Editor Arsalan Rizvi continues his discussion regarding one of the greatest scholars in the history of Islam.
A most important aspect of Shaikh al-Mufid’s life was his special relationship with the 12th Imam (may Allah hasten his reappearance). Scholars today often joke about Shaikh al-Mufid being the most “pampered” jurist in the history of Shiism! The Shaikh frequently met with and received letters and instructions from the Imam, who often addressed him as “my brother”, “my trustee”, and “my friend”.
The Shaikh’s relationship with the 12th Imam also illustrates the Imam’s affirmation and support for the concepts of Ijtihad and Taqleed (jurisprudence). Many people today voice their objection to the system of Marjaiyyah on the grounds that we should not follow anyone but the Infallibles. However, an incident from Shaikh al-Mufid’s life answers this objection quite well.
The Shaikh was once approached by a man who told him that his pregnant wife who was about to give birth had died. The question was whether the baby should be extracted from the body or be buried with it. The Shaikh told him that Islam does not permit desecration of the corpse, so the fetus should be buried with the body.
Several years later, the man returned and thanked Shaikh al-Mufid for saving his son’s life. The Shaikh was confused, seeing as how he had in fact ordered that the child should be buried with the mother. However, the man told him that although that is what the Shaikh had initially commanded, later on the Shaikh’s “messenger” had arrived to tell them that the ruling had changed and that the child should in fact be extracted from the body.
Shaikh al-Mufid immediately realized that it could only have been the 12th Imam who had caught his mistake and corrected it. Although he was glad that the child’s life had been saved, he became very concerned about the possibility of issuing an incorrect ruling again in the future, and in fact declared that he was no longer going to practice Ijtihad. Despite repeated insistence from the people, he refused to change his decision, until the Imam himself reportedly appeared to him.
“You task is to issue rulings,” said the Imam, “and ours is to correct you as necessary.”
This incident helps dispel many myths about the process of Taqleed and Ijtihad that people today have. After this, Shaikh al-Mufid resumed his responsibilities as the lead jurist of the Shia community. Of his many contributions to Shia literature, his Kitab al-Irshad and Al-Amali have been translated into English. The former contains the biographies of the Prophet and his Household, whereas the latter contains narrations of the Infallibles that are insightful and particularly relevant to the lives of true followers of Islam.
Shaikh al-Mufid passed away in Baghdad on the 3rd of Ramadhan in the 413th year of Hijra. The funeral services were led by his brilliant student Sayed Murtadha, and narrations report that the whole city of Baghdad poured out in grief over the demise of this great scholar. As a final reminder of his high status and station, a eulogy written by the 12th Imam is said to have appeared on his grave which proclaimed: “Today, may there be silence, for your departure makes it a day of tribulation for the Prophet’s Household. You are now under the earth, but Tawheed and Ad’l are alive in your personality, for al-Mahdi himself used to celebrate every time a student studied under you.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: These articles are adaptations of lectures delivered by Maulana Sadiq Hasan in Karachi, Pakistan, during the 1980s on the lives of the great scholars of Islam. The Urdu lectures can be accessed at Hussainiat.com. For previous articles in this series, please look under the History section.