Akhbārīs (Arabic: أخباريون) are a group of Imamiyya jurists who take the only source of fiqh (the deduction of shari'a laws) to be akhbar (narrations and hadiths by the Prophet (s) and Imams (a)). The group emerged in the 11th/17th century. They disallowed the method of ijtihad and principles of jurisprudence for the deduction of shari'a laws. They were opposed to Usulis who require the method of ijtihad and principles of jurisprudence for the deduction of shari'a laws.
The opposition between Imamiyya Akhbaris and Usulis was already there before the 11th/17th century, though in a non-official and implicit fashion. However, in this century, the opposition increased, the terminologies of Akhbari and Usuli became current, and they explicitly expressed their oppositions to one another.
Muhammad Amin al-Astarabadi, 'Abd Allah b. Salih al-Samahiji, and Mirza Muahmmad al-Akhbari were extreme Akhabris, and al-Shaykh Yusuf al-Bahrani, al-Sayyid Ni'mat Allah al-Jaza'iri, Mulla Muhsin Fayd Kashani, Muhammad Taqi al-Majlisi, Muhammad Tahir al-Qummi, and al-Shaykh al-Hurr al-'Amili, among others, were moderate Akhbaris. Opposed to them were prominent Usulis such as al-Wahid al-Bihbahani, al-Shaykh al-Ansari, and al-Shaykh Ja'far Kashif al-Ghita'.
The main points of disagreements between Akhbaris and Usulis concern issues such as illegitimacy or permissibility of the method of ijtihad (deducing the laws of shari'a via methods of usul), the restriction of evidence for laws of shari'a to the Qur'an and hadith, the prohibition of acquiring probable beliefs about Islamic laws, the way hadiths should be classified, the permissibility of following (taqlid) people other than the Prophet (s) and Imams (a), subscription to the appearances of the Qur'an, rational goodness and badness (husn and qubh), the practical principle of bara'a (exemption or exoneration), the prohibition of employing some kinds of analogy (qiyas) to deduce laws of shari'a, the reliability of all hadiths contained in the Four Books, and so on.
Origins and Historical Formation
The contrast between Akhbari and Usuli schools in the Imamiyya jurisprudence can be traced back to the early centuries of Islam. Within Imamiyya schools of fiqh in the first three centuries A.H. (7th to 10th centuries), there were tendencies to deduce the laws of shari'a, in contrast to those who followed the letter of hadiths without making any deductions.
Heyday of Hadithism
The fourth/tenth century is the period of the prominence of the hadithist school in Qom. Deductivist jurists, such as Ibn Abi 'Aqil al-Ummani and Ibn Junayd al-Iskafi were among the minority. Prominent scholars of fiqh in this period were Muhammad b. Ya'qub al-Kulayni (d. 329/940-1), 'Ali b. Babawayh al-Qummi (d. 329/941), Ibn Qulawayh al-Qummi (d. 367/977-78) and al-Shaykh al-Saduq (d. 381/991-92), who significantly contributed to the production of the oldest collections of jurisprudential hadiths.
Approach to Demonstrative Fiqh
- Main article: Demonstrative Fiqh
With al-Shaykh al-Mufid (d. 413/1022) and al-Sharif al-Murtada (d. 436/1044-45) and al-Shaykh al-Tusi (d. 460/1067), who wrote the first works concerning the principles (usul) of Imamiyya fiqh, a new movement began in Imamiyya directing the tendencies of Imamiyya jurists to deductive fiqh (instead of hadithism) for centuries. The contrast between the two tendencies can be seen in the works of the above scholars. In his Awa'il al-maqalat, al-Shaykh al-Mufid mentions scholars of deductive jurisprudence as "faqihs", and hadithists as "ahl al-naql" (people of narration), "ashab al-athar" and the like. In an essay by al-Sharif al-Murtada, "ashab al-hadith" is opposed to scholars of fiqh with a method of usul who were supported by him.
Emergence of the Term "Akhbari"
The first usage of the word "akhbari" appears in al-Shahristani's al-Milal wa l-nihal in the first half of 6th/12th century. Subsequently, in 'Abd al-Jalil al-Qazwini al-Razi's al-Naqd—an Imamiyya scholar of the 6th/10th century—the terms, "Akhbari" and "Usuli," came to be used as antonyms.
