Adonis Diaries

Karbala, Ashura, Ayatollah Wilayat fakih… Any differences among the Shia sects?

Posted on: November 4, 2020

Iran: Hussein, Karbala, Ashura, Shias, Ayatollah marjaa, Wilayat fakih,

Prophet Muhammad refused to designate a successor:  He was aware of his fragile health condition 8 days before he died and he was mentally conscious and able to make this decision.

When Muhammad died, his close relatives such as his 8 wives, his remaining two daughters and his sons-in-laws got in charge of the burial procedures and ceremony.

The leading companions such as Abu Bakr and Omar negotiated transition with the original leading tribes of Medina, called Ansars. 

The Ansars are those who welcomed the Muslims to settle in their city as the tribes of Mecca started persecuting the Muslims in 632.

Abu Bakr was selected Caliph.

The Sunni sect in Islam is this branch that doesn’t mind caliphs not being direct descendants of Muhammad, as long as they are considered from “noble” tribes of Mecca

The Shia sect insisted that caliphs should be direct descendant of Muhammad.

Abu Bakr, Omar bin Khattab, Uthman bin Affan, and Ali bin Abi Taleb were the four caliphs called Rashidun, meaning adult companions who followed Muhammad from the start and fought all his battles. 

They were all from tribes of Mecca, which upset the ansar tribes who welcomed the Muslims and saved them from persecution and permitted them to establishing their first City-State in Yathreb named Medina later on.

It is to be noted that all male sons of Muhammad died in very young age and he had four married daughters.

Two daughters died before him.  The youngest daughter Fatima married Ali, his nephew and later son-in-law.  Hassan and Hussein were the grandsons of Muhammad from Fatima and Ali who were born while the Prophet was alive. Apparently, Muhamad expected one of his grandchildren to become Caliph later on.

One of his daughters had married third Caliph Uthman bin Affan, and who was assassinated in Medina.

Caliph Muawiya bin Ummaya (from the richest tribe in Mecca) was named governor of Damascus by Uthman and contested the caliphat with Ali.

Ali’s troops had the advantage of vanquishing Muawiya troops, but Ali decided to negotiate.  Thus, those against the negotiation as victory was near were called “khawarij” (the ones who abandoned Ali’s troops); they may as well be the first Shias (those who disagreed).

A few khawarij met in Mecca and decided to assassinate both Ali and Muawiya on the same day.  Muawiya’s assassin barely wounded him, but Ali’s assassin was successful as Ali was leading the prayer in Kufa.

Ali might have been the most promising Imam, but he was no political statesman.  

Actually, Aicha, the youngest wife of Muhammad, can be considered the first Imam since she was the most learned and closest person to the prophet and fought for women rights and corrected faked pronouncement by chauvinist male “scholars”. People flocked to her house to listen to her opinions.

After the assassination of Ali, Muawiya established the first hereditary dynasty in Islam with capital Damascus. 

Muawiya struck a deal with Hassan, the eldest of grandchildren of Muhammad.  The deal was that Hassan will be the next caliph after the death of Muawiya.  In a sense, the deal was sharing power between the Sunnis and the Shias in turn.

Muawiya poisoned Hassan:  He cooperated with Hassan’s wife to convince Hassan to wear a poisoned expensive robe that Muawiya sent as gift for the deal.  Then, Muawiya killed Hassan wife and eliminated direct witnesses.

Hussein continued with the deal and left Muawiya at peace from political upheavals. 

Muawiya died and his son Yazid succeeded him as caliph.  Hussein didn’t appreciate this treachery and reclaimed his right according to the deal and moved from Mecca with his family and 72 followers intending to settle in Kufa (southern Iraq).

Three months of marches in the desert brought Hussain to Karbala.

By dawn, Hussein realized that the troops of Yazid had surrounded his small party and cut off the way to the main water sources at the Euphrates River.

Hussein negotiated for 10 days, hoping that the citizens of Kufa will come to the rescue, at no avail.  Hussein was beheaded and his head sent to Caliph Yazid on a spear in 680.

The uneven battle of Karbala was waged during Ashura, the tenth day of the month of Muharram.

The Shias adopted the account story of the engagement in Karbala as written by Hussein Kashefi in his “Garden of Martyrs” and which was widely circulated in the 15th century.  The story goes as follows:

“Hussein was hit by an arrow in the neck while trying to drink from the river.  Ten cavalry men from Yazid army rushed to achieve Hussein in order to receive huge rewards.  Hussein was lying for dead and every time Hussein opened his eyes and looked at the coming killer and the knights would feel shame and retreat.

