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The Rise of the Zahirites

Zahirism (Literalism) was founded by the Kufan born Iranian Dawud Isfahani. After a period of study in Basra, Baghdad and Niyshabur, he finally settled in Baghdad. In spite of his father’s Hanafism, he initially became a Shafi`ite but latter moved on to establish his own particular brand of fiqh. Though it is difficult to establish a link between his fiqhi views and those of the Mu`tazilites based on the evidence of ancient sources, a comparison of his fiqhi principles with those of early Mu`tazilites together with the Mu`tazilite leanings of some of his followers such as Qadi Abu al-Faraj Fami make the link as probable, especially given Dawud’s direct contact with Mu`tazilite teachings in Basra and Baghdad. Opposition to qiyas and ra’y is not the only factor that gives rise to the affinity of views between Dawud and the later Mu`tazilites. They also share in their criticism of the authority of ijma` and khabar al-wahid (a tradition going back to a single authority), as well as in their support for taqlid (imitation).

There survives none of over 150 works of Dawud listed in Ibn Nadim’s al-Fihrist and the only means of studying his fiqhi views remain the notes scattered in the works of other scholars. For instance, Dawud considered the term amr (command) in the verse 3 of the Surah of Nisa’ as implying an obligation and, contrary to the overwhelming majority of faqihs, ruled for the necessity (wujub) of marriage. Dawud’s extreme literalism is also in evidence in his interpretation of hadiths. A case in point is his ruling with regard to the hadith, “idha ahyala `ala ahadakum… falayahtal,” where he does not deem as necessary the consent of the creditor in the validity of the draft. Among the characteristics of Dawud’s fiqhi style is his insistence on adherence to religious texts and avoidance of qiyas. In cases of absence of textual evidence Dawud based his assumption on the lack of shar`i legislation on the subject – i.e. that there was neither any proscription (hurmah) nor obligation (wujub) – and considered it as halal (permissible). This was a method in tune with the early Mu`tazilite fiqhi style of intellectual reasoning and belief in the principle of shar`i non-legislation. Dawud rejected the consensus of faqihs and restricted it to that of the Companions, provided it was based on the evidence of religious text and not on consensus and analogy. According to Abu al-Tayyib Tabari, inter alios, in the middle of the 3rd/9th century, Dawud Isfahani was the founder of a method which in the usuli works of the later centuries came to be referred to as istishab al-hal, one that was the first de facto step toward the formation of the usuli idea of istishab (the principle by which a given judicial situation that had existed previously was held to continue to exist as long as it could not be proved that it had ceased to exist or had been modified).

* source: Pakatchi , Ahmad "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 ,pp.448 - 450

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