Sunday, April 15, 2018

Hadith and Gender in the Thought of Faqihuddin Abdolkodir

Hadith and Gender in the Thought of Faqihuddin Abdolkodir
A contemporary Indonesian progressive Muslim scholar, Kodir is another important contributor to a non-patriarchal approach to hadith literature. Kodir’s starting premise is that classical hadith sciences and principles of Islamic jurisprudence contain useful mechanisms for a contextualist reading of hadith on the basis of which gender-just interpretations of the same can be developed. The contextualist interpretation of hadith for Kodir entails a critical reading of the hadith by means of ijtihad of the text (matn) of the hadith conceived of as a linguistic text that functions within a certain cultural environment.
The hadith texts are historical records. As such, they are intimately connected to the social dynamics of Arab society at the time of the Prophet. Consequently, in light of the fundamentally contextual character of the hadith, a number of scholars have adopted an understanding of the hadith which is informed by the essential purpose of the text and the root problem that it addresses. The meaning inscribed in the literal language of the text is not regarded as definitive and need not be applied in an unconditional manner. In essence then, as
social contexts change, the essential purpose of a hadith should be emphasized rather than its
literal meaning (Kodir,2007,19-20).

If approached as such, Kodir (2013, 176) forms the view that the meanings of hadith can yield a number of different interpretations, some of which are commensurable with gender-just interpretations/meanings.
Adopting this contextualist approach, Kodir (2007, 1–25; cf. 2013) argues that the proper interpretation of hadith is obtained by evaluating them with respect to the original socio-political contexts in which they were embedded and by inquiring into the circumstance behind the emergence of hadith, a classical hadith science known as ‘ilm asbab al-wurud. This is especially so in relation to hadith pertaining to gender issues. In this context, Kodir (2007) states:
The hadith regarding relations between men and women are windows into a particular socio-cultural reality. These texts must therefore be understood to be based on the logic of the historical role they played in furthering justice and the general welfare of specific communities.
Kodir also makes use of the hermeneutical principle of corroborative induc­tion (istiqra’) to hadith interpretation as a pre-requisite for their proper inter­pretation. In this context, Kodir (2007, xx–xxi) laments the lack of such an approach in traditional scholarship by stating that “in essence, certain hadith and indeed, specific decisions by the Prophet have been typically selectively invoked as authoritative references instead of being examined comprehen­sively and in totality.” An example of corroborative induc­tion (istiqra’) to hadith interpretation can be found in Kodir’s discussion the issue of the veil and women’s private body parts (’awrah).After making reference to and analysing a couple of hadith that suggest that it is religiously ideal that women should always stay at home and that their entire bodies are ‘awrah (Kodir, 20007, 93- 104) Kodir asks as follows:

Did the Prophet ever say that women were creatures that must be kept locked up inside the house? Many records show that in the days of the Prophet, women left their homes to migrate to Medina, go to war, pray and study in the mosque, work, or simply meet their needs Thus, in the time of the Prophet, women were not considered ‘awrah that must stay cooped up in their homes (Ibid,104).

Kodir, therefore, concludes that the majority of the hadith present women at the time of the prophet as leading active and publically visible lives and that the corroborative power of these hadith calls into question the authenticity of those hadith which restrict women to the private sphere or consider women as ‘awrah. Thus, Kodir is of the opinion that hadith texts are to be inter­preted and applied according to the broader transformative spirit that char­acterizes the Qur’an and the hadith as a whole by resorting to a thematic and holistic approach to the interpretation of hadith.
Kodir also applies a maqasid-based approach to hadith texts, arguing that hadith pertaining to gender issues should be read in accordance with their underlying objectives which take form in certain ethico-religious values such as justice, equality, and mercy, understood and conceptualized in ethically objectivist terms. In this context, Kodir asserts that in respect to gender issues, references to the hadith must be approached from the perspective of being aware of the crucial values the Prophet Muhammad’s message entailed, including the oneness of Allah, the equality of all human beings (rich or poor, men or women), justice, and mercy (Kodir, 2007, xxi). The principles of justice and equality in particular play a prominent role in this type of reason­ing and interpreting of hadith (Kodir, 2013, 171). Kodir (2007) laments that this approach to interpretation of hadith is lacking today, as evident from the following quote:
Contemporary interpretations of many [of these] hadith continue to engender inequality and unfairness in the relationship between men and women. This inequality, moreover, violates the most fundamental prin­ciples of the Qur’an and the hadith.
Kodir acknowledges the long history of androcentric interpretation of hadith that in many contexts continues in the present day but urges for a much more “gender sensitive” that takes into account women’s needs and experiences. 
I believe that we need to re-examine the hadith in this gender sensitive fashion so as to restore the teachings of Islam to their original truth in which women are accorded respect and compassion. Though we often hear ulama and other scholars asserting that Islam has never discriminated against women, that Islam treats women and men equally, we also constantly hear and witness the opposite. In fact, Islamic preachers commonly use the very hadith I have quoted in the preceding chapters as a justification for restricting women’s rights and treating them as subordinate second class citizens. They argue that this inequality and necessary subservience has been ordained by God (Kodir, 2007, 162).

Kodir, therefore, calls for a new ‘interpretive paradigm’ of the hadith that seeks to establish gender relations that are in accordance with the contemporary conceptualiza­tions of gender justice which are also the most truthful reflections of  the fundamental values and teachings of Islam itself (Kodir, 2007, xix). 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Khaled Abou El Fadl's Approach to the Hadith

Khaled Abou El Fadl's   Approach to the Hadith
Khaled Abou El Fadl (b.1963) is one of the most distinguished scholars of Islamic law today. He is also one of the few progressive Muslim scholars who has fully engaged with the postmodern episteme, post-enlightenment hermeneutics, and literary theory, as well as applied them in relation to gen­der issues in Islam, including the interpretation of hadith pertaining to gender. Much of his Qur’anic hermeneutics and approach to Islamic jurisprudence is in agreement with scholars such as mohsen Kadivar and nasr Abu Zayd , and need not be repeated. However, El Fadl’s work also includes discussions pertaining to (in)determinacy of meaning, ambiguity of textual hermeneu­tics, and the process of meaning derivation as employed, for example, in literary theory and semiotics (which he has applied to both Qur’an and hadith texts) (El Fadl, 2001, 88). El Fadl has systematically engaged in these discussions and has applied them to the issue of women’s rights in Islam. With reference to determinacy of meaning process, El Fadl makes a distinc­tion between ‘authoritarian’ and ‘authoritative’ textual hermeneutics. To substantiate this distinction, El Fadl cites Qur’anic verses upholding the prin­ciple of God’s Sovereignty and Omnipotence, as well as the ontological rela­tionship between The Creator and the created, namely that of the Lord and His vicegerent. In this context, he claims that due to this very hierarchy in the natural order, the human representatives of God on earth can never self-identify themselves with God’s intent or profess to have grasped His Knowl­edge beyond any shadow of doubt or ambiguity – a practice that has, in his opinion, become quite widespread among present-day authorities on reli­gious issues (El Fadl, 2001, 170–177). In this context, he asserts that the prevalent ‘Wahhabo-Salafi’ ‘authoritarian hermeneutics’ is oblivious to the intricate and subtle relationships existing between the author, text, and reader regulating the process of determinacy of meaning of God’s indicators (adilla), and thus is guilty of equating the author’s intent with that of the reader, thereby violating the principles inherent to the Qur’anic weltanschau­ung and its ethico-religious foundation.
In contrast, El-Fadl, proposes a more balanced approach when engaging in the task of interpreting texts in which neither the author’s intent, the language, nor the reader have the upper hand in determining the meaning that he terms ‘authoritative’. It is the balance between these three which upholds the ‘inherent ambiguity’ embedded in the textual sources, thus acting as an anti-authoritarian interpretative measure. He advocates what Umberto Eco (1979) has termed as ‘an open’ (versus closed) interpretation which is capable of sustaining ‘multiple interpretative strategies’. El Fadl terms this ‘authoritative hermeneutics’.
Importantly, El Fadl (2001) applies some of these insights to deconstruct misogynist interpretations of Islamic law as espoused by contemporary Saudi Arabian scholars (whom he refers to at times as ‘puritans’ or ‘Wahhabo- Salafis’), especially those based on a particular approach to and interpreta­tion of hadith literature.
In this context, El Fadl (2005) elsewhere asserts:
The consistent practice of puritans is to collect, publish, and disperse traditions, attributed to the Prophet or the Companions, that are demeaning to women. Such collections act as a foundation for issuing deprecating determinations in regard to women. Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab himself, the founder of the Wahhabi movement, set the prec­edent by collecting a group of these women-deprecating traditions and listing them under the subheading “Living with Women.” But these women-deprecating traditions, without exception, are of weak authen­ticity, if not pure fabrications . . . The traditions utilized by the puritans invariably are of a single transmission, which means that the possibility exists that the Prophet actually authored them, but the possibility is remote and far-fetched.
One aspect of El Fadl’s approach to the question of hadith and its authenticity generally is best reflected in the following passage:
The mechanical and nearly mathematical methodology that Ahl al-hadith apply to the hadith and Sunna in light of our modern epistemological knowledge about reality, meaning, fiction, archetypes, symbolism, phenomenology, and especially history is untenable. . . . In fact the oral reports that are commonly titled the books of hadith often construct and narrate a performance – a performance that preserves a memory of the prophet in some form but that also documents the epistemological attitude of early Muslim generations (2014,317).

