1) Allah (swt) sent the Messenger Muhammad (saw) with Islam to mankind in its entirety. So he began with the Arabs whilst the Qur’an Al-Kareem had been revealed in their language. Its revelation came in the age when the Arabic language was at is ripest and indeed in the golden age of this language. This was at a time when the Arab tribes had established special arts markets so that they could present their poetry and compete with one another in respect to their skills and prowess.
The Arabs understood the Qur’an and the Hadith because the language which the Ayaat and Ahadith came in represented a natural talent, trait and inborn disposition which they were endowed with. They could fully take in the meanings of its worded expressions and understood its styles. Consequently, each of them would take the Hukm Shar’i that he required without difficulty.
The situation of the Muslims then continued like that in the era of the Sahabah (ra) and the Taabi’een until the beginning of the second Hijri century.
2) After that, the Islamic State had expanded and many other nations had entered into Islam like the Romans, the Persians, Hindus and Berbers. The Arabs then mixed with them in terms of where they resided and in respect to their speech. As a result, the Arabic tongue weakened due to the insertion of expressions, colloquialisms and styles of a non-Arabic origin. This led to the weakening of the understanding of the Shari’ah texts amongst the majority of the Arabs. As a result, they became in need of linguistic controls and principles in order to understand the Ayaat and the Ahadith as the first Muslims had understood them. The scholars responded and made efforts to put down and provide a Minhaaj (methodology) to explain the manner of how to deduce the practical Ahkam Shari’ah through the Kitab and the Sunnah.
3) From the host of these linguistic and Shar’i principles and controls (Dawaabit) the ‘Ilm of Usool ul-Fiqh was formed and the beginning of this ‘Ilm was in the second Hijri century.
4) The first to gather together some of the principles of this ‘Ilm within a book was Al-Imaam Abu Yusuf (rh) the companion of Al-Imaan Abu Haneefah (rh) as was mentioned by Ibn un-Nadeem in his book ‘Al-Fihrist’. However, this book written by Abu Yousuf did not reach us.
The Shee’ah have said that the first to put the subject of Usool ul-Fiqh into writing was Al-Imaam Ja’far Muhammad Al-Baaqir however this statement has not been supported by evidence.
The ‘Ulama before Shafi’ used to speak about the issues of Usool ul-Fiqh, make deductions and objections however they did not have a complete methodology that was put down on paper that could be referred back to.
5) The first book that reached us in the subject area of Usool ul-Fiqh was ‘Ar-Risaalah’ of Al-Imaam Muhammad Bin Idrees Shafi’ (rh) who passed away in the year 204 after Hijrah. He discussed the Adillah Al-Ijmaaliyyah in an ordered and organised manner; the Kitab, the Sunnah, Qiyas and Ijmaa’. And he also dealt with the linguistic principles and how to use them to deduce the Ahkam Shari’ah
Therefore, the ‘Ilm of Usool ul-Fiqh that Shafi’ provided represented a disciplined yardstick to know the correct opinions from the incorrect ones and a precise measure to know what is from the Shar’a and what is not from the Shar’a.
Shafi’ restricted himself to this Minhaaj (methodology) in his Istinbat (deduction) of the Ahkam Shari’ah and based his Madh’hab, known as the Shaafi’iy Madh’hab in Fiqh, upon it which was recorded in his book ‘Al-Umm’.
In his ‘Muqaddamah’ when discussing the ‘Ilm of Usool ul-Fiqh Ibn Khaldoon said: “The first who wrote in it was Shafi’, may Allah be pleased with him. He dictated in it (the subject area) in his famous ‘Risaalah’ and in this he spoke about the commands and forbiddances, the Bayaan, the Khabar, An-Naskh (abrogation) and the Hukm of the ‘Illah that has come in the text in respect to Qiyas...” (Al-Muqaddamah p455).
In his ‘Risaalah’ Shafi’ ordered (graded) the levels of the Adillah Al-Ijmaaliyyah and placed them in their positions: “We judge (or pass verdict) in accordance to the Kitab and the Sunnah upon which a consensus has been formed, in which there is no difference and its position is essential, because it is not Halaal to resort to Qiyas whilst the Khabar (i.e. Sunnah) is present” (Historical study of Fiqh and its Usool – Dr. Mustafa Sa’eed p181 Vol 1)
Shafi’ founded the ‘Ilm of Usool ul-Fiqh and this was received (well) by the ‘Ulama and Fuqahaa, who followed him, through examination and study. So they added to it and revised a number of issues within it until it became an ‘Ilm that was coherent, clear and distinguished in its features, due to the firm foundation that Al-Imaam Shafi’ laid down solidly for this noble knowledge.
Shafi’ did not reach the point of completion in respect to Usool ul-Fiqh and so others came to complete the building that he had begun. There were from amongst them those who followed him providing explanation and elaboration, there were also those who came adding new principles whilst others came critiquing and disagreeing with him in respect to some of the Qawa’id (principles).
These areas of study after Ash-Shafi’iy were restricted to specific subjects in Usool ul-Fiqh and they did not deal with Usool ul-Fiqh as a whole. They were restricted to subjects in respect to explanation, addition and disagreement.
The most prominent explanations (Shurooh) of Shafi’’s Risaalah in Usool ul-Fiqh were:
1) The Sharh (explanation) of Abu Bakr Muhammad As-Seerfiy who passed away in the year 330 AH and it was called: ‘Dalaa’il Al-I’laam’.
2) The Sharh of Muhammad Al-Qaffaal Ash-Shaashii who passed away in the year 365 AH.
3) The Sharh of Abu Muhammad Abdullah ibn Yousuf Al-Juwainiy who passed away in the year 438 AH.
From the earliest of those who wrote in Masaa’il (issues) of Usool ul-Fiqh after Shafi’ were:
1) Al-Imaam Ahmad Bin Hanbal in his book: ‘Taa’at Ar-Rasool’, the book: ‘An-Naasikh Wa-l-Mansookh’ and the book: ‘Al-‘Ilal’.
2) Daawud Azh-Zhaahiriy in the book: ‘Ibtaal Al-Qiyas’ and the book: ‘Al-Khusoos Wa-l-‘Umoom’ amongst others. Most of what he wrote was a critique of the Usool of Shafi’.
3) Muhammad At-Tirmidhi who passed away in the year 255 in the book: ‘Ithbaat Al-‘Ilal Ash-Shari’ah’.
Most of these books were lost and it is clear to us from their headings and titles that they were restricted to dealing with issues of disagreement or difference; either in support of Shafi’ and as a rebuttal to those who disagreed with him, or they were to establish the Madh’hab of the writer and as a rebuttal in opposition to the Madh’hab of Shafi’.