Initially, Muslims had the ability to derive rules for problems they faced during their time. Later, Muslims started to abandon and neglect this issue. They became unable to derive new rules for new problems, thus becoming stagnant as a result of acquiring more problems and no solutions. Many reasons caused this stagnation and decline, which is going on until now. This decline resulted in the misunderstanding of Usul-ul Fiqh. Therefore, studying Usul-ul Fiqh is a must in order to move from the stagnation and to make sure that the answer for the problem is Islamic. Without Usul-ul Fiqh the process of deriving rules will never be defined.
In the past, many Muslim scholars wrote books about Usul-ul Fiqh. Imam Shafi'i is the first scholar who laid down and documented rules of Usul-ul Fiqh. His book, Al-Risala is considered the first written book about this field that exists today. This article will review and analyze the book that Shafi'i wrote.
In any legal system, the impact of any book of law is measured by its influence on the course of law historically and presently. A distinguished book is one which sets a landmark renowned for how it turned the course of the legal system forever. By that standard and by any other, The Risala is perhaps the most influential book in Usul-ul Fiqh.
Abū ‘Abdu’llah Muhammad ibn Idrīs ash-Shāfiī was born in Gaza in the year 767 AD / 150 AH. At an early age, he left Gaza and moved to Mecca. By the age of seven, he memorized the entire Qur'an and afterwards began studying the Arabic language in Mecca. He developed full command in Arabic language with all of its various styles used by the major tribes. Later, he moved to Medina where he studied under Imam Malik and learned from him Al Muwatta by the age of ten. He eventually went to Iraq and came in close contact with Imam al-Hasan al-Shaybani and Qadi Abu Yusuf, the student of Abu Hanifa. There he refined his legal thinking in constant debates with Hanafi jurists where he took Malik's position in defence of tradition. This experience had a tremendous impact in moulding his own legal thinking since it brought to light the weaknesses in the Maliki school of thought. After moving back to Makkah for a short time and then returning to Baghdad, he finally decided to leave for Egypt where he could finally settle down to do more work in Fiqh and its methodology.
It is here where he produced a final version of Al-Risala and eventually died on the last day of Rajab 204 A.H. (820 CE). The original version of Al-Risala was produced in Baghdad and was probably less complete than the new version produced in Egypt. The progress of the Risala shows how Imam Shafi'i himself progressed from a strict follower of the Maliki school to becoming the founder of the Shafi'i school of thinking. His thoughts and method were tested by scholars of both the Hanafi school and the Maliki school through many debates where he not only excelled but refined his own thinking.
In summary Shafi'i went through three stages:
1. The first stage in Medina where he encountered with Malik.
2. The second stage in Baghdad where he was exposed to the Hanafi school. In this stage he wrote the first version of Risala.
3. The final stage in Cairo where redefined his own method and wrote the final version of Al-Risala.
Factors of changing his method
Some think that Shafi'i changed his Fiqh because of the change in time and environment. This is very often taken as a justification to keep changing Fiqh. It is very obvious that Shafi'i changed his Usul and not just the Fiqh. By changing his Usul, the Fiqh was changed automatically.
There could only have been two possibilities for changing The Risala:
Either Imam Shafi'i may have had a preset mind and wanted to change the Usul into the new one that would serve him with the predetermined conclusion, or Imam Shafi'i discovered that the old Usul was wrong and thus found it necessary to abandon it.
The first possibility would imply that Shafi'i twisted the procedure of Ijtihad because in Ijtihad, the Usul precedes the Fiqh. This possibility assumes that Shafi'i first decided on the Fiqh and then searched for a new Usul that would serve him, after which he tailored his Usul to accomodate the Fiqh he already decided on. While this could happen from those who lack objectivity, such an action cannot be imagined or expected from Imam Shafi'i, who was very sincere and objective. Therefore, the only possible reason for the change is the fact that Imam Shafi'i discovered, after extensive debates with many schools, that his own Usul was wrong. After all of these debates, Shafi'i became more mature in his thinking and realized that he could not confine himself to the old Usul which he had previously adopted.
