Some observations originally posted on Facebook:
The following is an awesome quote from Burgess’s “Mammoth Book of Chess.” This is exactly how a hadith master functions and why a person who has mastered theory (mustalah) without substantial implementation of that theory can never compare to a person who has immersed himself in the hadith literature (traditions of the Prophet/Companions/Successors, isnads, and narrator biography/criticism) and has extensive experience in practically engaging in matn/isnad analysis:
“A human playing chess depends not only on memory and ability to calculate sequences of moves, but also on pattern recognition. This often manifests itself on a subconscious level. Somehow, deep within the brain, all the games of chess one has ever seen have made a mark, and the position on the board at any given moment is compared with all these preexisting patterns. A close match will result in a sudden “feeling” that one knows what the correct plan should be. A skilled human player will know when to trust these mysterious hunches and when to show a healthy scepticism. Often, when a grandmaster is asked why he played a particular move, he will struggle to explain exactly how he came to a decision. It may appear as though he is trying to keep his secrets to himself, but more often it is simply because he does not himself understand the subconscious processes that led him to play a particular move. This type of process is one of the highest mental faculties of which human beings are capable. By contrast, purely mechanical reasoning, based on calculation, is less distinctive. Suppose, for example, that a businessman makes decisions about whether to invest money in a given endeavour purely on the basis of financial calculation. Then he might just as well be replaced by a computer, which would be faster and perform the calculations with less chance of error. A real talent for business goes far beyond routine calculations, into the area of judgement and intuition. Just as in chess, a talented businessman will have a lifetime’s experience in his subconscious and this will enable him to make a reasonably accurate decision, even when the information available would result in an “insufficient data” error from a computer. Indeed, his main problem will probably be to try to convince his colleagues of the correctness of his decision.”
Part 2 of chess/hadith parallels:
When the novice first undertakes the game of chess, he is taught certain opening principles, including advancing the king or queen’s pawn first, developing toward the center, developing knights before bishops, not moving any piece twice, and castling early. However, these are general guidelines and not inviolable rules set in stone. In fact, there are many situations in which stubborn adherence to these guidelines may result in a quick defeat, material loss, or at least a positional disadvantage.
Similarly, although many later scholars treat the principles in the books of hadith methodology as inviolable rules, when examining the work of the early master critics, one will find that they treated these principles (which happen to be compiled or inferred from their statements/body of work) as general guidelines that they used in conjunction with the intuition they developed as a result of countless hours of immersion and study as well as looking into external circumstances and factors (qara’in) associated with a given report’s text and narrator chain. For instance, there may be a report whose narrators are all deemed to be trustworthy and whose text does not contradict the Qur’an, mass transmitted sunna, established principles of the religion, or reason. If we simply apply the principles recorded in the books of hadith methodology, then we will inevitably conclude that said report is authentic. However, just as a chess master will not decide to move a piece simply to conform to general opening principles without analyzing that piece’s relationship with the remaining pieces on the board and considering the tactical and positional implications that move, the hadith master will not simply move to grade a hadith as authentic based on the rules in the books of mustalah without considering external circumstances and factors surrounding it.
It could be that even though all of the narrators of this hadith are reliable and its text does not irreconcilably contradict more conclusive evidence, it is still not authentic. For instance, a reliable narrator may be alone in reporting a particular hadith from a scholar with whom he studied only briefly, whereas other narrators who studied with that same scholar for a lengthy period of time do not report that hadith from him. While it is conceivable that this scholar only transmitted this hadith to the narrator in question or transmitted it to others but they failed to report it, it is farfetched. Similarly, there could be a large number of reliable narrators who transmitted a hadith from a scholar with a particular wording, and one other reliable narrator who transmitted it with the same wording but with an additional phrase (ziyada) that does not outwardly contradict the hadith without the addition or there is an apparent contradiction that can reasonably be interpreted in a manner to reconcile between the two reports. In this case, even though it is conceivable that the scholar taught the large group of students the hadith without the addition and the isolated student the hadith with the addition, or that he taught all of them the hadith with the addition but the large group all failed to mention it, it is farfetched. Similarly, if there is a hadith that is reported by only one narrator regarding subject matter that should attract a large group of narrators to report it, then it is treated with skepticism. For instance, the daily prayer was an event that was witnessed and observed meticulously by countless Companions several times a day. Although it is conceivable that only one Companion observed a particular aspect of the daily prayer, or that many of them did and only one reported it, or that many Companions reported it, but only one Successor came to know of it, or that many Successors came to know of it but only one transmitted it, it is unlikely. Hence, such a report will sound alarm bells for the master hadith critic.
To be continued?
When studying a primer in classical logic, one will inevitably come across the discussion regarding its permissibility or lack thereof. Typically, the commentator of the text or the one teaching the primer will state that the opposition of certain scholars to the study of mantiq was limited to cases where it is tainted with the premises of Hellenistic philosophy (as is found in al-Baydawi’s Tawali` al-Anwar), as opposed to pure logic (as is presented in al-Shamsiyya, Mukhtasar al-Sanusi, and al-Sullam), which is simply an objective tool that assists one in constructing cogent arguments and avoiding fallacious reasoning.
However, when examining the original works of scholars who are known to have been in opposition to the study of mantiq, it becomes evident that the issue is not as simple as such introductory texts would lead one to believe.
