The Historicity or Eternality of the Sharia: Observations on a Narration

Hamid Reza Tamaddon [Source] | Translated by Shayan Shirazi

The issue of whether legal rulings (aḥkām) are permanent or temporary has always been a topic of discussion and dispute. In recent years[1], it has received more and more attention, under titles such as “the position of time and place in legal deduction (istinbāṭ)”, as a result of questions and criticisms presented by the movement of religious intellectualism—particularly in the Arab world (under the title of ‘the historicity/historicality of legal rulings’[2]).

In this midst, the interpretations presented of the ‘historicity’ of legal rulings are also different. Some believe that all legal rulings are historical and have thereby criticised the efficacy of fiqh (jurisprudence) in the contemporary world[3]. Another group has looked at the historicity of legal rulings from a different angle; they believe that the religious text possesses a transcendent and lofty truth that inevitably gathers dust with the passage of time and many changes in language, social conditions and other factors. Today, they argue, we must wipe off this dust by using new methods of textual understanding in order to obtain the inner meanings behind these antiquated words. In contrast to the first group, this group does not believe that the religious text is inherently historical[4].

Finally, there is also a group who believe in the eternality of legal rulings, resorting to intellectual (ʿaqlī) and transmitted (naqlī) evidences—mainly the latter—to prove this. Among them, critics of ‘the historicity of legal rulings’ have relied upon the ḥadīth of:

حَلاَلُ مُحَمَّدٍ حَلاَلٌ أَبَداً إِلَى يَوْمِ اَلْقِيَامَةِ…

“The ḥalāl of Muḥammad is eternally ḥalāl until the Day of Judgement”

while citing the principle that legal rulings are equally applicable on all individuals, seeking to prove the eternality of legal rulings based on this narration[5]. The objective of this article is not to evaluate the discussion of the ‘historicity’ of legal rulings and its various dimensions. The only thing under consideration here is the view of the jurists towards this narration.

The aforementioned ḥadīth is transmitted in various forms—sometimes differing in its preceding and following parts—in both Shīʿī and Sunnī books. For example, in Baṣāʾir al-Darajāt, the narrations which contain the phrase ‘the ḥalāl of Muḥammad is eternally ḥalāl…’ sometimes seek to negate qiyās (analogical reasoning) while referencing “Ṣaḥīfa ʿAlī”, “al-Jāmiʿa” and the source of the knowledge of the Imāms[6]. Another important context in which this phrase has been used, and which hasn’t been paid much attention until now, is the discussion of “tafwīḍ (delegation)”, “sunna” (as opposed to obligation) and also the “legislation of the Prophet”. Therefore, this phrase seeks to authenticate the laws and legislation of the Prophet (s). The explanation is that these narrations refer to the “divine nurturing of the Prophet” and then immediately mention the laws legislated by him, emphasising that all of these laws and rulings are with the permission of God and therefore “any ruling the Prophet issues is like a ruling by God”. After this, they refer to the tafwīḍ (delegation) of this legislative ability from the Prophet (s) to Imām ʿAlī (a) and the Imāms (a) following him (for narrations with this content, see Baṣāʾir al-Darajāt, pp. 402-407)[7].

In al-Kāfī, this phrase is also used in narrations with various backgrounds. The preceding and following parts of one of the narrations on this topic show that it is used to reject the ‘abrogation’ of the religion of Islām with the arrival of a new religion that is unlike previous religions[8]. Another kind of the narrations which contain the phrase ‘the ḥalāl of Muḥammad is eternally ḥalāl…’ relates to the comprehensiveness of the Prophet’s (s) teachings and the rejection of speculative methods.[9]

Another point that is always paid little attention in critiques of the theory of the historicity of Islamic law is that in traditional jurisprudence, using this narration to prove the eternality and absolute nature of legal rulings has also been subject to criticism and debate, especially after Shaykh Anṣārī. For example, Mirzā Shīrāzī, Shaykh Anṣārī, Mirzā Nāʾīnī and some others have understood the narration to be in the context of the non-abrogation of the religion of Islām[10] and related to the narration transmitted from al-Maḥāsin of Barqī. They have also stated that this part of the ḥadīth has no relation to the discussion of the continuity (eternality) of legal rulings[11].