The Arrangement of the Risala
The Risala is arranged into a series of sections with general titles. The complexities of each subject are then explored either directly or by way of a third-party questioner who asks questions about various aspects of an issue such as abrogation. The chapters are, in order: Al-Bayan (explicit declaration), Legal Knowledge, The Book of Allah (Qur'an), Obligation of Man to accept the authority of the Prophet, Abrogation of Hukm Sharii, Duties, Nature of Allah's Orders of Prohibition and the Nature of Messenger's Orders of Prohibition, Traditions (Sunnah), Khabar Ahad (single individual traditions), Ijma (consensus), Qiyas (Analogy), Ijtihad, Istihsan (juristic preference), and finally Ikhtilaf (disagreement). Some, like the chapter on the Book of Allah, have many different subtopics, like the Arabic nature of the Qur'an, while others, such as Qiyas, are small and discussed more thoroughly in Imam Shafi'i's other books, such as Kitab-ul-Umm or Ikthilaf Al-Hadith.
The book starts with a overview of the different types of Bayan (explicit declaration or explanation of a principle) by Allah (swt). When Allah (swt) obligated or prohibited certain things, He did so in a variety of ways. The first involves a command from the Qur'an, with the details also mentioned in the Qur'an:
"One of these (categories) is what He has declared to His creatures by texts in the Qur'an, such as the collection of duties they owe to Him: Performing the prayer, paying the Zakat, performing the Hajj, observing the fast. And He has forbidden disgraceful acts, both visible and hidden, such as the textual prohibition of Zina, wine, Eating blood, pork and the flesh of dead things. Also, He has made clear to them how to perform the duty of Wudu as well as other matters stated precisely in the Qur'an."
"A second category consists of [those duties], the obligation of which He established in His Book, but the modes of which He made clear by Qur'an and the tongue of the Prophet. The number of the prayers and the amount of the Zakah are cases of this point". [pg. 68]
The last two categories do not involve the Qur'an at all:
"A third category consists of that which were explained by the prophet of Allah, such as the details of the prayers, and the amount of Zakat as well as their time."
"The fourth includes what Rasulullah (saaw) established without having an origin for it in Qura'n. The obedience in this is a must, and he who accepts what the Prophet obligated is indeed obeying Allah." [pg. 68]
Although Imam Shafi'i did not mention an example for this type, a clear example is the Hadith in which the Prophet (saaw) said "People share in 3 things. The water, the graze (kala), and the fire (includes power resources)." [Reported by Abu Dawuud]
Then Shafi'i proceeds to give more elaboration of each of the cases. An example of his elaboration of the second category is when he quotes:
"Allah (swt) said, 'Verily the Prayer has become for believers a thing prescribed for stated times [4 : 104].' Then He clearly specified the required number of prayers, their times, and the method of performing them by the tongue of His Messenger.'" [pg. 75]
Imam Shafi'i clearly outlines the basis of Usul in these four types of Bayan. A clear warning for Muslims trying to interpret Allah's word is given just a few pages later:
"No one at all should [give an opinion] on a specific matter by merely saying it is permitted or prohibited, unless he is certain of [legal] knowledge and this knowledge, must be based on the Qur'an and the Sunnah, or derived from Ijmaa' (consensus) and qiyas (analogy)." [pg. 78]
B) Types of Ilm (conclusive knowledge)
The next chapter is a short one discussing the types of knowledge and who should possess which one. Shafi'i puts Islamic knowledge into categories. The first type is that which every Muslim should know, which is found textually in the Qur'an and it is well known by the common people. No one can ignore it or has an excuse to neglect it. This type of Ilm contains no error in either transmission or authenticity of narration. The second type is knowledge where no clear text from the Qur'an or the Sunnah exists. However, if there exists a Hadith then it will be from the Sunnah that is not well known (such as Khabar Ahad, which are Hadiths that are reported by fewer number of persons). Also, this type of Ilm includes issues based on Qiyas (Analogy). This knowledge is obligatory on some but not on others. If some individuals learn and practice this knowledge, then the Ummah is not sinning; however, if no one seeks to learn it then the entire Ummah is in error. An example given in the book is joining the army, which is considered a Fard Kifayah (collective duty) and is derived from the following two ayahs:
"Such believers who sit at home, unless they have an injury, are not the equals of those who fight in the path of Allah with their possessions and their selves. Allah has given precedence to those who fight with their possessions and their selves over those who sit at home. Allah has promised the best of things to both. And He has preferred those who fight over those who sit at home by granting them a mighty reward" [An-Nisaa 4: 95]
"If you do not go forth He will inflict upon you a painful punishment" [At-Tauba 9: 39]
The first ayah indicates that both the choice of fighting and sitting at home are acceptable since Allah has promised the best to both. However, fighting is preferred because there is a promise of "a mighty reward." The second ayah indicates that if Muslims do not fight, then the Ummah will be in error. The acceptable conclusion is that if a certain amount of people fulfill the obligation of fighting, then they fulfil the obligation for the Ummah.
