Thoughts on Shia and the Jafri Schools of Law

Thoughts on Shia and the Jafri Schools of Law


Salaam alykum, what are your thoughts about the shia and jafri madhab? Can you give a breakdown of their beliefs/practices and start of their madhab like you did with the 4 sunni schools? JazakAllah khair!

Wa alykum as-salaam,

I will keep this as basic as I can, just as I did when I covered (briefly) the four major schools of Sunni Fiqh. You can read that here.

For those who know me, I have a particular aversion towards sectarian identification. Insha Allah, when my lecture is ready, you will see how I answer the question of Sunni and Shia (which I feel many will be frustrated with), and my particular indifference to the question, and it is through my education in Shariah and Usul al-Fiqh that has cemented this position.

It is through the study of Fiqh that sectarian identification has become particularly funny to me, and thus, when you look at Shia madahab (plural of madhab) you come to realize precisely why I’m so apathetic (towards identification), because unlike Tumblr “Fuqaha” (plural of Faqih, expert in Fiqh), whether Sunni or Shia, real Fuqaha are very aware of the tremendous overlap between schools, and there is a litany of interesting points of departure between nominally “similar” sectarian groups contrasted by fascinating similarities between nominally “opposite” sectarian groups.

There are three major branches of the Shia: the Zaydis, the Ismailis, and the Ithna ‘Ashariya (commonly known as Twelvers). The Ismailis and the Ithna ‘Ashariya uphold the doctrine that the highest authority in the Muslim community, the Imam, is Divinely appointed. Thus, they hold that Ali is the first Imam and that subsequent Imams must be his descendants.

The Ismailis, to this day, have followed an unbroken line of Imams. The Ithna ‘Ashariya, however, recognize only the first twelve, the last of whom is believed to have gone into occultation (ghayba), but will appear in the future as the Mahdi, who will stop oppression and bring justice to earth. The Zaydis, on the other hand, argued that the Imam should be elected.

The Zaydis differ from the Ismailis and Ithna ‘Ashariya in their perception of Imams, in that they do not believe in their infallibility (isma) and do not believe that they receive divine guidance, and their theology is similar to the Mu’tazili school, a Sunni school which is highly rational. Both the Zaydis and Ismailis reject the idea of occultation (ghayba), but the largest branch of Shi’i thought is Ithna ‘Ashariya.

All three branches use The Qur’an and the Sunnah as the two basic sources of Islamic law, however they have different collections of Hadith. The most famous being “The Four Books,” most prominent being Kitab al-Kafi, written by al-Razi, which I am the most familiar with.

The start of the three branches is predicated upon their conception of Imamate (Imamah), and what they believe is the proper line of succession. That is why Ithna ‘Ashariya are referred to as “Twelvers,” Ismailis as “Seveners,” and Zaydis as “Fivers.” I personally do not like the number-based translations as they come across as degrading and patronizing, though, I may be more sensitive to them than others.

The Ismailis, generally speaking, follow the Jaafari Madhab, like the Ithna ‘Ashariya. The Zaydis, however have their own distinct madhab, which is tied to their conception of Imamate (Imamah) and occultation (ghayba).

The Zaydi madhab is very similar to the Sunni madhab of Abu Hanifa. Combined with their rationalistic approach, inspired by the Mu’tazila movement, they actually accept the jurisprudential tool of qiyas, or analogical reasoning, while they do not accept ijma, or rule by consensus. Thus, they rely upon ‘aql, or utilizing intellect towards deducing law, which informs their conception of ijtihad, or individual judgement.

Emphasis: Qiyas, ‘aql, and Ijtihad

The Jaafari madhab was founded by Imam Jaafar as-Sadiq, who was the sixth Imam, and a direct descendent of Ali ibn Abu Talib, the first Imam. His father, Muhammad al-Baqir and his brother, Zayd ibn Ali, had a dispute (over succession) which explains why Zaydis have a different madhab. Unsurprisingly, Imam Jaafar’s father, Muhammad al-Baqir was a direct descendent of Ali ibn Abu Talib, but what most people don’t know is that Jaafar’s mother was a descendent of Abu Bakr.

Imam Jaafar was a teacher of Imam Abu Hanifa, the founder of the Hanafi madhab, and according to some Imam Malik, founder of the Maliki madhab. They worked closely together, especially Abu Hanifa and Jaafar, who were both opposed to the Umayyad caliphate.

Imam Jaafar’s madhab does not utilize qiyas, or analogical reasoning, and rejects the use of ijma, or rule by consensus. Instead, Jaafari methodologies highly value ‘aql, or intellect and logic, combined with an assertive usage of ijtihad, or independent reasoning. Their rejection of ijma, was predicated on the idea that the Imam or mujtahid (someone who qualifies to use Ijtihad) was the only source of legislation, and thus, taqlid, or imitation, specifically imitation of a Marja, a religious title given those who have earned the right to be imitated, is another central aspect to the Jaafari madhab.

Emphasis: Ijtihad governed by ‘aql. Nuanced Taqlid.

The Jaafari madhab is recognized by their Sunni brethren, and is actually part of the curriculum, with the four Sunni madahab, at Al-Azhar University, the center of Islamic learning in the Sunni tradition. Especially at Institutions where Imam Abu Hanifa or Imam Malik’s madhab is taught, students will learn about Imam Jaafar and study him; for example, I spent an entire term on Imam Jaafar’s Usul.

Insha Allah, I hope that I answered your question, and I’d like to add that this is a very basic outline of a tremendous tradition, and that if I missed any central issues, I apologize, it was not on purpose, and I simply attempted to distill what I felt were the most defining characteristics of the madahab in question.

I hope that this has illustrated how small the differences between Sunni and Shia actually are, alhamdulilah, and how we have so much more to unite over and how we should stop attempting to create a monolithic bloc of Muslims, because that will never happen, and that’s fine, because, we are a stronger Ummah as a result of our differences, while our only weakness emerges when we refuse to recognize our similarities.

Insha Allah, if you or anyone else has any questions, on this, or any other topic, please do not hesitate to ask.

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