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When Disagreement is a Blessing

Meeting between muslim scholars

With masterful conciseness, an eighteenth-century Indian thinker recounts how Islamic law was born and how the various legal schools were formed. What he teaches is that, within certain limits, a divergence of opinions is not a curse but, rather, a necessity

This article was published in Oasis 27. Read the table of contents

Last update: 2018-12-18 12:03:24


Causes of Disagreement between the Companions and the Successors in the Law’s Branches

In the time of God’s Messenger, law (fiqh) was not written. In those days, the rules were not inferred as they are nowadays by the jurists when, to the best of their ability, they clarify the fundamental precepts, the conditions and the customs, distinguishing each one from the others by virtue of legal proofs, giving their opinion even on imaginary situations and proceeding as much as possible by way of definitions and qualifications.


At that time, God’s Messenger performed the ablutions and his Companions saw him and imitated him, without his clarifying which element of his actions constituted a fundamental precept and which, on the other hand, was simply a custom. He prayed, they saw him pray and they conformed to his way of acting. He went on pilgrimage, people observed his actions and they imitated them. That is how it went in most cases; the Prophet did not explain whether the pillars of ablution numbered six or four and he did not envisage the case of someone interrupting his own ablutions just to give his opinion on such behaviour (save a few exceptions willed by God); and the Companions rarely asked him questions of this kind. In this respect, Ibn ‘Abbās[i] states, “I have never seen better people than the Companions of God’s Messenger and they only submitted thirteen questions to him before he was carried away from them: they are all in the Qur’an […] They only asked questions about what was useful to them.” ‘Umar’s[ii] son, for his part, used to teach, “Do not ask questions about things that have not happened, because I have heard my father curse anyone who should ask questions about hypothetical cases.”


[…] People used to ask God’s Messenger for his opinion on the events of life and he would answer. They would submit their issues and he would adjudicate them; he saw people do good actions and he would approve them or bad actions and he would disapprove them. Nevertheless, not all his opinions or verdicts were given at public meetings. For this reason, when the two sheikhs Abū Bakr[iii] and ‘Umar had to face an issue which they did not know how to handle, they would ask people whether anyone knew any hadīth on the point. For example, one day Abū Bakr had to attribute a share of an inheritance to the grandmother of a deceased man and he declared that he had not heard anything from the Prophet about such a case. At the midday prayer, however, he asked if someone had heard something from God’s Messenger on the subject. Al-Mughīra Ibn Shu‘ba[iv] answered in the affirmative: that she should be given one sixth of the inheritance. “Has anyone else heard the same?” Muhammad Ibn Maslama came forward to confirm this and Abū Bakr gave the woman one sixth of the inheritance.


[…] When the Prophet ended his earthly days, his Companions were still in this condition. Then they dispersed, spreading to various lands, and each one became a source of imitation for a particular region. Faced with the many new cases and issues on which they were asked to give their advice, every Companion appealed to his own memory and inference. And if he did not find any element either in his memory or by way of inference that enabled him to respond, he strove to produce an interpretation according to his own personal opinion, seeking to define the rationale (‘illa) by which God’s Messenger had issued a certain verdict and to generalize it whenever possible, without sparing any effort to conform to the Prophet’s intention. In this way, there arose points of disagreement between the Companions.


 […] The Successors passed down from the Companions the traditions that came most easily to them. They memorized the hadīths about God’s Messenger they had been able to listen to and the Companions’ doctrines and they studied them in depth. They collected the diverging traditions in their possession and compared the sayings they had. Some of these, albeit handed down on the authority of the most important Companions, seemed to them to be minority sayings: for example, the tradition reported by ‘Umar and Ibn Mas‘ūd regarding the impossibility of performing the greater ablution with sand seemed to them less credible than the countless hadīths on the subject handed down by ‘Ammār, ‘Imrān Ibn Husayn and others.[v] In this way, every Successor formed his own personal doctrine (madhhab) and in every region there emerged an imām, such as Sa‘īd Ibn al-Musayyib and Sālim Ibn ‘Abd Allāh Ibn ‘Umar in Medina, who were followed by al-Zuhrī, the judge Yahyā Ibn Sa‘īd and Rabī‘a Ibn [Abī] ‘Abd al-Rahmān in the same city; ‘Atā’ Ibn Abī Rabāh in Mecca; Ibrāhīm al-Nakha‘ī and al-Sha‘bī in Kūfa; al-Hasan al-Basrī in Basra; Tāwūs Ibn Kaysān in Yemen and Makhūl in Syria.[vi] […]



