This is a translation of a Q&A posed to Shaykh Hobbollah, original Arabic here

Translated by: By Faisal H and Sayyid Burair Abbas [1]

Question: It is said that Shaykh al-Mufīd (rah) employed dissimulation (al-taqiyyah) and deception because of the pressing circumstances during his time such as sectarian strife and the emergence of extremists. It is claimed this characterizes his exposition of the theological beliefs unanimously agreed upon by the scholars of the sect, especially in his books: Al-Masa‘il Al-ʿAkbariyyah and Awā’il al-Maqālāt. These books contain contrary opinions to what he discussses in his Al-Ikhtiā (which incidentally is also couched in caution), as well as his other books such as Al-Tarji, Al-Irshād, Al-Amālī, and others. 

There are a great number of scholars who claim that Shaykh al-Mufīd says one thing in a book and then contradicts himself in another; it is also claimed that some of his books were published only post-humously. How accurate are these claims? If this should be valid (given al-Mufīd is considered the most balanced and reliable in theologically controversial issues), how can we resort to his views in theology when they are not internally consistent? How can we depend on his arguments when we are required to sift all his writings to reveal his true opinion, which is in agreement with the consensus of the scholars of the sect as some people say, and especially in agreement with his students such as Sayyid al-Murtaḍā and Shaykh al-Ṭūsī, may Allah have mercy on them both?

Answer: This is an appreciable proposition presented by some of those engaged in theological issues in the recent period; I did not find anyone who said this earlier in our history. Perhaps this endeavor emerged after a group of those engaged in theological research among the Imāmīyyah realized that the classical scholars of the sect and their recorded beliefs in their books were discordant with what we find today prevailing in the belief system of many scholars and others (this was realized after some contemporary scholars who were thought to be contradicting orthodox Imāmī beliefs found precedents for their views in the earlier generations).[2] This realization evolved to the extent ʿAllāmah al-Māmaqānī has noted that some of what was considered exaggeration (ghuluw) among the classical scholars is considered among the necessities of the sect today.

In any case, I shall make some quick comments:

Firstly: Everyone knows that the great scholars have often modified some of their opinions in their books; rather they themselves have clarified this and have repeated it time and time again. Therefore we will find them say one thing in one book and say something contradicting in another. This phenomenon is present in all of the Islamic sciences and among all sects. We even find among some scholars that this [changing of opinions] may even occur in the same book; among the scholars of the Imāmiyyah, Shaykh al-Ṭūsī and ʿAllāmah al-Ḥillī are famously known for this. Rather this is the penchant of most scholars among all religions; for instance in one place we may see Mullā Ṣadrā al-Shīrāzī opine something, then change his stance in another book: whereas before he used to believe in the primacy of essence (asālat al-mahiyyah) he came to adopt the primacy of existence (asālat al-wujūd).[3] Even Shahīd al-Thānī wrote a treatise printed today in which he showed that Shaykh al-Tūsi had claimed consensus on an issue in dozens of places, but nonetheless turned around in another work and said something which is contrary to this very consensus that he had claimed. This is despite Al- Ṭūsī’s belief in the authority of consensus in his books on the principles of jurisprudence. Therefore, the mere fact that a scholar endorsed something in one of his publications while we find an alternative view in another book does not neccesitate the occurence of distortion, dissimulation, evasion, etc. Rather, investigators should interpret this as meaning that the said scholar changed his opinion.

Did not Sayyid Al-Khoeī in his late years change his view regarding the book Kāmil al-Ziyārāt? This affected his opinion on dozens of jurisprudential issues, including that  ghusl for the Ziyāra of Imām al-Ḥusayn (s) suffices in the place of ablution.[4] Did not Sayyid Al-Khoeī endorse the legitimacy of presuming continuity (al-istiṣḥāb) in the case of doubt and then change his opinion later on?[5] On the contrary, this is one of the very ordinary matters in the books and works of scholars; rather its instances are almost innumerable if one should pursue them; you can ask any follower of Islamic sciences to assure you of this very common phenomenon.

