"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Shi'ite Story....and who is that Mahdi guy anyway?

Beginning with Husayn - the prophet Muhammad's grandson - facing his death at the hands of the forces of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid I and ending with the rise of the Khomeini in Iran, this chapter of No God but God highlighted the rise of Shi'ism as a sect of Islam.  Husayn was abandoned by the people of Kufa and left to be massacred, however, later some of these Kufans were sorry for their abandonment and openly mourned their unfaithfulness and the loss of Husayn's life.  Aslan points out that even those who didn't want the tribe of Muhammad to have political power were stunned at how the Umayyads treated the family of the prophet.  A rebellion formed that ended with both the holy cities of Mecca and Medina ruined and the sanctuary of the Ka'ba burned to the ground!  (Can you imagine Muslims hating each other so much that they would allow this to happen today? It's quite stunning if you think about it!)

Karbala, where Husayn was killed, became the "Garden of Eden" for Shi'ism with "humanity's original sin being not disobedience to God, but unfaithfulness to God's moral principles."  The Shi'ah claimed that just as Jesus was said by his early followers to know that he was supposed to die, Husayn also knew he was to be a martyr for the cause and he willingly fulfilled it.  

Besides Jesus, another parallel was made to Ismail (though the Bible's account says Isaac) and how Abraham was provided a ram to sacrifice in the place of his son. This, according to the Shi'ites wasn't a mere replacement, but a postponement because Husayn was destined to fulfill this role.  Christians believe God did offer a ram in the place of Isaac, but this was a picture of what was to come. Jesus, as John the Baptist stated, was the Lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world. So the Lamb who took our place was Jesus according to the Christian faith. It's interesting to me that the Shi'ites have made this parallel connection - only with Husayn instead of Jesus!

Indeed I found the whole atonement by blood and sacrifice doctrine familiar in some ways though some of the funereal practices (matam) that the Shi'ites carry out seems a bit much. Especially when Aslan noted they whipped their backs with chains until the streets were stained with their blood! See, I believe Jesus died in our place and there is no more need for blood sacrifice. If we accept the work he did on the cross, there is no reason for us to try to earn God's favor by shedding our own blood. Only the perfect Lamb was able to fulfill this role.

Aslan points out that Sunnis dislike this bid'a (religious innovation) of the Shi'ah mostly because Shi'ites believe paradise is only for those who weep for Husayn. And since the Sunnis aren't weeping, I guess they wouldn't like it to be implied that they are not paradise-bound.  Understandable.  I do find it curious that Sunnis don't like the hitting rituals of mourning for this is very historical in Middle Eastern religions.  In the Bible, people in grief would often tear their clothes and put ashes on their heads.  Although this is not how we display grief in my culture, I respect that others mourn in various ways.

The Imam in Shi'ism reminds me of the Pope in the Roman Catholic faith.  Basically the common folk are too ignorant to understand God's ways so we have to have some wise man tell us what God really means.  The Imam was "endowed with the living spirit of the Prophet and, as such, is thought to possess a spiritual authority that sets him above any earthly ruler."

Aslan notes that an Imam is proof of God on earth and as such, Adam was the first imam!  He distinguishes between a prophet - one who transmits the message of God - and an imam - one who translates it for human beings.  He gave examples of Abraham receiving God's message and his sons, Isaac and Ishmael - as his Imams - fulfilling it.  He also gives the example of Moses having the divine law revealed to him, but then made me take note of what he said next:  "but it was Aaron who carried it into the Promised Land."  Huh?  Aaron died before Moses (see Numbers 20) and not even Moses was allowed to enter the Promised Land. Remember Joshua and Caleb were the only Israelites of that original group to make it to the Promised Land because they were the only two spies who came back from Canaan believing God! The ten others were too frightened by what they saw and didn't believe God. Thus the whole group was made to wander forty years in the wilderness.  It's not really an important fact to this chapter, but a conflict with the Biblical account that took my attention.

Imams -- like the Prophet -- are "infallible and sinless" according to Aslan, and made not from dust, but eternal light.  Imams also know the hidden messages of the Quran.  Ja'far - the sixth imam - was the most influential and after the son he chose to succeed him died prior to his opportunity to lead, some people splintered from mainstream Shi'ism.  Since Ja'far was "infallible" how could he choose a son who would die prior to his taking the leadership role? To make sense of this fact, this group declared that Ismail didn't die, but was 'hidden' somehow and would come back to rule later.  This group was called the Ismailis or "Seveners" because they believed in only seven Imams. (Mainstream Shi'ites believe in twelve, thus they are "Twelvers.")

The role of the Mahdi or "one who guides divinely" became more accepted around this time. Although he is not mentioned in the Quran, several hadiths abound though the details vary according to what area the tradition arose.  Shi'ites were in a state of taqiyyah "cautionary dissimulation" and considering all governments illegitimate pending the Mahdi's return when in 1501, "a sixteen-year-old amir named Ismail conquered Iran and installed himself as the first Shah, or King, of the Safavid Empire." Twelver Shi'ism was declared the state religion.  This is from what modern Iran evolved. The final shah was removed in the 1979 revolution which ushered in the religious ruler taking control of the country.  Religion mixed with politics in a rather questionable way, but Iran became an Islamic state under the rule of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.   His "radical religious innovation" - the Valayat-e Faqih (or "the guardianship of the jurist") established the role of the Khomeini as forming a state and governing it for the Mahdi until he returns.  Thus, as the Mahdi's top guy on earth, he required absolute obedience from the people.  What power!

I get the impression the author of this book, Reza Alsan, wasn't fond of this political and religious mixture.