El Fadl still sees value in preserving and studying this body of knowledge as it can be mined for its historical, theological, ethical, and moral insights but  this process of study ought to be achieved by means of an “epistemological arsenal that is available to us today – not through the epistemological tools that existed more than ten centuries ago” (El Fadl, 2014, 318). El Fadl also forms the view that the traditional Islamic sciences approached this body of knowledge too literally, a feature which contemporary Muslims are, for reasons stated earlier, to avoid at every cost. In this context El Fadl (2014) writes:
the books of hadith are replete with dramatized performances that are
deeply embedded in the epistemological and phenomenological dialectics
of the first centuries of Islam and therefore are not to be understood
as strictly factual. (2014,318)

Apart from this epistemological critique of the hadith body of literature, El Fadl, importantly, has introduced some novel hermeneutical principles in the evaluation of authenticity of the hadith which go outside of those established by the classical hadith sciences and has applied them to argue for gender-just interpretations of Islam.
The concepts of ‘multiple authorship’ and ‘authorial enterprise’ are such an example. According to El Fadl, the term ‘authorial enterprise’ refers to the process of determining to what extent the Prophet’s role in the historical transmission of the report can safely be established. In this context, he argues that when evaluating reports attributed to the Prophet, we need to keep in mind that these reports are a result of what a number of Companions have “seen/heard, recollected, selected, transmitted and authenticated in a non-objective medium”, hence they have multiple authorship. This view is further supported by classical Islamic scholarship’s view of hadith as not being the actual words of the Prophet but recollections and interpretations of the Prophet’s words which (often/sometimes/at times) retained the core meaning by the individuals reporting them. Hence, hadith can be a result of several authors and various collateral influences, each impacting upon both the structure and the meaning of the report. Therefore, in each report, a person­ality of the transmitter is indelibly imprinted, a process he terms ‘authorial enterprise’ (El Fadl, 2001, 88). El Fadl (2014, 316–317) argues that due to this nature of the hadith, “it is virtually impossible to attribute any specific report to a particular person in history, whether the Prophet or any of the early generations of Muslims”. Rather, these reports, which might retain kernels of truth from the Prophet, are more indicative of the memory of the early generations of Muslims and the contesting ideological currents that were prevalent at the time.14
Additionally, El Fadl applies another regulatory mechanism relating to the normative effect of hadith reports. According to this rule, reports having “widespread moral, legal, or social implications” must be of the highest rank of authority and “require [the] heaviest burden of proof” (El Fadl, 2001, 89). When approached with certain morally repugnant but ‘sound’ hadith (from the perspective of classical hadith sciences, ‘ulum ul hadith) that has wide-ranging implications for society, the proof must be the highest otherwise the hadith will not be considered as normative. Lastly, when deal­ing with morally repugnant hadith (e.g. misogynist), as the very last meth­odological resort, El Fadl introduces the concept of a ‘conscientious pause’, which is a faith-based objection to textual evidence based upon the overall understanding of the Qur’an-Sunna weltanschauung and its élan/ethos (El Fadl, 2001, 93). He utilizes these hermeneutical principles to reject the nor­mative nature of misogynistic hadith that are relied on Saudi Arabian schol­ars to deny gender-just interpretations of Islam (El Fadl, 2001).

So , in summary, El Fadl does not discount the potential role of hadith as sources of an  Islamic worldview altogether but he puts in place a number of methodological and epistemological caveats that ought to be applied before assessing their role and worth in informing Islamic beliefs, practices, laws  and ethics.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018



Fatima Mernissi, a Moroccan sociologist, was a pioneer of Islamic feminism. Her most relevant work for the purposes of this chapter is her book The Veil and the Muslim Elite in which Mernissi engages in a critical re-reading and critical reassessment of  the authenticity of two misogynist hadith found in Al-Bukhari’s Sahih hadith collection.[1] Mernissi’s  broader thesis is that the egalitarian if not the  feminist message and the persona of the Prophet of Islam has been manipulated  and distorted by the Muslim male (scholarly ) elite. Recognising the importance of hadith on the collective consciousness of Muslims and their societies and especially the detrimental effect that they have had on women’s rights, Mernissi adopts the methodology and the criteria of the classical hadith scholars themselves to cast doubt on the reliability of the transmitters of the following two hadith:

“Those who entrust their affairs to a woman will never know prosperity.” (transmitted on the authority of Abu Bakra )
“the Prophet said that the dog, the ass, and woman interrupt prayer if they pass in front of the believer, interposing themselves between him and the qibla [the direction of Muslim prayer]”( transmitted on the authority of Abu Hurayra).

In relation to the hadith transmitted by Abu Bakra, Mernissi, by consulting the classical biographies of hadith transmitters, not only questions the circumstances under which Abu Bakra remembered this statement but also argues that his character does not satisfy the isnad-based criteria developed by classical hadith scholars in order for the hadith to be considered authentic. As such Mernissi opines that according to the criteria developed by classical hadith scholars themselves Abu Bakra should be considered as an unreliable transmitted of hadith.[2] In this respect she states: “if one follows the principles of Malik for fiqh, Abu Bakra must be rejected as a source of Hadith by every good, well-informed Malikite Muslim.”[3] Thus, for Mernissi, the abovementioned hadith, despite being found in Al-Bukhari’s Sahih collection, is not to be considered authentic and ought not be used as an argument to prevent Muslim women from assuming the highest level of political leadership.

In relation to the second hadith Mernissi takes aim at one of the most prolific hadith transmitters in Sunni Islam, Abu Hurayra. While Mernissi’s strategy in problematising the trustworthiness of Abu Hurayra as a transmitter of hadith is multilayered including strong elements of interpolation (Ghani,2011), we only focus on those aspects that are aligned with classical hadith authenticity criticism. In this respect Mernissi makes note that Al-Bukhari ignored the fact that ‘Aisha, the prophet’s youngest wife, refuted this hadith on the basis that it was only a partial recollection of what the prophet had actually stated.[4] For Mernissi, this is indicative of Al-Bukhari’s own androcentric bias and methodology. As in the case of Abu Bakra, Mernissi ‘s examination of classical biographical works on Abu Hurayra  leads her to conclude that he had a  number of reasons to exhibit a misogynistic attitude including his frequent quarrels with  ‘Aisha.[5]
In both cases, Mernissi uses the methodologies and tools of classical hadith criticism to defend her broader thesis of Islam as a gender egalitarian religion and a Prophet as an early   proponent of Islamic feminism. More specifically, she in a way de-canonises what is widely considered the most authentic collection of hadith among traditionalist Sunnis , that of Al-Bukhari’s Sahih,  in order to open doors for contemporary Muslims as a whole ( and not just the fuqaha)  to develop a more self-reflective and critical attitude toward the “authentic hadith”. In her words:
What conclusion must one draw from this? That even the authentic Hadith must be vigilantly examined with a magnifying glass? That is our right, Malik Ibn Anas tells us. Al-Bukhari, like all the fuqaha, began his work of collecting by asking for Allah’s help and acknowledging that only He is infallible.[6]
Importantly, Mernissi’s approach, like that of other scholars discussed in this chapter,  also implies that, at least at times, [7]the classical hadith sciences  can be employed to ‘subvert from the inside’ the  patriarchal residue that exists  in the Islamic (interpretative) tradition in general and the hadith collections in particular.

