Shaykh al-Mufid

Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Nu’man al-Harithi al-Baghdadi al ‘Ukbari (338/949 – 413/ 1022), commonly known as Shaykh Mufid, was born and lived in a village until his father took him to Baghdad to further his education. There he worked largely with Shi’i and Mu’tazili scholars. He showed such promise that one of his teachers recommended that he study under one of the leading scholars of the period, ‘Ali b. ‘Isa al-Ramani. He also studied under the leading Shi’i traditionist of the time, al-Shaykh al-Saduq.

The Buyids, who were in power during this period, were much more tolerant of Shi’ism than some previous and subsequent rulers, so this was a good time for someone with Shi’i affiliations to work in Baghdad. He acquired the name of Shaykh Mufid (‘he who provides benefit’) due to his skill in argument, in particular for the subtle distinctions he managed to draw in theological debate. He had three pupils who were to go on to positions of significance in Shi’i thought. These were al-Sharif al-Radi, al-Sharif al-Murtada and the future Shaykh al-Ta’ifa, Muhammad b. al-Hasan al-Tusi.

Shaykh Mufid wrote a large number of books on a wide variety of topics and died in the month of Ramadan in the year AH 413/1022. Al-Sharif al-Murtada led the funeral prayers and gave a eulogy. After being buried in his own house, Mufid’s body was later removed and buried near to the shrine of two of the Imams (al-Kazimayn) in Baghdad.

Shaykh Mufid’s work was restricted largely to the field of theology but was of great import as it took Shi’i thought to a new conceptual level: as a result of his efforts the movement became highly systematic and logically organized. Of particular significance is his book al-Irshad, which deals with the twelve Shi’i Imams. This describes the circumstances of the Imamate of each Imam, the miracles that each performed by which he gave evidence of his Imamate, the virtues of each, and the circumstances of the death of all the Imams as well as the disappearance of the last Imam. It also outlines the nass, or nomination, of each Imam. Mufid concentrates, as one would expect, on ‘Ali b. Abi Talib (d. 40/661) and in particular on his career during the Prophet’s lifetime. ‘Ali is described as the person of outstanding virtue, the most appropriate successor to the Prophet. The traditions in which the Prophet is said to declare this are emphasized, especially the tradition of Ghadir Khumm. Mufid outlines some of ‘Ali’s writings, his reticence during the rule of the first three caliphs and the political events of the time. The circumstances of ‘Ali’s murder by lbn Muljam are discussed at length. What is interesting and influential about the text is the clear organization of the evidence for each Imam’s miraculous acts and how these provide evidence for the Imamate itself, clearly a vital aspect of Imami Islam. In this way Mufid’s work set the agenda for a great deal of continuing debate on this topic in the Shi’i intellectual world.

Further reading
Mufid, Muhammad ibn Muhammad ( AH 1377) Kitab al-Irshad, al-Mayamawi edn, Teheran.
—— (1981) Kitab al-Irshad , trans. I. Howard, Book of Guidance into the Lives of the Twelve Imams, Elmhurst, NY: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an.
Muhajerani, A. (1996) ‘Twelve-Imam Shi’ite Theological and Philosophical Thought’, HIP : 119– 43.

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