World Heritage

Historic Treasures Threatened In Palmyra,  Syria


ISIS Must Be Stopped From Destroying Ancient City, U.N. Says

By Vivien Walt@vivwalt May 21, 2015 -Times

Set on the strategic road linking Damascus to Deir al-Zour in eastern Syria, Palmyra contains ruins dating back 2,000 years from what was once one of the most prosperous and culturally rich cities of the Roman Empire. Until war erupted in 2011, thousands of tourists visited the site, which adjoins the modern-day town of Palmyra. In the middle of the ancient city is a colonnaded street, and nearby is a huge ancient amphitheater, and towering ancient temples with monumental arches and columns.

Those are all irreplaceable historic treasures, say cultural experts. “Any destruction of Palmyra is not just a war crime, it will mean an enormous loss for humanity,” Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural organization, said in a video appeal early Thursday, just hours before the militant group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, seized control of the city. “We just have to make everything possible to prevent its destruction. We need total mobilization of the international community.”

ISIS’s capture of Palmyra comes after months in which its fighters have systematically destroyed ancient ruins and artifacts, including smashing statues in the museum of Mosul, which the group captured last June. ISIS claims the antiquities, which far predate the arrival of Islam, represent idol worship, which violates the group’s ideals. Both Iraq and Syria were key trading centers for the ancient empires and contain numerous important sites.

Quantities of ancient artifacts have also been lost to looting and smuggling, with Syrians selling them to criminal networks across the border for trade on international markets. UNESCO staff have helped Syrians to ferry artifacts out of the war zone, and have trained Interpol, border officials and even art auctioneers in how to detect looted items. “We’re doing a lot of effort on all movable objects to get them to safer places,” says Karim Hendili of UNESCO’s World Heritage Center in Paris. UNESCO declared the ancient city a world heritage site in 1980.

As ISIS fighters steadily closed in on the city in recent weeks, Syrians began a furious effort to smuggle out to safety whatever antiquities they could, in order to prevent them being destroyed, should Palmyra fall. The effort began two months ago and accelerated this month as ISIS’s victory looked increasingly likely, according to Cheikmous Ali, of the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology, a volunteer group that has coordinated clandestine rescues for ancient items in areas now controlled by ISIS. Ali told the BBC on Thursday that the group had managed to remove many antiquities from Palmyra. “Some objects are still there,” he said. “It is not 100% empty.”

But experts cannot say for sure how much of Palmyra’s ancient treasures might have been lost or destroyed in years of war. Indeed, they might well have to wait until ISIS posts video from the ground, before knowing the true extent of what has been lost, or is at risk. “As long as we cannot go on the ground to assess accurately it is difficult to say,” Hendili tells TIME. “What we know is that recently the fighting between the Syrian government and the extremists got closer and closer to the site. But the site is very big, with an oasis and a citadel. We will have to cross-check before we know the situation.”

The Principle of ijtihad in Islam

Murtada Mutahhari

Volume X. No. 1

(Translation by John Cooper.  This translation was carried out during the period of tenure of a Fellowship of the British Institute of Persian Studies, for which the translator would like to express his gratitude).

The article hereunder translated into english, first appeared in the collection “Bahthi dar barayi Marja ‘iyat wa Ruhaniyat”, which was reviewed by Lambton.  This volume contained essays by figures who were then prominent in the Anjumanhayi Islami,  an organization of groups with religiously educated leadership concerned to initiate public debate of, and interest in, Islamic solutions to contemporary  political, economic and social problems.  The occasion for the publication of this volume was the death of the marja’ altaqlid of his time, Ayatullah Burujirdi, in 1961, and the discussions contained therein dealt with various aspects of taqlid and the religious institutions.  Summaries and discussion of  the articles will be found in Lambton.

