Please explain the differences between the Akhbari and the Usuli approach. Also, is Sheikh al-Habib and Usuli or an Akhbari?
In the Name of Allah, the All-Beneficent, the All-Merciful.
May Allah bless Muhammad and his Family and damn their enemies.
There are some key differences between the two schools of thought. We will try to describe the differences as concisely as possible while also including our thoughts on some of them.
Unlike Usulis, who accept Intellect, Consensus, the Qur’an, and Sunnah as the sources of law, the Akhbaris reject Intellect and Consensus and only accept the Qur’an and the pure Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his pure family).
Akhbaris only accept the science of Jurisprudence and reject the science of Principles of Jurisprudence, which they believe originated from the opponents of Ahl al-Bayt (peace be upon them). However, we believe this to be a misconception because while the scholars of our theological opponents (i.e. the ‘Sunnis’) had implemented the science of Principles of Jurisprudence before the Shi’a, the science was passed on to them by the Shi’a scholars at the time.
The well-known scholars of our opponents, such as Malik Ibn Anas and Abu Hanifah, had learnt the science of Principles of Jurisprudence by attending the lessons of Imam al-Sadiq (peace be upon him). They also had regular contact with Shi’a scholars. Certainly, since they had no belief in the Imam to be Infallible and thus did not follow his jurisprudential teachings, they started to implement the science of Principles of Jurisprudence mixed up with their falsehood.
Shi’a scholars did not need to implement it due to the presence of the Infallible Imam amongst them. However, during the occultation of the 12th Imam (peace be upon him), they started to implement it for reasoning and deducing purposes.
Unlike Usulis, Akhbaris also do not practice the discipline of Biographical Evaluation within their narrations terminology, but rather lean towards the approach of declaring a narration as sound, especially those reported in the Four Books (i.e. al-Kafi; Man La Yahduruhu al-Faqih; al-Tahthib; and al-Istibsar).
Another key difference is that Usulis implement the practical legal principle that everything is allowed unless one knows otherwise when there is no evidence regarding a particular matter. In contrast, Akhbaris reject this principle and implement the practical legal principle of precaution.
Moreover, unlike Usulis, who do not permit initial legal emulation (i.e. Taqleed) of a deceased Mujtahid, Akhbaris permit it.
Regarding Sheikh al-Habib, his Eminence combines the two approaches, that of Usulis and Akhbaris, whenever appropriate and scientifically required.
The Office of Sheikh al-Habib