The school of hadithist faqihs, that was undermined in late 4th and early 5th centuries (early 11th century) by Usulist faqihs, maintained its meager life, until when in early 11th/17th century it was revivied in a new form by Muhammad Amin al-Astarabadi (d. 1036/1626-27). He sharply attacked Usulists. Some people believe that Ibn Abi Jumhur al-Ahsa'i was one of the scholars who paved the path for Akhbaris. In an essay, al-'Amal bi-akhbar ashabina (practicing the hadiths by our fellows), al-Ahsa'i raised some arguments for such a view.
Given the backgrounds of Akhbarism, the application of the word "Akhbari" to a certain group of people with its contemporary notion has its origins in the 11th/17th century with the emergence of the new Akhbari movement by Muhammad Amin al-Astarabadi who was described as a "rigid Akhabari".
Decline of Akhbarism
With the emergence of the contrast between Akhbarism and Usulism in the 11th/17th century and with the emergence of prominent Usuli scholars such as al-Wahid al-Bihbahani (d. 1205/1791), Akhbaris began to lose their influence in Shiite seminaries. Al-Wahid al-Bihbahani's role in the defeat of Akhbaris was crucial. Not only he did fight with Akhbaris in a theoretical field (by making arguments and objections), but he also took practical measures to undermine them, such as forbidding the saying of prayers with the leadership of al-Shaykh Yusuf al-Bahrani—the leader of Akhbaris. Subsequently, other Usuli scholars, such as al-Shaykh Murtada al-Ansari (d. 1281/1864) and al-Shaykh Ja'far Kashif al-Ghita' (d. 1227/1812) propagated Usulism by writing and teaching usul al-fiqh, whereby Akhbarism nearly disappeared from Shiite seminary schools. Today Shiite schools are dominated by Usuli approach.
Muhammad Amin al-Astarabadi, the founder of Akhbarism among Imamiyya Shiites, is said to have been the first to criticize the method of usul al-fiqh and ijtihad, classifying Imamiyya into Akhbaris and Mujtahids (that is, Usulis). He was a mujtahid himself, receiving his permission for ijtihad from prominent scholars, but he later refused to remain committed to their methodology. It seems that he has been much influenced by the thoughts of his teacher, Mirza Muhammad al-Astarabadi. Muhammad Amin wrote his doctrines and opinions in a book entitled al-Fawa'id al-Madaniyya, which is a major source of reference for Akhbaris.
'Abd Allah b. Salih al-Samahiji was a radical, zealous proponent of Akhbarism in the 11th/17th century, who wrote the book, Munyat l-mumarisin. According to al-Shaykh Yusuf al-Bahrani, 'Abd Allah used to insult proponents of ijtihad, even though his father, Mulla Salih, was a mujtahid (Usuli).
Abu Ahmad Jamal al-Din Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Nabi al-Nisaburi al-Astarabadi (d. 1232/1816-1817), known as Mirza Muhammad al-Akhbari, insulted and disrespected prominent Usuli scholars, such as Mirza Abu l-Qasim al-Qummi, al-Shaykh Ja'far Kashif al-Ghita', Sayyid 'Ali al-Tabataba'i, al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Isfahani and Muhammad Ibrahim al-Kalbasi. This is why, the verdict on his execution was signed by scholars of that time, such as al-Sayyid Muhammad al-Mujahid, son of Sayyid 'Ali al-Tabataba'i, Musa Kashif al-Ghita, son of al-Shaykh Ja'far Kashif al-Ghita', Sayyid 'Abd Allah Shubbar, and al-Shaykh Asad Allah al-Kazimayni.
Al-Shaykh Yusuf al-Bahrani (d. 1186/1772) adopted a methodology in between Akhbarism and Usulism. Al-Bahrani claimed that the methodology of jurisprudence should be in accordance with Muhammad Taqi al-Majlisi's method that provides a middle way between Akhbarism and Usulism. Al-Wahid al-Bihbahani explicitly opposed al-Bahrani, forbidding people from saying prayers under his leadership. Al-Shaykh Yusuf al-Bahrani, as the leader of Akhbaris, asked them not to sharply oppose and criticize Usulis in order to prevent a split and conflict among Shiite scholars. Sayyid Ni'mat Allah al-Jaza'iri al-Shushtari (d. 1112/1701) was an Akhbari scholar, but he attempted a lot to appreciate Usuli scholars and their proponents.
