Religiously, bid‘ah has been defined by the scholars with slightly varying expressions, all of which revolve around the idea expressed by Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali: الْمُرَاد بِالْبِدْعَةُ: مَا أُحْدِثَ مِمّا لَا أَصْلَ لَهُ فِي ِالشَّرِيْعَةِ يَدُلُّ عَلَيْه – ‘What is meant by bid‘ah is: That which is newly-introduced, having no basis in the Sacred Law to substantiate it.’1 Although the definitions of bid‘ah given by the classical scholars vary in terms of how they articulate it (something I hope to discuss in a future post), they don’t differ in terms of its essential meaning: that which has no basis in the shari‘ah – neither in the Qur’an, the Sunnah, scholarly consensus (ijma‘), or analogy (qiyas).
In a similar vein to the above, Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah wrote: ْوَاَمَّا الْبِدْعَةُ الشَّرْعِيَّةُ فَمَا لَم يَدُلُّ عَلَيْهِ دَلِيْل شرعي – ‘As for bid‘ah in the religious sense, it is whatever is not proven by a shari‘ah proof.’2
Now Ibn Taymiyyah’s view on bid‘ah, or [reprehensible] religious innovation is rooted, not just in an act not having a basis in the shari‘ah, but also in it not having a precedent in the practice or ‘aml of the salaf. So he says about performing optional prayers during the 15th night of Sha‘ban (not to be confused with the innovated prayer of Sha‘ban, called salat al-alfiyyah – “the Prayer of One-Thousand Quls”):
‘Hadiths and salaf-reports about the virtues of the middle night [of Sha‘ban] have been related. It is also reported about a group of the salaf that they would pray during the night. Thus the prayer of someone praying individually during the night has a precedent with some of the salaf, and therefore stands as a proof for it. So it cannot be objected to.’3
The same principle applies to using dhikr beads (subhah). Historically, al-Shawkani said: ‘It is not related from any of the salaf, or the khalaf, that they forbade the permissibility of dhikr beads. Rather, many of them would use it to count upon and did not view it as being disliked (makruh).’4 Given the basis for it in the ‘aml of some of the salaf, Ibn Taymiyyah unsurprisingly said: ‘As for counting on a string of beads or something similar, there were some who held it as disliked and others who did not. If the intention in doing so is sound, then it is something good and not disliked.’5
Then there’s reciting the Qur’an with the intention of transferring, or gifting, its reward to the deceased (isal al-thawab). The very mention of it will often incense some people and make them extremely uppity. Yet Ibn al-Qayyim tells us this historical reality: ‘Scholars have differed about bodily acts of worship like fasting, prayer, reciting the Qur’an and dhikr. The opinion of Ahmad and the majority of the salaf is that their benefits do indeed reach the deceased.6 Again, we read from Ibn Taymiyyah: ‘As for the reward of bodily acts of worship reaching [the deceased], like recitation [of the Qur’an], prayer or fasting, then the view of Ahmad, Abu Hanifah, and a group of the companions of Malik and al-Shafi‘i is that it [the reward] does reach them. The opinion of most of the companions of Malik and al-Shafi‘i was that it doesn’t reach them; and Allah knows best.’7 In other words, given the legitimate difference among the salaf, the act cannot be objected to.
It’s along these very same lines why he doesn’t allow celebrating the yearly mawlid/milad of the Prophet ﷺ, since it lacks a practical precedence from the salaf. Thus he wrote:
‘Such is also the case with the practice which some people have newly-introduced, either because of imitation of the Christians in their observance of Christmas, or out of love and reverence for the Prophet ﷺ – and Allah will reward them for their love and effort, not for their bid‘ah – which is the annual celebration of the Prophet’s birthday ﷺ: even with the difference of opinion over his actual date of birth. The salaf never did such a thing, even though there was a positive benefit in doing so and there was nothing to prevent them from actualising it. If this practice had been good, either entirely or preponderantly, then the salaf would have preceded us to it; may Allah be pleased with them. What with their greater love and reverence for the Prophet ﷺ and their greater zeal for doing good.’8
Imam Ibn Taymiyyah lays down this golden principle to help determine wether something newly-invented constitutes a blameworthy innovation or not; and it can be formulated as such: Any act of worship not done in the lifetime of the Prophet ﷺ nor in the age of the salaf, the [Pious] Predecessors, is an innovation; a bid‘ah – on condition that the need for that actual act was present in those times and there was nothing preventing them from carrying out the act. Here is what he wrote:
‘The rule here, and Allah knows best, can be formulated thus: People do not originate [i.e. innovate] a thing unless they consider it beneficial. If they believed it to be harmful they would not originate it, for neither reason nor faith call upon to do so. Whatever appears to Muslims as beneficial must be investigated as to the need that necessitates it. If the need warranting it arose after the Prophet ﷺ and was left open by him without any omission on his part, then it is permissible to originate what the need warrent’s. The same is the case if the need for originating it was present during the lifetime of the Prophet ﷺ but which he abandoned in view of an impediment which now, after his death, has been lifted.
‘As for what is originated without a need warranting it, or what does warrent it are human transgressions, then the innovation is not permissible. Also, any matter which may have been of necessary benefit in the lifetime of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ but which was not acted upon by him, is simply not a benefit.’9
Examples of religious acts that were originated after the Prophet’s time, because the need to do so only arose after his death ﷺ include: compiling the Qur’an into a single codex; codifying the laws of Islam for fear something might get lost from them; classification of hadiths to distinguish between sound and spurious reports; and studying the disciplines of Arabic that are necessary to understand the Qur’an and Sunnah, such as grammar and morphology.
An example of an act, the need for which was present in the Prophet’s time ﷺ but which he left because of some impediment, is the praying of tarawih in congregation. He left off doing so for fear it would be made compulsory on his ummah. After his death, however, that concern was no longer there.
