Faydh Kashani and Commanding the Good

Source: Dāvarīyeh Faydh Kāshanī miyān Pārsā va Dāneshmand, published by Nashriyeh Dānishkadeh Adabiyāt Tabrīz, Vol 9, 1336 (link here). It is also briefly referenced by Michael Cook in his groundbreaking research Commanding Right, footnote 238 on p. 287.

The following is a translation of Faydh Kāshānī’s response to a letter sent to him by a number of esteemed scholars in Māzandarān. In this letter they petitioned Faydh for three things:

  1. To request the Ruler to forcibly stop the Sῡfī’s from their evil practices (af’āl al-qabīh)[1]
  2. To request the Ruler to delegate to them a share in the administration of general affairs (umῡr al-hisba)
  3. To request the Ruler to forbid the Christians of Māzandarān from drinking wine and engaging in other detestable acts (umῡr al-munkar)

Alongside this letter, a book [2] was sent for Faydh’s attention. While the letter is short, it gives a glimpse into the mind of this great scholar and presents us with a brief glance at his understanding of Commanding the Good (amr bil ma’rῡf) and the emphasis he placed on forbearance and social cohesion. The following is a translation of Faydh’s response:

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful,

The dear letter of my beloved brother has been received and its content has been reviewed. Prayers and thanks have also been given in regards to it. I have deliberated upon the requests made and found that silence and abstaining from pursuing them would be more appropriate and suitable. This is because I know that nothing will come about from it. The current time we are living is the time of the armistice (zamān hudna)[3] and the likes of this can’t be applied even in areas more deserving for it to be acted upon.

Be tolerant with people and [if necessary] act with people, even your closest of brothers, with dissimulation (taqīyya) as has been mentioned in the traditions [4]. Nowhere has it been stipulated in our pure sharī’ā that their alcohol and wine needs to be spilled [5], nor [does it permit] wrong acts to be repelled by [other] improper behaviour. On the contrary, they should be dealt with tolerance, forbearance, [and you should] ignore and overlook [their behaviour].

Even in this city [of mine] it isn’t possible [to stop them from behaving like this!] So what makes you think it’s going to be possible in yours?[6] A friend of mine in Kāshān has attempted to try and do this yet despite possessing a brilliant intellect and mind he hasn’t been successful and they don’t accept what he’s saying. If you were to try to do this yourself you’ll realise just how difficult it is. Don’t assume that doing this is easy and straightforward. You won’t be able to stop just one of these wrongs (munkar) until you commit a few of your own [in the process]. Not everyone is able to recognise [or understand how to deal with] a wrong act (munkar). For example, stopping Christians from wine is itself wrong (munkar) yet you assume it to be a good act. There are way too many ambiguities (mutashābihāt) and the people of jealousy [who would misuse such tactics] are uncountable. [If the situation was as easy as you’ve assumed and] if the truth could be made clear like this the Imam would have been apparent [by now]. It would be more appropriate for you to stop what you are doing and focus on yourself and those closest to you and close your eyes from everyone else. As it is reported: “Take attention of yourself and ignore the others”.[7]

As for the book Removal of Obscurities that you have sent, I have read parts of it and saw no removal of obscurities, in fact, on the contrary, there were many places where the respected author needs to correct what he has written. It would be better for the author to focus on ethics and try not to give his views on matters of the Fundamentals of Religion and Resurrection. This is because the layman has not been commanded to become experts on these subjects [in comparison to the pursuit of ethics]. The will of Imam Alī to Imam Hassan is a good example [of ethical advice], and other sermons in Nahjul Balāgha also. And mentioning and propagating views from the schools of innovation and misguidance will do nothing but cause chaos and ignorance in society.

In this path, thousands of ship have sunk

Yet not a single piece of wood can be found [8]

I pray for your success. May Allah guide you to that which is Good and Truthful.


1 – It is not quite clear what Sufi practices are being referred to. Given that this correspondence is recorded to have taken place during the life of Allamah Majlisī II in the year 1072, it is likely that it was more to do with the general anti-Sufī rhetoric and environment that had gripped Safavid Iran partly due to the preaching of the two Shi’ī scholars Mīr Lawhī and Muhammad Tāhir Qummī. For more information refer to Chapter Two of Ata Anzali’s work “Safavid Shi’ism, the Eclipse of Sufism and the Emergence of ‘Irfan”.

2 – It is assumed the book sent is called Kashf al-Ghamῡdh wa Bayān al-Ramῡz recorded to have been written in 1071, a year before the letter was sent. This book can only currently be found in the Library of Tῡs (Mashad).

3 – It is not quite sure what form of armistice is being referred to here. It could either be referring to the period of ghaybah and the belief that launching jihād in the absence of an Imām is not permissible, or it could be referring to a specific historical peace treaty between two parties. Nevertheless what is clear to see is Faydh’s categorical rejection of the use of force.

4 – Reference is being made to the numerous traditions reported from the Imāms instructing their followers on the necessity to observe taqiyya.

5 – This idea can be traced back to Faydh Kashānī’s theological disagreement with mainstream Imāmī scholars who insisted that “Disbelievers are obligated to follow the Rulings (furu’) like how they are expected to follow the Fundamentals (usῡl)”. The mainstream contended, on the basis of this theological premise, that disbelievers are in reality obliged to follow the Islamic Laws just like other Muslims and their disbelief in God is not an excuse.

Kāshāni (along with a number of other Imāmī scholars such as Yusuf Bahrānī, Moqaddas Ardabilī and from more recent times Syed Khoie) disagreed with this principle, and as such it affected his jurisprudential verdicts in how disbelievers should be treated and what they should and shouldn’t be allowed to do in Muslim lands.

6 – For further information on how widespread and rampant alcohol consumption was in Safavid Iran, refer to Chapters Two and Three of Rudi Matthee’s “The Pursuit of Pleasure; Drugs and Stimulants in Iranian History, 1500-1900”.

7 – The tradition Kāshānī mentions is: عليك بخاصة نفسك ودع العامة. While I couldn’t trace this particular tradition back to the early Shi’ī hadīth books, there are other traditions found with different wordings but with an identical meaning. For example in Al-Kāfī it is narrated:

مَا لَكُمْ وَ لِلنَّاسِ كُفُّوا عَنِ النَّاسِ, “What is it with you and the people, keep away from the people”.

8 – Here Faydh finishes the letter with a couplet from Sa’īdī :

در این ورطه کشتی فروشد هزار

که پیدا نشد تخته‌ای بر کنار

This would seem to be a metaphor to the countless number of people and movements who have attempted to change society for the better, only to have been unsuccessful and produced nothing of value from it. With the ships in the poem being a metaphor for people, and the lack of wood a metaphor for lack of any value or results.

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