Some people have considered Mulla Muhsin Fayd Kashani (d. 1091/1680-1681) as an Akhbari scholar. He says: "we follow the Qur'an and hadiths, and we do not know anything else". Though in this text he seems to oppose Sufism, rather than ijtihad and usul, he also maintains that the minds of ordinary (non-infallible) people are imperfect and unreliable. In some of his works, such as al-Kalimat al-maknuna, Fayd Kashani has explicitly attacked ijtihad and the method of usul. A consideration of such remarks assures us that he had tendencies to Akhbarism. He holds that Usulis, by establishing the method of usul, have made divine obligations too difficult—they have issued verdicts about things that God did not say anything about, in fact, it was part of divine wisdom to remain silent about those things.
Mulla Khalil b. Ghazi al-Qazwini (d. 1089/1678-79), a contemporary of al-Shaykh al-Hurr al-'Amili, Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi, and Mulla Muhsin Fayd Kashani, and a pupil of Baha' al-Din al-'Amili and Mir Damad, opposed and denied the method of ijtihad.
And al-Shaykh al-Hurr al-'Amili (d. 1104/1693) has referred to his Akhbari tendencies at the end of his well-known work in hadith, Wasa'il al-Shi'a.
Combat against Akhbarism
- Main article: Muhammad Baqir al-Bihbahani
The Usuli-Akhbari struggle, which began in the 11th/17th century and continued with the emergence of Akhbari extremism, turned into a consistent and serious fight against Akhbarism by Usuli scholars, most prominent of whom was al-Wahid al-Bihbahani (d. 1205/1791). At this time, many cities in Iraq, particularly Karbala and Najaf, were centers of Akhbarism, administered and led by al-Shaykh Yusuf al-Bahrani. Proponents of Usul and ijtihad were isolated at this point until al-Bihbahani migrated to Karbala and started a serious, persistent campaign against Akhbarism.
Along with his theoretical arguments against Akhbarism and for the method of ijtihad, al-Bihbahani took practical measures against Akhbaris as well. For example, he issued a fatwa according to which it was illegitimate to say prayers led by al-Shaykh Yusuf al-Bahrani. As a consequence of such theoretical and practical struggles, Usuli scholars overtook the power and dominance in Shiite regions.
A book by al-Bihbahani in rejecting Akhbarism and defending ijtihad is Risala al-ijtihad wa l-akhbar. Given his serious and long theoretical and practical battles against Akhbarism, al-Wahid al-Bihbahani has been considered as the propagator of Shiism and the reviver of ijtihad in the 13th/18th century.
- Main article: Al-Shaykh Murtada al-Ansari
After al-Wahid al-Bihbahani, al-Shaykh Murtada al-Ansari (d. 1281/1864) counts as the founder of usul al-fiqh. He is quoted as saying that if Muhammad Amin al-Astarabadi were alive, he would accept and admire his version of usul al-fiqh.
- Main article: Al-Shaykh Ja'far al-Najafi Kashif al-Ghita'
Another Usuli scholar who seriously campaigned against Akhbarism was al-Shaykh Ja'far al-Najafi Kashif al-Ghita' (d. 1227/1812), who opposed to Mirza Muhamamd al-Akhbari, writing his well-known essay, Kashf al-ghita' 'an ma'ayib Mirza Muhammad 'aduww al-'ulama (uncovering the faults of Mirza Muhammad [al-Akhbari], the enemy of scholars). He sent this essay to Fath 'Ali Shah Qajar to discourage him from supporting Mirza Muhamamd.
In 11th/17th through 13th/19th centuries, Akhbarism was popular in religious cities of Iran and Iraq, as well as in Bahrain and India. At this time, much of the western parts of Qazvin was the center of Akhbaris who were pupils and followers of Mulla Khalil al-Qazwini (d. 1089/1678-1679). This is why the city was an important center for the proponents of Akhbarism. After the campaigns against Akhbarism and the dominance of Usulism, their influence in this city was undermined.
Today the only places in Iran where Akhbarism has considerable proponents are parts of the Khuzestan province, particularly Khorramshahr and Abadan.
Major Disagreements between Akhbaris and Usulis
Al-Sayyid Ni'mat Allah al-Jaza'iri in his Manba' al-hayat and Mulla Radi al-Qazwini in his Lisan al-khawass have mentioned major points of disagreement between Akhbaris and Usulis. Moreover, 'Abd Allah b. Salih al-Samahiji al-Bahrani has mentioned 40 points of dispute between them in his Munyat al-mumarisin. Al-Shaykh Ja'far Kashif al-Ghita' has considered such disagreements in his al-Haqq al-mubin, and Mirza Muhammad al-Akhbari has cited 59 points of disagreement in his al-Tuhr al-fasil. Al-Sayyid Muhammad al-Dizfuli has referred to 86 points of dispute in his Faruq al-haqq, and al-Hurr al-'Amili has mentioned 92 disagreements in his al-Fawa'id al-tusiyya.
