Ḥujjat al-Islām (Arabic: حُجَّةُ الاِسلام ) is a title for some Muslim scholars, mostly used for Shi'ite religious sholars in the last century. It first became popular during the rule of the Qajar King, Fath 'Ali Shah (Reign 1212-1250/1797-1834). Sometimes the title Hujjat al-Islam wa l-muslimin (Arabic: حُجَّةُ الاِسلام وَ المُسلِمین) is used to show more respect. Nowadays the title is used for the clerics who have passed advanced courses in fiqh and usul al-fiqh, unlike the constitutional period when it was used only for high-profile clerics.
The Arabic word hujjat literally means a clear proof which silences the opponents. The word has been used in the same sense in the Qur'an. In Shi'ite hadiths, the prophets and the Imams have been considered as examples of hujjat. The word hujjat has been used together with other words (like hujjat al-din, hujjat al-haqq, hujjat al-islam) to make titles of respect for scholars, judges, and religious authorities.
Among the sunnis, hujjat al-islam is a proper title for Muhammad b. Muhammad al-Ghazzali (d. 505/1111). Of course, sunni biographers have sometimes used this title for other scholars, such as the hadith scholar Muslim b. Hajjaj al-Nisaburi (d. 261/874), Ibn Khashab 'Abd Allah b. Ahmad (d. 567/1189), the man of letters, Isma'il b. Mawhub (d. 575/ 1171), the Shafi'i jurist, Sadr al-Din Muhammad b. 'Umar (d. 617/ 1220), the physician, Shams al-Din Ahmad b. Khalil al-Khu'i (d. 637/1239). The title can also be found in some official judiciary and governmental documents that have been recorded in a book by the Egyptian Shafi'i schoalr, Minhaji al-Usyuti (d. 880/ 1475).
Shi'ite Usage in Previous Centuries
In previous centuries, the title hujjat al-islam was occasionally used for Shi'ite scholars, for example by al-Shaykh al-Baha'i in reference to al-Shaykh al-Saduq (d. 381/ 991), in a letter from the Twelver Shi'a scholar Yusuf b. Hatim al-Shami (d. 676/1277) to his mentor Sayyid Ibn Tawus (d. 664/1265), by 'Imad al-Din Hasan b. 'Ali al-Tabari (7th century/14th century) in reference to Ibn Hamza Muhammad b. 'Ali al-Tusi, the jurist (6th century/ 13th century), and by Hasan b. Abi Talib aka. al-Fadil al-Abi (d. 695/1295) in reference to al-Muhaqqiq al-Hilli.
Nevertheless, the usage of the title hujjat al-Islam was not very common among the Shi'ites. The title was rarely used even in the Safavid period, when similar to the Ottoman practice many governmental titles such as Shaykh al-Islam, Sadr and Qadi were used abundantly. One such rare occurrence was its use by the Safavid King Tahmasb I in reference to the high-profile jurist, 'Ali b. 'Abd al-'Ali al-Karaki (d. 939/1532).
Recent Popular Usage among the Shi'ites
It seems that the current usage of the title hujjat al-islam for Shi'ite religious scholars started at the time of the Qajar King, Fath 'Ali Shah. Sayyid Muhammad-Baqir Shafti (d. 1260/ 1844) was one of the first jurists to be called by the name.
Beside Hujjat al-Islam Shafti, some other high-ranking scholars in the Qajar period were called by the title, for example Mulla Muhammad Mamaqani Tabrizi (d. 1269/ 1852) and his children Husayn, Isma'il, Muhammad Taqi aka. Nayyir, Asad Allah Burujirdi (1271/1854), Mulla Muhammad Naraqi. In a verdict by Muhmmad Shah Qajar to Mulla Muhammad Naraqi, aka. Aqa Buzurg, the latter is mentioned by the title hujjat al-islam. Nasir al-Din Shah calls Ibrahim b. Muhammad Taqi Naqavi Laknuvi (d. 1307/ 1889) by this title. Mirza Muhammad Hasan al-Shirazi (d. 1312/ 1894) and Akhund al-Khurasani (d. 1329/ 1911) were among the first mujtahids to be called by the title.
Towards the end of the Qajar period, and with the beginning of liberation movements in Iran, which led to the Iranian constitutional revolution (Mashruta), 'hujjat al-islam' and its plural (i.e. hojaj al-islam) began to be used as a common title for scholars, in both speech and writing. This title is abundantly used in the writings of this period, especially in the letters that were exchanged between the Najaf scholars and the constitutionalist clerics, or between the Qajar leaders and the opponents of constitutionalism. In the newspapers of the time, the title is used for high-ranking scholars. Even hujjat al-islam wa al-muslimin was used for more respect.
More Recent Usage
Other titles also came to be used, for example Thiqat al-Islam, hujjat al-islam wa al-muslimin, Ayatollah, and Ayotallah al-'uzma. Although there is no offical rule for the use of the titles, social status, reputation, and scholarly rank were also significant in its use. According to custom, hujjat al-islam is no longer confined to high-ranking scholars, and it is used for the clerics who have completed a substantial part of their studies in fiqh and usul al-fiqh. Those who have reached the first level of ijtihad are called by the title hujjat al-islam wal-muslimin.
According to some sources, the use of the common title hujjat al-islam for the Shi'ite clerics in the past two centuries stems from the Shi'ite belief that in the absence of the hidden Imam, the mujtahids are the Imam's hujjat (representing authority) on earth, just as the Imam is God's hujjat (representing authority). (This is adopted from Imam Mahdi's letter: "They are my hujjat [representing authority] on you just as I am God's hujjat [representing authority]".) Accordingly, some of the great Shi'ite scholars like Shaykh Murtada Ansari and Mir Muhammad Hashim Chaharsoqi Isfahani, did not deem themselves worthy of the title and disapproved of its popularity.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from حجه الاسلام in Farsi Wikishia.