SHIA’S BELIEF SYSTEM
An Interview with the Shia Scholar, Professor Kazem Mesbah-Moosavi, in relation with the Shia’s Belief System
The following is part of a series of interviews Conducted by Dr. Razavi with a Shia scholar and thinker, Dr. Kazem Mesbah Moosavi, the founder and president of Islamic Iranian Centre of Imam Ali. He Dr. Mesbah Moosavi is a graduate-researcher from Elmiyeh Seminary in Qom, Iran and received his PhD from McGill University. He has taught for many years as the professor of Islamic studies, theology and philosophy at Elmiyeh seminary, as well as in a number of universities, including McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He has authored many published and unpublished articles in psychology, philosophy, and Islamic studies. There are hundreds of videos of his lectures available for researchers.
PART ONE: SHIA AND THE ACCUSATION OF HUMAN DEITY
Q. One of the misunderstandings regarding Shia’s belief system is that Shias believe in the Imams as a deity. Despite explicit assertions of monotheism by Shias, some of the Salafi-Wahhabis accuse them of worshiping their Imams and holding them in a position of a deity. Is there any truth to their claim?
A. There is no truth to this accusation. As you said, it is only an accusation. Shias deny any deity but God which is the meaning of “la illaha ilallah.” The prophet and the Imams are just God’s servants and have nothing of their own. In our daily prayers, we recite, “wa ashhado anna Muhammadan abduhu wa rasulullah, meaning, “I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and messenger.”
Q. So how do the Salafi-Wahhabis justify their accusation?
A. They argue that power exclusively belongs to God, and He does not give it to others. Consideration of any supernatural power for other beings, be it a prophet or anyone else, implies “shirk” or disbelief. They argue that knowledge of the unseen (“elm al ghayb”) is a unique characteristic of God. It cannot be present in any other being. Since the Shias accept the possibility of supernatural power and knowledge of the unseen to some extent, for certain exceptional people, the Salaf-Wahhabi therefore consider the Shias as “Mushriks,” or disbelievers.
Q. Their argument seems to be fair. What is your response to this?
A. Shias believe that all power and knowledge originate from Almighty God. But He is able, and willing, to empower His chosen servants with limited knowledge of the unseen-as was the case with Prophet Jesus (PBUH). According to our holy book of Quran, God had given Jesus (PBUH) the power to raise the dead, heal the sick, and give sight to the blind. All this power was possible due to God’s will. Jesus could do all these miracles as long as God had permitted him to do so. As soon as He would take away His power, Jesus would be unable to do anything. Let’s look at a few verses describing the scenario:
“(Remember) when Allah will say (on the Day of Resurrection).”O ‘Isa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary)! Remember My Favour to you and to your mother when I supported you with Ruh-ul-Qudus [Jibrael (Gabriel)] so that you spoke to the people in the cradle and in maturity; and when I taught you writing, Al-Hikmah (the power of understanding), the Torat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel); and when you made out of the clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My Permission, and you breathed into it, and it became a bird by My Permission, and you healed those born blind, and the lepers by My Permission, and when you brought forth the dead by My Permission; and when I restrained the Children of Israel from you (when they resolved to kill you) since you came unto them with clear proofs, and the disbelievers among them said: ‘This is nothing but evident magic.’” (Qur’an 5:110)
According to this verse, Jesus (PBUH) had supernatural powers to raise even the dead. However, the difference between his power and that of God’s is that God’s power is absolute, independent and infinite, whereas Jesus’s power is limited by God’s permission. It cannot be absolute, or independent of God’s power. And this is the secret of Jesus’s (PBUH) supernatural power. Therefore, our belief in Jesus’s (PBUH) power does not imply “shirk” or disbelief. That is why we can consider some supernatural powers to be available to certain prophets or Imams with God’s permission.
Q. Ok, thank you professor for your excellent response. Why don’t you shed some light on the “knowledge of the unseen” for us?