An example of an act, the apparent need for which was present in the prophetic era, yet neither the Prophet ﷺ nor any of the early Muslims initiated it, is the case of the adhan for the two ‘Eid prayers. That they never initiated such a practice, even though there seemed to be a positive benefit in doing so, means that such is not part of the religion, and so to initiate the act will constitute a bid‘ah. Such is also the case with the mawlid, the yearly celebration of our Prophet’s birthday ﷺ; as per this Taymiyyan principle.
Q. Is there any religious justification which forbids women from going to the mosque to attend congregational prayers? Or is this “forbiddance” just an Asian cultural thing that’s been grafted on to the religion? And is it also true the hadith that says the best place for women to pray is in their homes isn’t a general order, but was specific to a given situation and to a particular woman?
A.Alhamdulillah, wa’l-salatu wa’l-salamu ‘ala rasulillah. The issue is such that, on the one hand, women are being turned away from some mosques at prayer times, sometimes having to pray in carparks or other unbefitting places. And if they are grudgingly allowed into such mosques, they can often be met with very unwelcoming glances. On the other hand, there are growing accusations of misogyny being hurled against (almost invariably male) mosque committees, and even against scholars, as they believe they are following orthodox formulations of Islamic law on not letting women attend mosques. Given how the issue is now a battle ground of sorts; and given that some now allege certain classical juristic consensus on the issue are plainly wrong; and given also how ill-informed many men and women are about the evidences on the matter – often for every proof-text they may know, they are ignorant of at least five others – let me break it down for analysis into the following points:
1. Let’s [re]acquaint ourselves with some of the hadiths on the topic. One hadith says: ‘Do not prevent the female servants of God from the mosques of God.’1 In another hadith, we read: ‘When your women folk seek permission to go to the mosque, don’t prevent them.’2 The next hadith cautions believing women thus: ‘If any of you attends the mosque, do not touch perfume.’3 These, and other like-minded directives from our Prophet ﷺ, ostensibly demonstrate the shari‘ah permissibility of women attending congregational prayers in the mosque.
2. The above apparently being the case, it’s still only part of the story. Other hadiths tell us: ‘Do not prevent your wives from the mosques, but their houses are better for them.’4 And: ‘The prayer of a woman in her house is better than her prayer in her courtyard; and her prayer in her chamber (fi makhda‘iha) is better than her prayer in her house.’5 So the majoritarian view, taking both sets of hadiths into consideration, is that while it is lawful for women to attend mosques for congregational prayer, their prayer at home is better. As for the view of at least one contemporary shaykh, who claims the hadith about a woman’s prayer at home being better was said in a specific context for a particular woman and was not intended to apply to all women, that is addressed in point number thirteen.
3. At this point, we should also bring into play those hadiths that speak about women’s attendance being more particular to the night and pre-dawn prayer – times where, under the cover of dark, women can be better concealed from the male gaze and the male gaze will be better obscured from possible feminine allure. One such hadith says: ‘Prevent not your women from coming out to the mosques at night.’6 Another stipulates: ‘Permit your women to go to the mosques at night.’7 Based upon this, many early jurists understood the hadiths allowing women to attend mosques to be an unqualified (mutlaq) statement, which is qualified (muqayyad) by the “night” hadiths. In other words, women may attend mosques, but only for the fajr and isha’ prayers when it is dark; for the darkness will help conceal them. Hence Imam al-Bukhari’s chapter heading in his Sahih: ‘Chapter: Women going to mosques at night and at dusk.’8
4. As for the shades of grey in the madhhab rulings, they run like so: Maliki jurists hold that young women attending prayer in the mosque is khilaf al-awla – “contrary to what is preferred.” The Shafi‘i school particularises this allowance to elderly women, whereas the Hanbalis deem it offensive (makruh) for attractive women to attend congregational prayer in the mosque (putting aside the obvious question of who decides what woman is pretty or likely to entice some men to take more than a restrained, mindful glance).9 The cue for these legal restrictions is taken from the fact that the Prophet ﷺ forbade women who perfume themselves from going to the mosque. Similarly, argue the jurists, any lady who is likely to disturb the Islamic character of the public space by displaying her charms in a manner forbidden by Islam’s teachings can be stopped or discouraged from attending the mosque. Some hadiths actually state that a woman’s prayer in her houses is better, except for the ‘ajuz or “elderly.”10 Another insists: ‘Prohibit your women from wearing attractive clothes or perfume when attending the mosque.’11 As for the Hanafis, their stance shall be dealt with below.
5. There is a social context and behavioural factors behind the above legal nuances, that give rise to a certain reluctance to allow just any or every female to attend congregational prayers in mosques. The main two that often appear in our fiqh commentaries are: [i] the fear of temptation (fitnah) between the two sexes (hence an allowance for the elderly, but not those that are younger or who are in the prime of their femininity); and [ii] the reality, as unfortunate and deplorable as it is, of male harassment.12 A traditional Muslim public space, while allowing women to go out for their needs and their trade, was undoubtedly the preserve of men. And while the latter could linger or loiter without their honour or ‘ird necessarily being impinged, the former could not; would not; and usually did not.
6. Now for the slightly tricky fiqhi bit. Having meticulously scrutinised the entire gamut of proof-texts that bear upon this subject, Muslim jurists were able to identify the ‘illah, the “legal cause” or ratio legis, that allows women to go to the mosque. Most jurists held that the issue revolves around the ‘illah or legal causation of safety from fitnah (‘adm khawf al-fitnah/al-amn min al-fitnah). And although a few jurists held the ‘illah was the honour and prestige of praying behind the Prophet ﷺ, most jurists concurred with safety from fitnah as being that actual ‘illah. What they meant by fitnah in this context was women and men casually intermingling or socialising with one another, and women dressing or adorning themselves in ways that is likely to be tempting or enticing to men, and women being safe from general harm and male predatory harassment.
