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The Justice of God, known in Islamic theology as “al-Adalah” is considered by Shi’a theologians to be a Key Pillar of Islam (one of the Usul al-Din).

It is argued by theologians and philosophers that since Allah (s.w.t) is the greatest conceivable perfect being, and since justice is an attribute of perfection, Allah (s.w.t) must, by definition, always act within a just framework. All other Islamic beliefs stem from the concept of Allah’s (s.w.t) justice, including the sending of Prophets and Imams to mankind.

Whilst the Justice of Allah (s.w.t) is a doctrine which is clearly and explicitly taught in the Qur’an, many Sunni theologians have generally disagreed with the Shi’a on the nature of Divine Justice and have contended instead that Allah (s.w.t) is not subject to higher moral standards and therefore could commit acts of injustice against human beings. These acts of injustice would therefore become just acts due to the fact that Allah (s.w.t) is the moral standard.

Shi’a would reject such a notion as justice is naturally an attribute of perfection and injustice is an act of imperfection.

They have also stipulated that God would have no need to act unjustly as injustice is a trait which only fallible beings would have the recourse to commit.

The concept of al-Adalah, namely the Justice of God, is considered as one of the five "Usul al-Din," or compulsory foundations of belief which defines one as a Shi’a Muslim. There are several Qur’anic verses which highlight the necessity of God acting in accordance with justice and forbidding injustice from himself, namely:


“Verily Allah does not wrong Mankind in anything” (Surah 10: 44)

“Verily Allah does not wrong even the weight of an Atom” (Surah 4: 40)

In addition to these verses, the faculties of reason don’t permit God to be associated with injustice, which is an attribute of imperfection and moral deficiency. As the Islamic theologian and Jurist, Ja’far Subhani, has summarised most succinctly, injustice and oppression within the realm of Creation are always a consequence of the following factors:

  1. Ignorance
  2. Incapacity and need
  3. Absolute foolishness
All of which would be blasphemous to ascribe to God. Unlike their Sunni counterparts, Shi’a theologians have always held that good and evil can be distinguished with intellect. Whilst good encompasses acts which are associated with perfection, evil encompasses acts which highlight imperfection.
The Numerous Dimensions of Allah’s Justice
God acts justly in the realm of creation which is described in the Qur’anic verse cited below:


“Our Lord is he who gave unto everything its nature, then guided it aright” (Surah 20:50)

This verse clarifies that God does not experiment in the realm of Creation but rather creates everything in nature in the form he intended for it. This can be taken to mean that any deficiencies within a being’s character are due to the straying of that individual and not due to an inherent fault created by God within the individual.
Justice in the Legislative Realm
Allah is also just within the realm of religious legislation where he warns mankind as to how they should conduct themselves in this life, by sending Prophets, Imams and through revelation. Yet Allah (s.w.t) also legislates divine law which does not unjustly overburden the believer with obligations which are overwhelmingly difficult to follow nor impossible for the believer to implement in his daily life. As God states in the Qur’an:


“And we task not any soul beyond its capability” (Surah 23: 62)

Justice in the Realm of Judgement
God likewise acts in accordance with Divine justice and judges each and every individual in accordance with their circumstances and deeds. He does not judge them randomly in accordance with favouritism but rather judges and either rewards or punishes each individual in a manner which is just.


“And we set a just balance for the day of resurrection so that no soul is wronged in anything.” (Surah 21:47)

God has made clear that even in the realm of reward and punishment, those who have not been fortunate enough to receive Divine guidance through being taught a religious moral code via a messenger shall be exempted from punishment:


“We never punish until we have sent a Messenger.” (Surah 17: 15)

Bibliography and Rurther Reading

Sobhani, J. Doctrines of Shi’i Islam, Imam Sadiq Institute, Qom, Iran, 2003.
Misbah-Yazdi, M.T, Theological Instructions, Imam Khomeini Institute, Qom, Iran, 2009.
Tabataba’i, M.H, A Shi’ite Anthology, Muhammadi Trust, London, UK, 1980.

One of the five ‘Usul al-Din (foundations of the faith) is the concept of Al-Adl (The Justice of God).

Shi’a theologians differ from their Sunni counterparts in that they hold that this belief in God’s necessity to act justly is a pillar of the faith and believe it is a crucial element of al-Tawheed. Whereas the Sunni theological schools have generally argued that it impossible to delegate certain obligations upon the nature of God and that therefore it is not compulsory that Allah necessarily acts justly.

This entry shall analyse what the doctrine of Al-Adl entails according to Imami theologians as well as the scriptural and rational basis of the doctrine.

Al-Adl According to Shi’a Theologians

Shi’a theologians have generally accepted that God in his nature must be just due to justice being one of God's attributes of beauty (Jamal). There are several Qur’an verses which allude to the necessity of God acting in accordance with justice and forbidding injustice from himself, namely:

“Verily Allah does not wrong Mankind in anything” (Surah 10: 44)

“Verily Allah does not wrong even the weight of an Atom” (Surah 4: 40)

These verses clearly demonstrate that God in his revelation has firmly distanced himself from the ability to do wrong, namely injustice to others.

Alongside these verses, the faculties of reason would not permit for the greatest conceivable Being, namely God, to be associated with injustice as it’s an attribute of imperfection and moral deficiency. As the Islamic theologian and jurist Ja’far Subhani summarised most succinctly; injustice and oppression within the realm of creation are always a consequence of the following factors:  

  1. Ignorance
  2. Incapacity and need
  3. Absolute foolishness

This can be observed through the following explanations provided by Sobhani. In the first category, the individual committing the injustice is one who commits injustice due to a profound ignorance or lack of awareness about the ugliness of injustice.

In the second example, the individual may be aware of the injustice they are committing, but may be unable to enact justice or are in need of the fruits of the injustice he is committing.

In the third circumstance, the one who commits the injustice is both aware of the ugliness of injustice and is able to enact justice, however due to his extreme lack of wisdom, simply does not care about the moral deficiencies of acting unjustly.

Given that all of the above mentioned circumstances would be blasphemous to attribute to God, it is quite clear that he is not bound by any of those constraints and therefore does not act unjustly.

The Shi’a theologians have always held that good and evil can be distinguished through intellect. Whilst good encompasses acts which are associated with perfection; evil encompasses acts which highlight imperfection. Given that Allah is the greatest conceivable Being and a Being of pure perfection, it would not make rational sense that Allah would act unjustly.

The some Sunni theologians on the other hand have argued that there is no intrinsic status for good and evil or justice and injustice. Rather, if Allah would choose to place all the disbelievers in heaven and place all the believers in hellfire for an eternity then this would not in any way reflect negatively on Allah. According to Sunni theologians, this would actually fall under the definition of good and justice since Allah is the higher standard through which good and evil are understood, known and perceived.

Some Sunni theologians would argue that the theological position of the Shi’a is actually a deficient view of God as it means the Shi’a are holding God subject to their own moral standards, whereas since God is the greatest Being, he cannot be held accountable by anything which is lesser than himself.

In response to this, Imami theologians have responded that Allah in his attributes is described as the “All-Wise” and therefore cannot commit any act which is not in its very nature good and just due to the fact that wisdom is inseparable from good actions and is contrary to committing evil.

The Realm of Allah’s Justice

God acts justly in the realm of creation which is described in the Qur’an verse cited below:

“Our Lord is he who gave unto everything its nature, then guided it aright” (Surah 20:50)

This verse clarifies that God does not jest in the realm of creation but rather creates everything in nature in the form in which he intended for it. This means that any deficiencies within a person’s character are due to the straying of that individual and not due to an inherent fault created by God within the individual.

Justice in the Legislative Realm

God can also be observed as being just within the realm of religious legislation where he advises mankind in how they should conduct themselves in this life, through the sending of Prophets, Imams and revelation. Yet God also legislates divine law which does not unjustly overburden the believer with obligations which are overwhelmingly difficult to follow, nor impossible for the believer to implement in his daily life.

As God states in the Qur’an:

“And we task not any soul beyond its capability” (Surah 23: 62)

Justice in the Realm of Recompense

God likewise acts in accordance with divine justice and judges each and every individual in accordance with their circumstances and deeds. He does not judge them randomly in accordance with favouritism but rather judges either rewards or punishes each individual in a manner which is just.

“And we set a just balance for the day of resurrection so that no soul is wronged in anything.” (Surah 21:47)

God has made clear that even in the realm reward and punishment, those who have not been fortunate enough to receive divine guidance through being taught a religious moral code via a messenger shall be exempted from punishment:

“We never punish until we have sent a Messenger.” (Surah 17: 15)

Conclusion

Whilst the subjection of Divine Justice remains a point of contention between the Shi’a and non-Shi’a schools of theology, it is clear that according to the Qur’an and rational discourse that the greatest conceivable Being must be one which acts in accordance with justice, therefore Allah must act justly.

For Imami theologians, to stipulate otherwise would be in direct contradiction with the Qur’an as well as in direct violation to rational theology.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Sobhani, J. Doctrines of Shi’i Islam, Imam Sadiq Institute, Qom, Iran, 2003.
Misbah-Yazdi, M.T, Theological Instructions, Imam Khomeini Institute, Qom, Iran, 2009.
Tabataba’i, M.H, A Shi’ite Anthology, Muhammadi Trust, London, UK, 1980.

The concept of Imamate or Leadership in Islam is a concept which is present in all schools of Islamic theology and jurisprudence.

This is because all schools recognise the need for a leader. However, the scope of the authority of Imamate and its specifications are subject to intense intellectual debates amongst the different schools. According to the Shi’a School of Theology, Imamate is one of the five Usul al-Din (Pillars of the Religion) and it is necessary for one to believe in it in order to be recognised as a Shi’a.

Unlike their counterparts in other schools of theology, the Shi’a believe exclusively in the doctrine known as nass; explicit designation that is divinely guided.

They hold that the Imam is an individual who possesses the same characteristics as Prophets (though are not Prophets as they do not receive revelation) and must also be divinely protected in the same way that Prophets are. According to Shi’a, the Imams appointed by Allah (s.w.t) to succeed the Prophet (s.a.w) are twelve individuals who successively succeeded one after the other. These individuals are the best from amongst the Ummah and were selected by Allah (s.w.t) due to their exceptional qualities.

Unlike Sunnis, Shi’a completely reject the belief in selection of the Imams by Shura (consultation) and argue that the office of Imamate is not something which is the right of the people to decide, in the way in which the masses can elect a political leader.

Whilst Imamate or Leadership is a universally accepted concept amongst all Muslims there is much difference between the various schools as to the specific details and requirements which are expected in regard to the role and the qualities required of a Leader.

The Arabic term “Imam” stems from the root word “A-ma-ma,” which literally translates into English as “that which precedes,” or “that which comes in front.”

According to Shi’a, the doctrine of Imamah originates from the doctrine known in Arabic as nass; explicit designation that is divinely guided. However, for other schools of Islamic theology, Imamate is based around the concept of Shura (Election via Consultation).

The Shi’a doctrine of nass stipulates that the Imam is directly appointed from Mankind by Allah (s.w.t) himself. This is in sharp contrast to the other schools of Islamic theology which accept the view of Imamate based upon Shura (consultation). They argue that the matter is one which has been delegated to the collective body of the Muslims to select based upon their own personal preferences.

The belief in nass branches from the belief in the Justice of Allah (s.w.t) (‘Adalah) states that Allah (s.w.t) always does that which is Just and in the best interests of Mankind, and therefore the qualities of the Imam who is bestowed by Allah (s.w.t) must carry characteristics and qualities which render them superior to other individuals.

Amongst these characteristics, it is argued that Allah (s.w.t) would bestow similar qualities that were previously bestowed upon Prophets onto those in positions of leadership tasked with safe-guarding the prophetic message. Therefore infallibility is recognised as a quality which Allah (s.w.t) would grant to the one in the position of Imamate due to the necessary obligation that the Muslims would not be compelled to follow and obey one who was in a position of being vulnerable to falling short of the standards demanded by the Laws of Allah (s.w.t).

Amongst the other crucial requirements which are necessary for the Imam to possess according to Shi’a theologians, is the ability to accurately transmit Prophetic knowledge and the Prophetic Sunnah without making mistakes. Therefore the Imam, according to the Shi’a, also possesses the ability to receive inspiration as well as gain access to the source of prophetic knowledge directly. In this case, this is through the collected books which are transmitted from the Prophet (s.a.w) to the Imam and from the Imam to his direct successor (namely Kitab ‘Ali and Kitab al-Jifr).

The Imam’s function is not a solely legislative one according to the Shi’a, rather the Imam also fulfils a higher spiritual function. Through his presence on the Earth, the Imam’s very existence is recognised as being Lutf (Grace) from God.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Sobhani, J. Doctrines of Shi’i Islam, Imam Sadiq Institute, Qom, Iran, 2003.

Tabataba’i, M.H, A Shi’ite Anthology, Muhammadi Trust, London, UK, 1980.

al-Hayderi, K, Manahuj Bahthi al-Imamah bayna al-Nadhariyati wa al-Tatbeeq, Dar al-Faraqid, 2003.

Whilst Imamate or leadership is a universally accepted concept amongst all schools of Islamic theology which recognise the need for a leader, there is much difference between the varying schools as to the specific details and requirements which are expected in regard to the role and the qualities required of a leader/Imam.

The Shi’a school of Islamic theology has generally placed a significant emphasis on the concept of Imamate. Imamate is not viewed as merely an important concept within the religion but as one of the five Usul al-Din as well as one of the Pillars of Islam.

This entry shall highlight some of the key differences between the concepts of Imamate in Shi’a Islam in comparison to how the concept is viewed within other schools of Islamic theology.

The Definition of Imamate

The Arabic term “Imam” stems from the root word “A-ma-ma,” which literally translates into English as “that which precedes,” or “that which comes in front.” As a term it can be used in conventional language to refer to a leader of both a religious and a political nature, and is most frequently used to describe the one that leads the prayers.

The late Twentieth Century mystic, theologian and Qur’anic scholar Muhammad Husayn Tabataba’i (d. 1981) describes an Imam as follows:

“Imam or leader is the title given to a person who takes the lead in a community in a particular social movement or political ideology or scientific or religious form of thought. Naturally, because of his relation to the people he leads, he must conform his actions to their capabilities in both important and secondary matters.” 

