The Effect of Akhbāri Domination over Shi’ī Thinking – Sayyid Kamāl al-Ḥaydari

Taken from Syed Kamal al-Haydari’s Dars Khārij of Usūl, 4 Safar, 1435 (7th December 2013)

Translated by Sadiq Meghjee

When the Usūli scholars decided to challenge the Akhbāri school they assumed that Akhbārism only held sway over the furu’ dīn and at the most was linked to jurisprudence. On this basis they gave everything in opposition to this but neglected the Akhbari influence wielded over the other religious sciences such as exegesis (tafsīr),  doctrinal disciplines (aqā’id), ethics (akhlāq) and history (tarīkh). Till today we can see the Akhbāri school has maintained its control over Shi’ī thinking and isn’t just limited to the field of jurisprudence. This dominance has reached such a level that the foundation and framework of jurisprudence has been established on Ḥadīth with the Qur’ān marginalised and used as mere footnotes to the Ḥadith!

When you want to comprehend the Qur’ān you refer to the Ḥadīth, when you want to explore doctrinal matters you refer to the Hadith, you won’t refer to Philosophy or the intellectual or theological discussions, you’ll return again to the Ḥadīth. When we come to history or to investigate issues on social interactions we’ll head back to the books of the Akhbāri scholars.

It’s on this basis that we see Allāmah Majlisī (d. 1699), the author of Bihār al-Anwār who is seen as the founder of the Akhbarī school not so long ago, didn’t pay any attention to matters of jurisprudence or the furu’ dīn but rather put everything at his disposal in the sciences of exegesis, history, doctrinal matters and social interactions. From our perspective this Akhbarī trend present in the Shi’ī creed poses a serious threat to Shi’i thinking. This is what I’ve been repeatedly saying and I’ll say it again – in our present era Akhbārism dictates Shi’ī idealogy and with the exception of jurisprudence (fiqh al asghar), Akhbārism has completely dominated the religious sciences in different shapes and forms.

We can see the effects of this Akhbāri trend in the seminaries from the time of Allamah Majlisī till now. Look for yourself in the past century at how many classes the Usūli scholars have taught in jurisprudence and ilm ar-rijāl and compare it with how many courses that have been done in doctrinal matters, exegesis, ethics and history. Can the quantity of the studies, works and research even be compared?

To give an example, after the book Tajrīd of Khwājah Nasīr (d.1274) and it’s numerous commentaries, has another official book on doctrinal matters been written or not? Till now whatever’s been written has been limited to the commentary of Tajrīd, (nothing new has been written). In the area of exegesis it’s exactly the same, and what’s remarkable is that those who have written extensively in fields such as history, ethics and exegesis, have they generally been from the official maraji’ or not? They haven’t, and this shows that when it comes to the religious or seminary institution, be it in Najaf, Qom, or any other place in the world, there is no attention being paid to the fundamentals of the religion except for some exceptions here and there, and even then those individuals (who pursued these sciences) were left unsupported and at times were even confronted [1][2].

You can read the condition of Allāmah Tabatabāī (d. 1981) during the time of Ay. Burujerdī (d. 1961). You will see for yourself what happened (between Allāmah and other scholars). Allāmah wanted to express his own understanding that exegesis, philosophy and ‘irfan are science that should definitely be included and taught in the seminaries, and was that accepted? No. Not only did they reject it and not agree but they confronted him and all those who attended his classes. Why? Because these sciences are not considered fundamental or necessary to be taught in the seminar curriculum.

Alhamdulillāh after the victory of the Islamic Revolution and in the Islamic Republic of Irān, to some extent the discussions are gradually improving and have started to expand beyond jurisprudence however we are still far from being in a desirable position. Right now look for yourselves at the seminaries and tell me how many official classes of jurisprudence and usūl are being taught? And how many official classes are being taught in ‘irfan and theology? For example how many dars khārij do we see on the subject of Imāmate in which different academic issues are put forth and critiqued? Keep in mind Imāmate is one of the defining criteria’s of the Shi’i school (and we see nothing being taught)!

Now we see that we have lecturers, reciters and speakers who when they want to say anything they have to refer to various sources, and which sources are they obviously referring to? What resources do you think are at hand and available for them to read out (for the public) whichever hadith they wish? Akhbāri sources of which Bihār al-Anwār is a prime example of, which in my opinion is a grave threat for the intellectual Shi’ī and the rational school of the Ahlulbayt.

