ites. As we have said, avenging the death of Husayn, the martyr of Karbala, was the mission that was thrust upon Mukhtār al-Thaqāfī, as well as Sulaymān ibn Surad, leader of the tawwābūn. The target of this vengeance was 'Ubayd Allāh ibn Ziyyād, considered unanimously among Shī'ites to be the direct instigator and the main executor in the death of Imām Husayn and his family.
And here is one of those interesting facts that mark the lives of the chosen ones; the martyr Maytham al-Tammār, one of the closest companions of Imām 'Alī and one of the saints of Islām who is highly venerated by Sūfis, was imprisoned as a political prisoner by 'Ubayd Allāh ibn Ziyyād on charges of conspiring against the Ummayad regime. Destiny would have it that Mukhtār was also in the same prison. It is there that Maytham predicted that, once he was released, he would fulfill his mission of avenging Husayn which is, after all, exactly what happened.26
We have focused our attention on Mukhtār for the purpose of clearing up some common confusion related to the creation of the Party of 'Alī. We wish to take advantage of this opportunity to clarify another error. Bausani says that Mukhtār took over Kūfah and preached messianic doctrines and starting very interesting customs like the cult of the vacant throne. While this is true, it is not the complete truth. As “interesting” as this custom may be to Bausani–perhaps due to its symbolism–we must point out that Mukhtār never introduced “a cult of the vacant throne.”
As Dozy explains, the idea of the throne was simply an ingenious ruse that this clever and brilliant strategist contrived to incite his army to battle. He had the idea of purchasing an old armchair that he had re-upholstered with a fine and expensive silk, converting it into the famous “vacant throne” of 'Alī. This unusual inducement brought forth its desired fruit. Ibrāhīm, the commander of Mukhtār's troops, fought in an unusually brave and heroic fashion and killed 'Ubayd Allāh ibn Ziyyād with his own sword. In the minds of the Shī'ite soldiers the supposed throne of 'Alī truly acquired a highly symbolic value. Mukhtār had told them at the beginning of the battle that the throne would represent for them what the Ark of the Covenant represented to the Children of Israel.
As serious as the political events that coincide with the start of Shī'ism were, they cannot be considered a sufficient reason for its historical appearance. It is certain that Abū Bakr's assumption of the Caliphate of the Islāmic Community instead of 'Alī, the coerced resignation of Hasan and the martyrdom of Husayn, the division of the Islāmic world into various groups as a result of the bloody raids and forays of Mu'āwiyyah and Yazīd–the founders of the Ummayad dynasty–forced Muslims, Gnostics included, to take sides. However, the reason for which they were fighting goes well beyond what today is qualified as “political.”
Not all of the political insurrections which took place in the name of Shī'ism reflected the complex reality of the Imāmate and what it represents metaphysically. Likewise, the development of the esoteric doctrine and thought of Shī'ism in Islām should not be linked to the appearance of the word “Shī'ite” or “Shī'ism.” These terms simply designate a particular “party” or a “group” of Muslims.27 As Muhammad Bāqir al-Sadr observes, one thing is the meaning of the term, and the other is the distinct doctrine it designates. To say that the Shī'ites are a “party” of legitimistic minority Muslims merely expresses one aspect of the term.
In the time of the Prophet, as can be seen in many ahādīth, there are references to the “Shī'ah of 'Alī” and the “Shī'ah of Ahlul Bayt”28In Arabic, shī'ah means “partisans,” “adepts,” or “followers” of someone.29As a result, it is said that Shī'ites are those who are partisans of Imām 'Alī and his descendants. They are those who consider that the fulfillment of the sunnah of the Prophet demands the complete and obligatory observance of all of its dispositions and rulings. This evidently, and most importantly, includes the designation [nass] made by the Prophet of Imām 'Alī as his successor [khalīfah].
The afternoon of the 28th of Safar of the year 11 A.H., which corresponds to May 25th of the year 632 A.D., is marked with indelible precision in Islāmic history. With the flow of time, this event, and those which followed it, led to a radical political change in the socio-religious orientation of the Muslim world. It is the ill-fated day of the demise of the Prophet Muhammad, the date of the closing of the “Cycle of Prophethood” [dā'irat al-nubuwwah] and, simultaneously and successively, the opening of the “Cycle of Initiation” or the “Esoteric Cycle of the Imāms” [dā'irat al-wilāyah]. The passing away of the Prophet constitutes the most tragic moment in which two distinct conceptions of authority and power confront themselves.
The first was motivated by “eternal interests” and wanted to follow the straight path, shown by the final mandate of God and His Messenger, to its end. The second was embroiled in an intricate web of “personal interests,” seeking social benefits and political privilege in which Islām, evidently, occupied a subaltern role. This later group represented the mentality of a segment of early Muslims who were unable to replace the ties of blood with the ties of faith.1
Historians explain that the death of the Prophet and the issue of his succession led to plots, intrigues, alliances, underground opposition, and corrupt forms of collusions. According to these academics, they were all provoked by the powerful representatives of the dominant class whose differences with 'Alī were motivated by political ambition from the very beginning.
This interpretation, however, is far too simplistic when we consider the rivalry between the two factions, the emigrants [muhājirūn] and the allies [ansār].2The first, long accustomed to strong tribal authority, treaties, and blood-ties, wanted to maintain some of the political privileges and ancient social considerations abolished by Islām. They wanted to take advantage of the Prophet's death to reclaim power by appointing a Caliph who would be loyal to them: Abū Bakr.
The appointment of 'Alī as successor, however, came from a divine mandate. Unlike the opportunistic and orchestrated election of Abū Bakr, 'Alī's investiture was rooted in the historical event of Ghadīr. In the 11th year of the Hijrah, the Prophet made a solemn pilgrimage to Makkah, known as Hajjat al-wadā' [the Farewell Pilgrimage].3
During his return, he stopped on the 18th of Dhul-Hijjah at the pond of Ghadīr Khumm in front of 120,000 Muslims. Shī'ite commentators point to the event of Ghadīr as the definitive proof, not only of the fulfillment of the Prophet's mission, but of God's permanent commitment to the preservation of Islām by the concession of a wilāyah to His Final Messenger.4The perfection and completion of Islām was conditioned and dependent on the designation of the Prophet's successor for, as we read in the Qur'ān [5:3], the Messenger and the guidance go hand and hand. As a result, both the Prophethood and the Imāmate must follow the same path.
Zayd ibn al-Arqam relates that “the first to visit and congratulate 'Alī were Abū Bakr, 'Umar, 'Uthmān, Talhah, and Zubayr: the congratulations and the bay'ah [oaths of loyalty] continued until sunset.5What stands out from this and other trustworthy and authentic Sunnī traditions is that when the Prophet publicly appointed 'Alī as his successor and executor, placing his wilāyah in his descendants, neither Abū Bakr nor 'Umar ibn al-Khattāb, who ended up preceding 'Alī in the succession of the historical Caliphate, contested the matter nor did they have the audacity to claim any special rights. Abū Bakr never insisted upon his superiority over 'Alī.
