Ijtihad in Contemporary Shi`ism Transition from Individual-oriented to Society-oriented

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Hamid Mavani



The adoption of the Mu`tazili school of “rationalist” theology and the institution of ijtihad enabled Shi`i legal theory to exhibit vibrancy and made it adaptable to changing contingencies and circumstances. But because Shi`i jurists did not face the challenge of governing a state, their juridical focus and orientation remained fixated on resolving issues confronting the laity or their followers (muqallid) at a personal level and did not provide an ethical framework for the ijtihad process. The establishment of a Shi`i state in Iran in 1979, which forced them to tackle social, political, economic, educational, and cultural issues, demanded a change in orientation – away from the individual and toward society as the unit of analysis vis-à-vis ijtihad. They marshaled various methods, legal devices, and strategies to address contemporary social issues in order to provide pragmatic guidance to the citizens that would be in conformity with the moral and ethical principles laid out in the revelatory sources. This paper examines the writings of Ayatullahs Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, Muhammad Mahdi Shamsuddin, Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlullah, and Ruhullah Musavi al-Khomeini and studies this phenomenon of change from individual-oriented ijtihad to society-oriented ijtihad.

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