Who are the Fuqaha?

1. Who are the Fuqaha?

The Mujtahids claim to be the Fuqaha (plural of Faqih), but do they fit the definition of Fuqaha as defined in the hadith literature? In the hadith, we find the Imams (as) describing the Fuqaha as the Muhaddithin (which literally means the narrators of their hadith). They have almost equated the terms Faqih and Muhaddith. Let us look at the following narration from Imam Jafar al Sadiq (asws):

Recognize the status of our (asws) Shia in accordance with how many good narrations they relate from us (asws), for we do not consider the ‘Faqih’ from them to be a ‘Faqih’ unless they are narrators of hadith (Muhaddith). It was said to him (asws), “Is a believer a narrator of hadith? He (asws) said: “He is an understanding one (mufhim: meaning the one who has fahm, which means understanding, the who uses his innate God-given ability to think, reflect and perceive the reality of things); and the understanding one is a narrator of hadith (al Mufhim al Muhaddith)”. [Imam Jafar al Sadiq (as), Wasail ul Shia, H. 33453]

The above hadith makes the following points clear:

  • A Faqih is a Muhaddith (narrator of hadith) and vice versa – a Muhaddith is a Faqih. The terms can be used interchangeably.
  • A Momin is a Mufhim and a Mufhim is a Muhaddith.
  • A Momin who has ‘fahm’ (understanding) will seek and narrate Hadith.
  • The Imam (as) has not differentiated between hadith of usul and those of fiqh.

2. Qualities of a Muhaddith

The word ‘Narrator’ by definition and meaning naturally implies the following:

  • A narrator is a carrier and transmitter of the narration in the original words.
  • A narrator provides references when demanded.
  • A narrator does not speak independently.
  • A narrator does not seek to take the place of the Aalim – which in our case are the Ahlul Bayt (as)

In short, a Muhaddith compiles/quotes hadith with references – otherwise he cannot be termed as a ‘Narrator’ of hadith.

3. All knowledge emanates from Masumeen (as)

A true Faqih always presents himself as a humble student of the Imam (as) from whom he acquires his knowledge. He acknowledges that the source of all knowledge are the Masumeen (as) and they themselves are simply the bearers of that knowledge:

I heard Abu Abd Allah (asws) say: Whoever loves to have a complete Iman (faith, belief) must say: ‘Everything that I say is from the family of Mohammed (asws), whether they (asws) kept it secret or made it public, whether it has reached me from them (asws) or it has not reached me. [Al-Kafi, Vol. 1, H. 1013, Ch. 95, h, 6]

A Faqih should direct you towards the words of the Masumeen(as). A non-Faqih will direct you towards himself in order to gain fame and popularity.

4. Compulsory to provide reference to hadith

What if a person speaks on the basis of hadith but does not provide reference? Is this person a Faqih? No! On the contrary, by not quoting hadith, he has violated the orders of the Masumeen (as) – the very people whose hadith he is supposed to be familiar with. Proof is in the following hadith from Usool-e-Kafi:

Abu Abd Allah (asws) said: “Beware of the branched-out lies.” They asked the Imam (asws), “What are the branched-out lies?” The Imam (asws) replied: “It is when you narrate a Hadith of an Imam (asws) without mentioning the Imam’s (asws) name.” [Reference: Usool-e-Kafi, Vol. 1, Chapter 17, Hadith 12]

I said to Abu Ja’far (asws), “I narrate from you (asws) a Hadith and some of us say ‘Our words are their (asws) words’. He (asws) said: What do you want? Do you intend to be Imams to be followed? One who refers the words to us (asws) is safe.” [ Wasaail ul Shia – Vol 27, H 33400]

5. The Librarian Metaphor

An example that we can draw upon to understand the current situation is that of a school with professors, a library, students and a few librarians. Imagine that the library houses the books of the professors and the librarians have access to the books and are also the safe keepers. The professors are not currently available but they have provided all the essential knowledge required by students to be successful. The professors have not stated that comprehension of their material requires an additional body of experts, who should develop an interpretive science (based on their own reasoning) in order to correctly decipher the meanings, and the students should refer to this body of pseudo-experts for guidance. The professors have made it mandatory for ALL students to seek their knowledge and be directly attached to them. In this example, the professors are the Imams (as) but what is the role of the librarians? Let us play out the two possibilities – one when the librarians conduct themselves as narrators of hadith (Muhaddith/Fuqaha) and the other alternative when the librarians operate as Mujtahids taking on the role and position of the professors.

