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Failing Transnationally: Local intersections of science, medicine, and sectarianism in modernist Shiʿi writings*


This paper adds to the growing literature on transnational Shiʿism which has so far mostly focused on social history and political contestations. By tracing the thought, transnational legacy, and ultimate failure of the reformist Shiʿi scholar, Muhammad al-Khalisi (d. 1963), I argue for the crucial importance of local contexts and ideas for the genesis of Islamic modernist projects. In his native Iraq, al-Khalisi not only distinguished himself as a guerrilla fighter and political activist but also was shaped by prevailing notions about the compatibility of Islam and science. Exiled to Iran for his opposition to the British from 1922 to 1949, he encountered there specific medicalizing discourses on modernity. This exposure and his experience as a practitioner of medicine in the Iranian countryside led al-Khalisi to identify medicine as the master key to unlocking the secrets of the divine law, the sharīʿa: his major work on Islamic law singles out human health as God's supreme concern. Back in Iraq during the 1950s, al-Khalisi's medical-scientific vision of modernity was finally complemented with an uncompromising call for intra-Muslim unity. This stance led to furious attacks against al-Khalisi which continue unabated in contemporary Pakistan where his name has become a term of abuse.

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I am grateful to Sabrina Mervin, Werner Ende, Miriam Younes, Daniel Stolz, Cyrus Schayegh, Mirjam Künkler, Christophe Jaffrelot, Muhammad Qasim Zaman, Michael Feener, Christian Sahner, and the participants of the Inter-Asian Connections III workshop, ‘Networks of Religious Learning’, who all contributed valuable feedback on earlier versions of this paper.

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1 On Borujerdi, see Algar, Hamid, ‘Borūjerdī, Ḥosayn Ṭabāṭabāʾī’, in Yarshater, Ehsan (ed), Encyclopædia Iranica (London: Routledge and Keegan Paul, 1990), Vol. IV, Fasc. 4, pp. 376379. Borujerdi had taken over the leadership of the hawza of Qom in late December 1944.

2 See al-Khāliṣī, Muḥammad b. Mahdī, Risālat Jāmiʿat Madīnat al-ʿIlm ilā al-ʿālam: waqfiyyatuhā, murāfaqatuhā, ahdāfuhā (Al-Kāẓimiyya: Madīnat al-ʿIlm, n.d.), p. 12.

3 There is some confusion as to when he actually wrote The Revival of the Shariʿa within the School of Law of the Shiʿis. Al-Khalisi himself is quoted in the work, published in 1957, as saying that he penned the first volume 27 years earlier during his exile in Yazd and completed the second and third volumes during a prison sentence he served in Tehran. See Mahdī al-Khāliṣī, Muḥammad b., Iḥyā al-sharīʿa fī madhhab al-shīʿa (Baghdad: al-Burhān, 1957), Vol. 2, ʿayn. Islam Dabbagh, relying on an extensive collection of Iranian government records, however, has shown that al-Khalisi remained in Yazd from May 1947 until he was shifted to solitary confinement in Tehran in 1948. I am inclined to follow this chronology. See Dabbāgh, Islām, Mubārazāt-i Āyatallāh Shaykh Muḥammad Khāliṣīzādah bih rivāyat-i asnād (Tehran: Markaz-i Asnād-i Inqilāb-i Islāmī, 2011), pp. 325336.

4 Mervin, Sabrina, Un réformisme chiite: Ulémas et lettrés du Ǧabal ‘Āmil, actuel Liban-Sud, de la fin de l'Empire ottoman à l'indépendance du Liban (Paris: Karthala, 2000), p. 197.

5 Ibid, pp. 127–141.

6 Louër, Laurence, Transnational Shia Politics. Religious and political networks in the Gulf (London: Hurst, 2008).

7 Corboz, Elvire, Guardians of Shiʿism: Sacred authority and transnational family networks (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014).

8 Al-Khalisi wrote an extensive biography of his father, Mahdi al-Khalisi (d. 1925). For a French translation of the original work, entitled The Hero of Islam (Batal al-Islam), see al-Khāliṣī, Muḥammad b. Mahdī, La vie de l'ayatollah Mahdî al-Khâlisî, trans. Luizard, Pierre-Jean (Paris: Éditions de La Martinière, 2005).

