Born in 1935 to a leading Shi’i clerical family in Iraq, Sadr studied with the leading mujtahids (jurists) in the holy city of Najaf, notably Abu al-Qasim Kho’i and Muhammad Reza al-Muzaffar, and began to teach in Najaf in 1963. Sadr had to be careful about politics under Saddam’s repressive regime, and his relations with Ayatollah Khomeini, who was then in exile in Najaf, were cordial but not close. After the Islamic Revolution, however, Iran’s Arabic radio broadcasts referred to him as the “Khomeini of Iraq.” Saddam Hussein ordered the execution of Sadr and his sister Amina, known as Bint al-Huda, on April 8, 1980.
In 1959, at the high point of the Iraqi Communist Party’s influence, Sadr, a seminarian at the time, entered the public sphere with the publication of his Falsafatuna (Our philosophy). He emerged as a leader of the Shi’i reform movement with the publication of another widely circulating book, Iqtisaduna (Our economics), in 1968. These two books were written in response to the Marxist challenge, and probably also that of Sunni ideologues, notably Mawlana Abu al-A’la Mawdudi, and demonstrated Sadr’s fascination with ideology and Marxist-inspired system-building. In Iqtisaduna, Sadr seeks to identify the principles of the Islamic economic system in point-by-point contrast to capitalism and socialism. Sadr justified private property as the fruit of labor and offered a sharp distinction between worked land and dead land. Public property occupied the predominant position in his economic system, and the state was assigned the function of exploiting natural resources and implementing large-scale economic projects for the benefit of the entire society. Similarly, in his writings on Islamic interest-free banking, Sadr advocated state control of the banking sector, where the forbidden category of ribā (interest) is replaced with modified forms of the permissible principle of muḍāraba (joint ventures between capital and enterprise).
The Marxist influence is also discernible in Sadr’s political thought. He characterized the traditional Shi’i marja’iyya (being an authoritative source of imitation) as “ideological leadership” and the jurist holding this position as “the supreme representative of Islamic ideology.” In Iqtisaduna, Sadr conceived of a discretionary area subject to the (legislative) authority of the ruler, since Islam allowed the walī al-amr (the person invested with authority) to exercise ijtihād according to the needs and interests of society. Sadr divided the rules of the shari’a into four categories in 1976. Sadr identified the last of these categories as the rules pertaining to public conduct; the rules covered the conduct of the walī al-amr according to the principles of wilāya al-‘āmma (general mandate). Sadr deftly avoided the thorny discussion of the referent of the term walī al-amr; we are left to guess whether the walī al-amr is the ruler (sultan) of the medieval jurists, or the (Hidden) Imam. At that stage, he did not accept Khomeini’s theory of wilāyat al-faqīh, though later the term could be equated with Khomeini’s theocratic faqīh, as is the case in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In a note proposing a constitution for an Islamic republic in Iran, written a week before the final collapse of the monarchy, Sadr put the general deputyship (al-niyāba al-‘āmma, of the Hidden Imam) that pertains to the supreme jurist (al-mujtahid al-muṭlaq) in place of wilāya al-‘āmma as the mandate to rule, and the supreme jurist as marja’ in place of the ruler (walī al-amr) of his earlier writings. He thus offered a clear legal formulation of the wilāyat al-faqīh as the mandate of the jurist to rule, one that is more precise than the vague statement put forward by Khomeini a decade earlier. As an Islamic legislature for Iran, Sadr proposed a majlis ahl al-ḥall wa-l-‘aqd, to function in conjunction with the principle of constitutional supervision of the walī al-amr, who was the “deputy of the [Hidden] Imam.”
See also Iraq; revival and reform; Shi’ism
Chibli Mallat, The Renewal of Islamic Law: Muhammad Baqer asSadr, Najaf and the Shi’i International, 1993; Muhammad Baqir as-Sadr, Lessons in Islamic Jurisprudence, translated by R. P. Motahhedeh, 2003.
SAÏD AMIR ARJOMAND
The Safavids originated as the leaders of a Sufi order named after its founder, the mystic Shaykh Safi al-Din (1252–1334) and centered in Ardabil in Azerbaijan. Originally apolitical Sunnis, they became involved in politics and turned Shi’i in the 15th century, when they began to recruit followers among the Turkoman tribes of what are now the borderlands of Turkey, Syria, and Iran. These followers, known collectively as “Redheads” (Qizilbash), were extreme Shi’is, and it was with them that Isma’il, the founder of the political dynasty, conquered Tabriz in 1501. They constituted the main military force of the Safavids throughout the 16th century and remained powerful (though decreasingly so) throughout the lifetime of the dynasty.