Fiqh – Jurispudence

The Greatest Imam Abu Hanifa

By Dr. G.F. Haddad

Al-Nu`man ibn Thabit al-Taymi, al-Imam Abu Hanifa (d. 150), called “The Imam” by Abu Dawud, and “The Imam, one of those who have reached the sky” by Ibn Hajar, he is known in the Islamic world as “The Greatest Imam” (al-imâm al-a`zam) and his school has the largest number of followers among the four schools of Ahl al-Sunna. He is the first of the four mujtahid imams and the only Successor (tâbi`i) among them, having seen the Companions Anas ibn Malik, `Abd Allah ibn Abi Awfa, Sahl ibn Sa`d al-Sa`idi, Abu al-Tufayl, and `Amir ibn Wathila.

Abu Hanifa is the first in Islam to organize the writing of fiqh under sub-headings embracing the whole of the Law, beginning with purity (tahara) followed by prayer (sala), an order which was retained by all subsequent scholars such as Malik, Shafi`i, Abu Dawud, Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, and others. All these and their followers are indebted to him and give him a share of their reward because he was the first to open that road for them, according to the hadith of the Prophet: “He who starts something good in Islam has its reward and the reward of those who practice it until the Day of Judgement, without lessening in the least the reward of those who practice it. The one who starts something bad in Islam will incur its punishment and the punishment of all those who practice it until the Day of Judgement without lessening their punishment in the least.” Al-Shafi`i referred to this when he said: “People are all the children of Abu Hanifa in fiqh, of Ibn Ishaq in history, of Malik in hadith, and of Muqatil in tafsîr.”

Al-Khatib narrated from Abu Hanifa’s student Abu Nu`aym that the latter said: “Muslims should make du`a to Allah on behalf of Abu Hanifa in their prayers, because the Sunan and the fiqh were preserved for them through him. Al-Dhahabi wrote one volume on the life of each of the other three great Imams and said: “The account of Abu Hanifa’s life requires two volumes.” His son Hammad said as he washed his father’s body for burial: “May Allah have mercy on you! You have exhausted whoever tries to catch up with you.”

Abu Hanifa was scrupulously pious and refused Ibn Hubayra’s offer of a judgeship even when the latter had him whipped. Like al-Bukhari and al-Shafi`i, he used to make 60 complete recitations (khatma) of Qur’an every Ramadan: one in the day, one in the night, besides his teaching and other duties. Ibrahim ibn Rustum al-Marwazi said: “Four are the Imams that recited the entire Qur’an in a single rak`a: `Uthman ibn `Affan, Tamim al-Dari, Sa`id ibn Jubayr, and Abu Hanifa.” Ibn al-Mubarak said: “Abu Hanifa for a long time would pray all five prayers with a single ablution.”

Al-Suyuti relates in Tabyid al-Sahifa that a certain visitor came to observe Abu Hanifa and saw him all day long in the mosque, teaching relentlessly, answering every question from both the scholars and the common people, not stopping except to pray, then standing at home in prayer when people were asleep, hardly ever eating or sleeping, and yet the most handsome and gracious of people, always alert and never tired, day after day for a long time, so that in the end the visitor said: “I became convinced that this was not an ordinary matter, but wilâya (Friendship with Allah).”

Al-Shafi`i said: “Knowledge revolves around three men: Malik, al-Layth, and Ibn `Uyayna.” Al-Dhahabi commented: “Rather, it revolves also around al-Awza`i, al-Thawri, Ma`mar, Abu Hanifa, Shu`ba, and the two Hammads [ibn Zayd and ibn Salama].”

Sufyan al-Thawri praised Abu Hanifa when he said: “We were in front of Abu Hanifa like small birds in front of the falcon,” and Sufyan stood up for him when Abu Hanifa visited him after his brother’s death, and he said: “This man holds a high rank in knowledge, and if I did not stand up for his science I would stand up for his age, and if not for his age then for his Godwariness (wara`), and if not for his Godwariness then for his jurisprudence (fiqh).” Ibn al-Mubarak praised Abu Hanifa and called him a sign of Allah. Both Ibn al-Mubarak and Sufyan al-Thawri said: “Abu Hanifa was in his time the most knowledgeable of all people on earth.” Ibn Hajar also related that Ibn al-Mubarak said: “If Allah had not rescued me with Abu Hanifa and Sufyan [al-Thawri] I would have been like the rest of the common people.” Dhahabi relates it as: “I would have been an innovator.”

An example of Abu Hanifa’s perspicuity in inferring legal rulings from source-texts is his reading of the following hadith:

The Prophet said: “Your life in comparison to the lifetime of past nations is like the period between the time of the mid-afternoon prayer (‘asr) and sunset. Your example and the example of the Jews and Christians is that of a man who employed laborers and said to them: ‘Who will work for me until mid-day for one qirât (a unit of measure, part of a dinar) each?’ The Jews worked until mid-day for one qirât each. Then the man said: ‘Who will work for me from mid-day until the ‘asr prayer for one qirât each?’ The Christians worked from mid-day until the ‘asr prayer for one qirât each. Then the man said: ‘Who will work for me from the `asr prayer until the maghrib prayer for two qirât each?’ And that, in truth, is all of you. In truth, you have double the wages. The Jews and the Christians became angry and said: ‘We did more labor but took less wages.’ But Allah said: ‘Have I wronged you in any of your rights?’ They replied no. Then He said: ‘This is My Blessing which I give to whom I wish.’”

It was deduced from the phrase “We did more labor” that the time of mid-day to `asr must always be longer than that between `asr and maghrib. This is confirmed by authentic reports whereby:

The Prophet hastened to pray zuhr and delayed praying `asr.

The Prophet said: “May Allah have mercy on someone who prays four rak`as before `asr.

`Ali delayed praying `asr until shortly before the sun changed, and he reprimanded the mu’adhdhin who was hurrying him with the words: “He is trying to teach us the Sunna!”

Ibrahim al-Nakha`i said: “Those that came before you used to hasten more than you to pray zuhr and delay more than you in praying `asr.” Al-Tahanawi said: “Those that came before you” are the Companions.

Ibn Mas`ud delayed praying `asr.

Sufyan al-Thawri, Abu Hanifa, and his two companions Muhammad ibn a-Hasan and Abu Yusuf therefore considered it better to lengthen the time between zuhr and `asr by delaying the latter prayer as long as the sun did not begin to redden, while the majority of the authorities considered that praying `asr early is better, on the basis of other sound evidence to that effect.

Like every Friend of Allah, Abu Hanifa had his enemies. `Abdan said that he heard Ibn al-Mubarak say: “If you hear them mention Abu Hanifa derogatively then they are mentioning me derogatively. In truth I fear for them Allah’s displeasure.” Authentically related from Bishr al-Hafi is the statement: “No-one criticizes Abu Hanifa except an envier or an ignoramus.” Hamid ibn Adam al-Marwazi said: I heard Ibn al-Mubarak say: “I never saw anyone more fearful of Allah than Abu Hanifa, even on trial under the whip and through money and property.” Abu Mu`awiya al-Darir said: “Love of Abu Hanifa is part of the Sunna.”


Main sources:
al-Khatib, Tarikh Baghdad 13:324-356;
al-Dhahabi, Manaqib Abi Hanifa 22-36 and Tabaqat al-Huffaz 1:168;
Ibn Hajar, Tahdhib al-Tahdhib 10:450;
Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya 10:114;
al-Suyuti, Tabyid al-Sahifa p. 94-95;
al-Haytami, al-Khayrat al-Hisan.

Shaykh Murabtal Haaj’s Fatwa on Following One of the Four Accepted Madhhabs


Shaykh Murabtal Haaj’s Fatwa on Following One of the Four Accepted Madhhabs
Translated by Hamza Yusuf Hanson
[Note: Hyperlinks within this document are links to footnotes at the bottom of the page]

In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate.

Amongst the most important replies that I have given, is my reply concerning the one who has deviated to the point where he censures the importance of studying the branches [furu’] of jurisprudence, and we seek refuge in Allah from the deviation of such a wandering deviant. Would that he simply had claimed independent reasoning (ijtihad) for himself only, and Allah is his reckoner, but abandoned the call of Muslims to leave that which is incumbent upon them. In our reply to such a one, we make mention what the scholars of the methodological bases of Islamic jurisprudence (usuli’un) and the Imams of jurisprudence themselves have said about such a matter. As for my labelling him a deviant, it is only because he has desired to impose upon common people the precious rank of absolute independent reasoning [ijtihad], about which Muhammad an-Nabigha said,
And ijtihad in the land of the Moroccans,
The western phoenix has taken to flight with it.

I say in reply, that the following of qualified scholarship (taqlid) is an obligation on anyone other than an absolute mujtahid. I shall make mention of all his prerequisites if Allah wills. [Sidi Abdullah Ould Hajj Ibrahim] has said in his Maraqi as-Sa’ud:
“[taqlid] is necessary for other than the one who has achieved the rank of absolute ijtihad. Even if he is a limited [mujtahid] who is unable [to perform absolute ijtihad].”

Commenting on this line, [Sidi Abdullah] said in Nashru al-bunud,
“It means that taqlid is an obligation on anyone who is not an absolute mujtahid, even if he has achieved the limited rank of ijtihad muqayyad . . . [until he says], ‘And ask the people of the reminder, if you yourselves do not know.’”
By using the line of Muhammad an-Nabigha above, I am in no way claiming that all ijtihad has been severed in every land; how [could I say such a thing] when [Sidi Abdullah] says in Maraqi as-sa’ud:
“The earth will never be void of a mujtahid scholar until its very foundations shake.”

He also said,
“[Regarding] the necessity of binding to a specific madhhab, the [scholars] have mentioned its obligation upon anyone falling short [of the conditions of ijtihad].”

He says in Nashru al-bunud,
“It means that it is incumbent for whoever falls short of achieving the rank of absolute ijtihad to follow a particular madhhab.”
Again, in Maraqi as-Sa’ud, Sidi Abdullah says,
“The consensus today is on the four, and all have prohibited following [any] others.”
He says in Nashru al-bunud,
“This means that the consensus of the scholars today is on the four schools of thought, and I mean by the schools of Malik, Abu Hanifa, Shafi’i and Ahmad. Indeed, all of the scholars have prohibited following any other school of an independent and absolute mujtahid since the eighth century when the school of Dawud adh-Dhahiri died out and until the 12th Century and all subsequent ones.”
In the chapter concerning inferential reasoning, from Maraqi as-sa’ud, [Sidi Abdullah] says,
“As for the one who is not a mujtahid, then basing his actions on primary textual evidence [Qur’an and hadith] is not permissible.”

He says in Nashru al-bunud,
“It means that it is prohibited for other than a mujtahid to base his actions upon a direct text from either the Book or the Sunna even if its transmission was sound because of the sheer likelihood of there being other considerations such as abrogation, limitations, specificity to certain situations, and other such matters that none but the mujtahid fully comprehends with precision. Thus, nothing can save him from Allah the Exalted excepted following a mujtahid.

Imam al-Qarafi says,
‘And beware of doing what some students do when they reason directly from the hadith, and yet they don’t know their soundness, let alone what has been mentioned [by the Imams] concerning the subtleties involved in them; by doing this, they went astray and led others astray. And whoever interprets a verse or hadith in a manner that deviates from its intended meaning without proof [dalil] is a kafir.’”

As for the conditions of the absolute and independent ijtihad, they are mentioned in the Maraqi as-sa’ud in the following line and what follows:

“And that [word ‘faqih’2] is synonymous with the [word] ‘mujtahid’ coupled with those things which bear upon [him] the burden of responsibility,
Such as his being of extreme intelligence by nature, and there is some debate about one who is known to reject juristic analogy [qiyas]
He knows the [juristic] responsibilities through intellectual proofs unless a clear transmitted proof indicates otherwise.

[Sidi Abdullah] says [in his commentary] Nashru al-bunud,
“This means that among the conditions of ijtihad is that [the mujtahid] knows that he must adhere to the intellectual proof which is the foundational condition [al-bara’atu al-asliyya3] until a transmitted proof from a sacred law indicates otherwise.”

He then goes on to mention the other conditions of a mujtahid:
[The sciences of] grammar, prosody, philology, combined with those of usul and rhetoric he must master.
According to the people of precision, [he must know] where the judgements can be found without the condition of having memorized the actual texts.

[All of the above must be known] according to a middle ranked mastery at least. He must also know those matters upon which there is consensus.

[Moreover, he must know] things such as the condition of single hadiths and what carries the authority of great numbers of transmissions; also [knowledge of] what is sound and what is weak is necessary.
Furthermore, what has been abrogated and what abrogates, as well as the conditions under which a verse was revealed or a hadith was transmitted is a condition that must be met.

The states of the narrators and the companions [must also be known]. Therefore, you may follow anyone who fulfils these conditions mentioned above according to the soundest opinion.

So, consider all of the above-mentioned, and may Allah have mercy upon you, and [may you] see for yourself whether your companion is characterized by such qualities and fulfils these conditions—and I highly doubt it. More likely, he is just pointing people to himself in his demands that the people of this age take their judgements directly from the Book and Sunna. If, on the other hand, he does not possess the necessary conditions, then further discussion is useless.

In Muhammad ‘Illish’s, Fath al-‘Ali al-Malik, there are many strong rebukes for those who wish to force people to abandon the study of the judicial branches and take directly from the Book and the Sunna. The actual text of the question put to him is as follows:

“What do you say about someone who was following one of the four Imams, may Allah the Exalted be pleased with them, and then left claiming that he could derive his judgements directly form the Qur’an and the soundly transmitted hadiths, thus leaving the books of jurisprudence and inclining towards the view of Ahmad bin Idris? Moreover, he says to the one who clings to the speech of the Imams and their followers, “I say to you ‘Allah and His Messenger say’, and you reply ‘Malik said’ and ‘Ibn al-Qasim said’ or ‘Khalil said.’”

To this, Imam ‘Illish replies:
“My answer to this all this is as follows: Praise be to Allah, and Prayer and Safety be upon our Master Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah. It is not permissible for a common person to abandon following the four Imams and take directly from the textual sources of the Qur’an and the hadiths for the simple reason that this entails a great many conditions that have been clarified in the books of usul. Moreover, these conditions are rarely met by the great scholars, especially in these last days in which Islam has become a stranger just as it began a stranger.”

Ibn ‘Uyyana, may Allah be pleased with him, has said,
“The hadiths are a source of error except for the jurists.”
What he means is that people, other than the scholars, might interpret a tradition based on an apparent meaning, and yet [the hadith may] have another interpretation based on some other hadith that clarifies the meaning or some proof that remains hidden [to the common people]. After a long discussion, he remarks,
“That as for their saying, ‘How can you leave clear Qur’anic verses and sound hadiths and follow the Imams in their ijtihads, which have a clear probability of error,’”

His answer to them is as follows:
“Surely the following of our [rightly guided] Imams is not abandoning the Qur’anic verses or the sound hadiths; it is the very essence of adhering to them and taking our judgements from them. This is because the Qur’an has not come down to us except by means of these very Imams [who are more worthy of following] by virtue of being more knowledgeable than us in [the sciences of] the abrogating and abrogated, the absolute and the conditional, the equivocal and the clarifying, the probabilistic and the plain, the circumstances surrounding revelation and their various meanings, as well as their possible interpretations and various linguistic and philological considerations, [not to mention] the various other ancillary sciences [involved in understanding the Qur’an] needed.

“Also, they took all of that from the students of the companions (tabi’in) who received their instruction from the companions themselves, who received their instructions from the Lawgiver himself, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, divinely protected from every mistake, who bore witness that the first three generations of Muslims would be ones of virtue and righteousness. Furthermore, the prophetic traditions have also reached us through their means given that they were also more knowledgeable than us through their means given that they were also more knowledgeable than those who came after them concerning the rigorously authenticated (sahih), the well authenticated (hasan), and the weak (da’if) channels of transmission, as well as the marfu’u4, mursal5, mutawatir6, ahad7, mu’dal8 and gharib9 transmissions.

“Thus, as far as this little band of men is concerned, there is only one of two possibilities: either they are attributing ignorance to Imams whose knowledge is considered by consensus to have reached human perfection as witnessed in several traditions of the truthful Lawgiver, upon him be prayers and peace, or they are actually attributing misguidance and lack of din to Imams who are all from the best of generations by the testimony of the magnificent Messenger himself, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. Surely, it is not the eyes that are blind, but blind are the hearts in our breasts.

As for their saying to the one who imitates Malik, for example, “We say to you ‘Allah says’ or ‘the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, says’ and you reply, ‘Malik says’, or ‘Ibn al-Qasim says’, or ‘Khalil says’, for example,” our response is that the follower who says, “Malik says . . . etc.,” means that, “Malik says based on his deep understanding of the Word of Allah, or of the words of the Messenger, or of those firmly adhering to the actions of the companions, or of the tabi’in who understood clearly the Word of Allah and the word of the Messenger of Allah or took their example from the actions of His Messenger.” And the meaning of [a follower] saying “Ibn al-Qasim said . . .” is that he has [faithfully] transmitted what Malik said based on his understanding of the Word of Allah or of what Ibn al-Qasim himself understood from the word of Allah the Most Exalted. And the meaning of him saying, “Khalil said . . . .”, for example, is that he is transmitting only from those [Imams] aforementioned. As for Malik and Ibn al-Qasim, they are both Imams whose spiritual and judicial authority is agreed upon by unanimous consensus of this Umma; and they are both from the best of generations.

As for the one who leaves their leadership and says, “Allah said and His Messenger said . . . ,” he has relied solely on his own understanding despite the fact that he is incapable of having any precision in the verses and hadiths that he quotes since he is unable even to provide chains of transmission [with any authority], let alone that he lacks knowledge concerning the abrogated, the absolute and the conditional, the ambiguous and the clarifying, the apparent and the textual, the general and the specific, the dimensions of the Arabic and the cause for revelation, the various linguistic considerations, and other various ancillary sciences needed. So, consider for yourself which is preferable: the word of a follower who simply quotes the understanding of Malik, an Imam by consensus—or the word of this ignoramus who said “Allah said and His Messenger said . . . .” But it is not the sight that goes blind, but rather the hearts in our breasts.

Furthermore, know that the origin of this deviation is from the Dhahiriyya10 who appeared in Andalucia [Muslim Spain] and whose power waxed from a period until Allah obliterated all traces of them until this little band of men set about to revive their beliefs. Imam al-Barzuli said, “The first one ever to attack the Mudawwana11 was Sa’id bin al-Haddad .”

If you consider carefully the above-mentioned texts, you will realize that the one who censures you from following [the Imams] is truly a deviant. And I am using the word “deviant” to describe them only because the scholars [before me] have labelled this little band and their view (madhhab) as deviant. Moreover, you should know that those who condemn your adherence to the Imams have been fully refuted by Muhammad al-Khadir bin Mayyaba with the most piercing of refutations, and he himself called them, in his book, “the people of deviation and heterodoxy.” He called his book, Refuting the people of deviation of heterodoxy who attack the following [taqlid] of the Imams of independent reasoning, and I used to have a copy but no longer do. So, my brother, I seriously warn you from following the madhhab of these people and even from sitting in their company, unless there is an absolute necessity, and certainly from listening to anything they have to say, because the scholars have declared their ideas deviant.

Ibn al-Hajj says in his book, al-Madkhal,
“Umar ibn al-‘Aziz said, ‘Never give one whose heart is deviant access to your two ears, for surely you never know what may find fixity in you.’”

I ask Allah to make you and me from those who listen to matters and follow the best of them.
Murabtal Haaj, Mauritania


1. Ahmad ibn Idris Shihabudin as-Sanhaji al-Qarafi al-Maliki was born in Egypt in the seventh Century, and died there in the year 684. He was one of the greatest Maliki scholars who ever lived and is especially known for his work in methodology and law (usul al-fiqh). He was a master of the Arabic language and has remarkable works in grammar. His book adh-Dhakhira is a magisterial 14 volume work recently published in the Emirates, that looks at Maliki fiqh with proofs from usuli sources. He is buried in Qarafi in Egypt near Imam as-Shafi’i. May Allah have mercy on them both

2. Sidi Abdullah says in his commentary on this line that the faqih is synonymous with mujtahid in the science of usul. There are different types of faqih. A faqih according to the scholars of usul is anyone who has achieved the rank of ijtihad. According to the scholars of furu’u, a faqih is anyone who has reached the level of knowledge in which he can give valid juristic opinion. This latter definition is important considering endowments that are given to fuqaha. See Nashur al-bunud `ala maraqi as-sa’ud, kitab al-ijtihad fi al-furu’u (1409 Hijrah. Beirut: Maktabat al-Kutub. p.309)

3. The foundational condition is that a human being is not asked by Allah to do anything other than those things which have a firm proof through the transmission of the prophets, peace be upon them, and that the human being is only accountable for those things in which there is clear responsibility. All other matters are considered permissible because of the lack of a proof indicating their impermissibility.

4. The transmission (sanad) goes to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) the hadith came from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).

5. A tabi’i related it from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace); a companion (sahabah) is missing from the line of the transmission.

6. The hadith comes from so many sources that it is an absolute proof.

7. A hadith, that at some point in the line of transmission, has only one narrator.

8. Two people in a row are missing in the chain of narrators.

9. The narrator of the hadith is trustworthy, but no one else related the hadith.

10. The Dhahiriyya followed Daw’ud ad-Dhahiri’s madhhab.

11. Mudawwana: Imam Malik’s work of fiqh


Article taken from :

The Concept of Bid’a in the Islamic Shari’a

There are few topics that generate as much controversy today in Islam as what is sunna and what is bida or reprehensible innovation, perhaps because of the times Muslims live in today and the challenges they face. Without a doubt, one of the greatest events in impact upon Muslims in the last thousand years is the end of the Islamic caliphate at the first of this century, an event that marked not only the passing of temporal, political authority, but in many respects the passing of the consensus of orthodox Sunni Islam as well. No one familiar with the classical literature in any of the Islamic legal sciences, whether Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir), hadith, or jurisprudence (fiqh), can fail to be struck by the fact that questions are asked today about basic fundamentals of Islamic Sacred Law (Sharia) and its ancillary disciplines that would not have been asked in the Islamic period not because Islamic scholars were not brilliant enough to produce the questions, but because they already knew the answers.

My talk tonight will aim to clarify some possible misunderstandings of the concept of innovation (bida) in Islam, in light of the prophetic hadith,

“Beware of matters newly begun, for every matter newly begun is innovation, every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in hell.”

The sources I use are traditional Islamic sources, and my discussion will centre on three points:

The first point is that scholars say that the above hadith does not refer to all new things without restriction, but only to those which nothing in Sacred Law attests to the validity of. The use of the word “every” in the hadith does not indicate an absolute generalization, for there are many examples of similar generalizations in the Qur’an and sunna that are not applicable without restriction, but rather are qualified by restrictions found in other primary textual evidence.

The second point is that the sunna and way of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) was to accept new acts initiated in Islam that were of the good and did not conflict with established principles of Sacred Law, and to reject things that were otherwise.

And our third and last point is that new matters in Islam may not be rejected merely because they did not exist in the first century, but must be evaluated and judged according to the comprehensive methodology of Sacred Law, by virtue of which it is and remains the final and universal moral code for all peoples until the end of time.

Our first point, that the hadith does not refer to all new things without restriction, but only to those which nothing in Sacred Law attests to the validity of, may at first seem strange, in view of the wording of the hadith, which says, “every matter newly begun is innovation, every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in hell.” Now the word “bida” or “innovation” linguistically means anything new, So our first question must be about the generalizability of the word every in the hadith: does it literally mean that everything new in the world is haram or unlawful? The answer is no. Why?

In answer to this question, we may note that there are many similar generalities in the Qur’an and sunna, all of them admitting of some qualification, such as the word of Allah Most High in Surat al-Najm,

“. . . A man can have nothing, except what he strives for” (Qur’an 53:39),

despite there being an overwhelming amount of evidence that a Muslim benefits from the spiritual works of others, for example, from his fellow Muslims, the prayers of angels for him, the funeral prayer over him, charity given by others in his name, and the supplications of believers for him;

Or consider the words of Allah to unbelievers in Surat al-Anbiya,

“Verily you and what you worship apart from Allah are the fuel of hell” (Qur’an 21:98),

what you worship” being a general expression, while there is no doubt that Jesus, his mother, and the angels were all worshipped apart from Allah, but are not “the fuel of hell“, so are not what is meant by the verse; Or the word of Allah Most High in Surat al-Anam about past nations who paid no heed to the warners who were sent to them,

“But when they forgot what they had been reminded of, We opened unto them the doors of everything” (Qur’an 6:44),

though the doors of mercy were not opened unto them; And the hadith related by Muslim that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,

“No one who prays before sunrise and before sunset will enter hell”,

which is a generalised expression that definitely does not mean what its outward generality implies, for someone who prays the dawn and midafternoon prayers and neglects all other prayers and obligatory works is certainly not meant. It is rather a generalization whose intended referent is particular, or a generalization that is qualified by other texts, for when there are fully authenticated hadiths, it is obligatory to reach an accord between them, because they are in reality as a single hadith, the statements that appear without further qualification being qualified by those that furnish the qualification, that the combined implications of all of them may be utilized.

Let us look for a moment at bida or innovation in the light of the sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) concerning new matters.Sunna and innovation (bida) are two opposed terms in the language of the Lawgiver (Allah bless him and give him peace), such that neither can be defined without reference to the other, meaning that they are opposites, and things are made clear by their opposites. Many writers have sought to define innovation (bida) without defining the sunna, while it is primary, and have thus fallen into inextricable difficulties and conflicts with the primary textual evidence that contradicts their definition of innovation, whereas if they had first defined the sunna, they would have produced a criterion free of shortcomings.

Sunna, in both the language of the Arabs and the Sacred Law, means way, as is illustrated by the words of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace),

He who inaugurates a good sunna in Islam [dis: Reliance of the Traveller p58.1(2)] …And he who introduces a bad sunna in Islam…“, sunnameaning way or custom. The way of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) in giving guidance, accepting, and rejecting: this is the sunna. For “good sunna” and “bad sunna” mean a “good way” or “bad way”, and cannot possibly mean anything else. Thus, the meaning of “sunna” is not what most students, let alone ordinary people, understand; namely, that it is the prophetic hadith (as when sunna is contrasted with “Kitab“, i.e. Qur’an, in distinguishing textual sources), or the opposite of the obligatory (as when sunna, i.e. recommended, is contrasted with obligatory in legal contexts), since the former is a technical usage coined by hadith scholars, while the latter is a technical usage coined by legal scholars and specialists in fundamentals of jurisprudence. Both of these are usages of later origin that are not what is meant by sunna here. Rather, the sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) is his way of acting, ordering, accepting, and rejecting, and the way of his Rightly Guided Caliphs who followed his way acting, ordering, accepting, and rejecting. So practices that are newly begun must be examined in light of the sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and his way and path in acceptance or rejection.

