The Culmination of Eschatological Signs – Manifestation of God’s Law
Humanity’s Brightest Hour
The function of Abrahamic eschatology stresses leadership. As symbols Belial, The Antichrist and Ad-Dajjal characterize dark cynical rebellion against divine leadership and God’s laws. In the Abrahamic traditions, the erroneous faith in these systems is demonstrated by the dilapidation of the world and the appearance and triumph of the messianic figure known as Moshiach, the Messiah and al-Mahdi. In the context of Islamic eschatology, both Jesus the Messiah and The Awaited Imam Mahdi play a role in the transfiguration of a lawless world into a rightly guided one.
A salient characteristic of Abrahamic eschatological signs is the messianic campaign to destroy lawlessness; replace anarchy with order or Law. Each tradition focuses upon the manifestation of the divine statutes or right governance as the culmination of creation - the brightest hour. For instance, according to Jewish tradition the Moshiach (the Hebrew word meaning ‘anointed one’) the legitimate or divinely chosen leader of Judaism will rejuvenate and invigorated the principles of Torah among the Nation of Israel by encouraging Torah’s highest standards.
Therefore, the ‘End of Days' as understood in Judaism speaks of the end of the days of Belial – when “government will turn atheist and there will be no protest. Truth will vanish.” Sanhedrin 97a, Sotah, 49b. The coming of the Moshiach represents the restoration of God’s dominion and leadership, “And the lord shall be king over all the earth; in that day there shall be one Lord with one name.” Zechariah 14:9.
Jewish tradition supported by Biblical prophecy describes how the Moshiach (a completely human ruler i.e. he will not possess any supernatural or divine qualities) will bring the Jews back to observation of the Torah- they return to their yoke. The seminal Jewish Philosopher Moses Maimonides states in Hilchos Melachim - "The Laws Concerning Kings" from his well-known work the Mishneh Torah:
“If a king will arise from the House of David who delves deeply into the study of the Torah and, like David his ancestor, observes its mitzvos as prescribed by the Written Law and the Oral Law; if he will compel all of Israel to walk in [the way of the Torah] and repair the breaches [in its observance]; and if he will fight the wars of G-d; - we may, with assurance, consider him Mashiach.”
The Moshiach will reestablish the Sanhedrin or Rabbinical court to correctly administer and oversee Jewish Law for the People of Israel. However, the Moshiach will not govern the world. Rather he will lead or inspire the world to achieve its zenith along side with his own community.
The Messiah will be a very great king, he will achieve great fame, and his reputation among the gentile nations will be even greater than that of King Solomon. His great righteousness and the wonders that he will bring about will cause all peoples to make peace with him
The Sages and prophets did not yearn for the Messianic Era in order that [the Jewish people] rule over the entire world, nor in order that they have dominion over the gentiles, nor that they be exalted by them, nor in order that they eat, drink and celebrate. Rather, their aspiration was that [the Jewish people] be free [to involve themselves] in Torah and its wisdom, without anyone to oppress or disturb them, and thus be found worthy of life in the World to Come
The Torah has stressed not only to the Jews, but to the other nations of the world as well, that Judaism serves humankind by being ‘a lamp unto the world’. The 613 commandments or laws found in the Torah, do not represent the laws for all of humanity, but rather for a people. Their ethical monotheistic behavior represents God’s standard. Therefore, other God given laws are relevant for those not included in the Jewish covenant. The age lead by the Moshiach will be defined in part by the nations of the world co-existing peacefully through adherence to their own righteous laws (covenants with God) and religious frameworks rather than Judaic law.
In Christianity, the return of Jesus, the Messiah, is the most significant eschatological event. As the essence of Christianity the example of God consciousness, Jesus serves as the example of how God expects His people to act – a physical manifestation of righteousness or lawfulness. Relative to Judaism, eschatological concepts vary greatly within the religion from movement to movement. Several perspectives regarding the events and requirements of the Parousia reflect this diversity. Only a few Christian organizations claim complete and authoritative interpretation of the vast symbology associated with eschatology. Regarding the timing of the Parousia, the Bible explicitly states in several verses that this knowledge is unavailable to humanity:
No one knows about the day or hours, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the father….Therefore keep watch because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. Matthew 24: 36 and 42.
On one occasion while he was eating with them, he gave them this command. …wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. They asked him, Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel? He said to them, “it is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has by his own authority”. Act 1:4-7.
One elemental motif in many Christian approaches is the concept of millennial expectation. The transformation brought upon earth by the return and reign of Jesus Christ, which reverses the previous period of lawlessness and suffering. With in the context of millennialism dogma varies denominationally including these scenarios:
- An imminent ‘apocalyptic’ i.e. cataclysmic transformation spurs the faithful into action.
