Tuesday, February 08, 2005

What Sistani Wants

He refuses a new air conditioner, yet his office is Internet-wired. He wants women to take political office, but not to shake the hands of men outside their families. He is easily the most powerful man in Iraq. Yet he's an Iranian


Interesting article. Despite my admiration of Persian mystics, philosophers and thinkers, my religious marji3 is Fadlallah of Lebanon. The latter gaining such wide respect in Lebanon, that even Sunnis follow him. Sistani, although also highly knoweledgeable was known to be a bit orthodox in his edicts. In the shia-ijtihaad system every believer should carefully choose an elevated scholar to be a living religious reference throughout their life. I'm pretty ok with this, as it requires each believer to read the scholar's published articles and hence places significance on research, re-evaluation, re-thinking, and new insights into religion in a contemporary context. Its very much like the way the academic world works, the shia mujtahids are pretty much high-ranking professors, maybe even deans and provosts. Only a handful of them exist in the world.

The marja3's basically weigh up the Quran, the hadeeths, and past rulings in the face of new issues that arise as time goes by. Nothing is static in this life, so the way such references are interpreted should also not be static. The argument goes that there are some very clear rulings that are perpetual and permanent, yet there is also wide scope in certain areas which are adaptable to modern day. Those who are allowed to do this however, are the mujtahid's because they possess all the tools and superior knoweledge and have gained credibility to issue edicts. What I liked about Fadlalla is that he uses a panel/committee of other experts to help him weigh up certain issues, like doctors, psychologists, politicians, etc. As religion is all-encompassing, then so should their insights.

Posted by BB @ 2/08/2005 02:26:00 PM

Read or Post a Comment

I have never been able to understand why people feel the need to follow another individual. Religion is so open to interpretation, that if it interests you, shouldnt you read about it and come to your own conclusions??? 

Posted by Changaize

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ 2/08/2005 03:07:00 PM #

Its like asking an economist not to follow Keynes or Adam Smith. Or asking Budhists not to follow the Dalai Lama. Its not a case of 'following blindly' but rather following someone for their guidance due to their expertise or valued opinion or influence in a particular field.

As a human being you don't need to follow anyone, but if you want to be a practising muslims its good to see what you're emulated scholars have to say, unless somehow you feel you're more of an expert than they are. By all means use ur free-thinking mind, but then you'll come to realize that you need to head off to Najaf for some lessons in linguistics, grammer, theology, philosophy, 3ilm alkalaam, jurisprudence, tableegh....  

Posted by Bahrania

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ 2/08/2005 05:03:00 PM #

To a Keynesian economist keynes would be God, as the Buddha is to Buddhists. Hence your comparison is incorrect as Muslims should similarly follow the Koran - not "emulated scholars" of their own choosing. If we all chose different scholars, wed soon be practising different religions.  

Posted by Changaize

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ 2/08/2005 07:45:00 PM #

First of all, Keynes was no god, neither was Buddha. But their contributions in terms of philosophies and new ideas have been embraced and replicated for millions of people. Actually they managed to interpret aspects of life that were apparent to them by observation, scholarship, research or meditation (as shall apply). Due credit has been ascribed to them whose life's works have yielded such meaningful and useful philosophies.

Granted numerous are the instances where it has been taken too far, as are the instances where they have not received sufficient credit and acknowledgement.

Ladies and Gentlemen, you're witnessing yet another saga that has played itself to death in other traditions. Namely the Catholic and Protestant ones. Catholicism places authority in the hands of living human popes. Protestants place emphasis on revealation coming to the individual from his own reading of scripture (within the limits of reason as prescribed the combination of Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Knox and your local congregation).

The Orthodox have bishops who are held in check by other bishops and the fact that no one really pays them any attention anymore.

In any case, these debates run strong and in the case of Ireland, can be laced with fighting words.

So do you keep your own counsel, or familiarize yourself with and ascribe to that of the community's?

If we were all our own scholars, we'd MUCH SOONER be practicing different religion. 

Posted by Desert Island Boy

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ 2/08/2005 11:57:00 PM #

"If we were all our own scholars, we'd MUCH SOONER be practicing different religion."

DIB summed it up for me. It's not following blindly or never questioning as we still question all the time, at least I do. I don't have the time and energy to research, nor do I have the various degrees in psychology, sociology, ect. It's common sense to refer to someone who has more resources than myself. I look at them more as advisors as the final choice is up to the individual. I don't completely agree with Sayyid Fadlallah, but he comes closest to my own beliefs, so basically I'm still making my own choices.