Causes of Disagreement between the Law Schools

Once the era of the Successors had come to an end, the Most High brought forth a generation of learned men, in accordance with the Prophet’s promise, “The just men of future centuries will carry this knowledge.” [vii] From the masters they frequented they learned how to perform the lesser and the greater ablution, how to carry out prayer and pilgrimage and how to behave in marriage, trading and all the most common aspects of life. They handed down the Prophet’s hadīths and listened to the judgments issued by the judges in the various regions, as well as the legal opinions (fatwas) of the experts. They submitted new issues to them and advanced their own interpretations (ijtihād). Then, [upon the death of the Successors], they became the authoritative reference for people. They faithfully followed the model of their masters, without sparing any effort in the quest for allusions or implications contained in the texts. They were judges and muftī, transmitters and teachers.


[…] This generation received the inspiration to commit their doctrines to writing. Mālik and Muhammad Ibn ‘Abd al-Rahmān Ibn Abī Di’b in Medina, Ibn Jurayh and Ibn ‘Uyayna in Mecca, Sufyān al-Thawrī in Kufa and al-Rabī‘ Ibn Sabīh in Basra[viii] all did so.


While performing his pilgrimage, [the Abbasid caliph] al-Mansūr[ix] told Mālik that he had decided to have his books written copied and sent to every Muslim metropolis, so that they may become the undisputed reference for everyone. Mālik replied: “Do not act so, o Commander of the faithful! Indeed, people have already memorized many sayings, have listened to several hadīths and handed traditions down. Every group has learned what has come down to it and has adopted it. Let people continue to behave in accordance with what every region has chosen for itself!”


In another version of the story, reported by al-Suyūtī,[x] it is [the caliph] Hārūn al-Rashīd[xi] who speaks. He consults Mālik as to whether it was appropriate to affix the Muwatta’ to the walls of the Kaaba and take it as the point of reference for all Muslims. Mālik’s reply is the same:


“Do not do it! The Companions of God’s Messenger experienced points of disagreement regarding the law’s branches and they have spread to the various countries.” “You are right indeed, Mālik!” the caliph replied. “May God grant you success!”


[The Founders of the First Three Schools of Law: Mālik]

Mālik was the best versed in the hadīths reported by the Medinese about God’s Messenger and the most trusted in the chains of transmission. He knew the verdicts issued by ‘Umar and the sayings of ‘Umar’s son, ‘Ā’isha[xii] and the Seven Jurists[xiii] better than anyone else. On these foundations he built the science of the traditions and that of the fatwas and when authority was entrusted to him, he handed down hadīths, issued fatwas, taught and gave people the benefit of his wisdom. According to the reports of Ibn ‘Uyayna and ‘Abd al-Razzāq al-San‘ānī,[xiv] to cite but two names, it is to him that the Prophet’s saying applies, which says “Soon people will be reduced to striking the camels’ backs in their quest for knowledge, but they will find no one more knowledgeable that the Scholar of Medina.” His companions collected together the traditions that he had handed down and his selections of hadīth. They summarized and edited them, they commented on them, derived rules from them, gave their opinions on their roots and proofs and dispersed in the direction of the Maghreb and all regions of earth. God benefitted many creatures through their teachings and if you want to check what I have stated regarding the origin of this law school, you just have to read the Muwatta’: you will find that things are exactly as I have said.



