Chapter 8: The Wilāyah, The Spiritual and Temporal Authority of the Imāms
If we focus on the term wilāyah [primacy, guide, lordship] and words related to spiritual authority and temporal power, as Ayātullāh Muṭahharī 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 maksūrah) 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 [wasaṭ] of sovereignty. And the Arabic word wasaṭ [center] gives a gamut of terms which indicate “mediation” or “intercession” [tawassuṭ].
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 Ṣūfīsm, 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 Umayyad dynasty, who considered himself the “first king [melik]” 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 Islamic community.4 From 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 Naṣr says, this is how ‘Alī can simultaneously be seeing as Caliph and Imām, by both Sunnīs and Shī‘ites, in accord with the different perspectives on the issue (see Naṣr’s preface to Ṭabātabā‘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” [melik] 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” [wasaṭ].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” [quṭb] 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 ṣāḥib al-zamān [Lord of the Age], al-arkān [The Pillars], al-qā’im [The Restorer], al-muntaẓar [The Awaited One], al-ḥujjah [The Proof] as well as al-quṭb or the Spiritual Pole of the Age. The title of ṣāḥib 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 Islamic 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-ḥaqīqī], the Perfect Man [insān kāmil], the Supreme Spirit and Scribe, the Absolute Caliph, and the Pole of the Poles [quṭb al-aqṭāb].7 Imām al-Mahdī is also the Eternal Muḥammadan Reality [ḥaqīqah muḥammadiyyah], 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 Ṣūfīsm, was a latent and nameless reality profoundly rooted in the esoteric dimension of the Qur’ānic revelation.8 In the Islamic world, the function of Shī‘ism, like that of Ṣūfīsm, 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 Islamic world has always, and continues to be, hidden from outside observers, who insist upon its non-Islamic 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 ahl al-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 Islamic 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 Ṭālib’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 Muḥammadan wilāyah and the seal of the universal wilāyah. We can thus fully appreciate the importance of the designation [naṣṣ] of ‘Alī as successor [khalīfah] and executor [waṣī] of the Prophet.13 ‘Alī, the first link in the spiritual chain of the Imāmate and the rukn or pillar of Islamic 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.
- 1. Author’s Note: Concerning the various implicit meanings of the technical term wilāyah and other related terms derived from the trilateral Arabic root W-L-Y, see M. Muṭahharī Wala’ha wa Wilāyat ha (Qum 1976). There is an English version by Yayha Cooper, Wilāyah: The Station of the Master (Tehran 1982), 21-48. Concerning the levels of wilāyah, see D. Martin “The Return to ‘The One’ in the Philosophy of Najm al-Din al-Kubra” in P. Morewedge (ed.) 216-222.
- 2. Editor’s Note: Jalāl al-Dīn al-Rūmī, author of the Masnavi was a famous Ṣūfī poet and founder of the whirling dervishes. He is the most widely read poet in the United States.
- 3. Editor’s Note: As a result of “the usurpation of rule by Mu‘āwiyyah from ‘Alī… caused the system of rule to lose its Islāmic character entirely and to be replaced by a monarchical regime” (Khumaynī Islām and Revolution 200).
- 4. Editor’s Note: As Ja‘fariyan explains, “When ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn ‘Awf laid down the condition that he would deliver the office of the Caliphate to the candidate who would follow the practice [sīrah] of the Shaykhayn [i.e. Abū Bakr and ‘Umar] … Imām ‘Alī insisted that he would base his policy only on the Qur’ān, the sīrah of the Prophet and his own judgments [ijtihād].”
- 5. Editor’s Note: The existence of divinely determined intercession for believers is unquestionably Qur’ānic:
Who is there can intercede in His presence except as He permitteth? (2:255)
Verily your Lord is Allāh, who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and is firmly established on the throne [of authority], regulating and governing all things. No intercessor [can plead with Him] except after His leave [hath been obtained]. (10:3)
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 Ṣadūq:
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 Muḍar. Even the least of the believers will be liable to intercede on behalf of 30,000. (122)
It is narrated in Ṣadūq’s Risālatu al-i‘tiqādāt, Fakhruddīn b. Aḥmad al-Najafī’s Majma‘ al- baḥrayn and Ḥasan b. Yūsuf b. ‘Alī Ibnu’l Muṭahar al-Ḥillī’s al-Bābu al-ḥādī ‘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.
- 6. Editor’s Note: The Hidden Imām is also the Philosopher King of the Greeks.