Now, there are a great number of hadiths, most of them in the rigorously authenticated (sahih) collections, showing that many of the prophetic Companions initiated new acts, forms of invocation (dhikr), supplications (dua), and so on, that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) had never previously done or ordered to be done. Rather, the Companions did them because of their inference and conviction that such acts were of the good that Islam and the Prophet of Islam came with and in general terms urged the like of to be done, in accordance with the word of Allah Most High in Surat al-Hajj,

“And do the good, that haply you may succeed” (Qur’an 22:77),

and the hadith of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace),

“He who inaugurates a good sunna in Islam earns the reward of it and all who perform it after him without diminishing their own rewards in the slightest.”

Though the original context of the hadith was giving charity, the interpretative principle established by the scholarly consensus (def: Reliance of the Traveller b7) of specialists in fundamentals of Sacred Law is that the point of primary texts lies in the generality of their lexical significance, not the specificity of their historical context, without this implying that just anyone may make provisions in the Sacred Law, for Islam is defined by principles and criteria, such that whatever one initiates as a sunna must be subject to its rules, strictures, and primary textual evidence.

From this investigative point of departure, one may observe that many of the prophetic Companions performed various acts through their own personal reasoning, (ijtihad), and that the sunna and way of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) was both to accept those that were acts of worship and good deeds conformable with what the Sacred Law had established and not in conflict with it; and to reject those which were otherwise. This was his sunna and way, upon which his caliphal successors and Companions proceeded, and from which Islamic scholars (Allah be well pleased with them) have established the rule that any new matter must be judged according to the principles and primary texts of Sacred Law: whatever is attested to by the law as being good is acknowledged as good, and whatever is attested to by the law as being a contravention and bad is rejected as a blameworthy innovation (bida). They sometimes term the former a good innovation (bida hasana) in view of it lexically being termed an innovation , but legally speaking it is not really an innovation but rather an inferable sunna as long as the primary texts of the Sacred Law attest to its being acceptable.

We now turn to the primary textual evidence previously alluded to concerning the acts of the Companions and how the Prophet, (Allah bless him and give him peace) responded to them:

(1) Bukhari and Muslim relate from Abu Hurayra (Allah be well pleased with him) that at the dawn prayer the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said to Bilal, “Bilal, tell me which of your acts in Islam you are most hopeful about, for I have heard the footfall of your sandals in paradise“, and he replied, “I have done nothing I am more hopeful about than the fact that I do not perform ablution at any time of the night or day without praying with that ablution whatever has been destined for me to pray.”

Ibn Hajar Asqalani says in Fath al-Bari that the hadith shows it is permissible to use personal reasoning (ijtihad) in choosing times for acts of worship, for Bilal reached the conclusions he mentioned by his own inference, and the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) confirmed him therein.

Similar to this is the hadith in Bukhari about Khubayb (who asked to pray two rakas before being executed by idolaters in Mecca) who was the first to establish the sunna of two rak’as for those who are steadfast in going to their death. These hadiths are explicit evidence that Bilal and Khubayb used their own personal reasoning (ijtihad) in choosing the times of acts of worship, without any previous command or precedent from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) other than the general demand to perform the prayer.

(2) Bukhari and Muslim relate that Rifa’a ibn Rafi said, “When we were praying behind the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and he raised his head from bowing and said , “Allah hears whoever praises Him”, a man behind him said, “Our Lord, Yours is the praise, abundantly, wholesomely, and blessedly therein.” When he rose to leave, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) asked “who said it”, and when the man replied that it was he, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “I saw thirty-odd angels each striving to be the one to write it.” Ibn Hajar says in Fath al-Bari that the hadith indicates the permissibility of initiating new expressions of dhikr in the prayer other than the ones related through hadith texts, as long as they do not contradict those conveyed by the hadith [since the above words were a mere enhancement and addendum to the known,sunna dhikr].

(3) Bukhari relates from Aisha (Allah be well pleased with her) that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) dispatched a man at the head of a military expedition who recited the Qur’an for his companions at prayer, finishing each recital with al-Ikhlas (Qur’an 112). When they returned, they mentioned this to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), who told them, “Ask him why he does this”, and when they asked him, the man replied, “because it describes the All-merciful, and I love to recite it.” The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said to them, “Tell him Allah loves him.” In spite of this, we do not know of any scholar who holds that doing the above is recommended, for the acts the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) used to do regularly are superior, though his confirming the like of this illustrates his sunna regarding his acceptance of various forms of obedience and acts of worship, and shows he did not consider the like of this to be a reprehensible innovation (bida), as do the bigots who vie with each other to be the first to brand acts as innovation and misguidance. Further, it will be noticed that all the preceding hadiths are about the prayer, which is the most important of bodily acts of worship, and of which the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Pray as you have seen me pray“, despite which he accepted the above examples of personal reasoning because they did not depart from the form defined by the Lawgiver, for every limit must be observed, while there is latitude in everything besides, as long as it is within the general category of being called for by Sacred Law. This is the sunna of the Prophet and his way (Allah bless him and give him peace) and is as clear as can be. Islamic scholars infer from it that every act for which there is evidence in Sacred Law that it is called for and which does not oppose an unequivocal primary text or entail harmful consequences is not included in the category of reprehensible innovation (bida), but rather is of the sunna, even if there should exist something whose performance is superior to it.

(4) Bukhari relates from Abu Said al-Khudri that a band of the Companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) departed on one of their journeys, alighting at the encampment of some desert Arabs whom they asked to be their hosts, but who refused to have them as guests. The leader of the encampment was stung by a scorpion, and his followers tried everything to cure him, and when all had failed, one said, “If you would approach the group camped near you, one of them might have something”. So they came to them and said, “O band of men, our leader has been stung and weve tried everything. Do any of you have something for it?” and one of them replied, “Yes, by Allah, I recite healing words [ruqya, def: Reliance of the Traveller w17] over people, but by Allah, we asked you to be our hosts and you refused, so I will not recite anything unless you give us a fee”. They then agreed upon a herd of sheep, so the man went and began spitting and reciting the Fatiha over the victim until he got up and walked as if he were a camel released from its hobble, nothing the matter with him. They paid the agreed upon fee, which some of the Companions wanted to divide up, but the man who had done the reciting told them, “Do not do so until we reach the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and tell him what has happened, to see what he may order us to do”. They came to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and told him what had occurred, and he said, “How did you know it was of the words which heal? You were right. Divide up the herd and give me a share.”

The hadith is explicit that the Companion had no previous knowledge that reciting the Fatiha to heal (ruqya) was countenanced by Sacred Law, but rather did so because of his own personal reasoning (ijtihad), and since it did not contravene anything that had been legislated, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) confirmed him therein because it was of his sunna and way to accept and confirm what contained good and did not entail harm, even if it did not proceed from the acts of the Prophet himself (Allah bless him and give him peace) as a definitive precedent.

(5) Bukhari relates from Abu Said al-Khudri that one man heard another reciting al-Ikhlas (Qur’an 112) over and over again, so when morning came he went to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and sarcastically mentioned it to him. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “By Him in whose hand is my soul, it equals one-third of the Qur’an.” Daraqutni recorded another version of this hadith in which the man said, “I have a neighbor who prays at night and does not recite anything but al-Ikhlas.” The hadith shows that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) confirmed the persons restricting himself to this sura while praying at night, despite its not being what the Prophet himself did (Allah bless him and give him peace), for though the Prophets practice of reciting from the whole Qur’an was superior, the mans act was within the general parameters of the sunna and there was nothing blameworthy about it in any case.

(6) Ahmad and Ibn Hibban relates from Abdullah ibn Burayda that his father said, I entered the mosque with the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), where a man was at prayer, supplicating: “O Allah, I ask You by the fact that I testify You are Allah, there is no god but You, the One, the Ultimate, who did not beget and was not begotten, and to whom none is equal”, and the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “By Him in whose hand is my soul, he has asked Allah by His greatest name, which if He is asked by it He gives, and if supplicated He answers”. It is plain that this supplication came spontaneously from the Companion, and since it conformed to what the Sacred Law calls for, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) confirmed it with the highest degree of approbation and acceptance, while it is not known that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) had ever taught it to him (Adilla Ahl al-Sunna wa’al-Jamaa, 119-33).

We are now able to return to the hadith with which I began my talk tonight, in which the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “. . . Beware of matters newly begun, for every innovation is misguidance”. And understand it as expounded by a classic scholar of Islam, Sheikh Muhammad Jurdani, who said:

“Beware of matters newly begun“, distance yourselves and be wary of matters newly innovated that did not previously exist”, i.e. things invented in Islam that contravene the Sacred Law, “for every innovation is misguidance” meaning that every innovation is the opposite of the truth, i.e. falsehood, a hadith that has been related elsewhere as: “for every newly begun matter is innovation, every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in hell” meaning that everyone who is misguided, whether through himself or by following another, is in hell, the hadith referring to matters that are not good innovations with a basis in Sacred Law. It has been stated (by Izz ibn Abd al-Salam) that innovations (bida) fall under the five headings of the Sacred Law (n: i.e. the obligatory, unlawful, recommended, offensive, and permissible):(1) The first category comprises innovations that are obligatory , such as recording the Qur’an and the laws of Islam in writing when it was feared that something might be lost from them; the study of the disciplines of Arabic that are necessary to understand the Qur’an and sunna such as grammar, word declension, and lexicography; hadith classification to distinguish between genuine and spurious prophetic traditions; and the philosophical refutations of arguments advanced by the Mu’tazilites and the like.

(2) The second category is that of unlawful innovations such as non- Islamic taxes and levies, giving positions of authority in Sacred Law to those unfit for them, and devoting ones time to learning the beliefs of heretical sects that contravene the tenets of faith of Ahl al-Sunna.

(3) The third category consists of recommended innovations such as building hostels and schools of Sacred Law, recording the research of Islamic schools of legal thought, writing books on beneficial subjects, extensive research into fundamentals and particular applications of Sacred Law, in-depth studies of Arabic linguistics, the reciting of wirds (def: Reliance of the Traveller w20) by those with a Sufi path, and commemorating the birth (mawlid), of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) and wearing ones best and rejoicing at it.

(4) The fourth category includes innovations that are offensive, such as embellishing mosques, decorating the Qur’an and having a backup man (muballigh) loudly repeat the spoken Allahu Akbar of the imam when the latter’s voice is already clearly audible to those who are praying behind him.

(5) the fifth category is that of innovations that are permissible, such as sifting flour, using spoons and having more enjoyable food, drink and housing. (al Jawahir al-luluiyya fi sharh al-Arbain al-nawawiyya, 220-21).

I will conclude my remarks tonight with a translation of Sheikh Abdullah al-Ghimari, who said: In his al-Qawaid al-kubra, “Izz ibn Abd al-Salam classifies innovations (bida), according to their benefit, harm, or indifference, into the five categories of rulings: the obligatory, recommended, unlawful, offensive, and permissible; giving examples of each and mentioning the principles of Sacred Law that verify his classification. His words on the subject display his keen insight and comprehensive knowledge of both the principles of jurisprudence and the human advantages and disadvantages in view of which the Lawgiver has established the rulings of Sacred Law.

Because his classification of innovation (bida) was established on a firm basis in Islamic jurisprudence and legal principles, it was confirmed by Imam Nawawi, Ibn Hajar Asqalani, and the vast majority of Islamic scholars, who received his words with acceptance and viewed it obligatory to apply them to the new events and contingencies that occur with the changing times and the peoples who live in them. One may not support the denial of his classification by clinging to the hadith “Every innovation is misguidance“, because the only form of innovation that is without exception misguidance is that concerning tenets of faith, like the innovations of the Mutazilites, Qadarites, Murjiites, and so on, that contradicted the beliefs of the early Muslims. This is the innovation of misguidance because it is harmful and devoid of benefit. As for innovation in works, meaning the occurrence of an act connected with worship or something else that did not exist in the first century of Islam, it must necessarily be judged according to the five categories mentioned by Izz ibn Abd al-Salam. To claim that such innovation is misguidance without further qualification is simply not applicable to it, for new things are among the exigencies brought into being by the passage of time and generations, and nothing that is new lacks a ruling of Allah Most High that is applicable to it, whether explicitly mentioned in primary texts, or inferable from them in some way. The only reason that Islamic law can be valid for every time and place and be the consummate and most perfect of all divine laws is because it comprises general methodological principles and universal criteria, together with the ability its scholars have been endowed with to understand its primary texts, the knowledge of types of analogy and parallelism, and the other excellences that characterize it. Were we to rule that every new act that has come into being after the first century of Islam is an innovation of misguidance without considering whether it entails benefit or harm, it would invalidate a large share of the fundamental bases of Sacred Law as well as those rulings established by analogical reasoning, and would narrow and limit the Sacred Laws vast and comprehensive scope. (Adilla Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jamaa, 145-47).

Wa Jazakum Allahu khayran, wal-hamdu lillahi Rabbil Alamin.

©Nuh Ha Mim Keller 1995

This is the text of a talk given by Shaikh Nuh Ha Mim Keller at Nottingham and Trent University on Wednesday 25th January 1995.

Understanding The Four Madhhabs: the problem with anti-madhhabism


The ummah’s greatest achievement over the past millennium has undoubtedly been its internal intellectual cohesion. From the fifth century of the Hijra almost to the present day, and despite the outward drama of the clash of dynasties, the Sunni Muslims have maintained an almost unfailing attitude of religious respect and brotherhood among themselves. It is a striking fact that virtually no religious wars, riots or persecutions divided them during this extended period, so difficult in other ways.

The history of religious movements suggests that this is an unusual outcome. The normal sociological view, as expounded by Max Weber and his disciples, is that religions enjoy an initial period of unity, and then descend into an increasingly bitter factionalism led by rival hierarchies. Christianity has furnished the most obvious example of this; but one could add many others, including secular faiths such as Marxism. On the face of it, Islam’s ability to avoid this fate is astonishing, and demands careful analysis.

There is, of course, a straightforwardly religious explanation. Islam is the final religion, the last bus home, and as such has been divinely secured from the more terminal forms of decay. It is true that what Abdul Wadod Shalabi has termed ‘spiritual entropy’[1] has been at work ever since Islam’s inauguration, a fact which is well-supported by a number of hadiths. Nonetheless, Providence has not neglected the ummah. Earlier religions slide gently or painfully into schism and irrelevance; but Islamic piety, while fading in quality, has been given mechanisms which allow it to retain much of the sense of unity emphasised in its glory days. Wherever the antics of the emirs and politicians might lead, the brotherhood of believers, a reality in the initial career of Christianity and some other faiths, continues, fourteen hundred years on, to be a compelling principle for most members of the final and definitive community of revelation in Islam. The reason is simple and unarguable: God has given us this religion as His last word, and it must therefore endure, with its essentials of tawhid, worship and ethics intact, until the Last Days.

Such an explanation has obvious merit. But we will still need to explain some painful exceptions to the rule in the earliest phase of our history. The Prophet himself (pbuh) had told his Companions, in a hadith narrated by Imam Tirmidhi, that “Whoever among you outlives me shall see a vast dispute”. The initial schisms: the disastrous revolt against Uthman (r.a.)[2], the clash between Ali (r.a.) and Talha, and then with Mu`awiyah[3], the bloody scissions of the Kharijites[4] – all these drove knives of discord into the Muslim body politic almost from the outset. Only the inherent sanity and love of unity among scholars of the ummah assisted, no doubt, by Providence overcame the early spasms of factionalism, and created a strong and harmonious Sunnism which has, at least on the purely religious plane, united ninety percent of the ummah for ninety percent of its history.[5]

It will help us greatly to understand our modern, increasingly divided situation if we look closely at those forces which divided us in the distant past. There were many of these, some of them very eccentric; but only two took the form of mass popular movements, driven by religious ideology, and in active rebellion against majoritarian faith and scholarship. For good reasons, these two acquired the names of Kharijism and Shi’ism. Unlike Sunnism, both were highly productive of splinter groups and sub-movements; but they nonetheless remained as recognisable traditions of dissidence because of their ability to express the two great divergences from mainstream opinion on the key question of the source of religious authority in Islam.

Confronted with what they saw as moral slippage among early caliphs, posthumous partisans of Ali (r.a.) developed a theory of religious authority which departed from the older egalitarian assumptions by vesting it in a charismatic succession of Imams. We need not stop here to investigate the question of whether this idea was influenced by the Eastern Christian background of some early converts, who had been nourished on the idea of the mystical apostolic succession to Christ, a gift which supposedly gave the Church the unique ability to read his mind for later generations. What needs to be appreciated is that Shi’ism, in its myriad forms, developed as a response to a widely-sensed lack of definitive religious authority in early Islamic society. As the age of the Righteous Caliphs came to a close, and the Umayyad rulers departed ever more conspicuously from the lifestyle expected of them as Commanders of the Faithful, the sharply-divergent and still nascent schools of fiqh seemed inadequate as sources of strong and unambiguous authority in religious matters. Hence the often irresistible seductiveness of the idea of an infallible Imam.[6]

This interpretation of the rise of Imamism also helps to explain the second great phase in Shi’i expansion. After the success of the fifth-century Sunni revival, when Sunnism seemed at last to have become a fully coherent system, Shi’ism went into a slow eclipse. Its extreme wing, as manifested in Ismailism, received a heavy blow at the hands of Imam al-Ghazali, whose book “Scandals of the Batinites” exposed and refuted their secret doctrines with devastating force.[7] This decline in Shi’i fortunes was only arrested after the mid-seventh century, once the Mongol hordes under Genghis Khan had invaded and obliterated the central lands of Islam. The onslaught was unimaginably harsh: we are told, for instance, that out of a hundred thousand former inhabitants of the city of Herat, only forty survivors crept out of the smoking ruins to survey the devastation.[8] In the wake of this tidal wave of mayhem, newly-converted Turcoman nomads moved in, who, with the Sunni ulama of the cities dead, and a general atmosphere of fear, turbulence, and Messianic expectation in the air, turned readily to extremist forms of Shi’i belief.[9] The triumph of Shi’ism in Iran, a country once loyal to Sunnism, dates back to that painful period.[10]

The other great dissident movement in early Islam was that of the Kharijites, literally, the seceders, so-called because they seceded from the army of the Caliph Ali when he agreed to settle his dispute with Muawiyah through arbitration. Calling out the Quranic slogan, “Judgement is only God’s”, they fought bitterly against Ali and his army which included many of the leading Companions, until, in the year 38, Imam Ali defeated them at the Battle of Nahrawan, where some ten thousand of them perished.[11]

Although the first Kharijites were destroyed, Kharijism itself lived on. As it formulated itself, it turned into the precise opposite of Shi’ism, rejecting any notion of inherited or charismatic leadership, and stressing that leadership of the community of believers should be decided by piety alone. This was assessed by very rudimentary criteria: the early Kharijites were known for extreme toughness in their devotions, and for the harsh doctrine that any Muslim who commits a major sin is an unbeliever. This notion of takfir (declaring Muslims to be outside Islam), permitted the Kharijite groups, camping out in remote mountain districts of Khuzestan, to raid Muslim settlements which had accepted Umayyad authority. Non-Kharijis were routinely slaughtered in these operations, which brought merciless reprisals from tough Umayyad generals such as al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf. But despite the apparent hopelessness of their cause, the Kharijite attacks continued. The Caliph Ali (r.a.) was assassinated by Ibn Muljam, a survivor of Nahrawan, while the hadith scholar Imam al-Nasai, author of one of the most respected collections of sunan, was likewise murdered by Kharijite fanatics in Damascus in 303/915.[12]

Like Shi’ism, Kharijism caused much instability in Iraq and Central Asia, and on occasion elsewhere, until the fourth and fifth centuries of Islam. At that point, something of historic moment occurred. Sunnism managed to unite itself into a detailed system that was now so well worked-out, and so obviously the way of the great majority of ulama, that the attraction of the rival movements diminished sharply.

What happened was this. Sunni Islam, occupying the middle ground between the two extremes of egalitarian Kharijism and hierarchical Shi’ism, had long been preoccupied with disputes over its own concept of authority. For the Sunnis, authority was, by definition, vested in the Quran and Sunnah. But confronted with the enormous body of hadiths, which had been scattered in various forms and narrations throughout the length and breadth of the Islamic world following the migrations of the Companions and Followers, the Sunnah sometimes proved difficult to interpret. Even when the sound hadiths had been sifted out from this great body of material, which totalled several hundred thousand hadith reports, there were some hadiths which appeared to conflict with each other, or even with verses of the Quran. It was obvious that simplistic approaches such as that of the Kharijites, namely, establishing a small corpus of hadiths and deriving doctrines and law from them directly, was not going to work. The internal contradictions were too numerous, and the interpretations placed on them too complex, for the qadis (judges) to be able to dish out judgements simply by opening the Quran and hadith collections to an appropriate page.

The reasons underlying cases of apparent conflict between various revealed texts were scrutinised closely by the early ulama, often amid sustained debate between brilliant minds backed up with the most perfect photographic memories. Much of the science of Islamic jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh) was developed in order to provide consistent mechanisms for resolving such conflicts in a way which ensured fidelity to the basic ethos of Islam. The term taarud al-adilla (mutual contradiction of proof-texts) is familiar to all students of Islamic jurisprudence as one of the most sensitive and complex of all Muslim legal concepts.[13] Early scholars such as Ibn Qutayba felt obliged to devote whole books to the subject.[14]

The ulama of usul recognised as their starting assumption that conflicts between the revealed texts were no more than conflicts of interpretation, and could not reflect inconsistencies in the Lawgiver’s message as conveyed by the Prophet (pbuh). The message of Islam had been perfectly conveyed before his demise; and the function of subsequent scholars was exclusively one of interpretation, not of amendment.

Armed with this awareness, the Islamic scholar, when examining problematic texts, begins by attempting a series of preliminary academic tests and methods of resolution. The system developed by the early ulama was that if two Quranic or hadith texts appeared to contradict each other, then the scholar must first analyse the texts linguistically, to see if the contradiction arises from an error in interpreting the Arabic. If the contradiction cannot be resolved by this method, then he must attempt to determine, on the basis of a range of textual, legal and historiographic techniques, whether one of them is subject to takhsis, that is, concerns special circumstances only, and hence forms a specific exception to the more general principle enunciated in the other text.[15] The jurist must also assess the textual status of the reports, recalling the principle that a Quranic verse will overrule a hadith related by only one isnad (the type of hadith known as ahad), as will a hadith supplied by many isnads (mutawatir or mashhur).[16] If, after applying all these mechanisms, the jurist finds that the conflict remains, he must then investigate the possibility that one of the texts was subject to formal abrogation (naskh) by the other.

This principle of naskh is an example of how, when dealing with the delicate matter of taarud al-adilla, the Sunni ulama founded their approach on textual policies which had already been recognised many times during the lifetime of the Prophet (pbuh). The Companions knew by ijma that over the years of the Prophets ministry, as he taught and nurtured them, and brought them from the wildness of paganism to the sober and compassionate path of monotheism, his teaching had been divinely shaped to keep pace with their development. The best-known instance of this was the progressive prohibition of wine, which had been discouraged by an early Quranic verse, then condemned, and finally prohibited.[17] Another example, touching an even more basic principle, was the canonical prayer, which the early ummah had been obliged to say only twice daily, but which, following the Miraj, was increased to five times a day.[18] Mutah (temporary marriage) had been permitted in the early days of Islam, but was subsequently prohibited as social conditions developed, respect for women grew, and morals became firmer.[19] There are several other instances of this, most being datable to the years immediately following the Hijra, when the circumstances of the young ummah changed in radical ways.

There are two types of naskh: explicit (sarih) or implicit (dimni).[20] The former is easily identified, for it involves texts which themselves specify that an earlier ruling is being changed. For instance, there is the verse in the Quran (2:142) which commands the Muslims to turn in prayer to the Kaba rather than to Jerusalem.[21] In the hadith literature this is even more frequently encountered; for example, in ahadith narrated by Imam Muslim we read: “I used to forbid you to visit graves; but you should now visit them.”[22] Commenting on this, the ulama of hadith explain that in early Islam, when idolatrous practices were still fresh in peoples memories, visiting graves had been forbidden because of the fear that some new Muslims might commit shirk. As the Muslims grew stronger in their monotheism, however, this prohibition was discarded as no longer necessary, so that today it is a recommended practice for Muslims to go out to visit graves in order to pray for the dead and to be reminded of the akhira.[23]

The other type of naskh is more subtle, and often taxed the brilliance of the early ulama to the limit. It involves texts which cancel earlier ones, or modify them substantially, but without actually stating that this has taken place. The ulama have given many examples of this, including the two verses in Surat al-Baqarah which give differing instructions as to the period for which widows should be maintained out of an estate (2:240 and 234).[24] And in the hadith literature, there is the example of the incident in which the Prophet (pbuh) once told the Companions that when he prayed sitting because he was burdened by some illness, they should sit behind him. This hadith is given by Imam Muslim. And yet we find another hadith, also narrated by Muslim, which records an incident in which the Companions prayed standing while the Prophet (pbuh) was sitting. The apparent contradiction has been resolved by careful chronological analysis, which shows that the latter incident took place after the former, and therefore takes precedence over it.[25] This has duly been recorded in the fiqh of the great scholars.

