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Ayatollah Sistani’s Doctrine Differs from Ayatollah Khoei’s One

Sayyid Monir Al-Khabbaz elaborated in details on the scientific approach of Grand Ayatollah Sistani, reiterating that the Ayatollah’s doctrine is totally different from that of Grand Ayatollah Khoie in terms of Jurisprudence (Fiqh) and  principle of Jurisprudence (Usool).

Born in 1965 in Al-Qatif, East of Saudi Arabia, Sayyid Monir Al-Khabbaz entered Najaf Seminary school when he was 13 years old, pursuing his religious education under the supervision of such Grand Ayatollahs as Khoie, Sabzevari, and Sistani. Just after Ayatollah Khoie passed away, he moved into Qom city and attended the senior level of clerical studies (Dars al-Kharij) under Grand Ayatollah Wahid Khorasani and Ayatollah Tabrizi. Being a lecturer on Kharij and Usool studies at Qom seminary school, Sayyid Monir Al-Khabbaz elaborated in details on the scientific approach of Grand Ayatollah Sistani, reiterating that the Ayatollah’s doctrine is totally different from that of Grand Ayatollah Khoie in terms of Jurisprudence (Fiqh) and Usool.

What follows is an interview by Andisha Journal with Sayyid Monir al-Khabbaz:

Question: You are known as one of those figures who have studied under Grand Ayatollah Sistani. How did you come to know the Ayatollah and how long did you attend his classes?

Sayyid Monir Al-Khabbaz: When in 1978, i.e. forty years ago, I moved to Najaf seminary to pursue my religious education, I heard the name of Sayyid Sistani who was then regarded as one of the senior clerics in Najaf had a teaching position on Kharij studies as a mujtahid (expert in Islamic law). I was eagerly longing to see him in person, but as he used not to leave his home unless for teaching in seminary or visiting the holy shrine of Imam Ali (A.S), I failed. However, some day as he was walking in a street I finally managed to visit him and the very moment I saw him, I recognized that he was the person I had been hearing about much. Having completed my religious studies at both basic and advanced levels, I decided to attend his Kharij course but the problem was that the course was presented in Persian and thus they were offered only for Iranian elites and those Arabs who could speak Persian. I, therefore, asked some of my instructors including the late Allameh Sayyid Habib Hosseinian who was himself a student of Ayatollah Sistani to request that he offer the course in Arabic. One day we, together, went to his house and offered him our request but he replied that teaching in Arabic was really difficult for him and that he might not be able to express his words in full. However, we asked him to give it a try for a while and he said in response that he would think it over.

Following that meeting, I attended the Kharij classes of Grand Ayatollah Khoie and studied Usool subjects under Mirza Ali Gharavi for a while until one of Ayatollah Sistani’s students who was known as Sayyid Mohammad Ali Rabbani (who is living in Mashhad now) told me that the Ayatollah had decided to present his Kharij lessons in Arabic tentatively, and thus invited me to observe the class to see whether his teaching in Arabic was satisfactory or not. Although at the beginning he lacked sufficient mastery in lecturing in Arabic, I encouraged his Excellency to continue doing the job and assured him that his lectures in Arabic were clear enough for us to understand and that there was nothing to worry about. That encouragements worked and he was motivated to continue lecturing Kharij subjects in Arabic accordingly. The story, however, dates back to 1987 and I fully attended his classes until late 1990 when Intifada started.

Question: How did you find the Ayatollah’s lectures? What was his teaching methodology?