Interesting facts: 

Some Shi'ites believe the Mahdi will return with Jesus to defeat the antiChrist. 

Shi'ites often add "and Ali is God's Executor (wali)" to the Muslim profession of faith.

Hopefully I wrote all that accurately!  Thoughts?


Lat said...

Sorry Susanne for the multiple comment entrees in the previous post.I didn't know what happen.

Thanks for sharing the Shia concept here.I may not agree to some of them but I still think they are brothers and sisters in faith.

Susanne said...

Lat, apparently Blogger thought your comment so good, it posted it four times! :-D I deleted three of them.

Yes, I'm glad you consider them brothers and sisters in faith despite the differences. I am not surprised. :)

Faith said...

Hi Susanne :)
I wish I have the time to read some of your old posts and get to know you more but maybe later :)
May I ask you how do you think someone who hates Islam would write about some Islamic rules like let’s say allowing a man to marry four women, women are entitled for half of the share a man gets when splitting inherence. And many other rules that when fall in the wrong hands can be easily deformed and twisted? Trust me when I tell you this, the book is not telling the real story.. that’s not who the Shi'ite are and that’s not who I am.
There are two versions of this story. and I’m telling you here, I’m a Shi'ite and I don’t feel guilty for the Hussain’s martyrdom. But I heard worse accusations so I forgive you ;D

sarah said...

Susanne, I don't really know much about Shia belief but I know a bit more about the ideas about a Mahdi.

As far as I know the Mahdi is awaited by all Muslims, not just Shias. As an Ahmadi we believe that the Mahdi and the Messsiah appeared as one person about 120 years ago. Mainstream Muslims are still awaiting his advent.

Suroor said...

Many Sunni Muslims completely reject the coming of Mahdi who is supposed to come before the end of the world and lead all Muslims to prayer with Jesus praying behind him and accepting him as his superior. Some Muslims claim that the roots of such belief are Iranian and also blasphemous.

Traditionally, Mahdi is supposed to be a descendant of the Prophet. Many people have claimed to be the Mahdi: Muhammad ibn Al Hanafiyah;
Muhammad Jaunpuri; Bab; Muhammad Ahmed; Mirza Ahmed; Al Qahtani
Rashad Khalifa etc. None was accepted by mainstream Muslims.

Some of them also believed that they were the second coming of Jesus like Mirza Ahmed. He believed that Jesus escaped crucifixion, traveled to Kashmir and preached there where he died. Mirza Ahmed thought that Jesus' spirit and power had come into his body and so Jesus had come again.

Aslan is a Shia Muslim so he does know a lot about the history of Shite Islam.

Susanne said...

Faith,welcome and thanks for your feedback though it leaves me puzzled. I suspected Reza Alsan WAS Shi'ite and I was merely writing notes based on what he shared. Sure I added some of my own commentary to this post and maybe this is what you object to? I didn't quite understand your accusations, but you are welcome to share YOUR side of the Shi'ite story! Please do.

Thank you! :)

Susanne said...

Sarah, oh thank you for adding that detail! I appreciate learning from you!

Susanne said...

Suroor, thank you for what you added. Lots more interesting facts to this story - wow!

I appreciate learning from ALL of you! Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts. :)

Faith said...

I’m so sorry I wasn’t clear, I wrote that while thinking and doing dozens of other stuff ;D
My point was that for many years I’ve heard that accusation “The Shi'ite” killed Hussain and they cry out of guilt” we’ve been accused of being those Kufa’s people who abandoned Hussain then changed their minds!
The fact that we have mourning rituals every year doesn’t mean we do them exactly the same, where I live we never cut our heads open and do what you read, this is not part of our belief it’s just an extreme expression that was created in some parts of the world due to some geographical and social mix. What we do believe in that Mahidi “PBUH” is the 11th grandson of the prophet “PBUH”. Sunna also believe in him, the difference is they think he’s not born yet we believe while he’s been there for over the last thousand years. What matters is when he shows up, all Muslims and even many other sects from other religions are going to support him and fight with him.
The split started when Ali “PBUH” the prophet’s cousin and his daughter’s husband, was denied being the “kahlifa” or the man who was going to replace the prophet. The ones who chose Ali were us. The ones who didn’t were sunna, Ali’s two children were the second and third imams, and the remaining 9 imams came from Hussian’s offspring. I was one of the biggest anti Shiitsim one day ;D even when I grew up in a Shi'ite house. Knowing Imam Ali and reading about him was the reason I reverted back. This reminds me of those days when I didn’t understand that unbelievable love I saw in Shi'ite’s eyes when ever his name is mentioned. Now I’m one of those who tear up just thinking of this man. But again.. that’s another story ;)
Sorry if that was too long or too short I’m on a few minutes break before I go back to studying.
I admire your curiosity and depth Sussane. Will make sure to come read your older posts they seem really interesting.

Faith said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Susanne said...

Faith, I'm glad you came back to clarify your position. Since your comment double posted, I removed one of them. :)

Hmmm, I don't think Aslan was suggesting the Shi'ties of today were guilty of Hussain's death. He only mentioned the Kufans of that time who abandoned him, but were penitent. I don't want you to think I - or he - was condemning people today. :-) Thank you for further explaining your beliefs about the Mahdi because I found that very very interesting! Feel free to read the other posts I've written from this book. You may especially enjoy the one about the rightly-guided ones since it's likely written more from your perspective than a Sunni one. Please keep in mind the author is Iranian and except for my own commentary, I am just recording notes from his book. I'd love to read if you agree, disagree or have more to add from what I shared on each post. I enjoy learning from others and you are most welcome to teach me about your faith, Faith. :)

Thank you for dropping by on your break from studying. I really appreciate it!