[1] Mernissi also engages in a very contextualist reading of the Qur’anic verses on the hijab and the hadith which document the occasions of the verses in question  but since the focus of this chapter is entirely on the hadith this aspect of Mernissi’ book will not be discussed.
[2] Veil,49-61.
[3] Veil,p.53.
[4] A specific Jewish tribe who had this vision of women.
[5] Veil,70-81.
[6] Veil,76.
[7] A number of scholars have criticised  Mernissi’s methodology  on the grounds that there are other instances of misogynist hadith  that cannot be ‘rescued’ on the basis of following the classical hadith criticism sciences. ( Rhouni, 2010.)

Monday, March 26, 2018


Barazangi’s engagement with the hadith literature is approached from the broader  perspective of changing the discursive focus in understanding the very nature of Islam as a faith tradition  from what Barazangi considers to be the prevalent “dogmatic religious law’ approaches to that of conceptualising Islam as a “religio-moral rational worldview”( 2014, 1). According to Barazangi, rethinking the corpus of Hadith, as the “second textual source of Islam” that has significant social implications for lives of Muslim, especially Muslim women, is central to such a discursive shift (Ibid.). Barazangi’s approach,generally speaking,  is to reassess the authority of hadith in this respect by approaching and rereading hadith and its text (matn)  through  an ethical and pedagogical lens and by  corroborating  the texts of the hadith  with those of the Qur’an  in order to develop  what she terms a new and authentic theology of sunna (Ibid,1-2). 
 In her own words:
By rereading some of the hadith literature, I want to bolster the present Muslim women’s moral courage to stand up for her rights and to effect change in understanding the role of sunna in her life. My hope is that there will also be a shift in understanding Islam, and a shift in the fields of Islamic studies and of Muslim women’s studies by changing the current premises of studying and using hadith. By synthesising the moral effect of the theories of hadith history and theologies of the Sunnah on Muslim women in general, I explore the centuries-old process that led to current misuse of hadith and subsequent unjust treatment of the present day 800 million-plus Muslim women and for the past 14 centuries. My goal is to develop  a new approach to understanding and using hadith literature as I and other Muslim women  reclaim our identity  and identification with the message of Islam-the Qur’an, with the authentic sunna of the messenger-Muhammad, and with the early women believers and narrators  ‘Aishah bint Abi Bakr,  Hafsa bint ‘Umar , Um Salama , Um Waraqa amongst others.

As such Barazangi‘s approach to and the use of hadith is not characterised by a total rejection of the hadith corpus but a recalibration and reassessment of it. In particular, Barazangi wishes to dislodge the entrenched idea among traditionalist approaches that the hadith are quasi-divine or that they are, as sources of authority, on equal footing with that of the Qur’an. In this respect, Barazangi makes her position exceedingly clear:

I must reiterate here that I am neither discrediting the reported hadith nor refuting its central value and importance for Muslim thought and life. Rather, I want to demystify the divine halo that has been cast over Hadith literature…..( Ibid,8).

Barazangi puts in place a number of methodological principles that she considers need to be applied when rethinking the authority of hadith. One such mechanism is her methodological distinction between authenticating and validating hadith. In this respect, Barazangi emphasises the need to view the processes of hadith authentication as conceptually different from hadith authorisation. She states:

I argue that we cannot reread hadith and rethink the Sunnah with the same set of premises that were used for authentication process. These are two different processes and require two different set of premises, regardless of whether or not the authentication process was accepted (Ibid, 27).

She adds that traditional approaches to hadith authenticity have in actual fact conflated the processes of authentication with that of authorisation with very detrimental consequences for women’s rights.

Another interpretational tool Barazangi uses for the purposes of rethinking the authority of hadith is to divorce the concept of prophetic sunna from that of hadith.  She defines the former as “an example of how to proceed in interpreting the message of the Qur’an in time and place” (Ibid, 16). Therefore, Barazangi does not, unlike the traditionalist approaches, consider the prophetic Sunna as the ultimate point of reference for Qur’anic interpretation.
Another  major mechanism identified by Barazangi that is central to her project of rethinking hadith is the importance of corroborating the text of the hadith with that of the Qur’an, especially Qur’an’s central themes of tawhid ( God’s Transcendence) , imama ( non-gender based autonomy and leadership) , ‘adl (justice), fairness ( qist) and taqwa ( God-consciousness)  (Ibid.188, 191). She finds support in this approach in the writings of scholars such as Hashim Kamali, Amina Wadud, and Jama al –Banna (ibid.).  Barazangi laments the fact that the process of canonisation of hadith was not informed by the above outlined interpretational tools and that this state of affairs had the consequence of excluding women’s perspectives in the context of developing Islamic jurisprudence and the theology of sunna. In her words:

As canonizing hadith authority without corroborating it by the Qur’an dominated the process of developing Islamic jurisprudence, the absence of Muslim women left the field open for male elites to further marginalise women’s perspectives (Ibid, 161).

Therefore, Barazangi argues that Muslim women have a special role in the process of rethinking the hadith and developing a new theology of sunna because they have been excluded from the production (in contrast to some inclusion in terms of transmission of hadith in early to formative period of Islam) of Islamic knowledge in general and the construction of theology of sunna and Islamic legal theories (usul ul fiqh) in particular (Ibid, 18; 27; 161). In this respect Barazangi is adamant that from a ‘proper ‘ Islamic perspective, every Muslim regardless of gender has the autonomy, the right and can exercise leadership in interpreting the Qur’an and in investigating the authority of reported hadith (Ibid, 191).

Barazangi applies the above outlined interpretational principles to many issues pertaining to Muslim criminal and Muslim family law. We will discuss just one example, namely the question of testimony and witnesses, to demonstrate how her interpretational mechanisms are applied to the project of rethinking the hadith.

As it is known classical Islamic law takes gender into account as a criterion for establishing evidentiary levels and affords women lesser degree of authority/value (in case of witnessing) or bars them all together (as for example in cases of adultery). Barazangi rejects this reasoning on the basis of a combination of the interpretational tools discussed above. Taking the issue of witnessing,  her first argument is that on the basis of verses such as 2:30 and 50:21 it can be established Qur’anically that each individual, man or woman,  acts as a witness for her/his own actions. Furthermore, she demonstrates how the vast majority of Qur’anic verses discuss the concept of witnessing and being a witness in non-gender specific ways and that the Qur’anic injunction found in 2:282 that implies otherwise is highly contextually specific. She adds that scholars such as Shafi’i and Ibn Kathir have been influenced by weak hadith found in al-Bukhari about the  ‘feeble mind’ of women when interpreting  2: 282 and have generalised this interpretation to apply it to all women for all times and regardless of ( change in)  contexts (Ibid,79-81). Bazanzagi moves on  to discuss a couple of relevant hadith found in al-Bukhari (due to is supposed highest level of authenticity), according to which the witnessing of specific women (i.e. Zaynab, one of the Prophet’s wives and  that of a female slave) in the context of alleged infidelity and  marriage was in actual fact accepted by the Prophet. In this respect Barazangi (Ibid,83) writes in frustration as follows:
I am still puzzled that even if we assume that all of the above types of narratives of witnessing …as documented in Sahih Al Bukhari are corroborated by the Qur’an (whether or not they are considered valid by the majority of the interpreters and jurists), why did the jurist Al Shafi’i ( 820) only accept weak hadith that discuss the particular situation of a monetary loan [Qur’an 2:282], and suggested that a woman’s testimony equals one-half of man’s ? Also  on what basis could al Shafi’i justify his generalization of this particular  context  in [2:282] across the board , stating that a woman’s testimony  is not accepted  in zena (adultery) cases , a statement that contradicts the Qur’an wherein a woman could testify on her own behalf  in a case of  being accused of adultery..[as per 24:8-9)..Furthermore, how could al Shafi’i add his own words, ”the just witness can only be men”, something that is not in the Qur’an ?
Hence, in this example,  Barazangi uses the idea of the (lack) of corroboration of hadith by the Qur’an in order to question the validity of interpretations of the Qur’an and the hadith on which classical Islamic jurisprudence based its laws pertaining to witnessing. In doing so she also provides counter-interpretation that, in her view, is more true to the actual Qur’anic ideals and the authentic theology of sunna.