Sayyid Monir al-Khabbaz: When I attended the Kharij classes, the Najaf seminary was weak, constituting only of a few instructors and students including no more than 300 individuals from the basic levels to the advanced ones such as sat’h and Kharij. Kharij courses included the jurisprudence lessons taught by Sayyid Khoie, Sayyid Abdul Ali Sabzevari, Mirza Ali Gharavi, Sheikh Morteza Broujerdi, and Sheikh Ishaq Fayyadh; however, the most brilliant jurisprudence courses belonged to Ayatollah Sistani and that was why it was attended by many renowned and erudite seminary scholars who, however, were not beyond 25 or 27 people. As for his teaching methodology in Kharij subjects I could say that his method was the most comprehensive one among the Usooli schools, inspired by the Usooli school of Mirza Mahdi Isfahani who was well-reputed in Mashhad city, Iran. Moreover, he was deeply committed to the Usooli thoughts of Sheikh Hadi Tehrani and such well-known Usooli schools as Naeeni, Iraqi and Isfahani. To sum it up, the first characteristic of his course on Kharij studies was his perfect command of different Usooli schools.

The second characteristic of his Kharij course was his mastery over modern schools of law, and his vast knowledge in psychology (the science of the self/Ilm al-Nafs), sociology, modern philosophy, and western philosophy was really invaluable to his students. He was also well familiar with modern linguistics, and thus in my opinion he was a modern example of Muhammad Baqir Al-Sadr, the martyr, in terms of the comprehensive, vast, and broad knowledge he had especially in modern sciences. He would acquire information on any book published in Arabic or Persian and used to study widely in every subject, the results of which was a great knowledge which showed itself in his Kharij courses or in any other course on modern philosophy, psychology or other sciences. The third characteristic was that when he finished presenting the materials prepared for each session, he would try to present a novel topic either through defamiliarizing the commonly known discussions or by adding new points to them; thus, innovation was one of the characteristic features of his teaching methodology which he was totally committed to in his Usooli arguments. The fourth characteristic was, however, that he was very meticulous in comprehending the ideas and thoughts which had previously been offered by Sheikh Naeeni as he had completed a course on Usool (principles of jurisprudence) under Sheikh Hossein Helli, the greatest student of Sheikh Naeeni and the closest one to him who was then known as “The Tongue for Naeeni, the researcher); that was why Ayatollah Sistani repeatedly disputed Sayyid Khoie’s understanding of Naeeni ideas, believing that he had misunderstood many of his ideas, because, as mentioned earlier, Ayatollah Sistani relied in this regard on the opinions of an instructor who was closer to Ayatollah Naeeni than Sayyid Khoie.

Question: Taking what you already mentioned into consideration, could we claim that Ayatollah Sistani offers different views on jurisprudence and Usool from those of his instructor, Ayatollah Khoie, or that he has his own distinct doctrine?

Sayyid Monir al-Khabbaz: He has his own special doctrine, i.e. Sayyid Sistani’s doctrine is totally different from that of Sayyid Khoie in terms of jurisprudence and Usool.

Question: What are the distinct features of Sayyid Sistani’s doctrine? Could you please mention a few?

Sayyid Monir al-Khabbaz: I already mentioned some of those features; however, his jurisprudence course-which I attended for a short while- was more consistent with Sayyid Broujerdi’s doctrine than that of Sayyid Khoie’s as he was the student of Ayatollah Broujerdi for 5 years and was thus inspired in that regard by him. He was also unique in comprehending the jurisprudence of the Sunni Islam, i.e. he knew the Sunni’s jurisprudence even better than them themselves because of his extensive studies and researches in that regard. Just as introduced and recognized in Sayyid Broujerdi’s doctrine, Ayatollah Sistani believed that knowing the traditions narrated by the AhlulBayt (A.S) would be impossible unless their opposing Sunni jurisprudence (raised and discussed during each of Imam’s era) are known and taken into account through contrastive analysis, because like Sayyid Broujerdi, he argued that the AhlulBayt’s traditions were told against their contemporary Sunni jurisprudence, explicating that they were annotations on, additions to, reinterpretation of, or criticisms against the jurisdictional views of the Sunnis; that’s why you see that there are many differences between the understanding of Ayatollah Sistani of the traditions and that of Ayatollah Khoie’s, since he reads and