Specific Theological Differences

The Shi’a school of thought places particular emphasis on the concept of Imamate. The difference between the ideologies of Imamate in the Shi’a school in comparison to the other schools of Islamic theology primarily revolves around the nature of how the Imam is appointed. For the Shi’a, the doctrine of Imamah stems from the doctrine known in Arabic as “Nass”, namely divine designation. However, for other schools of Islamic theology, Imamate is primarily based around the concept of “Shura,” or election via consultation.

In order to elaborate further, it should be made clear that according to the doctrine of nass, the Imam is directly selected and appointed from mankind by God Himself. The station of Imamate cannot be selected or bestowed for oneself. Rather, God has bestowed this position upon individuals whom he has deemed worthy of it and none have a choice in the matter other than God.

In sharp contrast to this doctrine, the other schools of Islamic theology, which accept the view of Imamate based upon Shura, argue that the matter is one which has been delegated to the collective body of the Muslims to select an individual based upon their own personal preferences.

The Shi’a belief in the doctrine of nass also relies on the concept of the belief in the Justice of Allah (‘Adalah) which holds that God always does that which is just and in the best interests of mankind. Therefore, the qualities of an Imam who is bestowed by God must display characteristics and qualities which render him superior to other individuals. This is due to the fact that God, in his justice, would not allow someone inferior to be in a position of divine authority over others who are superior to that individual. In this light, the Imami theologians have highlighted particular qualities that an individual whom God has bestowed Imamate upon must possess.

From amongst these characteristics, it is argued that God would bestow similar qualities to that which were previously bestowed upon Prophets and Messengers, who during their own periods of office were also in positions of leadership.

Therefore, according to the Shia, infallibility or “Ismah”  is a quality which Allah (s.w.t) would grant to the one he had placed in the position of Imamate to ensure he would be the best possible role model for Muslims to follow. If Allah (s.w.t) would have allowed Imams to sin, a valid argument of his detractors would be that the Imam himself was not in a position to teach and explain religious laws to others due to the fact that he would be subject to the same fatal desires and shortcomings as everyone else.

Another characteristic which is required of an Imam, according to Shi’a theologians, is that the Imam would possess an infallible, error free knowledge of religious doctrine and law.  Since the Imam is bestowed upon the Muslims by God to guide them, it would not follow rationally that his understanding of religious law or doctrine would in any way be deficient. Otherwise the obligation to follow someone with a deficient or limited understanding of religious law would be deemed unjust and hence the doctrine of God's justice would be rendered questionable. Rather, in order that the Imam would successfully guide Muslims, he would have to have access to an infallible source of understanding for religious laws and doctrines to avoid leading others into deviation.

The Shi’a Imami School of Theology holds that in order for the Imam to be deserving of the title “Khalifat al-Rasul” (Successor of the Messenger), the Imam must have an infallible access to the knowledge of the Messenger of God, namely through divine inspiration or through transmitted knowledge directly transmitted from the Messenger through non-fallible means of transmission.

In order to transmit and disseminate the Imam’s knowledge amongst the Muslims without any distortion in the message, Shi’a theologians have also placed a heavy emphasis upon the necessity for the Imam to have a clear “Bayan.”

“Bayan” refers to the need for the Imam’s speech and communication to be at a level at which no uncertainty, nor any ambiguity, can arise from the deliverance of the Imam’s teachings which would allow them to be misconstrued or misunderstood. For this reason, several Imami scholars use this criterion for distinguishing authentic narrations from the Imams from unauthentic narrations, arguing that the Imam would not suffer from a lack of clarity in their direct teachings.

Unlike other schools, which have argued that the Imam is one who is elected into political power and office by the Muslims, the Imami theologians have stipulated that since Allah (s.w.t) has bestowed Imamate upon those whom he has selected personally, even if the Imam were not to occupy political office (as was the case with the majority of the Shi’a Imams), this would in no way render the Imam as neglecting an obligation, nor detract from his Imamate.

More importantly, an Imam’s lack of political power would not free individual Muslims from the obligation of recognising and obeying the Imam in all affairs. This is viewed in the same light as previous Prophets who were sent to particular nations, yet were rejected by the majority of the people. It did not in any way detract from their authority nor station as Prophets, rather the fault would lie upon those who obstructed the Prophet/Imam from assuming political power.

The Imam’s Cosmological Role

Imam Ali: "The earth shall never be devoid of Divine Proof; he may be apparent and prominent or he may be concealed and hidden. And it is because of him that the proofs and signs of Allah are not wasted."

According to numerous narrations, the Earth can never be devoid of an Imam and if it were to be devoid of an Imam, it would become engulfed and all the inhabitants upon the Earth destroyed. Such narrations have been interpreted by Shi’a theologians as having alluded to the doctrine of God's divine justice which does not permit that the earth be free of an Imam to guide the people.

If the earth would ever be free from one of God's guides, then this would contradict the Sunnah of God and hence the world would be devoid of pristine and pure guidance, leading the world to turmoil on both a micro as well as macro level.

For this reason, Shi’a theologians have viewed the role of the Imams on earth as more significant than merely guides, but also as a sign of God's grace upon the earth, or Luft” as it is referred to by numerous theologians.

When the doctrine of Imamate is understood in this dimension, it becomes very clear that the  Imamate, as perceived by the Shi’a School of Islamic Theology, is a much more encompassing doctrine than that upheld and believed by other theological schools.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Sobhani, J. Doctrines of Shi’i Islam, Imam Sadiq Institute, Qom, Iran, 2003.

Misbah-Yazdi, M.T, Theological Instructions, Imam Khomeini Institute, Qom, Iran, 2009.

Tabataba’i, M.H, A Shi’ite Anthology, Muhammadi Trust, London, UK, 1980.

al-Hayderi, K, Manahuj Bahthi al-Imamah bayna al-Nadhariyati wa al-Tatbeeq, Dar al-Faraqid, 2003.

All Muslims accept to some degree that the Prophets of Allah (s.w.t) are Infallible and that these individuals are divinely protected by Allah (s.w.t) from committing errors.

Shi’a Muslims however believe that Infallibility encompasses a much broader scope which they argue is rationally necessary as a result of Allah’s (s.w.t) justice.

If it was the case that Prophets and messengers were fallible and susceptible to the flaws and weaknesses which others experience, this would allow the people to argue against accepting the message of the Prophet (s.a.w).

Shi’a likewise accept that the Infallibility which encompasses the mission of the Prophets is not merely restricted to the period during which the Prophet is declared a Prophet. It also encompasses the entire duration of the Prophets’ lives, based upon the idea that the Prophets should already be recognised as being the most trustworthy in society prior to the commencement of their prophethood.

The doctrines of the Shi’a in regard to Infallibility are primarily based upon scriptural (Qur’an and authentic narrations), as well as rational conclusions which would necessitate that the Prophets and messengers (and Imams) are exemplary role models for mankind to follow.

By necessity they would be unable to violate and transgress against the laws which they are delivering to mankind.

The term “‘Ismah” is often translated into English as “infallibility,” however linguistically the closest and most accurate rendering of the term ‘Ismah into English would be “protected.” This term is derived from the Muslim belief that God is directly protecting the Prophets from certain flaws.

According to the Shi’a, the protection of the Prophets encompasses three different aspects, namely:

1)    In respect to the ability to receive, preserve and convey revelation exactly as intended.

2)    In respect of being protected against all disobedience and sin.

3)    In respect of being protected against error in both individual and social affairs.

The first category of the scope of infallibility is agreed upon by the majority of Islamic theologians. If this first aspect of Infallibility were to be called into question, then the entire station of Prophethood could be challenged and revelation would not be considered trustworthy.

This first level of infallibility is also something which is emphatically taught in the Qur’an:

Knower of the unseen and he reveal his unseen unto anyone, except unto every messenger who he chooses, and then he made a guard to go before him and a guard behind him, that he may know that they have indeed conveyed the messages of their Lord. He comprehends all their doings and he keeps count of all things. (Surah 73:27-28)

According to Shi’a theologians, Prophets and messengers must also be rendered immune from all forms of sin and error in accordance with the rulings of the inspired laws. Were this not the case and were they to act contrary to the laws which they themselves were conveying to mankind then it would serve as an excuse for those to whom the Prophets were sent to reject the Prophets.

Nasir al-Din Tusi, a prominent Imami theologian and philosopher, summarises this in his theological treatise where he articulates that:

‘Ismah is necessary for the messengers in order that their words be trusted and for the purpose of Prophecy to be realised.

Shi’a theologians have also argued that in addition to being protected in the realms that were previously discussed, infallibility would also entail not making errors in the following areas, despite having the ability to do so:

  1. Judging disputes.
  2. Specifying the boundaries and specifics of religious laws.
  3. The realm of social principles.
  4. The realm of daily conventional matters.
Traditions which call Into question infallibility

Due to several reasons, it has become quite common for Muslims to disbelieve in the absolute divine protection of the Prophets. Whilst this may seem strange given that the Qur’an is devoid of narratives which attribute sins to the Prophets of Allah (s.w.t), there are numerous factors which have brought about this viewpoint in Islam.

The primary factor appears to be through the acceptance of unreliable interpretations of the Qur’an (Tafseer) as well as the acceptance of several unreliable narrations which call into question the conduct of the Prophets of Allah (s.w.t).

Many of these narrations have permeated Islamic scriptures via the category of traditions known amongst Muslim scholars as Isra’iliyyat, that is literature, which have Jewish and or Christian origins.

The Shi’a Imams, particularly the eighth Imam, had dedicated time to exonerating the Prophets from such attributions by providing the accurate explanations of often mis-understood Qur’anic verses in this regard. 

Bibliography and Further Reading

Sobhani, J. Doctrines of Shi’i Islam, Imam Sadiq Institute, Qom, Iran, 2003.

Misbah-Yazdi, M.T, Theological Instructions, Imam Khomeini Institute, Qom, Iran, 2009.

Tabataba’i, M.H, A Shi’ite Anthology, Muhammadi Trust, London, UK, 1980.

Belief in the infallibility (‘Ismah) of the Prophets sent by Allah (s.w.t) is a belief which is shared by most Muslims, regardless of their theological school. However, there are differences between the schools in regard to the scope of infallibility of the Prophets.

This entry will clarify the Shi’a theological position in regard to the doctrine of infallibility and address how Shi’a theologians and scholars have come to their conclusions, as well as the differences between the Shi’a and non-Shi’a schools of theology in regards to the infallibility of the Prophets.

Defining Infallibility

In Islamic theology, when the term “‘Ismah” is used, it is often translated into English as “infallible,” however linguistically the closest and most accurate rendering of the term ‘Ismah into English would be “a divinely granted freedom from sin and error”.

No Muslim scholar would ever disagree that the Prophets were sinless; however, they disagree amongst themselves as to how great the level of self-restraint.

According to Shi’a theologians, infallibility or protection of the Prophets encompasses three different aspects, namely:

  1. In respect to the ability to receive, preserve and convey revelation.
  2. In respect of being protected against all disobedience and sin.
  3. In respect of being protected against error in both individual and social affairs.

The first category of infallibility is agreed upon by the vast majority of Islamic theologians with the exception of some non-Shi’a theologians, like Ibn Taymiyyah, who believed that the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) had accidentally been deceived by Satan into reciting verses which were not revelation. However, most Islamic theologians would regard such a claim and account as blasphemous and in direct contradiction to the Qur’an itself.

Rationally it also follows that if the Prophets weren't infallible, it may allow deviation and misguidance to occur. As a consequence, corruption would take place in the initial stage of delivering revelation and the entire purpose of Allah (s.w.t) sending revelation would be entirely undermined. 

The Qur’an emphatically states that God has placed his Prophets and messengers under his protection and supervision in order to ensure that the messages he has sent to his messengers are accurately relayed and conveyed to mankind.

Knower of the unseen, and he reveal his unseen unto anyone, except unto every messenger who he chooses, and then he made a guard to go before him and a guard behind him, that he may know that they have indeed conveyed the messages of their Lord. He comprehends all their doings and he keeps count of all things. (Surah 73:27-28)

According to Imami theologians, Prophets and messengers must also be error and sin free in accordance with divinely inspired laws. Were this not the case and were they to act contrary to the laws which they themselves were conveying to mankind, then it would be a valid excuse for people to reject the Prophets, which would mean that nobody would be able to rely upon the veracity or truth claims of these Prophets, then naturally the entire purpose of sending messengers would be pointless.

This is summarised by the Imami philosopher and theologian Nasir al-Din al-Tusi who describes ‘Ismah’ as follows:

Ismah is necessary for the messengers in order that their words be trusted and for the purpose of Prophecy to be realised.

The inability to sin is not merely a rational conclusion, but also one that can be derived from scripture itself, for the Qur’an is filled with numerous references which articulate the doctrine of Prophets and messengers as being incapable of sin and error.

The Qur’anic scholar Ja’far Subhani cites a few verses which clearly teach this:

“and we chose them and guided them unto a straight path” (Surah 51: 87)

“and he whom Allah (s.w.t) guideth, for him there can be no misguider” (Surah 39: 37)

These two verses when analysed in light of the Qur’anic framework outlining misguidance and deviation clearly highlight that messengers are free of sin and all kinds of error.

Whilst most Sunni theologians have applied these verses and the above mentioned rationale to deduce the sinless nature of the Prophets during their appointment of Prophethood, they have not considered that this would be applicable prior to their attaining prophethood.

Imami theologians on the other hand have argued that the logic which is used to derive the sinless nature of the Prophets during their appointment would also extend to cover the period of their lives prior to becoming Prophets.

This is due to the rational argument that Allah (s.w.t) would naturally select individuals who were known amongst their people as being the most trustworthy and decent people so that nobody would be able to point to any previous misgivings or bad deeds which were committed in the past as an argument to undermine the mission of the Prophets.

This is also based upon the notion of the Justice of Allah (s.w.t) which would require that Allah (s.w.t) sends those who are the most trusted in conduct and stature within society to be our role-models and therefore would not select guides who were known for their ill-mannered traits because they would be rejected.

Additional areas where infallibility would protect messengers

Imami theologians have also highlighted that in addition to being protected in the realms that were previously discussed; the messengers and Prophets would also be immune from error in the following realms:

1)    Judging disputes

2)    Specifying the boundaries and specifics of religious laws

3)    The realm of social principles

4)    The realm of daily behavioral matters

If the knowledge of the Prophet (s.a.w) were found to be lacking in the above areas then this would also undermine the people’s confidence in the messenger to clarify and convey certitude, which would render the entire point of the messenger being sent invalid.

