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Last Updated: 2012/06/26
Summary of question
What should we reply to Akhbaris?
What is our opinion and response to Akhbaris?
Concise answer

The principles of the Akhbari faith can be divided into two cognitive categories. In fact, what the Akhbaris accept as the only cognitive source is the narrations (revayāt). They claim that the entire narrations in the four hadith books (Al-Kutub al-Arb'ah) are authentic and reliable. They are also opposed to any kind of ijtihand and taqlid as shall be explained below.

The question which can be put to them is: How do they claim that all the narrations of the four books are authentic whereas they know for sure that the tyrant rulers in the early period of Islam were bent on destroying Shia traditions and fabricating new ones to suit their political ends. Hence, there must be a way to distinguish the authentic traditions from unauthentic ones.

Moreover, the Quran is Muslims' most important and most authentic written document that is accepted by all Islamic sects but the Akhbaris are of the view that the Quran is understandable and comprehendible by the Infallible (Ma'sum) alone whereas we know that such a conviction on the part of the Akhbaris is tantamount to destroying or denying the most authoritative and the most authentic source.

When it comes also to ijtihad and taqlid, it should be said that the necessity of taqlid is the result of a rational conclusion based on the need for divine guidance, through the Qur'an and the traditions. Thus, taqlid has its jurisprudential evidence in addition to reason which also admits that a person who is ignorant of religious rules should refer to a qualified mujtahid. Mujtahid is a jurist competent enough to deduce precise inferences regarding the commandments from the holy Qur'an and the Sunnah of the holy Prophet by the process of Ijtihad. Ijtihad means making deductions in matters of law, in the cases to which no express text is applicable. Gaining such a competence is not possible for all; it is difficult and even impossible for all to become mujtahids.

Detailed Answer

 At the beginning of the eleventh century a movement called Akhbarism was founded by Mullah Muhammad Amin Astarabadi, who expounded his beliefs in his famous book Fawa'id al-Madaniyyah. Astarabadi died in the year 1033 A.H.

The Akhbari movement tried to confront the extreme intellectualism of the Mu'tazalis, the dry derivations of philosophy, and the fanaticism of some Sunnis, but turned into an ideology that was in opposition to the intellect and to ijtihad.  This movement availed itself of the propitious atmosphere that was created during the Safawid period benefitting from the relaxation and also from the invasive thinking of the early Akhbari generations to influence religious seminaries and Shia's ijtihadi thinking. The following Akhbari generations began to be moderate to some extent as they no longer had the early extremist approaches. Finally, in the end of the twelfth hegira century, the ijtihadi thinking overcame the Akhbari and pushed it out of Shia's scientific arena. Late Wahid Behbahani (who died in the year 1205 A.H.) was the pioneer of combat and struggle against Akhbari thinking. The ijtihad thinking gained momentum and strength after the emergence of the author of Jawaher al-Kalama (Shaykh Hasan Najafi) and it reached its peak with Shaykh Murteza Ansari, the greatest scholar of his time (1281 A.H.).

The emergence and development of Akhbarism as a hadith school came as a result of the efforts made by Muhammad Amin Astarabadi. One of his teachers named Mirza Muhammad Amin Astarabadi (1028 A.H.), a famous biographer of his time had a profound influence on him. Mirza Muhammad advised him to revive the past Imamiyah scholars' method in relying the tradition (hadith).

Astarabadi maintains that the Akhbari thinking is the ancient method of Imamiyah School. Some scholars have also accepted this opinion as it can be understood from the writings of Allamah Muhammad Taqi Majlisi (first Majlisi).[1] Some other great scholars following Taqi Majlisi were inclined to this method. They were Mulla Mohsen Fayz Kashani (1091 A.H.), Shaykh Hurr Amili (1104 a.H.), Sayyid Hashem Bahrani (1107 A.H.), Sayyid Ne'matullah Jazaeri (1112 A.H.) and Shaykh Yusuf Bahrani (1186).

The Akhbari attitude, being rigorous and rigid, was not going to endure because it could not meet and fulfill the needs of the time nor was it able to adapt itself to the temporal circumstances. Therefore, it could not resist in the face of the Usooli thinking.

