One hadith states: ‘Whoever dresses in clothes of attracting attention (shuhrah, lit. ‘fame’) in this life, Allah shall clothe him in garbs of humiliation on the Day of Resurrection.’1 The way we dress can and often does, therefore, have to do with the inward state of our souls.
We are told in the scholarly commentaries that attracting attention means: To dress so that fingers start pointing at you, because of being extravagantly, unusually, or shabbly dressed, relative to the rest of society. In such a case, the intention in dressing as such is usually to either brag, boast, show-off, be the centre of attention, or desire to stand out from everyone else — all of which are base motives of the lower self.2
Al-Mardawi, one of the foremost Hanbali jurists of his age, wrote in al-Insaf: ‘It is detestable to wear clothes which involves attracting attention, or that differ from the clothes of the people of one’s city — according to the correct view of the [Hanbali] school. It is said that it is prohibitted … Shaykh Taqi al-Din [Ibn Taymiyyah] said: “Shuhrah is forbidden, by which one intends to feel superior or project humility, due to the salaf’s hatred of this.”’3
The same idea about dressing as per the norms or conventions of one’s society (providing it doesn’t clash with any shari‘ah prohibition) comes to us in a number of scholarly testimonies; from them: Sufyan al-Thawri said about the venerable salaf: ‘They hated two types of attracting attention: elegant clothing which draws attention and makes people stare, and trampish clothes that he is derided for and which humiliates his religion.’4
As for Imam Ahmad: He saw a man wearing a black and white striped cloak, so he advised: ‘Leave this and wear the attire of those in your city,’ adding: ‘It isn’t forbidden, but had you been in Makkah or Madinah, I would not have faulted you.’5 Presumably this type of cloak was a customary item of clothing in the two Holy Cities at that time.
Ibn Abi Shaybah relates: Zubayd al-Yami once wore a hooded cloak (burnasa), and heard that Ibrahim al-Nakha‘i had criticised him for doing so. So he went to him and said: ‘The people used to wear it. Ibrahim replied: “For sure! But those who once wore it have passed away. If anyone were to wear it now, he would attract attention and fingers would point at him.”’6
Even in how a Muslim man abides by raising one’s lower garment above his ankles, he does so demurely and unassumingly, without drawing more attention than is necessary by raising it too high. Otherwise it will be regarded as shuhrah, a form of attention seeking or wanting to be pointed out. Ibn al-Jawzi narrates under a section discussing excessively shortening one’s clothes, with his chain to Ibn Hani; who said: ‘I came to Abu ‘Abd Allah Ahmad b. Hanbal one day whilst wearing a tunic [that came just] below the knee and above the shin. He said: “What is this?’ and censured it, saying: ‘This should not be done again.”’7
As for the Hanbali madhhab’s actual ruling on isbal – letting the lower garment of a man fall below his ankles, if not done from pride, it is disliked (makruh); with pride, it is forbidden (haram).8
Those in Muslim majority countries have their diverse sartorial norms. As for Muslims in the West, as a norm, we take on the dress conventions of our societies; as long as it doesn’t entail any clear shari‘ah forbiddance. A believing man’s dress, therefore, should not be tight fitting, but instead be loose, modest, unassuming and, of course, be dignified and respectable. For such are traits of a believer’s inward state. As for the Arabisation of Muslim dress codes, outside of Arab cultures, such distortions of Islam and the Sunnah need to be swiftly remedied. This mindset usually springs either from ignorance, or worse still, shuhrah! But to then dress in clothes that aren’t dignified, or that tightly hug the body, is unbefitting and going to another extreme.
As for ladies, their dress is for concealment (satr) and recognition (ta‘arruf). On the one hand they dress in order to conceal their personal beauty and charm; on the other, their hijab-attire is so that they may be known [Q.33:59] who they are and what they stand for. That it must be black, or Saudi-styled, is likely to be a bid‘ah if one believes that is what is religiously-sanctioned. Instead, one finds godly and intelligent ways to make the attire reflect being locally rooted and practical, while fulfilling the shari‘ah conditions and not making ‘fashion statements’.
1. Abu Dawud, no.4029; Ibn Majah, no.3606. The hadith was graded hasan in Muhammad b. Muflih, al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1999), 3:497.
3. ‘Ali b. Sulayman al-Mardawi, al-Insaf fi Ma‘rifat al-Rajihi min al-Khilaf ‘ala Madhhab al- Imam al-Mubajjal Ahmad b. Hanbal (Egypt: Matba‘ah al-Sunnah al-Muhammadiyyah, 1956), .1:473.
4. In Ibn Abi Dunya, al-Tawadu‘ wa’l-Khumul (Cairo: Dar al-I‘tisam, 1986), 127-8; no.64.
5. Ibn Muflih, al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah, 3:497.
6. Ibn Abi Shaybah, al-Musannaf (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Rushd, 2004), 8:366; no.25655.
7. ‘Abd al-Rahman b. al-Jawzi, Talbis Iblis (Beirut: Dar al-Qalm, 1403H), 198. The basis for it is found in Ishaq b. Ibrahim b. Hani, Masa’il al-Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1400H), 2:146; no.1820.
Q. Is it true that Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal and classical Hanbali scholars allowed Muslims to offer Christmas greeting to Christians? Based on this, a few fatwas today now allow us to wish our Christian friends, family or colleagues a Merry Christmas. Is this correct?
A. I’ll address the issue of whether Hanbali jurists allowed offering Christmas greetings to Christians (and by extension, congratulating other non-Muslims on their religious festivals) in these following points:
Firstly: Whatever the religious response, it mustn’t undermine the importance of fostering good relationships with non-Muslims, nor the desire to nurture a collective culture of tolerance, conviviality and courtesy: God doesn’t forbid you in terms of those who neither wage war against you on account of your religion, nor drive you from your homes, from being kind to them and treating them justly. God loves the just. God only forbids you from befriending those who fight against you on account of your religion, or drive you from your homes, or aid others in your expulsion. Whoever befriends them, those are the unjust. [Q.60:8-9]
Secondly: We must thank our scholars for their concern to facilitate ease for us, as per our Prophet’s repeated orders ﷺ: bashshiru wa la tunaffiru wa yassiru wa la tu‘assiru – ‘Give glad tidings, do not repel people; make things easy, do not make things difficult.’1 To offer the Muslim masses a more doable, easier fiqh ruling, provided it is a valid one according to the canons of Islamic law, is a sure sign of wise, sagacious scholarship. Imam Sufyan al-Thawri asserted: ‘In our view, knowledge entails issuing a legal concession (rukhsah). As for being strict, anyone can do that.’2 Another more contemporary way of looking at it is expressed in this Muradian Contention: ‘Preaching: this is an age for rukhas, not for ‘aza’im, and for conservatism, not for liberalism.’3
Thirdly: Of course, this method of tabshir and taysir – of facilitating good news and ease must be rooted in solid shari‘ah legal principles. It cannot be a case of bypassing or blurring well-established fiqh rulings. Nor can it be a case of the means justifying the ends. So while: inna’l-dina yusr – ‘Indeed this religion is [one of] ease,’4 we must ensure that the principle of ease does not become one of adulteration. Given the highly complex time we live in, there is bound to be well-intentioned errors from some of the scholars, for which other jurists and theologians must offer them sincere corrective advice. The balance comes to us in this saying of sayyiduna ‘Ali: ‘The scholar is not the one to cause people to despair of God’s mercy, nor to give them licence to sin.’5
Fourthly: As for the actual issue, then over the past decade or so, certain fatwas have been issued allowing Muslims to offer and exchange Christmas greetings with non-Muslims. Some are general in nature, arguing for the permissibility of giving Christmas greeting based on the fact that the Prophet ﷺ exchanged gifts with non-Muslims and encouraged good behaviour towards them. Others add that a Muslim wishing someone a Merry Christmas is done as a matter of custom and cultural goodwill, with no religious overtones intended. It entails no approval (rida) nor acceptance (iqrar) of the correctness of Christianity, for that would undoubtedly be clear disbelief (kufr): They have disbelieved who say: ‘God is Christ, son of Mary.’ [Q.5:72] And: They have disbelieved who say: ‘God is one of three [in a trinity].’ [Q.5:73] Some of these fatwas do make it clear that partaking in actual Christmas celebrations, or getting into the festive mood by having decorations or a Christmas tree, is forbidden.6 Such fatwas that allow Christmas greetings, it should be stressed, have not been without their juristic criticisms, legal deconstructions and fierce scholarly objections.
