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Title: Ẓāhirī  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: 2006 CAF Champions League, Madhhab, Islamic schools and branches, Ibn Hazm, Sunni Islam
Collection: Madhhab, Schools of Sunni Jurisprudence, Sunni Islam, Zahiri
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Ẓāhirī (Arabic: ظاهري‎) is a Sunni school of thought in Islamic jurisprudence.[1] The school is named after one of its early prominent jurists, Dawud ibn Khalaf al-Zahiri (died 883),[2] and is known for its insistence on sticking to the manifest (zahir) or apparent meaning of expressions in the Qur'an and the Sunnah; the followers of this school are called Zahiriyah.

Their numbers having dwindled since the Middle Ages, the Zahirite school is adhered to by minority communities in Morocco and Pakistan. In the past, adherents to the school comprised a majority of the Muslims living in Mesopotamia, Southern Iran, the Iberian Peninsula, the Balearic Islands and North Africa. Many among the modern-day Ahl al-Hadith movement, though not all, claim to follow the Zahiri school of thought.[3]


  • History 1
    • City-states and Imperial period 1.1
    • Universal period and Golden Age 1.2
    • Decentralization and fragmentation period 1.3
    • Modern history 1.4
  • Principles 2
    • Distinct rulings 2.1
  • Reception 3
    • Views on Zahirism within Sunni Islam 3.1
    • Zahirism and Sufism 3.2
  • Notable Zahiris 4
    • Followers of the Zahiri School 4.1
      • Contemporary followers of the school 4.1.1
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


While those outside the school of thought often point to Dawud al-Zahiri as the "founder" of the school, followers of the school themselves tend to look to earlier figures such as Sufyan al-Thawri and Ishaq Ibn Rahwayh as the forerunners of Zahiri principles. Umm al-Qura University professor Abdul Aziz al-Harbi has claimed that the first generation of Muslims followed the school's methods and therefore can be called "the school of the first generation."[4]

City-states and Imperial period

Initially termed the "Dawudi" school after al-Zahiri himself, the school initially held reign over the judiciary of what is modern-day Iraq. As it spread from this central region, Zahiri judges were appointed by the administrations of Baghdad, Shiraz, Isfahan, Firuzabad, Ramla, Damascus, Sindh and Fustat.[5][6] In the east under Abbasid rule, the Zahiri school still had to compete with the other Sunni schools; the Zahiri leaders' weak political and personal relations with Abbasid vizier Ali ibn Isa al-Jarrah and Jarrah's strong relations with the Shafi'ites caused the Zahiris to fall out of favor with the government.[7] At that time, the four schools of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence were reckoned as the Hanafites, Malikites, Shafi'ites and Zahirites; the Hanbalites were not yet considered an independent school.[8]

Eventually, the Zahiris wound up losing the judiciary of Baghdad after some time while retaining its stronghold of Shiraz.[9] University of Oxford Islamic scholar Christopher Melchert holds the view that a combination of poor relations with the government, the somewhat elitist nature of Zahiri literary circles and the failure of Zahiri jurists to produce central texts summarizing all the school's positions all contributed to the school's downfall in Baghdad.[7] Whatever the reason, the Zahiri school lost its dominance over all of Mesopotamia and Iran due to official promotion of the Hanafi school. The Zahiris held on to Syria until 788 and held strong influence in Egypt for even longer, though eventually they lost most support in the east as a whole.[8]

Universal period and Golden Age

Parallel to the school's inception, Zahiri ideas were introduced to North Africa by theologians of the Maliki school who were engaged in fierce debates with the Hanafi school, and to the Iberian Peninsula by one of Dawud al-Zahiri's direct students.[10] Unlike Abbasid lands where the competition was plentiful, the Zahiri school only had to contend with its Maliki counterpart in the Muslim west. Actual Zahiris themselves appeared shortly after their ideas, settling in various parts of what is now Spain and Portugal in the late 9th century.[11] Under the rule of the Umayyads, Almoravids and warring Taifa states, the Zahiri school remained on the periphery, existing only with learned men without enjoying the wide acceptance known to the Maliki school.

