al-Shaybānī and the Conclusion of this Tale…

Abbasid Palace in Baghdad Built 221/836

After Abū Yūsuf, the second most prominent student of Abū Ḥanīfa is Abū ʽAbdullah Muammad b. al-Ḥaṣan al-Shaybānī (132-189AH/749-804CE), more often  known simply as Imam Muḥammad or al-Shaybānī. He was born in Wasit but grew up as a client in Kūfa and, like Abū Yūsuf, he first began his studies in hadith. Unfortunately he was only able to study briefly under Imam Abū Ḥanīfa since he passed away when al-Shaybānī was about 18 years old. However, this limited time of study must have included an intense study of hadiths for al-Shaybānī later compiled (or transmitted from Imam Abū Ḥanīfa) a work of hadith and transmitted sayings of earlier scholars which rivaled in size Mālik’s al-Muwaṭṭa (the book is called Kitāb al-Athār).

After Abū Ḥanīfa passed away al-Shaybānī continued his study of Ḥanafī fiqh under Abū Yūsuf. However, he also took his fiqh from the hadith scholar al-Thawri, the scholar of Syria al-Awza’i, and traveled to Medina to study under Mālik b. Anas. In fact, al-Shaybānī is one of the main narrators of Mālik’s al-Muwaṭṭa. Notably, al-Shaybānī also included a commentary in his transmission of al-Muwaṭṭa where he discussed points of agreement and disagreement between Mālik and Abū Ḥanīfa; making it one of the first books on comparative fiqh.

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Abū Yūsuf: The Knowledge of Kūfa Inherited

One day Waki’ b. al-Jarrah,  a prominent hadith scholar of the time, cited a ruling given by Abū Ḥanīfa when someone remarked that Abū Ḥanīfa had committed an error. “How could Abū Ḥanīfa commit an error,” Waki’ replied. “He had eminent men to assist him – in analogy Abū Yūsuf and Zafar [b. al-Hudhayl]; in hadith Yaḥya b. Zaʽidah, Hafs b. Ghiyath, Habban and Mundal; in lexicography and the Arabic language Qasim b. Ma’n; in devotion and piety Dawūd al-Ta’i and Fadl b. ʽIyād. How could one with such men at his side commit an error? Even if he were going to commit one, would these men let him do so?”

In the city of Kūfa, Abū Ḥanīfa had surrounded himself by some forty scholars–some of whom were considered mujtahīds (independent legal jurists) in their own right. They debated issues of fiqh and were free to agree or disagree with the Imam’s legal judgments. Yet, it appears through reported statements and their later writings that they often accepted Abū Ḥanīfa’s judgments. In fact, after his death they still held his rulings with great esteem and maintained that he was a prominent, if not the most prominent, legal authority of their time. Many of his students later went on to become respected scholars of not only fiqh but also hadith; some specializing in Asma’ al-Rijāl, the study of hadith narrators.

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Abū Ḥanīfa: Rising Out of Kūfa

Abū Ḥanīfa Nuʽman b. Thabit (80-150AH/703-767CE) is considered by many to have been the greatest scholar of the Ahl al-Raʽy. Presently, his school is also the predominant school of Sunni law with nearly half of all Muslims associating with it. However, the Imam has not escaped fierce criticisms alleged against him based upon misperceptions concerning the city of Kūfa; particularly the belief that hadiths were severely limited to people so far removed from Medina. However, recent scholarship has shown just how important and active the study of hadith was in Kūfa. In fact, a study of classical sources (conducted by Wael B. Hallaq) revealed a source detailing Kūfa as the largest base of hadith specialists (living between 80-120AH/699-737CE), followed by Basra, then Medina, Syria, Mecca, and Egypt.[1]

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Origins of the Ḥanafī Madhhāb, Part II: A Young City with Ancient Controversies

As the newly emerging Muslim empire expanded to the north, it acquired not only new land, spoils, and converts; but also inherited the home of many different religions, sects and philosophical teachings.[1] Throughout the region, Syriac Christians had established educational institutions for the study of Greek philosophy and the ancient wisdom of Persia, [2] laying the groundwork for what would later become some of the greatest religious and philosophical debates in history.

To help resolve some of the religious and political issues that arose within this region came some of the greatest Companions: Ṭalḥa, al-Zubayr, Saʽd and his son ʽUmar, Abū Mūsā al-Ashʽarī, ‘Abdullah b. Masʽūd, Khālid b. ʽUrfuṭa, ‘Adī b. Ḥātim, Jarīr b. ʽAbdullah al-Badhalī, al-Ashʽath al-Kindī, Umm Hānī (the sister of ‘Ali), and ‘Ali b. Abī Ṭalib [3]; may God be pleased with them all.

