A Short History of Zaydi fiqh
What is Zaydi fiqh? How has it developed over time? How Shīʿi or Sunni is it? In this blog piece we want to share some thoughts on the development of Zaydi fiqh as a discipline central for the Zaydi community. We will also point out topics that still await to be researched.
1 From Zaydi proto-fiqh to Imam al-Hādī (d. 298/911)
By fiqh, we here mean scholarly textual collections or lists of substantive law, or rules, in both ritual law (ʿibādāt) and transactional law (muʿāmalāt), including various levels of argumentation/evidence-citation and comparison after each single rule. In short, fiqh is both a genre and a discipline.
Zaydi law was first formulated in Kufa, in present-day Iraq, in a traditionist environment where Zaydis developed their own ḥadīth-collections and compilations of sayings of the earliest imams. In this earliest period, we see a shift from an inclusive tendency towards prioritizing ḥadīth and knowledge transferred through the scholars and imams descending from the Prophet, the so-called Ahl al-Bayt (Haider 2011). A common way for Zaydis of identifying the Zaydi madhhab is to call it the madhhab of the Ahl al-Bayt. However, this is a problematic label as scholars of non-Ahl al-Bayt background over time were increasingly active, revered, and quoted. Ansari and Thiele remark that in addition to first being formulated in a context of ḥadīth scholarship Zaydi fiqh may already at this time have been influenced by the Ahl al-raʾi and the early Ḥanafī movement also originating in Kufa (Ansari and Thiele Forthcoming, 4). This Iraqi Zaydi proto-fiqh is only known through later Zaydi fiqh collections. A package of doctrinal formulations fundamental for later Zaydism was first put together by the Medina-based major Zaydi figure al-Qāsim al-Rassī (d. 246/860). However only some of al-Rassī's writings can be seen as fiqh and his opinions in fiqh are mostly known only through later citations.
The Zaydi madhhab is later also referred to as the Hādawiyya, after Imam al-Hādī ilā l-Ḥaqq Yaḥyā b. al-Ḥusayn (d. 298/911). He was the grandson of al-Rassī who came to Yemen from the Hijaz and succeeded to set up an imamate-based polity in Ṣaʿda, in the very north of today's Yemen. Al-Hādī ilā l-Ḥaqq is known for his fiqh in works such as al-Aḥkām and al-Muntakhab, in addition to his Majmūʿ. The term Hādawiyya sometimes refers to the body of rules expressed in the Aḥkām and the Muntakhab, or at least to the general principles found in the total corpus of al-Hādī's rulings. However, in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the term Hādawiyya was used more generally for all "traditional" Zaydis who still insisted on retaining the pre-Qasimi, i.e. pre-1600 Zaydi madhhab authorities.
2 The Caspian fiqh period: Expansion and formation of a genre (ca. 900-1150)
Although al-Hādī is seen as a founder of later Yemeni Zaydi fiqh, it is in the Zaydi communities in the Caspian areas of today's Iran that Zaydi fiqh is developed and systematized in large compilations archetypical of fiqh as a distinct genre. During the whole Caspian period there were few scholarly and politically strong Zaydi imams in Yemen. Therefore, little scholarly output was produced in Yemen in this period. Contrary to this, we see in the Caspian areas a strong and productive Zaydi community. The flourishing of Zaydi fiqh in the Caspian region culminates in the vast clusters of commentaries following the fiqh of the imams al-Muʾayyad Bi-llāh Aḥmad b. al-Ḥusayn al-Hārūnī (d. 411/1020) and his brother the Imam al-Nāṭiq bi-l-Ḥaqq Yaḥyā b. al-Ḥusayn (d. 424/1033). Imam al-Muʾayyad and his brother studied Ḥanafi law in Baghdad with Abū ʿAbdallāh al-Baṣrī (d. 367/997), a leading Ḥanafī scholar (Ansari and Thiele Forthcoming, 9). A common saying is that Zaydism is Muʿtazilī in uṣūl (principles, or methodology) and Ḥanafi in furūʿ (substantive law, individual rules), however, a major gap in our knowledge is that we don't know much about the actual Ḥanafi influence: when, who, what and how much.
