"Zahiri" redirects here. For other uses, see Zahiri (disambiguation).

Ẓāhirī (Arabic: ظاهري) madhhab or al-Ẓāhirīyyah (Arabic: الظاهرية) — a school of thought in Islamic jurisprudence founded by Dawud al-Zahiri in the ninth century CE,[1][2][3][4] characterized by reliance on the manifest (zahir) meaning of expressions in the Qur'an and hadith as well as rejection of analogical deduction (qiyas). After a limited success and decline in the Middle East, the Zahiri school flourished in Spain, particularly under the leadership of Ibn Hazm.

Although the Zahiri school is commonly characterized as extinct,[5][6][7] it still retains a measure of influence and is recognized by contemporary Islamic scholars. In particular, members of the Ahl-i Hadith movement identify themselves with the Zahiri school of thought.[8]



While those outside the school of thought often point to Dawud al-Zahiri (815–883/4 CE) 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 argued that the first generation of Muslims followed the school's methods and therefore it can be called "the school of the first generation."[9]

The Zahiri school was initially called the Dawudi school after Dawud al-Zahiri himself and attracted many adherents, although they felt free to criticize his views, in line with the school's rejection of taqlid.[10] By the end of the 10th century, members of the madhhab were appointed as qadis in Baghdad, Shiraz, Isfahan, Firuzabad, Ramla, Damascus, Fustat, and Bukhara.[10][11]

Westward expansion

Parallel to the school's development in the east, Zahiri ideas were introduced to North Africa by theologians of the Maliki school who were engaged in lively 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 Zahiri school developed in parallel and in opposition to other madhhabs (chiefly Hanafi, Shafi'i, and Hanbali), in the West it only had to contend with its Maliki counterpart, which enjoyed official support of the Umayyad rulers.[10] An increasing number of Zahiri scholars appeared starting from the late 9th century CE in different parts of the Iberian peninsula, though none of their works have survived.[10]

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]


The Zahiri school enjoyed its widest expansion and prestige in the fourth Islamic century, especially through the works of Ibn al-Mughallis, but in the fifth century it lost ground to the Hanbalite school.[15] Even after the Zahiri school became extinct in Baghdad, it continued to have some followers in Shiraz.[16] Zahirism maintained its prestige in Syria until 788 A.H. and had an even longer and deeper impact in Egypt.[15] In the 14th century C.E., 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.[17] However, soon afterwards the school ceased to function and in the 14th century Ibn Khaldun considered it to be extinct.[18][19] 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.

Wael Hallaq has argued that the rejection of qiyas (analogical reasoning) in Zahiri methodology led to exclusion of the school from the Sunni juridical consensus and ultimately its extinction in the pre-modern era.[20] Christopher Melchert suggests that the association of the Zahiri school with Mu'tazilite theology, its difficulty in attracting the right patronage, and its reliance on outmoded methods of teaching have all contributed to its decline.[21]

Modern history

In the modern era, the Zahiri school has been described as "somewhat influential", though "not formally operating today".[22] 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. In particular, adherents of the modern-day Ahl al-Hadith movement have self-consciously emulated the ideas of the Zahiri school and identified themselves with it.[23][24] 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.[25] In 2004 the Amman Message recognized the Zahiri school as legitimate, although it did not include it among Sunni madhhabs,[26] and the school also received recognition from Sudan's former Islamist Prime Minister, Sadiq al-Mahdi.[27] The literalist school of thought represented by the Zahiri madhhab remains prominent among many scholars and laymen associated with the Salafi movement,[22] and traces of it can be found in the modern-day Wahhabi movement.[28]


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.[29] 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.[30] 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.[31]

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.[32][33] While Abu Hanifa and Ahmad ibn 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,[34] 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.[35] 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


Like its founder Dawud, the Zahiri school has been controversial since its inception.[39] 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.[40]

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.[41] 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,[42] 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.[41]

Followers of the Shafi'ite school within Sunni Islam have historically been involved in intellectual conflict with Zahirites.[43] 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.[44]

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."[45]

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.[46][47]

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.[9] 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.[48]

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.[49] 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.[50] 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,[51] 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,[52] who despite his Zahirite leanings is almost universally recognized as a Hanbalite.[53]

