Home Archive Interviews Interview with magazine "Contemporary Arab Affairs"

Arabism granted Islam the dynaism if its movement and Islam gave it its cultural characheristiqs


Ayatollah Muhammad Husayn Fadall?h (b. 1935) is one of the most prominent marja' in the Shi'it world, and one of the most important senior fugah? (jurists) who has influenced Islamic thought and figh (Islamic jurisprudence) through hundreds of books, gatherings and decades of formal lessons in al-fiqh and ­al-us?l in Beirut and Damascus. His openness to contemporary affairs and developments in hard sciences from genetics to astrophysics has made him a source of reference in international demand in the world of Shiite marja'iyah[1]. From a family with Lebanese roots, he was born in al-Najaf (the holy city of Iraq) and raised and educated in its environs where he pursued Islamic sciences in its hawz?t (institutions of religious learning) and other standard studies including Arabic literature in its majlises and literary salons. In al-Najaf, he studied under some of the greatest Shi'ite scholars of the twentieth century including Ab?-l-Q?sim al-Khoei, Muhsin al-Hakim, Mahm?d al-Shahraw?rdi and Husayn al-Halli. Al-sayyid Fadall?h was open to the reality of the Islamic ummah at an early age, and he surveyed its emergent horizons in literature and thought and politics through Arabic newspapers and through participation in literary and poetic activites among the cultured enrirons of al-Najaf where he earned the moniker 'poet of the fugah? , and faqih of the poets' before emigrating to Lebanon in 1966 where he established his first hawzah - the Islamic legal Institute (al-Ma'had al-Shar'I al-Isl?mi).

After the eruption of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975, Fadall?h settled in the southern suburbs of Beirut - taking with him his religious, cultural and political activities. He has participated very instrumentally in regard to Islam and in its powers which support it. He has been open to the Islamic movements both inside and outside the Arab world without taking a position, and has presence in America, Britain, France, India, Algeria and Iran.

He has tens upon tens of publications in Islamic thought, figh, politics and poetry some of the most significant of which are: Qad?y?n? fi Daw al-isl?m (Our Causes in Light of Islam); Hiw?r fi-lQur'?n (Dialogue with the Qur'?n); Duny? al-Mar'ah (World of the Woman); al-Harakah al-Isl?miyah: Hum?m wa Qad?y? (The Islamic Movements: Concerns and Causes); al-Isl?m wa Mantiq al-Quwwah (Islam and the Logic of Force); Khutu?t 'al? Tariq al-Isl?m (Steps on the Path of Islam); Fi ?f?q al-Hiw?r (On the Horizons of Dialogue); al-Hiw?r al-Isl?m-alMasihi (The Islamic-Christian Dioluge); Fiqh al-Hay?t (The Figh of life); Khit?b al-Isl?miyin wa al-Mustaqbil (The Discourse of the Islamists and the Future); in addition of three diwans of poetry: Y? Zil?l al-Isl?m (O Shade of Islam); Qas?'id lil-l- Isl?m wa al Hay?t (Poems for Islam and life); 'Al? Sh?ti' al-Wijd?n (On the Threshold of Conscience). Fadall?h has also engaged in establishing innovative, beneficent, social and educational initiatives including The Al-Mabarrat Charitable Association (Jami'at al-Mabarr?t al-Khayariyah), hospitals, schools, and even a chain of restaurants and gas stations the proceeds of which are donated to orphans and institutions.

In the interview conducted for al-Mustaqbal al-'Arabi, al-Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadall?h goes over the threats confronting Islamic thought, and he criticizes, reviews and analyzes the Islamic political movement in the Arab Nation and the Islamic world at large. He outlines his conception of the positions of the superpowers in the regional crises and issues, especially that of Palestine.

Text of the interview :

Q: It can be noticed that the Islamic movements which have been on the upswing since the 1970s have been more of a reaction than an action. There are many Arab areas wherein Islam occupied an advanced position and has been branded as 'terrorist' after the events of September 11, 2001. how do you analyze this reality, and what are the significant aspects?

