Sadegh Kabeer’s answer to Makkenijad

3377291578 Dear Babak what you have written is simply wrong. If Arab leaders cannot oppose Khamenei’s comments publicly it is for solely political reasons i.e. the Arab street would go crazy and such leaders would be stripped of all credibility in the eyes of their own publics, since they would be perceived as American and Israeli stooges – an image they are always endeavoring to shed.

First of all, Khamenei’s religious credentials are a total joke – the senior Shi’a clergy have little to no respect for him – one only has to look at the criticisms of Khamenei made by Ayatollahs Sanei, Azari-Qom, Shirazi and Montazeri to see that he has little credibility at a purely religious level – or what in the Shia world is called marja’yyat. The concept of an Ayatollah al-Uzma, or an religious scholar who is primus inter pares was itself a 18th century creation and Ayatollah Boroujerdi was the last individual to be regarded as such and he died in 1961. Even Khomeini wasn’t regarded as such and he was in fact criticized at the peak of his powers by figures such as Ayatollahs Shariatmadari and Taleqani.

The Association of Seminary Teachers in Qom only recognized Khamenei as an Ayatollah in the early nineties because the Revolutionary Guards surrounded their offices and threatened to storm them if they refused to relent. As I’m sure you know Khamenei was a Hojjat-el Islam and "promoted" to the rank of Ayatollah in 1989 after Montazeri was pushed aside for criticizing the 1988 prison massacres of MEK members.

Second, the notion of a Faqih and especially velayat-e faqih is very particular to Khomeini and certain authoritarian strands of Shi’a thought. No living marja’ al-taqlid accepts the doctrine of velayat-e faqih i.e. the declarations of an Islamic Jurist are equivalent to divine edicts here on earth – in fact Khomeini said that the edicts of the Faqih even override the Sacred Law i.e. Sharia, if it is in the interests of the state – evidence of Khomeini’s cognizance of Realpolitik – putting reason d’etat ahead of religious law. Finally, the very notion of a clerical hierarchy that issues edicts to be obeyed by a populace over which they rule is a unique situation and particular to Iran‘s Islamic revolution and Khomeinist doctrine, but can also be said to have had its precursors in 19th century Qajar Iran e.g. the Tobacco boycott of 1891-92 etc…

The more non-political version, where a Shia can choose to abide by the edicts if he so chooses of a noted mujtahid refers predominantly to one’s ethical and practical conduct (but also issues of worship) – which again is a completely Shia notion without any power to bind even the followers of the particular mujtahid, let alone Shia who follow another mujtahid (e.g. Sistani, whose religious credentials dwarf Khamenei’s) let alone non-Shias. Sunni thought and religious organization really have no equivalent in terms of a hierarchically structured clerical class who can (contentiously) claim a right to wield worldly power on religious grounds (i.e. as the best equipped to interpret religious law), as in the Shia case in the absence of the Mahdi, the 12th and final Imam who remains in ‘occultation’ until the end times. This is why almost all Sunni radical groups have been mobilized and initiated by laymen – from Qubt to al-Zawahiri.

Sadegh Kabeer

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16 Responses to Sadegh Kabeer’s answer to Makkenijad

  1. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Dear Sadegh Kabeer:
    Thank you for your comments.
    I respectfully disagree with the relevance of your points. I would like to make an analogy with Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Mr. Rushdie. Excepting the issue of supposed lack of credentials of Mr. Khamenei all your points obtained in that case as well. Yet no Muslim political or religious leader went against the legal opinion regarding Mr. Rushdie. [In fact, I recall watching an interview with King Hussein of Jordan in which he was basically prompted to side against Ayatollah Khomeini and he extricated himself deftly from that.]
    This was just one man’s opinion; future will demonstrate if it was valid or not.

  2. eakens says:

    At the risk of sounding like an idealist, I suspect that while religious edicts might sway sentiment to a certain degree, ultimately it is the images that outsiders see, and the lives Palestinians live which do more to derail peace than what comes out of the mouth of Shia cleric 2000km away.
    The issue at hand is that fighting has raged for 60 years, and each day it continues means more will be required of Israel if it ever aspires for a peaceful existence. Speeches by Khamenei, Nasrallah, the Saudis, etc. are all noise.