- 7. Author’s Note: In general, Corbin deals with this theme in his diverse works dedicated to some of the internal or esoteric currents of Shī‘ism, although with slight variations. See “La filosofia islámica desde sus orígenes hasta la muerte de Averroes” in collaboration with S.H. Naṣr and O. Iahia, in B. Parain, Del mundo romano al Islām medieval: Historia de la filosofía (Mexico 1972), III, 253-259; 265-266; Terre céleste et corps de résurrection: De l’Iran Mazdéen à l’Iran shī‘ite (Correa 1960); 106-107; 112-115; Temples et contemplation: Essais sur l’Islām iranien (Paris 1980), 75-76; 192-193; 220; 244-249; and Shaykh al-Mufīd’s Kitāb al-irshād.
- 8. Editor’s Note: The mystical dimension of the Holy Qur‘ān and teachings of the Prophet were present from the very beginning, even though they were not labeled taṣawwuf, Ṣūfism or ‘irfān. To borrow Sausurrian terms, the signified exists before the signifier. Imām ‘Alī was criticized by some Companions of the Prophet for speaking of things which had never been spoken before by the Prophet. The Imām responded with a reference to the Qur’ān that “Prophets speak to the people in the language of the people.” It was the obligation of the Prophet to teach the fundamentals of faith and the outer dimensions of the religion. It was the obligation of the Imāms to expound upon in their inner dimensions. As the Messenger of Allāh said, “There is among you a person who will fight for the interpretation of the Qur’ān just as I fought for its revelation.” He then indicated that it was ‘Alī (Aḥmad, Hākim, Bayhaqī, Abū Nu‘aym, Muttaqī).
It is unfortunate that Sayed ‘Alī Reza, the English translator of Nahj al-balāghah, would engage in the wholesale takfīr of the Ṣūfī, 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-Uẓmā Shaykh Fazel Lankarānī would reject mysticism ruling that “Ṣūfism, 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). Similar views have been expressed by Grand Ayātullāh Makarem Shirāzī, Grand Ayātullāh Tabrīzī, Grand Ayātullāh Sāfī Gulpayganī, and Grand Ayātullāh Nūrī-Hamadānī.
In response to whether it was possible for Shī‘ites to participate in activities organized by Nimatullāhī Gonabadi Ṣūfis, the five aformentionned Sources of Emulation emited the following rulings which were published on Monday, July 12th, 2004, in the newspaper of the Hawẓah in Qum:
1. Grand Ayātullāh Nūrī-Hamadānī declared on August 15, 2006 that the Ṣūfism has been created by the enemies of the Prophet and his family; and when they saw people rushing towards Islām, they created the abbeys and the groups and all the 72 branches of the Ṣūfism are wrong.
2. Grand Ayātullāh al-Ḥajj Shaykh Javad Tabrīzī: “In the name of Allāh. Participation in non-usual meetings of Shī‘ites as those cited above are not allowed. ”
3. Grand Ayātullāh Fazel Lankarānī: “In the name of God. Participation in the meetings not in connection to Ahl al-Bayt is not allowed at all, and is full of problems, and participation in the meetings of the Sufis is absolutely not permitted. ”
4. Grand Ayātullāh Sāfi Gulpaygānī: “In the Name of Allāh, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful. Participation in the meetings of the named sect under any reason such as mourning, remembrance, hosseyniyeh and the other ceremonies are ḥarām (prohibited) and it is preaching of heresy and blasphemy and it is destruction.”
5. Grand Ayātullāh Makarem Shirāzī: “In the name of God. The Ṣūfis sects in general are deviation from truth, and participation in their meetings is not allowed and the misguided Ṣūfī must be informed and be driven back by fine words of erudite people. I wish you the success.”
Grand Ayātullāh Nūrī-Hamadānī remarked that following the Islāmic Revolution there is no longer a need for Ṣūfī orders in Iran. During his teachings of Kharaj at one of the largest mosques in Qum, he warned that:
The world-vision of Ṣūfism is very dangerous and harmful against the Muslim-world, and we should watch their conspiracy… Many points in their thoughts and ideas are closer to the polytheism, and it is rejected from our point of view…. They try to propagate their ideas in different gatherings and assemblies, and because of this danger, all Muslims entirely should be aware and vigilant when dealing with them…the Ṣūfis are a most disastrous phenomenon for Islām… many important men from the religious sciences, like Ayātullāh Mar’ashí Najafī, have felt their dangers, and warned about their harmful blows against Islām…many Ṣūfis are supported by the enemies of Islām in order to harm the religion. (http://www.insideofiran.com /en/?p=694)
Grand Ayātullāh Muntazerī responded to these rulings saying that attacking the places of worship of the Ṣūfis had no religious justification.