The techniques of naskh identification have enabled the ulama to resolve most of the recognised cases of taarud al-adilla. They demand a rigorous and detailed knowledge not just of the hadith disciplines, but of history, sirah, and of the views held by the Companions and other scholars on the circumstances surrounding the genesis and exegesis of the hadith in question. In some cases, hadith scholars would travel throughout the Islamic world to locate the required information pertinent to a single hadith.[26]

In cases where in spite of all efforts, abrogation cannot be proven, then the ulama of the salaf recognised the need to apply further tests. Important among these is the analysis of the matn (the transmitted text rather than the isnad of the hadith).[27] Clear (sarih) statements are deemed to take precedence over allusive ones (kinayah), and definite (muhkam) words take precedence over words falling into more ambiguous categories, such as the interpreted (mufassar), the obscure (khafi) and the problematic (mushkil).[28] It may also be necessary to look at the position of the narrators of the conflicting hadiths, giving precedence to the report issuing from the individual who was more directly involved. A famous example of this is the hadith narrated by Maymunah which states that the Prophet (pbuh) married her when not in a state of consecration (ihram) for the pilgrimage. Because her report was that of an eyewitness, her hadith is given precedence over the conflicting report from Ibn Abbas, related by a similarly sound isnad, which states that the Prophet was in fact in a state of ihram at the time.[29]

There are many other rules, such as that which states that ‘prohibition takes precedence over permissibility.’[30] Similarly, conflictinghadiths may be resolved by utilising the fatwa of a Companion, after taking care that all the relevant fatwa are compared and assessed.[31] Finally, recourse may be had to qiyas (analogy).[32] An example of this is the various reports about the solar eclipse prayer (salat al-kusuf), which specify different numbers of bowings and prostrations. The ulama, having investigated the reports meticulously, and having been unable to resolve the contradiction by any of the mechanisms outlined above, have applied analogical reasoning by concluding that since the prayer in question is still called salaat, then the usual form of salaat should be followed, namely, one bowing and two prostrations. The other hadiths are to be abandoned.[33]

This careful articulation of the methods of resolving conflicting source-texts, so vital to the accurate derivation of the Shariah from the revealed sources, was primarily the work of Imam al-Shafi’i. Confronted by the confusion and disagreement among the jurists of his day, and determined to lay down a consistent methodology which would enable a fiqh to be established in which the possibility of error was excluded as far as was humanly possible, Shafi’i wrote his brilliant Risala (Treatise on Islamic jurisprudence). His ideas were soon taken up, in varying ways, by jurists of the other major traditions of law; and today they are fundamental to the formal application of the Shariah.[34]

Shafi’i’s system of minimising mistakes in the derivation of Islamic rulings from the mass of evidence came to be known as usul al-fiqh (the roots of fiqh). Like most of the other formal academic disciplines of Islam, this was not an innovation in the negative sense, but a working-out of principles already discernible in the time of the earliest Muslims. In time, each of the great interpretative traditions of Sunni Islam codified its own variation on these roots, thereby yielding in some cases divergent branches (i.e. specific rulings on practice). Although the debates generated by these divergences could sometimes be energetic, nonetheless, they were insignificant when compared to the great sectarian and legal disagreements which had arisen during the first two centuries of Islam before the science of usul al-fiqh had put a stop to such chaotic discord.

It hardly needs remarking that although the Four Imams, Abu Hanifa, Malik ibn Anas, al-Shafi’i and Ibn Hanbal, are regarded as the founders of these four great traditions, which, if we were asked to define them, we might sum up as sophisticated techniques for avoiding innovation, their traditions were fully systematised only by later generations of scholars. The Sunni ulama rapidly recognised the brilliance of the Four Imams, and after the late third century of Islam we find that hardly any scholars adhered to any other approach. The greathadith specialists, including al-Bukhari and Muslim, were all loyal adherents of one or another of the madhhabs, particularly that of Imam al-Shafi’i. But within each madhhab, leading scholars continued to improve and refine the roots and branches of their school. In some cases, historical conditions made this not only possible, but necessary. For instance, scholars of the school of Imam Abu Hanifah, which was built on the foundations of the early legal schools of Kufa and Basra, were wary of some hadiths in circulation in Iraq because of the prevalence of forgery engendered by the strong sectarian influences there. Later, however, once the canonical collections of Bukhari, Muslim and others became available, subsequent generations of Hanafi scholars took the entire corpus of hadiths into account in formulating and revising theirmadhhab. This type of process continued for two centuries, until the Schools reached a condition of maturity in the fourth and fifth centuries of the Hijra.[35]

It was at that time, too, that the attitude of toleration and good opinion between the Schools became universally accepted. This was formulated by Imam al-Ghazali, himself the author of four textbooks of Shafi’i fiqh,[36] and also of Al-Mustasfa, widely acclaimed as the most advanced and careful of all works on usul, usul al-fiqh fil madhhab. With his well-known concern for sincerity, and his dislike of ostentatious scholarly rivalry, he strongly condemned what he falled ‘fanatical attachment to a madhhab’.[37] While it was necessary for the Muslim to follow a recognised madhhab in order to avert the lethal danger of misinterpreting the sources, he must never fall into the trap of considering his own school categorically superior to the others. With a few insignificant exceptions in the late Ottoman period, the great scholars of Sunni Islam have followed the ethos outlined by Imam al-Ghazali, and have been conspicuously respectful of each others madhhab. Anyone who has studied under traditional ulama will be well-aware of this fact.[38]

The evolution of the Four Schools did not stifle, as some Orientalists have suggested,[39] the capacity for the refinement or extension of positive law.[40] On the contrary, sophisticated mechanisms were available which not only permitted qualified individuals to derive the Shariah from the Quran and Sunnah on their own authority, but actually obliged them to do this. According to most scholars, an expert who has fully mastered the sources and fulfilled a variety of necessary scholarly conditions is not permitted to follow the prevalent rulings of his School, but must derive the rulings himself from the revealed sources. Such an individual is known as a mujtahid,[41] a term derived from the famous hadith of Muadh ibn Jabal.[42]

Few would seriously deny that for a Muslim to venture beyond established expert opinion and have recourse directly to the Quran and Sunnah, he must be a scholar of great eminence. The danger of less-qualified individuals misunderstanding the sources and hence damaging the Shariah is a very real one, as was shown by the discord and strife which afflicted some early Muslims, and even some of the Companions themselves, in the period which preceded the establishment of the Orthodox Schools. Prior to Islam, entire religions had been subverted by inadequate scriptural scholarship, and it was vital that Islam should be secured from a comparable fate.

In order to protect the Shariah from the danger of innovation and distortion, the great scholars of usul laid down rigorous conditions which must be fulfilled by anyone wishing to claim the right of ijtihad for himself.[43] These conditions include:

(a) mastery of the Arabic language, to minimise the possibility of misinterpreting Revelation on purely linguistic grounds;

(b) a profound knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah and the circumstances surrounding the revelation of each verse and hadith, together with a full knowledge of the Quranic and hadith commentaries, and a control of all the interpretative techniques discussed above;

(c) knowledge of the specialised disciplines of hadith, such as the assessment of narrators and of the matn [text];

(d) knowledge of the views of the Companions, Followers and the great imams, and of the positions and reasoning expounded in the textbooks of fiqh, combined with the knowledge of cases where a consensus (ijma) has been reached;

(e) knowledge of the science of juridical analogy (qiyas), its types and conditions;

(f) knowledge of ones own society and of public interest (maslahah);

(g) knowing the general objectives (maqasid) of the Shariah;

(h) a high degree of intelligence and personal piety, combined with the Islamic virtues of compassion, courtesy, and modesty.

A scholar who has fulfilled these conditions can be considered a mujtahid fil-shar, and is not obliged, or even permitted, to follow an existing authoritative madhhab.[44] This is what some of the Imams were saying when they forbade their great disciples from imitating them uncritically. But for the much greater number of scholars whose expertise has not reached such dizzying heights, it may be possible to become a mujtahid fi’l-madhhab, that is, a scholar who remains broadly convinced of the doctrines of his school, but is qualified to differ from received opinion within it.[45] There have been a number of examples of such men, for instance Imam al-Nawawi among the Shafi’is, Qadi Ibn Abd al-Barr among the Malikis, Ibn Abidin among the Hanafis, and Ibn Qudama among the Hanbalis. All of these scholars considered themselves followers of the fundamental interpretative principles of their own madhhabs, but are on record as having exercised their own gifts of scholarship and judgement in reaching many new verdicts within them.[46] It is to these experts that the Mujtahid Imams directed their advice concerning ijtihad, such as Imam al-Shafi’i’s instruction that ‘if you find a hadith that contradicts my verdict, then follow the hadith’.[47] It is obvious that whatever some writers nowadays like to believe, such counsels were never intended for use by the Islamically-uneducated masses. Imam al-Shafi`i was not addressing a crowd of butchers, nightwatchman and donkey-drovers.

Other categories of mujtahids are listed by the usul scholars; but the distinctions between them are subtle and not relevant to our theme.[48] The remaining categories can in practice be reduced to two: the muttabi (follower), who follows his madhhab while being aware of the Quranic and hadith texts and the reasoning, underlying its positions,[49] and secondly the muqallid (emulator), who simply conforms to the madhhab because of his confidence in its scholars, and without necessarily knowing the detailed reasoning behind all its thousands of rulings.[50]

Clearly it is recommended for the muqallid to learn as much as he or she is able of the formal proofs of the madhhab. But it is equally clear that not every Muslim can be a scholar. Scholarship takes a lot of time, and for the ummah to function properly most people must have other employment: as accountants, soldiers, butchers, and so forth.[51] As such, they cannot reasonably be expected to become greatulama as well, even if we suppose that all of them have the requisite intelligence. The Holy Quran itself states that less well-informed believers should have recourse to qualified experts: So ask the people of remembrance, if you do not know (16:43).[52] (According to thetafsir experts, the people of remembrance are the ulama.) And in another verse, the Muslims are enjoined to create and maintain a group of specialists who provide authoritative guidance for non-specialists: A band from each community should stay behind to gain instruction in religion and to warn the people when they return to them, so that they may take heed (9:122). Given the depth of scholarship needed to understand the revealed texts accurately, and the extreme warnings we have been given against distorting the Revelation, it is obvious that ordinary Muslims are duty bound to follow expert opinion, rather than rely on their own reasoning and limited knowledge. This obvious duty was well-known to the early Muslims: the Caliph Umar (r.a.) followed certain rulings of Abu Bakr (r.a.), saying I would be ashamed before God to differ from the view of Abu Bakr. And Ibn Masud (r.a.), in turn, despite being a mujtahid in the fullest sense, used in certain issues to follow Umar (r.a.). According to al-Shabi: Six of the Companions of the Prophet (pbuh) used to give fatwas to the people: Ibn Masud, Umar ibn al-Khattab, Ali, Zayd ibn Thabit, Ubayy ibn Kab, and Abu Musa (al-Ashari). And out of these, three would abandon their own judgements in favour of the judgements of three others: Abdallah (ibn Masud) would abandon his own judgement for the judgement of Umar, Abu Musa would abandon his own judgement for the judgement of Ali, and Zayd would abandon his own judgement for the judgement of Ubayy ibn Kab.[53]

This verdict, namely that one is well-advised to follow a great Imam as ones guide to the Sunnah, rather than relying on oneself, is particularly binding upon Muslims in countries such as Britain, among whom only a small percentage is even entitled to have a choice in this matter. This is for the simple reason that unless one knows Arabic,[54] then even if one wishes to read all the hadith determining a particular issue, one cannot. For various reasons, including their great length, no more than ten of the basic hadith collections have been translated into English. There remain well over three hundred others, including such seminal works as the Musnad of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal,[55] the Musannaf of Ibn Abi Shayba,[56] the Sahih of Ibn Khuzayma,[57] the Mustadrak of al-Hakim,[58] and many other multi-volume collections, which contain large numbers of sound hadiths which cannot be found in Bukhari, Muslim, and the other works that have so far been translated. Even if we assume that the existing translations are entirely accurate, it is obvious that a policy of trying to derive the Shariah directly from the Book and the Sunnah cannot be attempted by those who have no access to the Arabic. To attempt to discern the Shariah merely on the basis of the hadiths which have been translated will be to ignore and amputate much of the Sunnah, hence leading to serious distortions.[59]

Let me give just two examples of this. The Sunni Madhhabs, in their rules for the conduct of legal cases, lay down the principle that the canonical punishments (hudud) should not be applied in cases where there is the least ambiguity, and that the qadi should actively strive to prove that such ambiguities exist. An amateur reading in the Sound Six collections will find no confirmation of this.[60] But the madhhab ruling is based on a hadith narrated by a sound chain, and recorded in theMusannaf of Ibn Abi Shayba, the Musnad of al-Harithi, and theMusnad of Musaddad ibn Musarhad. The text is: “Ward off the hudud by means of ambiguities.[61] Imam al-Sanani, in his bookAl-Ansab, narrates the circumstances of this hadith: “A man was found drunk, and was brought to Umar, who ordered the hadd of eighty lashes to be applied. When this had been done, the man said: Umar, you have wronged me! I am a slave! (Slaves receive only half the punishment.) Umar was grief-stricken at this, and recited the Prophetic hadith, Ward off the hudud by means of ambiguities.”[62]

Another example is provided by the practice of istighfar for others during the Hajj. According to a hadith, ‘Forgiveness is granted to the Hajji, and to those for whom the Hajji prays.’ This hadith is not related in any of the collections so far translated into English; but it is narrated, by a sound isnad, in many other collections, including al-Mu`jam al-Saghir of al-Tabarani and the Musnad of al-Bazzar.[63]

Another example pertains to the important practice, recognised by the madhhabs, of performing sunnah prayers as soon as possible after the end of the Maghrib obligatory prayer. The hadith runs: Make haste to perform the two rakas after the Maghrib, for they are raised up (to Heaven) alongside the obligatory prayer. The hadith is narrated by Imam Razin in his Jami.

Because of the traditional pious fear of distorting the Law of Islam, the overwhelming majority of the great scholars of the past – certainly well over ninety-nine percent of them – have adhered loyally to a madhhab.[64] It is true that in the troubled fourteenth century a handful of dissenters appeared, such as Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn al-Qayyim;[65] but even these individuals never recommended that semi-educated Muslims should attempt ijtihad without expert help. And in any case, although these authors have recently been resurrected and made prominent, their influence on the orthodox scholarship of classical Islam was negligible, as is suggested by the small number of manuscripts of their works preserved in the great libraries of the Islamic world.[66]

Nonetheless, social turbulences have in the past century thrown up a number of writers who have advocated the abandonment of authoritative scholarship. The most prominent figures in this campaign were Muhammad Abduh and his pupil Muhammad Rashid Rida.[67] Dazzled by the triumph of the West, and informed in subtle ways by their own well-documented commitment to Freemasonry, these men urged Muslims to throw off the shackles of taqlid, and to reject the authority of the Four Schools. Today in some Arab capitals, especially where the indigenous tradition of orthodox scholarship has been weakened, it is common to see young Arabs filling their homes with every hadith collection they can lay their hands upon, and poring over them in the apparent belief that they are less likely to misinterpret this vast and complex literature than Imam al-Shafi’i, Imam Ahmad, and the other great Imams. This irresponsible approach, although still not widespread, is predictably opening the door to sharply divergent opinions, which have seriously damaged the unity, credibility and effectiveness of the Islamic movement, and provoked sharp arguments over issues settled by the great Imams over a thousand years ago.[68] It is common now to see young activists prowling the mosques, criticising other worshippers for what they believe to be defects in their worship, even when their victims are following the verdicts of some of the great Imams of Islam. The unpleasant, Pharisaic atmosphere generated by this activity has the effect of discouraging many less committed Muslims from attending the mosque at all. No-one now recalls the view of the early ulama, which was that Muslims should tolerate divergent interpretations of the Sunnah as long as these interpretations have been held by reputable scholars. As Sufyan al-Thawri said: ‘If you see a man doing something over which there is a debate among the scholars, and which you yourself believe to be forbidden, you should not forbid him from doing it.’[69] The alternative to this policy is, of course, a disunity and rancour which will poison and cripple the Muslim community from within.[70]

In a Western-influenced global culture in which people are urged from early childhood to think for themselves and to challenge established authority, it can sometimes be difficult to muster enough humility to recognise ones own limitations.[71] We are all a little like Pharaoh: our egos are by nature resistant to the idea that anyone else might be much more intelligent or learned than ourselves. The belief that ordinary Muslims, even if they know Arabic, are qualified to derive rulings of the Shariah for themselves, is an example of this egotism running wild. To young people proud of their own judgement, and unfamiliar with the complexity of the sources and the brilliance of authentic scholarship, this can be an effective trap, which ends by luring them away from the orthodox path of Islam and into an unintentional agenda of provoking deep divisions among the Muslims. The fact that all the great scholars of the religion, including the hadith experts, themselves belonged to madhhabs, and required their students to belong to madhhabs, seems to have been forgotten. Self-esteem has won a major victory here over common sense and Islamic responsibility.[72]

The Holy Quran commands Muslims to use their minds and reflective capacities; and the issue of following qualified scholarship is an area in which this faculty must be very carefully deployed. The basic point should be appreciated that no categoric difference exists between usul al-fiqh and any other specialised science requiring lengthy training. Shaykh Sa`id Ramadan al-Buti, who has articulated the orthodox response to the anti-Madhhab trend in his book: Non-Madhhabism: The Greatest Bida Threatening the Islamic Shari`a, likes to compare the science of deriving rulings to that of medicine. “If ones child is seriously ill”, he asks, “does one look for oneself in the medical textbooks for the proper diagnosis and cure, or should one go to a trained medical practitioner?” Clearly, sanity dictates the latter option. And so it is in matters of religion, which are in reality even more important and potentially hazardous: we would be both foolish and irresponsible to try to look through the sources ourselves, and become our own muftis. Instead, we should recognise that those who have spent their entire lives studying the Sunnah and the principles of law are far less likely to be mistaken than we are.[73]

Another metaphor might be added to this, this time borrowed from astronomy. We might compare the Quranic verses and the hadiths to the stars. With the naked eye, we are unable to see many of them clearly; so we need a telescope. If we are foolish, or proud, we may try to build one ourselves. If we are sensible and modest, however, we will be happy to use one built for us by Imam al-Shafi’i or Ibn Hanbal, and refined, polished and improved by generations of great astronomers. A madhhab is, after all, nothing more than a piece of precision equipment enabling us to see Islam with the maximum clarity possible. If we use our own devices, our amateurish attempts will inevitably distort our vision.

A third image might also be deployed. An ancient building, for instance the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, might seem imperfect to some who worship in it. Young enthusiasts, burning with a desire to make the building still more exquisite and well-made (and no doubt more in conformity with their own time-bound preferences), might gain access to the crypts and basements which lie under the structure, and, on the basis of their own understanding of the principles of architecture, try to adjust the foundations and pillars which support the great edifice above them. They will not, of course, bother to consult professional architects, except perhaps one or two whose rhetoric pleases them nor will they be guided by the books and memoirs of those who have maintained the structure over the centuries. Their zeal and pride leaves them with no time for that. Groping through the basements, they bring out their picks and drills, and set to work with their usual enthusiasm.

There is a real danger that Sunni Islam is being treated in a similar fashion. The edifice has stood for centuries, withstanding the most bitter blows of its enemies. Only from within can it be weakened. No doubt, Islam has its intelligent foes among whom this fact is well-known. The spectacle of the disunity and fitnas which divided the early Muslims despite their superior piety, and the solidity and cohesiveness of Sunnism after the final codification of the Shariah in the four Schools of the great Imams, must have put ideas into many a malevolent head. This is not to suggest in any way that those who attack the great madhhabs are the conscious tools of Islam’s enemies. But it may go some way to explaining why they will continue to be well-publicised and well-funded, while the orthodox alternative is starved of resources. With every Muslim now a proud mujtahid, and with taqlid dismissed as a sin rather than a humble and necessary virtue, the divergent views which caused such pain in our early history will surely break surface again. Instead of four madhhabs in harmony, we will have a billion madhhabs in bitter and self-righteous conflict. No more brilliant scheme for the destruction of Islam could ever have been devised.[74]


[1] Abdul Wadod Shalabi, Islam: Religion of Life (2nd ed., Dorton, 1989), 10. This is the purport of the famous hadith : ‘The best generation is my own, then that which follows them, then that which follows them’. (Muslim, Fada’il al-Sahaba, 210, 211, 212, 214)

[2] The Khalifa was killed by Muslim rebels from Egypt, whose grievances included his alleged ‘innovation’ of introducing a standard text of the Holy Koran. (Evidently the belief among some modern Muslims that there can be no such thing as a ‘good innovation’ (bid`a hasana) has a long history!) For the full story, see pages 63-71 of M.A. Shaban, Islamic History AD 600-750 (AH 132): A New Interpretation (Cambridge, 1971).

[3] Shaban, 73-7.

[4] For the Kharijtes see Imam al-Tabari, History, vol. XVIII, translated by M. Morony (New York, 1987), 21-31. Their monstrous joy at having assassinated the khalifa `Ali ibn Abi Talib is recorded on page 22.

[5] For an account of the historical development of the fiqh, see Ahmad Hasan, The Early Development of Islamic Jurisprudence(Islamabad, 1970); Hilmi Ziya Ulken, Islam Dusuncesi (Istanbul, 1946), 68-100; Omer Nasuhi Bilmen, Hukuki Islamiyye ve IstalahatiFikhiyye Kamusu (Istanbul, 1949-52), I, 311-338.

[6] For a brief account of Shi’ism, see C. Glasse, The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam (london, 1989), 364-70.

[7] Fada’ih al-Batiniya, ed. `Abd al-Rahman Badawi (Cairo, 1964).

[8] For a detailed but highly readable account of the Mongol onslaught, see B. Spuler, History of the Mongols, based on Eastern and Western Accounts of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries (London, 1972); the best-known account by a Muslim historian is `Ala’ al-Din al-Juwayni, Tarikh-i Jihangusha, translated by J.A. Boyle as The History of the World-Conqueror (Manchester, 1958).

[9] For the slaughter of the ulema, see the dramatic account of Ahmad Aflaki, Manaqib al-`Arifin, ed. Tahsin Tazici (Ankara, 1959-61), I, 21, who states that 50,000 scholars were killed in the city of Balkh alone.

[10] The critical battle was fought in 873/1469, when the Mongol ruler of Iran was defeated by the Turkomans of the (Sunni) Ak Koyunlu dynasty, who were in turn defeated by Shah Isma`il, an extreme Shi`ite, in 906-7/1501, who inaugurated the Safavid rule which turned Iran into a Shi`i country. (The Cambridge History of Iran, VI, 174-5; 189-350; Sayyid Muhammad Sabzavari, tr. Sayyid Hasan Amin, Islamic Political and Juridical Thought in Safavid Iran [Tehran, 1989].)

[11] The Kharijites represent a tendency which has reappeared in some circles in recent years. Divided into many factions, their principles were never fully codified. They were textualist, puritanical and anti-intellectual, rejected the condition of Quraishite birth for their Imam, and declared everyone outside their grouping to be kafir. For some interesting accounts, see M. Kafafi, ‘The Rise of Kharijism’, Bulletin of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Egypt, XIV (1952), 29-48; Ibn Hazm, al-Fisal fi’l-milal wa’l-nihal (Cairo, 1320), IV, 188-92; Brahim Zerouki, L’Imamat de Tahart: premier etat musulman du Maghreb (Paris, 1987).

[12] Probably because he had written a book celebrating the virtues of the caliph `Ali. See Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani, Tahdhib al-Tahdhib (Hyderabad, 1325), I, 36-40.

[13] See, for example, Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni, al-Burhan fi usul al-fiqh (Cairo, 1400), §§1189-1252.

[14] Ibn Qutayba, Ta’wil Mukhtalif al-Hadith (Cairo, 1326). Readers of French will benefit from the translation of G. Lecomte: Le Traite des divergences du hadith d’Ibn Qutayba (Damascus, 1962). There is also a useful study by Ishaq al-Husayni: The Life and Works of Ibn Qutayba (Beirut, 1950). Mention should also be made of a later and inmost respects similar work, by Imam al-Tahawi (d. 321): Mushkil al-Athar (Hyderabad, 1333), which is more widely used among the ulema.

[15] Imam Abu’l-Wahid al-Baji (d. 474), Ihkam al-Fusul ila `Ilm al-Usul, ed. A. Turki (Beirut, 1986/1407), §§184-207; Imam Abu Ishaq al-Sirazi (d. 476), al-Luma` fi usual al-fiqh (Cairo, 1377), 17-24; Juwayni, §§327-52, 1247; Imam al-Shafi`i, tr. Majid Khadduri, Al-Shafi`i’s Risala: Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence (Cambridge, 1987), 103-8. Shafi`i gives a number of well-known examples of Koranic texts being subject to takhsis. For instance, the verse ‘As for the thief, male and female, cut of their hands as a retribution from Allah,’ (5:42) appears to be unconditional; however it is subject to takhsis by the hadith which reads ‘Hands should not be cut off for fruits, nor the spadix of a palm tree, and that the hand should not be cut off unless the price of the thing stolen is a quarter of a dinar or more.’ (Malik, Muwatta’, Abu Daud, Sunan; see Shafi`i, Risala, 105.)

[16] Mohammad Hashim Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence (Cambridge, 1991), 356-65. This excellent book by a prominent Afghan scholar is by far the best summary of the theory of Islamic law, and should be required reading for every Muslim who wishes to raise questions concerning the Shari`a disciples.

[17] The verses in question were: 2:219, 4:43, and 5:93. See Kamali, 16-17.

[18] Kamali, 150; Ibn Rushd, The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, tr. Imran Nyazee and Muhammad Abdul Rauf (Reading, 1994), 97. This new translation of the great classic Bidayat al-Mujtahid, only the first volume of which is available at present, is a fascinating explanation of the basic arguments over the proof texts (adilla) used by the scholars of the recognized madhhabs. Ibn Rushd was a Maliki qadi, but presents the views of other scholars with the usual respect and objectivity. The work is the best-known example of a book of the Shari`a science of `ilm al-khilaf (the ‘Knowledge of Variant Rulings’; for a definition of this science see Imam Hujjat al-Islam al-Ghazali, al-Mustasfa min `ilm al-usul, [Cairo, 1324] I, 5).

[19] Kamali, 150 quoting Shatibi, Muwafaqat, III, 63.

[20] Kamali, 154-160; Baji, §§383-450; Shirazi, 30-5; Juwayni, §§1412-1454; Ghazali, Mustasfa, I, 107-129. The problem was first addressed systematically by Imam al-Shafi`i. ‘There are certain hadiths which agree with one another, and others which are contradictory to one another; the abrogating and the abrogatedhadiths are clearly distinguished [in some of them]; in others the hadiths which are abrogating and abrogated are not indicated.’ (Risala, 179.) For cases in which the Holy Koran has abrogated a hadith, or (more rarely) a hadith has abrogated a Koranic verse, see Ghazali, Mustasfa, I, 124-6; Baji, §429-39; Juwayni, §1440-3. The sunna is able to abrogate the Koran because it too is a revelation (wahy); as Imam al-Baji explains it, ‘The Blessed Prophet’s own sunnas do not in reality abrogate anything themselves; they only state that Allah has cancelled the ruling of a Koranic passage. Hence the abrogation, in reality, is from Allah, whether theabrogating passage is in the Koran or the Sunna.’ (Baji, §435.)

[21] For this as an instance of abrogation, see Shafi`i, Risala (Khadduri), 133.

[22] Muslim, Jana’iz, 100.

[23] Kamali, 154.

[24] Kamali, 155; see also Shafi`i, Risala (khadduri), 168.

[25] Sayf ad-Din Ahmed Ibn Muhammad, Al-Albani Unveiled: An Exposition of His Errors and Other Important Issues (London, 2nd ed., 1415), 49-51; Ibn Rushd, The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, 168-170; Shafi`i, Risala (Khadduri), 199-202.