Most of the authors subsequently became leading names in the 1979 Iranian Revolution.  Mahdi Barzargan, who had had both a religious and secular education and had been influential among the younger generation as a professor at the University of Tehran and later as a politician, became the first Prime Minister of the new Islamic Republic’s provisional government.  Ayatullah Taliqani was an active revolutionary figure who had spent much time in SAVAK prisons.  He was particularly  well known in Tehran where he commanded much repect.  He died in the early morning of 10 September 1979.  Sayyid Muhammad Bihishti became the first head of the Islamic Republican Party, as well as Chief Justice of the postrevolutionary High Court; he held both post until his assasination in the bombing of the Party headquarters on 29 June 1981.  Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba’i was much weakened by illness by the time of the revolution, but was held in universal esteem for his piety and learning.  He died on 15 November 1981.  All these figures, except ‘Allama Tabataba’i were also important members of the Revolutionary Council, which had been set up by Ayatullah Khumayni during his stay in Paris.  The author of the present article, Murtada Mutahhari, had been appointed head of this Council by Ayatullah Khumayni, and it was he who had first convened it.  After the victory of the revolution, the Council continued to play an extremely important role in the course of events, even after setting up of the provisional government, indeed right up to the formation of the new Majlis.

Murtada Mutahhari was born in a village some forty kilometres from Mashhad in 1338/1920.  After a primary education mostly at the hands of his father, he entered, still a child, the hawzayi ‘ilmiya, the traditional educational establishment, of Mashhad, but he soon left for Qum, the centre for religious education in Iran.  Even during the time of his elementary studies there he was greatly effected by the lessons in akhlaq (Islamic ethics) given by Ayatullah Khumayni, which Mutahhari himself described as being in reality lessons in ma’arif wa sayrusuluk (the theoritical and practical approaches to mysticism), and he later studied metaphysics (falsafa) with him as well as jurisprudence (usul alfiqh).   He was especially attracted by falsafa, theoretical mysticism (‘irfan) and theology (kalam), the “intellectual sciences”, and he also studied these subjects with ‘Allama Tabataba’i.  His teachers in law (fiqh) were all the important figures at the time, but especially Ayatullah Burujirdi for ten years, who had become the marja’ al-taqlid, and also head of the hawzayi ‘ilmiya of Qum, in 1945.  Murtada Mutahhari studied both fiqh and usul al fiqh in the classes of Ayatullah Burujirdi for ten years.  he was also deeply affected at about this time by lessons on “Nahj al-Balagha” given by Mirza ‘Ali Aqa Shirazi Isfahani, whom he met in Isfahan.  He later said that, although he had been reading this work since his childhood, he now felt that he had discovered a “new world”.  Subsequently, Mutahhari became a well known teacher in Qum, first in Arabic language and literature, and later in logic (mantiq), usul al fiqh, and falsafa.   

In 1952, Murtada Mutahhari moved to Tehran, where, two years later, he began teaching in the Theology Faculty of the University.  Not only did he make a strong impression on students, but his move to Tehran also meant that he could become involved with such organizations as the anjuman hayi islami.  These Islamic Associations were groups of students, engineers, doctors, merchants, ect., set up during the fifties and sixties; they formed the nucleus of the movement that was to become, eventually, the revolution.  He was also a founder member of the Husayniyayi Irshad, which played a central role in the religious life of  the capital during the four years of its existence until its closure by the authorities in 1973.  At the same time he maintained his contact with traditional religious activities, teaching first in the Madrasayi Marvi in Tehran, and later back in Qum, and also preaching in mosques in Tehran and elsewhere in the country.  Through his lectures and writings – articles and books – he became a famous and much respected figure throughout Iran, but it was mainly among the students and teachers of the schools and universities that he was most influential, setting an example and inspiring them as a committed and socially aware Muslim with a traditional education who could make an intellectually appropriate and exciting response to modern secularizing tendencies.  His wideranging knowledge and scholarship are reflected in the scope of his writings, which cover the fields of law, philosophy, theology, history and literature.  He was also one of the few highranking ‘ulama‘ to be in continuous contact with Ayatullah Khumayni during the fifteen years or so years in which the movement which led to the revolution was developing.  He was actively engaged in all stages of this movement.

His life came to an abrupt and untimely end when he was shot in the street by an assassin after a meeting of the Revolutionary Council on the evening of 1 May 1979.  Animated mourning accompanied his funeral cortege from Tehran to Qum, where he was buried near the shrine of the sister of the eighth Shi’i Imam.

