Sunday, September 05, 2004

Defining 'Usul al-Fiqh'-Prinicples of Islamic Jurisprudence

Usul is the plural of asl, which in the primitive sense [lughatan] renders ‘the foundation on which something is constructed’. This construction may either be physical [bi al-hiss], such as constructing a building on land, or logical [aqlan], such as constructing a conclusion from two premise. [Ref: al-Misbah al-Muneer & al-Tawdheeh]

Technically, it may denote any of the following meanings:

1- Proof [dalil], such as saying, ‘the asl for praying salah is this verse’. ‘Source’, ‘origin’, ‘root’ and ‘principle’ are its synonyms.

2- Original state or norm [mustas’hab], as in the following legal maxim [qa’idah kulliyah], ‘the asl in all things is permissibility’ [al-asl fi al-ashya’ al-ibahah] and ‘the asl is absence of liability’ [al-asl bara’at al-dhimmah].

3- Original case [maqees alaiyhi] i.e. the original case here is that which opposes the new case [far’] in analogical reasoning [qiyas]. An example is the saying that ‘the asl for narcotic drugs is wine’, since the rule [hukm] of impermissibility that governs the original case i.e. wine, is extended to the new case, i.e. narcotic drugs due to the effective cause or ratio decidendi [illah], namely, the intoxicating affect.

4- Preferable [rajih], such as the proverbial expression that ‘the literal meaning is the asl’ [al-aslu fi al-kalami al-haqiqah], precluding the metaphorical meaning.

5- Rule or legal maxim [qa’idah], such as in the following statement, ‘the following is an asl: Doubt does not prevail knowledge’ [al-ilmu la yazulu bi al-shakk].

Imam Ahmad Radha (May Allah have mercy on him) stipulates five other meanings, as well as these in his excellent compendium entitled ‘Inba al-Hayy’. [See also, Maqayees al-Lughah, Ibn al-Faris]

Asl, however, in the expression ‘usul al-fiqh’ implies the first meaning that is ‘proof’.


The word ‘fiqh’, in its primitive sense denotes ‘understanding’ or ‘fahm’. [Ref: al-Misbah al-Muneer]

In technical terms, there are divergent approaches to the word ‘fiqh’ from which the following definitions are most important:

1-‘The Recognition of oneself of that what is for him and what is against him’ (Imam Abu Hanifah)

The wide scope of this definition pertains to the combination of belief [i’tiqad], good character [akhlaq] and practices [a’amal]. This is why the early scholars divided fiqh into three categories; the first ‘al-Fiqh al-Akbar’, second ‘al-Fiqh al-Awsat’ and third, ‘al-Fiqh al-Asghar’. Moreover, the combination of all these three was the complete meaning of fiqh in the early generations. [Ref: al-Tawdheeh ala al-Tanqeeh]

2- ‘Knowledge of the practical rules of shari’ah acquired from the detailed evidence in the sources’ (Imam al-Shafi’i) [Ref: Musallam al-Thubut

An Explanation to Shafi’s definition:

Knowledge: denotes generally an unqualified perception [mutlaq al-idrak] whether it conveyed speculative knowledge [dhanni] or positive knowledge [ilm yaqeeni].

Practical: this condition precludes those rulings that are concerned with belief. Moreover, this word differentiates the two provided definitions, since the first definition includes belief and good-character, and this definition is on the contrary.

Rules [ahkam]: is the pl. of rule [hukm], which literally means ‘establishing one thing for another whether affirmative or negative’ and in its juridical [fiqhi] sense ‘to establish a certain law or value, such as an obligation [wujub], prohibition [hurmah], recommendation [nudb, istihbab], permissibility [ibahah] and dislikeness [karahah] in respect of the legally competent person [mukallaf]’.