Most likely, what led to the emergence of Akhbari movement was extreme intellectualism or lack of attention to the text from the eighth to the tenth hegira centuries giving rise to the extremist Akhbari ideology because one extremist approach results in another.[2]

In order to criticize the Akhbari thinking, we must get acquainted with some of its features. The main idea of the Akhbaris is that the only way to attain salvation and felicity are to turn to the narrations of the infallibles. It is necessary to stay away from other cognitive sources. Contrary to the jurisprudents, they only accepted the sunnah out of the four methods of derivation (intellect, consensus, Quran, and sunnah). The rest of them were criticized on the ground that they cannot be understood or relied upon without the interpretation of the Infallible (A.S.).[3]

Some of the features of the Akhbari thinking are as under:

1. Most of the Akhbaris do not consider the Quran to be understandable. They maintain that the only people who can understand it are the Ahl al-Bayt or the Imams (A.S.). Therefore, it is not correct to make any legal inferences from the Quran. This view of the Akhbaris was not accepted later on by moderate Akhbari thinkers.

2. All the theoretical and practical matters, which man is in need of, are available in the hadith legacy of the Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.).

3. They consider the intelligence to be faulty because it makes mistakes and therefore should not be used at all in religious issues.[4]

4. They criticized the consensus as being an innovation brought by the Sunnis. It cannot be a valid tool for deciphering Islamic laws. If all the jurists agree on a matter, it will not be authoritative because none of them is inerrant and infallible. Therefore, the existence and non-existence of consensus would be equal. [5]

5. They claimed that the only source which should be used to obtain religious rulings is traditions. They claimed that all of the traditions narrated in the 'four books' namely, Kafi, Man La Yadarahu al-Faqih, Tahdhib, and Istibsar, are correct, rather are certain. They are of the view that sorting out the traditions into four categories such as sahih, muwathaq, hasan and dha'eif which became common from the time of Allamah Hilli is incorrect and faulty.[6]

6. The school of the Akhbaris took its stand against the school of ijtihad and taqlid. They denied the legal competence, jurisdiction and technical expertise that the mujtahids believed in saying that this kind of ijtihad did not exist in the time of the infallibles and has been introduced to the Shia community by Ahl al-Sunnah.  The Imams' companions also did not know anything about ijtihad methodology and their only scientific source was the narration of the Infallibles. They acted upon them and the Imams never called on them to practice ijtihad. In fact, they forbade them from qiyas [reasoning by analogy] and istihsan ["finding the good" by one's own deliberations]. This method has been the method of the previous scholars as well. Ijtihad and theoretical discussions on jurisprudential matters began among Shia scholars from the time of Ibn Aqil and Ibn Junaid.[7] Therefore, ijtihad and deduction are haram and it is also not permissible for the laity to follow the Mujtahideen.

It is due to the same approach that when Shaykh Hurr Amili discusses the following narration

"فاما من کان من الفقهاء صائنا لنفسه، حافظا لدینه مخالفا علی هواه، مطیعا لامر مولاه، فللعوام أن یقلدوه"

'Whoever from the fuqaha is preserving of himself, guarding his religion, opposing his desires, obeying the command of his master, then it is (allowed) for the commoners to do taqlid to him', he says that taqlid in this narration means to accept his narration, not to follow his self-formed view, deduction and conjectures…[8]

7. All Shiites are the followers of the Imams (A.S.); therefore, the relationship of scholars with the laity as Mujtahids and followers is not in order.

8. It is deduced from the previous feature that it is permissible to follow a dead Mujtahid.

9. The practical rational principles are not authoritative because the intellect does not have eligibility to enter precise Shari'ah discussions.

10. Since rational exemption (bara'at aqliyah) is not acceptable, therefore wherever we suspect whether or not something is permissible or forbidden, it is necessary that we exercise precaution.