The discussion of taqlid had been important in the wake of Ayatullah Burujirdi’s death for reasons given by Lambton.  A solution to the problems posed in those articles was never achieved, and events subsequently altered the whole structure of the discussion, but the issues raised did open important new areas of thought.  As a result of the revolution, the question of wilayat alfaqih came to the fore, and taqlid became the subject of even greater public concern.  As long as taqlid had been restricted in the common understanding as applying only to matters which belonged to the rubrics of the collections of fatwas issued by the marja’s, the only real debate took place within the legal classroom; but during the seventies, and hand in hand with the reawakening of political sensibilities, the boundaries of fiqh were seen by the public to expand and encompass new territory.  The definition of these new frontiers was a source of some confusion, and hence of heightened interest, and, in the great postrevolutionary surge of printing, Burujirdi volume was reissued.

Taqlid had long been a socially important element in Iranian society, and in Shi’i society in general, for it united people, at least as inhabitants of the same universe of duties and obligations, under their marja’s, but the events leading up to the revolution demonstrated the power that the marja’s could command through, among other means, their issuing of proclamations (‘ilamiyas); this was  reminiscent of the mobilization of the Iranian people during the tobacco protest of 1891-2, and during the Constitutional Revolution of 1906-11.

The following article is presented as a description of taqlid and ijtihad by a leading contemporary Shi’i mujtahid who strove to make Islam comprehensible to the modern Iranian and find anwers to the problems of his time within the Islamic framework.  The text has been left in its entirety; there were no footnotes in the original.

It is not for the believers to go forth all together; but why should not a party of every section of them go forth, to become learned in religion, and to warn their people when they return to them, that they may beware. Sura 9: Ayat 122

What is Ijtihad?

The question of Ijtihad is a very topical one these days.  Many people ask, either aloud or to themselves, what form ijtihad takes in Islam, and from where Islam got the concept.  Why should one practice taqlid? What are the conditions for ijtihad?  What are the duties of a mujtahid?

Broadly speaking, ijtihad has the meaning of being an authority in the matters of Islam; but there are two ways of being an authority and deriving opinions in the matters of Islam in the eyes of us Shi’i Muslims: one which is in accordance with the shari’a, and one which is forbidden.

The kind of ijtihad which is forbidden by the shari’a.

Now, the kind of ijtihad which, in our opinion, is forbidden is that which means “legistlating” or “enacting law”, by which we mean that the mujtahid passes a judgement which is not in the Book (the Qur’an) or the Sunna, according to his own thought and his own opinion – this is technically called ijtihad alra’y.  According to Shi’i Islam, this kind of ijtihad is forbidden, but in Sunni Islam it is permitted.  In the latter the sources of legistlation, and the valid proofs for determining the shari’a, are given as the Book, the Sunna and Ijtihad.  The Sunnis place ijtihad, which is ijtihad alra’y explained above, on the same level as the Book and the Sunna.

This difference takes its origin in the fact that Sunni Muslims say that the commands which are given in the shari’a from the Book and the Sunna are limited and finite, whereas circumstances and events which occur are not, so another source in addition to the Book and the Sunna must be appointed for the legistlation of Devine commands – and that source is the very same as we have defined as ijtihad alra’y.  Concerning this matter, they have also narrated hadiths from the Prophet, and one of them is that when the Prophet sent Mu’adh b. Jabal to the Yemen, he asked him how he would issue commands there.  He replied:  “In conformity with the Book.”  “And if it is not to be found in the book?”  “I will make use of the Sunna of the Prophet.”  “And if it is not to found in the Sunna of the Prophet?”  “Ajtahidu ra’yi,” he replied, which means:  I will employ my own thought, ability and tact.  They also narrate other hadiths in connection with this matter.

There is a difference of view among Sunni Muslims as to what ijtihad alra’y is, and as to how it is to be conceived.  In his famous book, the “Risala” which was the first book to be written on the principles of Islamic jurisprudence (usul alfiqh), (…) al Shafi’i insist that the only valid ijtihad according to hadith is qiyas (reasoning by analogy).  Qiyas, briely, is taking into account of similar cases, and ruling in a case from one’s own opinion by comparing it with these other similar cases.