Fifthly: While such fatwas insist that their scope is limited to giving Christmas greetings, and in no way permit joining in actual celebrations, they also insist that the entire matter of whether to greet, or not to greet, revolves around its legal causation (‘illah): iqrar and rida – in this case, of accepting or approving the validity of the core Christian claim about Jesus’ [alledged] divinity. We are led to believe that classical Muslim jurists, right up until the 9-11 era, when they prohibited offering religious greetings to non-Muslims on their religious holy days and holidays, they did so because these Muslims were doing so out of rida or iqrar, approving the correctness of Christianity, or agreeing to some of its misbeliefs! They say: ‘The All-Merciful has begotten a son!’ You have uttered a monstrous lie at which the skies are ready to burst, the earth to split asunder, and the mountains to fall down in ruins, that they ascribe unto the All-Merciful a son! [Q.19:88-91] Of course, they insist, this is not the intent with which a Muslim offers Christmas greetings today.
Sixthly: A well-known legal maxim says: al-hukm yuduru ma‘a ‘illatihi wujudan wa ‘adaman – ‘The ruling revolves around the presence or absence of its legal causation.’ In other words, if the factor which gives rise to the ruling no longer exists, the ruling no longer stands. A simpler version states: intifa’ al-hukm li intifa’ ‘illatihi– ‘The ruling ends with the absence of its legal causation.’ When applied to the issue of giving Christmas greetings, it has been argued – and for the most part, rightly so – that when Muslims today wish their co-workers or non-Muslim friends or family a Merry Christmas, there is no rida and no iqrar inherent in their greeting; which is something that even a Christian recipient of such a greeting is clear about too. Therefore, it now becomes permissible. The issue thus seems to be done and dusted. But the question which requires asking is: Is rida or iqrar the actual ‘illah to which classical juristic attitudes on the matter were tied?
Seventhly: Let’s begin to tie the issue of ‘illah to whether or not Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal and the classical Hanbali school permitted Christmas greetings? The acclaimed legal theorist (usuli), Shaykh Bin Bayyah, said as part of his reply to the issue of greeting non-Muslims on their celebrations: ‘So there is nothing to prevent an individual Muslim, or an Islamic centre, to congratulate them on this occasion; verbally, or by a card, that doesn’t contain any religious emblem or expression that conflicts with any principle of Islam, such as a cross … Such customary words of congratulations on such occasions don’t entail a consent (iqrar) to their religion, nor any approval (rida) of it. Instead they are words of courtesy that people are [culturally] familiar with.’7
Eighthly: Having said that the basis for its lawfulness is the absence of rida and iqrar, he went on to say: ‘But let’s not forget to mention here that some of the jurists, like Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah and his student, the very learned Ibn al-Qayyim, were staunch in the matter of [Muslims] participating in the festivals of the idolators and the People of the Book. And we are with them in opposing [Muslims] partaking in the religious festivals of the idolators or the People of the Book – just as we observe some heedless Muslims doing in their celebrating Christmas as they celebrate the two Eids; or even more! This is not permitted. We have our celebrations; and they, theirs. But we see no problem in congratulating the people on their religious festivals.’8
Ninthly: The Shaykh brings the Hanbali school into the mix when he states in a postscript to his fatwa: ‘It may be appropriate to add here that greeting non-Muslims is differed upon by the scholars. In the school of Imam Ahmad, there are three reports: prevention, detestability and permissibility. This last stance is the one preferred by Shaykh Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyyah; for in it there lies a benefit. And this is what we prefer too.’9 Although not explicitly stated, this suggests that Imam Ahmad allows – in one report from him – congratulating non-Muslims on their religious festivities; and that Ibn Taymiyyah, and other jurists in the school, agree with this. And though some contemporary scholars and shaykhs have uncritically accepted this erroneous claim, propagating it as well, it’s far from being the actual case.
Tenthly: That Imam Ahmad and the Hanbalis differ about congratulating non-Muslims is only in the context of non-religious occasions, such as marriage; the birth of a child; moving into a new house; recovering from illness; etc. As for congratulating them on their religious festivals, they categorically state it is forbidden (haram). Let’s cite from some authoritative Hanbali fiqh manuals on the matter, starting with Ibn Muflih’s al-Mubdi‘ which states the different views: ‘On the legality to greet them, offer condolences to them, or visit them, there are two reports … [First:] it is forbidden … Second: permissibility … Third: allowance for an overriding benefit, like hoping for him to accept Islam; which was chosen by Shaykh Taqi al-Din [Ibn Taymiyyah].’10 So while Imam Ahmad had two views on the matter, the school itself has three.
But when shahadatu a‘yadihim, ‘partaking in their religious festivals,’ is listed, either by itself or in conjunction with what was mentioned above of visiting, sending condolences, and other non-religious activities, it is alway stipulated as forbidden. Mar‘i b. Yusuf’s Ghayat al-Muntaha typifies the point: wa haruma tahni’atuhum wa ta‘ziyatuhum wa ‘iyadatuhum wa shahadatu a‘yadihim – ‘And it is prohibited to greet them, give condolences to them, visit them, or partake in their religious celebrations.’11 Thus whilst worldly interactions are differed upon in the law school (madhhab), the issue of religious celebrations are not.
