Saturday, February 16, 2019

Ḥadith at the Time of Successors up to and including Shafiʾi (130-200 AH): Extent, Nature and Importance

 We have previously briefly noted the reasons for increased ‘Ḥadithification’ of the concept of Sunnah. We refer to these as the forces of traditionalisation that were responsible for the paradigm shift in the way in which not only the concept of Sunnah came to be understood but also the entire subsequent Islamic thought. The process of traditionalisation is defined here as those social, political and jurisprudential mechanisms that throughout the second century of Hijrah contributed to:

 1. the gradual shift in formulation, preservation and transmission of knowledge from the oral to the written mode in general and, as a corollary, the continued growth and proliferation of Ḥadith;

2. the increased perceived importance given to Ḥadith at the cost of the ethico-moral and ʿamal-based concept of Sunnah;
 3. the absorption of practical and oral-based Sunnah into Ḥadith;
4. the increased application of Ḥadith in Qurʾānic and Sunnahic sciences such as tafsīr, ʿusūl-ul-fiqh ̣ and ʿusūl-as-sunnah ̣ including theology and ʿaqīdah; and
 5. the development of hierarchical, literal legal hermeneutic models that were entirely textually based (i.e. based on the Qurʾān and Ḥadith) and the marginalisation of non-textually based epistemologicomethodological tools of Sunnah (and Qurʾān) such as notions about of raʾy and ijtihād.

However, this process of traditionalisation during the first half of the second century of Hijrah still did not appear to be dominant. For example, according to Motzki who analysed the content of Abdarrazaq’s (d. 211 AH) Musannaf which contains materials from Ibn Abbas (d. 68 AH) and his disciples, only 14% of Ibn Juraij’s (d. 150 AH) text collections were based on Prophetic aḥādīth, not all of which were considered binding but only those which were seen to be in accordance with the established Meccan tradition. In this context he argues that:

 Propheten aḥādīth haben [daher] auch in der ersten Haelfte des 2. Jahrhunderts im mekkanischen Fiqh nur eine untergeordnete Rolle gespielt.
(During the first half of the second century hijri the hadith of the prophet played a very modest role  in Meccan fiqh.)

It is also worth mentioning that of those 14%, less then one half of the Ḥadith going back to the Prophet had a complete isnād and for those aḥādīth whose chain of narrators stopped at the level of the Companions had even a lesser number of complete isnād.  It is during the last half of the second century that the above-stated traditionalisation forces started to be felt more markedly. Therefore, this period can be rightfully described as a period of transition between regional non-Ḥadith-dependent concept of Sunnah and emerging concept of Ḥadith-based Sunnah. What was the attitude of major authorities on law towards this phenomenon, especially with regard to Ḥadith-based Sunnah proliferation?

When talking about the same period under examination in terms of Ḥadith-independent Sunnah, the opinion of Abu Yusuf was quoted as to his attitude with regard to the problem of ever-expanding Ḥadith literature. This methodology is also repeated in another passage found in Abu Yusuf’s work al-Radd ʿalā Siyar al-Awzaʾi in which he states: Ḥadith multiplies so much so that some Ḥadith are traced back through chains of transmission are not well known to legal experts, nor do they conform to Qurʾān and Sunnah. Beware of solitary Ḥadith and keep close to the collective spirit of Ḥadith. The use of words well-known is highly significant here because it suggests that the well-known Sunnah was still conceptually different from Ḥadith and was used as a methodological tool, along with the Qurʾān, to divorce Sunnah from Ḥadith. Having examined the use of Ḥadith in Malik’s Muwatta, al-Shaibani’s Kitab al-Siyar and writings of Awzaʾi Rahman makes an important conclusion in saying that: Awzaʾi regards the Ḥadith of the Prophet as being endowed with fundamental obligatoriness but the Sunnah or the living practice is of same importance to him. His appeals to the practice of the Community or its leaders are to judge from the extinct materials, the most regular feature of his legal argumentation. Malik adduces Ḥadith (not necessarily Prophetic Ḥadith) to vindicate the Medinise Sunnah but regards Sunnah in terms of actual importance, as being superior to the Ḥadith. As for Abu Yusuf and Shaybani, very few of whose legal Ḥadith go back to the Prophet at all, they interpret the Ḥadith with [a] freedom . . . The Iraqi school recognize the supreme importance of Ḥadith but the Ḥadith, according to it, must be situationally interpreted in order that law may be deduced from it.

Sadeghi makes a similar assertion by asserting that “for Abu Ḥanifa and Al-Shaybani not only were the Ḥadith not a primary source of law in practice but that they were also possibly not always binding in theory either.”

The importance given to what can be termed situational interpretation of Ḥadith in the light of the Qurʾān and well-known Sunnah was due to the formulation and projection of many theologico-politically sectarian and moralo-legal Ḥadith to that on to the Prophet himself that were taking place at the time. Many of these reports found their way into the Sahih Ḥadith books such as those complied by Bukhari (d. 256 AD) and Muslim (d. 261 AH). Also it is at this time that Musnād Ḥadith books came into existence. Musnād books contain Ḥadith which have uninterrupted chains of transmission up to the level of the Companions and are ordered according to the Companions’ names. As such, they were not collected with an aim of being used as tools for jurisprudentic purposes, as in the case of Bukhari and Muslim.

As we have seen from the above, this methodology of non-literal interpretation and conceptual differentiation of Sunnah and Ḥadith was still evident throughout most of the second century. Rather than accepting Ḥadith, even ‘authentic Ḥadith’, in an a priori fashion, the concept of assunnah al-maʾrufa was used, as a filter to distinguish between Ḥadith, which could potentially embody Sunnah, and those, which did not.

With regard to the development of isnād, it is during the third decade of the second century that birth of the ‘classical’ sciences of criticism of informants (rijal) started. In additional, it should be pointed out that the bulk of Ḥadith put into wider circulation took place at the level of Successors’ Successors early during the second century and, according to Juynboll, no foolproof method in terms of discerning authentic from inauthentic Ḥadith at the isnād level of Companions can be developed since the majority of Companions died prior to isnād science being systematically used and because of the fact that Companions cannot be considered responsible for their being included in isnāds.

taken from this academic article ( free PDF).

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Ḥadith at the Time of Successors and Early Successors: Successors up until 130 AH

The previous discussion led us to conclude that most of the Companions and early Successors had died before the importance of ‘standardised Ḥadith’ came into being and that ʿamal and oral-based Sunnah still
enjoyed more credence than Ḥadith. The end of the first and beginning of the second century saw a significant growth of Ḥadith as a result of the talab ul-ʿilm/rihla phenomenon so that Ḥadith acquired more currency.
As argued elsewhere, two broad mechanisms were responsible for this development. Firstly, the general perception among some influential and reputable Successors that the expanding Muslim empire would become organically detached from the Qurʾānic and Sunnahic teachings was becoming widespread. Secondly, a change in political fortunes and subsequent rise of the Abbasid dynasty (132 AH), which used the argument of being custodians of the Prophet’s Sunnah through his uncle’s cousin Abbas
to justify and legitimise their political power, along with partisan tensions that emerged within the nascent Muslim community fighting for religious legitimacy, created an ever greater impetus for a more systematic collection of, and searching for, Sunnah in any form. These two trends resulted firstly in the practice-based Sunnah being increasingly clad in the mantle of written-based Sunnah, and secondly in the development of more stringent mechanisms to establish its authenticity of written—especially in terms of the mode of its transmission, i.e. ʿulum-ul-isnād.