It was not until the rise of the Almohads that the Zahiri school enjoyed official state sponsorship. While not all of the Almohad political leaders were Zahiris, a large plurality of them were not only adherents but were well-versed theologians in their own right.[12] Additionally, all Almohad leaders - both the religiously learned and the laymen - were extremely hostile toward the Malikis, giving the Zahiris and in a few cases the Shafi'is free rein to author works and run the judiciary. In the late 12th century, any religious material written by non-Zahiris was at first banned and later burned in the empire under the Almohad reforms.[13][14]

Decentralization and fragmentation period

With the Reconquista and the loss of Iberia to Christian rule, most works of Zahiri law and legal theory were lost as well, with the school only being carried on by individual scholars, once again on the periphery. In the 14th century, the Zahiri Revolt marked both a brief rekindling of interest in the school's ideas as well as affirmation of its status as a non-mainstream ideology. Al-Muhalla, a Medieval manual on Zahiri jurisprudence, served in part as inspiration for the revolt and as a primary source of the school's positions.[15] While Zahirite ideas remained, the school's followers became so rare that many historians such as Ibn Khaldun began to declare it extinct.[16]

Modern history

In the modern era, the Zahiri school has often been described as semi-operational, though still very influential.[17] While the school does not comprise a majority of any part of the Muslim world, there are communities of Zahiris in existence, usually due to the presence of Zahiri scholars of Islamic law. Notably, adherents of the modern-day Ahl al-Hadith movement have been compared to Zahirites, and many have accepted and even self-identified as such.[18][19] Additionally, professors of Islamic law adhering to the Zahiri school are present, though small in number. Modernist revival of the general critique by Ibn Hazm - the school's most prominent representative - of Islamic legal theory among Muslim academics has seen several key moments in recent Arab intellectual history, including Ahmad Shakir's republishing of Al-Muhalla, Muhammad Abu Zahra's biography of Ibn Hazm, and the republishing of archived epistles on Zahiri legal theory by Sa'id al-Afghani in 1960 and Ihsan Abbas between 1980 and 1983.[20] The continued existence and legitimacy of the Zahiri school was upheld by the Amman Message in 2004,[21] and was even counted as one of the recognized schools of thought in Islam by Sudan's Islamist former Prime Minister, Sadiq al-Mahdi.[22] Zahiri's literal approach has made it influential to followers of the Salafi movement,[23] and traces of it can be found in the modern-day Wahhabi movement.[24]


Of the utmost importance to the school is an underlying principle attributed to the founder Dawud that the validity of religious issues is only upheld by certainty, and that speculation cannot lead to the truth.[25] Most Zahirite principles return to this overarching maxim. Japanese Islamic scholar Kojiro Nakamura defines the Zahiri schools as resting on two presumptions. The first is that if it were possible to draw more general conclusions from the strict reading of the sources of Islamic law, then God certainly would have expressed these conclusions already; thus, all that is necessary lies in the text. The second is that for man to seek the motive behind the commandments of God is not only a fruitless endeavor but a presumptuous one.[26] Thus in the Zahiri view, Islam as an entire religious system is tied to the literal letter of the law, no more and no less.

The Zahiri school of thought generally recognizes three sources of Islamic law within the principles of Islamic jurisprudence. The first is the Qur'an, considered by Muslims to be the verbatim word of God (Arabic: الله Allah); the second consists of the prophetic as given in historically verifiable reports, which consist of the sayings and actions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad; the third is absolute consensus of the Muslim community. Certain followers of the Zahiri school include religious inference as a fourth source of Islamic law.[27]

The school differs from the more prolific schools of Islamic thought in that it restricts valid consensus in jurisprudence to the consensus of the first generation of Muslims who lived alongside Muhammad only.[28][29] While Abu Hanifa and Ahmad bin Hanbal agreed with them in this, the followers of the Hanafi and Hanbali schools generally do not, nor do the other two Sunni schools. Additionally, the Zahiri school does not accept analogical reasoning as a source of Islamic law,[30] nor do they accept the practice of juristic discretion, pointing to a verse in the Qur'an which declares that nothing has been neglected in the Muslim scriptures.[31] While Al-Shafi'i and followers of his school agree with the Zahiris in rejecting the latter, all other Sunni schools accept the former, though at varying levels.