In one of his legal verdicts, Ibn al-Salah clearly distinguishes between mantiq and philosophy. He states that mantiq is the gateway to philosophy, and the gateway to evil is itself evil.
He vehemently objects even to simply employing mantiqi nomenclature in the religious sciences. Once again, this is not philosophy but rather the mere use of terminology. He further states that the purported benefit of mantiq is non-existent, because the early scholars, who explored the depths of the Islamic sciences to an extent that none after them could match, managed to do so without recourse to this discipline. He declares that those who claim only to engage in the study of mantiq due to its benefit have fallen victim to the trap of Satan.
He goes so far as to say that it is the presiding government’s responsibility to ensure the extermination of this area of study altogether, removing any teacher who is involved with it from his post and subjecting him to severe legal repercussions. Furthermore, even if such a teacher claims not to adhere to the premises of the philosophers (i.e. what Damanhuri and others would refer to as mantiq devoid of philosophical influence), this is rejected, because his actions belie his claim.
Another prominent opponent of mantiq, Ibn Taymiyya, rejects the claim that classical logic is innately objective, neither being adverse to nor partial to Islam or any other belief for that matter, arguing that it comprises premises that inevitably lead to sophism in rational matters and heretical esotericism (such as Ismailism) in textual matters.
In light of the above, it would seem that the argument espoused by al-Damanhuri and others, namely that any objection to classical logic is restricted to that tainted with Hellenistic philosophy, is untenable. As for whether or not Ibn al-Salah’s position holds any merit, that is beyond our scope here, although I am personally inclined to believe that mantiq, provided that it is kept within its proper limits, can be a useful and indeed at times necessary tool for the student of knowledge. As a student becomes more and more acquainted with classical Islamic literature, particularly that written in the latter period of our history, he will note that some scholars often attempt to reconcile between varying opinions and (at times liberally) interpret divergent opinions to conform to what they deem to be normative. Other times, they will simply reject that a certain scholar held a particular divergent opinion, arguing that it is merely an interpolation in his works. It is not enough to accept such claims at face value. Rather, the discerning student must refer to the original sources to ascertain their validity.
Al-Damanhuri, Ahmad. Idah Al-Mubham. 2nd ed. Beirut: Maktabal Al-Ma’arif, 2006. 30-33. Print.
Ibn Al-Salah, ‘Uthman b. ‘Umar. Fatawa Ibn Al-Salah. Vol. 1. Beirut: ‘Alam Al-Kutub, 1986. 209-12. Print.
Ibn Taymiyya, Ahmad b. ‘Abd Al-Halim. Dar’ Ta’arud Al-‘Aql Wa Al-Naql. Vol. 1. Riyadh: Muhammad Bin Saud University, 1991. 218. Print.
Based on Dr. Ḥātim al-‘Awnī’s al-Manhaj al-Muqtaraḥ
Conducting a comprehensive study of the ḥadīth literature, regardless of the various methodologies of authorship (e.g. musnad works that are arranged in order of the Companions who related the traditions, such as Musnad Imām Aḥmad, jāmi‘ works that are arranged according to their topics, such as Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, etc). Of particular importance is the works of the scholars who first devised the nomenclature, namely the early ḥadīth scholars who lived prior to the Fourth Century of the Islamic calendar, as well as later works that compile their statements.
To isolate each particular terminology and classify it individually. Variant terms that are synonymous lexically are not to be treated as one unit. For instance, the researcher should not classify the terms ṣaḥīh, thābit, jayyid, and qawī together unless he has gone through all of the steps required to study each term individually and has come to the conclusion that their technical usage is identical. Similarly, he should not split up a compound term and interpret each individual part of the term as he would if it were used by itself. For example, one should study the term ḥasan ṣaḥīḥ as a single compound unit rather than splitting it up into the terms ḥasan and ṣaḥīḥ. Likewise, if he sees two adjacent terms and is not certain as to whether it is one compound term or it is two individual terms coupled together, he should study each term individually until he comes to a conclusion regarding its meaning. Then, he should study both terms coupled together as one unit. For instance, when dealing with the term ḥasan gharīb, one should first study the terms ḥasan and gharīb until he determines what they entail, after which he should study how both terms are used in conjunction.
To study specific examples of the usage of each terminological unit and to discern the link between the term in question and these particulars. For instance, if an imām uses a term to describe a certain ḥadīth, one would conduct a detailed study of that particular tradition, including examining the rulings of other imāms regarding it. Similarly, if an imām uses a term to describe the status of a particular narrator, one would conduct a multifaceted study of that narrator, including examining the rulings of other authorities regarding him, subsequently comparing his conclusion with the term used by the imām in question.
Recognizing the common features shared by the individual examples falling under a specific term that led the imāms to apply that term to them.
Determining the relationship between these common features and the lexical definition of the term, regardless of whether the meaning can apply to these features in a literal or figurative manner. More often than not, when attempting to discern the technical definition of a term used by the early authorities of ḥadīth, the proposed technical definition that is closest to its lexical definition is likely the most accurate understanding of the term.
