A Critical Edition of 'Umdat al-Nāzir 'alā al-Ashbāh wa'l-Nazā 'ir

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Khadiga Musa
Monographs in Arabic and Islamic Texts [English and Arabic Edition]
  • Sheffield, England: 
    Equinox Publishing Limited
    , December
     320 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


ʿUmdat al-Nāẓir ("A Support for the Viewer") is a commentary written by Muḥammad Abu 'l-Suʿūd Ibn ʿAlī al-Husaynī al-Ḥanafī al-Misrī (d. 1172/ 1759) on al-Ashbāh wal- Naẓāir by Ibn Nujaym Zayn al-Dīn b. Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad (d. 970/1652). Al-ashbāh wal-naẓāir, which means similar cases in the field of Islamic law, is a genre derived from an ongoing tradition known as al-qawāʿid al-fiqhīyya or legal maxims. 

Khadiga Musa divides this book into two main parts. First is a study on the definition, origin, significance, history, and evolution of both al-qawāʿid al-fiqhīyya and al-ashbāh wal- naẓāʾir, and second is a critical edition of the text ʿUmdat al-Nāẓir, which relies on three manuscripts. Musa divides the edited portion into chapters and paragraphs, providing sources for quotations mentioned throughout the book. It is the first part that is the most important: Musa provides an introduction replete with details on the origin and history of the genre in general and the edited text in particular. The introduction includes discussion of the genre of al-qawāʿid al-fiqhīyya and brief biographies of Ibn Nujaym, his commentators, and Abu al-Suʿūd. 

On the origin of the genre, Musa claims that it goes back to the early Ḥanafī legal writings in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Islamic centuries. But these writings were not developed to shape the complete and independent discipline later known as al-qawāʿid al-fiqhīyya. In the 5th and 6th Islamic centuries, Musa notes that the Ḥanafī school continued to discuss Islamic rulings and positive law (furūʿ al-fiqh) without producing works on legal maxims. For the Shāfiʿī school, the concern, during these two centuries, was on producing works on Islamic legal theory (uṣūl al-fiqh), that relied on sophisticated disciplines such as logic and theology (ʿilm al-kalām). The engagement in these arguments raised a challenge for junior scholars (fuqahāʾ) who were able to discuss rulings within their schools and issue legal consultations (fatāwā). To that end, as Musa presents in figure 52, these two centuries witnessed a record high of works on uṣūl al-fiqh and a record low in the fatāwā genre among Shāfiʿī scholars in particular, and Mālikī and Ḥanbalī scholars in general. This is in contrast to the Ḥanafī school, which showed the opposite. This trajectory caused stagnation and made the field difficult for junior scholars. 

Al-qawāʿid al-fiqhīyya emerged again as a compromise for scholars whose capacity was not high enough to produce sophisticated discussion or to engage in the ijtiḥad process, producing rulings based on uṣūl al-fiqh, but who were able to notice similarities, differences, and exceptions in furūʿ al-fiqh and make some analogies based on legal maxims. Thus, in the 8th Islamic century, the al-qawāʿid al-fiqhīyya genre and other relative genres, such as al-ashbāh wal-naẓāʾir (similarities) and al-furūq (differences), were revived by Shāfiʿī, Mālikī, and Ḥanbalī scholars. Ḥanafī scholars continued the revival in the 10th Islamic century (Ibn Nujaym's century) and onwards. 

By reviewing some works on the history of disciplines and books such as Kashf al-Ẓunūn ʿan Asāmī al-Kutub wal Funūn by Ḥājī Khalīfa (d. 1068/1657), it can be easily noticed that there were a couple of books written specifically by Shāfiʿī scholars on the genre of al-qawāʿid al-fiqhīyya and al-furūq between the 4th and 7th Islamic centuries. Ḥajī Khalifa states that the first treatise written in the furūq genre was the 4th century al-Furūq fī Furūʿ al-Shāfiʿīyya by Ibn Surayj (d. 306/919). Then in the 5th century, ʿAbdullah b. Yusuf b. Muḥammad al-Jūwainī (d. 438/1047) published al-Jamʿ wal Farq.

The 7th Islamic century witnessed four significant works by Shāfiʿī scholars. Al-Qawāʿid fī furūʿ al-Shāfiʿīyya by Muʿīn al-Dīn al-Jājermī (d. 613/1217) was “engaged … widely during the author’s time” according to Ḥajī Khalīfa (2:1359). Takhrīj al-Furūʿ ʿalā al-Uṣūl by Shihāb al-Dīn al-Zanjānī (656/1258) is the only book mentioned by the author during this century (33). The other two books are Qawāʿid al-Aḥkām fī Maṣāliḥ al-Anām or al-Qawāʿd al-Kubrā, which was written by ʿIzz al-Dīn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz ibn ʿAbd al-Salām al-Sulamī (d. 660/1262), and Qawāʿid al-Sharʿ wa Ḍawābiṭ al-Aṣl wal-Farʿ, which was written by Muḥammad b. ʿAlī al-Khilāṭī (d. 675/1277). These works indicate that the al-qawāʿid al-fiqhīyya genre definitely did not die. The main reason for not mentioning these books is, perhaps, that they are not connected to the main genre, al-qawāʿid al-fiqhīyya, but to sub-genres such as furūq, which means "lost and information is lacking," as it is understood from the Musa’s statement (32-33). 

However, this statement cannot avoid a very important work in the history of al-qawāʿid al-fiqhīyyaQawāʿid al-ʾAḥkām by Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām. In his introduction to his al-Ashbāh wal-Naẓāʾirfī al-Naḥū, the prolific scholar al-Suyūṭī (d. 911/1505) writes, “the first one who launched this discipline was shaykh al-Islām Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām in his Qawāʿid al-Kubrā" (1985, 1:8). Accordingly, if this is the case, the author's hypothesis about the decline of ijtihad and the challenge raised among junior scholars needs to be revised and rethought. 

On the al-ashbāh wal-naẓāʾir genre, Musa notes that the first work penned under the same title was by Shāfiʿī scholar Ibn al-Wakīl (d. 716/ 1316), whose work was refined and expanded upon by two other Shāfiʿī scholars, Tāj al-Dīn Ibn al-Subkī (d. 771/1369) and Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī (d. 911/1505). In the 10th Islamic century, and with the influence of al-Subkī and al-Suyūṭī's works, Ibn Nujaym wrote his book al-Ashbāh wal-Naẓāʾir, which is considered to be the first book under this title in the history of the Ḥanafī school. 

The significance of Ibn Nujaym's book draws many scholars' attention to make commentaries on it. Around forty-four commentaries are recorded (64). Among these scholars was Abu 'l-Suʿūd, who wrote the long commentary ʿUmdat al-Nāẓir, which explains, adds to, clarifies, and correctsthe main text of Ibn Nujaym's al-Ashbāh wal-Naẓāir.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Issam Eido is Senior Lecturer at Vanderbilt University.

Date of Review: 
June 22, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Khadiga Musa is Assistant Professor at the Prince Muhammad bin Fahd University, Saudi Arabia. She received her PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Her interest is Quranic Studies, Hadith Studies and Islamic Law. Published work includes an article entitled ‘Legal Maxims as a Genre of Islamic Law’ (Brill: Journal of Islamic Law and Society 21, 2014) and, ‘Hadith as Basis of Legal Maxims’ (ABC – CLIO: Muhammad in the History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopaedia of the Prophet of God, ed. Fitzpatrick, C. & Walker, 2013).


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