|The establishment of Baghdad as capital in the middle of the 3rd century AH transformed the city into a hub for the exchange of ideas and an incubator for the birth of new and alien schools of thought. The second half of the century saw the migration to Baghdad of a group of distinguished faqihs of differing orientations from the scientific centers of Iraq, Hijaz, Syria and Iran. This, in turn, provided the impetus for the rise of new movements in fiqh. The efforts of the Partisans of Ra’y toward the initial systematization of fiqh and methods of ijtihad during a period of some fifty years had placed them in a position of ascendance, especially in Iraq region. In fact their popularity was such that the Partisans of Hadith flocked to them in order to learn from their systematic fiqhi methods. The appearance on the scene of Shafi`i, towards the close of the 2nd century AH, as a proponent of hadith who none the less managed to formulate a systematic fiqhi method, was an important factor in eclipsing the popularity of rationalist faqihs. This prompted a group of young Iranian and Iraqi faqihs, such as Ahmad b. Hanbal, Ishaq b. Rahawahy, Karabisi and Ibn Thawr, who in spite of their Traditionalist bent looked on the teachings of the Partisans of Ra’y with approval, to shun the circles of rationalist faqihs and embrace the usuli theories of Shafi`i being discussed in Baghdad. However, their espousal of Shafi`i’s views was not to last for long. Shafi`i’s role in the transformation of Traditionalist fiqh in the 2nd century AH into a more anti-usuli and anti-systematic orientation – such as may be seen in the fiqhi method of Ahmad b. Hanbal – is more of the nature of a cautionary note. In other words, the fiqhi movements of the period should not be seen as continuations of his fiqhi teachings.
As regards an analysis of the fiqhi methods of this group, we should begin with that of Ahmad b. Hanbal. He was a traditionist who transmitted a large body of hadiths, a fact which resulted in his limited use of ra’y. He insisted on adherence to the reports of the ancestors and shunned the employment of qiyas and ra’y, except as last resorts. Thus, he himself steered clear of taqdiri issues. Broadly speaking, Ahmad’s fiqhi style was one of attempting to seek the authority for a rule in the Qur’an and prophetic tradition, as well as in the remarks of the Companions. In cases where there existed a divergence of views among the Companions or when the chain of transmission of a hadith ended with a Successor, he felt free to choose among them. Though he hailed from an age of systematization, he showed little inclination towards the compiling of usuli and systematic works. In fact, he did not even encourage his pupils to write such works under his supervision. As regards prophetic traditions, though Ahmad’s school placed the highest emphasis on such traditions, he, none the less, engaged in a classification of hadiths based on the strength of their chains of transmission (isnad). He was of the opinion that munkar hadiths (a tradition whose transmitter is alone in transmitting it and differs from one who is reliable) should be jettisoned and trust should only be accorded to ma`ruf traditions (a tradition stronger in content and isnad as compared with a munkar hadith) reported from the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Ahmad was considered as a staunch opponent of ijma` and rejected many cases of consensual fiqhi rules as forgeries or indiscretions.
Undoubtedly, Ahmad’s use of ijtihadi methods is much more limited in scope as compared with his Traditionalist counterparts. However, this should not be interpreted as a wholesale rejection of these methods on his part. In fact, a number of his analogical fiqhi rulings may be viewed as being efforts to seek a solution that is ahwat (the best possible) while conforming to qiyas.
It is interesting to note that Ahmad’s point of departure as a jurist was one of Traditionalism tinged with the anti-rationalist bias characteristic of his 3rd-century colleagues. In fact, Ahmad was viewed by the likes of Ibrahim Harbi as a representative of the Partisans of Hadith. In fact, his phrase, “qawl ashab al-hadith” can be but a reference to Ahmad. None the less, not all of the characteristics of Ahmad’s fiqh are to be attributed to the Traditionalist faqihs of the 3rd century AH. For instance, reference may be made to the fiqhi school of Abu Thawr (d. 240 AH) of Baghdad which enjoyed long-lasting popularity. Abu Thawr sat at the feet of both Traditionalist and rationalist masters and hence his moderate fiqhi stance, which should not, however, be interpreted as meaning that his views met with everyone’s approval. For instance, in his fiqhi approach to the Qur’an, unlike his master Shafi`i, Abu Thawr adopted a Zahirite (literalist) stance emphasizing the outward sense of the Holy Book. This prompted him to, at times, voice a number of peculiar views. Another source of his divergence from other faqihs should be sought in his adherence to hadiths rejected by others who opted for conflicting hadiths. In general, his fiqhi style may be said to have straddled Traditionalism and rationalism, though he was censured by Abu Hatam Razi for his use of rationalistic methods.
Mention should also be made of Abu `Ubayd Qasim b. Salam (d. 244 AH), the distinguished Traditionalist jurist who throughout his numerous works sets forth a synthetic and yet systematic fiqhi methodology based on the tradition of the early Partisans of Hadith. From what he has expressed about his fiqhi method it may be concluded that following the evidence of the Qur’an and sunnah he gave precedence to the widely-held view (ra’y mashhur) on a particular subject, while he dismissed the method of qiyas. He went as far as occasionally rejecting a hadith owing to its incompatibility with a widely-held fiqhi view. Abu `Ubayd went as far as replacing the hard to achieve ijma` of Shafi`i with his notion of juristic popularity, an idea which he even used as a criterion in his determination of authenticity of hadiths and one that harks back to an earlier fiqhi history.