Factors which have caused the infallibility of the Prophets to be called into question

Despite the fact that both scripture and reason leads to the belief that the Prophets were immune from committing error and sin, many Muslims today and certain theological schools have attempted to reduce the infallibility of the Prophets to merely being reserved to the first dimension discussed above, namely in the field of receiving, preserving and conveying the message to others.

There are numerous factors which have led to such confusion amongst Muslims with the primary one being the result of the adoption of unreliable interpretations of the Qur’an (Tafseer). Separately, another reason follows the acceptance of several unreliable narrations which call into question the conduct of the Prophets of God.

Many of these narrations have entered into Islam via the genre of traditions known amongst Muslim historians as “Isra’iliyyat” or “literature” which has entered from Jewish and Christian folklore.

Hence, despite the Qur’an exonerating Prophets from the sins ascribed to them in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, these stories have found their way into the traditions of the Muslims. This occurred during the formative period of Islam when Jewish and Christian converts to Islam would often carry their previous opinions into the religion and with Muslim scholars seeking knowledge from previous scriptures and relying on traditions without thoroughly ascertaining their authenticity.

According to numerous traditions of the Shi’a, Imam al-Ridha (a.s), the eighth Shi’ia Imam would openly challenge these fabricated traditions and would provide the accurate interpretation of the verses which were often understood in light of these fabricated traditions. Through his actions, the Imam would vindicate these Prophets from the atrocious crimes and errors attributed to them.

Infallibility restricted to prophets?

According to the Shi’a school, infallibility is not something which was restricted to Prophets and Messengers, but rather extends to the Imams, who are by extension, the inheritors of the Prophetic mission. It stands to reason that those who preserve the Prophetic mission by default must be immune to the same forms of error.

The Qur’an also demonstrates that one can be an infallible and yet not hold the office of Prophethood such as Maryam, the Mother of Isa (Jesus).

“Oh Maryam, verily Allah hath chosen thee and made thee pure, and hath preferred thee above the women of creation.” (Surah 3: 42)

The term used for “chosen” in the above cited verse is “Astafa” which according to scholars denotes that she was divinely protected. This term has been used in other texts in describing God's preferring of Prophets over others.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Sobhani, J. Doctrines of Shi’i Islam, Imam Sadiq Institute, Qom, Iran, 2003.

Misbah-Yazdi, M.T, Theological Instructions, Imam Khomeini Institute, Qom, Iran, 2009.

Tabataba’i, M.H, A Shi’ite Anthology, Muhammadi Trust, London, UK, 1980.

The concept of a universal saviour is shared by most of the major world religions.

Within Islam, both Shi’a and Sunnis believe this particular role is reserved by a Messianic figure called the  “Mahdi” or the “Guided One.”

While Shi’a and Sunni theologians agree on the concept of “Mahdi,” they differ on who the “Mahdi” might be. Unlike their Sunni counterparts, the Shi’a believes that the Mahdi has already been born and is currently in a phase known as “Occultation,” sustained by God.

For the Shi’a, the Mahdi is the Twelfth and final Imam, namely Muhammad b. al-Hassan al-Mahdi (a.s), born in the year 255 A.H. His Occultation was due to the political factors which caused the birth of the Twelfth Imam (a.s) to be kept extremely secret.

Imam al-Mahdi (a.s) assumed the Imamate after the death of his father in the year 260 A.H, whereby he immediately entered into a concealed phase known as the Minor Occultation, which came to an end in the year 329 A.H. Since that time, the Imam entered the period known as the Major Occultation, during which time no direct contact with the Imam can be established by the believers.

The Shi’a are constantly praying that Allah (s.w.t) will prepare his return and unveil the Mahdi, following which the religion of Islam shall spread all over the globe and injustice shall be overcome.

The Messianic figure known as the “Mahdi” (the guided one) serves as both an area of common ground as well as an area of disagreement for Shi’a Muslims and their Sunni brothers.

Whilst the concept of the figure divinely guided by Allah (s.w.t) to guide the Muslims to success and to spread Islam throughout the earth is indeed shared by both schools, the vast majority of Sunnis reject the Shi’a belief that the Imam is currently alive and being sustained by Allah (s.w.t) in a state of Occultation. 

The Shi’a belief in regard to the existence of the Mahdi

According to the beliefs and creed of the Shi’a, Muhammad b. al-Hassan al-Mahdi (a.s), is the Twelfth Imam (a.s), who was promised by the Messenger of Allah (s.w.t) and mentioned in numerous traditions and verses of the Qur’an. Born on the 15th of Shaban in the year 255 A.H, his father was Imam Hassan al-‘Askari (a.s), the Eleventh Imam of the Shi’a. 

The existence of the Twelfth Imam was deliberately kept secret during the lifetime of his father, the Eleventh Imam al-Askari (a.s) for political reasons.

In the year 260 A.H, the Eleventh Imam, Hassan al-Askari (a.s) passed away, making his five year old son Muhammad al-Mahdi (a.s) his immediate successor. However, the Abbasids being aware of his role in ensuring the dominance of justice world-wide, they had intentions of killing him, hence, the Twelfth Imam (a.s) went into a period known as the Minor Occultation (al-Ghaybat al-Sughra), during which no individuals would have contact with him except via the intermediaries known as the four deputies. The deputies succeeded each other in the following order:

  1. Uthman ibn Sa’id (the first deputy)
  2. Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Uthman (the second deputy)
  3. Abul Qasim Husayn ibn Ruh al-Nawbakhti (the third deputy)
  4. Abul Hasan Ali ibn Muhammad al-Samarri (the fourth and final deputy)

This period reached an end in the year 329 A.H in which the fourth deputy of the Twelfth Imam (a.s), namely al-Samarri, announced that the period of the Minor Occultation and hence deputyship was coming to an end with his death. This signified that the Twelfth Imam would enter into a greater phase of Occultation, in which there would be no direct deputies with direct access to the Twelfth Imam (a.s).

During the Major Occultation of the Twelfth Imam (a.s) (329 A.H- Present), which is entitled al-Ghaybat al-Kubra in Arabic, the Shia hold that the Twelfth Imam (a.s) is still present on the Earth dwelling amongst its inhabitants. However, his appearance is veiled from their sight, allowing him to see them, but they cannot not to see him.

Traditions from the Sixth Imam have referred to the Imam in the period of the Major Occultation as being like the sun behind the clouds, a metaphor explaining how he is still of benefit to mankind but not visible, similar to the sun.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Mutlaq, R.H, The Last Luminary and ways to delve into the Light, Islamic Publishing House, Canada, 2008.

Al-Bahrani, H, Al-Muhajah fi ma nazal fi al-Qa’im al-Hujjah, Dar al-Muwadah, Qom, Iran, 1327.

Sobhani, J. Doctrines of Shi’i Islam, Imam Sadiq Institute, Qom, Iran, 2003.

Misbah-Yazdi, M.T, Theological Instructions, Imam Khomeini Institute, Qom, Iran, 2009.

Tabataba’i, M.H, A Shi’ite Anthology, Muhammadi Trust, London, UK, 1980.

The Messianic figure known as the “Mahdi” serves as an area of common ground as well as divergence between Shi’a Muslims and their Sunni counterparts.

Whilst the concept of the Messianic figure, divinely guided by Allah (s.w.t) to lead the Muslims to success and spread Islam throughout the globe, is indeed shared by both schools, the vast majority of Sunnis reject the Shi’a belief that the Twelfth Imam is currently alive and being sustained by Allah (s.w.t) in a state of Occultation.

For Shi’a, the Mahdi is the last of twelve divinely appointed successors to the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w). According to Shi’a Muslims, the Mahdi is Muhammad b. Hasan al-Mahdi (a.s), and he was born in the year 255 A.H. His father was Imam al-Hassan al-‘Askari (a.s), the Eleventh Shia Imam, who kept the existence of his son a secret due to the immense pressure and fear of the Abbasid government caused by the numerous Messianic expectations revolving around the beliefs relating to the Twelfth Imam (a.s).

Most Sunnis, however not all, object to the notion of the Twelfth Imam (a.s) being the “Mahdi”. For Sunnis, the concept of Imam al-Mahdi (a.s) refers to an individual who is not connected to a circle of successive Imamate but is a promised individual who shall appear at the end of time to establish a Caliphate and fight against the system of al-Dajjal (The Anti-Christ) and the Dajjal’s supporters.

This entry shall further clarify the extent of the differences between the Sunni and Shi’a views of Imam al-Mahdi (a.s) and shall also address some of the many misconceptions. It will also clarify some often misunderstood Shia theological views surrounding the concept of Imam al-Mahdi (a.s).

The Shi’a Belief in Regards to the Birth of the Mahdi

According to the beliefs and creed of the Shi’a, Muhammad al-Mahdi b. Hassan al-‘Askari (a.s) is the awaited Twelfth Imam, who was promised by the Messenger of Allah and mentioned in verses of the Qur’an and in numerous ahadith.

Born on the 15th of Shaban, in the year 255 A.H, his father was Imam Hassan al-‘Askari (a.s), the Eleventh Imam of the Shi’a. Traditions record his mother as a religious woman named Nargis, who was a descendant of a noble family. From her father’s side she was a descendant of Caesar, King of Rome and from her mother’s side she descended from Simon, one of Jesus’ disciples. 

The existence of the Twelfth Imam (a.s), during the lifetime of his father, the Eleventh Imam Hassan al-Askari (a.s) was something which was deliberately kept secret due to the political circumstances at the time. 

In the year 260 A.H, the Eleventh Imam (a.s) passed away, making his five year old son Muhammad al-Mahdi (a.s) his immediate successor. Due to the political circumstances mentioned above, however, the Imam was kept a secret by companions of the Eleventh Imam (a.s).

The secret was deemed so important that one of the Twelfth Imam’s (a.s) slave girls even claimed to be pregnant with his son in order to divert attention away from him.

The Twelfth Imam (a.s) thereafter went into a period known as the Minor Occultation (al-Ghaybat al-Sughra) during which no individuals would have contact with him except via the intermediaries known as the four deputies. The deputies succeeded each other in the following order:

  1. Uthman ibn Sa’id al-Asadi (the first deputy)
  2. Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Uthman (the second deputy)
  3. Abul Qasim Husayn ibn Ruh al-Nawbakhti (the third deputy)
  4. Abul Hasan Ali ibn Muhammad al-Samarri (the fourth and final deputy)

This period reached an end in the year 329 A.H in which the fourth and final deputy of the Twelfth Imam (a.s), al-Samarri announced to the Shi’a that the period of the Minor Occultation and hence deputyship was coming to an end.

This signified that the Twelfth Imam (a.s) would enter into a greater occultation through which there would be no direct deputies through which direct access to the Twelfth Imam (a.s) could be sought.

During the Major Occultation of the Twelfth Imam (a.s) (329 A.H- Present), which is entitled al-Ghaybat al-Kubra in Arabic, the Twelfth Imam (a.s) was still present on the Earth dwelling amongst its inhabitants. However, his appearance is veiled from our sight, allowing him to see us, but us not to see him.

Traditions from the Sixth Imam (a.s) have referred to the Imam in the period of the Major Occultation as being like the sun behind the clouds, a metaphor for the role and guidance that the Imam plays during occultation, which has been subject to numerous scholarly discussions and elaborate commentaries.

Shi’a theologians have argued that the Twelfth Imam (a.s) occasionally appears in the community through numerous means and guides people through individual contact with scholars. Entire volumes have been collected containing stories of such encounters between the Twelfth Imam and Shi’a scholars.

Misconceptions and Objections Surrounding the Doctrine of the Living Twelfth Imam (a.s)

Due to the secretive nature of the Twelfth Imam’s (a.s) existence during the lifetime of his father, Imam Hassan al-Askari (a.s) some Muslims have gone as far as to accuse the Shi’a of doctoring the existence of the Twelfth Imam (a.s).

There are in fact numerous narratives which mention the Twelfth Imam’s (a.s) existence from sources which are not exclusively Twelver Shi’a. Even the Sunni renowned master of ‘Ulum al-Hadith (Hadith Sciences) namely “al-Dhahabi” had mentioned the birth of a son to Imam Hassan al-Askari (a.s). This demonstrates that even Sunni’s don’t dispute the existence of a son to  Hassan al-Askari (a.s).

Objection as to the Purpose of the Imam

Other non- Shi’a Muslims have objected that if the Imam is in a state of Occultation then the entire purpose of the Imam as a guide has become null and void and the obligation of the Shi’a to follow him has likewise become null and void. Such arguments have existed from the formative period of Islam from groups against the Shi’a. In response, theologians such as Shaykh al-Mufid have argued that if such an argument were valid, then the Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.w) mission would have also been null and void during the period in which he was hiding in the cave away from his enemies.

In a similar way, according to Shi’a theology, the Imam remains a guide on numerous levels as was alluded to earlier by the quoted narration from the Sixth Imam, Ja’far al-Sadiq (a.s) who described the Imam as being akin to the sun behind the clouds.

Lastly, all Muslims believe in the entity known as Shaytan (Satan), an unseen being which misguides mankind and calls Muslims to misguidance without them even detecting him. In a similar fashion, the Imam is an unseen Being during the period of the Occultation, but still has the ability to offer positive guidance for mankind.

Arguments about the Age of the Imam

The most commonly asked question about the Twelfth Shi’a Imam (a.s) is why would God desire to keep an individual alive for so long. It is by and large a secular objection which fails to take into consideration the fact that Prophets such as Nuh had life spans of over 900 years previously. If it has been the practice of God to preserve Prophets’ lives for long durations, then it should not be surprising that God would continue that practice.

Points of Possible Reconciliation        

Whilst there remains differences between the Shi’a and Sunnis over the identity of the Mahdi, the concept of the Mahdi is one which is shared by both schools of thought.

All Muslims believe that the Mahdi is a figure who will be guided by Allah (s.w.t), and will guide people towards Allah (s.w.t), overcome the enemies of justice and lead the Muslim Ummah and the religion of Islam reign supreme. Whilst Shi’a and Sunnis may not see eye to eye on the specifics of the concept of the Mahdi, there still exists many grounds upon which dialogue can be built, as well as much mutually accepted traditions in regard to the mission and specific details of the rule of the Mahdi.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Mutlaq, R.H, The Last Luminary and ways to delve into the Light, Islamic Publishing House, Canada, 2008.

Al-Bahrani, H, Al-Muhajah fi ma nazal fi al-Qa’im al-Hujjah, Dar al-Muwadah, Qom, Iran, 1327.