Eleventhly:As for the legal causation, or ‘illah, that gives rise to the ruling and underpins it, for Hanbalis it is not iqrar or rida. Instead, it is ta‘zim – to ‘laud’, ‘venerate’, ‘honour’, ‘esteem’, or ‘respect’ the occasion or festival; even if one doesn’t agree with the religious basis, and is not confused about the falseness of the Christian creed. Al-Bahuti stated: ‘It is prohibited to initiate [greetings of] salams to them … It is forbidden to congratulate them, offer condolences to them, visit them, or partake in their religious celebrations … However it is not forbidden for us to trade with them during it; i.e. their religious festivals, since it entails no respect (ta‘zim) of it.’12 Al-Futuhi stipulated the same about the forbiddance of taking part in such dini festivals, and the allowance of trading with them on such occasions, adding: ‘Because this doesn’t involve any ta‘zim of them.’13
Lastly, Putting things into context, Ibn al-Qayyim wrote: ‘Section: Regarding congratulating them for marriage, a newborn, return of someone long absent, recovery from an illness, and the like, then the narrations from Imam Ahmad about this differ. He allowed it at one time, but forbade it another time. Speech about this is like that concerning visiting them or offering them condolences; there is no distinction between these two … But as for congratulating them on those specific times and occasions that are symbols of their disbelief, then this is forbidden by agreement (ittifaq); like congratulating them on their religious festivals or their fasts, saying: “Festive greetings to you,” or “Congratulations on this festival,” or the like. This, even if the one saying it were free from any disbelief, it is still from what is prohibited.’14 Which is to say, even if one did not intend iqrar or rida, or even ta‘zim; but instead congratulated them on the occasion, not for the occasion, it is forbidden, though not disbelief. And Allah knows best.
Conclusion: In reply to the question with which we began: Did Imam Ahmad and the Hanbali madhhab permit Muslims to congratulate others during the Christmas festive season? the answer is, it seems, a definite no! And those who have said otherwise have erred in the matter. For the Hanbalis, the prohibition on the issue isn’t because doing so entails an acknowledgement or approval of Christianity’s correctness. But because it involves a form of respect forbidden by the shari‘ah. We may be respectful of Christians (and other non-Muslims) in that we are civil, affable, tolerant, and just towards them. But we cannot, as Muslims, respect any expression, act or symbol of disbelief (kufr): But God has endeared faith to you and has beautified it in your hearts; and has made abhorrent to you disbelief, immorality and disobedience. [Q.49:7]
If the legal causation (‘illah) in the other law schools, or in the view of other classical jurists, is also ta‘zim – as it is in the Hanbali school – then it simply will not be possible to offer Christmas greetings; and the matter will be, as Ibn al-Qayyim noted, a point of juristic agreement; a scholarly consensus (ijma‘) of sorts – and thus binding on one and all!
If, however, other madhhabs or jurists hold that the prohibition is tied just to iqrar or rida, then there might be a leeway in offering Christmas greetings. For whenever there is no scholarly consensus (ijma‘) nor juristic agreement on a matter, then the opinion or verdict of any scholar follows this unspoken rule: kalami mu‘lim laysa bi mulzim: ‘My words are instructional, not dictatorial (lit. not binding).’ In other words, a legitimate difference cannot be imposed upon others, or be made into a benchmark issue to determine who is dodgy or not; let alone for cancel culture to be invoked.
Such an investigation into the other madhhabs – on this point – is beyond the scope of this article, and beyond the ability of this author. It’s not just a case of consulting some comparative law manual (fiqh al-muqarin). For such manuals are – as the Shafi‘i faqih and academic, Shaykh al-Afifi once told me – okay on the broad strokes, but often err on the nuances and finer points, or miss them out altogether. No, in order to ascertain what the madhhabs say on such subtle points of law, one must consult highly seasoned jurists of those schools. So I will leave such an inquiry to others, if it hasn’t already been undertaken.
Wa’Llahu a‘lam wa bihi al-tawfiq.
1. Muslim, no.1732.
2. Cited in Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm wa Fadlihi (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1994), no.1467.
3. Abdal Hakim Murad, Contentions 9/73.Rukhas, the plural of rukhsah, while ‘aza’im is plural of ‘azimah – a “strict” religious ruling: a ruling in its original form, without any attendant reason or circumstance that could soften or ease its original force.
4. Al-Bukhari, no.39.
5. As is recorded by al-Qurtubi, Kitab al-Tadhkirah (Riyadh: Maktabah Dar al-Minhaj, 1425H), 800.
6. Consult: Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta’ fatwa on the issue, which can be read here; and the European Council for Fatwa and Research fatwa (Resolution 3/6), which may be read here.
7. Bin Bayyah, Sina‘at al-Fatwa (Beirut: Dar al-Minhaj, 2007), 341.
8. ibid., 341-42.
9. ibid., 342.
10. Al-Mubdi‘ Sharh al-Muqni‘ (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 2003), 3:325. Also cf. al-Mardawi’s encyclopaedic al-Insaf fi Ma‘rifat al-Rajihi min al-Khilaf (n.p. 1956), 4:234, where he stated that the second report from Imam Ahmad is that it is not forbidden, but disliked.
11. Mar‘i b. Yusuf al-Karami, Ghayat al-Muntaha Jam‘ al-Iqna‘ wa’l-Muntaha (Kuwait: Mu’assasah Ghuras, 2007), 1:489.
Often rendered into English as ‘theology’, ‘ilm al-kalam (or kalam, for short) is the science which establishes and elaborates upon matters of doctrine and belief. Because it depends upon reason-based arguments, it is ‘discursive’: hence ‘ilm al-kalam is sometimes referred to as discursive theology. In its more conjectural or philosophical form – a form where it does not play a supportive role to the textual-based conclusions of the Islamic Revelation, but rather infers positions from its own first principles – ‘ilm al-kalam is often referred to as speculative theology. As for those theologians who are practitioners of kalam, they are called mutakallimun.
This article seeks to address four core issues:  The position of kalam in Sunni Islam;  the Hanbali position[s] concerning it;  its pros, cons and true purpose;  its relevance, if any, in today’s intellectually, faith challenging milieu – especially in terms of being able to offer cogent, articulate, Islamically-grounded responses to atheism and scientism.
1.Kalam (lit. ‘speech’, ‘discourse’) about God, using reasoned-based proofs and rational arguments, found its way into early Muslim thought during the Abbasid period, via Arabic translations of the Greek philosophical legacy; particularly that of Aristotle. The earliest Muslim sect to bring this philosophical reasoning to bear upon certain theological issues was the Mu‘tazilah. Their deviancy was to give primacy to reason – that is, to subordinate the texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah, on certain theological matters to do with the nature of God; His Attributes; and free will and predestination, to the dictates of reason. They were known to dismiss, distort or play fast and loose with verses from Revelation or prophetic hadiths, if these didn’t fit in with their Greek-inspired philosophical rationalisations.
2. The early religious authorities, the salaf, recoiled from such kalam, usually with great vehemency. Their opposition to it was unanimous or, according to another reading, close to unanimous. For example, typifying this stiff opposition, Imam al-Shafi‘i stated: ‘We are not people of kalam.‘1 Also from him: ‘Do not oppose the Imams; for the practitioner of kalam will never prosper!’2 Imam Abu Yusuf stated: ‘Whosoever seeks knowledge by way of kalam shall become a heretic (man talaba’l-‘ilm bi’l-kalam tazandaqah).’3 As for Imam Ahmad, his words on the matter include: ‘The practitioner of kalam shall never prosper; nor do you ever see anyone looking into kalam, save that in his heart is corruption.’4 And: ‘Do not sit with the people of kalam, even if they are defending the Sunnah.’5 This latter saying of Imam Ahmad suggests there was some sort of Sunni kalam in vogue, as opposed to the widespread Mu‘tazilite one that the like of the above salaf-reports were apparently addressing, and that ostensibly he seemed to reject even that.
