x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Role of scholars under spotlight

Religious scholars in the Shiite tradition do not have a preordained right to become political leaders, a prominent Lebanese Shiite scholar has said.

ABU DHABI // Religious scholars in the Shiite tradition do not have a preordained right to become political leaders, and did not do so in the past, a prominent Lebanese Shiite scholar said Wednesday at a Ramadan majlis hosted by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. "The reign of the [Shiite] religious scholar is no longer a spiritual authority like the Vatican for Catholics or Al Azhar for many [Sunni] Muslims," Sayyed Ali al Amin said. "But rather it has surpassed that to become a political system."

Wednesday's lecture, which became tense at times, was a rare display of dissent by a Shiite cleric against the dominant Shiite powers in the region, though in Lebanon Mr Amin is a known critic of Hizbollah. In the Shiite tradition, descendants of the Prophet Mohammed are known as imams, and they are believed to have special spiritual significance akin to infallibility, an idea considered blasphemous by some Sunnis.

Mr Amin belongs to the largest Shiite school, known as the Twelvers, a reference to their belief that 12 imams, all descendants of the Prophet, had a divine role. Twelvers form the majority in Iran and of the Shiites in Lebanon, Bahrain and Kuwait. Mr Amin, whose office and home in Beirut was ransacked during the sectarian fighting in May, said based on the history of the idea of custodianship in Islam, and with the exception of the divine rule of the 12 imams, political leadership by an Islamic scholar was never intended.

He said early Islamic scholars, when using the word "custodianship", were referring to "custodianship over children, orphans or adults who are mentally unable to care for themselves. "The default custodianship of such people would have been the responsibility of the father or grandfather. "It was within this context that jurisprudence research legitimised the custodianship of the Islamic scholar over people who had no one else to act on their behalf."

But, Mr Amin said, that idea was hijacked by some scholars to legitimise custodianship over other areas of people's lives. relass@thenational.ae hdajani@thenational.ae