Shaykh al-Mufid

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Abu 'Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn al-Nu'man
Shaykh al-Mufid
al-Shaykh al-Mufid
Born 948
Place of Birth 'Ukbara, Iraq
Died 1022
Buried Kadhimayn, Iraq

Shaykh ِMuhammad ibn al-Nu'man also known as Shaykh al-Mufid (Arabic: الشيخ المفيد), was one of the first systematizers of Shi'ite law and doctrine and as well as one of the most important Shi'ite jurists and theologians of the 10th century.


Life and Studies

Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad b. Muhammad b. al-Nu‘man al-Harithi al-‘Ukbari, known as al-Shaykh al-Mufid and Ibn al-Mu‘allim, was born in Suwayqat Ibn al-Basri near ‘Ukbara in 336/948.[1] Mufid’s father was a teacher in Wasit—whence his epithet Ibn al-Mu‘allim—before moving to ‘Ukbara. In 347/958, when he was eleven years old, al-Mufid is said to have heard hadiths in the Mansur Mosque, one of the main centers for the study of the Qur’an, tafsir, hadith, and usul al-fiqh in Baghdad. The Mansur Mosque was apparently a Hanbalite locus[2], although other scholars also taught there. This may be where al-Mufid was initially exposed to Sunnite traditionism, which he criticized sharply.[3]

In positive law his primary teacher was Ja‘far b. Muhammad b. Quluya of Qom.[4] In theology his main teacher was Abu’l-Jaysh al-Muzaffar b. Muhammad al-Balkhi al-Warraq, who was Abu Sahl b. Nawbakht’s disciple. He probably studied with Abu’l-Qasim al-Balkhi al-Ka‘bi, leader of the Baghdadite Mu‘tazilites, too.[5] Mufid heard hadiths from Abu ‘Ubayd Allad al-Marzubani and al-Hafiz Abu Bakr Muhammad b. ‘Umar b. al-Ji‘abi . Although he never visited Qom, he learnt hadiths of Qummite provenance from Ibn Quluya, Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Dawud b. ‘Ali al-Qummi (368/978-9) and Ibn Babuya.[6] He also studied with Ibn al-Junayd and Abu’l-Husayn al-Nashi’, which is to say that Mufid’s teachers represented each of the major theological and legal tendencies found in the 4th/10th century.[7]

He taught in the mosque in Darb Riyah in al-Karkh. All the most important scholars of the generation after Mufid’s were his students. These include the Sharif al-Radi and al-Murtada, Tusi, Najashi, al-Karajaki, Salar al-Daylami and Abu’l-Salah al-Halabi. He was expelled from Baghdad during Sunnite-Shi‘ite riots in 392/1002, 398/1008 and 409/1018. In the second instance rioters targeted Mufid personally, an indication of his prominence rather than his involvement in the foment.[8] He died in Baghdad in Ramadan 413/1022 and was initially buried in his house, then in Maqabir Quraysh in the vicinity of Imams al-Kadhim and al-Jawad. His funeral was a major public event attended by an enormous crowd.[9]

His Works

Mufid wrote prolifically on a wide range of theological and legal issues. Some of these include:

