Introduction to Usul al-Fiqh I: Ahl al-Ḥadīth (Traditionists), Ahl al-Raʾy (Rationalists) and al-Imam al-Shafiʿī

Introduction to Usul al-Fiqh I: Ahl al-Ḥadīth (Traditionists), Ahl al-Raʾy (Rationalists) and al-Imam al-Shafiʿī rahimahuLlahu ta’ala.basmalasftan1

الحمد لله الذي أنزل القرآن ووضع الميزان وجعل علم الأصول مصالح الأنام وأساس الأحكام. وصلى الله على سيدنا ومولانا وقرة أعيننا محمد النبي الأمي القرشي وعلى آله وصحبه حاملي لواء الدين القوي . أما بعدقد سأل بعض الزائرين في هذا الموقع أن تكتب لهم نبذة من مقدمة أصول الفقه وهو من أهم الفنون وأشرف علوم الشرع. بدأت بهذه العجالة أن أذكر فيها من أهم المؤلفات التي ألفت في هذا الفن ومصنفيهن. ولا نزاع لمن يعرف بتاريخ علم الأصول أن إمامنا الشافعي القرشي كان أول من كتب فيه ودون وحرر وأصل وهذا من مفاخر مقلدي مذهبه والحمد لله رب العالمين على هذا الفضل العظيم

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

Writers on Islamic legal history emphasize that the rationalist school of Ahl al-Raʾy was an extension of the school of Sayyidunā ʿUmar and ʿAbdullah ibn Masʿud radiyaLlahu ‘anhuma who, among the Ṣaḥabah, were the most wide-ranging in their use of ra’y (lit. opinion). In turn, ʿAlqamah al-Nakhaʿi (d. 60 or 70 AH), the uncle and teacher of Ibrāhim al-Nakhaʿi, was influenced by them. Ibrāhim then taught Ḥammad ibn Abū Sulaymān (d 120 AH) who, in turn, was the teacher of Abū Hanīfah rahimahumuLlah ta’ala.

The same historians stress that the traditionist school of Ahl al-Ḥadīth was a continuation of the school of those Sahabah whose fear of contradicting the letter of the source texts Nusus made them circumspect to the point where they never went any further than the texts. This was the case, by and large, with ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar ibn al Khattab, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn al ‘As, al-Zubayr, and ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas radiyaLlahu ‘anhum.

The school of Ahl al-Raʾy, on the other hand, gained currency in Iraq. The scholars of this group thought that legal interpretations of the Sharīʿah should have a basis in reason, should take into account the best interests of the people, and should be backed by discernable wisdom.

It was in response to a request from Ahl al-Ḥadīth, that al Imam al-Shafiʿī wrote his book, al-Hujjah (The Argument), in Baghdad, in order to refute the arguments which Ahl al-Raʾy brought against him.

Thereafter, al-Imam al-Shafiʿī  travelled to Egypt where he found that most of the people adhered strictly and unquestioningly to the opinions of Malik. Consequently, al-Imām al-Shafiʿī  began a critical analysis of al-Imām Malik’s legal opinions, and found that in some cases, “…he (Malik) formulates opinions on the basis of a general principle, while ignoring the specific issue; whereas at other times he gives a ruling on a specific issue and ignores the general principle.”

Al-Imam al-Shafiʿī  also found that al-Imām Malik’s opinion that the Ijma’ of the people of Madinah could be treated as source-evidence was, in fact, not very strong. He wrote a book entitled Al-Ikhtilaf maʿa Malik “Disagreement with Malik,” in which he dealt with all of the matters mentioned above.

With these matters in mind, then, al-Imam al-Shafiʿī rahimahuLlahu ta’ala came to the conclusion that the undertaking most deserving of attention was the collection of the principles of jurisprudence, the organization of the basic rules for their application, and the development of a source methodology by means of which questions of Fiqh may be decided through proper recourse to valid and relevant forms of evidence. Thus, Fiqh might become the practical application of this methodology, so that a new Fiqh might emerge as an alternative to the two established schools of legal thought.

It was for this reason that al Imam al Shafiʿī  wrote the Risalah, and built his Fiqh and legal teachings on the foundations of the principles and methodology he expounded in his book.

Al-Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal said: “Until al-Imam al-Shafiʿī  came along, we never thought of things like the general and the specific al-ʿumum wa al-khuu”.

The scholars writing on the subject of the history of Usul al-Fiqh are unanimously agreed that the first writer on the subject was al-Imam al-Shafiʿī rahimahuLlahu ta’ala, and that the first book ever written on the subject was the Risalah.

Al-Imām Al-Zarkashi rahimahuLlahu ta’ala (d 794 AH) in his book, al-Bahr al-Muhit, devoted a chapter to this, in which he said:

“Al-Imam al-Shafiʿī  was the first to write about Usul al-Fiqh. He wrote the Risalah,  Ahkam al-Qur’an (Legal Interpretations of the Qur’an), Ikhtilaf al-Ḥadīth (Conflicting Ḥadīth), Ibtāl al-Istihsan (The Invalidity of Juristic Preference),  Jima’ al-’Ilm (The Congruence of Knowledge), and al-Qiyas (Analogical Reasoning), – the book in which he discussed the error of the Mu’tazilah group, and changed his mind about accepting their testimony. Then, other scholars followed him in writing books on al-Usul.”

Al-Imām al-Juwaynī rahimahuLlahu ta’ala, in his commentary on the Risalah, wrote:

“No one before al-Imām al-Shafiʿī  wrote books on the subject of al-Usul, or had as much knowledge as he concerning it. It is related that Ibn ʿAbbās mentioned something about the particularization of the general, and that some of the others among the early scholars made pronouncements which suggested they understood these principles. Still, those who came after them said nothing about al-Usul, and they contributed nothing to it. We have seen the books of the Tābiʿūn and the third generation, and have found that none of them wrote books about al-Usul.”

Salah 'ala al-Nabi