At this time, the largely regional character of the Ḥadith body of literature, due to increased inter-regional contact, now became ‘mixed’, that is, it consisted of local/regional and inter-regional Ḥadith. It is at this point
in time that the scattered Ḥadith were now increasingly gathered together and compiled into books. Modes of Ḥadith transmission, apart from those already in operation, included munawalah (handing book to a student without samāʿa or qirāʾa), ijazah (giving permission to teach Ḥadith contained in a book) and wasīyah (entrusting a book for transmission).

Nonetheless, while the importance of Ḥadith was slowly gaining more ground, the transmission, compilation and normalization of Ḥadith was still not widespread at this point in time. For example, the first public
statement containing a prophetic Ḥadith (without an isnād) for governmental purposes was only instituted at the time of Caliph Al-Mahdi in the year 159 AH/776 CE.1 Moreover, Motzki argues in the context of the role and importance of Ḥadith as sources of legal doctrine in Mecca during the period under examination that: “Propheten-aḥādīth spielten als Rechtsquellen nur eine bescheidene Rolle”(The hadith of the prophet played a very modest role as sources of Islamic law)   Furthermore, most of the Ḥadith during this period were still going back to the Companions and Successors rather than to the Prophet himself and had incomplete chains of transmission.

Whilst it is difficult to accurately generalise the usage of isnād in all major centres of learning, the following assertion by Motzki made in the context of the status of isnād usage in the Meccan School of jurisprudence during the first two centuries of Hijrah is likely to be indicative of the level of isnād development in general:

. . . im 1. Jahrhundert [war]die Angabe eines isnād ehe Ausnahme als die Regel [und]
dass sich seit dem Begin des 2. Jahrhunderts aber der Gebrauch des isnād mehr und
mehr durchsetzte. Das ist nur als eine Tendenz zu verstehen.

( During the first century Hijri the use of the isnad was an exception rather than a rule and that since the beginning of the 2nd century Hijri the use of isnad become increasingly prevalent. But this is to be understood as a general trend only)

Mathnee, in the context of critiquing Rahman’s living Sunnah that extended right up to the Shafiʾī period, considers this living Sunnah to have been used in an arbitrary fashion without reference to a particular authority and that it was susceptible to continuous change. He maintains furthermore that the
Sunnah could refer either to a practice or tradition or combination of both and with multiple equivalent authorities.

taken from this article ( free PDF)

Friday, February 1, 2019

Ḥadith at the Time of the Companions and Earliest Successors-Nature,Extent and Importance

With the death of the Prophet, Ḥadith attained a semi-formal status.69 The main purpose of Ḥadith, as mode of Sunnahic transmission, was, according to Rahman, for practical reasons “as something, which could be generated and be elaborated into the practice of the community”.70 Its random writing down marked the development of Ḥadith during this period of time in simple notebooks usually referred to as saḥ ̣īfa/suḥ ̣uf. 71 Nonetheless, judging by their own involvement in making decisions based upon them, the importance given to Ḥadith at the time of the Caliphs was not great. Juynboll asserts that:

 It is safe to say that Abu Bakr, the first caliph, cannot be identified with Ḥadith in any extensive way. This may show that during his reign examples set by the prophet or his followers did not play a decisive role in Abu Bakr’s decision making. With regards to second Caliph’s [Umar] use of word Sunnah ‘the term is usually use to mean: the normative behaviour of a good Muslim in the widest sense of the word’ [rather than a Ḥadith].72

In case of the Uthman’s [third Caliph] view of Ḥadith in conducting of community’s affairs Uthman seems to have relied solely on his judgement.73 From all the different sources74 on which the juristic decisions of Ibn Abbas’s (d. 68) disciples such as Ata b. Abi Rabah were based, only a small number of Prophetic Ḥadith were used.75 By the same token, the importance given to Ḥadith during the entire period of the Umayyad Caliphate (ending in 132 AH/750 CE) was ‘a marginal phenomenon’.76 The early religious epistles77 studied by Van Ess78 and Cook,79 suggest that the term Sunnah “has nothing to do with Ḥadith” and that in them Ḥadith are rarely, if at all, cited but that this “lack of Ḥadith did not betray any hostility towards the notion of Sunnah”.80 Again, these statements must be understood in the context that the understanding of the word Sunnah at that time, as we demonstrated earlier, was ethico-religious in nature,81 permitting a large scope for exercising of one’s own judgement so that Ḥadith was “interpreted by the rulers [of that time] and the judges freely according to the situation at hand.”82

An indication that practice-based, non-written Sunnah was considered superior to that of Ḥadith is found in the chapter of Iyad’s book entitled On What Has Been Related from the First Community and the Men of Knowledge Regarding the obligation of Going Back to the Practice (ʿamal) of the People of Medina, and Its Being a Conclusive Proof (hujja) in Their Opinion, even if it is Contrary to Ḥadith (al-athar).”83

Elsewhere Iyad notes that Umar Ibn al-Khattab [second caliph] once said on the mimbar (pulpit), “By Allah, I will make things difficult for any man who relates a Ḥadith which is contrary to ʿamal.”84 Another factor which leads us to conclude that Ḥadith literature did not enjoy a great deal of importance in legal matters, and that it was quite restricted in scope in the first century, is the fact that the nature of legal literature from that period deals overwhelmingly with issues that the Qurʾān addresses directly such as inheritance, marriage and divorce, injury and compensation, rather than those aspects of the Prophet’s life that were not directly alluded to by the Qurʾān.85 J. van Ess’ examination of first century Muslim literature led him to conclude that the use of Ḥadith and their importance in these works was practically non-existent.86

The earliest indications that Ḥadith literature was spreading are the stories about the faḍāʾil (merit) of the Companions which are likely to have originated during the caliphate of Abu Bakr, that is during the first two years after the Prophet’s death giving rise to what can be termed as politically motivated Sunnah.87 Another genre of early Ḥadith literature is the awāʾil/anecdotes of the qusṣ ās ̣ (preachers) originating at about 40 AH.88 The subject matter of these Ḥadith/stories predominantly dealt with edification of the Prophet and the first generation Muslims termed tarhīb wa targhīb. Another early genre of written literature to emerge was that of rudimentary tafsīr which was, however, not recorded during the Prophet’s time.89 The ḥalāl–ḥarām genre of Ḥadith (i.e. those which have a legal value) “must have been extremely limited in scope and were mainly the products of individual judgement on the part of the first legal minds Islam produced.”90