- Christ returns only after humans have established a world worthy of his kingdom through their own efforts.
- Christ returns to save a sinful humanity and defeat the forces of Satan.
The Catholic Church rejects the concept of millennialism in particular the penchant to label religious figures or political leaders as the Antichrist:
The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism. (Catechism of the Catholic Church. Imprimatur Potest +Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Doubleday, NY 1995, p. 194).
Within the limited scope of this paper for the Mahdaviat Conference, the significance of the return and reign of Jesus Christ is the expression of God’s law on earth and the destruction or rejection of lawlessness. Rather than pessimistically waiting for the return of Jesus, many Christians believe his presence exists in the world manifest through human effort to transform inequity in the world into justice through divine law. The greater the effort exhorted the greater the manifestation is realized.
Toward the end of Revelation found in the Christian Bible, John foresees the Rider on the White Horse:
“I saw heaven standing opened and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice, he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He is dressed in a robe dripped in blood and his name is the word of God….Out of his mouth comes a sharp words with which to strike down nations….On his robe and on his thigh he has the name written; KING OF KINGS And LORD OF LORDS” Revelation 19;11-16.
Due to the mysterious imagery, opinion varies on whether The Rider on the White Horse represents Christ or the Antichrist. Following along with the narrative, under the pretext that the Rider signifies Christ we see:
I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army…the beast was captured…the rest were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse… 19-22.
This episode in Revelation parallels a metaphor found in the passion of Imam Husayn in Shi’a Islam. Similar to the genre of apocalyptic literature, Shi’a Islam possesses a literary tradition known as Marsiya. The Marsiya is an elegiac poem written to memorialize the martyrdom of Husayn the third Imam in the initiated chain of Shi’a guidance. The literary form relies upon descriptions of the battlefield, moral edification, and portrayals of emotional states of being of the characters to induce lamentation and ‘soz’ or burning of the heart.
Marsiya became an effective tool to galvanize feelings for reform during periods of political turmoil in Shi’a communities throughout the 19th and 20th centuries . Imam Husayn’s confrontation and ultimate sacrifice at Karbala with a military detachment of the Umayyad Caliph became a powerful metaphor for the revolt against tyrannical oppression, despotic sovereignty and most profoundly opposition to God. The name of Yazid (the contentious Caliph during the uprising) in Shi’a communities metamorphosed into the ultimate symbol of tyranny, corruption and, antagonism toward true Islam. In context with other eschatological writings, the event of Karbala recorded in prose imbues the present and the future – the expression of right over might becomes eternal. From a Marsiya written by Mirza Ghalib, “The glory and jewel of faith, Hussain Ibn-e Ali, who shall be called the candle of the gathering of grandeur”.
Returning to the context of the riders on a white horse, in her analytical, article Karbala and the Imam Husayn in Persian and Indo Muslim Literature [Marsiya], Anne Marie Schimmel discusses the poetic theme of resurrection for the spiritually dead through the suffering of the Imam Husayn in Shi’ a Islam. In the imagery of Shi’a mythos Imam Husayn is depicted as the rider of a white horse yielding the sword of truth against unlawful leadership.
The Rider of the White Horse of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse pertains to the symbolic metaphors from the Christian Bible of the eschatological signs; Conquest represented by a white horse, War a red horse, Famine a black horse and Death a pale green horse. The Rider
‘whose name is the word of God’ and who speaks words as sharp as a sword to strike down nations mirrors the Imamate which spoke sharp words when addressing the false leadership of the Muslim Ummah. Schimmel elaborates:
[w]hen Husayn b. 'Ali drew the sword, the sword of Allah, he shed the blood of those who are occupied with, and interested in, things other than God; graphically, the word la, the beginning of the shahada, resembles the form of a sword (preferably a two-edged sword, like Dhu'l-fiqar), and this sword does away with everything that is an object of worship besides God. It is the prophetic 'No' to anything that might be seen beside the Lord. By using the sword of 'No', Husayn, by his martyrdom, wrote the letters 'but God' (illa Allah) in the desert, and thus wrote the title of the script by which the Muslims find salvation.
