Unfortunately, the Shīʿah Islāmic sect, unlike the non-Shīʿah sects, does not have effective and deep relations with Christianity, especially with the Vatican. Very short and often formal meetings lack a steady stream of interactions between religions, especially between Shīʿahs and the Vatican.
As a result, a more formal and serious relationship between scholars or representatives of the Islāmic Seminary of Qom with the Pope has been a necessity, and this meeting can be considered the beginning of filling a serious gap in this regard.
In order to expand and deepen the relations with the Vatican, Ḥujjat al-IslāmʿAlīrezā Aʿrāfī, the director of Islāmic Seminaries of Iran, traveled to Italy with a delegation to meet with Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic church, and the first official visit between the Islāmic Seminary of Qom and Roman Catholic Christianity took place.We had spoken with Dr.Moḥammad-ʿAlī Mīrzāʼī, a member of the faculty and chairman of the think tank of al-Muṣṭafā International University, about the necessity, dimensions and achievements of this important journey. The International Adviser to the Director of the Seminaries believes that Ḥujjat al-Islām Aʿrāfī’s meeting with the Pope is no less than the Pope’s meeting with a Shīʿahmarājiʿ in Qom in terms of the official and formal level of relations, and the level of this meeting should not be considered lower than the Pope’s meeting with Āyatullāh al-Sīstānī. Dr.Mīrzāʼī states: The meeting of the leaders of Islām and Christianity should not be considered threatening events but, on the contrary, these meetings can also contribute to world peace and human unity.The faculty member of al-Muṣṭafā International University, while emphasizing the need to pay attention to these dimensions and welcome such events worldwide, hopes that the highest Shīʿah religious officials will be able to meet with the highest officials of other religions easily and without worries in the near future.
In this talk, Dr. Mīrzāʼī outlines eight strategies for the closeness and relations of Shīʿah Islām and Christianity: Religions, relying on the rationality, spirituality and theology of human liberation, can be published documents in global programs for social, political, cultural and even global economic institutions such as the Economic Document of Religions, the Cultural Document of Religions, the Legal Document of Religions, the Educational Document of Religions, and the like.
Ijtihad: How do you evaluate the inter-religious meetings of the representatives of Islām and Christianity at different levels?How effective can these meetings and talks be?
Mīrzāʼī: The relationship between Islām and Christianity as two sharīʿahs and Abrahamic religions is important for influencing the cultural and political events of our world.Unfortunately, the Shīʿah Islāmic sect, unlike the non-Shīʿah sects, does not have effective and deep relations with Christianity, especially with the Vatican. Very short and often formal meetings, such as the meeting that took place with the Pope a few months ago by several Muslim scholars from different religions and went viral,lack a steady stream of relations between religions, especially between Shīʿahs and the Vatican;As a result, a more formal and serious relationship between scholars or representatives of the Islāmic Seminary of Qom with the Pope has been a necessity, and this meeting can be considered the beginning of filling a serious gap in this regard.Of course, one should not expect very serious developments until there are meetings at the level of the grand marājiʿin Qom and also the Supreme Leader with the Pope. Universal natural protocols address this issue.I do not have a definite judgment as to whether the Pope’s meeting with a Shīʿah marājiʿ is a rational and achievable idea, and even how much it serves the interests of both sides.But if one believes in the need to develop interfaith relations, especially between Christianity represented by the Vatican and Islām based on Shīʿah reading and interpretation, and if one pursues such a goal, it is natural that observance of these levels of meetings and agreements between the two parties is inevitable.
Ijtihad: What is the difference between Āyatullāh Aʿrāfī and Āyatullāh al-Sīstānī meeting with the Pope? Do you consider the recent meeting as a proxy or in other words as a second level?
Mīrzāʼī: The meeting of the head of Islamic Seminaries of Iran with the Pope in terms of the official and formal level of relations is no less and lower than the meeting of the Pope and a Shīʿah marjaʿ in Qom.This meeting should not be considered lower than the Pope’s meeting with Āyatullāh al-Sīstānī.
Before stating the issue, it is necessary to pay attention to the structural differences in the management and headship of the seminaries of Iran and Iraq. Āyatullāh al-Sīstānī is, in fact, the greatest marjaʿ al-taqlīdin Iraq and he is one of the Shīʿīmarājiʿthat has the most numerous muqallids (followers of a mujtahid) in the Islāmic world.In this respect, the weight of Āyatullāh al-Sīstānī is heavier than all the marājiʿin Qom.It is an undeniable fact that none of our current marājiʿhas the weight and position in the Islāmic and Shīʿah worlds as much as that of Āyatullāh al-Sīstānī. However, it is the similarity between the marjaʿīyyat in Qom and the marjaʿīyyat in Najaf that none of the marājiʿis considered the head of the seminaries.