In Zaydi historiography the Caspian generation of Zaydi imams and scholars is known as al-Mukharrijūn or Ahl al-takhrīj, also called al-Muḥaṣṣilūn (Haykel and Zysow 2012, 340-41, Wilmers 2018, 322-34). In the Zaydi madhhab the term takhrīj has a special meaning, partly different from the Sunni and later concept(s) by the same name. Takhrīj can here be translated as "to extract" or “to extrapolate" and means to make new rules by analogy based on the body of fiqh rules of the founding figures of the madhhab (Ahl al-nuṣūṣ) such as al-Qāsim and al-Hādī. We can imagine how this allowed the number of rules in the corpus of al-Hādī to significantly expand. The central idea of takhrīj is to identify an underlying principle and extend it to new rules. Although known as an explicit methodology, the historical process of actual rule-formation in this time has hardly been studied. The expanding of the body of rules of the founding fathers through extrapolation was framed as orthodox but, realistically, developments and shifts in content could be expected. Which directions and under which contextual influences this expansion was made is not yet well understood.
At this stage of development, fiqh has also become its own distinct and established discipline and genre in other madhhabs. The typical fiqh collections or manuals of this time cover the whole width of the law, in a relatively fixed sequence, organized in chapters, sub-chapters, topics, etc. For now, I suggest we call this the Caspian fiqh period for lack of a better term. We know Caspian fiqh made it to Yemen and the Zaydi communities there, although the reception seems limited during this period.
3 Yemeni Zaydi fiqh: Transfer, copying, commenting, reviewing, and changing (ca. 1150-1600).
A major shift in the history of the Zaydi madhhab happened in the twelfth century when the Yemeni imams Aḥmad b. Sulaymān (d. 566/1170) and al-Manṣūr ʿAbdallāh b. Ḥamza (d. 614/1217) managed to revive a politically strong imamate in Yemen. Both imams actively used the Zaydi written tradition imported from the Caspian community in an intellectual confrontation, seeking to establish a new Zaydi canon in Yemen. The active transfer of the Caspian Zaydi tradition to Yemen has been studied by Sabine Schmidtke and others (Ansari and Schmidtke 2016). So far, scholars have focused on theology, cosmology, and uṣūl in this transfer, however, it also included fiqh. The reception of Caspian fiqh in Yemen and its later Yemenization through new commentaries and mukhtaṣarāt is the focus of an ongoing PhD project by Ebrahim Mansoor at the University of Bergen (Norway).
Based on preliminary investigations of the copy date of fiqh manuscripts, Mansoor shows how texts by Caspian authors ceased being copied in Yemen and a new canon of compilations and commentaries of Yemeni origin took over their place. At first, the new Yemeni fiqh works carried on much of the Caspian body of rules and arguments, but over time we see more Yemeni imams and non-Ahl al-Bayt scholars being cited. The actual changes in individual rules have so far not been systematically studied.
Works like the al-Lumaʿ fī fiqh Ahl al-Bayt (before 1250) and al-Tadhkira al-fākhira fī fiqh al-ʿitra al-ṭāhira (before 1389) are the main examples of this new canon. The Lumaʿ is based on the Caspian tradition and quotes the Caspian Zaydi imams and key scholars. The Tadhkira is an abridged version of the Lumaʿ. There are numerous known and preserved Yemeni commentaries on both these works and both works where much copied and used in following centuries. Shortly before the Tadhkira the much revered and prolific imam al-Muʾayyad Yaḥyā b. Ḥamza (d. 749/1348) composed the Intiṣār ʿalā ʿulamāʾ al-amṣār. Unlike the two aforementioned works, the Intiṣār is perhaps the largest work of comparative fiqh in the Zaydi tradition. The author included khilāf (disagreeing views) from within the Zaydi madhhab and from other madhhabs as well as his own, explicit choices in the discussion of many rules, that were occasionally contrary to specific Caspian imams or the more general Zaydi madhhab.