He never claimed to have more right to rule over the Muslims and for them to obey him. To be precise, the event that unleashed an endless series of internal division, known by Arab historians as the fitnah [insubordination / sedition], came quite unexpectedly. It coincides with Abū Bakr, the son of Abū Quhāfah, being illegitimately appointed as the successor of the Prophet. His appointment took place through the collusion of powerful interests. It was they who granted him the leadership of the Islāmic community by means of a pre-Islāmic consultative assembly [shūrā].6
When commenting on this practice, Modernist Sunnī scholars commonly claim that Abū Bakr was recognized as Caliph through a “democratic” election, based on the decision and consensus of a majority.7This gives the false impression that this ancient form of consultation is comparable to the modern democratic systems found in the Western world. It must be recalled, though, that the people did not participate in this elective act in the political sense that we understand it today. Quite the opposite was true.
The people were completely excluded from the process, including 'Alī, his Family and the closest Companions of the Prophet.8The shūrah [a fundamental organism of the pre-Islāmic constitutional system] that was convoked in the saqīfah was limited to the council of tribal chiefs exclusively composed of the dominant classes who were open and organized enemies of 'Alī.9
As a result of these events, the Islāmic Caliphate, the first de facto Islāmic government, the highest and most important religious and political institution in the Sunnī world, begins when Abū Bakr decides to take personal power. As Caliph, Abū Bakr assumes the role of leading and governing the rest of Muslims in accord with a sovereign authority and jurisdiction which, until the time of the Prophet's death, was expressed in his culmination of the Prophethood. While the Prophet lived, the Caliphate was, in the person of Muhammad, a holy and indivisible entity.
After his death, though, ambitions became impatient. The result was the rupture of what, by divine design, was inseparable, the Prophethood and the wilāyah, the Caliphate and the Imāmate, which were meant to go hand in hand, since there can never be one without the other.10It was for this reason that the Prophet said in the Tradition of Ghadīr, “to whomsoever I was the lord and master 'Alī is your lord and master.”11
The initiatory role and function of the Caliphate and the Imāmate are the same. They are characteristic of the spiritual authority and the temporal power of the Imām. They are non-transferable and cannot be subjected to the ballot box. When we say that the functions of the Imām are “non-transferable” we specifically mean that these powers and functions are not at the reach of unqualified individuals. Spiritual and political leadership is not available to all.
They cannot be seized by force or by consensus. The powers in question are exclusive. They are superior by their very nature. They are divine by origin and not by artifice. The Imāmate requires an individual with exceptional perfection and cannot be shared with all individuals.
Abū Bakr's attitude and actions forever destroyed the esoteric foundation of the succession of the Prophet. Concerned more with justifying his own personal superiority, he constantly stressed that consensus was indispensable when it came to continuing the exoteric work of the Prophet. This is the reason why, according to some later Sunnī commentaries, it is often asserted that Abū Bakr was selected Caliph because the Prophet had not clearly designated a successor. The truth, however, is altogether different.
Although some Sunnī scholars admit that the most important traditional sources contain numerous testimonies that manifest, with great clarity, the legitimate rights of succession of 'Alī, they insist, nonetheless, that the Prophet may very well have changed his mind at the last minute and finally decided to place Abū Bakr in the place of 'Alī.12
We must remember that, according to the clearest and most unanimous accounts, there is no indication whatsoever that the Prophet changed his mind regarding 'Alī or did anything to retract his previous decision, annulling, canceling, or removing his primary rank as a member of the Prophetic Household. If he had changed his mind, he would have made it known publicly in front of all Muslims with the same clarity and precision that he had used previously to proclaim 'Alī as the head of the community at Ghadīr Khumm.
It was well-known by all Muslims of the time that the Prophet never acted out of haste. His decisions were well meditated upon. What certain Sunnī commentators seem to forget, or fail to take into consideration, is the consequence of the ultimate mandate of God to His Messenger in the moment that the following āyāt was revealed: “And today I have perfected your religion and have chosen Islām as your religion.” [4:3].
While some Sunnī commentators defend the superiority of Abū Bakr due to the respect he received from some of the Prophet's Companions, there are numerous clear accounts concerning the superiority of 'Alī. Any educated individual, who objectively examines the circumstances surrounding the death of the Prophet, can only conclude that 'Alī was the victim of a political plot. He was the victim of a conspiracy aimed at denying him the legitimate exercise of his political functions as Spiritual Magistrate as Caliph and Imām. In this light, is it not significant that Abū Bakr changed the name of his post, calling himself “Caliph”–in the sense of “substitute” and not “successor”–as opposed to Imām?13
On the basis of the aforementioned, we cannot come to a favorable conclusion to support the superiority of Abū Bakr. If we stick objectively to the reports found in traditional primary sources, we must address the metaphysical and esoteric reasons for 'Alī's appointment as the successor of the Prophet. It was at Ghadīr Khumm were Muhammad transmitted his wilāyah [guardianship] as an exoteric personification of temporal power and a representation of the esoteric unity and universality of the spiritual authority.
Certain Orientalists, who focus exclusively on superficial interpretations, may indeed admit the superiority of 'Alī. However, they view the whole question as a political dispute among two factions struggling for the succession of the Prophet which resulted in the victory of Abū Bakr. Similarly, when studying the prophetic traditions, many Sunnī commentators deny or fail to recognize the status of 'Alī and his Imāmate as a continuation of the personal primacy of the Prophet.
The same selective blindness regarding the status of 'Alī, however, does not occur among Sūfi sages. In Sūfism, one aspect does not exclude the other. As a result, both exoterically and esoterically, Abū Bakr and 'Alī ibn Abī Tālib can be seen as the arkān or pillars of Islām. For Sūfism, 'Alī, as founder of the founder of the wilāyah [guardianship], legatee and living preserver, present at all times, continues to be the spiritual foundation of Islāmic gnosis due to his innate dignity and power as qutb al-aqtāb [the Pole of the Spiritual Poles].
Abū Bakr, on the other hand, is the visible foundation of the religion due to the powers that were conferred upon him through the consensus of the Companions. For Sūfism, they both fulfill this function simultaneously: both Abū Bakr and 'Alī ibn Abī Tālib are the pillars of the religion in its external and formal manifestations. The interesting thing, however, is that for the Sūfis, the First Imām of the Shī'ites is the Pillar of all Pillars, even of Abū Bakr, in the sense that upon the death of the Prophet he assumed all of his functions and prerogatives.
Sūfism, as is well-known, contains formulations that are more esoteric than exoteric. It should not be overlooked that the very establishment of Sūfism in the Sunnī world is the result of the unbalancing action caused by Abū Bakr when he split the exoteric from the esoteric by assuming the leadership of the Muslim community.
Even though Sūfism and Shī'ism are entirely orthodox expressions of Islām, Sunnis have always viewed them with extreme suspicion due to their constant reference to 'Alī as al-bāb or “the gate” to Muhammadan gnosis and initiation. According to the exoteric exegesis of some Sunnī scholars, the Prophet is also a Legislator, since in Islām the sacred law permeates all aspects of religious and social life. For Sunnī scholars, the Caliph or Imām is the Successor of the Prophet, but only as a partial executor of the Law as given and is in no way a spiritual successor of the Prophet.
Sunnī theologians justify the historical need for the Caliphate, as an institution, from the point of view that one of the objectives of the Prophet was the creation of a strong organized Islāmic State. For Sunnis, the Imām or Caliph must possess the following qualities: belong to the tribe of Quraysh [the tribe to which Muhammad belonged], be competent and capable, possess knowledge and virtue; be worthy of ruling men and guide them along the straight moral and religious path through the rigorous application of the formal divine laws. He may be named directly by the Prophet or the preceding Caliph or by means of “election,” namely, through designation by the elders of the community.
