Akhbarism In The Imamiyyah Tradition


One of the most surprising as well as regrettable phenomena was the emergence of Akhbarism among the Shi'ah in the early eleventh/seventeenth century. Akhbarism was a hundred times more rigid and formalistic than either the Zahiri or the Hanbali (The school that most Wahabis and Salafis belong to) school. Its emergence must be considered a great catastrophe in the Shi'ah world whose effects more or less survive to the present day, causing stagnation and obscurantism in the Shi'ah Muslim society.

 The founder of Akhbarism was Mulla Amin Astarabadi, who expounded his beliefs in his famous book Fawa'id al-madaniyyah. Mulla Amin, as his book shows, was a brilliant and learned man. In general, those who found a school, no matter how baseless, rigid and false its teachings may be, are brilliant and intelligent men. A dullard cannot found a school and gather followers around himself. The dullards, however, are influenced by those brilliant individuals and become their loyal followers.

Amin Astarabadi claims to have discovered some truths which nobody before him had succeeded in knowing. Also, he claims a kind of Divine inspiration for himself; in the introduction to theFawa'id al- madaniyyah, he says: 
And you (i.e. the reader), after having gone through our book, will find in it truths untouched by any of the early or latter philosophers, legists, scholastics, and jurisprudents, and yet they are only a sample of what my Lord, the Almighty and the Supreme, has granted to me.
In this book he challenges even the philosophers and themutakallimun, as occasionally he has to discuss some issues related to philosophy and kalam. In the book's tenth chapter, he discusses the meaning of nafs al-'amr. The eleventh chapter is named by him "Fi bayan aghlat al-'Asha'irah wa al-Mu'tazilah fi awwal al-wajibat" ("On the mistakes of the Ashai'rah and the Mu'tazilah about the first obligations"). In the twelfth, he cites the mistakes of Muslim philosophers and theologians. 


Amin Astarabadi under different pretexts, tried to deny the legal authority (hujjiyyah) of three of the four well-known sources of law, that is, the Quran, ijma', and 'aql, thus recognizing only the Sunnah as the reliable source. As to the Quran, he claimed that no one has the right to refer directly to the Quran and to interpret it. Only the Infallible Imams have such a right. Our duty is to refer to their ahadith.Only those parts of the Quran that have been explained in hadith may be referred to for legal purposes; other parts whose exegesis does not exist in hadith may not be acted upon. Also in order to deny the authenticity of the text of the Quran, Amin Astarabadi raised the issue of its corruption (tahrif).

As to ijma', he denied its validity, considering it an innovation (bid'ah) of the Sunnis. He also offered many arguments to deny the authority of reason. On the contrary, with respect to ahadith he went to the other extreme and claimed that all the traditions, especially those of al-Kafi, Man la yahdruruhu al-faqih, al-Tahdhib and al-'Istibsar are of certain authenticity and legally binding. He ferociously attacked al- 'Allamah al-Hilli, who had classified traditions into sahihmuwaththaqhasan, and da'if, and occasionally insults the 'Allamah and his followers in his book. 
He categorically rejected the very principle of Ijtihad (even in its latter sense in which the Shi'ah fuqaha' had accepted it) and regarded it as an innovation in the faith. No one has any right to follow anyone except an infallible Imam, he claimed. He brought the entire force of his opposition to bear against reason and its authority. He claimed that all innovations involving reason - such as regarding Ijtihad as legitimate, considering the zawahir(apparent meanings of the Quranic verses) to be of binding authority, classifying ahadith into weak and strong, inquiring into the reliability of transmitters of ahadith and the like - came into vogue because the fuqaha' have followed the practitioners ofqiyas, the scholastics, philosophers, and logicians to rely upon reason. Now, if Mulla Amin were to prove that reason is liable to error except in matters relating to objects of sense - experience or those which are derived from it (such as the concepts of mathematics), the fuqaha' would no longer go after Ijtihad and reason. Accordingly, he advanced rather forceful arguments to disprove the authority of reason in matters which are not perceptual or derived from sense-experience. He is especially keen to prove that metaphysics and theology, since they are based on pure reasoning, are devoid of any value; hence the title of the twelfth chapter of the Fawa'id al-madaniyyah
On part of the errors of philosophers and Muslim theosophers (hukama') in their sciences and that their cause-as we have proved earlier-is that no one who deals with the issues whose preliminaries are extra-sensible is secure from error except the Infallible Ones (the Prophet [S], Fatimah [A], and the twelve Imams [A]). 
There, he discusses some well-known problems of philosophy, such as the necessity of an intervening rest between two reciprocating straight line motions, that something which is necessarily associated with some impossibility is also impossible, the problem of precedence, and the problem of the preponderance of will. 
 On the whole, he is of the opinion that reason can be a guide only in the study of problems related to the natural sciences, which are based upon sense-experience, and in that of mathematics, whose concepts are derived from such experience or are closely related to it, but not in problems of theology and metaphysics. This view agrees totally with the outlook of the European empiricists of the sixteenth century. Incidentally, the period in which Astarabadi lived approximately coincides with that of the emergence of empiricism in Europe. It is not known whether his views were original or he had borrowed them. All that we know about him at the present is that he lived in Makkah for nearly ten years where he studied under Muhammad Astarabadi, to whom he refers as a faqih, amutakallim, and philosopher. After that he had spent several years at al-Madinah. But we know nothing about how he came to adopt those views, whether he had innovated them or had borrowed them from someone else ...