A: There is a good deal of realism in this question. The twentieth century saw the birth of many movements that were reactions against Western colonialism - both culturally and politically - especially if the goal of Western colonialism was to tame the Islamic world in the interests of the Western cultural line. This is what led to the birth of Islamic revolutionary and reform movements as a reaction. From here the divergences between the movements branch off, considering that background international political machinations are what govern this type of divergence between one Islamic country and another. There are those who say that some of the Islamic countries may be described as an agent for this axis or that so there might be points of weakness which dictate that many Islamic movements represent reactions rather than actions. In this regard, we find that the Islamic movements, or most of them, did not formulate their identities according to objective study of the terms of reality which demand a solution to this problem or that of which were in need of a conceptualization of the vital cases that the Islamic world should necessarily have discussed or posted a solution.

Q: In light of this state of deficiency or reaction, is Islam capable of formulating a civilizational initiative for the Islamic world in what is demanded in the way of organizations and legislation and vision of what is demanded by the new exigencies of the age? 

A: I believe that Islam is able to formulate a civilizational initiative because the Islamic historical experience proved capable of formulating, for the region in which it operated, a civilizational initiative. When we comprehend this experience in the 'Abb?sid age or in al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) we find that it opened up vast horizons in knowledge and the lexicon of humanity. It is incumbent that we know that Islam was the constitution or that it constituted the law that governed the Muslims for a thousand years. If some people speak about some sort of  'civilizational backwardness' in the Islamic world, it should be remembered that all civilizations live these circumstances (at some point or another).

Q: Then, Where is the problem?

A: The problem of Islam is not in its ability to formulate a civilizational initiative, but rather it is a matter of the world struggle that is imposed upon the Islamic world in all its force in order to prevent it from movement and action - especially when we realize that the West began considering Islam as its enemy with the fall of the Soviet Union. In brief, the West attempts at all levels to prevent Islam from establishing an open civilizational initiative. Islamic thinkers are facing a very real battle in their confrontation with this Western attack, and in every instance, the forces of backwardness and ignorance play a role in the service of this Western onslaught.

Q: If Islam, in a general, sense, does not control the decisive factors of reality, how are we supposed to implement what it prescribes as a civilizational initiative?

A: It's incumbent upon me to remain watching for the conditions that might permit me implementation. If I am constrained at the present moment, this does not necessarily mean that I will be constrained in the future. Stagnation kills. We live with what is false but we don't recognize its legitimacy.

Q: Do you believe that we are in the midst of an actual clash of civilizations with the West?

A: from the standpoint of the bases of civilization, yes, considering that the West proceeds from a materialist culture whereas Islam proceeds from the human being and God (All?h).

Q: Is the West atheist? How do you view the assertion of the clash of civilizations?

A: The West is not atheist, but it does not dedicate a place for God in life. Islam considers that the human being is the maker of history but through the laws that God has put in place in the universe. It is worthy to note that the West is not a single civilization just as Islam does not represent all the civilizations of the East. In Islam there are various types of interpretations (ijtih?d?t) just as the West has varied types of interpretation. Thus, we believe that word 'dialogue' (hiw?r) between civilisations is preferable to the word 'clash' (sir?') because dialogue suggests a dialogue between lines of thought here and lines of thought there. There is not a civilization 'clashing' with another, rather there are conceptual methodologies clashing with other conceptual methodologies. For this reason, we call for a dialogue that contains within it the struggle.

Q: How do you analyze some of the Islamic fundamentalist movements that take the aspect of T?lib?n in Afghanistan or the 'Fundamentalist Movement' in Algeria?

A: we have to study the background factors of these movements before anything else. It appears that they proceed from a shared underlying basis and that is backwardness in understanding Islam and a consideration that violence is the only means in addition to a lack of study of reality and delusion in the position that the human being lives when he imagines that he possesses power. And it is necessary to study the unnerving political dimensions that create a negative environment. By way of example, Afghanistan is an impoverished country governed by illiteracy and ignorance. It persisted in the shadow of backward regimes, then came the Soviet occupation which entered the region into an international struggle. At that point, the entire world entered Afghanistan. The CIA (Central Intelligence Agency of the USA) played a greater role than usual, in addition to some of the Arab positions, in rallying the Islamic world against the Soviet Union. Thus, the movement of al- Qad?y?h emerged from situations that contained within them backwardness in the understanding of the religion and from some Islamic enthusiasm in the matter of  jih?d. As for the case of Algeria, it is different and complex. It is the story of the American-French struggle. As for what happened in the massacres there, they do not pertain - in the main - to the Islamic movements.

