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Shaykh Tusi

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Shaykh Tusi

Muslim scholar
Abu Ja'far al-Tusi
Title Shaykh al-Tayefah
Born 996
Died 1067
Ethnicity Persian
Era Islamic golden age
Denomination Shia Islam
Jurisprudence Twelver
Main interest(s) Kalam, Tafsir, Hadith, Ilm ar-Rijal, Usul and Fiqh
Notable work(s) founder of seminary of Najaf, writer of Tahdhib al-Ahkam and Al-Istibsar and Al-Tibyan

Shaykh Tusi (Persian: شیخ توسی‎), full name: Abu Jafar Muhammad Ibn Hassan Tusi (Persian: ابوجعفر محمد بن حسن توسی‎), known as Shaykh al-Taʾifah (Arabic: شيخ الطائفة‎) was a prominent Persian scholar of the Shi'a Twelver Islamic belief.

His Life


Abu Jaʿfar Muhammad b. al-Hasan b. ʿAli b. al-Hasan al-Tusi was born in Tus in Iran in the year 996 AD/385 of the Islamic era.

Middle Years

Al-Shaikh al-Tusi grew up in Tus and began his studies there. In 1018 AD/408 A.H. he left Tus to study in Baghdad. There he first studied under al-Shaikh al-Mufid, who died in 1022 AD/413 A.H. Leadership of the Shi'ite scholars then fell to al-Sharif al-Murtada. The latter remained in this position until his death in 1045 AD/436 A.H. During this time al-Shaikh al-Tusi was closely associated with al-Sharif al-Murtada. His vast scholarship and learning made him a natural successor of al-Sharif al-Murtada as the leading spokesman of Shi'ite Islam. So impressive was his learning that the Abbasid caliph, al-Qadir, attended his lectures and sought to honour him.

In the closing years of al-Shaikh al-Tusi's life the political situation in Baghdad and the domains of the Abbasid caliphate was in turmoil. The Saljuqids fiercely anti-Shia, were gaining commanding power in the centre of the Islamic Empire at the expense of the Buyids who had always seemed tolerant to Shi'ite views. In 1055 AD/447 A.H Tughril-bek the leaders of the Saljuqids entered Baghdad. At this time many of the 'ulama' in Baghdad, both Sunni and Shiʿite were killed. The house of al-Shaikh al-Tusi was burnt down, as were his books and the works he had written in Baghdad, together with important libraries of Shi'ite books. Fanaticism against the Shi'a was great.


Al-Shaikh al-Tusi, seeing the danger of remaining in Baghdad, left and went to al-Najaf. Al-Najaf, the city where 'Ali b. Abi Talib is buried, was already a very important city in the hearts of Shi'ite Muslims. However, it was al-Shaikh al-Tusi's arrival which was to give that city the impetus to become the leading centre of Shi'ite scholarship. This is a role, which it has maintained down to the present day. Al-Shaikh al-Tusi died in al-Najaf on the 22nd of Muharram in the year 460 A.H/2 December 1067. His body was buried in a house there, which was made into a mosque as he had enjoined in his will. Al-Tusi was succeeded by his son al-Hasan, who was known as al-Mufid al-Thani, and was himself considered an outstanding scholar.

His Ideas

After completing his preliminary studies, in 408/1017 he left Khorasan, fundamentally Shafi'i and to an increasing degree controlled by the G̲h̲aznawid Maḥmūd, in favour of Baghdad, where the Shia Buwayhids were dominant. There, he studied under leading Imāmī masters including Abu ʾl-Ḥasan Ibn Abī Ḏj̲ūd, Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Mūsā al-Ahwāzī, al-G̲h̲ad̓āʾirī, Ibn ʿAbdūn, and, in particular, the powerful doyen of Imāmī rationalists permeated by Muʿtazilī dialectic, al-S̲h̲ayk̲h̲ al-Mufīd [q.v.], of whom hequickly became, in spite of his youth, one of the favourite pupils (on the rationalist evolution of Imāmism, see Amir Moezzi, 1992, 15-48). On the deathof al-Mufīd in 413/1022, his disciple al-S̲h̲arīf al-Murtad̓ā ʿAlam al-Hudā [q.v.], who had also studied under the Muʿtazilī ʿAbd al-Ḏj̲abbār [q.v.], took over the leadership of the Imāmīs of the capital. Ṭūsī subsequently became his principal disciple. Eminent scholars and former pupils of al-Mufīd, such as al-Nad̲j̲ās̲h̲ī, al-Karād̲j̲akī or Abū Yaʿlā al-Ḏj̲aʿfarī, were still living in Baghdad, but on the death of al-Murtad̓ā in 436/1044 he was succeeded by Ṭūsī. In fact, by this time he had already amassed an impressive bibliography and had succeeded in gaining the support of numerous Buwayhids and of the caliph Ḳāʾim (422-67/1031-75), who appointed him to the principal chair of theology, the most prestigious of the capital. Heir to a substantial proportion of the great Imāmī libraries of the time, that of the dār al-ʿilm founded by Sābūr b. Ardas̲h̲īr (more than 100,000 works) and that of al-Murtad̓ā (almost 80,000 works), Ṭūsī composed some fifty books and his house, in the Shia quarter of Kark̲h̲ [q.v.], became for a period of more than ten years the virtual intellectual centre of Imāmism.

