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Outstanding Intellectual Figures of Shi'ism

Thiqat al-Islam Muhammad ibn Ya'qub Kulayni (d. 329/940) is the first person in Shi'ism to have separated the Shi'ite hadiths from the books called Principles (WO and to have arranged and organized them according to the headings of jurisprudence and articles of faith. (Each one of the Shi'ite scholars of hadith had assembled sayings he had collected from the Imams in a book called Asl, or Principle.) The book of Kulayni known as al-Kafi is divided into three parts: Principles, Branches, and Miscellaneous Articles, and contains 16,199 hadiths. It is the most trustworthy and celebrated work of hadith known in the Shi ite world.

Three other works which complement the Kafi are the book of the jurist Shaykh Saduq' Muhammad ibn Babuyah Qummi (d. 381/991), and Kitab al-Tandhib and Kitab al-Istibsar, both by Shaykh Muhammad Tusi (d. 460/1068).

Abu'l-Qasim Ja'far ibn Hasan ibn Yahya Hilli (d. 676/1277), known as Muhaqqiq, was an outstanding genius in the science of jurisprudence and is considered to be the foremost Shi ite jurist. Among his masterpieces are Kitab Mukhtasar. Nafi' and Kitab Shara 'i al-Islam, which have been passed from hand to hand for seven hundred years among Shi ite jurists and have always been regarded with a sense of awe and wonder.

Following Muhaqqiq, we must cite Shahid Awwal (the First Martyr) Shams al-Din Muhammad ibn Makki, who was killed in Damascus in 786/1384 on the accusation of being Shiite. Among his juridical masterpieces is his al-Lum 'all al-Dimashqiyah which he wrote in prison in a period of seven days. Also, we must cite Shaykh Ja'far Kashif Najafi (d. 1327/1909) among whose outstanding juridical works is Kitab Kashf al-Ghita.

Khwajah Nasir al-Din Tusi (d. 672/1274) is the first to have made kalam a thorough and complete science. Among his masterpieces in this domain is his Tajrid al-I'tiqad, which has preserved its authority among masters of this discipline for more than seven centuries. Numerous commentaries have been written on it by Shi ites and Sunnis alike. Over and above his genius in the science of kalam, he was one of the outstanding figures of his day in philosophy and mathematics as witnessed by the valuable contributions he made to the intellectual sciences. Moreover, the Maraghah Observatory owed its existence to him.

Sadr al-Din Shirazi (d. 1050/1640), known as Mulla Sadra and Sadr al-Muta'allihin, was the philosopher who, after centuries of philosophical development in Islam, brought complete order and harmony into the discussion of philosophical problems for the first time. He organised and systematised them like mathematical problems and at the same time wed philosophy and gnosis, thereby bringing about several important developments. He gave to philosophy new ways to discuss and solve hundreds of problems that could not be solved through Peripatetic philosophy. He made possible the analysis and solution of a series of mystical questions which to that day had been considered as belonging to a domain above that of reason and beyond comprehension through rational thought. He clarified and elucidated the meaning of many treasuries of wisdom, contained in the exoteric sources of religion and in the profound metaphysical utterances of the Imams of the Household of the Prophet, that for centuries had been considered as insoluble riddles and usually believed to be of an allegorical or even unclear nature. In this way, gnosis, philosophy and the exoteric aspect of religion were completely harmonized and began to follow a single course.

By following the methods he had developed, Mulla Sadra succeeded in proving "transubstantial motion" (harakat jawhariyah) 1 and in discovering the intimate relation of time to the three spatial dimensions in a manner that is similar to the meaning given in modern physics to the "fourth dimension" and which resembles the general principles of the theory of relativity (relativity of course in the corporeal world outside the mind, not in the mind), and many other noteworthy principles.

He wrote nearly fifty books and treatises. Among his greatest masterpieces is the four-volume Asfar.

It should be noted here that before Mulla Sadra certain sages like Suhrawardi, the 6th/ 12th century philosopher and author of Hikmat al-Ishra-q, and Shams al-Din Turkah, a philosopher of the 8th/14th century, had taken steps toward harmonizing gnosis, philosophy and exoteric religion, but credit for complete success in this undertaking belongs to Mulla Sadra.

Shaykh Murtada Ansari Shushtari (d. 1281/1864) reorganised the science of the principles of jurisprudence upon a new foundation and formulated the practical principles of this science. For over a century, his school has been followed diligently by Shi'ite scholars.

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1 Editor's note: Earlier Muslim philosophers believed, like Aristotle, that motion is possible only in the accidents of things, not in their substance. Mulla Sadra assessed, on the contray, that whenever something partakes of motion (in the sense of medieval philosophy), its substance undergoes motion and not just its accidents. There is thus a becoming within things through which they ascend to the higher orders of universal existence. This view, however, should not be confused with the modern theory of evolution.

Adapted from: "Shi'ah" by: "Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i"