Qiyas: Another Perspective

By Hamid Reza Tamaddon


In the first centuries of Islam, one of the meanings of the term qiyās is the evaluation of narrations—especially solitary reports (akhbār aḥād)—based on the Qur’ān, Sunna and other evidences. For various reasons, this has sometimes been referred to as qiyās. Therefore, it cannot immediately be considered, as soon as the term is seen in texts, to denote the famous jurisprudential qiyās. Similarly, it seems that the issue of qiyās should especially be reviewed among the Imāmīyya. Perhaps, just as Sayyid Sīstānī has endeavoured to re-examine the historical narrations and reports related to qiyās, new interpretations can be presented, and it transforms our current understanding of the related narrations. In Imāmī uṣūl works—especially from the school of Ḥilla onwards—qiyās has sometimes been mentioned as one of the criteria for evaluating solitary reports, as well as one of the preference indicators in cases of conflicting reports. At the very least, it has sometimes been noted as corroborative of a report and part of the collation of evidences (tajmīʿ al-qarāʾin).

Keywords:  qiyās, evaluating solitary reports, reviewing qīyās, collation of evidences

Qiyās and its nature has been mentioned for a long time in books concerning legal theory (uṣūl al-fiqh) and in both Sunnī and Shīʿī narrations. For example, there are narrations about qiyās in books such as Baṣāʾir al-darajāt and al-Kāfī which have sometimes received little attention. For instance, in al-Kāfī, the book of ‘The Virtue of Knowledge’, the chapter on ‘Innovations, Personal Opinions and Analogies (maqāyīs)’, there is a report of Muḥammad b. Ḥakīm, who is one of the companions of Imām Kāẓim (a) as well as the teacher of some of the Companions of Consensus (aṣḥāb al-ijmāʿ) such as Ibn Abī ʿUmayr, Aḥmad b. Abī Naṣr and Ḥasan b. Maḥbūb, which has not been discussed for various reasons. According to this narration, Muḥammad b. Ḥakīm went to Imām Kāẓim (a) and said:

May I be sacrificed for you! We have become scholars in the religion, and, by your blessing, God has made us needless of the people to the extent that if a group of us were in a gathering, no one would ask his companion anything, for he would already have the issue and its answer in mind through the favour of God upon us by your blessing. However, sometimes there is an issue regarding which we have heard nothing from you or your forefathers. Therefore, we look at the best of what we have in mind, and we take that which agrees most with the reports that have come from you.

He (a) replied: How far from the truth! How far from the truth is this! By God, those who have perished, have perished through this, O son of Ḥakīm!

Then he (a) said: May God curse Abā Ḥanīfa, who would say “ʿAlī said so-and-so and I say such”

The noteworthy point here is the final part of the report where Muḥammad b. Ḥakīm says to  Ḥishām b. al-Ḥakam:

               By God, I intended nothing [by what I said] but to be given permission for qiyās.

Now, what is the intended meaning of qiyās in this report and others like it is? Did they understand qiyās from the outset in the same manner as it was later presented in books of legal theory?[1] What appears to be the case from Shīʿī narrations is that the Imāms opposed something by the name of qiyās and that despite this, some of their companions such as Faḍl b. Shādhān and Yūnus b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān were accused and blamed, both in their lifetimes and after, in rijāl works due to their practice of or tendency towards qiyās.[2]

Various reasons can be given to explain why this was the case, the most important of which may be the difference of opinion between the traditionists (muḥaddithīn) and the theologians (mutakallimīn) in how to understand religion and deal with narrations.[3] On this same basis, Sayyid Hossein Modarressi Tabātabā’i believes that the traditionists did not permit going beyond the texts in any kind of way and responded severely to this practice. Therefore, it seems that due to outward or terminological similarities, any kind of rational argument or analysis was considered qiyās in the religious custom (ʿurf) of the early period. The traditionists also believed that the injunctions, found in the reports and narrations, forbidding qiyās apply to any kind of rational reasoning.[4]

In any case, what is certain is that several companions of the Imāms, and later jurists such as Ibn Junayd, were accused and defamed for this very reason. Regarding this, Sayyid Sīstānī has presented a new analysis of the qiyās practiced by the aforementioned individuals—and Ibn Junayd in particular. Irrespective of how correctly it reflects them and their practice, it is a noteworthy analysis and supporting evidence for it can even be found among Sunnī works of legal theory, which has received little consideration as yet. To summarise Sayyid Sīstānī’s view, when he reviewed the attribution of qiyās to Imāmī companions, he mentioned some explanations and named them ‘mistakenly presumed reasons for practicing qiyās’. One of these explanations relates to the difference between the meaning of qiyās and its contemporary understanding. The intended meaning of qiyās in the reports mentioned is to compare the contents of the narrations with the Qur’ān and (definitive) Sunna. Sayyid Sīstānī explicitly states that what Ibn Junayd practiced should not be called qiyās; rather, he believed in applying internal criticism to the narrations.[5] To put it differently, the Ibn Junayd and others such as Yūnus b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān may have been of those who were strict in accepting narrations and assessed them in comparison to the decisive parts (muḥkamāt) of the Qur’ān and Sunna. Therefore, these reports must be understood in line with the narrations which refer to the centrality of the Qur’ān in evaluating narrations. In fact, the imperative verbal form of qiyās (i.e., ‘do qiyās’) has been used in those narrations. For example:

It is narrated from al-Ḥasan b. Jahm, from al-Riḍā (a), that he said: I said to al-Riḍā (a): The narrations that reach us from you are different. He (a) said: Whatever reaches you from us, then compare it (fa-qishu) with the Book of God and our narrations.[6]

Nonetheless, the question is, does Sayyid Sīstānī’s view about comparing the contents of the narrations with the Book and the Sunna—through which he holds a specific position about the agreement and disagreement of ḥadīth with the Qur’ān—have any supporting evidence (shawāhid)? Has anyone else defined qiyās in this way yet? In this article, some examples from the works of Ahl al-Sunna will be mentioned.

1. Sometimes, in some of the books of legal theory (ʿilm al-uṣūl), and especially the uṣūlī scholars of the Ḥanafī school, the expression ‘qiyās al-uṣūl’ is used. This should of course not be conflated with ‘mukhālifat al-uṣūl’ and ‘maʿnā al-uṣūl’. What can be derived from all the expressions of Sunnī uṣūlī scholars about this term is that there is major disagreement about what it signifies, its scope and even the meaning of an ‘aṣl’. For example, al-Samʿānī attacks Ḥanafī uṣūlī scholars for this very reason in Qawāṭiʾ al-adilla[7].

2. While critiquing the proofs that Ḥanafīs use to rely on ‘qiyās al-uṣūl’, Asmandī mentions some expressions that demonstrate this same comparison of the contents of a report with general, definitive principles.[8] Likewise, Shāṭibī defines the justification of the Ḥanafī’s argument in the same way (to mean a definitive aṣl).[9] Therefore, the intended meaning is not the technical qiyās used in legal theory.

3. When referring to the aforementioned term in al-Istidhkār, Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr also uses the expression ‘the uṣūl that is agreed upon’. In addition to considering these uṣūl to be Abū Ḥanīfa’s criteria in evaluating solitary reports, he tries to explain the intended meaning of the term. The prima facie of his statements indicates that he considers the uṣūl, whether they be from the Book, Sunna or definitive general proofs, to be agreed upon by all.[10]

4. Some recent research about the use of the term qiyās and qiyās al-uṣūl in the Ḥanafī uṣūl tradition demonstrates that relying on the expression of qiyās was only for the sake of brevity, and its intended meaning in many cases was the same as qiyās al-uṣūl. In this research, they have compared jurisprudential examples of solitary reports conflicting with qiyās and qiyās al-uṣūl in Ḥanafī and non- Ḥanafī works, which show that the intended meaning of both terms was the same, and the examples mentioned are also completely the same.[11]

5. In addition to the Sunni heritage of jurisprudence and legal theory, there are instances that can be found in old sources of Imāmī ḥadīth, and even jurisprudence, of jurists comparing the contents of solitary reports with definitive uṣūl. Of course, it is mainly referred to as ‘contradicting the uṣūl of the school’ (mukhālafatun li-uṣūl al-madhhab) in the sources. For example, in Shaykh Ṭusī’s al-Istibṣār, in the chapter of ‘The Urine of Bats’, he rejects a narration that he deems to contradict the uṣūl of the school and attributes it to taqīyya:

As for what Aḥmad b. Muḥammad narrates from Muḥammmad b. Yaḥyā from Ghīyāth from Jaʿfar from his father (peace be upon them both), that he said: There is no problem with the blood of fleas, bedbugs and the urine of bats.