We see a parallel in the Shi’a poetry with the apocalypse of Judaism and Christianity, where the past is pitched into the eschatological future. The two are stitched together into a mystical tapestry. The passion and dark imagery of Karbala foretells the bright future with Al-Mahdi, when the false objects of worship will be eliminated and God’s governance will prevail. In Islamic eschatology, the leadership of Al-Mahdi sojourns under the white banner of good governance or Al-Liwaa. The purpose of Imam Mahdi’s existence is to end corrupt governance once and for all. Both Christ as the rider of the white horse, and Imam Husayn as the progeny of the Promised Succor symbolize victory. The imagery of sacred violence i.e. warfare, blood and sacrifice are common eschatological themes in the Abrahamic traditions. The book of Isaiah (11:1-5) uses similar imagery:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – The Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of Counsel and of power, the Spirit of Knowledge and of the fear of the Lord…..He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Prophecy regarding the power struggle between lawlessness and right governance foretells confrontational battles, judgment and the slaying of wickedness. As with reading the apocalypse of Daniel and Revelation, relying on literal interpretations of the descriptions provides a superficial understanding.
The symbology ‘the sword that came out of the mouth’ of the rider on the white horse (i.e. conquest) and ‘the sword of Allah’ yielded by Imam Husayn, and ‘the breath of his lips [which] will slay the wicked’, as metaphor indicate speaking the truth to all – subduing falsehood. It is not force that will defeat wickedness, only truth can conquer evil. Each sword is used not to spill blood but rather to destroy the lies, which were exchanged for the way of God. Each metaphor imparts the image of the dangerous task of obliterating the heinous to make way for restoration- “to fill the earth with justice and equity as it was filled with tyranny and injustice.”
In the context of Islamic eschatology Al-Faraj (an epithet for the awaited one also known as Mahdi (AS)) meaning the relief (together with Isa al Masih or Jesus), will conquer hypocrisy, deceit and ultimately lawlessness.
Hadith postulates that the Mahdi will reform Islam to its pristine state:
It has come down from traditions that when Mahdi emerges…..he will remove the curtain obscuring the realities; he will enliven the holy religion of Islam and will annul all that is not in Islam and has been added to it such that people will imagine that Mahdi (a.s.) has brought a new religion and a new book.
The sixth Imam (from the initiated chain of Shi’a Islamic leaders), Imam Sadiq relates:
When our Qa'im arises he will call people anew to Islam, guiding them to the old thing from which people have turned away. He will be called Mahdi because he will guide people to the thing from which they have been separated. He will be called Qa'im because he will be commanded to establish the truth.
The promised Mahdi as the executor of God’s plans will herald the Islamic concept of good governance just as the Jewish Moshiach will reestablish the Sanhedrin. Also similar in fashion to the Christian concept of Christ returning to judge and rule the world, as ‘the right hand of God’. The Islamic Promised One will restore Deen (religion) as true uncorrupted guidance for the benefit of all of mankind. As is the case with Judaism’s reliance upon Torah, the Mahdi will rely on Islamic law for the norm to establish social order and a world free from oppression. According to Imam Ali, the Mahdi will ‘fill the earth with justice and equity, and brilliance and rationality’ .
In contrast to the system of Dajjal whose methods rely upon oppression, violence, and fear to dominate the world, the Promised One will illuminate the world; enable all of human society to reach true perfection and the full consciousness of spirituality, through the example of his very character. Imam Ali conveys,
When our Qa'im rises hostility and resentment will be eliminated from the hearts of the people, and general security will be established all over the world
Many will embrace Islam in reaction to the goodwill and peace demonstrated by the reign of the Mahdi. However, the Mahdi cannot contradict the precepts of Qur’an. Qur'an states in Surah Baqarah:
Let there be no compulsion in Religion: Truth stands out clear from error; whoever rejects Evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks. 2:256
Those who believe in Qur'an, and those whose follow the Jewish scriptures, and the Christians and the Sabians- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. 2:62
The Qur'an guarantees the position of Jews and Christians as members of God’s Ummah. The Mahdi’s governance will continue to honor the protected status of Judaism and Christianity as ahl al-dhimma.
Imam Sadiq says:
The Master of the Command was named as the Mahdi because he will dig out the Torah and other heavenly books from the cave in Antioch. He will judge among the people of the Torah according to the Torah; among the people of the Gospel according to the Gospel; among the people of the Psalms in accordance with the Psalms; among the people of the Qur'an in accordance with the Qur'an.
