The Hanafi Legal School

Levels of texts

The foundational books in the Hanafī school fall into three categories:

1] Ḍāhir al-Riwāyah or al-Aṣl

2] Nawādir

3] Nawāzil or Wāq’iāt or Fatāwā

Ḍāhir al-Riwāyah consists of the six canonical books of Muhammad ibn Hasan Shaybānī. They have been transmitted from him through multiple contiguous chains of transmission [tawātur or mashhūr]. These six canonical books are: Jām’i al-Ṣaghīr, Jām’i al-Kabīr, Siyar al-Ṣaghīr, Siyar al-Kabīr, Ziyādāt and Mabsūṭ. They all contain narrations of Imams Abu Hanifah, Abu Yusuf and Muhammad and at times contain narrations of Abu Hanifahs other students like Hasan ibn Ziyad and Zufar. 


Nawādir consists of the other books of Muhammad e.g. Kaysāniyāt, Hārūniyāt, Jurjāniyāt and Raqyāt, or from the books of Hasan ibn Ziyad like Muḥarrar and from the Amālī [dictations] of Abu Yusuf, or from the narrations of Ibn Samā’ah and Ma’lā ibn Mansur. They have not been transmitted through multiple contiguous chains like the above.

Nawāzil are those rulings where scholars could not find legal rulings from the three founders of the school and so applied their own judgement. Scholars here referring to the students of Abu Yusuf and Muhammad or their students, or their students’ students etc.

كتب ظاهر الرواية أتت     ستاًوبالأصول أيضاً سمّيت

صنفها محمد الشيباني          حرّر فيها مذهب النعماني

الجامع الصغير والكبير            والسير الكبير والصغير

ثم الزيادات مع المبسوط        تواترت بالسند المضبوط

كذا له مساءـل النوادر     إسنادها في الكتب غير ظاهر

وبعدها مساءـل النوازل   خرّجها الأشياخ بالدلاءـل

[Hāshiyah ibn ‘Ābidīn 1:35/47]

Many latter-day scholars have intermingled all the above three categories without distinguishing each grading like Qādhī khān and Khulāṣah etc have done.

Others like Raḍī al-Dīn Sarakhsī in his Kitāb al-Muḥīṭ have distinguished them by first mentioning the ḍāhir al-riwāyah, then the nawādir and then the fatāwā.

Hākim Shahīd has gathered all the ḍāhir al-riwāyah in his book entitled Kāfī and it has an excellent commentary by Shams al-Aimma Sarakhsī entitled Mabsūṭ. Imam Ṭarṭawsī states that the Mabsūt of Sarakhsī is the foremost legal opinion in the school.

قال الطرسوسي مبسوط السرخسي لا يعمل بما يخالفه و لايركن إلا إليه ولا يفتي ولا يعوّل إلا عليه.

[ibid: 47]

It is impermissible to give legal verdicts from the compendium texts of the school like Nahr, Ainī’s commentary of Kanz al-Daqāiq, Durr al-Mukhtār and Ashbāh wa al-Naẓāir. Neither is it permissible to give legal verdicts from unknown authors like the commentary of Kanz al-Daqāiq by Mulla Miskīn and the commentary of Niqāyah by Qahastānī, nor from texts which narrate weak reports like Qunyah.

However, all of the above will be permissible if the source of reference is known or the compendiums are sought with commentaries. [ibid: 48 quoting B‘alī’s commentary of Ashbāh wa al-naẓāir]

Formal legal rulings

The most reliable opinion in the school is that of the ḍāhir al-riwāyah on condition that the scholars have not preferred something elsewhere.

Formal legal opinions in the school are given in the following order:

1] Abū Hanīfah’s opinion

2] Abū Yūsuf’s opinion

3] Muhammad’s opinion

4] Zufar’s opinion

5] Hasan ibn Ziyād’s opinion [ibid: 48 quoting Sirājiyah]

In Ḥāwī al-Qudṣī it is stated that the strength of the evidence will form the basis of legal opinion [ibid: 48]. This diveregent views are reconciled by Ibn Ābidīn stating that if the Mufti possesses the ability to judge the evidence he will do so accordingly, otherwise he will follow the above order [ibid: 48].