  3. Patrick Lang says:

    you do not sound like an idealist. you sound like a materialist. the muslims only partly live in the world of materialism. pl

  4. Abu Sinan says:

    The comments from Babak seem a bit odd. No Muslim/Muslim leader can oppose Khamenei’s comments? Such a comment is way out of touch with the real world in the Muslim community.
    The very fact that the comments were made by a leader of Shi’a Islam will be enough to get a large percentage of Sunni Muslims to almost reject it outright.
    Maybe Babak has missed it, there is a large debate amoungst Salafi Muslims about whether or not to support Hamas, or to reject such support because they are apostates who are not conservative enough, and partially because of their ties to Shi’a Iran.
    No one with any knowledge of the Muslim community today would make a statement that said all Muslims or even their leaders are obligated to follow statements of edicts of a leading Shi’a clergyman.
    More to the point, many Muslims would reject it outright directly because of that. The whole concept also ignores the very lukewarm support from the Saudi establishment for Hamas and the Palestinians in the current fighting.
    Unless Babak missed it Prince Nayf, head of the Ministry of the Interior of Saudi Arabia, has BANNED all pro Palestinian gatherings and protests.
    The Saudis, for all intents and purposes, has thrown it’s lot in with the Israelis because they seem to fear Shi’a Iran more than Jewish Israel.
    This edict, far from being something that no Arab leader can ignore, is something that will be ignore by almost all leaders, and 99% of Sunni Muslims.

  5. Lysander says:

    The discussion has gone far to deep into the realm of Islamic jurisprudence and authority.
    Khamenei is making a much more basic point. Muslims are being attacked by a foreign force in the heart of Muslim lands. They are being attacked with savagery, in full view of the western world which does nothing and in full view of Arab regimes, which actively conspire with the attackers.
    Now the Arab and Muslim publics, and that is whom Khamenei is addressing know all this. All of them despise their governments for many reasons, but for collaboration with the west/Israel most of all. They are enraged at what is happening in Gaza, (as well as Iraq) They are looking for leadership. There is none.
    Enter Khamenei. Enter Hassan Nasrallah. They have challenged the west, as well as Israel, and they’re still standing. They have solid credentials. The contrast with the Egyptian and Jordanian “leadership” is startling.
    This sentiment will appeal to the vast majority of Sunni Muslims, with the possible exception of Saudi Arabia. Salafists and their ilk are a minority. No body is looking for leadership amongst that lot.
    Look at the Lebanon war. When Saudi Cleric Abdullah bin Jabreen issued a Fatwa against Hizbullah, the Egyptian Muslim brotherhood issued a rapid fire denunciation and re-expressed their total solidarity with Hizb.
    Now, posting a speech on a website doesn’t do much by itself. But make no mistake. The Sunni masses, Arab and non-Arab will Follow Shiite Iran if it’s taking them to where they want to go.

  6. jr786 says:

    The very fact that the comments were made by a leader of Shi’a Islam will be enough to get a large percentage of Sunni Muslims to almost reject it outright.
    That’s laughable. The issue at hand is not Shia versus Sunni but the destruction of Muslims in Palestine. How many shia are there in Gaza?
    Last night I saw Ismail Haniya give a long address to the people of Gaza – it was on several of the Arab satellite channels. Amongst many other things he called for the unity of all Muslims in opposing this ‘crazy war’. Nothing else should or needs to be said. It is the duty of every Muslim to stand up in the face of oppression and tyranny, as it should be the duty of every man whatever his religion or belief.
    I certainly am prepared to spend whatever little wealth I have in support of the people of Gaza. It doesn’t matter to me what type of Islam anyone professes at this point, or whether or not they are even Muslim.
    In fact, some of the posters on this site are more Muslim than the people I deal with every day. I know Col. Lang will appreciate the spirit in which I make that comment.

