Companions of ‘Ali Series: Muhammad b. Abi Bakr, the Governor of Egypt

Locked door of Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr’s purported gravesite in al-Fusṭāṭ. (Photo Credit: Shabbir Agha Abbas, 2019)

As the 19th of Ramaḍān has once again come, the night on which ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 40/661) was fatally struck, it would be of benefit to share some details about his close companions, and in this particular case Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr (d. 38/658). 

Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr, as his name identifies, was the orphaned son of the first caliph, but grew up in the house of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib as his mother, Asmāʾ bt. ʿUmays, later married him. Asmāʾ was originally the wife of Jaʿfar [al-Ṭayyār] b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 8/629), and accompanied him during the immigration to Abyssinia, she became widowed as Jaʿfar was martyred during the Battle of Mu’ta. From her marriage to Ja’far, she gave birth to ʿAbd Allāh b. Jaʿfar b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 80/699) who is known for marrying Zaynab bt. ʿAlī (d. 62/682).

Nevertheless, after the death of Jaʿfar, she married Abū Bakr [b. Abī Quḥāfa] (d. 13/634), but still remained close to the Banū Hāshim, acting as a confidante of Fāṭimat al-Zahrā (d. 11/632), and furthermore attending to her funerary rites. 

Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr was born shortly before the Prophet’s last Ḥajj (10/631), and as an infant and young toddler he experienced the caliphate of his father, Abū Bakr. After the first caliph’s death, ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib married his mother Asmāʾ in respect to her association with Fāṭimah as well as Jaʿfar. Thus, as Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr was a mere toddler when his father died, Imām ʿAlī raised him as his own son alongside al-Ḥasan (d. 50/670) and al-Ḥusayn (d. 61/680); therefore he knew no father other than ʿAlī.

Growing up in the house of Imām ʿAlī, he developed a particularly fierce loyalty towards him and the cause of the Ahl al-Bayt. He is known to have led the Shurṭat al-Khamīs, the elite guard of six thousand companions who pledged their lives to ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib. As the commander of the infantry during the Battle of the Camel, he played an important role against the forces of his half-sister, ʿĀʾisha bt. Abī Bakr ( d. 58/678), and after her defeat, he was tasked by the Imām  to escort her back to the Ḥijāz.  

As the rebel Muʿāwīyah b. Abī Sufyān (d. 60/680) and his agents fomented chaos in Egypt [and other territories], ʿAlī as caliph, sent Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr to take control. The Egyptians had a positive history with Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr, as it was he whom they conveyed their displeasure concerning the third caliph ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān’s (d. 36/656) [supposed] misgovernance; it was Muḥammad’s potential governorship that they initially supported. Muʿāwīyah, in response to Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr’s appointment, sent his Syrian army to Egypt under the command of his [false] governor, ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ (d. 43/664), in order to prevent him from establishing charge. ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ and his troops defeated Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr’s vastly outnumbered forces after a fierce battle, in a place Ṭabarī cites as al-Musannāt.

Roadside view of Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr’s purported gravesite in al-Fusṭāṭ. (Photo Credit: Shabbir Agha Abbas, 2019)

The Umayyads had convinced a large segment of Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr’s Egyptian army to desert him and join their ranks, chief of them being a Muʿāwiyah b. Ḥudayj al-Sakūnī (d. 67/686). This segment, now part of the Umayyad forces under the command of the deserter, Muʿāwiyah b. Ḥudayj al-Sakūnī, tailed the retreating Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr, and captured him. Knowing that ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib, loved Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr as his own son, they displayed their enmity towards the Imām as well as their newfound loyalty to the Umayyad cause by not only brutally executing Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr, but they then stuffed his body in the carcass of a donkey and then set it alight. This event had a terrorizing effect on not only the supporters of ʿAlī, but it is said that ʿĀʾisha was so disturbed by the news that she never again touched roasted meat. 

*According to Ibn al-Athīr, in his al-Usd al-ghābah [fi ma‘rifat al-ṣaḥābah], there are conflicting reports as to who is credited for his execution. Some credit Muʿāwiyah b. Ḥudayj al-Sakūnī for executing Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr, whereas other reports credit ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ himself of committing the heinous deed.

Imam ʿAlī wept for him, and remembered him in the best of ways, by declaring that not only was Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr a righteous servant but that he considered him as his own [righteous] son. (كان محمد لله عبداً صالحاً ولنا ولداً باراً)

Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr is the maternal great grandfather of Imām Ja’far al-Ṣādiq (d. 148/765). The descendants of Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr remained close to the Ahl al-Bayt, maintaining the ties of loyalty. Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr’s most notable offspring was Qāsim b. Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr (d. 108/727), who was one of the seven fuqahā’ of Madīnah and a close companion of the fourth and fifth Imāms, his daughter Umm Farwah marrying the latter, becoming the mother of the sixth Imām. 

Standing outside Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr’s purported gravesite in al-Fusṭāṭ, after speaking to locals. (Photo Credit: Shabbir Agha Abbas, 2019)

It should be noted that a gravesite purported to be that of Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr, as pictured, is found in al-Fusṭāṭ, the original capital of Muslim-ruled Egypt. According to the Egyptian Ministry of Awqāf, because of a lack of structural integrity, the maqām of Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr has been locked from the outside, so visitors are discouraged to venture there; however locals report that the site was closed as it came under attack by Salafists. Nevertheless, the site is not impossible to visit externally.

Abu Nuwas, in praise of Imam ‘Ali al-Rida (‘a)

Written by: Shabbir Agha Abbas

When recollecting upon the greatest poets of the Arabic language, Abū Nuwās (d. 198/813) is a name that is never excluded. He was a lyrical genius, credited with infusing Arabic verse with Persian sensibilities, advancing the literature from that of the desert to that of the metropolis (Baghdad). He was a poet during the height of the ‘Abbasid period, serving the court of Hārūn al-‘Abbāsī [al-Rashīd] (d. 193/809) and that of his sons as a bard. His poems were extravagant in nature, even licentious some would say; he maintained frankness in his writing, such that it allowed for him to transcend [as well as violate] certain boundaries.

In the study of Islamic history, poets and their poetry play crucial roles in the sense that they allow for those peering into the past to at least encounter some of the popular discourses of the given points in time. Therefore, it is because of his frankness, that the poetry of Abū Nuwās potentially serves as an alternative entry point into understanding the 2nd Islamic century and its currents; extending to pro-‘Alid sentiments as well as Imamophilia. As the court poet of Hārūn, he was well aware of the ‘Abbāsid apprehension and stupefaction when it came to Imām Mūsā al-Kāẓim (d. 183/799) and Imām ‘Alī al-Riḍā’ (d. 203/818), as well as the utmost reverence the two commanded from society.

In the biographical dictionary of Ibn Khallikān (d. 681/1282), Wafayāt al-Aʿyān wa-Anbāʾ Abnāʾ al-Zamān (Deaths of Eminent Men and History of the Sons of the Epoch), Abū Nuwās and his poetry is referenced in the entry on the life of Imām al-Riḍā’.    

It is narrated that one of the companions of Abū Nuwās rebuked him by saying:

ما رأيت أوقح منك، ما تركت خمراً ولا طرداً ولا معنى إلا قلت فيه شيئاً، وهذا علي بن موسى الرضا في عصرك لم تقل فيه شيئاً

“I have not seen anyone more shameless than you, you have not left any wine or game animal except that you have recited poetry regarding it, yet ‘Alī b. Mūsā al-Riḍā’ is your contemporary and you have not recited any poetry in his [honor]!”

Abū Nuwās responded by saying:

والله ما تركت ذلك إلا إعظاماً له، وليس قدر مثلي أن يقول في مثله

“By God, I left that [praise] only in my utmost respect for him, it befits not that a [lowly] person like myself recites poetry for a [great] person like him”

The anecdote then continues, stating that after a few moments he obliged and uttered these verses:

قيل لي أنت أحسن الناس طراً
في فنونٍ من الكلام النبيه
لك من جيد القريض مديحٌ
يثمر الدر في يدي مجتنيه
فعلام تركت مدح ابن موسى
والخصال التي تجمعن فيه
قلت لا أستطيع مدح إمامٍ
كان جبريل خادماً لأبيه

It is said to me, you are the best of men
In the various styles of noble discourse
Your panegyrics expressed in admirable verse are
A blossom filling the hands of he who culls it with a fruit of pearl
Why then have you neglected to celebrate the son of Mūsā
And extol the noble qualities united in his person?
I answered: “I am unable to praise an Imām for
Whose father [the Prophet (ṣ)] Gabriel was a servant.”

He definitely had a myriad of reasons to refrain from extolling the ‘Alid Imāms, and assuming the historicity of this narrative to be accurate, Abū Nuwās thus responded with great tactfulness. He excused himself – as the best in the craft – from having to praise Imām al-Riḍā’, as the latter’s status was untenably linked with the Prophet (ṣ). Without mentioning any specifics from the khiṣāl (qualites) of the Imām, Abū Nuwās allotted him the greatest of praise, by mentioning nothing more than his grandfather. A praise that no Muslim could reject, nor could the ‘Abbāsid rulers find blame in. This way Abū Nuwās could register his reverence for Imām al-Riḍā’ in the books of history, yet not be obliged to ever write in his honor again, nor find himself in the ire of his ‘Abbāsid patrons.

Nonetheless, Ibn Khallikān records in the same entry on Imām al-Riḍā’ that Abū Nuwās after this incident once again recited verses in honor of the Imām, but he does not inform when and where. These verses are narrated as following:

مطهرون نقياتٌ جيوبهم
تجري الصلاة عليهم أينما ذكروا
من لم يكن علوياً حين تنسبه
فما له في قديم الدهر مفتخر
الله لما برا خلقاً فأتقنه
صفاكم واصطفاكم أيها البشر
وأنتم الملأ الأعلى وعندكم
علم الكتاب وما جاءت به السور

The immaculate progeny [of ‘Alī], the pure of heart!
Whenever their names are pronounced, benedictions accompany it
He, who cannot trace his ancestry back to ‘Alī
Has no claim from the ancient times to boast over
When God created and perfected the world
He made you unpolluted, and chose you for himself, O mankind
But you, [sons of ‘Alī] are the noblest of all mankind
You possess knowledge of God’s book, and the meaning of its chapters

These verses, unlike the previous ones, are not explicitly in praise of Imām al-Riḍā’, instead they are generic in praise of the ‘Alids as a whole. As mentioned above, it is not known when Abū Nuwās composed these verses, but it is known that his welcome in the court soured during the rule of al-Amīn (d. 198/813), resulting in him being imprisoned and dying therein, where he is also remembered for famously repenting for his sins.

Furthermore, the final days of his life imprisoned, coincided with the rise in undercurrents that later emerged as the ‘Alid uprisings of Abū al-Sarāyā (d. 200/815) and Ibn Ṭabaṭaba (d. 199/815). Does this one poem show that Abū Nuwās was a proponent of the proto-Zaydi cause? Not at all, it does however show that he was fully in dialogue with society, and its popular sentiments. Likewise, his reverence to Imām al-Riḍā’ does not make him an Imāmī, but it does depict the awe and respect society had for the Imām.

Therefore, while the name of Abū Nuwās may not be remembered as one associated with piety, or godliness, his verses [potentially] are as important to understanding Islamic history, especially of the formative 2nd century, as any other source. This should encourage those seriously interested in engaging in historical research to consider thinking outside the box.

Mirza Ghalib’s Revelatory Rebuke of Hamzah Khan

Mirzā Ghālib’s Revelatory Rebuke of Ḥamzah Khān

Written by: Shabbir Agha

When studying Islamic intellectual history, it is not enough to study just the literature of those who are commonly held as scholars of the tradition, such as the fuqahā (jurists). It is critically important to expand the parameters of analysis to include other voices important in society, such as that of poets, and there is probably no greater voice representing 13th/19th century North India than that of the poet Mirzā Ghālib (d. 1285/1869). Unfortunately, the legacy of Mirzā Ghālib has been obfuscated for many reasons, limiting popular discourse on his words to just a handful of themes. In truth, he was an important philosopher and theologian in his own right, and was fascinated with the concept of waḥdat alwujūd, but greater than that he was aligned with Imamophilia, maintaining his spiritual loyalty to ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib (‘a) and the Twelve Imāms (‘a). In fact his takhalluṣ (pen-name) of Ghālib, he adopted in honor of ‘Alī (‘a), the dominant lion of God (Asad Allāh al-Ghālib) To read some of his profound Persian poetry, @Ghalib.Shinasi is a new initiative in this direction. Nevertheless, herein his poetry will not be presented, instead some of his prose.

In a letter to his close friend Nawwāb ‘Alā al-Dīn Aḥmad Khān, Ghālib included a revelatory segment rebuking his friend’s associate Mawlawī Ḥamzah Khān, who had targeted Ghālib’s apparent drinking of wine. In response to Ḥamzah Khān, Ghālib argued that there were far greater sins than drinking, such as maintaining wrong ideas about the Divinity of God, or by considering others as equal to the Divinely appointed successors of the Prophet (ṣ). Mirzā Ghālib humiliates the Mawlawī, by stating that true knowledge is ‘irfān (gnosis) and not the memorization of legal tracts; obsessively discussing the bodily functions of women amongst Hindu money changers is ignorance, and not knowledge. Lastly, he mocks the Mawlawī by stating that if he were indeed destined for the hellfire, it would be to fuel the fire burning the enemies of ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib (‘a).

The excerpt is an extraordinary powerful statement on theology, and an example of the excellence of Mirzā Ghālib’s Urdu, please read below:


After extending the greetings of peace, do tell Ḥamzah Khān:

“O you, who are unaware of the pleasures of our perpetual drinking!”