I have also discussed rethinking hadith in a similar manner in this publication of mine in particular:

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Excerpts on Meanings of the Concept of Sunna in Early and Classical Islam

Excerpt from Adis Duderija, Evolution in the Concept of Sunnah during the First Four Generations of Muslims in Relation to the Development of the Concept of an Authentic Ḥadīth as based on Recent Western Scholarship, Arab Law Quarterly, 26,4,2012, 393-438.

3.1. Semantico-contextual Changes in Definition and Scope of the Sunnah
Ansari has pointed out several difficulties one encounters when studying the terminology used during the early period of Islamic thought. One such problem is the “comparative lack of fixity in technical connotations of terms in use”19 which resulted in a gradual change in connotation over a period of time. An important aspect in these semantical changes in terminology is their increasing ‘technical’, or what the author would describe as legalistic,20 connotations. Moreover, and importantly, these terms had a multiplicity of meanings even when employed by the same author in the same work.21 Another important principle for the purpose of this study that Ansari has identified with reference to the changes in meaning of certain words and concepts is the notion of a significant time gap between the usages of the conceptual and technical/legalistic aspects of terminology. Put differently, words prior to acquiring “standard technical phraseology” had other meanings and were used in other contexts.22 The above distinctions are of fundamental importance to this study from the point of view of understanding the validity of the classical definition of the concept Sunnah. We now will examine the semantico-contextual changes of the concept Sunnah. The term will be analysed by examining its etymological (preQurʾānic) meaning(s), Qurʾānic meaning(s) and post-Qurʾānic usage(s).

3.1.1. Etymological, Qurʾānic and post-Qurʾānic meanings of Sunnah
Etymologically, the term Sunnah underwent several semantic changes.23 It originated from the Arabic root S-N-N that probably referred to “flow and continuity of a thing with ease and smoothness”.24 Over time, the term Sunnah was increasingly used in the context of human behaviour, and as “a way, course, rule, mode or manner of acting or conducting life of life”, thus becoming equivalent to the word sira. Thereafter it evolved to signify moral appropriateness and normativeness of a human worthy of being followed.25 Ibn Manzur defines Sunnah as a “commendable straightforward manner of conducting oneself (al-sunnat al-tariqat al-maḥmudat al-mustaqimah).26 By its very nature it implies normativeness, i.e. having a normative character. With respect to the Qurʾān, the Sunnah has been used on numerous occasions with regard to the immutable laws of the retribution of God (sunnahāt allāh) with respect to people who repeatedly transgressed these laws with disdain.27 The phrase sunnahāt al-awwalīn refers to the ancient people or nations who, having brought upon themselves the wrath of God by rejecting and killing His Messengers, were doomed and turned to dust.28 Interestingly the term Sunnah of the Messenger of Allāh (sunnahāt un-nabi), a fundamental concept in post-Qurʾānic Islamic thought, does not occur in the Qurʾān. The Prophet is, however, praised in the Qurʾān as “uswah al- ḥasanah” (a good/beautiful/excellent example) for Muslims.29 Ansari aptly remarks that this use of the term is consistent with the overall Qurʾānic attitude towards all other Prophets.
Considering the status and authority that the Prophet enjoyed by his followers, especially in the Medinian period, and the etymological background of the word Sunnah as just described, it would be only commonsense to maintain that the expression “Sunnah of the Prophet” would have been used in the early Muslim community in the sense of being Qurʾānically sanctioned model-behaviour of the Prophet.30 Furthermore, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the Prophet himself, the early caliphs such as ʿUmar (d. 23 AH), Uthman (d. 35 AH) and Ali (d. 40 AH), as well as the people at the time of early Umayyad caliphs (e.g., Abd al-Mālik, 65-86 AH), used this sunnah al-nabi (Prophet’s Sunnah) expression on numerous occasions.31 Apart from its usage in a phrase sunnah al-nabi in the first and especially second half of the first century Hijrah, the word Sunnah has been used in the following ways. Sunnah refers to the “right and just practice” of the Prophet,32 Sunnah of caliphs preceding Uthman (i.e., Abu Bakr and Umar);33 Sunnah of believers;34 Sunnah as a norm to be followed in jurisprudential sense;35 and Sunnah as distinct from Ḥadīth.36 Although still quite general and vague at the beginning of the second century, the term Sunnah, with the rise of sciences of jurisprudence (usūl ̣ al-fiqh), was being increasingly but not exclusively used in a legal sense.37Ansari gives us following Sunnah meanings from that period in time: obedience and loyalty of the people to the ruling government in accordance with the book (Qurʾān) and Sunnah;38 emphasis on the Sunnah as something that can be traced back to the time of the Prophet and/ or early caliphs (in contrast to just any practice adopted by the people);39 Sunnah becoming a synonym of the expression Sunnah of the Prophet;40 Sunnah as practice based on ijmāʿ; 41 Sunnah as a rule;42 Sunnah as extension of the Qurʾān;43 Sunnah as well-established norms/practises (ʿamal ) recognised by Muslims in general, which came through and were accepted by learned scholars ( fuqahāʾ) 44 and the Sunnah as antonym for heretical innovation (bid ʿah).45 Juynboll offers several other contexts in which the term Sunnah was associated and used during the second century Hijrah, namely, as a politico-administrative term with a religious flavour,46 Sunnah as a general righteous Islamic practice (as-sunnah al-ʿadilah; jarat alsunnah),47 Sunnah as a normative way of the early community as a whole.48 Abd Allah’s extensive analysis of Mālik Ibn Anas’ concept ʿamal leads him to conclude that he used the word Sunnah in a numner of ways: that of Sunnah supported by the Medinian ijmāʿ (sunna l-lā-ladhi lā ikhtilah fiha ʿindana); Sunnah being put into practice (madat al-sunna); Sunnah of all Muslims (sunnat al-muslimīn); Sunnah known to the people of knowledge (sunnah ʿindanah); Sunnah of the Prophet (sunnat al-nabi) and simply Sunnah (al-sunnah).49 In his book On Schacht’s Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence, AlAzami also gives textual evidence that the word Sunnah was used “in a variety of different contexts”.50 Dutton’s studies of Mālik’s Muwatṭ ạ lead him to conclude that according to Mālik the concept Sunnah was seen as: . . . a normative practice established by the Prophet, put into practice by Companions and inherited from them as ʿamal (in this sense the practice of Companions in Medina) by the Successors and their Successors up to the time of Mālik.51
A somewhat different and more nuanced understanding of the concept of Sunnah in Mālik’s Muwatṭ ạ that is still independent of Ḥadīth is argued by Guraya who defines it as a concept based on “recognized Islamic religious norms and accepted standards of conduct derived from the religious and ethical principles introduced by the Prophet”.52 Importantly, Guraya also identifies Sunnah’ constituents which shall be discussed subsequently. Another definition of Sunnah that does not depend upon its writtenbased documentation is argued by Pakistani scholars Moiz Amjad and Ghamidi. They define Sunnah as: “a set of actions or practical rules (excluding beliefs) which Prophet initiated promoted and performed among all of his followers as a part of God’s religion (dīn) and that have been perpetuated from one generation to another practically”.53 Ansari echoes these words by stating that at the time of the famous Syrian scholar Awzaʾi (d. 157 AH) “the ways of referring to Sunnah, [however] were not standardised”.54 Similarly Wheeler in his investigation of second-century jurists such as Ibrahim (d. 182 AH) and Anas (d. 179 AH) maintains that the “concept and content of Sunnah was malleable because it was not yet to be limited to a textual corpus”.55 It is worth noting the words by Al-Azami in the same section of the book dealing with the early concept of Sunnah, which serves here as a means of a brief summary of what was said above with regards to semanticocontextual changes in the Sunnah: “Not only was the word Sunnah originally not confined to the practices of the Prophet: its meaning also underwent changes”.56

Conclusions from some of the Chapters from the book The Sunna and its Status in Islamic Law,Palgrave,2015, ed. Adis Duderija.

