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).

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