Did Early Shi’i Jurists Borrow or Plagiarize Shafi’i-Sunni Legal Texts? Some Comments on Al-Shahid Al-Thani (الشهيد الثاني)

June 6, 2012


Al-Shahid Al-Thani_Al-Mustafid

In the attached article (see directly above), Professor Devin Stewart (Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia USA) has provided an exhaustive survey of some of the foundational legal texts within Imami Shi’i legal tradition. Professor Stewart finds that a considerable number of Shi’i legal compendiums were “based to a large degree on Sunni models.” (Stewart, 237). While the article primarily concerns itself with perhaps the most important educational text now used in the Hawza Al-Illmiyah in Qum, Iran today– that of Zayn al-Din’s Al-Ammili (a.k.a, Al-Shahid Al Thani) Munyat al-Murid fi Adab al-mufid Wal-Mustafad (The Goal of the Aspirant and the Manners of The Teacher and The Seeker)– the reader will be surprised to learn that other early Shi’i jurists heavily borrowed, if not entirely plagiarized, vast amounts of passages from their Sunni ulema (largely Shafi’i madhab) counterparts.

For example, Al-Sharif Al-Murtadha (أبو القاسم علي بن الحسين الشريف المرتضى died 1044), clearly a scholarly heavyweight in Shi’i jurisprudence, authored his seminal book, al-Dhakhīrah fī Usūl al-Fiqh ( الذخيرة ) by largely borrowing from Abu’l-Husayn al-Basri’s (died 1085) major work, al-Mu’tamid fi usul l-fiqh. Al-Basri was a noted Shafi’i jurist (with Mu’talizite theological leanings). (Stewart, 237). Al-Sheik Al-Tusi’s (died 1067) major publication, Uddat al-Usul, “was closely modeled on al-Umad of  Mutazili theologian and Shafii jurist al-Qadi Abd al-Jabbar.” (Stewart, 238). His other works– including al-Mabsut and al-Khilaf “are likely distillations of Shafii legal texts.” (Stewart, 238). Shahid al-Thani even acknowledged this aspect of Sheik al-Tusi’s scholarship, remarking that the Mabsut text was “was actually distilled from Sunni legal texts.” (Stewart, 239). Allamah al-Hilli’s  prominent “legal manual” Shari’ al-islam is said to have been largely based on the “Shafii legal manual al-Aziz, by Abd al-Karim b. Muhammad al-Qazwni al-Rifii.” (Stewart, 238). Professor Stewart also suggests that the al-Shahid al-Awwal’s book, al-Qawaid wa-l fawai’d, was largely based on the Shafi’i works of either “Ibn Salah al-Shahrazuri or Ala al-Din Khalil al-Dimashqi.” The earlier mentioned al-Shahid al-Thani’s popular legal books, particularly al-Rawtha al-bahiyya (الروضة البهيّة في شرح اللمعة الدمشقيّة)and Masalik al-afham, “probably drew on popular Shafi’i legal textbooks by al-Nawawi; or others, and his Tamhid al-qawid was modeled on Shafii works on qawid as well” including the ” Shafii jurist Abd al-RaA;m b. al-Easan al-Isnaw.” (Stewart, 238).

Al-Shahid Al-Thani’s lesser known treatise on the characteristics and benefit of the weekly Friday afternoon prayer,Khasai’s Yaum al-Jum’uah, “drew heavily” on the work of the esteemed Shafi’i jurist, Jalal ul-din Al-Suyuti. The likely reason  for Al-Shahid Al-Thani’s borrowing from Sunni legal texts was because he studied a great number of years under Sunni scholars in Cairo and Damascus. He excelled in his studies, even obtaining an ijaza at one point to engage in ijtihad. Moreover, Al-Thani was made a “law professor at a Sunni institution from the Ottoman qadi al-askar Muhammad b. Qutb al-Din Ibn Qadi-Zada al-Rumi.” (Stewart, 241). Al-Shahid al-Thani is most well known for having taught in what is today Northern Lebanon, including at an seminary in Ba’albeck. Although he would be later martyred by the Ottoman Empire for his purportedly heretical beliefs, Al-Thani is a good example of where a Shi’i scholar studied under Sunni tutelage and produced scholarship that was largely based on Shafi’i jurisprudential modeling.