He was especially concerned with the Mu‘tazilites, against whom he wrote over sixteen works.[10] The subject of these refutations was often a theological or legal position which Mu‘tazilites held, yet which was not unique to Mu‘tazilism, such as their views on the Imamate and fixed-term marriage. Mufid addressed the major theological and legal controversies of his day in refutations of specific Mu‘tazilites, which suggests that he considered them his principle intellectual rivals. The success of Mu‘tazilism in Buyid Baghdad, where it attracted many Hanafites and Zaydites among others, confirms this suggestion. The chronicles of Buyid historians, however, name a Shafi‘ite jurist al-Isfara’ini and Hanbalite mobs as the principal agitators against the Imamites, indicating that the Imamites’ main political rivals were Shafi‘ites and Hanbalites. Consequently, one might expect to find more polemic directed against these two groups in Mufid’s works. The dearth of such polemic may be because Sunnite legal heritage, in the form of Shafi‘ism, was useful to Imamite scholars in building their own legal tradition.[11] At the same time, faced with Sunnite opposition to Mu‘tazilism, Imamites found it useful to obscure their own rational tendencies and directed their works against Mu‘tazilism and its affiliates. Mufid’s theological views were more akin to the reportedly pro-‘Alid Baghdadite school of Mu‘tazilism which rejected Abu Hashim al-Jubba’i’s theory of states (ahwal), even though the Basran school prevailed in Baghdad at the time.[12] Mufid wrote a work on the agreement of Baghdadite Mu‘tazilism with Imamic hadiths titled Kitab al-risala al-muqni‘a fi wifaq al-baghdadiyyin min al-mu‘tazila li-ma ruwiya ‘an al-a’imma.

The Fatimid caliphate-imamate also influenced Mufid’s work. The Fatimids’ successes appealed to Shi‘ites’ messianic aspirations, threatening to draw ‘Alid support away from Baghdad. This is evident in al-Sharif al-Radi’s lyric composition bemoaning, “his degraded position ‘in an enemy country’ while his kinsmen the Fatimids,” ruled Egypt, an affront for which the Caliph al-Qadir admonished Radi’s father, the incumbent ‘Alid naqib, and his initial refusal to repudiate the Fatimids’ genealogy.[13] The Fatimids implemented an astrological calendar so the beginning of Ramadan did not depend on a moon-sighting (ru’ya).[14] Early in his life Mufid agreed with his teacher in positive law Ibn Quluya that it is not the new moon which inaugurates Ramadan, rather the beginning of Ramadan is based on a fixed calculation. Later, he changed his opinion, holding that the beginning of Ramadan does depend on a moon-sighting, and wrote at least six works to this effect.[15] Mufid’s later ruling reflects a process in which Imamites sought to draw ideological lines between themselves and the Fatimids, who threatened Baghdad politically, thus assuring their patrons of their benignity and securing a place for themselves within a broader Islamic context.

