Uṣūl al-Fiqh and Shāfiʿī’s Risāla Revisited
In an article published in 1993, I argued that Muḥammad Ibn Idrīs al-Shāfiʿī (d. 204/820) was not, as commonly thought, the architect of uṣūl al-fiqh and that this discipline emerged only after the main battles over what became the Sunnite sources of the law were won. I had dated the emergence of writings on uṣūl al-fiqh to the last part of the third/ninth century and the first half of the fourth/tenth, pointing to Ibn Surayj (d. 306/918) and his students as amongst the earliest exponents of this type of literature. The article contributed to the rise of a considerable controversy in the field, in which a number of critics reasserted earlier origins of the discipline. In this writing, I reply to some of these critics, while confirming the main conclusions of that article and expanding and refining its arguments. In light of new evidence, empirical and interpretive, I maintain that uṣūl al-fiqh proper arose slightly later than my initial estimate. I also provide an analytical description of this theoretical science and situate it within a periodizing schema that charts its development from its prehistory down to the present.
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