I am often asked to give advice on what books one should use when doing legal research within the Shafiʿi or Hanbali schools. Although the topic is of interest to a very limited audience, the blog has gotten a bit stale as of late.
The most authoritative and decisive books for the late Shafiʿi school are Imam Ibn Hajar’s Tuhfat al-Muhtaj and Imam al-Ramli’s Niyahat al-Muhtaj.
Next in authority is Shaykh al-Islam Zakariya al-Ansari’s Fath al-Wahhab Sharh Minhaj al-Tullab.
Next down would be al-Khatib al-Shirbini’s Mughni al-Muhtaj, which is considered the easiest of the books mentioned so far.
The books mentioned up to here are all considered derivative works of the Minhaj. Their order of importance and authority is the same as the order listed, with the exception of regional preferences concerning the order given to Imams Ibn Hajar and al-Ramli. All of these books should be read with their accompanying hashiyahs.
Most people will find Iʿyanat al-Talibin (a hashiyah on al-Milibari’s Fath al-Muʿin bi Sharh Qurrut al-ʿAyn the most accessible of the multi-volume works. Its advantages include that it is late (post-Bajuri), clarifies almost every question a reader might have, and it draws on late fatawa. While this book is excellent, the books mentioned above are the ones one would use for reference work.
If one is after variance of opinion among the early Shafiʿis, Imam al-Nawawi’s Rawdat al-Talibin is one of the best resources. Taqi al-Din al-Hasani’s Kifayat al-Akhyar is much shorter. Readers of the Kifayah must bear in mind that the book is read to learn about opinions within the school, evidence for these opinions, and which opinion is preferred – the book is read to learn how a faqih thinks, not for the fiqh itself.
Wali al-Din al-Basir’s Al-Nihayah bi Sharh al-Ghayah is a relatively short introduction to the evidence and reasoning behind basic opinions within the school.
As for the Hanbali school, the works of al-Buhuti and Marʿi bin Yusuf are considered the most authoritative of the late works. The Gulf gives precedence to al-Buhuti, while Sham gives precedence to Marʿi bin Yusuf. Al-Buhuti’s Kashshaf al-Qinaʿ and Marʿi bin Yusuf’s Ghayat al-Muntaha are usually considered the best works of these two authors.
Al-Taghlabi’s Nail al-Ma’arib is an excellent commentary on Marʿi bin Yusuf’s Dalil al-Talib. While the previous books are more authoritative, the book is particularly good with furuʿ. Al-Lubadi’s hashiyah is very late. Al-Ashqar’s editions of the commentary and hashiyah are quite good. However, some of his comments are at odds with the book and other Hanbali literature, and this often includes criticism that is shallow.
If one is after variance of opinion among the Hanbalis, al-Hajjawi’s Al-Insaf fi Maʿrifat al-Rajih min al-Khilaf is best, followed by Ibn Muflih’s Al-Furuʿ.
In addition to the above, Imam al-Nawawi’s Majmuʿa Sharh al-Muhadhdhab and Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi’s Al-Mughni considered authoritative in matters of comparative fiqh, even if both books are no longer the final word in their respective schools. Neither one of these books is a reliable reference for the late opinions.
All of these books assume a certain amount of expertise and familiarity with the respective schools and their nomenclature. They are of little use to a non-specialist.
For the Shafiʿi school, al-Sayyid ʿAlawi ibn Ahmad al-Saqqaf’s Al-Fawa’id al-Makkiyah (printed as part of the anthology Sabʿah Risalat Mufidah) and al-Hajj Muhammad Ahmad Sahl Mahfuz al-Islam al-Ahmadi’s Taʿliqat ʿala al-Thamarat al-Hajayniyyah are good.
For the Hanbali school, the late Shaykh ʿAbd al-Qadir Ibn Badran’s Al-Madkhal ila Madhab al-Imam Ahmad is an excellent guide to the Hanbali school’s history, jurisprudence, technical terms, notable authors, and books – although his section on ʿaqidah is not necessarily representative of the Hanbalis.
There are also several meta-school nomenclature guides, including Dr. ʿAli al-Gomaa’s Al-Madkhal ila Dirasat al-Madhdhahib al-Fiqhiyyah and Dr. Muhammad Ibrahim al-Hafnawi’s Mustalahat al-Fuqaha wa al-Usuliyyin. Both books draw heavily on the works of al-Saqqaf and Ibn Badran, and each includes valuable supplementary material.
And Allah knows best.