[Abū Hanīfa]

Abū Hanīfa[xv] was the closest to the school of Ibrāhīm al-Nakha‘ī and his associates, save some very limited exceptions that were willed by God. He was very skilful in formulating inferences according to this school, extremely subtle in his modes of reasoning and capable of analysing an issue from every possible angle. If you wish to verify this, summarize the sayings of Ibrāhīm al-Nakha‘ī as they are reported in al-Shaybānī’s[xvi] Kitāb al-Āthār, al-San‘ānī’s Jāmi‘ and Ibn Abī Shayba’s[xvii] Musannaf and then compare them with Abū Hanīfa’s doctrine: you will find that the latter departs from them only in a few cases and even in those few cases he remains within the scope of the opinions argued by the Kufan jurists.


The most famous of Abū Hanīfa’s companions was Abū Yūsuf,[xviii] who was Chief Justice in the time of Hārūn al-Rashīd. It was he who spread the Hanafi doctrine in Iraq, Khorasan and Transoxiana. But the best in terms of hadīth classification and study was al-Shaybānī. It is said of him that after perfecting his formation under the guidance of Abū Hanīfa and Abū Yūsuf, he made his way to Medina where he learned the Muwatta’ from Mālik. Then, after returning to his own country, he compared the doctrine of his masters with what he had found in the Muwatta’, issue by issue. If the doctrines were in agreement, he followed them. Otherwise, if he saw a group of Companions and Successors follow the doctrine of his masters, he adopted it all the same. But if he found a weak analogy or a debatable inference that was contradicted either by an authentic hadīth applied by the jurists or by the praxis of most ulama, he abandoned the Hanafi doctrine in order to embrace what seemed to him to be the most likely of the ancestors’ various positions.


Both Abū Yūsuf and al-Shaybānī nevertheless walked as closely as possible in the footsteps of Ibrāhīm al-Nakha‘ī as Abū Hanīfa had done. […] For this reason, Abū Hanīfa is considered as one and the same school with Abū Yūsuf and al-Shaybānī, although these, too, were absolute interpreters (mujtahid mutlaq) and despite the numerous differences that set them apart from Abū Hanīfa in the law’s roots and branches. Indeed, they are all united in their common origin; furthermore, their doctrines are reported together in the Mabsūt and the Jāmi‘ al-kabīr.




When the Maliki and Hanafi law schools were already taking shape and their doctrines were beginning to be ordered into roots and branches, al-Shāfi‘ī[xix] emerged. Pondering the work of his predecessors, he noticed many defects that prevented him from following them, as he explained in his introduction to the Kitāb al-Umm. […] One of the errors indicated by al-Shāfi‘ī, for example, was the fact that some authentic hadīths were not known to the Successors charged with providing legal opinions. They therefore made their pronouncements on the basis of their own opinions or what they considered to be right; or they followed the example of some Companion. When the hadīths relating to these issues made their appearance in the third generation, the jurists did not want to apply them, as they saw them conflicting with their city’s praxis and its undisputed tradition. This justified the hadīths’ rejection to them or rendered them suspect, to say the least. A hadīth could even make its appearance after the third generation, when the traditionists were relentlessly collecting all the channels of transmission, travelling all over the world in their quest for [religious] knowledge. Indeed, many hadīths reported by the Companions have only been transmitted by one or two men who, in their turn, transmitted them to only one or two men and so on. For this reason, they remained unknown to the legal scholars until they reappeared during the era of the great traditionists, who collected all channels of transmission for religious knowledge. For example, many hadīths were handed down by the people of Basra or another region, without one group knowing what the other was doing.


Al-Shāfi‘ī explained that the Companions and Successors always asked whether someone knew of any traditions relating to the issues that were being submitted to them. If they did not find any, they used another mode of reasoning, but if a hadīth subsequently made its appearance, they abandoned their own interpretative effort in favour of the hadīth. Thus, al-Shāfi‘ī concluded, the fact that these Companions and Successors did not apply a hadīth does not constitute in itself proof of its falsity, unless they explicitly expressed the reason for their rejection! […] In short, noticing these defects in his predecessors’ work, al-Shāfi‘ī took the law in hand again, from top to bottom: he gave a solid foundation to the roots, drew the appropriate distinctions between the branches, wrote books, taught and gave the benefit of his wisdom. Jurists gathered around him, condensed his work, commented on it and drew arguments and inferences from it. Then they dispersed in various countries and so the Shafi‘ite school was born.