3. In contrast to a large volley of reports from our early Imams against indulging in kalam, there are a handful of statements from some of them which state that kalam is lawful, so long as it was used to prop-up the conclusions of Revelation and ijma‘ of the salaf, rather than to subjugate, falsify, or twist them. From them is this saying from al-Shafi‘i: ‘Every person of kalam upon the Qur’an and Sunnah possesses diligence; every other upon the foundation of other than the Book and the Sunnah is delirious.’6 After relating this, as well as other comparable words from him, Imam al-Bayhaqi then stated: ‘In these reports is a proof that what is reprehensible of kalam is that which is not rooted in the Book and the Sunnah.’7
4. Imam al-Bayhaqi also wrote: ‘In this is an indication that it is undesirable, according to those of our Imams who stipulated it, to argue via kalam, for the reasons we have shown; and because the reprehensible type of kalam is that of the innovators who oppose the Book and the Sunnah. As for the kalam which conforms to the Book and the Sunnah, and is elucidated rationally and wisely, then such kalam is praiseworthy and desirable when called for. Al-Shafi‘i utilised it, as did others from our Imams – may God be pleased with them – whenever it was needed; and as we have already mentioned.’8
5. The distinction between blameworthy and praiseworthy kalam began to gain traction among the scholars. Eventually, pro-kalam theology prevailed within Sunni Orthodoxy: as represented by the Ash‘ari and Maturidi schools of theology. However, there remained a voice of dissent, primarily from the more purist, fideistic Hanbalis/Salafis. This approach ranged from an overall rejection of kalam; to a shy flirtation with it; through to a guarded, tempered acceptance of it.9
6.Those who employed ‘ilm al-kalam contended that in order to confront the arguments of various non-Muslims in the vastly expanding Islamic empire, and to engage with the polemics challenging orthodoxy over the nature of divinity and faith, the rationalising methods of heterodox sects like the philosophers and Mu’tazilites needed to be used so as to rebut them on their own turf. Ibn Khaldun stated about the kalam which came to be associated with Sunni orthodoxy: ‘This is the science which involves arguing in defence of the articles of faith, by using rational proofs, in refuting the innovators who have deviated in their beliefs from those of the salaf and Sunni Orthodoxy (ahl al-sunnah).’10 Of course, even from the pro-kalam viewpoint, there were always individuals who went into excess concerning it, or who sometimes simply lost the actual plot!
7. In asserting what he considered to be the middle ground on the issue of ‘ilm al-kalam, Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani had this to say about it:‘So fortunate is he who clings to what the salaf were upon and avoids what the latecomers (khalaf) innovated. If he cannot, then let him take from it only that which is required; and let the original way be his intended goal (wa yaj‘al al-awwal al-maqsud bi’l-asalah).’11
8. Of all scholarly groupings, the outright rejection of kalam is usually associated with the Hanbalis. Now as prevalent as this notion is, by no means is it the full story. Whilst there is an absolutist, anti-kalam stance amongst Hanbalis, the historical truth of the matter is that there is a pro-kalam stance too. The anti-kalam sentiment is best exemplified by Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi, a pillar of the madhhab, who wrote a scathing tract against delving into any sort of kalam, rebutting the Hanbali polymath Ibn ‘Aqil for having done so. In it he wrote, with the usual characteristic hostility of a purist against kalam: ‘As for him [i.e. Ibn ‘Aqil], his faction consist of the people of kalam. To speak of them is only to censure them, to warn against them, to cause [people] to flee from associating with them, to order abandoning and shunning them, and to abandon looking into their books.’ He then cites Imam Ahmad, al-Shafi‘i and Abu Yusuf in their rebuke of kalam and then he wrote: ‘And Ahmad b. Ishaq al-Maliki declared: “The people of innovations and [false] desires, in the view of our [Maliki] colleagues, are the people of kalam. So every person of kalam is from the followers of false desires and innovations, be he an Ash‘ari, or not. No testimony of his should be accepted. He should be ostracised and punished for his innovation. And if he persists in it, his repentance should be sought.’12 This anti-kalam stance holds that there simply isn’t anything reliable or decisive from Imam Ahmad on the issue to render lawful the deployment of kalam.
9. As for the pro-kalam stance, Ibn Hamdan, one of the leading Hanbali authorities of his age, explained: ‘The science of blameworthy kalam (‘ilm al-kalam al-madhmum) is when the articles of faith (usul al-din) are spoken about using only reason, or contravene clear-cut textual proofs. But if it is spoken about using textual proofs alone, or textual proofs accompanied by reason which supports them, then this is the [true] usul al-din and the path of ahl al-sunnah and its adherents.’13
10. Ibn Muflih, another towering authority of the school, discussed the Hanbali school’s stance on kalam at some length. After quoting an imposing salvo of reports from Imam Ahmad in terms of his dhamm al-kalam, or ‘censure of kalam’, the pro-kalam arguments are then made. Here, Ibn Muflih quotes Ibn Abi Ya‘la as asserting that ‘the correct stance in the madhhab is that the science of discursive theology (‘ilm al-kalam) is prescribed and sanctioned’ so as to refute the innovators. Such was the opinion of a party of the school’s verificationsists (muhaqqiqun), including Qadi Abu Ya‘la and al-Tamimi. He noted how Imam Ahmad himself wrote al-Radd ‘ala’l-Zanadiqah wa’l-Qadariyyah ‘in which he relied upon rational arguments’ to demolish the false ideas of the deviants. Ibn Abi Ya‘la then says: ‘What the earlier scholars held to of Ahmad’s words were abrogated. Ahmad said, as reported by Hanbal: “We used to order silence. But when we were called to the affair, it was incumbent for us to defend it and clarify the matter.”‘14 The ‘affair’ being referred to was the inquisition unleashed against those upon the orthodox belief that the Qur’an is the uncreated Word of God, and his ‘defence’ of it was by using rational-based arguments; in other words, kalam.
11. Now whether Imam Ahmad’s later words abrogate his earlier ones, or whether it’s just a case of contextualising the Imam’s words, is an area of disagreement among pro-kalam Hanbalis. For while a group of them, such as Ibn Abi Ya‘la, held to the view of abrogation, others held to the more preferable view of jam‘; harmonisation. This is the stance which holds that Imam Ahmad employed kalam arguments when he believed there was a need, and refrained from it when he believed there wasn’t. Having cited the above words of Ibn Hamdan, al-Buhuti notes: ‘The statement of Ibn Hamdan is like a harmonisation between the two views [of forbiddance or allowance]; and this is preferable over abrogation. What supports this is the report from al-Marrudhi [that Imam Ahmad said]: “I am not a person of kalam. I do not view kalam in anything except if it be in the Book of Allah, the Hadith of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ, or from any of his companions; may Allah be pleased with them, or one of the tabi‘un. As for other than these, then speech concerning it is not praiseworthy.” Related by al-Khallal.’15 In other words, whatever stands in opposition to the conclusions of the Book, the Sunnah, or a salaf-report, even if it appears to be rationally justifiable, is blameworthy.
