Chapter 4: Leadership In The Era Of Occultation

It has been revealed in Torah:

“Hazrat Musa (a.s.) selected some capable men from the Bani Israel and made them leaders of the people. Then entrusted them with the leadership of different groups of people. These men used to arbitrate among the people in small matters, but regarding intricate and problematic matters they used to consult Hazrat Musa (a.s.)”

This system remained so successful that even two thousand years after Hazrat Musa (a.s.), F.Y Tyler was forced to include it as a part of the constitution for the administration of organizations and named it as “The law of Exception”.1

The “delegation of authority and powers” is a part and parcel of every administrative system. A leader executes the most important of tasks and delegates ordinary works to his subordinates in the organization, so that they may execute the tasks using their intellect and experience under the guidelines suggested by their leader.

The purpose of ‘delegation of authority’ is that the leader divests some his discretionary power to his subordinates and shares a part of his responsibilities with them. It is obvious that no organization can work efficiently unless powers and responsibilities are shared or distributed among its employees. This becomes all the more necessary when the responsibilities of the leader are ever increasing. In such a complex situation, the leader assigns an entire part of his multifarious responsibilities to his subordinates.

After the Second World War the opinion of experts on ‘Organizational Administration’ underwent a sea change and the current procedures of assigning authority came into existence. Accordingly, it affected the principles of government, guardianship and other aspects of administration in present day organizations.

This fact must be borne in mind that this approach to leadership has been proved quite advantageous. Lighter burden of responsibilities; more achievement of targets; smoother coordination; greater enthusiasm to work; quicker accomplishments of tasks are some of the manifest advantages of this approach. Apart from these, there are many more benefits to it.

“The Law of Exception” envisages how a leader enhances his realm of work by making it more comprehensive and diverse. Of course, the tasks bearing similarity with that of leader should be assigned to the most eligible men so that they may guide the people, lead them towards the right path and only in exceptional cases,2 where they cannot perform their responsibility, they should consult their leader. The Holy Qur’an advocates the same concept, while expounding the dissemination of religious knowledge in these words:

وَمَا کَانَ الْمُوْمِنُوْنَ لِیَنْفِرُوْا کَافَّۃً فَلَوْلَا نَفَرَ مِّنْ کُلِّ فِرْقَۃٍ مِّنْھُمْ طَأئِفَۃٌ لِّیَتَفَقَّھُوْا فِیْ الدِّیْنِ وَلِیُنْذِرُوْا قَوْمَھُمْ اِذَا رَجَعُوْا اِلَیْھِمْ لَعَلَّھُمْ یَحْذَرُوْنَ.

“And it does not behove the believers that they should go forth all together; why should not then a company from every party from among them go forth that they may apply themselves to obtain (a deep) understanding in religion, and that they may warn their people when they come back to them that they may be cautious?” (Holy Qur’an, 9:122).

This Qur’anic injunction demands that some men in every region should set out for acquisition of knowledge, come back to their areas, impart the knowledge to the masses, make them aware of their religion and guide them in the problems of life. These problems may be in the matters of worship, personal and social life. They must acquire deep knowledge regarding all the aspects of life and guide the people in the best possible manner. Thus, they inform the people of their responsibilities and also warn them of the dire consequences which may befall them due to their negligence.

The Holy Prophet (S) and infallible Imams (a.s.) would send their servants and scholarly companions to remote places with the mission of propagating Islamic teachings. They were given the freedom to pronounce verdicts in matters of Ahkam. The Holy Prophet (S) had sent Mas’ab bin Umair towards Mecca and Sa’ad bin Ma’az towards Yemen. Hazrat Ali (a.s.) followed the footsteps of Holy Prophet (S). During the reign of his (a.s.) caliphate, he appointed Qusum bin Abbas as the Governor of Mecca and wrote to him,

“Sit with the people in the mornings and evenings and explain the religious laws to them.”

Similarly other Imams (a.s.) too emulated the conduct of the Holy Prophet (S). Imam Al-Sadiq (a.s.) had directed his followers towards Abu Bashir Asadi and Muhammad bin Muslim Saqafi for answers to their religious queries. He advised to one of his companions Abaan bin Tughlab that:

“Sit in Masjid al-Nabawi and give your verdicts pertaining to religious matters.”