Causes of Disagreement between Traditionists and Champions of Reasoning

Amongst the ulama living in the era of Sa‘īd Ibn al-Musayyib, Ibrāhīm al-Nakhā‘ī and al-Zuhrī, as indeed amongst those living in the era of Mālik and Sufyān al-Thawrī and subsequent generations, there was a group of scholars who abhorred independent reasoning (ra’y) and detested providing legal decisions or advancing inferences except in cases of extreme necessity. Their greatest interest, on the other hand, lay in handing down the hadīths of God’s Messenger correctly.


[…] When the habit of writing down the Companions’ hadīths and sayings spread in the Islamic countries and people began to produce texts and notes, almost every traditionist took part in this movement, first and foremost to satisfy his own needs. Their greatest scholars thus began to travel far and wide through the Hijaz, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen and Khorasan, gathering books and pursuing written notes in the hunt for rare hadīths and little known sayings. Thanks to their good offices, a quantity of hadīths and sayings never hitherto collected was brought together. In this way, they could draw on the traditions with a previously unknown ease, succeeding in collecting over one hundred channels of transmission for a single tradition: channels that often mutually completed each other. They managed to establish the extent to which every hadīth had spread, they perfected the study of parallel and converging traditions and discovered many authentic hadīths that, up until that moment, had remained unknown to the jurists charged with providing legal opinions.


[…] This generation of traditionists handed down approximately 40,000 hadīths. It is even said of al-Bukhārī[xx] that he reviewed 600,000 hadīths in order to compose his Sahīh, whilst Abū Dāwūd[xxi] is said to have examined 500,000 hadīths for his Sunan. Ahmad Ibn Hanbal,[xxii] for his part, conceived the project of his Musnad as a means of ascertaining the Prophet’s traditions with precision: what could be found there (even by a single way of transmission) would be sound; what could not be found there, could be discarded.


[…] Then the Most High brought forth a new generation. Seeing that their masters had already assumed the burden of gathering hadīths together and ordering the law, thereby sparing them this trouble, they set themselves other tasks such as identifying the authentic hadīths accepted by all the great traditionists such as Yazīd Ibn Hārūn, Yahyā Ibn Sa‘īd al-Qattān, Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Ishāq[xxiii] and the like, or collecting [in specific compilations] the legal hadīths used both by the jurists in the metropolises and by the ulama in the various countries to construct their schools. Or again, they set out to examine the precise value of every hadīth, including the anomalous or isolated ones not handed down by their masters, or the channels of transmission not declared by the first traditionists and containing a better or uninterrupted chain or a transmission from jurist to jurist or from Qur’anic expert to Qur’anic expert and various other forms of scientific research of this kind. These scholars are al-Bukhārī, Muslim, Abū Dāwūd, ‘Abd Ibn Humayd, al-Dārimī, Ibn Māja, Abū Ya‘lā, al-Tirmīdhī, al-Nasā’ī, al-Dāraqutnī, al-Hākim, al-Bayhaqī, al-Khatīb, al-Daylamī, Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr and others.[xxiv] In my opinion, the wisest, most useful and most famous among them are four scholars who lived more or less in the same era, namely, al-Bukhārī, Muslim, Abū Dāwūd and al-Tirmīdhī[xxv].


Abū ‘Abd Allāh al-Bukhārī set himself the task of isolating the authentic hadīths with a wide circulation and an uninterrupted chain and deducing from them the law, the Prophet’s life and Qur’anic exegesis. His “Authentic Collection” (al-Jāmi‘ al-sahīh) hit the target. In this respect, I have been told that one night, a pious man saw God’s Messenger in a dream. “What are you doing?” the Prophet asked him. “Have you started studying al-Shāfi‘ī whilst neglecting my book?” “What is your book, o Messenger of God?” “It is al-Bukhārī’s Sahīh.” Verily, it is impossible to imagine a more famous or more universally accepted author.