For Sunnī Muslims, the legitimacy of the Caliphate is an issue of secondary or relative importance. According to Sunnī thought, even an illegitimate Caliph is acceptable as long as he has sufficient strength and ability to resolve the socio-economic problems of the society.1It is easily understood how individuals with stubborn tribal mentalities and notions of superiority could perceive the Caliphate as being the pinnacle of Arabism.
Even the trials and tribulations they suffered due to their loyalty to Islām and the Prophet could not make them forget their prior status as oligarchic tribal chiefs. It is therefore not surprising that the election of Abū Bakr as Caliph was based on pre-Islāmic tribal customs. The Caliphate allowed the tribal chiefs to satisfy their nostalgia for the old order by giving the emerging system, despite its radical transformation, traits of political and economic centralism which has been abolished by Islām.2
Abū Bakr assumed the Caliphate, not through the legitimacy of his aspiration, but through the complicity of his peers from the tribe of Quraysh. He gained the unanimous support of the leaders of his tribe and maneuvered himself into power at a time when differences in opinion and division of loyalties prevailed.
History will never understand the cause of such a phenomenon without considering the rivalry between the Quraysh and the non-Quraysh and the muhājirūn [the emigrants] and the ansār [the allies].
Without such an understanding, any explication of the development of Shī'ism would be nothing but a deceitful distortion. Was not the rise of Shī'ism the case of a revolt of the new over the old established order? Indeed it was. The political and economic centralism of the elders of Quraysh from the days of ignorance [jāhiliyyah] was not extinguished with the arrival of Islām. The partisans of the old order mobilized against the new Islāmic order established by Muhammad and embodied by 'Alī.
The Quraysh defended the old order with the same drive and determination they demonstrated during the lifetime of the Prophet when the Makkan oligarchy had resisted with all their strength against Muhammad's divine and revealed message. The ruling classes were particularly disturbed by the fact that, from the very beginning of his mission, the Messenger of Allāh had rejected concepts such as social superiority, pride in ancestry, and Arabism.3Muhammad viewed himself, first and foremost, as an “admonisher” [nadhīr] and a “guardian” of his people rather than its “king” [malik].4
As he put it himself, “Surely I am not a king [malik] … I am but the son of a woman who ate dried meat” (Tirmidhī). And to the scandal of the Makkan oligarchy, he abolished all distinction between race and class with the decisive declaration that: “All human beings are equal like the teeth of a comb. There is no superiority of an Arab over a non Arab, of a non-Arab over an Arab, of a white man over a black man or of a male over a female. The only merit in God's estimation is righteousness.”5
In truth, the Prophet never manifested in any of his sayings or ahādīth that belonging to the tribe of Quraysh or social status were necessary conditions for being elected Imām or Caliph. Abū Bakr, on the other hand, always maintained, in accord with his background, that the right to the Caliphate belonged to the members of the tribe of Quraysh by the simple fact that they were descendants of “the most honorable Arabs.”6
Whoever examines the Islāmic accounts of the period will notice with great surprise that the sector of Muslims who proclaimed Abū Bakr as the First Caliph in the saqīfah soon lost the esoteric and spiritual significance of the Imāmate or the Caliphate, if they ever possessed it at all. For them, as we have said, spiritual authority and temporal power were united in the person of Muhammad by the fact that he was the Messenger of God and the Intercessor between God and man.7
When it came to Imām 'Alī, he was viewed by the old oligarchy, in the best of cases, as merely a half-Muhammad, blessed with an inspired character and the spiritual wisdom of a prophet.8 They did not, however, consider him fit to assume the functions of legal administrator and political leader. For the followers of 'Alī, among whom were the closest and most famous companions of the Prophet,9 this separation between spiritual authority and temporal power was intolerable. It was not so much the political Imāmate that 'Alī inherited from Muhammad which drew the Shī'ah. Rather, it was the esoteric sense of the Prophethood that continued to pulse within him: Imāmate was the amplification of Prophethood, a more interiorized complement.
According to Shī'ite thought, divine guidance takes two forms: nubuwwah and wilāyah.10The first is co-substantial to the “Muhammadan Truth” [al-haqīqah al-muhammadiyyah], in an absolute, integral, primordial, pre-eternal, and post-eternal sense. The second is constituted by the partial realities of the first: its emissions and luminous epiphanies [mazhar]; in other words, the Imāms of the Prophetic Household who initiated and continued the “Cycle of Initiation” [dā'irat al-nubuwwah] that was sealed by the Prophet and which, like his luminaries, are identified with the pleroma of the “Light of Light” [nūr al-anwār] of the “Muhammadan Light” [al-nūr al-muhammadī].
From this metaphysical point of view, the Twelve Imāms belong, in their condition of luminous epiphanies of “Muhammadan Light,” to the same spiritual and temporal category as the Prophet without them been truly and properly prophets.11This notion is repeated in many ahādīth [traditions] in relation to 'Alī, like the one which says “You are to me as Aaron was to Moses except there will be no prophet after me” (Bukhārī, Muslim, Hākim, Sadūq, Mufīd, Kulaynī).12
The bond that exists between Muhammad and 'Alī goes far beyond that of blood. What exists between them is a special spiritual tie [nisbah ma'nawiyyah] which surpasses the relation of impossibility that “there will be no prophet after me.” The bond between Muhammad and 'Alī is the result of their common pre-existence in eternity where they were two spiritual entities united in the same luminous identity.
As Prophet has explained in various ahādīth, ”'Alī and I are from the same Light”13 (Kulaynī, Majlisī, Ma'sūm 'Alī) “People are from various trees, but 'Alī and I are from the same Tree” (Tirmidhī, Ibn al-Maghazalī).14The eminence and spiritual supremacy of the First Imām is also established in the significant tradition in which the Prophet states: ”'Alī has been sent secretly with every Prophet; but with me he has been sent openly” (Kāshānī qtd. in Ahmed 'Alī 1157).15
It can also be seen in the tradition which states that: “Every prophet has an executor [wasī] and a successor [khalīfah] and surely my executor and successor is 'Alī ibn Abī Tālib” (Muttaqī, al-Baghdādī). There is also the tradition that”'Alī is part of me and I am part of 'Alī and nobody acts on my behalf except 'Alī” (Ahmad, Tirmidhī, Ibn Mājah, Nasā'ī, Ibn Kathīr, Suyūtī, Sadūq, Mufīd, Kulaynī).
In a passage from the well-known tradition of Ghadīr, delivered shortly before the Prophet's death, 'Alī successorship is once again confirmed: “Oh People!” said the Prophet, “Allāh granted me the wilāyah [guardianship], placing me above all believers. To whom I have been the mawlā [master, protector, lord and guardian], 'Alī is also his mawlā [fa man kuntu mawlāhu fa 'Alī mawlāhu] (Hākim, Dhahabī, Ahmad, Tirmidhī, Sadūq, Mufīd, Kulaynī).”16
In relation to this Shī'ite doctrine of the “Muhammadan Light” there is a hadīth from the Prophet which affirms he and 'Alī are two identical and pre-existing lights that God manifested separately and simultaneously during the “reign” of Adam and in the hidden worlds.17
After having passed from one “reign” to another they were finally placed in the persons of Hasan and Husayn who were, simultaneously, two luminous epiphanies that emanated from the “Primordial Light” through which the “Lord of the Worlds” [rabb al-'ālamīn] illuminated all of creation through the “light of the logos” [nūr al-kalām] or initial fiat lux.18This “primordial light” protects the Prophet and the Imāms from sin, making them immaculate19[ma'sūmīn]. At the same time, it confers on them the status of supremacy of the poles [aqtāb] of the universe and vicars [khalīfah] of God as well as spiritual legatees [wasī] of the bātin [esoteric aspects] of the scripture.