When the librarians conduct themselves as Muhaddithin, they become spokespersons for the professors, and either quote their material (with references) or direct the students to the relevant sections within the books of the professors. They know very well that all knowledge ultimately originates from the professors and at no time do they pretend to be scholars. They provide free and direct access to the material at all times never covering up any material. Due to their years of service and familiarity with the matter, they can save you a lot of time by either quoting (with references) or quickly directing you to the particular books and sections that are relevant to the question you have at hand. For the questions whose answers are not to be found in the books – they will admit their helplessness. These questions are not critical for success anyway. What is critical for success is the sincere effort of the students to study and take full advantage of the material that has been left behind. The librarians understand that they can never take the place of the professors since they just don’t have the required capacity and knowledge. In actuality, the librarians are students themselves who have spent more time studying compared to others. This system categorizes everyone as students, does not differentiate between them except on the basis of how much each has memorized and is well-versed with the words of the professors. This system obligates all the students to acquire knowledge, pursue and study the words of the professors and drives them to become acquainted and conversant with the material and their message.

Now imagine the situation if the librarians turned into Mujtahids. They now pronounce that the majority of the students do not possess the capacity to grasp the words of the professors. In addition, the enemies have corrupted the books with false information and it is going to be impossible for the students to differentiate between right and wrong. To take advantage of the material, one now needs to go through another prolonged course of study. It first requires many years of advanced study of secondary subjects like linguistics, etymology, logic, philosophy, etc. All students simply do not have enough time for this. So let us create a categorization among us – the scholars and the students. The scholars will sacrifice their time and life to master the secondary subjects and the students should then turn towards them for guidance. Therefore, we the librarians are the scholars and you are the layman. We are now the general representatives of the professors, we occupy their vacant offices, and you can now approach us with questions in the same way that you would have approached the professors. Not all answers are to be found in the books, as a result we have developed an umbrella science through which we have understood the general principles used by the professors and based on this science we can derive correct answers to even those questions that are not addressed by them. In fact, many times we don’t even bother to refer to the books, as these principles are much easier for us to apply. We have formulated our own new laws to extract the meanings. These laws, in addition to the books, allow us to use our own reasoning (aql) and are based on a general consensus (ijma) among us which provides internal checks and balances. We understand that this new system that we have put in place is not based on the teachings of the professors, since they did not have the foresight to anticipate this current situation. Rather we have established this based on necessity and ‘aqli dalil’ (proof of reason). Our approach to come up with answers (even to the simple questions) is so complex and intertwined that we cannot make our detailed analysis available to all of you easily. The analysis is recorded in a language that you don’t speak, and even if you did, you would first have to join the scholar class, study for many years, and then perhaps you would be able to understand it. Therefore, do not ask for proof of how we have arrived at the answer. Put your trust in us and take the answer we provide with full confidence. Even if it turns out to be wrong you will not lose any points. Logic now dictates that the best solution for you is to follow us as your guides (some of us have even adorned ourselves with the title of ‘professor’ due to our service to them). Even for simple matters it is best to refer to us. As a matter of fact, we have made your task even more easy – you do not need to study the books of the professors as we will provide you with all the direct answers required to pass the examination. Ask us the questions and we will present you the answers. Don’t ask us for proof as that is beyond your understanding. As we do all the hard work in decoding the knowledge of the professors, you can devote yourself to extra-curricular activities, enjoy the other opportunities provided by the school, spend time on your day job, and other day to day chores.

6. Who should Shias consult for newly emerging issues?

Following is the response of our twelfth Imam (ajtf) to this question in the form of a letter:

As far as newly occurring circumstances are concerned, you should refer to the narrators of our hadith, for they are my proof over you and I (asws) am Allah (azwj)’s Proof. [Letter of Imam-e-Zamana (ajfj) to his representative, quoted by al-Tabarsi, in his book Al-Ihtijaj al-Tabarsi, Vol. 2, pg. 469]

Again if you read the above hadith carefully, our Imam (as) is asking us to follow the narrators of hadith and not the ‘scientists’ of hadith. This implies that the answer to all our problems exist in the hadith.