12. As for Ibn Taymiyyah, his take on kalam and its nomenclature, as involved and highly complicated as it is, is most likely best represented in this passage from him: ‘The point being is that Ahmad would infer by way of rational proofs about propositions concerning Divinity, provided they were sound. What he censured was whatever opposed the Book or Sunnah, speech without knowledge, or speech [with] innovated meanings in the religion (al-kalam al-mubtadi‘ fi’l-din) … He [i.e. Imam Ahmad] was not averse to – if the meanings of the Book or the Sunnah were known – leaving [textual] terms for other terminologies, if a need for this presented itself. In fact, he did this himself. Rather, what he despised were innovated meanings (al-ma‘ani al-mubtadi‘ah) in this – i.e. in [theological issues] people were arguing about, such as [the nature of] the Qur’an; the Beatific Vision, Pre-Destiny or the Divine Attributes – except what conforms to the Book, the Sunnah, or reports from the sahabah or tabi‘un.‘16 Ibn Taymiyyah’s point is that using kalam terminology is risky. For while the correct sense of the meanings may be established, such terms all too easily lend themselves to notions that are false, ambiguous, or inappropriate for God; or are at odds with established texts or salaf-reports. His main contention appears to be with the kalam conception of hulul al-hawadith – that contingencies do not indwell in the Divine Essence, and how such an ambiguous turn of phrase, whilst perfectly sound from one angle (that nothing created subsists in God and that God’s attributes aren’t created), is used to negate those acts of God he designates as af’al al-ikhtiyariyyah – “God’s chosen acts:” in that God acts, creates and speaks as He wills, whenever He wills.
13. So what conclusion can we draw about the Hanbali school’s view about ‘ilm al-kalam? Well the obvious one is that the school doesn’t have a single, unified stance. The reason is that the various reports concerning Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal’s attitude towards kalam lead to vastly different conclusions. Undoubtedly, there is his clear condemnation of it; and yet there are words from him that permit it. And then there is his al-Radd ‘ala’l-Jahmiyyah, a slim tract refuting certain innovators; not just with textual proofs, but with rational based arguments to support the textual assertions. Taking all of this into consideration, the later leading Hanbali authorities – particularly those whose manuals, commentaries and super commentaries of fiqh have now become the standard, relied-upon texts for teaching and fatwas over the past six hundred years – tended to adopt the view that ‘ilm al-kalam was lawful and legislated. Its role, however, was not as a discoverer of truths, but as a rational support to those axiomatic creedal truths found in Revelation. Ibn Hamdan’s 7th Islamic century Nihayat al-Mubtadi’in fi Usul al-Din has found widespread acceptance among the cream of Hanbali scholars – such as Ibn Muflih, al-Mardawi, al-Hajjawi, al-Buhuti and al-Safarini – and has been authoritatively cited by them. The same hold for its abridgement, Qala’id al-‘Iqyan, by Ibn Balban in the 11th century.17
14. Before discussing how relevant the ‘ilm al-kalam project is for today, let me address its role in the pre-modern Muslim scholastic period, as explained by non other than Imam al-Ghazali. As a sort of epilogue to his Jerusalem Creed, al-Ghazali outlines the pros and cons of kalam, explaining that the Islamic ‘aqidah which Muslims should know is not the same as kalam theology – which is there to support the ‘aqidah and protect it from heresies. He explained: ‘In it there is benefit and harm. As for its benefit, in those situations where it is beneficial it is ruled lawful, recommended or obligatory according to the circumstances. As for its harm, it is forbidden whenever and for whoever it is harmful. Its harms are that it creates doubts and unsettle beliefs, which [then] no longer rest of certitude and resolute conviction. This is something which happens at the outset, and there is no guarantee that he will ever win it back through [rational] proofs; for it differs from person to person. This, then, is its harm to sound beliefs.’18 The believer, yearning above all else to seek the Face of God, will pay this matter much heed.
15. Continuing the theme of kalam’s potential harms, the Imam said: ‘It has another harm, [namely] it hardens the beliefs of the heretics (al-mubtadi‘ah) in their heresy (bid‘ah) and strengthens it in their hearts, in that it riles them up and increases their resolve to persist in it. Such harm, however, arises from bigotry born of argumentation. This is why you see the ordinary, unlearned heretic (al-mubtadi‘a al-‘ammi) quickly dissuaded from his belief through gentleness, unless he has been raised in a place where argumentation or zealotry are rife; in which case if all mankind, from the first to the last, united together to remove it from his heart, they would be unable to. For desire, zealotry and contempt for his rivals or opponents so grip his heart, and thus blinds him to the truth … Such is the fatal disease that plagues cities and people; the sort of corruption caused by partisan disputation. This also is its harm.’19 In light of that, there’s little we can do save to seek Allah’s refuge from our self-serving egos masquerading as truth-seekers!
16. On the benefits of kalam, the Ghazalian insight may come as a surprise to some: ‘As for its benefit, it might be expected that it is to uncover truths and to know them as they truly are. If only that were so! Kalam theology is simply unable to fulfill this noble aim, and it probably confuses and misguides more than it reveals or teaches. If you had heard this from a hadith scholar or hashawi-literalist, you might have thought: “People are an enemy to what they don’t know.” So hear this instead from one highly versed in kalam; who left it after gaining mastery of it; who plunged its depths as far as any theologian can; who then went onto immerse himself in other sciences closely related to kalam, before realising that the path to the realities of gnosis (haqa’iq al-ma‘rifah) was barred from this angle. By my life, kalam theology is not void of revealing, defining or clarifying some issues, but it does so rarely, and about matters that are already evident or that could probably be understood without delving into the art of kalam at all. Rather, it has one single benefit: to guard the common man’s creed that we have just outlined [in the Jerusalem Creed], and protect it by way of argument from the misgivings of heretics. For the common man is weak and can be unsettled by a heretic’s argument, even if corrupt. Yet something corrupt may be rebutted with something [less] corrupt; whereas people are only responsible for the creed we have previously outlined.’20
17. In Muslim Spain, some two centuries after al-Ghazali, Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi (a celebrated Maliki jurist, legalist and exegist) felt that he could speak to the role of kalam theology in these terms: ‘As for the heretics, their words mustn’t be related, nor are their arguments to be rehearsed: unless their is a need for it. In which case, one may occupy themselves with rebutting them, just as ‘Ali and Ibn ‘Abbas did when the matter of the Khawarij began to spread. This is what called the leading mutakallimun, such as Abu’l-Hasan al-Ash‘ari, Abu Bakr b. al-Tayyib, and others; may God have mercy upon them, to speak about this when the various heretical sects arouse in their time. But as for our age, God has relieved us of this duty since they [the heretical sects] do not exist; especially in the lands of West Africa and Andalusia. Hence in our time, their views should not be turned to, nor made to cross any heart or ear, because it is harmful, and without any benefit. For the potential benefits of refuting them is meaningless in their absence. For the harms it contains, of falling into the forbidden, opposing the salaf, or darkening the heart, are all present and possible for whoever concerns himself with it.’21 Or to put it another way, Ibn Juzayy is insisting that kalam theology is a medicine that must be administered at the right time, and in the right dosage. In the absence of an illness, there simply is no need to administer a remedy. To do so would be pointless; more than that, might it not actually create an illness where there was none before? What is also worth remembering is that while discursive arguments no doubt have their place, sometimes one just needs to listen to the inner voice of conscience or fitrah in terms of intuiting or feeling the presence of God.