In terms of isnād development, the second element in the ‘authentic Ḥadith’ equation, is only towards the end of the period under examination (70 AH) that the first consistent usage of isnād was put into practice.91 Modes of transmission were both oral and written in nature and included reading from a Ḥadith book by a teacher to students (samāʿa), reading by students from books to teachers (ʿard/qirāʾa) and written correspondence (wasīyah).92 Towards the end of this period, coinciding with the establishment of regional schools of thought and regional Sunnah, most of the Ḥadith were regional in character, having regional isnāds based on the Companion’s interpretation of Prophetic Sunnah.93 The isnād of Ḥadith stopped at the level of the Companions (or Successors) supporting the broader principle of the schools’ general concept that Companions were in the best position to internalise and be living proponents of Prophetic Sunnah.94 This was reflected in their overall Sunnahic hermeneutic we referred to elsewhere as as-sunnah al-maʾrufa and/or regional Sunnah.95

taken from this academic journal article ( free PDF)

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Islamic feminism, Patriarchy and Qur’an: A Brief Outline of Current Debates

The viability of the concept of Islamic feminism has an element of  contestedness in terms of its compatibility with the Islamic tradition and its fountainheads. One central component of the possibility of Islamic feminism pertains to the idea of whether or not Islam’s primary source of normative teachings, the Qur’an (or more precisely the nature of Qur’anic revelation) can be reconciled with the modern ideas and concepts that come under the umbrella of feminism/gender equality/ anti-patriarchy. In this section, we outline the most recent debates surrounding this question between what can be termed ‘radical’Muslim feminists and Muslim ‘feminists’.
A recent overview of the literature, on theorizing about Islamic feminism, written primarily by Muslim women in the non-Islamicate context, suggests that “a carefully articulated and tentative convergence of the two (i.e. Islam and feminism) intellectual traditions” is both possible and potentially beneficial because such a convergence has “the potential to advance Muslim women’s struggles for equality.”[1] However, this view is contested by a number of contemporary Muslim radical feminist scholars such as  Ali, Chaudhry[2] and Hidayatullah[3] whose works have highlighted, if not re-affirmed,[4] the difficulties and ‘feminist impasses” in espousing gender egalitarian and/or feminist interpretations of Islam in general  and the Qurʾān in particular.
Hidayatullah, following in the footsteps of Ali,[5] critically examined the central presuppositions upon which feminist interpretation of the Qurʾān advocating gender equality was based in the 1990s and 2000s. Reflecting on her book she concludes as follows:

 In the process of writing my book, I came to the difficult conclusion that the contemporary expectations for gender equality at the heart of the feminist exegetical project perhaps cannot ultimately be reconciled with the Qurʾānic text. A claim to the contrary is often based on distortions of the text and anachronistic positions.[6]

The reasons for this diagnosis is that despite the existence of what she terms ‘mutuality verses’ ( e.g. 4:1; 30:21; 9:71; 33:35) which  are agreeable to our contemporary understandings of gender justice there exist in the Qurʾān  ‘hierarchy verses’ ( such as  2:223; 2:228; 4:34)  that “ endorse male  control over women and presume hierarchical male-female relations”[7] and hence perhaps present an insurmountable obstacle for the project of Islamic feminism/ gender egaliterianism. Hidayatullah considers that the manner in which the Muslim feminist interpreters have hermeneutically attempted to deal with these hierarchy verses on basis of various hermeneutical principles[8], in end effect, amount to nothing more than apologetics. Hidayatullah also argues that we must accept the ‘hierarchy verses’ as “real elements”[9] of the Qurʾān and come to terms with what this means for the Qurʾānic feminist project. Hence, she concludes that the Muslim feminist attempts to find support for gender equality in the Qurʾān  have been inadequate (since these inequalities are ontological rather than functional) and have resulted in kind of ‘text fundamentalism’ which ascribes to text the meaning that the text itself. This ‘text fundamentalism’ adds Hidayatullah is also contradictory to the kind of hermeneutics the Muslim feminist theologians subscribe to in the first place. As a result, Hidayatullah opines that the manner in which Muslim feminists have interpreted the text has marginalized the importance of extra-textual hermeneutical principles in their overall hermeneutical models which in actual fact hold a better promise for their ultimate aim.[10]

The work of Hidayatullah has sparked a robust debate between radical feminists and feminists. The latter include scholars such as Amina Wadud and Asma Barlas, whose views are criticised by Hidayatullah. These scholars argue that the Qur’an is not inherently a patriarchal text and that it can sustain women emancipatory/women inclusive readings /interpretations and consider it their aim to restore the Qur’anic basis of sexual equality in Islam by freeing the Qur’an from the patriarchal nature of its classical, some modern exegesis and the scepticism of radical Muslim feminists. In the words of Barlas:

Azizah al-Hibri, Riffat Hassan, amina wadud, and I had sought to recuperate teachings that affirm the ontological and moral/ethical equality of women and men. Our intent was to show that the Qur an’s position on women cannot be delimited to the “anti-women” verses, which we had also reread as a way to illustrate that meaning is contingent on our own interpretive methods and choices… wadud and I had made two points about the Qur an and patriarchy. She had argued that it “remains neutral” toward patriarchy,[11] whereas I held that its rejections of the patriarchal imaginary of God as father/male, and the fact that it makes no mention of sex or gender inequalities, signal an antipatriarchal episteme.[12]

Barlas goes on to explain how her efforts (and that of wadud), have been, in Barlas’ view unjustifiably/unreasonably/erroneously problematized as “dishonest”[13] and “manipulating” the “incurably patriarchal” Qur’anic texts by radical Muslim feminists.[14] Furthermore, Barlas argues that her critics are not only “disinterested in a liberatory hermeneutics of the Qur’an but some also now question its sacrality and want Muslims to stop treating it as a sacred text that has a sanctified relationship to God.”[15] She describes such as intellectual attitude as  “anti-theological, anti-hermeneutical, and anti-women.” Ultimately, Barlas argues that, this criticism of her liberatory hermeneutics is misleading for it not only rejects the possibility of non-patriarchal interpretations but that it privileges, if not conflates, the patriarchal Islamic tradition ( including its patriarchal interpretation of the Qur’an)  with the Qur’an itself.
Wadud , generally agreeing with Barlas’ comments above,  considers the ‘feminist critique” of Hidayatullah and Ali as  amounting  to not much more than “making patriarchal readings divine”[16] and whose project is summed by the view that  “ either we liberate women from every utterance in the Qur’an or we throw out the sacred aspect of the text altogether.”[17] Wadud goes on to argue that such an approach misses an important point namely that  “As soon as we acknowledge that none can know fully what Allah meant, then the door is open to both patriarchal and feminist egalitarian readings.” Furthermore, wadud maintains that interpreters of the Qur’an need

 to maintain both a critical response to and a faithful reverence within the tension of the simultaneity. This is where the text’s sublime ambiguity becomes the primary
means for liberation from literal readings of certain passages—to instead read
through the texts, to its context and back again to its pretext, in order to help
reveal how it might best be applied to our contexts.[18]