If the ḍāhir al-riwāyah does not contain any opinion on the issue at hand whilst the latter scholars have one single opinion about then it will be taken absolutely. Otherwise, the opinion of the majority will be taken, and thereafter the opinions of the reliable like Abū Hafṣ, Abū Ja’far, Abū Layth and Tahāwī. If none of the above is found then the Mufti will use his independent legal judgement whilst fearing his Lord [ibid: 48].

The strongest positions in the chapters of worship are with the opinions of Abū Hanīfah unless he has a narration like that of his opponents, like regarding the purity of used water [must’amal] and using nabīdh al-tamr for ablution. This has been arrived at inductively. 

Similarly, in the issues of inheritance the strongest position is with the opinion of Muhammad and in the issues of judgement [qaḍā] the strongest position is with Abū Yūsuf [ibid: 49 quoting Qunya and Bazzāziyyah].

All of the above will only be done if the mutūn have not mentioned an authentification for any given position; as in such a case it will be given preference because the mutūn are mutawātir [ibid: 49].

Authors have a habit of either giving the strongest position first, last or by stating its evidence. This differs from author to author and can easily be understood by studying their books. For example, Marghīnānī in his Hidāyah always gives the strongest position last and replies to all the opposing arguments.

If there is no unanimity upon a ruling then either:

a)     they have authenticated one of the opinions,

b)     they have authenticated both opinions,

c)      they have not authenticated either.

In a) above, if the authentification is made with the superlative then the mufti has the choice of choosing what best suits the purpose; if the superlative is not used he will choose the authentic. This is because there is agreement on it being authentic and the difference is only in it being more authentic.

In the second case, if the authentification is made with the superlative then according to Ramalī’s Fatāwā Khayriyyah he will choose the superlative and according Halabī’s Sharḥ al-Munyah he will choose the authentic. Whilst if the superlative is not used then the mufti chooses what best suits the situation.

In the third case, the Mufti will follow the order mentioned above or choose the stronger opinion if he has the ability to do so [ibid: 50-51].

In all cases where the Mufti has the option of choosing, it is restricted to when one of the opinions is not in the mutūn; or in the commentaries; or Abu Hanifah’s opinion; or is istiḥsān [equity]; or is beneficial for endowment. Meaning if it is any of the above he will not have the option of choosing [ibid:49 & 53].

و كذا لو كان أحد القولين في المتون أو الشروح أو كان قول الإمام أو كان هو الاستحسان في غير ما استثني أو كان أنفع للوقف


The Mutūn

The mutūn are the following:

1] Wiqāyah

2] Bidāyah

3] Kanz al-Daqāiq

4] Qudūrī

5] Mukhtār

All the mutūn contain the most reliable opinions in the school. The majority of their content is of the ḍāhir al-riwāyah.

Levels of scholars

The scholars in our school are divided into different levels:

1)     the first level, composed of those qualified to do ijtihād e.g. the four imams.

2)     The second level, composed of those qualified to do ijtihād within the school, deploying it according to the general methodological principles set by Abū Hanīfah, though differing with him at times in certain issues, including men like Abū Yūsuf, Muhammad and Abū Hanīfah’s other students.

3)     The third level, composed of those qualified to do ijtihād on particular legal issues that were not discussed by the founder of the school, including scholars like Khaṣṣāf, Ṭaḥāwī, Abul Hasan Karkhī, Shams al-Aimma Halwānī, Shams al-Aimma Sarkhsī, Bazdawī and Qaḍī Khān.

4)     The fourth level, composed of those qualified to do textual exegesis, and who because of their comprehensive mastery of the works of the school specialize in interpreting the positions of their Imams, including men like Rāzī.

5)     The fifth level, composed of those qualified to weigh various scholarly positions and judge which is the soundest, including men like Qudūrī and Marghīnānī.

6)     The sixth level, composed of those who are qualified to distinguish between the strong and weak opinions in the school, including men like the authors of Kanz, Mukhtār and Wiqāyah. [ibid: 52-53]

7)     The seventh level, composed of those who are not capable of anything regarding legal reasoning.


Ibn Abidin n/d. Radd al-Muhtár ‘alá al-Durr al-Mukhtár. Dár Ihyá al-Turáth al-‘Arabi: Beirut, Lebanon.

Shazad Khan


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