Q: There is an important matter in the factional and sectarian divisions in Lebanon and some of the other regions and countries. What do you say in this regard?

A: It is the inheritance of historical entanglements and accumulations in addition to external or internal politics which fall within the locus of fragmenting the power which Islam contains or the neglect of the sources of the single matrix that binds together all Muslims and their welfare and their essential orientations. By returning to the historical sources, we find that the Sunnis were dispersed among madh?hib (schools of Islamic law) that were not limited to the four (surviving) ones. Even the Shi'ah were similarly dispersed in their differing orientations. So these historical accumulations on the one hand and these internal entanglements on the other created in Arab society - which was an Islamic society - this extremism that is represented in the extremism of denying the other or the sectarianism whereby some Muslims accuse other Muslims of unbelief or of going astray. This matter is not constrained to only the Sunnis and the Shi'ah, rather in some historical periods, the Sh?fi'i was accusing the Hanafi of unbelief just is occurring now in the Shi'ite-Sunni matter. As for the Sunni-Shi'ite question today, a part of it is due to historical accumulations and a part of it is from the political struggles with various reasons and aspects.

Q: You have spoken (previously) about Jews in the first Islamic state and in similar periods. What is your opinion about the Jews of Israel today? How can the Islamic approach towards them be characterized?

A: amongst the Jews there are two currents.

The first current which is represented by the masses of Jewish fundamentalist zealots and it is the movement which says about the Arabs, and possibly about the Muslims, that they are insects or snakes. This is the situation of the senior Jewish zealots of the Zionist entity.

As for the second Zionist current it is the one which transforms Judaism into a fanatic extremist condition that attempts to attract Jewish thought to what they term the 'historic right of the Jews' - that the Jews are the chosen people and the best of peoples and that they have a right to Palestine, and so forth.

There are also Jews who are open to All?h as they conceive of Him or open to religious values, but this type is small in number. This is the model that we indicated on other occasions that is incongruous with the reality of Israel. In fact, some of them see that Israel in its present (state) is the harbinger of the end of the Jews in the world.

I would like to indicate here that we lived historically for a very long time - since the arrival of the Arabs in al-Andalus - as an Islamic world - together with the Jews. We integrated them into the Arab-Islamic economic life. I remember when I was a student in Iraq that al-Sh?rjah s?q in Baghdad, which was one of the biggest markets, would bring the economy Baghdad to a standstill on Saturdays and practically the entire economy of Iraq. Naturally, this occurred because the Jews controlled the economy in addition to their prowess in medicine and other specializations.

This is what we perceive in the generations of Jews that were living in the Islamic world - that they had a distinguished existence where there was no problem between Jews and Muslims and where, at the same time, the Jews were being persecuted in the West because among those belonging to Christianity were those who attributed to them the responsibility for killing (Jesus) the Messiah.

Q: What do you say in response of Zionist discourse that asserts that Muslims have persecuted Jews in the modern or contemporary era and viewed them with hostility and animosity?

A: Muslims do not cast aspersions on all Jews for their religious affiliation. As for Israel, that is another question entirely. It is a question of arrogant, racist Jewish extremism and fanaticism that is represented by Zionism.

Q: there are those who subdivide the Jews in the Zionist entity into two divisions: 'extremist' and 'moderate'.

A: If some talk about (the existence of) extremists and moderates in the Zionist entity, then all censuses and studies invalidate that. The polls that take place in Palestine lead us to confirm that all of them are fanatical and extremist and racist. The percentage is the only thing that differs. There are extremists who are 100% extremist and there are extremists who are 60% extremist and other extremists or racists who are only 50 or 40% against the Arabs or against the Palestinians in particular. All these percentages confirm the Jewish extremism in Palestine, varying only by degree.