Sobhani, J. Doctrines of Shi’i Islam, Imam Sadiq Institute, Qom, Iran, 2003.

Misbah-Yazdi, M.T, Theological Instructions, Imam Khomeini Institute, Qom, Iran, 2009.

Tabataba’i, M.H, A Shi’ite Anthology, Muhammadi Trust, London, UK, 1980.

The belief in and practice of temporary marriage is one of the major differences between Sunni and Shi’a traditions.

According to Shi’a customs, temporary marriage entails that a Muslim man may marry a Muslim woman or non-Muslim woman (from amongst the people of the book) for a pre-determined period of time.

The man is required to give the woman an agreed dowry. The marriage is conducted by reciting an oral contract, which is recited by both parties entering into the marriage.

Apart from the length of the marriage, the main difference between a temporary marriage and permanent marriage is that no divorce is necessary to dissolve the relationship and the wife in a temporary marriage doesn’t have the same inheritance rights granted to a wife in a permanent marriage.

One practice for which the Shi’a are often criticised for is the belief in temporary marriage. This entry aims to clarify the nature of temporary marriage, its history and scope.

The Definition and Nature of the Practice of Temporary Marriage

Temporary marriage is practiced by Shi’a, and is referred to in Arabic most frequently as either Zawaj al-Muwaqqat (literally, marriage for a set period of time) or Mu’tah (derived from the Arabic word for pleasure).

Entire volumes of work have been written by Jurists about the conditions of temporary marriage and the philosophy behind it.

Temporary marriage entails that a Muslim man may marry a Muslim or non-Muslim woman (from amongst the people of the book) who is mature, independent or has permission from her guardian (should this be the first marriage she enters) and that the two individuals in question are not in any way related to one another according to the injunctions laid out by Islam.

Should the woman entering into the marriage be a divorcee or a widow, she must observe the Iddah period which is obligated by Islam prior to entering into the marriage contract.

The man then gives the woman an agreed upon dowry which is a gift of a financial or material nature. The couple involved can stipulate the fixed period of how long they wish to be married for, and after that has been verified, the marriage is conducted through the recitation of an oral contract which takes the form of the following Arabic formula recited by the woman entering into the marriage:

“I marry you with the dowry of (X amount) for the time period of (X amount)”

To which the man should recite:

“I accept”

The marriage is thereafter immediate in effect and the bride and groom remain married for the agreed period of time, and then separate without the need for a divorce.

Should the husband wish to end the marriage early, it can be achieved with a mutual agreement. Just like in a permanent marriage, if the couple separates, the woman must observe the Iddah period if the marriage was consummated.

If any children are born from the marriage, then like a permanent marriage contract, the father has a legal obligation to provide financially and morally for his child.

The key difference between Mu’tah and a permanent marriage is that the wife of a Mu’tah marriage does not possess the right to inherit from her husband due to the temporary nature of the relationship.

Amongst the numerous practices and beliefs of the Shi’a which are often misunderstood for is the practice known as Mu’tah or temporary marriage as it is referred to in English. This practice is often misunderstood and consequently attacked and criticised by both Muslims of other schools as well as non-Muslims.

This entry aims to clarify the nature of temporary marriage, its history and scope. It will also address the misconceptions which have been propagated in regard to the practice.

The Definition and Nature of the Practice of Temporary Marriage

Temporary marriage is a practice which is still practiced by Muslims adhering to the Shi’a Ithna Ashari School of Jurisprudence. It is most frequently referred to in Arabic as Zawaj al-Muwaqqat (literally meaning marriage for a set period of time) or Mu’tah (derived from the Arabic word for pleasure).

There are entire volumes dedicated to the jurisprudential nature of the practice of Mu’tah, however, it shall suffice to summarise a brief definition of this form of marriage and how it differs from permanent marriage.

Temporary marriage entails that a Muslim man may marry a Muslim or non-Muslim woman (from amongst the people of the book) who is mature, independent or has permission from her guardian (should this be the first marriage she enters) and that the two individuals in question are not in any way related to one another according to the injunctions laid out by Islam.

Should the woman entering into the marriage be a divorcee or a widow, she must observe the Iddah period, which is obligated by Islam prior to entering into the marriage contract.

The man then gives the woman an agreed upon dowry of financial or material nature. The couple involved must stipulate the fixed period of how long they wish to be married for, and after that has been verified, the marriage is conducted through the recitation of an oral contract which takes the form of the following Arabic formula recited by the woman entering into the marriage:

“I marry you with the dowry of (X amount) for the time period of (X amount)”

To which the man should recite:

“I accept”

The marriage is thereafter immediately in effect and the bride and groom remain married for the agreed period of time, and then separate without the need for a divorce.

Should the husband wish to end the marriage early, it can be achieved with a mutual agreement. Just like in a permanent marriage, if the couple separates, the woman must observe the Iddah period if the marriage was consummated.

If any children are born from the marriage, then like a permanent marriage contract, the father has a legal obligation to provide financially and morally for his child, ensuring that neglect does not occur once the marriage comes to an end.

One of the key differences between Mu’tah and a permanent marriage is that the wife of a Mu’tah marriage does not possess the right to inherit from her husband due to the temporary nature of the relationship. 

The Nature of Temporary Marriage

It is universally recognised that the Prophet Muhammad during the Medinan phase of Islam (the duration of his Prophethood in the city of Madinah), had given permission for his companions and the early Muslims to practice temporary marriage whilst away from their families. This was due to the long periods of time away while engaging in military expeditions. 

Under these circumstances, men were given permission to engage in marriages of a stipulated limited time period. 

While the original reason for the granting of temporary marriages arose during periods of unrest, the custom endured and the practice continues today. 

To cite but one example:

A narration can be found in the Musnad of Abi Dawood al-Tayalsi, the Sunni traditionalist which records the response of Asma’a b. Abi Bakr, the daughter of the first Caliph, to a question regarding the permissibility of temporary marriage in which she states:

“'We performed this during the lifetime of the messenger of God (Muhammad) (s)”

Justification of Temporary Marriage from the Qur’an

“Also (forbidden are) women already married, except those (slaves) whom your right hands possess. Thus has Allah ordained for you. All others are lawful, provided you seek them (with a dowry) from your property, desiring chastity, not fornication. So with those among them whom you have done mu’tah with, give them their required due, but if you agree mutually (to give more) after the requirement (has been determined), there is no sin on you. Surely, Allah is Ever All-Knowing, All-Wise”
Quran [4:24]

The above cited verse of the Qur’an outlines those who are permitted and forbidden for one to enter in marriage with, in the underlying passage which has been translated as “whom you have done Mu’tah with.” The specific Arabic word used is ''Istamta'tum'' derived from the same root word as ''Mu’tah''. What is even more curious about the verse for those who deny its revelation in the context of temporary marriage is that the verse is either introducing Mu’tah marriage and the need to give a dowry, or is repeating itself in the space of one verse (in regards to providing dowry to a permanent wife) which seems improbable and aimless.

The renowned Jurist Abd al-Husayn Sharaf al-Din al-Musawi (d. 1377/1957) in his work “Masa’il al-Fiqhi” (Questions of Jurisprudence) notes that according to the Imams of the Ahlulbayt as well as numerous other companions of the Prophet (s.a.w) including Ubayy b. Ka’ab, Abdullah b. Abbas and Sa’id b. Jubayr, the above highlighted verse was revealed in regard to Mu’tah.

It is therefore established belief of the Shia that Mu’tah was indeed practiced by the early generation of Muslims and that it was legislated whilst in the city of Madinh al-Munawarrah. The Shia further state that the above verse demonstrates this fact It is therefore necessary to discuss whether or not the practice was ever abolished during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w) as is the jurisprudential position of the Sunnis on that.

Debates Over Whether Mu’tah was Abolished

Non-Shi’a schools of Islam believe that Mu’tah was abolished. The discussion pertaining to its abolishment are however slightly complicated, and for the sake of clarity, this entry shall look at different claims put forward by those who maintain the practice was ended.

Those opposing the practice of Mu’tah have put forward four divergent opinions about the date on which it was banned.

These dates are purported to be as follows:

  1. During the day that Khaybar was conquered
  2. On the day of the conquest of Makkah
  3. The battle of Tabuk
  4. The final pilgrimage of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w).

It is worthy to note that if the practice had actually been abolished, there most likely would not be a disagreement as to when it was practiced since the life of the Prophet (s.a.w) has been so heavily documented by Muslims. Some may respond that the first cited occasion has been generally held to be the most plausible during which the practice was finally abolished; however an analysis of the narrations would certainly not indicate as such.

One of the often cited narrations which is highlighted for the banning of Mu’tah marriage is the following narration ascribed to Abdullah b. ‘Umar.

Sahih Bukhari Volume 5, Book 59, Number 526:

Narrated Ibn Umar:

On the day of Khaiber, Allah's Apostle forbade the eating of garlic and the meat of donkeys.

What is unique about this particular narration extracted from the most authentic Hadith compilation of the Sunni school of thought is that on the day of Khaybar, not only was Mu’tah forbidden but also forbidden was the eating of garlic. This begs the question as to why garlic is therefore no longer viewed as forbidden by the Sunni schools of Jurisprudence, if indeed it ever was, and opens up the possibility to investigating whether or not the prohibition according to such a Hadith was merely one that lasted a day.

Another reason why Muslims would be correct in rejecting these narrations is the principle that the clear Qur’anic injunctions cannot be over-ruled or abolished by solitary Hadith reports (some Jurists even argue that widely transmitted reports cannot over-rule the Qur’an). Hence in the absence of any Qur’an verse to ban the practice, it cannot be accepted at face value that it was ever banned during the life of the Prophet (s.a.w).

This view can be supported by analysing the statements of the second Caliph, who during his speeches announcing the ban, certainly makes manifest that he is introducing a new enforcement which did not earlier take place.

Qur’anic Verses Abolish Mu’tah?

Some claim that the Qur’an itself has banned the practice of temporary marriage by citing the following verse:

“And they who guard their private parts, except from their wives or those their right hands possess, for indeed, they will not be blamed.”

(Qur’an, 23:5-6)

Such a claim is problematic, however, for two particular reasons, primarily because the chapter in question was revealed in Makkah while the verse which was revealed in the context of the permissibility of Mu’tah was revealed in Madinah.

This fact alone makes it impossible for Mu’tah to have been prohibited by the Qu’ran. Further, in light of the fact that many of the companions of the Prophet (s.a.w) were still practicing Mu’tah prior to the abolition of the practice by Ibn Umar demonstrates that the verse was not understood to have over-ridden the other.

The second claim put forth is that the verse calls upon the believers to abstain from relations outside of marriage and concubines, however, the response is extremely simple; a temporary wife is still a wife none the less.

Common Objections Levelled at the Practice of Mu’tah

Whilst it is not the aim of this short entry to comprehensively analyse and respond to all objections levelled at the practice of temporary marriage, it is necessary to address at least a few of these objections in order to clarify the view of Shi’a and demonstrate that they have not merely overlooked these objections.

The Argument that Temporary Marriage is Immoral

Some have argued that temporary marriage is immoral in light of Islamic morality, and that Islam promotes permanent marriage as an alternative. In response to this argument, Imami Jurists point out that the Prophet (s.a.w) at one point had introduced temporary marriage as a viable solution and practice for all Muslims. Therefore, this accusation would be suggesting that the Prophet (s.a.w) and therefore God would have legislated something immoral for the Muslims to practice, something which every Muslim would disagree with.

The Argument that Temporary Marriage Existed as a Jahiliyyah Form of Marriage yet was Gradually Abolished

Some will try and argue against this response by acknowledging that the practice was once allowed by the Prophet (s.a.w), however, it was a pre-Islamic practice which was continued for a period of time (like the gradual phasing out of drinking alcohol) in order to make life easier for the early Muslims, thus rendering the practice as still being immoral by Islamic standards.

In response to these claims, it would suffice to quote Aisha, the wife of the Prophet (s.a.w), citing in a Hadith the numerous types of marriage which had previously existed in Arabia at the time:

“Aisha the wife of the Prophet told him that there were four types of marriage during the Pre-Islamic period of ignorance.

One type was similar to that of the present day, i.e. a man used to ask somebody else for the hand of a girl under his guardianship or for his daughter's hand, and give her a dowry and then marry her.

The second was that a man would say to his wife after she had become clean from her period, "Send for so-and-so and have sexual relations with him." Her husband would then keep away from her and would never sleep with her till she gets pregnant from the other man with whom she was sleeping. When her pregnancy became evident, her husband would sleep with her if he wished. Her husband did so (i.e. let his wife sleep with some other man) so that he might have a child of noble breed. Such marriage was called Al-Istibda.

Another type of marriage was that a group of less than ten men would assemble and enter upon a woman, and all of them would have sexual relations with her. If she became pregnant and delivered a child and some days had passed after her delivery, she would send for all of them and none of them would refuse to come, and when they all gathered before her, she would say to them, "You (all) know what you have done, and now I have given birth to a child. So, it is your child, O so-and-so!" naming whoever she liked, and her child would follow him and he could not refuse to take him.

The fourth type of marriage was that many people would enter upon a lady and she would never refuse anyone who came to her. Those were the prostitutes who used to fix red flags at their doors as signs, and he who wished, could have sexual intercourse with them. If anyone of them got pregnant and delivered a child, then all those men would be gathered for her and they would call the Qaifs (persons skilled in recognizing the likeness of a child to his father) to them and would let her child follow the man (whom they recognized as his father) and she would let him adhere to him and will be called his son. The man could not refuse all that.

But when Muhammad (s) was sent with the Truth, he abolished all the types of marriages observed in the Pre-Islamic period of ignorance except the type of marriage the people recognize today”

(Sahih al-Bukhari)

This narration categorically shows that the types of marriage that occurred during the era of Jahiliyyah did not include temporary marriage, and hence it was an area which was newly legislated by Islam and therefore cannot be considered to be immoral, since God is considered by all Muslims to be the standard of morality.

The Argument that Temporary Marriage was a Special Dispensation Allowed by the Prophet (s.a.w) for the Ease of his Companions then was Abolished

Some have also argued against the Shi’a practice of temporary marriage by stating that the practice, whilst not necessarily immoral, was a practice that was legislated out of mercy for the companions who moaned out of frustration due to their extremely heavy desires whilst travelling away from their spouses. This extreme tension felt by the companions was responded to by the legislation of temporary marriage as a mercy to cater for their needs, yet was later abolished by the Holy Prophet (s.a.w).

