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Narratives of Islamic Legal Theory$

Rumee Ahmed

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199640171

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199640171.001.0001

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(p.159) Appendix The Ḥanafī Scholars

(p.159) Appendix The Ḥanafī Scholars

Narratives of Islamic Legal Theory
Oxford University Press

For those who are interested in the lives of the scholars under study, what follows is a brief synopsis of their lives, times, and influences. Both Dabūsī and Sarakhsī were self-professed acolytes of the Baghdad Ḥanafī tradition, which, as the name suggests, has its roots in the historical Ḥanafī school of jurisprudence. The eponym of the Ḥanafī school, Abū Ḥanīfa Nuʿmān b. Thābit (d. 150/767), was a jurist whose positions, both legal and doctrinal, have been disputed throughout Muslim history. His works are not extant, but his views were captured and recounted by his most prominent students, Muḥammad al-Shaybānī and Abū Yūsuf, though the three were often at odds with one another. Scholars from various regions of the Muslim world at the time came to identify with the views of these three jurists, usually promoting the views of one over another. Muḥammad al-Shaybānī, in particular, found favor amongst Ḥanafī scholars of Baghdad and Central Asia, but these scholars produced multiple commentaries and occasionally offered conflicting accounts of his opinions. Thus, by the 4th/10th century there were multiple conceptions of Ḥanafī thought that were being promulgated by Ḥanafī scholars. The scholarship produced by Ḥanafīs from Baghdad proved to be the most influential in shaping classical Ḥanafī thought.

Baghdad Ḥanafīs

The Baghdad Ḥanafīs originally coalesced around the Muʿtazilī jurist Abū al-Ḥasan al-Karkhī. Karkhī authored several works of law, most of them commentaries on the works of Muḥammad al-Shaybānī. He authored one short treatise on legal theory, which was largely a collection of responsa.1 One of his more significant contributions to the development of Ḥanafī thought concerns the status of singular narrations vis-à-vis Considered Opinion (raʾy) and is discussed in Chapter 3 of this book. Karkhī taught many prominent students, though undeniably the most prominent was Abū Bakr al-Jaṣāṣ. Jaṣṣāṣ, in turn, taught many students who are considered by contemporary Ḥanafī scholars to be seminal figures in Ḥanafī jurisprudence,2 and his influence spread far beyond (p.160) Baghdad. Non-Ḥanafī historians branded Jaṣṣāṣ a Muʿtazilī, though recent scholarship has questioned this ascription.3 A cursory study of his work quickly reveals that he cannot be easily categorized in doctrinal terms. It has been argued that his greatest contribution was in systematizing Ḥanafī legal theory into an analytical science independent from detailed reflections on responsa.4 Central Asian Ḥanafīs, like Dabūsī and Sarakhsī, were particularly beholden to Jaṣṣāṣ and produced works that acknowledged his influence.

Abū Zayd ʿUbayd Allāh b. ʿUmar b. ʿĪsā al-Dabūsī

Little is known about Abū Zayd al-Dabūsī's life and studies.5 His birth is reported to have been around 367/9876 and his date of death is disputed, though most place the year at 430/1038.7 He spent the majority of his life in Transoxiana and though the extent of his travels is unknown, he is presumed to have studied and worked in Transoxiana, particularly in Bukhara,8 all his life.9 Although many of his teachers are unknown, he almost certainly studied in the school of Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Hinduwānī (d. 362/973). Hinduwānī himself studied in Iraq with Jaṣṣāṣ, though the former settled in Central Asia. Hinduwānī wrote a commentary on Muḥammad al-Shaybānī's al-Jāmiʿ al-Ṣaghīr and was reported to have promoted the views of Karkhī and Jaṣṣāṣ. Dabūsī also studied under Abū Bakr Jaʿfar al-Astarūshinī (d. unknown),10 who also received his education from Jaṣṣāṣ.11 As a teacher and a colleague, Dabūsī was known to be warm and jovial, with a penchant for boisterous laughter.12

Dabūsī produced several works on various Islamic sciences,13 most of which are not extant, including a commentary on Shaybānī's al-Jāmiʿ al-Kabīr. His other lost works include al-Anwār fī Uṣūl al-Fiqh, al-Nudhum fī al-Fatāwā, and Khizānat (p.161) al-Hudā. The extant works of Dabūsī include: Taʾsīs al-Naẓar,14 which surveys differences of opinion amongst the founders of the Ḥanafī school; al-Amad al-Aqṣā, a treatise on spirituality (taṣawwuf); Kitāb al-Nikāḥ min al-Asrār, a text on the law of marriage; and the treatise that is the foundation of the present study, Taqwīm al-Adilla fī Uṣūl al-Fiqh.15 This last text is a detailed exposition of legal theory with the explicit aim of identifying valid indicants (dalāʾil) in Islamic law so as to delineate authoritative evidence (ḥujaj) for extrapolating juridical decisions.

