Al-Risala (book)
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Al-Risala Book
See Risala (disambiguation) for other books known as "Ar-Risala".

The Ris?la by ash-Shafi'i (d. 820), full title Kitab ar-Ris?la f? Ul al-Fiqh (Arabic: ? ? ? ‎ "book of the communication on the foundations of comprehension (i.e. Islamic jurisprudence)") is a seminal text on the principles of Islamic jurisprudence

The word ris?la in Arabic means a "message" or "letter, communication". Shafi'i's treatise received its name owing to a traditional, though unverified, story that Shafi'i composed the work in response to a request from a leading traditionist in Basra, 'Abd al-Ra?m?n bin Mahd?; the story goes that Ibn Mahd? wanted Shafi'i to explain the legal significance of the Quran and the sunna, and the Ris?la was Shafi'i's response.[1]

In this work, al-Shafi'i is said to have outlined four sources of Islamic law,[1][2] though this division based on four has been attributed to later commentators on the work rather than to Shafi'i himself.[3] Al-Shafi'i is said he revised and re-read Al-Risala four hundred times.[4]


  1. Introduction
  2. On al-Bay?n (Perspicuous Declaration)
  3. On Legal Knowledge
  4. On the Book of God
  5. On the Obligation of Man to Accept the Authority of the Prophet
  6. On the Abrogation of Divine Legislation
  7. On Duties
  8. On the Nature of God's Orders of Prohibition and the Prophet's Orders of Prohibition
  9. On Traditions
  10. On Single-Individual Traditions
  11. On Consensus (Ijm?')
  12. On Analogy (Qiy?s)
  13. On Personal Reasoning (Ijtih?d)
  14. On Juristic Preference (Isti?s?n)
  15. On Disagreement (Ikhtilaf)

The above list of contents follows Khadduri's translation. However, Khadduri rearranged the treatise in two places. Khadduri's chapters 8 and 3 (in that order) both follow Shafi'i's chapter on Traditions in the original. Khadduri rearranged those chapters because they did "not appear to fit into the logical order of the book."[5] Therefore, if one wishes to read Khadduri's translation while following Shafi'i's original arrangement, one can read the chapters in the following order: 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 8, 3, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15.

Sources of law in Al-Ris?la

The primary sources of law attributed to Shafi'is book are the Qur'an and the prophetic tradition. Most Muslim commentators have also referred to Shafi'is sections on consensus and analogical reason as comprising legal sources.[1]

On the question of consensus, Shafi'i obligated affirmation of all living Muslims - both the learned and the laymen - in order to declare a true consensus.[6] Later followers of his school considered this to be practically impossible, and thus expanded upon the definition.[7]


  1. ^ a b c Islamic Jurisprudence: Shafi'i's Risala, trans. by Majid Khadduri, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1961, pp. 19-21 (Translator's Introduction).
  2. ^ McNeill, William H., and Marilyn Robinson Waldman. The Islamic World. University of Chicago Press, 1973.
  3. ^ "Does Shafi'i Have a Theory of 'Four Sources' of Law?, taken from the PhD dissertation of Joseph E. Lowry, The Legal-Theoretical Content of the Risala of Muhammad B. Idris al-Shafi'i, University of Pennsylvania, 1999.
  4. ^ Haddad, G. F. "Imam Shafi`i". Retrieved 2018.
  5. ^ Khadduri, p. 53 (Translator's Introduction).
  6. ^ Khadduri, Introduction to Shafi'i's Risala, pg. 33
  7. ^ Khadduri, pp. 38-39

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