The topic of divine leadership (imamate) is integral to the Shia creed, exceeded in importance only by tawḥīd and nubuwwah. Its implications are so far reaching that entire schools of thought were built and distinguished based on their differing views on the subject. Part of its significance– as the reader will come to find – comes from its establishment of a divinely appointed and immaculate religious authority. We go back to these immaculate authorities (imams) for guidance not only on matters of religious practice, but to better understand the specifics of Islam’s foundational concepts and theology. It is therefore an essential doctrine in our attempt to understand our faith. How do Shia Muslims understand imamah? Why is it a foundational and integral part of the Shia creed? What does it mean for a Shia Muslim today?
His Eminence Ayatollah Sayyid Jafar al-Hakeem, professor of advanced studies in the Islamic Seminary, answers these questions and more in this book. A core concept shapes the framework presented in this book – that prophethood and imamate are the immaculate embodiment of humankind’s theoretical and practical reason. The countless noble traditions and Quranic verses addressing imamate are understood within this light. This gives rise to a clear understanding of our practical responsibility towards these foundational concepts.
His Eminence Ayatollah Sayyid Jafar al-Hakeem is a prominent professor and public intellectual at the Islamic Seminary (al-ḥawza al-ʿilmiyya) in the shrine city of Najaf in Iraq. Born in 1965 to a prominent scholarly family, Sayyid al-Hakeem began his seminary studies at the age of 12.
On May 10, 1983, Sayyid al-Hakeem was arrested and detained along with his father Ayatollah ʿAbdulṣāḥib al-Hakeem and over 60 other members of his family by the regime of Saddam Hussein. Less than two weeks after the arrest, the author’s father and other members of the family were executed without any criminal charges or trial. The remainder of the family would continue to suffer torture in the prisons of the Saddam regime.
Despite the circumstances, Sayyid al-Hakeem and the remainder of his family would continue their religious studies from within Saddam’s dark cells. No books were allowed in Saddam’s prisons, but being imprisoned alongside so many prominent religious scholars allowed for the continuation of classes and study circles.
After more than seven years of imprisonment, Sayyid al-Hakeem and a small group of cellmates were able to escape imprisonment and flee to Iran. There, Sayyid al-Hakeem joined the Islamic Seminary of Qum, where he studied under the tutelage of scholars such as Ayatollah Sayyid Taqī al-Qummī (d. 2016) and Ayatollah Shaykh Muḥammad al-Sanad.
After the fall of the Saddam regime in 2003, Sayyid al-Hakeem returned to the holy city of Najaf to rejoin its seminary. He currently teaches advanced seminars (baḥth khārij) in fiqh and uṣūl, as well as seminars in epistemology, philosophy, theosophy, and theology.
In addition to his scholarly work, Sayyid al-Hakeem is a prominent Iraqi public intellectual. He appeared as a witness in the trial of Saddam, testifying to the cruel sectarian persecution of Shia scholars and scholarly families. He often speaks on issues of religious identity, pluralism, civic engagement, and contemporary issues. Sayyid al-Hakeem has visited the United States and Europe, where he had the opportunity to address and discuss these topics with both Muslim and non-Muslim audiences.