Mirzā Shīrāzī:

و الظاهر أنه مسوق لبيان عدم نسخ اللّه تعالى دين محمد (صلى اللّه عليه و آله) بدين آخر، فهو ساكت عن إفادة أن كل حكم منه في شريعة محمد (صلى اللّه عليه و آله) لم ينسخ بإثبات حكم مغاير له في مورد ذلك الحكم في شريعته (صلى اللّه عليه و آله) و لم يبين انتهاء أمده ببيان ذلك الحكم المغاير كما هو مبنى الاستدلال، فلا ينافي عدم استمرار بعض أحكامه (صلى اللّه عليه و آله) و انقطاع أمده بحكم آخر في شريعته.

The apparent [meaning] is that it is stating that Allāh, the Almighty, will not abrogate the religion of Muḥammad (s) with another religion. It does not state that each ruling in the Sharīʿa of Muḥammad (s) will not be abrogated by establishing a different ruling for it in its origin in his (s) Sharīʿa. Nor does it indicate the expiration of the [initial] ruling’s duration by declaring this different ruling as is the premise of the legal inference. Thus, it does not negate the non-permanence of some of his (s) rulings and the termination of its duration with another ruling in his Sharīʿa. [12]

Shaykh Anṣārī:

وقد يستدل على ذلك بقولهم (عليهم السلام): ” حلال محمد (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) حلال إلى يوم القيامة، وحرامه حرام إلى يوم القيامة ” .

وفيه: أن الظاهر سوقه لبيان استمرار أحكام محمد (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) نوعا من قبل الله جل ذكره إلى يوم القيامة في مقابل نسخها بدين آخر، لا بيان استمرار أحكامه الشخصية إلا ما خرج بالدليل، فالمراد أن حلاله (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) حلال من قبل الله جل ذكره إلى يوم القيامة، لا أن الحلال من قبله (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) حلال من قبله إلى يوم القيامة، ليكون المراد استمرار حليته.

This may be inferred from their [Ahl al-Bayt’s] (a) saying: “The the ḥalāl of Muḥammad (s) is ḥalāl until the Day of Judgement and his ḥarām is ḥarām until the Day of Judgement”.

The problem with this is that: The apparent [meaning] is that it declares the permanence of the general rulings of Muḥammad (s) [issued] by Allāh, sublime is His remembrance, until the Day of Judgement as opposed to their abrogation with another religion. It does not declare the permanence of his personal rulings except that which the evidence excludes. Thus, the intended meaning is that his (s) ḥalāl [i.e general rulings of religion] is ḥalāl [as legislated] by Allāh, sublime is His remembrance, until the Day of Judgement, not that [what is] ḥalāl for himself is [made] ḥalāl [for all] by himself until the Day of Judgement, such that the intended meaning would be the permanence of what is [personally] ḥalāl for him.[13]

Mirzā Nāʾīnī:

بل الظاهر منه عرفا بيان استمرار الشريعة المقدسة و انها لا تنسخ بشريعة أخرى فالمراد منه ان كل ما يكون إلى يوم القيامة متصفا بالحلية أو الحرمة فهو حلال محمد (صلى اللَّه عليه و آله) أو حرامه فأحكامه (صلى اللَّه عليه و آله) مستمرة إلى يوم القيامة و لا تنسخ بشريعة أخرى.