Shaykh al-Mufīd and others are not infallible for us such that we need to reconcile their words as possible dissimulation, given that the infallible does not make mistakes and does not change his opinion. Rather, Shaykh al-Mufīd et al. are human beings like other people who may fall into error and may sometimes reach the truth; their opinions are in flux and may be revised. This is the natural logic of things and those who claim otherwise need evidence. Mere fanciful possibilities should not obfuscate the truth of this reality. For instance, we could also propose an undisclosed interest that made Shaykh al-Mufīd present himself as a Shīʿa while in reality, he was a Sunnī! Should this possibility, for example, even be worthy of consideration in establishing our intellectual positions?!

Second: Say we accepted that Shaykh al-Mufīd did not change his views; how do we know that his real opinion is actually in agreement with what is famous among the sect (if it is even established that this or that opinion is the famous one among the sect)? Is it not also possible that his real opinion contradicts the consensus or generally accepted opinion of the sect, but that he mentioned the latter simply in keeping with the members of his faction? This is assuming that we believe it is valid to view the scholars in this way, which insinuates that they are obfuscators whose true opinion can not be reached in anything. How many of the obligatory precautions of the jurists arise from this point of view (in terms of taking into account the internal circumstances of the Shīʿa over the external reality)? Therefore, why doesn’t the paradigm of Shaykh al-Mufīd follow suit?[6]

Some of us today—whenever we face embarrassment or an intellectual problem somewhere—state: “This is because of Taqiyyah; this was lost out of Taqiyyah and fear; this has been overlooked because of Taqiyyah; this was said in Taqiyyah; this is an act of Taqiyyah.” However, they do not provide objective evidence for Taqiyyah and its occurrence here or there, and this is the greatest evidence for the non-Imāmī to accuse with their nefarious statements: “The scholars and members of this sect cannot be relied upon for anything. Their behavior is based on deception and Taqiyyah, and it is not possible to discover their true opinion amid the chaos of the overlapping and ambiguous speech they present!!”[7]

Indeed, some of us today have also portrayed the Imāms as issuing thousands of their narrations under the auspices of Taqiyyah. Even in the simplest details related to jurisprudence, morals and ethics–most of which pertain to issues regarding which Muslim scholars at large have strongly differed. This has devolved to the point that we present their role – peace be upon them – as explaining religion in a vague and elusive manner that would confuse the minds of scholars, narrators, and jurists after them. If this is the case, how can we truly reconcile claiming that they were elucidating the creed while we are presenting them in this light?!

Whenever we reach an embarrassing point for our personal convictions, we say that the Imām said this in Taqiyyah to facilitate overlooking a hadith with an authentic chain of transmission here or a reliable narration there; this is all without providing any concrete evidence for dissimulation in the case in question! What exposition of the truth are we claiming when we present thousands of texts where the Imāms are saying other than the truth?! Often this is only for reasons such as the acquittal of the narrators from fabrication and insertion; or a lack of proper historical/temporal contextualization of some of the statements from the Imāms. In order to exculpate some narrators, some of us –without realizing—have turned the Imāms into people who say something [different] every day. To demonstrate, review the books of some people in their dealings with hadith and how they excessively employ the pretext of Taqiyyah: to the extent that they have turned the Ahl al-Bāyt into people who if you entered upon them today they would say something to you, and if you entered upon them by yourself tomorrow, they would say something entirely different! Is this really a legitimate and pioneering method of explaining religion or simply an ambiguous pretext engineered to preserve some texts, narrators, and convictions?!

The issue has reached the point that some conflicting narrations justified under Taqiyyah are narrated by a single person, such as Muḥammad b. Muslim; and this is a real example: how can the Imām practice Taqiyyah towards him in one place and not so in another? This needs a historical explanation: if there was another presence other than Muḥammad b. Muslim on one of these two occasions, why did Muḥammad b. Muslim himself not refer to that, while he is the one who is supposed to know more than anyone the on-the-ground reality for the Imāms, having lived with it himself?

Using the idea of Taqiyyah in this excessive way to escape from any historical fact is– it may be contended—nothing but a deception. You must prove your claim with evidence, even if there should be a prevailing view that such matters were issued under a state of Taqiyyah (e.g. you should be able to substantiate that it would severely have affected the government in a sensitive circumstance such that people would really have had cause to be afraid).