Illegitimacy of Ijtihad
Proponents of Akhbarism take ijtihad to be forbidden but proponents of Usulism take it to be al-wajib al-kifa'i or a "collective duty" (that is, it is obligatory to be carried out by a sufficient number of people in which case it would not be obligatory for others) and some of them take it to be al-wajib al-'ayni or an "individual duty" (that is, obligatory for everyone). In his well-known book, al-Fawa'id al-Madaniyya, Mulla Muhammad Amin al-Astarabadi denies the method of ijtihad, holding that such a method was never practiced by early Shiite scholars.
Restriction of Evidence to the Qur'an and Sunna
Akhbaris restrict evidence for the laws of shari'a to the Qur'an and Sunna (that is, hadiths), and unlike Usuli scholars, they do not take consensus (ijma') and reason ('aql) to be evidence for religious laws.
- Akhbaris forbid the acquisition of probable beliefs (ẓann), and unlike the proponents of ijtihad, they just take "certitude" or "certain knowledge" to be reliable.
- Classification of hadiths: for Akhbaris, hadiths are just classified into sound and weak, but for Usulis, there are four classes of hadiths: sound (sahih), reliable (muwaththaq), good (hasan) and weak (ḍa'if).
- Following people other than the infallible: Usulis classify people into mujtahid and muqallid (or follower of mujtahid), but for Akhbaris, it is illegitimate to follow a non-infallible person (people other than the Prophet (s) and Imams (a)).
- Taking the apparent meanings of the Qur'an at face value: for Usulis, the apparent meanings of the Qur'an are reliable, trumping the apparent meanings of hadiths, but for Akhbaris, it is legitimate to rely on the apparent meanings of the Qur'an only when there is a confirming interpretation by the Prophet (s) or an Imam (a).
- For Akhbaris, unlike Usulis, all hadiths contained in al-Kutub al-Arba'a (the four major Shiite hadith collections) are sound and reliable.
- Akhbaris accept rational goodness and badness, but unlike Usulis, they do not take independent rational verdicts (that is, those not confirmed by shari'a) to be religiously reliable.
- For Akhbaris, it is illegitimate to act upon some analogies and syllogisms such as priority analogy (qiyas al-awlawiyya), the analogy in which the reason/cause is explicitly mentioned (qiyas mansus al-'illa) and the clarification of the criterion (tanqih al-manat), though Usulis consider them as legitimate.
- The principle of exoneration (asalat al-bara'a): for Usulis, the principle of exoneration applies to cases of doubting the illegitimacy of an act (al-shubha al-hukmiyya al-tahrimiyya), as well as cases of doubting the obligation (al-shubha al-hukmiyya al-wujubiyya), but for Akhbaris, it only applies in the second type of cases.
- The principle of exoneration regarding the conflict between hadiths: unlike Usulis, Akhbaris do not allow an appeal to the principle of exoneration regarding a conflict between hadiths, as al-Astarabadi says in his al-Fawa'id al-madaniyya:
- "I hold that the appeal to the principle of exoneration (asalat al-bara'a) was permissible before the perfection of the religion, but after that, there is no room for such a principle, since there are sufficient numbers of hadiths at our disposal with regard to any affair and event that we need a verdict for, and for any disputes between any two people."
Relation with Shaykhiyya
Different views have been proposed as to the relation between the Shaykhiyya school and Akhbarism. Though prominent scholars of Shaykhiyya deny any relations with Akhbarism, their opponents maintain that there is a profound relation between them, holding that Shaykhiyya owes its origination to Akhbarism. However, some people believe that proponents of Shaykhiyya are not full-fledged followers of Usulis, nor of Akhbaris. Their approach is a middle way between these two Shiite schools.
European Writers on Akhbari-Usuli Bifurcation
In the second half of the 20th century, more research by European scholars has been produced concerning Akhbaris. In 1958, Scarcia presented a detailed account of the disputes between Akhbaris and Usulis in his "Intorno alle controversie tra 'Ahbari' e 'Usuli' presso gli Imamiti di Persia" (On controversies between Akhbaris and Usulis of Iranian Imamiyya). Then, Madelung introduced Akhbaris in a 1980 article in "The Encyclopedia of Islam". Moreover, Kohlberg wrote a paper under "Akhbaris" in 1985. Also, Robert Gleave composed several articles and one book in this regard.
- The material of this article is mainly taken from اخباریان in Farsi WikiShia.