  7. Abu Sinan says:

    You miss the point. There is an ACTIVE debate going on at this moment within the Salafi (conservative) community of Islam on whether or not Hamas are actually apostates, that they are actually NOT Muslim because they are not conservative enough, that they partook in elections and that they accept help from the Shi’ites.
    To deny the Shi’ite angle in all of this is to be completely unaware of the politics in the Middle East. Why do you think the Saudis are not letting their people protest? It is partially because Hamas has a direct link to Shi’ite Iran.
    Large segments of the ultra conservatives in the Sunni community are witholding support from Hamas for this very reason. If you read some Salafi sites you’d be excused for not knowing there was a conflict going on at all, they are ignoring it. The ones talking about it, more often than not, take a very hard line against Hamas.
    Jr, I am a Muslim and most certainly support the people of Gaza and Palestine. I also supported the people of Lebanon against the Israelis even though many in the Muslim community didnt because they were Shi’ites, whom some think worse than the Israelis themselves.
    I pray that all Muslims stand together and do what it takes to stop the violence and set up a Palestinian state.
    Having said that, it doesnt change reality. Many of the most conservative Sunnis will be luke warm about supporting Israel.
    Sad to say, but the worst enemy the Muslim community has had historically, especially the Arabs, is themselves. They are too worried about stabbing each other in the back to fight the real enemy.
    That is EXACTLY why a country like Saudi Arabia, can and does, work with a country like Israel, against Iran.

  8. Thanks Babak,
    But my points are relevant and here is the reason why. I agree that for strictly “political” reasons it is nearly impossible for Sunni leaders in the Arab world to reject Khamenei’s comments vis-a-vis Gaza. And I stated this in the first paragraph of my comment, which has since been posted. The same held for Khomeini’s fatwa against Rushdie, which has since been rescinded. The latter’s purpose was to bolster Iran’s image as the “true” Islamic vanguard in the Muslim world, but also to boost domestic morale in the aftermath of 8 years of devastating war with Saddam’s Iraq.
    You invoked the notion of velayat-e faqih or rule of the jurisprudent as binding on all Muslims. This is simply incorrect, both historically and technically. My points were meant to show that there seriously lacks consensus regarding Khamenei’s authority (and the doctrine of velayat-e faqih) inside Iran, the Shia community, let alone the broader Islamic umma.
    Thanks for being so gracious in your response.

  9. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Thank you for your comments.
    In regards to your first paragraph, regardless of Mr. Khomeinin’s motivation, his statement has become the consenus of Muslims. If not, Mr. Rushdie ought to be able to stroll without fear in any Mulsim polity he chooses.
    In regards to your second paragraph; I mentioned Mr. Khamenei’s position to stress that the statement is not to be taken lightly. That its source is a man of both spiritual and temporal authority and a seasoned statesman.

  10. jr786 says:

    Abu Sinan,
    I understand the debate. In fact I commented elsewhere on the elements of nationalism that hinder support for the Muslims of Palestine. Anyone of the Salafi ‘school’ must be against Hamas because of its very committment to the nation state of Palestine. It is Hamas’ adherence to nationalism that makes it suspect to the more rigid groups.
    To them it is just another example of fitna.
    Sad to say, but the worst enemy the Muslim community has had historically, especially the Arabs, is themselves.
    Yes, no one can dispute this. I work with many refugees from Iraq – some from long ago and some quite recent. They all denounce the Arabs and look to Islam.
    These are terrible days. We need a champion, perhaps a hybrid Arab/Shia-a cosmopolitan Hasan Nasrallah.
    I apologize if I offended you. This is the time of unity for us all.

  11. Abu Sinan says:

    No worries. I, myself, have no real issue with the Shi’a, although I certainly dont share their religious views.
    I am not much of a fan of national causes myself, but have sympathy for Palestine.
    The way I look at it, Arab leaders, Muslim leaders in general, are all talk and no do. If someone does stand up and do something, we should support him whether they are Sunni or Shi’a.
    I would have thought that the leaders in the Middle East would have learned that lesson after the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006 when their own populations support Hizb’Allah.
    Allah Ma3ak.

