This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
By Mazaher Muraj
Doctrines of Shi’i Islam (DOSI) was first written and published in Persian under the name Manshūr-i ‘aqāyid-i Imāmiyya, literally translated as ‘A Charter of Imāmi Beliefs, by Ayatollah Ja’far Sobhani. The book was translated into English by Reza Shah-Kazemi, working for The Institute of Ismaili Studies and then finally published by I.B. Tauris Publishers in 2001. The book currently under review seeks to present the view of the much maligned Shi’i school of thought in order to dispel misconceptions and bring about a sense of unity which the author constantly expresses throughout the book as well as dedicating the last article to the issue. However as we shall see the author does not shy away from expressing the view that Ali, the Prophet’s cousin, was to be his rightful successor as designated by God and seeks to address certain controversial topics such as mu’ta and taqiya. In this review I will assess the following points; (1) the author’s approach and (2) the author’s style. The conclusion will consist of a combination of these points in order to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the book and whether the book satisfactorily meets its aim in relation to the audience for whom it has been written. The Author Ayatollah Ja’far Sobhani is a well established and respected scholar of the highest caliber in the Islamic Seminary of Qom, Iran working as part of the council of Mujtahid’s. He has written on a huge range of subjects such as theology, history, jurisprudence and many others and thus as a result has over 80 works published to his name. Other than the present book under review, other of his works that has received many accolades is the biography of the Prophet Muhammad .
Author’s Approach In order to determine the author’s approach in writing the book, it is important that we consider the following; (a) the aim of the author and his target audience and (b) the structure/layout in which the book has been compiled. In doing so we will be able to make clear the author’s ability to successfully convey the tenets of Shi’i thought from his intended audience. (a) Aim of the Author and his Audience The author in his preface states that he has noticed a revolutionary return to religion by people living in western societies due to the adverse affects of secularism – devoid of religious practices – has had on their lives. He produces examples of such adverse effects citing the World wars of 1914 and 1939 respectively and also the breakdown of the family structure . The author clearly states in his closing statement that “we undertake the writing of this short work with the intention of clarifying the fundamental principles of Islam according to the school of the ahl al-bayt” . The author seeks to write for this reason because he is of the opinion that it is important that those people seeking religion should be taught the correct information so as to direct them towards “the flowing stream of divine grace”  rather than be fed with information that leads them towards radicalism. Therefore the author has sought to present the view of the Twelver Shi’i School, although he does not make mention of this however this is evident from his writing throughout the book as well as from his other works. Although not directly stated by the author in his preface, the translator (Reza Shah-Kazemi) makes the effort to inform the reader that the intended audience for which the book has been compiled. He says the book was compiled “with the intention of presenting to a non-specialist audience a concise but wide-ranging overview of the principle tenets of Twelver Shi’i Islam” . Since the book has been translated from its original Persian text, the translator goes on to mention that the present text is useful as an “introductory text on Shi’i thought”  aimed at students of Islam in general, not just students of Shi’ism.
(b) Structure With regards to the structure of the book, upon viewing the contents page it can be seen that the topics discussed by the author are divided into three chapters; the first discussing universal principles such as the ways of acquiring knowledge in Islam which reefer’s to the Qur’ān and
hadith. The second chapter discusses the fundamental principles of Shi’i Islam with a particular focus on Imamate. The number of pages dedicated to this chapter seems to be equal however upon further inspection this is not necessarily the case since some of the article are as short as a paragraph whilst other articles can stretch up to a few pages. Finally the last chapter is dedicated to eradicating certain misconceptions regarding the Shi’i school of thought as well as explaining misrepresented areas such as taqiya. As mentioned, the book contains 150 concise articles seeking to explain a comprehensive amount of topic areas. The book is not intended to be exhaustive, but is to be an introduction and in my view the format of one article after another provides a consistent and understandable read. Also where necessary, the author makes recommendations to the reader other of his works where the author has written in a more extensive manner on a particular subject whether it is history or jurisprudence. The end of the book contains a reference section, therefore a reader, having read through all 150 articles is able to refer to the references noted down by the author as well as gain a deeper understanding by using the author’s explanatory notes as a guide. The book concludes with a glossary and an index section to act as a further guide to help a reader understand and use the book effectively. Author’s style It is necessary to discuss the author’s style in order to establish the success of the author in conveying the message of the book in an understandable manner. In order to do so, it is important to consider the following points; (a) complexity of the book and (b) referencing style. (a) Complexity Written as a set of 150 articles, the book is easy to understand as the reader of the book reads from article to article due to the consistency of its layout and writing style. It must be noted that if a reader wishes to read from a random article then they can do so since the articles are easy to follow however in certain areas such as ‘free will and predestination’ (displayed in article’s 51 to 53) the reader may find the need to read the previous article since the author at times relates following articles to previous ones. Topics such as the one just mentioned are recorded in parts and the author does this in order to explain the matter in an understandable format with the readers in mind. Thus random selection of articles poses no problems for the reader however this does not apply in every instance.