See, this is how we are made to drink. By educating the Banīya (money lender caste) of Darība (a marketplace in Dehli), as well as their sons, getting recognized by the title ‘Mawlawī’, and by looking over the treatise of Abū Ḥanīfa, and diving into the questions of ḥayḍ (menstruation) and nifās (postpartum hemorrhage) is one thing, whereas implanting the words of the ‘urafā (gnostics) concerning the ḥaqīqat-i ḥaqqa (reality of the truth) of waḥdat al-wujūd (unity of existence) into one’s heart is another thing. Polytheists are those who consider the trait of existence (wujūd) as shared amongst the wājib [al-wujūd] (necessarily existent/God) and the mumkin [al-wujūd] (possibly existent/creation). Polytheists are those who consider Musaylimah al-Kadhdhāb (the liar) a partner in prophethood to the Seal of the Prophets, polytheists are those who equate new Muslims (the companions) with the father of the Imāms (‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib), hellfire is for those people. I am a muwaḥḥid-i khāliṣ (pure monotheist), and mu’min-i kāmil (complete believer), from my tongue comes the testimony “there is no God, but God” and in my heart I confess that “nothing is existing, but God” and “there is no effector of existence, but God.” All of the prophets must be respected, and each in their own eras were commanding of obedience, prophethood concluded with Muḥammad (ṣ), he is the Seal of the Prophets and Mercy for all of creation, the maqṭa’ (final verse) of the poem of prophethood is the maṭla’ (first verse) of the poem of Imāmat, and Imāmat is not based on ijmā’ (consensus) instead it emanates from God (min Allāh), and the Imām emanating from God is ‘Alī, peace be upon him, then Ḥasan (a), then Ḥusayn (a), in continuation to Mahdī (a), the promised one.

“Upon this have I lived, and upon it will I die!”

Yes, if I may add, in my opinion ibāḥat (licentiousness) and zandaqa (atheism) are inexcusable, and likewise I opine that alcohol is forbidden, and I do consider myself a transgressor. If I were to be thrown into the hellfire, burning me would not be the purpose. Instead, I will be the kindling used to fuel the raging fire, so that the polytheists and the munkarīn (deniers) of the prophethood of Muṣṭafā (the chosen one of God) and the Imāmat of Murtaḍā (the approved of God) may be consumed!

  • Excerpt from letter 16 of Urdu Letters of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib
  • Translated by: Shabbir Agha Abbas

Malcolm X and Macaulayism; the Intersectionality of Epistemological Oppression

Malcolm X and Macaulayism; the Intersectionality of Epistemological Oppression

Written by: Shabbir Agha

Last year (2020), on the anniversary of her father’s assassination, Ilyasah Shabazz was giving a lecture about her father’s philosophy and what he was desperately trying to accomplish in the last days of his life. She began her talk by quoting her father by saying:

“Only a fool would let his enemy teach his children.”

She then went on to elaborate who this enemy was, and she too mentioned that it was this enemy that her father was preoccupied with in his final year. This enemy according to her was not a person, it was an educational policy known as Macaulayism; which was enacted by the British empire in order to eradicate indigenous [traditional] forms of education from their colonies.

Ilyasah Shabazz speaking at her father’s commemoration, February 21st, 2020 (Photo Credit: Shabbir Agha Abbas)

While Macaulayism impacted all British colonies, from Africa to Australia, it was specifically designed in order to support their colonial ambitions in India. Malcolm X, by concerning himself with the after effects of European imperialism whilst leading the charge for racial justice in America, shows just how sophisticated a mind he had. He realized that the plight of Black people in America, and the colonized abroad were tragically linked through their mutual disenfranchisement when it came to education. Macaulayism gave an absolute monopoly over epistemology to the west, particularly the elite of the Anglosphere, to the extent that they could define what was and was not to be considered as ‘knowledge.’

Portrait of Thomas Babington Macaulay

Thomas Babington Macaulay (d. 1859) was a lifelong British statesman, who spent his entire career serving the colonial enterprise in many different roles. He oversaw the British East India Company as its Secretary to the Board of Control, he was on the Governor-General’s Council, and he served as the British Secretary at War. Nevertheless, his lasting legacy, as preserved in the eponymous Macaulayism, was the English Education Act of 1835. This act in effect barred traditional institutions from receiving official funding; reallocating these funds to institutions who complied with approved western curriculums. Macaulay was the chief proponent of this policy, and in promoting it he delivered his ‘Minute Upon Indian Education,’ in which he presented the argument that indigenous forms of education were inferior to that of the west, that this preventative measure would help the Indians progress, he stated:

“I have no knowledge of either Sanskrit or Arabic. But I have done what I could to form a correct estimate of their value. I have read translations of the most celebrated Arabic and Sanskrit works. I have conversed both here and at home with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I am quite ready to take the Oriental learning at the valuation of the Orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.”

Macaulay himself admitted to his complete ignorance to Indian literature, he had no knowledge of the intellectual discourse of that part of the world; all that he knew was from the sparse imperfect translations of his European comrades. Therefore, the real driving force for his promoting the English Education Act of 1835 was European supremacism. Macaulay and his colleagues feared that their colonial subjects had the potential to not only stand as intellectual equals of theirs but also superiors, thus they endeavored to stifle their intellectual capabilities by didactically molding their minds according to their colonial standards. The nefarious nature of their reformulating of Indian education is thus exposed in Macaulay’s own words:

“I feel… that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, – a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.”

So, while overtly the colonial policy to replace indigenous forms of education involved assaulting the Persian language, as well as Arabic and Sanskrit in favor of English, the latent objective was even more sinister. By altering the educational systems of India, the British could control and dominate their colonial subjects at much greater levels, furthermore through this education they could employ the colonized into willingly supporting their own destruction. Thus many Indians were thoroughly brainwashed into seeing the British as benevolent rulers, when they were in fact vicious barbarians. 

A British Man being attended to by Indian servants (Circa: British Raj)

The lasting consequence of Macaulayism has been such that for the most part Indians can no longer access their historic literature, so they are forced to view and understand themselves via the lens given to them by their colonizers. An ‘educated’ Pakistani or Indian today could probably quote Shakespeare (d. 1616), but not Amir Khusrau (d. 1325) or ‘Abd al-Qadir Bedil (d. 1720). By divorcing the Indian people (and other colonized peoples) from their own literature, they have been forced to enter into a perpetual inferiority complex, where they are made to look outside themselves for inspiration; for science and technology one must look towards the west, for Islam one must look towards the Arabs or the Iranians (depending on sect). One has no need to look at others, instead they should dive into their own selves in order to unlock their God-given potential. Understanding this predicament Malcolm X stated:

“In the ghettos the white man has built for us, he has forced us not to aspire to greater things, but to view everyday living as survival.”

Colonized Indian and African youth will not find inspiration in the stories of far away white men who accomplished so little; they instead arise reading the stories of their saintly progenitors, whose accomplishments in unveiling the secrets of this earth and the cosmos, serves as the foundation of modern science and mathematics. European colonizers rid generations of colonized peoples of their linkages with their glorious past, thus setting them up for a life of mediocrity and impotence. Knowing that the histories of the Indian people were written in Persian and Sanskrit, the British denied the Indian people from the ability to read, let alone, understand these languages.

“A race of people is like an individual man; until it uses its own talent, takes pride in its own history, expresses its own culture, affirms its own selfhood, it can never fulfill itself.”

“History is a people’s memory, and without a memory, man is demoted to the lower animals” – Malcolm X

Sister Clara Muhammad Elementary School, 102 W 116th St, New York, NY 10026 (Photo Credit: Shabbir Agha Abbas)

The British East India Company, as a killing machine, perfected the art of physical violence and domination, yet it was their epistemological violence unleashed on their colonial subjects that has had the most lasting of effects. One should wonder how the British arrived to one of the wealthiest regions of the world, yet left it as one of the poorest? Alongside with their pillaging of India, they subjected the great African nations to similar feats of savagery. 

Malcolm X understood that if the oppressed were to ever attain true justice, if the shackled were to ever shatter the chains holding them back, they had to firstly break the ‘white man’s’ hegemony over knowledge and education. While western education primarily serves the interests of capitalism, increasing the profits of the wealthy, the objectives of traditional education, especially in the Islamicate world, are diametrically different. Western education strives to produce good laborers, whereas traditional education strives to produce good human beings. This is so because ethics and morality fully soak the fabric of traditional education, math and physics were taught without neglecting the metaphysical essence of things. Conceptually the literature of the west is not at all analogous with that of the Islamicate world, for the latter’s belles-lettres are intertwined with etiquette, with refinement, with morals and humaneness, as all these words including literature itself are united in a single word ‘adab.’

An individual who studies a text like the Gulistan of Sa’di (d. 1292) – its poems and fables – as was commonplace in pre-colonial Indian curricula, cannot be expected to imperil the Amazon Rainforest in the name of limitless profit, to the detriment of the ecological welfare of our planet; as have done the über successful graduates of the top educational institutions of Europe and America. Success according to traditional education is not defined in terms of material gain, but instead in doing good and benefiting others, in the Gulistan we read:

خوردن برای زیستن و ذکر کردنست

تو معتقد که زیستن از بهر خوردنست

One eats to live and remember God

You think you live to eat

These lessons on life are lost to those whom western education is imposed upon, however this imposition cannot be treated as prohibitively necessary. These impositions can and must be walked back, and it all begins by reintroducing our [POC] communities with our native literature. Malcolm X asserted that “people don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book,” this entails some effort on our part. We must work on improving literacy in our communities, we must encourage language acquisition, and we must break the cultural and economic barriers separating the streets from the scholars. Scholars who understand the necessity of reversing Macaulayism must come down from their ivory towers, and must engage with as well as serve the streets. These were the undertakings of Malcolm X in the last days of his tragically short life;  by establishing the Muslim Mosque, Inc (MMI) and the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) he was rekindling the ties of the oppressed of the world with their ancestral forms of knowledge, liberating them from this didactic tyranny. May we have the courage to follow his path, and the tawfiq to learn from his wisdom.

(al-Fatihah for the soul of Malcolm X (d. 1965), and his grandson Malcolm Latif Shabazz (d. 2013))

Masjid Malcolm Shabazz, formerly known as Mosque No. 7 (Photo Credit: Shabbir Agha Abbas)

Majlis-i Husayn, an Institution: An Exposé into the Practice of Emotive Choreography

Written by: Agha Shabbir Abbas


If one were to type into a search engine the words ‘Shia Muslim India’ or ‘Shia Muslim Pakistan’ the very first images to be displayed would be that of muharram mourning processions, typically consisting of violent forms of self-flagellation. While the scenes may depict chaos and anarchy, the truth however is far from it. For one with inside knowledge of these mourning activities would attest that they truly are precise performances, practices of emotive choreography. The Majlis-i Husayn as an institution in Shi’ism broadly, can in South Asia be credited with introducing new forms and parameters of art, be it architecturally, iconographically, literarily, and even oratorily; that it has developed a culture onto itself. Therefore, this article will serve as a brief exposé into the Majlis-i Husayn as practiced in South Asia and the different choreographed particles of the ‘Azadari (mourning) therein.


Not much is known about Twelverism in South Asia, let alone emotive practices, until around the 17th and 18th centuries. While there are historical records that show a presence of Shi’ism in the region as early as the first few centuries of Islam, the lack of political backing can be associated with this dearth of information. Likewise, the historical Shi’i practice of taqiyyah cannot be ignored. Nevertheless, the very first cultural practices of ‘azadari that can be linked with that of today took place in Deccan, in South-Central India; where two rival Shi’i dynasties ruled, the Adil Shahis (1489 – 1686) and the Qutb Shahis (1512 – 1686), that branched out from the earlier Shi’i Bahmani Sultanate (1347 – 1527).[1] Both dynasties openly professed their religious persuasion, and the latter dynasty was the first to construct a purpose-built building for the ‘azadari of Imam Husayn. The fifth Qutb Shahi Sultan, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah (d. 1612), employed a Persian polymath by the name of Mir Muhammad Mu’min-i Astarabadi as his Peshwa (prime minister), who was tasked to build a great capital city that would reflect the ethos of the Qutb Shahi rulers.[2] Thus was the grand city of Hyderabad constructed, named after Imam ‘Ali, ‘Haydar’ (lion) being an honorific for ‘Ali’s bravery, and ‘abad’ meaning an inhabited place, or city. In this designed city, Mu’min-i Astarabadi built the Masjid-i Makkah (or Makkah Masjid) with bricks from Makkah itself, as well as the massive Chahar Minar (or Charminar) monument, but most importantly for this endeavor of Shi’i thematization, he built the Badishahi (or Padishahi) Ashurkhanah.[3]


This Badshahi Ashurkhanah, literally meaning the royal ‘Ashura building, became the archetypal mourning gathering place for the Twelvers of India. While Husayniyahs and Takiyahs/Tekkehs were already commonplace in Iran and Iraq, the Badshahi Ashurkhanah differed in that alongside Islamicate and Persianate elements, it also incorporated indigenous elements.[5] Chief among these elements is that of an altar, which in common lexicon came to be called the dargah (threshold). The word dargah, as mutually used by Sufis for the shrines of their saints, is thus an apparatus that works to psychologically transport the devotee to the grave of Husayn in Karbala, and thus upon this altar relics and icons are placed; typically these are: Qur’ans, ta’ziyah (model shrine), tabut (coffin), alam (standards), panjah (hand-insignia), gahwarah (cradle), candles and incense, amongst other symbolic items.[6] The Badshahi Ashurkhanah is thus regarded by Indian Twelvers as the first of many purpose-built buildings for ‘azadari; the first Imambargah of India.

