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The Concept of Freedom in the Nahjul Balaghah (Part: II)
Author(s): Prof. Waheed Akhtar


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Freedom, Human Destiny, and the World in the Nahjul Balaghah:
The theme of freedom is repeatedly emphasized and elaborated in the Nahjul Balaghah. We shall quote a few relevant passages to substantiate the points made so far.
" … (God) has given inborn disposition to human minds to shape themselves either towards good or towards evil". (11) (Khutbah: 75)
"They were given complete liberty in this world, of thought and deed, to think as they like and to do as they desire, so that they may develop their minds, and with the help of such developed minds, free will, and the span of life allotted to them, find the purpose for which they were created...." (12) (Khutbah: 86).
In Khutbah 86, Imam Ali (a.s) further says that human beings are given sound bodies and limbs with perfect senses to acquire the knowledge of the external world and the light of reason and wisdom, so that they are able to exercise their freedom of thought and action. (13)
This point forms a recurring theme of the Nahjul Balaghah, for a sound body, sound senses, and reason are necessary conditions for exercising freedom. Those who are deficient in these respects are not held responsible for their acts, such as insane persons and infants. Solely those endowed with these things are responsible for their acts:
"Lives of men who were enjoying themselves to their hearts' content and had perfect freedom of action have such useful lessons in them to teach...." (Khutbah: 86). (14)
From the above-quoted passages, certain points can be inferred: man is given complete freedom with the ability to exercise it; freedom has a purpose: to realize and obey Allah and act in a just manner. Justice can be defined as maintaining equilibrium among various obligations and rights. One has to be just to oneself.
There are many verses in the Qur'an and innumerable passages in the Nahjul Balaghah restraining men from indulging in excesses even in desirable deeds, such as generosity, excess of which is israf and is prohibited. Doing justice to others, which ensures social and political morality, and just behavior in relation to God, requires abstaining from overindulgence in ritual worship. By maintaining justice in all the three aspects--that is in relation to oneself, others and God; man is free to determine his destiny.
In contemporary Western philosophy existentialism is credited with introducing the notion of man's freedom in shaping and molding his own destiny, but a glance at the Nahjul Balaghah is sufficient to arrive at the conclusion that it was Imam Ali (a.s) who advanced this idea for the first time:
If by destiny, you mean compulsion (physical or otherwise), whereby we are forced (by nature) to do a thing, then it is not so. Had it been an obligation of that kind, then there would have been no question of reward for doing it and punishment for not doing it (such as breathing, sleeping and eating are physical necessities entailing no reward or punishment), and the promised blessings and punishments in afterlife will have no meanings.
The Merciful Lord has given His creatures complete freedom to do as they like, and they are prohibited from certain actions and warned of the consequences of such actions. These commands carry in them the least trouble and lead us towards the most convenient way of life... He sees people disobeying Him and tolerates them, not because He can be overruled or be compelled to accept human supremacy over Him.
He did not send His prophets to amuse Himself or provide amusement for them. He did not reveal His orders without any reason and purpose. Neither has He created the galaxies and the earth without any design, purpose, and program. A universe without a plan, purpose, and program is the idea of the infidels and heathens; sorry will be their plight in the fires and the hell... (Sayings: 78). (Destiny) was an order of God to do it, like the order he has given in His Holy Book "You are destined to worship him and nobody else". Here destined means "ordered", it does not mean physical compulsion. (15)
From this brief saying, many points relevant to philosophical and moral issues can be derived: determining one's destiny is an act of man's free will, different from physical compulsion; Divine commands are rationally designed and have a purpose; the universe itself has a design and a purpose; in this purposive scheme of creation man is free to act or not to act in accordance with the Divine purpose; voluntary acts of men deserve reward or punishment according to their nature; and that freedom brings in its wake responsibility.
Kant, who could not bring himself to accept the existence of God on the strength of ontological, causal, and teleological arguments, had to evolve a moral proof for the existence of God, in which God, freedom of human will, and life after death served as the essential postulates of morality.
If we compare Imam Ali's approach to the problems of freedom, morality, purposiveness of creation, and the existence of God, we may come to a more convincing philosophy. Imam Ali does not require any proof for the existence of God, but believes in Him on the ground of revelation and his own inner experience.