Around 1350 we see the start of an unprecedented flourishing in production of Yemeni Zaydi fiqh lasting around two centuries. The three above mentioned fiqh works become the core of the Yemeni Zaydi fiqh canon and they are the basis for the first matn in the Zaydi madhhab, Kitāb al-azhār fī fiqh al-aʾimma al-aṭhār authored by the much-respected imām al-Mahdī Aḥmad b. Yaḥyā Ibn al-Murtaḍā (840/1436-7). A matn is a highly abridged didactic text, usually short enough to be learned by heart and containing the bare minimum of information. The Kitāb al-azhār is nothing but a string of legal rules, at times represented only by a word or a short expression, with no explanation, arguments, or disagreement. There are only some rules in the matn in which al-Muʾayyad Aḥmad b. al-Ḥusayn al-Hārūnī (d. 411/1020) is quoted with alternative positions. Ibn al-Murtaḍā wrote the Kitāb al-azhār as a young student, thus we may assume that it was conceived as a summary, or almost a code, of what was considered the agreed upon essence of the madhhab at this time. Then Ibn al-Murtaḍā wrote an auto commentary on the Kitāb al-azhār called al-Ghayth al-midrār. This auto-commentary has been curiously little copied and is still unedited. However, Ibn al-Murtaḍā's al-Baḥr al-zakhkhār which he composed later in his life, has been much copied and quoted and was early on selected for print in the modern period. This latter fiqh work is quite different from the Kitāb al-azhār. The Baḥr is of average length, focused on comparative fiqh, often citing the main rule in other madhhabs. In this work Ibn al-Murtaḍā often gives his own conclusion, at times in disagreement with al-madhhab, that is, what was perceived as the Zaydi madhhab at his time.
At this point, an obvious question is: what was the essence of the Zaydi madhhab? This question was also asked by Zaydis themselves at the time of Ibn al-Murtaḍā. The internal view of the madhhab and the related discussion in the Zaydi community over the following centuries is the focus of the article by Haykel and Zysow "What makes a madhhab a madhhab?" (Haykel and Zysow 2012). This internal Zaydi debate tends to mix how the madhhab should ideally have functioned and developed (read: uṣūl principles) with real processes of historical change. Trying to define the Zaydi madhhab according to uṣūl, or shifting uṣūl over time, is arguably a different project from surveying the historical development of fiqh, as seen in the fiqh texts, although the two are connected.
As already mentioned, in Zaydism priority was always given to the Ahl al-Bayt as a source for transmitting the fundamental essence of Islam. However, Yemenis of Yemeni descent who were not from the Ahl al-Bayt also had a place in this production and over time increasingly so. One notable non-Ahl al-Bayt scholar who was a contemporary of Ibn al-Murtaḍā was faqīh Yūsuf b. Aḥmad (d. 832/1429). He lived in Thulāʾ, a town near Sanaa, and was known for several authoritative works in different genres. Another scholar, known for one work only, albeit a work of central importance in the next period of Zaydi fiqh history, is Ibn Miftāḥ (877/1472). He wrote a mukhtaṣar, an abridgement, of Ibn al-Murtaḍā's Ghayth (and probably updated it somewhat). He structured his work around Ibn al-Murtaḍā's matn, making it appear as an explanation-cum-commentary engulfing the Kitāb al-azhār in an elegant way. The short title of this work is Sharḥ al-azhār. Many other commentaries were written on the Kitāb al-azhār between 1450-1550, thus the commentary by Ibn Miftāḥ was not without competition.
By this time the copying of the Caspian texts had ceased, and although still relying heavily on the Caspian tradition, all fiqh texts were now Yemeni in authorship and readership. Significant is also the shift in the genre from compilations arranged hierarchically in chapters and often numbered, to the following of one long chain of rules in Ibn al-Murtaḍā's matn as an organizing principle. This new matn-sharḥ-complex genre had already become popular in other legal schools, most notably the Shāfiʿī madhhab in Lower Yemen, where the Minhāj al-Ṭālibīn and its shurūḥ had a similar function as the Kitāb al-azhār and its shurūḥ. Another fiqh work from this period that remained much copied in later periods was al-Bayān al-shāfī by Ibn Muẓaffar (d. 875/1470-71), a work of medium length. Unlike most other later fiqh texts, this book did not use the matn of Ibn al-Murtaḍā as a base-text.