The word Imambargah, meaning the royal court (bargah) of the Imam, came to symbolize the Twelver community of India. Wherever Twelver communities were to be found so too were Imambargahs, such that they rivalled and even possibly surpassed the number of Twelver mosques. The reason for this is expediency, the Imambargah could functionally surpass the mosque. At the Imambargah all functions of the mosque could be undertaken, from congregational prayers, to Islamic education and dissemination; the Imambargah could do it all and more for it does not possess the shari’i (legal) restrictions of that of a mosque. While the mosque has prohibitions, in that none other than Muslims and the Ahl al-Kitab (People of the Book, Jews, and Christians) can enter, likewise ritually impure persons and menstruating women are denied entry, whereas an Imambargah has no true shari’i basis, and thus is just a glorified hall that all [if respectful] can enter.[7] [8] Hence, in the spread of Twelver Shi’ism, the Imambargah maintained a missionary role through its open-door policy [and tempt of food (nazr/niyaz)], which enticed locals to attend the function and possibly join the Shi’i cause.

Moving away from Hyderabad, the pinnacle of Imambargah architecture was reached in the North Indian Princely State of Awadh (1732 – 1858). Replacing the diminished Mughals as the greatest force in North India, there was ample reason for them to construct monuments to at the very least rival, if not surpass, the grandeur of their predecessors. Ascending to dominance did not however present itself as just a physical dilemma, but also socio-religious. A Shi’i dynasty replacing no ordinary Sunni dynasty, but a great one, thus required the new polity to aggressively flaunt their religious positions.[9] Hence, the sprawling Imambara complex was conceived, whose blueprint is found below:


Asaf al-Dawla (d. 1797), the fourth Nawab of Awadh, commissioned the complex such that it not only possessed a mosque rivalling that of the neighboring Sunni dominions, but that it possessed an Imambargah that trumped the mosque in size.[11] Furthermore, in outdoing their competitors, they sought to employ challenging architectural techniques in order to display their finesse.


A marvel of craftsmanship, till date it is considered the largest unsupported arched brick building, containing a vaulted chamber specially designed for acoustic amplification of the speaker’s voice.[13] Therefore, the central aspect of the Imambargah is the minbar (pulpit) on which the Majlis khatib (lecturer) sits. Thus, these two aspects, the projection of speech, and the Dargah altar represent the architectural peculiarities of an Imambargah as a physical building. Hence, Imambargahs in general, be it in the form of massive structures in Karachi funded by wealth, or small storefronts in Brooklyn, they all aspire to possess these two aspects; aspects derived directly from royal endeavors.

The Majlis-i Husayn Choreographed Process

As the architecture of the venue of the Majlis-i Husayn requires specifications, so does the format of the gathering. No matter where the Majlis is taking place, if it is in the Urdu language it will stick to a precisely choreographed structure.[14] This structure is as follows:

  1. Recitation of the Qur’an
  2. Recitation of Hadith al-Kisa – a narrative of the Almighty’s declaration of the five Divinely purified members of the Prophetic family, consisting of: Muhammad, ‘Ali, Fatimah, Hasan, and Husayn.
  3. Recitation of Poetry – typically in group fashion with a lead reciter (soz khwan/marsiya khwan) and companions to echo their voice. This recitation is divided into three elements consisting of specialized poetry[15]:
    1. The first element is Soz Khwani – soz is a ruba’i (quatrain), recited alone by the soz khwan, while the companions are only to make a soft droning sound. As it is the shortest form of poetry recited, it is expected to possess the highest level of literary skill. A good soz is expected to require deep concentration and reflection for one to understand its meaning.
    2. The second element is the Salam – consists of a ghazal in the form of refrained couplets, intended to serve as a salutation for the chosen martyr of the Majlis. Thematically it should cover the virtues and heroics of that martyr.
    3. The third element is Marsiya Khwani – marsiya is a musaddas (sets of six lines/sestains) form of poetry that is elegiac and extremely passionate, its purpose is to theatrically describe the martyrdom scene and cause the audience to weep.
  4. The Majlis lecture – divided into three parts
    1. Part One, Tamhid/Sar namah-i kalam (preface) – the beginning of the lecture begins with an Arabic khutbah to serve as a preface, typically it consists of the Islamic incipits of ‘A’udhu Billah and the Basmala, then a panegyric of God, leading into a salutation upon the Prophet, his family, and sometimes his companions. Depending on the level of training of the lecturer, the preface should be in pristine Arabic in the form of rhyming prose. The preface is to end with a verse of the Qur’an, or saying of the Prophet and/or his family that should serve as the basis of the lecture.
    2. Part Two, Hadith – this is the sermon of the lecturer, and in South Asia it is expected to be in highfalutin Urdu. While the purpose is to elaborate on the verse or saying in the preface, it routinely devolves into a display of passionate oratory, consisting of both a dramatic retelling of history as well as polemical jabs at the [Sunni] adversary.
    3. Part Three, Masa’ib (tragedy) – typically begins with the lecturer either removing his head-covering (turban or cap) or uttering a catchphrase that automatically causes the atmosphere to become somber. In this grand finale of the lecture, the maqtal (battle/killing scene) is to be narrated causing the audience to cry into a frenzy.
  5. Matamdari (flagellation) – mostly sinah zani (chest beating), rarely zanjir zani/khooni matam (bloodletting).
    1. Nawha Khwani – unlike the earlier pre-lecture recitation of poetry, the nawha (lamentation) does not have any specific format other than maintaining refrains for the audience to chant, and that it can be recited singular or in a group. This nawha khwani is accompanied by chest beating that follows musical timing.
    2. Alwida’i Matam – after the nawhas are recited, an ecstatic form of matam is done in which the chest beating begins at a steady pace and quickly escalates to a rapid form, all whilst chanting the name of Husayn (or another martyr). At the most rapid point of the matamdari, abruptly the salawat (salutations upon the Prophet and his family) is recited immediately ending the matam and quieting the chanting.[16]
  6. Ziyarat (visitation)
    1. Reciting the Ziyarat Supplication – Facing the shrine cities of Karbala and Najaf, the Arabic supplications recited upon visiting the burial sites of the martyred Imams are recited with the intention of making an absentia pilgrimage.[17]
    2. Performing Ziyarat of the Dargah – after reciting the ziyarat supplication in lieu of not being able to visit the real mausoleums, the Majlis participants visit the Dargah altar and express their devotion therein.
  7. Nazr/Niyaz – in ultimate conclusion food is either distributed in rations, or is eaten on the spot. The credit for the meal is given to the Imam himself, as the word Imambargah for the venue elucidates that the Imam himself is the host of the ceremony.


While the Majlis-i Husayn looks highly charged and anarchic, it is as discussed above precisely planned; from the frenzy of tears to the ecstatic flagellation all is choreographed, to the insider nothing is unpredictable. The format of the Majlis-i Husayn was carefully drawn in the royal courts of the Deccan and North India, who employed the greatest of architects, and the best of poets and orators, all setting precedent for future organizers of the mourning sessions.[18] [19] The stringency of the format has led to it becoming semi-ritualized, ignoring the fact that the practice is only Islamicate (cultural) and not at all religiously enforceable, yet heeded to as if it were mandatory. It has attained such ritualistic status that if even one aspect was skipped or not undertaken in the inherited method the Majlis would seem incomplete. Nevertheless, it is left to be seen how these centuries old antique forms of emotive choreography react to this rapidly evolving age of technology.


ALI, SYED AYUB. “MIR MOMIN, PRIME MINISTER OF GOLCONDA KINGDOM: His Contributions To Cultural Development Of The Deccan (SUMMARY).” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 55 (1994): 438-39.

Keshani, Hussein. “Architecture and the Twelver Shiʿi Tradition: The Great Imambara Complex of Lucknow.” Muqarnas 23 (2006): 219-50.

Khalidi, Umar. “THE SHIʿITES OF THE DECCAN: AN INTRODUCTION.” Rivista Degli Studi Orientali 64, no. 1/2 (1990): 5-16.

Mazumdar, Shampa, and Sanjoy Mazumdar. “IN MOSQUES AND SHRINES: WOMEN’S AGENCY IN PUBLIC SACRED SPACE.” Journal of Ritual Studies 16, no. 2 (2002): 165-79.

Qureshi, Regula Burckhardt. “Islamic Music in an Indian Environment: The Shi’a Majlis.” Ethnomusicology 25, no. 1 (1981): 41-71. doi:10.2307/850974.

Rajput, Abdul Aziz, Mir Muhammad Momin-i-Astarabadi: A ” Peshwa ” of Qutub Shahis, (Bijapur)

Pinault, David. “Shia Lamentation Rituals and Reinterpretations of the Doctrine of Intercession: Two Cases from Modern India.” History of Religions 38, no. 3 (1999): 285-305.

Ruffle, Karen G. “Wounds of Devotion: Reconceiving Mātam in Shiʿi Islam.” History of Religions 55, no. 2 (2015): 172-95. doi:10.1086/683065


  1. Cole, Juan, Roots of North Indian Shi’ism in Iran and Iraq, (Los Angeles, University of California Press., 1984) 22 – 23.
  2. Rajput, Abdul Aziz, Mir Muhammad Momin-i-Astarabadi: A “Peshwa” of Qutub Shahis, (Bijapur)
  3. Ali, Syed Ayub. “Mir Momin, Prime Minister of Golconda Kingdom: His Contributions To Cultural Development Of The Deccan (SUMMARY).” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 55 (1994): 439.
  4. Picture of the Ashurkhanah in Hyderabad, central is the Dargah
  5. Keshani, Hussein. “Architecture and the Twelver Shiʿi Tradition: The Great Imambara Complex of Lucknow.” Muqarnas 23 (2006): 221.
  6. Khalidi, Umar. “THE SHIʿITES OF THE DECCAN: AN INTRODUCTION.” Rivista Degli Studi Orientali 64, no. 1/2 (1990): 10.
  7. Mazumdar, Shampa, and Sanjoy Mazumdar. “IN MOSQUES AND SHRINES: WOMEN’S AGENCY IN PUBLIC SACRED SPACE.” Journal of Ritual Studies 16, no. 2 (2002): 170.
  8. Keshani, 226.
  9. The Nawabs of Awadh replaced the Mughals in terms of power and prestige, nevertheless the Mughal Sultanate continued in name till 1857, the empire having long ended, yet the Nawabs maintained a meaningless fealty to the Mughals till the very end.
  10. Keshani, 221
  11. The appellation is confusing, as in form it is an Imambargah, but its name is a word of similar spelling ‘Imambara,’ meaning the Imam’s Enclosure.
  12. Picture is of the inside of the Imambara, its vaulted ceiling and length can be seen.
  13. Keshani, 220
  14. Khalidi, 10 – 11
  15. Qureshi, 45
  16. Ruffle, Karen G. “Wounds of Devotion: Reconceiving Mātam in Shiʿi Islam.” History of Religions 55, no. 2 (2015): 193.
  17. The supplications that are recited are to be found in the Mafatih al-Jinan compilation of Shaykh Abbas al-Qummi (d. 1940 AH)
  18. Mu’min-i Astarabadi was regarded as one of the greatest minds of his era, and his services were sought throughout Persia and Muslim India.
  19. The famed Mir Anis, listed amongst the greatest poets of the Urdu language was employed by the Nawabs of Awadh, and he primarily wrote the pre-Majlis marsiya poetry. Concerning the crucial role Mir Anis played in the formation of Urdu poetry as a whole, the Urdu scholar and historian Shamsur Rahman Faruqi writes: “The mention of Mir Anis may surprise some of us until we realize it that Mir Anis’s Marsiyas are the best pre-modern model in Urdu of narrative-historical, narrative-lyrical, and oral-dramatic poetry, and Iqbal’s poetry extends and exploits the possibilities created by Anis.”

Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, and the Social Problem

Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, and the Social Problem

Written by Shabbir Agha Abbas


When it comes to the seminary of Najaf, the intellectual heart of Twelver Shi’ism, there are scholars aplenty; therefore, a generational scholar to arise therein would require them to produce truly innovative and direction-altering intellectual output. One such generational scholar was Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (1353/1935 – 1400/1980), who lived a remarkable but yet tragically short life of a scholar.[1] He was a jurist par excellence who attempted to respond to the philosophical challenges of capitalism and communism in the mid-twentieth century. In his attempts at intellectually combating capitalism and communism, he produced two manifestos, Falsafatuna and Iqtisaduna, that truly are masterclasses in the deep ‘aqli (rational) and mantiqi (logical) tendencies within the Twelver Shi’i tradition. These two manifestos, alongside the rest of his bibliography, highlights a man ultimately concerned with the preservation of human dignity. Nevertheless, this piece will not delve into either manifestos or his juridical works, as that task would exceed the limits of this exposition, instead this piece will attempt at encapsulating an essay that Baqir al-Sadr wrote as a foreword to his Falsafatuna. This essay is titled ‘The Social Problem’ (المسألة الاجتماعية), which serves as an initial rebuke of the two western traditions in their implementations of social systems (governments), prior to delving into the specific complexities within Falsafatuna and Iqtisaduna. In essence this paper should also serve as an insight into the modern Twelver’s understanding of contemporary politics and global trends.

Origins and Brief Biography

Jabal ‘Amil in the South of present-day Lebanon historically was a land that produced numerous Shi’i scholars. It was recognized as a major intellectual center, giving rise to the likes of Shahid al-Awwal (d. 786/1384) and Shahid al-Thani (d. 966/1559). The ancestral family of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr too arose from this region of the levant and were known not only for their scholarly prowess but also as Shurafa, descendants of the Prophet through the lineage of Musa al-Kazim (d. 183/799). This clan of Musawi Shurafa came to be known as Al Sharaf al-Din upon the laqab (honorific) of an ancestor, al-Sharif ‘Sharaf al-Din’ Ibrahim (d. 1080/1670), who resided in the village of Jaba’.[2][3] Till the contemporary era, eminent Shi’i scholars from this ancestry have carried the Sharaf al-Din name with pride, such as the famed mujtahid, ‘Abd al-Husayn Sharaf al-Din al-Musawi (d. 1377/1957); responsible for the taqrib (ecumenic) movement in the early part of the twentieth century, advocating the proximity of Sunni and Shi’i Muslims.

