Critques of Shi’ism and Mutazalism

Week 4 (A) Write a critique of the Twelver Shi’i concept of the Imamate from a Mutazili perspective.

According to the Mutazalli precepts the primacy of reason over revelation does not make it possible to easily accept the concept of an infallible Imam appointed through divine sanction. The fact is that inspite of their emphasis on the contrary, the Shi’i themselves rely excessively on reason. Shi’i scholars incessantly implore people towards ‘intellectual evaluation’ which  however they feel would lead them towards the same conclusion that is presented by the infalliable imams. (Shobani) The qualifications that are presented for the necessity of Imams is that they must assist people towards that ‘to which their reasons guide them’. (Hilli )

If the Imam’s are those who have ‘supreme leadership over affairs of religion and mundane life’ ( Modaressi) and are sent to ‘give proofs’, ‘protect’ and ‘guide’ men at all times (Hilli), then they are essentially making the decisions for people or at the very least manifestly influencing them. Eventually then the Imam’s are responsible for all human behavior, a notion which undermines the concept of free will. If the human being is so dependent on the will of the Imam than there is really no space for him to act independently. Furthermore the concept of divine justice can never be actualized if man is not held accountable for his deeds. The notion of the intercession of the Imams is problematic in this sense that if man commits evil deeds but believes that he will not be held responsible for his actions because of the intercession of the Imams. This could easily become the basis of anarchy in a society.

 (B) Write a critique of Mutazilism from a Twelver Shi’i perspective.

One of the biggest contention between Shi’ism and Mutazalism was over the concept of  Imamate. Mutazallism does not believe in infalliability and necessity of the Imams. There is also a significant disagreement on the intercession of the Imams which is directly related to the  concept of waid or unconditional punishment of God.

Mutazalism does not believe in the necessity of the Imam or the fact that Imamate comes from divine appointment . From the Shi’i perspective human beings are always in need of a leader and an organized society needs a  guide to avoid disorder and chaos. Since Islam is a religion predominantly concerned with social life it needs a leader who can navigate throught the pitfalls of society. (Tabatabai) Imamate is directly derived from the Prophet-hood and  is ‘a universal authority in the things of religion’. Imamate is an incumbent kindness (lutf) and is described as that ‘which brings the creature near to obedience and keeps him far from disobedience’, an idea that is fully realized only by the concept of Imamate.  In this sense the Imams are also a proof of God on earth (hujja ) and without them the earth will perish and descend into chaos. (Hilli)

The Mutazali believe that the appointment of imam is possible from within a community through the concensus of the Ummah and believe that it can be ascertained by reason and election (ikhtiyar).  However the Shi’i believe that consensus is not a ‘convincing proof’ and because of ‘the possibility of error in every individual of them, and so in all of them’.  The Prophet has said: “After me this people will act some by the Book and some by Hadith and some by Analogy, and whenever they do thus then they have gone astray and let astray.” Thus nothing remains to be the guardian of the law except the Imam. (Hilli)

 According to the Shi’i there is sufficient traditions and texts available from the prophet’s life and the Quran to determine who can be Imam and successor, and none of these indicate it as a human decision. So therefore for the Shi’i the Imams have to be designated through divine appointment (nass). The Shi’i therefore seek to understand religion not through reason but through revelation and prophecy, unlike the Mutazalite. (Tabatabai)  Contrary to Mutazalite belief, the Shi’i Imams can be visible, known or  hidden, protected and eventually ‘it is not possible for us, nor for any believer, to choose an Imam by rational thought and choice. (Calder)

Since infalliability and immunity to sin (isma) is one of the salient aspects of Imamate and is a matter which no one perceives but God himself. Imamate is a succession (khilâfa) from God and His Messenger, and it cannot be acquired except by the word of them both.  Immunity to sin is ‘a hidden kindness which God Most High shows’. Also by establishing the Imamate by acknowledging any human who is fallible as an imam and by his claim to it total authority would result in conflict (fitna). (Hilli ) The Imams are persons without attachment to the world and do not seeks worldly gains.  This cannot be said of the ordinary people who  according to Mutazali thought can fit into such a criterion.

Mutazalites do not believe in bodily ressurection, but if there was no return in the hereafter then the challenges of human existence would become meaningless and infact God would be seen as unjust.  This can be explained throught the concept of taklif which can be seen as ‘an obligation on rational adults’ and a  ‘labor which requires a compensation’ and any labor without re-compensation could be equated with injustice. (Hilli) If bodily resurrection does not happen then man cannot be given his due share for the period of taklif (his life) and this would be great injustice on the part of God, which is an impossibility since God is just. Man clearly possesses an inner spiritual life and the Quran affirms the ‘existence of another life and another spirit’. (Tabatabai)


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