The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought

By Gerhard Bowering | Go to book overview



The Zahiris (Ẓāhiriyya) were a literalist school of law established by Dawud b. ‘Ali b. Khalaf al-Isfahani (d. 884) in Iraq. It claimed adherents among not only common believers but also a number of prominent theologians, jurists, hadith anthologists, and mystics such as Ibn al-’Arabi (d. 1240). Its teachings spread into Central Asia, Iran, Sindh, Oman, and Andalusia, where an Almohad-championed movement against the Malikis brought the Zahiri school to its peak of influence during the 12th and 13th centuries. However, the school’s influence in Andalus and elsewhere declined with the fall of the Almohads, and by the 16th century it had practically died out.

The prominent Andalusian scholar Ibn Hazm (d. 1064) codified Zahiri doctrines, and his surviving works represent our primary source of information for the school. Ibn Hazm categorically rejected the use of individual judgment (ra’y) and analogical reasoning (qiyās) in the juridical process and went so far as to favor a weak hadith over qiyās in his legal method. He considered the literal (ẓāhir) sense of the text to be legitimate only in determining whether an act fell under one of the five legal categories—namely, (1) obligatory, (2) recommendable, (3) permissible, (4) reprehensible, and (5) forbidden. In practice, Zahiri jurists did yield to practical pressure by applying qiyās, though overall their literalism gave rise to a relatively simpler jurisprudence.

Ibn Hazm’s reasoning with regard to commodities that are subject to usury is emblematic of the Zahiri spirit. The analogical Maliki and Hanafi schools, for instance, understand the commodities subject to the practice of usury in hadith literature—gold, silver, wheat, barley, dates, and raisins—to represent larger classes of goods to which usury applies. Bearing in mind the legal cause (‘illa) behind the prohibition of usury, and making use of qiyās, these schools extend the religious proscription of usury to include commodities that the Prophet did not originally stipulate. Ibn Hazm, acknowledging only the literal import of sacred texts, forbids the practice of usury only with regard to the six commodities mentioned by the Prophet and contends that the extrapolations of the other schools amount to speculative arbitrariness. Underlying this position is the understanding that juridical rulings are uniquely determined by God’s unrestricted and unfathomable will and not some motive that we can grasp. Had it been divinely willed that usury should be forbidden with regard to other articles, the Qur’an or hadith would have made it explicit.

Zahiri hostility toward the prevailing schools of law, especially the Hanafi and Maliki ones, is evident in Ibn Hazm’s uncompromising scripturalism. Moreover, in advocating the Zahiri cause, Ibn Hazm denounced uninformed imitation of a school or religious authority (taqlīd). He understood the legal principle of scholarly consensus (ijmā’) to mean the consensus of the Prophet’s Companions (ṣaḥāba) only, and not that of later learned jurists in general. He argued that after the Companions’ death, the jurists became so widespread and numerous that determining their consensus was impossible. Finally, it should be noted that Ibn Hazm applied Zahiri principles to Qur’anic sciences and theology as well, though he was unable to establish those domains as essential to the school.

See also Almohads (1130–1269); Ibn Hazm (994–1064); jurisprudence; shari‘a

Further Reading

Camilla Adang, Beginnings of the Zahiri Madhhab in al-Andalus, in P. Bearman, R. Peters, and F. Vogel, The Islamic Schools of Law, 2005; Ignaz Goldziher, The Ẓāhirīs: Their Doctrine and Their History, A Contribution to the History of Islamic Theology, translated by Wolfgang Behn, 1971; Abdel-Magid Turki, “al-Ẓāhiriyya,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., edited by P. Bearman, T. Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, and W. P. Heinrichs, 2010; Idem, Polémiques entre Ibn Ḥazm et Bāgī sur les principes de le loi musulmane, 1976.


al-Zawahiri, Ayman (b. 1951)

The radical Egyptian Islamist Ayman al-Zawahiri was born in Cairo on June 19, 1951, to Dr. Muhammad Rabie al-Zawahiri and Umayma ‘Azzam. The Zawahiri and ‘Azzam families enjoyed an aristocratic rank in Egyptian society that included physicians, university professors, and high-ranking religious and political notables. Zawahiri was raised in Ma’adi, an upper-class suburb south of Cairo, where he was exposed at an early age to a broad range of different political currents and ideologies. Throughout his life, he was an active member and chief ideologue of a number of different violent political organizations, including Egyptian Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda.

Zawahiri was introduced to the ideas of Sayyid Qutb, the infamous ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood whose work


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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • Alphabetical List of Entries xxi
  • Topical List of Entries xxv
  • Contributors xxix
  • A 1
  • B 60
  • C 80
  • D 125
  • E 141
  • F 164
  • G 189
  • H 211
  • I 230
  • J 268
  • K 292
  • L 313
  • M 320
  • N 385
  • O 401
  • P 404
  • Q 440
  • R 457
  • S 480
  • T 539
  • U 573
  • V 587
  • W 592
  • Y 600
  • Z 603
  • Index 607


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