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Shariah, Fiqh and the Sciences of Nature – Part 2
By Professor Nazeer Ahmed   

(Dr. Nazeer Ahmed is the Director of the American Institute of Islamic History and Culture, located at 1160 Ridgemont Place, Concord, CA 94521. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed is a thinker, author, writer, legislator and an academician. Professionally he is an Engineer and holds several Patents in Engineering. He is the author of several books; prominent among them is "Islam in Global History."  He can be reached by E-mail: )

If one had lived in the year 730 CE, one would witness with awe the extent of the Islamic Empire. Arab armies had crossed into France and were advancing towards Paris. Constantinople (modern Istanbul), the seat of the Byzantine Empire, had undergone multiple assaults. Muslim merchants had met up with the Chinese in Sinkiang along the ancient Silk Road and were actively trading in the Indonesian islands and eastern China. Caravans from North Africa had crossed the Sahara desert into Western Africa with the message of the Qur’an. The center of Vedic culture in Sindh (in today’s Pakistan) was under Muslim rule.

The vast and diverse Islamic community included Arabs, Persians, Egyptians, Africans, Spaniards, Afghans, Turks and Indians. With the influx of new people came new ideas. Muslim society was in a state of flux and the pent-up tensions brought on by new people and new ideas were soon to erupt like a volcano in the Abbasid revolution (750 CE). It was in this caldron of ideas that people wanted answers to the issues that faced the vast and diverse world of Islam.

It is a truism that great men and women create history. It is also true that historic events create great men and women. The tide of events in the second century of Hijra gave birth to scholars who systematized the science of Fiqh. Madina and Kufa were two of the prime centers of learning in the early years of Islam. Madina was the city of the Prophet and the people of Madina had close access to Prophetic traditions. However, Madina as the heart of the Islamic Empire was insulated from the challenge of ideas from neighboring civilizations. Kufa, on the other hand, located at the confluence of Arabia and Persia, was a melting pot and more susceptible to foreign ideas. Kufa was the regional capital from which the Umayyads ruled Iraq-e-Arab (modern Iraq), Iraq-e-Ajam (western Persia), Pars (central and southern Persia), Khorasan (in Azerbaijan) and western India (today’s Pakistan). The Kufans had somewhat less of an access to the traditions of the Prophet, but they were at the front end of the challenge of ideas from the neighboring Greek, Persian, Indian and Chinese civilizations. It was but natural that Madina and Kufa would become the earliest centers of schools of jurisprudence. Thus, the earliest developments in Fiqh, centered around Madina and Kufa, were exposed to somewhat different geographical and historical challenges. These two schools were referred to as the Madinite School and the Kufic School.
The first and foremost scholar of the Kufic School was Imam Abu Haneefah. The first scholar of the Madinite School was Imam Malik, and after him it was Imam Shafi’i. There was a parallel and simultaneous development of the Ja’afariya School, named after Imam Ja’afar-as-Saadiq. The Fiqh of Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal was of a somewhat later period and was a result of the political and intellectual turmoil in the 9th century.

Imam Abu Haneefah (d. 768 CE) was at once a scholar of the first rank and a man of action. Very few sages have left as visible an imprint on Islamic history, as has this savant. Born to Afghan parentage, he knew first hand the issues confronting the jurists in the newly conquered territories east of Iraq. He was also well aware of the intellectual challenge from the contemporary civilizations of Greece, Persia, India and China. As a youth, he settled in Kufa and studied under the great scholars of the age. As a young man, he took positions against the oppression of the Omayyads and the haughtiness of Arab noblemen. For his refusal to tow the official line, he suffered imprisonment both from the Omayyads and the Abbasids. A famous quotation attributed to him, “The belief of a converted Turk is equal to that of a Muslim from Hijaz”, speaks volumes about the egalitarian temperament of the Imam.

The method of teaching in early Islam was the halqa (study circle), wherein those who sought knowledge from a master sat around him in a circle and were recipients of his discourse and his barakah. One such halqa was that of Imam Ja’afar as Sadiq, who had received spiritual knowledge of the Prophet transmitted through the lineage of Ahl e Bait. Imam Abu Haneefah frequented the circle of Imam Ja’afar as Saadiq and benefited from it.

