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An Introduction to Islamic Jurisprudential Sects

When the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) passed away, two factors caused this inheritance to be taken into consideration, a religious factor, and a social one. The religious factor was a sense of religious responsibility (sprung from the verse of nafar) to explain the Islamic rules for people.

An Introduction to Islamic Jurisprudential Sects

1- The Origin of Jurisprudential Sects: the School of Naṣ and the School of Ra’y

The Holy Prophet (S.A.W) was the head of Islamic government, and the Commander in Chief, as well as the first teacher of Islamic thoughts. However, naturally, only the last feature is the continuous aspect of him.

When the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) passed away, two factors caused this inheritance to be taken into consideration, a religious factor, and a social one. The religious factor was a sense of religious responsibility (sprung from the verse of nafar) to explain the Islamic rules for people. The social factor was that, forming a government, besides increasing quantity of Muslim population led them to the conclusion that the ruling system and social behavior must be based upon the Islamic thoughts, which should be publicized and taught to the people.

However, from the outset, which means not only the time of Prophet Muhammad’s (S.A.W) Companions, but from the time of himself, the ideological base of legislating Islamic rules was divided into two methods that turned into two schools:

  • The school of naṣ (following the Holy Scripture): it was the Ahl al-Bayt’s way, and Imam Ali (A.S.) was the pioneer of this way. It regards the Qur’an and Sunnah as the main sources of deducing religious precepts, accepts ijtihād (interpretive reasoning) only within the framework of revealed texts, and acts within the limits of this framework. Shī’ism by definition is the continuation of Ahl al-Bayt’s way; therefore, Shi’a jurisprudence came into existence at the time of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W), and is originated from the teaching sessions at the time of the Prophet, which were extended after his death.
  • The school of ra’y (personal judgment): it was the way followed by some Companions of the Prophet (S.A.W). In addition to the Qur’an and Sunnah, ra’y (personal judgment) is also regarded as a source of deducing religious precepts in this school. Ijtihād is not limited in the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah, but it is allowed beyond them. Setting a personal judgment is allowed on the religious issues that are not clearly mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunnah, like: qiyās (deductive analogy), istiḥsān (juristic preference), Maṣāliḥ Mursalah (consideration of public interests of the time), etc. Non-Imāmīyah sects, whether Sunnī, Zaydī, or Ibāḍīyah are somehow the continuation of this school.

These two ideologies hold a dispute over two main points: the sources of religious precepts, and the sphere of ijtihād. The evidences bear witness to the existence of both ideologies at the time of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W), as well as after him. Different ways of dealing with the issues happened after the Prophet, conducted by the pioneers of both schools, testify to the basic disagreement between them. The actions like:

  • some religious acts of ‘Umar b. Khaṭṭāb that were only based upon his personal judgment:
    1. Forbidding mut‘ah al-hajj (a form of pilgrimage that emphasizes a separation between the ‘umrah and the hajj but within the same visit),
    2. Forbidding mut‘ah al-nisā’ (temporary marriage),
    3. Forbidding distribution of the maftūḥ al-‘unwah (taken by force) territories,
    4. Omitting the phrase of حيَّ علي خيرالعمل (hurry up to the best deed) as a part of adhān (the call for the ritual prayer),
  • Some deeds of Imam Ali (A.S.), emphasizing the Qur’an and Sunnah all the time:
    1. After the death of the Prophet (S.A.W), Imam Ali (A.S.) said: I never wear aba except after compiling all the Prophet’s traditions  to interpret the Qur’an,
    2.  In answer to any question, Imam Ali (A.S) used to quote from the Prophet (S.A.W) by saying: the Messenger of Allah said…,
  • Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W), in his death agony, said: give me a pen and inkwell so that I write something that you may never go astray after my death. In response to the Prophet’s request, followers of ra’y said: the Qur’an and Sunnah are enough for us, but the followers of naṣ insisted that let him write.

Hence, both ideologies were in existence at the time of the Prophet (S.A.W), too.

2- Islamic Jurisprudential Schools at the Present Time

2-1- Imāmīyah: it was founded by Imam Ali b. Ibī Ṭālib (d. 40 A.H.), and its main promoter was Imam Ja‘far Ṣādiq (d. 121 A.H.). Its most important books are as follow:

  • Al-Mabsūṭ: Sheikh Ṭūsī,
  • Sharāyi‘ al-Islām, Muḥaqqiq Ḥillī,
  • Tadhkirah al-Fuqahā’, ‘Allāmah Ḥillī,
  • Jawāhir al-Kalām, Muhammad Ḥasan Najafī,

2-2- Ḥanafīyah: it was founded by Na‘mān b. Thābit Kūfī (d. 150 A.H.), whose main disciples were Qāḍī Abū Yūsuf and Muhammad Ḥasan Shaybānī. Its most important books are as follow:

  • Al-Mabsūṭ, Shaybānī,
  • Al-Mabsūṭ, Sarakhsī (d. 483 A.H.),

2-3- Mālikīyah: it is ascribed to Abū ‘Abd Allah Mālik b. Anas (d. 179 A.H.). Its most important promoters are as follow: Asad b. al-Furāṭ, ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. al-Qāsim, Ibn Sa‘īd Tanuwwukhī, and Muhammad b. Ḥaṭṭāb. Its most important books are as follow:

  • Al-Muwaṭṭa’, Mālik,
  • Al-Mudawwanah al-Kubrā,

2-4- Shāfi‘īyah: it is ascribed to Muhammad b. Anas Shafi‘ī. Its jurisprudential books are as follow:

  • Al-‘Umm, Shāfi‘ī,
  • Mukhtaṣar al- Muznī, Ismā‘īl b. Yaḥyā Muznī (d. 264 A.H.),
  • Nihāyah al-Maṭlab, Imām al-Ḥaramayn Juwaynī (d. 478 A.H.),
  • Al-Wasīṭ, Ghazālī (d. 505 A.H.),

2-5- Ḥanbalīyah: it was founded by Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Ḥanbal (d. 241 A.H.). Its books are as follows:

  • Mukhtaṣar al-khirqī, Abū al-Qāsim khirqī,
  • Sharḥ al-khirqī, Abū Ya‘lā, known as Farrā’,
  • Al-Mughnī, Ibn Qudāmah Muqaddasī. It is a commentary on Mukhtaṣar al-khirqī.

The followers of Ibn Taymīyah Ḥarrānī (d. 8th century A.H.) are called new Ḥanbalīs (Salafīyah). Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyah, the disciple of Ibn Taymīyah, and Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhāb Najdī (d. 1207 A.H.) are the promoters of this cult.  Its most important book is, al-Ārā’ wa al-Rasā’il al-Fiqhī.

2-6- Zaydīyah: it is ascribed to Zayd b. Ali b. Ḥusein b. Ali, and its founder is a person known as Rassī. Its Jurisprudential books are as follows:

  • Musnad Imam Zayd, its narrator is a disciple of Zayd, named as Abū Khālid Sāwudī,
  • Al-Baḥr al-Zikhār, Ibn al-Murtaḍā Ḥasanī Yamānī,
  • Al-Rawḍ al-Naẓīr fī Sharḥ Majmū‘ al-Fiqh al-Kabīr, al-Siyāghī,
  • Al-Ṣayd al-Jarrār, Muhammad b. Ali Shawkānī (d. 1250 A.H.),

2-7- Ibāḍīyah: its political leader was ‘Abd Allah b. Ibāḍ al-Marī al-Tamīmī (d. 86 A.H.), but its juridical leader was Jāber b. Zayd (d. 93 A.H.), one of the successors of the Prophet’s Companions. Its most important Jurisprudential books are as follows:

  • Fiqh al-Imām Jāber b. Zayd, compiled by Yḥyā Muhammad Bakkūsh,
  • Al-Nīl wa Shifā’ al-‘Alīl, ‘Abd al-‘Azīz al-Thamīnī (d. 1225 A.H.),
  • Sharḥ al-Nīl, al-Aṭṭafayyash (d. 14th century A.H.),

 3- Extinct Schools

3-1- The school of ‘Āmir b. Sharaḥbīl Shi‘bī (d. 105 A.H.): he was the authority in ḥadīth from Kūfah, and a judge at the time of ‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-‘Azīz. He used to issue fatwas based upon ḥadīths, and withhold from ra’y.

3-2- The school of Ḥasan Baṣrī (d. 110 A.H.): he was one of the successors of the Prophet’s Companions. Despite liking Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.) at heart, apparently confirmed the Umayyads. Even at the time when cursing Imam Ali (A.S.) was prevalent, he narrates Imam’s famous traditions in his private gatherings.

3-3- The school of Sufyān Thūrī (65-161 A.H.): he was born in Kūfah, and was a student of Imam Ṣādiq (A.S.). The Abbasid caliph, Manṣūr Dawānīqī, tried to kill him, but he escaped. However he was a great Sunni leader, but, because of the few number of adherents, his school could not perpetuate for long time, and continued only until the end of fourth century. Imam Ali (A.S.) called him Sayyid al-Ḥāfiẓīn (lord of the people who know the Qur’an by heart). Ibn Mubārak says: I have narrated from a thousand masters and Sufyān was the best among them. Qaṭṭān liked him more than Mālik.

3-4- The school of Layth b. Sa‘d (92-175 A.H.): the jurist of Egypt, who was severely censured for defending ‘Uthmān b. ‘Affān (the third caliph) in Egypt. Shafi‘ī regards him more knowledgeable than Mālik. Perhaps, rejecting the post of judgment at the time of Manṣūr ‘Abbāsī, was the reason that cause this school to be extinct.

3-5- The school of ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. ‘Amr Awzā‘ī (d. 257 A.H.): it became prevalent in Syria and Andalusia, and endured until 302 A.H., just before the predominance of Shafi‘ī School over there.