If an early authority of ḥadīth explicitly explains what his usage of a certain term entails, then one must accept this explanation and not retroject the convention of later scholars of ḥadīth or scholars of uṣūl with regard to that term onto his statements and works. Similarly, even if an early authority does not explicitly define a term, but his practical application of a term contradicts the understanding of later scholars, then one must not judge him according to the understanding of later scholars and declare that he erred in his application of the term. For instance, in his Nukat, ibn Ḥajar criticizes Abū Dāwūd for deeming the ḥadīth related to wearing a ring to be munkar, because this was not a case of a weak narrator contradicting more reliable material (which is ibn Ḥajar’s understanding of the term munkar). This criticism is not valid, because he is judging Abū Dāwūd using criteria to which he did not adhere.
Moreover, early scholars did not always conform to the guidelines of Aristotelian logic when formulating definitions for terms, so when coming across a definition for a term, one should not assume that this definition is inclusive of all examples to which the term applies and excludes any examples to which the term does not apply. For instance, if an early authority defines the shādh report as one in which a trustworthy narrator contradicts more well-known/reliable material, he does not necessarily mean that this is the only type of report to which the term shādh is applicable and that any report that does not meet this criteria cannot rightfully be deemed shādh. It may be that he simply intends to point out the most important type of shādh report, the one with the most impact on a report’s authenticity, the most common, the most obvious, the most deserving of that description, etc, even though narrations that do not fit this exact definition may be rightfully characterized as shādh as well.
Gaining insight into the topic by studying the works of authors who wrote on the science of ḥadīth (after the era of the early authorities who first formulated its nomenclature), especially those prior to ibn al-Ṣalāḥ. After going through the prior steps, the researcher should consult these texts in order to reexamine his conclusions in each step, to take into consideration any additional details he may have missed out, or as assistance if he is stuck regarding a particular issue. It is important to note that unlike the statements of the early imāms, what is written in these works should not be treated as axiomatic in nature. Rather, the conclusions contained therein should be examined critically, taking into account the potential influence of their authors’ juridical and creedal schools on their approach to the ḥadīth sciences.
Formulating a definition for the term in question. After determining the relationship between the common features of individual examples of the term’s usage by early scholars and its lexical meaning, in addition to consulting any existing statements of these authorities concerning what the term entails as well as works on ḥadīth methodology to confirm his understanding, the researcher should now formulate a clear, precise, and comprehensive definition in light of the above. One may follow up the definition with an example in order to fully clarify its meaning. What is important here is to accurately convey what the term denotes, not to conform to the guidelines of classical logic for formulating definitions, which can even be detrimental at times.
The most important step is for the researcher to purify his intention and undertake this study only for the sake of Allah, to constantly seek His assistance and place his trust in Him, and to be grateful toward Him upon reaching his goal.
Weak Ḥadīths Pertaining to Virtuous Deeds
by Sh. ‘Abd-Allāh al-Juday‘
Translated by Ali Godil (with some minor changes)
In the later period of Islamic history, it has become prevalent among scholars to adopt a lenient attitude towards weak ḥadīths related to virtuous deeds, some of them attributing this approach to certain early authorities of ḥadīth. In order to arrive at an accurate conclusion regarding this issue, we must first examine the statements of the early imāms who allegedly adopted this approach and ascertain their original intent:
1. Sufyān al-Thawrī –
The following is related from him through a weak chain of narrators:
When it comes to [ḥadīths dealing with] legal rulings (ḥalāl and ḥarām), only rely on well-known authorities of this disciple who are aware of additions and omissions. As for [ḥadīths dealing with] other topics, there is no problem in referring to other narrators.
2. ‘Abd-Allāh b. al-Mubārak –
In an authentic narration, ‘Abda b. Sulaymān relates:
It was said to ibn al-Mubārak when he related a ḥadīth from a man, “This man is unreliable.”
He replied, “Reports of such nature can be related from his likes.”
Abu Ḥātim said: I said to ‘Abda, “What was the nature of this narration?”
He replied, “Regarding etiquette, admonition, asceticism, etc.”
3. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. Mahdī –
It is authentically related that he said:
If we narrated anything from the Prophet, may Allāh bless him and grant him peace, related to the lawful and unlawful as well as legal rulings, we would scrutinize the chains and evaluate the narrators. However, if we narrated anything related to virtuous deeds, rewards, punishments, merely-permissible actions (mubāḥāt), and supplications, we would be lax with the chains of narration.
4. Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal –
The following is related from him:
Narrations whose purpose is to move the heart (riqāq) are tolerated and treated with leniency as opposed to narrations dealing with legal rulings.
5. Abū Zakariyyā Yaḥyā b. Muḥammad al-‘Anbarī –
A report cited that does not declare something lawful to be unlawful nor something unlawful to be lawful, does not establish a ruling, and is only related to encouraging good deeds and discouraging evil deeds, should not be intensely scrutinized and its narrators should be treated with leniency.
The aforementioned quotations of these imāms all indicate laxity in relating and recording ḥadīths transmitted by weak narrators, as long as they do not pertain to legal rulings. This is due to their contents generally having a basis in reliable traditions and not presenting any new ruling not found in known authentic material. However, there is nothing to be found in any of their statements that indicates the permissibility of directly attributing such narrations to the Prophet, may Allāh bless him and grant him peace. The most that can be said is that is permissible to simply relate these reports and record them in books, despite their authenticity not being innately supported.