[26] M.Z. Siddiqi, Hadith Literature, its Origins, Development and Special Features (Revised ed. Cambridge, 1993), 3, 40, 126.

[27] Defects in the matn can sometimes make a hadith weak even if its isnad is sound (Siddiqi, 113-6).

[28] Kamali, 361; Bilmen, I, 74-6, 82-4. The classification of revealed texts under these headings is one of the most sensitive areas of usul al-fiqh.

[29] Kamali, 361.

[30] Kamali, 362.

[31] Kamali, 235-44; Ghazali, Mustasfa, 1, 191,2; Juwayni, §343.

[32] For some expositions of the difficult topic of qiyas, see Kamali, 197-228; Shirazi, 53-63; Juwayni, §§676-95; Imam Sayf al-Din al-Amidi (al-Ihkam fi Usul al-Ahkam, Cairo, 1332/1914), III, 261-437, IV, 1-161.

[33] Kamali, 363-4.

[34] The accessible English translation of his best-known work on legal theory has already been mentioned above in note 15.

[35] The question is often asked why only four schools should be followed today. The answer is straightforward: while in theory there is no reason whatsoever why the number has to be four, the historical fact is that only these four have sufficient detailed literature to support them. In connection with the hyper-literalist Zahiri madhhab, Ibn Khaldun writes: ‘Worthless persons occasionally feel obliged to follow the Zahiri school and study these books in the desire to learn the Zahiri system of jurisprudence from them, but they get nowhere, and encounter the opposition and disapproval of the great mass of Muslims. In doing so they often are considered innovators, as they accept knowledge from books for which no key is provided by teachers.’ (Muqaddima, tr. F. Rosenthal [Princeton, 1958], III, 6.)

[36] These are (in order of length, shortest first), al-Khulasaal-Wajiz, al-Wasit and Basit. The great Imam penned over a hundred other books, earning him from a grateful Umma the title ‘Hujjat al-Islam’ (The Proof of Islam). It is hardly surprising that when the ulema quote the famous sahih hadith ‘Allah shall raise up for this Umma at the beginning of each century someone who will renew for it its religion,’ they cite Imam al-Ghazali as the renewer of the fifth century of Islam. See for instance Imam Muhammad al-Sakhawi (d. 902AH), al-Maqasid al-Hasana fi bayan kathirin min al-ahadith al-mushtahira `ala al-alsina (Beirut, 1405), 203-4, who lists the ‘renewers’ as follows: `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz, al-Shafi`i, Ibn Surayj, Abu Hamid al-Isfaraini, Hujjut al-Islam al-Ghazali, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, Ibn Daqaq al-`Id, al-Balqini. Imam Ibn `Asakir (d. 571AH), in his famous work Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari fima nusiba ila al-Imam Abi’l-Hasan al-Ash`ari, ed. Imam Muhammad Zahid al-Kawthari (Damascus, 1347, reproduced Beirut, 1404), 52-4, has the following list: `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz, al-Shafi`i, al-Ash`ari, al-Baqillani, al-Ghazali.

[37] Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Ihya `Ulum al-Din (Cairo: Mustafa al-Halibi, 1347), III, 65.

[38] ‘The most characteristic qualities of the great ulema are dignity and serenity, respect for other scholars, compassionate concern for the Umma, and following the Prophet, upon whom be blessings and peace, whose view was always broad, his wisdom perfect, and his toleration superb.’ Imam Yusuf al-Dajawi (d. 1365AH), Maqalat wa-Fatawa (Cairo: Majmu` al-Buhuth al-Islamiya, 1402), II, 583. `True fairness is to regard all the Imams as worthy; whoever follows the madhhab of a Mujtahid because he has not attained the level of Ijtihad, is not harmed by the fact that other imams differ from his own.’ (Shatibi, I`tisam, III, 260.) There are many examples cited by the scholars to show the respect of the madhhabs for each other. For instance, Shaykh Ibrahim al-Samadi (d. 1662), a pious scholar of Damascus, once prayed to be given four sons, so that each might follow one of the recognized madhhabs, thereby bringing a fourfold blessing to his house. (Muhammad al-Amin al-Muhibbi, Khulasat al-atar fi a`yan al-qarn al-hadi `ashar [Cairo, 1248], I, 48.) And it was not uncommon for scholars to be able to give fatwas in more than one madhhab (such a man was known technically as mufti al-firaq). (Ibn al-Qalanisi, Dhayl Tarikh Dimasq[Beirut, 1908], 311.) Hostility between the Madhhabs was rare, despite some abuse in the late Ottoman period. Al-Dhahabi counsels his readers as follows: ‘Do not think that your madhhab is the best, and the one most beloved by Allah, for you have no proof of this. The Imams, may Allah be pleased with them, all follow great goodness; when they are right, they receive two rewards, and when they are wrong, they still receive one reward.’ (al-Dhahabi, Zaghal al-`Ilm wa’l-Talab, 15, quoted in Sa`id Ramadan al-Buti, Al-Lamadhhabiya Akhtar Bid`a tuhaddid al-Shari`a al-Islamiya, 3rd edition, Beirut, 1404, 81.) The final words here (‘right … reward’) are taken from a well-known hadith to this effect (Bukhari, I`tisam, 21.)

[39] Most notoriously N. Couson, Conflicts and Tensions in Islamic Jurisprudence (Chicago, 1969), 43, 50, 96; but also I. Goldziher, Louis Ardet and Montgomery Watt.

[40] It will be useful here to refute an accusation made by some Orientalists, and even by some modern Muslims, who suggest that the scholars were reluctant to challenge the madhhab system because if they did so they would be ‘out of a job’, and lucrative qadi positions, restricted to followers of the orthodox Schools, would be barred to them. This is a particularly distasteful example of the modern tendency to slander men whose moral integrity was no less impressive than their learning: to suggest that the great Ulema of Islam followed the interpretation of Islam that they did simply for financial reasons is insulting and a disgraceful form of ghiba (backbiting). In any case, it can be easily refuted. The great ulema of the past were in almost every case men of independent means, and did not need to earn from their scholarship. For instance, Imam Ibn Hajar had inherited a fortune from his mother (al-Sakhawi, al-Daw’ al-Lami` li-Ahl al-Qarn al-Tasi` (Cairo, 1353-5), II, 36-40). Imam al-Suyuti came from a prominent and wealthy family of civil servants (see his ownHusn al-Muhadara fi akhbar Misr wa’l-Wahira [Cairo, 1321], I, 153, 203). For examples of scholars who achieved financial independence see the editor’s notes to Ibn Jam`a’s Tadhkirat al-Sami` fi Adab al-`Alim wa’l-Muta`allim (Hyderabad, 1353), 210: Imam al-Baji was a craftsman who made gold leaf: ‘his academic associates recall that he used to go out to see them with his hand sore from the effects of the hammer’ (Dhahabi, Tadhkira, III, 349-50); while the Khalil ibn Ishaq, also a Maliki, was a soldier who had taken part in the liberation of Alexandria from the Crusaders, and often gave his fiqh classes while still wearing his chain mail and helmet (Suyuti, Husn al-Muhadara, I, 217.) And it was typical for the great scholars to live lives of great frugality: Imam al-Nawawi, who died at the age of 44, is said to have damaged his health by his ascetic lifestyle: for instance, he declined to eat of the fruit of Damascus, where he taught, because it was grown on land whose legal status he regarded as suspect. (al-Yafi`I, Mir’at al-Janan wa-`Ibrat al-Yaqzan [Hyderabad, 1338], IV, 1385.) It is not easy to see how such men could have allowed motives of financial gain to dictate their approach to religion.

[41] A mujtahid is a scholar qualified to perform ijtihad, defined as ‘personal effort to derive a Shari`a ruling of the furu` from the revealed sources.’ (Bilmen, I, 247.) His chief task – the actual process of derivation – is called istinbat, originally signifying in Arabic ‘bringing up water with difficulty from a well.’ (Bilmen, I, 247.)

[42] ‘When Allah’s Messenger, upon him be blessings and peace, wished to send Mu`adh ibn Jabal to the Yemen, he asked him: ‘How will you judge if an issue is presented to you for judgement?’ ‘By what is in Allah’s Book,’ he replied. ‘And if you do not find it in Allah’s Book?’ ‘Then by the Sunna of Allah’s Messenger.’ ‘And if it is not in the Sunna of Allah’s Messenger?’ ‘Then I shall strive in my own judgement’ (ajtahidu ra’yi). (Abu Daud, Aqdiya, 11.)

[43] Kamali, 366-393, especially 374-7; see also Amidi, IV, 219-11; Shirazi, 71-2; Bilmen, I, 247, 250, 251-2.

[44] Kamali, 386-8. Examples of such men from the time of the Tabi`un onwards include ‘Ibrahim al-Nakha`I, Ibn Abi Layla, Ibn Shubruma, Sufyan al-Thawri, al-Hasan ibn Salih, al-Awza`i, `Amr ibn al-Harith, al-Layth ibn Sa`d, `Abdullah ibn Abi Ja`far, Ishaq ibn Rahawayh, Abu `Ubayd al-Qasim ibn Salam, Abu Thawr, Ibn Khuzayma, Ibn Nasr al-Marwazi, Ibn Mundhir, Daud al-Zahiri, and Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, may Allah show them all His mercy.’ (Bilmen, I, 324.) It should be noted that according to some scholars a concession (rukhsa) exists on the matter of the permissibility of taqlid for mujtahid: Imam al-Baji and Imam al-Haramayn, for instance, permit a mujtahid to follow another mujtahid in cases where his own research to establish a matter would result in dangerous delay to the performance of a religious duty. (Baji, §783; Juwayni, §1505.)

[45] Kamali, 388; Bilmen, I, 248.

[46] ‘The major followers of the great Imams did not simply imitate them as some have claimed. We know, for instance, that Abu Yusuf and al-Shaybani frequently dissented from the position of Abu Hanifa. In fact, it is hard to find a single question of fiqh which is not surrounded by a debate, in which the independent reasoning and ijtihad of the scholars, and their determination to locate the precise truth, are very conspicuous. In this way we find Imam al-Shafi`i determining, in his new madhhab, that the time for Maghrib does not extend into the late twilight (shafaq); while his followers departed from this position in order to follow a different proof-text (dalil). Similarly, Ibn `Abd al-Barr and Abu Bakr ibn al-`Arabi hold many divergent views in the madhhab of Imam Malik. And so on.’ (Imam al-Dajawi, II, 584.)

[47] ‘Whenever a mujtahid reaches a judgement in which he goes against ijma`, or the basaic principles, or an unambiguous text, or a clear qiyas (al-qiyas al-jali) free of any proof which contradicts it, his muqallid is not permitted to convey his view to the people or to give a fatwa in accordance with it … however no-one can know whether this has occurred who has not mastered the principles of jurisprudence, clear qiyas, unambiguous texts, and anything that could intervene in these things; and to know this one is obliged to learned usul al-fiqh and immerse oneself in the ocean of fiqh.’ (Imam Shihab al-Din al-Qarafi, al-Furuq (Cairo, 1346), II, 109.)

[48] The ulema usually recognize seven different degrees of Muslims from the point of view of their learning, and for those who are interested they are listed here, in order of scholarly status. (1,2) The mujtahidun fi’l-shar` (Mujtahids in the Shari`a) and the mujtahidun fi’l-madhhab (Mujtahids in the Madhhab) have already been mentioned. (3) Mujtahidun fi’l-masa’il (Mujtahids on Particular Issues) are scholars who remain within a school, but are competent to exerciseijtihad on certain aspects within it which they know thoroughly. (4) Ashab al-Takhrij (Resolvers of Ambiguity), who are competent to ‘indicate which view was preferable in cases of ambiguity, or regarding suitability to prevailing conditions’. (5) Ashab al-Tarjih (People of Assessment) are ‘those competent to make comparisons and distinguish the correct (sahih) and the preferred (rajih, arjah) and the agreed-upon (mufta biha) views from the weak ones’ inside themadhhab. (6) Ashab al-Tashih (People of Correction): ‘those who could distinguish between the manifest (zahir al-riwaya) and the rare and obscure (nawadir) views of the schools of their following.’ (7) Muqallidun: the ‘emulators’, including all non-scholars. (Kamali, 387-9. See also Bilmen, I, 250-1, 324-6.) Of these seven categories, only the first three are considered to be mujtahids.

[49] This is explained by Imam al-Shatibi in the context of the following passage, all of which is quoted here to furnish a further summary of the orthodox position on taqlid. ‘A person obliged to follow the rules of the Shari`a must fall into one of three categories. [I] He may be a mujtahid, in which case he will practice the legal conclusions to which his ijtihad leads him. [II] He may be a completemuqallid, unappraised of the knowledge required. In his case, he must have a guide to lead him, and an arbitrator to give judgements for him, and a scholar to emulate. Obviously, he follows the guide only in his capacity as a man possessed of the requisite knowledge. The proof for this is that if he knows, or even suspects, that he does not in fact possess it, it is not permissible for him to follow him or to accept his judgement; in fact, no individual, whether educated or not, should think of following through taqlid someone who he knows is not qualified, in the way that a sick man should not put himself in the hands of someone whom he knows is not a doctor. [III] He may not have attained to the level of the Mujtahids, but he understands the dalil and its context, and is competent to understand it in order to prefer some rulings over others in certain questions. In his case, one must either recognize his preferences and views, or not. If they are recognized, then he becomes like a mujtahid on that issue; if they are not, then he must be classed alone with other ordinary non-specialist Muslims, who are obliged to follow Mujtahids. (al-I`tisam [Cairo, 1913-4] III, 251-3.)

An equivalent explanation of the status of the muttabi` is given by Amidi, IV, 306-7: ‘If a non-scholar, not qualified to make ijtihad, has acquired some of the knowledge required for ijtihad, he must follow the verdicts of the Mujtahids. This is the view of the correct scholars, although it has been rejected by some of the Mu`tazilites in Baghdad, who state: “That is not allowable, unless he obtains a clear proof (dalil) of the correctness of the ijtihad he is following.” But the correct view is that which we have stated, this being proved by the Koran, Ijma` and the intellect. The Koranic proof is Allah’s statement, “Ask the people of remembrance if you do not know,” which is a general (`amm) commandment to all. The proof by Ijma` is that ordinary Muslims in the time of the Companions and the Followers used to ask the mujtahids, and follow them in their Shari`a judgements, while the learned among them would answer their questions without indicating the dalil. They would not forbid them from doing this, and this therefore constitutes Ijma` on the absolute permissibility of an ordinary Muslim following the rulings of a mujtahid.’ For Amidi’s intellectual proof, see note 51 below.

[50] A muqallid is a Muslim who practices taqlid, which is the Shari`a term for ‘the acceptance by an ordinary person of the judgement of a mufti.’ (Juwayni, §1545.) The word ‘mufti’ here means either a mujtahid or someone who authentically transmits the verdict of a mujtahid. ‘As for the ordinary person [`ammi], it is obligatory [wajib] upon him to make taqlid of the ulema.’ (Baji, §783.) The actual choice of which mujtahid an ordinary Muslim should follow is clearly a major responsibility. ‘A muqallid may only make taqlid of another person after carefully examining his credentials, and obtaining reliable third-party testimony as to his scholarly attainments’ (Juwayni, §1511). (Imam Ibn Furak, however holds that a mujtahid’s own self-testimony is sufficient.) Imam Juwayni goes on to observe (§1515) that is is necessary to follow the best mujtahid available; whichis also the positoin of Imam al-Baji (§794). See also Shirazi (p. 72): ‘It is not permissible for someone asking for a fatwa to ask just anyone, lest he ask someone who has no knowledge of the fiqh. Instead it is obligatory (wajib) for him to ascertain the scholar’s learning and trustworthiness.’ And Qarafi (II, 110): ‘The Salaf, may Allah be pleased with them, were intensely reluctant to givefatwas. Imam Malik said, “A scholar should not give fatwas until he is regarded as competent to do so both by himself and by others.” In other words, the scholars must be satisfied of his qualifications. Imam Malik did not begin to give fatwas until he had been given permission (ijaza) to do so by forty turbaned ones [scholars].’

[51] ‘The dalil for our position is Allah’s commandment: So ask the people of remembrance, if you do not know. For if we forbade taqlid, everyone would need to become an advanced scholar, and no-one would be able [have time] to earn anything, and the earth would lie uncultivated.’ (Shirazi, 71.) ‘The intellectual proof [of the need for taqlid] is that if an issue of the furu` arises for someone who does not possess the qualifications for ijtihad then he will either not adopt an Islamic ruling at all, and this is a violation of the Ijma`, or, alternatively, he will adopt an Islamic ruling, either by investigating the proofs involved, or by taqlid. But an adequate investigation of the proofs is not possible for him, for it would oblige him, and all humanity, fully to investigate the dalils pertaining to the issues, thereby distracting them from their sources of income, and leading to the extinction of crafts and the ruin of the world.’ (Amidi, Ihkam, IV, 307-8.) ‘One of the dalils for the legitimacy of following the verdicts of the scholars is our knowledge that anyone who looks into these discussions and seeks to deduce rulings of the Shari`a will need to have the right tools, namely, the science of the rulings of the Koran and Sunna and usul al-fiqh, the principles of rhetoric and the Arabic language, and other sciences which are not easily acquired, and which most people cannot attain to. And even if some of them do attain to it, they only do so after long study, investigation and very great effort, which would require that they devote themselves entirely to this and do nothing else; and if ordinary people were under the obligation to do this, there would be no cultivation, commerce, or other employments which are essential for the continuance of humanity – and it is the ijma` of the Umma that this is something which Allah ta`ala has not obliged His slaves to do. … There is therefore no alternative for them to following the ulema.’ (Baji, §793.)

[52] ‘There is ijma` among the scholars that this verse is a commandment to whoever does not know a ruling or the dalil for it to follow someone who does. Almost all the scholars of usul al-fiqh have made this verse their principle dalil that it is obligatory for an ordinary person to follow a scholar who is amujtahid.’ (al-Buti, 71; translated also in Keller, 17.)

[53] See also Dajawi, II, 576: ‘The Companions and Followers used to give fatwas on legal issues to those who asked for them. At times they would mention the source, if this was necessary, while at other times they would limit themselves to specifying the ruling.’ Al-Ghazali (Mustasfa, II, 385) explains that the existence of taqlid and fatwa among the Companions is a dalil for the necessity of this fundamental distinction: ‘The proof that taqlid is obligatory is the ijma` of the Companions. For they used to give fatwas to the ordinary people and did not command them to acquire the degree of ijtihad for themselves. This is known necessarily (bi’l-darura) and by parallel lines of transmission (tawatur) from both the scholars and the non-scholars among them.’ See also Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddima (Bulaq ed., p. 216): ‘Not all the Companions were qualified to give fatwas, and Islam was not taken from all of them. That privilege was held only by those who had learnt the Koran, knew what it contained by what of abrogated and abrogating passages, ambiguous (mutashabih) and perspicuous (muhkam) expressions, and its other special features.’ And also Imam al-Baji (§793): ‘Ordinary Muslims have no alternative but to follow the Ulema. One proof of this is the ijma` of the Companions, for those among them who had not attained the degree ofijtihad used to ask the ulema of the Companions for the correct ruling on something which happened to them. Not one of the Companions criticized them for so doing; on the contrary, they gave them fatwas on the issues they had asked about, without condemning them or telling them to derive the rulings themselves [from the Koran and Sunna].’ See also Imam al-Amidi: in note 49 above.

A list of the muftis among the Companions is given by Juwayni (§§1494-9); they include the Four Khalifas, Talha ibn `Ubaydillah, `Abd al-Rahman ibn `Awf, and Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas. Others were not muftis, such as Abu Hurayra, who despite his many narrations of hadiths was never known for his judgements (§1497). Shirazi (p. 52) confirms the obvious point that some Companions are considered more worthy of being followed in legal matters than others.

[54] As we have seen above, the ulema regard a mastery of the Arabic language as one of the essential qualifications for deriving the Shari`a directly from the Koran and Sunna. See Juwayni, §§70-216, where this is stressed. Juwayni records that Imam al-Shafi`i was so expert in the Arabic language, grammar and rhetoric that at a very young age he was consulted by the great philologist al-Asma`i, who asked his help in editing some early and very difficult collections of Arabic poetry. (Juwayni, §1501.) We also learn that Imam `Ibn al-Mubarak, the famous traditionalist of Merv, spent more money on learning Arabic than on traditions [hadith], attaching more importance on the former than the latter, and asking the students of hadith to spent twice as long on Arabic than on hadith … al-Asma`i held that someone who studied hadith without learning grammar was to be categorized with the forgers of hadith.’ (Siddiqi, 84-5.)

[55] Published in 6 volumes in Cairo in 1313 AH. Another work by him, the Kitab al-Zuhd (Beirut, 1403), also contains many hadiths.

[56] Published in 13 volumes in Bombay between 1386 and 1390.

[57] Edited by M.M. al-A`zami, Beirut, 1391-97.

[58] This is an important collection of hadiths who accuracy Imam al-Hakim al-Nisaburi considered to meet the criteria of Imams al-Bukhari and Muslim, but which had not been included in their collections. Published in four large volumes in Hyderabad between 1334-1342.

[59] Needless to say, the amateurs who deny taqlid and try to derive the rulings for themselves are even more ignorant of the derivative sources of Shari`a than they are of the Koran and Sunna. These other sources do not only include the famous ones such as ijma` andqiyas. For instance, the fatwas of the Companions are considered by the ulema to be a further important source of legislation. ‘Imam al-Shafi`i throughout his life taught that diya (bloodmoney) was increased in cases of crimes committed in the Haramayn or the Sacred Months, and he had no basis for this other than the statements of the Companions.’ (Juwayni, §1001.)

[60] There is a version of this hadith in Tirmidhi (Hudu, 2), but attached to an isnad which includes Yazid ibn Ziyad, who is weak.

[61] Ibn Abi Shayba, Musannaf, XI, 70.

[62] Sakhawi, 74-5.

[63] Sakhawi, 742.

[64] For a complete list of the most famous scholars of Islam, and the madhhabs to which they belonged see Sayf al-Din Ahmad, Al-Albani Unveiled, 97-9.

[65] For these writers see Ahmad ibn al-Naqib al-Misri, tr. Nuh Keller, Reliance of the Traveller (Abu Dhabi, 1991), 1059-60, 1057-9. The attitude of Ibn al-Qayyim is not consistent on this issue. In some passages of his I`lam al-Muwaqqi`in he seems to suggest that any Muslim is qualified to derive rulings directly from the Koran and Sunna. But in other passages he takes a more intelligent view. For instance, he writes: ‘Is it permissible for a mufti who adheres to the madhhab of his Imam to give a fatwa in accordance with a differentmadhhab if that is more correct in his view? [The answer is] if he is [simply] following the principles of that Imam in procedures ofijtihad and ascertaining the proof-texts [i.e. is a mujtahid fi’l-madhhab], then he is permitted to follow the view of another mujtahidwhich he considers correct.’ (I`lam al-Muwaqqi`in, IV, 237.) This is a broad approach, but is nonetheless very far from the notion of simply following the ‘dalil’ every time rather than following a qualified interpreter. This quote and several others are given by Shaykh al-Buti to show the various opinions held by Ibn al-Qayyim on this issue, which, according to the Shaykh, reveal ‘remarkable contradictions’. (Al-Buti, 56-60.)

[66] Many of Ibn Taymiya’s works exist only as single manuscripts; and even the others, when compared to the works of the great scholars such as al-Suyuti and al-Nawawi, seem to have been copied only very rarely. See the list of ancient manuscripts of his works given by C. Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur (2nd. Ed. Leiden, 1943-9), II, 126-7, Supplement, II, 119-126.

[67] `Abduh, in turn, was influenced by his teacher and collaborator Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1839-97). Afghani was associated with that transitional ‘Young Ottoman’ generation which created the likes of Namik Kemal and (somewhat later) Zia Gokalp and Sati` al-Husari: men deeply traumatized by the success of the Western powers and the spectacle of Ottoman military failure, and who sought a cultural renewal by jettisoning historic Muslim culture while maintaining authenticity by retaining a ‘pristine essence’. In this they were inspired, consciously or otherwise, by the wider 19th century quest for authenticity: the nationalist philosophers Herder and Le Bon, who had outlined a similar revivalist-essentialist project for France and Germany based on the ‘original sources’ of their national cultures, had been translated and were widely read in the Muslim world at the time. Afghani was not a profound thinker, but his pamphlets and articles in the journal which he and `Abduh edited, al-`Urwat al-Wuthqa, were highly influential. Whether he believed in his own pan-Islamic ideology, or indeed in his attenuated and anti-historicist version of Islam, is unclear. When writing in contexts far from his Muslim readership he often showed an extreme scepticism. For instance, in his debate with Renan concerning the decline of Arab civilization, he wrote of Islam: ‘It is clear that where-ever it becomes established, this religion tried to stifle the sciences and it was marvellously served in its designs by despotism.’ (Reply to Renan, translated by N. Keddie in An Islamic Response to Imperialism: Political and Religious Writings of Sayyid Jamal al-Din ‘al-Afghani’ (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1968), 183, 187. It is hardly surprising that `Abduh should have worked so hard to suppress the Arabic translation of this work!

Afghani’s reformist ideology led him to found a national political party in Egypt, al-Hizb al-Watani, including not only Muslims, but in which ‘all Christians and Jews who lived in the land of Egypt were eligible for membership.’ (Jamal Ahmed, The Intellectual Origins of Egyptian Nationalism (London, 1960), 16.) This departure from traditional Islamic notions of solidarity can be seen as a product of Afghani’s specific attitude to taqlid. But his pupil’s own fatwas were often far more radical, perhaps because `Abduh’s ‘partiality for the British authority which pursued similar lines of reform and gave him support’ (Ahmed, 35). We are not surprised to learn that the British governor of Egypt, Lord Cromer, wrote: ‘For many years I gave to Mohammed Abdu all the encouragement in my power’ (Lord Cromer,Modern Egypt [ New York, 1908], II, 180). An example is the declaration in `Abduh’s tafsir (much of which is by Rida) that the erection of statues is halal. The same argument was being invoked by Ataturk, who, when asked why he was erecting a statue of himself in Ankara, claimed that ‘the making of statues is not forbidden today as it was when Muslims were just out of idolatry, and that it is necessary for the Turks to practice this art, for it is one of the arts of civilization’. (C. Adams, Islam and Modernism in Egypt [London, 1933], 193-4.)