18. This brings us nicely on to our final concern: Does kalam theology have any relevance today? And if so, what? Well obviously we live in an age where false beliefs and heresies abound everywhere, and most Muslims are exposed to them from a very early age. Islands of Andalusian cocoons that Ibn Juzayy spoke of no longer exist. There isn’t a meaningful place called “the Muslim world;” and if there is, it has been so diluted and distorted with alien ideas, ideologies and attitudes so as to render the very idea defunct. Of course, there are individual Muslim minds and hearts that mostly reside in majority Muslim countries and societies. But even if such societies did put up resistance to the political ideologies which swept over them, they have been far less critical of the philosophical propositions modernity insists on. And this is the deeper concern for any continued, authentic sense of Muslimness. As for Muslims living in the West, in one sense, their faith-based dilemmas are acuter still. And so it must be that every Muslim should acquaint themselves with the sound Islamic creed or ‘aqidah; the correct set of Islamic beliefs each Muslim is mandated by the religion to know and to hold. To assume that just because one is Muslim, that one already knows all this stuff will, in all likelihood, be a blunder of seismic proportion!
19. The best way to do the above is through an intelligent and informed manner. And this is by either embarking upon a very short study of an authoritative ‘aqidah text which has met with continued scholarly approval throughout the centuries, or by reading such an ‘aqidah text by oneself, asking a qualified scholar for any further clarifications one may have. The objective isn’t to become a fully-fledged theologian, or to dive into debates and disputations with other Muslims. But rather to meet our Lord and Maker with sound belief concerning God, His prophets, scripture, pre-decree and faith. The Jerusalem Creed has already been mentioned. An even more accepted text, for layman and scholar alike, is the Tahawiyyah Creed. The idea is to keep it short and simple so as to know as a minimum the beliefs one is personally obliged to know. One just revisits or revises this creed on a yearly basis, in order to keep it all intact or dust any cobwebs off.
20. One highly relevant thing to come out of the kalam project, and of theology in general, is that ‘aqidah has three levels. There’s what can be called [i]Essential ‘aqidah:These are beliefs that are the dividing line between faith (iman) and disbelief (kufr); beliefs that are indispensable to hold, as well as beliefs one cannot possibly hold, so as to be Muslim. Such beliefs come under the rubric of: al-ma‘lum min al-din bi’l-darurah – ‘things that are known by necessity to be part of the [Islamic] religion’; and about which – unless one is a recent convert, or a Muslim raised outside a Muslim family or society – ignorance brooks no excuse. [ii]Orthodox ‘aqidah: These are beliefs that form a boundary between rightly-guided orthodoxy, and heresy; beliefs that, when one comes to reliably know of them, one is required to accept it. Prior to that, one may be excused for not knowing them. One who rejects such a belief, due to the knowledge not being clear to him, or inaccessible to him, or because it is something beyond what one is reasonably expected to understand, yet he stills holds to Islam’s essential beliefs, is a Muslim – albeit perhaps a heretical Muslim; but Muslim nonetheless. [iii] Personal ‘aqidah: beliefs that theologians legitimately differ over. Such beliefs, regardless if one holds one view or the other; or refrains from taking a position, has no bearing at all on one’s piety, orthodoxy, or ultimate standing with God.22
21. A greater recognition of such distinctions would bring about greater tolerance among Muslims. Teachers of Islamic theology are duty bound to explain that while orthodoxy is doubtlessly the ‘aqidah of ahl al-sunnah wa’l-jama‘ah; i.e. what Sunnis believe, only some of their issues speak to the difference between iman and kufr: the rest are matters which other Muslims may disagree with, yet still remain Muslim. Such was the pious caution of our past Imams, that whilst they would have no problem judging a particular belief to be actual disbelief (kufr), if the textual proofs clearly warranted it, they would be extremely cautious to the nth degree about making takfir upon a specific individual who held such a belief. Al-Dhahabi relates by way of al-Bayhaqi; who relates from Abu Hazim al-‘Abdawi; that Zahir b. Ahmad al-Sarkhasi said: ‘When death came to Abu’l-Hasan al-Ash‘ari, in my home in Baghdad, he called me and so I came to him, and he said: “Be my witness, I do not declare anyone a disbeliever who prays towards the qibla. For each directs themselves to the One whom alone is worshipped, while all of this [kalam controversy] is but different expressions.”’ Al-Dhahabi then stated: ‘This is my religious view [too]. So too, our shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah, who used to say in his last days: “I do not declare anyone of this ummah to be a disbeliever,” and he would relate that the Prophet ﷺ said: “No one but a believer [faithfully] performs ablution”23 [and then say]: “Thus whoever regularly attends prayers with ablution is a Muslim.”‘24
22. After affirming God’s utter perfection and transcendence above every imperfection or need, where kalam theology really comes into its stride is in furnishing us with proofs for what is rationally necessary (wajib), possible (mumkin) or impossible (mustahil) for God; especially proofs for the necessary existence of God. In its simplest, bare bone form, the kalam cosmological argument goes like this: [i] All that begins to exist must have a cause for its existence. [ii] The universe began to exist. [iii] Therefore the universe must have a cause for its existence. One can rationally infer from the conclusion to the above syllogism that this Cause must be uncaused; omnipotent; possessed of intelligence, knowledge and volition; different to the stuff of the universe; not subject to the material existence of time or space, and therefore immaterial. In other words, this uncaused Cause is God! Eminent Muslim theologians aside, great rational minds in our time continue to uphold the kalam argument for God’s existence, with great philosophical craft and gusto. The most famed of them being Dr. William Lane Craig who defends it from contemporary criticism in his The Kalam Cosmological Argument. If we add to this kalam assertion, evidence from the fine tuning of the universe; and modern cosmology – as in notable works like Martin Rees’ Just Six Numbers, Keith Ward’s God, Chance & Necessity, or John C Lennox’s God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? – there are powerful reasons to believe in the God of Abrahamic monotheism, and that science actually points to theism rather than atheism. Given that in today’s world, atheistic philosophies like naturalism and scientism continue to challenge or erode the essential belief of many Muslims, more than do the heresies of the Mu‘tazilah or the Jahmiyyah, such books are far more relevant and needed for a defence of theism, or to shore up one’s personal faith, than are classical works of kalam theology.
