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Philosophy of Islamic law.

The Usuli school of Shiʿite jurisprudence, developed in contrast to the Akhbari (traditionalist) school, argues for the primacy of the ulama as interpreters of Islamic law and prophetic and imami traditions. The Usulis favor the legitimacy of reasoning (aql ) and interpretation (ijtihad ) of traditions of the Prophet and the imams as sources for the derivation of Islamic law. Thus, they allow for the emulation of prominent Shiʿite ulama by the believers, who are incapable themselves of interpreting the Qurʾan or the teachings of the Prophet and the imams. In addition, the Usulis believe in critical readings of the contents of major Shiʿite compilations of prophetic and imami traditions. They also prohibit the emulation of past masters of religion, so that the centrality of living ulama as interpreters of Shiʿite jurisprudence is preserved. Rivalry between the two schools heightened in the Safavid period, with the Usulis emerging as the ultimate victors by the eighteenth century.

Shiʿite ulama were able to play a prominent role in the constitutional movement of Iran (19051911), drawing on elements of Usuli thought to justify both the ratification of the constitution and the participation of clergymen in political affairs. The evolution of the Usuli doctrine of a hierarchical clerical establishment made for the creation of clerical ranks such as hujjat al-islam, ayatollah, and the marja al-taqlid (source of emulation) in contemporary Shiʿism. In addition, Usuli discourse made for the legitimation of the doctrine of velayat-e faqih, or governance of the jurisconsult, in post-1979 Iran.

see also shiʿism.


Amanat, Abbas. "In Between the Madrasah and the Marketplace: The Designation of Clerical Leadership in Modern Shiʿism." In Authority and Political Culture in Shi ʿism, edited by S. A. Arjomand. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988.

Hairi, Abdolhadi. Shi ʿism and Constitutionalism in Iran. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1977.

Newman, Andrew J. "The Nature of the Akhbari/Usuli Dispute in Late Safawid Iran." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 55, 12 (1990): 2251; 250261.

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Uṣūlī (school of Shiʿite law): see BIHBAHĀNĪ.