[68] A poorly-argued but well-financed example of a book in this category is a short text by the Saudi writer al-Khajnadi, of which an amended version exists in English. This text aroused considerable concern among the ulema when it first appeared in the 1960s, and Shaykh Sa`id Ramadan al-Buti’s book was in fact written specifically in refutation of it. The second and subsequent editions of al-Buti’s work, which shows how Khajnadi systematically misquoted and distorted the texts, contain a preface which includes an account of a meeting between al-Buti and the Albanian writer Nasir al-Din al-Albani, who was associated with Khajnadi’s ideas. The three-hour meeting, which was taped, was curious inasmuch as al-Albani denied that Khajnadi was stating that all Muslims can derive rulings directly from the Koran and Sunna. For instance where Khajnadi makes the apparently misleading statement that ‘As for the Madhhabs, these are the views and ijtihads of the ulema on certain issues; and neither Allah nor His messenger have compelled anyone to follow them,’ Al-Albani explains that ‘anyone’ (ahad) here in fact refers to ‘anyone qualified to make ijtihad’. (Al-Buti, 13.) Al-Albani went on to cite several other instances of how readers had unfortunately misunderstood Khajnadi’s intention. Shaykh al-Buti, quite reasonably, replied to the Albanian writer: ‘No scholar would ever use language in such a loose way and make such generalizations, and intend to say something so different to what he actually and clearly says; in fact, no-one would understand his words as you have interpreted them.’ Albani’s response was: ‘The man was of Uzbek origin, and his Arabic was that of a foreigner, so he was not able to make himself as clear as an Arab would. He is dead now, and we should give him the benefit of the doubt and impose the best interpretation we can on his words!’ (al-Buti, 14.) But al-Albani, despite his protestations, is reliably said to believe even now that taqlid is unacceptable. Wa-la hawla wa-la quawwata illa bi’Llah.

[69] The ulema also quote the following guiding principles of Islamic jurisprudence: ‘That which is wrong (munkar) need not be condemned as [objectively] wrong unless all scholars agree (in ijma`) that it is so.’ (Dajawi, II, 583.) Imam al-Dajawi (II, 575) also makes the following points: ‘The differences of opinion among the ulema are a great mercy (rahma) upon this Umma. `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz declared: “It would not please me if the Companions of Muhammad, upon whom be blessings and peace, had not disagreed, for had they not done so, no mercy would have come down.” Yahya ibn Sa`id, one of the great hadith narrators among the Followers (Tabi`un), said: “The people of knowledge are a people of broadness (ahl tawsi`a). They continue to give fatwas which are different from each other, and no scholar reproaches another scholar for his opinion.” However, if ordinary people took their rulings straight from the Koran and Sunna, as a certain faction desires, their opinions would be far more discordant than this, and the Four Schools would no longer be four, but thousands. Should that day come, it will bring disaster upon disaster for the Muslims – may we never live to see it!’

One could add that ‘that day’ seems already to be upon us, and that the resulting widening of the argument on even the most simple juridical matters is no longer tempered by the erstwhile principles of politeness and toleration. The fiercely insulting debate between Nasir al-Din al-Albani and the Saudi writer al-Tuwayjiri is a typical instance. The former writer, in his book Hijab al-Mar’a al-Muslima, uses the Koran and Sunna to defend his views that a woman may expose her face in public; while the latter, in his al-Sarim al-Mashhur `ala Ahl al-Tabarruj wa’l- Sufur, attacks Albani in the most vituperative terms for failing to draw from the revealed sources and supposedly obvious conclusion that women must always veil their faces from non-mahram men. Other example of this bitter hatred generation by the non-Madhhab style of discord, based in attempts at direct istinbat, are unfortunately many. Hardly any mosque or Islamic organization nowadays seems to be free of them.

The solution is to recall the principle referred to above, namely that two mujtahids can hold differing opinions on the furu`, and still be rewarded by Allah, while both opinions will constitute legitimate fiqh. (Juwayni, §§1455-8; Bilmen, I, 249.) This is clearly indicated in the Koranic verses: ‘And Daud and Sulayman, when they gave judgement concerning the field, when people’s sheep had strayed and browsed therein by night; and We were witness to their judgement. We made Sulayman to understand [the case]; and unto each of them We gave judgement and knowledge.’ (21:78-9) The two Prophets, upon them be peace, had given different fatwas; and Sulayman’s was the more correct, but as Prophets they were infallible (ma`sum), and hence Daud’s judgement was acceptable also.

Understanding this is the key to recreating the spirit of tolerance among Muslims. Shaykh Omer Bilmen summarizes the jurists’ position as follows: ‘The fundamentals of the religion, namely basic doctrine, the obligatory status of the forms of worship, and the ethical virtues, are the subject of universal agreement, an agreement to which everyone is religiously obliged to subscribe. Those who diverge from the rulings accepted by the overwhelming majority of ordinary Muslims are considered to be the people of bid`a and misguidance, since the dalils (proof-texts) establishing them are clear. But it is not a violation of any Islamic obligation for differences of opinion to exist concerning the furu` (branches) and juz’iyyat (secondary issues) which devolve from these basic principles. In fact, such differences are a necessary expression of the Divine wisdom.’ (Bilmen, I, 329.)

A further point needs elucidating. If the jurists may legitimately disagree, how should the Islamic state apply a unified legal code throughout its territories? Clearly, the law must be the same everywhere. Imam al-Qarafi states the answer clearly: ‘The head of state gives a judgement concerning the [variant rulings which have been reached by] ijtihad, and this does away with the disagreement, and obliges those who follow ijtihad verdicts which conflict with the head of state’s to adopt his verdict.’ (Qarafi, II, 103; affirmed also in Amidi, IV, 273-4.) Obviously this is a counsel specifically for qadis, and applies only to questions of public law, not to rulings on worship.

[70] This was understood as early as the 18th century. Al-Buti quotes Shah Waliullah al-Dahlawi (Hujjat Allah al-Baligha, I, 132) as observing: ‘The Umma up to the present date … has unanimously agreed that these four recorded madhhabs may be followed by way of taqlid. In this there are manifest benefits and advantages, especially in these days in which enthusiasm has dimmed greatly, and souls have been given to drink of their own passions, so that everyone with an opinion is delighted with his opinion.’ This reminds us that Islam is not a totalitarian religion which denies the possibility and legitimacy of variant opinions. ‘The Muslim scholars are agreed that the mujtahid cannot incur a sin in regard to his legitimate ijtihad exercised to derive judgements of Shari`a. [Only the likes of] Bishr al-Marisi, Ibn `Aliyya, Abu Bakr al-Asamm and the deniers of qiyas, such as the Mu`tazilites and the Twelver Shi`a, believe that there is only one true ruling in each legal issue, so that whoever does not attain to it is a sinner.’ (Amidi, IV, 244.) This is of course an aspect of the Divine mercy, and a token of the sane and generous breadth of Islam. ‘Allah desires ease for you, not difficulty.’ (Koran, 2:185) ‘I am sent to make things easy, not to make them more difficult.’ (Bukhari, `Ilm, 12.) ‘Never was Allah’s Messenger, may blessings and peace be upon him, given the choice between two options but that he chose the easier of them, unless it was a sin.’ (Bukhari, Manaqib, 23.) But the process lamented in Dahlawi’s day, by which people simply ignored this Sunna principle, has nowadays become far more poisonous. What is particularly damaging is that egos have become so powerful that the old Muslim adab of polite tolerance during debate has been lost in some circles, as people find it hard to accept that other Muslims might hold opinions that differ from their own. It must be realized that if Allah tells Musa (upon him be peace) to speak ‘gently’ to Pharoah (20:43), and commands us ‘not to debate with the People of the Book save in a most excellent way,’ (29:46) then how much more important must it be to debate politely with people who are neither Pharoahs nor Christians, but are of our own religion?

[71] Probably because of an underlying insecurity, many young Muslim activists cannot bear to admit that they might not know something about their religion. And this despite the example of Imam Malik, who, when asked forty questions about fiqh, answered ‘I do not know’ (la adri) to thirty-six of them. (Amidi, IV, 221; Bilmen, I, 239.) How many egos nowadays can bear to admit ignorance even once? They should remember the saying: ‘He who makes most haste to give a fatwa, makes most haste to the Fire.’ (Bilmen, I, 255.) Imam al-Subki condemns ‘those who make haste to give fatwas, relying on the apparent meaning of the [revealed] phrases without thinking deeply about them, thereby dragging other people into ignorance, and themselves into the agonies of the Fire.’ (Taj al-Din al-Subki, Mu`id al-Ni`am wa-Mubid al-Niqam (Brill, 1908), 149. Even Imam al-Sha`bi (d.103), out of his modesty and adab, and his awareness of the great complexity of the fiqh, did not consider himself a mufti, only a naqil (transmitter of texts). (Bilmen, I, 256.)

[72] Cf. Imam al-Dajawi, II, 579: ‘By Allah, this view (that ordinary people should not follow madhhabs) is nothing less than an attempt to fling the door wide open for people’s individual preferences, thereby turning the Book and the Sunna into playthings to be manipulated by those deluded fools, driven by their compounded ignorance and their corrupt imaginings. It is obvious that personal preferences vary enormously, and that ignorant people will arrive at their conclusions on the basis of their own emotions and imaginings. So what will be the result if we put them in authority over the Shari`a, so that they are able to interpret it in the light of their own opinions, and play with it according to their preferences?’

[73] Buti, 107-8. The same image is used by Imran Nyazee: ‘Taqlid, as distinguished from blind conversatism, is the foundation of all relationships based on trust, like those between a patient and his doctor, a client and his lawyer, and a business and its accountant. It is a legal method for ensuring that judges who are not fully-qualified mujtahids may be able to decide cases in the light of precedents laid down by independent jurists … The system of taqlid implies that as long as the layman does not get the training for becoming a doctor he cannot practice medicine, for example. In the case of medicine such a person may be termed a quack and may even be punished today, but in the case of Islamic law he is assuming a much graver responsibility: he is claiming that the opinion he is expressing is the law intended by Allah.’ (Introduction to The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, xxxv.)

[74] It hardly needs adding, as a final observation, that nothing in all the above should be understood as an objection to the extension and development of thefiqh in response to modern conditions. Much serious ijtihad is called for; the point being made in this paper is simply that such ijtihad must be carried out by scholars qualified to do so.

Why Does One Have to Follow a Madhhab?

Debate Between Muhammad Sa’id al-Buti and a Leading Salafi Teacher

[Nuh Ha Mim Keller:] I will close this answer by translating a conversation that took place in Damascus between Shari‘a professor Muhammad Sa‘id al-Buti, and a Salafi teacher. Buti asked him:

Buti: “What is your method for understanding the rulings of Allah? Do you take them from the Qur’an and sunna, or from the Imams of ijtihad?”

Salafi: “I examine the positions of the Imams and their evidences for them, and then take the closest of them to the evidence of the Qur’an and Sunna.”

Buti: “You have five thousand Syrian pounds that you have saved for six months. You then buy merchandise and begin trading with it. When do you pay zakat on the merchandise, after six months, or after one year?”

Salafi: [He thought, and said,] “Your question implies you believe zakat should be paid on business capital.”

Buti: “I am just asking. You should answer in your own way. Here in front of you is a library containing books of Qur’anic exegesis, hadith, and the works of the mujtahid Imams.”

Salafi: [He reflected for a moment, then said,] “Brother, this is din, and not simple matter. One could answer from the top of one’s head, but it would require thought, research, and study; all of which take time. And we have come to discuss something else.”

Buti: I dropped the question and said, “All right. Is it obligatory for every Muslim to examine the evidences for the positions of the Imams, and adopt the closest of them to the Qur’an and Sunna?”

Salafi: “Yes.”

Buti: “This means that all people possess the same capacity for ijtihad that the Imams of the madhhabs have; or even greater, since without a doubt, anyone who can judge the positions of the Imams and evaluate them according to the measure of the Qur’an and sunna must know more than all of them.”

Salafi: He said, “In reality, people are of three categories: the muqallid or ‘follower of qualified scholarship without knowing the primary textual evidence (of Qur’an and hadith)’; the muttabi‘, or ‘follower of primary textual evidence’; and the mujtahid, or scholar who can deduce rulings directly from the primary textual evidence (ijtihad). He who compares between madhhabs and chooses the closest of them to the Qur’an is a muttabi‘, a follower of primary textual evidence, which is an intermediate degree between following scholarship (taqlid) and deducing rulings from primary texts (ijtihad).”

Buti: “Then what is the follower of scholarship (muqallid) obliged to do?”

Salafi: “To follow the mujtahid he agrees with.”

Buti: “Is there any difficulty in his following one of them, adhering to him, and not changing?”

Salafi: “Yes there is. It is unlawful (haram).”

Buti: “What is the proof that it is unlawful?”

Salafi: “The proof is that he is obliging himself to do something Allah Mighty and Majestic has not obligated him to.”

Buti: I said, “Which of the seven canonical readings (qira’at) do you recite the Qur’an in?”

Salafi: “That of Hafs.”

Buti: “Do you recite only in it, or in a different canonical reading each day.”

Salafi: “No, I recite only in it.”

Buti: “Why do you read only it when Allah Mighty and Majestic has not obliged you to do anything except to recite the Qur’an as it has been conveyed—with the total certainty of tawatur (being conveyed by witnesses so numerous at every stage of transmission that their sheer numbers obviate the possibility of forgery or alteration), from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace)?”

Salafi: “Because I have not had a opportunity to study other canonical readings, or recite the Qur’an except in this way.”

Buti: “But the individual who learns the fiqh of the Shafi‘i school—he too has not been able to study other madhhabs or had the opportunity to understand the rules of his religion except from this Imam. So if you say that he must know all the ijtihads of the Imams so as to go by all of them, it follows that you too must learn all the canonical readings so as to recite in all of them. And if you excuse yourself because you cannot, you should excuse him also. In any case, what I say is: where did you get that it is obligatory for a follower of scholarship (muqallid) to keep changing from one madhhab to another, when Allah has not obliged him to? That is, just as he is not obliged to adhere to a particular madhhab, neither is he obliged to keep changing.”

Salafi: “What is unlawful for him is adhering to one while believing that Allah has commanded him to do so.”

Buti: “That is something else, and is true without a doubt and without any disagreement among scholars. But is there any problem with his following a particular mujtahid, knowing that Allah has not obliged him to do that?”

Salafi: “There is no problem.”

Buti: [Al-Khajnadi’s] al-Karras, which you teach from, contradicts you. It says this is unlawful, in some places actually asserting that someone who adheres to a particular Imam and no other is an unbeliever (kafir).”

Salafi: He said, “Where?” and then began looking at the Karras, considering its texts and expressions, reflecting on the words of the author “Whoever follows one of them in particular in all questions is a blind, imitating, mistaken bigot, and is “among those who have divided their religion and are parties” [Qur’an 30:32]. He said, “By follows, he means someone who believes it legally obligatory for him to do so. The wording is a little incomplete.”

Buti: I said, “What evidence is there that that’s what he meant? Why don’t you just say the author was mistaken?”

Salafi: He insisted that the expression was correct, that it should be understood as containing an unexpressed condition [i.e. “provided one believes it is legally obligatory”], and he exonerated the writer from any mistake in it.

Buti: I said, “But interpreted in this fashion, the expression does not address any opponent or have any significance. Not a single Muslim is unaware that following such and such a particular Imam is not legally obligatory. No Muslim does so except from his own free will and choice.”

Salafi: “How should this be, when I hear from many common people and some scholars that it is legally obligatory to follow one particular school, and that a person may not change to another?”

Buti: “Name one person from the ordinary people or scholars who said that to you.”

 He said nothing, and seemed surprised that what I said could be true, and kept repeating that he had thought that many people considered it unlawful to change from one madhhab to another.

I said, “You won’t find anyone today who believes this misconception, though it is related from the latter times of the Ottoman period that they considered a Hanafi changing from his own school to another to be an enormity. And without a doubt, if true, this was something that was complete nonsense from them; a blind, hateful bigotry.”

 I then said, “Where did you get this distinction between the muqallid “follower of scholarship” and the muttabi‘ “follower of evidence”: Is there a original, lexical distinction [in the Arabic language], or is it merely terminological?”

Salafi: “There is a lexical difference.”

Buti: I brought him lexicons with which to establish the lexical difference between the two words, and he could not find anything. I then said: “Abu Bakr (Allah be well pleased with him) said to a desert Arab who had objected to the alotment for him agreed upon by the Muslims, ‘If the Emigrants accept, you are but followers’—using the word “followers” (tabi‘) to mean ‘without any prerogative to consider, question, or discuss.’” (Similar to this is the word of Allah Most High, “When those who were followed (uttubi‘u) disown those those who followed (attaba‘u) upon seeing the torment, and their relations are sundered” (Qur’an 2:166), which uses follow (ittiba‘) for the most basic blind imitation). 

Salafi: He said, “Then let it be a technical difference: don’t I have a right to establish a terminological usage?”

Buti: “Of course. But this term of yours does not alter the facts. This person you term a muttabi‘(follower of scholarly evidence) will either be an expert in evidences and the means of textual deduction from them, in which case he is a mujtahid. Or, if not an expert or unable to deduce rulings from them, then he is muqallid (follower of scholarly conclusions). And if he is one of these on some questions, and the other on others, then he is a muqallid for some and amujtahid for others. In any case, it is an either-or distinction, and the ruling for each is clear and plain.”

Salafi: He said, “The muttabi‘ is someone able to distinguish between scholarly positions and the evidences for them, and to judge one to be stronger than others. This is a level different to merely accepting scholarly conclusions.

Buti: “If you mean,” I said, “by distinguishing between positions differentiating them according to the strength or weakness of the evidence, this is the highest level of ijtihad. Are you personally able to do this?”

Salafi: “I do so as much as I can.”

Buti: “I am aware,” I said, “that you give as a fatwas that a three fold pronouncement of divorce on a single occasion only counts as one time. Did you check, before this fatwa of yours, the positions of the Imams and their evidences on this, then differentiate between them, so to give the fatwa accordingly? Now, ‘Uwaymir al-‘Ajlani pronounced a three fold divorce at one time in the presence of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) after he had made public imprecation against her for adultery (li‘an), saying, ‘If I retain her, O Messenger of Allah, I will have lied against her: she is [hereby] thrice divorced.’ What do you know about this hadith and its relation to this question, and its bearing as evidence for the position of the scholarly majority [that a threefold divorce pronounced on a single occasion is legally finalized and binding] as opposed to the position of Ibn Taymiya [that a threefold divorce on a single occasion only counts as once]?”

Salafi: “I did not know this hadith.”

Buti: “Then how could you give a fatwa on this question that contradicts what the four madhhabs unanimously concur upon, without even knowing their evidence, or how strong or weak it was? Here you are, discarding the principle you say you have enjoined on yourself and mean to enjoin on us, the principle of “following scholarly evidence (ittiba‘)” in the meaning you have terminologically adopted.”

Salafi: “At the time I didn’t own enough books to review the positions of the Imams and their evidence.”

Buti: “Then what made you rush into giving a fatwa contravening the vast majority of Muslims, when you hadn’t even seen any of their evidences?”

Salafi: “What else could I do? I asked and I only had a limited amount of scholarly resources.”

Buti: “You could have done what all scholars and Imams have done; namely, say “I didn’t know,” or told the questioner the postition of both the four madhhabs and the postion of those who contravene them; without givng a fatwa for either side. You could have done this, or rather, this was what was obligatory for you, especially since the poblem was not personally yours so as to force you to reach some solution or another. As for your giving a fatwa contradicting the consensus (ijma‘) of the four Imams without knowing—by your own admission—their evidences, sufficing yourself with the agreement in your heart for the evidences of the opposition, this is the very utmost of the kind of bigotry you accuse us of.”

Salafi: “I read the Imams’ opinions in [Nayl al-awtar, by] Shawkani, Subul al-salam [by al-Amir al-San‘ani], and Fiqh al-sunna by Sayyid Sabiq.”

Buti: These are the books of the opponents of the four Imams on this question. All of them speak from one side of the question, mentioning the proofs that buttress their side. Would you be willing to judge one litigant on the basis of his words alone, and that of his witnesses and relatives?”

Salafi: I see nothing blameworthy in what I have done. I was obliged to give the questioner an answer, and this was as much as I was able to reach with my understanding.”

Buti: “You say you are a “follower of scholarly evidence (muttabi‘)” and we should all be likewise. You have explained “following evidence” as reviewing the positions of all madhhabs, studying their evidences, and adopting the closest of them to the correct evidence—while in doing what you have done, you have discarded the principle completely. You know that the unanimous consensus of the four madhhabs is that a threefold pronouncement of divorce on one occasion counts as a three fold, finalized divorce, and you know that they have evidences for this that you arae unaware of, despite which you turn from their consensus to the opinion that your personal preference desires. Were you certain beforehand that the evidence of the four Imams deserved to be rejected?”

Salafi: No; but I wasn’t aware of them, since I didn’t have any reference works on them.”

Buti: “Then why didn’t you wait? Why rush into it, when Allah never obligated you to do anything of the sort? Was your not knowing the evidences of the scholarly majority a proof tht Ibn Taymiya was right? Is the bigotry you wrongly accuse us of anything besides this?”

Salafi: “I read evidences in the books available to me that convinced me. Allah has not enjoined me to do more than that.”

Buti: “If a Muslim sees a proof for something in a the books he reads, is that a sufficient reason to disregard the madhhabs that contradict his understanding, even if he doesn’t know their evidences?”

Salafi: “It is sufficient.”

Buti: “A young man, newly religious, without any Islamic education, reads the word of Allah Most High “To Allah belongs the place where the sun rises and where it sets: wherever you turn, there is the countenance of Allah. Verily, Allah is the All-encompassing, the All-knowing (Qur’an 2:115), and gathers from it that a Muslim may face any direction he wishes in his prescribed prayers, as the ostensive purport of the verse implies. But he has heard that the four Imams unanimously concur upon the necessity of his facing towards the Kaaba, and he knows they have evidences for it that he is unaware of. What should he do when he wants to pray? Should he follow his conviction from the evidence available to him, or follow the Imam who unanimously concur on the contrary of what he has understood?”

Salafi: “He should follow his conviction.”

Buti: “And pray towards the east for example. And his prayer would be legally valid?”

Salafi: “Yes. He is morally responsible for following his personal conviction.”

Buti: “What if his personal conviction leads him to believe there is no harm in making love to his neighbor’s wife, or to fill his belly with wine, or wrongfully take others’ property: will all this be mitigated in Allah’s reckoning by “personal conviction”?

Salafi: [He was silent for a moment, then said,] “Anyway, the examples you ask about are all fantasies that do not occur.”

Buti: “They are not fantasies; how often the like of them occurs, or even stranger. A young man without any knowledge of Islam, its Book, its sunna, who happens to hear or read this verse by chance, and understands from it what any Arab would from its owtward purport, that there is no harm in someone praying facing any direction he wants—despite seeing people’s facing towards the Kaaba rather than any other direction. This is an ordinary matter, theoretically and practically, as long as there are those among Muslims who don’t know a thing about Islam. In any event, you have pronounced upon this example—imaginary or real—a judgement that is not imaginary, and have judged “personal conviction” to be the decisive criterion in any event. This contradicts your differentiating people into three groups: followers of scholars without knowing their evidence (muqallidin), followers of scholars’ evidence (muttabi‘in), andmujtahids.”

Salafi: “Such a person is obliged to investigate. Didn’t he read any hadith, or any other Qur’anic verse?”

Buti: He didn’t have any reference works available to him, just as you didn’t have any when you gave your fatwa on the question of [threefold] divorce. And he was unable to read anything other than this verse connected with facing the qibla and its obligatory character. Do you still insist that he must follow his personal conviction and disregard the Imams’ consensus?”

Salafi: “Yes. If he is unable to evaluate and investigate further, he is excused, and it is enough for him to rely on the conclusions his evaluation and investigation lead him to.”

Buti: “I intend to publish these remarks as yours. They are dangerous, and strange.”

Salafi: “Publish whatever you want. I’m not afraid.”

Buti: “How should you be afraid of me, when you are not afraid of Allah Mighty and Majestic, utterly discarding by these words the word of Allah Mighty and Majestic [in Sura al-Nahl] ‘Ask those who recall if you know not’ (Qur’an 16:43).”

Salafi: “My brother,” he said, “These Imams are not divinely protected from error (ma‘sum). As for the Quranic verse that this person followed [in praying any direction], it is the word of Him Who Is Protected from All Error, may His glory be exalted. How should he leave the divinely protected and attach himself to the tail of the non-divinely-protected?”

Buti: “Good man, what is divinely protected from error is the true meaning that Allah intended by saying, “To Allah belongs the place where the sun rises and where it sets . . .”—not the understanding of the young man who is as far as can be from knowing Islam, its rulings, and the nature of its Qur’an. That is to say, the comparison I am asking you to make is between two understandings: the understanding of this ignorant youth, and the understanding of themujtahid Imams, neither of which is divinely protected from error, but one of which is rooted in ignorance and superficiality, and the other of which is rooted in investigation, knowledge, and accuracy.”

Salafi: “Allah does not make him responsible for more than his effort can do.”

Buti: “Then answer me this question. A man has a child who suffers from some infections, and is under the care of all the doctors in town, who agree he should have a certain medicine, and warn his father against giving him an injection of penicillin, and that if he does, he will be exposing the child’s life to destruction. Now, the father knows from having read a medical publication that penicillin helps in cases of infection. So he relies on his own knowledge about it, disregards the advice of the doctors since he doesn’t know the proof for what they say, and employing instead his own personal conviction, treats the child with a penicillin injection, and thereafter the child dies. Should such a person be tried, and is he guilty of a wrong for what he did, or not?”

Salafi: [He thought for a moment and then said,] “This is not the same as that.”

Buti: “It is exactly the same. The father has heard the unanimous judgement of the doctors, just as the young man has heard the unanimous judgement of the Imams. One has followed a single text he read in a medical publication, the other has followed a single text he has read in the Book of Allah Mighty and and Majestic. This one has gone by personal conviction, and so has that.”

Salafi: “Brother, the Qur’an is light. Light. In its clarity as evidence, is light like any other words?”

Buti: “And the light of the Qur’an is reflected by anyone who looks into it or recites it, such that he understands it as light, as Allah meant it? Then what is the difference between those who recall [Qur’an 16:43] and anyone else, as long as all partake of this light? Rather, the two above examples are comparable, there is no difference between them at all; you must answer me: does the person investigating—in each of the two examples—follow his personal conviction, or does he follow and imitate specialists?”

Salafi: “Personal conviction is the basis.”

Buti: “He used personal conviction, and it resulted in the death of the child. Does this entail any responsibility, moral or legal?”

Salafi: “It doesn’t entail any responsibility at all.”

