AWĀʾEL AL-MAQĀLĀT FI’L-MAḎĀHEB AL-MOḴTĀRĀT (Principal theses of selected doctrines), a Shiʿite doctrinal work written in Baghdad by Shaikh Abū ʿAbdallāh Moḥammad b. Moḥammad b. Noʿmān al-Mofīd (d. 413/1022; q.v.) probably between the years 396 and 406/1005-16. In it (p. 1) Shaikh al-Mofīd defines his position, which he calls that of the “justice party” among the Shiʿites (al-ʿadlīya men al-æīʿa), on the entire spectrum of theological (kalām) questions by comparison and contrast with other schools.

Important in the history of the Imamite creed, especially for its relation to Muʿtazilism, the Awāʾel is neither a systematically argued theological treatise nor a detailed heresiography. Rather it is a practical catalogue of Imamite positions on disputed questions composed for a naqīb of the ʿAlids, probably Šarīf Rażī. The important problems fall naturally at the beginning, and questions on the finer points are strung out towards the end. In designating opponents and supporters of his theses, Shaikh al-Mofīd does not name any of his own contemporaries.

The essence of Shiʿism is defined as loyal adherence to ʿAlī and repudiation of the three caliphs preceding him; the essence of Muʿtazilism is the “middle position,” between the faithful (moʾmen) and the infidel (kāfer), assigned to the grave sinner. No one who rejects this latter thesis is a Muʿtazilite, no matter how much he may agree with them on other points.

The Awāʾel insists that revelation is needed to assist reason both for establishing the premises and for assuring the reasoning process in the fundamentals of religion. Its other main points of opposition to all Muʿtazilites concern: the indefectibility and infallibility of the imams; the Return (rajʿa) to life of many of the best of the Shiʿites and the worst of their enemies expected at the time of the Mahdi’s reappearance in order to fight a final battle where the Mahdi’s forces will be victorious; the thesis that the grave sinner within the Shiʿite community is nonetheless a believer (against the Muʿtazilite “middle position” which calls him neither a believer nor an unbeliever); and the thesis that the grave sinner of the community, being a believer, will not be punished forever in the Fire (against the Muʿtazilite doctrine of “the promise and the threat”).

On questions of God’s Oneness and Justice the position taken coincides with Muʿtazilism and in detail agrees with the Baghdad school against the Basran. Thus with the Baghdad Muʿtazilites the Awāʾel refuses to apply to God attributes derived from reason but not found in the Koran or traditions; Abū Hāæm Jobbāʾī’s theory of “states” is rejected; God does not will in the same sense as man wills; God is bound by His nobility and generosity, not by justice, to look after man’s best interests. The Baghdad Muʿtazilite most frequently cited is Abu’l-Qāsem Balḵī Kaʿbī.

The Awāʾel attributes, as did Abū Esḥāq Naẓẓām, the miraculous aspect of the Koran to God’s preventing others from imitating it, not to its intrinsic inimitability. It says rather hesitantly that the current text of the Koran is probably integral. This implies a reinterpretation of Imamite tradition and goes counter to the accusations of some—but not all—contemporary Imamites that the Sunnites had left omissions or even forged additions to the sacred text. Shaikh al-Mofīd himself had in fact argued in a previous work (“al-Masāʾel al-Sarawīya,” in al-Ṯaqalān: Al-Ketāb wa’l-ʿetra, Najaf, n.d., p. 59) that there were omissions in the current text.

Following the main questions comes a series of related minor points such as repentance, the interpretation and binding force of traditions, eschatology, etc. After this, the second edition of the Awāʾel contains two further series of questions on the fine points of theology, many of them dealing with atomism and other points of natural philosophy, which may originally have been separate treatises but which fit in very well as part of this work.

The theory that things are composed of atoms and accidents was necessary to the theologians as a basis for their proof of God’s existence from the temporality of the world. The atomism of the Awāʾel, except for one inconsistency (that atoms are extended), follows the Baghdad Muʿtazilites against the Basrans. The most notable differences are the Baghdad Muʿtazilites’—and the Awāʾel’s—denial of the existence of a void (koalāʾ), and their assertion that there are natural qualities (ṭabʿ, plur. ṭebāʿ) in things which dispose them to act the way they do.

Finally, the Awāʾel goes counter to the materialism of most Baghdad and Basran Muʿtazilites in defining man as “a thing produced in time, self subsistent, outside the categories of atom and accident.” This means, as Shaikh al-Mofīd explains in another work, that the essential part of man is spirit (“al-Masāʾel,” p. 52).



Edition: Awāʾel al-maqālāt fi’l-maḏāheb al-moḵtārāt, ed. ʿA. Wajdī, Tabrīz, 1363/1944; revised and augmented 1371/1951-52.

Translation of the first section: D. Sourdel, “L’Imamisme vu par le Cheikh al-Mufīd,” REI 40, 1972, pp. 217-96. Al-Ḏarīʿa II, pp. 472-73.

W. Madelung, “Imamism and Muʿtazilite Theology,” in Le shîʿism imâmite, ed. T. Fahd, Paris, 1972, pp. 22-25.

M. J. McDermott, The Theology of al-Shaikh al-Mufīd, Persian Studies Series 9, Beirut, 1978.

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اوائل المقالات awael al maghalat   awaael al maghaalaat   avael al maghalat  


(M. J. McDermott)

Originally Published: December 15, 1987

Last Updated: August 18, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 1-2. pp. 112-113