Ummayad MosqueAccording to Imam al-Nawawi (d.676H/1277CE), there are two opinions whether a lay person is obligated to follow one school of law (madhhab) or not. He stipulates: ‘What the proof necessitates is that a layman is not required to adhere to a specific madhhab. Instead, he seeks a fatwa from whomsoever he chooses or whomsoever he encounters [from the scholars]: on condition that he not hunt for concessions (rukhsah). Perhaps those who forbade him from doing this did so because they weren’t convinced that he would not avoid chasing after concessions.’1

Thus strictly following one madhhab in all that it orders or forbids is not obligated, but nor is it forbidden. Rather it is preferred.

Having said this, the most effective way to learn fiqh, as our scholars point out, is for the seeker to follow one specific madhhab from the four remaining orthodox Sunni madhhabs: namely, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi‘i and Hanbali. There are many benefits and advantages in doing so; such as:

(i) It avoids the confusion of what to do when faced with differing opinions on a given fiqh issue. (ii) It trains the ego to submit to some higher authority, instead of the other way around. (iii) It facilitates the learning of religious rulings, principles and maxims in a systematic fashion. (iv) It ensures that for any religious ruling (hukm) we abide by, we will not be sinful in doing so because we are imitating legitimate and authoritative rulings; not our own whimsical concoctions.

Shah Wali Allah al-Dehlawi (d.1176H/1762CE) stated: ‘These four codified madhhabs that the ummah, or rather those in it whose views are worth considering, has agreed may be followed, up until our time, then in doing so lie certain benefits which are not hidden. Particularly in our time when peoples’ resolves are hugely deficient; souls are drunk with desires; and each individual is infatuated with his own opinion.’2

In the wake of this, therefore, let us now consider some pragmatic steps for acquiring sound knowledge of our fiqh:

1. One either builds on the madhhab they were raised on; cementing and enhancing one’s grasp of it. Or else one commits to learning a madhhab whose teachers and texts are practically and readily accessible.

2. It is preferred to study with a qualified teacher who has been authorised to teach by recognised scholars; starting with a primer or beginners text.

3. Commit to a step-by-step study of fiqh. Begin with the rules related to purification, prayer, zakat and fasting; then move on to the rules concerning marriage, buying and selling; and other relevant areas of fiqh as your needs dictate.

4. One learns the actual rulings – i.e. one must know if the act, or the aspect of the act, is obligatory (wajib), recommended (mustahabb), offensive (makruh), prohibited (haram), or licit (mubah).

5. Learning the proofs (dalil) behind a ruling is commendable; it is not a requirement. The goal is not for us to all become fully-fledged jurists, but to present to God works of faith based on a valid shari‘ah understanding. This taqlid – “following the opinion of a qualified scholar without knowing the proofs” – is allowed in our religion by juristic consensus or ijma‘. Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi (d.620H/1223CE) asserts: ‘Taqlid in the branches of the law (furu‘) is permitted by scholarly consensus.’3

6. Along with learning basic acts of worship (‘ibadat) and social dealings (mu‘amalat), one learns the rights and responsibilities (huquq) owed by us to others: be it to Allah; the Prophet, peace be upon him; parents and relatives; other Muslims; non-Muslims; the animal world; or the Earth itself. One should also study a text which outlines the major sins, as well as learn basic Qur’an recitation (tajwid).

7. Lastly, we should never forget that the fiqh school we follow is a means to an end; it is not an end in itself. Biggotry or ta‘assub to any madhhab or scholar is prohibited. In this respect, al-Dhahabi (d.748H/1348CE) said: ‘You must not believe your madhhab is the best one or the one most pleasing to God. You have no proof for this; nor does the one who differs with you. The Imams, may God be pleased with them, were all upon great good. Those issues wherein they were correct, they will receive a double reward; those in which they erred, they shall receive a single reward.”4