Buti: I said, “Then let us end the investigation and discussion on this last remark of yours, since it closes the way to any common ground between you and me on which we can base a discussion. It is sufficient that with this bizarre answer of yours, you have departed from the consensus of the entire Islamic religion. By Allah, there is no meaning on the face of the earth for disgusting bigotry if it is not what you people have” (al-Lamadhhabiyya (b01), 99–108).

Buti concludes the story by saying:
I do not know then, why these people don’t just let us be, to use our own “personal conviction” that someone ignorant of the rules of religion and the proofs for them must adhere to one of the mujtahid Imams, imitating him because of the latter’s being more aware than himself of the Book of Allah and sunna of His messenger. Whatever the mistake in this opinion in their view let it be given the general amnesty of “personal conviction.” like the example of him who turns his back to the qibla and is his prayer is valid, or him who kills a child and the killing is “ijtihad” and “medical treatment” (ibid. 108).

Why Muslims Follow Madhhabs?

The work of the mujtahid Imams of Sacred Law, those who deduce shari‘a rulings from Qur’an and hadith, has been the object of my research for some years now, during which I have sometimes heard the question: “Who needs the Imams of Sacred Law when we have the Qur’an and hadith? Why can’t we take our Islam from the word of Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace), which are divinely protected from error, instead of taking it from the madhhabs or “schools of jurisprudence” of the mujtahid Imams such as Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafi‘i, and Ahmad, which are not?”

It cannot be hidden from any of you how urgent this issue is, or that many of the disagreements we see and hear in our mosques these days are due to lack of knowledge of fiqh or “Islamic jurisprudence” and its relation to Islam as a whole. Now, perhaps more than ever before, it is time for us to get back to basics and ask ourselves how we understand and carry out the commands of Allah.

We will first discuss the knowledge of Islam that all of us possess, and then show where fiqh enters into it. We will look at the qualifications mentioned in the Qur’an and sunna for those who do fiqh, the mujtahid scholars. We will focus first on the extent of the mujtahid scholar’s knowledge—how many hadiths he has to know, and so on—and then we will look at the depth of his knowledge, through actual examples of dalils or “legal proofs” that demonstrate how scholars join between different and even contradictory hadiths to produce a unified and consistent legal ruling.

We will close by discussing the mujtahid’s relation to the science of hadith authentication, and the conditions by which a scholar knows that a given hadith is sahih or “rigorously authenticated,” so that he can accept and follow it.

Qur’an and Hadith. The knowledge that you and I take from the Qur’an and the hadith is of several types: the first and most important concerns ourfaith, and is the knowledge of Allah and His attributes, and the other basic tenets of Islamic belief such as the messengerhood of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), the Last Day, and so on. Every Muslim can and must acquire this knowledge from the Book of Allah and the sunna.

This is also the case with a second type of general knowledge, which does not concern faith, however, but rather works: the general laws of Islam to do good, to avoid evil, to perform the prayer, pay zakat, fast Ramadan, to cooperate with others in good works, and so forth. Anyone can learn and understand these general rules, which summarize the sirat al-mustaqim or “straight path” of our religion.

Fiqh. A third type of knowledge is of the specific details of Islamic practice. Whereas anyone can understand the first two types of knowledge from the Qur’an and hadith, the understanding of this third type has a special name, fiqh, meaning literally “understanding.” And people differ in their capacity to do it.

I had a visitor one day in Jordan, for example, who, when we talked about why he hadn’t yet gone on hajj, mentioned the hadith of Anas ibn Malik that

the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Whoever prays the dawn prayer (fajr) in a group and then sits and does dhikr until the sun rises, then prays two rak‘as, shall have the like of the reward of a hajj and an ‘umra.” Anas said, “The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: ‘Completely, completely, completely’” (Tirmidhi, 2.481).

My visitor had done just that this very morning, and he now believed that he had fulfilled his obligation to perform the hajj, and had no need to go to Mecca. The hadith was well authenticated (hasan). I distinguished for my visitor between having the reward of something, and lifting the obligation of Islam by actually doing it, and he saw my point.

But there is a larger lesson here, that while the Qur’an and the sunna are ma‘sum or “divinely protected from error,” the understanding of them is not. And someone who derives rulings from the Qur’an and hadith without training in ijtihad or “deduction from primary texts” as my visitor did, will be responsible for it on the Day of Judgment, just as an amateur doctor who had never been to medical school would be responsible if he performed an operation and somebody died under his knife.

Why? Because Allah has explained in the Qur’an that fiqh, the detailed understanding of the divine command, requires specially trained members of the Muslim community to learn and teach it. Allah says in surat al-Tawba:

“Not all of the believers should go to fight. Of every section of them, why does not one part alone go forth, that the rest may gain understanding of the religion, and to admonish their people when they return, that perhaps they may take warning” (Qur’an 9:122)

—where the expression li yatafaqqahu fi al-din, “to gain understanding of the religion,” is derived from precisely the same root (f-q-h) as the wordfiqh or “jurisprudence,” and is what Western students of Arabic would call a “fifth-form verb” (tafa‘‘ala), which indicates that the meaning contained in the root, understanding, is accomplished through careful, sustained effort.

This Qur’anic verse establishes that there should be a category of people who have learned the religion so as to be qualified in turn to teach it. And Allah has commanded those who do not know a ruling in Sacred Law to ask those who do, by saying in surat al-Nahl,

“Ask those who recall if you know not” (Qur’an 16:43),

in which the words “those who recall,” ahl al-dhikri, indicate those with knowledge of the Qur’an and sunna, at their forefront the mujtahid Imams of this Umma. Why? Because, first of all, the Qur’an and hadith are in Arabic, and as a translator, I can assure you that it is not just any Arabic.

To understand the Qur’an and sunna, the mujtahid must have complete knowledge of the Arabic language in the same capacity as the early Arabs themselves had before the language came to be used by non-native speakers. This qualification, which almost no one in our time has, is not the main subject of my essay, but even if we did have it, what if you or I, though not trained specialists, wanted to deduce details of Islamic practice directly from the sources? After all, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) has said, in the hadith of Bukhari and Muslim: “When a judge gives judgement and strives to know a ruling (ijtahada) and is correct, he has two rewards. If he gives judgement and strives to know a ruling, but is wrong, he has one reward” (Bukhari, 9.133).

The answer is that the term ijtihad or “striving to know a ruling” in this hadith does not mean just any person’s efforts to understand and operationalize an Islamic ruling, but rather the person with sound knowledge of everything the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) taught that relates to the question. Whoever makes ijtihad without this qualification is a criminal. The proof of this is the hadith that the Companion Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah said:

We went on a journey, and a stone struck one of us and opened a gash in his head. When he later had a wet-dream in his sleep, he then asked his companions, “Do you find any dispensation for me to perform dry ablution (tayammum)?” [Meaning instead of a full purificatory bath (ghusl).] They told him, “We don’t find any dispensation for you if you can use water.”

So he performed the purificatory bath and his wound opened and he died. When we came to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), he was told of this and he said: “They have killed him, may Allah kill them. Why did they not ask?—for they didn’t know. The only cure for someone who does not know what to say is to ask” (Abu Dawud, 1.93).

This hadith, which was related by Abu Dawud, is well authenticated (hasan), and every Muslim who has any taqwa should reflect on it carefully, for the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) indicated in it—in the strongest language possible—that to judge on a rule of Islam on the basis of insufficient knowledge is a crime. And like it is the well authenticated hadith “Whoever is given a legal opinion (fatwa) without knowledge, his sin is but upon the person who gave him the opinion” (Abu Dawud, 3.321).

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) also said:

Judges are three: two of them in hell, and one in paradise. A man who knows the truth and judges accordingly, he shall go to paradise. A man who judges for people while ignorant, he shall go to hell. And a man who knows the truth but rules unjustly, he shall go to hell (Sharh al-sunna, 10.94).

This hadith, which was related by Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, and others, is rigorously authenticated (sahih), and any Muslim who would like to avoid the hellfire should soberly consider the fate of whoever, in the words of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), “judges for people while ignorant.”

Yet we all have our Yusuf ‘Ali Qur’ans, and our Sahih al-Bukhari translations. Aren’t these adequate scholarly resources?

These are valuable books, and do convey perhaps the largest and most important part of our din: the basic Islamic beliefs, and general laws of the religion. Our discussion here is not about these broad principles, but rather about understanding specific details of Islamic practice, which is called precisely fiqh. For this, I think any honest investigator who studies the issues will agree that the English translations are not enough. They are not enough because understanding the total Qur’an and hadith textual corpus, which comprises what we call the din, requires two dimensions in a scholar: a dimension of breadth, the substantive knowledge of all the texts; and a dimension of depth, the methodological tools needed to join between all the Qur’anic verses and hadiths, even those that ostensibly contradict one another.

Knowledge of Primary Texts. As for the breadth of a mujtahid’s knowledge, it is recorded that Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s student Muhammad ibn ‘Ubaydullah ibn al-Munadi heard a man ask him [Imam Ahmad]: “When a man has memorized 100,000 hadiths, is he a scholar of Sacred Law, a faqih?” And he said, “No.” The man asked, “200,000 then?” And he said, “No.” The man asked, “Then 300,000?” And he said, “No.” The man asked, “400,000?” And Ahmad gestured with his hand to signify “about that many” (Ibn al-Qayyim: I‘lam al-muwaqqi‘in, 4.205).

In truth, by the term “hadith” here Imam Ahmad meant the hadiths of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) in all their various chains of transmission, counting each chain of transmission as a separate hadith, and perhaps also counting the statements of the Sahaba. But the larger point here is that even if we eliminate the different chains, and speak only about the hadiths from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) that are plainly acceptable as evidence, whether sahih, “rigorously authenticated” or hasan “well authenticated” (which for purposes of ijtihad, may be assimilated to the sahih), we are still speaking of well over 10,000 hadiths, and they are not contained in Bukhari alone, or in Bukhari and Muslim alone, nor yet in any six books, or even in any nine. Yet whoever wants to give a fatwa or “formal legal opinion” and judge for people that something is lawful or unlawful, obligatory or sunna, must know all the primary texts that relate to it. For the perhaps 10,000 hadiths that are sahih are, for the mujtahid, as one single hadith, and he must first know them in order to join between them to explain the unified command of Allah.

I say “join between” because most of you must be aware that some sahih hadiths seem to controvert other equally sahih hadiths. What does a mujtahid do in such an instance?

Ijtihad. Let’s look at some examples. Most of us know the hadiths about fasting on the Day of ‘Arafa for the non-pilgrim, that “it expiates [the sins of] the year before and the year after” (Muslim, 2.819). But another rigorously authenticated hadith prohibits fasting on Friday alone (Bukhari, 3.54), and a well authenticated hadith prohibits fasting on Saturday alone (Tirmidhi, 3.120), of which Tirmidhi explains, “The meaning of the ‘offensiveness’ in this is when a man singles out Saturday to fast on, since the Jews venerate Saturdays” (ibid.). Some scholars hold Sundays offensive to fast on for the same reason, that they are venerated by non-Muslims. (Other hadiths permit fasting one of these days together with the day before or the day after it, perhaps because no religion venerates two of the days in a row.) The question arises: What does one do when ‘Arafa falls on a Friday, a Saturday, or a Sunday? The general demand for fasting on the Day of ‘Arafa might well be qualified by the specific prohibition of fasting on just one of these days. But a mujtahid aware of the whole hadith corpus would certainly know a third hadith related by Muslim that is even more specific, and says: “Do not single out Friday from among other days to fast on, unless it coincides with a fast one of you performs” (Muslim, 2.801).

The latter hadith establishes for the mujtahid the general principle that the ruling for fasting on a day normally prohibited to fast on changes when it “coincides with a fast one of you performs”—and so there is no problem with fasting whether the Day of Arafa falls on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.

Here as elsewhere, whoever wants to understand the ruling of doing something in Islam must know all the texts connected with it. Because as ordinary Muslims, you and I are not only responsible for obeying the Qur’anic verses and hadiths we are familiar with. We are responsible for obeyingall of them, the whole shari‘a. And if we are not personally qualified to join between all of its texts—and we have heard Ahmad ibn Hanbal discuss how much knowledge this takes—we must follow someone who can, which is why Allah tells us, “Ask those who recall if you know not.”

The size and nature of this knowledge necessitate that the non-specialist use adab or “proper respect” towards the scholars of fiqh when he finds a hadith, whether in Bukhari or elsewhere, that ostensibly contradicts the schools of fiqh. A non-scholar, for example, reading through Sahih al-Bukhariwill find the hadith that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) bared a thigh on the ride back from Khaybar (Bukhari, 1.103–4). And he might imagine that the four madhhabs or “legal schools”—Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi‘i, and Hanbali—were mistaken in their judgment that the thigh is ‘awraor “nakedness that must be covered.”

But in fact there are a number of other hadiths, all of them well authenticated (hasan) or rigorously authenticated (sahih) that prove that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) explicitly commanded various Sahaba to cover the thigh because it was nakedness. Hakim reports that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) saw Jarhad in the mosque wearing a mantle, and his thigh became uncovered, so the Prophet told him, “The thigh is part of one’s nakedness” (al-Mustadrak), of which Hakim said, “This is a hadith whose chain of transmission is rigorously authenticated (sahih),” which Imam Dhahabi confirmed (ibid.). Imam al-Baghawi records the sahih hadith that “the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) passed by Ma‘mar, whose two thighs were exposed, and told him, ‘O Ma‘mar, cover your two thighs, for the two thighs are nakedness’” (Sharh al-sunna 9.21). And Ahmad ibn Hanbal records that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “When one of you marries [someone to] his servant or hired man, let him not look at his nakedness, for what is below his navel to his two knees is nakedness” (Ahmad, 2.187), a hadith with a well authenticated (hasan) chain of transmission. The mujtahid Imams of the four schools knew these hadiths, and joined between them and the Khaybar hadith in Bukhari by the methodological principle that: “An explicit command in words from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) is given precedence over an action of his.” Why?

Among other reasons, because certain laws of the shari‘a applied to the Prophet alone (Allah bless him and give him peace). Such as the fact that when he went into battle, he was not permitted to retreat, no matter how outnumbered. Or such as the obligatoriness for him alone of praying tahajjud or “night vigil prayer” after rising from sleep before dawn, which is merely sunna for the rest of us. Or such as the permissibility for him alone of not breaking his fast at night between fast-days. Or such as the permissibility for him alone of having more than four wives—the means through which Allah, in His wisdom, preserved for us the minutest details of the Prophet’s day-to-day sunna (Allah bless him and give him peace), which a larger number of wives would be far abler to observe and remember.

Because certain laws of the shari‘a applied to him alone, the scholars of ijtihad have established the principle that in many cases, when an act was done by the Prophet personally (Allah bless him and give him peace), such as bearing the thigh after Khaybar, and when he gave an explicit command to us to do something else, in this case, to cover the thigh because it is nakedness, then the command is adopted for us, and the act is considered to pertain to him alone (Allah bless him and give him peace).

We can see from this example the kind of scholarship it takes to seriously comprehend the whole body of hadith, both in breadth of knowledge, and depth of interpretive understanding or fiqh, and that anyone who would give a fatwa, on the basis of the Khaybar hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari, that “the scholars are wrong and the hadith is right” would be guilty of criminal negligence for his ignorance.

When one does not have substantive knowledge of the Qur’an and hadith corpus, and lacks the fiqh methodology to comprehensively join between it, the hadiths one has read are not enough. To take another example, there is a well authenticated (hasan) hadith that “the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) cursed women who visit graves” (Tirmidhi, 3.371). But scholars say that the prohibition of women visiting graves was abrogated (mansukh) by the rigorously authenticated (sahih) hadith “I had forbidden you to visit graves, but now visit them” (Muslim, 2.672).

Here, although the expression “now visit them” (fa zuruha) is an imperative to men (or to a group of whom at least some are men), the fact that the hadith permits women as well as men to now visit graves is shown by another hadith related by Muslim in his Sahih that when ‘A’isha asked the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) what she should say if she visited graves, he told her, “Say: ‘Peace be upon the believers and Muslims of the folk of these abodes: May Allah have mercy on those of us who have gone ahead and those who have stayed behind: Allah willing, we shall certainly be joining you’” (Muslim, 2.671), which plainly entails the permissibility of her visiting graves in order to say this, for the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) would never have taught her these words if visiting the graves to say them had been disobedience. In other words, knowing all these hadiths, together with the methodological principle of naskh or “abrogation,” is essential to drawing the valid fiqh conclusion that the first hadith in which “the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) cursed women who visit graves”—was abrogated by the second hadith, as is attested to by the third.

Or consider the Qur’anic text in surat al-Ma’ida:

“The food of those who have been given the Book is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them” (Qur’an 5:5).

This is a general ruling ostensibly pertaining to all their food. Yet this ruling is subject to takhsis, or “restriction” by more specific rulings that prove that certain foods of Ahl al-Kitab, “those who have been given the Book,” such as pork, or animals not properly slaughtered, are not lawful for us.

Ignorance of this principle of takhsis or restriction seems to be especially common among would-be mujtahids of our times, from whom we often hear the more general ruling in the words “But the Qur’an says,” or “But the hadith says,” without any mention of the more particular ruling from a different hadith or Qur’anic versethat restricts it. The reply can only be “Yes, brother, the Qur’an does say, ‘The food of those who have been given the Book is lawful for you,’ But what else does it say?” or “Yes, the hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari says the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) bared his thigh on the return from Khaybar. But what else do the hadiths say, and more importantly, are you sure you know it?”

The above examples illustrate only a few of the methodological rules needed by the mujtahid to understand and operationalize Islam by joining between all the evidence. Firstly, we saw the principle of takhsis or “restriction” of general rules by more specific ones, both in the example of fasting on the Day of ‘Arafa when it falls on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, and the example of the food of Ahl al-Kitab. Secondly, in the Khaybar hadith inSahih al-Bukhari about baring the thigh and the hadiths commanding that the thigh be covered, we saw the principle of how an explicit propheticcommand in words is given precedence over a mere action when there is a contradiction. Thirdly, we saw the principle of nasikh wa mansukh, of “an earlier ruling being abrogated by a later one,” in the example of the initial prohibition of women visiting graves, and their subsequently being permitted to.

These are only three of the ways that two or more texts of the Qur’an and hadith may enter into and qualify one another, rules that someone who derives the shari‘a from them must know. In other words, they are but three tools of a whole methodological toolbox. We do not have the time tonight to go through all these tools in detail, although we can mention some in passing, giving first their Arabic names, such as:

—The ‘amm, a text of general applicability to many legal rulings, and its opposite:

—The khass, that which is applicable to only one ruling or type of ruling.

—The mujmal, that which requires other texts to be fully understood, and its opposite:

—The mubayyan, that which is plain without other texts.

—The mutlaq, that which is applicable without restriction, and its opposite:

—The muqayyad, that which has restrictions given in other texts.

—The nasikh, that which supersedes previous revealed rulings, and its opposite:

—The mansukh: that which is superseded.

—The nass: that which unequivocally decides a particular legal question, and its opposite:

—The dhahir: that which can bear more than one interpretation.

My point in mentioning what a mujtahid is, what fiqh is, and the types of texts that embody Allah’s commands, with the examples that illustrate them, is to answer our original question: “Why can’t we take our Islamic practice from the word of Allah and His messenger, which are divinely protected, instead of taking it from mujtahid Imams, who are not?” The answer, we have seen, is that revelation cannot be acted upon without understanding, and understanding requires firstly that one have the breadth of mastery of the whole, and secondly, the knowledge of how the parts relate to each other. Whoever joins between these two dimensions of the revelation is taking his Islamic practice from the word of Allah and His messenger, whether he does so personally, by being a mujtahid Imam, or whether by a means of another, by following one.

Following Scholars (Taqlid). The Qur’an clearly distinguishes between these two levels—the nonspecialists whose way is taqlid or “following the results of scholar without knowing the detailed evidence”; and those whose task is to know and evaluate the evidence—by Allah Most High saying in surat al-Nisa’:

“If they had referred it to the Messenger and to those of authority among them, then those of them whose task it is to find it out would have known the matter” (Qur’an 4:83)

—where alladhina yastanbitunahu minhum, “those of them whose task it is to find it out,” refers to those possessing the capacity to infer legal rulings directly from evidence, which is called in Arabic precisely istinbat, showing, as Qur’anic exegete al-Razi says, that “Allah has commanded those morally responsible to refer actual facts to someone who can infer (yastanbitu) the legal ruling concerning them” (Tafsir al-Fakhr al-Razi, 10.205).

A person who has reached this level can and indeed must draw his inferences directly from evidence, and may not merely follow another scholar’s conclusions without examining the evidence (taqlid), a rule expressed in books of methodological principles of fiqh as: Laysa li al-‘alim an yuqallida, “The alim [i.e. the mujtahid at the level of instinbat referred to by the above Qur’anic verse] may not merely follow another scholar” (al-Juwayni:Sharh al-Waraqat, 75), meaning it is not legally permissible for one mujtahid to follow another mujtahid unless he knows and agrees with his evidences.

The mujtahid Imams trained a number of scholars who were at this level. Imam Shafi‘i had al-Muzani, and Imam Abu Hanifa had Abu Yusuf and Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani. It was to such students that Abu Hanifa addressed his words: “It is unlawful for whoever does not know my evidence to give my position as a fatwa” (al-Hamid: Luzum ittiba‘ madhahib al-a’imma, 6), and, “It is not lawful for anyone to give our position as a fatwa until he knows where we have taken it from” (ibid.).

It is one of the howlers of our times that these words are sometimes quoted as though they were addressed to ordinary Muslims. If it were unlawful for the carpenter, the sailor, the computer programmer, the doctor, to do any act of worship before he had mastered the entire textual corpus of the Qur’an and thousands of hadiths, together with all the methodological principles needed to weigh the evidence and comprehensively join between it, he would either have to give up his profession or give up his religion. A lifetime of study would hardly be enough for this, a fact that Abu Hanifa knew better than anyone else, and it was to scholars of istinbat, the mujtahids, that he addressed his remarks. Whoever quotes these words to non-scholars to try to suggest that Abu Hanifa meant that it is wrong for ordinary Muslims to accept the work of scholars, should stop for a moment to reflect how insane this is, particularly in view of the life work of Abu Hanifa from beginning to end, which consisted precisely in summarizing the fiqh rulings of the religion for ordinary people to follow and benefit from.

Imam Shafi‘i was also addressing this top level of scholars when he said: “When a hadith is sahih, it is my school (madhhab)”—which has been misunderstood by some to mean that if one finds a hadith, for example, in Sahih al-Bukhari that is inconsistent with a position of Shafi‘i’s, one should presume that he was ignorant of it, drop the fiqh, and accept the hadith.

I think the examples we have heard tonight of joining between several hadiths for a single ruling are too clear to misunderstand Shafi‘i in this way. Shafi‘i is referring to hadiths that he was previously unaware of and that mujtahid scholars know him to have been unaware of when he gave a particular ruling. And this, as Imam Nawawi has said, “is very difficult,” for Shafi‘i was aware of a great deal. We have heard the opinion of Shafi‘i’s student Ahmad ibn Hanbal about how many hadiths a faqih must know, and he unquestionably considered Shafi‘i to be such a scholar, for Shafi‘i was his sheikh in fiqh. Ibn Khuzayma, known as “the Imam of Imams” in hadith memorization, was once asked, “Do you know of any rigorously authenticated (sahih) hadith that Shafi‘i did not place in his books?” And he said “No” (Nawawi: al-Majmu‘, 1.10). And Imam Dhahabi has said, “Shafi‘i did not make a single mistake about a hadith” (Ibn Subki: Tabaqat al-Shafi‘iyya, 9.114). It is clear from all of this that Imam Shafi‘i’s statement “When a hadith is sahih, it is my position” only makes sense—and could result in meaningful corrections—if addressed to scholars at a level of hadith mastery comparable to his own.

Hadith Authentication. The last point raises another issue that few people are aware of today, and I shall devote the final part of my speech to it. Just as the mujtahid Imam is not like us in his command of the Qur’an and hadith evidence and the principles needed to join between it and infer rulings from it, so too he is not like us in the way he judges the authenticity of hadiths. If a person who is not a hadith specialist needs to rate a hadith, he will usually want to know if it appears, for example, in Sahih al-Bukhari, or Sahih Muslim, or if some hadith scholar has declared it to be sahih or hasan. A mujtahid does not do this.

Rather, he reaches an independent judgment as to whether a particular hadith is truly from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) through his own knowledge of hadith narrators and the sciences of hadith, and not from taqlid or “following the opinion of another hadith scholar.”

It is thus not necessarily an evidence against the positions of a mujtahid that Bukhari, or Muslim, or whoever, has accepted a hadith that contradicts the mujtahid’s evidence. Why? Because among hadith scholars, the reliability rating of individual narrators in hadith chains of transmission are disagreed about and therefore hadiths are disagreed about in the same manner that particular questions of fiqh are disagreed about among the scholars of fiqh. Like the schools of fiqh, the extent of this disagreement is relatively small in relation to the whole, but one should remember that it does exist.

Because a mujtahid scholar is not bound to accept another scholar’s ijtihad regarding a particular hadith, the ijtihad of a hadith specialist of our own time that, for example, a hadith is weak (da‘if), is not necessarily an evidence against the ijtihad of a previous mujtahid that the hadith is acceptable. This is particularly true in the present day, when specialists in hadith are not at the level of their predecessors in either knowledge of hadith sciences, or memorization of hadiths.

We should also remember what sahih means. I shall conclude my essay with the five conditions that have to be met for a hadith to be consideredsahih, and we shall see, in sha’ Allah, how the scholars of hadith have differed about them, a discussion drawn in its outlines from contemporary Syrian hadith scholar Muhammad ‘Awwama’s Athar al-hadith al-sharif fi ikhtilaf al-A’imma al-fuqaha [The effect of hadith on the differences of the Imams of fiqh] (21–23):

(a) The first condition is that a hadith must go back to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) by a continuous chain of narrators. There is a difference of opinion here between Bukhari and Muslim, in that Bukhari held that for any two adjacent narrators in a chain of transmission, it must be historically established that the two actually met, whereas Muslim and others stipulated only that their meeting have been possible, such as by one having lived in a particular city that the other is known to have visited at least once in his life. So some hadiths will be acceptable to Muslim that will not be acceptable to Bukhari and those of the mujtahid imams who adopt his criterion.

(b) The second condition for a sahih hadith is that the narrators be morally upright. The scholars have disagreed about the definition of this, some accepting that it is enough that a narrator be a Muslim who is not proven to have been unacceptable. Others stipulate that he be outwardly established as having been morally upright, while other scholars stipulate that this be established inwardly as well. These different criteria are naturally reasons why two mujtahids may differ about the authenticity of a single hadith.

