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The Principle of Ijtihad in Islam Murtada Mutahhari Vol X, N

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The Principle of Ijtihad in Islam

Murtada Mutahhari
Vol X, No. 1

(Translated 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" [1], which was reviewed by Lambton [2]. This volume contained essays by figures who were then prominent in the anjumanha­yi islami, an organization of groups with a 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 Bazargan, who had had both a religious and a 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 respect. He died in the early morning of 10 September 1979 [3]. 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 posts until his assassination 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 the 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 1338/1919­20. 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 affected 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 theoretical and practical approaches to mysticism) [4], 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 of the time, but especially Ayatullah Burujirdi, who became the marja` al­taqlid, and also head of the hawza­yi `ilmiya of Qum, in 1945. Murtada Mutahhari studied both fiqh and usul al­fiqh in the classes of Ayatullah Burujirdi for ten years. He was also deeply affected at about this time by lessons on "Nahj al-Balagha" [5] given by Mirza `Ali Aqa Shirazi Isfahani, whom he had 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".[6] Subsequently, Mutahhari became a well known teacher in Qum, first in Arabic language and literature, and later in logic (mantiq), usul al­fiqh, 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, etc., 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 [7]. 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 much­respected 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.[8] He was also one of the few high­ranking `ulama' to be in continuous contact with Ayatullah Khumayni during the fifteen or so years in which the movement which led to the revolution was developing. He was actively engaged in all the 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 the 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 for 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, the 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 1891­2, 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 to find answers 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.


(9:122) [9]


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