This is the same stand, which was taken in the West by Kierkegaard in the 19th century after realizing the inadequacy of reason in proving or disproving God. Recent theology in the West accepts the inner yearning of man to have faith in a Supreme Being as the only criterion of belief in God. Starting from the same position Ali (a.s) proves the purposiveness of creation, arguing that it is created by an intelligent, knowing, and just God with a design and a purpose, and all His commands are just and reasonable, for He does not command man to do something that is beyond his capacity.
Human freedom is an essential constituent of this purposive world, without which man would not have been able to pursue certain goals. It is also necessary for morality, which comprises voluntary actions. Thus freedom is not a postulate in Imam Ali's world-outlook, but an organic part of a just and purposive order. His firm faith in a just God makes him believe in the Hereafter.
In this way, the Islamic world-outlook he presents is more coherent and consistent than that of Kant or any other Western philosopher. In this system, human reason does not give rise to antimonies, because it is not required to trespass the region of faith or inner experience. All the three axioms of morality, which Kant derived from, his moral philosophy follow in Ali's Islamic system of thought from faith in God and freedom of human will.
In the world conceived by him all individuals are free and they form a "kingdom of ends that is the beings sovereign in this world and only subordinate to Divine commandments. They are not subservient to other human beings and are masters of their own destiny.
In this sense Imam Ali (a.s) considers this world of ours better than any conceivable worlds. There is a saying of his that refutes the commonly believed notion that the Imam (a.s) despised the world and his approach to it was ascetic and pessimistic. He heard someone abusing the world and said to him that it was not the world, which deceived man, but it was man who was allured and enchanted by it, and subsequently debased himself and polluted the world.
He said: Verily this world is a house of truth for those who look into it carefully, an abode of peace and rest for those who understand its ways and moods, and it is the best working ground for those who want to procure rewards for their life in the Hereafter. It is a place of acquiring knowledge and wisdom for those who want to acquire them, a place of worship for the friends of God and for the angels. It is the place where prophets receive revelations of the Lord.
It is the place for virtuous people and the Saints to do good deeds and to be assigned with rewards for the same; only in this world they could trade with God's favors and blessings, and only while living here they could barter their good deeds with His blessings and rewards. Where else could all this be done? (16) (Sayings: 130)
This passage may remind one of Leibnitz's saying: "Ours is the best of all possible worlds", which reflects an optimistic view of the physical world. Ali (a.s) regards it so because it is here and here alone that man's freedom is tested as to how far he acts justly. In the light of this passage we can justify Iqbal's view that man chose freely to leave Heaven and come to this world.
Right to Acquire Knowledge: Nahjul Balaghah's Approach:
Knowledge of the creation in general, and of this world in particular, is emphasized by Imam Ali (a.s) in the Nahjul Balaghah as a prerequisite for making use of freedom in the right direction and for the purpose willed by God. Knowledge, if used properly, helps man in winning God's favor and bartering his deeds with Divine Will, as the Qur'an declares:
"And among men is he who sells his self for seeking the pleasures of Allah...." (al-Baqarah, 2: 207).
Those who attain such a stage are few, and as many mufassirun point out Ali (a.s) as one of those chosen few who bartered his self with Divine Will, according to the interpretation of this Qur'anic verse. When human will becomes one with Divine Will, man attains the highest stage of freedom: now there is no compulsion, and whatever a man wills or does is in conformity with what God wills and wants man to do. Rightly guided knowledge helps in attaining this stage.
After expressing his view on human freedom, Imam Ali (a.s) proceeds to highlight the value and importance of knowledge. We find after the saying 78 about freedom, his views about knowledge and wisdom in the saying 79, or in his saying 130 we come across his views on the significance of acquiring knowledge and contemplating the signs observable in the world after his description of the world as the best place for making proper use of human freedom.
Knowledge is held by Ali (a.s) to be the light of reason, a treasure, the root of all-good, and that, which emancipates man; it is a power (saying: 146), (17) and one's supremacy is in proportion to the extent of one's knowledge and wisdom (Sayings: 175). (18)From his many sayings about knowledge it may be rightly inferred that knowledge is itself freedom, for it saves man from ignorance, which is the cause of man's slavery to false beliefs, unfounded fear of nature and his superiors. It is at the same time a key to attain and safeguard freedom accorded to human beings.