This being so, the ruling of allowing women to attends prayer in mosques must be judged in the light of a well-established juristic maxim: 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, then the ruling no longer stands. Or to use a simplified version of this juristic maxim: intifa’ al-hukm li intifa’ ‘illatihi – ‘The ruling ends with the absence of its legal causation.’ When applied to the issue at hand, if safety from fitnah is absent – in that casual mixing will not be avoided, or women dress in alluring ways that don’t accord to shari‘ah teachings, or they are likely to be harmed or harassed – then the ruling, in general, of the allowance for such women no longer stands.
7. A more straightforward way of looking at the issue is in terms of the conditions (shurut) revelation insists must be fulfilled if women are to be permitted to go out in public. Again, analysing the evidences, scholars inferred the following conditions: [i] Wearing a shari‘ah-complient hijab (one which includes a khimar or “head covering” and an outer garment; a jilbab): And that they draw their head coverings over their chests. [Q.24:31] Also: O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the believing women to draw their outer garments around them. [Q.33:59] [ii] Not to reveal their beauty, except for the face and hands, provided there is no fear of temptation (or, as per the second view, not even the face or hands, due to the presumption it will cause a fitnah): And not to display their adornments, except for what is apparent. [Q.24:31] [iii] Not to wear perfume, nor alluring attire or make-up: And flaunt not your charms in the manner of the past Times of Ignorance. [Q.33:33] [iv] That the interaction with the opposite gender is respectable, kept to a courteous on-a-need-to-do-so basis, and wisely guarded: Be not soft of speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease aspires to you, but speak honourably. [Q.33:32] [v] Not to dress, speak or act in a manner that unduly solicits mens’ attention or incites their passions: And let them not strike their feet together so as to reveal their hidden adornments. [Q.24:31] Of course, when these rules of public decorum are not observed by women, then strictly speaking the textual proofs simply do not grant them permission to go out to the mosque.
8. Before elaborating the Hanafi position, here are a few hadiths regarding the prophetic concern for safeguarding decency and respectability in the public sphere. The hadith of al-Fadl b. ‘Abbas is interesting in this regard. His brother, ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Abbas relates: ‘Al-Fadl b. ‘Abbas rode behind the Prophet ﷺ upon the back of his she-camel, on the Day of Sacrifice (yawm al-nahr); and al-Fadl was a handsome man. The Prophet ﷺ stopped to give people fatwas. Meanwhile, an attractive lady from the Khath‘am tribe came seeking a ruling from Allah’s Messenger ﷺ. Al-Fadl began staring at her, being enamoured of her beauty. The Prophet glanced behind while al-Fadl was still gazing at her. The Prophet ﷺ then extended his hand backward and turned al-Fadl’s cheek, so he would stop staring at her …’13 In another version, when he was asked why he turned the cheek of his cousin, he replied: ra’aytu shabban wa shabbatan falam aman al-shaytan ‘alayhima – ‘I saw a young man and woman who were not safe from [the influence of] Satan upon them.’14 Here we see that the Prophet ﷺ did not make a fuss or a hoo-ha about the situation: he gently did what needed to be done and politely said what needed to be said. It is also interesting to note how the Prophet ﷺ seemed to put the onus on al-Fadl averting his gaze, rather than sending the young lady away.
There are other hadiths which we moderns would do well not to ignore, and to figure out godly and intelligent ways to weave them into our public spaces and gender interactions. They include this saying of the Prophet ﷺ: ‘The woman is ‘awrah, when she leaves [her house] Satan beautifies her.’15 Ibn Khuzaymah and Ibn Hibban also recorded it in their respective Sahihs, but with this addition: ‘and the closest she is to the Face of her Lord is when she is in the depth of her home.’16 These, along with a volley of other narrations, lent themselves to the juristic inference that the overall idea for women was one of satr or “concealment”. Also there’s this next hadith, the implications of which don’t need much spelling out: ‘I have not left a fitnah after me as harmful to men, than women.’17 The cure for much of this temptation and over-sexualisation of society lies in the Quranic wisdom of ghadd al-basr – “lowering the gaze”. Jarir reported: I asked Allah’s Messenger ﷺ about the accidental glance, so he ordered me to avert my gaze.18 All-in-all, the believing man’s sense of public decency is in notions of respectability, lowering the gaze, and a mindful glance: Tell believing men to lower their gaze and guard their private parts; that is purer for them. [Q.24:30] As for a believing woman, it is rooted in principles like: And stay in your homes and flaunt not your charms in the manner of the past Times of Ignorance. [Q.33:33] They can, of course, go out for their needs or necessities (be they worldly, spiritual, social or psychological), but in a manner approved of by Allah and consistent with the rulings and aims of His Sacred Law. There is also no doubt that the ummah stands in dire need of womens’ active input and participation in terms of Islamic scholarship and teaching, and in Muslim social affairs; in general. How they square such circles, or overcome religiously unwarranted obstacles, is one of the most pressing challenges facing us Muslims. That said, this must be kept at the forefront of our minds lest we forget: Even the devil tempts to virtue, if it leads to a greater vice.
