An Outline of the History of Restriction on Ijtihad
The original in Arabic appeared under the title Ta'rikh hasr al-ijtihad (Qumm: Matba'at al-Khayyam, 1401 A.H), a publication of Madrasat al-Imam al Mahdi ('a), Khunsar, and edited by Muhammad 'Ali al-Ansari al-Shushtari. Muhammad Muhsin Aqa Buzurg Tehrani (1293-1389/1876-1969), the author of al-Dhari'ah ila tasanif al-Shi'ah, the well-known bibliographical book on works written by Shi'i authors from the earliest times to the contemporary era, was an eminent contemporary scholar. His other writings include, Tabaqat a'lam al-Shi'ah (a biographical work on eminent Shi'i scholars from the 4th/10th to the 14th/20th century), Musaff a al-maqal fi musannifi 'ilm al-rijal (accounts of about 500 Shi'i scholars who have written on 'ilm al-rijal), Hadiyyat al-razi ila almujaddid al-Shirazi (a biography of al-Mirza Muhammad Hasan al-Shirazi, well known for his famous fatwa against the granting of monopoly rights on tobacco trade to a British company by Nasir al-Din Shah, the Qajar ruler), al-Naqd al-latif fi nafy al-tahrif 'an al-Qur'an a-sharif (on refutation of tahrif in the Qur'an), and Taf nid qawl al-awam bi qidam al-kalam (dealing with the well-known theological controversy between the Mu'tazilites and the Ash'arites concerning the eternity of the Qur'an). The editor of the Arabic text has written footnotes, most of which that were relevant to a translation have been retained here as endnotes.
Al-Sayyid Ja'far ibn al-Sayyid Hasan al-A'raji al-Musili, learned, felicitous, pious, and excellent, may God grant you a long life dedicated to the revival of the Law of your most immaculate ancestor-you have asked me to write something describing the causes of the differences of the Sunni legal schools (madhahib al' ammah) concerning religious law (furu' ahkam al-din), the emergence of the four schools, the reasons of their adoption to the exclusion of other schools, the history of events leading to their exclusive recognition, the reasons behind the difference of opinion amongst Shi'i 'ulama' in many legal issues, and the history of emergence of the Shi'i school of law.
In responding to your request I say: To be certain the eminent amongst the scholars of the Ummah have written books and treatises on these issues in the past. Therein they have recorded its history as it had reached them, explaining amply the causes of these differences as disclosed by authentic sources and in a manner acceptable to reason, so as to remove almost all doubts and misconceptions by making manifest the truth like a shining torch for one and all.
However, as these books contain what appear to be signs of sectarian bias, which largely inspired the polemics of those times, these explanations fail to have the desired effect in cutting the roots of controversy and ushering in the spirit of harmony and accord.
However, in this age of enlightenment and brilliance, radiant with the light of knowledge, and freedom from the bondage of imitation based upon ignorance, we and our correligionists are hopeful that God, the Exalted, would grant us success in abandoning sterile bias and blameworthy imitation, so that the truth becomes manifest for us like the light on Mount Sinai through this treatise Tawdih al-rashad fi ta'rikh hasr al-ijtihad that I intend to set before our brethren, may God grant them success in reflecting over these words, which contain a reminder for the servants of God to remove restrictions on the practice of ijtihad. I do not write except with the aim to reveal the truth, and
I desire only to set things right, so far as I am able. My success is only with God. (11:88)
[The Beginning of Disagreement Amongst Muslims:]
There is no doubt that disagreement among Muslims in the sphere of religious law (furu' al-din) began only after the Prophet's (s) demise and not in his lifetime. The whole Ummah used to seek guidance from the light of his sciences in all the spheres and without the temerity to present any opinion in opposition to him, because that would have violated their affirmation [of the Qur'anic statement concerning him] that: