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    Since the second/eighth century, an interminable dispute dragged on for a long time between those who upheld the authority of Tradition (ahl al‑hadith)in all matters of theology and jurisprudence, and those who advocated opinion (ashab al‑ra"i).

   It was expected, as pointed out by ibn Khaldun in hisMuqaddimahthat the people of the Hijaz, particularly those of Madinah (Medina), should be versed in the science of Tradition (the sayings and doings of the Prophet Muhammad). With the rise of the "Abbasid Caliphate and the shifting of the political power and the religious leadership completely to Iraq, where the people had had less access to the sayings of the Prophet, and where the aspects of life, the agrarian problems, for instance, were more diverse and complicated through the inter­mingling of the successive civilizations since times immemorial a new school, that ofopinion,made its inevitable appearance. The upholders of opinion, however, did not neglect Tradition, but they found it necessary to supplement Tradition with additions drawn from older codes and prevalent usages or framed by considerations of the actual situation in their new environment. At the same time an esoteric movement also began among the Shi"ites under a variety of names, the most current of which was the Batiniyyah[1] (seekers after the inner or spiritual interpretation of revelation). The forming of this sect is attributed to a certain Maimun of whose descent we are completely in the dark.

The Batiniyyah movement took its name from the belief of its followers that everyzahir(apparent state of things) has abatin(an inner, allegorical, hidden, or secretmeaning), especially in connection with revelation. [2]

    Since this movement adopted some aspects of Greek philosophy, such as emanation­ism, [3] its followers were considered by Sunni authors to be heretics and out­side the pale offaith. [4] During the Caliphate of al‑Ma"mun (198/813‑281/833) the Batiniyyah movement was quite strong; [5] some half a century later it was widely spread in Iraq, Persia, Sind (western India), and Oman (south‑east Arabia), as well as in North Africa, but it did not enjoy an enduring influence. [6] It is to be remarked, however, that while a number of individuals in Muslim Spain had shared ideas with the Batiniyyah, no sectarian or heretical doctrine ever struck roots or succeeded in winning over communities of any dimensions there.

    So, the second/eighth century had witnessed a heavy atmosphere of esoterism weighing on some fundamentals of Islam such as the essence of God, the under standing of the Qur"an, and the attitude towards the Caliphate. Added to this, there was a trend of upholdingopinionas a valid source of jurisprudence at the same level with the Qur"an and the sayings of the Prophet.

At the same time there was also the Mu"tazilite school which assumed reason as a more deciding factor than revelation in all matters of religion.

Since all these movements had chosen Iraq as their principal battle‑field, another school, contrary to all of them and as extremist as any of them ­appeared in Iraq itself and insisted on the verbal understanding of the Qur"an and of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad as the sole guiding line to their real meanings clothed in the words of God and of His Apostle. This school was founded by a jurist Dawud ibn "Ali, and it received its name the Literalists" (Zahiriyyah) school from the clinging of its followers to the wording of the revelation and not to the interpretation of it.



    The family of Dawud ibn "Ali belonged to Kashan, a town in the neighbour­hood of Isfahan. His father was a secretary (katib) to `Abd Allah ibn Khalid, judge of Isfahan, in the days of the Caliph Al‑Ma"mun.[7] Dawud [8] himself was born in Kufah in 202/817. His family moved later to Baghdad where he was brought up, educated, and afterwards laid the foundation of his school of jurisprudence which bore his nameal‑madhhab al‑Dawudi,[9]but which was better known as the Zahirite school (al‑madhhab al‑zahiri).

   In Baghdad, Dawud ibn "Ali attended the lectures of many eminent jurists, the most prominent of whom was abu Thaur (d. 246/860); a friend and follower of Shafi"i. The trend of education he received from them, made him shift from the Hanafite rite to that to which his father belonged,[10] the Shafi"ite, apparently because most of his professors (shuyukh)were more inclined to the Traditionists (ahl al‑hadith)school to which Shafi"is belonged than to the school of the upholders of opinion (ashab al‑ra"i)who were the followers of ibn Hanifahpar excellence.Dawud perfected his education by an academic trip to Nishapur to meet Ishaq ibn Rahawaih (d. 237/851 or 238/852), [11] who also was a friend and follower of Shafi"i. Afterwards, he returned toBaghdad where he wrote his books.