Instead of presenting the Ahl al-Bāyt as men who are always afraid of every reaction that others perpetuate against them, we must present them as men who speak the truth and do not fear for God the blame of the blamer, as is the manner of the prophets and the path of the saints in the Noble Qur’ān.[8] As long as the matter does not reach the point of death, loss of life, great corruption, and so on, this [Taqiyyah] has a very specific requisite whose circumstances must be carefully studied. It should not be the case that whenever we encounter a conflict between the narrations or a problem here or there, we throw the idea of Taqiyyah at it without evidence, to the point that some of us employ it flippantly. 

Does the apprehension of the other Muslims from the truth really demand the Imāms to disseminate something other than the truth, even though they could have sufficed with being silent about the matter rather than uttering falsehood and what is patently incorrect?!

A phenomenon stranger still is that some people consider certain narrations as having been issued under Taqiyyah, even though the Imāms’ inference of this ruling is substantiated through his very referencing the Holy Qur’ān. How can the Imām practice Taqiyyah to such an extent that he buttresses a wrong opinion with [Qur’ānic] evidence for its ruling?! Is this the approach of the Noble Qur’ān upon which the Ahl al-Bāyt are steadfast? Is it really to such a degree that religious truths are diluted, such that the Shīʿas themselves (contemporaries and those after them) get confused in comprehending what the Imāms mean? Would the Imāms really do that?! Are we supposed to believe two or three narrations that say that the Imāms used to find disagreement among the Shīʿas, and tell each group a different ruling from the other group in order to show the people that they are differing between each other?! Was it not possible for the Imāms – instead of misleading the Shīʿas in this way until they became lost in the knowledge of the truth – to inform them of the truth and ask them to differentiate themselves from each other while practicing in front of others in order to protect them? Which of these would be more preservatory for the religion? Do we not have the right to pause and scrutinize the text of these very few narrations?

As I referred to in my research on textual criticism of ḥadīth, I advocate for reconsidering the stereotypical image that some of us present of the Imāms: that they say a contradictory statement every day and that they presented more than one religion to their Shīʿa, causing them to wander and be lost. Instead, let us accuse the narrators as the cause – intentionally or unintentionally – of the conflation and contradiction of narrations. After all, don’t some Shīʿas accuse the Sunnīs of underestimating the value of the Prophet in order to preserve [the status of] the Companions? Is it not important that the Shīʿa pay attention to this issue so as to not disparage the image of the Imāms under the pretense of upholding their companions? I know that this speech may encounter some psychological reservations, especially after we have become so accustomed to this stereotype that we no longer feel that it is a distorted picture in the first place. But I present a sincere invitation to understand the Ahl al-Bāyt as men who speak the truth without fear, and with no regard for the evaluation of others. Yes, in unequivocally exigent cases, some issues may be explained as having engendered dissimulation, but these remain exclusive to a very limited number of topics, ideas, and stances.

Were the Imāms obligated to answer every question while they were reported to have said to their companions: “it is upon you to ask and we do not have to answer?”[9] Why don’t they keep quiet instead of saying what they know is not the truth in religion? And suppose that they would express an opinion contrary to Mālik or Abū Ḥanīfa: will this contrary view really precipitate their imprisonment while Abū Ḥanīfa was himself persecuted in the first ʿAbbasid state?[10]

Do we not have the right to demand that we reconsider this image of the Ahl al-Bāyt that some of us are presenting—that perhaps the origin of this image is the narrators or some Ghulāt (extremists) who wanted to tell people that they possessed some secret knowledge? Perhaps these extremists desired to tell people that if they saw narrations that opposed what were claiming regarding the secrets of the Ahl al-Bāyt, they should not reject them, because the Ahl al-Bāyt say opposing things tactfully under Taqiyyah, etc.[11]

Shouldn’t this possibility be scientifically placed on the research table to study this view according to more than one historical assumption? How was Imām al- Ṣādiq (a) regarding whom we narrate had thousands of students (that is, he had a large audience in scientific circles, and was a revered man who was respected among the people of knowledge and asceticism among Muslims), practicing Taqiyyah in this excessive manner? Such that he would not only fold his arms in prayer, but rather would also clarify religion erroneously stating, for example: fold your arms in prayer? This is all the while knowing that Mālik and his madhhab (school of jurisprudence) did not consider folding the arms as obligatory and even found believing in its invalidity unobjectionable? Is there really any historical data confirming that the dangers were affecting even these partial details, regarding which great and detailed differences occurred between the Sunnīs themselves, especially since everyone knows that the ʿAbbasid state did not witness the declaration of a jurisprudential school as the official doctrine until after – at least – Imām al-Kāẓim (a). Therefore, your dropping the idea of an official madhhab upon those times also needs in-depth study, as it may be completely inaccurate. This could rather be an unsubstantiated generalization to justify the fear of wasting hadith texts or falling into problems with chains and narrators.