Q: Don't you find a political or strategic dimension to this question which ought to be taken into consideration?

A: The Jewish question is political by definition. If the Jews talk about al-Q?'idah or about the extremists or the terrorists, the picture is the same with the big difference that al-Q?i'dah proceeds from its opposition to the West, that is America and Europe, from a religious standpoint given consideration of the hegemony of the West, generally, over the Islamic world and its economy and resources and points of strategic interest. Thus, our question with regard to Israel is not a question of the Jews with regard to Islam but rather it is a matter of racist people who transform religion into a closed, racist nationalism that hates other people. This is the racist Jewish mindset that corresponds to the Western mindset against Islam. And, in this regard, we do not consider that the Balfour Declaration (1917) which Britain announced as a mandate on Palestine on behalf of the League of Nations was simply a political matter. Rather, it was more than that and it fell under the rubric of a historical British treaty represented in British imperialism over the Arabs and the Muslims and their exploitation and colonization of them.

In regard to France, which allied with Britain in its support of the Jews and Israel, it moved in the same direction with a few exceptions including the position of President Charles de Gaulle in 1976 when he announced that it was the Jews who began the war and not the Arab. I would add here that France did not proceed in its observances and politics from a secular position but rather from a religious one. It is nearer to Catholicism than it is to secularism, with the caveat that there is historical French complex against Islam and the Arabs considering that they occupied a part of France during a certain historical epoch.

When the role of America came into prominence, it emerged from the Jewish control over the essential points of the articulation of America itself and in European and other countries of the world. The West, beginning with Britain and France and ending with America, distributed the support of the Jews and Israel. As a result of this reality, the Jews gained control over the various facets of American politics and thus, Israeli interests coincided with those of the Unites States in striking against the Arabs and the Muslims. Of the clear indications of that is the influence of Jews over the (current) American administration which is being driven by the Neo-Conservatives to engage the United States in successive destructive wars in the Arab and Islamic regions; and examples of this come from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Q: where does Palestine lie in the map of this struggle and what is the nature of the politics or the strategy of this confrontation between the Arabs and the Muslims on one side and America and Israel on the other?

R The matter between us and the Israelis does not reduce to a confrontation between a racist Israel in Palestine; rather, it is a matter that moves through a battle between us as Arabs and between the arrogant World (al-istikb?r al-'?lami).

Q: Could you define more precisely which are the forces of the arrogant world?

A: America and the European Union, and in brief, it is a battle between the arrogant oppressors (al-mustakbirin) and the oppressed weak (al-mustad'afin).

Q: Is there a role for Islam in confronting globalization in the American understanding of the term, and if so, what is it?

A: America doesn’t contain within it any discrete ideology of globalization, but it carries within it a mode of living alongside a desire for power that attempts to control the resources of the world - especially the Third World. Thus, America works to change the general mindset of peoples to fall into accordance with this mode of living - to effect an opening up to the terms of American life which is the gateway to American interests, especially in regard to the dimension of consumerism.

America does not enter into the creeds of people, but rather it might actually serve to protect religious backwardness in some circumstances so long as these do not harm its interests. If religion begins to encroach upon these, it attempts to engage in an operation of misrepresentation to present religion in a fashion compatible to its this, Islam vies American globalization with considerable interests by way of intellectuals appointed to monitor American concerns. In light of reservation and doubt, especially given that all the terms of globalization support the political, economic and security hegemony.

 Q: Do you believe that Western civilization, and especially American civilization, is a Christian civilization?

A: I don't imagine that Western civilization is Christian because Christian civilization emerges from the meaning of God and the spiritual values that intermix the unseen with the temporal sensate (world) wherein a window is opened up on the unseen and the human being not viewed on the basis that he or she is a material creation but rather, as an amalgam between the spiritual (al-r?hi) and the human (al insani). Contrarily, we find that Western civilization, as evidenced in America, is an absolutely material culture. It does not enter God into the human, civilizational movement. As for Christian civilization, it does not deny the human being, but the bonds between God and the human being. I believe that Western civilization is closer bonds between God and the human being. I believe that Western civilization is closer to pagan idolatry (al-wathaniyah) than it is to Christianity, only the idol here is contemporary whereas stone or wooden idols were widespread in the ancient world. To clarify, Christianity does not carry within it the principles of al-shari'ah, that is, specific detailed law for the life of the human being, and maybe this is what permits specific detailed law for the life of the human being, and maybe this is what permits the connection between Christian civilization and secularism. Thus, for all these reasons, we don't consider all that which the West has engaged against the Muslims to be Christian. We see here that there is a crusader war (harb salibiyah) - that there is an American attack which contains within it a crusader war in its war on Islam.