Perhaps it is not very strange that a close and profound study of the Shafi"ite school of jurisprudence led Dawud ibn "Ali finally to be dissatisfied with it. He forsook it and founded a new school, the Zahirite School, which recognized the Qur"an and the Hadith as the only sources of jurisprudence.

    He accepted, at any rate, consensus (ijma") of the Companions of the Prophet, but he rejected analogy (qiyas), opinion (ra’i), personal approval (istihsan),and decisions on the authorityof older generations (taqlid) altogether. [12]

   Dawud ibn "Ali was accomplished, trustworthy, learned, God‑fearing, pious, and ascetic; he was also versed in logic and proficient in the art of dispu­tation. [13] It was said that he believed that the Qur"an was created and not eternal, but it seems that this was only an accusation. [14] He died in 270/884 inBaghdad.

   Dawud ibn "Ali was a prolific writer. Ibn al‑Nadim enumerates about one hundred and fifty titles from him.[15] It seems that many of these titles were only chapters of some of his books. But there are also titles which represent bulky works of two thousand, three thousand, and even four thousand folios[16] each. A few of these books touched the fundamentals of religion, e. g., "On the Usul," "On the Caliphate," "Consensus and the Refutation of Qiyas," and "On the Refutation ofTaqlid."[17]Most of his other books treated of branches (furu") or minor aspects of Fiqhconcerning worship and legal transactions unfortunately, no book has reached us from him. Ibn Hazm, nevertheless refers to him frequently. Muhammad al‑Shatti (d.Damascus 1307/1889) made a collection of Dawud"sFiqhgleaned from the various worksof his followers." [18]

    It was related that Dawud ibn "Ali admitted analogy where the cases in question were obvious, [19] but it is more probable that he rejected analogy wholly, whether the cases were ambiguous or obvious. [20] As for consensus (ijma"),his position was totally different: he admitted theijma"of the Companions of the Prophet only, [21] on the ground that these Companions were in constant contact with the Prophet and fully aware of his intentions.

    In his theology in particular he maintains, for example, that God is hearing, seeing, etc. But he says: "I do not say that He is seeing with the agency of sight …” [22]


Dawud ibn "Ali re‑examined all aspects ofFiqhon the basis of his Zahirite attitude. The following are three examples illustrating his trend of thought and argumentation in this respect.

1. Prayer on a Journey

   God has said in the Qur"an: "And when you journey in the earth, there is no blame on you if you shorten the prayer." [23]

   This led the Muslims to reduce prayer on a journey from fourrak`ahs to only two. [24] Muslim jurists generally assert that this verse envisages cutting the prayer short on a journey of some duration.

[25] Dawud, on the other hand, maintained that since there is no mention of the duration of the journey in theQur"an, [26] prayer should be cut short on any journey whatever, even though it is a journey from one encampment to another.


2. Fasting on a Journey

    Muslims fast in Ramadan, the ninth month of the lunar year. In this connection we read in the Qur"an: "But he among you who shall be sick, or on a journey, shall (not observe the days on which he travels but he shall) fast the same number of other days (when he returns home)." [27] It is agreedupon by all Sunni jurists that a Muslim may not observe Ramadan fasts on a journey which involves certain hardship, either on account of its long duration or its difficult nature, on hot days for example.[28] Dawud and his followers assert that a Muslim should not observe fasts on a journey because the wording of the verse does not stipulate any condition. If a Muslim, according to Dawud, did observe fasts for some days on a journey, even then he should keep fast for the same number of days when he returns home, for his fasting while journeying was notvalid. [29]


3.The Question of Usury (Riba)