I present this view for debate to reconsider this image from the beginning, in a way where we are ready to practice criticism of the narrators and their methods of transmitting ḥadīth; more than transforming the Ahl al-Bāyt into personalities that some of us would conceive as though unqualified to reliably present religious teachings to the communities of even their time, let alone those who came after, God forbid! And everyone who is familiar with the problem of ḥadīth contradiction among the Imāmīyyah and the ways in which some deal with it comprehends the magnitude of the issue I am talking about, its importance, and the impact of our stance on the development of a completely different methodology in dealing with the hadith heritage.

My discourse here is intellectually provocative, but in my humble view it is quite pressing. I know that there are those who will say: What will you do with the narrations regarding the solution for contradictions by taking what contradicts the Sunnīs and so on?[12] I say to that: All of them (and they are few in number) must be examined, according to a thesis that at least takes into account the problem raised above. I do not throw my words here out of thin air, God willing, for I have delivered a number of lessons in Bahth al-Khārij related to this issue, the content of which has yet to be published. Because I think that some of us have presented Ahl al-Bāyt in the form of security personnel and intelligence spies who change their colors every day, God forbid. In this research, I have dealt with everything that has been proposed to justify the idea of Taqiyyah (I mean here Taqiyyah in the domain of clarification of the creed by the Imāms of the creed who are entrusted with it; not Taqiyyah in the world of practicing religion, so pay attention and know the subject of our research, so that no one thinks that I am talking about the fundamental principle of Taqiyyah or that I reject it. This is not true at all.).

I criticized the idea of ​​“wisdom in their disagreement” and concluded that no narration for adopting that which “disagrees with the Sunnīs” was authentic by its chain, even the narration of Al-Rāwandī that was authenticated by Sayyid al-Ṣadr, in addition to the number of these narrations being very few. Therefore, I did not resolve on a binding criterion for giving preference to the ḥadīth that is said to disagree with the Sunnīs, except within a very narrow scope, in agreement with some other scholars, such as Al-Muḥaqqiq Al-Khurāsānī author of Al-Kifāya (who said in gist that it is simply an option not a preference); not the last of them being Sayyid Taqī al-Qummī, may Allah have mercy on him. 

It is also important for me to point out that my observation is on the excessive use of the concept of Taqiyyah in explaining religion and applying it to the Imāms; it is a method that some have followed, but when we review the works of many scholars, we do not find in them this excessive proclivity. Rather we find that they are logical and balanced in applying the principle of Taqiyyah to the guidance of the Imām. I say this so that the reader, especially the non-Imāmī, does not inaccurately envision the efforts of previous and contemporary scholars.[13]

Third: Some of what you mentioned from the books of Shaykh al-Mufīd requires a discussion about its attribution to him, such as the book Al-Ikhtiṣāṣ, which Sayyid al-Khoeī for example does not see as being by Shaykh al-Mufīd but rather considers the matter to be uncertain.[14] As for the other books that you mentioned by him presuming that they express his theological opinion, such as Kitāb al-Amālī, then these are rather ḥadīth books; there is no evidence that the Muḥaddith necessarily adopts what he narrates in his ḥadīth books, unless there is a presumption or testimony to it as in the example of Shaykh al-Ṣadūq’s introduction to Kitāb Man lā yaḥḍuruh al-faqīh.[15]

Fourth: Why is Shaykh al-Mufīd obliged to practice dissimulation when he was the Imām of theology and jurisprudence in Baghdād in the era of the Buyid Shīʿīte state? Furthermore, even if we accept such a proposition, how did Shaykh al-Mufīd dissimulate in one book without doing so in another book? Even in the same Awā’il al-Maqālāt, he did not leave any faction but that he criticized it or disagreed with it; now wouldn’t others be able to recognize his other books through which they would be informed of the facts of his opinions and expose his dissimulation? Were all his other books hidden and clandestinely circulated only by the Shīʿas, while the book of Awā’il al-Maqālāt was circulated by all people? Where is the evidence for that?

