An Important Message from the Office of Grand Ayatollah Sayyid al-Sistani

An Important Message From the Office of Grand Ayatollah Sayyid al-Sistani

As part of his last day of class before the holy month of Ramadan, his eminence, Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammad Rida al-Sistani addressed his students with a message concerning the state of the religious seminary.

M Rida al Sistani
Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammad Rida al-Sistani

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all worlds, and may His peace and blessings be upon the best of His creation, Muhammad, and his pure and immaculate progeny. 

We are approaching the blessed month of Ramadan, and this noble month is the most significant opportunity for believers to increase in good deeds and rewards. It is incumbent upon every believer, especially those on the path of seeking religious knowledge, to utilize all their time in strengthening their faith, purifying their souls, engaging in more righteous deeds, increasing their religious knowledge, and worshiping Allah through prayers, supplications, reciting the Holy Quran, and the like.

Given that it is one of the most important seasons of propagating religious knowledge, those capable of carrying out such a duty should not hesitate to do so within their capacity. Therefore, we must take a moment and remind ourselves that our primary duty is to bring people closer to Allah and the noble Messenger and his immaculate progeny (p), as well as to strengthen their beliefs and adherence to the rulings of Islamic Law. This can only be achieved when our actions match our words, and by first implementing ourselves that which we preach about to others. 

We ask Allah to bless us and grant us success in doing so, and to delight our hearts in enabling us to fulfill the rights of the Holy Month of Ramadan by fasting and performing its night prayers and to make us among those freed from the Hellfire. 

Moreover, there is another important matter that is necessary to remind about, which is that the scholarly value of the Hawza of Najaf is a trust that rests upon everyone's shoulders—starting from the religious authorities, and onto the scholars, and ending with the students of all levels of study. Among the things to be noted in this regard are:

(1.) Firstly, anyone who possesses the necessary qualifications to study, excel, and advance up the levels of knowledge in the Religious Seminary (Hawza), especially in Jurisprudence, Usul al-Fiqh, Hadith Sciences, and Rijal Studies under the guidance of qualified teachers, should take advantage of this opportunity and dedicate their time to this field, to the best of their ability. In other words, this talent should not be invested in other areas, even if they may possess other benefits. It is unfortunate to see promising individuals with a bright future in the Hawza turning instead to work in cultural and research institutions, or fully engaging in preaching work or pursuing academic studies, thereby hindering their progress in the scholarly path of the Religious Seminary. 

Indeed, those who do not have sufficient qualifications to reach advanced levels in Hawza studies to become distinguished scholars or skilled authors should turn to preaching or research work if they are capable of it. 

As for those whom Allah endowed with intellectual strength, readiness, intelligence, and free time to enable them to attain a high rank in the sciences of Fiqh, Usul al-Fiqh, and the like, it is necessary for them to devote their time to this endeavor. The future of the religious seminary is in utmost need of eminent scholars to continue the legacy of the current generation of scholars, may Allah prolong their lives, and this need can only be secured by those who have sufficient qualifications and exert their utmost effort to achieve the highest scholarly ranks, coupled with righteousness and dedication.

(2.) Second, complete caution must be exercised concerning those who claim to have reached advanced scholarly ranks, especially the rank of Ijtihad and Jurists, without sufficient evidence to support this claim, such as testimonials from experienced individuals known for their piety and accuracy. Note: these testimonials must be based on reviewing the scholarly works of the individual, such as books, knowledge articles, disseminating advanced seminary lessons, and the like, that are the result of his own efforts, not copied from the ideas and writings of others.

One must beware of relying solely on oneself in proclaiming one's own Ijtihad, as the ego is deceitful, often leading one to believe that they possess intellectual and academic capabilities that align with their desires and inclinations, but do not correspond to reality. Likewise, caution must be exercised against relying on the testimony of some students who have not proven to have reached a sufficient level of knowledge qualifying them to diagnose the mujtahid over others. The late esteemed scholar and jurist, Ayatollah Naini wrote in some of his responses to an inquiry he received: "It is clear that if a non-Mujtahid claims to have reached the level of Ijtihad, this would be a sin that cannot be equated with other sins. Such a transgression falls into the category of usurpation. Suppose an individual claimed to have reached the level of Ijtihad and presented himself to two just individuals known for their expertise in Ijtihad, and they both erred in confirming his claim of Ijtihad, and the individual relied on their testimonies, thereby performing what should only be done by a genuine mujtahid—in this case, his claim of Ijtihad and, thereby, engaging in what should only be done by a Mujtahid will not be considered as undermining his righteousness. Otherwise, it would be one of the greatest sins and transgressions, and he would have wrongfully taken the place of the Imam of our time, may our souls be sacrificed for him, and may Allah bless him and his pure forefathers." Therefore, it is understood that one should not be deluded by the presence of even a few students in their class, even if some of them are intelligent, into thinking that they have reached a high rank of knowledge. Especially since the attendees may have different motives for attending and are not limited to the belief in the teacher's competence as it may seem.

