Whereas some analysts describe Zahirism as a distinct school of Islam, others have characterized it as a fifth school of thought (madhhab) of Sunni Islam, and still retains a measure of influence and is recognized by contemporary Islamic scholars. In particular, members of the Ahl-i Hadith movement have identified themselves with the Ẓāhirī school of thought.
Parallel to the school's development in the east, Ẓāhirī ideas were introduced to North Africa by theologians of the Maliki school who were engaged in lively debates with the Hanafi school, and to the Iberian Peninsula by one of Dawud al-Ẓāhirī's direct students. Unlike Abbasid lands, where the Ẓāhirī school developed in parallel and in opposition to other madhhabs (chiefly Hanafi, Shafi‘i, and Hanbali), in the West it only had to contend with its Maliki counterpart, which enjoyed official support of the Umayyad rulers. An increasing number of Ẓāhirī scholars appeared starting from the late 9th century CE in different parts of the Iberian peninsula, though none of their works have survived.
It was not until the rise of the Almohads that the Ẓāhirī school enjoyed official state sponsorship. While not all of the Almohad political leaders were Ẓāhirīs, a large plurality of them were not only adherents but were well-versed theologians in their own right.[not specific enough to verify] Additionally, all Almohad leaders – both the religiously learned and the laymen – were extremely hostile toward the Malikis, giving the Ẓāhirīs and in a few cases the Shafi‘is free rein to author works and run the judiciary. In the late 12th century, any religious material written by non-Ẓāhirīs was at first banned and later burned in the empire under the Almohad reforms.
The Ẓāhirī school enjoyed its widest expansion and prestige in the fourth Islamic century, especially through the works of Ibn al-Mughallis, but in the fifth century it lost ground to the Hanbalite school. Even after the Zahiri school became extinct in Baghdad, it continued to have some followers in Shiraz. Ẓāhirism maintained its prestige in Syria until 788 A.H. and had an even longer and deeper impact in Egypt. In the 14th century C.E., the Zahiri Revolt marked both a brief rekindling of interest in the school's ideas as well as affirmation of its status as a non-mainstream ideology.Al-Muhalla, a Medieval manual on Ẓāhirī jurisprudence, served in part as inspiration for the revolt and as a primary source of the school's positions.[failed verification] However, soon afterwards the school ceased to function and in the 14th century Ibn Khaldun considered it to be extinct. With the Reconquista and the loss of Iberia to Christian rule, most works of Ẓāhirī law and legal theory were lost as well, with the school only being carried on by individual scholars, once again on the periphery.
Wael Hallaq has argued that the rejection of qiyas (analogical reasoning) in Ẓāhirī methodology led to exclusion of the school from the Sunni juridical consensus and ultimately its extinction in the pre-modern era.Christopher Melchert suggests that the association of the Ẓāhirī school with Mu'tazilite theology, its difficulty in attracting the right patronage, and its reliance on outmoded methods of teaching have all contributed to its decline.
In the modern era, the Ẓāhirī school has been described as "somewhat influential", though "not formally operating today". While the school does not comprise a majority of any part of the Muslim world, there are communities of Ẓāhirīs in existence, usually due to the presence of Ẓāhirī scholars of Islamic law. In particular, adherents of the modern-day Ahl al-Hadith movement have self-consciously emulated the ideas of the Ẓāhirī school and identified themselves with it. Modernist revival of the general critique by Ibn Hazm – the school's most prominent representative – of Islamic legal theory among Muslim academics has seen several key moments in recent Arab intellectual history, including Ahmad Shakir's republishing of Al-Muhalla, Muhammad Abu Zahra's biography of Ibn Hazm, and the republishing of archived epistles on Ẓāhirī legal theory by Sa'id al-Afghani in 1960 and Ihsan Abbas between 1980 and 1983. In 2004 the Amman Message recognized the Ẓāhirī school as legitimate, although it did not include it among Sunni madhhabs, and the school also received recognition from Sudan's former Islamist Prime Minister, Sadiq al-Mahdi. The literalist school of thought represented by the Ẓāhirī madhhab remains prominent among many scholars and laymen associated with the Salafi movement, and traces of it can be found in the modern-day Wahhabi movement.