Shi’a scholars would respond to this accusation by arguing that God and the Holy Prophet (s.a.w) showed mercy to all of mankind and not just the first generation, namely the Prophet’s (s.a.w) companions. As a result, their mercy if it extended to the companions for such a reason would not have a basis to be terminated with the rest of the Muslims who suffer from the same needs and desires.

Conclusion

It has been demonstrated that the practice of temporary marriage was legislated by God and this is evident from the statements of the early Muslims, the Qur’an and numerous prophetic statements.

Whilst some have claimed this was abolished, there is not sufficient or concrete evidence to suggest that this was so.

The Qur’an Ayah legislating the acceptance of Mu’tah marriage is not accompanied by any other verse which overrules its original meaning. Separately, the vast majority of narrations used to argue that it was banned at some point in history all stem from isolated chains of transmission which are mutually contradictory.

In light of this, Shi’a Jurists have argued based upon the teachings of the Imams of the Ahlulbayt that the marriage is still legal and will remain so until the day of judgement.

This view is supported by the Prophetic Hadith “Halal of Muhammad is Halal until the Day of Judgement.”

The day of Ashura is a day which highlights one of the greatest contentions between the Sunni and the Shi’a schools of Islam.

It also serves as an event in which many view the Shia as a rebellious group who seek to contradict the established practices of Islam. It is with great difficulty that many have attempted to clarify just how drastically different the Shi’a view the day of Ashura from their Sunni counterparts.

Whilst some Sunnis have traditionally viewed the day as a day of fasting and celebration, associating it with a miraculous day in history through which God had saved numerous Prophets and nations from disaster, the Shi’a view the day as perhaps the saddest day of mourning throughout the entire Islamic year.

Shi’a have traditionally rejected the accounts in Sunni narrations regarding the day of Ashura as a day of celebration by focusing on internal and external contradictions in the Hadith themselves, whilst citing other narrations which show that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w) prophesied what would happen to Imam al-Husayn (a.s) at Karbala.

For Shi’as, the day serves as a day which the believers reflect over the massacre that befell Imam al-Husayn (a.s) and his companions at Karbala, and which the believer can attempt to awaken the spirit of justice and dedication to the path of Allah (s.w.t) by remembering what happened to Imam al-Husayn (a.s) through re-enactments and oral eulogies.

The day of Ashura is unfortunately a day upon which the differences between the Sunni and the Shi’a become magnified.

This entry hopes to clarify the key differences and explain why the Shi’a have observed the day of Ashura differently to their Sunni brothers. 

What is Ashura?

Ashura marks the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram. For Shi’a it represents the day in which the Third Imam al-Husayn b. Ali (a.s) was brutally murdered and his camp of about one hundred men massacred by the 30 thousand strong army of Yazid b. Mu’awiya in the city of Karbala (Iraq), during the year 61 A.H. (See Imam al-Husayn (a.s) advanced entry for more details).

A minority of Sunnis have however tended to view Ashura as a day of happiness and celebration. 

Sunni Interpretation of Ashura

According to Sunni Muslims, the day of Ashura is a unique day of celebration, a day on which to fast. One of the primary sources used to substantiate this can be found in the collection of Sahih Muslim, one of the two canonical Hadith compilations for the Sunnis:

Narrated: Abdullah Ibn Abbas: The Prophet came to Madinah and saw the Jews fasting on the day of Ashura. He asked them about that. They replied, "This is a good day, the day on which Allah rescued Bani Israel from their enemy. So, Moses fasted this day." The Prophet said, "We have more claim over Moses than you." So, the Prophet fasted on that day and ordered (the Muslims) to fast (on that day).

This Hadith alone has been used as the explanation for why the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) had introduced fasting on this day for the Muslim Ummah and has become a source for why some Sunni Muslims believe that Ashura should be a day of happiness and fasting.

In challenging the narrative provided by Sunni Muslims, Shi’a scholars have rejected the Hadith for numerous reasons on the basis of the content of the Hadith.

One particular reason given for the rejection of this Hadith is the entire circumstance through which the Prophet (s.a.w) is said to have established the Sunnah of fasting. It is claimed that he had been completely oblivious to the practice of fasting on the day of Ashura and that he had not even been aware of the blessings that were bestowed by God upon previous Prophets on this day until he came across a group of Jews who explained this to him. 

This account is not befitting of the Prophet (s.a.w) and inferior to the Islamic understanding of the level of knowledge a Prophet is supposed to possess.

Mourning for Husayn as Part of the Prophetic Sunnah

According to many narratives found within the authentic narrations of both Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, the event of Ashura was something which the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) had been made well aware of by the Angel Gabriel who had brought him clay from the land and informed him of what would befall Imam al-Husayn (a.s) in the future. In one Hadith, the Prophet (s.a.w) is recognised to have expressed his grief and sorrow at the events which would occur. This account has been used by numerous Shi’a Jurists as a basis for the Prophetic Sunnah commemorating Ashura as a day of mourning.

Shi’a have argued that the expression of grief can be demonstrated in numerous ways, though one of the cultural practices of Arabs in expressing grief is clearly chest beating, an act which had been practiced by many of the Prophet’s (s.a.w) companions without rebuke.

According to a Sunni narrative which can be found in the History of Tabari:

Narrated by ‘Abbas:

"I heard Ayesha saying "The Messenger of God died on my bosom during my turn, I did not wrong anyone in regard to him. It was because of my ignorance and youthfulness that the Messenger of God died while he was in my lap. Then I laid his head on a pillow and got up beating my chest and slapping my face along with the women."

The Philosophy Behind Mourning for Imam al-Husayn (a.s) on Ashura

For the Shia, the philosophical viewpoint of participating in the mourning rituals of Ashura is to serve as a reminder of the sacrifice which Imam al-Husayn  (a.s) made for the religion of Islam, by rising up and fighting tyranny.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Mutahhari, M, The Truth about al-Hussain’s revolt, 2003, Dar al-Hadi, London

Rizvi, S. M, Islam, Faith, Practice and History, 2004, Ansariyan, Qom, Iran.

One of the factors which has created a distinct Shi’a and Sunni identity is the divergent opinions of the two schools as to how one should observe the day known in Islam as Ashura, which falls upon the tenth day of the first Islamic month namely Muharram.

This entry hopes to clarify the differences and explain why the Shi’a have tended to observe the day of Ashura differently to their Sunni brothers.

For anyone familiar with Islamic history and indeed the practices of Shi’a Muslims, it shall be abundantly clear that the day of Ashura is not a day of celebration, rather it is a day of mourning and sorrow. For Shi’a it represents  the anniversary of the day in which the Third Imam al-Husayn b. Ali (a.s) was brutally murdered and his camp of less than one hundred men massacred by the 30 thousand strong army of Yazid b. Mu’awiya in the city of Karbala (Iraq), during the year 61 A.H. (See Imam al-Husayn advanced entry for more details)

Sunni Interpretation of Ashura

According to many Sunni Muslims, the day of Ashura is a unique day of celebration in which it is recommended that Muslims fast for two subsequent days. This stems from the belief that this day was a unique day in the history of mankind through which God on several occasions intervened and granted mankind several blessings.

One of the primary sources utilised for such a belief can be found in the collection of Sahih Muslim, one of the two canonical Hadith compilations for the Sunnis:

It is related that Ibn 'Abbas said, "The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, came to Madinah and saw the Jews fasting the day of Ashura and said, 'What is this?' They said, 'This is a holy day. This is the day when Allah rescued the Children of Israel from their enemy and so Musa fasted it.' He said, 'We have more right to Musa than you.' So he fasted it and commanded that it be fasted. "

This Hadith alone has been used as the explanation for why the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) had introduced the fasting on this day for the Muslim Ummah, and has become a source for why the day of Ashura should be a day of happiness and fasting according to Sunni Muslims.

Shi’a Interpretation of Ashura

In challenging the narrative given by Sunni Muslims, Shi’a scholars have rejected the Hadith cited above for numerous reasons due to the content of the Hadith.

One particular reason given for the rejection of this Hadith is the circumstances in which the Prophet (s.a.w) is said to have established the Sunnah of fasting.

It is claimed that he had been completely oblivious to the practice of fasting on the day of Ashura and that he had not even been aware of the blessing that were bestowed by God upon previous Prophets on this day until he came across a group of Jews who explained this to him. Shi’a theologians and Jurists would reject the concept of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w) introducing Sunnah based upon the practices of the previous religions which have been distorted and dissolved according to Islamic theology. 

This view is supported by the Qur’an:

“Has not the time arrived for the believers that their hearts in all humility should engage in the remembrance of Allah and of the truth which has been revealed (to them) and that they should not become like those to whom was given the Book aforetime? But long ages passed over them and their hearts grew hard, for many among them are rebellious transgressors.”

Qur’an 57:16

“Never will the Jews or the Christians be satisfied with you unless thou follow their form of religion. Say: "The guidance of Allah that is the (only) guidance." Were you to follow their desires after the knowledge which has reached you then would find neither protector nor helper against Allah.”

Qur’an 2:120

Therefore, according to the Qur’anic guidelines given to the Prophet (s.a.w), this Hadith can clearly be rejected as a fabrication which contradicts the Qur’anic message and portrays the Prophet (s.a.w) to be someone who arbitrarily introduces new practices based upon his whims and information provided by others.

It must also be pointed out that according to religious scholars from other denominations, there has never been a recorded group of Jews who actually fasted upon the day of Ashura, and no record of such an occasion has been recorded amongst known sects of Judaism. This seems to indicate that the narration is historically anachronistic in addition to contradicting the Qur’an.

Mourning for Husayn as Part of the Prophetic Sunnah

According to many narratives found within the authentic narrations of both Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, the event of Ashura was something which the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) had been made well aware of by the Angel Gabriel who had brought him clay from the land and informed him of what would transpire to Imam al-Husayn (a.s) in the future.

This caused the Prophet (s.a.w) immense grief, a grief which he shared with his wife Umm Salma, who held onto this clay after the Prophet’s (s.a.w) death. Based on this account alone it is perfectly acceptable, according to the Prophetic Sunnah, to mourn for Imam al-Husayn (a.s). Shi’a have argued that the expression of grief can be demonstrated in numerous ways, though one of the cultural practices of Arabs in expressing grief is clearly chest beating, an act which had been practiced by many of the Prophet’s (s.a.w) companions without rebuke.

Some individuals have, however, raised objections to the practice of chest-beating, a symbolic act which is practiced to instill grief into the believer, which is practiced by Shi’a on the 10th of Muharram.

What has not been taken into account by those who criticise the Shi’a for such a practice is that it actually originates as a cultural practice amongst the Arabs as a means of showing grief, one which was never abolished and was even practiced by the Prophet’s (s.a.w) wives upon his death.

The Philosophy Behind Mourning for Imam al-Husayn (a.s) on Ashura

From the philosophical view point of Shi’a, participating in the mourning rituals of Ashura serve as a reminder of the sacrifice which Imam al-Husayn (a.s) made for the religion of Islam, by rising up and fighting tyranny, despite knowing the chances of survival were slim.

This has earned the Imam (a.s) the title of “The Saviour of Islam,” because according to traditional Shi’a accounts of the Imam’s devotion to the religion, he sacrificed everything, including the sanctity of his family’s blood, in order to revive and awaken the consciousness of the Muslims.

Through remembering the sacrifice of the Imam (a.s), Shi’a are hoping to instil in their hearts, the willingness to sacrifice everything, and more importantly, abandon everything in this world when injustice reaches an intolerable level. It reminds them to fight, even if the odds seem extremely unfavourable.

Bibliography and Further Reading

The Collection of Muhammad b. Isma’il al-Bukhari, the Book of Fasting, Hadith no. 1900 (Tr. A’isha Bewley) – http://www.sunnipath.com/Library/Hadith/H0002P0035.aspx - Accessed 28/11/2011- 14:33 PM (GMT)

Mutahhari, M, The Truth about al-Hussain’s revolt, Dar al-Hadi, London, 2003.

Rizvi, S. M, Islam, Faith, Practice and History, Ansariyan, Qom, Iran, 2004.

Amongst the most contested and misunderstood beliefs of the Shi’a is Intercession. Many non-Shi’as view this practice as a direct violation of the Islamic belief of pure monotheism (Tawheed) and have accused Shi’as of practicing Polytheism (Shirk).

Unfortunately such accusations and misunderstandings of the Shi’a philosophy of Intercession are based upon a lack of understanding of Shi’a beliefs as well as shallow and isolated reading of Quran verses.

Shi’a theologians have been quick to point out that constantly within the realm of creation, we as individuals use intermediaries, for example if we are hungry, we eat food to satisfy our hunger, if we are thirsty, we drink to quench our thirst. In both of these cases, we are relying upon sources which are seemingly not Allah directly, however in neither of these cases would one be accused of committing God, due to the fact that in both cases neither the drink nor the food is viewed as an independent self-sustaining source of nourishment but is viewed as a provision (Rizq) from God.

Likewise in the case of intercession, none of the Muslims who believe in the intercession of Prophets and Imams believe that these individuals possess power independent of Allah.

Perhaps the most contentious tenet discussed in regards to Shi’a doctrine and practice is the concept of Intercession. It is something which features as the most commonly utilised criticism of Shi’a Islam by Muslims of other schools.

Unfortunately the majority of such critiques are based upon extremely isolated and narrow readings of the Qur’an as well as a fundamental misunderstanding in regards to the philosophy behind the practice of intercession.

In Arabic, the term for intercession namely ''Tawassul'' which is derived from the term ''Wasila'', the Arabic term for intermediary. As numerous Philosophers and theologians have attempted to argue in regards to the concept of intercession, our lives revolve daily around various usages of intermediaries for example, if we are thirsty then we drink liquid, if we are hungry, we consume food.

What is intended through the above cited analogies is that in neither of the above mentioned cases do we ever believe that the objects or intermediaries we use to satisfy our needs are self-sufficient nor self-sustaining. In recognising such, there is no actual violation of the principle of Tawheed (The Unity of Allah).

Muslim exegetes have found several basses for Intercession within the Qur’an itself, the most popularly cited example is the verse:

Oh you who believe, be mindful of your duty to Allah and seek a means (al-wasila) of approaching him, and strive in his way in order that you may succeed. (Qur’an 5: 35)

This verse uses the term wasila namely a means of coming closer, it does not restrict Muslims to using a specific method (of course, such a method must fall within the legal framework of Islamic Law).