9 See Dabbāgh, Mubārazāt, p. 19.

10 On his role in the fighting and a discussion of his transmission of the collective decisions by the highest-ranking Shiʿi scholars (marajiʿ al-taqlid) regarding jihad to the public, see Luizard, Pierre-Jean, ‘Shaykh Muhammad al-Khāliṣī (1890–1963) and his Political Role in Iraq and Iran in the 1910/20s’, in Brunner, Rainer and Ende, Werner (eds), The Twelver Shia in Modern Times. Religious culture and political history (Leiden: Brill, 2001), p. 230.

11 See Dabbāgh, Mubārazāt, p. 34. See below how this injury made him lose his eyesight later in life.

12 Al-Khalisi himself writes that he was not officially appointed to the mosque but simply assumed this position by climbing into the pulpit every day (al-Khāliṣī, La vie, pp. 319–321). See also Milāyarī, ʿAbd al-Karīm, ‘Mubāriz-i nā āshinā. Naqsh-i Āyatallāh Khāliṣī dar Mubārazah bā istibdād-i ẓiddīnī-yi Riẓā Shāh’, Kayhān-i Farhangī 19, 195 (2002), pp. 4142.

13 Dabbāgh, Islām, Rasāʾil-i siyāsī-yi Āyatallāh Shaykh Muḥammad Khāliṣizādah (Tehran: Markaz-i Asnād-i Inqilāb-i Islāmī, 2007), pp. 1819.

14 See Dabbāgh, Mubārazāt, pp. 54–58, and Luizard, ‘Political role’, p. 233.

15 Even though most accounts of al-Khalisi's 27 years in Iran mention the same locations of exile, the secondary literature is not entirely in agreement regarding the specific amounts of time he spent at each of these places. Compare Jaʿfariyān, Rasūl, Jarayānhā va sāzmānhā-yi maẕhabī-siyasī-i Īrān: az rū-yi kārāmadan-i Muḥammad Riẓā Shāh tā pīrūzī-i Inqilāb-i Islāmī, sālhā-yi 1320–1357 (Tehran: Khānah-i Kitāb, 2009), pp. 140141; Luizard, ‘Political role’; Milāyarī, ‘Mubāriz’; Dabbāgh, Rasāʾil-i siyāsī; and Dabbāgh, Mubārazāt.

16 Regarding his exile in Toyserkan, cf. Dabbāgh, Mubārazāt, pp. 119–123.

17 See, for example, al-Khāliṣī, La vie, pp. 328–329.

18 Dabbāgh, Rasāʾil-i siyāsī, pp. 117–218.

19 In addition to confirming the unity of God and Muhammad's Prophethood, the Shiʿis also testify that ʿAli is the friend (wali) of God.

20 Madīnat al-ʿIlm 1, 1 (April 1954), pp. 3–4.

21 See Ende, Werner, ‘Bidʿa or Sirr al-Īmān? Modern Shiʿi controversies over the third shahāda in the adhān’, in Amir-Moezzi, Mohammad A., Bar-Asher, Meir M. and Hopkins, Simon (eds), Le Shīʿisme Imāmite quarante ans après. Hommage à Etan Kohlberg (Turnhout: Brepols, 2009), p. 213.

22 al-Sābiqī, Muḥammad Ḥasnayn, Khāliṣiyyatnāmah (Multān: Markaz-i Tablīghāt-i Islāmī-yi Shīʿa, 1987), p. 56.

23 His participation was particularly controversial since this conference, convened at the initiative of the American Friends of the Middle East, was supposed to explore the common spiritual foundations of Christianity and Islam in order to devise a strategy of how to most effectively counter the threat of irreligiosity and communism. It is reasonable to assume that Hitti, who had close personal connections with the American Friends, invited al-Khalisi to Lebanon since the two men met in al-Kazimiyya in 1953. Al-Khalisi's book Rāhzanān-i ḥaqq va ḥaqīqat in the Princeton University Library bears a personal dedication to Hitti, and al-Khalisi also mentioned their encounter in the second volume of his fiqh work, Iḥyāʾ al-sharīʿa fī madhhab al-shīʿa, emphasizing that he drew Hitti's attention to many errors in the depiction of Islam in the latter's historical work, The Arabs.

24 Madīnat al-ʿIlm 1, 3 (May 1954), pp. 232–233.

25 Said Arjomand, Amir, ‘Ideological Revolution in Shi'ism’, in Arjomand, Said A. (ed), Authority and Political Culture in Shi'ism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988), pp. 188189.

