Imitating the Infallibles (i)

Reflections & Thoughts | For those interested in this new format called “Reflections & Thoughts”, please read the first two paragraphs in this post.

For the latter part of my time in the seminary, I was very much grappling with discussions on ethics and law. These discussions took me to all sorts of literature and scholarship being produced within the seminary and even outside of the seminary. Two very good works I stumbled upon, produced within the seminary were:

1) Ta‘āruḍ-e Akhlāqī wa Dānish Uṣūl-e Fiqh – Bāz-khwānī Ẓarfīyyat-hāye Uṣūl-e Fiqh dar Ḥall-e Ta‘āruḍāt Akhlāqī. The first work roughly translates to: Ethical Contradictions and Legal Theory – Revisiting the Capacity of Legal Theory in Reconciling Ethical Contradictions

2) Istinbāṭ-e Ḥukm-e Akhlāqī az Sīreh wa ‘Amal-e Ma‘ṣūm – Dushwārī-hāye Naẓarī wa Mulāḥiẓāt-e Rawish Shinākhtī. The second work roughly translates to: Deriving Ethical Rules from the Life and Actions of the Infallibles – Theoretical Difficulties and Observations on Methodologies

Students who have studied some level of legal theory should find these two works relatively easy to understand. These works were very eye-opening as many new dimensions on the topic and principle of “imitating the infallibles” – a theological statement that has become rather clichéd for us today – were expounded on. “The Imams are role models for us”, “Lady Fatima (s) is a role model for all women”, “The Prophet (p) is a role model for us”, yet the immediate irrelevance of the context in which they lived their lives in, the literal and apparent forms in which they carried themselves in and behaved, are not consciously acknowledged by us. After all, Fatima (s) was nine or ten at the time of marriage – is it really possible for us to present to the world this age as an ideal age of marriage for women today? Would even religious people, keen on following the example of Fatima (s), be willing to encourage this to their own families? “No, her age of marriage was contextual to her time,” is the most likely response you will get. Her married life with Imam ‘Ali (a) was not a lavish or rich life, rather it was economically strainful, especially up until the conquest of Makkah. Is the ideal life of a woman one where we encourage them to opt for marrying into relationships where the husband will be financially struggling, to the extent that many sacrifices will need to be made, so that they have imitated Fatima (s)? But then, where will such ladies find a husband like ‘Ali (a) for which such a sacrifice may be worth it? If that is not the decision we wish to encourage, then what model has Lady Fatima (s) left for women who marry into families or to husbands who are financially well off? How would that life have looked like for her?

These questions are not limited to Lady Fatima (s), rather can be extended to all the infallibles. What facts of their lives are we really trying to emulate exactly? What facts of their lives do we not want to imitate, or perhaps simply cannot imitate? What are the criteria to determine these matters? The two aforementioned books were an attempt to answer some of these questions and provide a more systematic approach to being able to derive values and lessons from the lives of the infallibles that are applicable in this ever-changing world. Four years ago I was invited to a city for a few weeks to give some lectures as they struggled to find a resident scholar, and since I was occupied with researching this topic during those days, I wanted to discuss some aspects of it in my talks. I was amped. As I spent the next few weeks preparing an outline for my talks, making notes and finding relevant practical examples from today’s day and age, I eventually began to realize that the theological and preliminary principles required to explain these matters would not be appreciated by the audience. Unfortunately, I had to scratch that entire topic, and instead speak about some very basic matters to fulfil the community’s annual quota of lectures. I do hope to cover these discussions at a later time – God willing. As for now, in this post, I just wish to open up certain ideas for thought regarding what it could possibly mean to take Fatima (s) as a role model.

In Shi’i theology, she (s) is one of the individuals implied in the verse of purification [33:33] and is deemed the head lady of all women of paradise. As such, there is no question amongst the Shi’a that she is to be looked upon, and should be imitated. After all, if Allah can cite the wife of Pharaoh as an example for both male and female believers in [66:11], there is no comparison between her and Lady Fatima (s). However, what does it mean for someone like her to be a role model and that she has to be imitated? What is the extent of this imitation? To clarify: we have a number of reports in works of history and hadith by which we can construct a brief picture of Lady Fatima’s (a) life. Of course, before doing so, one would need to separate the reliable reports from the unreliable ones. Given that we find Fatima (a) doing various things during her life, the question is, are all of these things also ideally expected from us or not?

