Reliance on Taqiyya in Fiqh from Tusi till Ardabili: Transformation from a Cognitive to Themantic Method

This post was originally published on Shiism and Islamic History blog.

Written by Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Madadi al-Musawi – Postgraduate and researcher for the Hawza of Qum


Upon facing contradictory hadiths, Imamite jurists frequently opt for the “taqiyya card,” i.e. labeling hadiths as dissimulative. This hermeneutic, however, has evolved in pivotal ways. The greatest progenitor and innovator in this area is Sheikh Tusi (5c.) who popularized this hermeneutic, weakening untold narrations by taqiyyah-labeling them, i.e. labeling hadiths as dissimulative. This methodology of his has been heavily altered and revised by many a faqih throughout time, such that it barely resembles the original intent. Whereas Tusi merely proposed the tool as a path towards finer investigation, it has devolved into an unchecked tactic. It has influenced our epistemology, leading to jurisprudential modifications. The hows and whys of this unknown topic and its influence unto other areas shall be explored.

1 – Sheikh Tusi’s Era in the Fifth Century

The minutiae of fiqhi hermeneutics and taqiyyah-labeling began in Tusi’s era. His profuse use of the taqiyya card ushered an innovative approach, evident from his hadith collection and jurisprudential tomes. Although this hermeneutic was known to prior scholars, his version is essentially distinct, differing quantitatively and qualitatively.

There are many reasons for his excessive usage of the taqiyya card. The most important and famous was due to his care in collecting all the “mainstream” [Sunnite] hadiths, whereout he instructed such a hermeneutic in the introduction of his Tahd̯īb (1407, v.1, p. 3) [for hadiths entering from competing sects often lead to incongruous reports]. This contrasts with the prior grandees who only recorded their fatwas and handpicked [Imamite] reports, like what Saduq indicated in his Man La Yahdar (1403, v.1, 3).

Another factor was his belief in the authority of solitary hadiths, in opposition to prior dons including his teacher Sayyid Murtada and Sheikh Mufid (Sayyid Murtada, 1376, v. 2, 519; v. 1, 213). Tusi was the first to openly innovate such a view, something which he labeled as a matter of consensus (1417, v. 1, 126). Belief in the authority of solitary hadiths is a prerequisite to his taqiyyah-card methodology, forwhy the allowance of solitary reports causes many hadiths to become religiously binding, instigating a flood of religiously binding contradictory narrations. By disregarding those which agree with the Sunnites under the guise of Imamic dissimulation, one can uphold the authority of solitary hadiths without suffocating under a tsunami of irreconciliable reports.

In contrast to Sheikh Tusi, the prior scholars did not sanction the authority of the solitary hadith qua solitary hadith, but rather used a knowledge-based hermeneutic. They analyzed every hadith on the value of its useful knowledge. Such as Sharif Murtada who was needless of the taqiyya card as he rejected the authority of solitary reports, instead relying on knowledge-based criteria. Thus, before the issue of contradictory hadiths arose, the problem would have been solved as each report would have been labeled either useful or useless unto knowledge. This is unlike Tusi who considered every hadith binding and sahih unless there were contradictory reports. Ergo, when Sheikh collected the [numerous] narrations discarded by his predecessors, precipitating many irreconcilable hadiths, he was forced to use his taqiyya card hermeneutic in order to maintain his epistemology.

2 – Ibn Idris’s Era in the Sixth Century

This era saw the endorsement and iteration of Tusi’s taqiyya card. Postmortem, almost all the scholars repudiated the late Tusi’s espousal of solitary reports, maintaining the viewpoint of Sharif Murtada. Some, like Ibn Zuhra, denied the authority of solitary hadiths due to lack of judicial (shar’i) evidence, most of whom shirked it due to lacking knowledge, e.g. Abi al-Majd Halabi, Ibn Shahrashub, Tabarsi, Ibn Tawus. Nonetheless, Sheikh Tusi’s taqiyya card became a moderately-used heirloom. Previous scholars only cited reliable hadiths in jurisprudential texts; ergo, there were few to no hadithic contradictions. Whereas succeeding scholars, doing taqlid of Tusi, quoted all narrations, including those labeled as dissimulative. As a result, future scholars were forced to continue Sheikh Tusi’s taqiyyah card in order to harmonize the contradictions, even though they denied the authority of solitary hadiths. This hermeneutic of Sheikh is evident from many of his direct quotes (Ibn Idris, 1411, v. 3, 336). Of course, in some instances, he criticized thematic [matni] problems of hadith (Ibid, 241).

