|Translations of Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Texts, vol. 6, no. 4 (July, 2002)|
Hypotheses of the Final Imam and Finality (Khatamiyyat)
Edited and translated by Sepehr Manuchehri
The following exchange took place in late 2001 between Dr Masoud Omid, an Iranian secularist residing in Europe, and Ayatollah Husayn-Ali Muntaziri, regarded as the Source of Immulation for a considerable number of shiites in Iran and Iraq.
Ayatollah Muntaziri was officially known as the “Exhalted Scholar” during 1979-1988 and nominated to takeover the leadership from Ayatollah Khomeini. During a fall-out between the two in 1988, Muntaziri was stripped of his role in the leadership, quit politics and returned to his native Najafabad in order to concentrate on religious studies and scholarly work. He has been under house arrest since 1998.
At present, Muntaziri is one of the few legitimate Shiite Mujtahids in Iran. He has considerable expertise in the liberal interpretation of Islamic regulations and has openly challenged official understanding of the role of religion in a modern society. He is credited with extensive scholarly work in the development of commentaries on Imam Ali’s Nahju’l-Balaghah [The Path of Eloquence].
This particular ruling is significant as for the first time a Shiite Mujtahid:
1. Advocates scholarly discussion on these issues and renounces the use of takfir [declaration that a Muslim has departed from the Faith] and terror by the clergy as means of silencing the inquirers who approach the subject matter with respect and scientific objectivity.
2. Offers a new interpretation of Khatamiyyat [the doctrine that Muhammad was the last prophet] by advocating that man will gradually reach a degree of maturation where he can find the answers to any religious issue through the continuous use of intellectual development and research in the existing tradition
3. Admits that other versions of the Quran were in circulation in the early days and alternative translations of the text were officially abandoned at the time of `Uthman the Caliph.
The original ruling was issued in December 2001 and can be accessed on Ayatollah Muntaziri’s personal web site: http://www.Muntaziri.com/html/books/akhar/Omid/Omid.htm
Dr Omid has recently made available the full text of his questions along with the answers on:
The original questions and answers cover a range of issues. This extract translation is only concerned with the discussions centring around the concepts of the Hidden Imam and Khatamiyyat, both with obvious resonances in the context of Babi/Baha’i studies.
Questions by Masoud Omid, Ph.D.
02 July 2002
The following questions were mailed to the Grand Ayatollah Muntaziri in the autumn of 2001. His reply was received in December 2001 and announced on his web site.
His Excellency, the exalted Grand Ayatollah Muntaziri:
I am researching religious Islamic issues and have a number of questions in this regard. Considering that you are regarded as the only religious scholar and Mujtahid who values scholarly analysis of religion over blindly following the regulations, I have decided to seek your opinion in relation to the following:
Hypothesis of the Final Imam
1. Can we rely on the recollections of four individuals (deputies to the Hidden Imam) that are not infallible and accept their claim that the Final Imam is in existence?
Jafar, the brother of Imam Hasan Asgari (11th Imam) believed that his brother had no children and was quickly labelled a liar in order to prevent the secret from being divulged.
Is it possible that these four deputies, having regard for the expediency of the Shiite administration, sought to fabricate evidence and effectively fill the vacuum created by the lack of a male descendant through creating a fictitious Mahdi?
Does the Great Occultation of Mahdi after the death of these deputies further illustrate the point that Mahdi was the product of their imagination with no foundations in reality? Or could they have covered up his death?
Note that Husayn Ibn Mansour Hallaj believed that Mahdi suffered a natural death and Abu Sahl Nobakhti, another Shiite scholar, maintained that Mahdi suffered a natural death during his occultation.
2. Considering that there are no majority consensus regarding the existence of the Final Imam, at a time when even the mildest suggestions, objective analysis and critical works concerning the fabrication of Mahdi are met with cries of takfir or death, is it wise to uphold a theory whose survival is dependent on terror and oppression?