Ibn Taymiyyah (d.728H/1328CE) stated: ‘Rather, the names that are permissible to call oneself by – such as an ascription to an imam like Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi‘i and Hanbali; or a shaykh like Qadiri or ‘Adawi; or tribes like Qaysi or Yemani; or region like Syrian, Iraqi or Egyptian – then it is unlawful to test people using them, or form allegiances or enmity around them. Rather the noblest people in God’s sight are those who have the most piety: whatever group they belong to.’5

1. Minhaj al-Talibin (Beirut: Dar al-Basha’ir al-Islamiyyah, 2001), 11:117.

2. Hujjat Allah al-Balighah (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2001), 1:286-7.

3. Al-Rawdat al-Nazir (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Rushd, 1996), 3:1015.

4. Bayan Zagh al-‘Ilm (Saudi Arabia: Maktabah al-Rushd, 2010), 124.

5. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 3:416.

27 thoughts on “Practical Steps for Learning Fiqh

  1. JazakAllahu khairan for writing this I found it very useful and above all else practical. I have seen a lot discussions on this subject and this is the most concise, whilst being very comprehensive. I have seen a lot of people picking and choosing within different madhaa’hib and searching for opinions which make life easier for them and that quote from Imam Nawawi really clarified the issue for me.

    1. Barakallahu fikum, I’m glad you found the posting useful. The topic of madhhhabs can be a difficult one to articulate. May Allah grant us all firmness on the path. As for the whole issue of taking a fiqh concession or dispensation (Ar. rukhsah), I hope to put up a posting about that soon; Allah-willing.

  2. Jazzaka Allahu khair wa baraka Allahu fee ‘eilmeikum…

    Regarding the first step ustadh, if one was raised upon hanbali fiqh but never studied this particular madhaab in detail. And later on found themselves in a land where the majority is Maliki and had finally got a good(female) teacher who is qualified and has authority by scholars from her land in teaching Maliki fiqh would it be ok to do so??

    1. Barakallahu fikum Umm Shayma.

      Changing madhhabs in your case would would be an excellent idea, given that you had a “passing” acquaintance with the Hanbali school, and given that you now have the opportunity to study thoroughly with a qualified Maliki scholar.

      May Allah grant you tawfiq and taysir.

  3. Jazakallah khair for such a balanced and simplified introduction to learning fiqh. Great for those wanting to know where to start, in a progressive manner.

    1. Barakallahu fikum Sidi Zishan for your kind commendation, mashallah; it’s great to hear from you. May Allah guide us all to the right start … and more importantly, to the right end.

  4. I know this article was writing sometime back however, it is as appropriate as it was when written. May Allah SWT reward you for your efforts thorough your works and your Jefforts @ Eman foundation …

  5. Assalamualakum

    JazakAllahu Khair for the excellent article. I have just begun studying the Shafi’i madhab and your articles address the many doubts I had initially in a comprehensive maner. I had to go looking for answers in many different places and finally found it collected here.

    Could you please elaborate though what the statement Taqleed in the branches of law is permissible mean?

    JAzakAllahu Khair once again

    1. Wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah.

      Thank you for the comment; and May Allah bless you in your studies. I’m glad you’ve found the posting useful mashallah.

      Ibn Qudamah’s statement about taqlid being permitted refers to the legality of it as a category. As for all those individuals who are not qualified to perform ijtihad, then taqlid is mandatory on them.

      I hope that makes sense.

      1. Assalamu ‘Alaykum, JazakhaAllahuKhayr for the article. Do you have a step by step guide to study the Hanafi fiqh – similar to that which you compiled for the Hanbali Fiqh?

      2. Wa ‘alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah,

        Unfortunately I don’t have any plans for a study guide to Hanafi fiqh. There are, as you’re probably aware, many published primers to Hanafi fiqh in English. Absolute Essential of Hanafi Fiqh, by Sh Faraz Rabbani is one that is very useful for beginners.