A tail end of this vibrant Yemeni re-shaping of the fiqh texts of the madhhab was the imamate of Imam Sharaf al-Dīn (d. 965/1558). He composed an updated version of the Kitāb al-azhār called Kitāb al-athmār. Four commentaries on the Athmār are known. The Wābil and the Taftīḥ are the largest and best known. They are both much quoted in the marginal comments of the Sharḥ al-azhār, which is one way for a text to "stay alive" if the whole work is not copied. Until recently, this period of Islamic law was considered as less formative in Western scholarship and the fiqh works from Ibn al-Murtaḍā’s time were thought of as mere re-statements of previous texts with little innovation. Much can and should be said about this misconception. Most probably future studies will show that fiqh is a genre meant to stabilize a madhhab and its community, but that at the same time it accommodates innovation and adapts to changing needs and contexts. It must also be pointed out that during this whole period Zaydi producers of fiqh operated in a rather small geographically defined area, the highlands of Yemen, under the shifting powers of competing Zaydi imams and imamic dynasties. The Sunni madhahbs had also matured and Zaydis obviously borrowed and incorporated new ways of thinking (uṣūl, maṣlaḥa-logic,) and new genres (mutūn, mukhtaṣarāt and shurūḥ).
A central topic which we do not have space to problematize and elaborate upon here is the Sunnification of the Zaydi madhhab. In the fiqh genre, this has to do with increasing inter-madhhab comparison and the gradual inclusion of Sunni ḥadīth. In short, we can say the central fiqh works of this period do show inter-madhhab comparison, but generally resist broad use of Sunni ḥadīth. However, this is a field in which more research is needed even though at the time of Sharaf al-Dīn the Sunnification is noticeable. In this period the methodology (uṣūl al-fiqh) of the Yemeni Zaydi madhhab was critiqued by some scholars, for example by Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm al-Wazīr (d. 840/1436), as analyzed by Damaris Wilmers, (Wilmers 2018). Nevertheless, we see no widespread madhhab critique at this time. The notion of a common and valid Zaydi fiqh-tradition seems strong, especially if seen from inside the genre of fiqh itself.
4 Qāsimi Zaydi fiqh: Increasing separation between the madhhab and traditionist-oriented scholars and imams (ca. 1600-1800)
The Ottomans occupied the Tihama coastal strip in 1538 and shortly thereafter took Sanaa. Into this scene in 1006/1597 came a new imam from a little-known family. Al-Manṣūr Bi-llāh al-Qāsim b. Muḥammad (d. 1029/1620) rallied the tribes of the northern highlands to holy war against the Ottoman occupiers, following a stereotypical image of a Zaydi imam fighting injustice and seeking to establish a polity of righteous (Zaydi) rule. Imam al-Manṣūr al-Qāsim created a niche in the religious-ideological landscape between the Ottomans and the "traditional" Zaydis. Al-Qāsim upheld the consensus of Ahl al-Bayt as a fundamental principle as well as the Zaydi theory of the imamate and thus, in combination with a religious rhetoric of fighting corruption, he created a platform to legitimately attack the Ottomans.
Most noteworthy is, however, that al-Qāsim’s uṣūl and fiqh are very different from the mainstream Zaydi madhhab of the preceding two centuries. He included a new form of ḥadīth argumentation in legal issues and used Sunni ḥadīths. This is most notable in his many fatwās and risālas (treatises), but also in his large fiqh work called al-Iʿtiṣām bi-ḥabl Allāh al-matīn. While Quranic verses and ḥadīth were also previously quoted in discussion of fiqh rules that were controversial or new, and thus in necessity of full backing, al-Qāsim's programmatic return to the Qurʾān and the Sunna and his undermining of the madhhab authorities as supreme sources of fiqh in themselves is certainly a significant shift, especially since he was an imam. Al-Wazir, a contemporary of Ibn al-Murtaḍā is often seen as the pioneer of this new Sunnification trend, but he does not appear to have made an immediate effect on the Zaydi madhhab. The same can be said about the fiqh of al-Qāsim. His views were later quoted in the margins (ḥāshiyas, super-commentaries) of the Sharḥ al-azhār, and in that way they eventually made it into the fiqh discourse. Despite this, we can also say that the "old" madhhab continued being studied and respected by most Zaydis.
