History and Eras of Shī’ī Imāmī Law (2)

Structure of the Discussion

Ustādh Maḥmūd Shahābī, who was a student of Muḥaqqiq Iṣfahānī, divides up the eras of Fiqh into two in the first volume of his Adwār-e Fiqh work. He considers the first era to be that of legislation (tashrī’) and conveying the general law, which is a period of 23 years. The second era thus is the era of derivation and deducing further law.

He believes that the second era is divided into many sub-eras, like that of the companions, their followers, the era of the four representatives of Imām al-Mahdī (a), the era of the major occultation until today. The major occultation is considered one era, but he also says it is possible to divide it into four further smaller eras: 1) the beginning of the major occultation until Shaykh al-Ṭūṣī, 2) Shaykh al-Ṭūṣī until ‘Allāmah al-Ḥillī, 3) ‘Allāmah al-Ḥillī until Shaykh Waḥīd Behbahānī, and 4) Shaykh Waḥīd Behbahānī until today.

Shaykh Rezā Islāmī, like Shahābī, considers the Prophetic era to be other than the era of the Imāms (a). Islāmī believes the first era to be of legislation, while he considers the era of the Imāms to be of explanation and exegesis. There does exist a theological discussion on this and in particular what we see the role of an Imām to be. However, since it is not often discussed in theology, the discussion ends up taking place in works of legal theory and philosophy of jurisprudence. Nevertheless, the famous opinion amongst the Imāmī scholars is that there is no difference between the narrations of the Prophet (p) and narrations of the Imāms (s). So if one report says something is ḥalāl, while another says it is ḥarām, they will be treated as a case of conflicting traditions, instead of necessarily preferring the Prophetic narration over that of the Imāms’ (a).

Āyatullah Hāshemī Shāhrūdī in his introduction to the Mawsū’a refers to the first era as nuṣūṣ and the second era as istinbāṭ. In other words, the first era is when legislation was being done and conveyed by an infallible and is inclusive of both the Prophet’s (p) life and as well as the Imāms’ (a), but the second era is that when law would be deduced based off of the teachings of an infallible and began after the Imāms (a). The companions of the Imams were obedient to the teachings of the Imāms (a) and would not do their own ijtihād if they had heard something from the Imāms (a) themselves.

This is a much better way of dividing the eras, unlike how Shahābī, Islāmī and Gurjī have done it. The way Shahābī has divided the eras into sub-eras, like that of the companions, their followers and the representatives of the Imāms, this division seems meaningless. This is because the time of the companions and the minor occultation is still a phase where there is a connection with an infallible, so we are unable to talk about different schools of thoughts per say.

Shahābī’s division from the major occultation to the time of Shaykh al-Ṭūṣī is reasonable, but it is unclear why the next division between Shaykh al-Ṭūṣi to ‘Allāmah al-Ḥillī and then from Shaykh Waḥīd Behbahānī onwards is special. It is hard to see why someone like Fakhr al-Muḥaqqiqīn or al-Shahīd al-Thānī would not be considered as a separate era. It will become clear why considering Shaykh al-Ṭūṣi as a criterion to mark an era is correct, but whether ‘Allāmah al-Ḥillī can also be considered a criterion to mark another era is worthy of contemplation. Furthermore, between ‘Allāmah and Shaykh Behbahānī we have the whole movement of the Akhbārīs which is completely ignored, even though they played a significant role in jurisprudence.

As for Āyatullah Hāshemī Shāhrūdī, he divides the discourse on jurisprudence into two different aspects, with an infallible present and one phase where an infallible is not present. He considers the second aspect to be the phase of ijtihād and divides it into 6 eras:

  1. Laying of the Foundations (ta’sīs) – Sh. Kulayni, Sh. Saduq, Ibn Qūlūwayh, Ibn Abī ‘Aqīl, Ibn Junayd, Ibn Zuhrah al-Ḥalabī, Shaykh al-Mufīd, Shaykh al-Ṭūṣī
  2. Period of Growth – From Shaykh al-Ṭūṣi until Muḥaqqiq al-Ḥillī
    • Many consider this a period of stagnation rather than growth
    • Āyatullah Shāhrūdī brings Ibn Idrīs al-Ḥillī in this era as well, even though he is the one who heavily critiqued Shaykh al-Ṭūṣī’s methodology
  3. Independence (istiqlāl) – From Muḥaqqiq al-Ḥilli’s time until al-Shahīd al-Thānī. Includes all the scholars of Ḥilla and Fāḍil Miqdād
    • One can question why Muḥaqqiq al-Ḥillī is being used as a criterion here since he does not seem to have brought a significant new methodology. His works, however, are very clear and easier to understand as he was a good writer.
  4. Between Excess and Negligence (ifrāt wa tafrīṭ) – Two new groups appeared during this time, one whose methodology was laid down by Muqaddis Ardebellī and followed by Ṣāḥib al-Ma’ālim and Ṣāḥib al-Madārik, while the foundations of the Akhbārī school of thought were laid down by Mullā Muḥammad Amīn Astarābādī and followed by scholars such as Shaykh Ḥurr al-Āmulī, Shaykh Fayḍ Kashānī and others.
    • The first group of scholars were extreme in the sense that they had a strict criteria for accepting traditions, while the second group were negligent and easy-going in the sense that they would accept every tradition
    • Based on the definition we did of “era”, we will say these are different eras since they are two different schools of thought and were in complete contradiction with one another
  5. Correction and Balance (al-taṣḥiḥ wa al-i’tidāl) – From the time of Shaykh Waḥīd Behbahānī and his students who fought against the extremity of scholars like Muqaddis Ardebellī and the negligence of the Akhbārīs, up until the time of Shaykh al-Anṣārī
    • Shaykh Waḥīd Behbahānī has notes on Muqaddis Ardebellī’s Majma’ al-Fāidah wherehe critiques him
    • He also wrote a commentary on Mullā Fayḍ Kashānī’s work Mafātīḥ al-Sharā’i called Maṣābīh al-Ẓalām, which is essentially a critique work
    • He has marginal notes on the work al-Madārik (written by a student of Muqaddis Ardebellī) with his critiques
  6. Perfection (kamāl) – From Shaykh al-Anṣārī’s time until Imām al-Khomeynī and the Islamic Revolution
    • One can argue that Shaykh al-Anṣārī did not open a new chapter in jurisprudential methodology and is technically from the same era as Shaykh Waḥīd Behbahānī as it is the latter’s ideas that Shaykh al-Anṣārī was building off of
    • This is similar to the opinion of Shahīd al-Ṣadr who believes that the era we are living in began at the time of Shaykh Waḥīd Behbahānī and he does not consider Shaykh al-Anṣārī to be a beginning of another era. Shaykh al-Anṣārī is a student of Shaykh Waḥīd Behbahānī through two connections
    • In this last period, we actually have multiple jurisprudential schools of thought, such as the school of thought of Āyatullah Borojerdī, he is not from the school of thought of Shaykh al-Anṣārī, or the Qurānī school of thought with proponents like Āyatullah Ṣādeqī Tehrānī, Sayyid Faḍlullah, or Sayyid Kamāl al-Ḥaydarī. Perhaps Sayyid al-Khū’ī can be considered a different school of thought as well, at least in discussions of ‘Ilm al-Rijāl and in specific discussions like shuhrah and ijmā’.

We are not claiming that scholars of the same era should not come forth with new opinions. We are simply claiming that new opinions do not necessarily mean a new methodology was employed to arrive at that opinion. As an example, a difference in ruling could just be because one scholar of that same school of thought understood a certain narration in a way where the ruling would include a larger scope of instances, whereas another scholar simply did not understand it in the same way.