Rather, the apparent [meaning] by custom is that it declares the permanence of the Holy Sharīʿa and that it will not be abrogated by another Sharīʿa. So the intended meaning is that everything that is characterised by permissibility or prohibition, until the Day of Judgement, is the ḥalāl or ḥarām of Muḥammad (s). Thus, his legal rulings are permanent until the Day of Judgement and are not abrogated by another Sharīʿa.[14]

Conclusion

The result is that, regardless of any judgement about the theory of the historicity of the Sharīʿa, relying on this narration—and one part of it specifically—in order to prove the eternality of legal rulings is incorrect. This use of the narration is not compatible with the contexts of the various narrations that contain this content.

Footnotes

[1] Of course, statements related to this issue can be found in the works of previous jurists. For example, ʿAllāma al-Ḥillī writes: “Indeed, legal rulings are dependent on interests (maṣāliḥ), and it is not impossible that an obligation, for example, is a benefit at a [particular] time and harmful at another. Thus, if one is obligated by the duty permanently, it would entail the obligation of harm, so [the obligation] must be lifted when it is harmful and required” (Mabādi’ al-Wuṣūl, p. 176). For other examples, refer to: Hobbollah, Shumūl al-Sharīʿa, pp. 267-268; Hobbollah, Naẓarīyya al-Sunna, pp. 719-727, pp. 736-747.

[2] It seems that Arab religious intellectuals such as Muḥammad Arkoun, Naṣr Ḥāmid Abū Zayd and others also were influenced in this view by Michel Foucault and his discussion of ‘Historicality’.

[3] For example, see: Mojtahed Shabestari, Naqd-e Bonyād-haye Fiqh va Kalām, p. 353.

[4] For a further explanation and critique of the first group, see: Hobbollah, Shumūl al-Sharīʿa, pp. 667-668.

[5] To see an example, refer to: Baḥth Khārij (Advanced) Lessons of Sayyid Maḥmūd Hāshimī Shāhrūdī: https://www.eshia.ir/Feqh/Archive/text/shahroudi/feqh/۹۰/۹۱۰۲۲۵/

[6] For example (pp. 168-170):

حدثنا ابراهيم بن هاشم عن جعفر بن محمد بن عبد الله بن ميمون القداح عن ابى عبد الله عليه السلام عن ابيه قال في كتاب على كل شئ يحتاج إليه حتى ارش الخدش والارش.

حدثنا ابراهيم بن هاشم عن يحيى بن ابى عمران عن يونس عن حماد قال سمعت ابا عبد الله عليه السلام يقول ما خلق الله حلالا ولا حراما الا وله حد كحد الدور وان حلال محمد حلال إلى يوم القيمة وحرامه حرام إلى يوم القيمة ولان عندنا صحيفة طولها سبعون ذراعا وما خلق الله حلالا ولا حراما الا فيها فما كان من الطريق فهو من الطريق و ماكان من الدور فهو من الدور حتى ارش الخدش وما سواها والجلدة ونصف الجلدة.

حدثنا محمد بن عيسى عن فضالة عن ابى بصير عن ابى عبد الله عليه السلام قال سمعته يقول وذكر ابن شبرمة في فتياه فقال اين هو من الجامعة املى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله وخطه على عليه السلام بيده فيها جميع الحلال والحرام حتى ارش الخدش فيه

[7] For example:

حدثنا عبد الله بن عامر عن ابى عبد الله البرقى عن الحسن بن عثمان عن محمد بن الفضيل عن ابى حمزة الثمالى قال قرات هذه الاية إلى ابى جعفر عليه السلام ليس لك من الامر شئ قول الله تعالى لنبيه وانا اريد ان اسئله عنها فقال أبو جعفر عليه السلام بل وشئ يشئ مرتين وكيف لا يكون له من الامر شئ فقد فوض الله إليه دينه فقال ما اتيكم الرسول فخذوه وما نهيكم عنه فانتهوا فما احل رسول الله صلى الله عليه واله فهو حلال وما حرم فهو حرام.

