Shia Islam: Shīʿa contributions to Islamic civilization / 33 – c

Shafqna: Shīʿa Islam: History and Doctrines / Ayatullāh Jaʿfar Subḥānī

Principles of Jurisprudence (Uṣūl al-Fiqh)

It is quite obvious that deriving laws from the Qur’an, traditions, the Prophet’s biography, consensus and reason depends on establishing general principles to serve as the basis for inferring laws, and practical laws in particular. This need is even more pronounced when dealing with issues that are not explicitly dealt with in the Qur’an and Sunnah.

Since the Caliphs prevented the collection of the Prophet’s traditions, the number of authentic narrations from the Prophet on legal issues are no more than five hundred. The writer of al-Manār says that the number of authentic traditions concerning laws do not exceed five hundred; at the same time, there is a collection of four thousand with incomplete chains of narration, which are of great help to jurists. (al-Waḥī al-Muḥammadī, 6th Ed., 212. )

In his commentary, he says that the source of laws should be the opinions of the people, unless these run contrary to the Qur’an and the Sunnah. However, there are very few explicit cases of contradiction. (Al-Manar, Vol. 5, p. 189)

While he considers the number of legal traditions to be no more than five hundred, Ibn Ḥajar Asqalānī in his book Bulūgh al-Murām extends their number to 1596. However, many of these are actually ethical and do not entail religious laws.

Because Sunni scholars lacked traditions to deal new issues, they had to resort to conjectural evidence such as analogy (qiyās), inductive reasoning, jurisprudential preference (istiḥsān), public interest, the practice of the Caliphs, the practice of the Companions, or the opinions of the scholars of Medina. But all of these kinds of evidence are speculative in nature, which means they cannot be attributed to God and the Prophet. Nevertheless, in order to discuss these conjectural rules they built a body of knowledge known as Uṣūl al-Fiqh (legal theory or Principles of Jurisprudence).

However, since Shīʿa scholars consider the traditions of the Prophet’s Household to be as decisive as those of the Prophet and that their teachings are identical with the Prophet’s Sunnah, they have not followed the same approach as their Sunni brethren. Yet, they also had to build a body of knowledge like Uṣūl al-Fiqh because it is only on the basis of a series of rules that we can act upon a Sunnah that is proved by solitary narration (khabar al-wāḥid) and consider it as part of the divine law. Shīʿa scholars, while rejecting conjectural approaches, formulated principles on the basis of the Qur’an, Sunnah, consensus and reason and thus established the foundation for the knowledge of Uṣūl al-Fiqh. Now, we will introduce the founders of Shīʿa Uṣūl al-Fiqh:

  1. Hishām b. Ḥakam (d.199 AH): He is the author of a book entitled al-Alfāẓ. (Najāshī, no. 1165) It is not clear if this was a dictionary, a literary work, or a grammar book about the grammatical moods such as imperatives and negatives. In the latter case it would include some issues of Uṣūl al-Fiqh.
  2. Yunus b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān (d. 360 A. H): He is the author of a working on how to deal with contradictory legal evidences. (Ibid., no. 420)
  3. Ismāʿīl b. ʿAlī b. Isḥāq b. Abī Sahl b. Nawbakht (237-310 A.H): He is the author of al- Khuṣūṣ wa al-ʿUmūm (Ibid., no. 67). Ibn al-Nadīm has mentioned his works, including the above work and others such as Ibṭāl al-Qiyās, and the other as Naqḍ Ijtihād al-Raʾī ʿalā Ibn Rāwandī. (Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, 225)
  4. Abū Muḥammad al-Ḥasan b. Mūsā al-Nawbakthī: He is a scholar of the Third Century. He has a book entitled al- Khuṣūṣ wa al-ʿUmūm and another one named al-Khabar al-Wāḥid wa al-ʿAmal bih. (Najāshī, no. 146)
  5. Abū Manṣūr Ṣarrām Nīshābūrī: A scholar of the Third and Fourth Century. He wrote a book entitled Ibṭāl al-Qiyas. (Ṭūsī, Fihrist, no. 588)
  6. Muḥammad b. Dāwūd b. ʿAlī (d. 368 AH): Najāshī says that he is a leader of the Imami school. He has a book entitled al-Ḥadīthayn al-Mukhtalifayn. (Rijāl An-Najāshī, no. 246)
  7. Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. Junayd (d. 381AH): He was a well-known Shīʿa scholar who held some unique opinions in jurisprudence. He authored a book entitled Kashf al-Tamwiyya wa al-Iltibās fī Ibṭāl al-Qiyās. (Ibid., no. 1048)

Shīʿa jurists in this stage of jurisprudence’s development focused only on particular issues and not on the principles of jurisprudence as a whole. However, in the second stage a radical change occurred in writing works on the principles of juridprudence, namely that the entirety of the issues were brought forth for discussion. We can mention the following scholars who were instrumental in this development:

  1. Shaykh al-Mufīd (336-413): He has a book entitled al-Tadhkira fi Uṣūl al-Fiqh. The original book is not available but his famous student, Muḥammad b. ʿAlī Karajakī has included a summary of it in his book Kanz al-Fawāʾid.
  2. Sharīf al-Murtaḍā (355-436): He is the distinguished student of al-Shaykh al-Mufīd. He wrote the comprehensive work, al-Dharīʿa ilā Uṣūl al-Sharīʿa, which has already been published twice. The recent edition has been published along with a detailed study by the Imam Sādiq Institute. The writer mentions in the epilogue that he completed the book in 430 AH.
  3. Shaykh al-Ṭūsī, Muḥammad Ibn Ḥasan (385-460): He is the author of ʿUddat al-Uṣūl printed many times in Iran and India. In writing his book, he has closely followed his teacher, al-Murtaḍā’s, book and has clearly benefited from it.
  4. Abū Laylā: He is popularly known as Sallār b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Daylamī (d. 448 AH). He is the author of al-Taqrīb, which is unfortunately extinct.
  5. Abū al-Makārim Ḥamza b. ʿAlī b. Zuhra (d. 585 AH): Popularly known as Ibn Zuhra, he has a book entitled Ghanyat al-Nuzūʿ ilā ʿIlmay al-Uṣūl wa al-Furūʿ which has been published alongside a detailed study by the Imam Sādiq Institute. The book is in fact in two parts; one part includes theology (ʿilm al-kalām) and uṣūl al-fiqh, and the other covers Islamic jurisprudence.
  6. Sadīd al-Dīn Mahmūd b. ʿAlī al-Ḥumṣī (d. c. 600 AH), the author of al-Maṣādir.

After the second stage, the third stage of writing uṣūl begins and other stages proceed thereafter. In each stage, uṣūl develops further finally arriving at its present form. Jaʿfar Subḥānī has also authored books in this field, namely al-Mūjaz, al-Wasīṭ and al-Mabsūṭ. Two of the most important recent authorities in this field are:

  1. Shaykh Murtaḍā Anṣārī (1214-1281)
  2. Muḥaqqiq Khuraṣānī (1255-1329)

These two exemplary figures laid the foundations for the present form of uṣūl.



Sīra and History

Recording the details of the Prophet’s life from birth until death provides a valuable source of knowledge known as the Prophet’s Sīra. However, there are few scholars who have extensively investigted this subject. What we have in mind here, in addition to writing the biography of the Prophet, is recording the events that took place in the first centuries of Islam. Islamic historians have mostly dealt with specific aspects of the Sīra, such as Wāqidī who only recorded the battles of the Prophet and his wars against the idolaters. Nevertheless, some writers have attempted to set down a complete biography of the Prophet. For example:

  1. Ibn Isḥāq: He died in 121 AH and was a contemporary of Imam al-Sādiq. He wrote a biography of the Prophet which was condensed by Ibn Hishām (d. 212 AH). Ibn Ishāq is reputed to have been a a Shīʿa and supporter of ʿAlī. Ibn Ḥajar says that he is truthful but accused of Shi’ism and having Qādirī tendencies. Unfortunately, his work is not available but we can identify its material in later works such as Majmaʿ al-Bayān, which has refered to this book for its commentary on the verses about the Prophet’s battles, the writings of Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 595. AH), and those of Ibn Kathīr (d. 775 AH).

One could potentially recreate much of Ibn Isḥāq’s original work using these books along with that of Ibn Hishām, because it seems likely that Ibn Hishām omitted those parts pertaining to ʿAlī’s virtutes due to the regime of that time.

  1. ʿUbayd Allāh b. Abū Rāfiʿ: He wrote biographies before Ibn Ishaq. However, he did not collect the biography of the Prophet himself but that of his companons who took part in the battles of Jamal, Ṣiffīn, and Nahrawān. (Ṭūsī, Fihrist, 202)
  2. Jābir b. Yazīd al-Juʿfī (d.128 AH): He has books entitled al-Jamal, Ṣiffīn, al-Nahrawān, Maqtal Amir al-Muʾminīn, and Maqtal al-Ḥusayn. (Najāshī, no. 330)
  3. Abān b. ʿUthmān al-Kūfī (d. 209 AH): He is the teacher of Abū ʿUbayda Muʿammar b. Muthannā (d. 209 AH) and Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Salām (157-224 AH). He has a comprehensive book which includes the following parts: (1) A book entitled al-Mubtadaʾ which may possibly contain the events of the beginning of the Prophetic mission; (2) the battles that the Prophet ordered and personally took part in; (3) the death of the Prophet; and (4) the Wars of Apostasy (Najāshī, no. 7).
  4. Abū Mikhnaf: He is a companion of Imam al-Sādiq and one of the earliest historians to write a biography of the Prophet. He has authored books such as: al-Maghāzī, al-Saqīfa, al-Radda, and Futūḥ al-Islām. (Ibid., no. 1149)
  5. Naṣr b. Muzaḥim (d. 212 AH): He is the author of Waqʿat al-Ṣiffīn.
  6. Hishām b. Muḥammad Sāʾib al-Kalbī: He was the prominent genealogist of his time, knowledgable about biographies and histories. Najāshī says that Kalbī was a schoar well-aware of history and was famed for his knowledge and virtues.

Here we have offered a brief summary of books about the biography and battles of the Prophet and early histories of Islam, for further information one can refer to Rawḍāt al-Jannāt and Aʿyān al-Shīʿa.

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