The Qur’an itself subsequently offers numerous ways through which a believer can seek nearness to God, two suggested means are as follows:

1)    Through the names of God

Unto God belong the most beautiful names, so supplicate him by means of them (Qur’an 7:180)

2)    The Du’a of the pious and righteous selected servants of God

If only they had come to you (Oh Prophet) after they had wronged themselves, and had they sought forgiveness from God, and the Prophet had sought forgiveness for them, they would have certainly found Allah most merciful. (Qur’an 4:64)

These verses highlight two recommended means of seeking intercession according to Qur’an itself, demonstrating that the discourse of those who wish to portray Intercession as Shirk is selective at best.

Bibliography and further reading:

Sobhani, J. Doctrines of Shi’i Islam, Imam Sadiq Institute, Qom, Iran, 2003.

Misbah-Yazdi, M.T, Theological Instructions, Imam Khomeini Institute, Qom, Iran, 2009.

Tabataba’i, M.H, A Shi’ite Anthology, Muhammadi Trust, London, UK, 1980.

Perhaps the most contentious tenet discussed in regards to Shi’a doctrine and practice is the concept of intercession, the practice which is accepted by the Shi’a as well as a large number of other Islamic schools has often been misrepresented and has been denounced by certain more puritanical schools of Islamic theology and law as being a polytheistic practice.

Sadly the vast majority of critiques against intercession are based upon extremely isolated and narrow readings of the Qur’an as well as a fundamental misunderstanding in regards to the Philosophy behind the practice of intercession.

This entry shall provide a brief summary of the Philosophy of Intercession according to Shi’i theologians as well as the justification that has been given by the theologians from rational and scriptural bases, it shall also address some of the accusations which are often levelled against the Shi’a for the acceptance of this practice.

The Philosophy of Intercession

The term for Intercession in Islamic terminology is ''Tawassul'' which is derived from the term ''Wasila'', the Arabic term for intermediary. As numerous Shi’a theologians have accurately pointed out, our lives revolve daily around various usages of intermediaries for example, if we are thirsty then we drink liquid, if we are hungry, we consume food.

Yet what is crucial in the above cited analogies is that in neither of the above mentioned cases do we ever believe that the objects or intermediaries we use to satisfy our needs are self-sufficient nor self-sustaining, rather we recognise that the source for all of these intermediaries is Allah. Therefore, there is no actual violation of the principle of Tawheed (The Unity of Allah).

Yet some have defined Shirk (polytheism) as depending upon and resorting to that which is other than Allah, however such a definition can only be recognised as valid if the intention behind one doing this is to recognise these intermediaries as being autonomous and self-sufficient agents entirely independent from Allah. 

 

The basis for the Philosophy of Intercession is in the Qur’an itself where it states:

Oh you who believe, be mindful of your duty to Allah and seek a means (al-wasila) of approaching him, and strive in his way in order that you may succeed. (Qur’an 5: 35)

This verse commands believers to seek a means of drawing closer to Allah, it does not specify a particular way which would suggest that anything which falls under the framework of Islamic law and is not forbidden would be a legitimate means of seeking nearness to God.

The Qur’an itself subsequently offers numerous ways through which a believer can seek nearness to God, two suggested means are as follows:

1)    Through the names of God

Unto Allah belong the most beautiful names, so supplicate him by means of them (Qur’an 7:180)

2)    The Du’a of the pious and righteous selected servants of Allah

If only they had come to you (Oh Prophet) after they had wronged themselves, and had they sought forgiveness from God, and the Prophet had sought forgiveness for them, they would have certainly found God most merciful. (Qur’an 4:64)

These verses highlight two recommended means of seeking intercession according to Qur’an itself.

The above-cited verse is generally accepted by non-Shia theologians if the person that we are asking from intercession is alive, to ask from a dead individual such as a Prophet or an Imam would be tantamount to shirk.

Imami theologians have responded to such claims by demonstrating the incoherence of the argument itself, if seeking Intercession from the living is not considered Shirk (Polytheism) then certainly the practice of seeking intercession from the dead would not constitute Polytheism either rather such an act would be tantamount to stupidity (assuming that the Dead cannot hear or act).

Imami theologians do not accept the premise that once a Prophet or Imam dies that they are unable to act as intercessors because the Qur’an emphatically states that the Martyrs are not dead but rather are living and are sustained by Allah, therefore the discussion revolves around the question as to whether or not the Prophets and Imams are able to hear prayer requests made to them and whether or not they can respond.

In regards to the first point that is the question of whether or not the Prophets in their graves can hear the supplications and salutations of Muslims to them.

There is a simple and unanimous answer which is that they can. The evidence to support such a claim can be found in the unanimous consensus of the Muslims that is obligatory for a Muslim to respond to the salaam (greeting) of another Muslim, due to the fact that it is obligatory upon all Muslims to send greetings to Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) at the end of every prayer. On the basis of this, the Shia believe that it is obvious that the Prophet hears such a greeting and according to divine laws must respond to such a greeting.

This gives Imami theologians amongst other proponents of Intercession, sufficient confidence to believe that the Imams and Prophets in their graves are able to hear the supplications of Muslims.

In addition to the above cited Qur’anic and rational reasons cited by Imami scholars for intercession, numerous historical accounts of companions of the Prophet as well as Imams of the Ahlulbayt seeking intercession serve as indications that none had originally viewed the practice as polytheism rather since these individuals all had a clear understanding of the distinction between individuals who were given the ability to intercede by Allah and the much condemned practice of believing that individuals could intercede by their own independent abilities.

Why not pray to Allah directly?

In the Qur’an, God has highlighted preferred means through which our supplications and prayers may be recognised, particularly the names of Allah have been recommended as well as asking the Messenger (Muhammad) to ask for our forgiveness if we wrong ourselves, no Qur’anic exegete views these particular recommendations as being in contradiction to daily prayers and direct supplication to Allah through one’s own individual method of choice. However it is commonly recognised that since the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) was a Mercy to Mankind and not just for the people from amongst his companions, the same right to ask the Messenger to seek forgiveness for Muslims today with God must exist.

Conclusion:

Whilst on a superficial reflection on the concept of Intercession it may seem that it poses a threat to the concept of pure Tawheed, this is based upon a primarily deficient understanding of the Qur’anic presentation of Tawheed as well as a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept and philosophy of Intercession. The practice of Intercession could only be interpreted as Shirk if the individuals practicing it were of the impression that the one to whom they were seeking the intercession of, were individually sustaining themselves and were an autonomous independent source of Power, independent of Allah.

Bibliography and further reading:

Sobhani, J. Doctrines of Shi’i Islam, Imam Sadiq Institute, Qom, Iran, 2003.

Misbah-Yazdi, M.T, Theological Instructions, Imam Khomeini Institute, Qom, Iran, 2009.

Tabataba’i, M.H, A Shi’ite Anthology, Muhammadi Trust, London, UK, 1980.

There are small but contentious differences in how the Shi’a and Sunni Muslims pray.

The prayer rituals of the Shi’a are distinct, and have drawn criticism from non-Shi’a schools.

The first major misunderstanding regarding the prayer of the Shi’a is the misconception that Shi’a perform the five daily prayers on three occasions as opposed to five like the Sunnis.

The Shi’a believe that Islam allows one to combine the prayers of Dhuhr and Asr and the prayers of Maghrib and Isha.

Another misconception is that Shi’a worship a stone idol. This criticism is based on a lack of understanding of Shi’a Jurisprudence which stipulates that prostration during prayers must not be performed on anything other than natural elements from the earth which can neither be eaten nor worn.

This interpretation has prompted many Shi’a to adopt the convenience of praying on clay tablets.

Shi’a and Sunni Muslims are often easily distinguishable merely from the way that they each conduct their prayers. While there are small differences in the prayer rituals of each school, these differences have often been overstated due to misconceptions about the origin and meaning of these traditions.

The Number of Prayer Units

Shi’a are often criticised for performing the five daily prayers on three occasions as opposed to five like the Sunnis.

According to all Muslims, regardless of the school, there are certain circumstances which have allowed for prayers to be combined. For most Sunnis such circumstances include travelling and even occasions such as the weather, according to the Sunni jurist Imam Malik. If it rains, it is permissible to combine the Dhuhr prayers and the Asr prayers and likewise the Maghrib and Isha prayers.

The Jurists of the Shi’a school have followed the explanation of the Prophet (s.a.w) and the Twelve Imams (a.s), who all state that combining the prayers is not contingent on a specific set of circumstances. Therefore, whilst the number of times a day during which the Shi’a might pray is recognised as being either five or three distinct timings, the number of prayers, like all other Muslims, is actually five. 

The Turbah of the Shi’a

Another misconception is that Shi’a worship a stone idol. This criticism is based on a lack of understanding of Shi’a Jurisprudence which stipulates that prostration during prayers must not be performed on anything other than natural elements from the earth which can neither be consumed nor worn, as such symbolism would reflect the worship of materialism.

The tradition has prompted mass production of clay stones, created for convenience by Shi’a, and designed to allow Shi’a to pray en masse without the need to find something natural to prostrate upon. Generally Shi’a prefer to prostrate upon clay from Karbala, due to the numerous traditions regarding the sacred and spiritual value of the soil.

Qunut

During the Prayer, in the second unit of each of the daily prayers, it is recommended for Shi’a to raise their hands in supplication after the recitation of the two chapters of the Qur’an. This particular practice is known as Qunut. Whilst it may seem like an unfamiliar practice to some Muslims, several of the Sunni schools of jurisprudence also share this practice, which they restrict to only the Fajr prayer.

Sadl al-Yadayn

Sadl al-Yadayn is a practice which most obviously distinguishes the Shi’a prayers from those of most other Muslims. It refers to a movement performed during the prayer in the Qiyyam (standing) position in which Shi’a place their hands to the sides of their body, as opposed to raising them and folding them at their chest in the Qabd al-Yadayn position as other Muslims do.  

It is worth highlighting that Shi’a are not the only Muslims who pray in the form of Sadl al-Yadayn, but rather a large majority of the Maliki school of Sunni jurisprudence (primarily concentrated in North Africa) have also traditionally prayed in such a way. Crossing the arms in prayer was initiated by the second Caliph who observed Persian prisoners crossing their arms as a sign of respect and decided to implement it in Salat.

The Three Takabir

Whilst not technically a part of the prayer which ends upon the recitation of the Taslim at the end of the Tashahud, Shi’a are recommended to raise ones hands up from their knees three times and recite the Takbir or “Allahu Akbar” three times.

Sadly, this has caused some confusion for some non- Shi’a who have suspected that the Shi’a are reciting something else. However anyone who observes the Shi’a daily prayers will notice that the recited formula during this practice is nothing more than to testify to the greatness of God, three times.

Conclusion

There are a few observable differences between the prayers of the Shi’a and the prayers of other schools of Jurisprudence. However, it is crucial to note that despite the above, the differences which distinguish the Shi’a prayer from other schools of jurisprudence are in no way larger than the differences between the four Sunni schools of Jurisprudence.

It is also crucial to highlight the fact that the differences in these prayers are due to scholarly differences in attempting to retain the pristine Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w). Shi’a prayers have been taught to the Shi’a via the Prophet (s.a.w) and the Twelve Imams (a.s), whom the Shi’a believe would naturally be the best people to make recourse to in explaining the authentic Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w).

Bibliography and Further Reading

Shomali, M.A, Shi’i Islam, Origins, Faith and Practices, 2003, ICAS Press, London

Mughniyyah, M.J, The Five Schools of Islamic Jurisprudence, 2002, Ansariyan Publications, Qom, Iran.

Nasab, R.H, The Shi’ite Apologetics, 2005, Ansariyan Publications, Qom, Iran.

Shi’a and Sunni Muslims are often easily distinguishable merely from the way that they each conduct their prayers. While there are small differences in the prayer rituals of each school, these differences have often been overstated due to misconceptions about the origin and meaning of these traditions.

This entry will seek clarify and explain some of these differences.

The Number of Prayer Units

Shi’a are regularly criticised for praying on three occasions per day as opposed to the usual five occasions observed by other Muslims. 

According to all Muslims, regardless of the school, there are certain circumstances which have allowed for prayers to be combined during the day. For most Sunnis such circumstances include travelling and even occasions such as the weather.

According to the Sunni jurist Imam Malik, if it rains, it is permissible to combine the Dhuhr and Asr prayers, and the Maghrib prayers with Isha prayers.

The Jurists of the Shi’a school have followed the explanation of the Prophet (s.a.w) and the Twelve Imams (s.a.w), who all state that combining the prayers is not contingent on a specific set of circumstances.

Therefore, whilst the number of times a day during which the Shi’a might pray is recognised as being either five or three distinct timings, the number of prayers, like all other Muslims, is actually five.

It must be stated, however, that to combine these prayers and recite them immediately after each other (in the case of Dhuhr and Asr and then Maghrib and Isha) is by no means an obligatory act for the Shi’a.  Rather it is viewed as one’s own personal choice, whether an individual prefers to combine the prayers or perform them separately. 

The Turbah of the Shi’a

Another misconception is that Shi’a worship a stone idol. This criticism is based on a lack of understanding of Shi’a Jurisprudence which stipulates that prostration during prayers must not be performed on anything other than natural elements from the earth which can neither be consumed nor worn, as such symbolism would reflect the worship of materialism.

This interpretation has prompted many Shi’a to adopt the convenience of praying to clay tablets, or Turbah (a clay tablet produced normally but not exclusively from the soil of the land of Karbala).

In the absence of the Turbah, Shi’a prostrate upon leaves or other natural objects.

The philosophy of prostrating on objects which are made from earth/clay is symbolic of mankind’s origin being from clay, the substance we were created from, and the substance we will return to once our bodies are buries after death.

It must be highlighted that the sole reason why most Turbahs are produced from the soil of Karbala, is the belief that this soil has immense spiritual value reminding one of the sacrifice of the Imam (a.s) at Karbala in the way of God, a dedication which the believer himself would hope to emulate in his prayers.

Qunut

Qunut literally means "being obedient" or "the act of standing" in Arabic. The word is usually used in reference to special supplications made in certain prayers while in the standing posture.  During the second unit of every prayer, it is recommended for Shi’a to raise their hands in supplication after the recitation of the two chapters of the Qur’an. Whilst it may seem like an unfamiliar practice to some Muslims, several of the Sunni schools of Jurisprudence also share this practice which they restrict to only the Fajr prayer.