Abū al-Qāsim Gurjī divides the eras into 9 periods:

  1. Exegesis and Expounding (tafsīr and tabyīn) – from the demise of the Prophet (p) until the minor occultation
  2. Scholars of Ḥadīth – Shaykh al-Kulaynī, Shaykh al-Ṣadūq etc.
  3. Beginning of Ijtihād – Ibn Junayd, Ibn Abī ‘Aqīl, Shaykh al-Mufīd, Sayyid al-Murtaḍa
  4. Perfection of Ijtihād – Shaykh al-Ṭūṣī (this era begins and ends with him)
  5. Era of Taqlīd – After Shaykh al-Ṭūṣi until Ibn Idrīs al-Ḥillī
  6. Rise of Jurists – Ibn Idrīs al-Ḥillī until 11th century hijrī
  7. The Akhbārīs – Begins around 11th century hijrī
    • For some reason he does not highlight the contributions of Muqaddis Ardebellī and his school of thought
  8. New Era of Deducing Law – Shaykh Waḥīd Behbahānī and three generations of his students until Shaykh al-Anṣārī
  9. Shaykh al-Anṣārī until today

Rezā Islāmī in his work believes the 9th era is from the period of Shaykh al-Anṣārī up until the formation of the Iranian constitution and the 10th era is termed the ‘Governance of Jurisprudence’ which is from the formation of the Iranian constitution until today.

Two points regarding Rezā Islāmī’s last two divisions can be made. The constitution is not a work of jurisprudence nor a school of thought, even if many of the articles can be found and reconciled within jurisprudence. Which organizations should be under the Walī al-Faqīh or the President, are not jurisprudential discussions. They are not against jurisprudence, but our religious sources of law do not have anything to do with these. Most of these concepts are based on new notions such as rights and civil codes.

If the Iranian civil code is the criterion, it was written under the rule of Rezā Shah with the help of Sayyid Muḥammad-Kāẓem ‘Aṣṣār (d. 1975). Sayyid ‘Aṣṣār had permission to do ijtihād from Āqā Ḍiyā al-Dīn ‘Arāqī (d. 1942) and it has been reported that Sayyid Khū’ī believed if he had remained in the seminary and taught advanced classes in jurisprudence, he would have definitely become a Marja’. Due to his efforts, the Iranian civil code is heavily based on the works al-Lum’ah and Sharāi al-Islām which are classical works of jurisprudence. In any case, it is difficult to comprehend why this would mark the beginning of a new era in jurisprudence.

One of our goals in looking at the divisions put forth by different scholars was to see what views were shared amongst the researchers. We find that everyone agrees that Shaykh al-Ṭūṣi marks the beginning of a new era, and Shaykh Waḥīd Behbahānī is also considered to mark the beginning of a new era by most researchers. This implies that there was definitely a new systematic approach developed during these periods.

Based on how we had defined era, we believe there to be 10 categories:

  1. Legislation – From the time of the Prophet (p) until the end of the minor occultation. During this whole period, an infallible was present
  2. From the classical scholars up until Sayyid al-Murtaḍa. Sayyid al-Murtaḍa is worthy of being discussed o his own and can be considered the last scholar from among the first half of the classical scholars
  3. Shaykh al-Ṭūṣī to Muqaddis Ardebellī – this era marks a methodology based on the acceptance of the probative force of a solitary report.
  4. Muqaddis Ardebellī and his students
  5. The Akhbārīs
  6. Shaykh Waḥīd Behbahānī until Āyatullah Borojerdī
  7. Āyatullah Borojerdī himself, where there is an emphasis on studying comparative jurisprudence and also a return back to some of the ideas of the classical scholars
  8. Sayyid al-Khū’ī, who can be considered a severe proponent of the Uṣūlī methodology whose impact can be seen in jurisprudence
  9. Qurānī school of thought, which includes names such as Āyatullah Ṣādeqī Tehrānī, Sayyid Kamāl al-Ḥaydarī, Muḥammad ‘Alī Ayāzī
  10. Imam al-Khomeynī and political jurisprudence. He brought in important discussions into jurisprudence, especially discussions concerning expediency (maṣlaḥa), time (zamān) and place (makān). Most importantly we see that he founded the Expediency Discernment Council of the System in Iran whose basis are these aforementioned discussions.

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