Hanafi legal rulings are divided into distinct categories which are utilized by jurists (fuqaha’) when issuing rulings and identifying superior opinions in case of apparent contradiction. Ibn ‘Abidin mentions three categories of rulings in his Sharh ‘Uqud Rasm al-Mufti and the introduction to his Radd al-Muhtar. (Sharh ‘Uqud Rasm al-Mufti 46, Radd al-Muhtar 1:37, both from Misbah 1:297)
[Note that the following division is in accordance with well-known categorization of Hanafi legal rulings that was relied upon by ‘Allamah Ibn ‘Abidin. Other categorizations, such as those of ‘Abd al-Hayy al-Laknawi and Shah Waliullah al-Dihlawi, are not mentioned here and have been reserved for another article.]
The three categories, according to Ibn ‘Abidin, are as follows:
1. Zahir al-Riwayah: Also called the Usul or Masa’il al-Usul, this collection of the rulings of the imams of the madhhab is contained in five books of Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani. Ibn ‘Abidin gives them as:
- al-Jami‘ al-Kabir
- al-Jami‘ al-Saghir
- al-Siyar al-Kabir
- al-Siyar al-Saghir (actually not an independent work)
- al-Mabsut (also called the Asl)
Some scholars of the madhhab did not include the two Siyar collections amongst the books of the Zahir al-Riwayah. The details of this exclusion as well as the contents of the six books form the content of a future article, in sha Allah.
These books are termed the Zahir al-Riwayah (manifest narrations) because they are narrated from Imam Muhammad through numerous reliable narrators and manifestly established mass-transmitted or well-known chains.
These books were compiled by Muhammad while he resided in Baghdad and were later transmitted through numerous chains from his students in numbers which preclude any possibility of their falsehood or fabrication.
The Zahir al-Riwayah primarily serve as a compendium of the legal opinions of the three preeminentimams of the madhhab, namely Abu Hanifah, Abu Yusuf, and Muhammad (who are also called sometimes Ashab al-Madhhab). The books do not limit themselves to the rulings of these three however, and include the legal opinions of other eminent scholars of the madhhab, such as Zufar ibn al-Hudhayl and Al-Hasan ibn Ziyad al-Lu’lu’i, as well as independent mujtahids outside the madhhab, the likes of Abu Thawr and Awza‘i (may Allah have mercy on them all).
Later, in the late third or early fourth century, Hakim Shahid Abu ‘l-Fadl Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Marwazi al-Balkhi compiled the Kafi, a short, abridged collection of the legal rulings of all six books of the Zahir al-Riwayah. Organized in the conventional order of legal chapters and concise in its presentation, the Kafi (The Sufficing) truly lived up to its name, allowing students of law to easily identify the Zahir al-Riwayah rulings of the Hanafi school without having to pour over all six books and their relatively less-organized contents. Many scholars penned commentaries of the Kafi, the most recognized of them being Shams al-A’immah al-Sarakhsi’s Mabsut.
2. Nawadir: The rulings of this category are those that are not transmitted in the above-mentioned six books of the Zahir al-Riwayah but, like the rulings in them, are also attributed to the early imams of themadhhab. They are either found in the other books of Imam Muhammad, such as the Kaysaniyyat,Haruniyyat, Jurjaniyyat, and Raqqiyyat, or in the books of other imams besides Imam Muhammad, including Al-Hasan ibn al-Ziyad’s Mujarrad and the Amali of Abu Yusuf. The Nawadir also include the singular, scattered legal opinions of the early imams that were recorded by the likes of Ibn Sama‘ah, Mu‘alla ibn Mansur, Hisham, Ibn Rustum, and others.
These books are called Nawadir because they are transmitted through singular rather than mass-transmitted or well-known chains.
3. Fatawa: Also called Nawazil or Waqi‘at, these legal rulings are those that were derived by later Hanafimujtahids based on enquiries for which no rulings existed in the first two categories. (Sharh ‘Uqud Rasm al-Mufti 9, Tabaqat Saniyyah 1:35)
Amongst these later mujtahids (muta’akhkhirun) were ‘Isam ibn Yusuf (d 210AH), Ibn Rustum, Muhammad ibn Sama‘ah, Abu Sulayman al-Juzjani, and Abu Hafs al-Bukhari, who were all from the second/third century.
After them came Muhammad ibn Salamah (192-278AH), Muhammad ibn Muqatil, Nusayr ibn Yahya, and Abu Nasr Muhammad Qasim ibn Salam, all of whom occasionally differed with the Ashab al-Madhhab (Abu Hanifah, Abu Yusuf, and Muhammad) on the basis of various factors or evidences that became apparent to them.
The first collection of these fatawa, according to our limited knowledge and study, is Abu ‘l-Layth al-Samarqandi’s Nawazil. Later jurists added to this category of legal literature, including Kashshi in hisMajmu‘ al-Nawazil and Natifi and Sadr al-Shahid both in books entitled the Waqi‘at.
Most of the legal rulings of these three categories are mentioned in the common fiqh texts but are not discernable from one another. Very few later jurists differentiated between the three categories when compiling their legal compendiums. A few works, however, relate the rulings of the madhhab according to their category, amongst them is the still rare but oft-quoted Muhit of Radi al-Din al-Sarakhsi. In this Muhit – to be differentiated from Bukhari’s Muhit Burhani – Sarakhsi first lists the Zahir al-Riwayah, then the Nawadir, and lastly the Fatawa.
 Sharh ‘Uqud Rasm al-Mufti, Kashf al-Zunun, Sharh al-Biri, and Radd al-Muhtar give the name as Abu ‘l-Nasr Qasim ibn Salam, which is incorrect. In fact, he is Abu Nasr Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Salam al-Balkhi, sometimes called Abu Nasr ibn Salam or Abu Nasr Muhammad ibn Salam. He was amongst the famed jurists and hadith scholars of Balkh. He passed away in 305AH. Ibn ‘Abidin gives the correct name on page 130 of his Nashr al-‘Arf fi Bina Ba‘d al-Ahkam ‘ala ’l-‘Urf (Mashayikh Balkh min al-Hanafiyyah 1:53, Tabaqat Saniyyah 267, from the unpublished marginal commentary of Shaykh Husain Kadodia on Sharh ‘Uqud).