Under the Buwayhids, numerous religious riots had caused bloodshed in the capital. In 447-8/1056-7, ¶ after the al-Basāsīrī episode, the invasion of Bag̲h̲dād by the Sald̲j̲ūḳṬog̲h̲ri̊l and the end of the Buwayhids, the anti-Shia coalition, led by Hanbali traditionalists, sacked the quarters of Kark̲h̲ and of Bāb al-Ṭāḳ. Al-Ṭūsī’s home and library were burnt and he himself took refuge in Najaf. There he remained until his death, continuing to teach a limited circle of disciples, including his own son Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan who succeeded him. Also worthy of mention among his disciples were Sulaymān al-Ṣahras̲h̲tī, al-Ḥasan b. al-Ḥusayn b. Bābawayh (nephew of Ibn Bābawayh al-Ṣadūḳ), Isḥāḳb. Muḥammad al-Ḳummī (grandson of al-Ṣadūḳ), S̲h̲ahrās̲h̲ūb al-Māzandarānī (grandfather of the famous author of the Manāḳib ) and also al-Fattāl al-Nīsābūrī.

In his work, Ṭūsī attempts to modify the radically rationalist and pragmatic positions of al-Murtad̓ā (positions already present in embryonic form in the work of al-Mufid): rehabilitation of the first traditionists, ilm-ul-hadith attested by a single authority so long as these are conveyed by reliable sources and conditional validity of traditions conveyed by transmitters professing “deviant” doctrines. In politics, serving an unlawful government (in this instance, the ʿAbbāsid caliphate) is in certain circumstances desirable, and collaboration with a power claiming that its authority derives from the Hidden Imām (a clear reference to the Buwayhids) can be commendable, but neither the one nor the other is ever obligatory (as was apparently advocated by al-Murtad̓ā). At the same time, Ṭūsī has constant recourse to reasoned argumentation based on id̲j̲tihād and he begins to sketch the notion of the “general representation” (al-niyāba al-ʿāmma) of the Hidden Imām entrusted to jurist-theologians who may, if the need arises, exercise the prerogatives traditionally reserved for the historical Imāms. In completing and modifying the work of al-Mufīd and of al-Murtad̓ā, Ṭūsī succeeded in endowing Imāmī law with a structure and a scope of activity practically independent of the figure of the Imām. Thus his work was to provide rationalist Imāmism, known from the following century onward as al-uṣūliyya, with solid intellectual bases, enabling it to experience a lengthy evolution which would lead ultimately to an ever-increasing assumption of power by Imāmī mud̲j̲tahids in the economic, social and political fields. The immense and lasting influence of the work of Ṭūsī earned him the honorific nickname of S̲h̲ayk̲h̲ al-Ṭāʾifa [al-Imāmiyya] or simply al-S̲h̲ayk̲h̲ .

