AMI Research Seminar: “The Best Explanation of Karbala” | Dr Ali Fanaei (Al-Mahdi Institute)

The third academic research seminar, of this academic year, brought the current Winter series to a close. On this occasion, Al -Mahdi Institute was honoured to host a presentation from its own faculty, Dr. Ali Fanaei.

Dr. Fanaei spoke about the various approaches, among Shi’i circles, to the event of Karbala and the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. The presentation opened with a critique of more traditional approaches to the event, which tend to focus on the undeniable tragic and calamitous aspects of it. Dr. Fanaei opened by suggesting that a more wholesome and beneficial appreciation would require an exploration of the positive ramifications of it.

The presentation’s main body sought to explain how various explanations for the event of Karbala, fall short in that they do not help in deriving universally applicable principles. In doing so, Dr. Fanaei’s talk problematised mythical, mystical, political and jurisprudential understandings behind the reasons of the event. Some of the mentioned endeavours to explain the event have been purported by prominent names, like Dr. Ali Shariati (political) and Ayatollah Shaheed Motahheri (jurisprudential). All of them, however, were either rebutted by the historical contexts or were insufficient explanations due to them not being universally imitable. In conclusion, Dr. Fanaei suggested that the underlying reasons behind the event of Karbala could only be explained using the moral lens; in that Imam Hussein’s  uprising was necessary to uphold the moral principles of justice and dignity.

The presentation led to a lively subsequent question and answer session, in which the attendees sought clarifications and further explanations for the notions presented.


Dr Ali Fanaei, completed 17 years of seminary studies in the Hawza Ilmiyya of Qum which included seven years of al-Kharij (graduate) study. His teachers during this time included;  Ayatullah Sayyid Ali Muhaqiq Damad, Ayatullah Tabrizi, the Ayatullah Haeiri, Ayatullah Vahid, Ayatullah Montazeri, and the Ayatollah Ahmad Mianeji. During this time he was also awarded an MA in Islamic Theology from the University of Qum taking special interest in modern theology and philosophy of religion. He then moved to the UK to conduct research at the Department of Philosophy in the University of Sheffield. This led to the award of an Mphil for research on Moral Scepticism and Moral Realism followed by a PhD for research regarding the epistemic justification of moral beliefs. Alongside being heavily involved in the training of students here at the Al-Mahdi Institute he has also been writing a number of important and influential works through which Dr Fanaei is becoming known as one of the most important of a select group of roshan fikri (‘enlightenment thinkers’) whose engagement with questions pertaining to the modern world is informed with the deepest seminarian credentials.