Also relevant is their statement regarding certain narrators: He is acceptable when it comes to riqāq and similar content, not legal rulings.
The following are some examples of the above:
1. Sufyān b. ‘Uyayna said, “Do not rely on Baqiyya for legal traditions, but listen to what he narrates regarding rewards and similar topics.
2. Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal stated regarding Rishdīn b. Sa‘d, “There is no issue with Rishdīn when it comes to heart-moving traditions.”
3. Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal was asked about al-Naḍr b. Ismā‘īl Abī al-Mughīra. He answered, “We recorded his ḥadīth, but he is not very reliable. Only his reports related to riqāq are given consideration.”
4. Abū al-Faḍl ‘Abbās b. Muḥammad al-Dūrī relates that Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal stated, “As for Muḥammad b. Isḥāq, these types of narrations should be recorded from him,” meaning those related to the genre of prophetic biography and similar topics. “As for traditions dealing with the lawful and unlawful, we require men like this.” Abū al-Faḍl grasped four fingers of each hand not including the thumbs.
‘Abd-Allāh b. Aḥmad was asked about Muḥammad b. Isḥāq. He replied, “My father would study his narrations carefully and record many of them, through high (shorter) and low (longer) chains and would record them in his musnad. He was asked if ibn Isḥāq is an authority. He replied, ‘Not regarding legal traditions.’”
These and similar statements regarding ḥadīth narrators are explicit in only accepting traditions that establish a legal ruling if they are related by highly proficient authorities. Leniency is only shown with narrators who are not of this level with respect to non-legal traditions, but this does not extend beyond recording their ḥadīths in books in chapters not dealing with legal rulings. This leniency may either be due to the narrator’s expertise in the topic at hand (as is the case with ibn Isḥāq and historical/biographical narrations) or the topic allowing some leeway due to it dealing with the virtues of a deed that is already known and established through authentic textual evidence.
Ibn Taymiyya explains the reasoning behind certain scholars’ dispensation regarding weak narrations pertaining to virtuous deeds:
“Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal and other scholars permitted narrating material that is not confirmed to be authentic as long as it is not proven to be false, because if a particular deed is already known to be legislated in the religion through [established] legal evidence and the ḥadīth being narrated about its virtue is not known to be false, it is possible that the reward being mentioned in the ḥadīth is indeed true. None of the imāms have said that it is permitted to deem a particular deed obligatory or recommended [solely] on the basis of a weak narration. Whoever claims that has violated legal consensus (ijmā‘). Similarly, it is not permissible to deem a particular deed as impermissible without [established] legal evidence, but if its prohibition is already known [through authentic evidence], and a ḥadīth that is not known to be false is narrated about the punishment of the perpetrator of this deed, it is permissible to relate it. Hence, it is permissible to narrate a tradition [whose authenticity is not established] that encourages good deeds and discourages evil as long as it is not proven to be false, with the condition that the status of the action being encouraged or discouraged by said tradition is already established through other evidence.”
In order to properly understand the intent of these scholars in their statements regarding treating such reports with leniency, we must take the following facts into consideration:
The practice of later scholars who showed leniency in this issue did not stay within this scope. They contravened the approach of the early scholars in three essential matters:
Whoever is guilty of the above cannot rightfully claim that he is merely following the dispensation of these early scholars if he does not restrict himself to their methodology in dealing with such reports.
When some prominent later scholars observed this excess, they set out to define the conditions and parameters for acceptable leniency in this issue, meaning the necessary criteria for narrating weak reports related to virtuous deeds for one choosing to adopt this approach. Ḥāfiẓ ibn Ḥajr, may Allāh have mercy on him, precisely lays out these criteria in the following passage:
“The conditions for acting on a weak narration are three:
The second two conditions are taken from ibn ‘Abd al-Salām and his student, ibn Daqīq al-‘Īd, while al-‘Alā’ī cited consensus regarding the first condition.”
These conditions are properly understood only by a person who has experience in the science of ḥadīth and is capable of distinguishing between severely weak and slightly weak reports. However, it is feared that a person who does not have any expertise in ḥadīth yet still resorts to utilizing weak reports may be guilty of attributing misinformation to the Prophet, may Allāh bless him and grant him peace.
 Al-Juday‘, ‘Abd-Allāh. Taḥrīr ʻUlūm Al-ḥadīth. 4th ed. Vol. 2. Beirut: Muʼassasat Al-Rayyān, 2010. 1108-114. Print.
Please refer to the bibliography of this book for publication information about all other references cited here.