Dabūsī was considered one of the leaders of the Ḥanafīs in the 5th/11th century;16 he was also well-known amongst his contemporaries and he taught several high-profile students in Central Asia. However, his influence waned by the 7th/13th century and thereafter references to him were mostly relegated to biographical dictionaries.

Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. Abī Sahl al-Sarakhsī17

There is no credible date of birth ascribed to Sarakhsī and thus no way to gauge his lifespan.18 The date of his death is also disputed, though a survey of the rulers with whom he interacted suggests that he died in the final decade of the 11th century C.E.19 Sarakhsī was born in Transoxiana, all his teachers were Central (p.162) Asian, and his final days were spent in Central Asia. There is no evidence to suggest that he left for any appreciable time in between his study and his death.

Sarakhsī was most deeply influenced by “his Shaykh,” ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz b. Aḥmad al-Ḥulwānī (d. 448–9/1056–8),20 who was known by the title Shams al-Aʾimmah (splendor of the religious authorities). Ḥulwānī lived and taught in the Central Asian city of Bukhara where he produced a commentary of Muḥammad al-Shaybānī's legal positions entitled al-Mabsūṭ. While in Bukhara, he met and taught Sarakhsī, who soon became his star pupil. Upon Ḥulwānī's death, the title of Shams al-Aʿimmah was transferred to Sarakhsī, who settled in Uzjand, a town near Farghana in Transoxiana.21

Sarakhsī had a formal relationship with the ruling Qarā-Khānids, which was not surprising since they regularly sought counsel with religious scholars.22 In 466/1074, Sarakhsī was imprisoned by the local Khan, Shams al-Mulk, in an underground dungeon.23 The circumstances surrounding this imprisonment are disputed; it has been argued that it was due to Sarakhsī espousing ideas thought to be heretical,24 or his encouraging the non-payment of a tax,25 or the most popular explanation, Sarakhsī's offering the Khan unwelcome advice (naṣīḥā) in the form of a juridical opinion that censured the Khan for the manner in which he married a woman.26 For whatever reason, Sarakhsī was confined to his prison until 480/1088. While in prison, it is reported that he dictated several books to his students who were listening to his teachings from aboveground.27 These books included the bulk of his expansive legal commentary, al-Mabsūṭ, and the beginning of his book on legal theory, al-Muḥarrar fī Uṣūl al-Fiqh, commonly known as Uṣūl al-Sarakhsī.28 Upon his release from prison, Sarakhsī moved to Marghinan and completed al-Muḥarrar fī Uṣūl al-Fiqh, which, for the present study, serves as the wellspring for his thoughts on legal theory. Sarakhsī continued to teach and write in Marghinan until his death, most probably around 483/1090.29

(p.163) Sarakhsī was celebrated in his own time, sometimes overshadowing his contemporaries whose works have been overlooked as a result.30 Sarakhsī remains one of the most celebrated Ḥanafī jurists and his thought was foundational for the development of post-classical Ḥanafī law.31 (p.164)


(1) This is found as an appendix to Dabūsī's Kitāb Taʾsis al-Nazar (Cairo: Zakariyā ʿAlī Yūsuf 1972). It is, however, supplied by Abū Ḥafṣ ʿUmar al-Nasafī (d. 537/1142) and no doubt represents some anachronistic conceptions of Karkhī's work.

(2) A Kevin Reinhart, Before Revelation: The Boundaries of Muslim Moral Thought (SUNY Press 1995) 54.

(3) Christopher Melchert, The Formation of the Sunni Schools of Law, 9th -10th Centuries C.E. (Brill 1997) 59.

(4) Reinhart (n 2) 45.

(5) In Sezgin's words, ‘Uber sein Leben wissen wir so gut wie gar nichts.’ Fuat Sezgin, Geschichte Des Arabīshcen Schrifttums (Brill 1967) I: 456.

(6) Yusuf Kavacki, Fiqh, Islāmic Law and Usul al-Fiqh, (unpublished, accessible at 〈http://www.iant.com/imam/book.txt〉, last accessed January 15, 2011), 126.

(7) Ibn Abī Wafá al-Qurashī, al-Jawāhir al-Muḍīyah (al-Maʿrifa al-ʿUthmaniyya 1988) 499; Sezgin (n 5) I:456.

(8) As for Dabus itself, Ibn Kathīr claimed that it was village in one of the districts of Bukhara; Ismāʿīl b. ʿUmar ibn Kathīr, al-Bidāyah wa-al-Nihāyah (ʿAlī Muʿawwad, Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya 1993) 12:42. Ibn al-Athīr believed it to be between Bukhara and Samarqand; ʿAlī b. Muḥammad ibn al-Athīr, al-Lubāb fī Tahdhīb al-Ansāb (ʿAbd al-Karīm Sam'ānī ed, Dār Ṣādir 1972) 490.

