A Tale of Two Kufans: Abū Yūsuf’s Ikhtilāf Abī Ḥanīfa wa-Ibn Abī Laylā and Schacht’s …

A Tale of Two Kufans: Abū Yūsuf’s Ikhtilāf Abī Ḥanīfa wa-Ibn Abī Laylā and Schacht’s Ancient Schools”. Islamic Law and Society, 25 (2018): 173-211.


In this article, I address the long-standing debate on the existence of regionally defined schools of law in Islam’s formative period by focusing on the early Kufan tradition, with special attention to Ikhtilāf Abī Ḥanīfa wa-Ibn Abī Laylā, attributed to Abū Yūsuf (d. 182/798).

By studying reports and legal opinions in the text, I argue that the legal thought of Kufan jurists in Abū Ḥanifa’s generation was based on a general deference to regional, Kufan authorities and that this larger legal project may meaningfully be termed a school. I provide a model for legal method in these early schools, taking into account the contributions of supporters and detractors of the regional-school concept. I suggest that formative-period legal methods are also expressed in the classical Ḥanafī school, enabling us to view questions of ijtihād, taqlīd and madhhab formation in a new light.


This is a long and, unfortunately, somewhat unwieldy and meandering essay on Islamic law in the formative period and its connection to classical anafī thought. It arose out of a writing sample that I put together in 2012 to accompany my PhD applications. The essay is important to me for several reasons. Firstly, I feel it provides independent confirmation for the picture of a salaf-based approach to sunnah that one understands from the theory of anafī uṣūl writers. It shows Abū anīfa as a jurist who seeks to build his understanding of the law on the understandings of leading jurists who preceded him.

I had originally expected him to stick closely to his immediate group of teachers, but the data show a great deal of independent thought as he clearly sifts through a large bank of previous precedent, both in his native Kufa as well as further afield. This all maps quite nicely onto the theory in anafī uṣūl works which I develop in Chapter One of my thesis. Secondly, by reflecting on the data and the arguments presented for Abū anīfa’s reasoning in the text, I suggest that his approach to fiqh mirrors quite nicely the approach we find in classical anafī commentary works, something I hint at in the last section of this article. This supports a longstanding contention of mine, that anafī commentary works offer a sufficient training for someone to reach the highest level of ijtihād, or independent legal reasoning, within anafī thought. This of course is a larger contention on which I will hopefully elaborate elsewhere.

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