Distinct rulings

  • Some followers of the Zahirite school differ with the majority in that they consider the Virgin Mary to have been a female prophet.[32]
  • Riba, or interest, on hand-to-hand exchanges of gold, silver, dates, salt, wheat and barley are prohibited per the prophet Muhammad's injunction, but analogical reasoning is not used to extend that injunction to other agricultural produce as is the case with other schools. The Zahirites are joined in this by early scholars pre-dating the legal schools such as Tawus ibn Kaysan and Qatadah.[33] However, some Zahiri scholars allow inference to deduce legal positions and now accept ijma on most issues.[27]
  • Admission in an Islamic court of law is seen as indivisible by Zahirites, meaning that a party cannot accept some aspects of the opposing party's testimony and not other parts. The Zahirites are opposed by the Hanafi and Maliki schools, though a majority of Hanbalites share the Zahirite position.[34]
  • Some Zahiri scholars initially accepted religious inference instead of grading as proposed by Shafi'i scholars and others.[27]


Like its founder Dawud, the Zahiri school has been controversial since its inception.[35] Due to their some so-called rejection of intellectual principles considered staples of other strains within Sunni Islam, adherents to the school have been described as displaying non-conformist attitudes.[36]

Views on Zahirism within Sunni Islam

The Zahiri school has often been criticized by other schools within Sunni Islam. While this is true of all schools, relations between the Hanafis, Shafi'is and Malikis have warmed to each other over the centuries; this has not always been the case with the Zahiris.

Not surpisingly given the conflict over al-Andalus, Maliki scholars have often expressed negative feelings regarding the Zahiri school. Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi, whose father was a Zahiri, nevertheless considered Zahiri law to be absurd.[37] Ibn 'Abd al-Barr, himself a former Zahiri, excluded Dawud al-Zahiri along with Ahmad ibn Hanbal from his book on Sunni Islam's greatest jurists,[38] though Ignác Goldziher has suggested that Ibn Abdul-Barr remained Zahiri privately and outwardly manifested Maliki ideas due to prevailing pressures at the time. At least with al-Ballūṭī, one example of a Zahiri jurist applying Maliki law due to official enforcement is known. Zahiris such as Ibn Hazm were challenged and attacked by Maliki jurists after their deaths.[37]

Followers of the Shafi'ite school within Sunni Islam have historically been involved in intellectual conflict with Zahirites.[39] Al-Juwayni and Al-Nawawi considered the Zahirite school entirely invalid; Al-Dhahabi and Ibn al-Salah merely disagreed with Zahirite teachings, but still defended their legitimacy from criticism such that of Juwayni and Ibn al-Arabi, pointing out that the Zahirites arrived to their conclusions via scholarly discourse just as the other legal schools had.[40]

Hanbali scholar Ibn al-Qayyim, while himself a critic of the Zahiri outlook, defended the school's legitimacy in Islam, stating rhetorically that their only sin was "following the book of their Lord and example of their Prophet."[41]

Zahirism and Sufism

The relationship between Zahirism and Sufism has been complicated. Throughout the school's history, its adherents have always included both harsh critics of Sufism as well as Sufis themselves. Many practitioners of Sufism, which often emphasizes detachment from the material world, have been attracted to Zahirism's combination of strict ritualism and lack of emphasis on dogmatics.[42][43]

Notable Zahiris

Discerning who exactly is an adherent to the Zahiri school of thought can be difficult. Harbi has claimed that most Muslim scholars who practiced independent reasoning and based their judgment only on the Qur'an and Sunnah, or Muslim prophetic tradition, were Zahiris.[4] Followers of other schools of thought may have adopted certain viewpoints of the Zahiris, holding "Zahirite leanings" without actually adopting the Zahiri school; often, these individuals were erroneously referred to as Zahiris despite contrary evidence.[44]

Additionally, historians would often refer to any individual who praised the Zahiris as being from them. Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi has most often been referred to as a Zahiri because of a commentary on one of Ibn Hazm's works, despite having stated twice that he isn't a follower of the Zahiri school or any other school of thought.[45] Similarly, Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari would include Zahiri opinions when comparing differing views of Sunni Muslims, yet he founded a distinct school of his own.[46] The case of Muslim figures who have mixed between different schools have proven to be more problematic. Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani, for example, referred to himself as a Zahiri when pressed on the matter,[47] though he is generally acknowledged not to have adhered to any specific school. When Ibn Hazm listed the most important leaders of the school, he listed known Zahirites Abdullah bin Qasim, al-Balluti, Ibn al-Mughallis, al-Dibaji and Ruwaym, but then also mentioned Abu Bakr al-Khallal,[48] who despite his Zahirite leanings is almost universally recognized as a Hanbalite.[49]

