“Al-Ḥadīth al-Mashhūr: A Ḥanafī Reference to Kufan Practice?”

“Al-Ḥadīth al-Mashhūr: A Ḥanafī Reference to Kufan Practice?” Pages 89-110 in Locating the Sharia: Legal Fluidity in Theory, History and Practice. Edited by Sohaira Siddique. Leiden: Brill, 2018.


This essay offers two investigations. Firstly, it analyses the doctrine of the ‘well-known report’ (al-adīth al-mashhūr) among 5th century anafī legal theorists – suggesting that all concur that it is a report that is accepted by jurists of the early Muslim community (salaf). Secondly,

it takes a selection of peculiar points of anafī doctrine said to be based on mashhūr reports – peculiar in that they are not held by the other Sunni schools of law – and identifies precedents for these positions among early legal authorities, to assess if the mashhūr report can be seen as a marker for Kufan precedent. It concludes that the category of the mashhūr report incorporates cases Abū anīfa constructed based on Kufan or Iraqi (Kufan and Basran) precedent.


The analysis of the mashhūr report in legal theory that I offer here is important to me, because I feel that later anafī uṣūlīs summarised the apparent meaning of Fakhr al-Islām al-Bazdawī’s wording in his uṣūl work and state simply that the mashhūr report is one that starts with limited chain transmissions (āḥād fī l-al) which then become mass transmitted (mutawātir). I offer, I believe a more careful reading of al-Bazdawī, in the light of the writings of his peers, to argue that the essential feature of these reports is that jurists from the salaf accepted them, not that they became mutawātir. I believe that without this understanding, it becomes very hard to really grasp the significance of the mashhūr report in anafī epistemology and how anafī jurists employ the concept.

The legal case studies I offer in the second half of the article are helpful to argue the point I am making, but I think a much larger investigation is needed, both to test my hypothesis about the force of local precedent, but also to reveal more about how commentators decided that particular reports were mashhūr – was it based on transmissions from Abū anīfa’s circle, or was it based on jurists adducing the mashhūr status of reports based on the strength of consideration given to them in Abū anīfa’s legal cases?

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