In the past, there was a single marjaʿ in Qom or Iraq, that this single authority had no rival in marjaʿīyyat, but there was a public authority (wilāyat al-āmmah) in the seminary. But little by little, we were faced with a plurality and diversity in the base of marjaʿīyyat as a phenomenon that we can no longer talk about a single marjaʿīyyat in Qom and Najaf. Each marjaʿ al-taqlīd has its own representation and its own house, not beyond.Of course, influence and authority is another category, but every marjaʿ al-taqlīdis not considered to represent the whole seminary, but it represents a person or a house, even though this house is of global grandeur and superiority, like the marjaʿīyyat of Āyatullāh al-Sīstānī. But as far as I know, Āyatullāh Aʿrāfī represents the entire seminary, he is in coordination with the marājaʿ in Qom in this regard.And it is very unlikely that any of the marājiʿ would disagree with such a trip or would have reservations about how the seminary would be represented.From this point of view, this meeting is extremely important compared to the meeting between Āyatullāh al-Sīstānī and the Pope.
Ijtihad: Āyatullāh Aʿrāfī has a position in the Islāmic Republic as the jurist of the Guardian Council and can be said to be a representative and one of the religious leaders in the government.
Mīrzāʼī: Of course, Āyatullāh Aʿrāfī’s meeting with the Pope is also an official meeting of the high religious authority of the Islāmic Republic.But, in Iraq, the meeting between the Pope and Āyatullāh al-Sīstānī was a quasi-secular meeting. In fact, Āyatullāh al-Sīstānī has no official government role in Iraq.Of course, his dignity is higher than having such a role. In any case, he has the status of wilāyah, guardianship and seminary authority. But in the recent meeting, we are witnessing some kind of interference of role in Āyatullāh Aʿrāfī’s character. On the one hand, he is the head of seminaries, he is a mujtahid, an expert and a jurist, and on the other hand, he is considered one of the highest officials of the system.His jurisprudential position at the Guardian Council and his membership in the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution and, in a way, his personality is very close to the Supreme Leader of the Islāmic Revolution (Āyatullāh Khāmene’ī), all of which add to this important and strategic meeting.
While emphasizing the need to pay attention to these dimensions and to welcome such events on a global scale, we hope that the highest Shīʿah religious authorities will be able to meet with the highest officials of other religions easily and without worries in the not-too-distant future. The meeting of the leaders of Islām and Christianity should not be considered a threatening event in any way, but on the contrary, these meetings can also contribute to world peace and human unity.
Ijtihad: Given the need for interfaith meetings and talks, Your Excellency, what solutions and strategies do you outline for the unity and relation of Shīʿah Islām and Christianity?
Mīrzāʼī: This is a good question, and there are a few points to be made in explaining this inevitable necessity, as well as the possible gains that can be made from such meetings:
1. Today, mankind needs a unified view of religions.The diversity of religions, which sometimes leads to the diversity of the gods which are quite different and is the greatest blow to theology.The diversity of the gods in the world contributes to the spread of atheism.Therefore, the cooperation of Islām and Christianity to achieve the overall unity of religions can be a serious step in this direction.The notion that diversity and plurality in the religions is beneficial is acceptable as long as it does not lead to polytheism. Regardless of Islām, Christianity, Judaism and the like, contemporary mankind needs one God.A god beyond the diversity of religions and the multiplicity of their concepts and ideas.
2.Denying extremism in the relationship between religions and human beings in the socio-political arena is one of the strategies of theology to serve humanity.It is catastrophic to closing God’s hands in politics or, on the other hand, cutting off man’s hand and instead of his rationality and thinking, taking both religious laws and dos and don’ts into the details of human actions in the political and social arenas.One of them becomes an atheist and the other a stream of vampires who kill the man and destroy his life in the name of God and religion.There seems to be a middle way.The moderate way can be called “responsible and pious rationality.” Every man must decide for himself. He is completely free to choose political and social options;but this freedom and rationality that he chooses must be within the framework of divine will and desire.Humans are rooted, originated, and shaped by God in a two-way process. He is from God and for God creationally and legislatively and he must return to Him.This two-way process is everywhere and should be.The rulers, the rich and the decision-makers of the world do not resign from this very general plan in their actions, and the clerics and jurists of religions do not have the right to restrict the freedoms of human beings and to impose political powers on human beings.Extreme political fundamentalism and atheistic secularism are neither real supporters of man; we must find a middle way.
