Restoring a Beautiful Painting: The Role of an Aalim


Restoring a Beautiful Painting: The Role of an Aalim
As an all-encompassing religion, Islam takes into consideration the need for divine guidance within political governance, whether it is in a country or a small community. No social system can escape the need for a leader. A household has a father figure, a company is captained by a director, the general controls an army, a football team has its captain as its leader. Every human social system, and animal systems for that matter, naturally requires leadership. Islam takes this into consideration and has encompassed it within its ideological framework from its onset.
The pillar of Wilayat is not just confined to the twelve Holy Imams (a.s) as we learn in our madressas. Wilayat addresses this very aspect of leadership, which spans from spiritual to socio-political to universal leadership, that is, guardianship of the all the elements of the universe — as Imam Khomeini (r.a) says about Wilayat, “It is a vicegerency pertaining to the whole of creation, by virtue of which all the atoms in the universe humble themselves before the holder of this authority.” In simple terms, it is a natural need for divine leadership. Why does it have to be ‘divine’, and not just human or democratic? Can’t we elect our leaders? Sure, we can, but it will not safeguard our society from veering away from divinely established values. The sense of what is right or wrong, if left to man, would be carried to the dark, would become lost and cloudy. We see many great examples of this in our daily lives and many more in history: The Aztecs in South America used to sacrifice human beings to please the gods. In today’s world this would be looked upon with disgust within the same society in South America; The invasion of Iraq on March 20th, 2003 was looked upon by the American people as a dignified retaliation against the ‘forces of evil’, yet, today, is considered a costly and unjust blunder amongst an increasing number of people within America; Not long ago, the making and selling of alcohol was banned in America, yet, today, America is one of the biggest producers and consumers of alcoholic beverages. In all of these examples, we see shifts of perspectives, all of which have major implications to society’s well-being. We either see new laws and constraints in society that have arisen as a result of negative experiences, or a loss of values as result of an increase in greed and selfish desires, as in the case of the liberalization of the consumption of alcohol. In all three examples we see the importance of the role of the leadership and the need for not only political action, but rightly guided and unswerving political action. This can only come from a pure source, a source that is free of ‘Rijz’, or ‘uncleanliness’ as described in the following verse which addresses the Ahlul Bait (a.s):
إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنكُمُ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا
Allah only desires to keep away the uncleanness from you, O people of the House! and to purify you a (thorough) purifying. [33:33]
Only from a pure source can we receive pure guidance and therefore achieve success, as the Qur’an says:
 قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَن تَزَكَّى
But those will prosper who purify themselves, [87:14]
This verse describes success and prosperity as an outcome of seeking purity. This purity will only spread through a community via a systematic approach, the approach adopted by the Holy Prophet (s.a.w) and more recently by Imam Khomeini (r.a.) who realized this deep but simple reality. Hence, a community will not succeed without there being a platform or launching pad that is pure. Human whims will only lead to setbacks and hinder a society from reaching perfection.
The question is, how does this pure guidance spread itself throughout all Muslim communities of all eras? During the period of great occultation of our Imam (a.t.f.s), the Ummah is left with system of Waliya al-Faqih, or Guardian of Jurisprudence. The one who holds this position is selected through a council, the Guardian Council, which maintains a certain Qur’anic criteria in its selection. Prior to His occultation, Imam al Mehdi (a.t.f.s) had specified to His close associates the structure of this system and how it is to be carried forward. The focus of this system, and Islam itself, is to establish an environment and societal framework so that the human being can attain perfection. Perfection cannot be reached individually, it has to be attain in conjunction with a society. We are social beings and have an interdependent relationship with society. We give to it and we take from it. How can I as an individual attain real closeness to God, perfect my abilities, develop my self, if the system around me going against this grain? It is simply not possible. How can God, the Almighty, prescribe laws for personal actions that head north while the the laws of society are rushing southward? The all-encompassing nature of Islam factors this in and conditions the current around the individual, so that the individual can swim to perfection through the support of the society and vice versa. Its a symbiotic relationship.