As the Imāms have stated, “We are the first and the last. We are the logos of God. We are the executors of the revelation.”20As can be seen, the parallel between Moses' position and that which Muhammad would occupy in later times becomes evident in light of these words.
It was also at this time that the Imāmate was established as part and parcel of the Prophethood. The true Imām and Prophet was Muhammad; and Muhammad had a successor, his Aaron, in the person of 'Alī ibn Abī Tālib.21It is for this reason that Shī'ite Muslims consider descent from 'Alī ibn Abī Tālib to be an obligatory requirement for any candidate to the Caliphate along with the criteria considered necessary by Sunnī Muslims. The Shī'ite, however, differ with the Sunnī in that they categorically reject election through shūrah [consultative assembly].
In their eyes, the pre-Islāmic process of shūrah does nothing but continue the timocratic orientation of Abū Bakr and the representatives of the old Quraysh oligarchy established in the saqīfah. Since spiritual authority and temporal power come from God above, it is impossible for a man to receive the sacred investiture of Imām or khalīfah through a classicist covenant or a political plot between parties. The word khalīfah appears twice in the Qur'ān. In the first case it refers to Adam [2: 28]. In the second case, it refers to David [38: 257] with the sense of “legislator:” “We have made you a khalīfah on earth,” says God to Adam, “decide among men with justice!” For Muslims, David was both a Prophet and an Imām, combining both spiritual and political authority.22The word appears several times in the Qur'ān in the plural, khulafā' and khalā'if.
The plural “Caliphs” appears in contexts which, in relation to the descendants of Muhammad, can be translated as “successors” and, at times, as “inheritors,” “proprietors” and even as “vicars” and “substitutes.” The Arabic word khalīfah, from which the English word “Caliph” is derived, comes from a root that is found in several Semitic languages. At times, it has the meaning of “to pass on” or “to transmit.”
This would make the word the equivalent of the Latin word traditio and the Greek word paradosis. In Arabic, however, the generally accepted meaning is that of “following” or “coming in place of.” By far, the most common interpretation by the majority of Sunnī 'ulamā' [scholars], with the sole exception of the Sūfi Masters, is that the Caliph is the vicar or successor of the Prophet. The Caliph is the custodian of his moral and legal inheritance as founder of the faith and legislator for the Islāmic government and community.
The Caliph is not, however, in the eyes of most Sunnī scholars, the successor to the spiritual office of the Prophet, the executor of his bātin or the esoteric interpreter of the word of God. This interpretation, however, is inconsistent with the meaning of the word wilāyah which appears to indicate that the function of the Prophet was not destined to disappear after his death but rather, on the contrary, to continue by means of the spiritual authority and temporal power of the Imāms until the end of times.
Then he said:
Question me before you lose me, for by Him Who split the seed and brought the soul into being, if you questioned me about [it] verse by verse, I would tell you of the time of its revelation and why it was revealed, I would inform of the abrogating [verse] and the abrogated, of the specific and general, the clearly defined and the ambiguous, of the Meccan and the Medinan. By Allāh, there is not a party who can lead astray or guide until the Day of Resurrection, without me knowing its leader, the one who drives it forward and the one who urges it on. (Mufīd 21-22; Kulaynī)
Imām Ja'far al-Sādiq used to say:
Our knowledge is of what will be [ghābir], of what is past [madbūr], of what is marked in hearts [naksh fī al-qulūb], and what is tapped into ears [naqr fí al-asmā']. We have the red case [jafr], the white case, and the scroll of Fātimah, peace be upon her, and we have [the document called] al-jāmi'ah in which is everything the people need.
He was asked to explain these words and he said:
Ghābir is knowledge of what will be; madbūr is knowledge of what was; what is marked in the hearts [naksh fí al-qulūb] is inspiration; and what is tapped into the ears [naqr fí al-asmā'] are words of angels; we hear their speech but we do not see their forms. The red case [jafr] is a vessel in which are the weapons of the Messenger of Allāh, may Allāh bless him and his Family. It will never leave us until the one [destined] among us Members of the House [Ahlul Bayt ] to arise [qā'im], arises. The white case [jafr] is a vessel in which are the Torah of Moses, the Gospel of Jesus, the Psalms of David and the [other] Books of Allāh.
The scroll of Fātimah, peace be upon her, has in it every even which will take place and the names of all the rulers until the [last] hour comes. [The document called] al-jāmi'ah is a scroll seventy yards long which the Messenger of Allāh, may Allāh bless him and his Family, dictated from his own mouth and 'Alī ibn Abī Tālib, peace be upon him, wrote in his own handwriting. By Allāh, in it is everything which people need until the end of time, including even the blood-wit for wounding, and whether a [full] flogging or half a flogging [is due]. (Mufīd 414; Kulaynī)
The Prophet said of 'Alī: “You can hear what I hear and see what I see, but you are not a prophet; you are a vizier and you are well off” (Nahj al-balāghah, ed. 'Abd al-Hamīd 2: 182-83)
Imām Ja'far al-Sādiq used to say:
My traditions are my father's traditions; my father's traditions are my grandfather's traditions; my grandfather's traditions are the traditions of 'Alī ibn Abī Tālib, the Commander of the Faithful; the traditions of 'Alī, the Commander of the Faithful, are the traditions of the Messenger of Allāh, may Allāh bless him and his Family; and the traditions of the Messenger of Allāh, may Allāh bless him and his Family, are the word of Allāh, the Mighty and High. (Mufīd 414; Kulaynī)
Imām Ja'far al-Sādiq said: “We have the tablets of Moses, peace be upon him, and we have the rod of Moses, peace be upon him. We are the heirs of prophets” (Mufīd 414-15; Kulaynī).
Imām Ja'far al-Sādiq said:
I have the sword of the Messenger of Allāh, may Allāh bless him and his Family. I have the standard of the Messenger of Allāh, may Allāh bless him and his Family, and his breast-plate, his armor and his helmet… Indeed the victorious standard of the Messenger of Allāh is with me, as are the tablets and rod of Moses. I have the ring of Solomon, the son of David, and the tray on which Moses used to offer sacrifice and I have [knowledge] of the [greatest] name [of Allāh] which when the Messenger of Allāh, may Allāh bless him and his Family, used to put it between the Muslims and the polytheists no arrow of the polytheists could reach the Muslims.