Consider for example the issue of dowry. Lady Fatima’s (s) mahr was roughly 500 mithqāl of silver – although this is not specific to her, since our own sources mention that the Prophet (p) had given the same amount to his wives and as well as what his other daughters had received from their husbands. When we look at the dowry of Fatima (s), we see she did not bring anything from her father’s house into her new home, rather Imam ‘Ali (a) sold his armour and bought the necessities of the house with the earned money. Likewise, there are some other matters, like the fact that she was given the responsibility to take care of the internal matters of the house while her husband was given the responsibility to take care of external matters. During her roughly eight years of marriage,1 she also had many children all with very short gaps, ranging from less than one year between two children to a gap of three years. We can continue to build a list of such descriptions from her life. Let us say of these reports are reliable and we have attained assurance that these are valid descriptions of her life. Can we now take the next step and say given the personality involved in our discussion, we can take these descriptions of her life and present them as an ideal for all societies, and they should all be striving to imitate these descriptions of her life. Is this a valid expectation or not?

In the descriptions of her (s) lifestyle, there are some reports where the question of imitating her is very clear. For example, her giving away food to the needy when she herself did not have anything else to eat or descriptions of her worship where it is mentioned that her feet had swollen due to the amount of worship she would do. These matters are easier to understand and can be presented as an ideal – however, the question is, what is the criterion? Why should these be presented as an ideal, but when it comes to certain other descriptions of her life one would be hesitant?

There are two aspects to this discussion – and I will only discuss one aspect of it for now. The first aspect is to determine what is imitating subsequent to? What needs to exist foremost, before we can apply the principle of imitation to it. What dimensions of one’s life fit within the discussion of imitation and which ones do not? Once this is clear, we can then analyze the various instances and descriptions of one’s life and determine whether they fit the criteria or not. The first dimension is something that scholars of the past have alluded to in their works. They address whether imitation applies to habitual acts performed by the infallible or not. By habitual acts, we mean acts that were not unique to them and were performed by anyone in the context that they lived in. For example, the Prophet (p) lived in the Arabian Peninsula – his clothes were not unique, he wore the same clothes as all other Arabs, he did not have a distinct style by which he could have been known or identified. This is habitual and a known act in society. If we know how and where the Prophet (p) placed furniture of his house, or how his house was constructed and what materials were used in its construction, or if we know the kind of food he would eat – do these things fall under the discussion of imitation? Do we now have to imitate the style of clothing he would eat, and eat the same food he would eat and present all these things as an ideal to be followed?

Fortunately, many of our scholars understood that these habitual acts performed by the infallible were part and parcel of the norms of a society, and are not to be discussed within the subject of imitation. The Prophet (p) in his own time and place lived a natural life, like the other humans around him. This is a very crucial point that needs to be considered. When it comes to the life of Fatima (s), one should not go out of their way to encourage those aspects of her life to others that were part of the norms of her context and present them as an ideal that needs to be imitated.

To clarify this notion of what constitutes habits and norms, we will cite two examples. In the Friday prayers, the Imam has to give two sermons. There was a period in our jurisprudence where some jurists believed this sermon had to be recited in Arabic, because the Prophet (p) and Imam ‘Ali (a) would give sermons in Arabic. It would not matter whether the audience understood Arabic or not, whether the place where the sermon is being given was in an Arabic-speaking vicinity or not. Shahīd Awwal (d. 786/1384) in his al-Dhikra has given this verdict. Now the Imam who is giving the sermon is meant to admonish the listeners and preach to them, do political analysis, but listeners who do not understand Arabic would not have been able to benefit from it. After a certain time, a group of jurists concluded that the language in which the Friday sermon was given by the Prophet (p) is from those matters that are outside the scope of imitation.2 The Prophet (p) would give the sermon in Arabic because that was the language of the people. Shaykh Murtaḍa Ḥā‘irī (son of the founder of the Qom seminary) states, if one really wants to imitate the Prophet (p) here then they should recite the sermon and address people in the language of the people, because that is what the Prophet (p) would do.

Another example to consider are transactional contracts. Today if one were to ask a jurist if a transactional contract needs to occur in Arabic, jurists will say no. If you go back five or six centuries, you will see that jurists would say we must imitate the Prophet (p) and do all of our transactions in the Arabic language. If you want to buy or sell anything, it must be done in Arabic. Even someone like Muḥaqqiq Karakī (d. 940/1534) who was living in Safavid Iran, in his Jāmi‘ al-Maqāṣid concludes that Arabic is a condition for a transaction to be valid. Once again, our later jurists came and said these are from the norms and practices of the Arab society, they could only speak Arabic and therefore there is no reason to imitate them in their language and consider it a condition for the validity of a contract.