But some other Sunni fuqaha (experts in fiqh, sing.: faqih) did not recognize ijitihad alra’y as being exclusively qiyas; they also counted istihsan (“finding the goodby one’s own deliberations) as valid.  Istihsan means to see, quite independently, without taking similar cases into account, what is nearest to the truth and to justice, and to give one’s opinion according as one’s inclination and intellect approve.  Similarly with istislah (determining what is in the interest of human welfare by one’s own deliberations), which means the seeming of one thing as more expedient than another, and ta’awwul in which, although a ruling may have been reached in one of the nusus (the textual bases for a precept of the shari’a sing.: nass), in a verse from the Qur’an or in a hadith from the Prophet, one still has a right, for some reason, to dispense with the contents of nass and to give priority to one’s own independent opinion (ijtihad alra’y).  Each of these requires explaination and a detailed account, and Shi’i/Sunni debate is relevant to such an account.  Many books have been wriiten both for and against this idea, viz., that ijtihad is on par with textual evidence, and the best of them is the treatise written recently by the late ‘Allama, the Sayyid Sharaf alDin, called “alNass wa LIjtihad“.

Now according to Shi’i Muslims, such a kind of ijtihad is not permitted by the shari’a.  In the view of Shi’i Muslims and their Imams, the first basic principle of this matter, i.e., that the rulings of the Book and the Sunna are not adequate and that it is necessary to practice ijtihad alra’y, is not correct.  There are many hadiths relevant to this discussion, and in general, (they tell us that) there exist rulings for every eventuality in the Book and the Sunna. In “al-Kafi”, after the chapter on bid’a (innovation) and maqa’is (measurements), there is a chapter with the title: “Chapter on refering to the Book and the Sunna – and there is no halal (permitted thing) or haram (forbidden thing) or anything which the people need which does not come in the Book or the Sunna.”  The Imams of the ahl al bayt have been known since the earliest days as opponents of qiyas and ra’y.

Of course, the acceptance or nonacceptance of qiyas and ijtihad al-ra’y can be studied from two angels.  Firstly, from the aspect from which I have looked at it; that is to say, we count qiyas and ijtihad alra’y as one of the sources of Islamic legistlation, and place it alongside the Book and the Sunna, and say that there are cases which have not been ruled upon by revelation and which mujtahids must explain using their own opinion.  Or alternatively, (we can study it) from the aspect that (…) qiyas and ijtihad al-ra’y(are) a means for deriving the real rulings, just as we use the other ways and means such as khabar alwahid.  In other words, it is possible to percieve qiyas as either a substantive (mawdu’iya) (element in law), or a methodological (tariqiya) (principle).

In Shi’i fiqh, qiyas and ra’y are invalid in both the above senses.  In the first sense, the reason is that we have no ruling which is not given in the Book and the Sunna; and in the second case, the reason is that qiyas and ra’y are kinds of surmise and conjecture which leads to many errors.  The fundamental opposition of Shi’i and Sunni legist in the matter of qiyas is in the first sense, although the second aspect has become more famous among the scholars of usul (the principles and methodology of fiqh).

The right of ijtihad did not last for long among the Sunnis.  Perhaps the cause of this was the difficulty which occured in practice:  for if such a right were to continue (for any great length of time), especially if ta’awwul and the precedence of something over the text were to be permitted, and everyone were permitted to change or interpret according to his own opinion, nothing would remain of the way of Islam (din alislam).  Perhaps it is for this reason that the right of independent ijtihad was gradually withdrawn, and the view of the Sunniulama became that they instructed the people to practice taqlid of only the four mujtahids, the four famous Imams – Abu Hanifa (d. 150/767), al Shafi’i (d. 204/820), Malik b. Anas ( d. 179/795), and Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 241/855) – and forbade people to follow anyone apart from these four persons.  This measure was first taken in Egypt in the seventh hijri century, and then taken up in the rest of the lands of Islam.

