The Significance of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr

by Hanna Batatu
published in MER102

Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr was born at Najaf in 1930 into an Arab family known for its learning through the Shi‘i world. His fundamental points of departure, and the chief clues to his entire work, are the traditional Muslim propositions that God is the source of all power, the only legislator, and the sole owner of the earth’s resources. From the principle of God’s exclusive supremacy and the related idea that man owes homage to God alone, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr infers that “the human being is free and that no other human being or class or human group has dominion over him.” Similarly, the principle of God’s sole ownership of the riches of nature involves, in his view, the prohibition of “every form of exploitation...of man by man.”

At bottom, the call for return to Islam is a call for a return to God’s dispensation, and necessitates a “social revolution” against “injustice” and “exploitation.” But it is a revolution which has a “universal” rather than a “class” character, one in which the virtuous rich stand shoulder to shoulder with the virtuous poor.

The concrete objective of the revolution is the realization of the Islamic polity, which would derive its force from the foregoing principles and should apply the values of Islam in every sphere of life. In the economic sphere, the Muslim policy would closely relate incomes to effort and need; prohibit any gain arising out of usury or the hoarding of species; reestablish money in its natural role as a means of exchange; transform banks from being instruments for the growth of capital into tools for enriching the community; continually bring prices of labor and commodities near to their genuine exchange values by combating monopoly in every area of economic life; equalize or narrow differences in standards of living by providing a reasonable minimum of material comfort for all and preventing waste, extravagance and the concentration of capital by the few; devote one fifth of the country’s oil income to social security and the construction of houses for the citizenry; and provide free education and free health services for all.

There is perhaps little that is original in Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr’s economic or philosophic works, but his style was lucid and, for his followers, compelling. His writings, rather than requiring the abdication of reason, stressed its value. From the standpoint of his numerous admirers, he was the “symbol and summit” of Islamic thought. In this and in other respects, he is compared favorably with Ruhullah al-Khumayni, who is emotional and impulsive. Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr was said to have been calm, deliberate and sound in his judgements. Without doubt, after his execution on April 19, 1980 by the Baathist regime, Iraq’s Shi‘i movements declined in intellectual significance.

Sources:

Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, Lamha Tamhidiyya ‘an Mashru‘ Dustur al-Jumhuriyya al-Islamiyya (A Preliminary Glance at the Draft of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic) Beirut, 1970
Sura ‘an Iqtisad al-Mujtama‘ al-Islami (An Image of the Economy of the Muslim Society) Beirut, 1919
Khututan Tafsiliyyan ‘an Iqtisad al-Mujtama‘ al-Islami (Detailed Lines on the Economy of the Islamic Society, second edition Beirut), 1979
Iqtisaduna (Our Economy, eleventh edition) Beirut, 1979.