Tools for Interpreting Ḥadīth in Shaybānī’s Ḥujja

By Issam Eido

This is part four in a series of four posts on Ḥanafī criteria for using ḥadīth in the ‘courts and canons’ of early Islamic law.

Kitāb al-Ḥujja ʿalā Ahl al-Madīna is one of several books attributed to the judge Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Shaybānī.[1] Early Ḥanafī biographical dictionaries used to classify early Ḥanafī works into three categories, which I follow here: first, the foundational issues, masāʾil al-uṣūl or masāʾil ẓāhir al-riwāya – “most authoritative corpus.”[2] Second, non-foundational issues, masāʾil ghayr ẓāhir al-riwāya according to Ottoman Ḥanafī judge and biographer Kafawī (d. 990/1582),[3] or uncommon issues masāʾil al-nawādir according to the late Damascene Ḥanafī scholar Ibn ʿAbidīn (d. 1252/ 1836),[4] or anomalous reports riwāya shādhdha according to the late Indian ḥadīth scholar Dihlawī (d. 1167/1762).[5] And third, practical issues or masāʾil al-wāqiʿāt. Following the description of each category, the Ḥujja seems to be classified under the second ranking: non-foundational, uncommon issues, or anomalous reports.

The opinions and reports included in the book are thus not considered the final and reliable Ḥanafī position. In order to know the authenticity or validity of these opinions and reports, one needs to examine them through the writings of the first category, ẓāhir al-riwāya or al-uṣūl[6] which consists of six of Shaybānī’s works: al-Mabsūṭ or al-aṣl, al-Jāmiʿ al-ṣaghīr, al-Jāmiʿ al-kabīr, al-siyar, and al-ziyadāt, in addition to the Ḥanafī Bukharan judge al-Ḥākim al-Shahīd’s (d. 344/955) two books Kitāb al-Muntaqā and al-Kāfī.[7]

The Ḥujja’s main objective, as indicated by its title, is to discuss the opinions and narrations of the Medinese. This book comes alongside Shaybānī’s Muwaṭṭaʾ, where he transmitted ḥadīths through his teacher, Mālik ibn Anas, and declared his opinions. The Ḥujja can be considered a second Muwaṭṭaʾ, because he reiterates his first Muwaṭṭaʾ transmissions in a more polemical way in order to show how the Medinese deviated from their jurist Mālik ibn Anas (d. 179/795).

The main narrator of the book, according to biographical records, is the judge ʿIsā b. Abān, who penned three treatises on ḥadīth criticism. His first work was al-Ḥujaj al-ṣaghīr, a rebuttal work of the opinions of the Abbasid caliph al-Maʾmūm’s friend ʿIsā ibn Hārūn al-Hāshimī who wrote a treatise for the caliph collecting all sound ḥadīths that Abū Ḥanīfa rejected.[8] His second work was al-Ḥujaj al-kabīr, in which he discusses the old opinions of Shāfiʿī.[9] And his third work was Shurūṭ Qabūl al-akhbār, in which he refutes both Shāfiʿī and the theologian Bishr ibn Ghīyāth al-Marīsī’s[10] (d. 228/842) opinions.[11]

To that end, the authentication of the Ḥujja should be verified through these following sources: first the Muwaṭṭaʾ of both Shaybānī[12] and the famous Andalusian narrator Yaḥyā ibn Yaḥyā al-Laythī[13] (d. 234/848), second, Shaybānī’s ẓāhir al-riwāya or al-uṣūl books, and third, Jaṣṣāṣ’s[14] two works, al-Fuṣūl fi’l uṣūl[15] and Sharḥ Mukhtaṣar al-Ṭaḥāwī.[16] Yet, for more verification, one needs to examine Jaṣṣāṣ’s contents through two sources: Ṭaḥāwī’s Sharḥ maʿānī al-athār,[17] an essential source for al-Jaṣṣāṣ, and Dabūsī’s works,[18] a source that elaborated on Jaṣṣāṣ’s evidences. In other words, through the following chain: Shaybānī, Ibn Abān, Ṭaḥāwī, Jaṣṣāṣ, Dabūsī. The content and authentication of the Ḥujja can be verified and tracked. Moreover, this chain helps in tracing the genealogy and evolution of legal reasoning of every single case, how the aṣl transformed from being specific to general and vice versa, and how the internal Ḥanafī legal evidence was updated, removed, modified, or even rejected.