The [correct] meaning of this narration is to attribute it to a form of taqīyya, because it contradicts the principles (uṣūl) of the [Shīʿa] school, as we have made it clear that praying in the urine of anything whose meat cannot be eaten is not permissible. Bats are something whose meat cannot be eaten, so it is not permissible to pray in its urine, and the first narration explicitly affirms these principles.[12]

In addition, in Ibn Idrīs al-Ḥillī’s al-Sarāʾir, he used the term ‘uṣūl of the school’ (uṣūl al-madhhab) more than 200 times and has based his own action on it. It is precisely on this basis that he has critiqued Shaykh Ṭusī and others in many instances. For example, in the chapter of the qiṣāṣ of limbs, Ibn Idrīs treats the famous principle of ‘a complete limb is not subject to the qiṣāṣ of a deficient limb’ as a principle of the school and opposes one of the edicts of Shaykh Ṭusī based on this.[13]

6. Sayyid Sīstānī interprets the statements that Muḥaqqiq al-Ḥillī transmits from Shaykh Mufīd in Maʿārij al-uṣūl in the same way. According to the report in Maʿārij, Shaykh Mufīd’s belief is the following:

A solitary report that unequivocally exonerates [a person who acts upon it] is that which is accompanied with evidence that, when considered, leads to knowledge, and this [evidence] may be consensus, or supporting evidence from the intellect (ʿaql), or a judgement from qiyās.[14]

Muḥaqqiq al-Ḥillī’s explanation after this statement indicates that it was not entirely clear to him what Shaykh Mufīd’s intended meaning was. If what is meant by qiyās in this statement is ‘burhān’ (proof), then he deems it correct, and if what is meant is the ‘rejected jurisprudential qiyās’, then he deems it unacceptable. Sayyid Sīstānī considers Shaykh Mufīd’s intended use of qiyās to mean comparing a solitary report with the indisputable axioms of the Qur’ān and Sunna:

And the intended meaning of qiyās is to compare the content with the indisputable principles (uṣūl), not what Ṣāḥib al-Maʿārij mentioned to respond to him with the objections he mentioned.[15]

Therefore, one must look to see if the content of the report is consistent and harmonious with the objectives and the governing spirit of the expressed rulings of the Qur’ān and Sunna or not. In Sayyid Sīstānī’s opinion, this was the method of Imāmī scholars and they accepted reports if it fulfilled this criteria.

7. In my opinion, even Sayyid Sīstānī’s interpretation of this statement only reflects part of the story and is silent about its other dimension. That is to say, classical works of Sunnī jurisprudence, and ḥadīth at times—especially discussions of ḥadīth criticism and solitary reports—indicate that sometimes the intended meaning of agreement or disagreement with qiyās among some Sunnī jurists was the same as the famous jurisprudential qiyās or partial qiyās, and it was used as an indicator (qarīna) to reject or accept and even particularise (takhṣīṣ) a ḥadīth.[16] 

Among Imāmī jurists, ʿAllāmah Ḥīlli has devoted a chapter to this issue in Nihāyat al-wuṣūl, and within that used qiyās in its widespread meaning—namely, to link a secondary case to an original case due to a shared cause. It is interesting to note that after referring to the difference of opinion among Imāmī scholars on the authoritativeness of different types of qiyās, he discusses the possibility of particularising (takhṣīṣ) a solitary report with qiyās in the case that its effective cause is explicitly designated, and he appears to accept this:

We say: if a solitary report and [the signification of] qiyās contradict, then if it is possible to particularise (takhṣīṣ) one of them with the other, then it [should be] particularised with it. As for [particularising qiyās with] the report, then it is apparent. As for [particularising the report with] qiyās, then for those who permit particularisation of the cause (takhṣīṣ al-ʿillah), they are both to be reconciled. For those who forbid it, the ruling of the report particularised to qiyās, is the same as its negation. If it is not possible to reconcile them both, even if in some way or another, and neither of them necessitated particularising the other, then they are entirely contradictory and each one invalidates all the requirements of the other. Therefore, if the original case (aṣl) of that qiyās is established by that report, then the report takes precedence, by consensus. And if it has been established by something else, then the qiyās entails establishing the ruling of the original case (aṣl), identifying a specific cause for it (taʿlīl bi-l-ʿillah al-makhṣūṣa), and the occurrence [of this cause] in the new case (farʿ).[17]

Then, he discusses the views of various schools regarding this and presents a relatively comprehensive overview of the issue.


Given that qiyās is not an authoritative proof (ḥujjah) in our view, it is incumbent to act on the content of the report when it conflicts with qiyās. Yes, the qiyās may have a specified cause (ʿillah), so the strongest [solution] is to accept it, so it necessitates tarjīḥ (preferring it over another). If the cause is definitive in its causality (ʿillīyah) and establishment (thubūt)  in them both, then [the qiyās] takes precedence, and if the original case (aṣl) is established by the report, then the report takes precedence.[18]

It seems that qiyās has not been viewed from this perspective among Imāmīs until now, and that the discussion of it being an ‘evidence for the ruling’ has been conflated with it being ‘affirmative or preponderant’. The statements of Sayyid Mujāhid in the beneficial work Mafātīḥ al-uṣūl can help us elucidate the issue:

[Imām al-Hādī:] “We only presented the preceding [introduction] of the Qur’ān and reports being in agreement, because, when they agree, it is an evidence for what we want to say and an affirmation of what we explain from that, God, the Exalted, willing.”

