Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr

Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (آية الله العظمى السيد محمد باقر الصدر) (March 1, 1935 – April 9, 1980) was an Iraqi Shia cleric, philosopher, and ideological founder of the Islamic Dawa Party, born in al-Kazimiya, Iraq. He is the father-in-law of Muqtada al-Sadr and also a cousin of his father Muhammad Sadeq al-Sadr and Imam Musa as-Sadr. His father Haydar al-Sadr was a well-respected high-ranking Shi’a cleric. His lineage goes back to Muhammad, through the seventh Shia Imam, Musa al-Kazim. (See Sadr family for more details.) Muhammad Baqir Al-Sadr was executed in 1980 during the Saddam Hussein regime.

Biography

He was born in al-Kazimiya, Iraq into the prominent Sadr family which originates from Jabal Amel in Lebanon. His father died in 1937, leaving the family penniless. In 1945 the family moved to the holy city of Najaf, where al-Sadr would spend the rest of his life. He was a child prodigy who, at ten, was delivering lectures on Islamic history, and at eleven, he studied logic. At 24 he wrote a book to refute materialistic philosophy.[1] Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr completed his religious studies at religious seminaries under al-Khoeiand Muhsin al-Hakim at the age of 25 and began teaching.

His first works were detailed critiques of Marxism that presented early ideas of an alternative Islamic form of government. Perhaps his most important work was Iqtisaduna on Islamic economics and “Our Philosophy”. These works were critiques of both socialism and capitalism. He was subsequently commissioned by the government of Kuwait to assess how that country’s oil wealth could be managed in keeping with Islamic principles. This led to a major work on Islamic banking that still forms the basis for modern Islamic banks.

This attracted the attention of the Baath Party, which resulted in numerous imprisonments for the Ayatollah. He was often subjugated to torture during his imprisonments, but continued his work after being released. One of the founders of modern Islamist thought he is credited[by whom?] with first developing the notion, later put in operation in Iran, of having democratic elections, but with a body of Muslim scholars to ensure all laws corresponded with Islamic teachings.[citation needed]

In 1977, he was arrested following the uprisings in Najaf, but was released later due to his immense popularity. Upon his release however, he was put under house arrest. In 1980, after writing in the defence of the Islamic Revolution, Sadr was once again imprisoned, tortured, and executed by the regime of Saddam Hussein. He was forced to watch his sister’s, Amina Sadr bint al-Huda, torture and murder.[2] It has been alleged that Sadr was killed by having an iron nail hammered into his head[3] and then being set on fire. Baqir al-Sadr is buried in Wadi-us-Salaam, Najaf.

Using his mastery of the Quran and his innovative subject-based approach to Quranic exegesis, Al-Sadr extracted two concepts from the Holy text in relation to governance: khilafat al-insan (Man as heir or trustee of God) and shahadat al-anbiya (Prophets as witnesses). Al-Sadr explained that throughout history there have been ‘…two lines. Man’s line and the Prophet’s line. The former is the khalifa (trustee) who inherits the earth from God; the latter is the shahid (witness).’.[4]

Al-Sadr demonstrated that khilafa (governance) is ‘a right given to the whole of humanity’ and explained it to be an obligation given from God to the human race to ‘tend the globe and administer human affairs’. This was a major advancement of Islamic political theory.

While Al-Sadr identified khilafa as the obligation and right of the people, he used a broad-based exegesis of a Quranic verse[5] to identify who held the responsibility of shahada in an Islamic state: First, the Prophets (anbiya’); second, the Imams, who are considered a divine (rabbani) continuation of the Prophets in this line; and lastly the marja’iyya (see Marja).[6]

While the two functions of khilafa (governance) and shahada (witness; supervision) were united during the times of the Prophets, the two diverged during the occultation so that khilafa returned to the people (umma) and shahada to the scholars.[7]

Al-Sadr also presented a practical application of khilafa, in the absence of the twelfth Imam. He argued the practical application of the khilafa (governance) required the establishment of a democratic system whereby the people regularly elect their representatives in government:

‘Islamic theory rejects monarchy as well as the various forms of dictatorial government; it also rejects the aristocratic regimes and proposes a form of government, which contains all the positive aspects of the democratic system.’ [8]

He continued to champion this point until his final days:

‘Lastly, I demand, in the name of all of you and in the name of the values you uphold, to allow the people the opportunity truly to exercise their right in running the affairs of the country by holding elections in which a council representing the ummah (people) could truly emerge.’ [9]

Al-Sadr was executed by Saddam Hussein in 1980 before he was able to provide any details of the mechanism for the practical application of the shahada (witness) concept in an Islamic state. A few elaborations of shahada can be found in Al-Sadr’s works.

In his text ‘Role of the Shiah Imams in the reconstruction of Islamic society’, Al-Sadr illustrates the scope and limitations of shahadaby using the example of the third Shi’i Imam, Hussein ibn Ali (the grandson of the Prophet), who stood up to Yazid, the ruler at the time. Al-Sadr explains Yazid was not simply going against Islamic teachings, as many rulers before and after him had done, but he was distorting the teachings and traditions of Islam and presenting his deviated ideas as Islam itself. This, therefore, is what led Imam Hussein to intervene to challenge Yazid in order to restore the true teachings of Islam, and as a consequence laid down his own life. In Al-Sadr’s own words, the shahid’s(witness – person performing shahada or supervision) duties are ‘to protect the correct doctrines and to see that deviations do not grow to the extent of threatening the ideology itself’.

Al-Sadr has one son, Jaafar, who finished his Islamic studies in Qum but decided to serve his country Iraq as a politician. Jaafar does not believe in religious states, he believes that a “civil state” in Iraq should not contradict with religions but on the contrary “a fair and just regime should be able to earn the blessing of religions”. He does not believe in taking revenge for his father’s brutal assassination, stating, “Re-building a unified, democratic and stable Iraq is the only way for taking that revenge.”