26 Luizard, ‘Political role’, p. 235.

27 Claiming to be a prophet, Musaylima b. Habib (d. 632) was an important anti-Muslim figure in the ridda wars after Muhammad's death, with a strong following among the tribe of the Banu Hanifa.

28 Ende, Werner, ‘Success and Failure of a Shiite Modernist: Muhammad ibn Muhammad Mahdi al-Khalisi (1890–1963)’, in Monsutti, Alessandro, Naef, Silvia and Sabahi, Farian (eds), The Other Shiites. From the Mediterranean to Central Asia (Bern: Peter Lang, 2007), p. 243.

29 As a ‘noun of relation’ (nisba), al-Khalisi refers to the village of al-Khalis which is located some kilometres north of the Iraqi city of Baqubah.

30 Jaʿfariyān, Jarayānhā, p. 901.

31 Sayyid Hussain Arif Naqvi, ‘The Controversy about the Shaykhiyya Tendency Among Shia “Ulamā” in Pakistan’, in Brunner and Ende (eds), The Twelver Shia in Modern Times, p. 143. See also Aʿwān, Ṭāhir ʿAbbās, Mard-i ʿilm maydān-i ʿamal meṉ (Liya: Jāmi\ʿah-i Valī al-ʿAṣr, 2005), pp. 5556.

32 al-Khāliṣī, Muḥammad b. Mahdī, ʿUlamā al-Shīʿa wa-l-ṣirāʿ maʿa ‘l-bidaʿ wa-l-khurāfāt al-dakhīla fī ‘l-dīn (Beirut: al-Hilāl, 2009), p. 409.

33 Troll, Christian W., Sayyid Ahmad Khan. A reinterpretation of Muslim theology (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1978), pp. 168170.

34 Ibid, p. 226.

35 Jomier, Jacques, Le Commentaire coranique du Manâr. Tendances modernes de l'éxegèse coranique en Égypte (Paris: G.-P. Maisonneuve, 1954), p. 153.

36 Stolz, Daniel A, ‘“By Virtue of Your Knowledge”: Scientific materialism and the fatwās of Rashīd Riḍā’, Bulletin of SOAS 75, 2 (2012), pp. 225226.

37 Jansen, J. J. G., The Interpretation of the Koran in Modern Egypt (Leiden: Brill, 1974), p. 44.

38 Mervin, Un réformisme chiite, pp. 200–201.

39 Jomier, Jacques, ‘Le Cheikh Tantawi Jawhari (1862–1940) et son commentaire du Coran’, Mélanges de l'Institut Dominicain d'Études Orientales 5 (1958), p. 154.

40 Ibid, p. 164.

41 Dallal, Ahmad S., Islam, Science, and the Challenge of History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), p. 170. For a critique of Jawhari's approach by his contemporaries, see Jomier, Jacques, ‘L'Éxegèse scientifique du Coran d'après le Cheikh Amin al-Khouli’, Mélanges de l'Institut Dominicain d'Études Orientales 4 (1957), pp. 269280.

42 Ibid. Dallal, Ahmad, ‘Science and the Qurʾān’, in McAuliffe, Jane Dammen (ed), Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān (Leiden: Brill, 2001). <>, [accessed 23 November 2013].

43 The Lebanese journal al-ʿIrfan, for example, devoted special sections to the discussion of recent technological inventions. See Naef, Silvia, ‘Aufklärung in einem schiitischen Umfeld: die libanesische Zeitschrift al-ʿIrfān’, Die Welt des Islams 36, 3 (1996), p. 372.

44 For a brief discussion of al-Khalisi's attempts to integrate theology and science, see also Machlis, Elisheva, ‘The Cross-Sectarian Call for Islam: A sample of Shiʿa reformist thought’, Journal of Shiʿa Islamic Studies 2, 2 (2009), pp. 211214.

45 Al-Khāliṣī, Madīnat al-ʿIlm, p. 9.

46 al-Khāliṣī, Muḥammad b. Mahdī, al-Juzʾ al-awwal min Kitāb al-Maʿārif al-Muḥammadiyyah (Tehran: Markaz-i Wathāʾiq al-Imām al-Khāliṣī, 2002), p. 12.

47 Compare Arjomand, Kamran, ‘In Defense of the Sacred Doctrine. Muḥammad Ḥusayn al-Shahristani's refutation of materialism and evolutionary theories of natural history’, Hallesche Beiträge zur Orientwissenschaft 25 (1998), pp. 118.

