Ways of Discovering ‘Illah (Cause) for Qiyas Amongst Ahl al-Sunnah

During last academic year’s (2018-2019) legal theory class with Shaykh Haider Hobbollah,1 before beginning discussion on Maqāṣid al-Sharī’ah (Objectives of Divine Law) as expounded by the Ahl al-Sunnah, it was imperative to understand qiyās as explained and applied by the Ahl al-Sunnah jurists. This is because discussions on Maqāṣid began within discussions on qiyās, until it eventually became an independent subject of discourse.

This post contains a brief summary of ten major approaches to qiyās amongst the Ahl al-Sunnah – covered during lesson #90, February 6th 2019. These approaches are different from one another based on what method was deemed valid in establishing something to be an ‘illah (cause or reason), which is one of the elements that make up the qiyās argument. This cause could be ascertained between two entities in the realm of permanence (thubūt), or in the realm of affirmation (ithbāt), or as what the Shī’ī legal theorists would term subject-matter of a ruling (mawḍū’ al-ḥukm), or essentially any other relationship. Due to the wide array of relationships that can be perceived between two entities, over the centuries, roughly ten schools of thought on the matter of ‘illah have come to exist amongst the Ahl al-Sunnah.

1) Al-Naṣṣ

This is when a text has an explicit or apparent signification on what the cause of a ruling happens to be. The Shī’a generally refer to this type of qiyās as manṣūṣ al-‘illah. There are no extensive discussions on this type of qiyās amongst the Ahl al-Sunah like it exists in Shī’ī legal theory, such as by putting forth possibilities on whether the cause can be restricted to just what appears in the text or that there could be other causes as well. In other words, discussions such as juzz al-‘illah (partial cause), or whether the text may indicate wisdom instead of causality and so on, do not generally exist in Ahl al-Sunnah works. Rather, in their works one will find discussions on the signification of prepositions such as Kay, Ba, La – which often indicate causal relationships between two things.

2) Al-Ijmā’

The text of a tradition may say that it is prohibited for a judge to give a verdict while they are angry. In addition, there may exist a scholarly consensus that the reason for this prohibition is because anger impacts one’s ability to think which subsequently can result in improper judgements. This consensual understanding of the cause would therefore be used to argue for other rulings such as, if a judge has the need to urinate, or is very hungry, or anything else that can impact his judgement, it would be deemed prohibited for him to give a verdict in court during that state.

All Ahl al-Sunnah schools of thought agree with the two aforementioned schools.

3) Al-Īmā’ or al-Tanbīḥ

If a text simply says akrim al-‘ālim (show respect to the scholar), there is no cause or reason (ta’līl) mentioned in this statement – apparently or explicitly. However, a jurist may understand that the quality (ṣiffah) of being ‘knowledgeable’ itself has relevance (sabb al-ḥūkm ila al-waṣf). In other words, this statement contains an allusion (īmā) or instruction (tanbīh).

Another example would be the notion of prohibiting transactions (taḥrīm al-bay’) at the time of Friday prayers. A scholar may argue that we understand that if one engages in transactions at the time of Friday prayers, it will result in the unfulfillment of the obligatory act (tafwīt al-wājib), and hence that is the reason for this ruling. After extrapolating this reason, they can later argue through qiyās that it is also prohibited to play sports or do anything else at the time of Friday prayers if it results in tafwīt al-wājib.

4) Al-Munāsabah

This is one of the most important approaches to qiyās and the most expansive discussions take place in this section – particularly because there is difference amongst the Ḥanafī and Shāfi‘ī schools. Al-Juwaynī began his discussion on Maqāṣid to strengthen his arguments for munāsābah, and to further defend his position against the Ḥanafīs. This view says that a quality (ṣiffah) that exists in specific acts is what results in expediency (maṣlaḥa) or harm (mafsada), and hence why a ruling exists.