Followers of the Zahiri School

Contemporary followers of the school

See also


  1. Wael B. Hallaq, The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law, pg. 124. Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  2. Chibli Mallat, Introduction to Middle Eastern Law, pg. 113. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN 9780199230495
  3. Robert Gleave, Islam and Literalism: Literal Meaning and Interpretation in Islamic Legal Theory, pg. 150. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012. ISBN 9780748625703
  4. Melchert, Christopher (1997). The Formation of the Sunni Schools of Law: 9th-10th Centuries C.E. Brill. pp. 178–197. Retrieved 2016-01-03.
  5. Kamal, Mohammed. The Middle Path of Moderation in Islam. Oxford University Press. p. 63. Retrieved 1 April 2016.
  6. Picard, Michel. The Politics of Religion in Indonesia. Routledge. Retrieved 1 April 2016.
  7. Hourani, Albert (2002). A History of the Arab Peoples. Harvard University Press. p. 190. Retrieved 1 April 2016.
  8. Daniel W. Brown, Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought: Vol. 5 of Cambridge Middle East Studies, pg. 32. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. ISBN 9780521653947. Quote: "Ahl-i-Hadith [...] consciously identified themselves with Zahiri doctrine."
  9. 1 2 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.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 Camilla Adang (2006). Gudrun Krämer, Sabine Schmidtke, eds. This Day I have Perfected Your Religion For You: A Zahiri Conception of Religious Authority. Speaking for Islam: Religious Authorities in Muslim Societies. Leiden: Brill. pp. 16–18.  via Brill (subscription required)
  11. Christopher Melchert, The Formation of the Sunni Schools of Law: 9th-10th Centuries C.E., pg. 190. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1997.
  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. 1 2 Mohammad Sharif Khan and Mohammad Anwar Saleem, Muslim Philosophy And Philosophers, pg. 34. New Delhi: Ashish Publishing House, 1994.
  16. 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.
  17. Carl Brockelmann, Geschichte der Arabischen Litteratur. Zweite den Supplementbänden angepasste Auflage. Vol. 1, pg. 400. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1937–1949.
  18. Berkey, Jonathon (2003). The Formation of Islam. Cambridge University Press. p. 216. Retrieved 11 May 2015.
  19. "Zahiri", The Oxford Dictionary of Islam (2003), ed. John Esposito
  20. Christopher Melchert (1997). The Formation of the Sunni Schools of Law: 9th-10th Centuries C.E. Brill. p. 187. We may guess at some of the reasons for the demise of the original Zahiri school. [...] This is roughly the explanation of Wael B. Hallaq: that the juridical theory of Sunnism recognized qiyas and therefore excluded Zahirism.
  21. Christopher Melchert (1997). The Formation of the Sunni Schools of Law: 9th-10th Centuries C.E. Brill. pp. 188–189.
  22. 1 2 Rane, Halim (2010). Islam and Contemporary Civilization: Evolving Ideas, Transforming Relations. Melbourne University Publishing, Academic Monographs. p. 84.
  23. 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
  24. M. Mahmood, The Code of Muslim Family Laws, pg. 37. Pakistan Law Times Publications, 2006. 6th ed.
  25. 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
  26. The Three Points of The Amman Message V.1
  27. 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
  28. Nachmani, Amikam (2009). Europe and Its Muslim Minorities. Sussex Academic Press. p. 44. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  29. 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.
  30. Kojiro Nakamura, "Ibn Mada's Criticism of Arab Grammarians." Orient, v. 10, pgs. 89-113. 1974
  31. 1 2 3 Osman, Amr (18 July 2014). The Ẓāhirī Madhhab (3rd/9th-10th/16th Century): A Textualist Theory of Islamic Law. BRILL. pp. 37–40. ISBN 978-90-04-27965-0.
  32. Hassan, Abu. "Ijma in Brief". Retrieved 14 July 2012.
  33. 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.
  34. Adang, Zahiri Conception, pg. 15.
  35. Hassan, Abu. "Questions on Qiyas". Retrieved 14 July 2012.
  36. Beyond The Exotic: Women's Histories In Islamic Societies, pg. 402. Ed. Amira El-Azhary Sonbol. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005. ISBN 9780815630555
  37. 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
  38. Subhi Mahmasani, Falsafat al-tashri fi al-Islam, pg. 175. Trns. Farhat Jacob Ziadeh. Leiden: Brill Archive, 1961.
  39. Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq, The Riba-Interest Equivalence, June 2006
  40. Yasir Suleiman, The Arabic Grammatical Tradition: a Study in taʻlīl, pg. 150. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999. ISBN 9780748606979
  41. 1 2 Adang, Zahiri Conceptions, pg. 44.
  42. Adang, Zahiri Conceptions, pg. 20.
  43. Louis Massignon, The Passion of al-Hallaj: Mystic and Martyr of Islam. Trans. Herbert W. Mason. Pg. 16. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.
  44. Al-Dhahabi, Siyar a`lam al-nubala'., v.13, Entry 55, pg.97-108
  45. Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, Ighadah al-Lahfan fi Masayid al-Shaytan, v.1, pg.570
  46. Carl W. Ernst, Words of Ecstasy in Sufism, pg. 163. Albany: SUNY Press, 1983.
  47. Ignác Goldziher, The Zahiris, pg. 165. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1971.
  48. Zaharism by Omar A. Farrukh, Ph.D, Member of the Arab Academy, Damascus (Syria)
  49. Mohammed Rustom, Review of Michel Chodkiewicz's An Ocean without Shore
  50. Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, History of the Prophets and Kings. Vol. 1, pg. 66. Trans. Franz Rosenthal. New York: SUNY Press, 1989.
  51. Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani, "Shareet al-Khobar," tape #4, 1989: Khobar, Saudi Arabia.
  52. 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
  53. 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
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