After the Ottomans were driven out of Yemen by the son of al-Qāsim, Imam al-Muʾayyad Muḥammad (d. 1054/1644) and his brothers, the political context around the Zaydi madhhab fundamentally changed compared to the previous period. The imamate now became more dynastic, it appeared more like a state and now ruled over the populous Shāfiʿi Lower Yemen. The government apparatus around the imams become larger and the imams increasingly relied on educated elites of non-Ahl al-Bayt descent (Klarić 2007, Pukhovaia 2021).
Although previously Imam Sharaf al-Dīn had sought to update the Kitāb al-azhār, the Kitāb al-azhār came back as the preferred matn of the madhhab, incorporated into Ibn Miftāḥ's Sharḥ al-azhār. In the Qāsimi period this fiqh text became more popular than all other shurūḥ on the Azhār. At this time, manuscripts are made with wide margins reserved for ḥāshiyas, as if the copyists expected this space to be in demand. In later (ca. 1650 onwards) manuscripts, ḥāshiyas start to accumulate and at times they were added in different hands. During the Qāsimi period, these commentaries in the margins (ḥāshiya, ḥawāshī) on the Sharḥ al-azhār become central fiqh texts, transforming into a sort of textual, multi-authored dialogue and archive of the madhhab. Some individual ḥāshiyas recycled earlier, pre-Qāsimi khilāf, mainly by Yemeni imams and scholars. Other ḥāshiyas were made by famous Qāsimi ulama, muftis and chief qāḍīs, thus adding to a gradual Sunnification of Zaydi fiqh. The content of this historical layer of fiqh texts has hardly been studied. A major question is who was included in this textual layer? What were the mechanisms of exclusion of other Zaydis? Such questions await future research.
Most noteworthy is that by looking at manuscripts from ca. 1750 onwards, we can observe that most of these ḥāshiyas have become standardized. By this we mean that any manuscript at this time will have the same individual ḥāshiyas, with the same text, on the same pages in different manuscripts, in the same hand, the hand of the copyist. Few new ḥāshiyas seem to be added after this time. More research is needed to understand this process of standardization, the time frame, the main actors, and to what extent there are temporal and regional deviations from this standard.
The "traditional" Zaydi madhhab still lived on in this period, in the core of the Sharḥ al-azhār, however now with insertions of "sunnified" content in the ḥāshiyas. The Neo-Sunni oriented scholars critiquing the madhhab became more noticeable and popular, culminating with Muḥammad b. ʿAlī l-Shawkānī (d. 1834). This trend was described by Haykel in his seminal book on al-Shawkānī and his legacy (Haykel 2003).
A task that remains to be completed (and will not be attempted in this blogpost) is to make an overview of fiqh works written in this period. It appears that there are many unedited treatises (risālas) and shorter works that have not been academically described and catalogued because they were seen as less important or not fitting larger trends. Some works re-commented on older canonical works, adding new aspects like supporting them with Sunni hadīth.
Another question that remains unanswered is which currents of the traditional (pre-Qāsimi) Zaydi madhhab remained in the Qāsimi period and which adapted and took the other way in what we can call the Shawkānī direction? Do we envision this as an evenly spread-out spectrum of positions, or as two, binary antagonistic currents, or perhaps with a third, middle way? This is also discussed in the work of Kerstin Hünefeld (forthcoming).
