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Ḥillī, ʿAllāmah ibn al-Muṭahhar

Norman Calder, Chrystie Flournoy Swiney
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Ḥillī, ʿAllāmah ibn al-Muṭahhar

ʿAllāmah ibn al-Muṭahhar Ḥillī (648–726 AH / 1250–1325 CE) was a medieval scholar, jurist, and prominent Uṣūlī theologian of the Imāmī (or Ithnā ʿAsharī) Shīʿah.

Al-Ḥillī 's Early Years and Education.

Ḥasan ibn Yūsuf ibn al-Muṭahhar al-Ḥillī, known as ʿAllāmah (“the sage of Ḥilla”), was born and died in the Iraqi town of al-Ḥilla to a family of prominent Shīʿī theologians. His father, a shaykh, and maternal uncle oversaw ʿAllāmah 's early Islamic education, which included the traditional Shīʿī curriculum, but with significant input from Sunnī thinkers. ʿAllāmah 's Islamic education was complemented by his philosophical education, which he received at the Marāghah observatory under the direction of two eminent philosopher-theologians, Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī (d. 1274 CE) and al-Katibi al-Qazwīnī (d. 1277 CE).

Following the death of al-Ṭūsī, ʿAllāmah relocated to Baghdad where he studied alongside and engaged in heated debate with prominent Sunnī theologians. While in Baghdad, he befriended Öljeitü (r. 1304–1316 CE), the eighth Il-Khanid ruler of Persia, who allowed ʿAllāmah and his son to live in the royal court from roughly 1309 to 1314 and appointed ʿAllāmah as a teacher in the ruling madrasah. According to some bibliographical sources, ʿAllāmah 's influence inspired Öljeitü to convert to Imāmī Shīʿīsm and to engrave the names of the Twelve Imams, as well as an oft-repeated Imāmī recitation (ʿAlī walī Allāh), on the coins. As such, ʿAllāmah is sometimes credited with being the first to elevate Imāmī Shīʿīsm to the status of Persia 's state religion.

ʿAllāmah grew up during a tumultuous time. During his childhood, the Mongols captured Baghdad (1258 CE) and established the Il-Khanid dynasty, whose dominion eventually included the majority of Persia, Iraq, and the Caucasus. Contrary to common perception, however, the Mongols permitted and even encouraged intellectual activity; this facilitated ʿAllāmah 's unbounded ambitions to study, read, and write without restraint. ʿAllāmah wrote hundreds of books and treatises on a vast and eclectic array of Islamic topics. The small number in existence still today (approximately sixty), are considered orthodox, even sacrosanct, among Imāmī Shīʿīs, who continue to study two of his writings in particular, al-Bāb al-ḥādī ʿashar and Sharḥ Tajrīd al-iʿtiqād, as official Imāmī doctrine. The volume of commentary on his publications is evidence of the persisting popularity and prestige of ʿAllāmah 's intellectual legacy.

Al-Ḥillī 's Work.

ʿAllāmah 's writings include works on grammar, logic, ḥadīth, tafsīr, and biography; yet, his most influential writings were in the areas of jurisprudence and theology. In the field of theology (kalām), ʿAllāmah was one of the most distinguished thinkers in the later Muʿtazilī tradition, which was accepted into Imāmī Shiism in the Būyid period (945–1055 CE). The Kashf al-Murād, ʿAllāmah 's commentary on al-Ṭūsī 's credal statement, the Tajrīd al-iʿtiqād, is a representative work. Its technical scholasticism remained a part of the tradition, but was not substantively essential to its most formidable developments. The greatest achievements of later Shīʿī theology are instead associated with Mullā Ṣadrā al-Shīrāzī (d. 1641 CE), who drew instead on the philosophical tradition of Ibn Sīnā (d. 1037 CE) and on the illuminationist theories of Suhrawardī (d. 1190 CE). See PHILOSOPHY.

ʿAllāmah 's theological writings covered a variety of topics, including the infallibility and the appointment of Imams; the former of which was viewed as inherent and essential to the imamate, the latter of which could be accomplished either by designation or by miraculous revelation. According to ʿAllāmah, naming an Imam was a task that only Allāh, His prophets, or an existing Imam, who by necessity was free from error or sin (maʿṣum), could perform; in other words the appointment of an Imam was a divinely ordained nomination (luṭ  f wājib) similar to that pertaining to the designation of prophets. ʿAllāmah 's theories on the imamate are articulated in his book The Eleventh Hour, which, like many others, became one of the fundamental theological textbooks of official Imāmī doctrine.

In the field of jurisprudence, ʿAllāmah similarly played a formative and fundamental role. He produced works of positive law (furūʿ) and of hermeneutical theory (uṣūl), many of which are still in existence and continue to be studied today. With respect to the former, he continued the work of his teacher Jaʿfar ibn al-Ḥasan al-Muḥaqqiq al-Ḥillī (d. 1277 CE) by reformulating the tradition established by Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Ṭūsī, Shaykh al-Ṭāʿifah (d. 1068 CE). In doing so, he settled some of the raging disputes of the preceding centuries. ʿAllāmah refined and expanded the Shīʿī corpus of furūʿ al-fiqh, notably exploring the range of dispute within the tradition in his Mukhtalaf al-Shīʿah. He perceived that justification and reconciliation within the tradition required a theoretical foundation achievable only within the discipline of uṣūl.


ʿAllāmah 's greatest achievement in the jurisprudential realm, and of his scholarship as a whole, was to integrate the theory of ijtihād, previously unknown to Imāmī Shīʿī jurisprudence, into the latter. For ʿAllāmah, very little could be gleaned from the text of the Qurʿān with absolute certainty aside from the most basic, explicit and unambiguously stated provisions (such as fasting during Ramaḍān). For this reason, a more free-thinking deductive process using indicators within the text to settle on a reasonable interpretation of the nuances and ambiguities was needed; in short, ijtihād was essential to the development of the sharīʿah. A jurist 's interpretation, according to ʿAllāmah, was always uncertain and subject to interpretative evolution; yet, all such interpretations were to be considered as law by all non-jurists. Thus, ʿAllāmah 's theory, which integrated a hallmark feature of uṣ ūlī theory into Shīʿī legal reasoning, divided the community between experts and obedient non-experts, the latter of whom were expected to unquestioningly adhere to the formers ’ ijtihād-derived rulings.

Reaction to ʿAllāmah 's theological and jurisprudential ideas was fierce. Muḥammad Amīn al-Astarābādī (d. 1627 CE) was particularly vocal in his disapproval of ʿAllāmah 's ideas, or so-called innovations. Because of his outspoken opposition, the Akhbārī movement emerged as a reaction to, and a critique of, the Uṣūlī movement. The Akhbārī-Uṣūlī controversy reflected the literalist and rationalist tensions of earlier periods, but was articulated solely in relation to aspects of the theory of ijtihād. The ongoing debate it provoked dominated juristic thinking throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and was finally resolved in favor of the Uṣūlīs.

ʿAllāmah, his writings and person, continues to be revered by the Imāmī Shīʿīs. Shortly after his death in 1325 CE, his grave became a center of veneration for those making the pilgrimage to the tomb of Imām ʿAlī al-Riḍā.



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