Hidayatullah has responded to this critique by arguing that it is not her perspective that
“the Qur’an is an intractably patriarchal text” but that there is a kind of methodological impass between patriarchal and non-patriarchal interpretations of the Qur’an and that
she remains “ unconvinced that we can find clear support in the text itself for privileging either set of meanings over the other”.[19] To Hidayatullah this implies that it is not possible to “definitely establish” the idea or that she is “radically uncertain” that the Qur’anic text can “cohere with contemporary values of male-female equality” as the works of scholars like Barlas suggest. Affirming that, as a Muslim, she shares with  scholars such as Barlas and wadud the premise that the God of the Qur’an is Just  and the Qur’an is the sacred revelation of God , for Hidayatullah’ the fundamental question of (non)-patriarchal nature of the Qur’an (or the God of the Qur’an) is theological and not  a hermeneutical one. This leads her to the idea that the differences between her views and that of those whom she critiques ultimately lie at the level of how they respectively understand the very nature of the concept of sacred revelation and what makes it so.[20]
K. Ali’s views concur with Hidayatullah’s overall assessment sketched above. In this context Ali argues that what she terms “pro-woman, pro-justice, or gender-egalitarian interpretations of the Qur’an’” such as those of Barlas ultimately not only “fail to confront squarely the difficulties inherent in interpreting” verses that assert or accept male dominance but also do not provide satisfactory account at the theological level, about the very existence of such verses in the Qur’an. As such Ali is of the view that the scholarship of scholars such as Barlas exaggerates Qur’an’s supposed egalitarian and anti-patriarchal credentials even if it can sustain such interpretations.

The above outline provides us with the general insight into the nature of disagreements pertaining to the hermeneutical and theological possibilities of Islamic feminism.

[1] See Fatima Seedat, “When Islam and Feminism Converge,” Muslim World 103, (3, 2013): 404-420.
[2] Ayesha S.Chaudhry, Domestic Violence and the Islamic tradition: Ethics, Law and the Muslim Discourse on Gender ( Oxford University Press,2014).
[3] Aysha A. Hidayatullah, Feminist Edges of the Qurʾān  (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).
[4] Kecia Ali, Sexual Ethics in Islam: Feminist reflections on Qurʾān , adīth, and jurisprudence
(Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2006).
[5] Ibid.
[6] Aysha A. Hidayatullah, “Feminist Interpretation of the Qurʾān  in a Comparative Feminist Setting”, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 30 (Fall 2014) : 115-129, 117-118.
[7] Ibid,p.118.
[8] Such as prioritization of ‘mutuality’  over hierarchy verses , the idea that the alleged dissonance between the two types of verses is a product of our own contemporary egalitarian ethics rather something inherent to the Qurʾān  and  the idea of moral trajectories in the text which are nothing else than the   projection of contemporary gender ideals into the Qurʾān ic text. Ibid,p.119-120.
[9] Ibid,p.120.
[10] Ibid,p.121-122.
[11] Amina Wadud, Qur an and Woman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 9.
[12] Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 32.2 (2016), 111–121,111.
[13] i.e. in applying modern concepts such as gender egalitarianism to premodern, non-gender egalitarian text of the Qur’an)  
[14] Ayesha Hidayatullah, Feminist Edges of the Qur an (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), xx., 142
[15] Ibid,p.112.
[16] Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 32.2 (2016), 130–134,130.
[17] Ibid,p.132.
[18] P,132.
[19] Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 32.2 (2016), 134–138, p.135-136
[20] Ibid,137.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Ḥadith at the Time of the Prophet: Extent, Nature and Importance

According to Schoeler, it is difficult to determine accurately the extent to which early transmission of tradition was oral or written in nature.44 However, Souaiaia has recently convincingly argued that orality has from the very genesis of Islamic thought been the primary medium for preserving authentic transmission of knowledge.45 The transmitted knowledge (either oral or written) consisted of short solitary report(s), which referred: . . . zu einem bestimmten historischen Faktum oder Verlauf gewesen ist[sind] und nicht (wie in anderen Kulturbereichen) die umfangsreichere Darstellung grosserer Zusammenhaenge unter bestimmten Geschichtspunkten.46

 These solitary reports were firstly transmitted orally and later put in writing in the form of small, somewhat more comprehensive, collections.47 Hallaq’s view that the number of Ḥadith up to the end of the first century were “insufficient to constitute the basis of a substantial doctrine of positive law”,48 can be used as one approximate measurement of the extent of the written material during the first century of Hijrah.

 We argued elsewhere that the practical, non-written embodiment of Prophetic actions, such as the ritual prayer, were adopted by the Muslim community in Medina and could be perpetuated from one generation to another simply by means of copying and repeating of actions (that is without relying on written-based sources).49 This is how most Muslims have learnt to perform their prayer even to this day.50 The practical perpetuation of Sunnah was, however, not the only way the Sunnah was transmitted. Elsewhere I also argued that other non-ʿamal-based constituents of Sunnah, namely ethico-religious (Sunnah akhlaqīyah), principal or value-based Sunnah51 (e.g. Sunnāt al-ʿadīla or jarāt as-sunnah), and reason-compliant Sunnah could also be formulated, preserved and transmitted purely orally and independent of any written documentation.52

However, this does not mean that no written documentation of Sunnahic precepts and practices existed. The Prophet, as an ultimate authority and spiritual figure with the highest prestige among his devout followers, was always at the centre of attention in the Muslim community of Medina. The general body of written literature as a whole concerning the Prophet, such as the sira, 53 maghazī54 and Ḥadith texts demonstrates that those close to him were eager to spend as much time in the Prophet’s company observing his actions, asking for his advice and, in their absence from the Prophet, wishing to find out what he did and said often in an ad hoc manner.55 Thus, it would be reasonable to argue that some written form(s) of proto-Ḥadith56 existed in the earliest days of the Muslim community, including the Prophet’s time itself.57

 Indeed, the works of Abbott, Sezgin and Al-Azami have argued with some success that, against those authorities who questioned the existence and writing down of Ḥadith during the earliest time of the Muslimcommunity,58 the process of writing down proto-Ḥadith started during the Prophet’s own time.59 Regardless of the value of the work of these scholars,60 Goldziher’s following remarks express the reasonableness of existence of written recordings of Prophetic activity while the Prophet was alive:

 There is nothing against the assumption that the Companions and disciples wished to keep Prophet’s sayings and rulings from being forgotten by reducing them in writing” and that “it can be assumed that the writing down of Ḥadith was a very ancient method of preserving it.61