7. Examples of Faqih from history

One of the best example of a Faqih and Muhaddith is that of Sheikh Yaqub Kulayni who compiled one of the greatest and most authoritative collection of hadith called Al-Kafi. Sheikh Kulayni was not a Mujtahid, he did not derive laws, apply science, etc. He was a pure Muhaddith and thus fits cleanly in the definition of a Faqih as defined by the Imams (as). In fact, he is among a special class of Muhaddithin known as Rihalah-ye hadith i.e. those who travelled far and wide in order to collect ahadith from the persons considered to be the authority on hadith during his time.

Another great example is that of Sheikh Hurr Al Amili who lived in the 17th century. He compiled Wasa’il al-Shī’a based on The Four Books (Al-Kafi, Man la yahduruhu al-Faqih, Al-Istibsar, Tahdhib al-Ahkam) and other major shia sources. It as a multi-volume Hadith collection based on 20 years of effort. It is one of the most comprehensive books containing about 36,000 hadith. Sheikh Hurr Al Amili was against the concept of Taqleed and Ijtihad and when he saw people migrating towards the Mujtahids and their Tawdhi-ul-Masail (in which they don’t quote hadith), he produced this single collection categorizing all the hadith by topic for easy reference – so that people could directly follow the hadith.

8. Is Fatwa based on Hadith?

Let us examine the word fatwa. In english it can be translated as a ‘verdict’ or a ‘ruling’. A fatwa is the final conclusion or determination that the individual has arrived at based on his personal findings and his own understanding.

In the man-made system of Ijtihad, a fatwa is issued in the absence of a hadith. Therefore, in such cases it is definitely not based on hadith. And if the fatwa is based on hadith, why is it called a fatwa? There should be nothing personal about it. In the presence of hadith, there is no room for Ijtihad and there is no need for a fatwa. The Mujtahid should simply provide the reference to the hadith.

Why is the Risalah-e-Amaliya (also known as Tawdhih-ul-Masail or Islamic Practical Laws) produced by every Marja called the book of fatawas (plural of fatwa)? Are there not hadith for ANY of the rulings mentioned in it?
Even if a fatwa is based on hadith, the moment it is labeled as a fatwa it becomes a personal opinion and can no longer be termed as qawl-e-Masumeen (words of the Masumeen).

According to the Usuli school of thought, Ijtihad (the process of deriving law and establishing fatwa) is based on four sources: Qur’an, Hadith, Aql and Ijma. For any given fatwa, it is not known which among the four sources and what combinations of the four have been used to derive it. Is the fatwa based purely on hadith? Purely on Aql? Or a combination of Hadith, Aql and Ijma?

In defense of the above statement, it is argued that detailed analysis is available in the so called ‘dars-e-kharij’ lectures conducted usually in farsi or arabic. They are not made readily available to the public. First of all, why is detailed analysis required for the majority of day to day issues which have been practiced by the Shias for thirteen hundred years? They should all have clear references to the hadith. Secondly, for new issues the Marja must atleast provide a reference to the hadith that were used to determine the ruling, even if they do not provide the exposition. As we mentioned, earlier it is compulsory to provide reference to hadith.

9. Is a Mujtahid also a Muhaddith?

Either the fatwa is based on hadith or not. In both the cases, the Mujtahid does not quote hadith, and has not functioned like the Muhaddith. Therefore, a Mujtahid who issues fatawas can never be classified as a Muhaddith or a Faqih.

10. Difference between a Mujtahid and a Muhaddith

The major difference between the two of them is in the terms “following” and “referring to”. One refers to the Muhaddith whereas in the case of a Mujtahid one follows him. The word “follow” is a strong word – we should strictly only “follow” the Masumeen (as). The reality is that in today’s world, ask any ordinary Shia the question “Whom do you follow?” and inevitably the response will be the name of his/her Marja.

In the case of a Muhaddith, we don’t “follow” him – we simply refer to him in order to get access to the words of the Masumeen (as). The Muhaddith leads us towards the path/words of the Masumeen (as) and referring to him is equivalent to following on the footsteps of the Masumeen (as). The Mujtahid on the other hand does not quote hadith, and does not provide proof of his statements from hadith (to the general public). Therefore, in reality we have “followed” the Mujtahid and not the Masum Imams (as). Now a Mujtahid can claim that their statements are based on hadith – but without proof how can we trust them? Specially, since it is forbidden to make statements from hadith without mentioning the name of the Imams (as).

On the day of judgement, we must confidently be able to say that we have followed the Ahlul Bayt (as). If we are not aware of their hadith and teachings then how have we followed them?


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