Followers of the Zahiri School

Contemporary followers of the school

See also


  1. ^ Robert Gleave, Islam and Literalism: Literal Meaning and Interpretation in Islamic Legal Theory, pg. 150. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012. ISBN 9780748625703
  2. ^ Wael B. Hallaq, The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law, pg. 124. Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  3. ^ Daniel W. Brown, Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought: Vol. 5 of Cambridge Middle East Studies, pg. 28. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. ISBN 9780521653947
  4. ^ a b Falih al-Dhibyani, Al-zahiriyya hiya al-madhhab al-awwal, wa al-mutakallimun 'anha yahrifun bima la ya'rifun. Interview with Okaz. 15 July 2006, Iss. #1824. Photography by Salih Ba Habri.
  5. ^ Camilla Adang, This Day I have Perfected Your Religion For You: A Zahiri Conception of Religious Authority, pg. 16. Taken from Speaking for Islam: Religious Authorities in Muslim Societies. Ed. Gudrun Krämer and Sabine Schmidtke. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2006.
  6. ^ Christopher Melchert, The Formation of the Sunni Schools of Law: 9th-10th Centuries C.E., pg. 190. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1997.
  7. ^ a b Melchert, pgs. 185 and 189.
  8. ^ a b Mohammad Sharif Khan and Mohammad Anwar Saleem, Muslim Philosophy And Philosophers, pg. 34. New Delhi: Ashish Publishing House, 1994.
  9. ^ Hossein Nasr and Morteza Motahhari, "The Religious Sciences." Taken from The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 4: From the Arab Invasion to the Saljuqs. Pg. 476. Ed. Richard N. Frye. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  10. ^ Adang, The Beginnings of Zahirism in al-Andalus, pg. 117-125. Taken from The Islamic School of Law: Evolution, Devolution and Progress. Eds. Peri Bearman, Rudolph Peters and Frank E. Vogel. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2005.
  11. ^ Adang, Zahiri Conception, pg. 18.
  12. ^ Adang, "The Spread of Zahirism in al-Andalus in the Post-Caliphal Period: The evidence from the biographical dictionaries," pg. 297-346. Taken from Ideas, Images and Methods of Portrayal: Insights into Classical Arabic Literature and Islam. Ed. Sebastian Gunther, Leiden: 2005.
  13. ^ Kees Versteegh, The Arabic Linguistic Tradition, pg. 142. Part of Landmarks in Linguistic Thought series, vol. 3. New York: Routledge, 1997. ISBN 9780415157575
  14. ^ Shawqi Daif, Introduction to Ibn Mada's Refutation of the Grammarians, pg. 6. Cairo, 1947.
  15. ^ Carl Brockelmann, Geschichte der Arabischen Litteratur. Zweite den Supplementbänden angepasste Auflage. Vol. 1, pg. 400. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1937–1949.
  16. ^ Berkey, Jonathon (2003). The Formation of Islam. Cambridge University Press. p. 216. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  17. ^ Halim Rane, Islam and Contemporary Civilisation: Evolving Ideas, Transforming Relations, pg. 84. Ed. Samina Yasmeen. Melbourne: Melbourne University Publishing, 2010. ISBN 9780522856378
  18. ^ Daniel W. Brown, Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought: Vol. 5 of Cambridge Middle East Studies, pgs. 28 and 32. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. ISBN 9780521653947
  19. ^ M. Mahmood, The Code of Muslim Family Laws, pg. 37. Pakistan Law Times Publications, 2006. 6th ed.
  20. ^ Adam Sabra, "Ibn Hazm's Literalism: A Critique of Islamic Legal Theory." Taken from: Ibn Ḥazm of Cordoba: The Life and Works of a Controversial Thinker, pg. 98. Volume 103 of Handbook of Oriental Studies, Section 1: The Near and Middle East. Eds. Camilla Adang, Maribel Fierro, and Sabine Schmidtke. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2012. ISBN 9789004234246
  21. ^ The Three Points of The Amman Message V.1
