A critical reading of Fazlur Rahman's Islamic methodology in history : the case of the living Sunnah

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Sunnah has become synonymous with hadith as it is found primarily in the six canonical works of hadith. This change, Rahman argues, came about after Mohammad b. Idris al-Shafi'i articulated his bayan scheme, which in a nutshell means that the entirety of law resides in two texts the Qur'an and the Sunnah and that Sunnah is only the Sunnah of Muhammad (concept and content). In search for uniformity and stability, Rahman claims, that Shafi'i destroyed the living Sunnah or more precisely the organic relationship between Sunnah, ijtihad (progressive interpretation) and ijma. But was this living Sunnah conceptually linked to the """"Ideal Sunnah"""" of the Prophet? Why did Shafi'i decimate an entire tradition and what were his reasons and how did he do it? This thesis seeks to answer these questions by critically analyzing Rahman's living Sunnah notion. On the other hand whilst it appreciates Shafi'i's argument for the Sunnah, of the Prophet only, as the exclusive legislative supplement to the Qur'an it problematizes how Shafi'i dealt with the materials from which he reconstructed (the content) the Prophetic Sunnah (as a concept).

Includes bibliographical references.