Q: There are those who profess Islam and who cooperate with the invading and occupation forces, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as elsewhere. What do you say about this issue?

A: This matter doesn’t proceed from an Islamic line. God says in the Qur'?n): 'Do not seek the support of those who have done wrong or the Fire will touch you' (s?rat al-hujujr?t (49:13)). And, we read that im?m ja'far al-S?diq said: 'Verily, All?h empowered/charged the believer in all matters, but did not charge him with being servile.' When we read these major, basic texts as well as others which confirm the freedom of the human being, then we must long pause and comprehend them completely. There is a saying of im?m 'Ali bin Abi T?lib: 'Do not be the slave of another when All?h has created you free.' And, similarly 'Umar bin al-Khatt?b said: 'When did you begin to worship people which mothers gave birth to you free?'

The matter of freedom and dignity represents an Islamic conceptual basis: 'Inform the hypocrites that theirs is a painful torment (4:138) who have taken the unbelievers as protectors instead of the believers. Do they seek pride with them? Verily all pride belongs to All?h (s?rat al-nis?' (4:139)).God assails these people because they take the unbelievers as protectors (awliy?'), and unbelievers connote the arrogant oppressors (al-mustakbirin) whom we confront - not only on the basis of their religious affiliation, but from the standpoint of their behaviour. God, when He talked about the Jews talked about their behaviour not about them with regard to their religion. God says: 'You will find the Jews and those who take partners in worship (i.e., polytheists-idolaters) the people most severely hostile towards the believers', at the same time that He talks about the humane behaviour which distinguishes the Christians. God says:  God says: 'You will find the nearest of them in friendship to the believers those who say, "Verily, we are Christians"; and, that is because there are among them priests and monks and they are not arrogant' (s?rat al-ma'id?h (5:82)). The case is then to indicate that they, in their matter, take the name of Islam, but they are not inculcated with Islamic culture in its depth or breadth.

Q: The mass media presents one of two conflicting pictures of Islam - either according to a paradigm of a traditional mode of existence or negative one cast in the scope of terrorism or the like. What do you say in this regard?

A: When we study this phenomenon, I consider that we are trying to give the sum total a negative theme through small particulars. Or differently stated, I want to confront the question from another angle as opposed to what the media does with regard to the hijab (veiling) of the woman, for instance, Hij?b is not a basis of all Islam, rather the basis is chastity, entirely. Some women who wear the hijab might not be chaste. And some of those who show their hair might be more chaste than those who wear the hij?b. This case is connected in its entirety to the behavioural dimension and religious affiliation and what pertains to Islamic values and faith. I would say here, that in the scope of the question, for those who talk in this manner, that all the difference between those who reject the hij?b covering of the head and the body and you is a piece of cloth. Why do you impose covering the breasts of a woman? Why do you impose the covering of the male genitalia? Why do you impose the covering of female genitalia?

You say that that is connected to the arousal of sexual desire. The Islamists view uncovering the hair from exactly the same standpoint. This means that the matter has become one of what arouses desire here and there. I would ask: Is not sexual arousal one of the matters which pertains to the dimension of morality which society attempts to preserve?

As for those who grow their beards (long) in popular fashion, I say that this matter is not one of Islamic form. Those who grow their beards in this shape do not achieve an Islamic form as Islam does not delineate that. Here, I have given a fatw? (legal opinion) to the effect that there is nothing har?m (forbidden) in shaving the beard. The case of the beard is simply a matter of the head, and it is permissible for the human being to shave the hair of his head or the hair of his berad. This fatw? is clear and frank. These details are important.

