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Qawanin Al-Fiqhiyyah: A work of brilliance, precision and authority

Reviewer: Auwalu Umar Book: The Canons of Islamic Jurisprudence   It was at the official launch of “The Canons of Islamic Jurisprudence”, a translation from…

Reviewer: Auwalu Umar

Book: The Canons of Islamic Jurisprudence


It was at the official launch of “The Canons of Islamic Jurisprudence”, a translation from Arabic into English of Al-Qawanin Al-Fighiyyah, that many, especially those outside the legal enclave, probably got to know more about the great and illustrious Islamic legal book being used for jurisdiction in the Islamic world for centuries.

The colourful event, at which about N10 million was instantly realised, took place recently at the Ahmadu Bello University Centre for Historical Documentation and Research, Arewa House, Kaduna, with academics, lawyers and judges in attendance. Both the Sultan of Sokoto and Emir of Zazzau were represented at the occasion by Wazirin Zazzau, Khadi Muhammad Inuwa.

The book was authored by Abul-Qasim Muhammad bin Ahmad bin Juzay. Born in 693 AH (1294), Ibn Juzay hailed from the clan of Banu Kalb, and he was of noble and illustrious progeny, honour, distinction and uprightness. He studied under several distinguished jurists, and equally taught many accomplished jurists.

Ibn Juzay, who died as a martyr in the battle of Tarif in the year 741AH (1340) at the age of 48, wrote works on several branches of knowledge such as Wasilatul-Muslim Fi Tahdhibi Salihi Muslim, Aqwal al-Saniyyah Fil Kalimat al-Suniyyah and Da’wat wal-Adhkar al-Mukharrajah min Sahih al-Akhbar, among many others. He was also known to have written some notes relating to the commentary (tafsir) of the Qur’an, the science of recitation and a comprehensive index of scholars of the East and West.

The book was translated at the Centre for Islamic Legal Studies (CILS), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. As a long-standing research body with mandate to train judges and conduct research in Islamic legal studies, especially the Maliki legal principles, the centre is well placed to undertake the translation from Arabic to English, the Nigeria’s official language. It took the centre nearly four years (2018 – 2022) to round off the work.

It was Prof. Muhammad Abubakar Sadiq, who in a keynote speech he gave at the book launch, brought out most clearly the salient features of the legal document and gave justification for its translation. Sadiq, former Director, Centre for Islamic Legal Studies, ABU, Zaria, and presently, the Head, Department of Islamic Law, Nasarawa State University, Keffi, pointed out that Nigeria is, by statute and practice, a Maliki jurisdiction for which judges in the Lower and Superior Shari’ah Courts are acquainted with knowledge in the legal theory of Maliki jurisprudence.

Further justifying the work undertaken by the research centre, Prof. Sadiq explained that with the widespread acceptance and entrenchment of the Maliki theory in Nigeria, there was a “crucial need” to provide the contents of the legal principles in languages that are generally used in order to bring the technical and complex precepts and rulings closer to the users. This, he also said, would result in added opportunities to find and install justice, fairness and the ideal purposes (maqasid) of the Shari’ah.

Sadiq admitted that in the history of Maliki judicial sources, certain works had been carried with great respect, awe and admiration. The Risalah of Ibn Abi Zaidun, the Mukhtasar of Khalil, the Tuhfatu al-Hukkam and the Tabsiratu al-Hukkam are examples of some of these works. They characteristically discuss the subsidiary rules of the Shari’ah in great details and concentrate much upon the specific methodologies of the Madhhab. But the Qawanin al-Fighiyyah, unlike these works, was not as concerned as forming what could be referred to as the building blocks of the entire Shari’ah, he argued. According to him, it looks upon all the leading schools as one entity, a theory, which he further contended, had remained hidden to many scholars, ancient and novel.

Again, Prof. Sadiq identified as the most striking attribute of the book, its ability to strand together the divergent opinions of the jurists into a harmonious discussion, a syntax of postulations, despite the fact that the classical jurists were not all contemporaneous of each other and came from diverse backgrounds. Another key feature of the work, as clearly explained by the legal luminary, is that it revealed a web of interconnected extants throughout the body of the law, whilst permitting a latent nexus between the more remote and the core principles of the Shari’ah. He was emphatic that many who had studied Qawanin al-Fiqhiyyah would testify to the fact that it is indeed “a work of brilliance, precision and authority”; and that the translation would be the key to unlocking further developments in the application of the Shari’ah that is keenly awaited. 

Remarkably, Hon. Justice Ibrahim Barkindo Alkhali, Khadi, Shari’ah Court of Appeal, Adamawa State, painstakingly reviewed the 655-page translation of the Islamic legal document, contending that the book was “better than other books of its kind for three benefits”. Firstly, it includes both the general principles of the Maliki School and the salient points of divergence. Other works are restricted to either an exclusive treatise on the principles of the Maliki School or restricted to the major points of divergence between the schools of law. Secondly, it is subjected to an elegant style of arrangement and presentation, as well as simplified by making it precise and direct. And thirdly, there is harmony between brevity and exposition, as the book turned out to be of simple expression, subtle indication, of complex meaning, of concise words in such a way as to enhance recollection and expression by the memorizers.

The work was carefully handled by researchers at the centre. In his explanation on how the project was carried out, the arrow head of the book translation, Prof. Mohammed Bello Uthman, said that the idea to translate the book started in 2018, and the researchers assembled for the job were intrigued by the unique style of the legal document, the highly scientific approach, and gravity of language employed by the author. 

Prof. Uthman, who is the Director, Centre for Islamic and Legal Studies (CILS), Ahmadu Bello University, described as “captivating” the author’s ability to capture, in one breath, the confluence, and divergence of the jurists.

The author, as also pointed by Uthman in the Lead Researcher’s Note, encoded his work in a distinct and technical fashion, exposing his ingenuity and mastery of logical precision, mathematical expertise, and juristic grasp of the entire corpus of law. As far as Prof. Uthman is concerned, Juzay’s work was not a surprise to him, given that the author studied Ibn Rushd tremendously; and if allowed, they would say the Qawanin al-Fighiyyah is a refinement of the highly illustrious Bidayah al-Mujtahid of Ibn Rushd.

Former Director, Centre for Islamic Legal Studies (CILS), Malam Ibrahim Sulaiman, who is widely referred to as a great father to the Centre, gave further insight into the work in a short and sharp foreword to the book he wrote. The famous newspaper columnist argued that of the many books of law that address subsidiary legal issues, only Qawanin al-Fighiyyah tends to seek for the latent strands that connect the multifarious and apparently scattered precepts of law.

Lastly, and as succinctly put by Malam Sulaiman, with epic works such as this, stakeholders are surely placed upon a pedestal that will give them better insight into the often-ignored principles of law, take them closer to the objectives of the Shari’ah, and ensure a better dispensation of the law, not only in the Shari’ah Courts, but also in all legal tribunals.

Significantly, worthy of note in the project are Vice-Chancellor, Ahmadu Bello University, Prof. Kabiru Bala, who supported the work administratively, financially and morally; former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice I.T. Muhammad, who provided much encouragement and support for the project; and former Grand Khadi, Katsina State, Hon. Justice Muhammad Isa Dodo, who donated the first seed funds with which the centre started the work. Equally, the great contributions of the lead researchers as well as research consultants and assistants were gracefully acknowledged.

Umar is Director, Public Affairs Directorate, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

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