The Scripture of Fatimah [Mushaf Fatimah]
By: Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn at-Tabataba'i
Regarding the putative Scripture of Fatimah some Shi‘ahs have published material in Kuwait in which the author describes the book as being several times larger than the Qur’an and in fact on a par with it. This has angered many Muslims around the world. What is your view concerning this issue?
In the corpus of Shi‘ah hadith there is mention of a book which comprises Fatimah’s sayings recorded by the Master of the Faithful. But to believe that such a book exists is not an article of the Shi‘ah faith. It has never been regarded by the Shi‘ahs as one of the religious sources that might rival the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Neither an Imam nor a Shi‘ah scholar has ever adduced it in support of a religious position. According to the related hadiths, the book in question tells of the secrets of the world and foretells future events. As such, to accept the existence of such a book is an innocuous belief. But it should definitely be underscored that no one considers this book as a rival of the Qur’an.
The Impermissibility of Exaggerating the Status of the Imams
According to Shi‘ah jurists, exaggerating the status of the Imams is heresy and those who hold such beliefs are heretics and thus najis (canonically impure). But what exactly does this ruling mean? How do we determine what constitutes “exaggerating the status of the Imams”?
To perceive the Imams as anything but God’s servants would constitute exaggeration of their status: to ascribe to them attributes that are exclusively God’s (such as creation and the governance of or interference in the existential affairs of the cosmos independently). Such a belief is heretical regardless of any other factor.
The point however that deserves to be emphasized is that it is the independence factor that is problematic. That is, to attribute Divine qualities to a creature, believing that it possesses them independently is heretical. However, to consider a creature as possessed of existential authority and thus an intermediary of Divine effusion (as we all believe that the Angel Mika’il is entrusted with providing sustenance to creatures, the Angel Jibra’il with the conveyance of Revelation, and the Angel Izra’il with the task of extracting souls at death) is another issue that does not constitute exaggeration.
The Occurrence of “Li Allah-I Darr-U Fulan” And “Kana Li Allah-I Rida” In Words of the Commander of the Faithful
In a few instances in the “Nahj al-Balaghah” we come across such contradictory phrases as “li allah-i darr-u fulan” (“It is upon God to reward Him”)—which is complimentary—and “li allah-i bala’-u fulan” (“It is upon God to assail him with an affliction”)—which is condemnatory—in reference to the khulafa’.
Further, in a letter to Mu‘awiyah, Imam ‘Ali refers to pledging allegiance to the khulafa’ as “kana li allah-i rida” (“Therein was God’s satisfaction”) whereas in other instances, specifically in his Shaqshaqiyyah speech, he denounces the khulafa’ as unrightful rulers. What are we to make of these contradictory statements?
First of all, it should be noted that the connotation of “kana li allah-i rida” (“Therein was God’s satisfaction”) is different from that of the other two statements you have mentioned.1 The former can be interpreted in one of two ways. First, it is possible (since it is in a letter addressed to Mu‘awiyah) to say that the Imam does not really mean it; rather, he is saying this in line with the prevalent view of the day.
Second, it is very likely that it means that although the Imam disagreed with what took place after the Prophet’s death, but he conceded in order to preserve the unity of the ummah, for otherwise the very existence of the nascent Islamic state would have been compromised; it was this unity that God pleased although the usurpation of Imam ‘Ali’s authority was indubitably in violation of God’s command.
But as for the other two statements—“li allah-i darr-u fulan” and “li allah-i bala’-u fulan”—they are clearly in reference to the khulafa’ and the rulers appointed by them. As regards the second statement (i.e., “It is upon God to assail him with an affliction”), which is condemnatory, the meaning is evident. But as regards the first statement (i.e., “It is upon God to reward Him”), which is complimentary, it should be understood in light of Imam ‘Ali’s effort to maintain unity and peace in the Muslim ummah (for which purpose he abstained from voicing his opposition and discontent for 25 years), not as a frank statement of his view. For, according to the thousands of hadiths related from the Imams—one of which is Imam ‘Ali’s Shaqshaqiyyah speech—the true successor of the Prophet, designated by God, was ‘Ali, but his position was usurped.
A Call to Unity and Brotherhood
It is a historical fact that Imam ‘Ali, in the interests of the Muslim ummah, pledged allegiance to the khulafa’. Considering this fact is it appropriate to curse those who ruled the Islamic state in its formative period? Is it not being more Catholic than the Pope to feed the sectarian tension? No doubt, we encourage serious scholarly discussions on questions of faith, but to maliciously provoke the religious emotions of our Muslim brothers is not religiously justifiable.
In fact we have seen the founding of the Center for the Union of the Islamic Confessions [Dar al-Taqrib bayn al-Madhahib al-Islamiyyah] in Cairo, Egypt, which is supported by such eminent Shi‘ah scholars as Ayatullah Burujerdi and Ayatullah Kashif al-Ghita’. It has produced significant results, such as Shaykh Mahmud Shaltut’s2 fatwa, recognizing the Shi‘ah confession as one of the orthodox denominations of Islam.
Would it not be better to pursue this path, holding scholarly discussions between the highest authorities, rather than to condone the unchecked activities of radical groups, whether Shi‘ah or Sunni, which are manipulated by our common foes?
Let me first make this point that unity in the sense of neglecting one’s religious doctrines and erasing the confessional distinctions is unreasonable. Nevertheless, we must strive to achieve unity on the common grounds that exist. In the early history of Islam, Muslims succeeded in pervading a great part of the civilized world in less than a century after Islam’s inception. But unfortunately that magnificent power gradually faded as the result of a lack of unity and forgetting the social aspect of Islam. Of course, the role of the enemies who relentlessly struggled to create strife between the two main branches of Islam should not be overlooked.
To regain that power, we should emphasize that the differences that separate the two confessions are in the minor practices; we all agree on the main doctrines of faith and the main practices: salat (canonical prayer), fast, hajj, jihad, etc.; we all pray facing the Ka‘bah and read the same Qur’an.
It was in this spirit that the Shi‘ahs of the early period of Islam remained alongside the majority Sunnis, contributing to the common interests of the Islamic state and giving advice and counsel where needed. So too today it is incumbent on all Muslims to bear in mind their common beliefs, realize the oppression to which the imperialist powers have subjected them, and lay aside their sectarian quarrels, thus forming a united front against the common foes of Islam.
Fortunately Muslims are awaking. Thus, the idea of Islamic unity was put forth by the Shi‘ah maraji‘3. It was welcomed by a strong support from the honorable Shaykh of Al-Azhar, who introduced to the world the fundamental unity of the Shi‘ah and Sunni. We, Shi‘ahs, must be thankful of him for this great, and no doubt sincere, service.
As you [i.e., the questioner] have also pointed out, scholarly discussions between Sunni and Shi‘ah scholars are in no way detrimental to this unity. Such discussions should persist so as to eradicate the darkness of ignorance and shed light on the truth, such that all would realize it—this is not dogmatism.
We beseech God that He guide the malevolent characters who strive to spread corruption and that He aid the Muslims in consorting their efforts so as to reclaim their past superiority. “Verily He is All-hearing, answering those who beseech Him.”