Review of ‘The Establishment of Clear Exposition’

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The Zaydi (Zaidi) school of thought is perhaps the least written about in English of the existing classical schools as well as perhaps the least translated of classical works within it into English from Arabic.  To address this issue, The Imam Rassi Society has published within the past year a commentary on a classic work by the first Zaydi Imam of Yemen, Al-Hadi ila Al-Haqq Yahya bin Al-Husayn (AS), entitled The Establishment of Clear Exposition: A Commentary on Al-Hadi’s “The Fundamentals of the Religion.”

The book provides not only as a translation of Al-Hadi’s elucidations on matters of creed, which Muslims in the mid to late second century after Hijrah (migration) debated, but also serves as an exegesis and defense of Al-Hadi’s theological positions.

Though the commentary does discuss important issues relating to Zaydi creed pertaining to the necessity of Imamah/Khilafah, the institution of leadership for the Muslim nation, its qualifications and answering those who state that this leadership can be held outside of the Prophet’s descendants, its strength, from my perspective, is its discourse relating to Divine Oneness (At-Tawhid), its implication related to Divine Justice and how some misunderstand the Divine Decree (Al-Qadr.)

Within the commentary on specific issues, there is a breadth of translations from other classical texts that serve as proofs to Al-Hadi’s discourse.  For instance in discussing Al-Hadi’s view that Allah is independent of space, the commentary answers the position of corporeality and use of interpretation (Ta’wil) by citing from Majalis At-Tabari, referencing a debate between Ahmad bin Musa At-Tabari and Maymun, a scholar from Sana’a, Yemen.  It is as follows:

[At-Tabari]: “O Maymun, what do you say about the statement of the Mighty and Majestic: {But      no one knows its hidden interpretations except Allah and those who are firmly grounded in knowledge}?”

[Maymun}: “O Abul-Hussein, that is not the recitation. One says: {But no one knows its hidden interpretations except Allah.} with the stoppage there.”

[At-Tabari]: “O Maymun, what is the meaning of Allah’s statement: {“Ask the city that we were in and the caravan that we came in…”} (Q. 12:82)?

[Maymun]: “It is not a city that you ask because it is an inanimate object (jamad). Similarly, the caravan does not speak. It is people that are meant.”

[At-Tabari]: “O Maymun, is this from revelation or interpretation?”

[Maymun]:  “Indeed, it is from interpretation.”

[At-Tabari]: “Did you not say to me that one is supposed to stop after the phrase: {But no one knows its hidden interpretations except Allah.}? When was this interpretation revealed to you?

(He [i.e. Maymun] then felt embarrassed and began to fidget nervously. Then the people began laughing at him.)

Relating to Divine Justice, the commentary goes through an exhaustive length proving Al-Hadi’s statement:

He [Allah] does not create injustice and tyranny. He does not create disbelief in the slaves. He does not desire injustice and disobedience. There is no declaration of evil in speech. He does not will the slaughter of His friends (awliya’u). He does not lie in His conveyances. He does not decree or predestine evil on Himself. He does not commit falsehood. If He were to do so, of if a wife or child were to will along with Him, He would not be All-Wise or Omniscient.

The commentary elucidates that Allah being All-Good and All-Wise simply cannot perform obscenity and that it is outside of His divinity to choose foolishness; since ignorance is impossible for the Omniscient.  In a hadith qudsi in Sahih Muslim, Allah (SWT) states, “I have made injustice (thulm) prohibited for Myself, and I have prohibited it for My slaves.”  Thulm, as explained in the commentary, means “placing something in its improper place;” since, justice (‘adl) means to place something in its proper place.”  Hence, the commentary states that it is obscene to state that Allah would decree/compel His slaves to commit crimes then punish them for those crimes though He forbade them from committing such crimes.

The book does provide an interesting critique of Imamah/Khalifah especially on how the Zaydis differ from the Isma’ilis and Ja’fari Shi’ahs (12’vers) pertaining to their belief in a set appointed amount of Imams who are infallible, some of them who did not openly proclaim their imamships as well as their belief in the “Hidden Imam.”

Relating to the issue of Imams who purportedly hide their Imamah, the book gives the following viewpoint:

Third, we say that one of the qualifications of an imam from the Prophetic Household is that he must issue a call to the Muslims and make his imamate known. This is because if it is obligatory for the Muslims to follow the imam, the imam must make himself known as such. Otherwise, how could the people follow him?!

Relating to the necessity of having infallible Imams to fulfill leadership roles, the book states:

We reply by saying that it is not necessary that the imam be infallible to fulfill his role. This is because Allah has used fallible people to uphold the standards of His religion. For example, the Qur’an mentioned King Saul as an exemplar ruler whom Allah chose to rule over the Children of Israel. Nevertheless, he was not said to be infallible. The Exalted says concerning him: {Allah has chosen him over you [i.e. as ruler] and has increased him in knowledge and build. Allah gives dominion to whomever He wills} (Q.2:247)

The commentary further states that the verse of purifying the People of the House in Surah Al-Ahzab, verse 33, which Isma’ilis and Ja’faris use to state that latter Imams after Al-Husayn (AS) such as Ja’fari As-Sadiq (AS) are infallible, is confined to the People of the Cloak (Ali, Fatimah, Al-Hassan and Al-Husayn), per the authentic narrations conveyed by Sunnis, Isma’ilis and Ja’faris, which make no mention of others beneath the cloak, who did not reside in the house dwelled in by Fatimah Az-Zahra (AS).

Muhammad bin Idris Ash-Shafi’i (RH) stated, “I never once debated an opponent except that I prayed to Allah to show me truth on his lips.”  This book will probably challenge some preconceived notions and perhaps provoke the rethinking of generally held positions.  This is what scholarship should do.

In these polemical times when Muslim groups mislabel and misrepresent others, it is important to read others’ writings instead of reading what others write about them.  If for no other purpose than receiving clarity on the creed of Islam from a Zaydi perspective, The Establishment of Clear Exposition: A Commentary on Al-Hadi’s “The Fundamentals of the Religion” is a must read.

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