9. This brings us nicely on to the minority juristic view on the matter of women attending mosques; that of the Hanafi madhhab. Hanafis base their ruling on what the lady ‘A’ishah said: ‘If Allah’s Messenger ﷺ had seen what the women have introduced, he would have prevented them from the mosques, as the women of the Israelites were prevented.’19 For Hanafis, this pretty much tilts the balance against women attending prayer in mosques. In typical Hanafi legal reasoning, al-‘Ayni stated: ‘If ‘A’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, had seen what the women of these times have introduced, of all sorts of innovations and evils, her rebuke would have been even stronger.’20 So due to the changing [worsening] of the times (taghayyur al-zaman), Hanafis consider it to be makruh tahrimi – “prohibitively detested” – for women to attend mosques for prayers.21
10. To be clear, this is not a case of Hanafis opposing clear-cut hadiths, or mischievously ‘superseding the texts’. Rather, it’s a case of them identifying the conditions (shurut) and legal causation (‘illah) for the lawfulness of women attending mosques for prayers, or for other religious activities; then asking: Are these conditions being fulfilled? Or is the legal causation (safety from fitnah) still present? And have times changed such that the ruling may need tweaking or reevaluating? The answer to the first question is a “No! Conditions aren’t usually fulfilled” The second is also a “No!”. And the third is a “Yes” – the ruling of them going to mosques now changes from an allowance to a practical forbiddance. This, then, has been the legal reasoning of the Hanafi school since its outset.
11. It won’t come as a surprise when I say that the majority of scholars have a response, or rebuttal, to the Hanafi view. Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalāni wrote: ‘Some held ‘A’ishah’s prevention of women attending mosques as being absolute; but this is questionable. Since it doesn’t entail any change in the ruling, as she made it conditional on a non-existent condition; she said: “If he had seen … he would have prevented.” But he didn’t see, and nor did he prevent … Furthermore, these innovations were introduced by some women, not by all of them.’22 Ibn Qudamah stated: ‘The Sunnah of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ is more deserving to be followed; the statement of ‘A’ishah is confined only to those women who introduced the innovations.’23 Another persuasive reason why ‘A’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, did not intend to alter or abrogate the default ruling of it being lawful for women to attend the mosque is that Imam Malik, and the other renowned jurists of Madinah before him, never understood her statement as a blanket, absolute prohibition. The point here is that the Madinan school was built on – amongst others – the juristic fatwas and legacy of the lady ‘A’ishah.
12.Fiqh isn’t the parroting or fossilising of classical juristic rulings formulated in Mamluk or Ottoman times … end of! It must be a living, vibrant enterprise culminating in practical and liveable law and guidance for our age. So as should be expected, some contemporary Hanafi scholars themselves are eager to revisit the issue, given that times have worsened even more. They, like jurists from other schools too, point out that the issue of taghayyur al-zaman can work both ways.24 On the one hand, they say, there’s the ever-diminishing reality of “safety from fitnah” at play between the genders (or within the genders too!). On the other hand, these Hanafi scholars argue, it appears that – on balance – there is a greater harm in not permitting women to go to the mosque in these times, for a variety of reasons. Thus they should not be prevented, provided they observe the basic decorum in terms of their attire and how they conduct themselves. One such reason is that in the prophetic era and long after, women’s primary role would be in and around the house, they wouldn’t really venture out except for necessities or a pressing need. This is unlike the complexities of the modern age, in which it’s the given norm for both men and women to be out and about in public for a whole host of reasons such as work, shopping, visiting others, or education. The reality is that they too need dedicated spaces to pray: mosques being open to them is part of such accessibility. Another reason is for women to be able to access scholarly talks and classes which often take place in mosques. To suppose that the internet or that YouTube can be an adequate substitute for gaining such knowledge is to be poorly informed about the adab required when seeking sacred knowledge, as well as the barakah or the psychology of being in the company of other [female] seekers. Female converts having a religious or social focal point is another vital reason why mosques need to be accessible to women. And then there’s the reality that mosques offer a far better sacred space where people can experience spiritual tranquility and connection than does a modern home in which some forms of haram or disapproved distractions from God have invariably taken root. Such are the arguments some Hanafi jurists use to insist that the classical madhhab view should be reviewed in favour of women’s attendance at mosques.
As to the very real issue of temptation, then if we’re to be perfectly honest, people have so many other avenues to indulge in such fitnah than while at their local mosque. Given the nature of social media, relatively-speaking, mosques are probably the least or last place today to be in that type of fitnah zone. Nevertheless, occasional healthy reminders about gender conduct, for both men and for women, wouldn’t go amiss. Or perhaps Allah will cause the environment of the mosque itself to be a gentle reminder of how a believer’s character must lend itself to modesty and respectability? For what better example could their be for wayward or weak souls than to see godliness and pious restraint in collective practice? Mosques might even be one of the rare times when some women put on some sense of hijab whatsoever. Of course, the larger the mosque complex, in that the more social, cultural and educational activities it holds under its roof for young people and the wider community, the more mindful everyone needs to be in terms of gender decorum.
13. One last matter before I conclude. It’s been claimed that the view that it is better for women to pray at home is actually an erroneous one. This claim asserts that it’s equally preferable for women to pray in a mosque, as it is for men. The reason for this error, it is alleged, lies in a faulty understanding concerning the hadith about Umm Humayd. Umm Humayd, wife of Abu Humayd al-Sa‘di narrated: She came to Allah’s Messenger ﷺ and said: ‘O Messenger of Allah ﷺ, I love to pray with you.’ He replied: ‘I know that you love to pray with me. However, praying in your house is better for you than praying in your courtyard; and praying in your courtyard is better for you than praying in the mosque of your people; and praying in the mosque of your people is better for you than praying in my mosque.’ So she ordered a prayer-place be built for her in the darkest part of her home, and she always prayed there till she met Allah.25 They say that this hadith has a context that can be found in a few other versions of the same incident. The claim is that other hadiths show that the reason the Prophet ﷺ said what he said to Umm Humayd is that, according to at least one contemporary author, the Prophet ﷺ ‘intended to resolve a martial disagreement’ between her and her husband, ‘which was about the long distance she had to walk five times a day to pray behind him in the mosque.’26
The reply to this somewhat bizarre juristic claim comes from a few angles: Firstly, it is true that Abu Humayd, the husband, objected to his wife going to the Prophet’s mosque (in all likelihood, due to how far it was from their home); the wording of two supporting reports substantiate this. In one, it states Umm Humayd as lamenting: ‘O Messenger of Allah! Our husbands prevent us praying with you, but we love to pray with you …’27 And in another: ‘O Messenger of Allah, we love to pray with you, but our husbands object.’28 However, to infer from this that there was a marital dispute which required reconciliation – and so the Prophet ﷺ alledgedly inverted the default ruling of it being recommended for women to pray congregational prayers in the mosque, as it is for men, and instead made it particular to Umm Humayd for it to be better to pray at home – is reading into the hadiths something that just is not there. This view simply doesn’t hold up to textual or legal scrutiny. Or, if we were to fall into line with our “post-truth era” of “alternative facts”, it could even be said that such a view is fake-fiqh!
