An insight into the 3 stages of Shi'a Jurisprudence


This is the stage of the narration of traditions from the Imāms (a). This stage starts from the beginning of Islam and ends at the lesser occultation in the 260th year after the great migration.  Jurisprudence, in this stage, was narrating traditions. Companions would hear a tradition from one of the infallibles (a) and spread it to their communities without organizing them into different subjects.

This first text that was written, other than what the commander of the faithful (a) wrote, was written by Abī Rāfi‛, a companion of the prophet (s) and Imām ‛Alī (a). He wrote a book called Kitāb al-Sunun wa al-Ahkām wa al-Qadāyā.  His son, ‛Alī bin Abī Rāfi‛, the commander of the faithful's (a) scribe, wrote a book using the different sections of jurisprudence, for example wūdū and prayer.

Jurisprudential texts increased during the imamate of Imām Bāqir and Sādiq (a) due to the weakness of the Umayyad dynasty during its last days and power being shifted to the Abbasid dynasty.  Jurisprudential texts continued to grow, so much so that during the time of Hurr al-‛Āmulī there were 6600 texts. 400 of these texts became famous and were called the 400 principles. The four great books of the Shia written by the three great scholars were compiled from these books.

1. Muhammad bin Ya‛qūb al-Kulaynī – al-Kāfī

2. Muhammad bin ‛Alī bin al-Hussayn al-Sadūq – Man Lā yahduruhu al-Faqīh  

3. & 4. Muhammad bin al-Hassan al-Tūsī – al-Tahdhīb and al-Istabsār.

The city of Medina was the centre of Islamic studies for the Ahlul-Bayt (a) during this period until Imām Sādiq (a) moved to Kufa and the second centre of Islamic studies was formed.

Al-Hassan bin ‛Alī al-Washā' said: "I saw 900 scholars who all said that they heard so and so from Ja‛far bin Muhammad (a) in this mosque (Masjid al-Kūfa)." (Al-Najāshī, Rijāl al-Najāshī, under al-Washā’).

The Imām had great companions in Kūfa, such as Abān bin Taghlib who related 30,000 traditions and Muhammad bin Muslim who related 40,000.  When we say that jurisprudence in this stage was just compiling and spreading traditions rather than organizing them into different sections, we do not mean that this includes the big scholars of the time. Each one of them was an ocean in themselves, like Muhammad bin Muslim, Zarārah ibn A‛yan and Abī Basīr.

Imām Sādiq (a) said: "Burīd bin Mu‛āwīyyah al-‛Ajalī, Abī Basīr Layth al-Bakhtarī al-Murādī, Muhammad bin Muslim and Zarārah will be given the glad tidings of Heaven. They believe in Allah about the obligatory actions and forbidden ones. The line of prophethood would be cut if it were not for them." (Shaykh Tūsī, Rijāl al-Kashī, under Abī Basīr Layth al-Murādī).

The Imām considered them mujtaheds who had the power of deriving verdicts from the Qurān and prophetic traditions. Sometimes he (a) would order them to practice it, for example he (a) said: "It is on us to tell you the principles and it is on you to branch them out."(Al-Hurr al-‛Āmulī, Wasā’il al-Shī‛ah, the 6th chapter of the qualities of a judge, tradition 51).

He (a) also told people to refer to some of his companions in religious rulings, like Yūnis bin ‛Abd al-Rahmān. Someone asked the Imām: "It is not possible for me to come to you and ask everything that I need about religious sciences. Is Yūnis bin ‛Abd al-Rahmān trustworthy; can I take whatever I need from him?"  The Imām answered: "Yes."(Al-Hurr al-‛Āmulī, Wasā’il al-Shī‛ah, the 11th chapter of the qualities of a judge, tradition 33).

He (a) also ordered some of his companions to give religious verdicts, such as Abān bin Taghlib. The Imām (a) told him: "Sit in Medina's mosque and give religious verdicts to the people. Verily I love to see my Shia like you."(Al-Najāshī, Rijāl al-Najāshī, under Abān).


This stage started at the minor occultation, the 260th year after the great migration, and lasted until the age of Shaykh Tūsī who was born in the 385th year after the great migration and died in the 460th year.

In this stage the Ahlul-Bayt (a) jurisprudential sect transformed from only relating traditions without organizing them into different sections into writing jurisprudential books without adding anything to the traditions or changing their terminology. This is clear in the book Sharāya‛ which was written by ‛Alī bin Bābūway for his son Muhammad. It is said that when someone needed a tradition they would find it in this book.  Other similar books are al-Maqna‛ and al-Hadāyah by Shaykh Sadūq, Muhammad bin ‛Alī bin Bābūway and al-Nahāyah by Shaykh Tūsī.

We are not saying that there were not scholars that only spread traditions, but we are saying that they were organized into different subjects containing all of the subjects seen today. This is clearly seen in the books al-Kāfī by Shaykh Kulaynī and Man Lā Yaduruhu al-Faqīh by Shaykh Sadūq.  This is what generally took place in this stage. This does not mean that there weren't any scholars who added to the traditions by using intellectual deductions, for example what is related to al-‛Ummānī and al-Iskāfī.

If one wants to explain more he can say that this stage had three major schools:
1. The school of Qum and Ray: This school used traditions but did not use intellectual deductions. Some of the scholars of this school are the two Sadūqs. This was a strong school and was relied upon by many scholars.

2. The school of al-‛Ummānī and al-Iskāfī: This school preferred using intellectual deduction to such an extent that they accepted syllogism and voting. Al-‛Ummānī is al-Hassan bin ‛Alī bin Abī ‛Aqīl. It is said that he is the first person to apply his ijtihād to actions, while mentioning the different sections of jurisprudence and mentioning the reasons behind the verdicts. He wrote the famous book: al-Mustamsik bi-habl Āl al-Rasūl. Unfortunately this book is not in existence today. Al-Iskāfī is Muhamamd bin Ahmad bin al-Junayd who lived after Abī ‛Aqīl. He wrote jurisprudential books, for example Tahdhīb al-Shī‛ah li-ahkām al-Sharī‛ah and al-Ahmadī fī al-Fiqh al-Muhammadī. These two books, also, do not exist today.

3. The school of Baghdād: This is also called the school of Shaykh Mufīd. This school tried to find a common ground between traditions and intellectual deductions. The reason behind this might be Shaykh Mufīd, who was a student of Ibn al-Junayd and Ja‛far bin Muhammad bin Qūlūway who was from Qum and a member of the Qum school of thought. Shaykh Mufīd wrote many books, for example al-Maqna‛ah which was explained by Shaykh Tūsī in his book Tahdhīb al-Ahkām.


This stage started at the age of Shaykh Tūsī and is still prevalent today. In this stage the jurisprudential books changed from imitating the traditions in form and language to writing with different terminology and mentioning different situations that did not occur at the time of revelation. All of this occurred with accepting intellectual deduction perfected by traditions and accepting intellectual principles. The book al-Mabsūt by Shaykh Tūsī helps us to come to the conclusion that we have about this stage.

Other steps that have been made in this stage:
1. The sections of jurisprudence have become more specialized.
2. More subjects have been made due to time.
3. Intellectual deductions have been made stronger and their proofs have become clearer.
4. The relationship between jurisprudential rulings and jurisprudential principles has become clearer.
5. Putting more effort into the chains of narration.
6. Cancelling some of the ancient texts which do not have matters that today's world need and writing books with today's world's needs.