The controversy over the doctrine of Istiḥsān (juristic preference) arose between the Hanafi and Shafiīʿ schools of Islamic jurisprudence. Istiḥsān is the process of applying juristic preference to solve legal problems where there is no clear guidance in the Qur’an, Sunnah or ijma (consensus) of the scholars.
The Hanafi school defined Istiḥsān as an independent source of law, which can be used to override the literal meaning of a text if it leads to a harmful result. The Hanafi scholars argued that the Qur’an and Sunnah were not intended to provide an exhaustive set of rules and regulations for all situations, and therefore, juristic preference was necessary to deal with new situations that arise. They believed that Istiḥsān was a valid means of deducing legal rulings, and that the jurist’s judgment was necessary to ensure that the law remained relevant to the changing circumstances of society.
On the other hand, the Shafiīʿ school rejected the concept of Istiḥsān as an independent source of law, and believed that it was a form of personal opinion that should not be used to override the literal meaning of a text. They argued that the Qur’an and Sunnah were complete and provided guidance for all situations, and therefore, there was no need for juristic preference. The Shafiīʿ scholars believed that Istiḥsān could lead to subjective and arbitrary judgments, which could undermine the stability of the legal system.
Despite the controversy, both schools of jurisprudence recognized the importance of reasoning and interpretation in Islamic law. The Hanafi scholars emphasized the role of independent reasoning and personal judgment in deducing legal rulings, while the Shafiīʿ scholars emphasized the importance of textual evidence and the avoidance of personal opinion. Ultimately, the debate over Istiḥsān reflects the tension between the need for stability and consistency in the legal system, and the need for flexibility and adaptability to changing circumstances.