The beads of sweat on the prince’s forehead were readily visible. Everyone else was equally concerned. “The shaikh could not have done this,” they thought. Meanwhile, the atheist had a broad smile on his face. At last, almost an hour after he had promised to show up to debate with the atheist, the shaikh finally arrived.
“What took you so long?” the atheist inquired mockingly.
“Well, I was on my way here, but I couldn’t find a boat to take me across the lake,” the shaikh replied. “Suddenly I saw a tree fall and break into pieces. Slowly those pieces put themselves together and formed a boat. I was a little hesitant, but I decided to get into the boat. Once I got in, the boat started to row itself and took me across the shore.”
The atheist’s expression changed to full-out incredulity. And then he began to laugh hysterically.
“This is the madman you have put up against me?” he laughed at the prince. “The pieces of wood put themselves together and formed a boat out of nowhere?”
It was the shaikh’s turn to smile.
“You do not believe that a boat could come into existence of its own accord,” he asked quietly. “Yet you expect me to believe that this vast universe could?”
As the atheist realized his defeat, the jubilant court erupted with loud calls of “God is Great!”
It would be an understatement to say that every Shia in the world is indebted to Shaikh al-Mufid. Born Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn No’man in the 336th year of Hijra near Baghdad, Shaikh Mufid is undoubtedly one of the greatest contributors to the development of Shia Kalam (theological defense of Shi’ism).
When he was a few years old, the family moved to Baghdad so he could study under the greatest scholars of the time. History has recorded at least 60 teachers that he studied under, including Shaikh as-Saduq, Muhammad ibn Ja’far ibn Qawliya Qummi, Ali ibn Abdullah, and Ibn Abu Yasir. His title “al-Mufid” itself testifies to his brilliance, wit, and quick thinking.
One day, his teacher Ibn Abu Yasir advised him to attend the lecture of Ali ibn Isa al-Rammani, the greatest Mu’tazilite scholar of Baghdad. During the lecture, a man from Basra arrived and inquired of Ibn Isa as to what his opinion was regarding the event of Cave (during the Prophet’s migration to Medina) and the event of Ghadir. Ibn Isa replied that whereas the incident of Ghadir is considered a narrated event, the event of the Cave is of witnessed knowledge, and the witnessed events takes priority over the narrated events.
At this point, the young al-Mufid stood up. He asked Ibn Isa regarding the status of one who wages war against the Imam of his time. Ibn Isa answered that such a person was a Fasiq (a shameless sinner). Al-Mufid then asked him regarding Ali ibn Abu Talib. Ibn Isa replied that he was the Imam of his time.
“What then do you say about those Companions who fought Ali ibn Abu Talib at Jamal?” al-Mufid inquired. Ibn Isa said that although they had fought Imam Ali, they had repented and would therefore be forgiven.
“Them fighting the Imam of the time is a witnessed event,” said al-Mufid. “Whereas them repenting is but a narration. And you yourself admitted that a narration can never take precedence over a witnessed event.”
Ibn Isa was speechless. He was so impressed that he asked the boy to sit next to him. He then wrote a letter to his teacher, Ibn Abu Yasir, telling him that this boy was truly “al-Mufid” (the benefactor).
At a time when theological argumentation and debates were becoming commonplace in the Islamic world, Shaikh al-Mufid was the main force behind the development of Shi’a Kalam. He debated atheists, Christians, Jews, Sunnis, Mutazilites, and Asharites, and in every debate, the opponents were forced to concede to the theological superiority of the Shia faith. Indeed, being impressed by Shaikh al-Mufid’s superior knowledge, a government officer in the Abbasid regime in fact financed the first Shia seminary of Baghdad, which later produced such brilliant scholars as Shaikh Abu Ja’far Tusi, Sayed Murtaza, and Sayed Razi.
EDITOR’S NOTE: These articles are adaptations of lectures delivered by Maulana Sadiq Hasan in Karachi, Pakistan, during the 1980s on the lives of the great scholars of Islam. The Urdu lectures can be accessed at Hussainiat.com. For previous articles in this series, please look under the History section.
Author of this article: Arsalan Rizvi