1. According to the popular riwaya, the Risala was originally written at the request of the Iraqi Muhaddith, Ibn Mahdi al-Lu'lu'i (d. 198 H). The main arguments were directed against the prevailing tendency in Iraq of some ra'y madhhabs in their use of personal opinion at the expense of naqli sources of our sacred law, especially as practiced by those in Basra.
2. The various books accompanying al-Umm known by our scholars as the appendices [Mulhaqat] contain, for the most part, the Qawl Qadim of the Mujtahid Imam. This is because most of the appendices of al-Umm are, in fact, works on 'Ilm Khilaf (and not fiqh proper: Furu'), and Shafi'i scholars are well aware that many of the positions found in the Mujtahid's khilafiyya works belong to the Qadim; but the Qawl Jadid, as well as the Qawl Azhar and the Qawl Mashhur have also been found in them. Because of that, they are to be used with extreme caution. The laborious task of combing through and sieving them is left to the the Consultants and Assessors of the school [Ashab al-Fatwa wa'l-Tarjih] like Imams al-Rafi'i and al-Nawawi and down to the Authorities of the school [Ashab al-Wujuh] like Imams al-Qaffal and al-Isfara'ini, and of course, the Independent-but-Affiliated Mujtahids [Mujtahid Mutlaq Muntasib] like Imam al-Muzani; together they make it known which are reliable. So the effect it had within the ranks of our fuqaha', especially up until the likes of Imam al-Nawawi, was to use these appendices as indices (therefore as a tool) or cross-references, to the main text and NOT as the matn (main reference) of what is al-Umm.
The 'real' users of these Mulhaqat (meaning those who can be benefited by them; i.e., those who know how to use these indices and know the context or connections of each anecdote/mas'ala, for instance, and can recognize the Mujtahid Imam's nusus and distinguish what is Nass from Mansus) no longer exist today (and therefore beware of those who use them or even quote al-Umm proper - unless it is for an academic exercise or used as an emphasis [tawkid] - in order to sum up a point of law to the exclusion of later legal judgements, for the former ones are frequently too compact for clarity). In fact, after the exhaustive mining performed by our Ashab al-Tarjih, there was no longer any need for later jurists and even heavyweights from among the Examiners of the school [Ashab al-Nuzzar], such as Imams al-Ramli and Ibn Hajar, to refer to them.
It may be appropriate here to remind ourselves of the meaning got from the well-quoted advice of Ibn Khaldun who warned against the dangers of "accepting knowledge from books for which no key is provided by teachers": naqlu l-'ilmi mina l-kutubi min ghayri miftAHi l-mu'allimIna.
May this be a cause for Fath and a means to be close to the Keys!
al-faqir in Oxford,
M. Afifi al-Akiti
22 Muharram 1425
14 III 2004