Islam is not unique in this precept, the leadership of the Christian Messiah and the Jewish Moshiach represents the fruition of Divine Law, the purification of religion and its practice. As indicated by the cruel and wicked governance of the discussed apocalypses Daniel and Revelation characterized in literary metaphor as abominations, leaders that oppose God’s law represent lawless individuals. It will be a counterfeit leadership in the guise of legitimacy, cloaked in religion that will persecute, oppress with force, and seek the elimination of any who worship the One True God- not the Chosen or Promised Leader. In the eschatological descriptions of Belial (i.e. yokeless or lawless one), Antichrist (i.e. beast or man of lawlessness), and Dajjal (visionless/myopic one who denies or covers the truth) we see nearsighted leadership that foments deceit, persecution, hatred and might over right. This contrasts with true religion and God’s Law. More importantly, the Promised One in each tradition challenges that system either reforming the system in place or restoring it to its pristine state.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with ears; but with righteousness, he will judge the needy, with justice, he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. Isaiah
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth….and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Now the dwelling of God is with men and, he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain. He said to me. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. Revelation
Even if the entire duration of the world's existence has already been exhausted and only one day is left before the Day of Judgment, God will expand that day to such a length of time, as to accommodate the kingdom of a person out of Ahl al-Bayt who will be called by my name. He will then fill the Earth with peace and justice as it will have been filled with injustice and tyranny before then.
- Hadith upon whose authenticity all Muslims agree, the Messenger of Allah said.
In the dawn of a new century, humankind proudly heralds a world governed by technological advances, intellectual evolution, and a far greater sense of well being than any other generation before. These expansions for the most part have pushed eschatological ideologies aside, swept concepts of a pseudo prophet away and minimalized messianic anticipation. Perhaps this sense of comfort and intellectual superiority makes it difficult for the modern reader to appreciate the significance of an apocalypse upon the ancient mind. Such books as well as eschatological signs assuaged the human need to understand injustice and oppression within the context of revealed monotheistic ethics and promises.
The rationalized temper discounts much of the related information in this paper as fantasy or irrelevant, primarily because of the real effect human justice has achieved in this world. One facile conclusion that may be gleaned from the fantastic imagery of a pseudo messiah and promised world hero is the propensity for the mind to derive great symbols of hope in the most perverse or hopeless of times. By rationally reducing every metaphor, sign and secret meaning to the most common denominator in all three traditions, we are left with a dichotomy of evil and virtue illustrating one basic and indisputable truth- the world, as ancient man knew and we know it today, is corruptible and must continually be reformed.
In the society of Abrahamic tradition, the eschatological element of great strife and trial at the hands of lawlessness presents the persecuted community with an exalted role in the Divine mission of establishing justice. This community, like the pretender and the world hero are signs. In the past, the human creation has endured and succeeded because of the path forged by former generations who methodically plodded the right course. Failure has always occurred when too many followed erroneous leadership. All three traditions anticipate the coming of a great guide who will ultimately lead the world to perfect success.
More importantly, each tradition has taught that humanity already possesses the knowledge or way (i.e. derekh and deen) to reform the world. We merely have not mastered the technology in our own hands. The task remains to continue along the course given us in anticipation of success or victory. By struggling or striving in intellectual engagement and religious dialogue to confront individual as well as ‘ecumenical’ ignorance and deceit we participate in the eschaton of lawlessness and establishing truth and justice in the world. Our participation becomes a bright and shining sign of the preparation of the rightly guided world too.
~Wa’Llahu a’lam: And Allah knows best.
~Wa’Llahu a’lam: And Allah knows best
The Holders of Authority and Legitimacy in Mahdism Doctrine
In the lights of Mahdism teachings Shia’ Muslims have to fight to the improvement of the world, to bring it closer to that model of perfect society that should bring peace to the world, to prepare the world for the coming of the Mahdi.
The awaiting of the Mahdi’s return is an inspiration to the Shia and concretizes as a doctrine of hope making policy more optimistic, determining the Shia to believe in a better future of humanity, as well as motivating them to help to its construction. The awaited victory of right, virtue, peace, justice, freedom and truth over forces of evil in all its forms, motivates continuously Shia society and will help to its every day improvement.
However, what until the time of reappearance, what should Shia society do, until the time of reappearance? Who should govern the Shia society and through what means of government? Is Wilayat-e-faqih a copy of Mahdism or should the system improve in itself?
Mahdism argues about just government with equal distribution of wealth and property among men, eradication of vices, war and restoration of peace, good governance, friendship cooperation and benevolence. With Mahdism as the central axis of the Shia theology, covering the most important doctrines of Islam, Shia Doctrine assumes a future-oriented history. Shia Doctrine because of Mahdism founds itself in a perpetual state of progressiveness, giving it a built-in mechanism of self-improvement.
A Divine Chain of Leadership
Since the beginning of creation, man becomes a ruler (Khalifa) of God over its creation and throughout its representatives, God rules over whole of its creation. Since the beginning, there was always a mediator between God and its creation. Mediators acted as proofs of God onto the earth as transmitters of divine emanation. They were perfect and infallible men. Through them man was instructed to follow the path of divine realization and the knowledge of God in order to gain deliverance and salvation.