Nicolet Boekhoff-van der Voort,  The concept of Sunna based on the analysis of sīra and historical works from the first three centuries of Islam

The sunna of pre and non-Islamic groups

“it is the custom of the prophets” (fa-inna sunnat al-anbiyāʾ)- Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt, VIII, 78 no. 4131 (Umm Ḥabība bt. Abī Sufyān). Al-Yaʿqūbī, Taʾrīkh, II, 73.

“Indeed they are customary practices (sunan), customary (sanan) to those who were before you” (innahā li-l-sunan sanan man kāna qablakum).[1]

- al-Ṭabarī’s single reference to this concept of sunna  takes place during the caliphate of ʿUmar: “and he treated them (the Persians) in the way of those who were before them from the people of their religion” (wa-manaḥahum sunan man kāna qablahum min ahl dīnihim).[2]

The sunna of a group of Muslims

-In a tradition about the caliphate of Abū Bakr, the military leader Khālid b. al-Walīd compares the behaviour of a man to that of women (innahā la-sunna ka-annahā sunnat al-nisā’). Twice, the example of Muslims in general is mentioned during the caliphate of ʿAlī (sunnat al-muslimīna). The most interesting tradition is, however, the one about ʿUmar’s speech after he became caliph. In this speech he promises to follow three different tpes of sunna: the sunna of the Prophet (sunnat nabiyyiīhi), the sunna originating from consensus among Muslims (fīmā jtamaʿtum ʿalayhi wa-sanantum) and the sunna of pious and virtuous men (wa-sunna sunnat ahl al-khayr).

The sunna of pre-Islamic individuals
Four ancestors of the Prophet Muḥammad are mentioned in traditions of the selected period as the originators of a specific custom. The first two are mentioned by al-Ṭabarī in the lineage of the Prophet, namely, ʿAtr al-ʿAtāʾir who was the “first to establish the practice of the sacrificial lamb” (wa-huwa awwal man sanna al-ʿatīra), and Ibn Shūḥā, who was the first to establish the practice of the sacrifice of a sheep or goat during Rajab (wa-huwa awwal man sanna al-rajabiyya). Both remain continued practices of the Arabs.[3]

The sunna of a Companion
The person most mentioned is caliph ʿUmar, separately seven times and in combination with caliph Abū Bakr twice. Examples of the reference to the sunna of ʿUmar are: “he is the first to establish the custom of passing the nights of Ramaḍān in prayer” (wa-huwa awwal man sanna qiyām shahr Ramaḍān)[4] and “Now it was ʿUmar’s practice and habit to” (wa-kāna min sunnat ʿUmar wa-sīratihi an)[5]. The combination of the sunna of Abū Bakr and ʿUmar appears in particular in the description of formal situations dealing with the conduct of a caliph, for example when the wife of the caliph ʿUthmān encourages him to follow the conduct of his two predecessors (wa-tatbaʿu sunnat ṣāḥibayka min qablika).[6] These sunan take place after the death of the Prophet. Only al-Yaʿqūbī includes one tradition in which he describes the establishment of a custom by Fāṭima, the daughter of the Prophet, during his lifetime. The Prophet orders her to prepare a meal, which she did across three days. It became customary among the Banū Hāshim to do the same (fa-ṣanaʿat lahum ṭaʿāman thalātha ayyām fa-ṣārat sunna fī Banī Hāshim).[7]

The undefined sunna
Similar to the concept of sunna of the Prophet and of a Companion, the historical sources contain the most references to the undefined sunna. Undefined means that it is not clear who established the custom in contrast with the types of sunna discussed before. 57% of the terms are found in the selected sections of al-Ṭabarī’s Tārīkh (37 out of 65). It constitutes 42% of all terms in his work (37 of 89).

The undefined sunna also appears in combinations. Whereas in the combination discussed in the previous paragraph the sunna of the Prophet is clearly mentioned by the words nabī or rasūl Allāh (kitāb Allāh wa-sunnat nabiyyihi), in the combinations arranged under the undefined type of sunna, the sunna could exist of the sunna of the Prophet, or the community of Muslims, or of a mixture of several sunan. See, for example, “The Messenger of God commanded them to read the Qurʾān to them and teach them the practices’” (wa-amarahum rasūl Allāh an yuqriʾūhum al-Qurʾān wa-yuʿallimūhum al-sunan), or “to teach them the practices and the jurisprudence (yuʿallimuhum al-sunan wa-l-fiqh).[8] Furthermore, the sentence, “the best practices are the practices of Muḥammad” (wa-khayr al-sunan sunan Muḥammad) discussed before in the paragraph on the sunna of the Prophet, is proof that other practices or practices of other people (individuals or groups) did exist, but were considered - according to this tradition - as less authoritative practices.[9]

The two questions raised at the beginning of this article were how did the concept of sunna develop within the formative period of Islam, and was it derived from the exemplary behaviour of the Prophet or is it a mixture of different concepts of sunna? In order to provide an answer to these questions, seven sīra and historical works originating in the first three centuries of Islam were analysed with a comparative study of the occurrence of the terms sunna, sunan and the derivatives of the verb sanna, coupled with a study of the types of the sunna they represent.
                A first glance at the manifestations of the three terms in the seven works showed that the historical works contain far more terms in the selected period than the sīra works (80% versus 20%). The word sunna is mentioned most frequently, except in the work of al-Wāqidī, and it seems that it was more commonly used in the third Islamic century than in the second, particularly in the historical works. In the Sīra of Ibn Hishām and the Ṭabaqāt of Ibn Saʿd, the majority of the terms, specifically the term sunna, are prevalent in traditions about the period during which the Prophet Muḥammad lived. In the later works of al-Yaʿqūbī and al-Ṭabarī, the majority of the three words - and particularly the word sunna - are connected with the period of the four rightly guided caliphs. Generally speaking, in the traditions about the caliphate of Abū Bakr, both in the historical and the sīra works, the three terms seldom appear, although in traditions relating later events, the exemplary behaviour of Abū Bakr, in general, is mentioned.
                The analysis of the different concepts of sunna reveals eight different kinds of sunna: God, a non-Islamic group, a group of Muslims, ḥajj, a pre-Islamic individual, a Companion, the Prophet Muḥammad and the undefined sunna. Among these sunan, the sunna of God, although mentioned in the Qurʾān, is the least frequently used type of sunna in the selected period of the seven sīra and historical works. It appears in formal situations, such as official letters, a pledge of allegiance or a speech. The sunna of the Prophet constitutes together with the undefined sunna the largest part of the different types of sunna. The most frequent used word to describe the practice of the Prophet is the word sunna (85%). Furthermore, almost half of the terms referring to the sunna of the Prophet appear in combination with the Qurʾān in the phrase “the book of God and the practice of His Prophet”.
                Overall, the latest sources contain the most variances of the concept of sunna. Even though some scholars argue that the sunna of the Prophet became authoritative and substituted the other types of sunna, the analysis of the different concepts of sunna in the seven sira and historical works have shown that the sīra works do not contain many references to sunna of the Prophet and even contain very few references to any kind of sunna at all. Furthermore, in the (later) historical sources, the words sunna, sunan and sanna appears more frequently, culminating in the late work of al-Ṭabarī. Finally, the analysis has shown that the later historical works - perhaps against the expectations - have preserved a wide range of different types of sunna and contain even more varied types of sunna than the (earlier) sīra works, although the sunna of the Prophet is one of the most frequently used concepts. An explanation of these results could be that the discussion among jurists about the status of the exemplary behaviour of the Prophet Muḥammad in the second Islamic century caused an increasing interest in the general concept of sunna among scholars of history.