The Qur'an is unique among the scriptures in encouraging the believers to acquire knowledge and to verify the fundamentals of faith rationally. There are 704 verses in the Qur'an where the word 'ilm or its derivations are used. Book, an essential aid of 'ilm occurs in the Qur'an 230 times, while the total number of verses in which words related to kitab and kataba have occurred is 319. The Qur'an itself is mentioned as kitab on 81 occasions in its text.
It is not possible in this brief article to quote even a few of the relevant Qur'anic verses and the sayings of Ali (a.s). However, it would not be out of place to point out that the right to acquire knowledge and freedom of enquiry forms an essential part of the laws and guiding principles governing human rights in Islam. In this matter, no distinction is made between Islamic and non-Islamic sources and Muslim and non-Muslim teachers. Ali (a.s) says:
"Acquire knowledge and truth from whomever you can; because even an apostate can have them, hut unless they are passed over to a faithful Muslim and become part of wisdom and truth that he possesses, they have a confused existence in the minds of apostates". (Sayings: 79) (19)
Another saying of Ali (a.s) is an elaboration of the Prophet's famous tradition, according to which knowledge is the lost property of Muslims: "A wise saying is a lost and long-sought article of the believer. Therefore, acquire it even if it is to be found with hypocrites". (Sayings: 80) (20)
The right to acquire knowledge has been always accorded to non-Muslims also in Muslim States. An important point made by Ali (a.s) is as to how an infidel uses knowledge, which remains in a confused state in his mind. The truth of this view is evident in our age, for modern knowledge, as pointed out by modern thinkers, is devoid of human considerations and has dehumanized its retainers and creators.
All the uses of scientific discoveries and advancements for inventing and selling the weapons of mass destruction indicate the absence of a right worldview. Islam, on the other hand, humanizes all knowledge in the light of Divine guidance, which leads to a humanized world outlook. Being fully aware of the dangers of the abuse of knowledge, Ali (a.s) claims that God will always appoint some Imam as the guardian of Divine revelation and he, openly or hidden from the eyes of the world, will guide men till the end of this world. (Saying 146 addressed to Kumayl) (21)
Thus the right to receive unceasing Divine guidance, along with the right to knowledge and enjoy freedom of thought and expression forms the foundation stone of the Islamic universal declaration of human rights. The constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran ensures the right to knowledge and freedom of learning through various articles.
Article 2, clause 6, declares that the Islamic Republic is based on faith in Allah, belief in the exalted dignity of man and his freedom coupled with responsibility before God, and that equity, justice, political, economic, social, and cultural independence are secured by recourse to:
(a) Continuous ijtihad of the fuqaha'.
(b) And sciences and arts and the most advanced results of human experience, together with the effort to advance them further. An article of the first chapter states that the Islamic Republic has the duty of directing all its resources to raising the level of public awareness and the spirit of inquiry, investigation, and innovation in all areas of science. (22)
These rights are not confined to Muslims only, but are accorded to non-Muslim citizens as well in the light of Article 19 (Chapter III), which states that: "All people of Iran, whatever the ethnic group and tribe they belong to, enjoy equal rights; and color, race, language, and the like, do not bestow any privilege. (23)
These articles are in conformity with the Islamic view of human rights.
Underprivileged Sections of the People and Their Rights:
Islam paid special attention to weaker sections of society, for stronger sections not only get what is rightfully their due, but also grab what belongs to weaker sections. Christ had pleaded and fought for the oppressed, but when his followers came to power they adopted the same system, which was based on according privileges to the ruling class and the priests.
On the contrary, Islam granted special rights to the underprivileged, so that their rights are not denied to them and any violations of them were redressed. Woman as a whole had been suppressed by all pre-Islamic societies both in the East and the West. The social status and legal position of slaves had been even worse. With the establishment of Islamic rule, a new class of weaker people came into existence, that is non-believers living under Muslim rule.
Besides slaves, there had been always in existence a class of have-nots consisting of small peasants, landless laborers, poor artisans, orphans, widows, mentally and physically handicapped, the sick and the old, prisoners and travellers (ibn al-sabil).