  22. ^ Hassan Ahmed Ibrahim, "An Overview of al-Sadiq al-Madhi's Islamic Discourse." Taken from The Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Islamic Thought, pg. 172. Ed. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi'. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008. ISBN 9781405178488
  23. ^ Halim, Rane (2010). Islam and Contemporary Civilization. Academic Monographs. p. 84. Retrieved 13 May 2015. 
  24. ^ Nachmani, Amikam (2009). Europe and Its Muslim Minorities. Sussex Academic Press. p. 44. Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  25. ^ Devin J. Stewart, "Muhammad b. Dawud al-Zahiri's Manual of Jurisprudence." Taken from Studies in Islamic Law and Society Volume 15: Studies in Islamic Legal Theory. Edited by Bernard G. Weiss. Pg. 111. Leiden: 2002. Brill Publishers.
  26. ^ Kojiro Nakamura, "Ibn Mada's Criticism of Arab Grammarians." Orient, v. 10, pgs. 89-113. 1974
  27. ^ a b c Osman, Amr (18 July 2014). The Ẓāhirī Madhhab (3rd/9th-10th/16th Century): A Textualist Theory of Islamic Law. BRILL. pp. 37–40.  
  28. ^ Hassan, Abu. "Ijma in Brief". Retrieved 14 July 2012. 
  29. ^ Chiragh Ali, The Proposed Political, Legal and Social Reforms. Taken from Modernist Islam 1840-1940: A Sourcebook, pg. 281. Edited by Charles Kurzman. New York City: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  30. ^ Adang, Zahiri Conception, pg. 15.
  31. ^ Hassan, Abu. "Questions on Qiyas". Retrieved 14 July 2012. 
  32. ^ Beyond The Exotic: Women's Histories In Islamic Societies, pg. 402. Ed. Amira El-Azhary Sonbol. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005. ISBN 9780815630555
  33. ^ Ahmad Murtala, The Marketing of Agricultural Produce in an Islamic Agricultural Economy, pg. 221. World Journal of Islamic History and Civilization, vol. 2, #4, 2012. IDOSI Publications, 2012. DOI: 10.5829/idosi.wjihc.2012.2.4.2404
  34. ^ Subhi Mahmasani, Falsafat al-tashri fi al-Islam, pg. 175. Trns. Farhat Jacob Ziadeh. Leiden: Brill Archive, 1961.
  35. ^ Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq, The Riba-Interest Equivalence, June 2006
  36. ^ Yasir Suleiman, The Arabic Grammatical Tradition: a Study in taʻlīl, pg. 150. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999. ISBN 9780748606979
  37. ^ a b Adang, Zahiri Conceptions, pg. 44.
  38. ^ Adang, Zahiri Conceptions, pg. 20.
  39. ^ Louis Massignon, The Passion of al-Hallaj: Mystic and Martyr of Islam. Trans. Herbert W. Mason. Pg. 16. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.
  40. ^ Al-Dhahabi, Siyar a`lam al-nubala'., v.13, Entry 55, pg.97-108
  41. ^ Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, Ighadah al-Lahfan fi Masayid al-Shaytan, v.1, pg.570
  42. ^ Carl W. Ernst, Words of Ecstasy in Sufism, pg. 163. Albany: SUNY Press, 1983.
  43. ^ Ignác Goldziher, The Zahiris, pg. 165. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1971.
  44. ^ Zaharism by Omar A. Farrukh, Ph.D, Member of the Arab Academy, Damascus (Syria)
  45. ^ Mohammed Rustom, Review of Michel Chodkiewicz's An Ocean without Shore
  46. ^ Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, History of the Prophets and Kings. Vol. 1, pg. 66. Trans. Franz Rosenthal. New York: SUNY Press, 1989.
  47. ^ Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani, "Shareet al-Khobar," tape #4, 1989: Khobar, Saudi Arabia.
  48. ^ Samir Kaddouri, "Refutations of Ibn Hazm by Maliki Authors from al-Andalus and North Africa." Taken from Ibn Hazm of Cordoba: The Life and Works of a Controversial Thinker, pg. 541. Eds. Camilla Adang, Maribel Fierro and Sabine Schmidtke. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2013. ISBN 9789004243101
  49. ^ Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, History of the Prophets and Kings, vol. 1: From the Creation to the Flood, pg. 72. Trns. Franz Rosenthal. New York: SUNY Press, 1989. ISBN 9781438417837

External links

  • Dr. Sherman Jackson, Literalism, Empiricism, and Induction: Apprehending and Concretizing Islamic Law's Maqasid al-Shari'ah in the Modern World.
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