[The Champions of Reasoning]

And yet, in the time of Mālik and Sufyān al-Thawrī and in subsequent eras, there were, in addition to these experts of traditions, other scholars who did not abhor the idea of giving their opinion on legal issues and did not refuse to provide legal decisions, convinced as they were that jurisprudence was the foundation of religion and should circulate as widely as possible. Some of them took care not to transmit traditions about God’s Messenger or to attribute them to him. Al-Sha‘bī preferred the sayings that did not date back to the Prophet because any possible addition or omission would not touch his person. Equally, Ibrāhīm al-Nakha‘ī valued the traditions attributed to ‘Alqama[xxvi] and Ibn Mas‘ūd above those attributed to the Prophet and when Ibn Mas‘ūd reported one of the traditions regarding God’s Messenger, his face would change colour and he would add [out of religious scruple], “Or he said something like this.” When ‘Umar sent some Companions from various garrison-towns to Kufa, he warned them in these terms:


“You are now going to Kufa, where you will find an impassioned people. They will come to you and will say, ‘Muhammad’s Companions have arrived! Muhammad’s Companions have arrived!’ They will be looking for hadīths from you but you will hand on as little as possible about God’s Messenger!”


[…] Those men ordered law on the basis of derivation (takhrīj). This consists, first of all, in memorizing the book that expounds the doctrine of the school’s masters in the best, most accurate and most precise manner. Subsequently, the jurist will examine the explicit declarations of the schools’ founders in relation to every issue on which he must give an opinion and every need that he encounters. If he finds the answer, he will follow it. Otherwise, he will consider the generality of their discourse in order to adapt the particular case to it, or an implicit indication from which the [relevant] rule can be inferred. Indeed, it can happen that a proposition contains allusions or implications that may intimate the desired meaning. The issue on which he must give his opinion may be similar to another and may be compared to it. Or, again, the jurist may, after careful consideration and reasoning,[xxvii] come to define the rationale (‘illa) underpinning the rule and apply it to another case that had not been explicitly foreseen. He may make use of two propositions that can produce the desired answer when linked by a categorical or conditional syllogism. Sometimes the masters’ discourse will contain cases that are mentioned by way of example or subdivision, without a clear statement of their specific definition. In that case, having recourse to experts of language, the jurist will have to identify the specific element and draw out the definition uniting and distinguishing the cases, clarifying the obscure points and discriminating the instances that are only apparently similar. Again, the masters’ proposition may admit two interpretations and the jurist will seek to determine the most likely of the two. It may be that the proofs needed to settle the question are hidden and the jurist has to make them explicit. Or again, he may base his reasoning on the way in which the masters acted or on their silence and so on and so forth.


All this is called derivation (takhrīj). People also say, “The proposition derived from X is this…” or “According to X’s school or Y’s rationale or Z’s proposition, the answer to the question is so and so.” Those who practise this kind of derivation are called “authorized interpreters within a school” (mujtahid fī l-madhhab). It is to this type of ijtihād that people are referring when they state that whoever learns the Mabsūt[xxviii] by heart is a qualified interpreter (mujtahid), even if he understands nothing of the science of traditions and does not know a single hadīth. Every law school makes ample use of derivation. […]



[Reconciling the Two Positions]

In reality, takhrīj – as much in the sense of “derivation” used by the jurists as in that of “critical study of hadīth” proper to the traditionists – has a solid foundation in religion. The greatest ulama in every era have always made use of both. It is true that some of them were better versed in derivation and less so in tradition and others were stronger in hadīth and weaker in legal reasoning but it is advisable not to neglect either of the two disciplines completely, as the representatives of the two camps regrettably tend to do. The right approach is indeed to unite one method with the other and remedy to the defects of both. This is what al-Hasan al-Basrī used to teach:


“In the name of God, besides Whom there is no god, your Sunna lies between excess and coldness.”