If only the Akhbāri school stopped there and ended with Allāmah Majlisi. You might ask is there anything more dangerous than this? I’ll say yes, after this we arrived at the Shaykhiyya school founded by Shaykh Ahsāī (d. 1826). Their thinking was the logical conclusion of the Akhbāri mentality. After this the Rishtiyya school was formed, which essentially was the offshoot from the Shaykhiyya movement. They are also infamously known as the Rukniyya, and one of the pillars they believe in is the presence of a living person who is in direct contact with the Hidden Imam. Then from this group came the Babiyya movement and many others, who were all the result of the initial Akhbāri school.

If you liked this discussion then I will pause here to further elaborate and highlight how the majority of ideas and views being spread online and via television and the pulpit, and in particular by poets in Iran and the Arab world, isn’t just founded on Akhbārism but is a blend of ideas taken from the Shaykhiyya, Rukniyya and Kashfiyya schools. These schools are the contemporary manifestation of the very ghuluw which when we refer to the Ahlulbayt we can see just how much they used to complain of them [3]. The school of Ghuluw has now appeared with a completely fresh foundation and through the misuse of extreme traditions in doctrinal matters (aqā’id) they have resurfaced once again.

For this reason we all have a responsibility to give our all and everything to introducing the pure message of the Ahlulbayt to the world, their message which is firmly rooted in the Qur’an and can be found through the reliable traditions and the intellect. Not that type of Islam which we hear today being spouted from the pulpits and the TV channels which has been taken from unreliable and weak ḥadith, something which I have previously referred to as “ḥadith based Islām” instead of a “Qur’ān based Islām” [4].


[1] – Shahīd Muttahhari narrates an interesting story in this regard: “One of our esteemed scholars was fortunate to visit Najaf for pilgrimage. He narrates that he went to see Ay. Khoei and said to him: “Why did you stop the classes of tafsīr that you were previously giving?” to which Ay. Khoei replied: “There are obstacles and problems in classes of tafsīr”. I said to him: “Allāmah Tabatabāī in Qom is busy pursuing this and spends most of his time in this. How has he managed that?”. He responded: He (Allāmah) has sacrificed himself, and has lost his reputation in society”.

Shahīd Muttahhari then adds the following commentary: It’s very strange that if someone dedicates his time on the most sensitive issues of our religion (Qur’ānic studies) he is faced with hundreds of problems, from food, income, reputation, respect, he loses everything, but if he was to study books like Kifāyah he will be considered a well-respected scholar who knows everything! It’s because of this we have thousands of scholars who know the ins and outs of this book (Kifāyah), they know its refutation and they know the refutation of it’s refutation however you will not be able to find two of them who know the Qur’ān just as well!” Dah guftār, p. 226

[2] – Syed Mohsin Tehrāni mentions: “How is it possible that in the grand city of the blessed Imām (Najaf)… that the situation gets to a place that whenever the great mystic and ascetic Syed Jamāl ud-Dīn Gulpaygānī would converse in his house with my late father (Allāmah Tehranī) about various meanings and understandings of Tawhīd, whenever the doorbell was rung he would abruptly change the topic to a discussion of jurisprudence out of fear (of being heard discussing issues of aqā’id). What was he so scared of? What was on his mind that made him repeatedly do such a thing?” Asrār e Malakūt, v.1, p. 91

[3] – It is narrated by Imam Sādiq:

احذروا على شبابكم الغلاة لا يفسدونهم ، فإن الغلاة شر خلق الله ، يصغرون عظمة الله ، ويدعون الربوبية لعباد الله ، والله إن الغلاة شر من اليهود والنصارى والمجوس والذين أشركوا. ثم قال عليه‌السلام: إلينا يرجع الغالي فلا نقبله

“Protect your youth from the ghulāt (extremists), for they are without a doubt the worst of creation. They belittle the greatness of Allah and they ascribe Divinity to His servants. For by Allah the ghulāt are worse than the (worst among the) Jews, Christians, Magians and even the Polytheists. Then he said: If a ghāli was to return to us we would not accept him.” Āmāli of Shaykh Tūsī, p. 650.

[4] – Reference is being made to a previous series by Syed Kamāl called من اسلام محورية الحديث إلى اسلام محورية القرآن – “From a Hadith based Islam to a Qur’ān based Islam”, the transcript of which has been published in a book form available online:

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