I have the same as what the angels brought. We have the weapons in the same way that the Banū Isrā'īl had the ark of the covenant. Prophecy was brought to any house in which the Ark of the Covenant was present; the Imāmate will be brought to which ever of us receives the weapons. My father dressed in the armor of the Messenger of Allāh, may Allāh bless him and grant him peace, and it made marks on the ground. I put it on and it was [like] it was [for my father]. The one [destined] to rise up [qā'im] from among us, will fill it [so that it fits him exactly] when he puts it on, if Allāh wishes. (Mufīd 415-416)
Imām Ja'far al-Sādiq was asked about what the people were saying that Umm Salamah, the mercy of Allāh be on her, had been handed a sealed scroll. He said: “When the Messenger of Allāh, may Allāh bless him and grant him peace, died, 'Alī, peace be upon him, inherited his knowledge, his weapons and what there was. Then that went to al-Hasan, peace be upon him, then to al-Husayn, peace be upon him.” “Did it go to 'Alī ibn al-Husayn, peace be upon them, after that, then to his son and now has it come to you?” he was asked. “Yes,” he replied (Mufīd 416).
If we focus on the term wilāyah [primacy, guide, lordship] and words related to spiritual authority and temporal power, as Ayātullāh Mutahharī did in a formidable and authoritative synthesis, we note that this terminological repertoire has a very precise meaning in Shī'ite thought which is related to the idea of a unified government.1 Wilā', walāyah, wilāyah, walī, mawlā, are nominal forms of the verbal substantive of the trilateral root walla (waw-lam-alif maksurah) which has the primary meaning of “being close,” from which is derived “to be at the front of,” from which is derived the meanings of “government” and “governor” in the temporal and political sense of the words and “leader” and “chosen” in the spiritual sense. The same root gives place to a series of words which denote power and authority, that is, being close to the center [wasat] of sovereignty. And the Arabic word wasat [center] gives a gamut of terms which indicate “mediation” or “intercession” [tawassut].
Other unfamiliar terms derived from the same trilateral root waw-lam-ya are walī and mawlā. Walī means “friend,” “intimate,” “close,” and with the respect to the Imāms “holiness” and by extension spiritual “closeness” to the divine center. The passive participle mawlā means, among other things, “one who deserves a clientele,” and more frequently “boss,” “lord,” “protector,” “tutor,” “master,” “owner” and so forth. In Shī'ism, mawlānā [our lord / our master] is used to address the Prophet and the Imāms and, in Sūfism, it is used to refer to the great spiritual masters like Rūmī2 or Ibn al-'Arabī.
We have listed the various forms and verbal nouns because with the auxiliary one can better understand everything which is implied by the idea of Imāmate or Caliphate and how it is conceived in Shī'ite thought in relation to spiritual authority and temporal power. In the time of the Prophet, the title mawlā [master] had the connotation of spiritual authority and universal temporal power. The basis of any Caliphate or true government is the transcendence of its foundation, the very basis of its sovereignty, authority, and legitimacy.
However, with the downfall of effective power in the succession of the Caliphate, starting with Abū Bakr, the title khalīfah also suffered from the same process of depreciation. After the four khulafā' al-rāshidīn [rightly-guided Caliphs], the Caliphate ceased to have the connotation of sovereignty and, in fact, to admit the sense of effective authority. This can be seen clearly with Mu'āwiyyah, the founder of the Ummayad dynasty, who considered himself the “first king [malik]” of Islām.3
He is responsible for losing the effective [spiritual] authority of the Caliphate and diminishing the meaning of many titles which, in the early days, were exclusive Caliphal prerogatives. This includes the very term khalīf which, upon entering the common language, became so diluted that any governor of Islām could claim to be the Caliph of his own dominion.
Among some Sunnī commentators and misinformed Orientalists, there are those who believe that when 'Alī became the Fourth Caliph, according to the temporal and political precedence more than the spiritual, he was implicitly accepting the authority and the method of election of the previous Caliphs in that they accomplished similar political and social functions as governors and elders of the Islāmic community.4From a Shī'ite perspective, it is clear that 'Alī never accepted the Caliphate in the sense that the three Caliphs who preceded him did.
On the contrary, as Imām–in the Shī'ite sense of spiritual and political regency as well as ta'ālīm, the esoteric faculty of perfectly interpreting the intertexual mysteries of the Qur'ān and the sharī'ah–'Alī was the legitimate spiritual heir and political successor of the Prophet, something which he and his successors always insisted upon.
As he explains explicitly in his letters and sermons, 'Alī accepted the function of Caliph–in the Sunnī sense of governor and legal administrator–to avoid schism while preserving the function of wilāyah for himself. As Nasr says, this is how 'Alī can simultaneously be seeing as Caliph and Imām, by both Sunnis and Shī'ites, in accord with the different perspectives on the issue (see Nasr's preface to Tabātabā'ī's Shī'ite Islām 10-12).
The wilāyah inherently implies certain legal and political faculties. The Imām, as we have said, exercises the spiritual magistrate and the esoteric guidance of the wilāyah. He also performs the function of administrator of the sharī'ah, fully interpreting its legal code and legitimately dispensing justice through his role as perfect monarch, by the fact that he embodies spiritual authority and temporal power.
The monarch [from the Greek monos, “the sole one” and arjé, “rule,” “principle”] is the “supreme sovereign,” unique and universal,” and not merely a “king” [malik] since a king only administers the temporal functions of government while the monarch is the one who rules according to the monarchy of divine right, established from above, by the mandate of God and not by human choice.
As Lord Acton, a British historian of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” As human history has shown us, human lust for power can become exacerbated by its very existence. It can make man dream of limitless power, causing him to rebel against his plight, his powerless limited being. Justice and peace are then viewed as unacceptable unless they can help increase and maintain power and wealth.
They are soon placed on the backburner due to innate egocentrism and worldly ambitions. This is why the Gospel refers to heads of nations as tyrants who rule like absolute sovereigns while the powerful ones oppress them with their power (Matthew 20:25; Mark 10: 42). In a divine monarchy, based on balance, harmony, justice and peace, quite the opposite is true.
On the basis of the above, it can now be understood why in Shī'ism, the sovereign authority of Imām al-Mahdī has an eminently regulating and restorative function which is proper and non-transferable. In other words, he is worthy, by divine design, of the “central” position he occupies.
As an “intercessor” between heaven and earth, he is beyond the distinction between the spiritual and worldly realms of existence. The very nature of “intercessor” in the true sense of the word is quintessential to the Seal of the Cycle of Initiation. It is for this reason that he is referred to as the “center” [wasat].5
The “center” in question is the fixed point around which the world rotates. It is designated symbolically by all religious traditions as the “pole” [qutb] and is generally represented by a “wheel.” The most obvious sense of this symbol is the absolute dominion over the worldly order. This is why Imām al-Mahdī receives the majestic titles of sāhib al-zamān [Lord of the Age], al-arkān [The Pillars], al-qā'im [The Restorer], al-muntazar [The Awaited One], al-hujjah [The Proof] as well as al-qutb or the Spiritual Pole of the Age.
The title of sāhib al-zamān, in its most sublime sense, applies exclusively to the Mahdī. He is granted this title in virtue of his role as the primordial universal legislator who formulates the most appropriate laws in accordance with the conditions during our cycle of existence. He directs the movement of our cycle without participating in it in a visible fashion. He maintains himself simultaneously present and hidden in the world, the same as in Aristotle's notion of the “unmoving motor.”