Through approximately twenty methodological tools, which are encapsulated in five non-isnād tools, Shaybānī’s legal venture of the Ḥujja represents to us how fiqh can be built, ḥadīth can be read, historical incidents can be traced, sources can be verified, narrators can be categorized, and evidence can be classified. Through a close analysis of the book’s content, two main questions appear to persist: first, what is the meaning of fiqh and ḥadīth in the lens of the early Ḥanafī circle, and second, what-is-the-aṣl of each single case.

Here is a list of the twenty tools that I traced in the Ḥujja:[19]

  • verifying the authenticity of a ḥadīth through its common link (madār)
  • the authority of the Prophet’s companions over their successors
  • a systematic and coherent body of ḥadīth
  • consequences of legal opinions
  • the number of narrators
  • prioritizing narrators based upon their region, expertise, or connection with the narrated content
  • the practice of Islam’s first generation (ʿamal al-ṣadr al-awwal)
  • diachronic reading of evidences
  • giving preference to the Qur’ān over ḥadīth
  • considering a case’s nature based upon gender, region, and limitations (ʿumūm al-balwā)
  • the role of laypeople (al-ʿāmma) in the societal cases
  • specific and general canons
  • reasoning (ʿaql)
  • the authority of the truncated ḥadīth (mursal) based upon the reliability of narrators such as Ibrahīm al-Nakhaʿī
  • the authority of successor reports (maqtūʿ)
  • the classification of the third generation’s opinions in terms of their legal expertise, sources, regions, or circles
  • well-known ḥadīth (mashhūr)
  • well-known reports (athar maʿrūf)
  • established Sunna
  • classification of women’s narrations based upon their relation to the content.

This long list, as mentioned previously, can be summarized and encapsulated in five non-isnād tools for interpretation. By analyzing Jaṣṣāṣ’s theoretical work, al-Fuṣūl fiʾl uṣūl, it becomes clear that Ibn Abān followed two criteria that can further summarize for us how all five of these non-isnād tools for interpretation and their expanded version of twenty tools were used in the Ḥujja to establish permissibility or impermissibility of certain acts:[20]

  • When a report narrated by a non-legal-expert narrator,[21] such as the Prophet’s companions Abū Hurayra or Anas ibn Mālik, contradicts legal canons (uṣūl al-qīyās) and there is no way to reconcile the two (insadda bāb al-taʾwīl), then the report should be rejected.
  • The solitary ḥadīth report, al-khabar al-wāḥid, is to be rejected if it contradicts one the following three sources: (i) unequivocal Qur’ānic texts (al-kitāb al-ladhī lā yaḥtamil al-maʿānī), (ii) established sunna (al-sunna al-thābita), (iii) necessary rational conclusions (mūjibāt aḥkām al-ʿaql); or if the solitary report is specific (khāṣṣ) and pertains to public matters but the public is not aware of it, or the report is anomalous (shādhdh), meaning it is narrated by transmitters who do not act according to it.

A third criterion can be elicited from the previous two: when no contradiction is found or the report matches the canons and other tools, then the report is accepted even though it is weak or truncated in the lens of normative ḥadīth rules. These three criteria summarize the vision of the early Ḥanafī generations through whom the impact of both courts and canons can be traced. The first criterion manifests the internal and sophisticated Ḥanafī view of fiqh where no solitary report has any authority unless it is examined through the canons that are elicited in turn from other sources, primarily the five non-isnād tools. The second criterion is showing the importance of the public sphere as a powerful source for fiqh. In this context, courts can be approached as a model place where all of these public cases are addressed.

Through more than four hundred issues (masāʾil), Shaybānī attempted, in his Ḥujja, to constitute the concept of fiqh and to impress upon his audience that fiqh is more than a process of simple legal analogy or citation of ḥadīths that were in circulation. Fiqh here is the interpretive method of “what-is-the-aṣl” through connecting dots across all of the chapters of a fiqh work. It is not enough for Shaybānī to be among the residents of the central city of Islam (al-Madīna) to have an authority over texts or people. His authority stemmed from his consistent and coherent reading and the power of hermeneutics.

Finding what-is-the-aṣl of every single issue of the Ḥujja is an essential and indispensable task for all scholars who are working on both uṣūl and furūʿ.  What-is-the-aṣl can be traced through two methods: diachronically and synchronically. Diachronically[22] is the study of the aṣl over the course of centuries and regions in both Ḥanafī and non-Ḥanafī writings by tracking all legal adjustments internally and externally in particular in the era of post canonical ḥadīth books. Synchronically[23] entails tracing the aṣl through a “broad and systematic analysis of material from a specific historical context,”[24] which is an essential method that allows us to discern the meaning of fiqh and ḥadīth in the formative period and to uncover the veiled and unpolished pre-canonical canons.