Aisha Y. Musa, The Sunnification of Ḥadīth and the Hadithification of Sunna. published in A.Duderija ( ed.) , The Sunna and its Status in Islamic Law,Palgrave,2015.

As the foregoing analysis of key texts shows, in spite of the hadification of sunna and the sunnification of adith that occurred over the course of the first several Hijrī centuries, the concept of sunna was initially linked to the actions of the Prophet and others and also to the character qualities those actions embody, such as attitudes of charity and moderation.  Over time, the Muslim community granted higher status to the words, deeds, and attitudes of the Prophet over those of others, developing the concept of the Prophetic Sunna and granting that Sunna the status of a secondary form of divine inspiration, or waḥy. The shift from memorization and recitation to books as the means of preserving and disseminating information that occurred in the 3rd century AH (9th century CE) led to emergence of Ḥadīth collections. Collections arranged by topics (muṣannaf), transmitters (musnad), and Prophetic practices (sunan) emerged in order to meet the needs of scholars and jurists seeking to answer questions of faith and practice for the Muslim community. Ḥadīth became an indispensable repository of religious knowledge, in particular, knowledge of the Prophetic Sunna.  As such, Ḥadīth collections came to be the vehicle through which later generations of Muslims access that knowledge.  Together, these factors blurred the distinction that earlier scholars had drawn between sunna as action, in particular the words and deeds of the Prophet Muḥammad, and ḥadīth texts, leading to the commonplace conflation of ḥadīth and sunna in popular consciousness. The size and scope of collections, the specific reports the compilers include, the subject headings under which reports are placed, and the arrangement of sections and subsections clearly demonstrate the hadithification of both sunna and knowledge and the primacy of the Prophet Muhammad as the originator of sunna. However, the impression given by the limited occurrences of the word sunna and its related verbs in the texts (mutūn) of individual ḥadīth reports is often at odds with the impression given by structure, organization and even titles of the collections. While the Prophet is often designated as the originator of sunna, so are the Abū Bakr, ᶜUmar, and the Rightly Guided Caliphs.  The greatest ambiguity, however, is introduced by  the Prophet’s declaration about “whoever establishes a sunna” (man sanna sunnatan), found in both canonical and non-canonical collections, including Muslim’s Ṣaḥīḥ. What remains consistent throughout is the idea of sunna as precedent, whether it is a practice, character quality, or attitude, that is established by someone and then emulated by others.

Usman Ghani, The Concept of Sunna in Muctazilite Thought

The Muctazilite was a distinct school of thought with its own principles and foundations which cantered primarily on the issues of creed and theology. With regard the position of Sunna and Hadith, as we have seen from the preceding discussion, there have been significant differences within this school from the formative period and throughout the classical period.
For example, Abu al-Qasim al-Balkhi (d.319AH/913CE), a prominent Baghdadi Mu’tazilite, in his work Qubul al-Akhbar, a work on Hadith criticism bears testimony to this point. In it we see clear evidence that the Muctazilites accepted Sunna as an important source of Islamic theology second only to the Qur’an. In his introduction, Al-Balkhi explains that the requirements for a sound Hadith are that it is in accordance with Qur’an and  the sunna that has been agreed upon (wa li sunnati rasulillah al mujmac calayha) by the umma or the early Muslim community.[10] Al-Jahiz (d.255AH/868CE) knew that Hadith was indispensable for jurists, but as a Muctazilite he did not like it. Hence, in place of khabar/hadith, he spoke of a ‘sunna accepted by all’ al-sunna al mujmac calayh.[11] Perhaps it can be argued that this concept as specified by Al-Jahiz informs us that the Muctazilites understood the concept of Sunna as most of the scholars of their school could agree upon. Hence, in the light of above it is difficult to maintain that the Muctazilites as a school of thought were in complete agreement on the principles regarding the Sunna and especially the terms Mutawatir and Ahad.  Sunna must have been primarily understood through the lenses of early proto-Hanafi jurists that the Muctazilite followed such as Abu Hanifa.[12] Also, some specific Hadith may have been re-interpreted if found not in par with rationalism as this was the main criteria for the Muctazilites.  However, in legal issues the Sunna seems to be understood in par with the majority of scholars especially since most of the Muctazilites followed Sunni schools of jurisprudence. Only in the world of cilm al-kalam not fiqh, Sunna seems to be understood very differently except for that which has been discussed in this chapter.

Ali Altaf Mian, The Concept of Sunna in Early and Medieval anafism

This chapter has shown the paramount significance of epistemology in the early and medieval Ḥanafī construction of discursive authority and religious normativity. The Ḥanafī loyalty to certainty—their desire to base their doctrines and actions in sound knowledge—demonstrates this discursive tradition’s indebtedness to rationalist theology. In this legal School, the Qur’ān, certainty-yielding sunna, and consensus transmit certain knowledge. These three sources, argued medieval Ḥanafī theorists, provide knowledge that can be traced back to the Prophet with certainty (‘ilm al-yaqīn).[13] The solitary reports, the sayings of the Companions, analogy, juristic preference, and custom transmit probable knowledge. Ḥanafī legal theorists therefore divided legal sources along epistemological lines, for rejection of certainty-yielding sources amounts to unbelief (kufr), whereas rejection of probability-yielding sources amounts to misguidance and sinfulness. We could say that “the preserved and well-known sunna became the master-discourse of the law in Ḥanafism, for certain sunna alone authorized any additional certainty-yielding source of the revealed law (namely, the Qur’ān and communal consensus). The Prophet’s concurrent and renowned sunna, argued the Ḥanafīs, was the arch-source of all divine norms. The Ḥanafī distinction between certainty-yielding sunna and probability-yielding sunna enabled post-formative Ḥanafī jurists to use epistemological grounding in order to authenticate and defend the legal positions of the School’s founding fathers.

Ersilia FRANCESCA, The Concept of Sunna in the Ibadi Madhhab

The narrowing down of the concept of sunna, comprising the exemplary behaviour of the Prophet and his companions, to the behaviour of the Prophet only started toward the end of the 1st/7th cent.[14] Early Ibāḍī tradition collections – as well as the Sunnī early works – abound with reports traced back to companions and successors, and although the concept of “sunnat al-nabī” occasionally emerges in the earliest sources, in the vast majority of cases we find merely sunna referring to both the “living tradition” of the school and the traditions related from the closest Prophet’s followers. Ibāḍis  considered the early period of the first two al-Rashidūn Caliphs as being the ideal age for the Muslim community and tried to trace back to the example set by the Prophet, his two successors and the upright companions. The development of Ibadism as movement in general and school of law in particular was mainly in the hands of the fuqahā’ or ‘ulamā’. When the community was still settled in Baṣra, the first Ibāḍī authorities were in close contact with the Sunnī scholars exchanging advices and opinions with them, thus contributing to the general development of the Islamic law. When the community left Baṣra and settled in Oman, Ḥaḍramawt and Maghreb there was no rivalry between the main centres of Ibadism even if they developed isnād of their own where local authorities were mentioned. There were transmitters who having learnt the ‘ilm in one centre moved to another centre and disseminated the learned material there (“bearers of knowledge”, ḥamalat al-‘ilm), so the bulk of traditions going back to the early Ibāḍī Basrian authorities became the “common property” of the whole Ibāḍī community.
As mentioned above, al-Rabī‘ was the first to give impulse to the systematic collection of ḥadīth and all other athār; nonetheless his own role in transmitting traditions should not be overrated. It is true that we have a Musnad devoted to all the traditions in whose transmission he has supposedly been instrumental, but an opinion as to whether these traditions, or at least part of them, can be considered authentic is as always the case in these matters difficult to form. The Musnad was the fruit of the process of “rationalization” which the Ibāḍī law had undergone with the aim of safeguarding the school from outside influences and placing it on the same level as the other schools of law.
The third/ninth century scholar Abū ’l-Mundhir Bashīr b. Muḥammad b. Maḥbūb, is considered to be the first theoretician of the sunnat al-nabī, which he regarded as preminent to the sunna ascribed to other persons. He, more than any other scholar before him, was determined on granting the sunna of the Prophet a position as the guiding principle second in importance only to the Qur’ān.
The later Ibāḍī sources concentrated on isnād criticism. The isnād, if found sound, was thought to guarantee the authenticity of the text (maṭn) supported. This scrutiny of isnād resulted in an increasingly sophisticated criticism which developed into a regular scholarly discipline constituting one of the branches of the science of tradition (‘ilm al-ḥadīth). The recording of traditions with an Ibāḍī isnād reached its zenith with the compilation of the Musnad al-Rabī‘. This work gained so much authority in the eyes of Ibāḍī scholars that it came to be considered the most accurate collection of traditions, thus overshadowing the contributions of early collections,  such as the Aqwāl Qatāda, the Āthār and the Futyā al-Rabī‘, which preserved the ancient teachings of the school.
Most arguments presented by the Ibāḍī authors dealing with the position of the sunnat al-nabī as second root of Law after the Qur’an are the same as those given in Sunnī treatises on this subject. The substance of this argument is that since, in many verses of the Qur’ān, God has ordered to the men to obey His Messanger (16:44), this implies that everything preached by the Messanger should be taken as truth. The sunna is indispensable as the guiding principle in all human activities, if the Qur’ān does not provide the decisive answers. All traditions judged sound after a rigorous scrutiny must be put into practice by the whole community; whosoever does not respect them is considered as infidel.
The works of the last century Ibāḍī reformists, Nūr al-Dīn al-Sālimī in Oman and Muḥammad Aṭfayyish in the Mzab, make it clear that the Ibāḍis shared the rules on the science of traditions with the other schools since they found no reason not to do. The process of reform in the contemporary Ibadism led to a rapprochement between Muslim sects, notably between Ibāḍis and Sunnis. Yet, mastering the Ibāḍī heritage means knowing its various aspects but also recognizing its relativity and historicity, therefore these authors refer to the search for an Ibāḍī identity in modernity, which can blossom only where there are no bans for innovation and rethinking.[15]