In the year 1197/1783, Sadr al-Din Muhammad b. Salih Sharaf al-Din (d. 1264 AH/1848 CE) a great-great grandfather of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr’s migrated along with several members of the Sharaf al-Din clan to Iraq in response to the Fitnah of Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar (d. 1219/1804), the Ottoman governor of Sidon [and later Damascus].[4] This Fitnah was a pogrom of the Shi’i population of Southern Lebanon, beginning in the year 1189/1775 continuing through the extent of al-Jazzar’s rule culminating in his death; it was in this Fitnah that an elder brother of Sadr al-Din’s, Hibat Allah al-Musawi was killed.[5] Upon arrival in Iraq, Sadr al-Din studied in the seminary of Karbala under the tutelage of Ja’far Kashif al-Ghita’ (d. 1227/1812) and it is said that he attained the level of ijtihad at the minor age of 13, he too married a daughter of his teacher.[6] After completing his education he migrated to the city of Isfahan in Iran, where his stature vastly grew and deriving from his name, Sadr al-Din, a new appellation ‘al-Sadr’ appeared for his descendants, replacing the surname of Sharaf al-Din. Sayyid Isma’il al-Sadr (1338/1920), son of Sadr al-Din returned the family back to Iraq from Isfahan, and based himself in Karbala to serve as a marja’ al-taqlid (source of emulation). Sayyid Isma’il al-Sadr is most notable for being one of the first Shi’i clerics to implant himself into the emerging discourse of pan-Islamism, by declaring fatawa for Muslims broadly to unite and fight back against the European powers; the Russian wars with Iran and the brutal Italian occupation of Libya greatly influenced his outlook, which ultimately resulted in his public support of the [later-titled] Iraqi thawrat al-’Ishrin (1920) movement against the British before passing away.[7] His son was Sayyid Haydar al-Sadr who continued the familial role of serving the Shi’i community as a mujtahid, and he based himself in the Kazimiyyah neighborhood in Northern Baghdad.[8] He had three children, his oldest was Sayyid Isma’il al-Sadr (d. 1388/1969), his second was Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (b. 1353/1935), the subject of this analysis, and the youngest, a daughter named Aminah (Bint al-Huda) (b. 1356/1937). Haydar al-Sadr tragically died only a few months after Aminah’s birth. At the young age of three, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr was orphaned, he and his infant sister were thus raised by their elder brother Isma’il.

Baqir al-Sadr was only thirteen years junior of his elder brother Isma’il, meaning the elder al-Sadr himself was quite young at the passing of their father. Nevertheless, Isma’il al-Sadr not only fulfilled the paternal role for his younger siblings, but also gave them their initial religious training as was expected of one from the clerical al-Sadr family. At the age of seven Baqir al-Sadr enrolled into the newly formed Muntada al-Nashr School, established by Sayyid Murtada al-’Askari (d. 1428/2007) and Shaykh Muhammad Rida al-Muzaffar (d. 1383/1964).[9] While the elementary program was designed to last six years, Baqir al-Sadr completed it in only three and at the age of ten he was ready to move on to the seminary of Najaf. Therein he studied with some of the greatest of scholars, including both Marja’ al-Taqlids, Sayyid Muhsin al-Hakim Tabataba’i (d. 1390/1970) as well as Sayyid Abu’l Qasim al-Khu’i (d. 1413/1992).[10] He showed brilliance in his studies such that he fully completed his Hawzah (seminary) training by the age of 20, and was recognized by other seminarians as a mujtahid in his early 20s. During this period, the Iraqi Communist Party gained popularity amongst the people of Najaf. Inspired by Hawzah graduates turned communist, such as Husayn Muhammad al-Shabibi (d. 1368/1949) and the Lebanese Husayn Muruwwah (d. 1410/1987), the politically marginalized and poorer Shi’i of Southern Iraq were attracted to the call of class warfare and social revolution. In response to these philosophical challenges, Baqir al-Sadr, at the age of 24, wrote Falsafatuna (Our Philosophy), the first of his two manifestos critiquing western thought; the second being Iqtisaduna (Our Economics), analyzing the western economic systems. His prodigal youth and rapid ascension within the scholarly ranks is not necessarily what he is remembered for, instead it is his acute awareness of modernity and the challenges that it posed to Islam and Muslim as displayed in these two works. In the former he dissects western philosophy, that of Kant, Hume, Berkeley, Marx, et al, and in the latter he demonstrates what an Islamic system of economy is and why it is substantially better than the three western systems, capitalism, communism, and socialism. Philosophically he promoted the concept of Islamic rationalism, and in regard to economics he developed a theory formulated on Qur’anic principles of justice. Additionally as a faqih (as a jurist), he introduced many knew concepts and tools for deriving jurisprudence, one such concept was called al-sirat al-‘uqala’iyyah (السيرة العقلائية) in which he refined the concept of ‘urf (عرف) to denote to the conduct of rational people.[11] Unfortunately, his genius and revolutionary thought process ultimately led to his demise. His powerful intellectual output propelled him to the forefront of Shi’i Islamist politics of Iraq, resulting in his emergence as the leader of Hizb al-Da’wah. Therefore, in the year 1980, a year after the Islamic Revolution in neighboring Iran, the Shi’i of Iraq were at the highest point of their self-esteem, frightening Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Baath Party. In response he had Baqir al-Sadr arrested, brutally tortured and executed at the young age of 45.[12] Alongside him, his younger sister, Bint al-Huda, who in many ways was equal to her brother as a renowned writer, was executed at the age of 42; she was known for her skill of composing stories addressed to the female audience, in which she advocated similar Islamic ideals as her brother. The loss of both siblings in their prime really devastated Shi’i Muslims globally, and till this day many wonder in sadness as to what could have been if Baqir al-Sadr and his mind were allowed to flourish.

Two Fundamental Investigations, Brief Overview of Falsafatuna

            In the introductory words of Falsafatuna, Baqir al-Sadr explains that the Muslim world fell into the hands of colonizers, resulting in the popularization of western ideologies. This was so because these western powers not only colonized the Muslim world but also competed amongst each other in terms of controlling the local intellectual and political spheres of existence. In order to survive this philosophical onslaught, Muslims had to respond in a powerful manner that could clearly and comprehensively deflate the arguments of the west. In his opinion the Muslim response had to be complete and thorough, such that it could victoriously represent God’s word on the intellectual battlefield. Therefore, in his approach to formulating this response he basis his Falsafatuna manifesto on two fundamental investigations:

  1. Theory of Knowledge (نظرية المعرفة)
  2. Philosophical Perspectives of the World (المفهوم الفلسفي للعالم)

The first investigation is in function preparatory for the second, in totality it serves as an argument for the rationality of logic as defined by Twelver Shi’ism. The need for this is that it serves as an elucidation on the methodology used by Baqir al-Sadr in the second investigation, which would initially require one to determine ‘the principle method of thought, the general criterion of true knowledge, and the extent of the value of true knowledge.’ The second investigation is divided into five subsections: philosophical notions in conflict (المفاهيم الفلسفية المتصارعة في الميدان), dialectic ideologies (الديالكتيك), principle and laws of causality (مبدأ العلّية وقوانينها), matter and God (المادة او الله), and awareness/knowledge (الادراك). Nevertheless, before even getting into these two investigations, Baqir al-Sadr inserts a preceding essay on ‘The Social Problem (المسألة الاجتماعية), which is the locus of analysis of this paper. It is hoped that in a future paper, one of the five subsections from Falsafatuna could also be examined.

The Social Problem (المسألة الاجتماعية)

            Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr begins this essay by asking the fundamental question: “Which system brings order to human beings, and provides for them a happy social life?” [13] [14][15]According to Baqir al-Sadr, the answer to this question serves as the preoccupation of humankind, producing answers upon answers. Humans have been suggesting and applying a variance of possible systems since the primitive age of communal living, and these different systems have sometimes led to the betterment of life, but at many times have led to the harm of life. Therefore, the search for the best system has led to the ridding of one and replacing it with the other, sometimes violently; chiefdoms, kingships, all have come and gone. According to Baqir al-Sadr, the three most pervasive systems in this realm of modernity are:

  1. The Capitalistic System (النظام الديمقراطي الرأسمالي)
  2. The Socialistic System (النظام  الاشتراكي)
  3. The Communistic System (النظام  الشيوعي)

In contention with all three, presented as the answer to the fundamental question of order and happiness, Baqir al-Sadr introduces his concept of the Islamic System (النظام  الإسلامي). In this essay al-Sadr elaborates on the three, pinpoints their flaws and drawbacks, and then attempts to demonstrate the excellence of Islam.

The Capitalistic System

            According to Baqir al-Sadr, the capitalistic system was introduced as a means to rid of the historic injustices associated with dictatorial rule as well as the stagnation of the ideational European church. Capitalism promoted the locus of power to shift to the individual instead, such that total confidence was to be afforded to the individual, with the assumption that one’s personal interests ultimately aligns with that of society as a whole. The capitalistic system called for four basic freedoms: political (السياسة), economic (الاقتصادية), ideational (الفكرية), and individual (الشخصية).[16] Political freedom demands that the voice of every citizen be heard and their conceptualization of what constitutes good life be respected, especially in the context of legislation and the distribution of power. Thus, individuals actively participate in erecting and maintaining the system, and in this process all participants are determined to be equal; this equality is the basis for suffrage and general elections. Economic freedom, like political freedom, too gives total confidence to the individual, in that individuals in a private capacity own both consumption and production without limitations. This unrestrictive capability for private ownership results in a free economy, where individuals can buy and sell as they please for motives entirely personal. Defenders of a free economy typically make three claims in support of their position. The first claim being that the general principles of allowing citizens to freely pursue a livelihood, to operate businesses and compete in the marketplace, leads to the happiness of society. Secondly, personal interest, especially that of avoiding harm and maintaining happiness leads to general social welfare. Thirdly, competition in the free market naturally allows for justice and fairness to govern contracts and dealings; if prices go abnormally high demand drops, therefore free markets are self-regulatory. Personal interest would always influence producers to improve their products to both maintain and increase sales, while competition between parties would allow for rates of goods and salaries of employees to become standardized. Ideational freedom guarantees the individual ideological and doctrinal liberty, whereas in the past people were forced to conform to the dictates of the church. This freedom allows for individuals to freely utilize their mental capacity and determine what they deem best, their intellects are allowed to work on their own accord, allowing them to draw up their own conclusions concerning the questions of life. Likewise, individual freedom is the liberation of the human will, to the extent that the individual is given control over their personal conduct, and can thus largely do as they please. However, this individual freedom is not unrestricted, instead it is allowed to function freely until it affects the rights and freedoms of others. Hence, as long as the individual does not cross the boundary of affecting others then they are free to live in whatever way that pleases them. In a capitalistic system, religious freedom is simply an expression of this very ideational freedom; as religion is regarded as just another idea.

            After expounding on the four freedoms that are to be guaranteed by the capitalistic system, Baqir al-Sadr makes the point that while the intentions may have been pure, the system in practice is wholly materialistic. Those who set up this system originally did not fully comprehend the philosophical implications, as the capitalistic system divorces those living under it from everything that is not related to material things and benefits. The Industrial Revolution of the 1700s guaranteed that the capitalistic system would essentially possess a materialistic tendency, the reason for this is that this revolution arose in conflict with the church. The Industrial Revolution was fueled by the arrival of technological and scientific advancements, which in turn arose from a growing intellectual rebellion from the church which historically enforced their own version of ‘truths’ controlling the ideational aspect of individuals. This intellectual rebellion promoted skepticism and doubt against what the church presented as truth, instead deferring to empiricism, giving rise to experimentation. The church was blamed for intellectual stagnation and the various abuses and corruptions of the powerful; the responding intellectual rebellion was welcomed as it not only culled the influence of the church but resulted in a supposed drastic betterment of the European standard of living. However, the true change that the Industrial Revolution brought to society was a constant impatient demand for more production; this may have brought more prosperity to society, but it also froze out any considerations of the actual situation of life. While the church is definitely to blame for many wrongs, the replacement of religion with the material tendency all but removed morality and ethics from consideration. The capitalistic system boasts that none can tell the individual what to do or not to do, and this is its very downfall as there is no tertiary entity that could influence the individual towards good conduct and moderation in their lives. Fulfilling the criterions of faith was replaced with individual interest as the highest objective, thus resulting in many of the tragedies that have befallen capitalistic societies. Supporters of the capitalistic system would argue that the objectives of the spiritual principles in religion are still being met as the maintenance of social interests is a requisite for any system to exist, that a tertiary moral authority is not needed. Baqir al-Sadr responds to this by stating that these social services in capitalistic societies are driven purely by personal interest, that the state of society directly impacts the individual’s benefits as demanded by the material tendency. Morality, according to Baqir al-Sadr, is not limited to just these social services that are based on the language of benefits, it goes beyond personal interests by delving into the realm of the unquantifiable, a true moral act does not necessitate a benefit in return.  