The Qur'an makes special mention of all these classes while laying down the principles of justice and framing laws according rights to the people. To help the deprived the Qur'an commands emphatically and repeatedly to give zakat, and also recommends the disbursement of sadaqat among the needy.
Zakat and sadaqh are usually translated as alms and charity, but in the Qur'an they are defined in much better terms. Zakat has two meanings: purification, and the cause of blessing and abundance. Both the meanings are derived from the following Qur'anic verses: al-Nur 24: 21, al-Kahf 18: 74, al-'A'la 87: 14 & 15, and Fatir 35: 19.
In interpreting the verses from the surahs al-'A'la and Fatir, some exegetes have interpreted tazakka in the sense of zakat. Sadaqah also has the same meaning according to verses 103 and 104 of al-Tawbah Surah 9. (24)
Both zakat and sadaqah are means of purifying one's riches, with the difference that zakat is obligatory and sadaqah is recommendatory. Muslims are distinguished from mushrikun, that is polytheists and idolaters, on the ground that the latter do not give zakat (Ha' Mim 41: 6-7). From the sixth and seventh verses of 'Ha' Mim' it is inferred that mushrikun are also obliged to give zakat according to the Muslim law. Paying of zakat, which may be translated as poor-rate or poor-due, is considered by the Qur'an as a more valid criterion of a Muslim's faith than offering of prayers:
"It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, but righteousness is this that one should believe in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Book and the prophets and give away wealth out of love for Hun to near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarers and the beggars and for (the emancipation of) the captives; and keep up prayer and pay the zakat...." (Al-Baqarah, 2: 177).
As the special categories of people deserving to receive zakat are enumerated, similarly sadaqah also, as specifically mentioned, is to be given to the poor and the needy, the officials in charge of collecting the zakat, those whose hearts are made to incline' (to Islam) (al-mu'allafal al-qulub), the (ransoming of) captives, those in debt, and in the way of Allah and the way-farer (al-Tawbah, 9: 60). (25)
Thus zakat is due to seven categories: the needy, the poor, the collectors of zakat, the mu'allafat al-qulub, ransoming of captives and emancipating slaves, the indebted, and the wayfarers; an eighth category is added to it, that is public funds for the construction and administration of the mosques, educational institutions, water works, and for meeting the expenses of jihad. (26)
Special mention is made of paying devote their entire time and energy to worship, and self-respecting people who never go to ask for help despite extreme poverty (al-Baqarah, 2: 273). (27)
The needy and poor of the lineage of the Prophet (s.a.w), who are prohibited from accepting zakat and sadaqah, are taken care of by allocating to them one half of khums; the first half of which is reserved for God and the Prophet (s.a.w) and the Imam (a.s) of his Family.
Abu Hanifah is of the view that the part reserved for the Prophet (s.a.w) is invalidated after the Prophet's demise,(28) but the Imamiyyah Shi'ah reserve it for the maraji', in the absence of the Imam (a.s). The remaining part of khums is reserved for the orphans, the needy and the way-farers. Regarding this also the Shi'ah differ from Ahl al-Sunnah. While the former say that these three parts are also reserved for the Banu Hashim, and particularly the Talibiyyun, the later hold that this three-fifth of khums money is specified for the needy among Muslims in general.
So far as the definition of dhawi al-qurba is concerned, Shi'i and Sunni fuqaha' again differ. Shi'i fuqaha' hold that this term includes all the relations of the Prophet (s.a.w) without any specification, but Sunnis say that only needy in the Prophet's family come under this category. Shi'i fuqaha' reject this interpretation for the absence of any evidence in the Qur'anic text to support it. (29)
Despite these minor differences among various schools of fiqh, the Qur'anic injunctions concerning zakat and khums are generally followed by all Muslims. It is also accepted that zakat is over and above the obligatory payments to be made towards meeting the essential needs of parents and other dependents, and these payments (nafaqah) are not to be covered under the head of zakat, which is only for the eight categories enumerated above.
Thus Islamic law has taken care of all the weaker sections of society, and has entitled them to claim their rights from the rulers and upper classes. In a way Islam does not recognize any upper classes and is opposed to the amassing of huge property and hoarding of riches in proportionate to one’s work and labor.