Islamic discourse with regard to arrogant worldwide oppression (alistikb?r al-'?lami) is also a clear position. Islamic discourse provides a position with regard to Israel and rulers who wrong people. Islamic discourse affirms justice (al'adl) between people to the extent that the Qur'?n expresses this and contextualizes it on the basis that the case of all religion - since God first sent messengers up to the time of Muhammad has justice as its central axis: 'We sent Our messengers with clear proofs and we sent with them the Book and the scales (of judgment) (alfurq?n) in order for people to be steadfast in justice (al-quist)' (s?rat al-hadid (57:28)). The meaning of this is that all religions are a method of justice, and whoever has no justice has no religion. Justice is not the exclusive province of Muslims. It has been reported in some Shi'ite Islamic texts that God informed a prophet who was in the kingdom of a draconian ruler; 'I am using you, that is I am causing you to remain in your domain in order for you to forbear for Me the voices of those who are wronged, as I do not call for their being wronged - even if they are unbelievers; 'The noble Qur'?n relates: 'O you who believe, be steadfast in justice (al-qist) even if it is against yourselves' (s?rat al-nis?' (4:135)).As a result of all this, I say that conscious Islamic discourse - and I don't speak about the discourse of backward people or deviants - is a basic foundational discourse not the discourse of one type of media or another. It is the discourse which is replete with 'ulam?' and deep-thinking, educated Islamists.

Q: The Arab-Islamic region is living in a stage in which power has been dissipated into bits and there is a kind of implosion of neuroses at a time when nationalist discourse had receded as an effective factor and similarly most Islamic movements have retreated into closed sectarian spheres. Shouldn’t that effectively promote collaboration in the struggles of secularists and Islamists and wide sectors of Arab political groups around a unified initiative?

A: The matter is one of confronting an America that desires to focus its imperialism on the Arab and Islamic world through world-wide justice or the pilfering of the resources of peoples and controlling the weak and exploited (al-mustad'afin) and transforming Israel into the policeman of the region and exploiting Arab rulers, who are dictators against their own people, and subsequently the Muslims who live under these dictatorial regimes. When the matter is one of such a complicated and intractable scope, then we are with any movement and any independence which stands against foreign exploitation and control. We are with the Hindus - with all people - when we concur about a common term in the cases of the human being for the sake of the realization of justice. Islam represents a call for justice; but, when we are unable to implement Islam, then it is incumbent on us to raise the banner of justice. We Shiites believe in the Im?m al-Madhi whom God will bring back at the end of time to fill the world with justice and righteousness; and his mission in his role as im?m is to change the world in the interests of justice. Thus, our orientation towards the Shi'ite Islamic basis is that world-wide justice is what we think about as we support every position for justice.

Q: What are the features of the Arab and Islamic civilizational initiative for which you call?

A: The first characteristic is faith in the rational intellect (al-im?n bi-l'aql). We draw upon nothing that contradicts the decisive intellect. Transmitted to us is an account that says: 'When All?h created the rational intellect (al-'aql), He said "Accept", and it accepted; and He said to it "Consider", and it considered. Then He said: "By my Glory and Majesty, I have not created any creation dearer to Me than you. It is you whom I command and you whom I prohibit, and it is you whom I reward and you whom I punish."' The second characteristic is knowledge (al-'ilm) (as indicated in the Qur'?n): 'Say: "Are those who know and those who do not know equal?"' (s?rat al-zumar (39:9)). There is not doubt that knowledge must proceed along an increasing line until it reaches the highest degrees. The third characteristic is justice (al-'adl) between people regardless of their religions or their political or social or cultural orientation.

I believe that these three - faith in rational intellect, knowledge and justice - may constitute the foundation of all human civilization and especially in our Arab-Islamic region. The case here is that when you take that, in depth, or create it in all human movement and in all the stations or the heavens and the earth. When you proceed from the rational intellect, you try perpetually to distance yourself from backwardness and deviation and extremism (al-ghul?). And, when we operate according to justice, then there will be no injustice in the world - not from the economic standpoint, nor from the social or political - not from any kind of all the types of injustices.