These steps were taken by certain jurists in the last few centuries to clarify what falls in the domain of imitation and what does not. However, another step needs to be taken and this precise discussion above needs to be extended to the realm of behaviour of the infallibles, such as the Prophet (p) or Lady Fatima (s). Sometimes we see that a certain behaviour or act by the Prophet (p) was performed, but it is very clear that it had to do with the context of his time. If that is clear, then it will also be outside the domain of imitation. This second step is much more difficult and complicated. What about the aforementioned examples from the life of Lady Fatima (s), such as her age at the time of marriage, her dowry and so on; what relationship do those matters have with the society she lived in? Do they have a specific relationship with her context or not? If we conclude that they were specific to her time and age, then we cannot promote it as an ever-lasting ideal for all times, all places and for all people. If however, it is proven that by those matters she was essentially setting a religious precedent for what ought to be the ideal behaviour of a woman regardless of time and place, then those matters can and should be promoted as things to be imitated. However, as mentioned earlier, this second step is much more complicated.

The very same jurists who would arrive at different rulings on some of these matters by considering these aspects to be outside the scope of imitation, would be a lot more precautious when it came to matters of practical conduct and behaviour. I heard a scholar in Qom once quote a story from Shahid Mutahhari, where he speaks of a scholar and leader of congregational prayers in Mashhad. When he gave his daughter for marriage, he made sure that she came out of her father’s house and went to her husband’s house sitting in a carrier on a camel. Many people began to look at that scene and it became a comedic attraction for them all. The scholar justified his decision by saying he wanted to imitate Lady Fatima (s) as that is how she left her father’s house and went to the house of her husband. In this story, this imitation became a source of mockery and belittlement for the scholar and as well as the woman getting married. Some will also describe the decision of the scholar in this story as a very literalist understanding of the conduct of Lady Fatima (s), though once again, literalist is a term that is vague itself. Perhaps the case of Sufyān al-Thawrī is one that can be cited to show how certain aspects of the lives of the infallibles are not meant to be imitated and were simply aspects limited to their time and palce. Sufyān al-Thawrī once came to Imam Sadiq (a) and condemned him for not imitating and following the practice of the Prophet (p) and Imam ‘Ali (a) when it came to clothing. Consider the following two reports:

عَلِيُّ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ عَنْ هَارُونَ بْنِ مُسْلِمٍ عَنْ مَسْعَدَةَ بْنِ صَدَقَةَ قَالَ: دَخَلَ سُفْيَانُ‏ الثَّوْرِيُ‏ عَلَى أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع فَرَأَى عَلَيْهِ ثِيَابَ بِيضٍ كَأَنَّهَا غِرْقِئُ الْبَيْضِ فَقَالَ لَهُ إِنَّ هَذَا اللِّبَاسَ لَيْسَ مِنْ لِبَاسِكَ فَقَالَ لَهُ اسْمَعْ مِنِّي وَ عِ مَا أَقُولُ لَكَ فَإِنَّهُ خَيْرٌ لَكَ عَاجِلًا وَ آجِلًا إِنْ أَنْتَ مِتَ‏ عَلَى السُّنَّةِ وَ الْحَقِّ وَ لَمْ تَمُتْ عَلَى بِدْعَةٍ أُخْبِرُكَ أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ص كَانَ فِي زَمَانٍ مُقْفِرٍ جَدْبٍ‏ فَأَمَّا إِذَا أَقْبَلَتِ الدُّنْيَا فَأَحَقُّ أَهْلِهَا بِهَا أَبْرَارُهَا لَا فُجَّارُهَا وَ مُؤْمِنُوهَا لَا مُنَافِقُوهَا وَ مُسْلِمُوهَا لَا كُفَّارُهَا فَمَا أَنْكَرْتَ يَا ثَوْرِيُّ فَوَ اللَّهِ إِنَّنِي لَمَعَ مَا تَرَى مَا أَتَى عَلَيَّ مُذْ عَقَلْتُ صَبَاحٌ وَ لَا مَسَاءٌ وَ لِلَّهِ فِي مَالِي حَقٌّ أَمَرَنِي أَنْ أَضَعَهُ مَوْضِعاً إِلَّا وَضَعْتُهُ

Sufyān al-Thawrī visited Imam Sadiq (a). He saw the Imam wearing a clothes that were pure white like the membrane between an egg shell and its contents. He then said to the Imam, ‘This is not the kind of clothes you should wear.’