Secondly, even if we were to concede that such was the case just for Umm Humayd, what about the previous authentic hadiths quoted in Point.2; the hadith of the Prophet’s wife, Umm Salamah: ‘A woman’s prayer in her house is better than her prayer in her courtyard, and her prayer in her closet is better than in her house.’29 And the hadith of Ibn ‘Umar: ‘Do not prevent your wives from the mosques, but their houses are better for them.’30 Are we to infer from these two different hadiths that they too were said in the context of some marital spat? Obviously not! Rather, the ruling about the preferability of women praying in their homes is applicable to women, in general; and mosques, in general. In another hadith, again related by Umm Salamah, we read: ‘The best places of prayer for women are the inner parts of their homes.’31
Thirdly, the above is something that is borne out by at least one salaf-report, or athar: The sahabi-scholar Ibn Mas‘ud stated: ‘A woman does not pray a prayer more beloved to Allah than one prayed in her home, save if it be the Sacred Mosque or the Prophet’s mosque.’32
Fourthly, Although it is true that Ibn Hazm considered the hadiths about the afdaliyyah, or preferability, of women praying at home to all be weak and inauthentic, his view simply goes against the established proofs. A number of hadith scholars have affirmed that some of the hadiths mentioning this preferability are authentic. Such hadith scholars include: Ibn Khuzaymah, al-Hakim, Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id, al-Nawawi, al-Dhahabi, Ibn Kathir, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani and al-Shawkani; more contemporary scholars include: Ahmad Shakir, al-Albani and Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut. Between such hadith experts, they have directly and indirectly rebutted the seemingly hasty judgements of Ibn Hazm on certain narrators in these hadiths, demonstrating how many of these hadiths are actually sahih or hasan. As for those who have used Ibn Hazm’s erroneous claim to oppose the agreement of the four madhhabs (especially in our age), they have, in all likelihood, uncritically and blindly followed him in this blunder of his.
To conclude: Based upon the textual proofs, there are four issues that the classical jurists generally agreed to in terms of women and mosques: [i] Women’s attendance at mosques and their participation in congregational prayers isn’t forbidden in and of itself, nor is it obligatory or even recommended. [ii] Their attendance is permitted, but only with certain qualification and restrictions. [iii] A woman’s prayer at home is better than her prayer in a mosque with men. [iv] Fear of temptation (fitnah) and the moral deterioration of society has a bearing on whether women should attend mosques.
However, one simply cannot or must not ignore the fact that times have changed. Today, there are many female converts who have no Islamic environment to take refuge or solace in, other than mosques. The home environment of most Muslim woman (with their usual modern distractions and prevalent harams) make it nigh on impossible to grow in sacred knowledge and iman: local mosques are probably the best bet for such woman to now and again have the chance to be in some godly atmosphere and sacred space. Then there’s the practicality of the modern work-shop life, and the need for woman to have other than a cramped changing room or some similar inconvenient spot to offer the obligatory prayer, if there is a local mosque nearby. For these reasons and others, the following should be considered by the mosque-funding and mosque-attending communities:
Where they can, mosques should have a good, designated space to accommodate women. Women should also be encouraged to participate in study circles, classes or talks held in the mosque, and that are given by qualified scholars. And whilst it seems that some men need to learn basic adab in terms of how not to give women attending the mosque cold or unwelcoming looks, some women need to learn the adab of seeking sacred knowledge by not chatting among themselves while others are trying to listen to the actual talk! Without doubt, being able to see the person delivering the talk would greatly help women be more focused and attentive.
When seeking women’s rights that are related to the mosque, advice must be given to the committee in good faith. Rights should be sought with the desire to venerate Allah’s laws and uphold the ways of the Lord, in contrast to cherrypicking what religious obligation to accept and thereby play fast and loose with the shari‘ah. Of course, women being part of mosques committees (not for the sake of some quota, or to tick the gender equality boxes; but from a conviction that they will add value, piety and professionalism to the currently dull, dim and lowbrow all-male mosque committees that have for too long tribally ruled the roost) is to be welcomed and encouraged. Perhaps then we may see more Islamically enlightened activities, or some fairness and inclusiveness from most of our local mosques. I suspect that most Muslims in 21st century Britain, especially those born and raised here, are not interested in mosques that offer belongingness primarily on the basis of a pride of Panjabis, a brethren of Bengalis, or a gang of Gujratis.
Now I offer the following with some tentative reservation. But it seems that many of those who seek to empower Muslim women are selling Muslim women short! For while much has been made about whether woman can lead men in congregational prayer or not, little energy has gone into helping women become actual scholars or muftis. The simple truth is that leading prayer is of little merit in Islam compared to the honour and distinguished rank of being a scholar. Again, whilst much has been made about a woman’s conditional rights to go to the mosque, little emphasis has been put on creating a sacred space in the home for a woman to pray, learn, or quietly remember her Lord.