Q: These are general themes, but there still remain the matters of implementation and the means to do this?

A: These characteristics or operating principles require means of implementation. Nobody is able to execute any action unless he or she has power in reality. The value of faith in God from the standpoint of extant Islamic theory - in which thinkers and Shi'ite Muslims believe - is that God is not a physical body sitting on a throne enslaving people, but rather that God is the Creator Who is limitless in His power, knowledge and mercy. Thus, embarking from the standpoint of fait in God makes the person who knows this turn towards the possibility of accomplishing any goal. This point of departure is not material, but rather it entirely epitomizes spirit (al-r?h) and aspirations for perfection.

Q: Has the matter of Shi'ite marja'iyah been resolved?

A: This matter has not been determined in a final way nor will it be. There is Shi'ite marja'iyah connected to official decisions and to political games.

Q: Where is this?

A: In Lebanon. For example, we find "The Shi'ite Islamic Council' (al-Majlis al-Shi'I al-'l?) is only an arena among others of the Lebanese system. Some wonder whether it contains sectarianism or not. But, it is in the scope of sectarianism that moves within the scope of the other factionalism - with the semblance of a sectarian ornament without it having any presence in the Shi'ite reality. It submits to the political Shi'ite sectarianism more than it submits to the popular Shi'ite situation. This matter is one well known by all.

Q: What about the differences regarding world-wide Shi'ite marja'iyah?

A: As for what pertains to world-wide Shi'ite marja'iyah, Shi'ite history has continued on the basis of diversification in fatw?s of marja'iyah, and that is because there is not such thing as an absolute political marja'iyah. This is true especially because the Shi'ah entered the field of politics late among people who have gone out politically, and similarly, Shi'ite religious and cultural marja'iyah. For this reason, the variation in Shi'ite marja'iyah hasn't ceased to be in flux; there is more than one marja' for fatw?s in the Shi'ite world. Perhaps the power of this marja'iyah, despite the negative aspects which multiplicity imposes, is that no state is able, not even the single Shi'ite state in the world, to impose itself as marja' for the entire Shi'ite world.

Q: Do you mean Iran?

A: Yes. In addition to that, Iran itself contains more than one marja', and it is not able to bring down the other marja'iy?t located outside of it. As for the marja'iy?t outside, they might even penetrate Iran or be capable of some wide influence there. Therefore, I do believe that this type of free marja'i system that proceeds according to the opinion of people of it - without any official control - might be better, at least from the cultural standpoint of the movement of fatw?s from more than one direction in what provides an opportunity for the development of ijitih?d.

Q: Between the marja'iyah of Qom and the marja'iyah of al-Najaf, where do you stand?

A: I am a graduate of al-Najaf, and the marja'iyah of al-Najaf in the first instance, and of Qom in the second. However, real experience is that my position in the marja'iyah is able to effect a reach into most regions of the Shi'ite world.

Q: Even in Iran?

A: Even in Iran, to a limited degree. I have a presence in Iraq and in the Gulf and in Europe and America as well as most of the Western regions. The matter pertains to this type of Shi'ite who is open minded to the position of the marja'. Some people might find it necessary that the marja' be open minded to age and its cases where he is able to respond to any question among the question marks which turn in the minds of the various generations. Maybe some people find that factor of taqlid (traditional emulation) is what necessitates trust. Naturally, the matter contains within it, struggles because the realms of al- marja'iyah are not the realms of angels.

Q: Does your opinion delineate, for the reader, the marja'iyah of al-Najaf? 

A: The marja'iyah of al-Najaf possesses a history which is not found in any other position of any hawzah (institution of religious learning) in the world including Qom, because it possesses a history that is older than 11 centuries. This vast extent of knowledge and figh is emblematic of Shi'ite Islamic jurisprudence and similarly, the Arab dimension in al-Najaf accords an openness to the authenticity of interpretive reasoning - (as?lat al-ijtih?d) - considering its connection to the Book (i.e., the Qur?n) and the sunnah which demands enculturation in the Arabic language and the Arab consciousness and so forth. Finally, we know that it is history, in its deep roots, that remains bracing up the present to a great extent.