Therefore, Islamic leadership must encompass political leadership. The Imams of the Ahlul Bait certainly embodied this role and Imam Hussain’s (a.s) march towards Yazid is a clear indication of its importance. If Imam Hussain’s role as the Imam, was confined to leadership in spiritual aspects alone, He would have remained in Medina and instead of heading for Kufa, he would have travelled to perfrom Hajj, which is one of the most revered spiritual acts in Islam. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w) and the Imams (a.s) exemplified Islamic leadership in its true form. The laws established, boundaries set, battles fought, systems of taxes and welfare implemented were all political acts towards building a divine social system. Every Prophet that has come has had a similar role or worked towards a similar social goal for divine reasons. Mankind is need of such prophethood and no society has been without it since the creation of mankind. All levels of existence have their own ‘wali’, the human existence being one of them. Thus, we cannot be without a leader in today’s time and are blessed to have the eyes of our Imam (a.t.f.s) watching over us. His rule during His occultation is through a designate, the Wali al-Faqi.
Similarly, every Muslim community operates as a microcosm of the grander Islamic state, one that is based on the Qur’an and the system of Wilayat. Today, we have many Muslim communities around the world in which the role of the spiritual leader is void of involvement in the day-to-day affairs of the community and is confined to the Mehrab, or the position of leading congregational prayers, and the Mimber, or the pulpit. In the meantime, the day-to-day affairs and the community are being governed by presidents and office bearers who are not well-versed in Islam or the holistic codes and conducts of Islam. In fact, you will see a contradiction between the lifestyles of those with these positions in their personal affairs and that of the grain of Islam, yet, they are selected to govern an entire ‘Islamic’ community that ranges from 100 to more than 10,000 believers. It may not necessarily be the case that the spiritual leader, or Aalim, chooses this role for himself. In many such communities this system simply evolved over time and the Aalims have today found themselves in a confusing position. Because of the limitations placed on them they cannot go further into effecting the political systems around their communities, such as that of the countries in which they live in. Hence, the system of Wilayat is not able to manifest itself through these communities and beyond them as well. A Wilayat of another kind remains in place, a more secular form.
The subject of the role of the Aalim needs to be brought to the forefront and explored. The beauty is that Allah (s.w.t) has provided us with the best of examples to learn and draw lessons from:
 لَقَدْ كَانَ لَكُمْ فِي رَسُولِ اللَّهِ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ
Certainly you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar [33:21]
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w) does not only provide us with the best of examples in carrying out personal duties and obligations, but of outward political actions and social governance as well. He served as the leader in all the aspects of Wilayat that were described earlier: spiritual, socio-political and universal. We need to take the complete example of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w) who is a beautiful painting that needs to be restored once again. This painting has been left to decay and loose its colour. Its been put away and many other paintings have been put up in its place. The complete restoration doesn’t just call for changes in ourselves as individuals, which we should constantly strive for, but changes in the system around us, and bringing back the Godly system of Allah (s.w.t) in its entirety. It needs to happen in all of the microcosms of Muslim communities around the world first, before it can spread further and become a stepping stone for the Imam of our time to return. Otherwise we will continue to remain with communities in which the Aalims preach and live an incomplete way of life, and continue to find contradictory movements within our communities. The administration of these communities will take the community towards an unclear and unguided direction unless the Aalim, who sincerely bases his guidance from the Qur’an and the beautiful Uswa of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w), serves as a governor of all the affairs of the community, just as the Wali al-Faqi serves as the governor of the affairs Muslim Umma. In order to prepare an individual for this role, the Hawza, or Islamic Seminary, in which the Aalim receives his training, needs to factor in this requirement, and train scholars to excel in areas of governing, political science, administration, technology, communication and media and simple people skills, to meet the demands of tomorrow.

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