The following ayah verifies this concept:
"It is not for the believers to go forth all together, but why should not a party of every section of them go forth to become learned in religion, and to warn their people when they return to them? Perhaps they will beware" [At-Tauba 9: 123]
This ayah mentions a group of people going forth to perform a task rather than the whole Ummah and fulfilling it for the Ummah.
C) Kitab Allah (Qur'an)
The next section of The Risala is of utmost importance in any interpretation of the text. In this section Shafi'i provides a glimpse into defining the process of interpreting the Qur'an and Sunnah. Many of the sources for differences of opinion in analyzing the text are addressed. A serious look will show that a concise interpretation of the Qur'an requires a clear mastery of the Arabic language in the Qur'an's style. Translations are useless for legal purposes. The section has such topics as "The Explicit General Declaration of the Book in Which the General and the Particular are Included" and "The General Declaration which the Sunnah Specifically indicates is meant to be Particular." The level of understanding required does not stop at speaking Arabic at a common level, but includes the more sophisticated Arabic used in the Qur'an and the Sunnah. The section discusses the sources of differences in opinions based on the language whereas other sections discuss the source of differences of opinions based on the sources themselves. Another aspect which is addressed is the Arabic nature of the Qur'an and Sunnah, as a result, the Arabic nature of Islam. In multiple ayahs in the Qur'an, Allah addresses the nature of the Qur'an as "an Arabic Qur'an." In one ayah He says:
"Thus We have sent it down as an Arabic Law" [Ar-Rad 13: 37]
Thus, understaning the Qur'an in addition to the entire Deen of Islam requires understanding the Arabic tongue. Imam Shafi'i further emphasizes this issue:
"Every Muslim is obligated to learn the Arabic tongue to the utmost of his power in order [to be able] to profess through it that "There is no Ilah but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger" and to utter what is mandated upon him, the takbir, and what is commanded, the tasbih, and the tashahhud and others." [Risala pg. 93].
Why does Imam Shafi'i state this? It is obvious from the text of the Qur'an that the Arabic nature cannot be separated from the Deen. Arabic is associated with every act of worship and all aspects of the Deen. Thus, a Muslim must know the language not only in order to worship but also in order to understand the Deen enough to perform Ijtihad. Understanding Islam without understanding Arabic will be incomplete and cannot lead to a creative understanding of Islam through Ijtihad. Therefore, every Muslim is obligated to call the public's attention to the fact that the Qur'an was communicated specifically in the Arabic tongue and that all Muslims should learn it to the highest degree which they are able.
Today, some people undermine the Arabic language, to the extent of claming that just reading the translation is sufficient to make an Ijtihad. And others claim that one can perform prayers by reciting in English. If adopted by the Muslims, such notions will not elevate the Ummah but will further degrade it.
D) The Authority of the Sunnah
This chapter is important due to both the numerous attacks on the Sunnah as a source of guidance as well as the confusion that exists among the Muslims in general on whether the Sunnah is less valid Qur'an. Imam Shafi'i leaves no doubt by clarifying the role of the Sunnah. Here is but a selection of the numerous ayahs he mentions in his clarification:
"O you who have believed, obey Allah and His Messenger" [Al-Anfal 8: 20]
"Whoever obeys the Messenger has obeyed Allah" [An-Nisaa 4: 80]
"Allah has sent down to thee the Book and the Hikmah (Sunnah)" [An-Nisaa 4: 113]
The first two ayahs prove that obeying the Messenger is as much a duty as obeying Allah and is not secondary to obeying the Qur'an. The third ayah is a proof that the Sunnah is also a revelation sent by Allah, because He states that He sent the Book [Qur'an] and the Wisdom [Sunnah]. The chapter is full of other proofs which conclusively indicate that whoever rejects the Sunnah should reject the Qur'an as well because they are integrally joined and one is not less worthy of being obeyed than the other.
