Notes on al-Waraqat: Introduction to Usool al-Fiqh

These are my notes from the lectures of Sh. ‘Amir Bahjat, a Hanbali scholar based in Saudi Arabia, explaining the classical text on Usool al-Fiqh entitled al-Waraqat by the Shafi’ scholar Imam al-Haramayn, the teacher of the famous Imam al-Ghazali. The book gives an excellent bird’s eye view of the field of Usool al-Fiqh.  It is an introductory level text to introduce the student to the field and is usually the first text taught in classical study before delving into the more advanced texts on the topic.

Usool al-Fiqh deals with issues related to how Islamic law is deduced from its sources and the qualifications necessary for those who are allowed to do so. You need this science in order to understand the debates of the Muslim jurists (fuqaha) over Islamic law and why those differences occur. It also delves into the topic of how Muslim scholars deal with conflicting evidence.

I put these notes together for other students of knowledge who may be newly delving into this subject and those who are curious about the field. The main purpose of my notes is to be a supplement and I would strongly suggest that those serious about it should find a teacher to study the book. There are numerous commentaries on it from many scholars available on YouTube in Arabic and English. A student can also find mp3 commentaries available for download from competent teachers from various websites across the web. Of course, this will never replace having access to a live teacher, which is always the best option.

I benefited from Sh. Musa Furber’s translation of the text and incorporate many of his translation choices, however, I also do my own in other places where I felt it would make the points more clear. I also borrowed a lot from my notes on Sh. al-’Uthyameen’s book on Hanbali Usool entitled al-Usool min ‘ilm al-Usool.

Finally, I pray that Allah benefits you through this book and brings you closer to your religion.


Books to Study Hanbali Usool al-Fiqh

As I delve deeper into Usool al-Fiqh and Fiqh studies, I can see why it is so important for a jurist to learn Usool. A student who studies Fiqh without Usool al-Fiqh is like a person who learns answers to questions without understanding how the solutions came to be.

The jurists lay out their legal theories in their Usool works, they don’t really talk about them in their Fiqh works. Whichever of the four schools a serious student of knowledge adopts to study, he must complement it with a study of that school’s Usool along with it. The two are inseparable and there is no way of getting around this reality. He needs to understand the rational of the school and how they interpret and weigh evidence.

Unfortunately, most students of knowledge do not really pay much attention to Usool al-Fiqh. This is why they often end up having gaps in their understanding and application. Many of them will not go beyond Waraqat, which is extremely basic. I myself took a while to really start taking Usool seriously. The students must engage with the Usooli works of the scholars from their own school and try to master it. As the saying goes:

القرآن والسنة حصن سوره الإجماع وبوابتاه أصول الفقه وعلوم الحديث

“The Qur’an and Sunnah are a fortress. Consensus is its [surrounding] wall and Usool al-Fiqh and Sciences of Hadiths are its gate.”

The following is a list of books which are usually taught to learn Hanbali Usool.

  • Waraqat – This is not a Hanbali book but it is popularly taught across the board as a premier to the subject due to its generic nature. I have my notes published on this book in English here.
  • Al-Usool min ‘ilm al-Usool – I have my notes published on this book in English here. It is a beginner level study of the subject.
  • Bulgha al-Wusool – Sh. Mutlaq al-Jasser has a decent straightforward explanation of it on YouTube. It is an intermediate level study of the subject.
  • Mukhtasar at-Tahreer – There is an explanation of it by Sh. Hamd on YouTube. It is an advanced level study of the subject.
    • There is also an Arabic poem available which is a partial summary of this book. It is written and explained by Sh. Amir Bahjat and can be accessed for free here.
  • Ghayat al-Sul
  • Mukhtasar Rawdha
  • Ibn Lahham’s Mukhtasar
  • Sharh Kawkab al-Muneer

Here is a sequence of books to study Hanbali Usool al-Fiqh from beginner to advanced according to various Hanbali scholars:

Sh. Muhammad Abdul Wahid’s Method

Waraqat > Bulgha > Ghayat al-Sul + its explanation > Mukhtasar at-Tahreer + its explanation

Sh. Mutlaq al-Jasser’s Method

Waraqat > Bulgha > Mukhtasar at-Tahreer > Mukhtasar ar-Rawdah + its explanation

Some Other Hanbali Scholars’ Approach

Waraqat > Ibn Lahham’s Mukhtasar > Mukhtasar at-Tahreer > [a book I cannot recall at the moment] > Sharh Kawkab al-Muneer

Sh. Ahmad Zayn al-Abideen is currently doing a very thorough explanation of Bulgha. It’s been over a year and he has just passed half of the book despite it being a small book that could be finished within a few months. It will probably take another year to finish the rest. It’s the most detailed explanation of the text out there and he draws from many sources. If a student were to go through it after Waraqat, he/she could jump a few books ahead and go right into Sharh Kawkab al-Muneer.