  12. Dear Babak:
    I really don’t think you can say authoritatively that Khomeini’s fatwa against Rushdie has become a consensus amongst Muslims. If so, then we are in much worse shape than I thought. It shows that extremism and the suppression of free speech are the dominant tendency in the Islamic world. This is simply not the case. As John Esposito in his recent book, ‘What a Billion Muslims Think’ (or something to that effect) shows is that Muslim opinion is diverse and for the most part moderate. I for one hope that Professor Esposito is correct – his analysis is based upon a vast amount of statistical data. There is clearly no single Islam (at least that human intelligence can discern) or homogeneous umma, despite many political leaders efforts to depict the contrary.
    Most Muslims desire free elections (instead of American-backed autocracies, which suppress freedom of expression and lack popular legitimacy), respect for human dignity and a more even-handed US foreign policy. Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa is the last thing on their minds and was condemned at the time by large swathes of Muslim intellectuals.
    Moreover, I don’t think it’s anything Muslims should be proud of that Salman Rushdie is “afraid” to walk the streets. Moreover, even in Iran where the fatwa originated, it has since been rescinded by the Khatami government. Only the more extremist elements in Iranian politics, such as the Martrys’ Foundation have continued to harp on about the Rushdie fatwa. Iran thankfully has moved on and so has the Islamic world. Thanks again.
    Best wishes,

  13. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Dear Sadegh:
    You stated: “you can say authoritatively that Khomeini’s fatwa against Rushdie has become a consensus amongst Muslims”. I am not saying it “authoratively” at all only as an opinion.
    And one way to test this opinion is to have Mr. Rushdie spend substantial amounts of time in populated cities of Muslim polities.
    In fact, Muslims are not, by and large and in my opinion, tolerant of dissenting opinion. But, then again, neither are those in Europe and North America that have created a semi-religion out of Shoah.
    Your observations about Iran might be correct now that Mr. Khomeini is dead and his fatwa has lost its enforcability but at the time the fatwa was issued the situation was very different – in my opinion.

  14. Abu Sinan says:

    The fact that some Muslims, Sunni or Shi’a alike, might whack Rushdie doesnt mean they need encouragement from a fatwa by Khomeini.
    There are probably a few dozen Muslims and former Muslims that would get the same treatment and they dont need their own fatwa.
    I would say that devout Muslims are just as tolerant of dissenting opinion as any other devout people. The “random” person in the Middle East or Europe is rather tolerant. Tolerance is not a hallmark of any religious group that considers itself devout.
    The more important point here being the very wide range of opinion in the Muslim world. Many in the West think of the Muslim world as having a monolithic viewpoint on a range of subjects. This couldnt be farther from the truth.
    As if the man from Yemen would have the same opinion as a Berber from the Atlas Mountains based on nothing more than their religion.
    As to Rushdie, I have read a couple of his books, and if not for the fatwa his works would be left in the dustbin of history where they belong. He actually owes the estate of Khomeini a fair bit of cash for all of the book sales the fatwa generated that never would have existed without it.

  15. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Abu Sinan:
    Thank you for your posting and the information therein.
    In regards to tolerance, I only stated my opinion based on my personal observations and experiences. Clearly, you have had a very different experience than I.
    I would agree that there is a wide range of opinion among Muslims on many different topics but there is also common views on topics as well. Muslims agree, for example, on the importance of Justice, Namus (Female Honor), Muslim Unity, Irrelevance of Race (skin color), and that US & Israel are against Islam – although there are nuances there too.
    Your statement: “As if the man from Yemen would have the same opinion as a Berber from the Atlas Mountains based on nothing more than their religion.” goes, I think, to the heart of our differences. Islam is not “just a religion” for a Berber or a man from Yemen – it is also a civilization and the core of their being. Without Islam they are nothing and if you ask them they will tell you so.
    The ironic thing about Mr. Rushdie was that his earlier books, “Shame” and “Midnight’s Children” had been translated into Persian and one of them – I forgot which – won a state prize for the best translation of a foreign novel. (The award was given by Mr. Khamenei, who was the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran at that time, during a ceremony.)

  16. mo says:

    Babak, the Rushdie issue does lie at the crux of what you are arguing. However, I would say that were you to place mr Rushdie in all the Muslim countries at exactly the same time he may not survive in any one of them but I would argue that while in some places he would be set about by a mob in others it would be some lone individual who would attack him. And not all those that may attack him would so merely because there is a fatwa, but definitely the effect would not be consistent between societies.

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