However Muslims in the past and the present witness people who reject the Sunnah as a source. Rejecting the Sunnah could be done openly, which is an act of clear Kufr. However rejecting the Sunnah could also be done implicitly. This type is worse than the open rejection because it is not apparent and it happens through indirect approaches, such as claiming that one Hadith is not enough to derive a rule, or claiming that the Prophet's experience is a human experience which was determined by his environment and circumstances. These claims ignore the fact that the Prophet (saaw) received revelation from Allah Who knows the best. Thus, the Sunnah is not his own experience.
The chapter on Abrogation brings to mind the difference between other religious texts and the Qur'an. There is no contradiction in any of the Islamic text, whether in the Qur'an or between the Qur'an and the Sunnah. In contrast, books such as the Bible, have entire books written describing their contradictions in addition to other books that "apologize for them. The Qur'an and the Sunnah have situations in which a later text abrogates an earlier text. Abrogation is the revoking of an earlier command with a newer command. The revelation of the Qur'an occurred over a period of 23 years, and some of the commands revealed earlier in the revelation were later abrogated through other revelations. One example that Imam Shafi'i uses is the example of the Qiblah. Allah (swt) says:
"The fools (disbelievers, hypocrites, Jews) among the people will say, 'What has turned them (Muslims) from their Qiblah to which they were used to face in prayer?' Say (O Muhammed), 'To Allah belongs both east and west. He guides whom He wills to a Straight Way.'" [Al-Baqarah 2: 142]
This ayah mentions that Muslims used to pray toward another Qiblah and later the direction changed towards another Qiblah, which was mentioned in the ayah:
"Verily! We have seen the turning of your face towards the heaven. Surely, We shall turn you to a Qiblah that shall please you. So turn your face in the direction of Al-Masjid al-Haram." [Al-Baqarah 2: 144]
This ayah obligated the Muslims to pray toward the Kabah. Thus, it abrogated the previous command.
What is important to mention is that Shafi'i pointed out the importance of having evidence to decide that any previous rule was abrogated by the later rule. Simply looking at the ayahs is not enough to decide that there is abrogation.
1) Qur'an can only abrogate Qur'an
One of the first rules regarding abrogation put forward in the Risala is that only the Qur'an can abrogate Qur'an. Imam Shafi'i cites many evidences, such as:
"When Our signs are recited to them as evidences, those who do not look forward to meeting Us, say, 'Bring a Scripture other than this or change it.' [You O Muhammad] say, 'It is not for me to change it of my own accord; I only follow what is revealed to me. Verily, I fear if I go against my Lord, the punishment of a mighty day'" [Yunus 10: 16-17]
Allah (swt) did not empower Muhammad (saaw) to change the Qur'an on his own accord but commanded him to follow what was revealed. In the above ayahs, the statement "It is not for me change it of my own accord" proves that only Qur'an can abrogate Qur'an. None of Allah's creations can abrogate His Book.
The proof of this are the following ayahs:
"For whatever We abrogate or delay, We bring something better or the like of it. Do you not know that Allah is powerful over everything?" [Al-Baqarah 2: 100]
"Allah repeals what He wills, or confirms; with Him is the Mother of the Book." [Ar-Rad 13: 39]
Even the Hadith Mutawatir can not abrogate the Qur'an, and this is one of many outstanding conclusions that Shafi'i reached.
2) Only Sunnah can abrogate Sunnah
Imam Shafi'i also extracted the rule that only Sunnah can abrogate Sunnah. The Sunnah is unlike anything else from mankind because he who obeys it does so based on an order in the Qur'an. Therefore nothing else from mankind could come to abrogate it. Someone might then ask if the Sunnah could be abrogated by the Qur'an since they both come from the same divine source. Such a statement, while on the surface looks feasible, is ultimately impossible. If anyone were permitted to take such a stance then he could endanger the entire Sunnah. However, if the Qur'an abrogated a specific Sunnah, then another Sunnah must exist which mentions that the previous one is abrogated. Otherwise one would start claiming that all the details mentioned in the Sunnah regarding cutting the thief's hand are abrogated by the ayah, "Cut off the hand of the thief, male or female," on grounds that this ayah did not mention any restrictions in implementing this rule. Based on this line of argument, any restrictions in any Sunnah should be abrogated. Shafi'i disagreed with this argument, and he did not want anyone to use this argument at all. Otherwise, a person would come and claim that certain prohibitions such as the prohibition of gharar sale (a type of cheating), which was established by the Sunnah, were also abrogated by the Qur'anic ayah:
"Allah has permitted sale and forbidden usury." [Al-Baqarah 2: 275]
Such a claim could be based on the following argument: This ayah permitted all types of sale in general; thus, any other type of prohibited sales mentioned in the Sunnah must be abrogated. This is another example Shafi'i brings to prove his points and invalidate these false arguments. He ended with the point that the Qur'an cannot abrogate the Sunnah. In all of these examples which opponents bring forth, no abrogation exists. In the example of cutting the thief's hand, the ayah was mentioned without restriction and the Hadith added more restrictions, while in the example of Gharar sale the ayah was general and the Hadith was particular and excluded one item.