Ijtihad permitted by the shari’a

The word ijtihad was used until the fifth hijri century with this particular meaning, i.e. with the meaning of qiyas and ijtihad alra’y, a kind of ijtihad which is prohibited in the eyes of the Shi’i.  Up to that time, the Shi’i ‘ullama included a chapter on ijtihad in their books only because they wanted to refute it, to emphasize that it was null and void, and to proscribe it, as did Shaykh alTusi in some of his works.  But the meaning of this word gradually extended beyond this specific meaning, and the Sunni ‘ullama themselve began not to use “ijtihad” in the specific sense of ijtihad alra’y, (as a source) which is on the same level as the Book and the Sunna.  (Such a shift in the meaning of the word can be seen with) Ibn Hajib in his “Mukhtasar alusul”, on which Adud alDin Allji wrote a commentary known as al ‘Adudi, and which has been until recently, and maybe still is, the authoritatively approved book on (Sunni) usul, and before him with alGhazali in his famous work “alMustasfa”.  It then became used rather in the unqualified sense of effort or exertion to arrive at the rulings of the shari’a, and was defined as “the maximum employment of effort and exertion in deducing the rulings of the shari’a from the valid proofs” (adilla, sing, dalil, see below).  However, it is another matter to decide what the valid proofs of the shari’a are:  whether qiyas, istihsan, and so forth, are among them or not.  

From this time onwards, the Shi’i ‘ulama also adopted this word because they accepted this general meaning.  This kind of ijtihad was a kind approved by the shari’a.  Although the word had originally been one to be avoided among the Shi’a, after its mening and the concept it denoted had  undergone this change, their ‘ulama, discarded  their prejudice and subsequently had no reservations about using it.  It seems that in many instances the Shi’i ‘ulama, were careful to consider unity of method and conformity among Muslims as a whole.  For example, the Sunnis came to recognize ijma’ ( consensus of opinion among the ulama’) as a proof leading to certainty, and, in practice, they also held it to be fundamental and substantive (mawdu’i) just like qiyas, whereas Shi’i did not accept it.  However, to protect the unity of method, they gave the name ijma’ to a principle which they did accept.  The Sunnis said the valid proofs were four in number:  the Book, the Sunna, ijma, and ijtihad (qiyas);  the Shi’a said the valid proofs were four: the Book, the Sunna, ijma‘, and ‘aql (reason).  They merely substituted ‘aql for qiyas.

At any rate, ‘ijtihad’ gradually found wider meaning, i.e., the employment of careful consideration and reasoning in reaching an understanding of the valid proofs of the shari’a.  This, of course needs a series of preparatory sciences and studies such as the sciences of literture, logic, the Quranic sciences and tafsir (Quranic exegesis), the science of hadith and narrators of hadith (rijal alhadith), the science of methodology of usul al-fiqh and even a knowledge of the fiqh of other sects of Islam.  A mujtahid was someone who was a master of all these sciences.

I think it extemely likely, though I cannot state this categorically, that the first person among the Shi’a to use the words ijtihad and mujtahid (positively) was the ‘Allama alHilli.  In his work “Tahdhib alusul”, he puts the chapter on ijtihad after the chapter on qiyas, and there he uses the word in the same sense in which it is used today.

(We can therefore say that) the ijtihad which is forbidden and rejected in the eyes of the Shi’a is ra’y and qiyas, which were originally called ijtihad, whether this is counted as a source of the shari’a and as an independent basis for legistlation, or taken as a means for deriving and deducing true precepts; whereas the ijtihad which they deem correct according to the shari’a is that which mens ‘effort and exertion based on expert technical knowledge.

In answer to the question: what is the meaning, the use and place of ijtihad in Islam, it can thus be said that it is ijtihad in the meaning it is used today, i.e., competence and expert technical knowledge.  It is obvious that someone that someone who wants to refer to the Qur’an and hadith must know how to explain the meaning of the Qur’an, he must know the meaning of the verses, which verses abrogate whic verses, which ones have clear meanings and which ones ambiguous meanings – and he must be able to distinquish which hadith is valid and authoritative and which is not.  In addition, he must understand, on the basis of correct rational principles, incompatibilities between hadiths to the extent that it is possible for him to resolve them, and he must be able to distinquish the cases in which the ‘ulama of the Shi’a sects have consensus (ijma).  In the verses of the Qur’an themselves, and similarly in the hadith, a series of general principles (for verification and interpretation) are laid down, and the use and excerise of these principles need training and practice, just as in the case of all other basic principles in every science.  Like the skilled technician who knows which material to choose from all the materials available to him, the mujtahid must have proficiency and ability.  In hadith, especially, there is a great deal of fabrication, the true and the false are mixed together, the expert must have the power to distinquish between them.  In short, he must have enough preliminary knowledge so that he can exercise competence, authority and technical expertise.