Posted by sume

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ 2/09/2005 03:42:00 AM #

A wise man once said "cogito ergo sum". I will leave the interpretation up to you, but sume, the minute you question someone you follow your own mind anyway, so why not take it a step further. I suppose its a question of personality, some find it easy to follow a leader, some prefer to cut their own paths.  

Posted by Changaize

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ 2/09/2005 06:16:00 PM #

I've got some sympathy with where Bahrania's coming from on this one. Religion is such a contentious issue and stirs such great passions that learned figures possessing the authority and the ability to interpret texts have a role to play.

Individual interpretations are all too often dependent on the psychology of the believer (which can never be taken for granted), and there's usually a tendency to flatten out nuance and favour literalist interpretations over more complex insight. 

Posted by Scorpio

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ 2/09/2005 06:28:00 PM #

Changaize, I guess that would depend on how you define "think". Lots of things can think in some way or another; computers, even animals. I suppose I like the idea of a backup system. Perhaps I'm not confident enough to trust my own judgement as I admit to a large amount of ignorance in many areas. While I try to use common sense and know when I should question, I am also aware of my own limits. Yes, "I think therefore I am", but "no man is an island". ;) 

Posted by sume

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ 2/09/2005 06:41:00 PM #

Yes but the problem arises when different people use different back up systems. Anyway i am biased as i happen to be anti-preaching or following anyone who claims to be a leader. 

Posted by Changaize

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ 2/09/2005 07:39:00 PM #

These are like two sons to the same father, perhaps of different mothers.

Depending on your predisposition you would prefer to either interpret scripture for yourself or refer to the scholarship of others. Ideally, one would have invested sufficiently in both.

Taken to the extreme, or more so to the point of abuse is when intellectual laziness sets in. As we all seem to agree here, blind following is but for sheep who have forsaken the capability to think for themselves and must hence outsource the activity to others. And as Scorpio pointed out, at the other end, many will be those who may opt to take their reading literally for fear of actually having to think about the issue at hand, even at the expense of taking it to absurdity.

Six of one or a half dozen of the other, if you ask me. Or like the prisoners debating over the guillotine or the rope... 

Posted by Desert Ialand Boy

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ 2/09/2005 07:53:00 PM #

So what would you prefer to see Changaiz exactly?

The issue is simple. There is a scholar, you value his opinion, you seek his advice. full stop.

You are confusing the matter in the sense that you feel these scholars impinge upon you and somehow restrict ur own individual thought. That is not the case my friend. They are offering but one opinion you may want to weigh up when making yours.

The issue that is important however, is the way society places the burden on these scholar's to take a political leadership role. Yes, I may value your opinion, but maybe their direct involvement in politics can be quite dangerous. In Iraq's case, Sistani proved he was a positive force in stablising the political system that is taking shape. No one has any qualms about that.  

Posted by bahrania

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ 2/09/2005 11:43:00 PM #

I think its scary when people think religous scholars who spend a lifetime in libraries trying to find God, can run a political or social machinery and keep a state going. The two have nothing in common. And i do have qualms about "scholars" who want to run for president. Something not right about it. Oh and personally i see a scholar.....i cross the road. 

Posted by Changaize

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ 2/10/2005 01:25:00 PM #

Changaiz, now ur mixing the issue up.

I agree that the role of mullah's and politics is contentious. Preferrably the two should be mutually exclusive.

However, I see their spiritual guidance in society as paramount, but that is coming from a religious perspective. Coming from a secular perspective Changaiz, why don't we just agree to disagree?

Funny you should mention crossing the road when you see a scholar. The other day, I was standing chatting to a friend I bumped into on the street, then this mullah with the biggest turban I have seen behind the wheel of a car stops at the red-light at the junction next to us. I couldn't restrain my smile at the sight of this big white turban in a small coupe. Next thing, he pulls his window down and say's "Salam alaikum....where r u from, what part of bahrain" in a pointless attempt to start a conversation.

I've been chatted up by many ppl in my time, but a mullah?! Naaa i've definitely lost it...maybe i'm wearing my hijab too tightly or something... 

Posted by Bahrania

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ 2/10/2005 10:53:00 PM #
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