A Diamond Among Rocks: Nisāb Al-Ihtisāb (The Manual of Al-Ihtisāb)
Among the many contributions of Islām which Muslims have rightfully boasted of through the ages has undoubtedly been its contribution in the line of academia. The very first revelation to the Messenger of Allāh (peace and blessings be upon him) bears first hand testimony to this fact. From the intricacies of language to the subtleties of the spiritual heart, Muslim scholars have left no stone unturned in their contribution to humanity in general, and to the Muslim community in particular. One subject, seldom discussed, yet has played an important role in the smooth regulation of the affairs of Muslims for centuries is al-Ihtisāb, or “enforcing public good and preventing public wrong.”
The topic of al-Ihtisāb has received much attention from scholars throughout the centuries. Some scholars have incorporated the subject of al-Ihtisāb into their more general works on Fiqh, such as Abu ‘l-Hasan ‘Alī al-Māwardī [d. 450 AH] in his al-Ahkām al-Sultāniyya, and al-Qādī Abū Ya‘lā [d. 458 AH] in a book with a similar title. Other scholars have authored independent treatises and works on the subject of al-Ihtisāb, such as Ahkām al-Sūq of Yahyā ibn ’Umar al-Andalūsī [d. 289 AH], which is one of the earlier works on the topic to have reached us, Nihāyat al-Rutbah fī Talab al-Hisbah of Jalāl al-Dīn al-Shīzarī [d. 589 AH], and Ma’ālim al-Qirbah fī Ahkām al-Hisbah of Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Qurashī [d. 729 AH].
One work in particular that we wish to discuss in this brief article is Nisāb al-Ihtisāb of ‘Umar ibn Muhammad al-Sunnāmī [d. ca. 725 AH]. The manual is an indispensable masterpiece for every Hanafī scholar, in particular Hanafī Muftīs. One can gauge the value of the book by the countless material exclusively found therein. In addition, it is the first and perhaps the only available Hanafī manual written on the topic. Unfortunately, since the value of the book is often not realized, it is abandoned in a heap of unused books, thus making it a diamond among rocks.