 Ibn ‘Adī, al-Kāmil fi Ḍu‘afā al-Rijal (1/257), al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādi, al-Kifāya (212), al-Jāmi‘ li Akhlāq al-Rāwī (#1266), al-Rāmahurmuzī, al-Muḥaddith al-Fāṣil (406, 417-418)
 Ibn Abī Ḥātim, al-Jarḥ wa al-Ta‘dīl (1/1/30-31)
 Al-Ḥākim, al-Mustadrak (1/490), al-Madkhal ilā Kitāb al-Iklīl (29), al-Bayhaqī, Dalā’il al-Nubuwwa (1/34), al-Khaṭīb, al-Jāmi‘ (#1267)
 Al-Khaṭīb, al-Kifāya (213)
 Ibn Abi Ḥātim, Taqdimat al-Jarḥ wa al-Ta‘dīl (41), al-Khaṭīb, al-Kifāya (212)
 Al-‘Uqaylī, al-Ḍu‘afā (2/67)
 Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, al-‘Ilal wa Ma‘rifat al-Rijāl (#218)
 Al-Dūrī, Tārīkh Yaḥyā b. Ma‘īn (#231), al-Bayhaqī, Dalā’il al-Nubuwwa (1/37-38)
 Al-Khaṭīb, Tārīkh Baghdād (1/330)
 Ibn Taymiyya, Qā‘ida Jalīla fī al-Tawassul wa al-Wasīla (162-163)
 According to some later scholars, the term munkar refers to a report of a weak narrator that contradicts more authentic material. However, the word has multiple usages according to earlier authorities, the most common of which is for a narrator to be alone in reporting content that his level of proficiency would not justify. This is determined by examining both the content of the report and the proficiency of the narrator. For instance, a narrator being isolated in reporting a detail about an issue that people dealt with on a regular basis (such as the daily prayers, ritual purification, etc.) would be viewed with a greater degree of skepticism. When evaluating the narrator, we take into account his level of proficiency in general (including the strength of his memory, his accuracy in recording ḥadīths in writing, etc.), the era in which he lived (for instance, we would be more open to accepting an isolated report of an early Successor than that of a later narrator), his level of proficiency in relating from the shaykh from whom he is alone in narrating this report (a narrator who is known to have accompanied a particular shaykh for a lengthy period of time and to have mastered his traditions would be treated with less skepticism than someone not at that level), etc. To decide whether an isolated report is munkar or not, we compare both the level of skepticism the content of the report merits with the level of proficiency of the narrator and reach a conclusion.
See: al-ʻAwnī, Ḥātim. Sharḥ Mūqiẓat Al-Dhahabī. Dammam: Dār Ibn Al-Jawzī, 2006. Print.
 Al-Sakhāwī, al-Qawl al-Badī‘ (363-364)
Islamic legal theorists have traditionally expounded upon certain essential concepts and nomenclature in the introductory portion of their works prior to delving into the primary topics of uṣūl due to these concepts being closely tied to the discussions of uṣūl and the religious sciences in general.
This includes the discussions related to the ruling (ḥukm) and its categories, and the different types of perception as well as its parameters. Given the concise nature of this text, we shall limit ourselves to covering only the most essential of these concepts.
Types of Perception (Iḍrāk)
All mentally sound individuals would agree that our perception of things varies. At times, we may perceive something with absolute certainty such that there is no room for any doubt, whereas other times, we may perceive something without absolute certainty.
For instance, if we observed a piece of ice, we would perceive that it is white. Our perception of its whiteness would be absolutely certain, leaving no room for doubt. In fact, even if a person were to claim that the ice is black on the basis that he can transform the staff in his hand to a serpent, and he does in fact cast his staff on the ground and performs this seemingly miraculous feat, we would still have no doubt regarding the whiteness of the ice. Rather, we would say that although the feat that he performed is indeed astonishing, the ice is undoubtedly white nonetheless.
This type of perception is termed ‘ilm. ‘Ilm (definitive knowledge) is defined as perception that is certain, in accordance with reality, and stemming from evidence (which in this case would be sensory observation through sight).
However, if we were to see a figure from afar and were unsure as to whether it is a stone idol or a living person, then it must be the case that we either deem that one of these two possibilities is preponderant or that neither is. If neither possibility is preponderant, meaning that the likelihood of either is 50%, then this is termed shakk (doubt). If one of them is preponderant, such as if we deem it more plausible that the figure is a human being, meaning that the likelihood of it being a human being is beyond 50%, then the preponderant possibility is termed ẓann (valid conjecture) and the other is termed wahm (erroneous conjecture).
In other words, ẓann (probable knowledge) is to view two options as possible, one of which is deemed to be preponderant by the one analyzing the situation. The preponderant option is referred to as ẓann and the non-preponderant option is referred to as wahm.
In light of the aforementioned principles, let us examine the case of weather forecasts, which we listen to on a daily basis. For instance, if we are informed that it will rain today (and it most likely will), then our perception of the rainfall prior to the event occurring would be considered ẓann and not ‘ilm. If it were truly ‘ilm, then it would be impossible for the prediction of the forecast not to come true. However, we know for a fact that such forecasts are not always accurate, and it is possible for what is predicted not to take place (for it not to rain).
Another example is the report of a single upright narrator. Such a report conveys ẓann and not ‘ilm, because although the narrator is upright, he is not infallible, so he may fall into error, forgetfulness, erroneous impression, etc. All of these are possible for him according to general norms, the sharī’a, and reason.
At the same time, we find that the mutawātir (mass-transmitted) report conveys ‘ilm and does not leave room for any doubt, because a group of individuals narrated it from another group of individuals, such that the strength of their numbers makes it effectively impossible for them to agree on a lie or simultaneously lie, with the condition that the report was concerning something that was perceived through the senses [a: as opposed to a belief; otherwise, we would be forced to acknowledge erroneous beliefs such as faith in the Trinity as constituting ‘ilm simply because an enormous amount of people report this belief].
