ANṢĀRĪ, SHAIKH MORTAŻĀ B. MOḤAMMAD AMĪN (1214-81/1799-1864), marǰaʿ-e taqlīd and important author of works on feqh and oṣūl al-feqh. Born in Dezfūl, he began his studies with his paternal uncle, Shaikh Ḥosayn Anṣārī, a well-known ʿālem of the city. In 1232/1817 he went with his father on a pilgrimage to Karbalā where he paid a visit to Sayyed Moḥammad Moǰāhed Karbalāʾī (d. 1242/1836-37), a leader of the Shiʿite scholars in the city. In a debate that followed he demonstrated such thoroughness of knowledge and such mastery in formulating and presenting his arguments that Sayyed Moǰāhed asked Mortażā’s father to leave him in Karbalā to continue his studies (M. Kalāntar, intro. to Anṣārī, al-Makāseb I, Naǰaf, 1392/1972, pp. 30-31).

Anṣārī stayed in Karbalā, attending the lectures of Sayyed Moḥammad Moǰāhed and Mollā Moḥammad Šarīf Māzandarānī (d. 1245/1829-30) until 1234/1818-19, when Dāwūd Pasha, governor of Iraq, revolted against the Ottomans. He then went to Kāẓemayn and from there returned to Dezfūl. After two years he returned to Karbalā, again attending the lectures of Šarīf Māzandarānī. The following year he went to Naǰaf to study with Shaikh Mūsā Kāšef-al-ḡeṭāʾ (d. 1256/1840-41) for a year, then he returned to Iran, eventually going to Kāšān to study with Mollā Aḥmad Narāqī (d. 1245/1829-30), an outstanding authority in feqh, oṣūl falsafa, and mysticism (ʿerfān). Though Anṣārī was already a moǰtahed when he left Karbalā, he remained with Narāqī for four years, acquiring from him a long eǰāza-nāma (license), listing in unusual detail the many lines of transmission through which he had attained his learning (see Kalāntar, op. cit., pp. 58-64). After a pilgrimage to Mašhad, Anṣārī returned to Dezfūl, where he taught until 1249/1833-34; he then migrated to Naǰaf, where he began attending the lectures of two of the foremost Shiʿite ʿolamāʾ, Shaikh ʿAlī Kāšef-al-ḡeṭāʾ (d. 1254/1838-39), who was then considered marǰaʿ-e taqlīd, and Shaikh Moḥammad Ḥasan Naǰafī (d. 1266/1849-50), author of the well-known Jawāher al-kalām (Kalāntar, pp. 77-80). After Shaikh ʿAlī’s death he established his own lecture circles and in 1266/1849-50 succeeded Shaikh Moḥammad Ḥasan Naǰafī as marǰaʿ-e taqlīd (Kalāntar, p. 120). In the sixteen years that he occupied this position, he trained, according to Moʿallem Ḥabībābādī (pp. 50014), 267 students including some outstanding figures (see also Kalāntar, pp. 131f.).

Anṣārī led the life of a true ascetic. In spite of his tremendous prestige as the undisputed marǰaʿ-e taqlīd, at his death his entire property amounted to only three dinars, and his two daughters were unable to pay for his funeral (Kalāntar, p. 214). He is the author of some thirty books and treatises (ibid., pp. 199-90; M. ʿA. Modarres Tabrīzī, Rayḥānat al-adab, Tehran, 1367/1948, I, p. 192; Ḥabībābādī, pp. 497-99) written in a readable style which is in marked contrast to the dry and stifled language of most authors in the field. The most famous and influential of them are al-Makāseb (Tehran, 1304/1886-87; new but incomplete edition by M. Kalāntar, 5 vols., Naǰaf, 1392-/1972-) in feqh, and Farāʾed al-oṣūl, known as al-Rasāʾel (Tabrīz, 1372/1953; summarized as al-Rasāʾel al-ǰadīda, Qom, 1390/1970) in oṣūl. These two, along with Āḵūnd Ḵorāsānī’s Kefāyat al-oṣūl, form the subject matter of the fourth and final (nehāʾī) level of the curriculum in the Shiʿite madrasas (cf. Kalāntar, op. cit., p. 186; Modarres Tabrīzī, Rayḥānat al-adab, 3rd ed., Tabrīz, n.d., I, p. 197). (Eleven of his shorter treatises are appended to the older edition of al-Makāseb.) Because of the thoroughness and comprehensiveness of these works, since their publication none of the ʿolamāʾ has attempted to write anything more than glosses upon them (for a discussion see Kalāntar, pp. 158-64, 194-206). He is generally referred to as the founder (al-moʾasses; cf. Kalāntar, pp. 182-84), of a new style of presenting arguments and discussions in oṣūl. His mode of argumentation (estedlāl), the dialectal nature of which is apparent, involves first presenting a view concerning a particular problem and marshalling all the available evidence supporting it, then presenting the opposing view with the same thoroughness, and finally establishing a new position and formulating it in the form of a succinct rule (for a brief example see his definition of bayʿ in al-Makāseb, p. 79).