And finally, while it is commendable that Muslim women are actively and wisely seeking out their religiously given rights – not waiting upon Muslim men to help them secure such rights, which in all likelihood would be an insufferably slow process – they must also call women’s attention to the actual conditions required to make it Islamically lawful for them to go to the mosque (as per points nos.6 & 7, above). Contrary to some people’s thinking, the shari‘ah allowance isn’t carte blanche. If, in the spirit of sincere sisterhood, Muslim women aren’t the ones to advise or instruct one another what Islamically is godliness and the good in such matters, then men are left to step into this vacuum. For while in a secular worldview it may not be right for a man to advise a woman what she should be wearing (unless, of course, its telling her not to wear a face veil, or increasingly even a headscarf: for secular hypocrisy is accepted where it concerns Islam), in the Islamic worldview men can remind women of dress codes and sartorial obligations that Revelation instates; and visa-versa: The believer, men and women, are allies to each other; they enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil, they establish the prayer and pay the zakat, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On these, Allah will have mercy. Allah is August, Wise. [Q.9:71]
We ask Allah to guide and protect us; and where we’re wrong, to correct us.
1. Al-Bukhari, no.4152; Muslim, no.442.
2. Muslim, no.442.
3. Muslim, no.443.
4. Abu Dawud, Sunan, no.567. The hadith, with its supporting chains, was declared sahih by al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2001), 6:544, no.9869; al-Albani, Irwa’ al-Ghalil (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1979), 2:293-94, no.515; al-Nawawi, al-Majmu‘ Sharh al-Muhadhdhab (Jeddah: Maktabah al-Irshad, n.d.), 4:92.
5. Abu Dawud, no.570, from Ibn Mas‘ud; Hakim, Mustadrak, no.852, from Umm Salamah. In Sahih Ibn Khuzaymah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1980), 3:94; no.1688, al-Albani stated that its chain is hasan.
6. Muslim, no.138.
7. Al-Bukhari, no.899.
8. Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Adhan, chapter no.162.
9. See: al-Zuhayli, Fiqh al-Islami wa Adillatuhu (Damascus: Dar al-Fikr, 1984), 2:153-155.
10. As in al-Bayhaqi, al-Sunan al-Kabir, no.5430; Ibn Abi Shaybah, Musannaf, no.7696; al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.9471.
11. Ibn Majah, no.4001. Although the hadith is weak (da‘if) – as per al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Da‘ifah wa’l-Mawdu‘ah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 2002), no.4821 – it (and the report above) may be used as supporting evidence for the general principle about the fitnah of temptation.
12. Consult: Ibn al-Humam, Fath al-Qadir (Cairo, Sharikat wa-Matba’at Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi wa-Awladihi bi-Misr, 1970), 1:365-366.
13. Al-Bukhari, no.6228.
14. Al-Tirmidhi, no.885, who said it is a hasan sahih hadith.
15. Al-Tirmidhi, no.1173, where he said: ‘The hadith is hasan sahih gharib.’
16. Ibn Khuzaymah, no.1685. Al-Albani graded its chain as sahih in his critical edition of Sahih Ibn Khuzaymah, 3:93. In his Irwa’ al-Ghalil, no.273, al-Albani holds that the hadith, with its supporting chains, yields a final grading of sahih. Also see his: Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1996), no.2688.
17. Al-Bukhari, no.4808; Muslim, no.2740.
18. Muslim, no.2159.
19. Al-Bukhari, no.869; Muslim, no.445, and the wording is his.
20. ‘Umdat al-Qari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2001), 6:227.
21. See: al-Zuhayli, Fiqh al-Islami wa Adillatuhu, 2:154.
22. Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Egypt: Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2013), 3:110.
23. Al-Mughni (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 2007), 3:265.
24. In Islamic legal theory (usul al-fiqh), the principle of taghayyur al-zaman can have two areas of application. Firstly, in terms of those rulings related to custom or convention (‘urf, ‘adah); when they change, the ruling can change; as per: ‘Rulings change with the change of times’. I’ve discussed this issue here on the blog, in parts V & VI. Secondly, which is the one that applies here, is when times worsen or decline. In some cases, rulings may alter to reflect such worsening of times.
25. Ahmad, Musnad, no.27090; Ibn Hibban, Sahih, no.2217. Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani stated: ‘The chain of Ahmad is hasan.’ See: Fath al-Bari, 3:110, under hadith no.869. Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut concurred with this grading of hasan in his critical edition of the Musnad (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah 1416H), no.27090.
26. Jasser Auda, Reclaiming the Mosque: The Role of Women in Islam’s House of Worship (United Kingdom & United States: Claritas Books, 2017), 48.
27. Ibn Abi Shaybah, Musannaf, no.7702. Its chain contains Ibn Lahiy’ah, whose reliability as a reporter is questioned.
28. Al-Bayhaqi, al-Sunan al-Kubra, no.5437. It contains ‘Abd al-Mu’min b. ‘Abd Allah al-Kinani, whose status as a narrator is unknown (majhul).
29. Al-Hakim, no.852. The hadith is sahih, as per footnote no.5.
30. Abu Dawud, no.570. The hadith is hasan, as per ft.4.
31. Ibn Khuzaymah, Sahih, no.1683; al-Hakim, Mustadrak, no.857. Some scholars consider the hadith weak, due to Darraj, one of the narrators, who is held to be weak. However, the verifying scholars (muhaqqiqun) only consider him to be problematic when he specifically relates from Abu’l-Haytham; by way of Abu Sa‘id – which isn’t the cases here at all. Hence the chain is hasan, as per Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut in his critical edition of Sunan Abu Dawud (Beirut: Risalah al-‘Alamiyyah, 2009), no.567.
32. Al-Bayhaqi, al-Sunan al-Kubra, no.5430; and its like is also related in Ibn Abi Shaybah, al-Musannaf, no.7696.
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.