In light of these considerations, it is understood why Imām al-Mahdī has the fundamental attributes of “Justice” and “Peace.” He shares these attributes with çakravarti, [from the Sanskrit: “he who makes the wheel turn”], the “Universal Monarch” of the Hindu and Buddhist traditions; with wang, the “Pontiff King” of Taoism and with melki-tsedeq, the “King of Justice and Peace” of the Jewish tradition.6
The Invisible Imām's attributes of justice and peace are veiled forms of his spiritual functions which, by an effort of cosmic unity, are identified with earthly equilibrium and harmony. In light of these concepts, we can affirm that the Shī'ite concept of wilāyah, the spiritual and temporal authority of the Imām, is the Islāmic equivalent of all of these traditional notions from both East and West, including the Hellenist and Hellenist-Christian concept of the panbasileus or “Absolute King,” who was the lord of a unique and universal empire.
Imām al-Mahdī is particularly revered for his role as Executor of Prophetic Knowledge or First Intellect. At the same time, he is the Archetype of Man, the Visible and the Invisible, the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega. As Henry Corbin perceived from the development of Shī'ite Prophetology, this human form in its pre-eternal glory is called Original Adam [Ādam al-haqīqī], the Perfect Man [insān kāmil], the Supreme Spirit and Scribe, the Absolute Caliph, and the Pole of the Poles [qutb al-aqtāb].7 Imām al-Mahdī is also the Eternal Muhammadan Reality [haqīqah muhammadiyyah], the Light of His Glory, His Sanctifying Virtue, His Primordial Logos or Divine Word and his Perfect Epiphany.
In light of the above, we can say that in the beginning of Islām, Shī'ism, like Sūfism, was a latent and nameless reality profoundly rooted in the esoteric dimension of the Qur'ānic revelation.8 In the Islāmic world, the function of Shī'ism, like that of Sūfism, is similar to the human heart in the sense that the heart is the vital center of the human body as well as being, in reality, the intellectual “center” of a reality that transcends any formal determination.9
This “central” role of Shī'ism at the heart of the Islāmic world has always, and continues to be, hidden from outside observers, who insist upon its non-Islāmic origin. They insist on this theory because Shī'ite doctrine does not appear in the first centuries, particularly during the life of the Prophet, with all of the metaphysical development that would manifest itself later on.10
From a historical perspective, Shī'ism surfaced immediately after the death of the Prophet and can be defined as “Alī's Islām” or the “Islām of Ahlul Bayt.” The emergence of Shī'ism was not merely the consequence of a political conflict related to the succession of the Prophet, although this certainly helped to precipitate the events. What is important, above all, is the “central” role that Shī'ism played in the Islāmic world after the demise of the founder of Islām.11
As a continuation and a doctrinal complement to the nubuwwah, it was imperative for the wilāyah to manifest itself in the world upon the completion of the prophetic mission. Since wilāyah implies the same possibility of prolonging the spiritual leadership and the esoteric guidance of the Prophet, it cannot be superimposed on the nubuwwah as long as the Prophet was alive.12
In other words, Shī'ite Islām, which was supposed to serve as a support for the wilāyah, the spiritual and esoteric dimension of the nubuwwah must manifest itself upon the death of the Prophet. This moment, both cosmologically and metaphysically, signals the start of the wilāyah, the beginning of its temporal and exoteric manifestation. It is at that point when the wilāyah [guardianship] ceases to be a latent, nameless reality, and transforms itself into a manifest and named reality.
Due to its cosmological and metaphysical nature, the historical apparition of Shī'ism was meant to coincide with the Cycle of wilāyah, the start of 'Alī ibn Abī Tālib's earthly mission. The esoteric function of the first Imām, hidden until the moment of the Prophet's death, was meant to manifest itself in a partial opening of the Muhammadan wilāyah and the seal of the universal wilāyah. We can thus fully appreciate the importance of the designation [nass] of 'Alī as successor [khalīfah] and executor [wasī] of the Prophet.13
'Alī, the first link in the spiritual chain of the Imāmate and the rukn or pillar of Islāmic Gnosticism, represents the complementary dimension of the Prophethood; his path, Shī'ism, is a dimension of the depth found at the core of the Qur'ānic message.
None shall have the power of intercession, but such a one as has received permission [or promise] from [Allāh] Most Gracious (19:87)
On that Day shall no intercession avail except for those for whom permission has been granted by [Allāh] Most Gracious and whose word is acceptable to Him. (20:109)
He knows what is before them, and what is behind them, and they offer no intercession except for those who are acceptable, and they stand in awe and reverence of His [Glory].(21:28)
No intercession can avail in His Presence, except for those for whom He has granted permission. (34:23)
Say: To Allāh belongs exclusively [the right to grant] intercession. (39:44)
How many-so-ever be the angels in the heavens, their intercession will avail nothing except after Allāh has given leave for whom He pleases and that he is acceptable to Him. (53:26)
Intercession, however, is not available to unbelievers, as is clearly stated in the Qur'ān (6:51; 2:123; 2:254; 6:70; 6:94; 7:53; 10:18; 19:87; 26:100; 30:30; 32:4; 36:23; 39:43; 40:18; 43:86; 74:48). Intercession is not available to those who are guilty of kufr or shirk. Almighty Allāh addresses the polytheists, warning them that their partners will be unable to intercede with them on the Day of Judgment.
According to Shaykh Sadūq:
The right to intercession belongs to the prophets [anbiyyā'] and awliyyā'. And among the believers [mu'minīn] also there are some who can intercede on behalf of people equal in number to the tribes of Rabī'ah and Mudar. Even the least of the believers will be liable to intercede on behalf of 30,000. (122)
It is narrated in Sadūq's Risālatu al-i'tiqādāt, Fakhruddīn b. Ahmad al-Najafī's Majma' al- bahrayn and Hasan b. Yūsuf b. 'Alī Ibnu'l Mutahar al-Hillī's al-Bābu al-hādī 'ashar, that the Prophet said: “May Allāh not grant my intercession to him who does not believe in my (power of) intercession.”
All of the various orthodox manifestations of Islām believe in the intercession of the Prophet and the awliyā'. See Kabbānī's Encyclopedia of Islāmic Doctrines:http://www.sunnah . org/ibadaat/ twsl.html.
The belief in intercession does not mean that there is an intermediary between human beings and God. It is merely an extra means of attaining His mercy.
It is unfortunate that Sayed 'Alī Reza, the English translator of Nahj al-balāghah, would engage in the wholesale takfīr of the Sūfī, claiming that “According to Shī'ah 'ulamā' all these sects are on the wrong path and out of the fold of Islām” (422), an intolerant attitude which tarnishes his otherwise informative commentary.
It is equally regrettable that a scholar of the caliber of Ayātullāh al-Uzmā Shaykh Fazel Lankarānī would reject mysticism ruling that “Sūfism, in the eyes of Shī'ism, in general, [as well as] Islāmically, has no religious basis, and there is no sign of it in the teachings of the Prophet” (http://www.lankarani.net/  English/faq/en.htm). This was the very attitude addressed by Imām Khumaynī in Islām and Revolution where he laments that:
We find some scholars…denying the validity of mysticism and thus depriving themselves of a form of knowledge. It is regrettable… Those who wear cloaks and turbans and denounce the mystics as unbelievers do not understand what they are saying; if they did, they would not denounce them” (423-424).
