OPINION

On a generation that sought enlightenment beyond clerics’ cloaks

Scholars’ discussions, opinions and ideas and the classical history of Shiite religious references were a daily part of our life as children and adults.

‘Resalah Amaliyah’ which is written by Usooli Marja athat contains his practical rulings is only one of the many lessons we interestingly listened to as we were passionate to gain more knowledge and wisdom.

A group of us, young men, went to Sheikh Hussein Al-Omran Mosque to attend fiqh, doctrine and religious lessons and to learn about the prophet’s biography. After religious occasions, we used to go to the old Al-Nahash husseiniya where Sheikh Abdulrasoul al-Bayabi was and learnt about the history of the prophet and his family. We used to go from one gathering to another seeking knowledge.

My cousin was a religious scholar, so I had a great opportunity to attend the lessons he taught at the family house after Maghreb prayers and the lectures he delivered at Sayyid El-Khoei Mosque in Al-Bustan neighborhood in Qatif where he was an imam. This was one of the mosques that played a significant role in the religious and cultural history of the region. 

Rich library 

More importantly, there was his library which was rich with all sorts of religious, literary and cultural books. He had books by Islamist, nationalist and secular writers. Students studying religion, such as Sayyid Mounir al-Khabbaz and Sheikh Jaafar al-Rabah, frequently visited our house as well and I used to sit with them for hours to listen to their discussions. As a result, I was exposed to endless debates since my early years and I learnt all about these students’ thinking, methods and terminology.

I also attended lessons taught by Sheikh Mohsen al-Moalam at his residence in the town of Al-Jaroudiya as we were family friends. He was a humble and kind teacher who taught religion to dozens of students in Qatif and its surrounding areas.

My generation had a special relation with Sayyid Mounir al-Khabbaz as at the time we saw him as a more progressive model of an open-minded religious scholar who has a moderate rhetoric that suits the aspirations of youths and speaks their language. Therefore, we attended his lectures all the time.

My favorite lessons were those delivered at Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb Mosque after dawn prayers during the holy month of Ramadan. These lessons tackled Islamic philosophy. Many believers sat around Sayyid Khabbaz as he explained this philosophy to us. These were my favorite because of the untraditional philosophical approach that triggers the mind.

At one time, I told Khabbaz that the daily lesson of his was less than hoped for and requires more depth. He went ahead and for the next two days, delivered deeper lessons. During this time I and my friend felt we were gaining a lot more knowledge. However, he adopted an easy approach again and said he had to do so because many of those attending the lessons complained that it was difficult to understand him. 

Modern and revolutionary piety 

Even after we went beyond classical Shiite thinking methods and opted for more modern and revolutionary piety, we sat for hours during Sayyid Yassin al-Saegh’s lessons at his mosque in al-Sharia neighborhood in Qatif. Saegh was well-known for his strict and comlex language and we had a difficult time at the beginning and struggled to understand the different topics he addressed.

The discussion sessions we held at friends’ houses and the books we exchanged were a valuable source of true knowledge that developed one’s limited religious experience and widened our horizons. Some remained as they are out of fear of the socially expensive price which one must pay for change in thought and behavior. These changes often led to many familial and social conflicts but many had the courage to take the risk as they had a firm belief in the importance of certain religious changes.
We attended lessons along with many students studying religion and by many preachers and religious intellectuals. We engaged in endless debates and bought books for hefty prices when we were just high school and college students.

We were young men passionate about knowledge. Change was our aim. Late thinker Abdul Hadi Al-Fadhli, that humble character who was an expert in fiqh, was a great thinker whose approach satisfied our aspirations for a faith that suits the modern times and that suits a generation which wants to live the future and does not want to live in the depth of the pits.

During hajj, we visited missions of religious references’ missions as we learnt a lot from the scholars. The mission of late Sayyid Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah attracted us the most due to its rich knowledge, vital discussions and approach that suited our religious vision that was unlike what was common at the time.   

Qom seminaries 

During my few visits to the Iranian city of Qom where the seminaries are, we spent plenty of time at the offices of religious references and scholars such as Ayatollah Bahjat, Shahroudi, Al-Haydari, Tabrizi, Al-Rouhani, Al-Shirazi, Al-Haeri, Al-Asfi, Al-Hakim and Al-Youssefi. We either prayed with them or sat with them to make inquiries that only led to more questions.

This was my religious journey, as well as the journey of other young Shiite Saudis, before we moved into more open and mature experiences in terms of critical reading of religious texts. Our piety was pure and we passionately sought knowledge and education. The sky was the limit of our dreams. When we were young, we heard scholars say that God created nothing more honorable than the mind. These young men were afraid that the famous saying of Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb “two are harmful, a dissolute scholar and an ascetic fool,” will apply to them. Forethought was thus their habit.

This forethought may not have been as some “clerics” wanted because it meant the mind was the reference that created one’s own vision.

I, and others from my generation, may not be “people who seek religious studies,” as virtuous Sheikh Mansour al-Salman explained in his article “Al-Mustafa, and the freedom of thought to attack the sect’s jurists via Al-Arabiya.” The venerate sheikh must thus not waste his time in responding to ideas made by people other than “sheikhs” as they alone possess “knowledge”, as Salman claimed in his article.

According to the traditional and narrow description of what a student of religion is, then yes, we are not jurists and we never claimed we are or sought to assume this role. It’s enough to be educated on the matter and to continuously and humbly seek knowledge without minding these posts and formalities that mean nothing to us.

Hassan Al Mustafa



According to the traditional and narrow description of what a student of religion is, then yes, we are not jurists and we never claimed we are or sought to assume this role. It’s enough to be educated on the matter and to continuously and humbly seek knowledge without minding these posts and formalities that mean nothing to us.

In an interview, Gaston Bachelard was asked if he should be called Mr. Gaston, so he said: “No, not at all, call me Gaston Bachelard or Bachelard. No more. Don’t call me professor. I am not joking. I am very liberal. Everyone calls me Bachelard.”

Perhaps it’s the desire to control and monopolize that made Salman look at others like they have dysfunctional minds. Perhaps it is due to vanity which those who think suffer from that they are the only ones capable of interpreting “the sacred text”. They monopolize its interpretation and think they are mediators between man and his creator. They forgot that “vanity leads to the states’ demise” as Ali ibn Abi Taleb put it. They forgot that humanity’s education and research tools have developed and there is no longer a need for someone to write letters and send them to heaven!

This generation whose background I just narrated  cannot be tamed as they reject others’ tutelage over them for they believe in plurality, tolerance and right to be different and seeks to be a source that creates change in the religious, cultural and social environment in Qatif. It’s working on formulating its own vision about life as it has developed a modern rhetoric and language that is persistent to build and create the future and to be free and strong and not obedient followers like the guardians of the temple want!

This article is also available in Arabic.

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Hassan Al Mustafa is Saudi journalist with interest in middle east and Gulf politics. His writing focuses on social media, Arab youth affairs and Middle Eastern societal matters. His twitter handle is @halmustafa.

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Last Update: Thursday, 7 December 2017 KSA 17:35 - GMT 14:35
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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