            As mentioned earlier, Baqir al-Sadr opined that capitalistic systems were plagued by tragedies, one such tragedy is that of argumentum ad populum. Political freedom in the capitalistic system meant that the majority governed the minority, that the needs and desires of the majority gave direction to the given nation. The majority alone had the prerogative to manage the system, to introduce and enforce legislation. What results from this is that the welfare of the majority and the preservation of their interests becomes the objective of the governing system, the minority are left defenseless and thus fall through the cracks; the welfare and interests of the minority are all but forgotten. Bereft of any moral and spiritual guidelines, the social mentality in a capitalist system would fail to be concerned of any injustices that it enacts on the minority, this is particularly dangerous. If the social mentality of the majority desires despotism, nothing can stop despotism from arising; hence, capitalism does not improve life in relation with the systems of the past, Baqir al-Sadr vociferously writes:

 وبطبيعة الحال، إنّ التحكّم سوف يبقى في ظلّ النظام كما في السابق، و أن مظاهر الاستغلال والاستهتار بحقوق الآخرين ومصالحهم ستحفَظ في الجو الاجتماعي لهذا النظام كحالها في الأجواء الاجتماعية القديمة. وغاية ما في الموضوع من فرق: أنّ الاستهتار بالكرامة الإنسانية من قِبَل أفراد بأمٌة، واصبح في هذا النظام من الفئات التي تمثِّل الاكثريات بالنسبة إلى الاقلِّيات التي تشكِّل بمجموعها عدداً هائلاً من البشر.

“It is natural that under (this capitalistic) system, the despotic rule continues as before, and that the phenomena of manipulation and neglect of the rights and interests of others persist in the social atmosphere of this system as they did in the old social atmosphere. Put briefly, the difference [between the present and the old systems] is that neglect of human dignity arose [in the older systems] because of individuals in the nation; while in the present system, it arises because of groups that represent majorities in relation to minorities. [But] the totality [of these minorities] constitutes a large number of people.”[17]

This switching of the locus of despotism from singular individuals as in the past to the majority as an entity is not the only tragedy of capitalistic systems according to al-Sadr, for this despotism coupled with the mentioned material tendency allows for the rise of an elite class with no concern other than multiplying their wealth. These elite, al-Sadr explains, could care less about how deviant their methods are in the acquisition of wealth, as the capitalistic system urges individuals to look out for their personal interests and benefits, thus any exploitation by them is regarded as justified. The middle class are turned into a commodity in which they serve the needs of the elite by working underpaid in their factories and industries. They technically still possess equality of political rights, but by virtue of the elite’s economic power, these rights are in many ways dismissed. As the elite possess the means of mass propaganda and whatever else is needed to defend their positions, this equality of political rights is largely nullified. Another tragedy of this capitalistic system is that of the earth, in order to maximize profits more and more raw material must be consumed. In order to attain these raw materials land grabs have to take place, and whatever or whomever gets in the way of these capitalistic interests are simply annihilated. The calamity of the Amazon Rainforest and its indigenous peoples is a direct result of this materialistic tendency, of this systematized greed.

Communism and Socialism (الاشتراكية والشيوعية)

Baqir al-Sadr begins his analysis of communism by introducing the reader to the concept of dialectical materialism. Dialectical materialism (المادية الجدلية) is a procedure of scientifically looking at history and analyzing its metamorphosis materialistically. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (d. 1831) is credited with first introducing dialectical materialism, however it was truly popularized by the likes of Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels. According to Hegel a dialectic is a turning point for something especially when confronted with a conflict.[18] The dialectic can be divided into three parts, the thesis which is something already established, the inherent opposite or contradiction of this is the antithesis. The resolution of the two disagreeing propositions is called the synthesis. Karl Marx does not necessarily agree with dialectics in this format, as he thinks it’s too abstract and opens the door to irrelevant questions, like those of religion. Marx is purely concerned in materialism, he writes:

“My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life-process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which, under the name of “the Idea,” he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos (god-figure) of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of “the Idea.” With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought.”[19]

Marx contended that the working class, the proletariat, have been suffering in a constant struggle between those in power, the bourgeois; this he termed as “Class Struggle.” For him, the aristocratic class (monarchs, dictators, politicians, et al) have always controlled the welfare of all of society, and in this position, they only looked out for themselves whilst exploiting the proletariat. So, according to Marx the thesis in this scenario are the bourgeois, whereas the antithesis are the class conscious proletariat. The transitory stage towards the synthesis are both class struggle and revolution, while the synthesis is communism where the working class are given control over the means of production

Hence, for Marx this dialectic method was to be applied on history, economics, on society; when the three are combined it circles the entirety of humankind. Thus, Karl Marx achieved two things, one he thought to have conceptualized all of human history in terms of material, and two he claimed that he comprehended the contradictions within the capitalistic system, that it was a case of never ending theft; employers exploited their employees to attain unfair benefit. These two assumptions of his led him to propose the abolishment of capitalism, and the erection of socialistic and communistic ideals in society. According to the proponents of socialism, every social situation is innately a material phenomenon, and that every individual’s personal situation is in conflict and contradiction with that of others. When these conflicts and contradictions accumulate, there is no choice but for changes to arise in these situations, gradually resulting in the alignment of interests, until all become unified as one unified class. This gradual social unification does away with the toxic multiplicity of classes in the capitalistic system, leading to peace and tranquility in society. The proponents of communism differ with those of socialism on methodology here, they instead propose three immediate steps. Firstly, private ownership must be obliterated, and all property must be transferred to the masses by being entrusted to the state, the state in turn manages this property to meet the interests of the people. Secondly, all the proceeds of the state must be divided amongst the people based on their consumption, as Marx states “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”[20] The individual devotes themselves in service to the state, in return the state fulfills their natural needs. Thirdly, the state forges a necessary economic plan to meet the needs of the people, not meeting these needs would lead to the very same tragedies that capitalism is afflicted with.

Deviation From the Communist Operation

Even though the language espoused by the communists is revolutionary, according to Baqir al-Sadr wherever such a group seized power they were unable to implement as they desired. Instead they were forced to recognize that a slow teaching process of society would initially be required. Therefore, instead of enacting true communism they always deferred to socialism, where the total annulment of private ownership was toned down to the nationalization of heavy industry, control of foreign trade, and large government oversight on everything in between. By doing so the greed of employers and the exploitation of employees would not be totally erased from society, however by removing access to large capital from individuals the previous never-ending theft was hoped to be greatly diminished. Nevertheless, for Baqir al-Sadr this well-intended design was doomed from its very onset, as it could not agree with the very essence of human nature. Without any motivation to work harder at their jobs, neglect and laziness would become regular. Therefore, these governments had no option but to apologetically introduce some capitalistic ideals to increase workers’ morale; small forms of competition were utilized, greater salaries were offered based on rank. Thus, these communist states were subject to continual change when confronted with reality, the reality of human nature. Communism is truly designed for an end result when communal and social mentalities prevail, such that when achieved the need for a state itself is abrogated. However, this philosophy would entail a Machiavellian “ends justify the means” process, where dictatorial governments could prevail in the meantime as long as the stated goal was the protection of the labor class. Nevertheless, this is the most crucial difference from the capitalistic system, the capitalistic system is not grounded in a philosophical basis, a philosophical eschatology, there is no intended conclusion. At the same time the single purpose of the communistic system is to destroy the individual, and make it an instrument of society, whereas the capitalistic system liberates the individual and treats society as its instrument for subjugation. In the capitalistic system the individual personality wins, in which legislation serves its interests, leading to societal afflictions. Whereas in the communistic system, the social personality wins such that the individual personality is quelled, leading to the loss of natural rights and freedoms.

            Of the many flaws within the communistic system, for al-Sadr the erasure of the individual proves to be its greatest weakness. In order to treat the malady that was private ownership, the proponents of this system brought forth a treatment that was simply too high in cost. The tremendous social transformation that communism demanded is a cure that is worse than the disease, Baqir al-Sadr writes:

“…this power quiets any voice that grows loud, stifles any breath of freedom that circulates in society, monopolizes all the means of propaganda and publicity, imposes limits on the nation that the nation cannot exceed under any circumstances and punishes on the ground of accusation and speculation, so that it does not suddenly lose its grip on the reins of power. This is natural in any system one seeks to impose on a nation, before the mentality of that system matures in that nation, and before the spirit of that system prevails.

Indeed, if the materialistic human being begins to think in a social manner, to consider his interests with a social mentality and to be free of all personal sentiments, private inclinations and psychological effects, it would be possible to erect a system in which individuals melt away. With that, nothing would remain at the scene except the huge social giant. But the realization of this in a materialistic human being who does not believe in anything except in a limited life, and who does not perceive any sense of life except that of material pleasure requires a miracle that creates heaven in the present life and brings it down from the highest to earth.

The communists promise us this heaven. They await that day in which the factory will put an end to human nature, recreate ideal humankind in thinking and acting even though they do not believe in any idealistic and moral values. If this miracle is realized, we will then have some words for them.

Under this system, even if the individual acquires full insurance and social security for his life and needs because the social wealth supplies him with all of this at the time of need, nevertheless, it would be better for him to obtain this insurance without losing the breath of righteous freedom, without melting away in fire as a person, and without drowning in a stormy social sea”[21]

For Baqir al-Sadr the communist proposition forced people into humiliation, into a position of having to choose dignity or choose the satisfaction of their needs. Likewise, in order to impose their conformation, the communists necessarily resort to fear and punishment of their subjects, this outrightly fails the very fundamental question that all social systems try to answer, “Which system brings order to human beings, and provides for them a happy social life?” Baqir al-Sadr argues that the communists wrongly put all the blame for the evils of capitalism on the issue of private property, when private property by itself is powerless. Private property does not directly command for despotism in the workplace, or the monopolization of the markets. Private property does not ask for any of that, instead the root of the evils in capitalism is the morally unregulated material interests of individuals. If a moral code, a higher purpose for life, were introduced into society the abuse of private property would plummet.

The Correct Explanation of the Social Problem, and its Solution

            For Baqir al-Sadr, both the proponents of capitalism and communism introduced their ideologies as solutions to the discussed social problem, “which system brings order to human beings, and provides for them a happy social life?” Of the two systems, communism does not even attempt at solving this problem as it is designed purely as a response to capitalism. Thus, by deriving the root factor in capitalism’s attempt at an answer, the essential flaw of both capitalism and communism can be delineated. Therefore, if the crux behind capitalism is killed, the communist campaign against natural rights and freedoms as well as private property can too be extinguished. The result of this would be that the tools of capitalism, which are abused in the quest of excesses, could be transformed into a means of furthering human development and welfare for the underprivileged in society. The individual in the west’s implementation of capitalism is conditioned to consider their own personal material life as not only their greatest asset, but also the purpose of their life. Life is reduced to just a material dimension without any greater meaning. Therefore, the individual’s sense of pleasure is intrinsically tied with material factors, hence the natural instinct of self-love (حب الذات) that all humankind possess is fine-tuned onto the ways of capitalism. Self-love is the desire for happiness and aversion towards pain and misery, hence satisfying one’s material needs equates to happiness and not doing as such is a life of pain and misery. Even in the dimensions of sacrifice of parents for their children or friends for each other, ultimately according to capitalistic ideals they are done for personal benefit, be it emotional or otherwise. Therefore, capitalism alters the pure human instinct of self-love, transforming it into selfishness, which is then reflected in the behavior of those elite who hoard resources knowing well that others starve. According to Baqir al-Sadr, true self-love would instead find pleasure in “moral and emotional values,” where one deprives themselves of resources to ensure others get their share. He writes, “whenever we wish to create any change in human behavior, we must first change the human notion of pleasure and benefit, and then place the behavior desired in the general frame of the instinct of self-love.”[22] Understanding this, how could abolishing private property as the communists propose actually solve the tragedies of a capitalistic system? The communistic system is as trapped by materialistic notions as its antagonistic system is, both are designed specifically to respond to material needs, nothing more. If personal interests were solely represented by private property communism would not be as deficient as it is; personal interests – selfishness, instead are multifaceted.

The Islamic System, the Proper Treatment of the Problem

            As Baqir al-Sadr elucidated, the affliction of society is not private property, but it is instead the misused instinct of self-love within humankind. According to al-Sadr, there are only two options that can treat this malady. The first is what the communists attempted, and that is to replace the very nature of humans with another, such that they forget about their personal interests and instead give all their efforts to society. This would entail that self-love be excised from the very hearts of individuals and social love inserted into that vacancy. This first option demands that humankind wholly be reconstructed, but who is to be responsible for this societal surgery, and how long will that procedure take? This process is philosophically possible but practically implausible in implementation, and as mentioned before, in many ways this cure is worse than the disease itself. Nevertheless, for Baqir al-Sadr, seeing countless individuals submitting themselves to this communistic philosophy gives credence to how much society has suffered at the hands of the capitalistic system.

The second option is the Islamic option, which Baqir al-Sadr’s essay exposing both the capitalistic and communistic systems has all been leading up to. According to Baqir al-Sadr, the Islamic system came to adjust the human materialistic notion of life, he writes:

“Thus, Islam did not begin with the cancellation of private ownership. Rather, it assaulted the materialistic notion of life and posited, instead, a new notion of life. On the basis of this new notion, Islam established a system in which the individual is not considered as a mechanical tool in the social system, nor society as an organization established for the sake of the individual. Rather, it gave to each – the individual and society – their rights and insured for the individual both his spiritual and material dignity.”[23]

Capitalism from its onset was destined to fail, and communism by virtue of its incorrect prescription too was destined to fail. Happiness cannot be drawn from the materialistic essence of the capitalistic democracy; the social system must find deliverance through a non-materialistic means. Islam went about this by introducing to the world a new set of guiding principles for life, such that pleasure was to ultimately be found in the satisfaction of God. Therefore, while personal interest still exists, it no longer is the driving factor in the individual’s decision making, instead one attempts to align their personal interests with the interests of God. Thus, self-love that is so intrinsic to human nature is not at all eliminated as communist ideals would demand, instead the morals and objectives influencing it are replaced. According to Baqir al-Sadr’s reading of history, it was self-love that allowed for the earliest of humans to survive, to thwart off threats, it is how they preserved their lives. This earliest form of self-love is how social life developed, based off these mutual human needs. Attempting to rid humankind of self-love is not only fighting reality but fighting humanity at its origins.