An uninformed person may misunderstand our statement, “the khabar al-wāḥid (non-mass-transmitted report) conveys ẓann” to imply that we are not obliged to act upon it. This assumption is incorrect, because Allah has enjoined upon us (as a means of worshiping Him) to act according to conclusions derived from the sources of our religion that are ẓannī in nature in matters that are subject to study and ijtihād. It is obligatory to act on the khabar al-wāḥid just as it is obligatory to act on the mutawātir. The only difference between the two is that a person who rejects the mutawātir is rejecting certain knowledge and thereby guilty of disbelief if he is aware of its mutawātir status, whereas a person who rejects a khabar al-wāḥid is only guilty of transgression and not disbelief, because he is rejecting probable knowledge.
The strength of ẓann varies greatly. At times, it can be so strong that it almost rises to the level of yaqīn (‘ilm, certain knowledge), and at times, it can be so weak that it almost descends to the level of shakk.
This fact clearly manifests itself in the probable knowledge we perceive and observe on a regular basis and is quite apparent for anyone who engages in the study of the sunna. There are certain khabar al-wāḥid reports in which the criteria for the authenticity of a narration are fulfilled in such a manner that one can almost conclude with certainty that they are authentically ascribed to the Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and can almost include them in the category of mutawātir, whereas there are others one can almost conclude with certainty are not correctly ascribed to the Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and can almost include them in the category of mawḍu‘ (fabricated reports).
Categories of Knowledge
Knowledge is divided into two categories: self-evident and acquired.
Rational Reflection (Naẓar): To think about the object of reflection in order to reach a conclusion.
Inference (Istidlāl): To seek evidence in order to reach a conclusion.
Hence, the end result of both reflection and inference is the same.
Evidence (Dalīl): What leads to the conclusion; it is an identifier for the conclusion.
Knowledge (‘Ilm): To perceive something knowable in a manner that corresponds with its reality. This includes knowing that fire burns, that one is half of two, and that the universe is emergent and not pre-eternal.
Ignorance (Jahl): The opposite of of ‘ilm; to perceive something in a manner that does not correspond with its reality. This includes the misconception of certain philosophers that the universe is pre-eternal.
Ignorance is divided into two categories: simple and compound.
Prior to delving into the primary topics of uṣūl al-fiqh, we must first conceptualize this science. This can only be achieved through a sound definition that will provide us with an accurate framework regarding the discipline.
The word uṣūl al-fiqh has two meanings: a lexical meaning and a technical meaning.
A. The Lexical Definition of Uṣūl al-Fiqh
Before the word uṣūl al-fiqh became a specific term referring to a particular discipline, it was a genitive construction (iḍafa) composed of the words uṣūl and fiqh.
Lexical Definition of Uṣul:
Uṣūl is the plural of aṣl, meaning that on which something else is based or built.
Furu‘ is the plural of far‘, meaning that which is based or built on something else.
Technical Definition of Uṣūl:
The term has a number of technical usages, including the following:
Lexical Definition of Fiqh:
The term is an infinitive noun that denotes understanding. An example of this usage is the 91th verse of Sūrat al-Hūd: “They said, ‘Oh Shu‘ayb we do not understand (mā nafqahu) much of what you say…’”
Technical Definition of Fiqh:
According to the convention of Islamic scholars, the term denotes knowledge of legal rulings attained through ijtihād (independent juristic reasoning).
This applies to issues that are subject to ijtihād and regarding whose status the scholars differed, including the following:
However, this does not apply to fundamental issues that are necessarily known as being of the religion (ma’lūm min al-dīn bi al-ḍarūra), meaning issues whose legal status is known with certainty and in which there is no room for ijtihād. This includes knowledge of the following:
According to the aforementioned definition of fiqh, knowledge of the legal status of such issues would not be classified as fiqh.
The term “knowledge” in the context of this definition refers to probable knowledge (ẓann) as opposed to certain knowledge (yaqīn), because the definition only applies to issues in which there is room for ijtihād, and such issues are speculative in nature.
The definition of fiqh elucidated here is that of Imām al-Ḥaramayn, but there are numerous other definitions for the term.
Subject Matter of the Science of Fiqh:
Its subject matter is the actions of a legally accountable person (mukallaf) in terms of their legal status (being permitted, prohibited, recommended, disliked, etc.).
Its sources are the Qur’ān, sunna, ijmā‘ (juristic consensus), qiyās (analogical reasoning), and other sources of legislation.
The benefit of the study of fiqh is to adhere to the commandments of the sharī‘a and to abstain from its prohibitions, which will ultimately benefit one in this world and the Hereafter.
B. The Technical Definition of Uṣūl al-Fiqh
After the word uṣūl al-fiqh became a specific term for this particular discipline, a number of technical definitions were put forth, the most comprehensive of which is the following:
It is knowledge of general legal evidences, how to use them to derive rulings, and the status of the jurist who derives the rulings.
This includes knowledge of the following:
A legal theorist (uṣūlī) is only concerned with general legal evidences and not with detailed evidences. The latter is the realm of the jurist (faqīh).
Knowledge of detailed evidences includes the following:
The Difference Between the General Legal Evidences and Detailed Evidences
General evidences are not related to specific issues as opposed to detailed evidences. For instance, Allah’s statement, “Establish the prayer,” is specific to ṣalāt and does not extend to zakāt or the ḥajj. Similarly, His statement, “Give zakāt,” is specific to zakāt and does not extend to ṣalāt or ḥajj. For this reason, it is referred to as a detailed evidence, because it is specific to one particular issue and does not extend beyond it.
