This is an abridged excerpt from the Book: “Islamic Jurisprudence” by Dr. Taha Jabir al-Alwani.


Al-Imam al-Shafi’i rahimahuLlahu ta’ala began his book by describing the state of mankind just before the mission of the Prophet. In doing so, he divided them into two groups:

  1. Ahl al-Kitab “The People of the Book”
  2. The Mushrikun and Kafirun.

Then he stated that Allah (SWT) rescued all mankind by sending the Last of the Prophets sallaLlahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and revealing to him His Book as a means of guidance:

Then al-Imam al-Shafi’i discussed the status of the Qur’an in Islam in detail.

Followed the introduction is a chapter on al-Bayan, in which the word is defined as a legal-term, and then divided into categories in explanation of the ways that the Qur’anic declaration indicates matters of legal significance. There are five such categories:

  1. That which Allah (SWT) expressed as a specific legal-provision which admits of no interpretation other than its literal-meaning. This category of al-Bayan needs no other explanation than the Qur’an itself.
  2. That which the Qur’an mentions in texts that may be interpreted in several-ways; and for which the Sunnah provided an explanation as to exactly which one was intended.
  3. That which was clearly stated to be obligatory; and which Rasulullah sallaLlahu ‘alayhi wa sallam explained in terms of how, why, upon whom, and when applicable and when not.
  4. That which was explained by Rasulullah sallaLlahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, but not mentioned in the Qur’an. Allah (SWT) commanded in the Qur’an that Rasulullah sallaLlahu ‘alayhi wa sallam be obeyed and his rulings accepted. Therefore, what is said on the authority of Rasulullah r, is said on the authority of Allah (SWT).
  5. That which Allah (SWT) requires His creation to seek through Ijtihad. This is Qiyas. According to al-Imam al-Shafi’i, Qiyas is a method for reaching a legal-decision on the basis of evidence (a precedent) in which a common reason, or an effective cause, is applicable.

Al-Imam al-Shafi’i then went on to explain these five categories in five separate chapters, giving examples and evidence for each. Thereafter, the Risalah included the following chapters:

  • The General Declaration revealed in the Qur’an is meant to be ‘Amm (comprehensive), but includes the Khass (particular).
  • The Explicit General Declaration of the Qur’an in which the General and the Particular are included.
  • The Explicit General Declaration of the Qur’an which appears to be General but is intended to be entirely Particular.
  • The Category of al-Bayan in the Qur’an by means of which meaning is clarified by context.
  • The Category of al-Bayan in the Qur’an the wording of which indicates the al-Batin (implicit) meaning rather than the al-Zahir (explicit).
  • That, of the Qur’an, which was revealed as General but which the Sunnah specifically indicates is meant to be Particular.

In the above-mentioned chapter; al-Imam al-Shafi’i 0 explained the validity of the Sunnah as evidence and its status in the religion. For this reason, he then included the following chapters:

  • The duty imposed by Allah (SWT) in the Qur’an to follow the Sunnah of Rasulullah sallaLlahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
  • Allah (SWT)’s command ordering obedience to Rasulullah sallaLlahu ‘alayhi wa sallam is both associated with obedience to Him and ordered independently.
  • Matters in which Allah (SWT) commanded obedience to Rasulullah sallaLlahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
  • How Allah (SWT) made it clear that Rasulullah sallaLlahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was obliged to follow what was revealed to him and to obey whatever commands Allah (SWT) gave him; and that Allah (SWT) will guide any who follow him.

In this chapter, al-Imam al-Shafi’i affirmed that parts of the Sunnah of Rasulullah sallaLlahu ‘alayhi wa sallam dealt with and were related to the Qur’an, whilst other parts explained matters concerning which there was no relevant text in the Book. Al-Imam al-Shafi’i also showed that the Sunnah existed independently of the Qur’an, and quoted evidence in refutation of those who disagreed with him in that matter.

Then he said: “I shall explain what I have already said about the Sunnah, (whether) it particularizes the Qur’an or provides additional-legislation for matters not mentioned therein; and this will illustrate what I have discussed above, Allah (SWT) willing. I shall first speak of the Sunnah based on the Book of Allah (SWT), by dealing, by means of deductive reasoning, with the subject of the Sunnah in regard to al-Nasikh (abrogating) and al-Mansukh (abrogated) passages of the Qur’an. Thereafter, I shall mention the Fard-duties specified (in the Qur’an) and the Sunnah in regard to them; the Fard-duties revealed in General-terms which Rasulullah sallaLlahu ‘alayhi wa sallam made Particular through his specifying details relating to how and when; the General texts that were intended to be understood as General, and the General texts that were intended to be understood as Particular; and, finally, the Sunnah of the Rasulullah sallaLlahu ‘alayhi wa sallam for which there is no textual authority from the Book of Allah (SWT).”