In his Fihrist, Ṭūsī gives a list of 43 of his own works; later he would have composed several more (Ṭihrānī, introd. to Tibyān). They are devoted to exegesis (3 titles), law (11), the foundations of law (2), ḥadīt̲h̲ (3), rid̲j̲āl (3), theology and heresiography (16), prayers and Imāmī piety (5), historiography (2), replies to the questions of disciples (3) [introd. by Wāʿiz̦-zāda toal-Ḏj̲umalwa ʾl-ʿuḳūd]. The following list is confined to the best known of these works (and the most widely available editions): al-Istibṣār and Tahd̲h̲īb al-aḥkām, ed. al-Ḵh̲arsān, Nad̲j̲af, respectively 1375-6 and1378–82, which form with the Kāfī of al-Kulaynī (329/949-1) and the Kitāb man lā yaḥd̓uruhu ʾl-faḳīh of Ibn Bābawayh al-Ṣadūḳ(381/991), the Four Canonical Books (al-kutub al-arbaʿa) of Imāmī ḥadīt̲h̲; al-Tibyān fī tafsīr al-Ḳurʾān (first great Imāmī rationalist commentary; ed. S̲h̲awḳī and ʿĀmilī, Nad̲j̲af 1376-83, 10 vols., with introd. by Āg̲h̲ā Buzurg al-Ṭihranī); Fihrist kutub al-s̲h̲īʿa (ed. Sprenger and ʿAbd Ḥaḳḳ, Calcutta 1848, repr. Mas̲h̲had 1972); Kitāb al-G̲h̲ayba (on the occultation of the Twelfth Imām, ed. Nad̲j̲af 1385); Rid̲j̲āl (revised summary of al-Kas̲h̲s̲h̲ī’s Maʿrifat al-nāḳilīn, Nad̲j̲af ¶ 1381); al-Iḳtiṣād fīmā yataʿallaḳ bi ʾl-iʿtiḳād, Beirut 1406; al-Amālī, Nad̲j̲af 1384; ʿUddat uṣūl, Nad̲j̲af 1403 (these three last works concern ḥadīt̲h̲ and dogma); al-Mabsūṭ fi ʾl-fiḳh, ed. Bihbūdī, repr. Tehran 1387-8; al-Nihāya fī mud̲j̲arrad fiḳh wa ʾl-fatāwā, Beirut 1390; al-Ḏj̲umal wa ʾl-ʿuḳūd fi ʾl-ʿibādāt (with introd. and Persian tr. by Wāʿiz̦-zāda, Mas̲h̲had 1374; Miṣbāḥ al-mutahad̲j̲d̲j̲id (in two versions—al-kabīr and al-ṣag̲h̲īr—on Imāmī piety, Tehran 1398; (the two works entitled Duʿāʾ al-d̲j̲aws̲h̲an al-kabīr and al-d̲j̲aws̲h̲an al-ṣag̲h̲īr, mentioned by Hidayet Hosain in EI 1, are not al-Ṭūsī’s and are probably drawn from the Miṣbāḥof al-Kafʿamī [9th/15th century]).

Among modern studies

Among modern studies, see the 102-page introd. by Ṭihrānī to al-Ṭūsī’s Tibyān, in Yād-nāma-yi S̲h̲ayk̲h̲ al-Ṭāʾifa... Ṭūsī, Mas̲h̲had 1348/1970; R. Brunschvig, Les uṣūl al-fiqh imâmites ā leur stade ancien, in Le shiisme imâmite, Colloque de Strasbourg, Paris 1970; M. Ramyar, Al-Shaikh al-Tusi, his life and works, Ph.D. thesis, Univ. of London 1971, unpubl.; H. Löschner, Die dogmatischen Grundlagen des schiʿitischen Rechts, Erlangen-Nuremberg-Cologne 1971, index, s.n.; M.J. McDermott, The theology of al-Shaikh al-Mufīd, Beirut 1978, index; S.A. Arjomand, The Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam, Chicago-London 1984, 32-65; H. Halm, Die Schia, Darmstadt 1988, 62-73, Eng. tr. Shiism, Edinburgh 1991, 56-8; E. Kohlberg, A medieval Muslim scholar at work. Ibn Ṭāwūs and his library, Leiden 1992, index; M.A. Amir-Moezzi, Le guide divin dans le shiʿisme originel, Paris 1992; idem, Remarques sur les critēres d’authenticité du hadithet l’authorité du juriste dans le shiʿisme imâmite, in SI, lxxxv (1997), 22 ff. He's the founder of seminary of Najaf.


Al-Tusi was succeeded by his son al-Hasan, who was known as al-Mufid al-Thani, and was himself considered an outstanding scholar. The seminary of Najaf Hawza#Hawza 'Ilmiyya Najaf, founded by Al-Tusi, remains the top Shi'ite theological institute in the world.

In Najaf, one of the largest collection of Shi'ite texts exists in a library named after al-Tusi. Online, the largest repository of Shi'ite digital e-books has been also labeled the Sheikh Tusi Digital Library. Both libraries are free for public use.

His books

Of the four authoritative resources of the Shiites, two are written by Shaykh Tusi. These two basic reference books are: Tahdhib al-Ahkam and Al-Istibsar. Both of these pertain to Hadiths of Islamic Jurisprudential decrees and injunctions.

3. Al-Nihayah

4. Al-Mabsut

5. Al-Khilaf

6. Iddat al-Usul

7. Al-Rijal

8. Al-Fehrist

9.Tamhid al-Usul

10. Al-Tibyan Fi Tafsir al-Quran

11. Kitab al-Ghaybah

See also


  • Shaykh Tusi
  • Jurisprudence (fiqh)
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