Sayyid Muhsin al-Hakim was a member of the Hakim family of Shiite scholars.
Activities in Hawza Ilmiyya, Najaf
The hawza of Najaf grew immensely under his Marjaiyya. His historic opinion piece, branding communism as kufr and atheism allegedly proved the beginning of the end of communism in Iraq. Muhsin Al-Hakim led the hawza, also known as the marja'iyya, the group of Shi'i scholars based in Najaf responsible for determining Shi'i religious doctrine, during a time of considerable tumult in Iraq. Communism had enveloped the south of Iraq, Iraqi nationalist parties were largely in control of Iraq's political institutions, particularly during the last decade of Hakim's life. It is important to note, however, that the hawza is not a papacy and that therefore "leading" it does not mean that Hakim alone could pronounce Shi'i doctrine, all members of the hawza of sufficient standing developed their own rules based on accepted techniques and practices. Hakim was simply the most respected of the relatively small group of scholars.
Hakim's general stance with respect to all of these movements, in contradistinction to those of his children, who later became extraordinarily active politically, was one of quietism. In fact, Shi'i quietism, later exemplified by hawza leaders such as Grand AyatollahAbu al-Qasim al-Khoei and current Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, probably reached its apotheosis in Iraq during Hakim's tenure. Thus, while Hakim did attempt to fight against Communist influence among the Shi'a by banning their participation in the party, for the most part he preferred to remain out of politics, at least tacitly agreeing with Baghdad's rulers to keep the hawza's scholars politically neutral in exchange for relative immunity for those scholars. Implicit in this stance was a certain alienation and disaffection with the notion of the modern nation state and the exercise of political authority. The state, and politics, were assumed to be inherently sullying, and something which good Shi'is should avoid. Quietism is thus not secularism, where the state and religion are presumed to have important, but separate, spheres of influence, but rather a type of devotion to the religious authorities and suspicion of political ones. Politics and religion would then be united once again after the return of the hidden Mahdi, now disappeared for over a millennium. The Mahdi is a lineal descendant of the Prophet Muhammad who is the Imam in Shi'i theology, an infallible individual in whom political and religious authority for the Muslim community is vested and who will ultimately bring justice to the world with his reappearance under Shi'i eschatological theory.
Competition with Sadr
There were some within the hawza who were less enamored of Hakim's stance respecting political authority. Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, for example, a more junior member of the hawza during Hakim's time, attempted to impose a series of reforms to the hawza to make it more politically palatable and appealing to the Shi'i masses who were sympathetic to Communism. Sadr therefore tried to unify and centralize the hawza, placing more power in the hands of the senior scholar, and sought to make its materials more accessible and understandable to the lay community, filled as it was with arcane and obscure language, often on minutiae of no interest to the broader Shi'i masses. He helped found the Da'wa party as well, an Islamist party that Sadr imagined would give the hawza political influence in Baghdad. While Hakim had a great deal of respect for the intelligence and enthusiasm of Sadr, he viewed his political activism as contrary to its principles and interests. Hakim therefore asked Sadr to dissociate his relationship with Da'wa and generally discouraged his efforts to reform large parts of the hawza curriculum, though some important reforms were undertaken. Hakim therefore maintained the quietist balance through very difficult times, and ultimately projected a stance on politics and religion in the Shi'i community that remains influential today. With Hakim's death, Sadr's activism increased and ultimately his ideas proved too threatening to the Saddam and his government. In 1980, he and his sister were killed by Saddam Hussein's interrogators, as were any members of the hawza who were inclined to take Sadr's politically active position. With the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, however, Shi'ism has reached a considerable period of ferment, with the religious community attempting to achieve some form of balance between the political activism announced by Sadr and the quietist stance embodied most clearly in the form of Muhsin al-Hakim. He was buried in the great and modern library he had established.
Ayatollah Sayyid Jafar al-Hakim is one of the grandsons of Ayatollah Muhsin al-Hakim and a high ranking scholar in Najaf, Iraq. He travels internationally, including to the United States to deliver religious and theological speeches. Muhsin's grandson Ammar al-Hakim is an Iraqi politician.