God delivered his message and law through which believers could worship him. He appointed chosen men to guide the human community throughout its existence. They are the vice-regents of God and leaders of the human community. All Abrahamic religions believe in a chain through which God will is revealed and known to humans, through which God guided them towards salvation.
The Shia doctrine, by Mahdism Doctrine is though the only religion that kept such a relationship alive. It looks like a chain of representatives of God links the human community from its beginning until the end of time to God and His will. This holy chain is portraying and guiding men towards worship. Shia Doctrine can be seen in this aspect as a progressive creed, indulged in the belief of continue divine leadership. According to Shia Doctrine, God created man for a noble purpose, which is to worship Him and lead a virtuous life based on His teachings and guidance.
How would man know his role and purpose of his existence unless he received clear and practical instructions of what God wants him to do? Here comes the need of this divine chain. As what else would be the purpose of creation if not worshiping the Creator, knowing the creator and obeying Him? Moreover, how else can this relation been kept alive if not by delivering continuous divine representation? How else can believers obey if not sensing God’s greatness and leadership?
Only by understanding such a continuous relation will we be able to understand the Shia believes, to recognize its progress throughout history and to see its present as a stage in its development. Nevertheless, let us have a historical perspective on this divine chain linking humanity to the Divine, to be able to understand the Shia and Mahdism Doctrine as well as the Iranian Islamism.
1. The Prophets of God- Guidance and Leadership for Humanity
At first, there were the prophets of God. Prophethood is a common belief to heavenly revealed religions, having a special status and significance. Prophethood is God blessing and favor that He may bestow on whom He wills.
Every prophet stated clearly throughout history that what he receives is not of his own, but from God for the well-being of humanity. Prophets confirmed what was revealed before him and what may be revealed after him. A prophet does this to show that he is simply conveying the message that was entrusted to him by the One True God of all people in all ages. Therefore, the message is one in essence and for the same purpose; it should not deviate from what was revealed before him or what might come after him.
Prophets are necessary for conveying God's instructions and guidance to humankind. We have no way of knowing the reason we were created. What will happen to us after death? Is there any life after death? Are we accountable for our actions? In other words, is there any reward or punishment for our deeds in this life? These and so many other questions about God cannot be answered without revelation from the Creator and Knower of the unseen and does it not knowing God, one of the fundamental duty of the believers? Those answers must be authentic and must be brought by individuals whom we trust and respect. That is the reason why messengers are the select of their societies in terms of moral conduct and intellectual ability.
Supported by God and instructed divinely prophets affirmed and delivered from the beginning of creation a continuous message. They presented clear concept of God, His attributes, His creation and the unseen. They delivered the reason of creation, rewards and punishments to humanity for obeying or disobeying God. However, most important for the purpose of my thesis, they showed humanity how to run their societies according to His testament. That is, clear instructions and laws that, when applied correctly and honestly, will result in an ideal society.
The Quran mentions the names of 25 prophets and indicates that there have been others that are not mentioned to Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). These 25 include Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (PBUT), who are the greatest among God's messengers.
"Say (oh, Muslims) we believe in God and that which is revealed to us and that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael, and Isaac and Jacob, and their children, and that which Moses and Jesus received and that the prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them and unto Him we have surrendered.”
The last prophet in the chain of God was Muhammad (PBUH). He was born in Arabia in the sixth century C.E. He descends from the lineal chain of Abraham and his son Ishmael, being a member of Banu Hashim family, who were the holders of Mecca. People knew him as a man of excellent character, cultured manners, and called him “the trustworthy”, even before his delegation as a prophet. His revelation by God, claims to be the book of guidance for the whole humanity for all times, and mentions Muhammad as the last Prophet of God- The seal of Prophets. Once he died, Prophethood ended but not the divine guidance and leadership of humanity that continued in the mind of the Shia.
The Shia believes that humanity is in need of sustained spiritual guidance, provided by the Imam, who is the guardian and guide of all Muslims politically and spiritually. They hold that Muhammad explicitly designated his cousin and son-in-law Ali as his Khalifa (Successor). Thus, Shia believes Muhammad designated Ali and his direct descendants to serve as the Imams (wali-leaders) of the Muslim community. This assertion implies that, while the cycle of Prophethood ended with Muhammad, the cycle of Imamate began with Ali and continues amongst his direct descendants. For Shia Muslims, an Imam is a leader (wali), whose guidance extends to spiritual and temporal matters. In other words, an Imam can sanction new laws because he has direct contact with God. This direct contact makes an Imam infallible and invests in him the prerogative of interpreting the Quran, thereby gradually revealing its esoteric meaning. On the ground of Ghadir Khumm, Muhammad declared "To whomsoever I am Master, Ali is his Master” and following this principle is one of the fundamentals of Shia Doctrine, therefore, they believe that Ali ibn Abu Talib is the 1st Imam to teach the correct interpretation of Islam, the successor of Muhammad.