3-6- The school of Dāwūd b. Ali al-Ẓāhirī (202-270 A.H.) (=Ẓāhirīyah): he was born in Kūfah, but grew up in Baghdad. His school endured until the end of seventh century. Some, instead of Ḥanbalīyah, count this school as the fourth Sunni school.[1]

            Except the above-mentioned schools, there were many others that are overthrown (up to fifty schools are reported). Perhaps, its main reason was the official order of Abbasid caliph, al-Muntaṣir Billāh, in sixth century for closing the door of ijtihād, and restricting imitation to four jurisprudential schools.

            He learned jurisprudence from Abī Thūr, Ibn Rāwiyah, and the books and disciples of Shafi‘ī. Shafi‘ī’s thoughts about rejecting the jurists of the school of ra’y, rejecting qiyās and istiḥsān, and respecting revealed texts deeply impressed him, and were favored by him. Nevertheless, he objected that Shafi‘ī followed qiyās and istiḥsān in some cases.

            Resorting to the appearance of the Qur’an and Sunnah is the main feature of his school, and also the reason that it is called as Ẓāhirī (=related to appearance). His jurisprudence contains only the text of the Qur’an and Sunnah. He strictly believes in the appearance and does not accept any interpretation or esoteric exegesis, by any means. Not only that, but he also says: God never does anything for a reason. Even if God and His messenger sets forth a reason, we cannot extend it to other cases; after all, it is the reason of the indicated issue. Therefore, setting up a judgment on another issue because of containing that reason is not acceptable. This ideology, by definition, is rejecting the rule of causality.

            Dāwūd was very knowledgeable about ḥadīth, and a pious and ascetic man. However, because of some ideas to be mentioned afterwards as well as aggressive treatment while talking with opponents, his contemporary scholars detested him.

            About two centuries later, Ibn Ḥazm Andulusī (Ali b. Ahmad b. Sa‘īd b. Ḥazm; d. 458 A.H.) strengthened and spread this school; so that, it is reported: if Ibn Ḥazm was not there, the principles and assimilate cases of this school would be destroyed. Ibn Ḥazm, in addition to memorizing the Holy Qur’an, was conversant with jurisprudence, ḥadīth, rational sciences, philosophy, literature, history, and politics.

            At first, Ibn Ḥazm, learned Mālikī School that was prevalent in Andalusia, after that, learned the school of Shafi‘ī, and finally studied Ẓāhirī jurisprudence from Mas‘ūd b. Sulaymān b. Ṣalt. However he accepted Dāwūd’s school, but he was not a simple follower of him. Ibn Ḥazm, in contrast to Dāwūd, does not regard the Qur’an as a created being, and strictly rejects taqlīd (imitation) and says: a mujtahid (authorized interpreter of religious law) who has made a mistake is more favored by God than an imitator of a right fatwa. Ibn Ḥazm, just like Dāwūd, was rude and aggressive towards opponents while debating with them, which caused his contemporary scholars to avoid him. He is well known for supporting the Umayyads, and apposing the Alawid and the Hashemite.

            Some views and beliefs of Ẓāhirīyah

  • God is visible to Muslims at the day of resurrection,
  • Believing in the certain fate and destiny,
  • Unity of Islam and Īmān (faith), which is the same as “cordial belief, verbal statement, and organic deeds”, that is stretchable by obeying and disobeying God,
  • Caliphate is confined to Quraysh (the tribe of Prophet Muhammad); the existence of more than one imam at the same time is rejected; the death without knowing Imam is as the death at the time of ignorance; and being doubtful for choosing a new imam, after dying the previous one, is not allowed for more than three days.
  • Believing in unity of the authentic ḥadīths with the Qur’an, so that both are revealed from God.
  • A ḥadīth must be the exact words of the Prophet (S.A.W), and paraphrasing the content of his words is not allowed.
  • ‘Adālat (=integrity: performing ritual obligations and avoiding prohibitions) and ḍabṭ (excellent memory) are of the necessary conditions for a narrator.
  • Invalidity of Ta‘ādul wa tarājīḥ (the rules presented for the incompatibility between traditions). In case of contradiction between two verses, or traditions, or a verse and a tradition, both of them should be put into practice, as much as possible.
  • Ijmā‘ (consensus) is accepted only when it happens among all Companions. Disagreement of even one Companion corrupts it, and the consensus of non-Companions is not regarded as an ijmā‘.

10- Rejecting imitation, and opening the door of ijtihād.

11- Believing that the Qur’an is a created being. However, considering all words of Dāwūd results that, he believed in two stages for the Qur’an:

  1. Hidden stage: that is referred by the verse: لايمسُّهُ إلّا المُطَهَّرون. It is non-created.
  2. Apparent stage: that is touchable and as the one (comprising of paper and ink) in the hands of people. It is a created being.



[1] Dāwūd b. Ali b. Khalaf Abī Sulaymān, who was originally from Isfahan, was born in 202 A.H. He was living in Baghdad, but he made a trip to Nayshāpūr intended to learn the Qur’an interpretation and ḥadīth from Isḥāq b. Rāwiyah. He turned back to Baghdad and stayed there until the end of his life in 270.

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