Skip to main content Accessibility help

Misconceptions Regarding the Juridical Status of the Iranian ‘Ulamā’

  • Joseph Eliash (a1)


Since the reign of the Qājārs in Iran (1779–1925) and aslate as the early sixties of the present century, Iranian ‘ulamā’ proved, repeatedly, their ability and appeal to spearhead political opposition against the national government. Seeking the sources ofthe ‘ulamā’'s effective political power, several students ofmodern Iranian history and politics have attempted to determine the doctrinal status accorded to the ‘ulamā’ in Twelver Shi‘i Islam, the religion of Iran since the sixteenth century.Even though substantial research has been devoted in the West to Sunni juridical thought, the field of Twelver Shi'i jurisprudence has remained all but unknown. In the absence of systematic studies of Twelver Shi'i juridical sources, Twelver Shi'i theology and political theory, Western scholars have thus drawn on opinions expressed, sometimes orally, by contemporary Iranian learned men, mostly ‘ulamā’, to define the status of the ‘ulamā’. Lacking the advantage of scholarly collation provided by a firsthand acquaintance with the primary sources, they have accepted notions as Twelver Shi'i tenets that bestow on the ‘ulamā’ certain statutory privileges. Under scrutiny, though, these prove to be in contradiction with the spirit as well as the letter of Twelver Shi'i legal and theological doctrines.



Hide All

Author's Note: Based on research supported by a grant from theTranslations Programs N.E.H.

1 Charles, J. Adams, ‘IslamicReligion,’ Part II, Middle East Studies Association Bulletin,5, 1 (1 02 1971), 2122.

2 The Land Reform Law of 16 May 1960 was declaredunconstitutional and contrary to the sharī′a in a fatwa issued by the marji′ at-taqlid, āyatullāhBurūjirdī. See Ann, K. S. Lambton, ‘AReconsideration of the Position of the marja′ al-taqlīd and theReligious Institution,’ Studia Islamica, 20(1964), 118.

3 See papers by Nikki, Keddie, Hamid, Algar, and Gustav, Thaiss, and bibliography in Scholars, Saints, and Sufis: Muslim Religious Institutions in the Middle East since1500, ed. Nikki, R. Keddie (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1972).

4 ‘The Proofs of Islam: Religion and Politics inIran,’ in Arabic and Islamic Studies in Honor of Hamilton A. R. Gibb, ed. George, Makdisi (Leiden, 1965), pp.122123.

5 Religion and State in Iran: The Role of the Ulamain the Qajar Period (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1969), p.2.

6 Ibid.Cf., Joseph Eliash, ‘TheIthnā ′asharī-Shī′ī Juristic Theoryof Political and Legal Authority,’ Studia Islamica, 29(1969), 1730.

7 Hamid, Algar, ‘The OppositionalRole of the Ulama in Twentieth-Century Iran,’ in Keddie, , Scholars, Saints, and Sufis, p. 235.

8 ′Agā′idal-Imāmiyya, preface by Hamīd, Hafnī Dawood (Cairo, 1961), pp. 3435.

9 ′Shi‘a’, in Islam—The Straight Path: Islam interpreted by Muslims, ed. Kenneth, W. Morgan (New York, 1958), p.202.

10 Religion and State, p. 52.

11 See Muhammad, Husayn Isfahānī, al-Usūl′alā an-nahj al-hadīth (Najaf 1376/1957). An excellent introductory study of reason as aprinciple of fiqh in Twelver Shi′ism is a Ph.D. dissertation accepted bythe University of al-Azhar in 1971 written by Rushdī Muhammad′Alyān, published with an introduction by Sayyid, Muhammad Taqīal-Hakīm, al-′Aql‘inda’sh-shī'a al-imāmiyya (Baghdad 1393/1973).

12 Scarcia, Cf. G., ‘Intorno allecontroversie tra Ahbārī e Usūlīpresso gli imāmiti di Persia,’ Revista degli StudiOrientali, 33 (1958), 211250.

13 Ibid., p. 125.

14 Kulaynī, , Usūlal-Kāfī (8 vols.; Tehran, 1375/1955);sadūq, , Manlā yahdduruhu'l-faqīh (Tabrīz, 1354/1933), lithographed; Tūsī, , Tahdhībal-Ahkām (10 vols.; Najaf, 1377/1957/1382/1962) and Tūsī, , al-Istibsār (Lucknow, 1307/1889), lithographed.