Gavin N. Picken, The Concept of Sunna in the Early Shāfiʿī Madhhab
There can be little doubt that al-Shāfiʿī’s continuous travel during the formative period of Islamic history afforded him a unique perspective on the formation of legal thought. He journeyed to Hejaz in youth, Yemen as a young man, Iraq on two occasions and finally Egypt where he ended his life. Consequently, he became familiarized with the nascent juristic traditions of these regional intellectual centers and particularly, with the ‘scripturalist’ trend of Hejaz epitomized by Mālik and the ‘rationalist’ trend of Iraq, represented by Abū Ḥanīfa. While this must have been beneficial in exposing him to differing perceptions of how Islamic jurisprudence could be articulated he must have also seen the discrepancies and inconsistencies in the practice of law of these traditions. Of specific concern to al-Shāfiʿī was the variance in how the term sunna was understood and in particular how this could be equated with non-scriptural sources evinced by the regional practice of ‘Medinan precedent’ (ʿamal ahl al-Madina), established by Mālik. Similarly, al-Shāfiʿī was equally perturbed by the utilization of ‘excessive’ ‘personal opinion’ (raʾy) and its primacy within the concept of ‘juristic preference’ (istiḥsān), favored by Abū Ḥanīfa.[16]
Thus, al-Shāfiʿī focused on devising his own system that needed to affirm the meaning of sunna as being that of the Prophet only and at the same time, provide a systematic way of allowing space for the expression juristic reasoning, but one that could be controlled through basing it on a revelatory precedent, namely qiyās. Another main concern for al-Shāfiʿī was to further restrict the concept of sunna to a scriptural foundation and therefore, he set about proving the validity and reliability of ḥadīth, so that it could function as a textual source. Al-Shāfiʿī’s final project was to ensure that sunna – now restricted to the Prophet and determined by ḥadīth – was compatible with primary source of revelation and hence, he developed various hermeneutical rubrics for harmonizing apparent discrepancies between the Qurʾān and sunna that were articulated in his theory of bayān.
This system was also readily adopted by al-Shāfiʿī’s students such as al-Buwayṭī and al-Muzanī. Indeed, they embraced it in the spirit that it was meant, not in terms of indiscriminate emulation, but rather in the expression of discerning ijtihād that characterized much of the period.[17] Moreover, it is also interesting to note that many of the subjects that al-Shāfiʿī raises in the theory of bayān became standard discussion in the later works of uṣūl al-fiqh within the school context.[18] Therefore, we find references to: ʿāmm and khāṣṣ[19]; jumla and naṣṣ [20]; naskh[21]; khabar al-wāḥid[22]; criteria for ḥadīth transmission[23]; criteria for the approval of ḥadīth narrators[24]; qiyās[25]; ijmāʿ[26]; ijtihād[27] and the fallaciousness of istiḥsān.[28]
Despite this, much has been made regarding the influence of al-Shāfiʿī in academic studies, particularly in the discipline of ‘legal theory’ or uṣūl al-fiqh; there are those like Schacht who consider his influence to be considerable, and Coulson who lauded upon him the honorific epithet of “Master Architect.”[29] Others, like Hallaq have argued that al-Shāfiʿī’s influence on later uṣūl al-fiqh was minimal at best, and Lowry has provided a more balanced approach to this conclusion.[30] Hallaq’s premise was that al-Shāfiʿī’s Risāla bears little resemblance to the works of mature uṣūl al-fiqh that appeared approximately a century or more after al-Shāfiʿī’s death. Moreover, Hallaq places somewhat exacting criteria for the basis of his conclusion:
“The most striking fact about the 9th century is that it yields no single work on uṣūl al-fiqh. By that we mean a work whose primary task is to lay down a systematic, comprehensive, and organically structured legal methodology whose purpose in turn is to derive legal rulings from the material sources-as was clearly the case in the 10th century and thereafter.”[31]
One may comment here that to compare a preliminary attempt to codify legal theory with its later mature state is a somewhat unfair exercise as most works of the early third/ninth century rarely displayed such organizational and theoretical precision.[32] Indeed, having discussed al-Shāfiʿī’s theory of bayān as represented in the Risāla, one might say that it does indeed qualify as, “a systematic, comprehensive, and organically structured legal methodology whose purpose in turn is to derive legal rulings from the material sources”, albeit in a developmental form.
Moreover, attempting to juxtapose al-Shāfiʿī with the later uṣūl al-fiqh tradition may have fundamentally missed the point. As Lowry notes, approximately eighty per cent of the Risāla is devoted to two main areas, namely harmonizing source interaction and issues related to the sunna as a source of law.[33] In other words, the Risāla is dedicated to subject of what constitutes the sunna, how the sunna interacts with the Qurʾān and the status of the sunna within law. It is clear, as mentioned earlier, that this was a response to the juristic milieu of the 2nd/8th century and the issues that arose therein. It is also evident that al-Shāfiʿī wanted the law to be more consistent and to be directly related to revelatory material rather than human influence, or as Hallaq puts it  – somewhat melodramatically – that al-Shāfiʿī was, “ … the victor-jurist who brought the 8th-century unbridled law down to the knees of revelation.”[34] Al-Shāfiʿī – as a scripturalist par excellence – was successful, in that he forced jurists to return the law to its revelatory origins, reconsider the concept and status of sunna and especially, the position of ḥadīth as a proof text.[35]
Although recognition of al-Shāfiʿī’s impact on the articulation of Islamic law was not so forthcoming in academic studies, traditional Muslim scholars have long lauded his contribution. For example, Ibn ʿAqīl (d. 513/1119) – despite being affiliated with the Ḥanbalī school – referred to al-Shāfiʿī as both the ‘father’ and the ‘mother’ of uṣūl al-fiqh.[36] Similarly, al-Shāfiʿī’s position with reference to the development of legal theory has been likened to that of Aristotle in relation to logic, and Khalīl b. Aḥmad (d. between 160/777 and 175/791) in relation to Arabic prosody.[37] Moreover, with regard to the theological concept of the ‘renewer’ (mujaddid), who will revive the fortunes of the Muslim world at the beginning of every century, al-Shāfiʿī was considered to occupy this elevated status in the second century of the Islamic era.[38] Thus, with regard to the concept of sunna and its associated ḥadīth, al-Shāfiʿī is regarded as someone who revived religion in his time, nurtured legal theory and breathed life into Islamic law.

