Our Century of Tragedy | Shahid Mutahhari

The following is a translation of the last page in Shahīd Mutahhari’s article titled Ilhāmī az Shaykh al-Tā’ifa, (Inspirations from the Shaykh of the Sect, Shaykh Tūsi) where he vents his frustration at the adverse circumstances facing the Islamic society and the desperate need for a reviver (mujaddid) to solve many of the doubts, questions and problems ravaging our society. This book was written close to a decade prior to the Islamic Revolution and it is likely that Shahīd Mttahharī would have felt some of his concerns were responded to with the advent of and governorship of Sayyid Khomeinī.

Our century, the 14th century in the Hijrī calendar, from a jurisprudential and Islamic governance perspective has been one of unparalleled tragedy. In this century we have seen the sacrifice and replacement of an Islamic model of governance with a European model which has removed the very foundations of Islamic jurisprudence brick by brick. In matters of judiciary, civil law, family relations, in minute matters and all other ones, the deficient laws of Europe have replaced that of Islam. With the exception of matters of worship, nothing else has remained exclusively within the domain of Islam. All of our laws are either non-Islamic or a mixture of Islamic and non-Islamic laws. Why is this?

If we were to ask these modernists why this has happened they have the answer ready, that we are living in the 20th century and the laws of the previous centuries are no longer compatible, and that we require laws that are suitable to the ethos of our time. They repeat these empty and trivial platitudes over and over again, yet if you were to ask them what exactly has occurred in this century that the fundamental needs of humans have changed, or what the idea of a ‘new era’ actually means, or what relationship is there between perfection and the changing of lifestyles and modes of transport, you will be left without an adequate response or an answer. These modernists only think to this extent, that because the mode of transport [and lifestyle] has now changed, now so should the basis of ethics and the social structure. However, it is very clear, that there are certain actors at play that have uprooted the fundamentals that the East was based on and torn it down to make imposing foreign ideas easier.

Nevertheless, there is one point that we should not forget. Without a doubt, when it comes to jurisprudence and ijtihād we are living at a time similar to that post-Shaykh Tūsī. We are facing a form of stagnation and reluctance to deal with issues that people are facing.1 We don’t want to exert efforts in paths that haven’t been travelled [by scholars] before us and our concern is merely to continue in the direction laid out for us by our predecessors. Our preference has been to regurgitate responses to problems posed 700 years ago like that of Ibn Qibah 2 despite the very fact that there are hundreds of other more pressing, more important and more relevant problems out there. It is of absolute necessity that we have a Shaykh al-Tā’ifa for the 14th century [who has the following traits]:

  1. With a clear conscience, he is able to comprehend the problems of his time
  2. To work with intellectual bravery and the etiquettes personified by Shaykh Tūsī
  3. He does not work outside the framework of the Qur’ān and Prophetic practice (kitāb wa sunnat)

What could I possibly know, perhaps the day has come for such people to be [woken and] inspired by Shaykh al-Tā’ifa. However, what I do know is that God will not forsake His religion [and someone will come and fix this dilemma].


  1. In the historical discussions of jurisprudence schools (adwār al-fiqh), the 4th to the 6th century has been referred to as the era of stagnation. The Shi’ī school had reached a worrying point following the endeavours of Shaykh Tūsī where for a number of factors, amongst them being the scholarly fear of criticising the opinions of Shaykh Tusi (which had by then formed much of Shi’ī orthodoxy), the Islamic science of fiqh became dormant and had forfeited its vibrancy and dynamic nature. This was changed by the advent of Ibn Idrīs (d. 598)  who courageously revived the spirit of ijtihād and broke the chains of taqlīd that had taken over the scholars before him. For a look at the reasons for the stagnation refer to Shaykh Subhānī, Tārīkh al-Fiqh al-Islamī, p. 298,  or p. 305 on Ibn Idrīs.
  2. The problem of Ibn Qibah refers to a fundamental discussion that occurs within the science of legal theory (usūl) on whether it is allowed for us to act according to rulings that are predicated on supposition and not certainty. This discussion has become a regular feature in legal theory discussions.