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An emphatically traditionalist tendency in Shi’i jurisprudence, Akhbariyah first crystallized into a distinct school in the twelfth century. Its designation comes from the word akhbar (traditions of the Twelve Imams).Qom was an early stronghold of the traditionalists, but the opposing rationalist tendency (which came to be known as Usuliyah) prevailed for many centuries. The rise of the Akhbariyah came relatively late in Islamic history, its positions being formulated systematically for the first time by Mullah Muhammad Am-in Astarabadi (Akhbari; d. 1624). He rejected the teachings of most jurisprudents after the tenth century, insisting that principles of law accepted by them, such as qiyds (analogical reasoning), were unacknowledged borrowings from Sunni jurisprudence. According to Astarabadi, the akhbar were the single most important source of law, enjoying precedence over both the apparent meaning of the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet; this position was grounded in the Shi`i  belief that the imams are the infallible and indispensable interpreters of both Qur’an and prophetic tradition. Indeed, the permissibility of a given action depends on the availability of a tradition from an imam sanctioning it; in the absence of such a tradition, the action is dubious and best omitted. (This contradicts the principle, found in both Usuli and Sunni jurisprudence, that every action is licit unless expressly forbidden.) This heavy reliance on akhbar had as its corollary a simple division of all traditions of the imams into sahih (sound) and da`if (weak); the more numerous and pre cise categories used by the Usulis were denounced as another borrowing from Sunnism.

Among prominent Akhbaris of the seventeenth century were two figures who combined sufi proclivities with the strict traditionalism of their legal school, Muhammad Taqi Majlisi (d. 166o) and Mullah Muhsin Fayd Kashani (d. 168o); the compiler of a vast collection of the traditions of the imams, al-Hurr al-`Amili (1624-1693); and the jurist Sayyid Ni’mat Allah Jaza’iri (1640-I700).During much of the eighteenth century, Akhbari scholars, principally from Bahrain, exercised near-complete dominance of the `atabat, the shrine cities of Iraq, which were the chief centers of Shi `i learning after the collapse of the Safavid dynasty (1501-1722) in Iran; such was their power, it is said, that adherents of the Usuli school did not dare show their books in public. The situation was reversed through the efforts of the Usuli scholar Aqa Muhammad Baqir Bihbahani (17041793), who was able both by argumentation and vehemence of conduct to overcome his chief Akhbari rival, Yusuf Bahrani (1695-1772), whose adherence to the Akhbariyah was in any event less dogmatic than that of his predecessors. The completeness of Bihbahani’s triumph enabled him to declare the Akhbaris nonbelievers. The last Akhbari of note was Mirza Muhammad Akhbari (1765-1818), who is said to have gained a promise of support from the Iranian ruler, Fath ‘Ali Shah (r. 1797-1834), in exchange for his obtaining by magical means the death of a Russian commander besieging Baku. The shah broke his word, forcing Mirza Muhammad to leave for the `atabat, where he met his death in a riot in 1818. The eclipse of the Akhbaris is to be attributed ultimately to the greater flexibility and realism of the Usulis, whose tenets enabled them to offer the Shi’i community a living source of guidance in the continued absence of the Twelfth Imam.

Today, Akhbaris are to be found only in Khuzistan and in the Shi`i communities ofBahrainand the southern littoral of the Persian Gulf.

[See also Usuliyah.]


Cole, Juan R. I. “Shi’i Clerics inIraqandIran, 1722-I780: The Akhbari-Usuli Conflict Reconsidered.” Iranian Studies 18.1 (Winter 1985): 3-34.

Kohlberg, Etan. “Akhbanya.” In Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. i, pp. 716-718.London and New York, 1982-.

Kohlberg, Etan. “Aspects of Akhbari Thought in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.” In Eighteenth-Century Renewal and Reform in Islam, edited by Nehemia Levtzion and John Obert Voll, pp. 133-160.Syracuse,N.Y., 1987.

Madelung, Wilferd. “Akhbariyya.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., Supplement, fasc. 1-2, pp. 56-57.Leiden, 196o-.

Scarcia, Gianroberto. “Intorno alle controversie tra Ahban e Usuli presso gli imamiti diPersia.” Rivista degli Studi Orientali 33 (1958): 211-250.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/akhbariyah/

  • writerPosted On: October 7, 2012
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