48 Al-Khāliṣī, Al-Maʿārif al-Muḥammadiyyah, p. 46. On Milne-Edwards, see Berthelot, Marcelin, Notice historique sur Henri Milne-Edwards (Paris: Didot, 1891).

49 For a biography of this famous French astronomer, see Chaperon, Danielle, Camille Flammarion: entre astronomie et littérature (Paris: Imago, 1998).

50 Werner Ende holds that the same argument is predominant in Hibat al-Din al-Shahrastani's Al-Hayʾa wa-l-Islām which was published in 1910. See Ende, Werner, ‘Von der Resignation zur Revolution: wie ein Molla 1928 den schiitischen Lehrbetrieb reformieren wollte und was daraus geworden ist’, in Reiner, Benedikt and Thomann, Johannes (eds), Islamische Grenzen und Grenzübergänge (Bern: Peter Lang, 2007), p. 173.

51 Flammarion, Camille, Khudā dar Ṭabīʿat. Shāriḥ: Muḥammad Khāliṣī (Tehran: Ḥājī Mīrzā Aʿlā Aqā-yi Farshchiyān, 1928), pp. 175180.

52 Ibid, pp. 198–199 and 215–217. It is interesting to note that al-Khalisi was obviously not aware of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani's writings. This early reformist and pan-Islamist thinker had entered into an exchange with Renan in Paris and had refuted some of the nineteenth century materialists, like Ludwig Büchner, who also appear as Flammarion's main opponents. On al-Afghani and materialism, see Stolz, ‘By virtue of your knowledge’, pp. 226–229.

53 Flammarion, Khudā dar Ṭabīʿat, p. 228.

54 For more information on the school, compare MacEoin, Denis, ‘Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy in Nineteenth-Century Shi'ism: The cases of Shaykhism and Babism’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 110, 2 (1990), pp. 323329; and Mohammad A. Amir-Moezzi, ‘An Absence Filled With Presences: Shaykhiyya’, in Brunner and Ende (eds), The Twelver Shia in Modern Times, pp. 38–57.

55 See, for example, al-Khāliṣī, ʿUlamā al-Shīʿa, pp. 295–297.

56 For Rawls’ demand to ‘take religion off the political agenda’, see Rawls, John, Political Liberalism(New York: Columbia University Press, 1993).

57 Al-Khāliṣī, ʿUlāma al-Shīʿa, 216.

58 Ibid, pp. 229 and 380.

59 On this current, see Corbin, Henry, ‘Shiite Thought’, in Corbin, Henry, Sherrard, Liadain and Sherrard, Philip (eds), History of Islamic Philosophy (London: Kegan Paul, 1993), pp. 121124.

60 Al-Khāliṣī, ʿUlamā al-Shīʿa, p. 395.

61 Ibid, p. 396.

62 Ibid, p. 405.

63 Because al-Khalisi very much adopted a polemical tone, he did not feel compelled to provide any actual examples of such an anti-rational attitude leading to the problems he described.

64 Ibid, p. 408.

65 al-Khāliṣī, Muḥammad b. Mahdī, Rāhzanān-i ḥaqq va ḥaqīqat yā bāzgashtigān ba-suyī barbariyyat va jāhiliyyat (Baghdad: Maʿārif, 1951).

66 For a classic account of the party, compare Abrahamian, Ervand, Iran Between Two Revolutions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), pp. 281325. The book in question published by the Tudeh was entitled The Guardians of Magic and Incantation (Nigahbānān-i saḥr va afsūn).

67 Al-Khāliṣī, Rāhzanān, p. 7.

68 Ibid, p. 8.

69 Ibid, p. 13.

70 Ibid, p. 64.

71 Ibid, p. 17.

72 Ibid, pp. 68–69.

73 On him, see Abrahamian, Ervand, ‘Arānī, Tāqī’, in Yarshater, Ehsan (ed.), Encyclopædia Iranica (Routledge and Keegan Paul: London, 1986), Vol. II, Fasc. 3, pp. 263265.

74 Al-Khāliṣī, Rāhzanān, p. 71.

75 Schayegh, Cyrus, Who is Knowledgeable is Strong: Science, class, and the formation of modern Iranian society, 1900–1950 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), p. 7.

76 Ibid, p. 197.

77 Ibid, p. 41.

78 Kashani-Sabet, Firoozeh, Conceiving Citizens: Women and the politics of motherhood in Iran (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 17.

