Grand Ayatollah Sayed Mohammad Bāqer al-Sadr (March 1, 1935 – April 9, 1980) was an Iraqi Shia cleric, a philosopher, and ideological founder of Islamic Dawa Party born in al-Kazimiya, Iraq. He is the father-in-law of Muqtada al-Sadr and cousin of both Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr and Imam Musa as-Sadr. His father Haydar al-Sadr was a well respected high ranking shi'a cleric. His lineage goes back to Muhammad, through the seventh Shia Imam, Musa al-Kazim.
His father died in 1937, leaving the family penniless. In 1945 the family moved to the holy city of Najaf, where al-Sadr would spend the rest of his life. Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr completed his religious teachings at religious seminaries under al-Khoei and Muhsin al-Hakim at the age of 25 and began teaching.
While teaching he became a prominent member of the Iraqi Shia community, and was noted for his many writings. His first works were detailed critiques of Marxism that presented early ideas of an alternative Islamic form of government. Perhaps his most important work was Iqtisaduna, one of the most important works on Islamic economics. This work was a critique of both socialism and capitalism. He was subsequently commissioned by the government of Kuwait to assess how that country's oil wealth could be managed in keeping with Islamic principles. This led to a major work on Islamic banking that still forms the basis for modern Islamic banks.
He also worked with Sayyid Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim in forming an Islamist movement in Iraq. This attracted the attention of the Baath Party, which resulted in numerous imprisonments for the Ayatollah. He was often subjugated to torture during his imprisonments, but continued his work after being released. One of the founders of modern Islamist thought he is credited with first developing the notion, later put in operation in Iran, of having western style democratic elections, but with a body of Muslim scholars to ensure all laws corresponded with Islamic teachings. Publically he was a supporter of Ayatollah Khomeni.
In 1977, he was sentenced to life in prison following uprisings in Najaf, but was released two years later due to his immense popularity. Upon his release however, he was put under house arrest. In 1980, after writing in the defense of Khomeni and the Islamic Revolution, Sadr was once again imprisoned, tortured, and executed by the regime of Saddam Hussein. His sister, Amina Sadr bint al-Huda, was also imprisoned, tortured, and executed. It has been alleged that Sadr was killed by having an iron nail hammered into his head and then being set on fire.
Political Philosophy: Wilayat Al-Umma
Mohammad Baqir Al-Sadr's political philosophy, known as [[Wilayat Al-Umma]] (Governance of the people), set out his view of a modern day Islamic state. Using his mastery of the Quran and his innovative subject-based approach to Quranic exegesis, Al-Sadr extracted two concepts from the Holy text in relation to governance: khilafat al-insan (Man as heir or trustee of God) and shahadat al-anbiya (Prophets as witnesses). Al-Sadr explained that throughout history there have been '…two lines. Man’s line and the Prophet’s line. The former is the khalifa (trustee) who inherits the earth from God; the latter is the shahid (witness).
Al-Sadr demonstrated that khilafa (governance) is ‘a right given to the whole of humanity’ and explained it to be an obligation given from God to the human race to ‘tend the globe and administer human affairs’. This was a major advancement of Islamic political theory. Al-Sadr stated that the legitimacy of a government in an Islamic state comes from the people, and not from the clerics. Al-Sadr explained that throughout history there have been '…two lines. Man’s line and the Prophet’s line. The former is the khalifa (trustee) who inherits the earth from God; the latter is the shahid (witness).
While Al-Sadr identified khilafa as the obligation and right of the people, he used a broad-based exegesis of a Quranic verse to identify who held the responsibility of shahada in an Islamic state: First, the Prophets (anbiya’); second, the Imams, who are considered a divine (rabbani) continuation of the Prophets in this line; and lastly the marja’iyya (see Marja).
While the two functions of khilafa (governance) and shahada (testimony; supervision) were united during the times of the Prophets, the two diverged during the occultation so that khilafa returned to the people (umma) and shahada to the scholars.
Al-Sadr also presented a practical application of khilafa, in the absence of the twelfth Imam. He argued the practical application of the khilafa (governance) required the establishment of a democratic system whereby the people regularly elect their representatives in government:
'Islamic theory rejects monarchy as well as the various forms of dictatorial government; it also rejects the aristocratic regimes and proposes a form of government, which contains all the positive aspects of the democratic system.
He continued to champion this point until his final days:
'Lastly, I demand, in the name of all of you and in the name of the values you uphold, to allow the people the opportunity truly to exercise their right in running the affairs of the country by holding elections in which a council representing the ummah (people) could truly emerge.
Al-Sadr was executed by Saddam Hussein in 1980 before he was able to provide any details of the mechanism for the practical application of the shahada (supervision) concept in an Islamic state. A few elaborations of shahada can be found in Al-Sadr’s works.
In his text ‘Role of the Shiah Imams in the reconstruction of Islamic society’, Al-Sadr illustrates the scope and limitations of shahada by using the example of the third Shi’i Imam, Hussein ibn Ali (the grandson of the Prophet), who stood up to Yazid, the ruler at the time. Al-Sadr explains Yazid was not simply going against Islamic teachings, as many rulers before and after him had done, but he was distorting the teachings and traditions of Islam and presenting his deviated ideas as Islam itself. This, therefore, is what led Imam Hussein to intervene to challenge Yazid in order to restore the true teachings of Islam, and as a consequence laid down his own life. In Al-Sadr’s own words, the shahid’s (witness – person performing shahada or supervision) duties are ‘to protect the correct doctrines and to see that deviations do not grow to the extent of threatening the ideology itself'.
Notable colleagues and students
Mohammad Hussein Fadlullah
Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim(Late)
Mohammad Mohammad Sadiq as-Sadr