حدثنا احمد بن محمد عن محمد بن اسماعيل عن محمد بن عذافر عن عبد الله بن سنان عن بعض اصحابنا عن ابى جعفر عليه السلام قال ان الله تبارك وتعالى ادب محمدا صلى الله عليه وآله فلما تأدب فوض إليه فقال تبارك وتعالى ما اتيكم الرسول فخذوه وما نهيكم عنه فانتهوا فقال من يطع الرسول فقد اطاع الله فكان فيما فرض في القرآن فرايض الصلب وفرض رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله فرايض الجد فاجاز الله ذلك له وانزل الله في القرآن تحريم الخمر بعينها فحرم رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله تحريم المسكر فاجاز الله له ذلك في اشياء كثيرة فما حرم رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله فهو بمنزلة ما حرم الله.

حدثنا احمد بن محمد عن الحسين بن سعيد عن على بن النعمان عن ابن مسكان عن المعلى بن خنيس عن ابى عبد الله عليه السلام قال ما اعطى الله نبيا شيئا الا وقد اعطاه محمدا صلى الله عليه وآله قال لسليمان بن داود عليه السلام فامنن أو امسك بغير حساب وقال لمحمد صلى الله عليه وآله ما اتيكم الرسول فخذوه وما نهيكم عنه فانتهوا.

[8] al-Kāfī, v2, p. 17. This narration appears to be used in al-Maḥāsin of Barqī, see: al-Maḥāsin, pp. 269-270.

عِدَّةٌ مِنْ أَصْحَابِنَا عَنْ أَحْمَدَ بْنِ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ خَالِدٍ عَنْ عُثْمَانَ بْنِ عِيسَى عَنْ سَمَاعَةَ بْنِ مِهْرَانَ قَالَ: قُلْتُ لِأَبِي عَبْدِ اَللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ اَلسَّلاَمُ قَوْلَ اَللَّهِ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ: «فَاصْبِرْ كَمٰا صَبَرَ أُولُوا اَلْعَزْمِ مِنَ اَلرُّسُلِ » فَقَالَ نُوحٌ وَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ وَ مُوسَى وَ عِيسَى وَ مُحَمَّدٌ صَلَّى اَللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَ آلِهِ قُلْتُ كَيْفَ صَارُوا أُولِي اَلْعَزْمِ قَالَ لِأَنَّ نُوحاً بُعِثَ بِكِتَابٍ وَ شَرِيعَةٍ وَ كُلُّ مَنْ جَاءَ بَعْدَ نُوحٍ أَخَذَ بِكِتَابِ نُوحٍ وَ شَرِيعَتِهِ وَ مِنْهَاجِهِ حَتَّى جَاءَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ عَلَيْهِ اَلسَّلاَمُ بِالصُّحُفِ وَ بِعَزِيمَةِ تَرْكِ كِتَابِ نُوحٍ لاَ كُفْراً بِهِ فَكُلُّ نَبِيٍّ جَاءَ بَعْدَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ عَلَيْهِ اَلسَّلاَمُ أَخَذَ بِشَرِيعَةِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَ مِنْهَاجِهِ وَ بِالصُّحُفِ حَتَّى جَاءَ مُوسَى بِالتَّوْرَاةِ وَ شَرِيعَتِهِ وَ مِنْهَاجِهِ وَ بِعَزِيمَةِ تَرْكِ اَلصُّحُفِ وَ كُلُّ نَبِيٍّ جَاءَ بَعْدَ مُوسَى عَلَيْهِ اَلسَّلاَمُ أَخَذَ بِالتَّوْرَاةِ وَ شَرِيعَتِهِ وَ مِنْهَاجِهِ حَتَّى جَاءَ اَلْمَسِيحُ عَلَيْهِ اَلسَّلاَمُ بِالْإِنْجِيلِ وَ بِعَزِيمَةِ تَرْكِ شَرِيعَةِ مُوسَى وَ مِنْهَاجِهِ فَكُلُّ نَبِيٍّ جَاءَ بَعْدَ اَلْمَسِيحِ أَخَذَ بِشَرِيعَتِهِ وَ مِنْهَاجِهِ حَتَّى جَاءَ مُحَمَّدٌ صَلَّى اَللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَ آلِهِ فَجَاءَ بِالْقُرْآنِ وَ بِشَرِيعَتِهِ وَ مِنْهَاجِهِ فَحَلاَلُهُ حَلاَلٌ إِلَى يَوْمِ اَلْقِيَامَةِ وَ حَرَامُهُ حَرَامٌ إِلَى يَوْمِ اَلْقِيَامَةِ فَهَؤُلاَءِ «أُولُوا اَلْعَزْمِ مِنَ اَلرُّسُلِ» عَلَيْهِمُ اَلسَّلاَمُ