15 Binder, , ‘The Proofs ofIslam,’ p. 123.

16 Usūl, Vol. I, Kitābfadl al-′ilm, pp. 3071.

17 Furū′, VII, 411412.

18 Ibid.. p. 411.

19 Ibid.Usūl, I, 67–68.

20 Lambton, , ‘A Reconsideration ofthe Position of the marja′ al-taqlīd,’ p. 135. For the full version see Bahthī dar bāra-yiRuhaniyyāt va Marji′iyyāt (Tehran), 12 1962.

21 See also, āyatullāh, Mirzā Hasanal-Hā′irī, Ahkāmash-Shī′a, 2 vols. (2nd ed.; Najaf, 1392/1972), 1, 44.

22 Ibid. p. 232.

24 Risālat al-i′tiqādātal-imāmiyya, trans. Fyzee, A. A. A., AShi′ite Creed (London, 1942), p.207.

25 Cf., Hillī,al-Babū′l-Hādī' Ashar, trans. Miller, W. (repr.; London, 1958), paragraph 185 (misprinted [4] Fourth), p. 68.

26 Fyzee, , A Shi′ite Creed, p. 106.

27 Tūsī, , Kitāb al-Ghayba (Tabriz, 1323/1905), 172 ff., lithographed.

28 Hā′irī enumerates asliable of khums seven items: (I) annual income in excess of one'snecessary expenses to maintain oneself and one's household, whether it isderived from wages and salaries or from rent, dividends, interest, gifts, and bequestsand whether it originates in commerce or trade or agriculture or industry; (2) allminerals: hard, soft, liquid, and gas; (3) all precious and semiprecious stones whetherextracted by mining or diving; (4) lawful earnings mixed with unlawful gain; (5)abandoned treasures; (6) transfer of land to a dhimmī by sale or gift (thenew owner, the dhimmī, must pay a khums of the land'sprice or value); (7) and booty from non-Muslims (AHkām, Vol. I, Kitāb al-khums, pp. 362367).

29 Koran, Sura 8: 42, Arberry's, trans.(London, 1955), I, 201–202.

30 Kulaynī, , al-Kāfī, 1, 538.

31 Ibid., pp. 168 ff.

32 ‘Aqā’id, p.35.

33 Religion and State, p. 16.

34 Ibid., p. 173.

35 Ibid., p. 19.

36 Ibid., pp. 133–134.

37 Fiqh al-Imām Ja′far as-Sādiq, ′ard wa-istidlāl(Beirut 1965), II, 129;cf., Burūjirdī, Risāla-i-tawdīh al-masā′il (Tehran, n.d.), p. 288.

38 Ibid. pp. 127 ff.

39 Tahdhīb al-Ahkām, IV, 147148.

40 Sharā′i′ al-islāmfī al-fiqh al-islāmī al-Ja′farī ed. ash-Shaykhal-′Allāmah Muhammad Jawād Maghniyya (Beirut, n.d.), I, 97.

41 Kulaynī, , al-Kāfī, 1, 6467.

42 Ibid., II, 297.

44 Ibid., I, 188.

45 Kashshī, Rijāi (Bombay, 1899), p. 263,cf., Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, 1, 189.

46 Islamic Political Thought (Edinburgh, 1968), pp. 110111.

47 Tūsī, Kitāb al-Ghayba (Najaf, 1385/1965), pp. 242243. Abundant in TwelverShi′i literature are anecdotes telling of miracles performed by the TwelfthImam and witnessed by pious believers. The Twelver Shi′i doctrine of theHidden Imam recognizes that one may see the Twelfth Imam in one's sleep orone may daydream of him. Such visions, however, carry no juridical–theologicalsignificance except the enhancement of the belief in his existence.

48 On the decline of the status of ShāhIsmā′il I among the qizilbāsh after his defeat at Chaldirān see Savory, R. M., ‘The Principal Offices of the Safavid State during the Reign of Ismā′īlI (907–30/1501–24)’ in Bulletin of the School ofOriental and African Studies, 23, Part I (1960), 91105.

49 Ibid.; Lambton, , ‘AReconsideration of the Position of the marja′ al-taqlīd,′pp. 116117, and Minorsky, V., Tadhkiratal-Mulūk, Gibb Memorial New Series XVI (London,1943).

Misconceptions Regarding the Juridical Status of the Iranian ‘Ulamā’

  • Joseph Eliash (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.