Statements and laws issued by the Prophet (and for that matter any another of the maʿṣūmīn) fall into at least three categories:
Hukm Sharʿī (religious laws, laws of Islam): what was issued from him qua the Messenger of God, such as the issuance of the obligation of prayers and fasting.
Hukm Wilāyī (governmental laws): what was issued from him qua the authority (walī al-ʿamr), leader and commander; like his prohibition from eating the meat of domesticated donkeys on the day of Khaybar, as has been transmitted in an authentic tradition:
نَهَى رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وآله عَنْهَا وعَنْ أَكْلِهَا يَوْمَ خَيْبَرَ وَ إِنَّمَا نَهَى عَنْ أَكْلِهَا فِي ذَلِكَ الْوَقْتِ لِأَنَّهَا كَانَتْ حَمُولَةَ النَّاس.
“The Prophet prohibited it and its consumption on the day of Khaybar, and he prohibited its consumption only on that occasion because it was [used] for transporting people.”
This prohibition was issued by him (p) as the walī al-ʿamr and the leader, and not as a Messenger. Therefore, it was only limited to that particular situation and timeframe. We will also refer to these as situational laws (احکام موقعیتی).
Hukm Qaḍa’ī (judicial verdicts): what was issued from him qua a judge (qāḍī) amongst the people working to alleviate disputes and end disagreements.
Laws of Islam are by definition eternal whereas laws of government are situational and subject to change. Although, obeying the situational laws of the Prophet was religiously obligatory, but in essence, they do not constitute a part and parcel of religion. It is only mandated circumstantially for the alleviation of some harm or the provision of some benefit.
This very categorisation provides a dynamic for Islam and its legitimate ruler to legislate laws in order to ensure the smooth functioning of society as they face new environments and challenges. It allows for Islam to stay relevant to humans and their societies despite the changing of their needs, norms and social structures.
Of course, a lengthier discussion can be conducted with regards to the inner workings of this dynamic, but that is not the goal of this writing. What we wish to cover here is the hermeneutical aspect of this discussion with particular focus on one heavily referenced narration. The hermeneutical challenge for the scholar, every time he deals with a narration, is to determine whether the ruling extracted from it is a law of Islam so that we can treat it as fixed or whether it is a situational law so that we can treat it as changeable. If the report itself contains indications to either side, such as the aforementioned narration about the prohibition of the eating of donkeys did, then the task is made easy. However, if no indications are found, we ask: What is our starting position? Is the default position eternality and continuity of the extracted law or is it temporality and discontinuity?
This should not be confused with the aṣl ʿamalī (practical principle/procedure) we employ in cases of doubt. In contrast, what we are after is an aṣl awwalī (primary principle). The difference is simple: a practical procedure is employed when we have doubt about the eternality or temporality of a ruling, whereas, the primary principle is employed at our first encounter with the report once we have not found indications. We ask what is the default position of the Prophet (p) in his statements? Is it issued qua his status as the legislator and messenger, or that of the commander and walī amr? If for whatever reason we do not reach a conclusion with this question due to hermeneutical obstacles in the report, we can then resort to the practical procedure. The process would then be as follows:
- If the narration contains indications to it being eternal or temporal, then we treat it as so.
- If it is void of these indications, we refer to our primary principle.
- If we cannot rely on the primary principle, we move to the practical procedure given we are in a state of doubt.
There are two camps here: those who opine that the primary principle is one of fixedness and eternality, and the opposite camp who opines that the primary principle is one of flexibility and temporality. This means the first group encounters every report with the mindset that it is fixed unless proven otherwise, whereas the other approaches it with changeability unless proven otherwise. (To be more accurate, there is a third and fourth camp: those who think there is no primary principle and those who believe in both with tafṣīl).
One of the evidences used – amongst others – by proponents of the fixed camp is the narration of “Halal of Muhammad”. The full text of the narration is as follows:
عَلِيُّ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عِيسَى بْنِ عُبَيْدٍ عَنْ يُونُسَ عَنْ حَرِيزٍ عَنْ زُرَارَةَ قَالَ: سَأَلْتُ أَبَا عَبْدِ اَللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ اَلسَّلاَمُ عَنِ اَلْحَلاَلِ وَ اَلْحَرَامِ فَقَالَ حَلاَلُ مُحَمَّدٍ حَلاَلٌ أَبَداً إِلَى يَوْمِ اَلْقِيَامَةِ وَ حَرَامُهُ حَرَامٌ أَبَداً إِلَى يَوْمِ اَلْقِيَامَةِ لاَ يَكُونُ غَيْرُهُ وَ لاَ يَجِيءُ غَيْرُهُ وَ قَالَ قَالَ عَلِيٌّ عَلَيْهِ اَلسَّلاَمُ مَا أَحَدٌ اِبْتَدَعَ بِدْعَةً إِلاَّ تَرَكَ بِهَا سُنَّةً .