The Imam is the leader and example „from whose intellectual power and insight, those traveling toward God benefit, whose conduct and mode of life they imitate, and to whose commands they submit.” In a very large and comprehensive sense, Imamate includes both intellectual authority and political leadership.
„After the death of the Prophet, the Imam was entrusted with the guardianship of his accomplishments and the continuation of his leadership, in order to teach men the truths of the Quran and religion and ordinances concerning society; in short, he was to guide them in all dimensions of their existence...” “The true and veritable Imam is that exalted person, who combines in himself intellectual authority and political leadership.” He is the one “who stands at the head of Islamic society, being enabled thereby both of convey to men the divine laws that exist in every sphere and to implement them; and who preserves the collective identity and the human dignity of the Muslims from decline and corruption.”
The community saw itself well organized under the leadership of the Prophet (PBUH) and when he was gone, it was due for someone to replace him in the same position and authority. Imam Ali was the Imam from the day the Prophet Muhammad closed his eyes as he appointed him rightfully. He continues the divine light of guidance, regardless whether he became a Khalifa or not. The imam is the person who has comprehensive leadership in religious as well as worldly matters as the successor of the Prophet.” The Imam was therefore the universal authority entrusted divinely on both of the mentioned aspects.
Based on the succession of the Prophet, Imamate does not only reflect the spiritual guidance and leadership, it includes the social and political leadership also. Imamate is a position that combines the spiritual and religious leadership as well as the socio-political and worldly leadership. For the Shia, Ali is the first imam as well as the first Khalifa of the Prophet. Therefore, we cannot consider rationally that Ali is the first Imam but not the immediate successor of the Prophet. The difference between Shia and Sunnis is not about the spiritual leadership; it is on the socio-political leadership immediately after the death of the Holy Prophet.
God appointed Prophet Muhammad as to be the leader of the community, a community being religious, as well as social and political. It was a civil and a moral community that God entrusted to him, so he had a comprehensive authority and leadership. The appointment of a successor had to mean that Imams would benefit with the same authority and leadership.
Assuming that because imams did not historically exercise their political authority and leadership, they do not have this authority and leadership designated to them is a false supposition that cannot stand for itself. Not exercising one’s role and function does not prove the non -existence of the authority as is obvious.
“The twelve Imams themselves, and above all, the present twelfth or hidden Imam, were held to be necessary to the constitution of the Universe and of true religion. The Imam is God’s proof, he is the pillar of the Universe, the ‘gate’ through whom God is approached.”
The Imams are considered to be the successors of the Prophet (PBUH) and therefore the right holders of his authority, not because they are from his family but because they possessed the qualities of being pious, obedient to Allah and because they embody characteristics that are pre-required for this level of religious-political leadership”.
The Shia considers Imamate, like Prophethood, to be a fundamental belief, and obedience to the authority of their Imam, a religious obligation. Other than receiving divine revelation, which is specifically for the prophets, the Imams have all the qualities, duties and authority of the Prophet (PBUH); in consequence, they have the political and social as well as religious authority.
Political and religious guidance emanate from them and they are guardians over the believers, as God is the guardian of believers and as God delegated this guardianship to the Prophet, his authority is rooted in the mentioned Divine authority. As the authority of imams is rooted in the divine, why should not be the same applied to the deputies of Imam during the time of occultation?
Guardianship of the Prophet was originally established and legitimized by God’s appointment. Following this interpretation, the followers of the imams provide a large number of traditions and historical evidence that confirm the delegation of the imams, by God, through the Prophet, as “guardians of the believers” (wali).
3. The holders of authority during the age of occultation of Imam Mahdi
After the death of Prophet Mohammad, Ali and his descendents exercised God vice regency on earth. This authority and governance in both religious and political matters was to remain theirs until the end of time. What can we say about authority and legitimacy in the time of occultation of the Mahdi, a time we are now experiencing according to Shia Doctrine?
We are currently living in the age of the Twelve Imam, the Mahdi. He is found in a state of occultation. Does it mean that being in this state of occultation he does not govern the Shia society? Occultation of the Imam is divided according to Shia in the minor and major occultation. During the time of minor occultation, the Mahdi had appointed public deputies to guide the Shia in his absence. What does Shia Doctrine say about the Great Occultation? Has the deputation stop in the time the Shia community is currently experiencing?