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  1. According to Madelung, 333/945 and 338/950 are also possible, though less likely. W. Madelung, “Al-Mufid,” in EI."
  2. Based on the coincidence of dates, Mufid is likely to have heard traditions in the Mansur Mosque from one of two, or perhaps both, of the following Hanbalites: Abu Bakr Ahmad b. Salman al-Najjad (d. 348/960) and Abu Ishaq al-Bazzaz (d. 369/980).
  3. Mufid’s works against traditionists/traditionism include: Kitab fi radd ‘ala’l-Sha‘bi; Kitab al-mas’ala li-Janbaliyya [sic: Hanbaliyya]; and Kitab maqabis al-anwar fi’l-radd ‘ala ahl al-akhbar. This short list does not include the works that he wrote in opposition to Ibn Babuya which were, in all likelihood, critical of traditionism.
  4. Ibn Quluya belonged to the intermediate school discussed above. It is noteworthy that Mufid wrote Lamh al-burhan fi ‘adam nuqsan shahr Ramadan in support of Ibn Quluya against Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Dawud b. ‘Ali al-Qummi in 363/973-4. McDermott, Al-Shaikh al-Mufid, 36
  5. Mufid refuted al-Balkhi in a work titled Kitab naqd al-khams ‘ashara mas’ala ‘ala’l-Balkhi.
  6. Mufid is likely to have learned hadiths from Ibn Babuya during the latter’s visit to Baghdad in 352/963 and/or 355/966.
  7. Modarressi, Shi‘i Law, 40.
  8. Similarly, Imamites targeted the leader of the Shafi‘ites Abu Hamid al-Isfara’ini though it is unlikely that he was personally involved in the attacks on them. Madelung and Donohue corroborated Mufid’s innocence in the matter. Madelung, “al-Mufid,” EI; Donohue, Buwayhid Dynasty, 332.
  9. Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, Introduction (Beirut, 1983), 105.
  10. These include: Kitab al-radd ‘ala Ibn al-Ikhshid fi’l-imama; al-Radd ‘ala Abi ‘Abd Allah al-Basri fi tafdil al-mala’ika; Kitab al-radd ‘ala’l-Jubba’i fi’l-tafsir; Kitab al-radd ‘ala’l-Khalidi fi’l-imama; ‘Umad mukhtasara ‘ala’l-mu‘tazila fi’l-wa‘id; al-Kalam ‘ala’l-Jubba’i fi’l-ma‘dum; Mas’ala jarat bayn al-shaykh wa bayn al-qadi al-bahshami fi’l-imama wa ma‘na al-mawla; Kitab al-mudih fi’l-wa‘id; Kitab naqd al-imama ‘ala Ja‘far b. Harb; Kitab naqd al-khams ‘ashara mas’ala ‘ala’l-Balkhi; Kitab al-naqd ‘ala Abi ‘Abd Allah al-Basri fi’l-mut‘a; Kitab al-naqd ‘ala Ibn ‘Abbad fi’l-imama; Kitab naqd fadilat al-mu‘tazila; Kitab al-naqd ‘ala ‘Ali b. ‘Isa al-Rummani; al-Naqd ‘ala’l-Wasiti; and Kitab naqd kitab al-Asamm fi’l-imama. See ibid. to identify the individuals named in these titles. This list does not include tracts written against the Hanafites and the Zaydites, both of whom were affiliated with Mu‘tazilism in Baghdad. Donohue remarked that the Imamite attack on Zaydite shades of Mu‘tazilism was intended to obscure Imamite rationalism. Donohue, Buwayhid Dynasty, 332.
  11. See Devin J. Stewart, Islamic Legal Orthodoxy: Twelver Shiite Responses to the Sunni Legal System (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1998), 65-9.
  12. See Abu Rashid al-Nishaburi, al-Masa’il fi’l-khilaf bayn al-basriyyin wa’l-baghdadiyyin, ed. ed. Ma‘n Ziyada and Ridwan al-Sayyid (Beirut: Ma‘had al-Inma’ al-‘Arabi, 1979). See also my discussion of Baghdad’s Mu‘tazilites below.
  13. Mafizullah Kabir, “A Distinguished ‘Alid Family of Baghdad During the Buwayhid Period,” Royal Asiatic Society of Pakistan 9 (1964): 52-3.
  14. Al-Qadi al-Nu‘man, Da‘a’im al-islam, ed. Asaf b. ‘Ali Asghar Fyzee (Egypt: Dar al-Ma‘arif, 1370/1951), 322. According to the historian Maqrizi, the Fatimid general Jawhar introduced the astrological calendar when he conquered Egypt (idem, The Pillars of Islam, vol. 1, trans. Asaf A. A. Fyzee, revised and annotated by Ismail Kurban Husein Poonawala (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002), 339.); however, some evidence suggests that the Fatimid Caliph-Imam al-Mu‘izz instituted it when he adopted Da‘a’im al-islam as the state’s law. See Ismail K. Poonawala, “Al-Qadi al-Nu‘man and Isma‘ili jurisprudence,” in Mediaeval Isma‘ili History and Thought, ed. Farhad Daftary (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 118.
  15. These include: Jawab ahl al-Raqqa fi’l-ahilla wa’l-‘adad; Kitab jawabat ahl al-Mawsil fi’l-‘adad wa’l-ru’ya; al-Radd ‘ala Ibn Babuya/ Fi’l-radd ‘ala’l-Saduq fi qawlih anna shahr ramadan la yanqus/ al-Risala al-‘adadiyya; Kitab ‘adad al-sawm wa’l-salat; Masabih al-nur fi ‘alamat awa’il al-shuhur; and Kitab mas’ala fi takhsis al-ayyam. See McDermott’s list of Mufid’s works in al-Shaikh al-Mufid, 27-40.
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