79 Schayegh, Who is Knowledgeable, p. 77.

80 Kashani-Sabet, Conceiving Citizens, p. 11.

81 Schayegh, Who is Knowledgeable, p. 50.

82 Kashani-Sabet, Conceiving Citizens, p. 22.

83 Ibid, p. 21. The phrase translates literally as ‘the perfect human being’ and has a long tradition in Islamic thought. See R. Arnaldez, ‘al-Insān al-Kāmil’, in P. Bearman et. al. (eds), Encyclopaedia of Islam, second edition, Brill Online, 2012. <>, [accessed 23 Novemer 2013].

84 As he puts it, for example, in al-Khāliṣī, Iḥyāʾ al-sharīʿa, Vol. 1, p. 15: ‘the time has been transformed (wa-qad tabaddala al-zaman) and the structure of kingdoms and states has changed so that humankind has entered a new age (tawr jadid)’.

85 This argument about the likely influence of the Iranian milieu on al-Khalisi, without going into further details, has also been made by Elisheva Machlis. See Machlis, ‘The Cross-Sectarian Call for Islam’, p. 213.

86 Muḥammad b. Mahdī al-Khāliṣī, Iḥyāʾ al-Sharīʿa fī madhhab al-Shīʿa. I am relying for the first volume on the second imprint by Maṭbaʿa al-Azhar in Baghdad from 1965 and for volumes two and three on the first imprint by Maṭbaʿa Burhān in Baghdad from 1957. The first imprint of the first volume was originally carried out in 1951.

87 On the process of joining the highest-ranking Shiʿi scholars in the twentieth century, see Walbridge, Linda S., ‘The Counterreformation: Becoming a Marʿja in the modern world’, in Walbridge, Linda S. (ed.), The Most Learned of the Shiʿa: The institution of the Marjaʿ taqlid (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 240246.

88 This is how al-Khalisi puts it in the original Arabic: ‘Lā yaṣībuhu marḍ min al-amrāḍ muddat hayatihi’; al-Khāliṣī, Iḥyāʾ al-sharīʿa, Vol. 3, pp. 6–7.

89 For a similar identification of microbes with jinns in the journal al-Manar, see Berger, Lutz, ‘Esprits et microbes: l'intérpretation des ǧinn-s dans quelques commentaires coranique du XXe siècle’, Arabica 47, 3 (2000), p. 557. Compare also Goldziher, Ignaz, Die Richtungen der islamischen Koranauslegung. An der Universität Upsala gehaltene Olaus-Petri-Vorlesungen(Leiden: Brill, 1970), p. 356.

90 Ibid, Vol. 2, pp. 14–15.

91 Douglas, Mary, Purity and Danger: An analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo(London: Routledge, 2002), p. 41. See also Khan, Faradj, Hygiène et Islamisme(Lyon: Bourgeon, 1904), pp. 9091.

92 Al-Khāliṣī, Iḥyāʾ al-sharīʿa, Vol. 1, pp. 321–322. He also hinted at other negative effects of pork, which modern medicine has discovered, such as a tendency on the part of the consumer to become more aggressive and to develop skin problems and bad odour.

93 Ibid, pp. 324–327.

94 Al-Khalisi, of course, also had the advantage of being able to look back at several additional decades of the popularization of science. Rida, for instance, had to deflect the question of a reader who wanted to know how one can logically solve the puzzle of molecules on the day of resurrection. Some of these molecules, the question went, might have been part of a large number of living beings, but to which of those did they ultimately belong? Whereas Rida had to argue that resurrection would take place in a different universe which contains more material, al-Khalisi could simply point out that at every given moment our universe contains far more matter than is needed. See Stolz, ‘By virtue of your knowledge’, p. 235; and al-Khāliṣī, Iḥyāʾ al-sharīʿa, Vol. 1, p. 100.

95 Ibid, Vol. 2, p. 15.

96 Ibid, Vol. 3, pp. 299.

97 Ibid, p. 350.

98 Ibid, Vol. 2, p. 52.

99 Ibid, Vol. 3, pp. 391–392. A similar idea is expressed in the medical dissertation of the Iranian physician, Faradj Khan, submitted in Lyon in 1904. See Khan, Hygiène et Islamisme, p. 25.