Imam Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) exhorted Ali bin Musayyab to acquire knowledge from Zakaria bin Adam Qummi, who was a deputy of Imam (a.s.).3 Likewise, he directed some of his companions towards Yunus bin Abdur Rahman for learning religious sciences.4

This was the general practice of our Imams (a.s.) although the “law of exception” is evident in some cases. Our Imam al-Zaman (a.t.f.s.) too has followed the footsteps of his (a.s.) forefathers but he added a new dimension to it. As we have mentioned earlier, that in this era of occultation, Imam al-Zaman (a.t.f.s.) has handed the reigns of guidance to the honest and trusted ‘fuqaha’ (religious scholars) so that in this period of occultation the learned scholars may guide and inform the masses of their religious duties.

Once again the “law of exception” was implemented in the period of occultation with all its characteristics for the guidance of Shias. This law became the primary cause of the safety of Islam. We its help (i.e. following the fuqaha) we were able to withstand the upheavals of time. Gradually but surely, the religion evolved with the passage of time and attained its present glory. With the help of this magnificent law alone, the representatives (fuqaha) ensured that the ‘complete message’ of Islam should reach to the people and they have been successful in guiding the Shi’as due to the blessings of Imam al-Zamana (a.t.f.s.)

Our books of jurisprudence have unequivocally stated these ‘fuqaha’ have (limited) authority and sovereignty on the people and the people should turn towards them in matters of religion. This fact is clearly pronounced by Imam al-Zaman (a.s.) in his letter (tawqee) to Ishaq bin Yaqub via Muhammad bin Uthman thus:

وَاَمَّا الْحَوَادِثُ الْوَاقِعَۃُ فَارْجِعُوْا فِیْھَا اِلیٰ رُوَاۃِ حَدِیْثِنَا فَاِنَّھُمْ حُجَّتِیْ عَلَیْکُمْ وَاَنَا حُجَّۃُ اللّٰہِ عَلَیْھِمْ.

“And regarding the occurrence of new problems and issues, you refer to the narrators of our traditions, since they are my representatives upon you as I am the representative of Allah upon them”5

It must be borne in mind that “Hawadise-Waqeah” implies ‘new and unique problems’, which occur in the day to day life of the people. Hence when faced with such problems it is the responsibility of the people to consult the competent jurists.

About these ‘jurists’, Imam Al-Sadiq (a.s.) had mentioned a few qualities which distinguishes them from others. He said:

فَاَمَّا مَنْ کَانَ مِنَ الْفُقَھَاءِ صَائِنًا لِنَفْسِہٖ، حَافِظًا لِّدِیْنِہٖ مُخَالِفًا عَلٰی ھَوَاہُ، مُطِیْعًا لِّاَمْرِ مَوْلَاہُ، فَلِلْعَوَامِ اَنْ یُّقَلِّدُوْہُ وَ ذٰلِکَ لَا یَکُوْنُ اِلَّا بَعْضَ الْفُقَھَاءِ الشِّیْعَۃِ لَا کُلُّھُمْ.

“And among the jurists (Fuqaha) those who protect their selves (from sins), guard their religion, resist their carnal desires and are obedient to their Master, it is incumbent upon the people to follow them. Such characteristics are found only in a few (Shi’a) jurists and not all of them.”6

In this way Imam (a.t.f.s.) entrusted the task of guidance in the responsible hands of Shia jurists who possess the above mentioned attributes. Their task was to guide the Shi’as and give the verdicts in newly occurring events and problems. Although the earlier Imam (a.s.) too practiced this “Law of Exception” yet its use has been more widespread in the period of major occultation. Imam Al-Sadiq (a.s.) has urged his followers to consult those scholars who are well versed in the permitted (Halal) and the prohibited (Haram) things. As he (a.s.) put it:

“If two persons dispute about a thing between themselves then they should consult him who narrates our traditions and who deliberates upon our permitted and prohibited things and knows our views and commandments. Select him for arbitration, since I have appointed such a person for this matter. If anyone rejects his verdict then it is as if he has taken the commands of Allah lightly and has refuted us. Certainly the one who refutes us has refuted Allah. Verily such a man has entered the realm of polytheism.”7

This tradition clearly tells us that these jurists are not mere narrators of traditions. Rather, these are individuals who contemplate and reflect upon the words of Imams (a.s.). Then in the light of Qur’anic verses, traditions of Imams (a.s.) as well as the fundamental beliefs of religion they deduce the laws of religion.