            The moral criterion of trying to attain the satisfaction of God, works twofold, by both meeting the personal interests of individuals but also fulfilling the social objectives of society. This reconciliation can only occur through the advancement of religion [Islam], of which can be expressed in two forms. The first form is such that it explains life in a way that includes a concept of a just afterlife, that this life is only preparatory for that second life. Thus, these believers in religion would readily work towards establishing a happy society, implementing justice and equity amongst each other, such that they are proportionally compensated in the afterlife. This Baqir al-Sadr admits may be construed as a materialistic view, but he contends that the materialistic view of the other two systems limits the human outlook to just this world, whereas religion broadens one’s horizons such that their view on benefits and interests is much more profound. Baqir al-Sadr shares the following Qur’anic verses in his explication:

“He who does right it is for his soul, and he who does wrong it is against his soul” (41:46) [24]

“He who does right, whether male or female, and is a believer will enter Paradise where he will be provided for, without restriction” ( 40:40) [25]

“On that day, people will proceed in scattered groups to see their deeds. He who does good an atom’s weight will see it then, and he who does evil an atom’s weight will see it then” (99: 6-8) [26]

Thus, the profits in the view of religion concern good deeds and not wealth and resources, in fact in order to attain these good deeds many a times the believer is asked to sacrifice their worldly standing. This way personal interests as well as general human interests converge on the basis of goodness, as society together wants to please God.

            The second form of reconciliation as brought by religion that Baqir al-Sadr mentions is reconciliation through didactic means. Religion introduced to the people a moral education that focuses on their spiritual nourishment and upbringing. As mentioned earlier, individual’s personal interests and inclinations are multifaceted. Some of these inclinations lead the individual towards their desires for pleasure (sex, food, etc) and material gain, however individuals too possess spiritual inclinations which largely remain dormant unless released through a process of education. This education is entrusted to infallibles, be they in the form of Prophets or Imams, under their guidance spiritual growth and an elevated state of consciousness develops. The result of this education is that moral values and ideals as found in religious teachings supersede one’s personal interests and benefits. This alters self-love in such a way that its ultimate pleasure is in the pursuit of these values. Therefore, the Islamic state primarily educates the people on what life means in both a spiritual and moral context, and thus this understanding guarantees that there is a balance between the individual and of society when determining the central principles for legislation and governance. It is at this point that Baqir al-Sadr concludes his essay, and then segues into his Falsafatuna manifesto.

Al-Sadr’s Theory of Governance

            While Baqir al-Sadr does not elaborate on his theory of governance, it would be remiss if it is not briefly discussed here. When it comes to modern Shi’i political theory, focus is largely drawn towards Khomeini’s (d. 1409/1989) wilayat al-faqih (guardianship of the Islamic jurist), a form of the Platonic “philosopher-king” system, justified with Shi’i hadith that hint towards the deputization (niyabah) of the ‘ulama during the absence of the Twelfth Imam.[27] There is much to say about Khomeini’s theory, but that would lead to an entirely different discussion. However, Baqir al-Sadr, like Khomeini, too was working on theorizing a Shari’ah system that could function efficiently and justly in the modern era. The reason why al-Sadr and other thinkers within Twelver Shi’ism had to theorize, was that unlike the Sunni caliphal system, as defined by the likes of al-Mawardi (d. 450/1058) in his al-Akham al-Sultaniyyah, the concept of ruling as a Hakim al-Shar’ (Shari’ah Ruler) according to the historic demands of Twelver Shi’ism was limited strictly to the Prophet and the divinely appointed Imams after him. Therefore, these thinkers had to comprehensively examine the Qur’an and Hadith literature in order to extract other themes and principles to assist in enacting a Shari’ah system whilst not violating the Imamic prerogative. Nevertheless, Baqir al-Sadr due to his tragic death was not given the full opportunity to develop a theory, however the closest we can get to his understanding is his 1979 pamphlet Khilafat al-Insan wa Shahadat al-Anbiya’ (Man as the Trustee of God, Prophets as the Witnesses) written barely a year prior to his execution.[28] In this pamphlet al-Sadr traces the origins of the Shari’ah system to the origins of humanity itself, and he argues that the Qur’an states humankind were vested with a shared khilafah upon earth:

هُوَ الَّذِي جَعَلَكُمْ خَلَائِفَ الْأَرْضِ وَرَفَعَ بَعْضَكُمْ فَوْقَ بَعْضٍ دَرَجَاتٍ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ فِي مَا آتَاكُمْ ۗ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ سَرِيعُ الْعِقَابِ وَإِنَّهُ لَغَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ

“It is He Who has appointed you as khulafa upon the earth, and has raised some of you in rank above others, that He may try you in what He has given you. Surely thy Lord is swift in retribution; and surely He is All‑forgiving, All­-compassionate.” (6:165)

God created humans as khulafa, therefore humanity collectively are trustees in managing the world. Khilafah was conferred upon all of humanity as a trust, and it is a heavy responsibility, not to be disregarded. Likewise, humans were created with the attributes of desire, reason, freedom, and guidance; when their desires overpower the other attributes, they become Pharaonic. Thus, in order to correct humanity from drifting into despotism, infallible Prophets and Imams were sent by God to serve as shuhada (witnesses) upon humankind, guiding them when they stray, as is found in the 33rd chapter, Surat al-Ahzab:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ إِنَّا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ شَاهِدًا وَمُبَشِّرًا وَنَذِيرًا وَدَاعِيًا إِلَى اللَّهِ بِإِذْنِهِ وَسِرَاجًا مُّنِيرًا

“O Prophet, We have sent thee as a witness, and good tidings to bear and warning, calling unto God by His leave, and as a light-giving lamp.” (33:45-46)

More specifically, as the shahid (witness), the infallible is tasked with enjoining good and forbidding evil, and through this role legislates the Shari’ah, introducing laws for humankind. This is explained in the following verse of the 7th chapter, Surat al-A’raf:

الَّذِينَ يَتَّبِعُونَ الرَّسُولَ النَّبِيَّ الأُمِّيَّ الَّذِي يَجِدُونَهُ مَكْتُوبًا عِندَهُمْ فِي التَّوْرَاةِ وَالإِنْجِيلِ يَأْمُرُهُم بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَاهُمْ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَيُحِلُّ لَهُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَيُحَرِّمُ عَلَيْهِمُ الْخَبَآئِثَ وَيَضَعُ عَنْهُمْ إِصْرَهُمْ وَالأَغْلاَلَ الَّتِي كَانَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ فَالَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ بِهِ وَعَزَّرُوهُ وَنَصَرُوهُ وَاتَّبَعُواْ النُّورَ الَّذِيَ أُنزِلَ مَعَهُ أُوْلَـئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ

“those who follow the Messenger, ‘the Prophet of the common folk, whom they find written down with them in the Torah and the Gospel, enjoining them to good, and forbidding them evil, making lawful for them the good things and making unlawful for them the corrupt things, and relieving them of their loads, and the fetters that were upon them. Those who believe in him and succour him and help him, and follow the light that has been sent down with him — they are the prosperous.’” (7:157)

Thus, mankind is entrusted with khilafah and the infallibles are tasked with being shuhada over mankind. However, this role of enjoining good and forbidding evil is not limited to just the infallibles, instead it is also tasked upon the believing men and women, as is found in Surat al-Tawbah:

وَٱلۡمُؤۡمِنُونَ وَٱلۡمُؤۡمِنَـٰتُ بَعۡضُهُمۡ أَوۡلِيَآءُ بَعۡضٍ۬‌ۚ يَأۡمُرُونَ بِٱلۡمَعۡرُوفِ وَيَنۡهَوۡنَ عَنِ ٱلۡمُنكَرِ وَيُقِيمُونَ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَيُؤۡتُونَ ٱلزَّكَوٰةَ وَيُطِيعُونَ ٱللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ ۥۤ‌ۚ أُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ سَيَرۡحَمُهُمُ ٱللَّهُ‌ۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ۬

And the believers, the men and the women, are guardians one upon the other; they enjoin good, and forbid evil; they perform the prayer, and pay the alms, and they obey God and His Messenger. Those — upon them God will have mercy; God is All-mighty, All-wise.” (9:71)

Therefore, after the infallibles believers are shuhada of each other, in the sense that they hold each other accountable. Amongst the believers, the ‘ulama, specifically the marja’iyyah, by virtue of their great struggle in learning the religious sciences as well as their elevated piety are tasked with being witnesses upon society, and in turn the laypeople are shuhada over the scholars. Thus, for Baqir al-Sadr, in an envisioned Shari’ah state, the people are given democratic power as they are the khulafa, whereas Islamic jurists as shuhada are to play a role in the formulation of legislation through their necessary presence in the upper chamber. Similarly, Islamic jurists are to be given some authority within the judicial system, in order to judge the shari’i legitimacy of legislation. The marja’iyyah as an institution give direction to society by their constant advice, and they are to intervene in emergency situations through their issuance of fatawa in order to prevent calamities. The followers of Baqir al-Sadr named this system of shared responsibility for governance between the people and ‘ulama as wilayat al-ummah (guardianship of the Islamic community) in contrast to wilayat al-faqih of Khomeini.


            There are many legitimate questions that arise from Baqir al-Sadr’s otherwise impressive essay rebuking the western social systems, and of these three are foremost. In his analysis of the capitalistic system, he traces its partial origination as a response to the ideational tyranny of the church in Europe. No matter how much more progressive one can demonstrate Islam to be in contrast to Christianity, by ultimately imposing its principles and regulating them upon society is their not a threat of ideational tyranny here? The response would be that in Baqir al-Sadr’s theory, the ‘ulama are not all-powerful, instead power is not only shared with the people, but that the majority of power is in the hands of the people. The concern here would be that even if the power is largely in the hands of the people, who can speak authoritatively for Islam other than the ‘ulama? This brings one to the second question and that is, if the fallacy of capitalism is the concentration of power with the wealthy elite, and likewise in communism with the state officials, how can the ‘ulama, whom control the narrative of Islam in the Shari’ah state, not too go down the path of elitism. The third and last question is in regards to his treatment of communism and socialism, he considers the latter as a toned down version of the former, which is not necessarily true as socialism is founded upon its own ideological principles, distinct from communism. This point however can be forgiven as it is unknown how much access he had to such literature whilst in a place like Najaf. Nevertheless, Baqir al-Sadr’s ‘The Social Problem’ essay elucidates his grave concern for the welfare of humankind, as well as his honest empathy for the followers of the three western social systems. His approach is not of religious fanaticism but of genuine altruism, such that his selflessness ultimately led to his martyrdom on the 8th of April, 1980. His last public words were:

““…Oh my brothers from the sons of Mosul and Basra, from the sons of Baghdad, Karbala and Najaf, from the sons of Samarra and Kazimiyah… from the sons of Amarah, Kut and Sulaymaniyyah… from the sons of Iraq from every region, my promise to you is that I am yours, that I am for you all, and that you all are my goal in the present and in the future. So let your words unite, and your lines join as one under the banner of Islam: for the sake of saving Iraq from the nightmare of this group of tyrants, and for the cause of building a free and dignified Iraq, ruled by the justice of Islam and where human dignity and rights are supreme, and where all citizens, from different ethnicities and sects, feel that they are brothers working together- all of them- in leading their country, rebuilding their nation, and realising their higher Islamic values based on our true message and great history.”[29]

[1] The Library of Congress method of transliterating Arabic has been used, albeit without diacritic marks

[2] Sayyid ‘Abd Allah Sharaf al-Din al-Musawi, Bughiyat Al-Raghibin Fi Silsilah Al Sharaf Al-Din (Beirut: al-Maktabat al-Hadithah li’l-Taba’ah wa-l-Nashr, 2017)), p 13 -14.

[3] There are two villages known as Jaba’ in the Levant, with alternating spellings of جبع and جباع, one is within the Jabal ‘Amil region the other is near Nablus

[4] He was known as al-Jazzar, the butcher because of his violent tendencies as ruler

[5] al-Shahid al-Sadr (al-Fasahah Documentaries, n.d.))

[6] Sarah Bowen Savant, Genealogy and Knowledge in Muslim Societies: Understanding the Past (Edinburgh University Press, 2014)), p 145.

[7] By this time the greater al-Sadr family was regarded highly in both religious and political circles, a relative Sayyid Muhammad Hasan al-Sadr (d. 1375/1956) went on to serve as a prime minister of Iraq in the year 1948.

[8]“Al-Sayyid Haydar Al-Sadr,” al-Shi’ah, Muwaqqa’ ‘Ilmi Thaqafi ‘Aqa’idi, n.d.,السيد-حيدر-الصدر/)

[9] Yitzhak Nakash, The Shi’is of Iraq (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003)), p 265.

[10] al-Sayyid Kazim al-Husayni al-Kazimi, Zindagi Wa Afkar-i Shahid Sadr, trans. Hasan Tarumi (Tehran: Ministry of Culture and Guidance, 1996))

[11] Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, Lessons in Islamic Jurisprudence, trans. Roy Parviz Mottahedeh (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2003))

[12] T.M. Aziz, “The Role of Muhammad Baqir Al-Sadr in Shiʿi Political Activism in Iraq from 1958 to 1980,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 25, no. 2 (April 23, 2009))

[13] ما هو النظام الذي يصلح الإنسانية و تسعد في حياتها الاجتماعية؟

[14] The translations utilized throughout are from the Muhammadi Trust’s 1987 translation, however as the page numbers were not available during the process of writing this paper, the Arabic original is being cited.