If the hypothesis of Mahdi is not fabricated and the Ulama are able to defend this notion, then why do they resort to the use of takfir against those who question the whole concept? Do you endorse such orders against individuals?
3. Should the Imam endeavour to meet danger through his presence in public or seek to remain hidden and leave his followers exposed? The theory of occultation seems inconsistent with the progressive values shown by Imam Husayn.
4. Basically the definition of an Imam relates to a living leader engaged in guiding the Ummah. How can we regard a hidden person without any role in resolving the problems of the believers as an Imam?
Hypothesis of Finality (*Khatamiyyat*)
1. Is the prophet Muhammad subject to the limitations of time and place, or is he considered beyond such boundaries?
If the first interpretation is true, reading of (Quran, Surah of Ahzab, #40) suggests that he is in fact superior to the prophets before his time, not those that follow in the future.
If the second interpretation is true, how can a mere limited human being be considered to be beyond time and place? Where is the Quranic reference suggesting that the Prophet thought he was beyond such limitations?
Note that according to the Quran, Muhammad was very much equal to others in terms of personal limitations and certainly not an extraordinary individual.
2. If Muhammad claimed that his message is universal and eternal, why didn't he attempt to systematically document the Quran and register its contents in order to prevent subsequent tampering? Why was this task completed at the time of (Caliph) `Uthman the oppressor? In documenting the Quran, did `Uthman serve the interests of his political power or that of the humanity or Islam?
3. `Uthman's decree in documenting an official Quran resulted in the destruction of other versions of this text. Abdu'llah Ibn Masoud expressed numerous complaints regarding this version of Quran. Can these issues question the authenticity of the present text of Quran?
Response by Ayatollah Muntaziri to the above questions:
Apologies for the late reply due to ill health.
Firstly issues concerning "faith" are not subject to taqlid [implicit obedience to religious authority]. One must analyse and research the issues and ask questions. No one has the right to protest against the inquirer or to resort to takfir.
In relation to the Hidden Imam
There is no doubt concerning the existence of the Final Imam and hence no requirement to prove the matter through the Four Deputies. In addition to the many reasons pointing to the requirement for an Imam to guide the public in all ages, there are many Hadith directly linked to the Prophet and the Holy Imams that prove the issue.
There are in excess of three thousand Hadith from Shiite and Sunni traditions about his holiness. You may refer to Sahih Muslim, Sanad Ahmad Hanbal, Kanz al-Uman, Sunan Ibn Majah from the Sunni tradition and Nu`mani, Shaykh Tus, Kamalu’d-din Saduq and Bihar Majlisi from the Shiite texts.
The Prophet himself revealed the story of Mahdi. That he will be the ninth son of Imam Husayn and has a long life and an extended occultation, that he shall fill the earth with justice and equality after his coming, along with various signs and indications concerning the time prior to his coming.
The fact that his uncle Jafar was labelled a liar solely because of denying the existence of Mahdi has not been proven conclusively. Opposition of a few persons will not harm His being. During the course of history, many people have objected to various factual accounts solely due to their personal political or economical interests.
As stated above, the existence of His Holiness is proved through logical reasoning. Where direct Hadith is available in relation to an issue, proving the matter otherwise is subject to "documentary agreement" and that in itself is subject to the authenticity of the documents.
In considering the logical reasoning and numerous authentic Hadith, the same conclusion is achieved as the scientific method of analysis. Therefore the existence of the Final Imam is not a theory based on threat or terror. It is largely due to reasoned thinking and proven text.
In my opinion, an inquirer who questions various matters with respect and scientific objectivity, can not be insulted, let alone condemned to takfir or death. Those who commit such acts, display their incompetence in scholarly reasoning and cause disrepute to the spheres of intellect and dialogue.
Imamate, unlike monarchy, is not an inherited position. It is not an acquired competency. On the contrary, it is a divinely ordained spiritual station and the ultimate affinity to God and its characteristics are determined prior to birth.
It contains special divine talents that God ordains though his amounting wisdom to certain individuals for the purpose of mediation in divine grace and guidance of people as the prime products of the world of creation.
