Q. Is it true that part of Islam’s legal culture is the idea that a normative religious ruling (‘azimah) can be temporarily replaced by a concessionary ruling (rukhsah), in order to lift hardship?

A. Yes it’s true, but with conditions and caveats. Let me explain:

The Holy Qur’an says: يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ بِكُمْ الْيُسْرَ وَلاَ يُرِيدُ بِكُمْ الْعُسْرَ – ‘Allah desires ease for you; He does not desire for you hardship.’ [2:185]

One celebrated hadith says: يَسِّروا وَلا تُعَسِّرُوا وَبَشِّروا وَلا تُنَفِّروا – ‘Make things easy for people and do not make things difficult; give them glad tidings, do not drive them away.’1

Thus while the principle of ease (taysir) is rooted in revealed texts, we must ensure it does not turn into one of adulteration; especially in today’s egotistical and desacralised world.

From the earliest days of Islam, a core aspect of a mufti’s remit was not only to inform the unqualified masses of the Islamic ruling on any given issue, so as to help them keep their feet firmly upon the path of piety and worship of God. It was also to extend a lifeline in extenuating circumstances; especially to those weak in faith cast adrift in the stormy seas of sin and disobedience. Sufyan al-Thawri said: ‘In our view, knowledge entails [issuing] legal concessions (rukhsah). As for being strict, anyone can do that.’2

‘Azimah refers to a “strict” religious ruling – a ruling in its original form, without any attendant reason or circumstance that could soften its original force. By contrast, rukhsah is a “concession” in the law; an exception to the rule. It is a concessionary ruling brought about by mitigating circumstances, so as to bring about ease in difficult situations.3

The Prophet ﷺ said: ‎إِنَّ اللهَ يُحِبُّ أَنْ تُؤْتَى رُخَصُهُ كَمَا يُحِبُّ أَنْ تُؤْتَى عَزَائِمُهُ – ‘Allah loves that His concessions are taken, just as He loves His stringent rulings are obeyed.’4

Thus ‘azimahs are norms: rukhsahs are exceptions when there are justifiable needs to warrant them. Moreover, a shari‘ah-legislated rukhsah, or relaxation of the law, is based on strictly following certain obligatory guidelines; which include:5

[i] The opinion that brings about the ease must be a valid fiqh opinion; not an anamolous (shadhdh) one.

[ii] The rukhsah should ward of a genuine hardship, be it to the individual or society.

[iii] Deciding if a rukhsah needs taking must be determined by one known to be juristically qualified as well as known for their religious piety, integrity and adherence to revealed truths.

[iv] Following rukhsahs must not become a habitual practice; a device to skirt around the usually legislated ‘azimah or more ‘stringent’ normative ruling.

[v] Such a rukhsah must never lead to the forbidden type of talfiq (lit. ‘piecing together’), where the picking and choosing; the mixing and matching, of madhhabs contravenes an established ijma‘, or leads to innovating a totally new ruling that is neither confirmed by any madhhab or mujtahid.

Legalistic aspects aside, there is also the spirit of the law to consider when dealing with rukhsahs. For a rukhsah is there to facilitate ease and allow obedience to flourish under exceptionally difficult circumstances. Its goal is to make things easier in order for faith to still thrive; not for piety to spiral downwards or slackness towards sins normalised. An individual must, therefore, balance between their spiritual growth, which arises as a result of battling against one’s ego or desires in order to obey Allah; and between being overwhelmed with hardship due to not taking a shari‘ah-sanctioned concession. As Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad has contended: ‘The truly-taken rukhsa makes you grow a little; the falsely-taken rukhsa makes you shrink rapidly.’6

Let’s conclude with these words of sayyiduna ‘Ali, radia’Llahu ‘anhu: ‎الْفَقِيهُ مَنْ لَمْ يُقَنِّطِ النَّاسَ مِنْ رَحْمَةِ اللهِ وَلَمْ يُرَخِّصْ لَهُمْ فِي مَعَاصِي اللهِ – ‘The faqih is not the one to cause people to despair of Allah’s mercy, nor the one to give them licence to sin.’7

1. Al-Bukhari, no.69; Muslim, no.1734.

2. Cited in Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm wa Fadlihi (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1994), no.1467.