Fifth: Why should the stances of Shaykh al-Mufīd be interpreted in a manner that is in agreement with the consensus? What is the evidence for that? Is there evidence that proves that Shaykh al-Mufīd cannot contradict the consensus on theological issues, especially given that consensus bears no weight in these matters according to Shaykh al-Mufīd and the other proponents of rational theology among the Imāmiyyah?[16]

Sixth: The contention of the posthumous publication of Shaykh al-Mufīd’s books requires evidence. Even if we relent, how many scholars have there been whose books were not published until after their deaths?! Not the least of them is Mīrzā Jawād Tabrīzī, may God have mercy on him. This is quite a normal phenomenon, but how does it substantiate his dissimulation? Rather, it is strange that his students would wait until after his death to publish books like Awā’il al-Maqālāt, which were purportedly issued under Taqiyyah anyway. If these books did not express his true opinion, then their publication after his death is frivolous. 

Now if his students waited to publish books like al-Ikhtiṣāṣ and others, then why don’t we doubt the authenticity of its attribution to him given they were published after his death, and we do not have manuscript copies of it dating back to his century and time? If we open up this floodgate, the problem will subsume dozens of other scholars as well. 

Seventh: What does it mean that Shaykh Al-Mufīd’s statement is the balanced opinion of the sect? His opinion is his opinion, and every person has the right to agree with him or disagree with him; just because his opinions are a middle ground between opinions does not mean they are balanced and true. There is no scholar who fully represents the Shīʿīte sect throughout history; rather they are all doing Ijtihād in theological issues.[17]

What can be posited to represent the opinion of Shīʿas from a historical-descriptive point of view is the consensus opinion, not the opinion of such-and-such scholar, whether he be Shaykh al-Mufīd or Al-Ḥāfiẓ Al-Bursī. Accordingly, the question of how we take al-Mufīd’s arguments as probative while his books are contradictory becomes meaningless. This contradiction should simply imply that he changed his views;  we ought not to take his views as probative in the first place, because scholars are substantiated by content not by their stature. In fact, it suffices for him to have chosen an unorthodox view at some point of his life in order for us to substantiate that some scholars of our sect diverged from the mainstream, even if only during some periods of their lives.

Perhaps he changed his opinion at the end of his life, and not in the beginning, which would further reinforce this breach of consensus. For instance, Shaykh al-Ṭūsī in the book Al-Mabsūṭ believes in the prohibition of fish that do not have scales, but in al-Istibṣār and al-Tahdhīb,  he issues that all sea fish are permissible except for the hagfish in particular. This is why some scholars said that his view in al-Istibṣār breaks the consensus of the sect, even if he modified it in Al-Mabsūṭ because it created a rift in the assumed cohesion between the stances of scholars.[18]