23. Since there are some critiques of the kalam argument’s two premises – that everything that came into existence must have a cause for its existence, and that the universe had a beginning – let’s briefly address them. One objection to the first premise asks: What is the proof that every contingent thing needs a cause? Obviously there’s no directly measurable or observable proof when it comes to the universe’s beginning. It’s not like we can create the event again and then watch it. However, it is a rational first principle that something cannot come from nothing: out of nothing, nothing comes. It is a truth that we rationally intuit if we give it some reasoned thought. Moreover, if something can come into being without a cause, then why doesn’t just anything or everything come into being without a cause? Why doesn’t money, MacBooks or Muhammad Ali pop into being out of nothing? Even quantum particles that appear to pop in and out of existence from nothing, actually come from something: a quantum vacuum that is teeming with virtual particles. Again, as we observe the natural world, we see that things don’t just pop into existence uncaused from nothing. We proceed on the well-observed, empirically established basis that things that begin to exist have causes. This conviction lies at the heart of the scientific method. Without it, one couldn’t or just wouldn’t do science! For if things didn’t have causes, why investigate them or try to connect the dots? The second premise has a lot of solid science behind it, in terms of the expanding universe; the Big Bang; or the microwave background radiation left over from it. Scientists feel, that despite certain gaps in their knowledge, or despite things needing to be ironed out in the overall theory (like the arbitrary inflation of the early cosmos, or justifying the current rate of expansion), they are on reliable grounds about the universe coming into existence after not existing. Thus, since both the premises are valid, the conclusion is true: the universe had a cause which needs explaining. Every other inquiry must play second fiddle to this meta question of cause. So while an atheist will have to find fault with this line of reasoning, it would be absolutely untrue to say that theistic belief, such as Islam’s, has no proof or basis; that it’s all just blind faith!
24. To conclude: As intellectual attacks on Islam increase; as universal literacy gets closer to the horizon; and as ever more people seek answers from Islam for a variety of reasons, there is a need for intelligent, articulate, Islamically-rooted answers – especially in terms of rational coherence, scientific literacy and liveable relevancy. Blind imitation of ethnic Islam will become less relevant to people, and even less capable of fulfilling intellectual and spiritual needs. As for well-written dialectical critiques of modernity’s philosophical premises, assumptions and conclusions; or addressing attacks on religion from scientism or other modern, atheistic philosophies, books that come to mind which are well suited to this task include: Gai Eaton’s King of the Castle, Huston Smith’s Beyond the Post Modern Mind, Jonathan Sack’s The Persistence of Faith and Abdal Hakim Murad’s recent Travelling Home. Such works are required reading for this epic duty, in a way scholastic works from pre-modern times obviously are not.
25. In respect to the traditional goals of kalam theology – defining the content of what is and is not faith, demonstrating its harmony with logic and sound reason, and furnishing arguments to help be personally convinced about it – this is as relevant today as it was in past times. In that spirit and enterprise of classical kalam theology, Muslim theologians in our day and age have a three-fold collective duty (fard kifayah): Firstly,they must continue to establish proofs for the existence of God, in a way that resonates with the contemporary science-shaped mind; using arguments from necessity, design, and fine tuning. Secondly, they must respond to scientism, as it brashly theologises away belief in God, strengthens its totalitarian monopoly on what constitutes knowledge, and elevates presuppositions of naturalism to ultimate truths; without evidential proof. Thirdly, to continue to promote tolerance between Muslims, in terms of what beliefs form the dividing line between belief and disbelief. Let me end with Nuh Keller’s words that ‘one of the most important lessons that the history of kalam can teach; that if Muslims cannot expect to agree on everything in matters of faith, they can at least agree on the broad essentials, and not to let their differences descend from their heads to their hearts.’25
And God alone is the Granter of guidance and grace.
1. Quoted in al-Harawi, Dhamm al-Kalam wa Ahlihi (Madinah: Maktabah al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam, 1996), 6:102; no.1161.
2. ibid., 6:109; no.1172.
3. As per Ibn Qutaybah,Ta’wil Mukhtalif al-Hadith (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1999), 113; al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, Sharafu Asahab al-Hadith (Cairo: Maktabah Ibn Taymiyyah, 1996), no.2.
4. Cited in Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm wa Fadlihi (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1994), 942; no.1796.
5. Ibn al-Jawzi, Manaqib Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Hajr, 1984), 210.
6. Al-Bayhaqi, Manaqib al-Shafi‘i (Cairo: Dar al-Turath, 1970), 1:470.
9. The views of the Hanbali scholars, and a birds-eye view of Imam Ahmad’s own stances on ‘ilm al-kalam, is presented in the second section.
10. Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddamah (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1998), 440.
11. Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo: Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2013), 16:251.
12. Tahrim al-Nazr fi Kutub al-Kalam (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutuib, 1990), 41-42.
13. Kitab Sifat al-Mufti wa’l-Mustafti (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Sumay‘i, 2015), 225-6.
14. Ibn Muflih, al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1996), 1:219-29.
16. Dar’ Ta‘arud al-‘Aql wa’l-Naql (Saudi Arabia: Jami‘ah al-Imam Muhammad b. Sa‘ud al-Islamiyyah, 1991), 7:155.
17. Ibn Balban’s Qala’id al-‘Iqyan was republished in a fine critical edition (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2010), with a rich and exhaustive commentary. The commentary cites copiously from the likes of the above Hanbali jurist-theologians on each issue. Moreover, an English translation of the text of the Qala’id, with the accompanying Arabic, is given in: J. Starling (tr.), Qala’id al-Iqyan, n.p. 2020.
18. Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2011), 1:354.
19. ibid., 1:354-55.
20. ibid., 1:355-56.
21. Al-Nur al-Mubin fi Qawa‘id ‘Aqa’id al-Din (Tunis: Dar Imam Ibn ‘Arafah, 2015), 111.
What follows is a presentation of the basic essentials of Hanbali fiqh. Rather than use any one text, I have distilled these rulings from four relied-upon (mu’tamad) primers in the school: Ibn Qudamah’s ‘Umdat al-Fiqh; Ibn Balban’s Akhsar al-Mukhtasarat; al-Qudumi’s al-Ajwibat al-Jaliyyah and al-Hajjawi’s Zad al-Mustaqni‘.
The plan, God-willing, is to serialise these fiqh essentials over the coming weeks and months; commencing with purification.
OUTLINE: Purification is the “key to prayer” and a precondition for its performance. Though it is not itself one of the pillars (arkan) of the religion, purification as a juristic matter occupies a significant position, attested to by the fact that its treatment in the fiqh literature occupies space roughly equal to that of each of the four pillars: namely prayer, zakat, fasting and pilgrimage. The topic of purification not only discusses the body and bodily secretions, it also extends to clothing, the place intended for prayer, the water used for washing, utensils and containers, as well as the types of impurities.
PURIFICATION (taharah): Lexically, it means: cleanliness from filth. Legally it means: lifting the state of ritual impurity (hadath) or whatever is similar to it, and the removal of physical impurities (najasat).
PUBERTY (bulugh): The signs of puberty are three: (i) The completion of fifteen lunar years for a male or female. (ii) Nocturnal emission (or ‘wet dream’) for both males or females from the age of nine. (iii) Menstruation for a female starting from the age of nine. Puberty commences with any one of the three signs.
TYPES OF WATER (aqsam al-miya): Water is of three types: (i) tahur – both pure and purifying; which is water that remains upon its natural state; (ii) tahir – pure, but not purifying; water whose colour, taste or smell has been altered by being mixed with a pure substance, (iii) najas – impure; water that has had any one of its three properties (colour, taste or odour) altered by an impure substance.