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Origins of the Ḥanafī Madhhāb: Part I

Great Mosque of Kufa in 1915CE

It is an all too common misperception that the Ḥanafī madhhāb (school of legal thought) was forged at a time and locality where hadiths were not widely available. Likely due to this misperception, the Ḥanafī madhhāb is often singled out as the only representative among the Sunni schools today of an earlier, and controversial, school known as Ahl al-Raʽy (proponents of considered legal opinion); so named by their detractors the Ahl al-Ḥadīth (proponents of tradition). Kūfa, the city of Hanafism’s birth, is truly the key to understanding these misperceptions. Allegations made against the city have contributed much to the controversy surrounding Ḥanafi thought to this day.

Since many books and articles already exist that examine the unique legal methodology (uṣūl al-fiqh) of Hanafism, as well as other Sunni schools of law (madhāhib); and many more exist which illustrate the life of Abū Ḥanīfa, I will respond to these misperceptions by focusing upon that which is less well-known. In the following series of posts I plan to briefly survey the vast diversity of culture and thought that flooded the city from which the most widely-practiced Sunni madhhāb would spring: Kūfa.

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Technology & Religious Change

PrintingpressIn his article Technology and Religious Change: Islam and the Impact of Print, Francis Robinson analyzes the relatively late use of the printing press by Muslims, who only utilized en masse about four hundred years after it had been well established in the Christian world.[1]

This is not because Muslims were unaware of the technology. Rather, Robinson states that the use of transmission, via person-to-person, has been understood by Muslims to be at the very essence of Islamic learning and held in greater esteem than the written word. Moreover, learning directly from a teacher gave the student the necessary tools and authority to transmit and interpret Islamic texts.

Printing Islamic scholarly works for general public consumption posed a threat to the authority of those who received their knowledge at the feet of scholars (i.e., transmitted person-to-person); as anyone who could afford the book may assume they can speak of it with the same authority as one who had studied it beneath a teacher.

However, this general hesitation to print Islamic scholarly works shifted during the period of Western colonization. At that time, the ᶜulama (particularly those in the subcontinent) feared that the Muslim community might slip into unbelief (kufr) due to the corroding Islamic religious infrastructure and the efforts of Christian missionaries. And, to address this challenge,they decided the risk of the community losing access to Islamic knowledge was greater than the risk of their authority being challenged.

The impact of the printing press has had both positive and negative effects. Islamic material was now being transmitted in large numbers to the masses, allowing the ᶜulama to publish works they considered critical in their time. Yet, by making material more widely available to the public the ᶜulama jeopardized their own role in the community. That is, if people could seek knowledge from a book, why did they need to turn to a scholar?

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Our Tradition and Traditional Schools of Law

Sacred Law does not only entail the Qur’ān and the Sunnah, it also includes within it methodologies for their interpretation and application. While each school of Sacred Law considers the Qur’ān and the Sunnah as possessing divine legal authority, they also recognize that to derive the rulings from this authority demands the use of human intellect. The first to use his intellect was the Prophet himself (peace and blessings be upon him), and then his Companions (may Allah be well-pleased with them all).
During the Prophet’s lifetime he was available to correct, affirm, or reject the legal reasoning of those around him. However, after he passed away (peace and blessings be upon him) the interpretation of Sacred Law fell into the hands of his Companions. Many refrained from this arduous task, yet those most qualified made judgments based upon consensus, a more qualified scholar’s opinion, or their own legal reasoning.
At present, judicial principles have been derived through their own and their students’ understanding of Sacred Law and codified in four legal schools: Ḥanafī, Mālikī, Shāfiʽī, and Ḥanbalī. Though differences are present, the consensus of the Muslim Community has recognized them as valid as well as the importance of following one in one’s daily life.

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A Struggle For Authority

For Sunni Muslims, authority to speak on behalf of the religion, and to command from it the obedience of the religion’s adherents, is not derived from a divinely established religious hierarchy. Rather, authority is derived from a divinely revealed text- the Qur’ān- and the authenticated sayings and actions of a divinely influenced messenger- the Sunnah. In The Authoritative and the Authoritarian in Islamic Discourses: A Contemporary Case Study Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl argues that Islamic scholars who, while citing the Qur’ān and Sunnah believe only their interpretation to be authoritative, are diminishing the complex approaches classical Islamic jurists have developed in interpreting these texts and, in doing so, are making themselves out to be authoritarian. El Fadl’s education makes his perspective on this issue a unique one, having received an education in law at Yale, Pennsylvania Law School, and Princeton University and formal training in Islamic Jurisprudence both in Egypt and Kuwait.

Though his work has received a wide readership among non-Muslim and Muslim academics, including those who are students of classical Islamic jurisprudence, he has remained a controversial figure among traditional and reformist Sunni scholars. None-the-less his arguments against a rising authoritarian and puritanical Islam has earned him sympathy, if not respect, from those who feel that Sunni Islam is being threatened by this same anti-scholastic trend. In this Contemporary Case Study El Fadl analyzes a fatwa (religious edict) said to “illustrate the tension between the authoritative and the authoritarian and the process by which the authoritative is used to produce the authoritarian” (20). Through this analysis El Fadl contrasts with portions of the fatwa classical Islamic legal approaches that do not seem to have been followed by the fatwa’s original author and discusses possible damage to Islamic scholarship if one follows the author’s approach.

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