(3.) Thirdly, avoid promoting any person who assumes any scholarly role, whether in teaching or other areas, without first ensuring their eligibility, otherwise, there is no justification for him, and it suffices to mention two observations here: 

(a) First, bestowing elevated scholarly titles, such as "Ayatollah" to individuals who simply teach classes at the Bahth al-Kharij level, as seen in many online seminarian profiles, even though this title should be reserved for those recognized by experts as possessing the qualifications of Ijtihad—which are currently very few. It is not justified to bestow this title upon others, even if they are eminent, respected, and excellent conveyors of knowledge. Of course, in times of necessity, there are rules, but this does not apply to the points discussed here. 

It must be noted that there should be no confusion between the following two positions: 

(i) First: The status of a knowledgeable jurist who is capable of deriving legal rulings with proof and evidence and complete mastery of the various tools, including but not limited to Usul al-Fiqh, Hadith Sciences, Fiqh, Literary Sciences, and others. This requires deep experience and engagement in the field. 

(ii) Second: The position of those who excel in preaching and educating the public—which is undoubtedly of great importance. However, it is not appropriate to assign the first position to such individuals unless they genuinely possess the necessary qualifications.

In short, an individual should not be regarded as a Mujtahid or Jurist or given the title of “Ayatollah” merely based on the fact that he teaches Bahth al-Kharij lessons. Considering that there is no active system to control the establishment of Bahth al-Kharij classes, many incompetent individuals take on these roles without hindrance. Therefore, the practice of caution in this matter is of utmost importance. It is unfortunate to see that, within the seminary environment, there are books and articles authored and published by individuals with the title "Ayatollah," despite the clear lack of genuine scholarly competence in such publications. In fact, they often contain content that fails to meet the proper and accepted standards. Therefore, the most effective way to treat such an issue is to elevate the general academic level of students at the seminary, which makes it difficult for unqualified and self-proclaimed scholars to take on roles that do not belong to them. In simpler terms, the general body of students at the seminary should acquire the capability of distinguishing the genuine scholar from others.

My esteemed father, may his blessings be prolonged, shared with me what his revered teacher, the late scholar Sheikh Hussein Al-Hilli, may Allah's blessings be upon him, used to say: "One of the merits of the seminary of Najaf is that it bounds each person in their appropriate level." Meaning, that some individuals might try to elevate themselves and occupy positions within the seminary, such as becoming a religious authority, a teacher, a leader in congregational prayers, and the like, even though they are not suitable for such roles. The seminary prevents such manipulation by naturally channeling each individual to the level they deserve and belong. This was said during a time when the seminary flourished with dozens of mujtahids and hundreds of eminent scholars, making it impossible for anyone to be deceived by superficial figures. Unfortunately, we now live in a time where many individuals, without any qualifications, make false claims of having achieved scholarly level, and some people, few or many, are deceived by them.

(b) The second aspect is that attending lessons led by unqualified individuals is a form of promoting and encouraging them, which is unjustifiable religiously even if there might be some benefit derived from them. There should be no leniency in this matter. And, if the teacher is ignorant of their lack of proper qualification to teach, the attendees bear a doubled responsibility for reinforcing the teacher’s ignorance of this matter for their continued presence. On this note, amongst the worst and most detrimental scenarios is when attendance to such classes is motivated by material incentives, such as student stipends and financial assistance. Such incentives are not justified under any circumstances. This practice, which was prevalent in the past is severely detrimental to both the motivation of the teacher and the integrity of the attendees, and it should be unequivocally condemned. The purpose of attending any lesson should be to benefit from it. Anyone who does not benefit from the classes they are attending, even for personal reasons, should not attend. Being attracted to a class solely because of a large following is not a justified reason to attend such a class.

We seek refuge in Allah from the evils within ourselves and from the consequences of our actions, and we ask Him to grant us success in what is best for our worldly life and the hereafter. He is the Bestower of success, and may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon Muhammad and his holy progeny.