A useful feature of the book is that Arabic words, when introduced, are also transliterated which allows a non Arab speaker or a reader not familiar with reciting in Arabic the opportunity to pronounce and learn words as they read. In addition to this, the definition of the Arabic term is given beside the Arabic and where further explanation is required; the reader is referred to the glossary section located near the end pages which is dedicated to explaining unfamiliar terms in further detail. A critique, however, regarding this is that when certain Arabic terms have repeatedly been used e.g. tawhīd (displayed in article 27 to 31), the author would not repeat the definition of the term, rather he would expect the reader to have become familiar with the term or refer to the glossary where the term is explained. This omission may not necessarily be the work of the author, but the work of the translator. Through the entire book, for each article, the author makes constant reference to the Qur’ān and hadith in order to ‘prove’ a matter from the view of the Shi’i. Furthermore due to the concise manner in which a tenet of Shi’i Islam is explained, when necessary, the author refers the reader to other works of his where he has covered the topic in depth. (b) Referencing style It is evident that a vast number of referencing has taken place in this book and in order to reduce the time taken to locate a reference and the nuisance it may cause, the author has segregated the reference section by chapter. Therefore it is clear that the author has taken into consideration that a non-academic reader may be deterred from a long list of references and so has made it appear to be less vast than it is. In addition it can be seen that the material used to produce this book is that of both primary and secondary sources. The benefit of this approach is that the reader is provided with all that is necessary for further reading and it indicates that the author has gone through extraordinary lengths in order to provide the most accurate and complete information. However the drawback of this approach is that most sources, in particular the primary, are either in Arabic or in Persian and therefore the reader is required to know these languages in order to pursue certain references. This can be considered a weakness of the book since as stated in the initial stages of writing this book; it is intended for a western audience who are most likely to be unfamiliar with these languages. The greatest strength of the book is that in each article of every chapter, when the author refers to a point in the view of the school of the ahl al-bayt, he makes reference firstly of the Qur’ān and secondly of the hadith. Only then, after having established the matter does the
author refer to other works of his and others. This is best illustrated in the articles discussing Prohethood and Imāmate.
In this review I have sought to determine whether the author of this book in presenting the tenet of Shi’i Islam successfully achieves his aim as set out in the beginning preface in the style he wishes to do so. In order to do so, the following points were considered; the author’s approach and the author’s style. Having considered both points, I conclude that this book a good introduction into understanding the tenets of the school of the ahl albayt. This is for a number of reasons; (1) the intention of the author was to provide the view of Shi’i Islam in a concise manner – having examined the booked, I believe the author has achieved this because the book is compiled into three short chapters which explain each tenet in a simple and concise manner and where necessary the author refers the reader to another work of his where he has covered the topic in great length, (2) Regarding the complexity of the book, the articles flow from one to the next in a consistent layout. The author would, in each article, explain the subject area in the same format as the previous article – firstly via the Qur’ān, then using hadith and then using logic as well as material from other works. The book, as outlined, has much strength in the way it has been written and presented and thus I would recommend it be read by all wishing to gain an introduction into the shi’i school of thought. However a weakness highlighted was that the majority of sources used to produce such a book are in the Arabic and Persian language which may not be suitable for readers unfamiliar with that language.
However this is no reason for a person to shy away from reading such a book.
 The Institute of Ismaili Studies. 2001. Ayatollah Ja'far Sobhani. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.iis.ac.uk/view_person.asp? ID=60&type=auth. [Accessed 22 June 12].  Sobhani, J, 2001. Doctrines of Shi'i Islam: A Compendium of Imami Beliefs and Practices. 1st ed. Preface, xvii: I.B. Tauris.  Sobhani, J, 2001. Doctrines of Shi'i Islam: A Compendium of Imami Beliefs and Practices. 1st ed. Preface, xix: I.B. Tauris.  Sobhani, J, 2001. Doctrines of Shi'i Islam: A Compendium of Imami Beliefs and Practices. 1st ed. Preface, xvii: I.B. Tauris.  Sobhani, J, 2001. Doctrines of Shi'i Islam: A Compendium of Imami Beliefs and Practices. 1st ed. Translator’s Foreword, xi: I.B. Tauris.  Sobhani, J, 2001. Doctrines of Shi'i Islam: A Compendium of Imami Beliefs and Practices. 1st ed. Translator’s Foreword, xi: I.B. Tauris.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.