Kashif al-Ghita family

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A family of Shiʿite ulama and mujtahidun originating in the Shiʿite holy city of al-Najaf in southern Iraq.

The founder of the family, Jaʿfar ibn Khidr al-Najafi (17431812), was an alim (singular of ulama ) who wrote the fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) textbook Kashif al-Ghita (The uncoverer of the error), from which the family surname was derived. In 1807, he led the defense of Najaf against the raiding Wahhabis, a Sunni fundamentalist and purist movement led by amirs of the house of Al Saʿud, based in Najd.

Jaʿfar's sons, Shaykh Musa ibn Jaʿfar (17661827), Shaykh Ali ibn Jaʿfar (d. 1837), and Shaykh Hasan ibn Jaʿfar (17761848), were mujtahidun (senior Shiʿite religious authorities empowered to issue religious decrees based on primary sources; singular mujtahid ) in Najaf, where they were involved in political developments. Shaykh Musa ibn Jaʿfar Kashif al-Ghita mediated between the Ottoman Empire and the Persians during the 1820s.

The most prominent scion of the Kashif alGhita family in the twentieth century was Muhammad Husayn Kashif al-Ghita (18771954), who received the title and status of marja (supreme religious authority). He was the author of numerous books on religious topics, printed in Arabic and Persian, and had adherents throughout the Shiʿa world. In his books he showed the need for Islamic unity and expressed his views about the ideal Islamic society. He maintained a correspondence with the Maronite intellectual Amin Rihani. He traveled to Hijaz, Syria, and Egypt, and lectured at al-Azhar University in Cairo. In 1909, he published a book, al-Din wa al-Islam aw al-Daʿwa al-Islamiyya (Religion and Islam, or The Islamic call), which called for a revival of Islam and its purification from recent trends of extremism and superstition.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Muhammad Husayn was an active Shiʿite politician in Iraq. In the period of unrest and tribal rebellions (19341935), he formulated the Shiʿite demands, but refuseddue to the strife among the Shiʿite tribes and politiciansto commit himself to the tribal rebellion under Abd al-Wahid Sikkar, which was backed and manipulated by Sunni Baghdadi politicians of the Ikha al-Watani Party. Starting from the late 1930s, he introduced moderate reforms and modernization in his madrasa (religious college) in Najaf.

In 1931, Muhammad Husayn Kashif al-Ghita attended the Muslim Congress in Jerusalemthe first Shiʿite mujtahid to take part in a Muslim Congressand led the prayers at the opening ceremony at the al-Aqsa Mosque.

Following World War II Muhammad Husayn began to warn against the dangers of communism. In 1953, he held talks with the British and American ambassadors on the communist influences among young Shiʿites in Iraq.

see also al saʿud family; ikha al-watani party.


Momen, Moojan. An Introduction to Shiʿi Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shiʿism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983.

Nakash, Yitzhak. The Shiʿis of Iraq. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.

michael eppel