To be sure, Al-Thani did not plagiarize the work of his Sunni counterparts. Instead, according to his student, Ibn al-‘Awdi, he developed a form of “interwoven commentary” (sharh mamzuj), ” in which the original [sunni] text is woven into the syntactic structure of the sentences of the commentary.” His Rawtha al-bahiyya, a commentary on al-Shahd al-Awwal’s al-Luma al-Dimashqiyya, employed this Sunni form of authorship.

However, Shahid Al-Thani’s earlier mentioned book, Munyat al-murid, which the author of the attached article devotes the most attention to,”derives from a long line of Arabic pedagogical treatises by Sunni authors, but draws most directly on the work of his contemporary Badr al-Din al- Ghazzi, al nadid fi adab al-mufid wa-l mustafad.” (Stewart, 259). As the reader can see, even the titles of the work are similar. Extensive quotations from Sunni authors in Al-Thani’s work without acknowledging the sources is a prevalent feature. But as alluded to earlier, this was not a unique aspect of Shahid Al-Thani’s work. According to Professor Stewart, the style of Islamic scholarship at that period of time largely used a model in which the “rearrangement or shuffling of chapters, sections, and subsections of an earlier work, giving different designations for the divisions, and retention of a great deal of material in verbatim quotations or paraphrases appear to have” was a “standard mode of composition in Islamic literature of many genres and periods.” (Stewart, 259). For example, Shahid Al-Thani’s great student, Abdl Husayn ibn Abdal Al-Samad Al-Amili (from Jabal ‘Amil in southern Lebanon) (died 1576), is reported to have authored several publications in this style of writing. His book on morals, Nur Al-Haqiqa wa-nawr Al-Hadiqa, simply “rearranged the chapters of al-Mawardi’s [الماوردي, a prominent Shafi’i jurst]  book entitled al-dunya wa-l-din” as well as ” inserting some additional material.” (Stewart, 260).

Shahid Al-Thani’s Munyat al-Murid engages in particularly egregious plagiarism by simply removing the names of Sunni authorities and replacing them with the generalized and vague quote from “some scholar.” For example, he replaces the names of “Sunni authors whom al-Ghazzi [the Shafi’i jurist he is borrowing from] quotes explicitly with vague designations: al-Khatib al-Baghdadi; or al-Ghazali (another prominent Shafi’i jurist) becomes a certain scholar.” (Stewart, 260). Of course, because the work was directed at a Shi’i audience, Al-Thani decided to introduce into his work of Munyat al-Murid extensive citations from the books of Shi’i hadith, including Usul Al-Kafi for al-Kulayni, changing the blessings Sunni Muslim use for Ali ibn Abi Talib from Rathi Allahu anhu to Alaihi Assalam, among other notable procedural modifications. However, there are notable differences between the al-Ghazzi text and the Munyat text, including the  description of categories of muftis, “the issue of a’lamiyya, the layman’s obligation to consult the most learned mufti” as well as others. (Stewart, 268).

According to Professor Stewart, the aim of Shahid Al-Thani in replicating the work of his Sunni counterpart with some modifications was because Al-Thani probably believed this would “have the overall effect of strengthening the Shi6i tradition of literary and religious scholarship” and that “Sunni scholarship on the religious sciences had merit and technical advantages that could profitably be applied to the Shi i tradition of scholarship in these fields.” (Stewart, 270). Unfortunately today, there is no interaction like that was at the time of Shahid Al-Thani in terms of educational exchanges and even professorial appointments by both jurisprudential schools of law.  Regardless of the obvious doctrinal differences Shia and Sunni may have, early Shi’i jurists appeared largely willing to learn under the tutelage of their Sunni counterparts and even substantially borrow from their scholarship. The big picture that emerges from the attached article’s discussion is that early Shi’i scholars appeared to largely operated within the Muslim ummah, and not identify themselves as outside of it. They surely did not disassociate themselves from the ummah, and eagerly integrated the teachings and work of their counterparts into their publications for their followers. The tragedy of today’s world is that Shi’i and Sunni religious scholarship largely remains divorced from each other, with violence replacing interaction. What a tragedy!


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