At the time of the Prophet, writing down the Ḥadith, however, was rather a random and individualised undertaking.62 The number of Ḥadith must have been rather limited, for Rahman writes, “the only need for which it [Ḥadith] would be used was the guidance in the actual practice of the Muslims and this need was fulfilled by the Prophet himself.”63 Similarly the actual nature and concept of Prophetic authority as a whole, in fact, was not conducive to proliferation of Ḥadith. In this context, Rahman points out that:

 . . . the overall picture of Prophetic biography—if we look behind the colouring supplied by the Medieval legal mass-has tendency to suggest the impression of the prophet as a pan-legist neatly regulating the fine details of human life from administration to those of ritual purity. The evidence, in fact, strongly suggests that the Prophet was primarily a moral reformer of mankind and that, apart from occasional decisions,which had the character of ad hoc cases; he seldom resorted to general legislation as a means of furthering the Islamic cause.64

In addition, given the circumstances of the Prophet’s mission, a large body of written documentation was not warranted. In this context Rahman avers: . . .

 that the Prophet, who was, until his death, engaged in a grim moral and political struggle against the Makkans and the Arabs and in organising his community-state, could hardly have found time to lay down rules for the minutiae of life . . . It was only on major policy decisions with regards to religion and state and on moral principles that the Prophet took formal action but even than the advice of his major Companions was sought and given publicly and privately.65

At this point in time, and for most of the first two centuries of the Islamic calendar, the nature of the concepts of the Sunnah and Qurʾān were essentially seen as a coherent whole existing in a unitary, symbiotic, hermeneutic relationship that Graham called the ‘Prophetic-Revelatory event’.66 Furthermore, the overall life and circumstances under which Prophetic embodiment of the Qurʾānic message manifested itself, as reflected in the Qurʾānic content itself, suggests that many Qurʾāno-Sunnahic principles were also socio-culturally and situationally embedded and are to be understood in terms of general ethico-religious principles rather than in a literal all-comprehensive manner.67 In other words, the Sunnah was conceptualised in values or objective-based parameters rather than an all-embracing source of positive law.68 It is because of these factors that there was no urgency and need felt for a large-scale written documentation of Prophetic words or deeds at this period of time in Muslim history.

taken from this academic article ( free PDF).

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Sunnah at the Time of Shāfiʿī and Beyond

In the previous part of our discussion we alluded generally to the forces
which were contributing towards the growth of the written recordings of
(reportedly) Prophet’s actions and words and the absorption of nonwritten-
based Sunnah into them. We also saw that a broader and narrower
version of Sunnah were co-existent with an increased tendency for ‘Ḥadīthification’
of regional Sunnah. We shall refer to these factors as mechanisms
of traditionalisation. Calder describes this process as a transition from a
discursive tradition to a hermeneutic tradition (purporting to derive the
law exegetically from the Prophetic sources).202 Ansari, similarly, talks in
terms of the shift towards “an objectively justifiable juristic theory” at the
time of Shāfiʿī.203 Therefore, those religious authorities that fully embraced
and adhered to this narrower epistemologico- methodologal definition of
Sunnah (Sunnah equals ‘authentic Ḥadīth’) are conventionally referred to
as traditionalists (Ahl al-Ḥadīth) while others who remained faithful to the
broader definition of Sunnah, which included an element of raʾy, were
given the title of rationalists (Ahl al-Raʾy).

The increasing epistemologico-methodological constraints on Sunnah
emerged as a by-product of this traditionalisation towards the end and the
beginning of the second century with the process of systematic collection
and criticism of Ḥadīth. These efforts bore fruit in form of the collection
of large quantities of purely written-based ‘Sunnah’ that were claimed to
have originated from the very mouth of the Prophet. This ‘Sunnah’,
although originally oral in nature was in due course completely writtenbased
and came from every corner of the Muslim empire. Its authenticity
was guaranteed by an increasingly ‘healthier’ isnāds as developed by
muḥadīthiūn.207 The champion of this definition of ‘Sunnah’ was the
famous jurist Shāfi‘ī (d. 204). Shāfiʿī’s concept of Sunnah was:

Established by traditions going back to the Prophet, not by practice or consensus.
[Apart] from a few traces of the idea of al-sunnah al-maʿrufah in his earlier writings,
Shāfiʿī recognises the ‘Sunnah of the Prophet’ only in so far as it is expressed in
traditions going back to him.208 This is the idea of Sunnah we find in the classical
theory of Muhammadan laws, and Shāfiʿī must be considered as its originator there . . .
Shāfiʿī restricts the meaning of Sunnah so much to the contents of traditions from the
prophet, that he is inclined to identify both terms more or less completely.

Thus, it was with Shāfiʿī, a member of the fourth generation of Muslims,
that the methodologico-epistemological beginnings of the coalescing of
Sunnah with Ḥadīth came into being for the first time. Up to this point in
time, prevalent ethico-religious character of Sunnah being interpreted,
  crystallising and re-interpreted by the fuqahāʾ in the light of ʿamal was
becoming ever more legalistic and written in nature. The fuqahāʾ of the
regional and personal schools of law (as we briefly outlined and shall deal
with in more detail in the next part of the study on Ḥadīth-dependent
Sunnah) developed their own hermeneutic of Sunnahic definition and
interpretation based on their broader hermeneutic orientation which, in
the eyes of Ahl al-Ḥadīth, suffered from numerous defects.210 As such,
Shāfiʿī often accused these fuqahāʾ, such as Abū Yusuf and Mālik, of
ignoring or interpreting away the Ḥadīth in favour of their own school’s
doctrine or that of their own raʾy.

A fāqih who belonged to a personal school of law was increasingly
presented with a dilemma either of following the school’s doctrine of
Sunnahic hermeneutic or that of Shāfiʿī. A dilemma was made much
more difficult if the fāqih had to judge a case that did not have a direct
precedent in his school’s doctrine but was found in an isolated213 Ḥadīth
going back to the Prophet pertaining to the matter at hand, or if these two
legal tools were contradictory.

Rather than opting for acceptance of a ‘raw’ Ḥadīth unknown to
previous authorities belonging to same school, the majority of fuqahāʾ
belonging to a particular school of thought, especially those of lower status,
were faithful and obedient (muqallid ) to their school’s hermeneutic.214 In
discussing this, Brown astutely observes that, with the exception of
Ḥanbalism, the theoretical triumph of the Shāfiʿī’s concept of Sunnah
affected the personal schools of law only “peripherally”. The allegiance to
the school’s doctrine of legal theory, he further maintains, was based on

consensus as the ultimate criterion in its decision-making processes and
not on the Ḥadīth.For example, Abū Yusuf, Shāfiʿī’s older contemporary,
is quoted as having said:

So make the Qurʾān and well-known Sunnah (al-sunnah al-maʿrufah) your imam and
guide. Follow and judge on that basis whatever maters come to you that have not been
clarified for you in the Qurʾān and Sunnah . . .

