The purpose of this book is to introduce the thought of an Imami Shi‘i scholar who lived and worked in Baghdad at the turn of the eleventh century and was the first of a line of scholars who helped establish a role for human reasoning in the elaboration of Imami doctrine.
Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn al-Nu‘man al-Harithi al-‘Ukbari al-Baghdadi, more commonly known as al-Shaykh al-Mufid was the leading Imami scholar of his day. He flourished at a time when Shi‘ism, the religion of a persecuted minority for most of its early history, was enjoying political support in many areas of the Muslim world, but also when Imamism, the Shi‘i sect he belonged to, was facing major intellectual challenges, both from within and from rival religious groups and needed to be defined and defended along new theoretical lines. In order to understand Mufid’s contribution and the role he played as the leading scholar of his community, it is necessary to give a description of the main developments and trends in early Imamism and especially in the period leading up to his own time.
Mufid laid down the theoretical foundations of an Imami legal system and a theology capable of competing with other systems and schools of Islamic thought. He wrote extensively in defense of the Imami view of early Islamic history and of the particular dogmas and laws of his sect. In presenting an outline of those developments the author have followed a line of interpretation based partly on long-established research and partly on more recent findings, including my own. It must be pointed out here that some aspects of early Imami history are still matters of debate among scholars. This book is not the place to engage in those debates. Only where an issue is directly relevant to the assessment of Mufid’s contribution has there been some discussion of it here.