Sadl al-Yadayn

Sadl al-Yadayn is a practice which most obviously distinguishes the Shi’a prayers from those of most other Muslims. It refers to a movement performed during the prayer in the Qiyyam (standing up) position in which Shi’a place their hands to the sides of their body, as opposed to raising them and folding them at their chest in the Qabd al-Yadayn position as other Muslims do.  

It is worth highlighting that Shi’a are not the only Muslims who pray in the form of Sadl al-Yadayn, but rather a large majority of the Maliki school of Sunni jurisprudence (primarily concentrated in North Africa) have also traditionally prayed in such a way. Crossing the arms in prayer was initiated by the second Caliph who observed Persian prisoners crossing their arms as a sign of respect when brought before him and decided to implement it in Salat. 

For the adherents of the Ja’fari school of thought, they justify such actions by stating that all of the above practises can be traced back to the Holy Prophet (s.a.w) and the Imams (a.s).

These rituals are also endorsed by Sunni jurist Malik b. Anas, who points out that the people of the Holy City of Madinah, where the Prophet (s.a.w) established the first Islamic Capital, used to pray in this way. Hence, according to his logic, this was the most original form of prayer as the inhabitants were taught by their parents who were contemporaries of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w).

The Three Takabir

Whilst not technically a part of the prayer, which ends upon the recitation of the Taslim at the end of the Tashahud, Shi’a are recommended to raise ones hands up from their knees three times and recite the Takbir or “Allahu Akbar” three times.

Sadly, this has caused some confusion for some non-Shi’a who have suspected that the Shi’a are reciting something else. However anyone who observes the Shi’a daily prayers will notice that the recited formula during this practice is nothing more than to testify to the greatness of God, three times.

This practice is recommended in numerous narrations of the Imams and has become a recommended ritual which immediately follows the daily prayers.

Conclusion

There are numerous observable differences between the prayers of the Shi’a and the prayers of other schools of Jurisprudence. However, it is crucial to note that despite the above, the difference which distinguish the Shi’a prayer from other schools of jurisprudence are in no way larger than the difference which occur between the four Sunni schools of Jurisprudence themselves.

It is also crucial to highlight the fact that the differences in these prayers are due to scholarly differences in attempting to return to the pristine Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w). Shi’a prayers have been taught to the Shi’a via the Twelve Imams (a.s), whom the Shi’a believe would naturally be the best people to make recourse to in uncovering the authentic Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w).

Bibliography and Further Reading

Shomali, M.A, Shi’i Islam, Origins, Faith and Practices, ICAS Press, London, 2003.

Mughniyyah, M.J, The Five Schools of Islamic Jurisprudence, Ansariyan Publications, Qom, Iran. 2002.

Nasab, R.H, The Shi’ite Apologetics, Ansariyan Publications, Qom, Iran, 2005.

al-Taqiyyah literally refers to the practice of hiding one’s faith when one’s life is in danger from others who may wish to harm them for what they believe. This concession is one of the most misunderstood practices of the Shi’a and the source of much criticism about Shi’a beliefs.

If you examine the Hadith referring to Taqiyyah more closely, it specifies that in certain situations, Muslims should employ the practise of Taqiyyah in matters of life and death. In reality the Shia have found themselves in that very situation on numerous occasions throughout Islamic history. 

The practice is legitimised during times of danger by the Holy Qur’an in Surah 16: Ayah 106:

 “Whoever renounces faith in Allah after {affirming} his faith—barring someone who is compelled while his heart is at rest in faith—but those who open up their breasts to unfaith, upon such shall be Allah’s wrath, and there is a great punishment for them.”

This verse was revealed in relation to the Prophet’s (s.a.w) companion ‘Ammar b. Yasir, after he was forced to use renounce his faith in order to save his life from the Qurayshi pagans who were torturing and killing Muslims for refusing to outwardly profess disbelief.

There are many conditions set by the scholars of Islam pertaining to the practice of Taqiyyah and it is generally not advised to adopt it when one is not in danger. In fact in some cases, it is not even permissible to use the practice of Taqiyyah. It should, therefore, only be used as a last resort.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Aqa’id al-Imamiyyah, M.R al-Mudhaffar, Ansariyan, Iran, 2003

Shi’a. M.H al-Tabataba’i, Ansariyan Publications, Iran, 1999

There are many misconceptions which have been spread about the Shi’a and their beliefs, but perhaps one of the most unfortunate relates to the concept of Taqiyyah.

Taqiyyah literally refers to the practice of hiding one’s faith when in danger from others who may wish to harm them for what they believe. It is often falsely claimed that the Shi’a are obligated and commanded by their religion to lie about their beliefs to anyone who may discuss religion with them.

This misconception creates further problems for the Shi’a with non-Shi’a who are suspicious that in clarifying the misconceptions, Shi’a are simply lying about their beliefs. Such a misconception is uninformed, and indeed dangerous. Shi’a scholars and jurists are clear about the wisdom behind the concept of Taqiyyah, and like other concepts in Islam it has several rules and conditions which govern the practice and its scope.

It also derives its legitimacy from the Qur’an which no single Muslim would reject as a source of legislation.

Two Qur’an verses can be cited pertaining to the dispensation of Taqiyyah:

Surah Aal ‘Imran, verse 28 (3:28)

 “The faithful should not take the faithless for allies instead of the faithful, and whoever does that Allah will have nothing to do with him, except when you are wary of them out of caution.”

Surah al-Nahl, verse 106 (16:106)

 “Whoever renounces faith in Allah after {affirming} his faith—barring someone who is compelled while his heart is at rest in faith—but those who open up their breasts to unfaith, upon such shall be Allah’s wrath, and there is a great punishment for them.”

Both verses are unanimously clear and unambiguous in regard to the legitimacy of outwardly concealing truth in the face of danger. The second verse in particular was revealed after the case of the Prophet’s (s.a.w) companion Ammar b. Yassir who used Taqiyyah and pretended to leave the faith of Islam in order to save his own life.

In the important works on the beliefs of the Shi’a, namely “The Beliefs of the Shi’a,” Allamah al-Mudhaffar (d. 1964AD) articulates the correct Shi’a position on Taqiyyah namely that it is conditional and certainly by no means an absolute obligation:

“Taqiyyah has rules and observations which indicate whether it is obligatory (wajib) or not, and these are mentioned in the relevant chapters of the books of those learned in jurisprudence (fiqh). It is not obligatory at all times, but is sometimes optional; and sometimes it is obligatory not to do it, as when it is necessary to proclaim the truth publicly, to protect Islam and save it, or to fight in the cause of Islam.”

The summary of Taqiyyah provided by the Allamah clearly clarifies the often misunderstood concept. Non-Shi’a’ who remain confused about this practise would be advised to consult the summary provided by the Allamah.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Tasheeh al-‘Itiqadat al-Imamiyyah, Shaykh al-Mufid, al-Mu’tamar al-‘Ilmi li alfiyat Shaykh al-Mufid, Iran, 1993

Shi’a. M.H al-Tabataba’i, Ansariyan Publications, Iran, 1999

Taqiyyah fi al-Mujtama’ al-Islami Adlah wa Athar, Muhammad Jawad Fadhil al-Musawi, Dar Mustafa al-‘Ilmi, Iran, 1430 A.H

Aqa’id al-Imamiyyah, M.R al-Mudhaffar, Ansariyan, Iran, 2003

Taqiyyah literally refers to the practice of hiding one’s faith when in danger from others who may wish to harm them for what they believe. This concession is one of the most misunderstood practices of the Shi’a and the source of much criticism about Shi’a beliefs.

The most widely spread misconception regarding the Shi’a understanding of the concept of Taqiyyah is that it is not only permissible but compulsory for every Shi’a to employ the tactic of blatantly lying about their beliefs when discussing their views on religion with others.

In order to understand Taqiyyah as it is utilised and understood by the mainstream Shi’a community, it is necessary to analyse the concept from several different dimensions so as to give an elaborate and nuanced image of the concept in its appropriate context.

  1. Taqiyyah in the Holy Qur’an and according to Muslim scholars.
  2. Taqiyyah as utilised in Islamic History.
  3. Narrations pertaining to Taqiyyah.
  4. Incidents where Taqiyyah has not been adopted due to an absence of necessity.
  5. Taqiyyah as has been defined and categorised by Islamic theologians.
1)    Taqiyyah from the Qur’an viewpoint

The Qur’an is recognised as having referred to Taqiyyah in several verses. Several of these verses shall be cited and analysed in this entry.

Surah Aal Imran, verse 28 (3:28)

“The faithful should not take the faithless for allies instead of the faithful, and whoever does that Allah will have nothing to do with him, except when you are wary of them out of caution.”

The verse above from Surah Aal ‘Imran clearly pertains to Taqiyyah. The last part of the verse contains a unique clause and exception that it is permissible to conceal one’s beliefs when one fears for his life or other forms of danger. 

Surah al-Nahl, verse 106 (16:106)

 “Whoever renounces faith in Allah after {affirming} his faith—barring someone who is compelled while his heart is at rest in faith—but those who open up their breasts to unfaith, upon such shall be Allah’s wrath, and there is a great punishment for them.”

The verse in Surah al-Nahl has a very clear context; that those who accept the faith in Islam, then renounce the religion shall be subject to Allah’s wrath. However, the verse also contains an exception, in cases during which a believer’s life is threatened and in danger. Indeed at times a whole community may be under threat; Allah permits the denial of beliefs to avoid the shedding of blood.

The above mentioned verse has a unique context which is recognised unanimously by all Muslim scholars. It was revealed to the faithful companion of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w), ‘Ammar b. Yassir. 

He will be covered in more detail in the following section on history.

The permission for the practice of Taqiyyah is firmly in line with the Qur’anic ethos for God's mercy for the believer:

 “Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear…”

(Qur’an 2:286)

2)    Taqiyyah in Islamic History

There are several examples of Taqiyyah in Islamic history during which the practice has been utilised to the benefit of the Muslim Ummah and for the prevention of the loss of life of key Islamic individuals.

Below are some key examples during which the concept of Taqiyyah has been utilised. 

a)    Ammar b. Yassir

The foremost example of God giving permission for Taqiyyah in order to avoid danger occurred during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w). One of the Prophet’s (s.a.w) righteous companions, namely Ammar b. Yassir, was forced to deny his faith to avoid being killed in an incident in which his parents were martyred.

‘Ammar was one of the earliest converts to Islam, and was even born within the same year as the Holy Prophet. After Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) went public with Islam in Makkah the Pagans from the Quraysh had captured ‘Ammar’s father, namely Yassir b. ‘Amir, and his mother Sumayyah b. Khayyat, who had also converted to Islam.

Despite being submitted to heavy forms of physical and psychological torture they both refused to renounce their faith. Subsequently, his father and mother were killed, becoming the first martyrs for Islam. Immediately after witnessing the brutality of his parents’ murder for refusing to renounce Islam, ‘Ammar outwardly renounced his faith.

After all the martyrs were killed, Hamza, the uncle of the Prophet (s.a.w) and others arrived to find ‘Ammar as the sole survivor. After recounting what had happened to the Holy Prophet (s.a.w), an ayah was immediately revealed confirming the acceptance of the practise of Taqiyyah by all Muslims (16:106).

The example of Ammar b. Yassir highlights that God had recognised that at times when there is a choice as to whether or not one should sacrifice their life for the sake of truth, it would be wiser to temporarily compromise and outwardly submit to disbelief in order for survival.

b)   Sunni Jurists employing the concept of Taqiyyah in Islamic History

It would be extremely unfair and certainly historically incorrect to imply that only the Shi’a have historically employed the practice of Taqiyyah. On the contrary, certain groups have utilised the need to practice Taqiyyah based upon the historical circumstances they themselves faced.

A few clear cut examples shall be cited in order to substantiate the above claim:

i)             Imam Malik b. Anas (d. 179AH/795AD) the founder of the Maliki school of Jurisprudence purposely avoided narrating from Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (a.s)  during the rule of Bani Umayyah:

Narrated by Mus’ab b. ‘Abd Allah al-Zubayri:

I heard al-Darawardi say: Malik never narrated from Ja’far (al-Sadiq) until the advent of the Abbasid rule.

ii)            Imam al-Awza’i (d. 774AH) and IbnShihab al-Zuhri (d. 741ah) two prominent individuals from the developmental period of Islamic jurisprudence avoided narrating anything about Imam Ali (a.s) during the rule of BaniUmayyah.

It was said about al-Awza’i, that he never narrated anything of the merits of Imam Ali (a.s) other than this one narration, and likewise al-ZuhrI he never narrated anything about him other than one hadith. The two were both afraid of BaniUmayyah.

3)    An Analysis of some narrations pertaining to Taqiyyah

Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s):

  1. “Taqiyyah is my religion and the religion of my forefathers, whoever has no Taqiyyah has no religion”
  2. “The practicing of Taqiyyah is always necessary in a desperate situation. The person, whom is intending to practice Taqiyyah, knows best to decide on how to do that.”
  3. “What else can make me more happy than the practicing of Taqiyyah. Verily Taqiyyah is the shield of the believer.”
  4. “Solely in order to avoid bloodshed, Taqiyyah was established. However, once bloodshed has already occurred there can be no Taqiyyah anymore.”
  5. The Sixth Imam, Imam al-Sadiq (a.s) narrates: “The closer this affair (hadha al-amr) approaches, the more persistent one must be in their practice of Taqiyyah”

Such narrations may seem confusing to one who is unfamiliar with the historical context during which the Imams and their followers found themselves, however, it is clear that the Imams were doing their best to avoid bloodshed amongst their followers. The narrations are insightful in that several of them limit the scope of Taqiyyah, particularly Hadith number ii and iv.

It is crucial to recognise the historical circumstances surrounding these narrations and attempt to reconstruct a context for these narrations surrounding the practice of Taqiyyah. Since it can be substantiated that even non-Imami jurists feared narrating traditions which would elude to sympathy towards the Ahlulbayt, it is clear that the Imamiyyah faced even greater danger in doing so. 

To the extent that there is one narration showing the absolute severity of the situation in which the community found themselves, Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (a.s) commanded the community not to mention Imam Ali (a.s) and Sayyeda Fatimah.

“Oh people, be careful of mentioning Al and Fatimah for there is nothing more disdained/despised to the people than the mention of Ali and Fatimah”

In a modern day context, no Shī’ā would ever have to avoid mentioning either Imām ‘Alī or Sayyeda Fatima, however, it clearly denotes that there was a historical context during the Imāmate of Imām al-Ṣādiq whereby even the mention of these two most beloved figures to the community was something that could endanger the lives of believers.

