Initiatory Voyages

Since the revolution of 1979 and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the study of Shi’ism has attracted the interest of even some western scholars who, in the last two decades, have enriched the field by their research and publications. The works of three distinguished Iranian scholars, the author suggests, have made a significant contribution in sharpening the current interest in Shi’ite studies. The most noteworthy of these works are: An Introduction to Shi’ite law; A bibliographical Study, and Crisis and Consolidation of the Formative Period of Shi’ite Islam by Hossein Modarresi Tabataba’i, of Princeton University; Isma`ilis: Their History and doctrine and Assassin Legends, by Farhad Daftari, of the Institute of the Isma’ili Studies; and Le guide divin dans le shi’ism originel,and le voyage initiatique en terre d’islam. Ascensions celestes et initiares spirituels, by Mohmmad Ali Amir Mo`ezzi of L’Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris.

This article focuses on a range of topics contained in the articles that appear in Dr. Mo`ezzi's latter work, that bear particular relevance to certain beliefs and views that have been recurrent themes in the shi’ite hadiths. Among these topics are: Mohammed’s "nocturnal voyage from Msjid al-Haram to Masjid al-Aqsa", his ascension, the ascension of shi’i imams, and the guardianship of Ali, the first imam.

Particular attention is paid to the questions posed over the correct interpretation of the hadiths regarding the initiatory voyages of Prophet Mohammed and his ascension, and the attribution of superhuman qualities, even divinity, to Ali. For example, since no miracles have been attributed to Mohammed, should his voyages and ascension be considered merely spiritual and not material occurances? Or, has the prophet, in his ascension, actually seen God and heard His voice or should these events also be considered as simply visionary and symbolic?

The author also discusses certain other beliefs expounded in the cited hadiths. Some of these beliefs that are discussed in the article are: Divine indications of the special status of Ali as the successor to Prophet Mohammed and the guardian of Islamic community; Ali as the companion of Mohammed in his ascension; and Ali as the embodiment of the esoteric truth, in contradistinction to Mohammed as the revealer of the exoteric truth.

* Abstract prepared by Iran Nameh.

Ehsan Yarshater
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