A. I suggest we refer to the Quran again where it says:
“And will make him [‘Isa (Jesus)] a Messenger to the Children of Israel (saying):
“I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I design for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah’s Leave; and I heal him who was born blind, and the leper, and I bring the dead to life by Allah’s Leave. And I inform you of what you eat, and what you store in your houses. Surely, therein is a sign for you, if you believe” (Qur’an 3:49).
In this verse, the Quran refers to Jesus’s ability and his knowledge of the unseen where he is informed of what people eat or store in their homes. There is another verse which denies the knowledge of unseen for anyone except certain prophets:[He is] Knower of the unseen, and He does not disclose His [knowledge of the] unseen to anyone. (Qur’an 72:26)… Except whom He has approved of messengers, and indeed, He sends before each messenger and behind him observers. (Qur’an 72:28).
Accordingly, it is quite possible that God empowers and discloses the knowledge of the unseen to those whom He is satisfied with.
Q. Your answers are so clear that no honest scholar can deny it. But how do you attribute supernatural powers to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) whereas the Qur’an makes no mention of it?
A. If we believe that Prophet Muhammad is the greatest of all messengers of God, then it is quite likely that he has been given more than that which has been given to the other prophets of God. If Prophet Jesus (PBUH) had been given the power and permission to heal the sick or cure the blind, then why such ability should be denied in our Prophet (PBUH), who is the very seal of prophethood. Furthermore, God does not restrict His supernatural powers only to His prophets. According to some hadiths, it is quite possible for even ordinary people who reach a certain spiritual stage–that is, if they truly are sincere servants of God, whose hearts are felt with His love, and have abandoned the world to achieve His satisfaction. God surely will not hesitate to bless and empower them with supernatural powers and to an extent, knowledge of the unseen.
Additionally, there is a hadith from the Prophet (PBUH) that God has said, “If a servant of mine chooses my obedience, he would be elevated, and would reach such a point in his life where he acts solely by the power of God. That is why Shias believe that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his household, including Imam Ali (PBUH), have entertained certain supernatural powers bestowed upon them by Almighty God. And this belief does not contradict “tawhid” at all, but rather, it is real “tawhid”. Essentially, we consider all natural and supernatural powers as originating only from God. Even when we go through our regular day-to-day actions such as breathing, uttering a word, moving the hands and so on, all are made possible by God’s permission. Thus, this is the meaning of the popular statement: “la hawla va la ghowwata illa billah al Aliyol Azhim; There is no power and no strength, but from Allah.” Therefore, the prophets and imams are merely servants of Allah and do not have anything of their own. They do, however, possess supernatural powers that God has given them.
Thank You Professor Mesbah Moosavi for your valuable answers.
SHIA AND THE ACCUSATION OF CURSING THE PROPHET’S COMPANIONS
Q. One of the justifications of Salafi-Wahhabism in considering Shias as kafir (unbeliever) and launching wars against Shias refers to the accusation of Shiats as those who curse the companions of the prophet (PBUH). Is there any validity to such an accusation?
A. There are radical and extremists in both the Sunni and Shia sects. We must not paint everyone with the same brush. There are some extremist Sunnis whom are known as Nasebis; they curse Imam Ali (PBUH). Their justification is that Muawiyeh hated Imam Ali (PBUH) and that was why for many years he fought with Imam Ali (PBUH). He had ordered all the people to curse Imam Ali (PBUH) in their Friday “khutbahs” (sermons) at their mosques, which continued to spread throughout the whole Islamic hemisphere. When Imam Ali (PBUH) was eventually killed, and Muawiyeh gained exclusive power in the Islamic world, the practice of cursing Imam Ali (PBUH) continued in all Ommiyat regimes for decades until the time of Khalif Omar Ibne-Abul Aziz, who then forbid the practice of cursing Imam Ali (PBUH) in the Friday “khutbehs”. Without question, the majority of Sunnis disapprove of such a nasty tradition, but can they stop the Nasebis from continuing in doing so?
