In his biography of ash-Shaykhu 'l-Mufid, Dr. Howard, the translator of Kitab al-Irshad (The Book of Guidance), has reviewed the intellectual and social aspects of the author's life. On our part, we also have done so in the biographies of the Shi‘ah Imamiyyah theologians in the introduction to the English translation of "Kitabu 't-Tawhid" of Usul al-Kafi.
Therefore, we shall neither repeat anything here nor comment on what Dr. Howard has written – in spite of some points of disagreement that we have with him – because such differences can be seen by comparing the two discussions here, however, we shall only comment on some important points related to the book, al-Irshad, itself.
The title of the book "al-Irshad" has been mentioned without any genitive construction in both al- Fihrist of ash-Shaykhu’t-Tusi and al-Fihrist of an-Najashi1 as well as in most of the later sources2 that apparently followed the former two bibliographical works. This is how al-Irshad became the famous title for the book.
However, in many ancient and later references, and also in many manuscript copies of the book, the title appears in a more complete form as al-Irshad fi ma‘rifat hujaji 'llah ‘ala 'l-‘ibad. The same title also appears in the ijazah (permission) for narrating the book issued by the famous Imami traditionalist, Rashidu'd-Din, Abu Ja‘far, Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn Shahrashub as- Sarawi al-Mazandarani (489/1096–588/1192)3 for as-Sayyid Muhyi 'd-Din, Muhammad ibn ‘Abdillah ibn ‘Ali ibn Zuhrah al- Husayni al-Halabi (566/1171–636/1239)4.
Similarly, the full title appears in another ijazah given to al-Halabi by the famous Shi‘ah jurist, ash-Shaykh Abu Ja‘far, Muhammad ibn Idris al- Hilli (543/1148 – 598/1202).The author (r.a.)5, himself has not described the title in the book; yet the longer title is descriptive of the purpose for which the book was written as mentioned in the author's introduction.
Al-Irshad was written for the lay reader- ship, according to their requirements, and in a form appropriate for the general level of education prevailing at al-Mufid's time so that every reader and listener may benefit from it. Therefore, the writer (r.a.) was bound to write in brief and to the point as he himself has mentioned in the introduction, the epilogue and at various other places in the book.
The only style adopted by the author is of description and narration – just as the historical events are described in books of history and just as the ahadith are narrated in the books of hadith – without providing, for what he has written, any proof or evidence except by quoting hadith and history. This is the style to which every reader and every listener's mind is moulded.
Indeed, the writer (r.a.), succeeded in his objective, since the book al-Irshad – although written a thousand years ago – has became one of the important sources for oratory in Imamiyyah gatherings, especially in the memorial ceremonies for the Master of the Martyrs, al-Imam al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali (may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon him and all those who sacrificed their lives with him). Even today, the lecturers and the orators of the maqtal6 depend on it, at times even read directly from it. May Allah reward the writer on our behalf – the community of Imamiyyah – with the best of His rewards!
This is the reason why the writer (r.a.), did not resort to the polemical and theological style of writing which relies on rational arguments and scientific terminology – from philosophy, theology and the principles of jurisprudence – which cannot be complete without going into details, identifying the weak points, highlighting the ambiguous aspects, quoting differing views for each issue that he propounds, analyzing them and preferring one view and refuting the other as is the common practice of the theological and philosophical studies.
In short, the author (r.a.), has refrained from the theological style of writing; and, therefore, it would not be correct to consider the book as anything but a reflection of ash-Shaykhu 'l-Mufid's perspective in history and hadith; it cannot be considered as a sample of his theological and polemical style of writing. In the following pages, we shall mention some examples clarifying the difference between the style he has adopted in this book and the style of theologians he has adopted elsewhere when discussing the same issue.
In order to combine the style of relying on the narration without analyzing them minutely or without employing pro- found rational thinking, on the one hand, and the exercise of convincing the reader about the validity of the narration, on the other hand, ash-Shaykhu 'l-Mufid has relied in his narration of the lives of the Imams (‘a.s.)7, and their distinctive characteristics in most instances on what has been mentioned by the neutral historians and biographers.
I do not say that the attribute of neutrality can be applied to all of them and to all that they narrate, nor do I claim that the accusation of partiality and sectarian bias in presenting historical events for religious or political motivations are applicable to the sources not used by al-Mufid. I leave aside this discussion about the affiliations of the historians, narrators and jurists to the rulers, and that they choose to ignore whatever the rulers wanted to be ignored and that they presented favourably whatever the rulers wanted to be presented favorably.
At this stage, I would just like to state that the biased and official historians have ignored the lives of the later Imams of Ahlu 'l-bayt (‘a.s.), except where the events were connected to the rulers and the caliphs. This is the reason why ash-Shaykhu 'l-Mufid was compelled to rely on the Shi‘ah Imamiyyah narrators when discussing the Imams of Ahlu 'l-bayt (‘a.s.), who came after the first Islamic century.
The style of brevity which al-Mufid has imposed on him- self in al-Irshad has compelled him in many instances to rely on a single historian whom he has chosen against the others without giving reasons for his preference as a source for that particular event. This is so even in cases where there is a difference among the historians on that particular issue, for instance, when he mentions the death of al-Imam Musa al-Kazim (‘a.s.) in which he has relied entirely on Abu 'l-Faraj al-Isbahani. This is one of the objectionable points raised by the respected translator against the writer. Moreover, Abu 'l-Faraj is considered closer than others to neutrality by the opponents of the Imamiy- yah, and he is not accused by them of sectarian bias.
If I may say so, the translator himself was also acting under the same self-imposed restriction when he mentions in his foot- note (p.275) only one source for the event of Ghadir Khumm, that is, al-Baladhuri. Any scholar slightly familiar with hadith, islamic history and the discourses on imamate knows that very few events in the history of Islam and very few ahadith among the prophetic narration on imamate or the life of Amiru 'l- Mu’minin ‘Ali (‘a.s.) have received that much attention at the hand of Muslim scholars and theologians (the Shi‘ahs and the Sunnis alike) as the event of Ghadir Khumm.
It would suffice to know the books written by the Muslim scholars and traditionalists sunni and shi‘ah alike on this subject; the latest and most important of all works on this issue is al-Ghadir fi 'l-Kitab wa 's-Sunnah wa 'l-Adab by one of the contemporary Shi‘ah scholar ash-Shaykh ‘Abdu 'l-Husayn ibn Ahmad al-Amini an- Najafi (1320/1902–1390/1970) of which eleven volumes have already been published, and the work is not yet complete.
Ash- Shaykh al-Amini has dedicated the first volume to the text of hadithu 'l-Ghadir and its narrators from our Sunni brethren and their scholars who number hundred and ten companions (ashab) of the Prophet, eighty-five disciples (tabi‘in) of the companions and about four hundred scholars of hadith and history over the thirteen Islamic centuries after the first century of the companions and their disciples.
The style of brevity and strict adherence to its objective also defined the contents of the book, and that is why al-Mufid does not narrate the life of the Holy Prophet (s.‘a.w.a.)8 or the life of Fatimatu 'z-Zahra’ (‘a.s.). Otherwise, the lives of these two personalities are inseparable from any discourse about the lives of the Imams as can be observed in what has been done by al- Kulayni in "Kitabu 'l-Hujjah" of Usul al-Kafi; by at-Tabrisi in I‘lamu 'l-wara bi a‘lami 'l-huda; by al-Irbiliyy in Kashfu 'l- ghummah fi ma‘rifati 'l-aimmah; and by al-‘Allamah as-Sayyid Muhsin al-Amin in his A‘yanu 'sh-Shi‘ah.