Amin Astarabadi himself, and his followers as well, do not consider him as the founder of a new school called Akhbarism. Rather they consider him a revivalist who restored the way of the early Shi'ah scholars of hadith. They claim that their way is the same as that of the early Shi'ah that was followed until the times of al-Shaykh al-Saduq and from which the people were gradually led astray by such scholars as Ibn Abi 'Aqil, Ibn Junayd, al-Shaykh al-Mufid, al-Sayyid al-Murtada, and al-Shaykh al-Tusi, who brought in reason and ijtihad to temper with Divine commands. Shaykh Yusuf ibn Ahmad al-Bahram (d. 1186/1772), the author of al-Hada'iq al-nadrah, who was himself a moderate Akhbari, in the tenth muqaddimah of al-Hada'iq al-nadrah, under a heading style "Fi hujjiyyat al-dafiil al-'aqli" (On the legal validity of rational grounds), cites the following words of Sayyid Ni'mat Allah al-Jaza'iri from the latter's work Anwar al-nu'maniyyah
To be certain, a majority of our companions (i.e. the Shi'ah) followed a group of our opponents, among them philosophers. naturalists, or Ahl al-Ra'y and others, who, relying upon reason and its arguments. cast away the teachings of the prophets when they did not agree with their intellects. 
In these words, which hint at excommunication, Sayyid Ni'mat Allah al-Jaza'iri considers the majority of Shi'ah scholars - and along with them the philosophers, the naturalists, and those who follow ra'y and qiyas to be heedless of the teachings of prophets, merely on the ground that they recognize the authority of reason. By the 'majority' he means all the scholars who came after al-Shaykh al-Saduq, as if until that time all Shi'ah had been Akhbaris. 


In fact Akhbarism had never existed before as a school with distinct doctrines such as those based on the denial of the authority of the zawahir of the Quran, the denial of the authority of reason, impermissibility of the taqlid of anyone except the Ma'sum and so on. It is true that there were some who seldom went beyond quoting traditions in their books - even quoting them verbatim in their fatawa. But the fact is that the abundance of ahadith on the one hand, and the accessibility to the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (A) on the other, had been the major cause that the need for ijtihad and the need to deduce particular rules from general laws had not yet been felt.

Al-Shaykh al-Tusi, in the introduction to al-Mabsut, says: "I had heard from the 'Ammah (i.e. the Sunnis) the criticism that our fiqh is limited because we do not practise qiyas and ra'yand is therefore also inadequate for answering all the problems. For years I had been desirous of writing a.work on legal deduction without having recourse to qiyas and ra'y, deducing in it particular rules (furu') from the fundamental general principles (usul) that we have been taught in traditions. However, various preoccupations and hindrances prevented it." Then he adds: 
My determination was weakened further by the absence of any desire on the part of this sect (i.e. the Imamiyyah) towards it and their indifference in this regard; because they have compiled the traditions which they relate with their familiar vocabulary, to the extent that if in a problem different words to which they are not used to are employed to convey the same sense, they consider it as an odd thing.
Al-Tusi makes it clear that the biggest impediment in his writing of such a book was that it was not yet customary among the Shi'ah to practise ijtihad and to deduce particulars from universals. 


 As said before, there had not emerged any great jurist until that time who could officially practise ijtihad and deduce particular rules from the general principles. There had been some - such as al-Shaykh al-Saduq, Ibn al-Walid, and others - whose method was based on narration of traditions, not on a discursive study of the subject. Even if they wrote any book on kalam, their argument consisted mainly of traditions. It was they whom al-Shaykh al-Tusi calls 'muqallidah' (imitators) and criticizes them. Al-Sayyid al-Murtada - as quoted in the introduction to al-Sara'ir by Ibn Idris - refers to them as ashasb al-hadith min ashabina (the 'ahl al-hadith' from among our companions), and al-'Allamah al- Hilli, in Tahdhib al-'usul, calls them 'al-'akhbariyyun min ashabina' (the 'akhbaris'-traditionists-from among our companions).