The issue of abrogation is clear, as Shafi'i says:
"If Allah were to reveal to His Messenger a rule on which Muhammad had provided a Sunnah different from what the Qur'an addressed, then Muhammad would immediately provide another Sunnah in conformity with whatever Allah had sent to him." [Al-Risala, p.125].
Another question which Shafi'i addresses is the question of whether there was a Sunnah abrogated by another Sunnah that did not reach us. Shafi'i says that this is impossible to happen. If one could hold this opinion then one could reject the whole Sunnah claiming that it was abrogated and the abrogated Sunnah did not reach us either. It is also incorrect to claim that the abrogated Sunnah reached us while the binding one was missed.
3) Examples of Abrogation
One example of Abrogation by Sunnah and the Ijma is on the matter of assigning a will to any of those who have established share in the inheritance. The following Hadith was narrated by the Prophet in the year of the capture of Makkah:
"No will [is valid] to an inheritor" [Abu Dawud, Vol. III p.113]
The Hadith is reported by a large amount of people and is further agreed upon by the scholars. The will to relatives entitled to inherit was already abrogated by the laws of inheritance. The example is further explained in The Risala, and it illustrates the case of abrogation involving the Sunnah.
Imam Shafi'i did not mention what some scholars referred to as Naskhu tilawah (abrogation based upon recitation). In this type of claimed Naskhu, some mentioned that there are two types of abrogation. The first type, abrogation of the rule mentioned in the text, is well explained in The Risala. The second type is when the rule stays but the ayah will be no longer considered an ayah because its recitation is abrogated while the rule remains enacted. An example of this type is the abrogation of the so-called "ayah" (if an old man or woman committed Zina, stone them to death). The rule is still applicable, but the ayah is abrogated and is no longer in the Qur'an. What is important to notice is that stoning is established by the Sunnah and there is no abrogation in this issue at all. Also, the Riwayah (chain of narration) of the Qur'an must be Tawatur (definite). This so-called ayah was not narrated through the Tawatur Riwayah; therefore the entire claim has no basis. This may be the reason why Shafi'i did not include this type of abrogation in Al-Risala. Thus, all reports which mention this type of abrogation must be re-evaluated.
F) Khabar Ahad
The proof behind the acceptance of Hadiths related by a single person revolves around two major points. First, the Companions of the Prophet accepted the word of a single individual when applying the Hukm Sharii. Second, the Prophet sent single individuals to carry, to teach and implement the Sharii rules. In both of these cases, if it were acceptable to dismiss the rules on the basis that they were related by a single individual, then the Prophet would never have spread rulings in this manner and the Companions would never have accepted the rulings through this method. The examples of applying Sharii rules narrated by a single reporter are numerous in The Risala.
In one example Ibn Umar said,
"We used to practice mukhabara (leasing the agricultural land based on a specific amount or based on share-cropping), seeing no harm in it until [Rafii b.Khadij] claimed that the Messenger had prohibited it. So we gave it up because of what [Rafii] had said" [Risala pg. 272].
One of the most important proofs in this regard is the order to change the Qiblah from Jerusalem to Mecca. The order came to the men of Quba [some of the first Muslims in Quba near Madina] by way of a single reporter, and they immediately changed the direction of prayer towards the Kabah [Bukhari vol. I pg.480].
The example of the Qiblah is clear proof that the earliest Muslims relied on the individual narrator as sufficient proof of a Hukm Sharii.
The second aspect to this matter is that the Prophet (saaw) sent people of worthy credentials with regard to their character and sincerity as individual messengers, and he expected the people to respect the word of these individuals. If the Prophet (saaw) did not expect them to follow these individuals on their word alone, he would have stated in the case of the Qiblah that: "It was not up to you to abandon it [Qibla] unless the proof for it were established by the public or from more than one person [on my authority]" [Risala, p.255].
