The Emergence of Modern Shi'ism

Pages: 240
Subject: Religion
Imprint: Oneworld Academic

The Emergence of Modern Shi'ism

Islamic Reform in Iraq and Iran

Zackery M. Heern

A challenging historical survey that questions the foundations of modern Islam
9781780744964 (4 Jun 2015)
RRP £20.00 / US$30.00

The Book

This book takes a fresh look at the foundations of modern Islam. Scholars often locate the origins of the modern Islamic world in European colonialism or Islamic reactions to European modernity. However, this study focuses on the rise of Islamic movements indigenous to the Middle East, which developed in direct response to the collapse and decentralization of the Islamic gunpowder empires. In other words, the book argues that the Usuli movement as well as Wahhabism and neo-Sufism emerged in reaction to the disintegration and political decentralization of the Safavid, Ottoman, and Mughal empires.

The book specifically highlights the emergence of Usuli Shi‘ism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The long-term impact of the Usuli revival was that Shi‘i clerics gained unprecedented social, political, and economic power in Iran and southern Iraq. Usuli clerics claimed authority to issue binding legal judgments, which, they argue, must be observed by all Shi‘is. By the early nineteenth century, Usulism emerged as a popular, fiercely independent, transnational Islamic movement. The Usuli clerics have often operated at the heart of social and political developments in modern Iraq and Iran and today dominate the politics of the region.

Additional Information

Subject Religion
Pages 240
Imprint Oneworld Academic


About the Author

Zackery M. Heern is a professor of Middle East and Islamic studies at Murray State University. His research and teaching interests include Shi‘ism, Iraq, Iran, Islamic Movements, and Global History. He lives in Murray, America.


'Heern has done a great and of course difficult job'.

- Journal of Shi'a Islamic Studies

'Many discussions of Islamic movements of renewal and reform pay insufficient attention to Shi'I reformers. Heern provides an important resource for correcting this imbalance…His discussions of the issues involved in the way Muslim movements define knowledge and authority…provide a basis for more comprehensive examinations of renewlaist thought'

- Journal of Islamic Studies

'Many discussions of Islamic movements of renewal and reform pay insufficient attention to Shi'i reformers. Heern provides an important resource for correcting for this imbalance. His comparative analysis of the three eighteenth/nineteenth century movements provides a useful critical framework for this more inclusive coverage of Muslim renewal movements. His discussions of the issues involved in the way Muslim movements define knowledge and authority, both in the debates within Shi'ism and in comparison with the Sunni and Sufi approaches . . . provide a basis for more comprehensive examinations of renewalist thought.'

- Journal of Islamic Studies

‘Heern... is primarily concerned with the Shias, Islam's second-largest denomination after the Sunnis. But he refreshingly teases out the parallels between the three movements, rather than their differences as most other commentators have done.'

- The Economist

‘A challenging and thought-provoking read.'

- Religioscope

Table of Contents




The Triumph of neo-Usulism

The Eighteenth-Century Moment

Contemporary Shi‘ism and its Roots

Shi‘i Knowledge and Authority

Summary of Chapters


Chapter 1 The Times and Places of Reform in the Modern World


The Place of Modernity

The Time of Modernity

World Systems and Multiple Modernities

Creation of the Modern World

Tradition and Change: From Pre-Modern to Modern


Chapter 2 Shi‘ism and the Emergence of Modern Iran


Safavid Centralization of Iran (1501-1722)

Decentralization of Iran (1722-85)

Qajar Recentralization of Iran (1785-1925)



Chapter 3 Shi‘ism and the Emergence of Modern Iraq


Ottoman and Mamluk Rule in Iraq

Shi‘ism and Arab Tribes in Southern Iraq



Chapter 4 Wahid Bihbihani: Shi‘i Reviver and Reformer


Reviver of the Eighteenth Century

Bihbihani's Early Life

Bihbihani in Bihbihan

Usuli-Akhbari Dispute in Karbala'

The Historical and Mythical Bihbihani

Conclusion: Why Usulism Prevailed


Chapter 5 Wahid Bihbihani's Usuli Network in Iraq and Iran


Usuli-Qajar Alliance

Bihbihani's Students in Iraq

Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi Tabataba'i "Bahr al-'Ulum” (Najaf)

Shaykh Ja‘far al-Najafi "Kashif al-Ghita'” (Najaf)

Mirza Muhammad Mahdi Shahristani (Karbala')

Sayyid ‘Ali Tabataba'i (Karbala')

Bihbihani's Students in Iran

Mirza Abu al-Qasim Qummi (Qum)

Mulla Ahmad Naraqi (Kashan)

Muhammad Ibrahim Kalbasi (Isfahan)

Muhammad Baqir Shafti (Isfahan)

Additional Students of Bihbihani



Chapter 6 Wahid Bihbihani's Conception of Islamic Law


Bihbihani's Legalistic Conception of Knowledge

Four or Five Sources of Usuli Shi‘i Law?

1 The Qur'an

2 Traditions (Hadith)

3 Consensus (ijma‘)

4 Reason (‘aql)

5 Transference (ta‘diyya) vs. Analogy (qiyas)

Language (lugha) and Custom (‘urf)

Conjecture of Mujtahids



Chapter 7 Founding Fathers of Modern Islam


Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab and the Wahhabi Movement

Ibn Idris and Neo-Sufism

Political Influence of the Reformers

Knowledge and Authority

Opponents of the Reformers

Primary Concerns of the Reformers