11. What is known as Usool Fiqh (lit. the principles of jurisprudence) has been introduced by Ahl al-Sunnah who have detached themselves from the Infallibles, the sources of knowledge. This method of deducing laws has not been accepted by the Infallibles (A.S.) as they have overtly and explicitly expressed their opposition to some of those notions e.g. qiyas (analogy). Therefore, relying on Usool Fiqh amounts to relying on corrupt and baseless principles.[9]

With this introduction which to some extent acquaints us with Akhbari thinking, we can divide the Akhbari principles into two categories:

1. Cognitive principles

2. Method of achieving religious doctrines

When it comes to the cognitive principles, they introduce the transmitted traditions from the imams as the cognitive source. They do not consider the Book, intellect and consensus as the sources of knowledge. As for the method, they criticize the ijtihadi method and reject ijtihad and taqlid as well as the theoretical science (Usool Fiqh) and practical principles (Usool Amaliyah).

In a nutshell, we will now study and criticize some of their most important principles. This study will help you criticize Akhbaris' other pre-suppositions.

A) Abandonment of the Quran which is the most important and most authoritative source of religious knowledge. This is the most important and most dangerous method in the Akhbari thinking. The Holy Quran is the most reliable and most trustworthy written document and indeed, it is the only authentic source of Muslim which is acceptable to all Islamic sects.

The Quran introduces itself as the book of guidance and its verses as 'plain' and 'lucid'. It says:

"هَذَا بَیانٌ لِّلنَّاسِ وَ هُدًى وَ مَوْعِظَةٌ لِّلْمُتَّقِین"[10]

Here is a plain statement to men, a guidance and instruction to those who fear Allah!

 "وَ نَزَّلْنَا عَلَیکَ الْکِتَابَ تِبْینًا لِّکلُ‏ِّ شىَ‏ْءٍ وَ هُدًى وَ رَحْمَةً وَ بُشْرَى‏ لِلْمُسْلِمِین"[11]

And We have revealed the Book to you explaining clearly everything, and a guidance and mercy and good news for those who submit.

More importantly, the Quran calls on all people to meditate, reflect and ponder over the verses of the Quran:

"أَ فَلَا یتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْءَانَ أَمْ عَلىَ‏ قُلُوبٍ أَقْفَالُهَا"[12]

Will they then not meditate on the Qur'an, or are there locks on the hearts?

The Holy Quran has even challenged the people that doubt the divinity of this book to bring a book similar to it. A challenge would be rational only when understanding the Quran and its comparison with other texts are possible for people.  Moreover, there are numerous traditions which clearly instruct Muslims to compare a hadith with the Quran to find out whether it is coherent and consistent with the Quran or not. Such hadiths stand witness to the fact that the Quran can be understood.[13] That is because if the Quran were not understandable by people, let alone the scholars, then it would have been meaningless and futile to compare it with the Quran.

B) The human intellect is a source of knowledge and it is the only means through which the meaning of the verses and traditions can be understood. It seems that the Akhbaris, seeing the verses that denounce qiyas (analogy), sought to completely deny the role of reason as a source or means of understanding and cognition. But the fact is that those narrations which negate the role reason refer to incorrect use of reason in Shari'ah laws. Additionally, the Shari'ah laws are enacted or considered by the Law Giver (Divine Legislator) and their philosophy and wisdom are not known to the human intellect.[14] This does not mean that the intellect cannot shed light on all the said cases.[15]

C) When it comes also to ijtihad and taqlid, it should be said that the necessity of taqlid is the result of a rational conclusion based on the need for divine guidance, through the Qur'an and the traditions. Thus, taqlid has its jurisprudential evidence in addition to reason which also admits that a person who is ignorant of religious rules should refer to a qualified mujtahid. This method is consistent with what the wise men and women do in their daily lives. And if this principle that an ignorant person should refer to a learned person is negated, then it would mean that all are required to fulfill their Shar'ei needs by turning to Usool Amaliyah, something that has never happened and is normally not possible.

