Mohammed Al-Shafi was the founder of the Islamic theory of law. The Islamic law scholars have acknowledged Muhammad Al-Shafi for his contributions towards development of Islamic theory of law. Historians believe that Mohammed Al-Shafi discovered the Islamic theory of law single-handedly.
The details of the Islamic theory of law were set out systematically by Muhammad Al-Shafi in his Risalah book. His position has however been criticized and strong arguments have been made that he didn’t invent the Islamic law single-handedly. The following essay examines the al-Shafi‘i’s “four-source” theory of law. The essay also examines the controversies that it originally causes and how it emerged as the definitive Sunni approach to the law. A conclusion is given there from.
Al-Shafi‘i’s “four-source” theory of law
Al-Shafi‘i’s “four-source” theory of law is comprised of four main sources of Islamic law as contained in his Risalah book. The four main sources of Islamic law include the Quran, the Sunnah, analogies and the unanimous agreement.
In order to determine the legitimacy of a matter, the Muslims used the four sources of law starting with the Quran followed by the Sunnah, then the qiyas or analogies and finally the unanimous agreement. According to Al-Shafi‘i’s “four-source” theory of law, the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet are the primary sources whereas the Qiyas and the Ijma are the secondary sources of Islamic law.
The Quran is the first Al-Shafi‘i’s “four-source” theory of law. The Quran refers to an Islam’s sacred book which is comprised of 114 chapters which are also known as surahs.The Quran is written by use of Arabic language and has 6,200 verses.
The Quran was first preached by Muhammad in 610 A.D.The preaching started in Mecca which is situated in the desert area of the Arabian isthmus. This area had plenty supply of water but it did not have cultivated land. The territory of Mecca was however arid and rocky. The Quran emphasizes on teaching the Islam’ moral principles and justice i.e. it is a set of instructions for the Muslims.
The 114 chapters and 6200 verses of the Quran thus form the basis of Islamic law. They play an important role of providing Muslim community with interpretations and moral values. With the growth of Muslim society, the community’s needs increased and so, the Quran provided people with guidance on how to address their issues. Also, the Quran replaced some old customs that were practiced by the society and in turn brought about more reforms.
For instance, the common customs like idol worshipping, alcohol consumption, unfaithfulness, polygamy e.t.c. were addressed by the Quran.The Quran also played an important role of improving the status of Islam women by advocating for equal rights in such aspects as property inheritance e.t.c. Quran has however been interpreted in various ways over the years by many scholars but, there has never been any Islamic researcher that has doubted the legitimacy of the Quran.
The Sunnah of the prophet is the second Al-Shafi‘i’s “four-source” theory of law.Sunnah is derived from the word sanna which refers to shape, fashion or form. The Sunnah means the actions, sayings and the unspoken approvals of Muhammad the Prophet. The narrations and reports concerning the Sunnah are refereed to as Hadith.Similar to the Quran; the Sunnah of the prophet is stirred by the revelations from Allah.
Thus, Sunnah plays an important role of establishing a framework upon which the Muslims read the Quran given that the life of Prophet Muhammad is regarded as best example of Quran teachings. However, Sunnah unlike the Quran does not directly and literally teach the word of God. The teaching of Sunnah is the divine revelations form God. The Muslims are obliged to obey Sunnah .The Quran also orders Muslim believers to follow the Sunnah of the prophet.
The Sunnah of the prophet provides the Muslim community withy moral instructions as well as legislation. With regards to legislation, the Sunnah of the Prophet defends disciplines and also punishes when necessary. According to the Prophet, both the moral instructions and legislation should be present in the society and thus the society cannot function properly in the absence of one or both.
Analogy or Al-qiyas is the third Al-Shafi‘i’s “four-source” theory of law. Analogy or Al-qiyas entails the way of thinking and it is applied in cases where there are no clear directions in either the Sunnah of the Prophet or the Quran.However, Al, Al-qiyas is only adopted in instances of analogues or in situations where parallelism exists.
This implies that innovations as well as novel situations are allowed e.g. the Al-qiyas extends the Quranic ban on wine to all the alcoholic beverages.Al-qiyas is thus a principle of law that was introduced so as to enable the derivation of a reasonable conclusion regarding the application and extension of Islamic law. There must be apparent reasons of Islamic law before the application of qiyas or analogy to related issues (Gleave 101).
The fourth and last Al-Shafi‘i’s “four-source” theory of law is the unanimous agreement or Ijma. Ijma is an Arabic word that was derived from ajmaa’a’ meaning undisputed agreement.However,Ijma or unanimous agreement usually does not partake directly divine revelations which is contrary to the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet.Ijma however can only happen after Prophet’s demise.
The Prophet was the highest authority regarding the Islamic law during his existence. This is the reason as to why the conformity and lack of conformity of other scholars did not have much impact on the Prophet’s principal authority (Brown 169).
