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Do Najaf & Qum Have Different Views on The Role Of the Imams?

Adopted from the Book : "Shi'ism; Imamate and Wilayat" by : "Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi"

Then in the 9th speech, the learned scholar again dwells upon the spiritual vs political role of the Prophet and the Imams. And now surprisingly he claims that even great scholars of Qum and Najaf have different views. He says :

"... Najaf and Qum are divided on the whole debate about the Prophet's political role. Najaf as one of the most important centres of Shi'a learning, and Qum, now the most important centre of Shi'a learning have maintained two different view about the role of the Imam ... . Najaf has maintained a conservative attitude to the role of the Imam. They believe that religion has a moral function, an ethical function but not a political one, including Ayatullah Khui, whose opinions are well stated. He does not believe that the wilayah of Imam 'Ali bin Abi Talib (a.s.) has any need for manifesting itself politically because the Imam remains the Imam as a spiritual, moral, ethical leader regardless whether people pay allegiance to him or not. That opinion was for the first time contested by Ayatullah Khumayni himself."1

The learned scholars wants to leave the impression in the minds of his listeners that even the 'ulama of Qum and Najaf had different opinions concerning the role of the Imam in the sense that Najaf confines it to a spiritual realm whereas Qum expands it to encompass a political sphere as well.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Shi'a ulama' of Najaf (exemplified by the late al-Khu'i) and Qum (exemplified by the late al-Khumayni) have identical views about the wilayat of the Prophet and the Imams. The difference between them is not about the wilayat of the Imams, it is about the extent of the wilayat-e faqih, the authority of a jurist. Moreover, on the issue of wilayat-e faqih, the division is not between Qum and Najaf; there are 'ulama' on both side of the issue in Qum as well as in Najaf.
As discussed earlier, all four dimensions of wilayat for the Prophet and the Imams are among the dharuriyyat al-madhhab (the essentials of Shi'a faith), so how could such great leaders of the Shi'a world have differences on them?

As for the views of the late Ayatullah al-Khumayni on the wilayat of the Prophet and his Ahlul Bayt, I quote from his lecture on wilayat-e faqih. He says :

"To prove that government and authority belong to the Imam is not to imply that the Imam has no spiritual status. The Imam does indeed possess certain spiritual dimensions that are unconnected with his function as ruler. The spiritual status of the Imam is the universal divine viceregency that is sometimes mentioned by the Imams (peace be upon them). It is a viceregency pertaining to the whole of creation, by virtue of which all the atoms in the universe humble themselves before the holder of authority. It is one of the essential beliefs of our Shi'i school that no one can attain the spiritual status of the Imams, not even the cherubim or the prophets. In fact, according to the traditions that have been handed down to us, the Most Noble Messenger and the Imams existed before the creation of the world in the form of lights situated beneath the divine throne; they were superior to other men even in the sperm from which they grew and in their physical composition. Their exalted station in limited only by the divine will, as indicated by the saying of Jibra'il recorded in the traditions on the mi'raj: 'Were I to draw closer by as much as breadth of a finger, surely I would burn."'2

Ayatullah al-Khumayni, while affirming the political leadership of the Prophet and the Imams, does not deny or "de-mystify" their universal wilayat.
Coming to the views of of the late Ayatullah al-Khu'i on the wilayat of the Prophet and the Ahlul Bayt, I quote from the transcripe of his lectures in which he says :

"As for the first type of wilayat [takviniya, universal], obviously there is no doubt in their authority over the entire creation as clear from the ahadith because they are link in creation, through them [continues] the existence, and they are reason for creation [of the universal]; if it had not been for them, Allah would not have created the people altogether, the people have been created for them, through them the people exist, and they are the means of the pouring forth [of the Divine grace].

"Actually, they have the universal authority just below that of the Creator Himself; this authority [of theirs] is like the authority of Almighty Allah on the creation, however, it is weaker compared to the authority of Almighty Allah on the creation."3

Then al-Khu'i also talks about the civil/political authority of the Prophet and the Imams, and says,

"As for the second dimension of their legislative wilayat (at-tashri'iyya) in the sense that they possess the authority to independently administer the properties and the lives of the people - obviously, there is no dispute on their authority of this kind ... . This is proven from well attested ahadith, and in the farewell sermon [the Prophet sadi], Whosoever's master I am, this Ali is his master. Do I not have more authority over the believers than they have themselves?, They sad, Yes ... ."4

Ayatullah al-Khu'i, while affirming the universal wilayat of the Prophet and the Imams, does not deny their political authority. Actually, he goes further to say that,

"And the presumption that the histoty is contrary to that [in the sense that the Imams did not historically exercise their political authority] ..., is invalid."

Thus he concludes,

"So not exercising [the authority in the historical sense] does not prove the non-existence of the authority as is abvious."5

In essence, the two great jurist of the contemporary Shi'a world representing Qum and Najaf have dentical views about the wilayat of the Imams of Ahlul Bayt (as). They both believe in all dimensions of wilayat-- spiritual, socio-political, and universal-- of the Prophet and the Imams. The difference that existed between the rwo was only on the limits of the authority of a faqih (mujtahid, jurist) during he Occultation of the Present Imam (as). How could the learned scholar, who has written The Just Ruler on the authority of the jurist, not know the difference between wilayat of the Imams (unanimouslu accepted by he Shi'a jurists) and the wilayat of the faqih (with dispute over its limits among the Shi'a jurist)?

1. The 9th speech in Muharram 1419 in Toronto.

2. Khomeini, Islam and Revolution, tr. Hamid Algar (Berkeley: Mizan Press,1981) p.64-65.

3. At-Tawhidi, Muhammad 'Ali, Misbahu 'l-Faqahah, vol.5 (Qum : Intisharat-e Wijdani,1368 A.H. solar) p.35.

4. Ibid, p.38-39

5. Ibid, p.39

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