[15] al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, Falsafatuna (Beirut: Dar al-Ta’aruf al-Matbu’at, 1959)), p 49

[16] Ibid., p 50-51

[17] Ibid, p 60

[18] “Hegel’s Dialectics,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, June 3, 2016,

[19] Karl Marx, “Afterword to the Second German Edition,” Marxists Internet Archive, n.d.,

[20] Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program, 1875)

[21] al-Sadr, p 71-72

[22] Ibid, p 77

[23] Ibid, 82

[24] مَّنۡ عَمِلَ صَـٰلِحً۬ا فَلِنَفۡسِهِۦ‌ۖ وَمَنۡ أَسَآءَ فَعَلَيۡهَا‌ۗ وَمَا رَبُّكَ بِظَلَّـٰمٍ۬ لِّلۡعَبِيدِ

[25] مَنۡ عَمِلَ سَيِّئَةً۬ فَلَا يُجۡزَىٰٓ إِلَّا مِثۡلَهَاۖ وَمَنۡ عَمِلَ صَـٰلِحً۬ا مِّن ذَڪَرٍ أَوۡ أُنثَىٰ وَهُوَ مُؤۡمِنٌ۬ فَأُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ يَدۡخُلُونَ ٱلۡجَنَّةَ يُرۡزَقُونَ فِيہَا بِغَيۡرِ حِسَابٍ۬

[26] يَوۡمَٮِٕذٍ۬ يَصۡدُرُ ٱلنَّاسُ أَشۡتَاتً۬ا لِّيُرَوۡاْ أَعۡمَـٰلَهُمۡ  فَمَن يَعۡمَلۡ مِثۡقَالَ ذَرَّةٍ خَيۡرً۬ا يَرَهُ ۥ  وَمَن يَعۡمَلۡ مِثۡقَالَ ذَرَّةٍ۬ شَرًّ۬ا يَرَهُ

[27] Mohsen Kadivar, “Ayatollah Khomeini’s Political Theory and Public Interest ,” Mohsen Kadivar Official Site, April 20, 2020,

[28] Jaffar Al-rikabi, “Baqir Al-Sadr and the Islamic State: A Theory for ‘Islamic Democracy’,” Journal of Shi’a Islamic Studies 5, no. 3 (2012): pp. 249-275)

[29] “Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Al-Sadr,” Ijtihad Network, n.d.,

Works Cited

al-Husayni al-Kazimi, al-Sayyid Kazim. Zindigi Wa Afkar-i Shahid Sadr. Translated by Hasan Tarumi. Tehran: Ministry of Culture and Guidance, 1996.

al-Musawi, Sayyid ‘Abd Allah Sharaf al-Din. Bughiyat Al-Raghibin Fi Silsilah Al Sharaf Al-Din. Beirut: al-Maktabat al-Hadithah li’l-Taba’ah wa-l-Nashr, 2017.

Al-rikabi, Jaffar. “Baqir Al-Sadr and the Islamic State: A Theory for ‘Islamic Democracy’.” Journal of Shi’a Islamic Studies 5, no. 3 (2012): 249–75.

al-Sadr, al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir. Falsafatuna. Beirut: Dar al-Ta’aruf al-Matbu’at, 1959.

al-Sadr, Muhammad Baqir. Lessons in Islamic Jurisprudence. Translated by Roy Parviz Mottahedeh. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2003.

“Al-Sayyid Haydar Al-Sadr.” al-Shi’ah, Muwaqqa’ ‘Ilmi Thaqafi ‘Aqa’idi, n.d.السيد-حيدر-الصدر/.

Al-Shahid Al-Sadr. al-Fasahah Documentaries, n.d.

Aziz, T.M. “The Role of Muhammad Baqir Al-Sadr in Shiʿi Political Activism in Iraq from 1958 to 1980.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 25, no. 2 (April 23, 2009).

“Hegel’s Dialectics.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, June 3, 2016.

Kadivar, Mohsen. “Ayatollah Khomeini’s Political Theory and Public Interest .” Mohsen Kadivar Official Site, April 20, 2020.

Marx, Karl. “Afterword to the Second German Edition.” Marxists Internet Archive, n.d.

Marx, Karl. Critique of the Goth Program, 1875.

Nakash, Yitzhak. The Shi’is of Iraq. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Savant, Sarah Bowen. Genealogy and Knowledge in Muslim Societies: Understanding the Past. Edinburgh University Press, 2014.

“Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Al-Sadr.” Ijtihad Network, n.d.

Question on ‘Ismah

What is ‘ismah, and why do Shi’i Muslims believe in it?

Earlier in the year, a [Sunni] chaplain at an American university sought our help answering this oft-repeated question, and the following was our response:

Grammatical Answer:

The controversy surrounding the concept of ‘ismah (عِصْمَة‎) is largely due to an incorrect orientalist-era translation from the Arabic to English, which has unfortunately stuck around. In the Arabic language ‘ismah does not refer to infallibility the tri-consonant root “ع ص م” means ‘to safeguard’ or ‘to protect.’ 

So, the possessor of ‘ismah is a ma’sum (معصوم) which in the Arabic language is an object of a verb (اِسْم مَفْعُول‎), meaning ‘someone or something that is safeguarded or protected,’ it does not mean to be infallible. Likewise, is the ma’sum innately ‘safeguarded or protected’? No, as it is an object of a verb not the the doer of the verb (اِسْم فَاعِل‎), and the doer of the verb is the Almighty. Meaning the Protector is Allah, and the protected are the Ahl al-Bayt. There are no restrictions on the actions of the Almighty, He may protect whom he wills. 

The concept of ‘ismah, functionally is not different from the Sunni concept of rashada, the Divine-guidedness of the first 4 caliphs, as the caliphs were guided by the Almighty, we the Shi’i claim that the Ahl al-Bayt were protected by the Almighty.

Why the Ahl al-Bayt specifically?

The evidence for this is Qur’anic and from the Hadith. According to the exegetes of the Qur’an, verse 33:33 (al-Ahzab) implies the purity of the Ahl al-Bayt from sin.

The verse is broken into two parts, the first addressing the wives of the Prophet (s) and the second concerning the progeny of the Prophet (s). This is understood through the change in pronoun usage in the verse: 

وَقَرۡنَ فِى بُيُوتِكُنَّ وَلَا تَبَرَّجۡنَ تَبَرُّجَ ٱلۡجَـٰهِلِيَّةِ ٱلۡأُولَىٰۖ وَأَقِمۡنَ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَءَاتِينَ ٱلزَّڪَوٰةَ وَأَطِعۡنَ ٱللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُۚ ۥۤ إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ ٱللَّهُ لِيُذۡهِبَ عَنڪُمُ ٱلرِّجۡسَ أَهۡلَ ٱلۡبَيۡتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمۡ تَطۡهِيرً۬ا

In the first part the Almighty is speaking to the wives specifically and therefore uses the plural female you انتن and then shifts to plural male you انتم. This is confirmed in ahadith found in Sahih Muslim, Jami’ al-Tirmidhi, and the Musnad of Imam Ahmad, as well as explained in Tafsir al-Tabari, Tafsir al-Kashshaf, Tafsir al-Kabir, Tafsir al-Qurtubi, Tafsir al-Jalalayn, and others.

According to the above the Asbab al-Nuzul is the ‘Hadith/Event of the Cloak’ or ‘Hadith al-Kisa’, in Jami’ al-Tirmidhi we find:

حَدَّثَنَا قُتَيْبَةُ بْنُ سَعِيدٍ، حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ سُلَيْمَانَ الأَصْبَهَانِيُّ، عَنْ يَحْيَى بْنِ عُبَيْدٍ، عَنْ عَطَاءِ بْنِ أَبِي رَبَاحٍ، عَنْ عُمَرَ بْنِ أَبِي سَلَمَةَ، رَبِيبِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ نَزَلَتْ هَذِهِ الآيَةُ عَلَى النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلمَّ ‏:‏ ‏(‏ إنمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنْكُمُ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا ‏)‏ فِي بَيْتِ أُمِّ سَلَمَةَ فَدَعَا النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَاطِمَةَ وَحَسَنًا وَحُسَيْنًا فَجَلَّلَهُمْ بِكِسَاءٍ وَعَلِيٌّ خَلْفَ ظَهْرِهِ فَجَلَّلَهُ بِكِسَاءٍ ثُمَّ قَالَ ‏”‏ اللَّهُمَّ هَؤُلاَءِ أَهْلُ بَيْتِي فَأَذْهِبْ عَنْهُمُ الرِّجْسَ وَطَهِّرْهُمْ تَطْهِيرًا ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قَالَتْ أُمُّ سَلَمَةَ وَأَنَا مَعَهُمْ يَا نَبِيَّ اللَّهِ قَالَ ‏”‏ أَنْتِ عَلَى مَكَانِكِ وَأَنْتِ إِلَى خَيْرٍ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ وَفِي الْبَابِ عَنْ أُمِّ سَلَمَةَ وَمَعْقِلِ بْنِ يَسَارٍ وَأَبِي الْحَمْرَاءِ وَأَنَسٍ ‏.‏ قَالَ وَهَذَا حَدِيثٌ غَرِيبٌ مِنْ هَذَا الْوَجْهِ ‏.‏

“When these Ayat were revealed to the Prophet (ﷺ): ‘Allah only wishes to remove the Rijs from you, O members of the family, and to purify you with a thorough purification…’ (33:33) in the home of Umm Salamah, he called for Fatimah, Hasan, Husayn, and wrapped him in the cloak, then he said: ‘O Allah! These are the people of my house, so remove the Rijs from them, and purify them with a thorough purification.’ So Umm Salamah said: ‘And am I with them O Messenger of Allah?’ He said: ‘You are in your place, and you are more virtuous to me.'” (Tirmidhi: Book 49, Hadith 4156) (In Sahih Muslim, ‘A’ishah reports similarly)

Additionally, there is Hadith al-Thaqalayn (Hadith of the Two Weighty Things) which explains the role of the Ahl al-Bayt after the passing of the Prophet (s). This narration is part of the lengthy sermon that the Prophet (s) gave on returning from his farewell Hajj.

‏”‏أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ فَإِنَّمَا أَنَا بَشَرٌ يُوشِكُ أَنْ يَأْتِيَ رَسُولُ رَبِّي فَأُجِيبَ وَأَنَا تَارِكٌ فِيكُمْ ثَقَلَيْنِ أَوَّلُهُمَا كِتَابُ اللَّهِ فِيهِ الْهُدَى وَالنُّورُ فَخُذُوا بِكِتَابِ اللَّهِ وَاسْتَمْسِكُوا بِهِ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ فَحَثَّ عَلَى كِتَابِ اللَّهِ وَرَغَّبَ فِيهِ ثُمَّ قَالَ ‏”‏ وَأَهْلُ بَيْتِي أُذَكِّرُكُمُ اللَّهَ فِي أَهْلِ بَيْتِي أُذَكِّرُكُمُ اللَّهَ فِي أَهْلِ بَيْتِي أُذَكِّرُكُمُ اللَّهَ فِي أَهْلِ بَيْتِي .‏ فَقَالَ لَهُ حُصَيْنٌ وَمَنْ أَهْلُ بَيْتِهِ يَا زَيْدُ أَلَيْسَ نِسَاؤُهُ مِنْ أَهْلِ بَيْتِهِ قَالَ نِسَاؤُهُ مِنْ أَهْلِ بَيْتِهِ وَلَكِنْ أَهْلُ بَيْتِهِ مَنْ حُرِمَ الصَّدَقَةَ بَعْدَهُ ‏.‏ قَالَ وَمَنْ هُمْ قَالَ هُمْ آلُ عَلِيٍّ‏…”‏

“O people, I am a human being. I am about to receive a messenger (the angel of death) from my Lord and I, in response to Allah’s call, (would bid farewell to you), but I am leaving among you two weighty things: the one being the Book of Allah in which there is right guidance and light, so hold fast to the Book of Allah and adhere to it. He exhorted (us) (to hold fast) to the Book of Allah and then said: The second are the members of my Ahl al-Bayt, I remind you (of your duties) to the members of my Ahl al-Bayt (which he repeated thrice) He (Husayn) said to Zaid: Who are the members of his household? Aren’t his wives the members of his family? Thereupon he said: His wives are the members of his family (but here) the members of his family are those for whom acceptance of Zakat is forbidden. And he said: Who are they? Thereupon he said: ‘Ali and the offspring of ‘Ali…” (Muslim: Book 44, Hadith 55)

Similarly we find in Jami’ al-Tirmidhi:

“‏ إِنِّي تَارِكٌ فِيكُمْ مَا إِنْ تَمَسَّكْتُمْ بِهِ لَنْ تَضِلُّوا بَعْدِي أَحَدُهُمَا أَعْظَمُ مِنَ الآخَرِ كِتَابُ اللَّهِ حَبْلٌ مَمْدُودٌ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ إِلَى الأَرْضِ وَعِتْرَتِي أَهْلُ بَيْتِي وَلَنْ يَتَفَرَّقَا حَتَّى يَرِدَا عَلَىَّ الْحَوْضَ فَانْظُرُوا كَيْفَ تَخْلُفُونِي فِيهِمَا ‏”‏

“Indeed, I am leaving among you, that which if you hold fast to them, you shall not be misguided after me. One of them is greater than the other: The Book of Allah is a rope extended from the sky to the earth, and my family – the people of my house – and they shall not split until they meet at the pond of Kawthar, so look at how you deal with them after me.” (Tirmidhi: Book 49, Hadith 4157)

The Shi’i reading of the above is that as the Prophet (s) defined the Qur’an and Ahl al-Bayt as a rope (حبل) that if maintained together would lead to the Muslim never becoming misguided, hence the purity of the Qur’an from corruption is extended to the Ahl al-Bayt as well. 

Lastly, these points should not be used for debate. Instead we learn from each other, and benefit from our intellectual differences.

