Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Shiah Political Theory

The parliament at Tehran, established as a result of
the peaceful constitutional revolution in 1906

This is the fifth part of Iqbal's paper 'Political Thought in Islam' (1908). Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 were presented earlier.

II. The Shi'ah View

According to the Shi‘ah view the State is of divine origin, and the Caliph or, as they call Imam, governs by divine right. This view arose among an obscure Arabian sect known as the Saba’ites whose founder Abdullah ibn Saba was a Jew of Sana in Yemen. In the time of Uthman he became a convert to Islam, and finally settled in Egypt where he preached his doctrine. This doctrine harmonised with the pre-Islamic habits of political thought in Persia, and soon found a permanent home in that country. The Imam, according to the Persians, is not elected (the Shi‘ahs of Oman, however, adopted the elective principle and held that the Imam might be deposed) but appointed by God. He is the re-incarnation of Universal Reason, he is endowed with all perfections, his wisdom is superhuman and his decisions are absolute and final. The first Imam, Ali, was appointed by Muhammad; Ali’s direct descendants are his divinely ordained successors. The world is never without a living Imam whether visible or invisible. The 12th Imam, according to the Shi‘ahs, suddenly disappeared near Kufa, but he will come again and fill the world with peace and prosperity. In the meantime, he communicates his will, from time to time, through certain favoured individuals - called Gates - who hold mysterious intercourse with him. Now this doctrine of the absence of the Imam has a very important political aspect which few students of Islam have fully appreciated. Whether the Imam really disappeared or not, I do not know, but it is obvious that the dogma is a clever way of separating the Church and the State. The absent Imam, as I have pointed out above, is absolute authority on all matters; the present executive authorities are, therefore, only guardians of the estate which really belongs to the Imam, who, as such, inherits the property of deceased inter-states in case they leave no heirs. It will therefore be seen that the authority of the Shah of Persia is limited by the authority of the Mullas-the representatives of the absent Imam. As a mere guardian of the estate he is subject to the religious authority of the Mullas-though, as the chief executive authority, he is free to adopt any measure for the good of the estate. It is not, therefore, surprising that the Mullas took an active part in the recent constitutional reform in Persia.

To be continued tomorrow

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