However, the Prophet (saaw) never said any such thing and often used highly respected individuals as single messengers to people concerning some aspect of Hukm Sharii. An example of this is the case where the Prophet sent twelve messengers simultaneously to twelve different rulers to invite them towards accepting Islam. If he felt that one was not enough he could easily have sent more to confirm the message, however he did not. It is a proof for us that one messenger whose sincerity and character are documented and confirmed is sufficient to transmit the message. Shafi'i also states the unanimous agreement among the scholars regarding the authenticity of single Hadiths.
Imam Shafi'i goes into the basis upon which this authentication should be based. First, the transmitter of the Hadith should be someone well known to be qualified and not someone whose qualifications are unknown. The case is given by Shafi'i where a scholar would encounter a Hadith that may appear to contradict another, and both of them are Hadiths reported by a single individual. The greater regard of one over the other is determined by a variety of rules. First, the scholar might view the chain of narrators as being generally more trustworthy than the chain of the second Hadith. Second, people in the second chain may have had insuffient memories. Finally, the wording of one Hadith may be more clear than the other, and the scholar could give the former more weight because of its clearer language. However, Shafi'i is clear that one should not accept one Hadith from a trusted source and then reject another from the same source except for among the previous reasons. Shafi'i gives a comprehensive statement on the transmitter by stating:
"He who relates a Hadith must merit confidence in his Deen. He must be known as reliable in his transmitting, comprehending what he transmits, aware of any pronunciation that might change the meaning of the Hadith, and capable of transmitting the Hadith word for word as he heard it, not merely transmitting its meaning." [pg. 239]
If this level of character is expected of the transmitters, then the minimum amount of transmitters required is one at each level of transmission all the way back to the Prophet (saaw). The difference between transmission and testimony must remain clear. It is permissible to accept a Hadith transmitted by one man or woman in the form "So and so related to me from so-and-so." However, it would not be acceptable as a testimony in a trial unless the witness actually heard or saw the act directly. Also there are people who are reliable witnesses but are not reliable transmitters because their transmission may contain changes in meaning or may omit certain words affecting the meaning. In this manner a just person's testimony may be accepted while his tradition is rejected because he is a poor transmitter. The correlation to testimony is given only so that the reader may relate something he understands to traditions which may be foreign. However, the differences between the two are many. A testimony varies in the number of people needed. For instance, adultery requires four witnesses to prove , and any less will result in punishing the witnesses. In other cases such as murder, only two witnesses are required. Tradition is the same in that it should be accepted just like testimony; however, the number of transmitters required in transmission is different.
The proof for varying witnesses and the acceptance of Khabar Ahad is based on the same criterion: The Narration (Sunnah) and inductive reasoning (Istidlal). Other differences are that testimony from a person regarding something in which his own personal affairs are directly involved, such as defending his son or relatives, would be considered weak or suspicious. However, in tradition the Muslim is not acquiring any personal or material gain, and all Muslims are on the same level. The authenticity of his relation can be rejected or accepted based on the rules of the authenticity of the Sunnah, which are his character and the character of the chain of narrators.
Shafi'i then examines the various degrees of proof. If a proof comes from a clear text of the Qur'an or a generally accepted Sunnah then no one should be excused from belief in it because it is free from doubt. This is mentioned clearly in page 278. It is very clear that this is applicable to the Mutawatir because the term he used (Khabr al aamah) is a synonym for the Mutawatir. However, if the Sunnah comes from a narration of only a few people, which Shafi'i called Khabr al khaasah (another synonym for Khabr Ahad) and there is disagreement over the language since it is open to multiple interpretations, and it also originates from a single transmitter from the Prophet, then it becomes a different case altogether. No one who is informed about the arguments regarding the Hadith should reject anything mentioned in the Hadith because it is similar to accepting the testimony of a trustworthy. As Shafi'i mentions:
"However this acceptance should not be taken in the sense of the first category. That is, if a person were to cast doubt upon it ( the second type ) we would not ask him to repent while in the case of the first type of proof the person would be asked according to Shafi'i to repent.". (See Ar-Risalah, Arabic edition pg 460-461, English edition pg. 278).