3. Consult: Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 2006), 436-38.

4. Ahmad, Musnad, no.5866. It was graded sahih in al-Albani, Irwa al-Ghalil fi Takhrij Ahadith Manar al-Sabil (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1979), 3:13, no.564.

5. See: al-Bassam, Tawdih al-Ahkam (Riyadh: Dar al-Mayman, 1430H), 2:571-72.

6. Contentions, 14/9 at: http://masud.co.uk/ISLAM/ahm/contentions14.htm

7. Cited in al-Qurtubi, Kitab al-Tadhkirah (Riyadh: Maktabah Dar al-Minhaj, 1425H), 800.

6 thoughts on “On Following Concessions & Relaxed Rulings in Islamic Law

  1. Alhamdulilah I don’t know of any mordern examples where the shariah offers ease although it must happen but often having read stories where for instance people women namely have been used in Islamic country’s to smuggle contraband drugs by unscrupulous men who threatens relatives or shame & humiliation to make these victims as donkeys so when they are caught recurve the full weight of the shariah while those who are the real perpetrators find another victim Allahu Alim . We know at the time of Umar Ibn Al kataab radiallahu anhu that during the famine through out the levant when people congregated upon medina the Amir al mummini he relaxed the huddud for stealing since people where inclined to take from sheer hunger & extreme social deprivation .

    1. Salams Idriss. There are examples of rukhsah in modern-day life, which I know you’ll be familiar with: shortening prayers whilst travelling; combining prayers (according the majority of jurists) while travelling; not fasting due to old age or illness; performing tayammum for ritual purification in the absence of water; or allowing ijarah or lease and hire sales, as well as salam or advance sales.

      As for an actual modern day rukhsah, an example of this would be the allowance of alcohol in medicines and medication.

      As for temporarily suspending a law such as the punishment for stealing, this comes under the rules of maslahah and siyasat al-shar‘iyyah, and requires a great deal of juristic insight to apply.

  2. Someone posted this in the Hanbali Fiqh group on Facebook as being written by Abu Aliyah al-Hanbali, are you? Can’t remember you ever mentioning a specific madhab.

    1. Salams. In fiqh, I’ve been learning and following the Hanbali school since the early 1990s. I’ve held a few classes teaching Hanbali fiqh over the past few decades. However, my being Hanbali is not something I broadcast loudly, nor an epithet I attach to my name. I’m merely a student in Hanbali fiqh; and nothing more.

      Moreover, when I write, I don’t usually limit myself to Hanbali scholars. How could I, when scholarship is vast? Even when I do cover fiqh issues, I don’t usually cover them only from a Hanbali angle. Oftentimes, my coverage of fiqhi issues is just to show that there are valid differences in a given issue, so as to avoid schisms.

      That said, it is true that my writings, on the whole, probably slant towards “Hanbali-ness” or Hanbalism, for the simple reason that I’m more familiar with that area of scholarship than I am other schools or scholars.

  3. Excellent Shaykh. Picking up on this what would you say about the 3 Talaq issue. Should Hanafi Muftis judge each case on its on merit, perhaps facilitating the position of Ibn Taymiyya (that 3 equal 1 in one sitting), or should the stick to the position of the Madh’hab

    1. As you are undoubtedly aware, the issue of triple divorce in one sitting/at one time is a highly controversial one. The Four Sunni madhhabs, including the Hanbali school, all hold that three counts as three.

      In contrast to this, Ibn Taymiyyah (and most contemporary Salafi jurists) hold that three in one go only counts as one. Jurists of all four schools utterly repudiate this and do not count Ibn Taymiyyah’s view among the valid issues of differing.

      Therefore, a Hanafi mufti (or any other Sunni mufti, for that matter) would not – strictly speaking – be able to rule with it; despite its obvious advantages.

      However, I have heard (and have also seen) Hanafi and Shafi‘i muftis who, when confronted with a husband who regretfully divorced his wife thrice in a single sitting, refuse to give him a fatwa and instead indirectly point him towards a Salafi scholar on this matter. I have been told that this happens quite a bit.

      And Allah knows best.

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