Rafed English

The struggle with Akhbarism

Adopted from the book : "The Principles of Ijtihad in Islam" by : "Shahid Murtadha Mutahhari"

In brief, Akhbarism was a movement in opposition to 'aql. An amazing ossification and inflexibility ruled in their doctrine. Fortunately, some discerning individuals like Wahid Bihbihani25, famous as "Aqa", whose descendants are even now known as "Al-i Aqa (Family of Aqa)", and his pupils, and afterwards the late Shaykh Murtada al-Ansari26, took a stand and fought against this doctrine. Wahid Bihbihani lived in Karbala.27 At that time, the author of the "Hada'iq"28 an erudite Akhbari, was also in Karbala, and both of them had a following of students. Wahid was a follower of the doctrine of ijtihad, and the author of the "Hada'iq" of the Akhbari doctrine, and occasionally there were bitter disputes. In the end, Wahid Bihbihani defeated the author of the "Hada'iq", and it is said that the outstanding pupils of Aqa Wahid, such as Kashif al-Ghita', Bahr al-'Ulum and the Sayyid Mahdi Shahrastani29, had first of all been pupils of the author of the "Hada'iq" and had afterwards left him and joined the lessons of Wahid Bihbihani.

Of course, the author of the "Hada'iq" was a moderate Akhbari; he claimed that his doctrine was identical with that of Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi30, half way between Akhbari and Usuli. Moreover, he was a pious and godfearing man of faith, and although Wahid Bihbihani fought against him vociferously and forbade congregational prayers behind him, he, quite the contrary, said that congregational prayers behind Aqa Wahid were valid. It is said that at the time of his death he left in his will that Wahid Bihbihani should recite his funerary prayer. The struggle of the Shaykh al-Ansari was such that he managed to build a solid foundation for the science of usul al-fiqh; and it is said that he maintained that if Amin al-Astarabadi had been alive he would have accepted his usul. Naturally, the Akhbari school was defeated as a result of this opposition, and now it has no following except here and there. However, not all the ideas of Akhbarism, which penetrated people's minds so quickly and securely after the appearance of Mulla Amin, and which held sway for more or less two hundred years, have disappeared. Even now we see many who do not recognize the permissibility of an exegesis of the Qur'an unless a hadith is quoted. The inflexibility of Akhbarism still reigns in many of the matters of akhlaq (ethics) and in social problems, even in some parts of fiqh. But now is not the time for me to expand on this.

One thing which is a cause of the popularity of the Akhbari way of thinking is their self-righteousness, which is pleasing to ordinary people, because their ideas are formulated in such a way that they seem to be claiming: "we are not saying anything we have invented ourselves, we are people of obedience and submission; we say nothing except what the Imam al-Baqir (or the Imam al-Sadiq, etc.) said; we do not speak ourselves, we only say what the ma'sumin said." In the chapter on ihtiyat and bara'a (precaution and exemption from obligation) in his "Fara' id al-Usul" the Shaykh al-Ansari quotes from Ni'mat Allah al-Jaza'iri31, who maintained the doctrine of the Akhbaris : Can any rational person conceive the possibility that on the day of Resurrection they will bring forth one of the slaves of Allah (i.e., the Akhbaris) and ask him how he acted, and that when he says that he acted according to what the ma'sumin ordered and that everywhere there was no word from the ma'sumin he desisted as a precaution, they will take such a person to Hell, while they will lead a thoughtless person who was inattentive to the words of the ma'sumin (i.e., an Usuli who follows the doctrine of ijtihad), who rejects every hadith on the slightest pretext, to heaven? It is not possible!

The answer which the mujtahids give is that this kind of obedience and submission is not submission to the words of the ma'sumin, but submission to ignorance. If it is really certain that the ma'sumin said something, then we must submit; but these people wanted to submit ignorantly to everything they heard. I will give as an example something which I have recently come across, so that the difference between the rigid Akhbari way of thinking and the ijtihadi way of thinking can be seen.

25. Muhammad Baqir b. Muhammad al-Bihbihani (1116-8/1704-7 - 1208/1793-4).

26. The Shaykh Murtada b. Muhammad Amin b. Shams al-Din b. Ahmad b. Nur al-Din b. Muhammad Sadiq al-Shushtari al-Dizfuli al-Ansari (1214/1799 - 1281/1864), whose "Rasa'il", on usul al-fiqh were published as "Fara'id al-Usul"(Tehran, 1296). His works in usul and fiqh now form the backbone of the present-day teaching of these subjects.

27. One of the 'atabat, the Shi'i sacred towns in Iraq, the site of the battle where the third Imam, al-Husayn, and his followers were massacred on 10 Muharram 61/680. It is about 95 kms. S.S.W. of Baghdad.

28. The Shaykh Yusuf b. Ahmad al-Bahrani (d. 1186/1772), author of "al-Hada'iq al-Nadira Ahkam al-'Itra al-Tahira" (ed. M.T. al-Irwani, 20 vols., Najaf, 1377-).

29. a) Ja'far b. Khidr b. Yahya al-Najafi (1164/751 - 1227/1812), known as "Kashif al-Ghita 'an Mubhamat al-Shari'a al-Gharra" (Tehran, 1271). b) The Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi b. Murtada b. Muhammad b. ' Abd al-Karim al-Hasani al-Husayni (1154-5/1741-2 - 1212/1797), known as the Sayyid Bahr al-'Ulum. c) The Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi al-Shahrastani al-Ha'iri b. Abi'l-Qasim al-Musawi (d. 1216/1801).

30. Muhammad Baqir b. Muhammad Taqi b. Maqsud 'Ali al-Majlisi al-Isfahani (1037/1627 - 1111/1700), compiler of the encyclopaedic collection of Shi'i hadith, "Bihar al-A nwar" (110 vols, Tehran, 1376- [vol. VIII, Tehran, 1304])

31. The Sayyid Ni'mat Allah b. 'Abdillah b. Muhammad al-Musawi al-Jaza'iri (d. 1112/1700), a pupil of the 'Allama al-Majlisi (see previous note).

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