100 Al-Khāliṣī, Iḥyāʾ al-sharīʿa, Vol. 3, p. 274.

101 Ibid, Vol. 1, 334. This is one of the few instances where al-Khalisi actually makes references to his sources, or rather to the texts that confirm his original reasoning—more about this intriguing question below.

102 Ibid, p. 44.

103 Ibid, Vol. 2, pp. 192–193.

104 Ibid, pp. 42–43.

105 Ibid, p. 45.

106 Ibid, Vol. 1, 38.

107 Ibid, Vol. 1, 24–26.

108 Ibid, pp. 285–287.

109 Ibid, pp. 287–288. Al-Khāliṣī spells him ‘Ibrīsnit’. For further details on Prießnitz's (d. 1851) hydrotherapy movement, see Helfricht, Jürgen, Vincenz Prießnitz (1799–1851) und die Rezeption seiner Hydrotherapie bis 1918: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Naturheilbewegung(Husum: Matthiesen, 2006).

110 Al-Khāliṣī, Iḥyāʾ al-sharīʿa, Vol. 1, 294–300.

111 Ibid, Vol. 1, p. 14.

112 Ibid, p. 17.

113 Ibid, p. 18.

114 Ibid, Vol. 2, pp. 14–15. Compare also his statement on p. 6 that Islamic divine law rendered the preservation of health obligatory.

115 In a foreword for the second volume of Ihyaʾ al-shariʿa, which was published six years after Volume 1, the publisher remarked on the intensive opposition al-Khalisi faced from ‘heterodox’ Shiʿi groups and the educated (al-muthaqqafun). See al-Khāliṣī, Iḥyāʾ al-sharīʿa, Vol. 2, jīm-nūn.

116 Zaman, Muhammad Qasim, Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi: Islam in modern South Asia (Oxford: Oneworld, 2008), pp. 4142.

117 Ibid, p. 42.

118 Daechsel, Markus, ‘Scientism and its Discontents: The Indo-Muslim ‘fascism’ of Inayatullah Khan al-Mashriqi’, Modern Intellectual History 3, 3 (2006), p. 443.

119 Ibid, p. 454.

120 Ibid, p. 456.

121 Al-Khāliṣī, Iḥyāʾ al-sharīʿa, Vol. 2, 83–104.

122 Ibid, Vol. 3, pp. 264–274.

123 Ibid, p. 507.

124 Ibid, p. 509.

125 Ibid, p. 511.

126 Ibid, p. 369.

127 Ibid, pp. 482–485.

128 al-Khāliṣī, Muḥammad b. Mahdī, ‘Ḥaqīqat-i Hijāb dar Islām’, in Jaʿfariyān, Rasūl (ed.), Rasāʾil-i ḥijābiyyah: Shaṣt sāl-i talāsh-i ʻilmī dar barābar-i bidʿat-i kashf-i ḥijāb (Qum: Dalīl-i Mā, 2001), pp. 715716.

129 Ibid, p. 718.

130 Schayegh, Who is Knowledgable, p. 50.

131 Al-Khāliṣī, Iḥyāʾ al-sharīʿa, Vol. 3, pp. 301–302.

132 Dabbāgh, Mubārazāt, p. 75.

133 Al-Khāliṣī, Iḥyāʾ al-sharīʿa, Vol. 1, p. 337.

134 Ibid, pp. 332 and 346.

135 al-Daftar, Muḥammad Hādī, ‘Kalimat al-taḥrīr’, Madīnat al-ʿIlm 1, 1 (1954), pp. 48.

136 Ende, ‘Modern Shīʿī controversies’, pp. 205–206.

137 In the context of Pakistan, I will concentrate on the discussion surrounding the writings by Muhammad Husayn al-Najafi Dhakku. Based in the Punjabi town of Sargodha, he is not only the most influential and undoubtedly the most controversial Pakistani reformist ʿalim but also one of the earliest supporters of al-Khalisi, already defending him in his work Uṣūl al-sharīʿa fī ʿaqāʾid al-shīʿa (The Principles of the Shariʿa in Shiʿi Beliefs), published in 1967. In order to gain a deeper understanding of how the Dhakku-Khalisi connection was construed, I have consulted works by his opponents, such as Muhammad Hasnayn al-Sabiqi's Khāliṣiyatnāmah (The Book on al-Khalisi), as well as Dhakku's reaction to these challenges. See also Naqvi, ‘The Controversy’, pp. 141–143.