Merely because the words sūfī and 'ārif are not found in the Islāmic texts of the first century Hijrah does not signify that mysticism and Gnosis did not exist. They did in fact exist under the general umbrella of 'ilm [knowledge]. As official institutionalized Islām became increasingly legalistic and focused on the exoteric foundations of the faith, the adherents of its mystical and esoteric dimension needed to distinguish themselves by calling their science 'irfān and by designating themselves as Sūfis (Awānī 169).
All prophets were mystics as were their faithful followers. The first paragons of Sūfism were the ashāb al-sūfah, the Companions of the Ledge, about whom Sūrah 18:28 was revealed (170). They included such distinguished companions as Salmān, Abū Dharr and 'Ammār al-Yāsir (170). The early Sūfis were called zuhhad or ascetics, many of whom were associated with Shī'ite Imāms (170). Among the companions of 'Alī were found spiritual figures and ascetics like Kumayl and Maytham al-Tammār (170).
In his Essay on the Origins of the Technical Language of Islāmic Mysticism, Massignon shows that Islāmic mystics or rūhāniyyah have existed since the dawn of Islām. Islāmic mysticism is clearly based on the practice of the Prophet, the Imāms and their Companions and is directly derived from the Qur'ān and the Sunnah, both of which are oceans of mystical manifestations. As Awānī observes:
The hadīth literature in Shī'ism and the anthologies of the hadīths handed down from the Imāms are the veritable mines of Islāmic gnosis. The Usūl al-kāfī of Kulaynī and the other compendia of Shī'ī hadīth are real treasures of 'irfān… Moreover, the Shī'ī prayers and litanies found in al-Sahīfah al-sajadiyyah of the fourth Imām…is the best exposition and representation of Islāmic gnosis. Some Shī'ī prayers, like Du'ā' Sha'bāniyyah, Du'ā' 'Arafah, and Du'ā' Kumayl highlight the highest themes of Islāmic gnosis.
Shī'ī prayer books are replete with ritual formulae for acts of supererogation [nawāfil] also much emphasized in Sūfism and sometimes with identical formulations. The ritual invocation of the Beautiful Divine Names is the focus of emphasis in both Shī'ism and Sūfism. For example, Du'ā' Jawshan kabīr, found in Shī'ī prayer books contains one thousand divine names and is recited by pious Shī'ī on many occasions and a least once a week.
Some identical formulae based directly and indirectly on the verses of the Qur'ān are reiterated in both. The Shī'ī canonical books of hadīth are filled with themes which can be made the object of meditation and contemplation and which can find their true explanation in real 'irfān. (174)
As Ayātullāh Muhammad Taqī Misbāh Yazdī explains,
The points which can be found among the narrations attributed to the Noble Prophet and Pure Imāms, may Allāh bless all of them, and in their supplications and intimate devotions related to the above topics ['irfān, Sūfism, hikmah] are uncountable.
A religion without mysticism would not be a religion. As Ayātullāh Misbāh Yazdī explains, gnosis is not only a part of Islām, but the kernel and spirit of it which comes from the Qur'ān and prophetic Sunnah, just as the other parts of Islām. It would be a dry carcass and an empty shell.
As Awanī explains, “esoterism in each religion, which constitutes its core and kernel, is an integral part of that religion without which it cannot be a religion to start with;” “esoterism is the sine qua non of every religion, without which the religion would lose its vertical dimension and would be reduced to a horizontal and mundane level” (172). Sūfism is not an extraneous accretion super added to Islām … it is its esoteric or inward aspect [bātin] as distinguished from the exoteric or external aspect [zāhir]” (171-72). It is safe to say that “Sūfism is totally based upon the Holy Qur'ān, the sunnah of the Prophet, and the Household ['itrah]” (172).
Besides Ayātullāhs Muhammad Taqī al-Behjat, 'Izz al-Dīn Husaynī Zanjanī, Sayyid Mīrzā 'Alī Tabātaba'ī, JawādīAmulī, Lutfullāh al-Sāfī al-Gulpaygānī, Mīrzā Muhammad 'Alī Shahabadī, Muhammad Husayn al-Burujerdī, Abū al-Qāsim al-Khu'ī, Muhammad Sādiq al-Sadr, among many others, the mystical dimensions of Islām have also been fully appreciated by Ayātullāhs Khumaynī, Tabātaba'ī and Mutahharī who left us their interiorized insights in Light Within Me which is also available in an excellent Spanish translation titled Luz interior.
'Allāmah Tabātaba'ī was a specialist in exegesis, mysticism and philosophy while Ayātullāh Mutahharī was an expert in both Eastern and Western thought. Imām Khumaynī has also left us his Forty Hadīth: An Exposition of Ethical and Mystical Traditions, which has been partly translated into English, as well as a beautiful body of mystical poetry. The greatness of Imām Khumaynī was that, like the Prophet, he established equilibrium between the exoteric and the esoteric, between the worldly and the spiritual, and between religion and politics. He was able to function on various levels.
Scholars like Khumaynī, who are jurists, exegetes, mystics, philosophers, sociologists and poets, are few and hard to find. As Murata observes, ”[o]ne of the most unfortunate signs of the contemporary malaise of the Islāmic world is that the intellectual authorities have all but disappeared from the scene, while the jurists have a free hand to say what they want” (3).
To sum up the political aspects of Islāmic history, it is clear that the Caliphate is transmitted by way of nass through which the Prophet or the Imām designates who will succeed him in the Imāmate.1The Imām is the sole expert of the inner sense of the Scripture and the Sunnah. This exclusive knowledge was passed directly from the Prophet to 'Alī and through him to his descendants.2The Imām is thus the definitive authority on religion obligations [wājibāt/furūd] and the esoteric interpretation [tafsīr/ta'wīl] of the sharī'ah [Islāmic law]. Furthermore, the Imām possesses the quality of 'ismah, infallibility and impeccability.3
The controversial and contentious issue of the succession of the Prophet, disputed by Sunnis and Shī'ites for over a millennium, can never be understood if the essentially esoteric function of the Imāmate, as a prolongation and complement to the Prophethood, is overlooked. The issue of the Imāmate is more than an abstract question. It is the legitimate expression of Muhammadan spiritual authority and temporal power.
It is a concrete existential reality which needed to manifest itself in the world to continue expounding the bātin [esoteric aspect] of the Prophethood.
For Shī'ites, the completion of the “Cycle of Prophethood” [dā'irat al-nubuwwah] marks the beginning of the “Cycle of Initiation” [dā'irat al-wilāyah]. For metaphysical and cosmological reasons, the Cycle of wilāyah was to be opened through its own “door” [al-bāb], 'Alī ibn Abī Tālib, due to his role as “spiritual successor” [khalīfah rūhānī] and “executer” [wasī] of the Prophet's bātin [secrets] or initiator into the Muhammadan mysteries.
This is why the Imāmate is not merely a question of blood ties to the Prophet.4 The issue is not the degree of relation with him, be it wives, daughters, grandchildren, sons-in-law or parents-in-law. On the contrary, the worldly family union is the result of the pleromatic unity of the nubuwwah [Prophethood] and the wilāyah [guardianship].