For example, while it is true that al-khamr ḥarām (alcohol is prohibited), a jurist may reflect on why it is prohibited. After reflection, he may come to the conclusion that upon contemplation, I saw that it is an intoxicant and that it this intoxication which corrupts the intellect. This is while the protection of the intellect is something Allah (swt) has ordained as a Maqṣad. After concluding this, a jurist would take ḥifẓ al-‘uqūl (protection of the intellects) as a general objective ordained by Allah (swt) and begin applying the verdict of prohibition on any other act which results in the corruption of the intellect.

5) Al-Sabr wa al-Taqsīm

This is a practical and pragmatic approach to causality. Someone may ask, what is the reason for a certain ruling? They may come up with three or four possible reasons, and then start negating them one by one until only the most plausible cause is left.

To illustrate, one may ask, why is there a need for the father to be a guardian over his daughter and her marriage? We find two possible reasons: 1) it is either because she is a virgin (bikr), or 2) it is because she is young (ṣighār) and any mention of virginity in the traditions in relation to the father’s guardianship is only because virgins are usually young. One would then argue that the reason for a father’s guardianship cannot be because she is virgin, because if that was the case then we would not have had other scenarios where virginity exists, but the father has no guardianship over his daughter. Hence, being young (ṣighr) is the only plausible reason why a father has guardianship over his daughter and marriage.

6) Al-Shabah

There are different opinions amongst the Ahl al-Sunnah on whether doing qiyās through this method is probative or not. Within this approach, a sub-discussion on the binding force of qiyāfah (when two things resemble each other in their looks) is also opened. Generally, when the Shī’a laity speaks of qiyās amongst the Ahl al-Sunnah, this is the type of qiyās that is being spoken about by the Shī’a even though in reality the Ahl al-Sunnah themselves have a dispute over the validity and probativity of this type of qiyās.

This type of qiyās would be used in cases when two things physically resemble one another. For example, if it is not necessary to pay zakāt on a mule, it is also not necessary to pay zakāt on a donkey as they both resemble one another.

7) Al-Ṭard

This school is not well-accepted today and it does not have any significant proponents. An example of this would be if one claims, we do not generally build bridges over vinegar (simply because there are no rivers or lakes of vinegar). At the same time, oil does not have the ability to remove impurities, but it also resembles vinegar in so far as we do not make bridges over oil either. Through this resemblance, one would do a qiyās and argue that vinegar cannot remove impurities either. This is unlike water, over which you can build bridges and it does not resemble vinegar or oil. Imām Ghazālī said that this approach to qiyās is very problematic and one might as well throw religion out the door if this type of qiyāṣ were to be accepted.

8) Al-Dawrān

An example of this would be that barley juice is permissible before it becomes alcoholic, but it becomes prohibited after it becomes alcoholic. This is how we know that it is its intoxicating quality (iskār) which makes it prohibited since the only difference between the two types of liquid is that the latter has the ability to intoxicate. Hence, that is the cause of prohibition and we can use it to consider other things that intoxicate as prohibited.

9) Tanqīḥ al-Manāṭ

Some argue that this is just an instance of al-sabr wa al-taqsīm while others argue it is an independent approach. In Shī’ī legal theory we refer to this as Ilghā al-Khuṣūṣīyyah.  For example, the Shī’a will say that if a narration says one must wash their hand twice to remove an impurity, the laymen will customarily understand that the same ruling is applicable for the feet or any other part of the body, because there is no special  consideration being given to the hands. This is Ilghā al-Khuṣūṣīyyah (negation of special consideration). However, the Ahl al-Sunnah are a lot more expansive in their approach, whereas the Shī’a are generally precautious. Consider the laws in Shī’ī jurisprudence regarding the washing of certain types of utensils when they are made impure by certain types of impurities, and the Shī’ī jurists do not apply ilghā al-khuṣūṣīyyah very easily in the discussion of purifying impurities.

10) Al-Ilghā’ al-Fāriq

Consider two liquid, alcohol and date-wine. One may ask, what is the difference between the two things? The reply may be that there is no difference between these two liquids, and if there are any differences, they are trivial and negligible. They are not significant enough differences for us to care about, and therefore it is valid to presume that the rulings for both these liquids will be the same.


  1. Also see: Did Imam Khomeini Have the Same View as Imam Tufi, transcription from the same series of classes.

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