restricted access Thou Shalt Emulate the Most Knowledgeable Living Cleric: Redefinition of Islamic Law and Authority in Usuli Shi‘ism

This paper analyses the reconceptualization of Islamic law and authority as defined by Murtada al-Ansari (d. 1864), the influential scholar and first sole supreme exemplar (marja‘ al-taqlid al-mutlaq) of the international Shi‘i community. This paper argues that by redefining core concepts related to Islamic legal theory and clerical authority, Ansari significantly increased the power of individual Shi‘i clerics. Ansari’s conception of marja‘ al-taqlid required all lay Shi‘is to emulate the judgments of the most knowledgeable living Shi‘i jurist (mujtahid). Ansari’s legacy in Islamic law is that he streamlined the process of ijtihad, which enhanced the ability of mujtahids to issue rulings on virtually any case. Therefore, Ansari refined theories and practices associated with the generation and dissemination of legal rulings. These contributions gave mujtahids supreme socio-legal authority in the Shi‘i world, which continues to operate within many of the general premises established by the school of Shaykh al-Ansari.