Of the utmost importance to the school is an underlying principle attributed to the founder Dawud that the validity of religious issues is only upheld by certainty, and that speculation cannot lead to the truth. Most Ẓāhirī principles return to this overarching maxim. Japanese Islamic scholar Kojiro Nakamura defines the Ẓāhirī schools as resting on two presumptions. The first is that if it were possible to draw more general conclusions from the strict reading of the sources of Islamic law, then God certainly would have expressed these conclusions already; thus, all that is necessary lies in the text. The second is that for man to seek the motive behind the commandments of God is not only a fruitless endeavor but a presumptuous one. Thus in the Ẓāhirī view, Islam as an entire religious system is tied to the literal letter of the law, no more and no less.[original research?]
The school differs from the more prolific schools of Islamic thought in that it restricts valid consensus in jurisprudence to the consensus of the first generation of Muslims who lived alongside Muhammad only. While Abu Hanifa and Ahmad ibn Hanbal agreed with them in this, most followers of the Hanafi and Hanbali schools generally do not, nor do the other two Sunni schools.
Additionally, the Ẓāhirī school does not accept analogical reasoning as a source of Islamic law, nor do they accept the practice of juristic discretion, pointing to a verse in the Qur'an which declares that nothing has been neglected in the Muslim scriptures. While al-Shafi‘i and followers of his school agree with the Ẓāhirīs in rejecting the latter, all other Sunni schools accept the former, though at varying levels.
Some followers of the Ẓāhirī school differ with the majority in that they consider the Virgin Mary to have been a female prophet.
Riba, or interest, on hand-to-hand exchanges of gold, silver, dates, salt, wheat and barley are prohibited per the prophet Muhammad's injunction, but analogical reasoning is not used to extend that injunction to other agricultural produce as is the case with other schools. The Ẓāhirī are joined in this by early scholars such as Tawus ibn Kaysan and Qatadah.
Admission in an Islamic court of law is seen as indivisible by Ẓāhirīs, meaning that a party cannot accept some aspects of the opposing party's testimony and not other parts. The Ẓāhirīs are opposed by the Hanafi and Maliki schools, though a majority of Hanbalites share the Ẓāhirī position.
Like its founder Dawud, the Ẓāhirī school has been controversial since its inception. Due to their some so-called rejection of intellectual principles considered staples of other strains within Sunni Islam, adherents to the school have been described as displaying non-conformist attitudes.
Views on the Ẓāhirī within Sunni Islam
The Ẓāhirī school has often been criticized by other schools within Sunni Islam. While this is true of all schools, relations between the Hanafis, Shafi‘is and Malikis have warmed to each other over the centuries; this has not always been the case with the Ẓāhirīs.
Not surpisingly given the conflict over al-Andalus, Maliki scholars have often expressed negative feelings regarding the Ẓāhirī school. Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi, whose father was a Ẓāhirī, nevertheless considered Ẓāhirī law to be absurd.Ibn 'Abd al-Barr, himself a former Ẓāhirī, excluded Dawud al-Ẓāhirī along with Ahmad ibn Hanbal from his book on Sunni Islam's greatest jurists, though Ignác Goldziher has suggested that Ibn Abdul-Barr remained Ẓāhirī privately and outwardly manifested Maliki ideas due to prevailing pressures at the time. At least with al-Ballūṭī, one example of a Ẓāhirī jurist applying Maliki law due to official enforcement is known. Ẓāhirīs such as Ibn Hazm were challenged and attacked by Maliki jurists after their deaths.
Followers of the Shafi‘i school within Sunni Islam have historically been involved in intellectual conflict with Ẓāhirīs.Al-Juwayni and Al-Nawawi considered the Zahirite school entirely invalid; Al-Dhahabi and Ibn al-Salah merely disagreed with Ẓāhirī teachings, but still defended their legitimacy from criticism such that of Juwayni and Ibn al-Arabi, pointing out that the Ẓāhirīs arrived to their conclusions via scholarly discourse just as the other legal schools had.
Hanbali scholar Ibn al-Qayyim, while himself a critic of the Ẓāhirī outlook, defended the school's legitimacy in Islam, stating rhetorically that their only sin was "following the book of their Lord and example of their Prophet."
Zahirism and Sufism
The relationship between Ẓāhirism and Sufism has been complicated. Throughout the school's history, its adherents have always included both Sufis as well as harsh critics of Sufism. Many practitioners of Sufism, which often emphasizes detachment from the material world, have been attracted to the Ẓāhirī combination of strict ritualism and lack of emphasis on dogmatics.