The extent to which Anṣārī applied his new method to refining oṣūl is of particular importance. M. Šehābī discerns nine stages in the development of oṣūl, the last and most advanced of which was begun by Anṣārī (Taqrīrāt-e oṣūl, Tehran, 1339 Š./1960-61, intro.; cf. A. Gorǰī, “Negāh-ī be taḥawwol-e ʿelm-e oṣūl,” Maqālāt wa barrasīhā 13-16, 1352 Š./1973, p.73). The subject matter of oṣūl was traditionally divided into four categories: the Koran, Hadith, eǰmāʿ, and ʿaql. By the time of Anṣārī, the Shiʿites had divided the science into two major branches, lafẓī (semantic) and ʿamalī (practical or concerned with action); in effect, the four traditional categories were subsumed under the heading of al-oṣūlal-lafẓīya (semantic principles), while discussions of principles related to action were separated out as a new branch of the science. Detailed discussion of semantic principles had already been written by Anṣārī’s time, so he turned his attention to al-oṣūlal-ʿalamīya, which had been discussed as such only by Mīrzā Abu’l-Qāsem b. Ḥasan Qomī (d. 1231/1816) in the second volume of Qawānīn al-oṣūl (Tehran, 1324/1906-07); however, he deals with it within the context of feqh and not as a separate subject. Anṣārī’s major contribution seems to have been the manner in which he established al-oṣūlal-ʿamalīya as a separate and clearly structured science.

At the beginning of al-Rasāʾel (p. 2), which is devoted entirely to al-oṣūlal-ʿamalīya, Anṣārī explains in a characteristically systematic and original manner the goal of studying this branch of oṣūl: A Muslim facing a religious injunction (ḥokmšarʿī), has three options: doubt (šakk), certainty (qaṭʿ), or supposition (ẓann). If he is certain of the truth of the ḥokm and its applicability to himself, or if he supposes as much, then he must act according to it. But if he has doubt, then he must refer to ḥokms relevant to a person in this situation; these are called the “practical principles” and are of four kinds: First he must observe if there is an earlier situation that might justify the present situation; if there is, he follows the principle of (1) esteṣḥāb (maintaining the present situation). If there is not, then he must observe if there is doubt concerning his religious duty (taklīf); if there is, then he follows the principle of (2) barāʾa (being free of the statute). If there is not, he must see if it is possible to exercise precaution; if it is, then he exercises the principle of (3) eḥtīāṭ (precaution). If there is not, then he exercises the principle of (4) taḵyīr (free choice). Basing himself on this outline of the four practical principles, Anṣārī then sets down a systematic discussion of al-oṣūlal-ʿamalīya in great detail.



See also M. ʿA. Moʿallem Ḥabībābādī, Makārem al-āṯār I-II, Isfahan, 1337 Š./1958, pp. 487-516, especially pp. 498-89 for sources.

(S. Murata)

Originally Published: December 15, 1985

Last Updated: August 5, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. II, Fasc. 1, pp. 102-103