Their guidance is not limited to customary means and methods. It is possible for them to guide people and resolve certain problems through unconventional yet practical means in secret from the state of occultation. Similar to the Prophet Khidhr who assumed the role of teacher for Prophet Moses from a state of occultation (Quran, Surah of Kahf, #65).
It has been noted in many Hadith that during his occultation, the Mahdi is similar to the sun obstructed by the clouds. In this state the naked eye can detect the rays of the sun shining from behind the clouds. As stated by Imam Ali in Nahju’l-Balaghah (#150):
"Be aware that our representative who shall receive the inspiration, shall revolve with an illuminating light. He will act according to the methods of the pious in order to resolve problems, rescue the captive, disperse certain crowd, and gather together the dispersed, in a state hidden from the people. As they search for him, people fail to trace his presence."
Lack of knowledge on the benefits of His existence during the occultation, does not indicate his uselessness. There is no solid evidence to suggest that every Imam must conduct himself in a public and open manner during all ages and centuries just like Imam Husayn.
On the contrary, the Imam must conduct his godly duties as dictated by experience and wisdom considering the limitations and resources of the time. It is not possible to expand on these terms in one letter. I refer those interested to read various books that have been written on these fields.
In relation to Khatamiyyat
If one neglects the material world, his attention is focused on the world beyond time and space. This phenomena occurs to every one, however temporary and insignificant it may be. Dreaming and witnessing events in a dream is an example of the link between us and the world beyond. Divine messengers have the ability to communicate with the other world. They must, otherwise they can not receive revelation from God and His angles.
In a similar manner they must appear as equal to fellow human beings. If they are not able to mix with other people, they can not convey the divine message to the inhabitants of a material world.
Therefore a prophet operates in two levels of spiritual and material power. He will receive the divine message through his spiritual level linking in with the world of revelation, and will convey that message through his material level. Refer to verses in the Surahs of Kahf (#110), An`am (#90) and Najm (#8-10).
Receiving the revelation is the same as linking in with the world beyond and defying the limitation of the material, time and space. Verse 40 in the Surah of Ahzab points to the two levels of spiritual and material exercised by the rasul, and also indicates his finality.
The word "khatam" in the Arab language means the end and considering the plural Alif and Lam in Al-Nabiyyin makes it the end of all in general. Therefore, Khatam Al-Nabiyyin means the finality of all divine prophets.
This argument that some have translated "khatam" as “an ornament,” is a futile one because no dictionary interprets "khatam" as an ornament. The reason some people refer to a ring as khatam, is that in distant times individuals used to engrave their name on their rings and stamp the end of their personal letters with those rings as a personal signature.
Divine religions are similar to graded educational classes. Through scientific advances, humanity will gradually be perfected to such a level of maturation that they can find the answers to any religious issue through the continuous use of intellectual development and research in the existing tradition. Thereby issues related to any subject matter can be resolved according to the outlines of the present text at any time and/or place.
Therefore human kind will not need a new prophet and a new religion. Naturally the existing religion shall be the final religion of God and its prophet considered the final one. In essence, Islam is the final class in the divinely graded educational system.
The collation of the Quran and its division in to verses and surah's was conducted during the life of Muhammad by His orders. In addition to saving the Quran through guidance regarding its verses and surahs, he nominated a number of individuals to write the Quran as the scribes of revelation. As each verse was revealed, He would instruct which Surah it belongs to.
Of course during the rule of `Uthman, certain words were translated differently. In order to prevent schism and disunity, `Uthman attempted to abandon the less popular translations and ordered the Quran to be written according to the more popular versions. However the concept of creating Surah's and inclusion of verses was actually completed at the time of Muhammad.
The Quran has never been fabricated or interfered with. If it was interfered with by `Uthman, Imam Ali would never have stayed silent and would have spoken out in the interest of Islam. If there were differences in opinion, it was in the translation of similar words.
Husayn- Ali Muntaziri