   Usury is forbidden in Islam. [30] But a difficulty arose from a tradition concerning it. It is related that the Prophet Muhammad said: "(You may barter) gold for gold, silver for silver, wheat for wheat, barley for barley, dates for dates, and salt for salt, only in equivalent quantities and on the spot. In all other commodities you may deal as you like, provided (the barter is transacted) on the spot." [31] Early Muslim jurists con­cluded from this tradition that a quantity of any commodity should not be bartered for a larger quantity of the same commodity; otherwise, the surplus taken would be usury (riba).But if, for instance, a quantity of wrought gold was bartered for a larger quantity of unwrought gold, the surplus would be a gain or, better, a wage for craftsmanship. Furthermore, they considered the six commodities named by the Prophet to be examples only; thus bartering copper, coffee, leather, apples, or wool for a larger quantity of these commodi­ties respectively is also regarded‑by analogy‑as a form of usury. Dawud ibn `Ali, on the other hand, believed that the Prophet Muhammad had named these commodities on purpose. Had he intended to prolong the list, nothing would have prevented him from doing so. Accordingly, if a man bartered a quantity, say of iron, maize, apples, or pepper for a larger quantity of the same commodity, the surplus would not be usury but gain.
The jurists contemporary with Dawud ibn "Ali took a very critical attitude regarding him and his school.  [32] The Shafi"ites in general criticized him severely and considered theZahirite School to be worthless.

Al‑Isfara"ini (d. 418/1027) maintained that no account should be taken of the Zahirites. Since they rejected analogy (qiyas), he asserted, they could not have been able to exer­cise judgment and, therefore, no one of them should be elevated to the position of a judge. Some others presumed that Dawud ibn `Ali was ignorant; others considered him to be a disbeliever. Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 241/855), the famous founder of the Hanbalite school, did not hold him in estimation. [33] Abu `Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Zaid al‑Wasiti (d. 306/918‑919), an eminent Mu"tazilite of Baghdad, looked down upon the Zahirite school as ridiculous. [34] The followers of Dawud ibn `Ali, nevertheless, were not only numerous but some of them were also prominent. [35]

    Dawud ibn `Ali was succeeded, as the head of the Zahirite School, by his son, abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Dawud (c. 255/869‑297/910). But the latter was more of a poet,litterateur,and historian than an enthusiastic scholar of jurisprudence. [36] At any rate, he propagated the tenets of his father"s school and bestowed on it so much prestige that the Zahirite rite was in his own days the fourth of the four rites prevailing in the East, the other three being the Shafi"i, Maliki, and Hanafi rites. Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Dawud owes his real fame, however, to an anthology of love‑poetry known asKitab al‑Zahrah[37] The first and only extant half of this anthology was edited by A.R.Nykl [38] and Ibrahim Tukan. Abu Bakr Mubammad ibn Dawud had some inclination towards philosophy, but philosophy did not constitute a component part of Zahirism before ibn Hazm.

In the fourth/tenth century the Zahirite School had enjoyed its widest ex­pansion and the climax of its prestige.

 The "Abbasid poet ibn al‑Rumi (d. 283/896) praised abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Dawud in a poem which opens with the words: "O son of Dawud! O jurist of Iraq!"[39] The famous historian, Tabari (d. 310/923), though not a Zahirite, paid close attention to Zahiri jurisprudence and studied it with Dawud ibn "Ali himself.[40] The foremost jurist of the Zahirite school in the fourth/tenth century was Abd Allah ibn Ahmad ibn al‑Mughallis (d. 324/936), through whom theFiqh ofDawud ibn "Ali became popular in the Muslim world. [41]

In the following century the Zahirite school was already losing ground in the East; and before the middle of the century, in the daysofthe Hanbalite judge abu Ya"la (d. 459,/1066), the Hanbalite ritetook its place. [42] The Zahirite school, at any rate, continued to enjoy inSyria some prestige until 788/1386. [43] InEgypt the school lived longer and had deeper roots. Al‑Maqrizi (d. 845/ 1442), the famous historian of the Mamluk age inEgypt, was not a follower of the Zahirite school, but he had a favorable attitude towards Zahirism. [44]



[1] Shahrestani, vol. II, p. 29; cf. p. 5.