The second part of this article explores the prohibited forms of taqlid which, unlike the prescribed type (see Part I), may rightly be called “blind following”. It also corrects some of the misguided notions and far-fetched interpretations in this regard; interpretations that are falsely peddled as being the stance of our past Imams and pious predecessors. Let’s pick up, then, where the first part let off, with Ibn al-Qayyim laying out the three kinds of forbidden taqlid:
‘The first category is of three types: Firstly, to turn away from what Allah has revealed and not resort to it, sufficing instead with following one’s forefathers. Secondly, doing taqlid of someone, not knowing if they are qualified so that they can be authoritatively followed. Thirdly, doing taqlid in the face of the proof being established, and it is clear that the proof opposes the view of the authority being followed.’1
XI. BAD TAQLID: FOLLOWING FOREFATHERS
The first type of forbidden taqlid is that of following one’s forebears and their customs and conventions, instead of Revelation or over and above Revelation. Having explained that children are socialised into the religion and culture of their parents or society, Ibn Taymiyyah goes on to say:
‘When a person reaches the age of legal responsibility, he should intend to obey Allah and His Messenger wherever he is. He cannot be of those who: When it is said to them: “Follow what Allah has revealed,” they say: “We shall follow what we found our forefathers following.” [2:170] All who turn away from following the Book and the Sunnah, or from obeying Allah and His Prophet, turning instead to his customs, or to that of his parents or people, are of the people of ignorance; worthy of the threat of punishment. By the same token, when the truth with which Allah sent His Messenger with is made clear to someone in any given issue, but he turns away from it in favour of his cultural norm, is of those who are blameworthy and punishable … As for someone not able to ascertain the ruling of Allah or His Prophet, and so follows in it one of the people of knowledge and piety; not knowing of an opinion more preferable than it, is praised and rewarded. He is not to be reproached for this, let alone punished.’2
XII. DEBUNKING A MODERN MYTH ABOUT FOREFATHERS
These words clarify who is meant by the verse that berates the following of forefathers, and that it refers to those who have no inkling whatsoever to follow the Revelation, but instead are satisfied with imitating the customs and practices of their family, society or forefathers. To apply it to Muslims who believe in Allah’s Revelation, but resort to the practice of permissible taqlid, is a grotesque misapplication of the verse (and others like it). Imam al-Qurtubi wrote:
‘One group applied this verse to the censure of taqlid; for Allah, exalted is He, rebukes the unbelievers for following their forefathers in falsehood, and emulating them in sin and disbelief. And this is correct in terms of falsehood.’3
‘As for taqlid in the truth, this is from the principles of the religion and a protection for the Muslims which the unlearned and deficient in examining proofs can resort to.’4
Sadly, it’s now not unusual to find some Muslims erroneously accuse other Muslims of blindly following their forefathers, when all the latter are doing is following practices they believe are Islamic and which they consider to be authoritative and sanctioned by the noted jurists of the past. How can this admirable attitude be equated with one that has no wish to conform to divine guidance and every wish to be in tune with cultural norms and conventions; even if they contravene Islam? Accusations of this sort must cease immediately, and damages must be repaired. We can no more have these roaring waves of misguidance crashing against the rocks of truth!
Ironically, those who rip such verses out of context and cast it upon those who are in a state of obedience to Allah via the prescribed taqlid, are either sinful for speaking about Allah’s religion without adequate knowledge, or are likely to be blind followers of rogue scholarship and toxic sources.
XIII. BAD TAQLID: FOLLOWING ROGUE SCHOLARSHIP
The second type: Following the opinion of someone who is not known to be religiously qualified or authorised to give fatwas or religious rulings:
Ibn Mu‘ammar said in his treatise on Islamic legal theory: ‘In general, taqlid is required of a layman who does not possess a [scholarly] share of learning. If a situation arises [which requires a fatwa], he must seek it from someone known for his knowledge and uprightness, or whom he considers as being connected with learning and the giving of fatwas.’5
According to Imam al-Shatibi, a person will be in one of three categories when it comes to the textual evidence (dalil). That person will either be a mujtahid who is required to follow the legal conclusion his ijtihad leads him to. Or he is a murajjih; a “comparatist,” who is competent to understand proofs behind the ijtihad of mujtahids, and can prefer some rulings over others in certain issues. If his ability is recognized, he is similar to a mujtahid on that issue; if not, he is classed along with other muqallids that are obligated to follow mujtahids. The other category:
‘He may be a complete muqallid, unappraised of the knowledge required. In his case, he must have a guide to lead him, 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 realises, 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 via taqlid someone who he knows isn’t qualified, in the way that a sick man should not put himself in the hands of someone whom he knows is not a doctor.’6