As Corbin senses, the concept of the Imāms can only be understood if one considers them as divine luminaries and pre-cosmic entities.5They themselves affirmed so during the course of their worldly existence. Many traditions to this effect were gathered by al-Kulaynī in his voluminous compilation al-Kāfī.6
Shī'ite gnosis enables us to understand the importance of the situation and exactly what was on the line with the Caliphate.9By the political substitution of Abū Bakr for 'Alī, the organic link between the zāhir [exoteric] and the bātin [esoteric] was temporarily broken. In Sunnism, this led to the development of a legalistic religion, based on a purely juristic interpretation of Islām.10 It was thus left to Sūfī and Shī'ite Islām to preserve, in their exoteric practices and doctrines, the lost esoteric equilibrium.
'Allāmah Muhammad Bāqir al-Majlisī lists numerous traditions concerning this “Primordial Light” and how it was passed down from the prophets, to Muhammad and then to the Imāms (see chapters 1 and 2 of Hayāt al-qulūb). According to Imām Khumaynī:
[T]he Most Noble Messenger and the Imāms existed before the creation of the world in the form of lights situated beneath the divine throne; they were superior even in the sperm from which they grew and in their physical composition. Their exalted station is limited only by the divine will, as indicated by the saying of Jibra'īl recorded in the traditions on the mi'rāj: “Were I to draw closer by as much as the breadth of a finger, surely I would burn.” The Prophet himself said: “We have states with God that are beyond the reach of the cherubim and the prophets.” It is part of our belief that the Imāms too enjoy similar states… (Islām and Revolution 64-65)
Concerning these attributes of the Imāms, see Henry Corbin, Histoire de la philosophie Islāmique (Paris, 1964): 77 ff.
It is recorded in al-Kāfī that Imām al-Sādiq was asked about the verse: “Therefore, believe in Allāh and His Messenger and in the Light which we have sent down” to which he responded:
The Light, by Allāh, is the Light of the Imāms from the Household of Muhammad till the Day of Resurrection. They, by Allāh, are the Light which Allāh has sent down, and they, by Allāh, are the Light of Allāh in the heavens and on the earth.” (Kulaynī l80: hadīth 514)
In Lantern of the Path, Imām al-Sādiq relates a fascinating tradition on the authority of Salmān al-Fārisī in which the Messenger of Allāh explains that:
Allāh created me from the quintessence of light, and called me, so I obeyed Him. Then he created 'Alī from my light, and called him, and he obeyed. From my light and the light of 'Alī He created Fātimah. He called her and she obeyed. From me, 'Alī and Fātimah, He created al-Hasan and al-Husayn. He called them and they obeyed Him. Allāh has named us with five of His names: Allāh is al-Mahmūd [the Praised] and I am Muhammad [praisworthy]; Allāh is al-'Alī [the High], and this is 'Alī [the one of high rank]; Allāh is al-Fātir [Creator out of nothing], and this is Fātimah; Allāh is the One with Ihsān [beneficence], and this is Hasan; Allāh is Muhassin [the Beautiful] and this is Husayn [the beautiful one]. He created nine Imāms from the light of al-Husayn and called them and they obeyed Him, before Allāh created either Heaven on high, the out-stretched earth, the air, the angels or man. We were lights who glorified Him, listened to Him and obeyed Him.
In The Origins and Development of Shī'ah Islām, Jafrī questions the authenticity of the traditions describing the Imāms as supernatural human beings and the miracles attributed to them (300, 303). Miracles and mysticism are clearly incompatible with his training as a historian. He holds that “a great many traditions ascribing supernatural and superhuman characteristics to the Imāms, propounded by semi-ghulāt circles in Kufah, crept into Shī'ī literature” (303).
He therefore dismisses the traditions concerning the light of Allāh in 'Alī and the description of the Imāms as the “shadows of light” and “luminous bodies” (302). Shī'ite scholars, however, have always shown the greatest aversion towards ghuluw [extremism] and would not have accepted traditions from ghulāt or even semi-ghulāt sources. Shī'ite fuqahā' [jurists] are unanimous in their takfīr [declaration of infidelity] of the ghulāt (Khu'ī 28; Gulpāygānī 30 et al.). As Shaykh Sadūq says:
Our belief concerning those who exceed the bounds of belief [ghāl, pl. ghulāt] and those who believe in delegation [al-mufawwidah] is that they are deniers [kuffār] of Allāh, Glory be to His name. They are more wicked than the Jews, the Christians, the Fire-Worshippers, the Qadarites or the Kharijites, or any of the heretics [ahl al-bid'ah] or those who holds views which lead astray [al-ahwā' al-mudillah]. (141-142)
While Jafrī may believe that excessively zealous Shī'ites exaggerated the status of the Imāms, turning them into divine luminaries, what accounts for the presence of similar traditions in Sunnī and Sūfī sources? In 'Abd al-Rahmān Sulamī's (d. 1021) famous compilation of the Qur'ān titled Haqā'iq al-tafsīr, we find an exegesis of Sūrah 2:37 which is startling for a Sunnī source. In interpreting the verse “and Allāh taught Adam the names,”
Sulamī quotes a tradition from Imām Ja'far to the effect that: “Allāh existed before His creation existed. He created five creatures from the light of His Glory and gave each one a name from among His Names: Being the Praised One [mahmūd], He called His Prophet, Muhammad; being the Most High ['alī], He called the Leader of the Believers, 'Alī; being the Creator [fātir] of the heavens and the earth, he forged the name Fātimah; and since he has the most beautiful names [husnā], He forged two names for Hasan and Husayn. He then placed them to the right of His Throne…”The traditions in question are numerous and widely recorded. We are not dealing with isolated traditions with weak chains of narrations [sanad] which can easily be dismissed.
For the sake of concision, and to avoid repeating what has already been explained, we will limit ourselves to recalling that in Shī'ism, the question of the Caliphate is eminently transcendental. As such, 'Alī's right to succession cannot, in any way, be subjected to human scrutiny. For Shī'ites, the supreme spiritual status of 'Alī is peerless and cannot be compared to the rank held by other Islāmic leaders. He belongs to a unique and superior spiritual category which was conferred on him by the grace of God.
By bestowing the wilāyah of the Prophet on Alī, God perfected Islām and brought the prophetic mission to a close. The fundamental doctrine of wilāyah is based on the concept of the ta'ālīm of the Imāms. What continues in Islām under the name of wilāyah is, de facto et de iure [by fact and by right], a form of esoteric guidance [al-hidāyah al-bātiniyyah] from which humanity cannot stray without perishing.1
The wilāyah is the guaranteed living embodiment of the spiritual authority of the Prophet which, by the temporal succession of the Twelve Imāms, continues throughout human history until the end of times. Understandably, it is impossible to separate the historical development of Shī'ite Islām from the meta-historical antecedents of wilāyah. 'Alī's Islām cannot be separated from the metaphysical truths which are its telos, its fundamental and final cause. In closing, it is inconceivable to claim that we have dealt with the issue of Imāmate and wilāyah in all of its depth.
We have limited ourselves to addressing the issue of its origins and leaving the topic open to further research. As a result, this study on the origins of Shī'ism must remain incomplete for the time being. In order for it to be complete, it would have been necessary to compile some of the traditions that attest to the extraordinary importance of the secret spiritual life of Shī'ism and the Shī'ite ethos of the Hidden Imām, the seal of the Muhammadan wilāyah, for, as the Prophet has stated, without the continuous living presence of the Imām, neither human beings nor the world can subsist.2
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