According to Shia political doctrine, authority bestows upon a deputy by the infallible Imam and we can observe there is an important distinction between the specific designation of a deputy, and the ‘general’ designation of a number of deputies.
As while, there was an explicit nomination for each of the Imams to undertake leadership, and for the vice regency of the four deputies during the minor absence, the guardianship of the jurists during the greater absence is a ‘general’ designation. This means that no one is exclusively appointed as leader and deputy. Therefore, jurists who are just and qualified in Islamic jurisprudence have the right to exercise the Imam’s authority as his deputies.
Regarding the leadership of the Islamic community during the period of greater occultation, the authority as well as leadership is entrusted to the just and capable scholar, who acts as a deputy to the absent Imam, through a system of vice regency. So the guardianship of a jurist is legitimized and his authority is related to the original and absolute authority of God. In plus the jurist must be accepted by believers. As I mentioned above, a clear distinction should be drawn, however, between the authority of an imam and the guardianship of the scholars.
The Imams, whose authority is established upon their explicit designation by the Prophet, delegate and entrust a degree of their authority to those who possess specific qualities (such as justice and jurisprudence in the case of the scholar). Therefore, whereas the Imams were specifically appointed as guardians of legitimate authority, the jurists are not explicitly selected by name, but rather implicitly chosen as those who possess the correct qualities for leadership.
God has appointed prophets to run humanity in spiritual as well as in social and political matters. The last prophet appointed imams as legitimate holders of authority in religious as well as in political and social matters. Therefore, it is only logic to assume that in an era of occultation, the present Imam appointed his deputies to order in matters religious as well as political and social.
The doctrine of “guidance of the jurisprudent”( wilayat-e-faqih) forms the central axis of contemporary Shia political thought, advocating a guardianship based political system, which relies upon a just and capable jurist to assume the leadership of the government in the absence of an infallible Imam.
Today, in a time of the Hidden Imam, the guidance of the jurisprudent is the authority designated to learned jurist so that they may direct and advise the Muslim community in the absence of an infallible Imam. This authority derives from the Imam; therefore, the believers have the religious duty to obey their commands as the only legitimate authority. The concept of leadership encompasses many degrees of authority, summing up to the total scope of the scholar’s vice regency in the absence of an infallible Imam.
Some erroneously assume that it is something new and in essence distinguishable from the traditional status of marjayat. This misunderstanding is caused by a lack of attention to the definitions of and the relationship between ‘wilayat’ and ‘marjayat’ and the distinction between ‘fatwa’ and ‘hukm’ (the commands of faqih as wali, leader).
This misunderstanding comes from the wrong conception that the role of a marja’a taqlid is solely a juridical authority to whom the Muslim community may refer to in the case of religious questions and commandments concerning the practical and personal side of Islam. However, this definition is not comprehensives as it concentrates itself exclusively on one of the legitimized functions of a jurist, while overlooking the others. He is an expert in Islamic Law, a guide and proof of God’s existence, a model to follow and a leader as the deputy of the imam. He is wali (leader) when he acts as a leader of someone and a marja’a taqlid when he is referred to in religious matters.
Wilayat al-faqih refers to the all-comprehensive authority of the jurist (faqih) in the absence of the twelfth Imam. “Wilayat al-faqih” may include functions like wilayat al-nizam (the authority to manage public order), wilayat al-qada (the authority to administer justice), wilayat al-siyasa (the authority to administer a government and hold political office and wilayat al-tasarruf (authority for the jurist to act in a way that he judges to be the best in the interest of the community). A corollary to the wilayat al-faqih may include the duty to declare a jihad. It is to be noted that not all mujtahids accept the concept of the all-embracing and comprehensive view of wilayat al-faqih.
Marja al-taqlid refers to the role of a mujtahid who is competent to derive juridical rulings from the Quran and hadith literature and is able to arrive at solutions that are not explicitly stated in the sources, by having recourse to the principles as stated in usul al-fiqh. Such a mujtahid is qualified to issue juridical verdicts (or fatwa) and is a source of reference for followers, who pursue him by doing his taqlid (which literally means to imitate his acts).
Thus, it is possible for a person to be a marja al-taqlid without occupying the position of wilayat al-faqih. In addition, the other way around in also accepted, since in the Iranian constitution the leader is not obligatory a marja, and can be a simple mujtahid having leadership and managerial abilities.
Wilayat is a part of marjayat in the culture of the Shia.