Perhaps it is on this account that al-Shahristani, in al-Milal wa al- nihal,divides the Imamiyyah into the subsects of mu'tazilah and akhbaris. In the first volume of his work, he says: 
When there came to be divergence in the traditions narrated from their Imams, as time passed every group of them took its own way, and some of the Imamiyyah became either Mu'tazilah, or Waidiyyah, or Tafdiliyyah, or Akhbariyyah, or Mushabbihah, or Salafiyyah.
However, it is quite certain and definite that in the early era there was no school opposed to that of ijtihad and legal deduction amongst the Shi'ah to have challenged the authority of the zawahir of the Quran or the authority of reason in order to defend hadith. 


The appearance of Akhbarism, as I have said before, was a catastrophe for the scientific and intellectual life of the Shi'ah. Many individuals came to adopt its teachings and came to look down upon reason and rationalism. They made reflection upon the Quran a taboo and, instead of making the Quran the criterion for the acceptability of hadith, made hadith a criterion for the Quran. Fortunately there emerged eminent personalities among the mujtahidun and usulis who fought the influence of the Akhbaris. Among them the names of Wahid Behbahani and Shaykh Murtada al-'Ansari - may God elevate their station - stand high. To describe in detail the services of these two personages is beyond the scope of the present study. 
By the way, it should not remain unsaid that the struggle against Akhbarism was a difficult and complex matter because its teachings took a deceptive and self-righteous stance which misled the public. It was for this reason that they rapidly gained influence and popularity after Amin Astarabadi ...

 As is known, there broke out severe and bloody conflict towards the end of the second/eighth century and the beginning of the third/ninth between the Ahl al-Hadith wa al-Sunnah, who resemble the Shi'ah Akhbaris, and the Mu'tazilah, who believe in the role of reason and the validity of rational arguments. Al-Ma'mun (r. 198-218/813- 833), who was personally a man of learning, supported the Mu'tazilah and backed them in the controversy about the createdness of the Quran. He sent out a circular declaring those who denied the creaturehood of the Quran as heretics, who had no right to be judges and preside over the courts of law nor was their testimony to be accepted in the courts. As a result the Mu'tazilah attained great power during al-Ma'mun's reign. More philosophical works than at any other time were translated into Arabic during al-Ma'mun's reign and rationalism became prevalent When al-Mutawakkil (r. 232-247/846-861) came to power, he reversed the tide by throwing the weight of his support behind the Ahl al-Hadith. The Mu'tazilah were proscribed and the publication of philosophy was banned. Al-Mas'udi, in Muruj al-dhahab, writes: 
When the caliphate fell to al-Mutawakkil, he ordered the people to abstain from discussion and debate and whatever they were used to in the days of al-Mu'tasim and al-Wathiq. He directed them to adopt compliance and imitation.
Al-Mutawakkil's support for the Ahl al-Hadith wa al-Sunnah- who like the Shi'ah Akhbaris had a deceptively self-righteous stance, spoke untiringly of submission and devotion and persistently chanted the phrase qala Rasul Allah ('so said the Apostle of Allah') - had an extraordinary effect on the people, to whom it appeared to be a defence of the Prophet. For this reason, al-Mutawakkil, despite his tyranny and debauchery, came to assume saintly image in the popular mind. 


The Mu'tazilah could never recover from that blow. And we, the Shi'ah, should thank God that there arose no Mutawakkil in the era of the emergence of the Shi'ah Akhbaris, who were a hundred times more obscurantists and formalistic than the Ahl al-Hadith wa al-Sunnah, in their defence.

However, we should note the point that even though the Akhbari onslaught was defeated through the courageous resistance of a number of the followers of the school of ijtihad, but the Akhbari thinking was not completely destroyed. Whenever the champions of ijtihad have made any headway and wherever they have put their feet, Akhbari thinking had to recede and disappear. But Akhbari obscurantism still rules in those places where they were not able to reach.

 How often we come across mujtahids who do ijtihad with an Akhbari brain. Many of the kind of things which are published in the name of the 'teachings of the Ahl al-Bayt' and come to the market, but which strike dagger into the back of the Ahl al-Bayt of the Prophet (S), are no more than the remnants of the thought of Mulla Muhammad Amin Astarabadi. 

SOURCE: http://www.al-islam.org/al-tawhid/ijtihad-legislation.htm

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