So beware of irregular (shadhdh) Ḥadīth and go by those Ḥadīth, which are accepted
by the community and recognised by, the fuqahāʾ [as valid] and which are in accordance
with the Qurʾān and Sunnah. Judge matters on that basis”.

Thus this “sunnaic-concensual practice”, to use Hallaq’s terminology that
was considered binding was seen as “determinative of Ḥadīth”.
As Brown writes, these personal schools of thought (madhahib) “had
given assent in theory to the importance of Ḥadīth whilst resisting its
thorough application” creating a tension between Shāfiʿī’s definition of
Sunnah and “the actual doctrine of the madhhab”. The consolidating
Ahl al-Ḥadīth movement, however, increasingly questioned these practices
as being un-Sunnahic, throwing the doors wide-open for the concept of
ihy al-sunnah, revivification of and return to Prophetic Sunnah, by means
of a literal adherence to ‘authentic Ḥadīth’ without any intermediaries.
Shāfiʿī’s methodological innovation did not only pertain to Sunnah but
also to the entire evolving legal theory. To him is attributed the title of the first scholar to develop a systematic model of law derivation, and in many ways he was considered a father of Islamic jurisprudence.

The efforts of Shāfiʿī to systematise and develop a more coherent model
of legal theory by making Ḥadīth the only vehicle of perpetuation and sole
repository of Sunnah, supported by Ahl al-Ḥadīth, resulted in the further
consolidation of existing personal schools of law such as the Mālikī,
Ḥanafī and later on development of Shāfiʿī and Ahl al-Ḥadīth madhhabs.
Shāfiʿī’s hierarchical legal theory set up for purposes of defining the epistemological
boundaries and methodological procedures for derivation of
positive law was, apart from the Qurʾān and Ḥadīth-based Sunnah,
founded on ijmaʾ and on qiyas. The increasingly hierarchical structure of
this entirely textual hermeneutic (the Qurʾān and Ḥadīth) meant, however,
that non-textual sources (practice-based Sunnah/well-known Sunnah,
abstract ethico-moral principles, ijmāʿ and analogy) were largely
displaced and constrained by them. In relation to this phenomenon
Wheeler asserts:
By defining the revelation as a text that requires interpretation as epitomized by
prophetic practice contained in the textual corpus of the Sunnah, the theories
associated with Shāfiʿī shifted the guarantee of the local authorities’ opinions away
from the local definitions of traditional practice and toward a notion of authority
based on the transmission and interpretation of texts.

Writing about this epistemologico-methodological shift, Rahman comments
that while in earlier times of the Companions the use of ijtihād slowly
crystallised in consensus, giving rise to al-sunnah al-maʿrufah (well-known
Sunnah), only to be again abolished and re-formulated in the light of new
circumstances, the epistemological value of ijtihād was reversed in the
post-Shāfiʿī period so that ijtihād was significantly constrained by the ijmāʿ principle.
 All this contributed to “the conviction becom[ing] absolute
that law is justified only if it can be related hermeneutically to Prophetic
example, and not if it is presented discursively as emanating from an
ongoing juristic tradition. This, of course, is directly related to the fact
that the epistemologico-methodologically broader concept of Sunnah
prevailed and was considered superior to Ḥadīth during the formative
period of Islamic thought.

The coalescing of concepts of Sunnah with “authentic Ḥadīth” in theory
was, to a large extent, clearly evident but not fully complete at time of
Shāfiʿī.227 The person who is to be accredited with this is one of the main
proponents of Ahl al-Ḥadīth Sunnahic hermeneutic, Ahmad ibn Ḥanbal
(d. 241 AH).228 His approach to the concept of Sunnah is clearly
demonstrated in his treatise Tabagatul-Ḥanbalah 229 in which he states:
“And the Sunnah with us are the āthār  (narrations) of the Prophet” (wa
l-sunnatu ‘indana atharu rasulillah). Moreover, in terms of epistemologicomethodological
value and interpretational tool of Ḥadīth, Ḥanbal maintains that: “the Sunnah (i.e. athār/ḥadīth) explains and clarifies the Qurʾān (wa l-sunnatu tufassir al-qurʾān) . . . there is no analogical reasoning
in the Sunnah and the examples are not to be made for it” (wa laisa fī
l-sunnati qiyās, wa lā tudhrabu laha l-amthal ).

Nor is it [Sunnah] grasped and comprehended by the intellects or the
desires (wa lā tudraka bi-l-ʿuquli wa lā l-ahwa’ )”. Thus, Sunnah was
epistemologically and methodologically self-identified with ḥadīth/athār
and was considered as supreme commentary upon the already earlier
discussed deutungsbeduerfigkeit of the Qurʾān.

Since the Ahl al-Ḥadīth movement, unlike other schools of thought,
considered both theological and jurisprudential sciences based on both
Qurʾānic and Sunnahic interpretation completely dependable on literal,
Ḥadīth-based Sunnah devoid of imput of reason, Hourani maintains that
the inherently Qurʾānic principles of ethical objectivism and partial
rationalism were transformed into ethical volunterism (ethical concepts
understood only in terms of God’s will) and traditionalism (humans can
never know what is morally right by independent reason, but only by
revelation and derived sources), thereby changing the epistemologicomethodological
character of both the Qurʾān and Sunnah. In this
context, Reinhart asserts that “[At] this point in time Islam itself became
the standard and the congruence of reason and religion, which once served
to justify religion, now, at best, justified reason”. Furthermore, the
overriding principles of textual hermeneutic also meant “Revelation must
categorically alter morality and epistemology . . .” and by inference “[B]efore
or without Revelation there can be no moral knowledge”.

At the beginning of this article, two questions that guided its analyses were
asked: namely whether the traditional definition of Sunnah that took root
and established itself during the post-formative or classical period of
Islamic thought reflect the way this term was understood during the preclassical
period. The answer, based on our above analyses is a clear ‘no’. We
have seen that over a period of some 250 years Sunnah was semantico-contextually
and epistemologico-methodologically fluid. Secondly, this
article has attempted to explain which mechanisms were responsible for its
conflation with an authentic Ḥadīth as defined by the classical ʿulūm
al-ḥadīth sciences and when they became apparent. From the above
chronological analyses of the concept of Sunnah we can conclude the following. At the time of the Prophet and the first three to four generations
of Muslims, the Qurʾān and Sunnah, in terms of their nature and scope,
were conceptually seen as one organic whole. In addition to the ʿibadah
dimension of Sunnah both of these sources of Islamic thought were
primarily seen in ethico-religious and objective or values-based concepts
and were reason inclusive. All these aspects of Sunnah could be formulated,
preserved and transmitted orally. The concept of Sunnah was conceptually
differentiated from that of Ḥadīth may it be in a form of sunnah al-maʿrufah
or that of sunnah madiyyah. With the process of what we have described as
traditionalisation, this concept of the nature and the scope of the concept
of Sunnah (and that of the Qurʾān) underwent important conceptual
changes. Severance of the symbiotic link between the Qurʾān and Sunnah
occurred, and, over time, its hermeneutical dependence on Ḥadīth-based
literature was largely engendered, thus changing conceptually its nature
and scope as it was understood during the first three generations of
Muslims.239 Secondly, the nature and the scope of the concept of Sunnah
was conceptually distorted and conflated with the concept of ‘a post-Shāfiʿī
authentic Ḥadīth’ which is how the contemporary Islamic majority
mainstream thought continues to conceptualise it to this day.

taken from this article ( free PDF).