Another interesting phenomenon in Zaydi fiqh manuscripts from the Qāsimi period is the usage of tadhhīb marks to highlight some of the rules and mark them as being in accordance with the madhhab (Hovden 2019, 176-180). A tadhhīb mark is a letter hāʾ and bāʾ inserted over the rule in question, or the letter q-r-z inserted on the line after a rule. The validated rule can be one located in the matn, sharḥ or ḥāshiya. This means that a ḥāshiya can hypothetically overrule both the sharḥ and the matn. Even in this late ḥāshiya-dominated phase, when the ḥāshiyas were "frozen" or standardized, changes could be made to the core text of the madhhab, in this case, change in meaning and legal validity. These marks seems standardized across manuscripts around 1750, a development that needs further study.
Another characteristic development of this period is that Qāsimi imams issued ikhtiyārāt, lists containing rules that judges were obliged to follow. The origin of this genre, or at least its function, can be traced to letters addressed to judges found in majmūʿ works ("collected letters") of several earlier Zaydi imams. The term ikhtiyārāt, however, seems to appear early in the Qasimi period. Common for several of the Qāsimi ikhtiyārāt is that they often adopt Sunni positions. For example, they would limit the use of family waqf to circumvent inheritance rules, by referring to the famous Sunni ḥadīth "lā waṣīya li-wārith" ("no testament for an heir"). This is contrary to traditional Zaydi fiqh in which a bequest upon an heir is valid (Hovden 2019, 186-254).
5 Post-Shawkānī Zaydi fiqh. Defending, editing, printing, and digitizing (ca. 1800 – today).
Al-Shawkānī was a chief judge serving three Zaydi imams of the Qāsimi dynasty. He is most famous for his general program of going directly to the Quran and the Sunna and thereby discarding the fiqh traditions of the Zaydi madhhab. He openly attacked the Zaydi madhhab of his time. Al-Shawkānī's fiqh-like production is hard to delineate as it appears to be a by-product of other genres, like Quran commentaries, ḥadīth commentaries, fatwās, and risālas. His only fiqh-work in a narrow sense, a matn-sharḥ composition called al-Darārī l-muḍīya, is extremely short and little known. His work al-Sayl al-jarrār is also fiqh, however with the aim of critiquing just as much as building something new. It follows the Kitāb al-azhār systematically, rule by rule, and al-Shawkānī tells the reader, often in highly polemical language, how obvious it is that Zaydi fiqh is simply made up and not based on the Quran and the Sunna. Haykel has described how al-Shawkānī was a powerful actor, centrally placed in the Qāsimi state with many followers. His general ḥadīth-oriented fiqh and doctrinal position was used by many later Zaydis, even the Ḥamīd al-Dīn imams (Haykel 2003). How could the "traditional" Zaydis respond to this? Obviously, proponents of traditional Zaydi fiqh continued studying the tradition, but few new fiqh works were produced. One exception is the response to the Sayl of al-Shawkānī under the title al-Ghaṭamṭam al-zakhkhār by Muḥammad b. Ṣāliḥ al-Samāwī, defending the Zaydi madhhab, rule by rule (his work only covers ʿibādāt).
Few fiqh works seem to have been written after ca. 1800 and the general vacuum that appears is striking. The complex and vast tradition in the later stages of the multi-layered, multi-authored Sharḥ al-azhār was perhaps so rich that actors of the madhhab were not in need of yet more alternative views. The manuscript tradition certainly lived on. The most recent complete manuscript of the Sharḥ al-azhār is from the 1950s. In that manuscript the ḥāshiyas appear almost identical to those found in manuscripts from the late Qāsimi period, indicating a freezing of the text, with no new layers added. The lack of research on this period most probably makes us oversee important developments. Circumstantial evidence still leaves us with the impression of a madhhab, at least the fiqh part of it, that changes fundamentally from active production to a passive and conservative preservation. What fills the gap, is not clear.