"O you who believe! Most surely many of the doctors of law and the monks eat away the property of men falsely, and turn (them) from Allah's way; and (as for) those who hoard up gold and silver and do not spend it in Allah's way, announce to them a painful chastisement. On the day when these shall be heated in the fire of Hell, then their foreheads and their sides and their backs shall be branded with it; this is what you hoarded up for yourselves, therefore taste what you hoarded". (Al-Tawbah 9: 34-35)
The conditions for the appointment of judges are very strict and rigorous and the responsibility of rulers is so great that any true Muslim will shudder to accept them due to fear of Allah and the Law of Islam. Imam Ail (a.s) warned Qadi Shurayh that he occupied a seat which was assigned to prophets or their vicegerents, or occupied by a tyrant.
The main objective of the Islamic government is to establish the rule of justice and equity (al-Nahl 16: 19), which demands that the weak and the deprived (including slaves) should be provided their basic needs (al-Nahl 16: 71). To do justice to the underprivileged seems to be the most difficult of the jobs of a government, as Imam Ali (a.s) said, "One who comes to power often oppresses and tyrannizes, and that oppression and tyranny are the worst companions in the Hereafter". (Sayings: 198 & 202). (30)
As the weaker sections of people fall easy prey to oppression and tyranny, Islam has taken particular care to guard their rights and redress whatever their legitimate grievances may be. In this way Islamic law ensures freedom of the oppressed.
The Qur'an contains a number of verses, which lay down the guiding principles of justice:
1. Never refer to a misled and tyrannical ruler for seeking justice (al-Nisa' 4: 63, Hud 11: 113).
2. The prophets and their deputies are made the vicegerents of God for establishing the rule of justice and equity (Sad 38: 38).
3. Divinely appointed personages and judges have to follow the commands of God (al-Ma'idah 5: 48, 49 & 51).
4. Judges are obliged to see every citizen get his due (al-Nisa' 4: 61).
5. One has to abide by the order of a judge and an arbitrator (al-Nur 24: 48-49, al-Nisa' 4: 68).
6. Judges should be impartial and meticulous (al-Nisa' 4: 105).
7. Judges are bound to admit writs of non-Muslims and to dispose them at the earliest (al-Ma'idah 5: 47).
8. Accepting bribes is strictly prohibited (al-Baqarah 2: 188).
The Qur'anic text also lays down the conditions for the appointment of a qadhi: he ought to be mature, possessing sound reason, of firm faith, just, expert in fiqh with the ability to do ijtihad, of legitimate birth, free from mental lapses, and a male. (31)
Imam Ali (a.s), in his letter to Malik al-'Ashtar which is a comprehensive code of conduct for rulers and a document laying down the Islamic principles of governance and justice, elaborates the Qur'anic code of conduct by adding that a qadhi has to be intelligent, patient, of stable temperament, honest, man of integrity, meticulous, and humble. (32)
If a judge is prone to vicissitudes of mood, he cannot judge objectively. Leo Tolstoy, in the Resurrection, one of his best novels, criticizes and ridicules judges for being whimsical and moody in delivering judgments, thus committing injustice and spoiling the lives of innocent people who are at their mercy. He also seems to confirm the Qur'anic view of not referring to an unjust judge by condemning the entire legal system based upon vested interests of tyrannical rulers.
Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (a.s) advised his followers not to appeal to the courts of unjust and tyrannical rulers who usurped power illegitimately from the rightful claimants of rulership and directed them to refer among themselves to him who is an expert on the Qur'anic injunctions and can judge justly. (33)
This advice implies that judgments of an unjust government are not binding on Muslims, and, implicitly, they are expected to overthrow such a regime. The first and foremost condition of justice in human social, political, economic, and legal issues is that the entire socio-political system is to be based on justice. The rulers usurping power illegitimately and undemocratically in our age cannot establish the rule of justice. It further implies that the Islamic code of justice can be implemented in a truly Islamic society and State only.
We may logically infer from this that the States whose rulers are not elected in accordance with the Islamic criteria have no right to implement the Islamic laws of retribution (qisas) only, for these laws form an integral part of the whole Islamic superstructure. The principle of justice demands that it is the first duty of a ruler claiming to follow the Islamic polity to build a truly Islamic society conducive to the implementation of Islamic justice.