4)    Incidents during which Taqiyyah was not adopted due to absence of necessity.
i)             Salman al-Farsi the  Great companion of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w)

One historical example from the Hadith literature of the Imamiyyah in which Taqiyyah was not utilised is a case in which one of the great companions of the Holy Prophet(s.a.w), namely Salman al-Farsi, underwent extreme torture at the hands of a group of Jews who were hostile to Islam.

The incident is recounted in the Tafseer attributed to Imam Hassan al-Askari (a.s):

“Thereafter they started hitting Salman for the third time. But Salman continued to recite the same supplication, that is, ‘Oh Allah! Grant me patience to bear this oppression due to my love for your selected friend Muhammad’. The Jews said ‘Woe unto you. Did Muhammad not allow you to speak something against your belief by way of dissimulation during hard times?’ Salman replied: ‘Indeed Allah has given me such permission, but it is not obligatory.”

This incident illustrates that a Muslim oppressed at times may choose not to practice Taqiyya even though he/she may be allowed to do so.

ii)            The Case of Maytham al-Tammar (d. 61AH/679AD)

Maytham al-Tammar was one of the loyal companions of Imam Ali (a.s), the first Imam, and indeed was known for extreme devotion to Imam Ali (a.s). His story is one that is frequently recounted in sermons pertaining to sacrifice and the danger that was once faced in openly affiliating with Imam Ali (a.s).

Originally an Iranian, as is reflected from his name of non-Arab origins, Maytham lived in Kufa and was a date-seller by profession, hence his title “al-Tammar” (coming from the Arabic name for dates).

Imam Ali (a.s) had informed Maytham that a day would come in which Maytham would be asked to denounce Imam Ali (a.s) and his love for him publically, that his tongue would be cut out and that he would be crucified in Kufa. After showing Maytham the tree on which he would be crucified, Maytham would tend to the tree daily by supplying it with water and would constantly say: “You are here to fulfil my ends and I am here for yours.”

Under the reign of Mu’awiya as Caliph, the governor of Kufa was known as Ziyad ibn Abih, he was from amongst Mu’awiya’s close inner-circle and of course was known for his persecution of Shi’a. It was under his reign that Maytham was taken into custody and imprisoned for his reluctance to distance himself from Imam Ali (a.s).

It was not until the reign of Yazid, the Son of Mu’awiya, as the Caliph that Maytham would be killed. During this time ‘Ubaydullah b. Ziyad, the son of Ziyad the previous governor, summoned Maytham and again asked him to separate himself from Imam Ali (a.s) and to condemn Imam Ali (a.s).

Refusing to do so, Maytham was told he would be killed by Ubaydullah, to which he responded that such was foretold to him by Imam Ali (a.s). He then described what Imam Ali (a.s) had told him, that:

His hands and feet would be cut, he would be crucified and finally his tongue cut out.

Out of stubbornness and a reluctance to allow Ali’s prediction to be manifested, ‘Ubaydullah proceeded with all actions except the cutting of the tongue, solely in order to mock and disprove Maytham’s initial predictions, telling him:

“You’re Imam was a Liar!”

Eventually crowds gathered around Maytham as he was being crucified. He continued to recount the sayings of Imam Ali (a.s) and his merits recounted by the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w). He did this until eventually the soldiers were ordered to cut out his tongue and stab him, thus proving that Imam’s foresight was correct.

The case of Maytham has confused some as to why he did not employ the concept of Taqiyyah.

Muhammad Husayn al-Mudhaffar gives several possible reasons as to why Maytham did not employ the practice of Taqiyyah including the following:

A)   Maytham believed that by not practicing Taqiyyah, he was protecting the honor of Imam Ali (a.s) through his devotion and sacrifice.

B)   Imam ‘Alī had warned Maytham that the only way to escape death at the hands of ‘Ubaydullah b. Ziyad was not only to distance himself from Imam Ali (a.s) but to curse him, which Maytham could not do.

C)   Taqiyyah is only required in certain conditions (see the traditions mentioned previously) which Maytham may have felt were not in place.

Taqiyyah as defined by Islamic Theologians and Jurists:

There have been many books written on the subject of Taqiyyah, from the multifaceted approaches of Jurists, theologians and Qur’an scholars. Such works have expanded into numerous volumes and hence justice could not be adequately done in mentioning all the facets in this entry. However, it shall suffice to give a brief summary of the discussions pertaining to Taqiyyah from several key figures in Islamic history namely:

  1. Shaykh al-Saduq
  2. Shaykh al-Mufīd
  3. Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Kashif al-Ghita
  4. Shaykh Muhammad Rida al-Mudhaffar
  5. Allamah al-Sayyed Muhammad Husayn al-Tabataba’i
a)    Shaykh al-Saduq

Abu Ja’far Muhammad b. Ali b. Babuwayh al-Qummi (d. 381 A.H) has some remarks on the concept of Taqiyyah within his works on Imami theological creeds, namely “The Shi’a Creed.”

Within this book, Saduq elaborates heavily on his understanding of the concept of Taqiyyah and states:

“Says the Shaykh, may the mercy of Allah be on him: Our belief concerning Taqiyyah (permissible dissimulation) is that it is obligatory, and he who forsakes it is in the same position as he who forsakes prayer.”

This is perhaps the most extreme position adopted by any of the Imami theologians regarding the concept of Taqiyyah. However, there are clearly differences of opinion in this regard, with other Imami theologians, namely Shaykh al-Saduq, who reinforces the severity of this obligation in his work where he states:

“Now until the Imam al-Qa'im appears, Taqiyyah is obligatory and it is not permissible to dispense with it. He, who abandons it before the appearance of the Qa'im, has verily gone out of the religion of Allah, Exalted is He, and the religion of the Imams.”

The comments allude to the seriousness of maintaining the practice of Taqiyyah. Shaykh al-Saduq, seems to have held that it was completely obligatory and that the abandoning of Taqiyyah would be tantamount to committing a major sin. Such a view seems to have been based on some of the hadith quoted earlier which have been transmitted from Imam al-Baqir (a.s). Al-Saduq’s attitude reflects a very extreme position, which was by no means the sole position at his time.

b)   Shaykh al-Mufīd

Shaykh Mufid (d. 413AH), a very prominent theologian and figurehead within the history of the ShI’a School, and a near contemporary of Shaykh al-Saduq, has a slightly different understanding of the concept of Taqiyyah and the scope of which the concept must be given.

In his work “The Rectification of the Shi’ite Creed,” which has also been entitled “A Commentary on the Shi’a Creed of Shaykh al-Saduq,” Al-Mufīd critiques al-Saduq’s slightly restricted understanding of Taqiyyah:

“ash-Shaykh al-Mufīd adds: Dissimulation is disguising the truth and concealing belief therein, reticence in the face of one's opponents and refraining from divulging to them that which might result in injury to one's religious or worldly welfare. It is obligatory only when injury is absolutely certain, or the presumption of it is very strong. But if it was not certain or obvious that harm would result from disclosing the truth, nor was the presumption strong, then dissimulation is not obligatory.”

In his commentary of al-Saduq’s views on Taqiyyah, al-Mufid elaborates on the scope of Taqiyyah explicitly highlighting the fact that if no harm is said to stem from revealing the truth then Taqiyyah is not obligatory on an individual. Al-Mufid therefore can be seen as having adopted the precepts of Taqiyyah has given in the varying narrations and deriving contextual injunctions from them.

“The truthful ones, (the Imams), peace be upon them, have ordered a certain group of their followers not only to refrain and cease from demonstrating the truth, but also to veil and conceal it from the enemies of the religion, and to appear to them in such a way as to dispel their doubts during their disputation with them, since this was in their best interest; whereas they commanded another group of their followers to dispute with their opponents and divulge their true doctrine to them, and invite them to embrace the truth, since they knew that no harm would befall them. Hence, dissimulation is obligatory in the cases we have put forward; whereas the obligation is removed.”

Al-Mufid explicitly demonstrates that unlike al-Saduq, who worked on isolated traditions from the Imams, he took a more holistic approach which took into account the historical practices of the Imams as well as the traditions, demonstrating a slightly more nuanced view of the injunction of Taqiyyah.

c)    Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Kashif al-Ghita

Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Kashif al-Ghita (d. 1954AD), represents one of the more prominent jurists who lived during the first half of the twentieth century and therefore operated within a modern framework.  He had the duty to respond to critiques against the Shi’a from non-Shi’as as well as anti-religious critiques. In his major work, “The Roots of the Shi’a and their Principles” he gives a brief articulation of Taqiyyah.

As one would expect from the modern context from which Shaykh Kashif al-Ghita observed Taqiyyah, he begins his articulation with a comment demonstrating his displeasure at the amount of confusion that the concept seems to have caused others in regards to the Shi’a:

“In the matter of Taqiyyah [….] the Shi'a are very much defamed and the reason for that is that ordinary people are quite ignorant of its reality. A careful consideration will show that the Taqiyyah in which the Shi’a believe is not peculiar to them alone. Rather, it is a logical necessity and a natural demand. There is no commandment of the Shar’iah which is inconsistent with wisdom and learning. In every problem, knowledge and wisdom appear together.”

Kashif al-Ghita continues on a similar note elaborating on the wisdom of the Shar’iah prior to explaining the conditions of Taqiyyah as he derives them:

“There are of course rules for Taqiyyah. They are three:

  1. If life will be lost for no purpose, then it is an obligation,
  2. If expressing the truth would serve some useful purpose, then it is optional
  3. If kufr is gaining the upperhand, people are being led astray, and there is danger of cruelty and oppression, then Taqiyyah is forbidden.”

Kashif al-Ghita does provide several more elaborate cases in Islamic history during which several prominent figures in Shi’a willingly sacrificed their lives in pursuit of spreading the truth, however, such examples would be too long for the scope of this entry.

d)   Shaykh Muhammad Rida al-Mudhaffar

Another extremely prominent figurehead for the Shi’a during the early twentieth century is the great intellectual Shaykh Muhammad Rida al-Mudhaffar (d.1383/1964), who is best known for his work on Usul al-Fiqh as well as his work on philosophy and theology. Within his most popular work “The Faith of Shi’a Islam,” al-Mudhaffar  gives a brief articulation of his understanding of Taqiyyah which differs very little from that of Kashf al-Ghita’s, however, at times in response to the polemical attacks against the Shi’a, one can detect the defensive position which was adopted by the Shaykh.

“The purpose of Taqiyyah, in the view of the Shi’a, is not to form a secret organisation dedicated to destruction and subversion, as some of their enemies, who are not able to see things in their true light, have imagined, for such people have made no effort to really understand what we say. The point is not to make Islam and its rules a secret which cannot be divulged to those who do not believe. No, the books of Shi’a and their writings in the fields of jurisprudence (Fiqh), law (Ahkam) and theological studies, as also their beliefs, are in great abundance in the world, more than any other sect that is sure of its way.”

Like his predecessors, al-Mufid as well as Kashif al-Ghita and al-Mudhaffar also stipulate the conditions surrounding Taqiyyah:

“Taqiyyah has rules and observations which indicate whether it is obligatory (Wajib) or not, and these are mentioned in the relevant chapters of the books of those learned in jurisprudence (Fiqh). It is not obligatory at all times, but is sometimes optional; and sometimes it is obligatory not to do it, as when it is necessary to proclaim the truth publicly, to protect Islam and save it, or to fight in the cause of Islam.”

e)    Sayyed Muhammad Husayn al-Tabataba’i

One of the most prominent scholars of the twentieth century, Sayyed Muhammad Husayn al-Tabataba’i (d. 1981AD), known for being a very multi-dimensional and capable scholar in very divergent fields such as philosophy, mysticism and Fiqh, is perhaps most famous for his work on interpretations of the Qur’an, namely "Tafseer al-Mizan."

Whilst his thoughts on the concept of Taqiyyah do not greatly differ from those of the other two twentieth century scholars mentioned earlier, it is insightful to read his articulations on this issue.

In order to avoid the repetition of ideas, below is a brief citation of the Sayyed in response to the critique of others regarding the concept of Taqiyyah in Shi’a Islam:

“Some have criticized Shi’a by saying that to employ the practice of Taqiyyah in religion is opposed to the virtues of courage and bravery. The least amount of thought about this accusation will bring to light its invalidity, for Taqiyyah must be practiced in a situation where man faces a danger which he cannot resist and against which he cannot fight. Resistance to such a danger and failure to practice Taqiyyah in such circumstances shows rashness and foolhardiness, not courage and bravery. The qualifications of courage and bravery can be applied only when there is at least the possibility of success in man’s efforts. But before a definite or probable danger against which there is no possibility of victory- such as drinking water in which there is probably poison or throwing oneself before a cannon that is being fired or lying down on the tracks before an onrushing train- any action of this kind is nothing but a form of madness contrary to logic and common sense. Therefore, we can summarise by saying that Taqiyyah must be practiced only where there is a definite danger which cannot be avoided and against which there is no hope of a successful struggle and victory.”

The key area of insight from the Sayyed’s quote is that, the Sayyed turns the accusation on its head and produces evidence that rationally proves to those who refuse in all circumstances to practice Taqiyyah are in reality those who are in the wrong from the perspective of Islamic ethics.

Conclusion

While it can be observed that there have been many misconceptions about Taqiyyah, they have primarily been based upon a shallow analysis of several traditions. However, once the concept is analysed from a holistic perspective, it is clear that there is a very elaborate context surrounding the concept of Taqiyyah.

At the very least, one must take into account that the scholars have always stipulated strict conditions in regard to adopting and implementing Taqiyyah and that there is little reason to believe that whenever a Shi’a discusses his religious views with anyone who is non-Shi’a that he is using Taqiyyah, as in most cases there would be absolutely no reason to do so.

Bibliography and Further Reading

S.A Rizvi, The Tafseer, Ansariyan Publications, Iran, 2009

Shaykh al-Mufid, Tasheeh al-‘Itiqadat al-Imamiyyah, al-Mu’tamar al-‘Ilmi li alfiyat Shaykh al-Mufid, Iran, 1993

M.H al-Tabataba’i, Shī’ā, Ansariyan Publications, Iran, 1999

Muhammad JawadFadhil al-Musawi, Taqīyyah fi al-Mujtama’ al-Islami Adlahwa Athar, Dar Mustafa al-‘Ilmi, Iran, 1430 A.H

M.R al-Mudhaffar, Aqa’id al-Imamiyyah, Ansariyan, Iran, 2003

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