Q. I am sorry, but I cannot understand how any Muslim can curse Imam Ali (PBUH) to whom the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “la yobghezoka illa munafiq; no one hates you, except the hypocrite.”
A. Yes, there are many similar hadiths regarding Imam Ali (PBUH), reflecting unfortunately, Muawiyeh and all Ommiyat dynasty were greatly hostile towards Imam Ali (PBUH); they would imprison, torture, and even kill those who tried to narrate any hadith from the Prophet (PBUH) regarding Imam Ali (PBUH). Despite all their efforts to stop any narrations regarding the admiration of Imam Ali (PBUH), many hadiths can still be found in the Sunni books.
Q. Can you give an example?
A. One of the great Sunni scholars, Al-Muttaghi Al-Hindi, in his book, “Kanzul Ommal”, vol. 11, P. 614, hadith # 32981, quotes the following narration from the Prophet (PBUH):
“Ali is the gate of my knowledge and the one who explains the revelation to my Ummah after me; to love him is the very essence of the faith and to hate him is hypocrisy, and to look at him is kindness.”
Q. Thank you professor. That was a very informative discussion. You spoke about an extremist Sunni group who cursed Imam Ali (PBUH), but what about the shias extremists who curse some of the companions of the Prophet (PBUH)? Could you shed some light about their actions and justifications?
A. First of all, the great Shia scholars and supreme leaders of Shias, like Ayatollah Sistani and Ayatollah Naser Makarem have forbidden to curse the companions of the Prophet (PBUH). But the extremists cannot be stopped. One may not to generalize and judge all Shias as extremists.
Q. What is the justification of the extremists in cursing?
A. No matter what, no one can justify cursing the companions of the Prophet (PBUH).
Q. I do agree with you. However, I am curious as to why some extremists are angry with some of the companions.
A. They try to justify their wrong actions based on a number of reasons. For example, they state that the first and the second Khalif made the Prophet (PBUH) upset and angry by hurting his beloved daughter, Fatimeh Zahra (PBUH), and making her angry. She had refrained from speaking to them till the day she passed away.
Q. Is there any truth to this story? Is there any references to any of the Sihah Sittih books which are, as you know, the authentic books of hadiths according to Sunni perspective?
A. Yes, they are right and this has been narrated in Sihah Sittih as well.
For example, you may look at the following hadiths in Sahih Al-Bukhari 4/42 hadith # 3093:
«فَغَضِبَتْ فَاطِمَةُ بِنْتُ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلي الله عليه وسلم فَهَجَرَتْ أَبَا بَكْر، فَلَمْ تَزَلْ مُهَاجِرَتَهُ حَتَّي تُوُفِّيَتْ».
صحيح البخاري: 4/42، ح 3093، كتاب فرض الخمس، ب 1 ـ باب فَرْضِ الْخُمُسِ .
There is another hadith in Sahih Al-Bukhari, 5/82, hadith #4240:
فَوَجَدَتْ فَاطِمَةُ عَلَي أَبِي بَكْر فِي ذَلِكَ – قَالَ – فَهَجَرَتْهُ فَلَمْ تُكَلِّمْهُ حَتَّي تُوُفِّيَتْ .
صحيح البخاري: 5/82، (ص 802 ح 4240) كتاب المغازي، ب 38 ـ باب غَزْوَةُ خَيْبَرَ.
صحيح مسلم: ج 5، ص 154، ح 4471، كتاب الجهاد والسير (المغازي )، ب 16 ـ باب قَوْلِ النَّبِيِّ صلي الله عليه وسلم، ج لاَ نُورَثُ مَا تَرَكْنَا فَهُوَ صَدَقَةٌ.
فَهَجَرَتْهُ فَاطِمَةُ، فَلَمْ تُكَلِّمْهُ حَتَّي مَاتَتْ .