This is as opposed to the principle, “an unrestricted command indicates that the matter at hand is obligatory,” which is not related to any specific issue, but rather encompasses every command. It applies to the following statements of Allah as well as other commands: “Establish the prayer,” “Give zakāt,” “Strive for the sake of Allah,” and “Fear Allah.” Whenever we find the imperative form in the speech of the Legislator, we interpret it to indicate obligation unless there is external evidence to suggest otherwise.
In light of the above, it should be clear to the reader that general evidences are not limited to particulars, as opposed to detailed evidences, whose application does not extend beyond the individual issues to which they are related.
The Clause “How to Derive Rulings Through General Evidences”
What is meant by the second clause in the definition of uṣūl al-fiqh is the method of deriving legal rulings through general evidences in the event that evidences pertinent to a particular issue conflict with one another.
This includes the case when two relevant textual evidences clash with each other, one being generally applicable (‘āmm) and the other being specifically applicable (khāṣṣ). In such a case, the specifically applicable evidence is given precedence over the generally applicable evidence, because the connotation (dalāla) of the khāṣṣ is certain, whereas the connotation of the ‘āmm is probable.
Similarly, when a piece of evidence that is explicit (naṣṣ, meaning the only possible interpretation) clashes with another that is apparent (ẓāhir, meaning the most plausible of multiple possible interpretations), then the naṣṣ is given precedence over the ẓāhir for the same reason outlined above.
When a piece of evidence that is mass-transmitted (mutawātir) clashes with another that is non-mass-transmitted (āḥād), then the former is given precedence over the latter, for the same reason as the previous two examples. We shall cover these issues in greater detail in the chapter dealing with equivalence and preponderance of evidences.
The Clause “Status of the Jurist Who Derives Rulings”
What is meant by this clause is knowledge of the status and attributes of the independent jurist (mujtahid) who examines legal evidences and gives preponderance to some over others.
The chapter dealing with this topic will also digresses into a discussion about the status of the follower (muqallid, one who is not qualified to perform ijtihād and must therefore follow the opinion of a mujtahid), because studying the status of the independent jurist necessitates studying the status of the follower.
In summary, the science of uṣūl al-fiqh consists of three matters:
The Subject Matter of Uṣūl al-Fiqh
The subject matter of the science of uṣūl is its evidences with respect to the contingent properties associated with them, such as being generally applicable or specifically applicable, a command or a prohibition, etc.
The Purpose of Uṣūl al-Fiqh
The purpose of uṣūl is that it is the medium through which legal rulings are extracted from their detailed evidences. This means that one must be acquainted with the science of uṣūl in order to be capable of deriving a legal ruling from a piece of evidence, because the evidence itself divorced of the principles through which rulings are extracted is not sufficient.
For instance, if we read Allah’s statement, “Establish the prayer,” the most that we could ascertain is that this constitutes a command to establish the prayer. We do not know if this command is indicating that the prayer is obligatory or that it is recommended or that it is simply permitted, because the command verb in the Arabic language can be used to convey any one of these meanings and more. However, if we were aware of the uṣūl principle that an unrestricted command denotes obligation as long as there is no external evidence indicating otherwise, then we could infer logically that the statement, “Establish the prayer,” indicates that the prayer is obligatory.
The argument is as follows:
The same can be said for His statement, “Do not consume usury.” “Do not consume” is a negative command, and a negative command indicates that something is forbidden, so consuming usury is forbidden.
Thus, it is evident that without the science of uṣūl al-fiqh, we would have been incapable of deriving legal rulings from their detailed evidences. Due to a lack of proficiency in this science, many who deemed themselves fit to work in the field of Islamic knowledge and fatwa have made gross errors, permitting what Allah made forbidden and prohibiting what He made permissible.
It is not enough to have knowledge of general evidence alone, nor is it enough to have knowledge of detailed evidence alone. One must combine both in order to ascertain a legal ruling, because both are integral parts of a logical syllogism in which the detailed evidence is the minor premise, the general evidence is the major premise, and the legal ruling is the conclusion.
 Another way of understanding the concept is that the aṣl is the foundation on which the far‘ is built. That is why the roots of a tree are sometimes referred to as it’s uṣūl and its branches are referred to as its furū‘. Similarly, principles of jurisprudence are referred to as uṣūl and the rulings derived from and based on those principles are referred to as furū‘.
From Dr. Muḥammad Ḥasan Hītū’s al-Khulāṣa (with some minor alterations)
Translated by Ali Godil
The science of uṣūl al-fiqh (Islamic legal theory) in its present form was not known in the nascent period of Islam. The Righteous Predecessors, including the Companions, the Successors, and others from the earliest period of Islamic history were not in need of this science, due to their sound linguistic capabilities through which they were able to perceive the principles related to the Arabic language intuitively. Just as they were aware that the subject of a verb is in the nominative case intuitively, they were aware that the relative pronoun “mā” is generally applicable (‘āmm), and that it refers to non-intelligent objects or beings by default usage and refers to intelligent beings figuratively.