(9) al-Qāsim b. ʿAbd Allāh b. Quṭlubughā, Tāj al-Tarājim (Muḥammad Yūsuf ed, Dār al-Qalam 1992) 192.

(10) See Khalīl al-Mays' 'Tarjumat al-Muʾallif' in Dabūsī, Taqwim al-Adilla (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya 2001) 7.

(11) Kavacki (n 6) 56.

(12) Ibn Kathīr (n 8) 12:42.

(13) For a full list see Khalīl al-Mays (n 10) 7–8.

(14) For a description of the structure and function of Taʾsīs al-Naẓar see Ahmad Atif Ahmad, Structural Interrelations of Theory and Practice in Islamic Law: A Study of Six Works of Medieval Jurisprudence (Brill 2006) 50–6.

(15) Sezgin notes another extant manuscript in the Taimūr library titled, ‘Kitāb Taʿliqa fī masāʾil al-khilāif bayn al-aʾimma’; this is most probably an alternative title for the aforementioned Ta'sīs al-Naẓar. See Sezgin (n 5) I: 456. Likewise, Ibn Khaldūn refers to the Kitāb al-Taʿliqa of Dabūsī, which is no doubt the Taqwīm al-Adilla; Franz Rosenthal (trs), al-Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History (Princeton University Press 1967) 3:31.

(16) al-Qurashī (n 7) 500; Ibn al-Athīr (n 8) 1:490. Ibn Khālliqān considered him the founder of the science of legal dialectics; as quoted in Ibn Kathīr (n 8) 12:42 and William Slane, Ibn Khallikan's Biographical Dictionary, Vol. II (Cosimo 2010) 28. Ibn Khadūn wrote that Dabūsī ‘wrote more widely on analogical reasoning than any other (Hanefite) …’; Rosenthal (n 15) 3:27.

(17) For a comprehensive treatment of Sarakhsī see the forthcoming book by Baber Johansen, Sarakhsī (Oxford: Oneworld).

(18) Although Osman Tastan and Muhammad Hamidullah hazard his date of birth to be 400/1010; Osman Tastan, The Jurisprudence of Sarakhsī (Ph.D Diss, University of Exeter 1993) 19; I find this unlikely because that would both place him at an advanced age during Ḥulwānī's ascendancy and have him jailed between the ages of 66 and 80. If indeed he were imprisoned in an underground dungeon, then it is unlikely that his health would endure not only during his 14-year imprisonment, but for 3 years beyond.

(19) Though Meron argued that Sarakhsī traveled to Aleppo to teach in the Ḥalāwiyya, this argument is untenable given that Nūr al-Dīn al-Zangī did not establish the school as a center for Shāfiʿī study until 543/1149; Ya'akov Meron, ‘The Development of Hanafi Legal Thought’ (1969) 30 Studia Islamica 73, 86–7. It is possible that Meron actually meant to reference the Sadiriyya in Damascus, a Ḥanafī center of learning dedicated in 491/1098, but there is no evidence to suggest that Sarakhsī taught in that school. Most likely, Meron conflated Abū Bakr al-Sarakhsī with Raḍī al-Dīn Muḥammad b. Muḥammad al-Sarakhsī (d. 544/1149–50). See Osman Tastan's discussion on the topic in Tastan (n 18) 21ff.

(20) A minority opinion holds his death to be in 448 or 9/1056 or 7; al-Qurashī (n 7) 189.

(21) Tastan (n 18) 20.

(22) Ibid 16.

(23) Though Tastan and Schacht doubt that the jail was an underground dungeon (jubb), I see no reason to doubt that, particularly given the level of detail provided by students of Sarakhsī regarding the placement and dimensions of the dungeon.

(24) Joseph Schacht, ‘Notes on Sarakhsī's Life and Works’ in 900. Ölum Yilönümü Münasebetiyle Büyük İslâm Hukukcusu Şemsu'l-E'imme (Ankara Universitesi Basimevi 1965) 3–4.

(25) Tastan (n 18) 22.

(26) Al-Qurashī (n 7) 234–5. Schacht doubts this last, popular rendition of events because the story involves the Khan accepting Sarakhsī's advice and also because the incident was reported to have happened after Sarakhsī was released from prison; Schacht (n 24) 3.

(27) Al-Qurashī (n 7) 235.

(28) For a full list of Sarakhsī's works, see Kamāl ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-ʿInānī's “Muqaddima” in Sarakhsī, al-Mabsūṭ (Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya 2001) 1:48.

(29) Al-Qurashī (n 7) 234.

(30) Abū al-Yusr Muḥammad al-Bazdawī, Kitāb fīhī Maʿrifat al-Ḥujaj al-Sharʿiya (Marie Bernand and Éric Chaumont ed., Institut français d'archéologie orientale 2003) 6.

(31) N Calder, ‘al-Sarakhsī’ Encyclopedia of Islam (2nd edn, 1998).