How the Qur'an Reveals the Law:
al-Shafi`i's Risala on bayan ('making clear').

Translation by David Vishanoff from Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi`i, al-Risala, ed. Ahmad Muhammad Shakir ([Cairo: al-Halabi Press, 1940]; reprinted Beirut: al-Maktaba al-`Ilmiyya, [1990]), 21-25.  Numbers in square brackets indicate paragraphs in Shakir's edition.

[53] al-Shafi`i said:  'Making clear' [bayan, i.e. revelation] is of various types, which are essentially the same but differ in their particulars.  [54] What these similar yet differing types of revelation have in common is that they make things clear to those who are addressed by them, in whose language the Qur'an came down.  For such people they are more or less equivalent [in their clarity], even if some types make things more emphatically clear than others; but for those who do not know the language of the Arabs, they are of differing [degrees of clarity].

[55] al-Shafi`i said:  All the requirements that God (having ordained them beforehand) has made clear to his creatures in his Book can be categorized as follows:

  1. [56] That which God has made clear to his creatures by an unambiguous text.  For example:  His summary imposition of the duties of prayer and zakah (tax) and pilgrimage and fasting, and of the prohibition of shameful acts both external and internal; and the unambiguous texts concerning fornication and wine and eating carrion and blood and pork; and his making clear how to perform ablution; and other things that he made clear by an unambiguous text.
  2. [57] That which God ordained as duties in his Book, and clarified its performance by the tongue of his Prophet.  For example:  The number of the prayers, and the zakah and its timing, and other duties that he revealed in his Book.
  3. [58] That for which the Prophet established a precedent (sunna), without there being a text with a judgment about it from God, yet with God having imposed in his Book that one must obey His Prophet and follow his judgments, so that whoever accepts something from the Prophet has accepted the judgment of God.
  4. [59] That which God has required his creatures to discover by diligent inquiry, thus testing their obedience in diligent inquiry just as he tested their obedience in other requirements. 


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