3.“Ethical politics” covers a significant part of “divine politics.”In other words, policies are as divine as they are moral and human.Therefore, in a joint plan, a moderate way of religious-political relations can be proposed based on politics and ethics can be designed with the cooperation of religions in the world.Of course, extreme secularism has made it a little harder to moralize politics, but it can be done.The method in which religions enter politics opens a new horizon for humanity if it focuses on morality.Also, the field of ethics is a matter of many religions or a common basis between religions.One of the fundamental differences between human rights literature and “politics and ethics” is that ethics is the centre and principle of religions.Religions that have differences are fluid and contingent matters.The multiplicity of laws in religions is conceivable, but the multiplicity of morals is meaningless.Morality and fundamental beliefs are their common element.It is the head of their unity and integrity.
4.Religions with their great treasures of revelation can introduce “rational theology” into the world. This rationality is against or alongside the rationalism of the humanist self-foundations.Of course, it is not an absolute denial of that, but it will present a more complete face to humanity.“Theology of reason” does not negate and inspire human rationality, but strengthens, supports and provides an ontological framework for it.When human beings use their intellect, they move in worship and obedience to the divine will.What is there is this rationality of foundational theology, a sacred and blessed thing, and its nature is such that it cannot be used as a tool for the immoral expansion of power and wealth.
5. Faith, spiritualism and interfaith theosophy are the greatest assets of religions.Although the spirit and essence of this theosophy and practical mysticism are the same, their forms are different.Binding interfaith theosophy to the issue of mentioned morality is one of the common assets of Islām and Christianity. The joint activity of Islām and Christianity can solve this strange confusion of “spiritualism” in our world.“Spiritualism and Abrahamic Ethics” has a single basis and foundation.The great secret of this spiritualism is man’s liberation from himself to God.This spiritualism also has a liberating theology.Hence, the fate of human beings and societies is very important and significant for such a movement.Morality and spirituality resigned from the destiny of human beings will not go well.
A wave of atheistic, indifferent, apostate and sometimes even anti-religious spiritualism seems to have filled the world. If Islām and Christianity provide a common framework for “Spirituality and Abrahamic Ethics,” a white hope for the moral and spiritual advancement of humanity will be created, and the spirituality of religions will not be in crisis.
6. The Abrahamic religions, especially Islām and Christianity, need to play a stronger role in the destiny of the world with moral, spiritual, and rational faces in order to overcome the notion of “being defeated” against the fateful current of civilization, politics, and the events that befall humanity.This logic has two enemies, one is the extremist tendencies within religions and the other is the secular currents of anti-religions. The dialogue between Islām and Christianity can help curb these two currents and can contribute to the deep and moral design of the Abrahamic religions.
7. A warm welcoming of the Iraqi Islāmic and Shīʿah communities to the Pope is a positive sign that the Muslim people welcome the role of the Christian scholars in addressing the problems of humanity.And religions, regardless of the partial approaches of their particular societies in our world, have a great potential for resolving the crises of humanity.Crises which are often caused by people, policies and programs are completely secular even if some of them seem religious. Religion has been a tool for these currents to achieve their greed.In our view, great wars like Ṣiffīn and Karbalā were by no means religious wars.Religion has been merely a cover for the struggle against values.In both historical wars, we must trace the roots of the war to the worldliness of the Umayyad movement. Imām ʿAlī and Imām al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) were the bearers of the Prophetic Missionand pure divine message.Today, Daesh (ISIL) and its ilk, while officially declaring their defence of the Umayyads, are pursuing the same worldly goals as in the past.Of course, these evil and material goals are hidden from the deceived soldiers at the forefront of the struggle. Did those who tortured Jesus and his mother and other believers and troubled them have a holy and divine purpose? It may seem so, but in reality, the deceptive charms of the world had filled their eyes and hearts.According to the Holy Qurʿān, the killing of prophets unjustly cannot be a divine and religious act!
8. Religions, relying on rationality, spirituality, and the liberating theology of mankind, can publish global documentary programs for social, political, cultural, and even economic institutions.
Ijtihad: Thank you for taking the time to interview me, as a final question, what are the dimensions and components of these universal documents of religions?
Mīrzāʼī: The economic document of religions, the cultural document of religions, the legal document of religions, the educational document of religions etc.These documents must be compiled in such a way that they are the general and fundamental framework for human movement.The universal documents of religions in various fields have no detailed involvement in behaviours. And they merely provide a general framework and basis for great social movements based on the greatest moral, spiritual, monotheistic and rational principles and rules in such a way as to provide a very general guarantee for the guidance, development and perfection of humanity.The current structures of universal documents unfortunately do not meet the basic and existential needs of human beings and do not guarantee the promotion of morality and spirituality.The victim of these current documents is mankind.