Answer provided by Shabbir Agha

Open Letter to the Imams of Friday Prayers, From Concerned American Muslims


بسم لله و بالله و الحمد لله وكفى وسلام على عباده الذين اصطفى
In the name of Allah, by Allah, all praise is due to Allah, and peace be upon those servants of His whom He has chosen

al-Salamun ‘Alaykum
Hadrat al-Shaykh / al-Sayyid al-Muhtaram:

The pulpit of our beloved Prophet (s) is a station of mercy, and the words that flow from it are to guide society in establishing this mercy. The khutbah, the Friday sermon, is a nasihah, a reminder to the believers of their responsibilities, of enjoining good and forbidding evil. It is to inform the mu’minun of the ills in society such that when they arise from their musallas they are actively seeking cures and means to alleviate these ills. Our honorable khutaba’ (Friday preachers), especially those coming from immigrant backgrounds, whilst deserving of commendation regarding their efforts and attempts, are unfortunately not up to par when discussing matters concerning our immediate society. We have been exhorted by the Messenger of Allah (s) regarding the gravitas of our duties to those proximal to us:

 لَيْسَ الْمُؤْمِنُ الَّذِي يَشْبَعُ وَجَارُهُ جَائِعٌ
“One is not a believer who satiates their own needs whilst their neighbors are left hungry”

In America there is great hunger, such that if we neglect it the status of our ‘iman, our faith is at risk. This hunger is of both the physical and metaphysical kind, one concerns human dignity whereas the other concerns poverty. America is a deeply divided nation, wherein racial injustice as well as income inequality are systemic afflictions. Our black brethren are treated as lesser than human by the powers that be; they are constantly subjected to unfair treatment, and violently dealt with at abnormal rates by the police. Our faith came to liberate all of humankind, to unlock our potential as the Almighty’s khulafa’ on earth; this discrimination is against the very essence of our core understanding of creation. Likewise, these powers that be have transformed our government to function as a protection racket for the wealthy, singularly protecting their interests, such that the poor have been excluded from any and all considerations. The poor are denied their God-given right to even a semblance of a pleasant existence. Islam in complete contrast tells us to firstly protect the interests of the weakest in society, the orphans and the widows, the poor and the displaced. Islam commands the wealthy to share what they have, for those ‘whom are without’ have a right over them.

While maintaining a concern for the issues affecting the Muslim-dominated world is definitely needed, the lack of discussion on local issues here in the West, specifically the aforementioned two, is a disservice to the prophetic pulpit. Thus, we respectfully advise our Imams, our Shuyukh, to consider including these two matters of concern in their weekly Friday sermons, to make them necessary additions, and if they are in need of education on these matters to reach out to the following organizations:

Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative
Masjid al-Rasul
Muslim Community Center for Thaqalayn
Islamic Relief USA
(amongst many others)

We hold true that “the scholars are the inheritors of the prophets” (العلماء ورثة الأنبياء), thus in this period in time when America is facing such pain and anguish, it is imperative that our pulpits deliver that prophetic medicine of mercy, of justice. Our Friday prayer Imams must take full advantage of their positions and establish control over societal discourse. In a materialistic land ever so bereft of ethics and values, Islam can and should deliver that missing guidance. For this to occur, our respected khutaba’ must turn their attention upon the land on which they are standing, and by doing so their speech will blow the air of haqq, of life, into the gasping lungs of this nation, awakening its conscience from the slumber of apathy. 

رَبَّنَا أَفْرِغْ عَلَيْنَا صَبْراً وَثَبِّتْ أَقْدَامَنَا وَانصُرْنَا عَلَى القَوْمِ الكَافِرِينَ
“Our Lord! Bestow on us endurance, make our foothold sure, and give us help against those who deny the truth”


Concerned American Muslims

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Story of Imam Musa al-Kazim and a descendant of ‘Umar b. al-Khattab

Story of Imām Mūsā al-Kāẓim and a descendant of ‘Umar b. al-Khaṭṭāb

Translated by Shabbir Agha Abbas

We find in Tārīkh al-Baghdād, continuing Ḥasan b. Muḥammad b. Yaḥyā al-’Alawī’s (d. 358/969) narrative of the life of Imām al-Kāẓim (d. 183/799) based on his grandfather Yahyā b. al-Ḥasan’s* report.

The report is as follows:

“My grandfather mentioned to me that in Madinah, a man from the descendants of ‘Umar b. al-Khaṭṭāb was once speaking ill and insulting ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib. In response some from the retinue of Imām al-Kāẓim cried out: “let us kill him!”

However, the Imām prohibited them and rebuked them severely, and he asked the whereabouts of this ‘Umarī, and it was mentioned to him that he was farming in the outskirts of Madīnah. Imām al-Kāẓim rode to him at his farm finding him therein, and he entered his farmland without dismounting from his donkey. 

The ‘Umarī angrily cried out: “do not trample my crops!” 

But the Imām ignored his pleas, and he continued on towards him trampling the crops with the hooves of his donkey, and it was not till he reached the ‘Umarī that he dismounted and sat with him with a smile on his face, and he asked him: 

“How much did you spend on these [now ruined] crops of yours?”
The ‘Umarī responded: “one hundred dinars.”
The Imām then asked: “And how much did you hope to get from it?”
The ‘Umarī [sarcastically] said: “I do not possess ‘Ilm al-Ghayb.”
The Imām responded: “I only asked of you ‘how much did you hope to get from it?’”
The ‘Umarī answered: “I hoped to get two hundred dinars.”
And the Imām then said: “I give for it [these ruined crops] three hundred dinars.”
And the ‘Umarī [gratefully] responded: “These crops are yours upon this [ruined] state.” 

Then my grandfather said that the ‘Umarī stood up and kissed the Imām’s head and left. Later on Imām al-Kāẓim went to Masjid al-Nabawī and found the ‘Umarī sitting, and when he [the ‘Umarī] saw the Imām he exclaimed [in praise of the Ahl al-Bayt]:  

ٱللَّهُ أَعۡلَمُ حَيۡثُ يَجۡعَلُ رِسَالَتَهُ
“Allah knows best where He places His message” (Qur’ān 6:124) 

My grandfather said that upon hearing this the Imām’s companions jumped in shock asking: 

“What is your story? You used to say the opposite of this!” And they quarreled.

He then explained that this descendant of ‘Umar continued to announce this Qur’ānic declaration in honor of Abū al-Hasan Mūsā [al-Kāẓim] whenever the Imām entered or exited Masjid al-Nabawī. 

Abū al-Hasan Mūsā [didactically] asked his retinue, knowing that they once desired to kill this ‘Umarī: 

“Which is from goodness, what you wanted (his death)? Or what I wanted, the correcting of his destiny?”

(Relevant section from Tārīkh al-Baghdād (v. 13, p 30) below)

2020-03-20 (2)

* Yahyā b. al-Ḥasan was was one of the teachers of al-Shaykh al-Ṣadūq (d. 381/991), and he was an important ‘Alid

Economic Justice in the Qur’an; Our Personal Responsibility


Economic Justice in the Qur’an; Our Personal Responsibility
By Agha

When it comes to the practice of ‘American’ Islam, it seems that there is a hyper-focus on building, maintaining, and expanding mosques. While there is no doubt that mosques represent the heart of Islamic life, where we seek guidance and education, as well as spiritual rejuvenation; it is however necessary to state that we cannot assume that achieving a mosque is the be-all and end-all of our duties as Muslims. In fact, the Almighty rebukes those with this mentality in the Qur’an:

أَجَعَلۡتُمۡ سِقَايَةَ ٱلۡحَآجِّ وَعِمَارَةَ ٱلۡمَسۡجِدِ ٱلۡحَرَامِ كَمَنۡ ءَامَنَ بِٱللَّهِ وَٱلۡيَوۡمِ ٱلۡأَخِرِ وَجَـٰهَدَ فِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ‌ۚ لَا يَسۡتَوُ ۥنَ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ‌ۗ وَٱللَّهُ لَا يَہۡدِى ٱلۡقَوۡمَ ٱلظَّـٰلِمِينَ
“Do you consider the providing of drinking water to the pilgrims and the maintenance of Masjid al-Ḥarām (at Makkah) as equal to the worth of those who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and strive hard and fight in the Cause of Allah? They are not equal before Allâh. And Allah guides not those people who are wrong-doers.” (9:19)

As the historical records explain, the uncle of the Prophet Muḥammad (s), ʿAbbās b.ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib was assigned the duty of Siqāyat al-ḥājj, to provide water and care for the pilgrims. Which meant his role was not at any mosque, but to Masjid al-Ḥarām itself, the central and most sacred site for all Muslims. ʿAbbās had supposedly boasted to his nephew, Imām ʿAlī, of the importance and honor of his assigned role, he assumed that by serving in this role he was thus performing his due diligence to the faith. This angered the Almighty, and he revealed that while maintaining mosques are virtuous tasks, they do not at all compare with the acts of those like ʿAlī who engage in jihād, striving to implement righteousness in society. Likewise, we cannot afford to conclude that by building and maintaining mosques we have somehow performed due diligence; no, we need to escape the confines of our respective mosques.
We need to explore and find issues to solve in society, we must strive to make our surroundings better. To do this we need to firstly delve into the Qur’an, understand the divine ethos, and then take action. The Almighty thus directly addresses the believers:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُونُواْ قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاء لِلّهِ وَلَوْ عَلَى أَنفُسِكُمْ أَوِ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالأَقْرَبِينَ
“O you who believe! Stand firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin…” (4:135)

Therefore, one of, if not the central ethos of Islam, is the upholding of justice. Correspondingly, without any doubt the greatest injustice in America and possibly the world is economic inequality. Thus our jihād is to actively fight against income inequality, to become warriors for the impoverished; this is our personal [wājib al-ʿAynī] responsibility outside the mosque.
However, when it comes to this issue, we find Muslims to be utmostly confused, becoming lost in the arguments between capitalism and socialism, and my response to this bewilderment is that we Muslims recognize neither. Without getting into the messy discussion of statehood, and governance, we can all agree that in the life of the Prophet (s) and within the divine revelation- the Qur’an, there are enough directives and injunctive examples for us to determine our individual economic philosophy. It simply is, that fundamentally humankind owns nothing, whatever it is belongs to Him:

وَهُوَ ٱلَّذِى فِى ٱلسَّمَآءِ إِلَـٰهٌ۬ وَفِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ إِلَـٰهٌ۬‌ۚ وَهُوَ ٱلۡحَكِيمُ ٱلۡعَلِيمُ (٨٤) وَتَبَارَكَ ٱلَّذِى لَهُ ۥ مُلۡكُ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٲتِ وَٱلۡأَرۡضِ وَمَا بَيۡنَهُمَا وَعِندَهُ ۥ عِلۡمُ ٱلسَّاعَةِ وَإِلَيۡهِ تُرۡجَعُونَ (٨٥)
“It is He, Allah, Who is the only deity in the heavens and the only deity on the earth. And He is the All-Wise, the All-Knower. And Blessed is He to Whom belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them, and with Whom is the knowledge of the Hour, and to Whom you (all) will be returned.” (43:84-85)

Nevertheless, Islam does recognize the concept of private property, in that the Almighty deputized humankind over the [material] earth (إِنِّى جَاعِلٌ۬ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ خَلِيفَةً۬‌ۖ); meaning that ownership is a divinely protected right. Whatever one has gained through just means, it cannot be taken from them by any other human. However, this ownership cannot be understood as ownership in the capitalistic sense, ownership herein refers back to that primordial deputization; in essence ownership in Islam is managerial, the owner is God, the manager is human. Therefore, there is no qualm in seeking wealth, in fact it can be considered encouraged, albeit the ultimate decider over that wealth is God, and humankind manages it accordingly. The divine instructions for the management of wealth are thus expressed through the Islamic system of rights, or Ḥuqūq.
For those of us who possess wealth, Qur’anically we are informed, that there are other human beings who have a ḥaqq (right) over ‘our’ wealth:

وَٱلَّذِينَ فِىٓ أَمۡوَٲلِهِمۡ حَقٌّ۬ مَّعۡلُومٌ۬ (٢٤) لِّلسَّآٮِٕلِ وَٱلۡمَحۡرُومِ (٢٥)
“And those who possess wealth within it there is a recognized ḥaqq (right), a [right] for the needy who asks, and for the downtrodden” (70:24-25)

The very existence of needy and the downtrodden informs us that, those with wealth are not giving the ḥaqq to their rightful owners. Nevertheless, the question thus arises here, what percentage of our wealth is this ḥaqq? How much must be given away, and the Almighty responds:

وَيَسۡـَٔلُونَكَ مَاذَا يُنفِقُونَ قُلِ ٱلۡعَفۡوَ‌ۗ
And they ask you [O Muhammad (s)] what they ought to spend [in the way of Allah]. Say: “That which is beyond your needs.” (2:219)

Meaning, that after we account for the needs of our household, whatever is superfluous we return to the Almighty, hence this ḥaqq is actually from the rights of God (Ḥuqūq Allah). It is thus completely antithetical to the spirit of Islam for one to hoard their wealth, yet we live in a society where millions starve, whilst individuals possess billions. If Islamic economic philosophy were to be considered anything, it would most definitely be militantly against this perversion.

God’s ḥaqq is our fulfilling of the needs of the impoverished, of the suffering; it is our personal [and societal] responsibility to answer to the Ḥuqūq Allah (rights of God), by tending to the poor. If Ḥuqūq Allah belongs to the impoverished, to the suffering, then we can say that this poverty this suffering in this world in itself is a divine manifestation, when we see the hands out-stretch on the streets of Manhattan, when we see pictures of starving emaciated children in Yemen, when we see the refugees crossing the Mediterranean, we should understand this as the Almighty Himself demanding His rights; and we must not deny the Almighty.

Please also read:

Young Muslims Need to be Radical, Capitalism is Jāhilīyyah!