The people of hadīth must submit their traditions to the judgment of the qualified interpreters (mujtahid) amongst the Successors and those who have come after them. The people of derivation must adhere to those traditions that do not contradict an explicit hadīth and must avoid supporting an opinion when they have a hadīth or a saying available, insofar as this is possible. […] I have found in practice, however, that these two groups are like separated brothers who, despite their proximity and the absolute need each has of the other, do not support each other and do not cooperate as they ought to in order to arrive at the truth. Thus, in the great majority of cases, the experts in tradition have a fixation on chains and channels of transmission and go hunting for the most unusual and anomalous hadīths, even though most of them are totally forged or altered in some measure. They do not pay any attention to the text and they do not seek to penetrate its meaning; they cannot understand the inner sense of the traditions [they learn by heart] and they are not capable of extracting the treasures they contain. Sometimes they violently accuse the jurists of infringing the Sunna without realising how incapable they are of profiting from the knowledge they have received. In this way, they become guilty of slandering towards the jurists.

On the other hand, experts in law and speculation, too, generally have only a minimal understanding of hadīth, to the point that they have great difficulty in distinguishing authentic sayings from forged ones and good traditions from bad ones. They have no scruples about using any tradition whatsoever against their adversaries, provided it supports their school or their opinions. Thus they have acquired the habit of accepting weak or severed hadīths if they have long been taught in their school, even though they have no proof or certainty that they are genuine. And this is a form of abuse and deceit.



Adherence to One of the Four Schools [and Their Mutual Acceptance]

[…] Amongst the Companions, the Successors and the generations that came afterwards, there were those who recited the basmala[xxix] during prayer and those who did not, those who proclaimed it out aloud and those who said it under their breath, those who added an invocation (qunūt) during the dawn prayer and those who did not, those who performed ablution after blood-letting, nosebleed or vomiting and those who did not, those who performed ablution because they had touched a man or a woman lustfully and those who did not, those who performed ablution after a burn and those who did not, those who performed ablution after eating camel meat and those who did not. And despite this, every one of them prayed behind the others.


And in the same way, Abū Hanīfa and his companions, al-Shāfi‘ī and the others all prayed behind the Maliki imāms in Medina or others, even if they did not recite the basmala either under their breath or out aloud. Once [the caliph Hārūn] al-Rashīd led the prayers immediately after a blood-letting and Abū Yūsuf prayed behind him without any objection, because imām Mālik had expressed his opinion to the caliph that ablutions were not necessary in that kind of case. Given that imām Ahmad Ibn Hanbal was of the opinion that it was necessary to perform ablutions after nosebleeds and blood-letting, he was asked one day, “If the imām who leads the prayers has lost blood and has not performed the ablutions, would you pray behind him nevertheless?” “And how could I not pray behind imām Mālik or behind Sa‘īd Ibn al-Musayyib?!” he replied.


[…] One day al-Shāfi‘ī prayed in the morning near Abū Hanīfa’s tomb and, out of respect for him, he did not add any invocation, commenting, “More than once we have been attracted by the way of praying of the people of Iraq”. And we have already cited what Mālik replied to al-Mansūr or Hārūn al-Rashīd.


[Shāh Walī Allāh al-Dihlawī, Al-Insāf fī bayān asbāb al-ikhtilāf (“An Even-handed Exposition of the Causes of Disagreement”), edited by ‘Abd al-Fattāh Abū Ghudda, Dār al-Nafā’is, Bayrūt, 19862, passim. Italian translation from the Arabic by Martino Diez. English translation from the Italian by Catharine de Rienzo, revised on the basis of the Arabic original by MD]


[i] Muhammad’s cousin. He was a crucial figure for Qur’anic exegesis and religious sciences in general.

