Ẓāhirī (Arabic: ظاهري‎), is a school of thought in Islamic jurisprudence and Aqida. The school is named after one of its early prominent jurists, Dawud ibn Khalaf al-Zahiri (d. 270/883),[1] and is known for its insistence on sticking to the manifest (zahir) or literal meaning of expressions in the Qur'an and the Sunnah; the followers of this school are called Zahiriyah.



While those outside the school of thought often point to Dawud Al-Zahiri as the "founder" of the school, followers of the school themselves tend to look to earlier figures such as Sufyan al-Thawri and Ishaq Ibn Rahwayh as the forerunners of Zahiri principles.

In history, the Zahiri understanding has been persecuted by those preferring to interpret the texts by their inward meanings; this happened to such an extent that many of the scholars of Sunni and Shi'ite sects have labeled the Zahiri school extinct, although it is not clear that this is the case.


The Zahiri school of thought recognizes three sources of the Sharia or Islamic law, known as Usul al-fiqh or the principles of jurisprudence. The first is the Qur'an, considered by Muslims to be the word of God; the second is the Sunnah, which consists of the sayings and actions of the prophets in Islam Muhammad; the last is Ijma, or absolute consensus of the Muslim community.

The school differs from the more prolific schools of Islamic thought in that it restricts consensus in jurisprudence to the consensus of the Sahaba, the first generation of Muslims who lived alongside Muhammad, only. While Ahmad bin Hanbal agreed with them in this, the followers of the Hanbali school do not, nor do the other three Sunni schools. Additionally, the Zahiri school does not accept Qiyas or analogical reasoning as a source of Islamic law, nor do they accept the practice of Istihsan; while Shafi'i and followers of his school agree with the Zahiris in rejecting the latter, all other Sunni schools accept the former, but at varying levels.

It should be known that the name Zahiri itself is not endorsed by the adherents of this method, using other textual proof to suggest that there is no name to be known by except what has been mentioned thereby in the religious texts. God said, "He named you submitters [Arabic muslimeen] from before and in this." (Quran 22:76) Ibn Hazm, a well-known practitioner and teacher of this school, would refer to himself and those who followed this view as ashab al-zahir, or "the people of the literal sense," defining rather than labeling.

Notable Zahiris

Discerning who exactly is an adherent to the Zahiri school of thought can be difficult because many followers of other schools of thought adopted certain viewpoints of the Zahiris, holding "Zahirite leanings" without actually adopting the school of thought.[2] Some followers of other schools of thought would adopt Zahiri positions such as negation of analogical reasoning or the restriction of consensus to the consensus of the first generation of Muslims exclusively, for example, without leaving their own schools of thought.

Sympathizers with the Zahiri School

Followers of the Zahiri School

See also


  1. ^ Wael B. Hallaq, The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law (Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 124.
  2. ^ Zaharism by Omar A. Farrukh, Ph.D, Member of the Arab Academy, Damascus (Syria)

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