 [9] For example, see al-Kāfī, v2, p. 17:

 عَلِيُّ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عِيسَى بْنِ عُبَيْدٍ عَنْ يُونُسَ عَنْ حَرِيزٍ عَنْ زُرَارَةَ قَالَ: سَأَلْتُ أَبَا عَبْدِ اَللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ اَلسَّلاَمُ عَنِ اَلْحَلاَلِ وَ اَلْحَرَامِ فَقَالَ حَلاَلُ مُحَمَّدٍ حَلاَلٌ أَبَداً إِلَى يَوْمِ اَلْقِيَامَةِ وَ حَرَامُهُ حَرَامٌ أَبَداً إِلَى يَوْمِ اَلْقِيَامَةِ لاَ يَكُونُ غَيْرُهُ وَ لاَ يَجِيءُ غَيْرُهُ وَ قَالَ قَالَ عَلِيٌّ عَلَيْهِ اَلسَّلاَمُ مَا أَحَدٌ اِبْتَدَعَ بِدْعَةً إِلاَّ تَرَكَ بِهَا سُنَّة.

Some, such as Mulla Amīn Astarābādī in al-Ḥāshīya ʿalā Uṣūl al-Kāfī, v1, p.191 and ʿAllāma Majlisī in Mir’āt al-ʿUqūl, v1, p.200 are also of this interpretation of the presented narrations.

[10] In Mawsūʿa al-Fiqh al-Islāmī Ṭibqan li Madhhab Ahl al-Bayt, v13, p. 215, this is the only interpretation of the narration that has been expressed which seems to be negligent of the other indications of the ḥadīth.

[11] Some jurists, while believing in this ḥadīth, have alluded to the issue of the position of time and place in legal deduction and likewise to the issue of the change in legal rulings with the change of a subject matter. This group of jurists believe that the legal ruling is eternal while the subject matter of the ruling is not. For example, in The Different Eras of Ijtihād From the Perspective of Islamic Schools, v1, p.462, Muḥammad Ibrāhīm Jannātī writes: “The correct and accurate view is to make social events and developments, and conditions of time and place subordinate vis-à-vis Islamic rulings by legally codifying the evolution of ijtihad with the evolution of time and by making Islam their criteria and measure. In this view of the issue, the role of time and place in ijtihād is central and must be considered. We all know that legal rulings pertain to subject matters with conditions and restrictions and that the rulings do not change so long as these conditions do not change. This is because the ruling of permissibility on its appropriate subject matter and the ruling of impermissibility on its appropriate subject matter is eternal and fixed in the Islamic Sharīʿa. Just as it is not possible to separate the caused from its cause and the accidental attribute from the attributed, it is not possible to separate the legal ruling from its subject matter, because the subject matter is in the same position as the cause of the ruling, and the concept of ‘the alāl of Muammad is alāl until the Day of Judgement and the arām of Muammad is arām until the Day of Judgement’ is the same.”

[12] Taqrīrāt al-Mujaddid al-Shīrāzī, v4, p.329.

[13] Farā’id al-Uṣūl, v4, p.99

[14] Ajwad al-Taqrīrāt, v1, pp. 511-512