The Imam (a) said, ‘Listen to me and pay proper attention to what I say; it is good for you now and in future if you like to die following the Sunnah and truth and not in heresy. I can tell you that the Messenger of Allah lived at a time when poverty was rampant. When living conditions improve the people most deserving to benefit from the worldly facilities are the virtuous people and not the sinful ones, the believing people and not the hypocrites, the Muslims and not those who reject Islam. What then is it that you, O Thawrī, dislike? When you see me in this condition, you must take notice that, I swear by Allah, from the time I reached the age of maturity, there has never been an evening or morning when Allah had a right in my properties that He had commanded me to payoff and I had not already paid it off.’3

عَلِيُّ بْنُ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ بُنْدَارَ عَنْ أَحْمَدَ بْنِ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عَلِيٍّ رَفَعَهُ قَالَ: مَرَّ سُفْيَانُ‏ الثَّوْرِيُ‏ فِي الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ فَرَأَى أَبَا عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع وَ عَلَيْهِ ثِيَابٌ كَثِيرَةُ الْقِيمَةِ حِسَانٌ فَقَالَ وَ اللَّهِ لآَتِيَنَّهُ وَ لَأُوَبِّخَنَّهُ فَدَنَا مِنْهُ فَقَالَ يَا ابْنَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ مَا لَبِسَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ص مِثْلَ هَذَا اللِّبَاسِ وَ لَا عَلِيٌّ ع وَ لَا أَحَدٌ مِنْ آبَائِكَ فَقَالَ لَهُ أَبُو عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع كَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ص فِي زَمَانِ قَتْرٍ مُقْتِرٍ وَ كَانَ يَأْخُذُ لِقَتْرِهِ وَ اقْتِدَارِهِ وَ إِنَّ الدُّنْيَا بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ أَرْخَتْ عَزَالِيَهَا فَأَحَقُّ أَهْلِهَا بِهَا أَبْرَارُهَا ثُمَّ تَلَا قُلْ مَنْ حَرَّمَ زِينَةَ اللَّهِ الَّتِي أَخْرَجَ لِعِبادِهِ وَ الطَّيِّباتِ مِنَ الرِّزْقِ‏ وَ نَحْنُ أَحَقُّ مَنْ أَخَذَ مِنْهَا مَا أَعْطَاهُ اللَّهُ غَيْرَ أَنِّي يَا ثَوْرِيُّ مَا تَرَى عَلَيَّ مِنْ ثَوْبٍ إِنَّمَا أَلْبَسُهُ لِلنَّاسِ ثُمَّ اجْتَذَبَ يَدَ سُفْيَانَ فَجَرَّهَا إِلَيْهِ ثُمَّ رَفَعَ الثَّوْبَ الْأَعْلَى وَ أَخْرَجَ ثَوْباً تَحْتَ ذَلِكَ عَلَى جِلْدِهِ غَلِيظاً فَقَالَ هَذَا أَلْبَسُهُ لِنَفْسِي وَ مَا رَأَيْتَهُ لِلنَّاسِ ثُمَّ جَذَبَ ثَوْباً عَلَى سُفْيَانَ أَعْلَاهُ غَلِيظٌ خَشِنٌ وَ دَاخِلُ ذَلِكَ ثَوْبٌ لَيِّنٌ فَقَالَ لَبِسْتَ هَذَا الْأَعْلَى لِلنَّاسِ وَ لَبِسْتَ هَذَا لِنَفْسِكَ تَسُرُّهَا.

Once, Sufyān al-Thawrī passed by Masjid al-Ḥarām (the sacred area) and he saw Imam Sadiq (a) dressed in fine expensive clothes. He decided to meet him (a) and scold him. He went close and said, ‘O son of the Messenger of Allah, the Messenger of Allah did not dress up with this kind of dress, ‘Alī did not dress with this kind of dress nor any of your ancestors did.’

Imam Sadiq (a) said, ‘The Messenger of Allah (p) lived at a time when it was a financially serious and stringent condition. He (p) lived according to such conditions but the world thereafter has become financially relaxed. The most deserving in financial opportunities are the virtuous people.’ He (a) then read this verse, [7:31] ‘Say, who has made unlawful the beautiful things that Allah has brought out for His servants and the fine kinds of means of sustenance.’

