In the year 1924 I had the privilege of studying for a few months under Dr. Duncan B. Macdonald of Hartford Theological Seminary, and of reading with him the Arabic creed of An-Nasafi, a concise statement of the tenets of the Sunnite Muslims. Before leaving Hartford, I asked Dr. Macdonald to outline a course of study which I might profitably follow after returning to my work in Persia. He suggested that I should try to find a Shi‘ite creed, similar to that of An-Nasafi, and translate it into English, since no adequate statement of Shi‘ite doctrines was available for English readers.
Accordingly, on reaching Meshed I began to make inquiries in order to discover some such creed which was generally accepted by the Shi‘ite doctors. For some time, I was unsuccessful, but at last, one of my Mulla friends suggested to me “Al-Bab al-Hadi ‘Ashar,” assuring me it was just the book that I was seeking. He said that it was widely used in the madrasas of Meshed as an introduction to scholastic theology and the usul (the “principles” of the faith), and was generally accepted as a correct exposition of the Shi‘ite doctrines. I secured a copy of the book, a very poor lithograph dated 1320 A.H., and began to read it with the Mulla, without whose assistance I could have made but little headway in it.
I found that the work consisted of a brief statement of the Shi‘ite “principles” and a detailed commentary on the same, all in Arabic. The text (main) alone was too condensed to be of much value to the student. The commentary was somewhat long, but the argument was in most places so close that it would have been difficult to condense, so I decided to translate it in full. At Dr. Macdonald’s suggestion I have added a few notes, principally in order to explain the differences between the Shi‘ite and Sunnite doctrines. In my translation I have endeavoured to adhere as closely as possible to the original. In quoting the Qur’anic verses I have followed Rodwell’s translation, except that, for the sake of uniformity, I have always used the terms Allah and Messenger (Rasul) instead of God and Apostle.
I wish to express here my deep appreciation to Dr. Macdonald, who inspired me to undertake this task and aided me in performing it. I am also indebted to Dr. R.A. Nicholson of Cambridge University for his great kindness in correcting my manuscript and securing its publication.
William McElwee Miller
The American Presbyterian Mission,
December 23, 1927