‘Foremost in Faith’

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This recently published book titled ‘Foremost in Faith’ is based on a collection of lectures delivered by Maulana Syed Mohammed Jafar Zaidi Shaheed,  who was a leading Shia scholar from the subcontinent.  His original lectures, which were delivered in Urdu language, have now been translated into English by Syeda Batool Shahid Zulfiqar Ali. In this context, the recent translation of these lectures is very noteworthy as it allows access for the younger generation, who are not very well versed with Urdu and also are not very familiar with the thought provoking discussion and deliberations of Maulana Jafar.

This publication also presents the acknowledgements and appreciations of contemporary Shia scholars from the subcontinent like Allama Syed Muntazir Abbas and Allama Talib Johari who describes Syed Jafar Zaidi as ‘a man draped in the garb of wisdom and knowledge’. It also carries special appreciatory remarks by Ayatollah Syed Aqeel Gharavi who praises Syed Jafar Zaidi as ‘an extremely reliable custodian of pure Islamic culture and values’ and also as ‘a harbinger to later generations of these humanistic as well as futuristic traditions with total scientific integrity and complete scholastic responsibility.’  Maulana Jafar was assassinated in 1980 by extremist sectarian outfits in Pakistan.

The compilation includes five lectures which are all a critique and commentary on five Ayats from the Quran. The five Ayats discussed in detail in these lectures are Ayat e Vilayat, Ayat e Mawaddat, Ayat e Tatheer, Ayat e Nusrat and Surah al Asr.  Another additional lecture, which focuses on Prophet Muhammad, is more of a hagiographical account that presents the Prophet as Syed ul Anbia ( Leader of the Prophets).

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Book Review – ‘Ali ibne Abi Talib on Leadership and Good Governance’

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–  Hassan Abbas and Benish Zahra Hassan. ‘Ali ibne Abi Talib on Leadership and Good Governance’ . Outskirts Press. 2012.

This book presents a comprehensive overview of the diverse and sagacious teachings of Ali Ibne Abi Talib. One of the most prominent figures in Islamic history,  Ali is the first Shia Imam and the fourth among the leaders who are revered as the Khalifa Rashidun in Islamic history. In the past, as has been discussed elsewhere on this blog,  the history of  Ali’s life has mostly come to be designated as Shia history and consequently the universal lessons that it affords for future generations have been constricted to a particular religious sphere. This book is also a contribution towards the increasing efforts to bring  such a discussion into mainstream intellectual conversation. In this sense it presents Ali’s teachings as being universally applicable in all socials, political or cultural contexts. Continue reading

‘A Religion of Protest’

Shi’ism: A Religion of Protest’ is Professor Hamid Dabashi’s latest book which was published recently and presents unusual insights into Shi’ism’.  The New York Times carried a review of the book here.

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/dec/22/revolutionary-shias/

According to the Professor Dabashi, Shi’ism is not so much a sect or minority tradition of Islam as it is ‘a state of mind’. This is so because Shi’ism has ‘always defined itself in opposition to the mainstream discourse’ in Islam. Once in a while every other Sunni Muslim can be in such a state of mind, he believes. In a very quotidian way, he describes Shi’ism as being dominated either by ‘very old men sitting in their mosques or very young revolutionaries, fighting wars’. This binary argument can be projected onto his descriptions in his book of the Grand Ayatollah Sistani and the Iraqi firebrand cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, as “two Shi’is at the two opposing but complementary ends of their faith, defending their cause and sustaining the historical fate of their community in two diametrically parallel but rhetorically divergent ways”.

Among other unusual observations he asserts that, “The more volatile, unstable, and impulsive the charismatic outbursts of revolutionary movements in Shi’ism have been throughout its medieval and modern history, because of its traumatic origin, the more precise the exactitude of the Shi’i law has sought to regulate, to the minutest details, the affairs of Shi’i believers—from their rituals of bodily purity to the dramaturgical particulars of their communal gatherings, to their political suspicions of anyone’s claim to legitimate authority”.

One of the most interesting discussion in the book is that of Professor Dabashi’s use of a Freudian notion of the ‘Death of the Father syndrome’ that characterizes the Jews and results in a ‘delayed obedience’ on their part through the adoption of systematic rituals. He posits this as an analogy with his idea of the ‘Death of the Son’ concept where in the wake of Karbala tragedy, Shi’ism becomes characterized with a ‘delayed defiance’  being ‘overcome with the guilt of not helping Hussain ( the Third Shi’i Imam)’ which causes it to always ‘say no’ and protest.  He believes that the Shi’i proclivity to denunciate everything has be completely historicized in this sense.

Below is an introductary video of Professor Dabashi speaking about this book.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TaVKZLn9A6A