D) The Akhbaris' saying about ijma (consensus) is acceptable. The jurisprudents are also not opposed to it. In fact, the Shia jurisprudents do not consider consensus to be authoritative or a conclusive proof by itself; rather they consider it as a proof not by itself but because it originates in the sayings of the Infallibles (A.S.).[16]

E) The claim that the narrations of the 'four books' are certain and authentic is undocumented, unreasonable and indemonstrable. Although the four categories of hadiths (traditions) can be reduced to two (authentic and inauthentic traditions), there are many unauthentic traditions in the 'four books'. On the other hand, we know for sure that the tyrant rulers were bent on destroying Shia traditions and fabricating new ones to suit their political ends. Hence, many of the traditions available in these books are forged hadiths and they are invalid.

F) It is not possible for all people to follow the infallible Imams without any intermediaries because we do not have access to them.  Taqlid without intermediaries undeniably means that an ignorant person should refer to a knowledgeable person. 

In conclusion, we must say that although the Akhbari School is not a progressive and dynamic movement and we do not accept it as a true school for deriving and deducing Islamic laws, its influence on the Shia community cannot be denied. This thinking continued for nearly two centuries leaving positive and negative impacts behind.

Extremist views, downplaying the importance of reflection on the Quran, intellectual rigidness, antagonism to innovation, heedlessness towards meditation, contemplation and ijtihad are among the negative traits of Akhbarism. On the other hand, the tendency to textual doctrines and profuse attention to hadith as a cognitive source and compiling hadith collections, contemplation and reflection on hadith texts and training a new generation of Shia traditionists are some of the services rendered by this group to the Shia sciences, though this thinking all alone cannot meet the needs in religious matters.

For further information in this regard, see:

The Akhbaris and Usoolis, 6740 (site: en6802).



[1] - Majlisi, Muhammad Taqi, Lawame' Sahibqurani, vol.1, p. 16, Ismailiyah Printing and Publication Institute, Qom, 1414 A.H.

[2] - Boroujardi, Muhammad Hussein, Hashiyah Alaa al-Kifayah, vol.1, p. 36, Ansariyan Publication, Qom, 1412 A.H.

[3] - Astarabadi, Muhammad Amin, Al-Fawaed al-Madaniyyah, pg. 104, Jame'ah Mudarresin, Qom, 1426 A.H.

[4] - Al-Fawaed al-Madaniyyah, p. 471.  Astarabadi relies on the sayings of the Imams in rejecting Qias (analogy). He seeks to prove that the intellect does not have the right to interfere in the area of religious laws because it cannot throw light into such matters. Finally, he rejects the role of 'aql  (intelligence) in all Shari'ah related matters. Al-Fawaed al-Madaniyyah, p. 77, Jame'ah Mudarresin, Qom, 1426 A.H.

[5] - Al-Fawaed al-Madaniyyah, pg. 57.

[6] - Ibid, p. 30, Astarabadi's viewpoint towards Allamah Hilli is very harsh.

[7] - Ibid, p. 78.

[8] - Hurr Amili, Wasail al-Shi'ah, vol.27, p. 131 and 132, Aalul-Bayt Institute, Qom, 1409 A.H.

[9] - See: Mulla Mohsen, Fayz Kashani, Al-Wafi, vol.1, preface, Amirul Momeneen Library, Esfahan, 1370 A.H.

[10] - Aal-e Imran: 138.

[11] - Nahl: 89

[12] - Muhammad: 24.

[13] - Kulayni, Al-Kafi, vol.1, pg. 69,  (Bab al-Akhz bis-Sunnah wa Shawahid al-Kitab), Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyah, Tehran, 1365 (1986).

[14] - Jurisprudential qiyas is different from logical deduction. The jurisprudential qiyas is the logical allegory that suggests an equality or close similarity between two things simply they are similar to each other. Thus the rule which applies to one of them applies to the other as well. What has been narrated in the name of qiyas from Abu Hanifa falls in this category of qiyas. The difference between this type of qiyas and the logical deduction is very clear. One of the examples of logical deduction is qiyas awlawiyah (analogy by priority).  For example, when it comes to respecting parents, the Quran says, "Do not say to them "fie on you". We understand by analogy that showing any kind of disrespect or beating is haram and sinful. There is nothing to indicate that Ahlul-Bayt (A.S.) rejected this.

[15] - Such as qiyas awlawiyah (priority analogy).

[16] - This is what is known in Fiqh as Ijma' Dukhuli.


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