[2]Ibid., p. 29, cf. pp. 31 f.

[3]Ibid., pp. 29f.

[4]Farq, pp. 14, 142; cf. pp. 152, 169, 17 7 , 182, 216; cf. Shahrastani, vol. II, pp. 31 f.

[5]Nubadh, Introd., p. 4.

[6]GAL, I, p. 194; Suppl., I, p. 312.

[7]Sam’ani, p. 226.

[8] His full name was abu Sulaiman Dawud ibn "Ali ibn Khalaf.

[9]Sam’ani, pp. 224, 255ff.

[10] Goldziher, p. 28 n.

[11]Tarikh Baghad, vol. VIII, p. 369.

[12]Fihrist, p. 216; Subki, vol. II, pp. 46; cf. p. 44.

[13]Fihrist, p. 216; Subki, vol. II, pp. 42; 44, 46.

[14] Subki, vol. II, pp. 43 f.

[15]Fihrist, pp. 38, 216f.

[16] A folio comprises about twenty lines (cf.Fihrist, p. 159).

[17]Fihrist, pp. 216, 217; Sub ki, vol. II, p. 46.

[18]Risalah fi Masa"il al‑Imam Dawud al‑Zahiri, an epistle (containing) the questions decided by Dawud the Zahirite (publ. Damascus 1330/1912), erroneously thought by Brockelmann (GAL, Suppl., I, p. 312) to be by Dawud ibn "Ali himself. He states the date of its publication as 1930 which is also a mistake, perhaps a misprint for 1330 A.H.

[19] Subki, vol. II, p. 46, line 1;vgl. Goldziher, p. 36.

[20] Subki, vol. II, p. 46, line 7.

[21]Al-Ihkam, vol. IV, p. 147.

[22]Al-Milal, vol. II, p. 140.

[23] Qur"an, ii, 184, 185.

[24] Muslims perform five prayers per day: one of two rak"ahs (units of movements), one of three rak"ahs and three of four rak"ahs each. To cut, a prayer short is to reduce a prayer of four rak`ahs to only two.

[25] Cf. Malik, pp. 146‑48, etc.

[26] Mafatih, vol.III, p. 444, quoted by Goldziher, p. 47; cf. Shatli, p. 12.

[27] Qur"an, iv, 101.

[28] Cf. Malik, p. 294 (No. 22).

[29] Shatti, p. 13 bottom.

[30] Qur"an, ii, 275, 276, 278; iii, 130; iv, 159; xxx, 39.

[31]Sahih Muslim, Cairo, 1331; 1912, vol. V, p. 44, lines 8ff., cf. 44ff.

[32] Subki, vol. II, pp. 43, 46.

[33]Ibid., cf. p. 43. Cf. ibn Khallikan,Cairo, Bulaq, 1299 A.H., vol. I, p. 4; GAL, Suppl., I, 66f;Nubadh, Introd., p. 4.

[34]Fihrist, p. 172.

[35]Sam’ani, pp. 224‑26.

[36]Fihrist, p. 216.

[37]Kitab al‑Zahrah (The Book of the Flower), the first half (published by the University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois), printed at the Catholic Press, Beirut, 1932.

[38] An Arabist Orientalist, born inBohemia 13133/1885 whose academic activities since 1340/1921 belong to his sojourn in the United States. He is versed in very many languages, old and new, eastern and western. He is the representative of the Arabic theory in the rise of troubadour poetry in southern France.

[39] Ibn Khallikan, vol. II, pp. 140‑41.

[40]Fihrist, p. 234.

[41]Sam’ani, p. 227.

[42]Nubadh, loc. Cit.

[43]Fihrist, p. 217.

[44] Goldziher, pp. 194‑96

* The article is a part of the original one

** PhD, Member of the Arab Academy, Damascus (Syria)


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Taken from: al-islam.org

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