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The Shi’ah – The Divine Code of Living

The Imamiyah Shi’as believe that an ordinance or order of the Islamic code exists for every matter of life. The Divine Law has not even ignored the “diyat” (conciliation money) for injury of a very minor nature. There is no action of a “mukallaf” (a sane, adult person) which does not come under the scope of the following definitions: “wajib” (compulsory); “haram” (unlawful); mustahabb (desirable); makruh (undesirable) and mubah (lawful). Whether it is a matter of mutual transactions, trade, marriage or a promise and a pledge, the religious code will certainly guide us as to whether it is right or wrong.

The personality of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) was the fountainhead of all divine orders. God the Almighty conveyed these orders to the last Prophet (s.a.w.) through “wahy” (revelation through Jibril) or “ilham” (divine inspiration). The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) communicated them to the people according to the circumstances prevailing, particularly to those companions who had been close to him at all times, so that they might carry on the mission of preaching throughout the whole world. There were many ordinances however which could not be taught, because the time for them was not opportune, or because there was no need for them during the time of the Prophet (it is also possible that they could not be promulgated for some particular reason known only to God). Hence some orders were known while some remained secret. The Holy Prophet entrusted these secret ordinances to his (divinely appointed) vicegerents. Later every “wasi” (vicegerent) communicated them to his successor, so that, according to the need of the hour and the spirit of the time, they might be made public.

The Holy Prophet taught as much as he thought proper for the situation and as much as the companions could understand according to their intellect. The recipients of this teaching were blessed according to their own capacity. It also happened that one companion received a positive order concerning a certain matter, and others heard a negative order in a matter resembling the former. The result was that the act was one but orders were (seemingly) two.

We must ask what the cause of this difference was. The reality of the situation was such that each matter was slightly different from the other: each had a particular distinguishing aspect. Those present who reported what happened at the scene, either did not pay attention to this or that peculiarity, or, if they did recognise it, did not mention this or that particular aspect. Because of inaccurate description of the circumstances, traditions may appear to contradict each other, but in reality they each apply to different circumstances. This inaccuracy caused difficulties in recognising the exact meaning of an instruction given to us by the Prophet. Accordingly, the companions who had the honour of close companionship with the Prophet supported “ijtihad”. That is they realised the necessity for a thorough investigation of the text of the hadith and the situation in which it occurred. The different aspects of the hadith were probed, since the apparent meaning of the tradition is often different from the real aim of the codifier. It has been pointed out earlier, that these difference were largely due to faulty copying or shortcomings on the part of the reporters.

Those companions of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) who were just and trustworthy and who were also reporters of traditions sometimes reproduced the statement of the Prophet (s.a.w.) in exactly the same words in which they had heard it, while sometimes, in place of the text of the tradition, they would state the order or commandment which was inferred from the tradition in question. In the first instance their position is that of a reporter or traditionalist, and in the second they have the position of learned scholars who declare their opinion about the meaning of the hadiths; the latter are also called “mujtihids”.

All Muslims who do not have this ability and so therefore follow the opinion of the mujtahid, are called “muqallid”. The act of acting on the verdicts of a mujtahid is called “taqlid”.

After a thorough examination of this matter we find that during the time of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.), the door of ijtihad was open and the companions of the Prophet (s.a.w.) themselves acted upon it; of course at that time ijtihad was not so strong as it is today, because the people could ask the Prophet (s.a.w.) directly about any matter they were not sure of.

As time passed, however, and relations between the Arabs and non-Arabs increased, there were difficulties in understanding the correct meanings of the Arabic language. The number of traditions and reports became larger.
Among them were very many doubtful and fabricated traditions. At this stage it was not easy to test the validity of the religious orders. Accordingly “ijtihad” grew stronger and the modes of analysis of hadith were refined: scholars began to distinguish between correct and the faulty statements. The principle of preference was put into practice after a thorough investigation of two conflicting hadiths. Among the Imamiyah sect this blessing still exists.