The genius of Imam Abu Haneefah lies in his vision of fiqh as a dynamic vehicle available to all people in all ages. He saw Islam as a universal idea accessible to all races in space and time. Fiqh was not to be a static code applicable to one situation in one location, but a mechanism that would at once provide stable underpinnings to the Islamic civilization and would also serve as a cutting edge in its debate with other civilizations. He saw that the rigorous and exacting methodology of the Madinite School might suffocate the ability of jurists to cope with unforeseen challenges presented by new situations. Therefore, he expanded the base on which sound legal opinions stand.

According to Imam Abu Haneefah, the sources of Fiqh are: (1)The Qur’an, (2) Sunnah of the Prophet, (3) Ijma (consensus) of some, not necessarily all of the Companions, (4) Qiyas (deduction by analogy to similar cases which had been decided on the basis of the first three principles) and, (5) Istihsan (creative juridical opinion based on sound principles). With the acceptance of Istihsan as a legitimate methodology, Imam Abu Haneefah provided a creative process for the continual evolution of Fiqh. No Muslim jurist would be left without a tool to cope with new situations and fresh challenges from as-yet unknown future civilizations.

One other term needs clarification here, that is ijtihad (root word j-h-d, meaning struggle). Ijtihad is the disciplined and focused intellectual activity whose end result is ijma or qiyas or Istihsan. Ijtihad is a process. The Hanafi and Ja’afariya Schools provide the greatest latitude for ijtihad. However, there are differences in emphasis. In the Ja’afariya School, emphasis is on the ijtihad of the Imams. In the Hanafi School, emphasis is on the ijtihad of the Companions of the Prophet, but the ijtihad of the learned jurists is also acceptable. There are also differences between the Kufic Schools of Fiqh (such as that of Imam Abu Haneefah) and the Madinite Schools of Fiqh (such as that of Imam Malik) in the latitude allowed for ijtihad. The ijma or consensus of the Madinite School is primarily through evidence (from the Qur’an) or correlation with the Sunnah of the Prophet. The requirements for ijma or consensus in the Kufic Schools are somewhat more liberal and include not only evidence from the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet, but also ijtihad of the Companions or of learned jurists.

Imam Abu Haneefah did not establish the school of Fiqh named after him, nor did he personally document his methodology. Writing was not common at that time and the spoken word was still the queen of discourse. Oration was the primary vehicle for instruction and teaching. Arabic language, syntax and grammar were learned through memorization. Like the qaris of earlier years, well-known scholars taught through their lectures. Documentation was left to students and disciples of later generations. Specifically, it was not until the 11th century that the Hanafi School was fully elucidated and documented. Greatest among the Hanafi scholars were Abdullah Omar al Dabbusi (d. 1038 CE), Ahmed Hussain al Bayhaqi (d. 1065 CE), Ali Muhammad al Bazdawi (d. 1089 CE) and Abu Bakr al Sarakhsi (d. 1096 CE).

From the 10th century onwards, the Hanafi School received patronage from the Abbasids in Baghdad who enjoyed the protection of Seljuk Turks. The Turks loved the egalitarian disposition of Imam Abu Haneefah, as well as the creative aspects of the Hanafi Fiqh. When they embraced Islam, they became Hanafis and its arch defenders. The Turkish dynasties in the 11th and 12th centuries as well as the Ottomans endorsed the Hanafi Fiqh. The Timurids, Turkomans as well as the Great Moghuls of India were its champions as well. For these historical reasons, the Hanafi School is the most widely accepted of the various schools of Fiqh in the Muslim world today. Most of the Muslims of Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Central Asian Republics, Persia (until the 16th century), Turkey, northern Iraq, Bosnia, Albania, Skopje, Russia and Chechnya follow the Hanafi Fiqh. A large number of Egyptians, Sudanese, Eritreans and Syrians are also Hanafis, although as we shall elaborate later, for reasons rooted in geography, the Maliki and Shafi’i Schools are also well established there. (To be continued)



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