(c) The third condition is that the narrators must be known to have had accurate memories. The verification of this is similarly subject to some disagreement between the Imams of hadith, resulting in differences about reliability ratings of particular narrators, and therefore of particular hadiths.

(d) The fourth condition for a sahih hadith is that the text and transmission of the hadith must be free of shudhudh, or “variance from established standard narrations of it.” An example is when a hadith is related by five different narrators who are contemporaries of one another, all of whom relate the same hadith from the same sheikh through his chain of transmission back to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). Here, if we find that four of the hadiths have the same wording but one of them has a variant wording, the hadith with the variant wording is called shadhdh or “deviant,” and it is not accepted, because the difference is naturally assumed to be the mistake of the one narrator, since all of the narrators heard the hadith from the same sheikh.

There is a hadith (to take an example researched by our hadith teacher, sheikh Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut) related by Ahmad (4.318), Bayhaqi (2.132), Ibn Khuzayma (1.354), and Ibn Hibban, with a reliable chain of narrators (thiqat)—except for Kulayb ibn Hisham, who is a merely “acceptable” (saduq), not “reliable” (thiqa)—that the Companion Wa’il ibn Hujr al-Hadrami said that when he watched the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) kneeling in the Tashahhud or “Testification of Faith” of his prayer, the Prophet

lifted his [index] finger, and I saw him move it, supplicating with it. I came [some time] after that and saw people in [winter] over-cloaks, their hands moving under the cloaks (Ibn Hibban, 5.170–71).

Now, all of the versions of the hadith mentioning that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) moved his finger have been related to us by way of Za’ida ibn Qudama al-Thaqafi, a narrator who is considered reliable, and who transmitted it from the hadith sheikh ‘Asim ibn Kulayb, who related it from his father Kulayb ibn Shihab, from Wa’il ibn Hujr al-Hadrami. But we find that this version of “moving the finger” contradicts versions of the hadith transmitted from the same sheikh, ‘Asim ibn Kulayb, by no less than ten of ‘Asim’s other students, all of them reliable, who heard ‘Asim report that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) did not move but rather pointed (ashara) with his index finger (towards the qibla or “direction of prayer”).

These companions of ‘Asim (with their hadiths, which are well authenticated (hasan)) are: Sufyan al-Thawri: “then he pointed with his index finger, putting the thumb to the middle finger to make a ring with them” (al-Musannaf 2.68–69); Sufyan ibn ‘Uyayna: “he joined his thumb and middle finger to make a ring, and pointed with his index finger” (Ahmad, 4.318); Shu‘ba ibn al-Hajjaj: “he pointed with his index finger, and formed a ring with the middle one” (Ahmad, 4.319); Qays ibn al-Rabi‘: “then he joined his thumb and middle finger to make a ring, and pointed with his index finger” (Tabarani, 22.33–34); ‘Abd al-Wahid ibn Ziyad al-‘Abdi: “he made a ring with a finger, and pointed with his index finger” (Ahmad, 4.316); ‘Abdullah ibn Idris al-Awdi: “he had joined his thumb and middle finger to make a ring, and raised the finger between them to make du‘a(supplication) in the Testification of Faith” (Ibn Majah, 1.295); Zuhayr ibn Mu‘awiya: “and I saw him [‘Asim] say, ‘Like this,’—and Zuhayr pointed with his first index finger, holding two fingers in, and made a ring with his thumb and second index [middle] finger” (Ahmad, 4.318–19); Abu al-Ahwas Sallam ibn Sulaym: “he began making du‘a like this—meaning with his index finger, pointing with it—” (Musnad al-Tayalisi, 137); Bishr ibn al-Mufaddal: “and I saw him [‘Asim] say, ‘Like this,’—and Bishr joined his thumb and middle finger to make a ring, and pointed with his index finger” (Abi Dawud, 1.251); and Khalid ibn Abdullah al-Wasiti: “then he joined his thumb and middle finger to make a ring, and pointed with his index finger” (Bayhaqi, 2.131).

All of these narrators are reliable (thiqat), and all heard ‘Asim ibn Kulayb relate that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) “pointed with(ashara bi) his index finger” during the Testimony of Faith in his prayer. There are many other narrations of “pointing with the index finger” transmitted through sheikhs other than ‘Asim, omitted here for brevity—four of them, for example, in Sahih Muslim, 1.408–9). The point is, for illustrating the meaning of a shadhdh or “deviant hadith,” that the version of moving the finger was conveyed only by Za’ida ibn Qudama from ‘Asim. Ibn Khuzayma says: “There is not a single hadith containing yuharrikuha (‘he moved it’) except this hadith mentioned by Za’ida” (Ibn Khuzayma, 1.354).

So we know that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) used to point with his index finger, and that the version of “moving his finger” isshadhdh or “deviant,” and represents a slip of the narrator, for the word ishara in the majority’s version means only “to point or gesture at,” or “to indicate with the hand,” and has no recorded lexical sense of wiggling or shaking the finger (Lisan al-‘Arab, 4.437 and al-Qamus al-muhit (540). This interpretation is explicitly borne out by well authenticated hadiths related from the Companion Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr that “the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) used to point with his index finger when making supplication [in the Testification of Faith], and did not move it” (Abi Dawud, 1.260) and that he “used to point with his index finger when making supplication, without moving it” (Bayhaqi, 2.131–32).

Finally, we may note that Imam Bayhaqi has joined between the Za’ida ibn Qudama hadith and the many hadiths that apparently contradict it by suggesting that moving the finger in the Za’ida hadith may mean simply lifting it (rafa‘a), a wording explicitly mentioned in one version recorded by Muslim that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) “raised the right finger that is next to the thumb, and supplicated with it” (Muslim, 1.408). So according to Bayhaqi, the contradiction is only apparent, and raising the finger is the “movement” that Wa’il saw from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the people’s hands under their cloaks, according to Za’ida’s version, which remains, however, shadhdh or “deviant” from a hadith point of view, unless understood in this limitary sense.

(e) The fifth and final condition for a sahih hadith is that both the text and chain of transmission must be without ‘illa or “hidden flaw” that alerts experts to expect inauthenticity in it. We will dwell for a moment on this point not only because it helps illustrate the processes of ijtihad, but because in-depth expertise in this condition was not common even among top hadith Imams. The greatest name in the field was ‘Ali al-Madini, one of the sheikhs of Bukhari, though his major work about it is now unfortunately lost. Daraqutni is perhaps the most famous specialist in the field whose works exist. In the words of Ibn al-Salah, a hafiz or “hadith master” (someone with at least 100,000 hadiths by memory), the knowledge of the ‘illa or “hidden flaw” is:

among the greatest of the sciences of hadith, the most exacting, and highest: only scholars of great memorization, hadith expertise, and penetrating understanding have a thorough knowledge of it. It refers to obscure, hidden flaws that vitiate hadiths, “flawed” meaning that a defect is discovered that negates the authenticity of a hadith that is outwardly “rigorously authenticated” (sahih). It affects hadiths with reliable chains of narrators that outwardly appear to fulfill all the conditions of a sahihhadith (‘Ulum al-hadith).

It may surprise some people to learn that one example often cited in hadith textbooks of such a hidden flaw (‘illa) is from Sahih Muslim, all of whose hadiths are rigorously authenticated (sahih), as Ibn al-Salah has said, “except for a very small number of words, which hadith masters of textual evaluation (naqd) such as Daraqutni and others have critiqued, and which are known to scholars of this level” (‘Ulum al-hadith). The hadith of the present example was related by Muslim from the Companion Anas ibn Malik in several versions, which might convince those unaware of its flaw to believe that someone at prayer should omit the Basmala or “Bismi Llahi r-Rahmani r-Rahim” at the beginning of the Fatiha. According to the hadith, Anas ibn Malik (Allah be well pleased with him) said,

I prayed with the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman, and they opened with “al-Hamdu li Llahi Rabbi l-‘Alamin,”not mentioning “Bismi Llahi r-Rahmani r-Rahim” at the first of the recital or the last of it [and in another version, “I didn’t hear any of them recite ‘Bismi Llahi r-Rahmani r-Rahim’”] (Muslim, 1.299).

Scholars say the hadith’s flaw lies in the negation of the Basmala at the end, which is not the words of Anas, but rather one of the subnarrators explaining what he thought Anas meant. Ibn al-Salah says: “Its subnarrator related it with the above-mentioned wording in accordance with his own understanding of it” (Muqaddima Ibn al-Salah (b01), 99). This hadith is given as an example of a “hidden flaw” in a number of manuals of hadith terminology such as hadith master (hafiz) Suyuti’s Tadrib al-rawi (1.254–57); hadith master Ibn al-Salah’s Ulum al-hadith; hadith master Zayn al-Din al-‘Iraqi’s al-Taqyid wa al-idah (98–103); and others. Al-‘Iraqi says, “A number of hadith masters (huffaz) have judged it to be flawed, including Shafi‘i, Daraqutni, Bayhaqi, and Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr” (ibid., 98).

Now, Bukhari has related the hadith up to the words “and they opened with ‘al-Hamdu li Llahi Rabbi l-‘Alamin’”; without mentioning omitting the Basmala (Bukhari, 1.189), and Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud relate no other version. Scholars point out, in this connection, that the words “al-Hamdu li Llahi Rabbi l-‘Alamin” were in fact the name of the Fatiha, for the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and his Companions often used the opening words of suras as names for them; for example, in the hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari of Abu Sa‘id ibn al-Mu‘alla, who relates that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:

“I will teach you a sura that is the greatest sura of the Qur’an before you leave the mosque.” Then he took my hand, and when he was going out, I said to him, “Didn’t you say, ‘I will teach you a sura that is the greatest sura of the Qur’an before you leave the mosque’?” And he said: “‘Al-Hamdu li Llahi Rabbi l-‘Alamin’: it is the Seven Oft-Recited [Verses] (al-Sab‘ al-Mathani) and the Tremendous Recital (al-Qur’an al-‘Adhim) that I have been given” (ibid., 6.20–21).

In this hadith, “Al-Hamdu li Llahi Rabbi l-‘Alamin” is plainly the name of the Fatiha, and means nothing besides, for otherwise, it is one verse, not seven. ‘A’isha, who was one of the ulama of the Sahaba, also referred to names of suras in this way, as in the hadith of Bukhari that

the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), when he went to bed each night, joined his hands together, blew a light spray of saliva upon them, and read over them “Qul huwa Llahu Ahad,” “Qul a‘udhu bi Rabbi l-Falaq,” and “Qul a‘udhu bi Rabbi n-Nas”; then wiped every part of his body he could with them (ibid., 233–34),

which clearly shows that she named the suras by their opening words (after the Basmala), as did other early Muslims (such as Bukhari in his chapter headings in the section of his Sahih on the Virtues of the Qur’an, for example). So there is no indication, in the portion of the Anas hadith’s wording that is agreed upon by both Bukhari and Muslim; namely, “I prayed with the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman, and they opened with ‘al-Hamdu li Llahi Rabbi l-‘Alamin,’” that the Basmala was not recited aloud. Says Tirmidhi: “Imam Shafi‘i has said, ‘Its meaning is that they used to begin with the Fatiha before the sura, not that they did not recite “Bismi Llahi r-Rahmani r-Rahim.”’ And Shafi‘i held that the prayer was begun with ‘Bismi Llahi r-Rahmani r-Rahim,’ and that it was recited aloud in prayers recited aloud” (Tirmidhi, 2.16).

Hadith scholars who are masters of textual critique, like Daraqutni and others, consider the words of the Anas hadith”not mentioning ‘Bismi Llahi r-Rahmani r-Rahim,’” which outwardly seem to suggest omitting the Basmala, to be vitiated by an ‘illa or “hidden flaw” for many reasons, a few of which are:

—It is established by numerous intersubstantiative channels of transmission (tawatur), that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “There is no prayer for whoever does not recite the Fatiha” (Bukhari, 1.192). That the Basmala is the Fatiha’s first verse is shown by several facts:

First, the Sahaba affirmed nothing in the collation of the Qur’an (mushaf) of ‘Uthman’s time except what was Qur’an, and they unanimously placed the Basmala at the beginning of every sura except surat al-Tawba.

Second, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “When you recite ‘al-Hamdu li Llah,’ recite ‘Bismi Llahi r-Rahmani r-Rahim,’ for it is the Sum of the Qur’an (Umm al-Qur’an), and the Compriser of the Scripture (Umm al-Kitab), and the Seven Oft-Repeated [Verses] (al-Sab‘ al-Mathani)—and ‘Bismi Llahi r-Rahmani r-Rahim’ is one of its verses” (Bayhaqi, 2.45; and Daraqutni, 1.312), a hadith related with a rigorously authenticated (sahih) channel of transmission to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), and through another chain to Abu Hurayra alone (Allah be well pleased with him).

Third, Umm Salama relates: “The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) used to recite: ‘Bismi Llahi r-Rahmani r-Rahim. al-Hamdu li Llahi Rabbi l-‘Alamin,’ separating each phrase”; a hadith which Hakim said was rigorously authenticated (sahih) according to the conditions of Bukhari and Muslim, which Imam Dhahabi corroborated (al-Mustadrak, 1.232). Daraqutni also relates from Umm Salama that “the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) when he used to recite the Qur’an would pause in his recital verse by verse: ‘Bismi Llahi r-Rahmani r-Rahim: al-Hamdu li Llahi Rabbi l-‘Alamin: ar-Rahmani r-Rahim: Maliki yawmi d-din.’” Daraqutni said, “Its ascription is rigorously authenticated (sahih); all of its narrators are reliable” (Daraqutni, 1.312–13). These hadiths show that the Basmala was recited aloud by the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) as part of the Fatiha.

Fourth, Bukhari relates in his Sahih that when Anas was asked how the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) used to recite, “he answered: ‘By prolonging [the vowels]’—and then he [Anas] recited ‘Bismi Llahi r-Rahmani r-Rahim,’ prolonging the Bismi Llah, prolonging the r-Rahman, and prolonging the r-Rahim” (Bukhari, 6.241), indicating that Anas regarded this as part of the Prophet’s Qur’an recital and that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) recited it aloud.

Fifth, Daraqutni has recorded two hadiths, both from Ibn ‘Abbas, and has said about each of them, “This is a rigorously authenticated (sahih) chain of transmission, there is not a weak narrator in it,” of which the first is: “The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) used to recite ‘Bismi Llahi r-Rahmani r-Rahim,’ aloud”; and the second is: “The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) used to begin the prayer with ‘Bismi Llahi r-Rahmani r-Rahim’” (al-Nawawi: al-Majmu‘, 3.347).

—Imam al-Mawardi summarizes: “Because it is established that it is obligatory to recite the Fatiha in the prayer, and that the Basmala is part of it, the ruling for reciting the Basmala aloud or to oneself must be the same as that of reciting the Fatiha aloud or to oneself” (al-Hawi al-kabir, 2.139).

—Imam Nawawi says: “Concerning reciting ‘Bismi Llahi r-Rahmani r-Rahim’ aloud, we have mentioned that our position is that it is praiseworthy to do so. Wherever one recites the Fatiha and sura aloud, the ruling for reciting the Basmala aloud is the same as reciting the rest of the Fatiha and sura aloud. This is the position of the majority of the ulama of the Sahaba and those who were taught by them (Tabi‘in) and those after them. As for the Sahaba who held the Basmala is recited aloud at prayer, the hadith master (hafiz) Abu Bakr al-Khatib reports that they included Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman, ‘Ali, ‘Ammar ibn Yasir, Ubayy ibn Ka‘b, Ibn ‘Umar, Ibn ‘Abbas, Abu Qatada, Abu Sa‘id, Qays ibn Malik, Abu Hurayra, ‘Abdullah ibn Abi Awfa, Shaddad ibn Aws, ‘Abdullah ibn Ja‘far, Husayn ibn ‘Ali, Mu‘awiya, and the congregation of Emigrants (Muhajirin) and Helpers (Ansar) who were present with Mu‘awiya when he prayed in Medina but did not say the Basmala aloud, and they censured him, so he returned to saying it aloud” (al-Majmu‘, 3.341).

These are some reasons why scholars regard the Anas hadith in Sahih Muslim to be mu‘all or “flawed.” We cannot here discuss other aspects of the hadith such as the flaws in its chain of narrators, which are explained in detail in Zayn al-Din ‘Iraqi’s al-Taqyid wa al-idah (100–101), though the foregoing may give a general idea why it has been considered flawed by hadith masters (huffaz) such as Suyuti, ‘Iraqi, Ibn Salah, Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Daraqutni, and Bayhaqi—and why the shari‘a ruling apparently deducible from the end of the hadith; namely, omitting the Basmala when reciting the Fatiha at prayer, has been rejected by al-Shafi‘i, Nawawi, and others, who hold that the Basmala is recited aloud whenever the Fatiha is. (The position of Abu Hanifa and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, it may be noted, is that one recites the Basmala to oneself before the Fatiha, thus joining between hadiths on both sides by interpreting the “omitting” in the Anas hadith in other than its apparent sense, to mean merely “reciting to oneself.”) In any case, it is clearly not a story of “the hadith in Sahih Muslim that the Imams didn’t know about,” as some of the unlearned seriously suggest today, but rather a difference of opinion in hadith authentication involving the highest levels of shari‘a scholarship.

Studying the five conditions above for a sahih hadith and the differences about them among specialists shows us why the mujtahid Imams of the schools sometimes differ with one another about whether a particular hadith is really from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). Whoever believes that a single scholar, whether Bukhari, Muslim, or a contemporary sheikh, can finish off all differences of opinion about the acceptability of particular hadiths, should correct his impressions by going and studying the sciences of hadith. What we can realize from this is that when we find a hadith in Sahih Bukhari that one school of fiqh seems to follow and another does not, it may well be that differences in fiqh methodology, hadith methodology, or both, play a role.

Conclusions. Let me summarize everything I have said tonight. I first pointed out that the knowledge you and I learn from the Qur’an and hadith may be divided into three categories. The first is the knowledge of Allah and His attributes, and the basic truths of Islamic belief such as the messengerhood of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), the belief in the Last Day, and so on. Every Muslim can and must learn this knowledge from the Book of Allah and the sunna, which is also the case for the second kind of knowledge: that of general Islamic laws to do good, to avoid evil, to perform the prayer, pay zakat, fast Ramadan, to cooperate with others in good works, and so on. Anyone can and must learn these general prescriptions for him or herself.

Then we discussed a third category of knowledge, which consists of fiqh or “understanding” of specific details of Islamic practice. We found in the Qur’an and sahih hadiths that people are of two types respecting this knowledge, those qualified to do ijtihad and those who are not. We mentioned the sahih hadith about “a man who judges for people while ignorant: he shall go to hell,” showing that would-be mujtahids are criminals when they operate without training.

We heard the Qur’anic verse that established that a certain group of the Muslim community must learn and be able to teach others the specific details of their religion. We heard the Qur’anic verse that those who do not know must ask those who do, as well as the verse about referring matters to “those whose task it is to find it out.”

We talked about these scholars, the mujtahid Imams, firstly, in terms of their comprehensive knowledge of the whole Qur’an and hadith textual corpus, and secondly, in terms of their depth of interpretation, and here we mentioned Qur’an and hadith examples that illustrate the processes by which mujtahid Imams join between multiple texts, and give precedence when there is ostensive conflict. Our concrete examples of ijtihad enabled us in turn to understand to whom the Imams addressed their famous remarks not to follow their positions without knowing the proofs. They addressed them to the first rank scholars they had trained and who were capable of grasping and evaluating the issues involved in these particular proofs.

We then saw that the Imams were also mujtahids in the matter of judging hadiths to be sahih or otherwise, and noted that, just as it is unlawful for a mujtahid Imam to do taqlid or “follow another mujtahid without knowing his evidence” in a question of fiqh, neither does he do so in the question of accepting particular hadiths. Finally, we noted that the differences in reliability ratings of hadiths among qualified scholars were parallel to the differences among scholars about the details of Islamic practice: a relatively small amount of difference in relation to the whole.

The main point of all of this is that while every Muslim can take the foundation of his Islam directly from the Qur’an and hadith; namely, the main beliefs and general ethical principles he has to follow—for the specific details of fiqh of Islamic practice, knowing a Qur’anic verse or hadith may be worlds apart from knowing the shari‘a ruling, unless one is a qualified mujtahid or is citing one.

As for would-be mujtahids who know some Arabic and are armed with books of hadith, they are like the would-be doctor we mentioned earlier: if his only qualification were that he could read English and owned some medical books, we would certainly object to his practicing medicine, even if it were no more than operating on someone’s little finger. So what should be said of someone who knows only Arabic and has some books of hadith, and wants to operate on your akhira?

To understand why Muslims follow madhhabs, we have to go beyond simplistic slogans about “the divinely-protected versus the non-divinely-protected,” and appreciate the Imams of fiqh who have operationalized the Qur’an and sunna to apply in our lives as shari‘a, and we must ask ourselves if we really “hear and obey” when Allah tells us

“Ask those who know if you know not” (Qur’an 16:43).

©Nuh Ha Mim Keller 1995

This is the text of a lecture given at Islamic Cultural Centre (Regents Park Mosque) January 1995, Bradford University 27th January 1995, Birmingham Central Mosque 29th January 1995.

This essay developed from a lecture given in the United States, Canada, and England in 1994 and 1995.

Why should I follow a madhab? What is Taqlid?

This is so nineties! Well I was asked about this the other day and I wanted to write something in the hope that it would help someone, anyone!

I will use two terms with different spellings. I mean Salaf to mean the early community of the first three generations and Selefi for the modern day group. Please do not be confused!

Why do we follow madhabs? When we could just open the Quran and Sahih Al-Bukhari and teach like the Wahabis and Selefis? The companions did not follow madhabs so why do we? These two statements are not only unrealistic but also totally unfounded. Most Wahabis/Selefis have no formal training in the Arabic language even if they are Arabs! Without understanding the language one we will move from one misunderstanding to another. This is exactly what they do. The Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) taught the companions who taught the following generations of Salaf and so on and so forth. The leading scholars of the companions were few but they taught the other companions and then other Salaf. None of the Salaf picked up Quran and hadith then started teaching. They went to teachers to learn and did not say or make claims.

The selefis were not taught by the companions and nor are they like the companions, so how can the statement about the companions did not follow madhabs so we do not be accepted? The Selefis are not living in the time of the companions! None of the companions picked up the Quran and started teaching like the Wahabis/Selefis.

How can someone without an extended period of formal training teach? Would you trust me to perform brain surgery because I have opened a book on surgery! Alternatively, would you trust me fixing your car by reading a book and not having any apprenticeship or training? All worldly jobs ask for qualifications and experience so why is teaching Islam different? Can I use the excuse that the companions did not study brain surgery but its valid for me to use it? Only someone without a brain would accept that!

Why are people who have not formal training in the religion opening the Quran and teaching? When they do not have the qualifications to teach! Is our religion so cheap? The companions trusted sound scholarship of the leading scholars of them and by following a madhab, we are doing the same. Out of nearly 120,000 companions around 6 or 5 of them gave legal verdicts. In fact following a madhab is following one of the Salaf, that the Salaf have praised themselves! No one praises those who follow their own writings. Nor have they been praised by the Salaf like the founders of the four schools, see short bios below.

In the Sunni traditions, we have the Ijaza system in which the teacher gives the student permission to teach. Only after the student has made sufficient progress can he teach, rather than opening the Quran and being totally unaware of the language and giving ones opinion from translations! The companions never did this, they used to ask and follow the most knowledgeable of them.

In addition, Sahih Al-Bukhari was not formalised until close to Imam Al-Bukhari’s death which was the year two hundred and fifty six. So what did the Salaf do in that time when there was no Sahih Al-Bukhari? Wait for him to be born? The Salaf did not open the Quran and give their own opinions and nor did they wait for Imam Bukhari to finish his hadith collection to teach from it! Most of the Salaf would have passed away around 256 h.

The four Sunni schools emerged fully by the eleventh century as by that time all the other schools had died out. There were other schools but they died out or where absorbed by other madhabs. So each of these four schools contains the opinions of the leading scholars of the Salaf. They have a continuous chain that goes back to their respective personalities that the schools come from. Alternatively, would you prefer a Wahabi or Selefi who has no link to any scholars of the past and goes straight to the sources and transmits without understanding? They have no link to the Salaf of which they derive their name!

They say we follow the Salaf but then derive rulings from their own uneducated opinions? In hadith methodology, a hadith that has no chain has no ruling because it cannot be verified. As the chain is where most of the scrutiny is made, so without it, there cannot be any verification to the veracity of the information. Therefore, it is rejected and that is what we have to do in terms of the Wahabis and Selefi groups. Totally reject those who have no basis, no right, and no qualifications to be teaching or even speaking about Islam. This is why Wahabism/Selefism is so strict because it all depends on the interpretation of the speaker. He can decide on a sixpence what is Halal or Haram. The four madhabs are the way of the Salaf!

The Wahabis and Selefis pick up hadith without checking the commentaries and verification, if the hadith has a defect or not. It is like picking an ingredient for a meal by walking into a field and picking up a shrub. They do not know whether it is harmful or not. Sunnis are unfortunately doing it too nowadays, which is a real shame.

What is Ijtihad

It is when a qualified scholar comes to a ruling based on sound evidences. Only those with superior Arabic, knowing all the opinions on the hadith, all the positions on the Quran and hadith, knows whether evidence is abrogated or not, and so on. This level of knowledge does not exist now. Because Bedouins in our time have no knowledge of the Arabic language.

Many scholars decided to follow the madhabs because it made sense to follow trusted scholarship rather than try to re-invent the wheel. Unlike the wahabis/selefis who claimed the wheel was innovation then broke it then made their own wheel!

If you want to visit a major city, you do not tear up the map or destroy the sat nav! Because it was not around at the time of the companions! You open the sat nav put the address in and follow the instructions.


 فَاسْأَلوا أَهْلَ الذِّكْرِ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ لا تَعْلَمُون


Allah (Mighty and Exalted) said, “Ask the people of remembrance (knowledge) if you do not know.” Al-Nahl 6:43.

Who are the people of remembrance? The scholars of course and we shall explain exactly what the majority of scholars say about following one of the scholars of the four Sunni schools. This verse indicates that one should ask those who are qualified to be scholars. This verse proves that it is a Quranic conjunction to follow qualified scholarship. Its a verse confirming that one must be a muqalid/a follower of a school!