We are the most deserving of what Allah has granted. However, O Thawrī, what you see I have dressed up with I have done so for people. He (a) pulled his hand to himself and raised the outer layer of his dress. Underneath his body was a layer of rough textured garment. He (a) said, ‘I wear this for my own soul and what you see (the outer layer) is for people.’ He (a) then raised the outer layer of the garment of Sufyān, which was of rough texture but the layer underneath on his body was of fine quality. He (a) said, ‘You have dressed up for people with the outer layer and for yourself to enjoy with the fine quality layer underneath.’4

In these reports, the Imam (a) is very clearly speaking of differences in time. The Prophet (p) lived more than a century before Imam Sadiq (a), and the Imam (a) refers to changes in circumstances with regards to the type of clothing one should wear. Sufyān on the other hand was expecting the Imam (a) to wear the very same style of clothing of the Prophet (p) and Imam ‘Ali (a). These differences in time and place, and how the Imams (a) themselves conducted themselves differently on matters that even the Prophet (p) had acted upon, are crucial to study and analyze. We have not exhaustively studied these aspects and differences in their lives and conduct.

There is a third discussion that is even more crucial, which is the idea of imitating the infallibles, like Lady Fatima (s) in values, not in the form of their conduct. For example, chastity, modesty, etiquette, self-respect and other similar virtues should be learned from Fatima (a) and should be imitated. However, the conduct and form in which those virtues manifested themselves in her day and age are not always relevant. To understand the challenge involved in trying to present the apparent form of a single act of conduct as a universal ideal for all times and places, for all women, consider a popular report – ignoring discussions on its authenticity – that is often told from the pulpits regarding the marriage of Lady Fatima (s) and Imam ‘Ali (a). The story can be paraphrased as follows:

The Prophet (p) asked for a brand new dress to be sewn for Fatima (s) for her wedding night. After being gifted this brand new dress, a beggar came to her door asking for an old piece of garment from the house of Prophethood. At first, Fatima (s) wanted to give him one of the used, patched up garments, but remembered the verse [3:92] You will never achieve righteousness until you donate some of what you cherish. Thereafter, she decided to give her newly gifted dress to the beggar.5

This story is told in order to speak of the merits of Fatima (s), to show her lack of interest and attachment to worldly matters. We would want to consider the “giving away of a brand new dress to a beggar” a morally good act and present it as an ideal for all newlywed women. Now compare this act of Lady Fatima (s) to this act of the Prophet (p):

عَلِيُّ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنْ أَحْمَدَ بْنِ أَبِي عَبْدِ الله عَنْ أَبِيهِ عَنِ النَّضْرِ بْنِ سُوَيْدٍ عَنْ مُوسَى بْنِ بَكْرٍ عَنْ عَجْلانَ قَالَ كُنْتُ عِنْدَ أَبِي عَبْدِ الله (عَلَيْهِ السَّلاَم) فَجَاءَ سَائِلٌ فَقَامَ إِلَى مِكْتَلٍ فِيهِ تَمْرٌ فَمَلأَ يَدَهُ فَنَاوَلَهُ ثُمَّ جَاءَ آخَرُ فَسَأَلَهُ فَقَامَ فَأَخَذَ بِيَدِهِ فَنَاوَلَهُ ثُمَّ جَاءَ آخَرُ فَسَأَلَهُ فَقَامَ فَأَخَذَ بِيَدِهِ فَنَاوَلَهُ ثُمَّ جَاءَ آخَرُ فَسَأَلَهُ فَقَامَ فَأَخَذَ بِيَدِهِ فَنَاوَلَهُ ثُمَّ جَاءَ آخَرُ فَقَالَ الله رَازِقُنَا وَإِيَّاكَ ثُمَّ قَالَ إِنَّ رَسُولَ الله (صلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَآلِه) كَانَ لا يَسْأَلُهُ أَحَدٌ مِنَ الدُّنْيَا شَيْئاً إِلاَّ أَعْطَاهُ فَأَرْسَلَتْ إِلَيْهِ امْرَأَةٌ ابْناً لَهَا فَقَالَتِ انْطَلِقْ إِلَيْهِ فَاسْأَلْهُ فَإِنْ قَالَ لَكَ لَيْسَ عِنْدَنَا شَيْ‏ءٌ فَقُلْ أَعْطِنِي قَمِيصَكَ قَالَ فَأَخَذَ قَمِيصَهُ فَرَمَى بِهِ إِلَيْهِ وَفِي نُسْخَةٍ أُخْرَى فَأَعْطَاهُ فَأَدَّبَهُ الله تَبَارَكَ وَتَعَالَى عَلَى الْقَصْدِ فَقَالَ وَلا تَجْعَلْ يَدَكَ مَغْلُولَةً إِلى‏ عُنُقِكَ وَلا تَبْسُطْها كُلَّ الْبَسْطِ فَتَقْعُدَ مَلُوماً مَحْسُوراً.