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Sunnah at the Time of the Successors’ Successors

With the end of the first and beginning of the second century, significant
changes to the concept of Sunnah in the minds of the third generation of
Muslims started to develop in terms of its source, mode of transmission,
methodological and epistemological parameters (that is, its nature, sources
and scope). In this context Juynboll asserts that:

. . . the approximate date of origin of the narrowing down of the concept of Sunnah,
formerly comprising the Sunnah, or exemplary behaviour, of the Prophet as well as his
most devoted followers, to the exemplary behaviour of Prophet only . . . [occurred]
towards the end of the first century of the Hijrah and was conceived at the time of
Caliph Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz (99-101).

Hallaq dates this shift somewhat earlier by saying that the isolation of Prophetic
Sunnah172 from other Sunān began to emerge by the late 60s AH.
The reasons for this process began in the second half of the first century.
The continued territorial expansion of Muslims meant that ever more
complex legal and governing processes and institutions had to be put in
place within the enlarging boundaries of the area under the Muslim rule.
The notion of the administrative and social practices being based on the
Qurʾān and Sunnah were still operative and engrained in the minds of
those Muslims who conquered new lands.

A general perception that the expanding Muslim empire would become
organically detached from the Qurʾānic and Sunnahic teachings was
becoming widespread. This realisation had already prompted some Muslims
to collect and gather a bound (mushaf ), official version of the Qurʾān,
a task that was largely achieved during the reign of the third Caliph Uthman (d. 35 AH).

 Additionally, a change in political fortunes and the
subsequent rise of the Abbasid dynasty (132 AH), that used the concept of
custodians of the Prophet’s Sunnah through his uncle’s cousin Abbas to
justify and legitimise their political power, created an ever greater impetus
for a more systematic collection of, and searching for, Sunnah in any form.174
This, in turn, gave rise to a ṭalab al-ʿilm phenomenon175 which gradually
started to transform behaviour-practice-based regional Sunnah into writtenbased
‘Sunnah’. Another factor that started to give shape to the later concepts
of an ‘authentic Ḥadīth’ was the partisan tensions that emerged
within the nascent Muslim community. These brought serious schisms
based on conflicting claims to the successorship of the Prophet’s political
authority as well as certain theological controversies prevalent at the
These two divergent, powerful trends resulted firstly in practice-based
Sunnah being increasingly clad in the mantle of written-based predominantly
purely Prophetic Sunnah, and secondly in the development of more
stringent mechanisms in establishing the authenticity of written-based
Sunnah, especially in terms of the mode of its transmission, i.e. ʿulūm
al-isnād. The custom of reliance on regionally practice- based Sunnah was
increasingly becoming challenged by a growing corpus of written-based Sunnah as the by-product of ṭalab al-ʿilm.177 The objectives of this search
for knowledge/ʿilm were such as to collect as much information about
the Prophet as possible in all spheres of his life. No qualitative distinction
between the Prophet’s role as a Messenger, judge, ethico-moral reformer,
family man or statesman was made, and no careful consideration was given
to the fact that this could conceptually change the nature and the scope of
the concept of the Qurʾān and Sunnah and their interrelationship that
existed during the first three generations.
The “epistemological promise”, to use Prof. El-Fadl’s phrase, of having
access to the actual words of the Prophet himself in a documented form
was much more attractive and “logical” than the regional concept of
Sunnah. One could argue that it was considered superior to it for several
reasons by many of those who accepted its epistemologico-methodological
premises. Firstly, the oral and then written in nature of proliferating
‘Sunnah’ was more tangible than one based on a vague behaviourally practical
or abstract values- or objective-based concept. Secondly, written-based
Sunnah was more voluminous as it was collected across all regions of the
Muslim empire rather than being limited to just one area. Thirdly, it was
more specific and dealt with a broader subject matter than a practice-based
Sunnah, which was often based on the spirit of the Qurʾān and Sunnah
and was more difficult to verify. Fourthly, most of the reports were claimed
to be going back to the Prophet, while the immediate source of practicebased
Sunnah were the Successors and the practice of the community at
the time. Fifthly, the practice of the regional community as a source of
Sunnah was sometimes problematic because not all community practices
were Sunnah-based so that scepticism about all of the community practices
started slowly to creep in.178 Lastly, rather than relying on the general
practice of the entire community, many of whom were ignorant of the
complexities pertaining to the value and preservation of this newly formed
concept of written-dependent Sunnah, one was presented with a chain/
isnād of several transmitters, many of whom were held in high esteem and
were said to have had an unbroken ‘link’ to the Prophet himself and, as
such, qualified as Sunnah’s custodians.
Despite this paradigm shift in the way Sunnah was becoming to be
viewed, the broader view of Sunnah still existed throughout the second
century. When we examine the period of founders of the personal schools of thought179 such as Mālik (d. 179), Auzaʾī (d. 157), Abū Ḥanafa (d.150)
and his disciples Abū Yusuf (d. 182) and Shaibanī (d. 189) we notice that
a qualitative, conceptual distinction between Ḥadīth and Sunnah was still
being made”.180 In Abū Ḥanafa’s letter to Uthman al-Batti (d. 143) the
usage of the word Sunnah only makes sense as a concept referring to “normative
way of the early community as a whole”181 (rather than that of the
Prophet himself only in the form of Ḥadīth). According to Abd al-Rahman
b. al-Mahdi (d. 198) who, when talking about three well-established
authorities ( fuqahā) of Muslim community at that time namely, Al-Thawrī
(d. 161), Al-Auzaʾī (d. 157) and Mālik ibn Anas (d. 179) characterises the
second as imam fī l-sunnah wa laysa bi-imam fī l- ḥadīth (recognised authority
on questions pertaining to Sunnah but not Ḥadīth) in contradistinction
to the first who was authority on Ḥadīth but not on Sunnah and the
third as authority on both Sunnah and Ḥadīth (imām fihima jami‘ān).182
Abū Yusuf, a disciple of Abū Ḥanafa was also known as a ṣāhib ḥadīth wa
ṣāhib Sunnah183 (“custodian or disposer”, lit. owner/proprietor of Ḥadīth
and Sunnah). Ahmed Hasan in his The Early Development in Islamic Jurisprudence
notes a similar observation when he says:

. . . it is not necessary that Sunnah be always deduced and known from a Ḥadīth. Early
texts on law show that the term Sunnah was used in a sense of the established practice
of the Muslims claiming to have come down from the time of the Prophet. That is why
Sunnah sometimes contradicts Ḥadīth and sometimes Ḥadīth documents it.

