IMAM HUSAIN ISLAMIC CENTRE “Light of Guidance and Ark of Salvation”
November, 19 2017 - 10:14 AM 29 Safar 1439

Chapter One: Definition, History, Subjects

Chapter One: Definition, History, Subjects

Definition: Usulul-Fiqh is a combination of two words; ‘Usul’ which means principles or roots and ‘Fiqh’. The Arabic term ‘Fiqh’ literally means deep understanding. Thus, Faqih is an expert in Islam. Nonetheless, from the 2nd century the term was used to mean deep understanding and deduction of the practical laws of Islam from its reliable sources. In short, it is also translated to ‘Islamic Jurisprudence’. Thus, Usulul-Fiqh is ‘the science of common principles in deducting jurisprudential rules’. [al-Sadr, 1:43] The relation between Usulul-Fiqh to Fiqh is similar to that of logic to philosophy. Therefore, Usulul-Fiqh enables a Faqih to make a systematically correct jurisprudential deduction and inference. 

Significance: Out of all different sciences necessary for jurisprudential deduction such as mastering Arabic literature, Narratology (E’lmul-Hadith), the science of the biography of the narrators (E’lmul-Rejal), interpretation of the jurisprudential Ayaat of the Quran and logic, Usulul-Fiqh is the most important one. Thus, at least in the recent decades most of the studying period of the students of Fiqh will be spent in learning Usulul-Fiqh. Nonetheless, a mere mastering the Usulul-Fiqh does not make a person a Faqih, insomuch as a mere learning medicine will not mean a person is a physician unless he/she is enabled to correctly diagnose the disease and prescribe a relevant medicine.  

History: Usulul-Fiqh is a science invented by Muslims and is developed within the science of Fiqh to help the jurist in his deduction. Similarly, Fiqh is an Islamic science which was developed within the science of Hadith (Narratology).  Ibn Khaldoon in his ‘Introduction’ asserts that Imam Shafe’i (150-240AH) was the first author in Usulul-Fiqh. However, Ayatollah Seyyed Hasan al-Sadr in ‘The Establishment of Shi’a’ shows that Hisham Ibn Hakam; the student of Imam Sadiq (martyred in 148AH) was the first Shi’a scholar who wrote on the topic. In fact, the first inventors of Usulul-Fiqh were Imam Baqir and Imam Sadiq (a.s). In a famous Hadith Imam Sadiq (a.s) said to Hisham Ibn Salem: “Surely, it is out duty to deliver to you the principles and it is your duty to deduct the details.” [al-Wasa’el vol.27:p.61]

The oldest text book on Usulul-Fiqh in the Shi’a seminary was ‘al-Tathkera’(The Rminding) compiled by the late Sheikh al-Mufid (died in 413 AH). Then the work of Seyyed al-Murtadha (died in 436 AH) called ‘al-Thari’a (The Instrument). The most famous textbook of the 5th century was ‘Uddatul-Usul’ (The Equipments of Usul) written by the late Sheikh al-Tousi. This book was the main recognised textbook for several centuries. Another ancient textbook was ‘Ma’alemul-Usul’ (the Outlines of Usul) written by Sheikh al-Hasan (died in 1011 AH); the son of the 2nd Shahid (Sh. Zainul-Din al-Ameli). This book has been one of the textbooks in the Islamic seminaries. In recent years it’s being nearly replaced by some other books.

Usulul-Fiqh in the last two hundred years was boasted by the works of Sheikh Wahid Behbahani as a response to the trend of Traditionalists (al-Akhbariyyoun) especially Mulla Muhammad Amin al-Istrabadi. In the last 150 years the school of Sheikh Murtadha al-Ansari (died in 1281AH) has been the most influential school in Usulul-Fiqh and his book Fara’edul-Usul(The Gems of Usul) coupled with al-Makaseb (The Transactions) are two important textbooks.

Subjects: The subjects in Usulul-Fiqh rotate around two expressions; 1) the Evidence (al-Daleel) and 2) The Principle (al-Asl). The Evidence(s) is any Ayah of the Quran or a Hadith which clearly answers a jurisprudential question. The Principle(s) on the other hand is a general rule for deduction in the absence of evidence. The Principles are also called ‘Practical Principles’ because they are a practical remedy for certain circumstances. 

The Evidence is also divided into 1) divine evidence (Daleel Shar’i) such as the Quran, and the Sunna, and 2) Rational evidence (Daleel ‘Aqli) such as the compulsion of the preliminary stages of an obligation.

The Chart of the Main Subjects in Usulul-Fiqh

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