The companions also used the taqiyyah card when faced with problematic solitary reports. For instance, Ibn Zuhra employed the taqiyyah card when he came across solitary reports against mutah (Ibn Zuhra, 1417, 359).

In the midst of this misfortune, the most salient individual of that era who relied on the taqiyya card was Ibn Idris. He, also, only quotes reports deemed dissimulative by Tusi without originally developing or utilizing the taqiyyah card hermeneutic. Herefore, seemingly, he originally employs the taqiyyah card only on three narrations, differing with Sheikh:

1. A narration on the chapter of emancipating a slave after injuring him – On the opinion of Ibn Idris, this report: 1) Lacks Quranic and sunnaic evidence. 2) It lacks consensus (ijmā). 3) It contradicts a principle (as̯l). 4) And it is a solitary report. Ibn Idris considers the narration dissimulative as it is in line with the Shafi’i madhab (Ibn Idris, 1410, v. 3, 17).

2. Concerning a report regarding [intoxicating] beverages, Ibn Idris first objects to imbibing and then to the aforementioned account. Due to its concordance with Abu Hanifa, he taqiyyah-labels the narration (Ibid, 133).

3. A report which contradicts the rules of ritual purity (tahara) that is in accordance with Abu Hanifa. ‘If one comes across such hadiths within the books of the Shia scholars, they ought to be considered taqiyya’ (Ibid, v. 1, 180).

In the first half of this period, a few personalities reiterated Tusi’s taqiyya-labelings, e.g. Ibn Idris, Abu Zuhra, and Ibn Tawus (Ibn T̯āwūs, 1409, 211). In the second half, however, even mentioning Tusi’s taqiyya hadiths falls out of practice. The fiqhi texts, including those authored by the most esteemed of scholars, are absent of such a hermeneutic, including Ibn H̯amza’s Wasīla, Abī al-Majd H̯alabī’s Išārah al-Sabq, and Yahya b. Sa’īd Hazalī’s al-Jāmi’ al-Šarā`i’. These scholars agree on the non-authority of the solitary report, e.g. Ibn Abi Majd Halbi in his Isharah al-Sabq (1414, p. 47, 62).

Overall, despite Tusi’s taqiyya card’s posthumous usage, its prevalence waned. One outcome of this was the loss of jurisprudential diversity as a result of basing all of fiqh on Sheikh Tusi’s parameters. This is possibly due to his hermeneutics’ acceptance of solitary hadiths, which lacked knowledge-based criteria and shar’i proof.

3 – Muhaqiq Hilli’s Era in the Seventh Century

Herebefore, Sheikh Tusi’s taqiyyah card was unpopular and criticized. Muhaqiq Hilli, as such, was a product of his time, lambasting Sheikh’s taqiyyah-labelings.

He problematizes Tusi’s methodology into three:

  1. Lack of evidence – After mentioning two hadiths about wudu and leftover food and drink (سؤر), he mentions sheikh’s utilization of the taqiyyah card and responds either, ‘There is no reason to use it’ or ‘Acting upon the hadiths is acceptable’ (Muhaqiq Hilli, 1417, v. 1, p. 278, 98).
  2. Incorrectly proposing crypto-agreement with Sunnis – To illustrate, in a narration about the adhan, it is unimaginable for it to have been stated under taqiyyah, forwhy it includes the phrase hayya ‘ala khayr al-amal. Muhaqiq proposes a different reconciliatory strategy, preferring the accepted hadith by virtue of its fame rather than labeling the abandoned (matruk) report as dissimulative (Ibid, v. 2, p. 145).
  3. The acceptance of grandees – Muhaqiq Hilli rejects Tusi’s taqiyyah-labeling of a hadith anent qunoot. He writes, “Ibn Babuyah records this, and he only recorded that which he deemed reliable. Ibn Junayd also accepted it.” Like before, he reconciled it via his “fame card” (ibid, p. 313). Similarly, in a narration apropos of bondmen and bondwomen he negates dissimulation, asserting, ‘The hadith was accepted by multiple dons and, [chiefly], it was narrated from Bazant̯ī. How could personages like Ibn ‘Aqīl and Bazanti err in their Imamite madhab?!’ (Ibid, p. 500)