138 Rieck, Andreas T., The Shias of Pakistan. An assertive and beleaguered minority (London: Hurst, forthcoming), p. 202. I am grateful to Dr Rieck for sharing his important study prior to its publication. Please note, however, that the final page number might differ from the one I indicate. Dhakku has his own website at: <>, [accessed 24 November 2013].

139 Dhakku repeatedly stated that while studying in Najaf he and other Pakistani students only visited al-Khalisi ‘three or four times’ in al-Kazimiyya, raising some controversial questions with him (baʿz-i ikhtilafi masaʾil). See al-Najafī Ḍhakkū, Muḥammad Ḥusayn, Uṣūl al-sharīʿa fī ʿaqāʾid al-shīʿa (Sargoḍha: Maktabat al-Sibṭayn, 2006), p. 267. See also al-Sābiqī, Muḥammad Ḥasnayn, Khāliṣiyyatnāmah (Multan: Markaz-i Tablīghāt-i Islāmī-yi Shīʿa, 1987), p. 5.

140 Al-Najafī, Uṣūl al-sharīʿa, pp. 424–426.

141 Ḍhakkū, Muḥammad Ḥusayn al-Najafī, Iṣlāḥ al-rusūm al-ẓāhira bi-kalām al-ʿitra al-ṭāhira (Sargodha: Maktabat al-Sibṭayn, 2009), p. 40.

142 For an overview of the different variations this label took, see Sanyal, Usha, Devotional Islam and Politics in British India. Ahmad Riza Khan and his movement, 1870–1920 (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 240255. See also Riexinger, Martin, Sanāʾullāh Amritsarī (1868–1948) und die Ahl-i-Ḥadīs im Punjab unter britischer Herrschaft (Würzburg: Ergon, 2004), pp. 138141 and 523–536.

143 Muhammad b. ʿAbd al-Wahhab (d. 1792) emphasized that strict monotheism (tawhid) was not restricted to the recognition of and the mere belief in one God but also extended to human actions and specifically worship. In this view Shiʿis who venerate the graves of their Imams commit polytheism (shirk). See Peskes, Esther, Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Wahhāb (1703–92) im Widerstreit. Untersuchungen zur Rekonstruktion der Frühgeschichte der Wahhābīya (Stuttgart: Steiner, 1993), pp. 2227.

144 Al-Sābiqī, Khāliṣiyyatnāmah, p. 19.

145 Its author, Muhammad Hasnayn al-Sabiqi, was born in 1945 in Talagang (North Punjab) and studied in Khairpur and Sargodha before leaving Pakistan for Najaf. He later opened his own seminary in Multan and inter alia wrote a reply to Dhakku's Usul al-Shariʿa. Husayn ʿArif Naqvi describes him as a distributor of Shaykhi literature in Pakistan. For more details, see ʿArif Naqvī, Sayyid Ḥusayn, Taẕkirah-i ʿulamā-yi Imāmiyyah-i Pākistān (Mashhad: Bunyād-i Pazhūhishā-yi Islāmī-yi Āstān-i Quds-i Rażawī, 1991), pp. 290291.

146 Al-Sābiqī, Khāliṣiyyatnāmah, p. 19.

147 Ibid, pp. 31–32. It is indeed tempting to see a reference to al-Khalisi's name here.

148 See Brunner, Rainer, Islamic Ecumenism in the 20th Century: The Azhar and Shiism between rapprochement and restraint (Leiden: Brill, 2004), pp. 153207.

149 In the Khalisiyyatnamah this debate was reflected by al-Sabiqi's statement that he and his supporters were not opposed to intra-Muslim unity, but they deemed intra-Shiʿi unity to be a much more important concern (al-Sābiqī, Khāliṣiyyatnāmah, p. 7).

150 Ilahī Ẓahīr, Iḥsān, Al-Shīʿa wa-l-Sunna (Lahore: Idārat Tarjumān al-Sunna, 2008), p. 184. Zahir himself was assassinated in 1987. See Zahab, Maryam Abou, ‘The SSP: Herald of Militant Sunni Islam in Pakistan’, in Gayer, L. and Jaffrelot, C. (eds), Armed Militias of South Asia. Fundamentalists, Maoists and separatists (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), pp. 167168.

151 On him and his adaptation of hallmark themes of the Iranian revolution to the Pakistani context, see my forthcoming ‘Third Wave Shiʻism: Sayyid ‘Arif Husain al-Husaini and the Islamic revolution in Pakistan’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 2014.