صحيح البخاري، ج 8، ص 3، ح 6726، كتاب الفرائض، ب 3 ـ باب قَوْلِ النَّبِيِّ صلي الله عليه وسلم لاَ نُورَثُ مَا تَرَكْنَا صَدَقَةٌ .
Q. All right, even if the Khalif had angered Fatimeh (PBUH), how did the Shias come to conclude that bothering Fatimeh (PBUH) is like the one who bothered the Prophet (PBUH)?
A. If someone acknowledges that the Khalif hurt Fatimeh (PBUH), then according to both Sunni and Shia sources, bothering Fatimeh (PBUH) is equivalent to the bothering of the Prophet (PBUH). According to the hadith, narrated in both Sihah Sitteh and Shia books, the Prophet (PBUH) said: “Fatimeh is a part of me; whoever makes Fatimeh angry, he has made me angry. This is the translation of the hadith in sahih Bokhari 210/4, hadith # 3714.
حدثنا أبو الوليد حدثنا ابن عيينة عن عمر و ابن دينار عن ابن أبي مليكة عن المِسْوَر بن مَخْرَمَة أنّ رسول اللّه صلي اللّه عليه وسلم قال: «فاطمة بَضْعَة منّي فمن أغضبها أغضبني».
صحيح البخاري 4/210، (ص 710، ح 3714)، كتاب فضائل الصحابة، ب 12 ـ باب مَنَاقِبُ قَرَابَةِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلي الله عليهوسلم . و4/219، (ص 717، ح 3767) كتاب فضائل الصحابة، ب 29 ـ باب مَنَاقِبُ فَاطِمَةَ عَلَيْهَا السَّلاَمُ .
عَنِ ابْنِ أَبِي مُلَيْكَةَ، عَنِ الْمِسْوَرِ بْنِ مَخْرَمَةَ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلي الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ وَهْوَ عَلَي الْمِنْبَرِ: «إِنَّ بَنِي هِشَامِ بْنِ الْمُغِيرَةِ اسْتَأْذَنُوا فِي أَنْ يُنْكِحُوا ابْنَتَهُمْ عَلِيَّ بْنَ أَبِي طَالِب فَلاَ آذَنُ، ثُمَّ لاَ آذَنُ، ثُمَّ لاَ آذَنُ، إِلاَّ أَنْ يُرِيدَ ابْنُ أَبِي طَالِب أَنْ يُطَلِّقَ ابْنَتِي وَيَنْكِحَ ابْنَتَهُمْ، فَإِنَّمَا هِيَ بَضْعَةٌ مِنِّي، يُرِيبُنِي مَا أَرَابَهَا وَيُؤْذِينِي مَا آذَاهَا».
صحيح البخاري ج 6، ص 158، ح 5230، كتاب النكاح، ب 109 ـ باب ذَبِّ الرَّجُلِ عَنِ ابْنَتِهِ، فِي الْغَيْرَةِ وَالإِنْصَافِ .
The same thing could be found in Sahih Muslim , vol. 7, hadith# 6201:
صحيح مسلم، ج 7، ص 141، ح 6201، كتاب فضائل الصحابة رضي الله تعالي عنهم، ب 15 ـباب فَضَائِلِ فَاطِمَةَ بِنْتِ النَّبِيِّ عَلَيْهَا الصَّلاَةُ وَالسَّلاَمُ .
Q. If it is the case, then it means that Kalif has done something against the Prophet (PBUH)!
A. Whether the Khalif did such a thing or not, and what it implies should not be the focus of our discussion. We should create awareness and inform the extremists that cursing the Khalifs is forbidden. This action has been condemned by Shia scholars and Shia supreme leaders. This is absolutely wrong and cannot have justification. As Shias, we cannot, however, stop the extremists from doing so, just as our Sunni brothers and sisters cannot stop Nasibis from cursing Imam Ali (PBUH). The only thing we can do is to avoid overgeneralizations and painting everyone with the same brush.
Thankyou Dr. Mesbah-Moosavi for your valuable time.