[1] Al-Wāqidī, Kitāb al-Maghāzī., 595. The translation is from Faizer, The Life, 438.
[2] Al-Ṭabarī, Tārīkh, IV, 174.
[3] Al-Ṭabarī, Taʾrīkh, II, 204. The translation of the terms al-ʿatīra and al-rajabiyya are based on the information found in W. Montgomery Watt and M.V. McDonald, transl., The History of al-Ṭabarī: Volume VI: Muḥammad at Mecca (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988), 40 footnote 53.
[4] Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt, III, 313 (Dhikr istikhlāf ʿUmar). See also al-Yaʿqūbī, Taʾrīkh, II, 96.
[5] Al-Ṭabarī, Tārīkh, V, 36. The translation is from G. Rex Smith, trans., The History of al-Ṭabarī: Volume XIV: The Conquest of Iran (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), 51.
[6] Al-Ṭabarī, Tārīkh, V, 161.
[7] Al-Yaʿqūbī, Taʾrīkh, II, 43.
[8] Al-Wāqidī, Kitāb al-Maghāzī, 620 and 594, respectively. The first translation is from Faizer, The Life, 457. Faizer translated the second sentence with “to inform them of the practice and jurisprudence of Islam”, 437. I decided to stay close to the Arabic phrase.
[9] Al-Wāqidī, Kitāb al-Maghāzī, 681.
[10] Abu al-Qasim al-Kacbi al-Balkhi, Qubul al-Akhbar wa macrifat al-Rijal, No Publishing date, V.1, (Beirut, Dar al-Kutub al-cIlmiyya) 11.
[11] Joseph Van Ess,  The Flowering of Muslim Theology, Trans. Jane Marie Todd, 2006, (Harvard University Press) 158
[12] See chapter ? for details.
[13] Moreover, Ḥanafī legal theorists argued that certainty could be divided further into two types: necessary (arūrī) and acquired (muktasab). The Qur’ān and the concurrent reports (akhbār mutawātira) yield necessary certainty; the renowned reports (akhbār mashhūra) yield acquired certainty. See Zysow, The Economy of Certainty, 13.
[14] Gautier H. A. Juynboll, Muslim Tradition. Studies in Chronology, Provenance and Authorship of Early ḥadīth (Cambridge: Cambridege University Press, 1983), 30-33; Adis Duderja, “Evolution in the Concept of Sunnah during the First Four Generations of Muslims in Relation to the Development of the Concept of an Authentic Ḥadīth as based on Recent Western Scholarship” (Arab Law Quartely 26, 2012), 393-437.
[15] M. Aṭfayyish Jāmi‘ al-shaml fī ḥadīth  Khatam al-Rusul (2 vols., Beirut 1987); Nūr ad-Dīn Al-Sālimī, al-Lumʻa al-murḍīya min ashiʻʻat al-abaḍīya (Musqat: Wizārat ʼal-Turāth ʼal-Qawmī wa-ʼal-Thaqāfah, 1983). See also Muṣṭafā b. al-Nāṣir Ouinten, Ārā’ al-shaykh Muḥammad b. Yūsuf Aṭfayyish al-‘aqdiyya (al-Qarāra (Algeria): Jam‘iyya al-Turāth, 1996), 84-87.

[16] The traditional account has ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. al-Mahdī (d. 198/813) as the instigator of the Risāla, as he is said to have requested al-Shāfiʿī to write a work to bridge the gap between the methodologies employed by jurists in Iraq and Hejaz, but this account is far from being well attested. Equally we do not have a definitive chronology of al-Shāfiʿī’s writings and one wonders, therefore, if the Risāla was a rejoinder to his earlier ‘polemical’ treatises? This may well have been the case, as it is said to have been finalized in Egypt near the end of al-Shāfiʿī’s life and incorporates an interlocutor who regularly challenges al-Shāfiʿī, which is reminiscent of the later ʿilm al-kalām style of argumentation. See: al-Rāzī, Manāqib, 58-9; al-Shāfiʿī, al-Risāla, trans. Khadduri, 19-21; and Schacht, Origins, 330.
[17] See: Gavin N. Picken (ed.), Islamic Law, Critical Concepts in Islamic Studies, 4 vols. (Abingdon: Routledge, 2010), 1:5-7.
[18] Although Lowry quite rightly observes the term bayān took on a new connotation in later uṣūl al-fiqh, the discussion of this subject in al-Ghazālī’s al-Mustaṣfā occasionally bears a striking resemblance to al-Shāfiʿī’s conceptualization. See: Lowry, “Some Preliminary Observations,” 509-10 and cf. al-Ghazālī, al-Mustaṣfā, 2:39.
[19] Al-Ghazālī, al-Mustaṣfā, 2:106-78.
[20] Al-Ghazālī, al-Mustaṣfā, 2:28-38.
[21] Al-Ghazālī, al-Mustaṣfā, 1:207-45.
[22] Al-Ghazālī, al-Mustaṣfā, 1:272-90.
[23] Al-Ghazālī, al-Mustaṣfā, 1:309-24.
[24] Al-Ghazālī, al-Mustaṣfā, 1:290-309.
[25] Al-Ghazālī, al-Mustaṣfā, 2:235-378.
[26] Al-Ghazālī, al-Mustaṣfā, 1:325-76.
[27] Al-Ghazālī, al-Mustaṣfā, 2:382-470.
[28] Al-Ghazālī, al-Mustaṣfā, 1:409-14.
[29] See: Schacht, Origins, 6-20, 36-81 and 315-29 and Coulson, History, 53-61.  
[30] See: Hallaq, “Was al-Shafiʿi,” 587-605 and Lowry, Early Islamic Legal Theory, 359-68.   
[31] Hallaq, “Was al-Shafiʿi,” 588.
[32] I bring to mind here my own reading of al-Ḥārith al-Muḥāsibī’s (d. 243/857) writings, who was a contemporary of al-Shāfiʿī’s student, Ahmad b. Ḥanbal. Despite al-Muḥāsibī enjoying considerable influence in the later Sufi tradition, his writings bear only a passing resemblance, in terms of form and structure, if compared to the later development of mature Sufi science (ʿilm al-taṣawwuf), which would be epitomized by works such as the Risāla of Abū ’l-Qāsim b. Hawāzin al-Qushayrī (d. 465/1074). See: Gavin N. Picken, Spiritual Purification in Islam: The Life and Works of al-Muḥāsibī, Routledge Sufi Series (Abingdon: Routledge, 2011), 216-20 and Gavin N. Picken, “Ibn Ḥanbal and al-Muḥāsibī: A Study of Early Conflicting Scholarly Methodologies,” Arabica 55:3 (2008): 338.
[33] Lowry denotes approximately one third of the Risāla is devoted to source interaction and around one half of the text is related to the sunna. Lowry, Early Islamic Legal Theory, 118.
[34] Hallaq, “Was al-Shafiʿi,” 588.

[35] See: Sherman A. Jackson, “Getting the Record Straight: Ibn Al-Labbad's Refutation of al-Shāfiʿī,” Journal of Islamic Studies 11:2 (2000): 121-46 and cf. Christopher Melchert, “Traditionist-Jurisprudents and the Framing of Islamic Law,” Islamic Law and Society 8:3 (2001): 383-406.

[36] See: Lowry, Early Islamic Legal Theory, 57.
[37] See: al-Rāzī, Manāqib, 158; Hasan, Early Development, 179 and cf. Hallaq, “Was al-Shafiʿi,” 590.

[38] See: al-Rāzī, Manāqib, 60 and Asma Afsaruddin, “Renewal (tajdid),” in Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia, ed. Josef Meri, 2 vols., Routledge Encyclopedias of the Middle Ages - 13 (Abingdon: Routledge, 2006), 2:678-9.