[ii] ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattāb was the second Caliph (r. 634-644). His son did not play a political role but devoted himself to the transmission of the Prophet’s traditions.

[iii] The first Caliph (r. 632-634) and one of Muhammad’s earliest followers in Mecca.

[iv] Another famous Companion. He was governor of Iraq under ‘Umar and ‘Uthmān and the first Umayyads. Muhammad Ibn Maslama, from Medina, was one of the greatest military leaders both under Muhammad and his successors. The episode to which the author is referring is narrated in Mālik’s Muwatta’ (Kitāb al-farā’id, bāb mīrāth al-jadda).

[v] One of the earliest converts to Islam, ‘Abd Allāh Ibn Mas‘ūd played a primary part in the transmission of the Qur’an. According to Ibn Mas‘ūd and ‘Umar, ablution performed with sand did not remove greater impurity. Nevertheless, the opinion of ‘Ammār Ibn Yāsir (one of the heroes at the Battle of Badr) and ‘Imrān Ibn Husayn, who both considered ablution with sand to be equivalent to ablution with water when the latter is not available, prevailed amongst the jurists.

[vi] Some of the most important Successors lived in Medina: of these, Sa‘īd Ibn al-Musayyib (d. 715), one of the so-called “Seven Jurists of Medina”, and Sālim, grandson of the Caliph ‘Umar, stand out, whereas al-Zuhrī (d. 742), a key figure in the establishment of Islam under the Umayyads, particularly as far as the Prophet’s biography is concerned, distinguished himself in the next generation. Rabī‘a Ibn Abī ‘Abd al-Rahmān, on the other hand, was a champion of individual reasoning and the traditionist Yahyā Ibn Sa‘īd al-Ansārī hailed from Medina too. Of Nubian origin, ‘Atā’ Ibn Abī Rabāh was the most eminent jurist in Mecca in the era of the Successors. Al-Nakha‘ī (d. towards 717) and al-Sha‘bī (d. after 720), on the other hand, were the two main jurists in Kufa. Al-Sha‘bī is known for his aversion to writing hadīth down, a practice that had begun to gain ground in his day. Al-Hasan al-Basrī (d. 728) was one of the greatest theologians and mystics of the Umayyad era (see Oasis 26 [2017], 94-100). Of Persian origin, Tāwūs Ibn Kaysān was active in Yemen and a disciple of Ibn ‘Abbās, whereas Makhūl al-Hudhalī or al-Shāmī was the greatest traditionist in Syria in the era of the Successors and a supporter of free will.

[vii] The famous hadīth continues, “rejecting the alterations of exaggerators, the perversions of liars and the abusive interpretations of ignorant.”

[viii] The most important of these jurists, after Mālik, is Sufyān al-Thawrī (716-778), an Iraqi traditionist and ascetic and the founder of a legal school that did not survive him. Sufyān Ibn ‘Uyayna, on the other hand, is the most important third-generation Muslim scholar from Mecca.

[ix] The second Abbasid Caliph and founder of Baghdad. He reigned from 754 to 775.

[x] The famous fifteenth-century (1445-1505) Egyptian jurist, traditionist, linguist and expert in Qur’anic sciences. See Oasis 23 (2016), pp. 96-104.

[xi] The fifth Abbasid caliph (r. 786-809). He is remembered in the Arab tradition as the prototype of the just and wise ruler.

[xii] ‘Ā’isha was Abū Bakr’s daughter and the Prophet’s favourite wife. She enjoyed an important political role in early Islam.

[xiii] These were seven Successors who all lived in Medina and were particularly well versed in law. They were the already noted Sa‘īd Ibn al-Musayyib, ‘Urwa Ibn al-Zubayr, al-Qāsim Ibn Muhammad Ibn Abī Bakr, ‘Ubayd Allāh Ibn ‘Abd Allāh Ibn ‘Utba Ibn Mas‘ūd, Khārija Ibn Zayd Ibn Thābit, Sulaymān Ibn Yasār and Abū Salama Ibn ‘Abd al-Rahmān Ibn ‘Awf. In Arabic they are known as al-fuqahā’ al-sab‘a.

