World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Maraji' and Believers: Relationships of Authority in Contemporary Shi'ism (332) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: THU 22, 11.30 am-1.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: University of Oxford (United Kingdom)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Elvire Corboz

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: The purpose of this panel is to examine the dynamics of the marja’iyya’s relationship with the community of believers. The ability that maraji’ (sources of emulation) have to create and sustain ties with their muqallids (followers) holds special significance in the study of religious authority in Shi’ism if one considers that believers might never lay eye on the cleric they choose to follow. The marja’iyya’s authority encompasses several layers; it is not limited to the community’s spiritual affairs, but pertains to various spheres of the people’s lives, such as education, social welfare, and, sometimes, participation in politics. In practice, the provision of istifta’at (legal advice) and fatwas (religious decrees), the collection of khums (religious tithe), and its redistribution through religious and philanthropic services constitute a basis of engagement with followers. The marja’iyya’s representatives, students, and websites are more or less traditional channels used to develop and maintain these different domains of activity in the transnational geography of Shi’ism. The four papers make reference to several maraji’ (Muhsin al-Hakim, ‘Ali Sistani, Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, and ‘Ali Khamana’i) in order to analyse the formulation and reformulation of marja’iyya-muqallid relationships and confirm the diversity inherent in the internal working of clerical authority in Shi’ism.Chair: Juan Cole, University of Michigan.

Chair: Juan Cole, University of Michigan

Paper presenter: Robert J. Riggs, University of Pennsylvania. ‘Ayatullah Sistani’s use of khums redistribution to maintain a constituency in Iran? Historically, maraji’ Throughout Shi’i communities have maintained financial autonomy from ruling elites through the collection from their followers of khums equaling one-fifth of an individual’s annual income after the deduction of expenses. Which marja’ receives this khums payment is the choice of the individual believer. It is the marja’s responsibility to then redistribute this money back into the Shi’i community in the most efficacious way possible. This redistribution can occur through establishing explicitly religious institutions as well as other social service organizations. This client-patronage system created by khums reception and redistribution forms the underpinning of a marja’s authority and development of an individual constituency within Shi’i communities. This paper analyzes how the most widely-followed marja’ in contemporary Shi’ism, ‘Ali Sistani, maintains and continues to increase a constituency in Iran while living in Najaf. His use of a network of representatives in Iran is analyzed both in terms of the institutions that have been established through Sistani’s khums redistribution and the communication networks that are being used to circulate his socio-legal rulings. This analysis clarifies how the institution of the marja’iyya both maintains and is dependent upon these networks of supporters created and perpetuated through khums redistribution.

Paper presenter: Elvire Corboz, University of Oxford. Schooling the Shi’a: Ayatullah Muhsin al-Hakim’s Marja’iyya and the Politics of Religious Education in Iraq’ Traditionally, religious propagation is a central function of the marja’iyya. The study of the educational programme which Ayatullah Muhsin al-Hakim (1889-1970) developed in Iraq during the 1950s and 1960s typically illustrates clerical promotion of Islam and, I argue, has something to say about the larger effects of religious propagation on Shi’i society and politics. The construction of mosques, schools, and libraries, the publication of books and cultural magazines, as well as the dispatch of preachers throughout the country were part of the proactive response which al-Hakim gave to the appeal of secular ideologies (in particular communism) among the Shi’a. In so doing, he aimed at re-socialising the community through Islam and giving renewed visibility to the traditional religious leadership based in the Iraqi shrine cities. More generally, one can regard the marja’iyya’s educational programme as a key factor and an integral part of the nascent Iraqi Islamic movement under the aegis of the clerical leadership in the shrine cities in that Friday prayers and other religious gatherings were used as avenues for the political mobilisation of the Shi’a.

Paper presenter: Morgan Clarke, University of Manchester. Open to the other: Ayatollah Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah’s contemporary marja’iyya’Lebanon’s Ayatollah Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah is perhaps the highest profile marja’ outside the traditional Shi’i strongholds of Iran and Iraq. His jurisprudence is avowedly ‘contemporary’ (mu’asir) and ‘open-minded’ (munfatih), especially with regard to ‘the Other’ (al-akhar), whether that other be Christian, in the context of Lebanon’s complex confessional politics, Sunni, as part of his controversial enthusiasm for Sunni-Shi’i rapprochement, or Western, despite his determinedly anti-imperialist politics. Perhaps best known for his markedly progressive views on women’s rights, he has carved out a distinct niche and, reportedly, attracted numerous followers, especially in the West. This paper examines his vision of the marja’iyya and of the ‘imitation’ (taqlid) required of his followers, and the means through which that relationship is maintained and promoted. I focus on core modes of connectivity, primarily his website, in particular its ‘Q&A’ (istifta’at) provision, and his seminaries (hawzas) in Beirut and Damascus. An examination of such a ‘contemporary’ marja’iyya, intent on engagement, I argue, has much to tell us about possible futures for the institution and the politics of immediation surrounding Shi’i religious authority in a digital, globalised age.

Paper presenter: Constance Arminjon, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Paris. A sketch of typology of Shi’i authority figures through the marja’s media’
The institution of the ‘Guardianship of the Jurist (Wilayat al-Faqih)’ in Iran in 1979 has brought about a diversification of religious functions within Shi’ism. Notwithstanding the power of the Iranian wali faqih, the persistent plurality and multipolarity of the maraji’ has revealed an irreducible dualism of authority functions. Through the maraji’s media and particularly through their websites appear diverse religious types, which embody divergent authority doctrines. A comparison between the Shi’i authorities websites shows on the one hand a state leadership, which implements the wilayat al-faqih doctrine, and on the other hand institutional maraji’, which exert mainly religious duties. The patent divergence of conceptions and roles is exemplified both in the content and in the form of the websites. Moreover, pluralism in the institution of the marja’iyya founds expression in the diversity of approaches to the marja’ function. Beyond common characteristics ‘fatwa, cult, pilgrimage, biography, works, contacts‘, religious authorities play different roles, which enables to sketch a typology of the maraji’. Whereas the Great Marja’ Ayatullah Sistani seems a ‘comprehensive’ marja’, the others tend to assume more restricted functions.