The appearance of the Akhbaris in Shi’i Islam

The actual school of the Akhbaris is no more than four centuries old.  Its founder was a man by the name Mulla Muhammad Amin alAstarabadi (d. 1033/1624), who was, personally, a gifted man who found many followers among the ‘ulama’.  The Akhbaris themselves claimed that the original Shi’is, up to the time of Shaykh alSaduq, were all followers of the Akhbari doctrine, but the truth is that Akhbarism as a school with basic postulates did not exist more than four centuries ago.  These postulates were: the denial of the possibility of arriving at certainty through excercising reason (‘aql); the denial of the validity and the proof (dalil) of the Qur’an on the pretext that the understanding of the Qur’an lay exclusively in the hands of the Prophet’s ahl albayt, and that our duty is to consult the hadith of the ahl albayt (for its interpretaton and understanding); the assertion that ijma’ was the innovation of the Sunnis; the assertion that, of the four valid proofs (adilla), i.e., the Book, the Sunna, ijma’, and ‘aql, only the Sunna is able to lead to certainty, the assertion that, all the hadith that appear in the “four books” are true and valid, and of categorical provinance (from the Imams) (qat’i al-sudur).

In his book, “‘Uddat alUsul”, the Shaykh alTusi mentions a group of former Shi’i scholars under the name of the “Muqallida”, and adversely criticises them, but they had no school of their own, and the reason that the Shaykh called them “Muqallida” was that even in the fundamentals of dogmatics (usul aldin) they constructed their proofs with hadiths.

At any rate, the school of the Akhbaris took its stand against the school of ijtihad and taqlid.  They denied the legal competence, jurisdiction and technical expertise that the mujtahids believed in; they considered taqlid of anyone else than the ma’sumin to be illegal.  According to them, 0nly the hadith are authoritative, and since there is no right of ijtihad or of deriving of opinion, people must necessarily have recourse directly to the text of the traditions and act upon them, no scholar calling himself mujtahid or a marja’ altaqlid can act as an intermediary.

Mulla Amin alAstarabadi, the founder of this school, and personally a very gifted man, learned and welltravelled, wrote a book called “al-Fawa’id alMadaniya” in which he went to war with the mujtahids with astonishing stubbornness.  he particularly tried to refute the principle of  the authority of ‘aql.  He claimed that it was only a proof in matters which had their origin in the senses, or which was related to sensory objects (such as mathmatics), and that in matters other than these it  was inadmissible as a proof.

It so happens that this idea was practically contemporary with the appearance of empirical philosophy in Europe.  The latter denied the validity of pure reason, and alAstarabadi denied its validity in religion.  Now ere did he get this idea?  Was it his own original idea, or did he get it from elsewhere?  We cannot say.

I remember that in the summer of 1322 (sh./ 1943) I went to Burujird, and at that time the late Ayatullah Burujirdi was still living there, not yet having come to Qum.  One day, the talk was of this idea of the Akhbaris, and he criticised it, saying that the appearance of this idea among them was the effect of the wave of empiricism that had arisen in Europe.  I heard this from him at that time.  Afterwards, when he came to Qum, and his lessons in usul alfiqh reached this topic, i.e., the validity of certainty as a proof (hujjat al qat’), I was waiting to hear this opinion again from him, but unfortunately he did not say anything about it.  Now, I cannot say if this had only been a conjecture which he had voiced, or whether he had evidence, but I, myself, have not till now found any evidence for it, and I feel it is extremely unlikely the empirical thinking had then reached the East from the West.  However, against this is the fact that Ayatullah Burujirdi never spoke without evidence.  I now regret that I never asked him for an explanation at the time.



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