Sunday, May 9, 2010

Grand Ayatullah 'Ali Sistani: An Opinion on Whether Jihad is Obligatory

Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid 'Ali Husayni Sistani, an Iranian by birth and a former student of the late Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Abu'l Qasim al-Kho'i (Khu'i, Khoei), is the preeminent Twelver Shi'i jurist in al-Najaf, Iraq. He is "first among equals", in a sense, together with al-Najaf's other three grand ayatullahs, al-Sayyid Muhammad Sa'id al-Hakim, Muhammad Ishaq Fayyad, and Bashir Husayn Najafi. Sistani has played a major role in post-Ba'th Iraq, though his influence over the day-to-day events in the country is often exaggerated. His calls for a halt in sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007 were largely ignored, even by Iraqi Shi'i parties that claimed to follow his juridical edicts, namely the Supreme Islamic Iraq Council (SIIC; Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq) and Tayyar al-Sadr (Sadr Movement).

السؤال: هل الجهاد في سبيل الله واجب ؟
Question: "Is jihad (struggle) in the path of God required?"

الجواب: الجهاد مع المعصوم (علیه السلام) أو نائبه الخاص واجب وهو حكم شرعي
Answer: "Jihad with (one of) the (14) Infallible(s), upon him be peace, or his appointed deputy is requirement and it is a legal command/duty."

Twelver Shi'is believe in 14 inerrant individuals, the "Ma'sum" (Infallibles), that include the Prophet Muhammad, the 12 Imams, and the wife of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib (the first Imam), and daughter of the Prophet, Fatima. Twelver Shi'is narrate hadith (reports of sayings and actions) from and sourced to these 14 "Infallibles," while Sunni Muslims only accept ahadith (plural of hadith) from and about the Prophet.

With regard to Sistani's answer, he is referring to the "occulted" twelfth Imam, who Twelver Shi'is believe will return as a messianic figure from a mystical occultation or hiding from his enemies. The inclusion of the "deputy" of the Imam is interesting and could theoretically be used to argue that a living leader, such as Iran's "supreme leader" al-Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei, can call for offensive military jihad, which is generally considered to be impermissible until the twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi's return (Raja')


Anonymous said...


I would like to correct your annotations on the topic of "Na'ib al-khass." Usually, the Na'ib al-khass are specific to the four declared deputies of the twelfth imam who have al passed (the last passing in 329 A.H). These four deputies were recognized as Na'ib al-khass and usually the contemporary "living leaders" or mara'ji are considered "Naib al-'aam" (roughly translated as general deputies). Thus, it is not possible for this hadith to allow any current leaders (outside of the imam) to declare jihad.

Just for your edification, the four personalities are:
1-Uthman ibn Sa'id al-Amri
2-Muhammad ibn Uthman al-Amri
3-Husayn ibn Ruh al-Nawbakhti
4-Ali ibn Muhammad al-Samarri

More information can also be gleaned from a study of the Minor Disappearance of the twelfth Imam (from 260 A.H. until 329 A.H.).

إبن الصقلي said...

Thanks for sharing this information, with which I largely agree.

However, some see Khamenei, as they saw Khumayni before him, as a type of "new deputy" of the occulted Imam. Some scholars argue that this is in fact what Khumayni was arguing for. Therefore, it is not beyond the pale that some could make the argument I noted initially.

This is also not a hadith, though the statement it contains may exist in Twelver Shi'i hadith, but a response by Grand Ayatullah Sistani to a submitted question.

إبن الصقلي said...

Defensive jihad (or jihad which is deemed to be "defensive") is, as I'm sure you know, allowed during the "major" Ghayba, according to Twelver belief, of the Imam. This is what Lebanon's Hizbullah constantly invokes in its ongoing war with Israel.

Anonymous said...

Hello again,

Thank you for your comments. I made a mistake about calling it a hadith as you correctly pointed out. Sorry for the error and thank you for your correction.

I have seen some ulama declare a "defensive jihad," and as you mentioned this is what the ulama of Hizbullah have done. There are other historical examples. However, many Shi'i ulama debate whether this is truly allowed and I do not know of any maraji' (save Khumayni) who have declared such a jihad.

There is also a defining distinction between the jihad declared by the twelfth Imam (and his specific deputies) and that declared by the general ulama. This distinction lies in whether they are wajib (mandatory) for the Muslim to participate in. The furu' al-deen (actions mandated upon all Muslims) consist of ten actions, one of which is Jihad. This is also one of the five pillars of Islam (as declared by the Sunni ulama). Thus the declaration of the jihad al-sughra (going to war) by the Imam is considered mandatory to all who consider themselves Muslim, whereas the jihad declared by an ulama is not, i.e. if you don't partcipate in the "defensive jihad" you aren't sinning, whereas if the Imam called for war, it is haram not to be part of it. This is a big part as to why you don't see everyone joining Hizbullah and fighting in their "jihad."

I thank you for your website and look forward to more posts in it.

إبن الصقلي said...

Again, thank you very much for sharing your knowledge. Your points are excellent and I think we are largely in agreement.

إبن الصقلي said...

The specific legal requirements of jihad are fascinating. Sunnis have engaged in this discussion, as I'm sure you know, as well in the absence of a caliph. The rise of groups such as Al-Qa'ida Central who argue that jihad is an absolute individual requirement has increased this debate.