The great marjas not only guided people with respect to the divine Law, but they also led people in the particular problems of society, for example when judging between people in particular matters and domestic disputes. The reason that the jurisprudent is an authority in matters of the law is because of his specialization in jurisprudence and his power to derive the rules of God from their sources. The reason aside from the above-mentioned qualities, for a jurisprudent to become a leader depends on his ability to manage society according to the principles and values of Islam.
It is because of this that it becomes possible for a person to be chosen as a leader due not so much to his aptitude in jurisprudence as much as to his better management skills. The separation of the offices of the marja and the leader becomes a reasonable, and in some instances, a necessary expedient. In principle, leadership is confined to a single person, whereas the marjayat is applicable to numerous individuals, just as does the possibility that the two offices to be combined in a single individual.
Since following the orders of the leader is obligatory upon all people, including other jurisprudents, and it is forbidden to disobey his orders, hence it is not possible for people to follow other than the leader in matters related to the social order and the running of society.
What was said above regarding the authority of the jurisprudent was in reference to the individual order and to matters of a personal nature; it is in these matters that people can follow other than the leader.
When the jurisprudent refers to the religious sources in order to obtain the general rule of God regarding a certain problem and uses the special techniques that exist for obtaining the rules of the Law, it is called giving an edict or “fatwa”. When the leader pays attention to the general rules of God, the various systems in Islam, and the conditions of the time, and according to these delineates a person’s or a specific group’s responsibility with regards to a certain matter, this is called giving an order or a “hukm”.
In doing this, he not only pays attention to the general rules of Islam and the lofty aspirations of the religion, but also to the specific conditions that exist in that time. The rules of God and the edicts of the jurisprudent who has all the necessary qualifications are mandatory, just like the rulings of the leader, but with this difference that the jurisprudents rulings are mandatory to him and his followers only, while everyone must follow the orders of the leader.
According to the logic of the “leadership of the jurisprudent” and its proofs, the jurisprudent takes upon himself the management of society and in accordance with the values of Islam, he takes on the responsibility of leadership. Nevertheless, marjayat means simply to issue an edict and is a completely different matter. The reason that the jurisprudent is an authority in matters of the law is because of his specialization in jurisprudence and his power to derive the rules of God from their sources. On the other hand, the reason that a leader is what he is is because aside from the aforementioned qualities, he has the ability to manage society according to the principles and values of Islam.
It is because of this that it becomes possible for a person to be chosen as a leader due not so much to his aptitude in jurisprudence as much as to his better management skills. It is possible that there be numerous specialists in society. Moreover, this is something that is to be sought after, so that everyone can refer to them with ease and obtain their rulings.
A multiplicity of centers of decision-making would cause disturbance so, it is imperative for the Shia that the leader to be one. It is not however necessary that various jurisprudents issue one edict in order that society remains undisturbed. Leadership is confined to a single person, whereas the marjayat is applicable to numerous individuals.
That the office of Wali-e faqih and the Marja do not have to be one and the same according to the Iranian Islamic Republic, Constitution as I mentioned above. It could be or it could be not. It depends on the person who assumes that position. When it is one and the same, he should be considered a marja when issuing a fatwa and a wali when issuing orders in political as social matters.
The beginning of Islam is not separate from the beginning of the Shia as it started with the Prophet Muhammad (PUBH), and has been preserved in its original form by the succession of Imams.
Prophet Mohammad had the duty to propagate God’s message, to teach the laws of religion and guidance, to judge between people and to lead and manage the society. These qualities and functions existed for the imams and exist for the jurisprudents in the time of the occultation of the Last Imam. They too have three functions, to act as judges, to give edicts in law and to expound the general rules of the Divine law for the people and to lead.
A system of government by the jurist is therefore understandable for the Shia. Its legitimacy comes from God himself, throughout history. It is a chain through legitimacy transmits itself. Prophets, then imams, managed God’s rule on earth at first and today, the jurist manages it. Jurists are divinely legitimated and are accepted by believers.
Understanding this governance of the jurisprudent as well as the general guidance of a marja is of high importance in understanding the legitimacy of the jurisprudent today when guiding the Shia Community.
This chain of guidance and legitimacy, as well as of authority is confined in the Mahdism Doctrine. Without the believe in the Mahdi’s return at the end of time to establish equity and justice, without the believe that during his absence the believer must await positively, by acting rightfully and establishing a close to perfection society, the chain would have been cut dramatically.
While studying in one of the numerous seminaries in Qom, I had the opportunity to ask a great scholar about Mahdism and the guidance of the jurisprudent. His answer…though simple and concise was that Wilayat-e- faqih is an exact replica of Mahdism.
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