The Most Learned of the Shia: The Institution of the MarjaI Taqlid

The Most Learned of the Shia: The Institution of the MarjaI Taqlid

The Most Learned of the Shia: The Institution of the MarjaI Taqlid

The Most Learned of the Shia: The Institution of the MarjaI Taqlid

Synopsis

This collection of essays explores the nature of political and religious leadership in Shi'ism. Contributors look at a variety of critical historical periods--from medieval to modern--to reveal the social, political, and theological factors that have influenced the development of Shi'ite leadership.

Excerpt

The problem of who should succeed the Prophet has plagued the Islamic community since the time of his death. Should politics be the overriding consideration in determining leadership, or should it be heredity? Should a leader be proclaimed on the basis of group consensus, or should there be formal elections? Who is qualified to judge whether or not one can lead? Is it the community, in general, or a select group with certain qualifications? What are the major attributes a leader should have? Should charisma override learning, or is it the other way around? What role should a leader take in society at large? Should the leader be at the forefront of societal and political issues, or should he limit his activities to the spiritual domain?

The Shiʿ;a settled some of these problems by determining that the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law ʿ;Ali was his rightful successor and that his descendants through the Prophet's daughter Fatima were eligible to lead the community. Those Shiʿ;a who are known as Twelver or Ithna Ashari Shiʿ;a recognize ʿ;Ali, his sons Hasan and Husayn, and nine succeeding descendants through the line of Husayn as being the leaders, or Imams, of the faithful.

Mention of two of these Imams is critical for any discussion of Shiʿ;ite leadership. The Imam most important for shaping the future of religious leadership and law in Shiʿ;ism was the sixth Imam, Jaʿ;far al-Sadiq, who died in the year 765 (148 of the Islamic calendar). His writings would become the basis of what would be known in the eighteenth century as the Jaʿ;fari school of law. The twelfth of these Imams is shrouded in mystery. It is believed that he has gone into occultation and will reappear at the end of time when all peoples of the earth are judged. With his disappearance ended the succession of Imams. According to Cole and Keddie (1986), the Abbasid rulers favored the belief in the occultation of the twelfth Imam, a doctrine that meant the Imams were no longer contenders for temporal power. After the end of the imamate, the religious scholars of Shiʿ;ism argued like others Muslims about the relative weight to assign to the traditions and jurisprudential reasoning. Not until the seventeenth century, with the Safavids' rise to power in Iran and the establishment of a Shiʿ;i state, did the Shiʿ;i ulama became economically powerful and influential enough to claim a more prominent and independent role for themselves. In this milieu a group of ulama emerged . . .

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