We also lack fundamental research on the transition from manuscript to print which is now emerging regarding other madhhabs and Islamic intellectual traditions. Editing and print entails fundamental choices of selection and prioritization of which fiqh works are considered important or canonical enough to be printed and in which form. Since Zaydi works were generally late in being printed, we must imagine a period of some decades during which fiqh from other madhhabs and non-madhhab trends were more available than the Zaydi one. Lithographic print of central texts was probably an intermediary phase. The Sharḥ al-azhār was not printed until 1913-14. An abridgment of the Sharḥ al-azhār, al-Tāj al-mudhhab was printed in four volumes between 1938 and 1947. It is based on all the layers of the Sharḥ al-azhār, including its ḥāshiyas, and mainly follows the rules marked with tadhhīb. The intention was to make the Sharḥ al-azhār more accessible for judges and legal practitioners. Obviously, the Sharḥ al-azhār in its full form is complex to use for legal reference as first and foremost it is a recording of centuries of debate over minute details. The Tāj is true to the rules of the Sharḥ al-azhār, but leaves out all evidence, disagreement, and references to who said what. An even shorter abridgement is the Taysīr al-Marām (1950s) which is so short that its functionality is partly lost. At times it simply quotes the matn of Ibn al-Murtaḍā, even though the later Qāsimi Zaydi madhhab might have validated a version of the rule from the later layers of the text. Brinkley Messick describes in fascinating detail the general picture of this latest pre-modern period and how the different genres of legal texts related to each other in usage, in his seminal monograph Sharīʿa Scripts (Messick 2018). Haykel also describes how the Ḥamīd al-Din imams as well as the Republic (-1962) uses and balances the Zaydi tradition with the Shawkānī trend (Haykel 2003).
The Sharḥ al-azhār remained a pivot of the madhhab. One of the most recent commentaries is Lubab al-afkār fī tawḍīḥ mubhamāt al-azhār by Aḥmad b. Ḥasan from 2009, but this type of contemporary commentary is rare. The Sharḥ al-azhār was reprinted by the Ministry of Justice in 1980 and 2003. It remains central for the modern court system until today, although in periods of high conflict between traditional Zaydi actors and the republican state, such as during the so-called Huthi-wars of the 2000s it has been less available on the market. A reprint was made in 2014 (based on the 2003 edition) and a new edition with some minor changes in the ḥāshiyas was published in 2019. The editors state that they deleted some ḥāshiyas and added others depending on newly "discovered" ḥāshiyas in the manuscripts added to the editorial corpus.
A minute, but indicative detail is that the tadhhīb mark in the Sharḥ al-azhār over the rule allowing a bequest upon an heir, "according to the Hādawiyya", had disappeared in the 2003 and 2014 edition but was inserted back in in the 2019 edition. The validation, invalidation, and re-validation of this rule, although seemingly anonymously done, indicates how for more than a millennium the "traditional" madhhab can uphold a rule, disregarding the Sunni hadīth contradicting it. Several imamic decrees, as well as the present-day Yemeni law of bequest took the Sunni position in this matter, and the editors of the 2003 edition of the Sharḥ al-azhār might have felt the time was ripe to change the appearance of the rule by removing the validation mark. But the old madhhab position came back in with the 2019 edition perhaps due to a change in political hegemony after the Huthi takeover of the government. It shows that even today, fiqh works are not entirely stable.
The general Zaydi revival taking place in the 1990s and 2000s entailed the editing and printing of vast amounts of Zaydi fiqh previously only available in manuscript form. Some works, like the Intiṣār which previously only existed as a few manuscript copies and had mainly lived on as quotes in shurūḥ and ḥāshiyas, were now edited and gained much popularity. The ability and capacity to assess and edit manuscripts and fiqh texts, and to distribute them in cheap print or online has fundamentally changed the factors shaping a Zaydi fiqh canon of today. It is not the place here to attempt an overview of different actors and sub-communities of present-day Zaydis and recent trends in Zaydi fiqh (re)production. Today, however, would be an excellent opportunity to study the ongoing and constant formation of a fiqh canon, under the influence of rapidly shifting ideologies, technologies, and politics. The fiqh texts and genres we saw forming in the middle periods, is perhaps what we most readily define as fiqh, but perhaps fiqh today and tomorrow is something partly different.
A fuller version of this blog post will be turned into an article. The authors are grateful for any comments or feedback. Email addresses: Eirik.Hovden@uib.no and Ebrahim.Mansoor@uib.no
This blog entry is part of the Zaydi Studies Series commissioned and edited by Ekaterina (Kate) Pukhovaia, Leiden University.