While we have the greatest respect and admiration for Grand Ayātullāh Lankarānī, Grand Ayātullāh Makarem Shirāzī, Grand Ayātullāh Tabrīzī, Grand Ayātullāh Sāfī Gulpayganī, and Grand Ayātullāh Nūrī-Hamadānī as leading legal authorities, their views on ‘irfān are diametrically opposed to those of Grand Ayātullāh Khumaynī, ‘Allāmah Ṭabātaba’ī, Ayātullāh Muṭahharī, Ayātullāh Beheshtī, Ayātullāh Bahonar, Ayātullāh Dast-Ghayb, Grand Ayātullāh Arakī, Grand Ayātullāh Sistānī, Grand Ayātullāh Behjat, Grand Ayātullāh Zanjanī, Ayātullāh ‘Alī Ṭabātaba’ī, Ayātullāh Misbāḥ Yazdī, Ayātullāh Jawādī Amulī, Grand Ayātullāh Shahabadī, Ayātullāh Baḥr al-‘Ulūm, Grand Ayātullāh Isbahānī, Grand Ayātullāh Burujerdī, Ayātullāh ‘Abd al-Ghaffar, Grand Ayātullāh Khu’ī, Grand Ayātullāh Ṣādiq al-Ṣadr, and Grand Ayātullāh Bāqir al-Ṣadr, not to mention all of the classic Shī‘ite authorities which include the likes of Mullā Sadrā and Kashānī.
When a person asked whether ‘irfān was permissible or was a form of pantheistic blasphemy, Grand Ayātullāh Sistānī responded that: “‘Irfān is a synonym for cognition. According to us, true ‘irfān is achieved by following the Book of Allāh and the Sunnah. Those who are acquainted with ‘irfān certainly do not believe in what you wrote in your message.” When asked what he thought about ‘irfān as taught by ‘Allāmah Ṭabātaba’ī, Shahīd Muṭahharī, and Imām Khumaynī in the book Light within Me, Grand Ayātullāh Sistānī responded that: “‘Irfān is good in itself, if one is found to be bearing it.”
Historically, Twelver Shī‘ite scholars have been divided on the issue of ‘irfān, with one camp opposing it, and another endorsing it. In Islām and Revolution, Imām Khumaynī lamented 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)
The Imām used to quote Ibn al-‘Arabī, Suhrawardī, and Rūmī as spiritual authorities, demonstrating the legitimacy of Islāmic mysticism. In his letter to Mikhail Gorbachov, Imām Khumaynī referred to Ibn al-‘Arabī as “Abar Mard” (the greatest man). ‘Allāmah Ṭabātaba’ī is also reported to have said that “everything written about Islām does not amount to two sentences of Ibn al-Arabī’s works.”
Merely because the words ṣūfī and ‘ārif are not found in the Islāmic texts of the first century of Ḥijrah, it 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 Ṣūfis (Awānī 169).
All prophets were mystics as were their faithful followers. The first paragons of Ṣūfism were the aṣḥāb 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 ibn Yāsir (170). The early Ṣūfis 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 rūḥāniyyah 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 ḥadīth literature in Shī‘ism and the anthologies of the ḥadīths handed down from the Imāms are the veritable mines of Islāmic gnosis. The Uṣūl al-kāfī of Kulaynī and the other compendia of Shī‘ī ḥadīth are real treasures of ‘irfān… Moreover, the Shī’ī prayers and litanies found in al-Ṣaḥīfah 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 Ṣūfism and sometimes with identical formulations. The ritual invocation of the Beautiful Divine Names is the focus of emphasis in both Shī‘ism and Ṣūfism. 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 at 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 ḥadīth 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 Muḥammad Ṭaqī Miṣbāh 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, Ṣūfism, ḥikmah] are uncountable.” A religion without mysticism would not be a religion. As Ayātullāh Miṣbāh 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). Ṣūfism is not an extraneous accretion super added to Islām … it is its esoteric or inward aspect [bāṭin] as distinguished from the exoteric or external aspect [ẓāhir]” (171-72). It is safe to say that “Ṣūfism is totally based upon the Holy Qur’ān, the sunnah of the Prophet, and the Household [‘itrah]” (172).
The mystical dimensions of Islām have been fully appreciated by Ayātullāhs Khumaynī, Ṭabātaba’ī and Muṭahharī who left us their insights in Light Within Me which is also available in an excellent Spanish translation titled Luz interior. Besides the aforementioned, the following Ayātullāhs recognize the mystical dimensions of Islām: Muḥammad Taqī Behjat, ‘Izz al-Dīn Ḥusaynī Zanjanī, Sayyid Mīrzā ‘Alī Ṭabātaba’ī, Jawādī Amulī, Mīrzā Muḥammad ‘Alī Shahabadī, Muḥammad Ḥusayn al-Burujerdī, Abū al-Qāsim al-Khu’ī, Muḥammad Ṣādiq al-Ṣadr, etc. ‘Allāmah Ṭabātaba’ī was a specialist in exegesis, mysticism and philosophy while Ayātullāh Muṭahharī was an expert in both Eastern and Western thought. Imām Khumaynī has also left us his Forty Ḥadīth: 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, “One 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).