[1] For a brief description see Nājī Lamīn, A Study of Imām Muḥammad al-Shaybānī’s al-Ḥujjah ʿalā Ahl al-Madīnah, translated by Muntasir Zaman: For the history and content of the book see Christopher Melchert’s forthcoming essay Kitāb al-Ḥujja ʿala Ahl al-Madīnah and the transition from Regional Schools to Personal. I thank Christopher Melchert for sharing with me his manuscript before publication.

[2] For the origin and evolution of these Ḥanafī writing see Salman Younas, Authority in the Classical Ḥanafī School: the Emergence & Evolution of Ẓāhir al-Riwāya, (Leiden: Brill, 2021), (published online ahead of print 2021).

[3] See Laknawī, al-Jāmiʿ al-ṣaghir maʿ sharḥih al-nāfiʿ al-kabīr (Karachi: Idārat al-Qurʾān wa’l-ʿ Ulūm al-Islamiyya, 1990), 17.

[4] Ibid., 18-19

[5] Ibid., 19.

[7] Ibid,. 17; Laknawī, al-Fawāʾid al-bahiyya fī tarājim al-ḥanafiyya, ed. Aḥmad al-Zuʿbī (Bierut: Dār al-Arqam ibn Abī al-Arqam, 1998), 305.

[8] Kawtharī, Bulūgh al-Amānī fī Siyrat Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Shaybānī (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 2004), 155, 186.

[9] Ibid., 155, 186.

[10] A prominent theologian belonging to the Murj̲iʾa and is counted among the followers of the Ḥanafī school. See Carra de Vaux, B., Nader, A.N. and Schacht, J., “Bis̲h̲r b. G̲h̲iyāt̲h̲ b. Abī Karīma Abū ʿAbd al-Raḥān al-Marīsī,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, eds., P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs.

[11] Kawtharī, Bulūgh al-Amānī, 155, 186; Laknawī, al-Fawāʾid al-bahiyya fī tarājim al-ḥanafiyya, 93-94.

[12] Mālik, al-Muwaṭṭaʾ, (Karachi: Dār al-Bushra, 2015).

[13] Muwaṭṭaʾ al-imām Mālik riwāyat Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Shaybānī, ed. Taqī al-Dīn al-Nadwī, (Bomaby: Dar al-Sunnah wa’l-Sirah, 1991).

[14] Jaṣṣāṣ quoted Ibn Abān widely in his al-Fuṣūl fi’l uṣūl.

[15] Jaṣṣāṣ, al-Fuṣūl fi’l uṣūl, ed. Muḥammad Muḥammad Tāmir (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 2010).

[16] Jaṣṣāṣ, Sharḥ mukhtaṣar al-ṭaḥāwī, ed. ʿIṣmat Allāh ʿInāyat Allāh Muḥammad (Beirut: Dār al-Bashāʾir al-Islamiyya, 2010)

[17] Ṭaḥāwī, Sharḥ maʿānī al-athār, eds. Muḥammad Zahrī al-Najjār, Muḥammad Sayyid Jādd al-Ḥaqq and Yūsuf Abdulraḥmān al-Marʿashlī (Beirut: ʿĀlam al-Kutub, 1994).

[18] Dabūsī, Taʾsīs al-naẓar, ed. Muṣtafā Muḥammad al-Qabbānī al-Dimashqī (Beirut: Dār Ibn Zaydūn) and Dabūsī, Taqwīm uṣūl al-fiqh wa taḥdīd adillat al-sharʿ, ed. ʿAbd al-Jalīl ʿAṭā (Damascus: Dār al-Nuʿmān li’l-ʿUlūm, 2005).

[19] Some of these tools can be expanded or overlapped with other mentioned tools.

[20] For details on these criteria see Issam Eido, “al-Miʿyār al-ḥanafī li naqd al-ḥadīth: dawr uṣūl al-sharīʿa wa mafhūm al-kullī wa’l-juzʾī,” in Majallat Kullīyyat al-ʿUlūm al-Islamiyya (Fatih Sultan Mehmet University, 2020), 140-172.

[21] Narrator here referring to the first generation of narrators, the Prophet’s companions.

[22] Or core sample method as Marion Katz suggests in her “The Neglected History of Furūʿ and the Premodern/Modern Binary,” Islamic Law Blog, January 14, 2021,

[23] Or transverse slice method as Katz suggests. See ibid.

[24] Ibid.

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