This same can be said for all other principles of uṣūl al-fiqh. For instance, the Companions knew with certainty that ijmā‘ (scholarly consensus) and qiyās (analogical reasoning) constitute authoritative legal proofs. They had no need to study the discussions related to the sunna, because there was no medium between them and the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, so they were undoubtedly obliged to act according to whatever they heard from him.
However, after the territorial expansion of the Islamic empire and the subsequent decline of the Arabic language (due to the incorporation of non-Arabic peoples into the Islamic State), the scholars were compelled to formalize the principles of jurisprudence related to the language. Similarly, as the era of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, grew more and more distant, and the prophetic traditions began to be transmitted through the medium of narrators, the scholars saw it necessary to formalize the discussions of usūl related to the sunna, which deal with the status of ḥadīth narrators as well as distinguish authentic material from inauthentic material. These would eventually develop into an independent discipline known as the science of muṣṭalaḥ al-ḥadīth (ḥadīth nomenclature). The same process would take place with all of the religious sciences that would eventually come into existence.
The earliest scholar to author a work in this field was Imām al-Shāfi’ī (d. 206 AH), may Allah be please with him, when he compiled his masterpiece, al-Risāla, which is considered the pioneering work of this discipline. Those who came after him would successively produce works in uṣūl al-fiqh (and they continue to do so), each according to his own methodology, until the field finally reached full maturity, which we observe today in the available books on the topic.
Methods of Authorship in Usūl al-Fiqh
There are two primary approaches to authorship in usūl al-fiqh:
A. The Way of the Mutakallimīn
This is the approach of the vast majority of Islamic legal theorists, including those affiliated with the Mālikī, Shāfi‘ī, and Ḥanbalī schools of jurisprudence, as well as other non-Ḥanafī scholars. Those who adopted this approach were mainly concerned with precisely formulating the topics of uṣūl, laying down its rules and principles, and providing reasoning for them, without delving into particular legal rulings. Particular legal rulings (furū‘) were secondary to the principles of jurisprudence and dependent on them, and not vice versa.
B. The Way of the Fuqahā
This is the approach of the Ḥanafī scholars to authorship in the field of usūl. According to this method, the principles of jurisprudence are derived from the individual legal rulings of the founder of the school and his close students. Abū Ḥanīfa (d. 150), may Allah have mercy on him, as well as his students (primarily Abū Yūsuf and Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan), dictated their rulings to their students and had them compiled. These rulings were issued based on legal principles present in the minds of the jurists, but the principles themselves were not formally collected in book form. When later scholars affiliated with Abū Ḥanīfā’s school wished to gather the legal principles he adhered to in formulating his body of jurisprudence, they did not find them compiled in written form. They only came across his individual rulings.
Through examining these individual rulings, these scholars managed to derive the legal principles to which he adhered. According to their approach, the principles of jurisprudence were secondary to the rulings of the imāms of the school and dependent on them. Due to this, their method was called the way of the jurists, as opposed to the scholastic theologians who did not examine the rulings of their imāms. Rather, they would look at the legal principle first and would then derive rulings based on said principle.
However, this was only applicable to the primary stages of the compilation of uṣūl. As for today, a Ḥanafī jurist seeking to perform ijtihād in a particular legal issue will undoubtedly extract his ruling based on the principles formalized by the legal theorists of his school.
Most Significant Works Authored According to the Way of the Mutakallimīn
As mentioned previously, following Imām al-Shāfi‘ī, scholars authored works in the field one after another, each according to his own method. Some of them wrote encyclopedic works, whereas others wrote brief texts. Some wrote about all of the topics of the science, whereas others only focused on one topic.
The seminal works of uṣūl according to the way of the mutakallimīn are the following:
Two great imāms took up the task of merging the contents of these four texts and abridging them:
Al-Maḥṣūl is distinguished by its systematic arrangement and chaptering, as well as brevity in providing the reasoning supporting legal principles.
Al-Iḥkām is distinguished by its copious mention of the reasoning supporting legal principles, as well possible objections raised against this reasoning and detailed rebuttals to said objections.
Numerous abridgments were written on these two works. The most famous abridgments of al-Maḥṣūl and al-Iḥkām respectively are Qāḍī al-Bayḍāwi’s (d. 685) al-Minhāj and ibn al-Ḥājib’s (d. 646) Mukhtaṣar al-Muntahā. These two texts are considered to be among the most popular short texts in the field of uṣūl. One after another, great scholars of the field continued to write commentaries and marginal glosses on these texts, to the extent that their total commentaries numbered in the hundreds, and students of the religious sciences across the globe devoted themselves to studying them and committing them to memory.
Most Significant Works Authored According to the Way of the Fuqahā
The most significant works according to the way of the jurists are the following:
A number of later scholars from both schools authored works in uṣūl combining both the method of the mutakallimīn and that of the fuqahā.
Most Significant Works Combining Both Methods
Anyone wanting to acquire more information about this disciple should refer to my book, al-Wajīz fī Uṣūl al-Tashrī‘, al-Shīrazī Ḥayātuhū wa Uṣūluhū, and the introductions to al-Mankhūl and al-Tamhīd.
Dr. Hatim al-‘Awni
Translated by Ali Godil
(Useful lessons extracted from a statement of Imam Muhammad b. al-Hasan al-Shaybani criticizing his teacher, Imam Abu Hanifa)