1 We are indebted to Muhammad Jaffer for adding insightful footnotes in this important piece.
2 On this front, consider the work of Mūḥsin Kadivār and Ṣalehi Najafabādi, who proposed that believing in the Imāms as merely “pious scholars” (‘ulama abrār) had precedent in the works of the early Shi’ite theologians. Notwithstanding, some Shīʿa historians such as Hassan Ansari have critiqued these two individuals and questioned their historical understanding of Shi’ite theology.
3 Prior to the emergence of Sadran existential metaphysics, the Avicennan philosophical view prevailed that quiddities enjoyed primacy over existence. By introducing his new thesis on the primacy of existence, Sadra became the founder of a new school of thought known as Transcendent Theosophy (al-Ḥikmah al-Muta’aliyah)
4 The esteemed author of Kāmil al-Ziyārāt is Ibn Qūlawayh, writes in his introduction to the book that he did not include narrations in his book except from reliable people. Scholars have differed in interpreting this statement. In the early part of his life, Sayyid Al-Khoeī used to believe that this meant all the narrators in Kāmil al-Ziyārāt whose chains go back to the Infallible were reliable. However, in the latter part of his life he came to believe that ibn Qulawayh only meant that he took narrations from his reliable teachers, not that the entire chains were authentic. This dramatically changed his view on the book, as there are plenty of hadith in Kāmil al-Ziyārāt whose narrators cannot be independently authenticated.
5 Al-istiṣḥāb, or the principle of presuming continuity, is a subject of complex discussion in Shīʿa fiqh. In essence, this principle states that one should not contradict a prior conviction with a future doubt. While this principle was widely applied by previous jurists, Sayyid Al-Khoeī came to limit the scope of this principle in his jurisprudential works. He proposed that it should not be applied when there are two contradictory doubts, both of which are built on a previous conviction (e.g., being unsure about whether salat al-jumu’ah is mandatory during the period of ghaybah; there is a conviction that it was mandatory during the time of the previous Imāms, but also a competing conviction that this rule had applied specifically during the physical presence of the Imām). Further details regarding this issue should be sought within jurisprudential works, as they are outside the scope of this discussion.
6 In other words, if Shaykh al-Mufīd is presenting multiple views, is it not presumptuous to conclude that he actually accepts the majority opinion? Perhaps he is doing dissimulation from his own compatriots. Indeed, sometimes a scholar must be judicious about revealing his actual views due to how society may perceive it. For instance, consider Sayyid Sīstānī abstaining from issuing a religious edict about Taṭbīr (self-flagellation) due to the internal turmoil within the Shīʿa community about this issue.
7 Perhaps Ḥobbollāh is alluding to a famous statement of Ibn Taymiyyah here, where he accuses the Shīʿa of being the “most lying of all sects.” Many other Sunnī scholars have made similar observations.
8 Consider the verse of the Holy Qur’ān: “Those who deliver the messages of Allah and fear Him, and do not fear any one but Allah; and Allah is sufficient to take account.” (33:39)
9 This hadith may be found in al-Kāfi of Shaykh al-Kulaynī:
10 Abū Jaʿfar al-Mansūr imprisoned Abū Ḥanīfa after he refused to accept a position as his Chief Qāḍī. There is evidence that Abū Ḥanīfa secretly supported the Zaydī movement and did not have a favorable opinion of the ʿAbbasid regime.
11 In fact, some individuals have recently emerged claiming exactly this, defending well-known extremists and even accursed individuals such as Abū al-Khattāb by amply employing the justification of Taqiyyah.
12 This is a principle present in conciliatory Ḥadīth studies within Shīʿīsm entitled, “Mukhalafat al-‘Ammah” (contradicting the Sunnīs). This is based on a number of Shīʿa narrations which propose taking the edict that goes against the grain as the correct one. One famous narration that mentions this principle is the Maqbūla of ʿUmar b. Ḥanẓala, see Al-Kāfi:
13 In fact, this tendency to use Taqiyyah in justification narrations only became widespread after the time of Shaykh al-Ṭūsī. His predecessors such as Shaykh al-Ṣadūq, al-Mufīd, and Sharīf al-Murtaḍā did not amply employ this justification to reconcile contradictory narrations at all, because their paradigm for approaching hadith was entirely different. For further details, advanced readers are recommended to read this excellent article that further analyzes this issue:رؤيةٌ-حول-حمل-الروايات-على-التقية/
14 For further discussion reading on the authorship of this book refer to: Who is the author of Al-Ikhtiṣāṣ?
15 Shaykh al-Ṣadūq states that he only includes narrations within Kitāb Man lā yaḥḍuruh al-faqīh that he himself utilizes for issuing religious edicts. It is only when a scholar makes such a statement that it can be assumed the narrations he includes in his book actually represent his views.
16 Therefore, we find Shaykh al-Mufīd critiquing many of the orthodox theological positions proposed by Shaykh al-Ṣadūq in his Taṣḥīḥ al-I’tiqādāt al-Imāmīyyah. He did not believe in the authoritativeness of presumed consensus in theological issues.
17 There have been some great scholars who have critiqued the views of Shaykh al-Mufīd regarding certain theological issues. For instance, we have translated the contemporary Shaykh Rūḥullāh Malekiān’s critique of al-Mufīd’s arguments pertaining to the Verse of Mawaddah. The link may be found here:
18 In other words, Ḥobbollāh is alluding to the fact that the early scholars did not always respect the supposed principle of consensus; rather they were courageous enough to sometimes adopt unorthodox views. This should give us pause regarding the probative significance of this principle.

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