Commander Chemr was decided to finish the job and sat at Hussein chest.  Hussein asked Chemr to remove his iron mask and show his face, which he did and Hussein said: “This is the first veritable sign.”  

Chemr face looked porcupine with two incisive shooting out his lips.  Hussein asked Chemr to open his shirt and said: “This is the second veritable sign”:  Chemr chest showed scars of leprosy.  Hussein said: “I had a vision last night by the Prophet and He told me how my assassin would look like.”

Hussein asked Chemr: “What day is it?”  Chmer said: “This is the Friday of Ashura”.  Hussain asked “What time is it?”  Chemr replied: “This is the time of prayer.”  Hussein said: “The believers are praying and you are indulging in killing me.  Get off my chest and do your job while I am praying facing Mecca.”

The surviving family members of Hussain were given a roundabout three-month long trip up north Iraq, then north Syria and through Lebanon before descending to Damascus and suffered hardship and humiliation.

Muawiya had made sure to assassinate all males of direct descendant to Muhammad, including the surviving husbands of his daughters and even Muhammad’s wives.

Aicha, the most learned and beloved of Muhammad’s wives, was spared humiliation and assassination for two reasons:

First, she sided with him against Ali after the assassination of the third caliph Uthman and

Second, Aicha was the prime eminence in Islam jurisprudence.  She had gathered all the verses of the Prophet and confronted the Hadith that were lies and incorrect.  Uthman manipulated many verses and officially published the current Koran.

The Shias believe that the Abbassid caliph Al Maamoun assassinated Imam Rida in 817 in the city of Mashhad by poison.

All the streets in Mashhad converge to Imam Rida’s mausoleum and the city welcome 20 million pilgrims per year. The Abbassid dynasty are descendent of one of Muhammad’s uncle Abbas.

Kufa was not spared persecution, even though it didn’t come to succor Hussain.

The new governor Hajaj bin Youssef made the citizens of Kufa check their necks as his first speech started: “I see heads ripening and ready for the harvest…” 

Kufa was renowned for its bad luck of supporting the losing party:  It supported Aicha, the youngest and most beloved wife of Muhammad, against the troops of Ali in the first civil-war battle of the “Camel” around Kufa.

Iran was Sunni before the 16th century.  An Azeri princeShah Ismail, took power of Iran in 1502.

The successor of Ismail decided to have the Shia sect as the kingdom official religion in order to unite Iran against his nemesis the Caliph of the  Ottoman Empire.  

The Ottoman Empire crushed the Iranian army but didn’t venture in resuming the war inside Iran.  The ottoman Empire just got Iraq as one of the wilayats (province) of the Empire.

The Shia sect has a highly structured hierarchy and the curriculum for religious proficiency is lengthy and passes by degrees of study programs.

There are currently 12 “ayatollah marjaa” among the Shias, two of them died recently: Montazeri and Fadhlallah of Lebanon.  

An ayatollah marjaa is the highest cleric who can institute his school of jurisprudence and proclaim fatwas (interpretation opinion on an Islamic law).

The followers of other Ayatollah marjaa do not have to agree with the fatwas of one ayatollah.

Ayatollah Khomeini didn’t vehemently refuse the title of Imam, a title reserved for the “hidden Mahdi” who was declared hidden at the age of 5 in 874.  

The successor of Khomeini, Khamenei, was not even ayatollah and still, he is considered “Supreme Guide” of the “Wilayat fakih” or the rule of the highest religious cleric in jurisprudence.

Note 1:  I read a few articles of Khomeini’s fatwas and I must say that for his so many years of learning theology and Islamic laws left something to be desired.  I think an ayatollah must have also a PhD in a scientific field in addition to religious knowledge.

Note 2: Aicha never could forgive Ali (He was 19 then) for suspecting her to have cheated on Mohammad during a trip where she lost and then found her necklace

Note 3: The main Ayatollahs who taught the Iranian clerics and most of their leaders before the advent of Khomeini were from South Lebanon. Iraqis have their Sistani for Ayatollah

Note 4: The difference among the Shia sects revert to the number (6 or 12) of Mahdis that ended the succession and how tolerant they are for the inflicted suffering during Ashura ceremonies.

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