IMPURITIES (najasat): Impurities refer to impure substances which one must avoid or wash-off if they should happen to contaminate one’s clothes, body, etc. They are:
(i) Carrion (flesh of the dead) – except for humans; locusts; the dead from the sea; and creatures with no running blood like bees, ants, etc. (ii) Blood that flows forth, such as from a slaughtered animal or menstral bleeding; though a tiny amount is overlooked. (iii) Pigs. (iv) Dogs. (v) Human urine; excrement; vomit; puss; and blood – except that a tiny amount of vomit, puss or blood is overlooked in prayer. (vi) Prostatic fluid (madhi) discharged when one is sexually aroused; and wadi – a thick white liquid secreted by some after urination; but not mani: sperm. (vii) Intoxicants (khamr) – liquid and solid like alcohol or cocane. (viii) Animals or birds that cannot be legally eaten and that are larger in size than a cat; as are their leftovers. (ix) Animals that are lawful to consume but the majority of whose feed is impure – their urine, dung and milk are considered impure. (x) Flesh, or bones, cut-off from a living creature, such as a foreleg of a living, unslaughtered sheep. (xi) Hides of unlawfully slaughtered animals, as well as those of dead animals that have not been slaughtered, even if they have been tanned.
REMOVING IMPURITIES (izalat al-najasat): Impurities can be removed by washing, wiping, sprinkling or scrubbing with water. Any vessel or utensil a dog licks must be washed seven times, the first time with earth.
LAVATORY MANNERS (adab al-khala’): It is recommended (mustahabb) to enter the toilet with one’s left foot and exit with one’s right foot; and before entering, to say: “In the name of Allah. I seek refuge in Allah from the male and female devils;” and after leaving, to utter: “I seek Your forgiveness. All praise be to Allah who has removed what is harmful from me and kept me healthy;” and be out of sight of others as is practically or reasonably possible.
It is offensive (makruh) to: enter it with something containing Allah’s name except if there is a pressing need (hajah); to talk without a pressing need; to touch one’s private part with the right hand or cleanse oneself with it. If one sneezes or hears the call to prayer, he responds silently in his heart.
It is prohibited (haram) to enter it with the Qur’an, or any portion of it, even if it is in a covering; unless there is a pressing need to do so. It is prohibitted to face the direction of prayer (qiblah) or turn one’s back to it while relieving oneself – if in an open space; or to relieve oneself on pathways or anywhere else that may offend people’s sense of civic sensibility. There is no problem urinating while standing, even when there is no pressing need; provided one can guard against urine splashes and that one’s private part not be exposed to others.
It is obligatory (wajib) to clean whatever exits from the front and rear private parts. To clean oneself with stones or another solid substance (istijmar) and to then use water (istinja), is recommended. It is permissible (ja’iz) to use only one of the two, in which case water is preferable. It is an obligation to use as many stones or the like as needed, but no fewer than three stones, when cleansing oneself from urine or faeces – if one is not using water afterwards.
In terms of studying any discipline so as to gain some degree of proficiency, two things must be born in mind: the need to learn step-by-step, as well as the need for a qualified teacher.
Learning in stages/step-by-step (bi tadarruj) can be gleaned from the following words of the Prophet, peace be on him: inna hadha’l-dina matin fa awghilu fihi bi rifq – ‘Verily this religion is strong, so go through it gently.’ [Ahmad, Musnad, 3:199]
Received wisdom here comes in the form of this remark: man rama al-‘ilma jumlatan dhahaba ‘anhu jumlatan – ‘Whoever acquires knowledge all at once, shall lose it all at once.’ Also: izdihamu’l-‘ilm fi’l-sami‘ madallatu’l-fahm – ‘Cramming knowledge into the hearing, causes understanding to be lost.’
For the serious mutafaqqih or “student of fiqh,” Ibn Qudamah (d.620H/1223CE), one of the most highly celebrated jurists in the Hanbali madhhab, penned a series of fiqh texts which would take the seeker from a beginner level, to an intermediate one, and finally to becoming an accomplished jurist or faqih.
The first text is a primer in Hanbali law, and is aptly called al-‘Umdah: “The Reliance”. It gives the relied upon (mu‘tamad) rulings of the school, containing minimum proofs.
Next is al-Muqni‘: “The Satisfier” which introduces two or more views of the school on any one given issue or mas’alah.
The third manual is al-Kafi: “The Sufficer”. It is just above an intermediate level, again relating only the relied upon position, but this time with copious proofs for each issue in preperation for the task of ijtihad and how each ruling relates to the proof-texts. In some issues, more than one opinion is related.
The last work is the highly-advanced, magesterial al-Mughni: “The Enricher”. It builds on the previous texts by relating the positions of the mujtahid imams of other schools: discussing their differences and proof-texts; their juristic merits, rationales, strengths and weaknesses; and then concluding with his own preferred view. In most issues, his conclusions agree with the Hanbali madhhab; in some instances they do not.
The above is an example of the gradual, step-by-step method orthodox scholarship has always adhered to; a method which produced as its fair fruits the great jurists of Sunni Islam. As for gaining fiqh by way of fiqh al-maqarin, “comparative law,” without first being grounded in any one madhhab, this would be laughable if it were not so reckless and dangerous.
Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi wrote the above books in the seventh century. The Hanbali madhhab, like other law schools, continued to develop since then. Texts and manuals penned by later jurist-authors have tended to be the ones taught, studied and used for fatwas in centuries after. Ibn Badran (d.1346H/1927CE), one of the last great Hanbali scholars of the previous century, advises the following course of study for learning the madhhab:
Commence with Ibn Balban’s primer, Akhsar al-Mukhtasarat, or al-Buhuti’s ‘Umdat al-Talib. Then progress to Ibn Qudamah’s al-‘Umdah; if unavailable, then Mar‘i b. Yusuf al-Karmi’s Dalil al-Talib. Following this intermediary level, al-Buhuti’s Rawd al-Murbi‘ should be studied. The final level of progression, al-Bahuti’s Sharh Muntaha al-Iradat is engaged with.
He further writes that, upon completion of the first two levels, one studies a primer in Islamic legal theory (usul al-fiqh). The text he recommends is al-Juwayni’s Waraqat. And that while studying Sharh al-Muntaha at the final level, Ibn Qudamah’s Rawdat al-Nazir in legal theory is also studied.1
Of course, this is not the only Hanbali curriculum that can or should be followed. Instead, what is important is that one is guided by a qualified teacher in this matter, and that a step-by-step curriculum is actually adhered too (man dakhala fi talab al-‘ilm bila shaykh kharaja bila ‘ilm – ‘Whoever seeks knowledge without a teacher, will leave without knowledge’). This has been the tried, tested and fruitful way down through the centuries. In stark contrast, the do-it-yourself method has resulted in little more than religious anarchy, mayhem and chaos. Things, in this sense, need not be fixed if they aren’t broken.
1. Ibn Badran, al-Madkhal ila Madhhab al-Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1981), 487-89.