152 Zaman, Muhammad Qasim, ‘Sectarianism in Pakistan: The radicalization of Shi'i and Sunni identities’, Modern Asian Studies 32, 3 (1998), p. 700.

153 Al-Sābiqī, Khāliṣiyyatnāmah, p. 22.

154 Ibid, p. 133. For discussions among Shiʿis about a possible corruption of the Qurʾanic texts, compare Brunner, Rainer, Die Schia und die Koranfälschung (Würzburg: Ergon, 2001).

155 Al-Sābiqī, Khāliṣiyyatnāmah, p. 24.

156 The ahl al-bayt comprise the Prophet Muhammad, his daughter Fatima, his son-in-law and cousin Ali, their sons al-Hasan and al-Husayn, and the remaining nine Shiʿi Imams.

157 Al-Sābiqī, Khāliṣiyyatnāmah, p. 51.

158 Ibid, p. 33.

159 See for an overview, Aʿwān, Malik Iftikhār Ḥusayn, Tabṣarat al-maghmūm ʿalā ajwabat Ịslāḥ al-rusūm (Sargoḍha: Maktabat al-Sibṭayn, 2009), pp. 143149.

160 Al-Sābiqī, Khāliṣiyyatnāmah, p. 59.

161 Ibid, p. 44.

162 Ibid. For the usual Sikh connotation of this word, see Laurent Gayer, ‘The Khalistan Militias: Servants and users of the state’, in Jaffrelot and Gayer (eds), Armed Militias of South Asia, pp. 237–257.

163 Al-Sābiqī, Khāliṣiyyatnāmah, p. 65.

164 Ibid, p. 17.

165 This view resonates with Werner Ende's findings; see above.

166 Al-Sābiqī, Khāliṣiyyatnāmah, p. 13.

167 This is a reference to the Damascene jurist, Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), who is often credited as one of the main sources of inspiration for the Wahhabi movement.

168 Al-Sābiqī, Khāliṣiyyatnāmah, p. 9.

169 This derogatory term denotes those who downgrade the exalted position of the ahl al-bayt.

170 Al-Sābiqī, Khāliṣiyyatnāmah, p. 50.

171 Ibid, pp. 10–11.

172 Aʿwān, Tabṣarat al-maghmūm, pp. 141–142.

173 On him, see Mervin, Un Réformisme Chiite, pp. 161–177.

174 Ibid, pp. 144–145.

175 See, for example, Ṣafdar Ḥusayn Ḍogar, ‘Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ḍhakkū se 150 suʾāl’, al-Qiyām (1987), p. 101, where Dhakku refers to pp. 58–59 and 87 of the first volume of Iḥyāʾ al-sharīʿa.

176 Ibid, p. 83.

177 Ḍhakkū, Iṣlāh al-Rusūm, p. 37.

178 Ibid, p. 38.

179 Ḍogar, 150 suʾāl, pp. 104–105. This lack of concern for financial benefits is repeatedly stressed in Dhakku's biography. His only son, for example, died when he was studying in Iraq since he could not pay for the required medication, having spent his money mostly on books. See Aʿwān, Ṭāhir ʿAbbās, Mard-i ʿilm maydān-i ʿamal meṉ (Liya: Jāmiʿah-i Valī al-ʿAṣr, 2005), p. 45.

180 Ibid, p. 84.

181 Even though shaykhis in Pakistan today are only a very minor group, the connections with Kuwait are still strong, as I witnessed first-hand in 2011 while visiting the main shaykhi centre in Islamabad.

182 Mervin, Sabrina, ‘Transnational Intellectual Debates’, in Mervin, Sabrina (ed), The Shi'a Worlds and Iran (London: Saqi, 2010), p. 327.

183 Jones, Justin, Shi'a Islam in Colonial India: Religion, community and sectarianism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 113.

184 Ibid, p. 238.

185 Naqvī, Taẕkirah-i ʿulamā, p. 291.

* I am grateful to Sabrina Mervin, Werner Ende, Miriam Younes, Daniel Stolz, Cyrus Schayegh, Mirjam Künkler, Christophe Jaffrelot, Muhammad Qasim Zaman, Michael Feener, Christian Sahner, and the participants of the Inter-Asian Connections III workshop, ‘Networks of Religious Learning’, who all contributed valuable feedback on earlier versions of this paper.

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