‘Ajlān said: “Once, I was in the presence of Imam Sadiq (a), when a man came asking for help. He (a) gave him a handful of dates from a basket. Then another one came also asking for help. He (a) also gave him a handful of dates. Then another one came asking for help, and he gave him a handful as well. Yet another one came asking for help. He (a) stood up and gave him a handful. Thereafter another one came asking for help. He (a) said, ’Allah is our provider as well as yours.’

He then said, ‘Whoever would come to the Messenger of Allah asking for worldly help, he would give it to him. Once a woman sent her son telling him, “Go and ask him for help and if he says, ‘I do not have anything to give,’ say, ‘give me your shirt.’” He (a) said that the Messenger of Allah took his shirt off and threw it to him.

In another manuscript, it says that the Messenger of Allah gave his shirt, but Allah, the most Blessed, the most High, instructed him with the discipline of moderation, saying, [17:29] Do not be so tight-fisted, for you will be blameworthy; nor so open-handed, for you will end up in poverty.”6

Or consider what Ibn Shahr Āshūb writes in his al-Manāqib:

وَ كَانَ إِذَا لَبِسَ‏ جَدِيداً أَعْطَى‏ خَلَقَ ثِيَابِهِ مِسْكِينا

When he would wear new garments, he would give the poor from his (p) old garments.7

Ḥasan b. Faḍl al-Tabrisī in his Makārim al-Akhlāq says:

وَ كَانَ مِنْ أَفْعَالِهِ ص إِذَا لَبِسَ‏ الثَّوْبَ‏ الْجَدِيدَ حَمِدَ اللَّهَ‏ ثُمَّ يَدْعُو مِسْكِيناً فَيُعْطِيهِ الْقَدِيمَ

From his (p) conduct was that when he would wear new garments, he (p) would praise Allah, then he would call upon the poor, and give them his (p) old garments.8

The reports regarding the Prophet (p) are in stark contrast with what Lady Fatima (s) did. The Prophet (p) is told not to go overboard with his charity and donations, and in fact scholars like Ibn Shahr Āshūb and Ḥasan b. Faḍl state the Prophet (p) would give away his old garments once he would receive new clothes. Which of these two conducts is the ideal we ought to follow and imitate? Which of these two conducts ought to be presented as a universally moral act for all of humanity? Is it possible to say each of these acts had their own specific circumstances and hence both are to be imitated as ideals when a person is in those exact same circumstances? What is the evidence for or against that, and what exactly were those circumstances? Perhaps some will try and respond by saying, maybe Lady Fatima (s) had another dress that she could have worn as well for her wedding night which was just as decent and dignified. Some might say, the circumstances of those days were such that some people in Medina literally had nothing to wear, and it was in those severe times that she (s) decided to give away her best dress. Ultimately, one could even simply question the authenticity and reliability of one or both the accounts and absolve themselves from having to address this apparent conflict.

In a later post, I will try and shed light on more principles and dimensions of the lives of the infallible (a) that one ought to consider, such as: interpreting the actions of the infallibles (a) through their own conduct, putting their conduct in the context of their overall objectives, identifying a moral value despite seeing different conduct, etc.


  1. We are assuming the general narrative that she died at the age of 18, otherwise, there are historical differences on her age, some placing her in her mid to late 20s.
  2. Traces of this earlier ruling can be found in the verdicts of many jurists even today where they say that the introduction to the sermon still must be recited in Arabic. For example, Sayyid Sistani says: As far as the glory of Allah, invocation of prayers and mercy upon the Prophet and the Imams are concerned, it must be rendered in Arabic, but the rest of it need not be in Arabic. In fact, if the majority in the audience are non-Arabs, then as an obligatory precaution, words of admonition and exhorting people to be pious and virtuous should be delivered in their language.
  3. Al-Kāfī, vol. 5, pg. 65.
  4. Al-Kāfī, vol. 6, pg. 442.
  5. Iḥqāq al-Ḥaqq, vol. 10, pg. 401
  6. Al-Kāfī, vol. 4, pg. 55.
  7. Vol. 1, pg. 146
  8. Pg. 36