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The Role Of Muhammad Baqir Al-Sadr in Shi'a Political Activism  in Iraq From 1958 to 1980

Chapter Four- Back to Hawza

By 1960, Sadr was one of the leading mujtahids in the religious school of Najaf with a distinguished reputation in jurisprudence (fiqh and usul al-fiqh). His seniors in the Hawza therefore advised him to give up his political role in the Da’wa party and on the Awa’, which were detrimental to his leadership in the Hawza and prepare himself for becoming the future grand marja’  of the Shi’i (the hawza would not accept an active mujtahid for the position of grand marja’ , at least not a member of a political party).(18) The marja’ is usually selected from among the leading mujtahid in the fiqh and usul al-fiqh, and the candidate has to prove his capacity in these areas by using the Socratic method in his teaching and by publishing his legal opinions. Since being appointed depended on the approval of the teachers and mujtahids in the Hawza, the prospect of Sadr’s becoming the grand marja’ of all Shi’as was in jeopardy so long as he continued to be politically active. Although pressure on Sadr to give up his political activities seemed to come mainly from the former marja’  Muhsin al-Hakim, many factions in the Hawza were critical of Sadr’s activism. Led by Hussein al-Safi,(19) a public campaign was launched against Sadr depicting his activities as harmful to the survival of the Hawza.(20) A group in the Jama’at, influenced by the propaganda against Sadr, began to show their dissatisfaction with him as well. (21) Sadr’s editorials in al-Awa’ also raised a disturbing question: they were subtitled Risalatuna (Our Message), but the enemies of Sadr questioned whether they represented the views of the Jama’at at all. Finally, in 1961 Muhsin al-Hakim, through his son Mahdi, persuaded Sadr to give up his post as faqih of the Da’wa party and as editor of Awa’. (22)

Mujtama’una (Our Society)

After his resignation Sadr confined himself to the traditional way of life of the Hawza, avoiding activities that might jeopardize his marja’  status. He even delayed the publication of his long awaited book, Mujtama’una (Our Society) because, according to some sources, the time was not ripe for it. (23) According to members of the Da’wa party, however, Sadr kept in touch with the party through one of his pupils.(24) As for the Awa’, Fadlullah notes that Sadr encouraged him to write its editorials. (25)

Planned Establishment of Western-style Universities

Sadr’s passion for reform was now directed toward the hawza itself. First it was necessary to modernize its curriculum: for the past century and a half, Najaf’s hawza had emphasized only fiqh and usul al-fiqh because that was what Najaf was noted for; other Islamic studies were considered minor or unimportant, and the hawza’s teachers paid little attention to them. Sadr was also uneasy over the irregular attendance of the students and their neglect of their studies. He felt that students must complete their courses with distinction before they could claim to be religious scholars (‘alim) (26) and proposed a new textbook on the grounds that the old ones were not written for students. A textbook, according to Sadr, must take into consideration the student’s ability to comprehend the subject only gradually from its basic concepts to its most recent development. Sadr’s plan embraced not only the use of textbooks of the sort used in modern academic institutions, but the establishment of Western-style universities that would hold the student responsible for completing certain courses and passing regular examinations.

Usul al-Din College in Baghdad 

To implement his reforms, Sadr helped establish the Usul al-Din College in Baghdad in 1964 and set up its curriculum. (27) He later wrote three textbooks on the Qur’an, the usul al-fiqh, and Islamic economics for first and second year college students. (28) However, his efforts to carry out his reforms in the Hawza itself faced stubborn resistance from both students and its antiquated establishment.                          

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