According to the people of usul, a hukm is ‘Allah’s speech [khitab] that pertains to the action of the legally competent persons [mukallafeen] whether it is defining [taklifi], declaratory [wadi’i], or optional [takhyeer]’. [Ref: Ibn al-Hajib’s al-Munta’ah]

a- Defining law [al-hukm al-takleefi] is that which defines injunctions and rights. According to the majority view, this is on five types:

1- Obligation or ‘ijaab’
2- Recommendation or ‘nadb’
3- Prohibition or ‘tahreem’
4- Dislikedness or ‘karahah’
5- Permissibility or ‘ibahah’

However, the Hanafis have maintained that it is on seven types;

1- Obligation or ‘fardh’
2- Compulsory or ‘wajib’
3- Recommendation or ‘nadb’
4- Prohibition or ‘tahreem’
5- Prohibitive dislikedness or ‘karahah tahreemiyah’
6- Dislikedness or ‘karahah tanzeehiyah’
7- Permissibility or ‘ibahah’

b- Declaratory law [al-hukm al-wadi’i] is that which expounds on the conditions and qualifications of the defining law so that it is implemented properly. This is also on five types:

1- Cause or ‘sabab’
2- Condition or ‘shart’
3- Obstacle or ‘mani’
4- Valid or ‘sahih’
5- Corrupt or ‘fasid’

[Ref: Mustafa Sa’eed, al-Kafi]

A detailed discussion on these laws is not necessary at this stage. However, they can be found in the books of usul.

Detailed evidences [adillah tafseeliyah]: [cont description of Definition]

Evidences are of two kinds:

1- Detailed evidences [adillah tafseeliyah also known as adillah juzi’ayh], such as when we say, the obligation of salah is established from this verse: ‘and establish prayer’ (wa aqeemu al-salata) considering the actual text and source the given ruling is established from.

2- Basic evidences [adillah ijmaliyah], such as when we say, without mentioning the actual text from which the ruling is taken, ‘the obligation of prayer is established from the Qura’n’. Here no particular text is mentioned from which this injunction is taken; hence the statement forms‘basic evidence’.

Knowledge of the practical rules of shariah acquired from the detailed evidence in the sources and not from the basic evidences is ‘fiqh’. This is why; an adequate knowledge of fiqh requires close familiarity with its sources. Consequently, he who isolates fiqh from its sources is not a faqih. Hence, the faqih must not only know the rule that ‘prayer is an obligation’, but also the detailed evidence for it in its source, that is the ayah mentioned previously.
[Ref: Abu Zahrah, Ususl]

The technical definition of Usul al-Fiqh

Up until now, we have defined the word asl and fiqh in their own perspectives [this is known as hadd Idhafi]. As for a precise technical definition for the combination of both words [hadd laqabi], there are, again, various definitions stipulated in the books of usul.

The majority view from the Hanafi, Maliki and Hanbali schools is that, Usul al-Fiqh is ‘the methodology by which the rules of fiqh are deduced from their detailed source evidence’.

The shafi’ scholars define it as, ‘basic knowledge [ma’rifah ijmaliyah] of the evidences of fiqh, the state of the evidences and of the beneficiary [mustafeed[]’. [Ref:Ibn Subki’s Jam’ al-Jawami’, Baidhawi’s al- Minha and Amidi’s al-Ihkam]


Basic knowledge: That is to have knowledge that ‘consensus is a proof’, ‘a command implies obligation’, ‘the well known hadith may prevail the qur’anic text’ and so forth.

Evidences: They are the sources of legislation, namely, the sources upon which the scholars have unanimously agreed [muttafaq alaiyha] and the sources about which the scholars have disagreed [mukhtalaf fiha].

State of evidences: i.e. their state from the perspective of abrogation [naskh], confliction [mu’aradhah], prevalence [tarjeeh], and so forth.

State of the beneficiary [mustafeed]: the one benefiting may either be the mujtahid or the muqallid (imitator). This part of the definition refers to the conditions of ijtihad and the details of imitation or ‘talqeed’.

Consequently, we see two differences between fiqh and usul al-fiqh:

a- fiqh is the knowledge of the detailed rules and branches of law whilst usul al-fiqh is fundamentally the methods by which these rules are deduced from their sources. Hence fiqh, as a discipline, is the product of usul al-fiqh.
b- fiqh is the law itself whereas usul al-fiqh is the methodology of law.

In the process of forming the law or fiqh itself, the usul is applied considering three things:

1- wording [al-nazm]
2- legal maxim [qa’idah usuliyah]
3- ruling [al-hukm al-far’i]

To illustrate this we may say regarding the obligation of prayer, that it is proving from the wording ‘establish’ [aqeemu] in the ayah, its ruling is obligation [wujub] due to the legal maxim that is ‘a command implies obligation’ [al-amru li al-wujub].

An Incomplete work.
Munawwar Ateeq Rizvi