It is very obvious from this that Imam Shafi'i distinguished between two kinds of reports, the Khabr al aamah and Khabr al khaasah. Because he stated that he who denies the second type will not be asked to repent, then Imam Shafi'i did not consider Khabr Ahad as part of the Aqeedah. However some people claim that Imam Shafi'i accepted Khabr Ahad. What they fail to recognize is that all evidences he mentioned are talking about accepting Khabr Ahad in the legislation and not in the Aqeedah. However, rejecting Khabr Ahad as a source of Hukm Sharii is condemned.
There is not enough time or space that could be devoted to studying The Risala, and this review only covers a few of the topics it touches. The Risala covers many things in a clear manner, and it is considered the first work in the field of Usul ul-Fiqh. The only topics that the book does not discuss are Ijma (consensus) and Qiyas (analogy), and Imam Shafi'i discusses both of these topics in other literature such as in his book Kitab-ul-Umm. If he had gone into every aspect of Usul-ul-Fiqh in detail the book would have been many volumes long rather than some fifteen chapters which are already quite detailed. The book has the capability of clearing the Muslim of any doubt that the Qur'an and Sunnah are without contradiction and free from the many problems which trouble other religious texts such as the Torah or the Bible. Another amazing aspect of the book is that it offers useful information both for the average Muslim as well as for the scholar of Usul-ul-Fiqh. A student of Shafi'i claimed to have read the Risala 500 hundred times and each time received a fresh thought from it.
At the time when studying Shariah was at its infancy, this book laid down the basis of how to interpret the Qur'an and Sunnah. Imam Shafi'i did not invent these rules. Similarly, the rules of Arabic grammar were not invented by the great scholars of Arabic grammar such as Asmaii, Kesaee and others. The rules of Arabic grammar were practiced naturally by Arabs even before Islam. All that these later scholars did was to compile these rules and styles used by the Arabs and to document them in writing. The fact that the rules of Arabic grammar were written later is not an excuse to claim that the rules are not binding. Otherwise the entire language will be abandoned. Allah (swt) described the Qur'an as an Arabic book, which means that the Arabic language should be preserved while having the creativity to apply it to new situations and maintain its relevance.
Similarly, the Shahabah (raa) were Arabs. They mastered the Arabic language naturally, witnessed the revelation and lived and interacted with the Prophet (saaw). All of these factors gave them the natural capability to understand the text and derive rules from it. This process was done by them naturally based on specific rules and not in a haphazard way. They did not need to write down these rules because the knowledge of the styles and rules of Arabic and Usul-ul Fiqh naturally to them. Afterwards, for many reasons beyond the scope of the review, scholars realized the necessity of writing down the rules of Usul-ul Fiqh, Arabic grammar, Arabic poetry, and other topics. Thus, the rules of Usul-ul Fiqh were not invented by them; they were simply written by them.
The scholars did not write and compile these rules for people to ignore them, but unfortunately today many claims seem to indicate otherwise. First, there is the claim that Usul-ul Fiqh was not necessary at all, and it was a Bidah that complicated the process of understanding the text. The second claim which is very often repeated is that Muslims are not bound to it and that these rules must change in order to evolve Usul-ul Fiqh. Another claim states that the Usul-ul Fiqh developed after the Sahabah, and each of the different Madhabs invented a new source. Thus the Tabi'een carried the existing legacy of the Sahabah and carried it to another level leading to Ijma. And following them, Ahlul Ra'ee developed Qiyas, and the Hanafi school developed Istihsan.
All of these claims are wrong. The Sahabah were bound to specific rules, and these rules are similar to the rules of Arabic grammar that cannot be ignored. Furthermore, these rules cannot be changed to accomodate any Fiqh pre-determined by the mind. The Usul is the first step needed to take the second step of understanding and shaping Fiqh, and the first step cannot be defined by the second. Finally, claiming that each school invented a new source to serve their purpose is absurd. All of these Imams believe in Allah and the message He sent. They realized that their role was to understand the text, and none of them could adopt a source based upon their own preset judgment. Thinking otherwise would mean that those Imams are not worth consideration and the entire issue of Ijtihad, Fiqh and Usul-ul Fiqh was a game.
Thus it is very important to study Usul-ul Fiqh in order to define and to shape our thinking. And studying Usul-ul Fiqh necessitates studying the original books that deal with this branch of Islamic culture. The Risala is among those books that deserve the highest consideration.