Therefore, existence of Ḥadīth did not mean an a priori dispensing with
the earlier concept of Sunnah. Moreover, as we shall subsequently argue,
we can infer from Hasan’s above-cited statement that the practice-based
Sunnah was used as a criterion for distilling Sunnah congruent from Sunnah
non-congruent Ḥadīth.

In the context of the definition of Sunnah during this time of personal
schools of thought, we need to remember that there now existed two
significant and accepted modes of its transmission, namely practical and
Ḥadīth-based. These two modes of transmission of Sunnah were based on
two different epistemologico-methodological foundations. The reasons for
this were the existing and acknowledged fabrications and contradictory
elements becoming evident during the process of formulation of writtenbased
Sunnah, and the possible contamination of practice-based Sunnah
with the general practice of community. Therefore “the concern of all
ancient [i.e. personal] schools of thought was thus to know what represented
the genuine, normative Sunnah of the Prophet and his Companions”.186
Both, according to this view, however, could embody Sunnah.
The Iraqis referred to the Sunnah which functioned as a “Sunnah filter”
as al-sunnah al-maḥfula al-maʿrufa, the well-established Sunnah,187 and it
was this Sunnah that was accepted as normative by the consensus of the
majority of ʿulama referred to as ijmāʿ ”.188 Mālik ibn Anas referred to it as
sunnah ʿindana or at times ʿamal and it acted as the final arbiter and ultimate
proof of the Prophetic practice.189 Some parts of this ʿamal was considered
to be Sunnah whilst others were not. Guraya who investigated
Mālik’s usage of the concept of Sunnah in his Muwaṭṭa has determined the
actual constituents of Sunnah according to Mālik as follows:
(i) the religious and ethical principles introduced by the Prophet which,
in due course of time, had acquired the status of recognised Islamic religious norms and the accepted standard of conduct [al-qawāʾid
(ii) sound reason and independent considered opinion (raʾy), and
(iii) legal and moral reasoning.190
Dutton defines this Sunnah as “a generally agreed core of experience which
constituted the community’s knowledge of what it meant to live as a
Muslim”.191 ‘Abd Ar-Rahman ibn Mahdi (d. 198) is also reported to have
not only made a distinction between Sunnah and Ḥadīth but was an advocate
of the superiority of Sunnah based on the ʿamal of Medina over that
of Ḥadīth-based Sunnah asserting that “A preceding Sunnah from the
Sunnah of the people of Madinah is better than Ḥadīth”.192 Similarly, the
Ḥanafī Judge Isa b. Aban (d. 221 AH) argued that the early Muslim community
had rejected ahad ḥadīth which contradicted the Qurʾān or established
Sunnah and used reason as the ultimate arbiter for judging the
veracity of a report and not the isnād.193
The regional Sunnah we described above was, according to Rahman,
constantly re-defined and re-crystallised based as it was on two methodological
tools: ijtihād-qiyās (personal opinion thought to be in accordance
with the broad, general concept of regional Sunnah termed al-sunnah
al-maʿrufa) and ijmā‘ whose ultimate anchoring point was the Prophet.194
The prevalence of this fundamentally same attitude to Sunnah at this time
period is demonstrated by the fact that the bulk of Al-Shaibanī’s (d. 189)
last work entitled Siyar al-Kābir consists of his own ijtihād. This was based
on his scrutiny of works of earlier generations rather than any literal adherence
to Ḥadīth.195
As far as the use of raʾy based on ʿaql during the second century AH is
concerned, a similar narrowing down of its legitimacy, scope and connotation
was starting to take place, but this process, just like in the case of Sunnah, was incomplete.196 Reinhart argues that throughout the Abbasid
era, which includes the period under question, the Islamic worldview:
. . . was complemented by religious ideology arguing that all human kind share[ed] a
kind of moral common sense, the ʿaql, which has always enabled humans to know the
good from detestable. In this process of trying to account for this universal knowledge,
scholars sought to locate acts, values in the act itself and the valuation of it in the
ʿaql . . . Muslim Revelation, consequently, was understood as a supplementary form of
knowledge, one that confirmed ʿaql . . .197
As we previously mentioned, for example, numerous fuqahāʾ, who died
during the second and the third decade of the second century, relied heavily
on exercising personal opinions based on reason/ ʿaql rather than being
involved in Ḥadīth transmission.198 This trend was evident also among
many second or even third century authorities who belonged to the Ahl
al-Sunnah (or were given the title of ṣāhib sunnah) but who were not necessarily
associated with proficiency and accuracy of Ḥadīth transmission.199

At the time of Ibn Al-Muqaffa (d. 140), the positive connotations of raʾy
were still in operation although they had started to develop a negative
connotation as well.200 As the Ḥadīth body of literature was gradually
expanding, views not based on these now entirely textual sources of Sunnah
increasingly started to denote ‘arbitrary opinion’ in the minds of those
engaged in the process of written documentation of Sunnah.201 This mixed
trend of good and bad ra’y was still evident at the time of Abū Yusuf
(d. 182) and Shaibanī (d. 189). However, since Sunnah was increasingly
associated with literal adherence to proliferating Ḥadīth, which were
thematically diverse and quite comprehensive, in contrast to being
interpreted against the background of ʿamal-based Sunnah or sunnah
al-maʿrufah, conceptually Sunnah’s nature was becoming more edified and
its scope was ever more narrowingly defined.

The growing insistence on a literal following (bi-lā kaifa) of ‘authentic
Ḥadīth’, as the only legitimate sources and perpetuators of Sunnah, its
superiority as a tool of Qurʾānic tafsīr (exegesis) at the cost of non-writtenbased
Sunnah, and reason-based opinion (raʾy) began to considerably
narrow down the epistemologico-methodological playfield of both the
Qurʾān and Sunnah and therefore the nature and the scope of the concept
of Shariʿah. This methodological concept of bi-lā kaifa (literally ‘without
asking how’) was based on the premise that whatever is written in the
Qurʾān as well as in ‘authentic Ḥadīth’ is not allowed to be contextualised,
interpreted in a metaphorical sense or based on certain non-textual
epistemological and methodological tools such as notion of ethical
objectivism, the use of reason or concept of the spirit and rationale (qasd )
of the Qurʾān and Sunnah which were, as we saw earlier, the foundation of
Qurʾānic and Sunnahic teachings as characterised by the Prophet’s
embodiment of the Qurʾānic message put into practice and perpetuated by
the first three generations of Muslims.
A significant impetus to this view of the epistemologico-methodological
superiority of Ḥadīth-based Sunnah to that of al-sunnah al-maʿrufah was
provided by Shāfiʿī who belonged to the fourth generation of Muslims.

Taken from this article ( free PDF).