        1. Insightful. My only issues are with those that insist on following a madhab even when it contradicts the Quran and the Sunnah. A respected scholar in my country once quoted a hadith, contradicted it with his Maliki Madhab, and affirmed the Maliki position. His words were ” I know the hadith is authetic but I’ll issue my edicts based on Maliki Madhab”. I think this kind of attitude amounts to relegating the position of the Prophet(Peace Be Upon Him).

          1. The issue of ‘When there is a sahih hadith, that is my madhhab‘ issue – of not following a madhhab when it contradicts the Book and the Sunnah – has some significant detail to it.

            Of course, in principle, every Muslim must and should agree to it. In practice, it is seldom that easy; in fact nigh on impossible for a lay person to act on. Which is why such words of the Imams censuring taqlid were principally aimed at their qualified fiqh students – as explained by Ibn Taymiyyah.

            I’ve begun writing a piece about the issue; when I complete it, I hope it would be of benefit.

            Finally, I’m sure if you do a search on the net, you’ll find Imam al-Nawawi’s discussion about it, as well as other scholars.

            Your brother,
            Surkheel Abu Aaliyah.

          2. Assalamu ‘alaykum.

            Following a Madhab does not ‘contradict’ Quran and Sunnah.

            ‘Sunnah’ and ‘Hadith’ (a report) are not the same thing.

            One Hadith can be understood in different ways depending on interpretation and application. Also, certain hadiths may be given preference to certain other hadiths for certain reasons.

            A madhab is simply an authentic way to follow Quran and Sunnah.

            The key point is that there are 4 authentic ways to follow Quran and Sunnah.

            Analogically, there are also a number of ways to read the Holy Quran, different ways, but all authentic, and going back to Rasulallah, salallahu ‘alayhi wa salam.

  6. I have read it is encouraged to have a bi-annual revision of basic obligations.

    For those brought up on 90’s ‘Salafi fiqh’, what do you advise them?

    Do they reread Al-Albani’s book of prayer, the Fahd ash-Shuwaib’s book on wudhu, the Hilali and Halabi book on fasting, etc, and continue referring to Islamqa that has worked fine for them so far in light of the Nawawi quote above?

    Or do you advise memorising one of the matns you have described in your other posts?

    1. The bi-annual revision is obviously not a hard and fast rule. All that the scholars suggest by this is that one should brush up on basic beliefs and practical rulings at least once or twice a year, so as not to forget them.

      As for those raised on a diet of 90s Salafism, if they wish to deepen their study, or sift the wheat from the chaff, or just wish to learn fiqh more systematically, then let them go through a basic Hanbali or Shafi’i text with a shaykh or teacher that is competent to teach. There are now quite a few Hanbali texts translated into English, and a few online classes on Hanbali fiqh taking place. Failing that, let them take al-Sa’di’s Manhaj al-Salikin as a text to learn. It’s not a matter of memorising a matn, but rather of knowing and understanding the rulings contained in it.

      As for those who are busy with work and raising a family, and perhaps may not have the time (or the will) to pursue formal study of basic fiqh, let them carry on following the rulings they already learnt, but WITHOUT treading on other peoples’ toes – without going around telling others they are praying wrong, not following the strongest proofs, or other sinful speech without true and complete knowledge.

      As for a few issues that they may come across where their ‘Salafi fiqh‘ actually contradicts the four madhhabs, let them be clear that the four schools are so unlikely to all be wrong.

      We ask Allah for grace, ease and safety from our egos.

  7. I thought this might be a good place to ask what advice you may have in making the most from lessons in Nukhbaḧ al-Fikr. Would there be any supplementary readings you would recommend and what questions ought we be asking for findings to form the basis for any further investigations?

    1. Ibn Hajr’s own commentary to his short Nukhbat al-Fikr text, called Nuzhat al-Nazr, is useful to consult before or after lessons.

    1. Barakallahu fikum, br Hussain. May Allah increase you in knowledge and goodness. And also, thank you for the kind comments you’ve regularly posted on the various podcasts that I’ve done. Bless you.

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