Some Lessons from Jurisprudence (Fiqh)
Or, for example, the actions of the Hajj are themseives obligatory, but the acquiring of a passport and ticket and the other preparations are obligatory in preparation. Prayer is a nafsi obligation, while to take Wuzu or ghusl or tayammum as their substitute in order to enter the state of cleanliness necessary for the prayer are not obligatory until the time of prayer has begun, and then not for themselves, but as an obligatory preparation for the obligatory prayer. Thus the Hajj and the ritual prayers are both nafsi obligations, while acquiring a passport or taking ablution are muqaddami obligations.
Lesson Two: Brief History of Jurisprudence and Jurisprudents
As we mentioned in the previous lessons, one of the preparations for learning about any field of knowledge is to pay attention to the famous personalities of that field, the views and ideas of whom were important, and to its important books.
Jurisprudence, the jurisprudence in which books have been classified and compiled that are still studied today, has a history of eleven hundred years, meaning that for eleven centuries, without a break, centres for the studying of jurisprudence and the related studies have existed. Masters have trained students and those students in their turn have trained other students, and this has continued down the ages until today. Furthermore, this relationship between master and pupil has never been broken.
Other fields, of course, like philosophy, logic, arithmetic and medicine have been studied for far longer, and books exist on. these subjects that are older than the books that exist on jurisprudence. Perhaps in none of these subjects, however, can the guarding of the same kind of ever-present relationship between master and pupil be shown that has existed in jurisprudence. Even if such constant relationships existed in other subjects, still they are particular to the fields of Islamic studies. Only in the Islamic world does the system of teaching and studying have a continuous uninterrupted history going back over a thousand years.
The Shi'ite Jurisprudents
We will begin the history of the Shi'ite jurisprudents from the period of the Imam's "minor occultation" (260-320 A.H.), and this we will do for two reasons:
First, the period previous to the "minor occultation" was the period of the presence of the holy Imams, and in the period of their presence, although there were jurisprudents and mujtahids who were able to make their own verdicts, who had been encouraged by the Imams to do so, yet due to the presence of the Imams they were nevertheless outshone by the brilliance of the Imams. That is, the referral of problems to the verdicts of the jurisprudents is because of there being no access to the Imams. In the period of the Imams' presence, however, people tried as far as possible to refer to the original sources of the Imams. Similarly, even the jurisprudents, bearing in mind distances and other difficulties, used to place their own problems before the Imams whenever they could.
Second, in the formal, classified jurisprudence, we are limited to the period of the minor occultation, for none of the actual books in jurisprudence from that period has reached us, or, if any have, I have no information about it.
All the same, amongst the Shi'ites there were great jurisprudents during the days of the holy Imams, whose value can become apparent and determined by comparing them with the jurisprudents of their period from other sects. The Sunni, ibn Nadin writes in his book Fihrist about Husein ibn Sa'id Ahwazi and his brother, both notable Shi'ite jurisprudents, "They were the best of those of their time in knowledge of jurisprudence, effects (i.e. writings and compilations) and talents," and, about 'Ali ibn Ibrahim Qumi he writes, "Amongst the 'ulema and jurisprudents," and, about Muhammad ibn Hasan ibn Ahmad ibn Walid, "And he has amongst books the book Jam'e fil-fiqh".