In his foundational text Ma’ārij al-Us̯ūl, he unequivocally excoriates Sheikh Tusi for his taqiyyah card. Muhaqiq unapprovingly quotes Tusi, “If two reports are equivalent numerically and equitably, adopt the one which furthermost opposes the Sunnites,” and criticizes it, “It is possible for the hadith which opposes the Sunnites to be erroneous. As such, it is probable that a fatwa was issued for a certain benefit, but has a hidden ta`wil” (Muhaqiq Hilli, 1423, 225). Noteable is that Sheikh Tusi’s quotation contradicts the erudite, like Sheikh Mufid.

Muhaqiq was the first person in the two centuries after sheikh to critique the authority of solitary hadiths, accepting them only if they were rationally sound. With the ending of this era came Allama Hilli who revived the authority of solitary reports (Muhaqiq Hilli, 1417, v. 1, p. 29; Ibid, 1423, 213).

4 – Allama Hilli’s Era in the Eighth Century

Allama Hilli (726) was the first scholar in two centuries to champion and popularize the authority of solitary hadiths, using it even in minutiae. Promoting it in the most absolute sense, he discarded the regulations and restrictions put in place by Tusi and the succeeding scholars, e.g. the actions of the scholars (‘amal-e ashhaab) and indication (qariina) (Hilli, 1381, p. 228َ, 235َ; Ibid, 1414, p. 205َ, 209; Ibid, 1425, p. 345َ, 437). This, consequently, necessitated the adoption of the rest of Tusi’s hermeneutical approach and opinions, reviving the taqiyyah card with a vengeance after it had waned in the sixth and especially seventh century.

From Allama’s oeuvre, the gradual pro-Tusi epistemological shift is noticeable. In his first book Tad̊kira, the taqiyyah card is hardly employed and Sheikh Tusi is sparlingly adduced. This is in contrast to his later works, like Muk̊talif and Mantahī. In the beginning of his career, although he utilized the taqiyyah card, he would criticize Sheikh for it sometimes. By the time he authors Muk̊talif, one of his last books, the taqiyyah card is employed ad nauseum.

Allama’s taqiyyah card usage can be categorized into three:

  1. Confirming the reports which Tusi labeled dissimulative – Allama endorses most of sheikh’s usages of the taqiyyah card. This procedure can be seen in his earlier works, e.g. Tad̊kira (Hilli, 1414, v. 1, p. 387).
  2. Refuting some of sheikh’s usage of the taqiyyah card via reconciliation and suspension (tawaquf) – This occurs primarily in his later works, e.g. regarding the hadiths of talāq wherein allama reconciles the ostensibly contradictory reports (Hilli, 1413, v. 7, p. 341), a hadith about nikah (ibid, p. 418) and carrion (Ibid, v. 8, p. 334), and a narration anent testimony wherein Allama gainsays Tusi’s taqiyyah card employment and instead suspends judgement (Ibid, p. 487).
  3. Employing the taqiyyah card originally – This, gradually, became fixed within some of the scholars’ core hermeneutical foundation, whence taqiyyah card usage, independent from Tusi, began. These are hadiths which Tusi either accepted or, if there were an apparent contradiction, he resolved using other hermeneutical strategies (Hilli, 1413, v. 2, p. 437; Tusi, 1407, v. 2, p. 307, 206; Hilli, 1412, v. 10, p. 345; Tusi, 1390, v. 2, p. 217, Hilli, 1413, v. 7, p. 112; Tusi, 1407, v. 7, p. 416).

Allama oft-utilized the taqiyyah card, more so than Sheikh. His original employment of the hermeneutic influenced many and caused it to become a core pillar. Allama Hilli’s taqiyyah card usage was like a spore which mushroomed tout de suite after his death.

5 – The Era of Fak̊r al-Muh̯aqiqīn, Shahid I, Fād̯il Miqdād, Jamāl al-Dīn Hilli, Muhaqiq Karaki in the Eight and Ninth Century

This era commenced forthwithal after the demise of Allama Hilli with Fakhr al-Muhaqiqin (771). Unlike Allama, for whom criticizing played a key role, Sheikh’s taqiyyah card employment is rarely refuted. Rather, Tusi’s views are sanctified. Sheikh Tusi’s taqiyyah-labelings are affirmed alongside the taqiyyah card being originally utilized. Alas, the latter gradually escalated, metastasizing through leading figures.

To illustrate, almost all of the era’s clergymen embraced the authority of solitary hadiths, with the condition of there being actions of the scholar (‘amal-e ash̯āb) or indication (qarīna), becoming a hermeneutical pillar. There are narrations wherein Fakhr al-Muhaqiqin is the first to employ the taqiyyah card, opposing Tusi ({Fakhr al-Muhaqiqin, 1387, v. 1, p. 99; Tusi, 1407, v. 2, p. 326} {Fakh, 1387, v. 1, p. 128َ; Tusi, 1407, v. 3, p.134} { Fakh, 1387, v. 4, p. 143; Tusi, 1407, v. 9, p. 5}).

After Fakhr al-Muhaqiqin, Shahid Awal (786) rejuvenated the taqiyyah card. Shahid I exemplifies the pattern wherethrough the taqiyyah card was popularized. For one, he quotes and approves of the taqiyyah-labelings of his predecessor, Fakhr al-Muhaqiqin, such that they become a part of Imamite heirloom fiqh. Second, his own original taqiyyah-labelings are circulated and become the dominant position. [Scilicet, previous taqiyyah-labelings are maintained and more taqiyyah-labelings are added by each scholar.] ({Shahid I, 1417, v. 2, p. 323; Tusi, 1407, v. 8, p. 245} {Shahid I, 1417, v. 2, p. 355; Tusi, 1407, v. 9, p. َ391} {Shahid I, 1417, v. 3, p. 8; Tusi, 1407, v. 9, p. 5} {Shahid I, 1417, v. 3, p. 357; Tusi, 1407, v. 7, p. ،156}).

After Shahid I comes Fadil Miqdad, Jamal al-Din Hilli, and Muhaqiq Karaki; each of whom further expands the taqiyyah card’s usage. For, as each reaffirmed the taqiyyah-labelings of the past scholars, they each originally employed the taqiyyah card unto more hadiths [augmenting the pool of taqiyyah-labelings].

Noteworthy is that these men were heavily influenced by Muhaqiq Hilli, a critic of Sheikh Tusi. This was due to the central position of Muhaqiq’s works, including Šarāyi‘ and Muk̊tas̊ar, within the intellectual sphere of the Shiites – such that most books authored within this period are commentaries of Muhaqiq Hilli’s oeuvre. Thus, upon seeing Sheikh Tusi’s taqiyyah card and Muhaqiq’s critique of it, most were biased in favor of Sheikh, refuting Muhaqiq’s criticisms. This may explain why books that lack the disapproval, like Sharaayi‘ and Mukhtassar are so popular, whereas Mu’tabar, which contains criticisms of Sheikh Tusi, is not.

Original uses of the taqiyyah card were implemented. For examples of Fadil Miqdad different with Sheikh Tusi, see ({Fadil, 1404, v. 1, ،237; Tusi, 1407, v. 3, p. ،134} {Fadil, 1404, v. 2, p. ،387; Tusi, 1407, v. 8, p. ،245} {Fadil, 1404, v. 3, p. ،332, ،341; Tusi, 1407, v. 8, p. ،138} {Fadil, 1404, v. 4, p. 32; Tusi, 1407, v. 9, p. 5, 6} {Fadil, 1404, v. 4, p. 53; Tusi, 1407, v. 9, p. 88} {Fadil, 1404, v. 4, p. 416; Tusi, 1407, v. 10, p. ،183}).