Discerning who exactly is an adherent to the Ẓāhirī school of thought can be difficult. Harbi has claimed that most Muslim scholars who practiced independent reasoning and based their judgment only on the Qur'an and Sunnah, or Muslim prophetic tradition, were Ẓāhirīs. Followers of other schools of thought may have adopted certain viewpoints of the Ẓāhirīs, holding Ẓāhirī leanings without actually adopting the Ẓāhirī school; often, these individuals were erroneously referred to as Ẓāhirīs despite contrary evidence.
Additionally, historians would often refer to any individual who praised the Ẓāhirīs as being from them. Sufi mysticIbn Arabi has most often been referred to as a Ẓāhirī because of a commentary on one of Ibn Hazm's works, despite having stated twice that he isn't a follower of the Ẓāhirī school or any other school of thought. Similarly, Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari would include Ẓāhirī opinions when comparing differing views of Sunni Muslims, yet he founded a distinct school of his own. The case of Muslim figures who have mixed between different schools have proven to be more problematic. Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani, for example, referred to himself as a Ẓāhirī when pressed on the matter, though he is generally acknowledged not to have adhered to any specific school. When Ibn Hazm listed the most important leaders of the school, he listed known Ẓāhirīs Abdullah bin Qasim, al-Balluti, Ibn al-Mughallis, al-Dibaji and Ruwaym, but then also mentioned Abu Bakr al-Khallal, who despite his Ẓāhirī leanings is almost universally recognized as a Hanbalite.
There is evidence to suggest that Bukhari’s legal views were in fact Ẓāhirī in nature, especially given the fact that Bukhari rejected qiyas entirely. Scott Lucas states "The most controversial aspect of al-Bukhari's legal principles is his disapproval of qiyas" as well as “A modern study of personal status laws in the Arab world by Jamal J. Nasir contains one sentence that explicitly mentions that the Ẓāhirīs and al-Bukhari rejected qiyas…”
Lucas also points out that the legal methodology of Bukhari is very similar to that of Ibn Hazm.
Omar Suleiman, an Islamic scholar that also gives lectures on Islamic history for Bayyinah Institute, gave a lecture on the life of Imam Bukhari, and stated:
[Bukhari’s] approach to fiqh, and this is just something that’s traditional when it comes to people of hadith, is quite literalist…so he takes a pretty literal approach to fiqh, a pretty Ẓāhirī approach to fiqh, which is expected with a person of hadith…
^Wiederhold, Lutz. "Legal–Religious Elite, Temporal Authority, and the Caliphate in Mamluk Society: Conclusions Drawn from the Examination of a “Zahiri Revolt” in Damascus in 1386." International Journal of Middle East Studies 31.2 (1999): 203-235.
^Christopher Melchert, The Formation of the Sunni Schools of Law: 9th-10th Centuries C.E., pg. 190. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1997.
^Adang, "The Spread of Zahirism in al-Andalus in the Post-Caliphal Period: The evidence from the biographical dictionaries," pg. 297-346. Taken from Ideas, Images and Methods of Portrayal: Insights into Classical Arabic Literature and Islam. Ed. Sebastian Gunther, Leiden: 2005.
^Christopher Melchert (1997). The Formation of the Sunni Schools of Law: 9th-10th Centuries C.E. Brill. p. 187. We may guess at some of the reasons for the demise of the original Zahiri school. [...] This is roughly the explanation of Wael B. Hallaq: that the juridical theory of Sunnism recognized qiyas and therefore excluded Zahirism.
^M. Mahmood, The Code of Muslim Family Laws, pg. 37. Pakistan Law Times Publications, 2006. 6th ed.
^Adam Sabra, "Ibn Hazm's Literalism: A Critique of Islamic Legal Theory." Taken from: Ibn Ḥazm of Cordoba: The Life and Works of a Controversial Thinker, pg. 98. Volume 103 of Handbook of Oriental Studies, Section 1: The Near and Middle East. Eds. Camilla Adang, Maribel Fierro, and Sabine Schmidtke. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2012. ISBN9789004234246
^Hassan Ahmed Ibrahim, "An Overview of al-Sadiq al-Madhi's Islamic Discourse." Taken from The Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Islamic Thought, pg. 172. Ed. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi'. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008. ISBN9781405178488
^Samir Kaddouri, "Refutations of Ibn Hazm by Maliki Authors from al-Andalus and North Africa." Taken from Ibn Hazm of Cordoba: The Life and Works of a Controversial Thinker, pg. 541. Eds. Camilla Adang, Maribel Fierro and Sabine Schmidtke. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2013. ISBN9789004243101