Controversies that it originally cause and how
The following are the controversies of Al-Shafi‘i’s “four-source” theory of law; It is believed that Muhammad Al-Shafi invented the Islamic laws single handedly.However,this position has been under attack and strong cases have been raised that Muhammad Al-Shafi did not invent the laws single-handedly. There have also been controversies that Al-Shafi was not the person behind the Risalah book. It is thus believed that Al-Shafi was not the person who was responsible for the legal writings of Islamic law.
Muhammad Al-Shafi recognized Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet as the two principles of Islamic law and on the other hand, the Ijma and qiyas as subordinate. According to Al-Shafi‘i’s theory, there are four main sources of Islamic law.However,two of the laws are recognized as being more important as compared to the other two.Also,the Al-Shafi‘i’s theory as contained in the Risalah arranges the four elements in a descending order.
The law requires people to first look for a contradictory regulation in the Quran and if there exists no contradictory rule, the Sunnah should be looked followed by the ijma and finally the qiyas.In other words, the theory requires the elements to be formally and logically consistent. The controversy thus is that there is lack of an authoritative statement as far as determining the legitimacy of a matter is concerned (Weiss 26).
It is often hard to trace the origin of Islamic law substance. Such religious duties as marriages, inheritance laws e.t.c. are usually expressed in embryonic manner in the Quran.It is also challenging on the party of Islamic scholars to trace the genesis of the Quran.
Muhammad Al-Shafi gives little explanation as to how the four elements which are contained in the Risalah book are interrelated with one another and this also originally caused controversy.
Did Al-Shafi‘i’s “four-source” theory of law emerge as the definitive Sunni approach to the law?
Following the death of Prophet Muhammad, the Muslim community was divided into three factions i.e. the Sunnis and the Shiites. The term Sunni is derived from the word Sunna which means custom, tradition or way. Sunni Islam on the other hand entails to a Muslim group that holds the majority of the world’s Muslim population.
There are two groups of Muslim i.e. Shiite Islam and Sunni Islam. Sunni Islam represents about 85 percent of the entire Muslim population whereas the Shiite Muslim represents approximately 15 percent of the world’s Muslim population. Unlike Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims lacks monolithic and central leadership that helps them to facilitate the interpretation of Islam (Emasi 57).
Even though Sunnis adhere to the strict observance of the Al-Shafi‘i’s “four-source” theory of law, the law has not emerged as the definitive Sunni approach to the law. Sunni’s usually follow various law schools that are named after their co-founders. The four major law schools that are followed include the Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafi’i and Maliki.The Hanifa law school was established by a famous jurist by the name Abu Hanafi in Iraq.
This law is founded on the deduction principle i.e. a judge makes a decision following his deduction and subsequent understanding of the meaning of both the Quran and the Sunna of the Prophet. This law usually recognizes the analogy, private opinion and consensus in the administration of laws but it fails to emphasis on a true understanding of the Quran. The Maliki school of law was established by Malik Anas.
This principle usually recognizes the power of consensus but it does not support consensus vocally in the administration of laws. The Shafi’i school of law was established by al-Shafi and it accepts various applications of consensus as compared to Maliki School of law.Finally, the Hanbali School of law was established by Ahmed Hanbal and it does not recognize private opinion, analogy and consensus while dispensing legal matters.
This principle holds the view that the traditions and the Quran are the two main legal authorities that are valid in Islam.Thus, Muslims in different countries around the world follow various school of laws. Sunnis in Afghanistan follow Hanafi School of law whereas others follow Shafi’i’s School of law. Thus, the Al-Shafi‘i’s “four-source” theory of law, the law has not emerged as the definitive Sunni approach to the law (Qaradawi 4).
Muhammad Al-Shafi played an important role of founding the “four-source” theory of Islamic law i.e. the Quran, the Sunnah, analogies and the unanimous agreement.
There are various controversies that the Al-Shafi‘i’s “four-source” theory of law originally caused which includes the fact that Al-Shafi did not invent the laws single-handedly e.t.c.As, the Al-Shafi‘i’s “four-source” theory of law, the law has not emerged as the definitive Sunni approach to the law due to the fact that Sunni’s usually follow various law schools that are named after their co-founders.
Brown, Daniel. A New Introduction to Islam.Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2009.
Emasi, Hafizullah.Culture and customs of Afghanistan.Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2005.
Gleave, Robert. Inevitable doubt: two theories of Shīʻī Jurisprudence. Bloomington: BRILL, 2000.
Qaradawi, Yusuf.Approaching the Sunnah: comprehension and Controversy. Bombay: IIIT, 2007.
Weiss, Bernard.Studies in Islamic legal theory. Bloomington: BRILL, 2002.