[xiv] As his name tells us, al-San‘ānī lived in Sana‘a, Yemen. He was the author of one of the oldest collections of hadīth, known as the Musannaf (i.e. “Traditions arranged according to the subject”, as opposed to Musnad or “Traditions arranged according to the transmitter’s name”).

[xv] Abū Hanīfa (d. 767) was the founder of the Hanafi school, the most popular amongst Sunni Muslims. His legal teaching is known only through his disciples. Of these, Abū Yūsuf and al-Shaybānī are the most noteworthy.

[xvi] Muhammad al-Shaybānī (750-c. 805) was Abū Hanīfa’s disciple but he also studied with Mālik and was one of al-Shāfi‘ī’s masters. Mabsūt (or Asl) and Jāmi‘ al-kabīr are his most important works.

[xvii] Another prominent traditionist, Ibn Abī Shayba lived in Kufa between 775 and 849. He authored another early compilation of traditions, entitled Musannaf too.

[xviii] Abū Yūsuf died in Baghdad in 798. He spread the doctrines of his master, Abū Hanīfa, both through his own writings and, and above all, in his official capacity as Chief Justice.

[xix] Muhammad Ibn Idrīs al-Shāfi‘ī (767-820) is the founder of the third Sunni law school. One of al-Shaybānī’s pupils, he greatly systematized Islamic law and played a decisive part in the adoption of hadīths as the primary source of Law. The Risāla (on legal methodology) and the Kitāb al-Umm (on concrete cases) are his most noteworthy works.

[xx] Author of one of the two Sahīhs (“Authentic collection”), al-Bukhārī died in 870 in Bukhārā, in present-day Uzbekistan. He is considered the most reliable authority on hadīth. His name is often associated with that of Muslim, who authored the other Sahīh and who died in Nishapur, Persia, in 870.

[xxi] Abū Dawūd al-Sijistānī (d. 888) is another great hadīth scholar. His Sunan (“Traditions”) are part of the so-called Six Books of Sunni hadīth, together with the two Sahīhs by al-Bukhārī and Muslim and the collections compiled by Ibn Māja (d. 886), al-Tirmīdhī (d. 898) and al-Nasā’ī (d. 915).

[xxii] A great traditionist, Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (780-855) is known for his unbending defence of the uncreated nature of the Qur’an. Here Walī Allāh consideres him mainly as a hadīth scholar. It was his disciples who systematized his legal opinions giving birth, after his death, to the Sunni fourth law school, Hanbalism.

[xxiii] Apart from the already-encountered name of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, some works by Muslim’s master Ishāq Ibn Rāhwayh (d. 853) have been preserved from amongst this generation of traditionists.

[xxiv] These are the greatest names in hadīth science. Apart from the compilers of the Six Books, at least al-Dārimī (d. 869), al-Dāraqutnī (d. 955), al-Hākim al-Naysābūrī (d. 1014), al-Bayhaqī (d. 1066) and al-Khatīb al-Baghdādī (d. 1071) should be remembered. Due to the constant refining of method, these works are not less important for Islamic law than those of the first generations.

[xxv] The author sketches a portrait of each of the four traditionists. We have only translated al-Bukhārī’s picture. It is clear that, for Walī Allāh, Ibn Māja and al-Nasā’ī are not on the same level as the other four masters.

[xxvi] A disciple of Ibn Mas‘ūd, ‘Alqama Ibn Qays al-Nakha’ī belonged to the Successors’ generation and was one of the founders of the “school” of Kufa. He was particularly appreciated by Abū Hanīfa.

[xxvii] I have corrected the Arabic text from hadhf to hadhq to fit the context.

[xxviii] This could be al-Shaybānī’s Mabsūt or the work of the same name by the eleventh-century jurist Abū Bakr al-Sarakhsī: both were founding texts for the Hanafi school.

[xxix] The formula “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful”, which is very common amongst Muslims.

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