- 9. Editor’s Note: For the Arabs, Aztecs and Incas, the heart is the center of human intellect and spirituality. For them, reasoning is related to feelings and emotions. In the Western world, the intellect resides in the mind.
- 10. Editor’s Note: The Imāms inherited and enriched Islām. As Fyzee observes, “it is not possible to dismiss contemptuously the possibility of the personal religious tradition of the Prophet, at least in some important matters, being carefully handed down to the Imāms of the House of the Prophet, the people who undoubtedly had the best opportunity of knowing the true interpretation of many a principle of Islām” (4). As Naṣr explains, “The sayings of the Imāms are in many ways not only a continuation but also a kind of commentary and elucidation of the prophetic ḥadīth, often with the aim of bringing out the esoteric teachings of Islām” (A Shī‘ite Anthology 7). As Algar observes, “the Imāms inherited from the Prophet a certain body of teaching concerning the interpretation of the Qur’ān, which they enriched as they transmitted it” (Khumaynī Islāmic Revolution 427 note 7).
- 11. Editor’s Note: Islām teaches that God sent 124,000 prophets since the time of Adam. Every tribe and nation received a prophet. The fundamental teachings of these prophets were the same: belief in One God, belief in the prophets and messengers of God, belief in the Day of Judgment, belief in the Hereafter, promote the good and forbid the wrong. Islām accepts all past prophets, including Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. In Islāmic thought, Judaism was the one true religion, followed by Christianity and finally followed by Islām. In essence, Islām embraces all revealed religions, all of which taught islām or “submission” to God’s will. When the author says that Muḥammad was the founder of the Islāmic religion, he expresses a limited truth. In the universal order of things, all revealed religions were “Islām” and the Islāmic religion is merely its final and complete manifestation.
- 12. Editor’s Note: It is related in al-Kāfī that Imām al-Ṣādiq was asked whether there could be two Imāms [at one time] to which he responded: “No, except in the case of one [of them] being silent” (Kulaynī 35: ḥadīth 447)
- 13. Editor’s Note: The appointment of ‘Alī as Imām was co-dependent on the appointment of Muḥammad as Messenger and an intrinsic aspect of the divine message. After receiving the revelation, the Prophet gathered the Banū ‘Abd al-Muṭṭālib in order to make the following solemn pledge: “Whoever helps me in this matter will be my brother, my testamentary trustee [waṣī], my helper [wazīr], my heir and my successor after me.” ‘Alī stood before the gathering and he said, “O Messenger of Alláh, I will help you.” Then the Prophet said, “Sit down, you are my brother, my trustee, my helper, my inheritor, and successor after me” (Ṣadūq, Mufīd, Kulaynī).
This event is recorded in Guillaume’s rendition of Sīrat Rasūl Allāh by Ibn Isḥāq, the oldest extant biography on the life of the Prophet, where we read that the Messenger of Allāh laid his hand on the back of ‘Alī ‘s neck and said, “This is my brother, my executor, and my successor among you. Hearken to him and obey him” [Inna hadhā akhī wa waṣiyyī wa khalīfatī fīkum, fasma‘ū lahu wa aṭī‘ūhu].
It is also recorded by Ibn Jarīr, Ibn Abū Ḥātim, Ibn Marduwayh, Abū Nu‘aym, Imām Bayhaqī, Tha‘labī and Ṭabarī (Mūsawī 152). It appears in Ibn ‘Asākir, Sūyūṭī, ‘Alā’uddīn al-Shāfi‘ī, al-Hasakānī, al-Muttaqī al-Hindī; Abū al-Fida, and Haykal. It is related in somewhat different words by Ibn al-‘Athīr, Imām Abū Ja‘far al-Iskāfī Mu‘tazalī, Ḥalabī, Ṭaḥāwī, al-Maqdisī, Sa‘īd ibn Manṣūr, Aḥmad, Nasā‘ī, Hākim, Dhahabī and many others (Mūsawī 152-54).
It is also recorded by many Orientalists including T. Carlyle, E. Gibbon, J. Davenport and W. Irving. This event is conveniently suppressed from some Sunnī biographies of the Prophet. While the second line of the Prophet appeared in the first Arabic edition of Ḥasanayn Haykal’s Life of Muḥammad, it has been deleted in the second editions and those which have followed. Apparently, the author was pressured by al-Azhar to remove the reference. For more on Haykal’s censorship, see Chapter 2 of Rizvi’s Shī‘ism: Imāmate and Wilāyah. There are a multitude of other traditions in which the Messenger of Allāh explicitly appoints ‘Alī as his heir and successor.