This includes what is mentioned in al-Maʿārij, for he said:

“Some held the view that if two reports are contradictory, and qiyās agreed with what one of them contains, then that is a reason to prefer that report over the one that contradicts it.

This can be justified [as follows]: that the truth is [only] in one of the two reports, so it is not possible to act according to them both or reject them both. Thus, it is necessary to act on one of the two. If the assumption is that of contradiction, then the preferred one of the two must be acted on, and qiyās is suitable to be a preference indicator because of the acquisition of ẓann (presumption) through it. Thus, it is necessary to act according to what it corresponds to.

It should not be said: that we have agreed in consensus that qiyās is rejected in the Sharīʿa.

For we would say: [that is true] in the sense that it is not an evidence for a ruling, not in the sense that it is not a preference indicator for one of the two reports over the other. This is because the benefit of it being a preference indicator is that it falsifies acting on the less favourable report (marjūḥ). Thus, the favourable report (rājiḥ) become like a report that is free from contradiction, and it would be this, not the qiyās, that is acted on, and this calls for careful study”[19]


Based on the evidences (shawāhid) that have been mentioned, it can be concluded that one of the meanings of the term qiyās, in the works of the first few centuries of Islam, is to evaluate narrations (especially solitary reports) on the basis of the Qur’ān, Sunna and other evidences. For various reasons, this has sometimes been referred to as qiyās. Therefore, the term cannot immediately be interpreted, as soon as it is seen in texts, in the way that it is understood today. Likewise, it seems that the issue of qiyās should especially be reviewed among the Imāmīyya. Perhaps, as Sayyid Sīstānī has endeavoured to re-examine the historical reports and narrations related to qiyās, new interpretations of it can be presented, and it transforms our understanding of the related narrations. Although, in Imāmī uṣūl works—especially from the school of Ḥilla onwards—qiyās has sometimes been mentioned as one of the criteria for evaluating solitary reports, and also as one of the preference indicators in cases of conflicting evidence. At the very least, it has sometimes been noted as a corroborative factor, and part of the collation of evidences (tajmīʿ al-qarāʾin).


[1]Qiyās is to accord a known case with a known case to establish a ruling for them both or to negate it from them both, through a common link between them, which is a ruling or a quality’ (al-Ghazālī, al-Mustaṣfā, v2, p. 167; al-Āmidī, al-Iḥkām, v2, p. 164).

[2] For example, see: Ikhtiyār maʿrifat al-rijāl, pp. 498-499.

[3] Ikhtiyār maʿrifat al-rijāl, pp. 483, 489, 506.

[4] Modarressi, An Introduction to Shi’i Law, pp. 28-29.

[5] Al-Rāfid fī ʿilm al-uṣūl, p. 12.

[6] Biḥār al-anwār, v2, p. 224.

[7] Qawāṭiʾ al-adilla fī uṣūl al-fiqh, v2. p. 377.

[8] Badhl al-naẓr fī al-uṣūl, p. 473.

[9] al-Muwāfiqāt, v3. p. 20.

[10] For example, see: al-Istidhkār, v6, p. 475; v7, p. 326. Among contemporary researchers in jurisprudence, Muʿtaz al-Khaṭīb has collected examples and jurisprudential instances of those who believe in qiyās al-uṣūl from among Sunnī works of jurisprudence and legal theory in his book Radd al-ḥadīth min jihat al-matn, which is beneficial for researchers. For example, see: Radd al-ḥadīth min jihat al-matn, pp. 410-416.

[11] For example, see: Radd al-ḥadīth min jihat al-matn, p. 417.

[12] al-Istibṣār, v1, p. 188.

[13] For further explanation, see: Fiqh ahl al-bayt (a), v47, p. 134.

[14] Muḥaqqiq al-Ḥillī, Maʿārij al-Uṣūl, p. 187.

[15] Mabāḥith al-hujjaj, p. 7.

[16] Evidences and instances of this usage are abundant. For example, Abū al-Ḥusayn al-Baṣrī, Asmandī, and many other uṣūlī scholars of Ahl al-Sunna have done this. See: al-Muʿtamad fī uṣūl al-fiqh, v3, p. 163; Badhl al-naẓr fī al-uṣūl, p. 474.

[17] Nihāyat al-wuṣūl ilā ʿilm al-uṣūl, v3, p. 446.

[18] Tahdhīb al-wuṣūl ilā ʿilm al-uṣūl, p. 236.

[19] Mafātīḥ al-uṣūl, p. 716.