The second form of the word taqlid means to entrust (p919 Hans wehr) and one meaning to blindly follow. The Wahabis/selefis disagree that following a madhab is necessary/wajib but tell people to follow them! They disagree following anyone else other than themselves! Therefore, they agree to taqlid when someone follows them but not when it is others! They accuse us of blind imitation but that is very far from the truth and slanders thousands of scholars of the Salaf themselves! Because Abu Hanifah’s students did not agree with him, they often disagreed, this is all recorded. Sometimes the position of the school goes against the founder! Other times scholars following their principles/usul will have a different position that is followed. There is no blind imitation (ibid p920) of the four schools by the scholars and therefore the followers. The wahabis/agree to blind imitation and taqlid when people follow them! It is just when they follow others do they have a problem. If you want to know the proof in a matter of the madhab then ask an expert or become a student of knowledge and study these matters. Otherwise, when you are following of the four madhabs you are following something thats been tried and tested for over a thousand years. Instead of trusting someone unqualified to even read the text!

Important Quotes

Most of these quotes are from the work by Sheikh Abdulghani Al-Nabulasi (may Allah show him mercy) work on this subject.

وقال إمام الحرمين الجويني في البرهان ( 2 \ 744 ) : ” أجمع المحققون على أنّ العوام ليس لهم أن يتعلقوا بمذاهب أعيان الصحابة رضي الله عنهم ، بل عليهم أن يتبعوا مذاهب الأئمة الذين سبروا ونظروا وبوّبوا الأبواب وذكروا أوضاع المسائل وتعرضوا للكلام على مذاهب الأولين ، والسبب فيه أنّ الذين درجوا وإن كانوا قدرة في الدّين وأسوة للمسلمين ، فإنّهم لم يعتنوا بتهذيب مسالك الإجتهاد وإيضاح طرق النظر والجدال وضبط المقال ، ومن خلفهم من أئمة الفقه كفوا من بعدهم النظر في مذاهب الصحابة فكان العامي ماموراً باتباع مذاهب السابرين ” .

Imam Al-Haramayn Al-Juwayni (may Allah show him mercy) said in Al-Burhan(2/744), “The verifiers have agreed that the generality are not able to follow ways of the many companions (may Allah be pleased with them). Rather it is necessary for them for them to follow the schools of the Imams who have probed, looked, opened doors, mentioned issues that clarify and were exposed to the first (teachers) of the schools. The cause in it is those who are at a level who were exemplars in the religion and examples to the Muslims. They (the generality) who are not appointed to examine the ways of ijihad and clear the path of examination, discussion and affirming speech. Those who followed them (the companions) are the Imams of Fiqh and they have looked into the ways of the companions. So the average person is ordered to follow those schools who have probed (such matters).”

Imam Al-Haramayn, Imam Al-Ghazalis teacher, is commanding people to follow sound scholarship of the four Sunni schools.

وقال ابن نجيم في الأشباه والنظائر ( 1\131 ) : ” .. وما خالف الأئمة الأربعة مخالف للإجماع وإن كان فيه خلاف لغيرهم ، فقد صرّح في ” التحرير ” أنّ الإجماع انعقد على عدم العمل بمنصب مخالف للأربعة لإنضباط مذاهبهم واتشارها وكثرة أتباعهم

Ibn Nujam (may Allah show him mercy) said in Al-Shaba wa Al-Nazahir, “Whoever opposes the four schools opposes the consensus even though there are differences with others. It was clarified in Al-Tahrir, the consensus has agreed that those who do are not attributed and followed (one of) the four schools has no action. They have spread and are followed by many.”

وجاء في الفروع ، لإبن مفلح ، ( 6\374 ) : ” وفي الإفصاح : إنّ الإجماع انعقد على تقليد كل من المذاهب الأربعة ، وأنّ الحق لا يخرج عنهم ، ويأتي في العادلة لزوم التمذهب بمذهب وجواز الإنتقال عنه ” .

In Al-Fara’ of Ibn Muflah (may Allah show him mercy) he said, “In Al-Ifsah, It is consensus that we argue that everyone (should) follow one of the four schools. The truth is not found outside them. Justice comes from adhering to the way of the schools and (not allowing) the passing to other than them.”

وقال الزركشي في ” البحر المحيط ” ( 8\240 ) : ” وقد وقع الإتفاق بين المسلمين على أنّ الحق منحصر في هذه المذاهب وحينئذ فلا يجوز العمل بغيرها “

Imam Al-Zarkashi (may Allah show him mercy) said in Al-Bahr Al-Muheet, “Agreement has occurred with the Muslims that the truth is limited to these schools from their time and it is not permissible to act outside them.”

وقال ابن علاّن  الصدّيقي في شرحه على رياض الصالحين المسمّى ” دليل الفالحين ” ( 1\415 ) : ” أمّا في زماننا فقال بعض أئمتنا : لا يجوز تقليد غير الأئمة الأربعة : الشافعي ومالك وأبي حنيفة وأحمد ، لأنّ هؤلاء عرفت مذاهبهم واستقرت أحكامها وخدمها تابعوهم وحرروها فرعاً فرعاً وحكماً حكماً ، فقلّ أن يوجد فرع إلاّ وهو منصوص لهم إجمالا أو تفصيلا  بخلاف غيرهم فإنّ مذاهبهم لم تحرر وتدوّن كذلك ، فلا يعرف لها قواعد يتخرج عليها أحكامها فلم يجز تقليدهم فيما حفظ عنهم منها ، لأنّه قد يكون مشترطاً بشروط أخرى وكلوها إلى فهمها من قواعدهم ، فقلّت الثقة بخلّو ما حفظ عنهم من قيد أو شرط فلم يجز التقليد حينئذ ” .

Ibn ‘Allan Al-Sadiqi in the commentary on Riyad Al-Saliheen called Dalil Al-Falaheen, “As for our time most of our Imams say that is not permissible to follow/taqlid other than the four Imams: Al-Shafi, Malik, Abu Hanifah and Imam Ahmed. Because their schools are know, the rulings affirmed and their service is following them diligently in every branch and ruling. Rarely do you find a branch except there is a text by them in general or in detail unlike other (schools), because others are not served or followed similarly. They do not know the ruling that come from the rulings and do not leave following them in what they preserved from them. Because it is, one of the other conditions and rely upon their understanding of the principles. Say that sound authorities are not free from what they preserved from them of limit or the condition and do not leave them following them/taqlid from this time.”

وقال ابن رجب  في ” الرد على من اتبع غير المذاهب الأربعة ” ص 13 : ” فإن قيل : نحن نسلّم منع عموم النّاس من سلوك طريق الإجتهاد ، لما يفضي ذلك أعظم الفساد ، لكن لا نسلّم منع تقليد إمام متبع من أئمة المجتهدين غير هؤلاء الأئمة المشهورين ، قيل : قد نبهنا علة المنع من ذلك وهو أنّ مذاهب غير هؤلاء لم تشتهر ولم تنضبط ، فربما نسب إليهم ما لم يقولوه أو فهم عنهم ما لم يريدوه ، وليس لمذاهبهم من يذبّ عنها وينبه على ما يقع من الخلل فيها ، بخلاف هذه المذاهب المشهورة ، فإن قيل : فما تقولون في مذهب إمام غيرهم قد دوّن مذهبه وضبط وحفظ كما حفظ هؤلاء ، قيل : أولا : هذا لا يعلم وجوده الآن ، وإن فرض وقوعه الآن وسلّم جواز اتباعه والإنتساب إليه ، فإنّه لا يجوز ذلك إلاّ لمن أظهر الإنتساب إليه والفتيا بقوله والذّبّ عن مذهبه ” .

Ibn Rajab (may Allah show him mercy) said in Al-Rad ‘ala man itba’ ghayr Al-madahib Al-Arba’ah/Refutation of those who do other than the four schools, “If it was claimed we submit to prevent the general people from the way of ijtihad because that will cause great corruption. But we do not accept prevent the following of Mujtahid Imams other that the four famous ones?” It was said, “We warn about forbidding about this as that is a school beyond these who are not known or not affirmed. Perhaps our link to them is not what they say or understand that it is not needed. It is not their schools that we are defending and we warn about what occurs of faults in them that does not occur in the famous schools. If it was said, perhaps we say that the madhab of the Imam to other than them has been set down, confirmed and preserved like they have been preserved. It is said; firstly, we do not know any of them now. In the obligations that occur now, we agree in following them and attribution to them. This is not possible to those who have attribution to it and fatwa to it by defending their school.”

وقال المرداوي في التحبير : ( 1\128 ) : ” فإنّ مدار الإسلام واعتماد أهله قد بقي على هؤلاء الأئمة وأتباعهم ، وقد ضبطت مذاهبهم وأقوالهم وأفعالهم وحرّرت ونقلت من غير شك في ذلك ، بخلاف مذهب غيرهم وإن كان من الأئمة المعتمد عليهم ، لكن لم تضبط الضبط الكامل وإن كان صح بعضها فهو يسير فلا يكتفى به وذلك لعدم الأتباع “

Al-Mardawai said in Al-Tahabir, “The pivot of Islam relies on its people who remainfollowing these Imams. Their schools have been confirmed as well as their speech, their actions, and recorded; this has been transmitted without doubt unlike the other schools. If they were to be relied upon then we cannot affirm the veracity of it all. If we can confirm some of it then it would be easy. We do not rely on this because it is not fellowship.”

و ابن تيمية رحمه الله تعالى في الفتاوى المصرية ص81 : ” وقول القائل : لا أتقيّد بأحد من هؤلاء الأئمة الأربعة ، إن أراد أنّه لا يتقيّد بواحد بعينه دون الباقين فقد أحسن بل هو الصواب من القولين ،وإن أراد أنّي لا أتقيّد بها كلّها ، بل أخالفها فهو مخطيء في الغالب قطعاً ، إذ الحق لا يخرج عن هذه الأربعة في عامة الشريعة” 

Ibn Taymiyyah said in Al-Fatawa Al-Misriyyah, “If someone was to say not to be bound by one of the four schools. If he wants not to be with one of the schools specifically and not the others then this is best (option) and the correct one of the two opinions. If he does not want to be bound to any of them then this opposition is a mistake over the majority decisive matter. Because the truth does not come out of these four in the general matters of the sacred law.”

وفي شرح مجلة الأحكام ، لعلي حيدر ( 1 \ 34 ) : ” إنّ للمجتهد شروطاً وصفات معينة في كتب أصول الفقه ، فلا يقال للعالم مجتهد ما لم يكن حائزا على تلك الصفات ، ومع ذلك فالمتأخرون من الفقهاء قد أجمعوا على سدّ باب الإجتهاد خوفاً من تشتت الأحكام ، ولأنّ المذاهب الموجودة وهي ( المذاهب الأربعة ) قد ورد فيها ما فيه الكفاية ” . 

Ali Haydar said in the commentary Mujallah Al-Ahkam, “The Mujtahid has descriptions and specific attributes in the books of the principles of Fiqh/jurisprudence. It is not said to mujtahid scholar that you do not have these qualities. Despite they being later than the jurist that there is consensus that the door of ijitihad is closed in fear of spreading rulings because the schools that are present (the four schools) and all that is reported of them is sufficient for us.”

Sheikh Nuh Keller says in Sea without shore (p.248), “Whoever follows one of the four schools is following Allah and the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).”

Shah Wali Allah Al-Dhahalawi in Hujjatullah Al-Balaghah (p.286-7 Vol 1) says that is consensus of the Imams in permissibly of following (one of the) four madhabs, “This is the best (option) where there is nothing hidden. Especially in these days, which the followers have diminished and they drink their egos and passions. Each one pleased with his own opinion.” He continues that the companions did taqlid to other knowledgeable companions from, “Umar ibn Al-Khattab, Ali ibn Abu Talib, Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, Ibn Umar, Ibn Abbas, Aishah, mother of the believers.” (ibid 289-290) It is from Ibn Mas’ud that the Hanafi madhab comes and the Maliki Madhab comes from Ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with them).”

The Wahabi and Selefi schools come from themselves whomever they feel that day! Their school has no link to the companions other than when they read their names. How can you lay your religion down to such people and yet not follow one of these four schools?

Imam Sawi says in the commentary of Imam Laqqani’s Jawhar Al-Tawheed (p.337), “It is necessary to follow the leading of them: meaning it is necessary, according to the majority. All those who cannot perform absolute ijtihad (basically no one now) he has to adopt the knowledge of one of the four schools and it is not permissible to follow any other; after the consensus has been made.”  Absolute ijtihad is someone who has reached a level a scholarship that he can derive the rulings directly. He must know the Arabic level to the pre-Islamic poetry level; know the major positions of the madhabs and all the schools of belief. Anyone in the last three hundred years has fallen short of this level because it is too difficult. Therefore, there is no one in this time that can do this. Any other school meaning anything outside the four schools like the Shia, Wahabis, selefis and anyone else! Notice that this is mentioned in a book of sacred belief. That is how important it is.

Ibn Hazam was also opposed to the four schools but this opinion is rejected by the majority who say that one has to adhere to one of them. Ibn Hazam is a frequent source of strange opinions that disagree with the majority. The opinion of one scholar is not accepted when it opposes the majority.

Did madhabs cause discord?

This is usually the ikhwani/Ukim argument against following madhabs and its false. Yes, it is true there is a rivalry between madhabs but its like the rivalry between brothers, trying to get the attention of their father.

There might be rare reports of discord but these are few and far between and are not an argument against following one. Rather they are an argument for not following them fanatically. Fanatics of any kind are a problem. Lest we forget the actions of Imam As-Shafi when he went to visit the grave of Abu Hanifah. Imam As-Shafi would raise his hands in places were the Hanafis would not. When Imam Shafi prayed, he did so according to Hanafi madhab, when he was close by the grave (of course not directly at it!). We accept the differences of each other and do not go to extremes.

Harun Al-Rashid the Abbassid ruler flogged Imam Malik because he refused to enforceAl-Muwatta. Imam Malik’s magnum opus of hadith and the basis of the Maliki school. Understand this well because there was no fanatism with them but with some of the heedless followers.

I am not convinced

Maybe you are not convinced yet! Lets look an event that took place with Imam Al-Awzai and Abu Hanifah (may Allah show them mercy) reported by Mulla Ali Al-Qari inSharh Sharh Al-Nukhbah Al-Fikr by Ibn Hajr Al-‘Asqalani (p262-3), “Imam Abu Hanifah and Al-Awzai met in Mecca in the market place of the tailors. Al-Awzai asked, “Why do you not raise your hands when bowing and coming up?” He (Abu) said, “Because it is not confirmed from the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings be upon him).” Meaning it was not a necessary action because there was opposition and discussion on it. It became clear that this on the pretext of debate. Al-Awzai said, “How is it not confirmed? Al-Zuhuri reported to me from Salim, from his father (Ibn Umar) that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) raised his hand when beginning the prayer, bowing and raising up.” Abu Hanifah said, “Hammad reports from Ibrahim, from ‘Alqamah from Al-Awsad from ‘Abdullah ibn Masud that the Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) did not raise his hands except for the opening magnification and do not repeat…

Al-Azwai said, “I reported to you from Al-Zuhuri from Salim from his father and you say from Hammad and Ibrahim!” Abu Hanifah said, “Hammad had a greater understanding of fiqh than (Al-Zuhuri like Ibrahim to) Salim, ‘Alqamah was not less than Ibn Umar even though he was a companion and had the virtue of companionship and Al-Aswad was very great; and Abdullah (ibn Masud had more knowledge).” This is how the chain outweighted the chain presented by Imam Al-Awzai.”

As you can see this is not a simple matter. It is a deep science and the main scrutiny of hadith is in the chain. Here Abu Hanifah is giving precedence to scholars in the chain of narration over those less knowledgeable. Although this is a valid understanding based on proof texts and we do not censure Shafis or any of the other schools who do this. Even though we, as Hanafis, disagree. This is a classical disagreement in matters of fiqh/jurisprudence.

If you want to see how inaccurate the selefis rulings are then ponder the feet touching rule by clicking here and you will see that it is totally baseless. Yet, wherever you go you will find someone wanting to touch your feet in prayer.

Who where the leading scholars of the salaf?

Who are the real Salaf? The period of the salaf is those who came after the time of the Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) from the first to the third century. Salaf means the one who proceeded.

So who are the leading scholars at that time? Junaid Al-Baghdadi, Imam Al-‘Awzai, Hassan Al-Basri, Al-Tabari, Abu Hanifah, Imam Malik, Imam As-Shafi and Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal (may Allah show them mercy). Dawud Al-Zahari had a known madhab but his school was widely refuted.

All these schools either died out or where assimilated into other schools. Now the selefi scholars have no right to be called as such because the way of the salaf died out in the eight century and the time has ended over a thousand years ago. None of the modern day selefis follow the four schools therefore their ‘claim’ to follow the salaf has no basis whatsoever. How can you claim to follow the salaf yet oppose the four madhabs? When they (four schools) were the leading scholars of that time!

We can call ourselves Hanafis etc because it is not limited to a time like term salaf.

Abu Hanifah

Ibn Jawzī Al-Hanbali (may Allah show him mercy) said in Al-Muntazim, “No people differ with the understanding and jurisprudence of Abu Hanifah.” (p.314 Makalat Imam Al-Kawthari)

Sufyan Al-Thawri and Ibn Mubarak said, “Abu Hanifah is the most knowledge of the people.” (ibid)

Imam Malik was asked, “What do you say about Abu Hanifah?” He replied, “I saw a man; if he wished to say that this camel was made into gold; he would find a proof for it.” (ibid)

Imam As-Shafi said, “The people are related to fiqh by Abu Hanifah.” All these are the leaders of Salaf and they are all saying he was the best in their time, the golden age of scholarship. So you think someone who came two hundred years ago can be better? When the Wahabis/selefis have been widely refuted from all four schools.

Ahmed Timur said in History of the four schools, “It is the first of the four, its founder was the great Imam Abu Hanifah An-Numan Al-Kufi (may Allah be pleased with him). Born in the seventieth Islamic year and he passed away in Baghdad in one hundred and fifty, according to the soundest opinion. (Other date that is stated is, born 80 and died 148.) This school was founded in Kufa, the residence of the Imam, and then spread to all of the cities of Iraq.”

Two proofs for the Hanafi madhab are the following, the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings be upon him) said, “If the religion were hung on the Pleiades, descendants of the Persians would reach it and get a hold of it.” (Bukhari, Muslim and Tirmidhi) Abu Hanifah was descended from Persians. (Source: Prophet Muhammad and his miracles by Bediuzzaman Sa’id Nursi p.56)

Abu Hanifah was Persian and this is one of the proofs that the Hanafis use.

The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Verily, you shall conquer Constantinople. What a wonderful leader will he be, and what a wonderful army will that army be!” Imam Ahmed.

The leader of the army that conquered Constantinople was Sultan Mehmet who was a Hanafi in jurisprudence and was an adherent to a spiritual path of Naqshabandi. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was happy with an adherent to the Hanafi School of jurisprudence. Would the Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings be upon him) be happy with an innovator, if he was an innovator? In addition, Sultan Mehmet’s entire army was all Hanafi! This is one reason why the Ottomans spread the Hanafi madhab and even today, Turkey is a Hanafi country!

Imam Muhammad Al-Shaybani later studied hadith with Imam Malik then corrected the Imam by writing his own Muwatta.

In addition, Abu Hanifah met the companion of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) called Anis Ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) and at least one other companion.

I must apologise to the readers because I do not have a lot of information about Imam As-Shafi, Imam Malik and Imam Ahmed.

Imam Malik

Imam Malik Ibn Anas Al-Asabhi, may Allah be pleased with him, born in the year ninety three, which is well known; he passed away in Medina in the year one hundred and seventy nine, which is authenticated.

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Very soon will people beat the flanks of camels in search of knowledge, and they shall find no-one more knowledgeable than the knowledgeable scholar of Medinah.” Al-Tirmidhi.

Al-Qadi `Iyad, Dhahabi and others relate from Sufyan ibn `Uyayna, `Abd al-Razzaq, Ibn Mahdi, Ibn Ma`in, Dhu’ayb ibn `Imama, Ibn al-Madini, and others that they considered that scholar to be Malik ibn Anas. It is also related from Ibn `Uyayna that he later considered it to be `Abd Allah ibn `Abd al-`Aziz al-`Umari. Ad-Dhahabi said of the latter: “He possessed good knowledge and jurisprudence, spoke the truth fearlessly, ordered good, and remained aloof from society. He used to press Malik in private to renounce the world and seclude himself.”


Imam Malik was known not to like questions about events that had not occurred. After his death his students took the questions asked in the gatherings of the Hanafi’s and then pondered about the possible answers of Imam Malik.This is perhaps why the Maliki madhab is similar to the Hanafi in many places.

Imam Al-Shafi

Imam Muhammad ibn Idriss As-Shaf’i Al-Qurayshi, may Allah be pleased with him, was born in Gaza in the year one hundred and fifty and passed away in Egypt during the year two hundred and four.

One of the proofs that the Shaf’i’s claim is the following prophetic narration. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “A scholar from the Quraysh will fill the parts of the earth with knowledge.” (Imam Ahmed, Bayhaqi and Ibn Hajr).

Imam As-Shafi studied with Imam Malik early in his career then studied with Imam Muhammad and Abu Yusuf – the students of Abu Hanifah. This is one of the ways that adherents of his school say its superior to other schools because he studied with both leading scholars.

Imam Ahmed

Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal As-Shibani (may Allah be pleased with him). He was born in Baghdad, in the year one hundred and sixty four and passed away in the year two hundred and forty one. It was claimed, “He was born in Mara (Persia) and went to Baghdad during infancy.” His school is the forth school Sunni school, acted upon by the consensus of Muslims.

Imam Ahmed was known to have memorised one million hadiths with their chains of narration verbatim. Is there someone similar to him now? Not a chance! He studied briefly with Imam As-Shafi and therefore all the schools are linked and are not separate entities.

Famous Hanafi’s:

Imam Muhammad, Abu Yusuf, Abdullah Ibn Mubarak, Dawud Al-Tai, Bishir Al-Hafi, Imam Kharki, Imam Al-Jasas, Imam Al-Maturdi, Ali Al-Qari, Ali Hijwiri, Imam Rumi, Yahya ibn Mueen, Imam Al-Tahawi, Ibn Abideen, Imam Ahmed Rida Khan, Imam Abu Laith As-Samerqandi, the Ottomans and many others.

Famous Shafis:

Imam Al-Nawawi, Imam Ghazali, Imam Al-Suyuti, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Nabahani, Imam Al-Bayhaqi, Ibn Kathir, Ibn Hajr Al-Hatami, Ibn Hajr Al-Asqalani, Imam Al-Dhahabi, Salahiddin Ayyub (his grave is pictured above) and many others.

Famous Malikis:

Imam Abu Hassan Al-Shadhali, Ibn Abi Zayd, Yahya Abu Laith, Ibn Khaldun, Qadi Iyyad, Uthman dan Fodio, Imam Shatabi, Ibn Muflah, Imam Qarafi and many others.

Famous Hanabalis:

Abdulqadir Al-Jilani, Imam Maqdasi, Imam Ibn Jawzi, Imam Qudaymah, Ibn Rajab and many others.

Which one shall I follow then?

Follow whichever school you have easy access to a teacher to study with and ask questions. As long as it is one of these four then take whatever one you wish.

One of the blessings of the four schools is that the truth is not one but it has many options meant for ease and it is not meant to make your life hard. Beware of those people who mix madhabs because this makes your life hard.

Did they miss hadith?

Well it is a silly claim because they all lived in a time in which hadiths was accessible to anyone who wanted to hear them. If they did miss any than their students would have corrected them or even those who came after. In any case, their teachings stem from the companions and they would not have missed them. Imam Malik had his collection of hadith called Muwatta, Abu Hanifah has his Musnad, Imam As-Shafi had Al-Umm and Al-Risala and Imam Ahmed has his Musnad. They were all masters in hadith, they all cannot of missed something that was magically ‘discovered’ by Ibn Wahab! That is impossible!

This was also a time before the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols, because many books were lost when the rivers ran black with ink. There were works of hadith that did not reach us except by a quote in another text.

However, hang on a wahabi/selefi scholar thinks he knows more hadith than they do! When all he does is open books without any understanding of what he is narrating. Or even if the book in circulation is not the relied upon version. The correct version of Bukhari is by the narration of Imam Farabri that is not widely published. Therefore, the version widely available has mistakes! They are transmitting hadith without formal training, without understanding, without correct versions of the books! Do you think they are going to find the truth! It is illogical and irrational!


We have now proved beyond any doubt that following the wahabis/selefis is tantamount to allowing a JCB into your living room and not expecting any damage! You will not have a living room and your house will collapse!

They have no link at all with the scholars they claim, therefore their claims are false and baseless.

If you take a look at the books of the wahabis rarely do they quote anyone more than Ibn Baaz, Uthaymeen and Al-Bani. Where these people born in the first three centuries of Islam? By what right did they have to teach? Where is the following of the Salaf here?

The Sunni’s have principles of law derived from Quran and hadith, do the wahabis and selefis have this? No, they have nothing. One such wahabi said it was permissible to say bismillah and eat anything you want! How can you take such people seriously without laughing at their lack of understanding?

Wahabism/selefism spread in the lands of the Muslims because of ‘external’ funding to deliberately undermine the role of these schools.

If we accept that, the wahabi/selefi claim that these schools were innovation then there was never any sacred law in practice outside the prophetic period. So only until the wahabis/selefis came the shariah/sacred law was never practiced? Really? How could that happen that millions of scholars of the golden generation were all misguided at the same time? Yet, they all followed madhabs? This is totally illogical!!

Trusting one of the schools of the madhabs is like learning from a tree that was planted by the Salaf. Unlike studying with the wahabis/selefis, which is essentially learning that, everyone in Islamic history was wrong except themselves.

Find a scholar of one of the madhabs and learn at least one book of fiqh. In terms of the Aquida schools of Islamic belief. Abu Hanifah (may Allah show him mercy) wrote Fiqh Al-Akbar and narrated Aqida text which became known as Aqida Al-Tahawiyyah. So all texts of Islamic belief are sourced from these works, both the Ashari and Al-Maturdi schools.

The way of Sunnis Islam is by these four schools of fiqh and the aforementioned schools of belief, as well as a branch of spirituality. These are the majority and the Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings be upon him) said that his nation would not agree to a consensus and it would be misguidance.

It is only now, thanks to outside influences, have we the audacity to go our own ways. Not only is it a disaster but the main reason for argumentation and discord in our world. The sooner we wake up this, the better. Do not expect a piece of art to come from someone who has never studied art. That is foolishness of the highest order and that is what you do when you allow the unqualified individual access to your religion. They will not be happy until they destroy it all.

Its only when one leaves these schools does one follow misguidance. May Allah (the Exalted) guide us all back to the reliable positions of these four Sunni schools.

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