Another significant point made by Imam Ali (a.s) in his letter to Malik al-'Ashtar anticipates a modern principle of democratic rule, which was realized in the West in the present century only:
"Pay them (qadhis) handsomely so that their needs are fully satisfied and they are not required to beg or borrow or resort to corruption. Give them such a prestige and position in your province that none of your officers or courtiers can overlord them or bring harm to them. Let judiciary be above every kind of executive pressure or influence, above fear or favor, intrigue or corruption". (34)
Most probably, the importance of independence, of the judiciary was realized for the first time by Imam Ali (a.s) in the annals of human history. He regarded it to be an essential condition of the administration of justice. His great concern for the weaker and oppressed sections of society is evident throughout his sermons, letters, admonitions, and directives issued to his military and administrative officers, and judges.
His concern was the honesty and integrity of persons as the basic condition in the appointment of all officers from the lowest rank up to the highest. If officers, particularly judges, are corrupt or prone to temptations, the stronger sections will be able to deprive the weak of their rights. Advising his governors to hold regular public audiences, he commands them not to let guards and police officers are present on such occasions, so that those who have grievances against the government may speak to the Amir freely, unreservedly, and without fear. (35)
At the same time he reminds them that in such audience mostly the common people will gather: Therefore, if you find them misbehaving, or acting in an unmannerly fashion, or if you feel that their talk is irrelevant, tolerate them; do not be rude and insulting to them ... (36)
He adds that he often heard the Prophet (s.a.w) saying: "A nation or government in which the rights of the depressed, the destitute, and the suppressed are not guarded and where the mighty and the powerful persons are not forced to accede these rights, cannot succeed". (37)
With a view to preventing any possibility of oppression and exploitation, he prohibits giving of lands on permanent lease with all property and ownership rights and water supply and other sources of public utility to anybody, because such possessions will enable privileged persons to oppress others and derive undue advantage. (38)
Amir al-Mu'minin's regard for the judiciary and proper legal procedure made him to appear in the court of Qadhi Shurayh as a complainant. When the qadhi offered him a seat of honor, he reproached him for being discriminate. He accepted the judgment against himself, though his claim was right. The opposite party was a Christian, who was so impressed by Ali's submission to the court of law that he confessed that he had no claim on the disputed property; he also volunteered to embrace Islam.
Here another aspect of Amir al-Mumini's adherence to Islamic teachings comes to light. He repeatedly enquired if he was forced by somebody to give up his old faith. When he was convinced that there was no compulsion by any authority and the Christian wished to embrace Islam willingly and freely, only then he taught him the kalimah. (39)
It was under such rulers that Muslims learnt to respect freedom and rights of all human beings including those of non-Muslims.


Resorce and refrence

11. Nahjul balaghah of Hadhrat Ali, trans. Syed Askari Jafery (Tehran, Library of Chehel Sutoon Theological School), p. 44.
12. Ibid, p. 49.
13. Ibid, p. 49 & 51.
14. Ibid, p. 50.
15. Ibid, p. 280.
16. Ibid, p. 287.
17. Ibid, p. 289.
18. Ibid, p. 293.
19. Ibid, p. 280.
20. Ibid, p. 280.
21. Ibid, p. 290.
22. "The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, al-Tawhid (Tehran, Sazman-e Tablighat-e Islami), vol. III, no. 1, pp. 139-40.
23. Ibid, p. 144.
24. Dr. Muhammad Khaza'ili, Ahkame-e Qur'an (Sazman-e cap wa intisharat-e Jawidan, 2nd ed., 2555 Shah.), pp. 434-36.
25. Ibid, pp. 446-47.
26. Ibid, p. 448.
27. Ibid, p. 442.
28. Ibid, p. 458.
29. Ibid, p. 458.
30. Nahjul balaghah op. cit., p. 294.
31. .Dr. Khaza'ili, op. cit., p. 659.
32. Nahjul balaghah, op. cit., pp. 252-53.
33. Dr. Khaza'ili,op. cit., p.452. Usul al-Kafi, vol.1.
34. Nahjul balaghah, op. cit., p. 253.
35. Ibid, p. 256.
36. Ibid, p. 256.
37. Ibid, p. 256.
38. Ibid, p. 257.
39. Ibid, introduction, p. 6.
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The views reflected in the articles are not necessarily those of Ahlulbayt Worl Assembly

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