We may observe, moreover, that all people are from one of two groups according to whether they have knowledge or not. Those without knowledge have to seek the help of the other group in all matters of which they are ignorant. Similarly in the religious world there are also two classes: the learned mujtahid and the ignorant muqallid.
As a matter of principle, the people of the second class should turn to the people of the first class in order to learn what they themselves do not know. Like all other Muslims the Shi’a believe that all religious orders are based upon the “kitab” (Qur’an), and the “sunnah” (the sayings, practise or approval of the Prophet, and, in Shi’ite Islam, the Imams). They add to these “aql” (intellectual reasoning) and “ijma” (consensus of opinion). The Imamiyah sect do not agree with others in the following matters.

Firstly, the Shi’as never act upon “qiyas” (arrival at decisions through analogy and reasoned supposition) because their Imams have on many occasions said that if supposition is allowed in religious matters the entire structure of religion will be dashed to the ground. We would have stated in detail the evils of such a method had not the aim of this book been merely to outline the fundamentals of Shi’a beliefs.

Secondly, if a tradition of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) comes through the Ahlu ‘l-bayt (a.s.) it is reliable, otherwise it is unacceptable. The unauthentic traditions, reported by persons like Abu Hurayrah, Samrah ibn Jundub, Marwan ibn Hakam, ‘Imran ibn Hattan al-Kharji and ‘Amr ibn al-‘As for example, have no value in our eyes. Even the Sunni ‘ulama’ have strongly condemned these reporters, and have revealed the selfish or political motives for their reporting false hadiths.

Thirdly, as we have seen, the door of “ijtihad” is still open and shall remain open forever. Among the majority community, however, the doors of ijtihad are locked. When and on what basis this practice started cannot perhaps be adequately answered even by their ‘ulama’ themselves.

Besides these three matters, all other differences pertain to the articles of practice.

One who, by reasoning and logic, gains the power of drawing conclusions and making inferences can be said to have reached the rank of being able to do ijtihad; the mujtahid however should possess certain other qualities if we are to accept what he says about the divine code to be followed. The most important quality is that he possess a sense of “adalah” (justice). “Adalah” means that quality of the inner spirit with which a man can abstain from carnal desires and can develop a command over the correct performance of compulsory acts. In other words it is the state of fear of God which always permeates the just man’s mind. It is of several degrees, the highest being the degree of “ismah” (infallibility) which is a condition for the Imamate.

Besides this there are necessary or obvious matters (those matters which pertain to sure knowledge in which there is neither “taqlid” nor “ijtihad”, for instance the compulsion to “sawm” (fasting) and “salat” (prayers).

Similarly the fundamentals of religion are also beyond the sphere of “taqlid”, because they are matters for personal investigation on the part of every adult person: this search to determine for oneself the truth and reality of the fundamentals of Islam depends on the corresponding sagacity, understanding and cognition of each individual and cannot be left to the opinion of others. All other matters concerning the articles of practice come under the scope of “ijtihad” and “taqlid”. indeed every action of man is encompassed by this code of religion. Hence to know the corresponding law for each action is very necessary. There are only two ways of arriving at this knowledge: taqlid or ijtihad. It should be remembered that it is incumbent on each Muslim to make use of one of these two ways; if not, he will have to suffer punishment on the Day of Judgement. We may describe a Muslim’s actions in the following way:

  1. a) Some actions are concerned with God and His servants. These are called “ibadat” (acts of service or slavery). Their correctness depends upon one’s making the intention of coming closer to God. “Ibadat” may be either physical, like “salat” (prayer), “sawm” (fasting) and “hajj” (making the pilgrimage to Makkah), or financial like “khums” (a giving of one-fifth of certain commodities: e.g. booty of war, treasure-trove, wealth from mineral desposits), “zakat”, “kaffarat” (fines or penalties).
  2. b) Some actions pertain to the individual and his relations with society. They are of two kinds: involving agreement between two persons (such as mutual transactions and marriage), and others involving the decision of just one party (for instance “talaq” (divorce) and “itq” (the setting free of a slave).
  3. c) Some actions are purely individual and personal; for example, eating, drinking and the clothes one chooses to wear.

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