Islam: The Religion of… Logic? (3/3)

Not often described as the Religion of Logic, Islam had a golden age spanning from the 8th-12th century (CE). This is the last in a three-part post on logic and rational thought in Islam. The previous post looked at the Mu’tazilites, who believed in reason and rational thought above all else. Here we will look at applications and types of logic in Islamic law making.

Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh)
In the modern day there are many schools of fiqh (madhhab) which can be seen in this world map. The four accepted Sunni madhhabs are Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki and Hanbali. The Shia’s have the Ja’fari, Isma’ili and Zaidi madhhabs. Mu’tazilism, being a system of theological interpretations, doesn’t exactly have a madhhab. This gives a rather confusing situation where you can have “Sunni Mu’tazalites” and “Shia Mu’tazalites”. This would be Mu’tazilites roughly following, for example, a Hanafi or Zaidi madhhab. The movement was predominantly of Sunnis, notably the founder Wasil ibn Ata (a good friend of Zayd ibn Ali) and scholar Abd al-Jabbar, but there were also Shi’ite Mu’tazilah like Ayatollah Hilli and the poet Ibn al-Rumi. The introduction of Mu’tazilism on the kalam of Judaism even brought about “Jewish Mu’tazilites” such as David ibn Merwan al-Mukkamas. Though again we see another area of Islam wherein Mu’tazilites are shown to be very different from standard Islamic views.

The Sources of God’s Law (Sharia)
Fiqh is the process used for creating, understanding and applying religious laws, for the main part madhhabs can be seen to follow a process of stages involving different religious sources: The main ones being the Qur’an, Sunnah, Ijma, Qiyas (Sunni) and ‘aql (Shia). The madhhabs give different weight to different sources. Hanbali, for example, give credence to the first two stages and ignore the last ones.

1 2 3 4
Sunni Qur’an Sunnah Ijma Qiyas
Shia Qur’an Sunnah Ijma ‘Aql
Mutazilah ‘Aql Qur’an Sunnah Qiyas*

ijma – meaning “consensus” either by religious authorities (Sunni), the Imam (Shia) or the Muslim community (Ibadi). Sunni’s often use the Companions of Mohammad (Sahabah) as the religious authorities, looking for their consensus in Hadiths. Using ijma is invalid for Mu’tazilah because of a rational scepticism towards peoples’ ability to make mistakes. For this same reason Hadiths are treated with caution and discarded if they contradict the Quran. Both the Shia and Mu’tazilah held critical views about the first generation of Muslims, with Ibadi also viewing Uthman and Ali as less than righteous.

Qiyas – meaning “deductive analogy” in reference to what is written in The Qur’an and Hadiths with what is being assessed. Because most Mu’tazilites follow Hanafi teachings Qiyas were often accepted, though not always. Notably Ibrahim an-Nazzam who denied Qiyas, Ijma and even Sunnah as sources for Sharia stating that only The Qur’an and ‘aql were acceptable.

‘Aql – meaning “reason” is intellect in terms of the rational faculty of the soul, deep understanding of God’s words, Imams have ‘aql. The term is slightly different when seen from Mu’tazilah doctrine as much closer to rational logic than religious understanding. Where Qiyas are analogical reason, ‘aql is pure logical reason.

A Note on Ibadi’ism
I found two completely contradictory Ibadi views on Qiyas and ijma, the first was Ibadi madhhab rejects the 3rd and 4th stages as a form of innovation (bid‘ah). This follows from the generally conservative nature of Ibadi Islam, but then in a state-published book on Ibadi’ism from Oman it says they follow 5 stages of fiqh: Qur’an, Sunnah, ijma, Qiyas & Induction (istidlal). The use of ijma can be seen to follow directly from the democratic nature of the Ibadi caliph. So I’m not sure which is the case as they both make sense for different reasons.

Sources: Initially Wikipedia then (Shia), (Sunni) then videos of scholars, academics and documentaries on Youtube (Sunni & Shia & Ibadi). The information was sporadic and sometimes contradictory so please feel free to correct me if I made mistakes.


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