Zurārah narrates: I asked Abā ʿAbdillāh (a) about the halal and the haram. He replied: The halal of Muhammad is halal eternally until the day of Judgement and his haram is haram eternally until the day of Judgement. There will be nothing besides it and nothing besides it will come. Then he said that ʿAli (a) said: No one person produces an innovation (in religion) except with which he abandons a tradition.
The chain of this narration is ṣaḥīḥ. The only potential problem is with Muḥammad b. ʿĪsā given Shaykh al-Ṭūsī has weakened his credibility while Najāshī consider him as reliable:
قال النجاشي: محمد بن عيسى بن عبيد بن يقطين بن موسى، مولى أسد ابن خزيمة، أبو جعفر: جليل في أصحابنا، ثقة، عين، كثير الرواية، حسن التصانيف
وقال الشيخ: محمد بن عيسى بن عبيد اليقطيني: ضعيف، استثناه أبو جعفر محمد بن علي بن بابويه عن رجال نوادر الحكمة، وقال: لا أروي ما يختص برواياته
Sayyid Khū’ī explains that Shaykh’s weakening is only with respect to what ʿAlī b. Babawayh has said: “I will not narrate what relates to his narrations”. This phrase does not indicate a weakening on the side of Babawayh, rather, it shows his problem with reports he (Muḥammad b. ʿĪsā) has narrated with a disconnected (mursal) chain from Yūnus.
The argument from the narration is straightforward:
The attribution of halal and haram to the Prophet is a reference to his position as God’s Messenger in revealing the laws of Islam and the narration explicitly affirms the continuity of these laws until the end of times.
Shaykh al-Anṣārī and others such as Mīrzā Nā’īnī have objected to this argument:
وفيه: أن الظاهر سوقه لبيان استمرار أحكام محمد (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) نوعا من قبل الله جل ذكره إلى يوم القيامة في مقابل نسخها بدين آخر، لا بيان استمرار أحكامه الشخصية إلا ما خرج بالدليل، فالمراد أن حلاله (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) حلال من قبل الله جل ذكره إلى يوم القيامة، لا أن الحلال من قبله (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) حلال من قبله إلى يوم القيامة، ليكون المراد استمرار حليته.
Shaykh opines that the apparent meaning of the text is indicating the categorical continuity of the Prophetic legislation by God until the day of Judgement as opposed to it being abrogated by another religion. It is not in a position of declaring the eternity of each and every specific law. In essence, the narration is rejecting the possibility of all the laws of Islam being abrogated like previous religions and not anything else.
Hasan Ali Akbariyan in his book titled “Criteria for Recognising Fixed and Changeable Laws in Narrations” presents two objections to Shaykh’s interpretation of the narration:
- The last clause of the narration (مَا أَحَدٌ اِبْتَدَعَ بِدْعَةً إِلاَّ تَرَكَ بِهَا سُنَّةً) is nakirah fī siyāq al-nahy which indicates istighrāq. This universality implies we should interpret the preceding clauses in the same vein. Upon this, the narration is not speaking categorically about the laws of Islam, rather, universally, targeting each and every law.
- Even if we accept that some laws of Islam can be abrogated, this does not entail that after the end of that period of legislation (and potential abrogation), they cannot be eternally fixed.
In defense of Shaykh, Akbariyan asserts that he (Shaykh) was not even attempting to argue against the eternal continuity of religious laws in the above clause. Rather, he was replying to those who were using this narration to argue for the impossibility of abrogation during the period in which it was possible, that is, the period of legislation (tashrīʿ).
Despite this, the argument faces another serious objection: before we can accept that all legal statements issued by the Prophet is to be treated as fixed, it needs to be demonstrated that the clause “halal of Muhammad” includes both the laws of Islam and situational laws. There is no indication in the report to this inclusion. With this ijmāl (ambiguity), we cannot use it to substantiate the desired claim.
 Kulayni, al-Kāfī, vol.6, p. 246
 For further reading refer to Muʿjam Rijāl al-Ḥadīth V. 18 under #11536 محمد بن عيسى بن عبيد بن يقطين
 Farā’id al-Uṣūl, Vol. 4, P99
 معیارهای بازشناسی احکام ثابت و متغیر در روایات