This fact should be always borne in mind that these jurists are highly regarded by our Imams (a.s.). Once Imam Ja’far Al-Sadiq (a.s.) mentioned about his companions Zurarah, Abu Basir, Muhammad bin Muslim, Buraid Ajli in this manner:

“Had these persons not been there, then no one would have been able to derive the religious laws. They are the protectors of religion. My father trusted them in the matter of permitted and prohibited things. They preceded others in this world in reaching us and so will they precede others in the hereafter.”8

Thus, as in the case of our earlier Imams (a.s.), in this era of occultation too, the responsibility of guiding the people lies in the hands of the ‘fuqaha’. These scholars guide the people and protect the religion at all cost. It is for this reason that Imam al-Zaman (a.s.) has said about them,

“They are my vicegerents upon you and I am the vicegerent of Allah upon them.”9

Imam (a.t.f.s.) has prayed for them, aided them in deriving the Islamic laws, and guided them in difficulties. Imam (a.s.) in his tawqee to Shaikh Mufid (r.a) has referred to him as ‘my steadfast brother’ and ‘responsible friend’. The concluding part of the same blessed tawqee highlights a very important point. And that is, that our Imam (a.s.) is concerned about every Shia follower. He is so much concerned about them that he remembers them constantly, wards off calamities from them and protects them from their enemies. The affection of Imam (a.t.f.s.) can be experienced in the following words:

اِنَّا غَیْرُ مُھْمِلِیْنَ لِمُرَعَاتِکُمْ وَلَا نَاسِیْنَ لِذِکْرِکُمْ وَلَوْ لَا ذٰلِکَ لَنَزَلَ بِکُمُ اللَّاوَاءُ وَاصْطَلَمْتُکُمُ الْاَعْدَٔاءُ فَاتَّقُوْا اللّٰہَ جَلَّ جَلَا لُہٗ.

“Surely we are neither negligent of your affairs, nor are we forgetful of your remembrance. Had it been so, then afflictions would have descended upon you and enemies would have suppressed you. Hence fear Allah and adopt piety.”10

  • 1. ‘Usul-e-Saazman-e-Idari Pg. 54, written by Leverbook translated by Seerun Parham. The author had committed two apparent errors: (i) Firstly about 3500 years have lapsed since the time of Hazrat Musa (a.s.) and not 2000 years, as said by the author, (ii) Secondly, this system is not so fresh (as imposed by author) as it is imagined but centuries ago, it has become cynosure of thoughts in Islamic civilization.
  • 2. Refer ‘Al-Muqaddemah’ by Ibn Khaldun. Here ‘exception’ does not mean against law but in the context of administration, it implies the distribution of works and grades.
  • 3. Ali bin Musayyab relates that I implored Imam Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) that: “It is very cumbersome for me to attend your lectures since my home is at a remote distance.” Imam Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) replied: “Go to Zakaria bin Adam Qummi, he is our turtle in religious and worldly affairs.” vide Tarkihul Maqal, vol. 1, No. 4237.
  • 4. Ibid, vol.3, p. 338
  • 5. Vide Kamaluddin, p. 484, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 53, p. 181, Wasa’il al-Shi’a, vol. 18, Kitabul-Qaza, p. 101.
  • 6. See Wasa’il al-Shi’a, vol. 18, p. 95.
  • 7. Wasa’il al-Shi’a, vol. 18, p. 98.
  • 8. Ibid, p. 104.
  • 9. Refer ‘Najmus Saaqib’ by Mirza Husain Noori.
  • 10. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 53, p. 175.