There follows a chapter entitled, “The Origin of the Abrogating and the Abrogated”; which explains that Allah (SWT) used abrogation to make (the Shari’ah) easier and more flexible. This chapter also makes the point that Ayah (a verse) of the Qur’an can only be abrogated by another verse of the Qur’an; and that the Sunnah can only be abrogated by the Sunnah.

Thereafter comes mention of the Fard-duty of Salah and the explanation in the Qur’an and the Sunnah concerning those who may be excused from performing it, and those whose Salah is not accepted because of some act of disobedience they may have committed.

Then al-Imam al-Shafi’i writes of the Abrogating and the Abrogated that are indicated by the Sunnah and al-Ijma’;

In the next chapter he discussed defects in Hadith, and explained that the contradictions between Hadith could be attributed to many reasons. He then went on to explain some of these reasons. For example, a contradiction might appear because one Hadith was abrogated by another, or because mistakes occurred in the narration of the Hadith. He explained the mistakes which might cause contradictions in the Hadith, and many other reasons for such contradictions. Then he dealt with the various types of prohibitions, and explained that some Hadith clarify others.

Al-Imam al-Shafi’i also included a chapter on knowledge, and explained that there are two types of knowledge. The first is that sort of common knowledge which no sane, mature adult could possibly not know about. All of this knowledge can be found mentioned in the text of the Qur’an, and every Muslim knows all about it because it has been transmitted down from Rasulullah sallaLlahu ‘alayhi wa sallam to each succeeding generation in turn. There is no dispute concerning the authenticity of this knowledge, and all are agreed that it is binding. Indeed, the nature of this knowledge is such that there can be no mistakes in its transmission or interpretation.

The second type of knowledge is of the details which stem from the obligations, and the specific laws relating to them. These are not mentioned in the text of the Qur’an, and most of them are not mentioned in the text of the Sunnah, apart from single-individual-narrations, Ahad.

Thus, al-Imam al-Shafi’i introduced a new subject, Khabr al-Wahid. Al-Imam al-Shafi’i then explained what is meant by this term, and the conditions which determine whether or not a narration is of the single-individual-variety. The difference between Shahadah (testimony) and Riwayah (reporting) was explained; as were those matters which may be accepted through a Khabr al-Wahid, and those for which a Khabr al-Wahid alone is not sufficient.

Then al-Imam al-Shafi’i discussed the authority of the Khabr al-Wahid, and whether such reports could be adduced as evidence. His conclusion, supported by very sound arguments, was that indeed they could be used. Thus, al-Imam al-Shafi’i succeeded in refuting all the misgivings brought up by his opponents on this issue.

The following chapters then follow:

  • On al-Ijma’: its definition, and legal-authority.
  • On al-Qiyas: its meaning and nature, the need for it, the varieties of Qiyas, and who is, and is not, competent to employ it.
  • On Ijtihad: how it is based first on the Qur’an, and then on the Sunnah; what constitutes correct and incorrect Ijtihad.
  • On al-Istihsan, Juristic Preference: al-Shafi’i was careful to explain that no Muslim is permitted to use al-Istihsan in order to contravene the Hadith, nor may he pronounce any legal-judgement which is not based on the Qur’an, Sunnah, al-Ijma’ or al-Qiyas. He also explained the difference between al-Qiyas and al-Istihsan.
  • On disagreement among the scholars: al-Imam al-Shafi’i explained that these disagreements are of two types; the type that are prohibited and the type that are not. The types of disagreements which are not allowed are those concerning matters for which Allah (SWT) has provided clear evidence in the texts of the Qur’an or Sunnah. Those disagreements which are permitted pertain to matters which could be interpreted in several-ways and to which each scholar applies his own reasoning.

The Risalah concludes with an explanation of al-Shafi’i’s opinion on the “categories of evidence” mentioned above:

“We base our judgements primarily on the Qur’an and the agreed-upon Sunnah concerning which there is no dispute, and say: ‘This is our judgement after studying both the explicit and the implicit meanings of the texts.’ Then, if we have to refer to the Sunnah that is narrated by only a few persons and concerning which there is no agreement, we say: ‘We accept the Hadith as it is, but are aware that there could be some hidden fault in its narrators.’ Then we will refer to at Ijma’ then to al-Qiyas. Al-Qiyas is weaker than at Ijma’ and it is used only when necessary because it is not lawful to use al-Qiyas when there is a narration concerning the matter being dealt with.”

Salah 'ala al-Nabi


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