For examples of Jamal al-Din Hilli, see ({Jamal, 1407, v. 1, p. ،339; Tusi, 1407, v. 2, p. ،308} {Jamal, 1407, v. 1, p. 341; Tusi, 1407, v. 2, p. 307} {Jamal, 1407, v. 1, p. 368; Tusi, 1407, v. 2, p. 74} { Jamal, 1407, v. 4, p. 161; Tusi, 1407, v. 9, p. 68} { Jamal, 1407, v. 4, p. 190; Tusi, 1407, v. 9, p. 5-6} { Jamal, 1407, v. 4, p. 214; Tusi, 1407, v. 76}).

For examples of Karaki, see ({Muhaqiq T̊ānī, 1414, v. 1, p. 427; Tusi, 1407, v. 3, p. 194} {Muhaqiq Thani, 1414, v. 2, p. 37; Tusi, 1407, v. 2, p. 354} { Muhaqiq Thāni, 1414, v. 2, p. 243; Tusi, 1407, v. 2, p. 71} { Muhaqiq Thani, 1414, v. 2, p. 356; Tusi, 1407, v. 2, p. 331} { Muhaqiq Thani, 1414, v. 11, p. 278; Tusi, 1407, v. 9, p. 245} { Muhaqiq Thani, 1414, v. 12, p. 218; Tusi, 1407, v. 7, p. 313} { Muhaqiq Thani, 1414, v. 13, p. 191; Tusi, 1407, v. 7, p. 243}).

6 – The Era of Muqaddas Ardabili in the Tenth Century

In this era, reliance on the taqiyyah card is officialized. It peaks before the end of the tenth century and gained a new face with Muqaddas Ardabili, whose taqiyyah-labelings are mostly ahistorical and against hadithology. Ardabili exploited the taqiyyah card to its fullest potential against the views of the opponent, forsaking any final checks and balances.

The greatest example of this is his transmission of taqiyyah card usage in the face of singular narrations, a common practice based on the faqihs’ interpretation of dissimulative hadiths. Thence, the narrations were categorized as such. It was a methodology in which other reports were not studied. Indeed, [entire] subjects were labeled dissimulative. Another exemplar of his was his preference for the taqiyyah card whensoever other hermeneutical cards were employable. In his Majma’ al-Fā‘ida, the first two volumes contain a collectanea whereon he collectively applies the taqiyyah card (Erdebi, 1403, v. 1, p. 78; Ibid, v. 2, p. 170). Herein, for each, he writes wherefore dissimulation is either possible or probable (Erdebili, 1403, v. 1, p. 321, 312 ،257 ،236 ،169 ،115; Ibid, v. 2, p. 8, 98).


The taqiyyah card was unused in early fiqh. With the arrival of Sheikh Tusi in the fifth century, the taqiyyah card became a hazardous tool in jurisprudential formulation. The popularization of Sheikh Tusi’s hermeneutics and methodology in that era spawned the eventual taqiyyah card autonomy and originality of the tenth century. Reviewing the transformation of the taqiyyah card during this five century span demonstrates its devolution from a reconciliatory tool into something else. A repercussion of this is that hadiths, ten centuries after the Imams’ (a) issuance, and eight centuries after codification, considered as non-taqiyyah thitherto, are abruptly being taqiyyah-labeled in the tenth century; as in order to prove or disprove any claim, the taqiyyah card was exploited. This unscientific concept spawned an extremely critical school towards the late tenth century. Shahid Thani, Sahib al-Mu’aalim, and Sahib al-Madaarik deprecated the taqiyyah-labelings of the scholars theretofore, from Sheikh Tusi until the modern ecclesiastics. Just as on the other side of the aisle of that period, the meaning and implications of taqiyyah and the taqiyyah card were redefined to fit the needs of the emerging Akhbarites, founding a novel epistemological paradigm.

The unpopularity of the taqiyyah card in the two centuries post-Tusi and its revival till the tenth century depended upon one’s acceptance, or lack thereof, of solitary hadiths. In eras during which the jurists, such as Sheikh Tusi, espoused the authority of solitary reports, the reliance on the taqiyyah card, as a sine qua non, naturally followed.