XIV. HOW A LAYMAN DECIDES WHO IS A MUFTI?
As to how a layman determines who is a qualified scholar from whom legal rulings can be taken, the following establishes a diminishing order of certainty:
[i] Established scholars testifying to the juristic credentials of a person, or accrediting him with an ‘ijazah; an “authorization”. [ii] Holding a teaching post at a respected and established institution of legal learning. [iii] Respect accorded to him by his teachers, peers and other scholars for his legal acumen. [iv] His general reputation in society, at large, as a scholar. [v] A layman being informed by someone he deems trustworthy in issues of religion, that a particular person is a mufti. (Of course, this last one is fraught with the dangers of pseudo-scholarship or the “knowledgeable brother” syndrome.) In brief, a layman acts on surety (yaqin), or preponderant certainty (aghlab al-zann), as to whom [s]he deems juristically qualified.7
The crux here is that a layman is duty bound to ask those he deems are qualified to give legal rulings. He doesn’t ask just any scholar, teacher or preacher of religion. The point is made by Ibn Hamdan, an accomplished classical Hanbali legalist, who wrote:
‘It is obligatory to seek a fatwa for every situation which requires you to know its legal ruling. It is [further] required for him to search for someone suitably qualified for him to seek fatwas from. If he doesn’t know him [to be so, it is unlawful] … It isn’t sufficient for him to be just a scholar, or attributed to knowledge. If he is appointed to teach or to hold other positions that people of knowledge [usually] hold, then the mere affiliation to this does not suffice [in seeking fatwas from him]. It is allowed to seek fatwas from those who are widely spoken about in society [as being a mufti] and to ask those whom one thinks is from those qualified to give fatwas. It’s also said that one should only rely on his statement: “I am qualified to give fatwa,” not on his reputation, nor the fact that he is widely spoken of as such. For this doesn’t amount to knowledge unless it is based on something tangibly known. As having a reputation among the laity is not something reliable, for the basis of it could be deception.’8
XV. BETWEEN SCHOLARS AND CLERGY
‘There is no clergy in Islam’ is an oft-repeated claim we Muslims tend to voice to non-Muslims about our religion. Of course, the assertion is perfectly sound if we mean that there is no ordaining body and nor any ecclesiastical hierarchy. Instead, every Muslim is required to grow in Islamic knowledge and deepen their personal faith and devotion to God. But if what is intended by the phrase is a denial of any type of hierarchy based upon meritocracy, or dismissing the existence of a formally trained scholarly class, then this is utterly at odds with the textual proofs of the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
After all, doesn’t the Qur‘an itself speak about the scholars of sacred knowledge (‘ilm), the ‘ulema, in these stellar terms: إِنَّمَا يَخْشَى اللَّهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ الْعُلَمَاءُ – Verily, only those of Allah’s servants who possess knowledge truly fear Him. [35:28] It also speaks to this hierarchy: قُلْ هَلْ يَسْتَوِي الَّذِينَ يَعْلَمُونَ وَالَّذِينَ لاَ يَعْلَمُونَ – Say: ‘Are those who know equal to those who do not know?’ [39:9]
That’s not the only distinction Allah, exalted is He, makes in the Qur’an. There is the hierarchy between selected Prophets and others; between the earlier believers and later ones; between those who possess wisdom, insight and understanding into the realities of Islam, in contrast to those who possess just Islam; between believers who are drawn close, and between those who wrong their ownselves. Even among disbelievers there is a hierarchy: some being cast into lower depths of Hell than others, or some being closer to faith than others. The saying that there is no hierarchy at all in Islam, simply has no basis in Islam.
As for the ‘ulema class, one famous hadith states: إِنَّ الْعُلَمَاءَ وَرَثَةُ الْأنْبِيَاءِ – ‘The scholars are the inheritors of the prophets.’9 Whilst each Muslim is expected to learn a core amount of Islamic knowledge, the Prophet ﷺ nurtured a body of “specialist”, the ‘ulema, who were authorised to interpret the holy texts and to issue legal judgements. Out of the one hundred thousand plus number of sahabah there were, only one hundred and fifty or so were authorised and versed enough to issue fatwas; the remainder were followers of their scholars.10 In other words, roughly one percent of the sahabah were muftis; a decisive indication, if ever there was, of just how uphill a task it is of being juristically qualified in Islam. And whilst there is no “magisterium” as such in Islam, as there is in the Catholic Church, there is the authoritative and binding force of ijma‘ – “scholarly consensus”.
XVI. BAD TAQLID: OVERSHADOWING THE PROPHET’S WORD
The final prohibited kind of taqlid Ibn al-Qayyim mentioned is where the proof is at loggerheads with the opinion one is following: الثَّالِثُ : التَّقْلِيدُ بَعْدَ قِيَامِ الْحُجَّةِ وَ ظُهُورِ الدَّلِيلِ عَلَى خِلَافِ قَوْلِ الْمُقَلَّدِ – ‘Thirdly: doing taqlid in the face of the proof being established, and it is clear that the proof opposes the view of the authority being followed.’
Now in theory, and as part of our ‘aqidah, every Muslim must believe that the Prophet’s words ﷺ take precedence over the words of any other person, whosoever they may be. Allah has stated: يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لاَ تُقَدِّمُوا بَيْنَ يَدَيْ اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ – O you who believe, do not be forward in the presence of Allah and His Messenger. [49:1] As for those duped by their ego-driven intellects into defying the Prophet’s commands ﷺ, Allah cautions: فَلْيَحْذَرِ الَّذِينَ يُخَالِفُونَ عَنْ أَمْرِهِ أَنْ تُصِيبَهُمْ فِتْنَةٌ أَوْ يُصِيبَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ – Let those who oppose the Prophet’s orders beware, lest some trial inflict them, or there befall them a painful punishment. [24:63] This, in principle, is how it must be: no ifs or buts.
In practice, the above words apply to seasoned jurists and not the lay people, in any real sense of the words. For as Ibn Taymiyyah said about the muqallid layman: مَنْ كَانَ مُقَلِّدًا لَزِمَ حُكْمَ التَّقْلِيدِ، فَلَمْ يُرَجِّحْ، وَلَمْ يُزَيِّفْ، وَلَمْ يُصَوِّبْ، وَلَمْ يُخَطِّئْ – ‘whosoever is a muqallid, then the ruling of taqlid applies to him: he cannot weigh-up, evaluate, or judge [a view] to be correct or incorrect.’11 And to cite Imam al-Shatibi’s fine point: فَتَاوَى الْمُجْتَهِدِيْنَ بِالنِّسْبَةِ إِلٰى الْعَوَامِ كَالْأَدَلَّةِ الشَّرْعِيَّةِ بِالنِّسْبَةِ إِلىٰ الْمُجْتَهِدِيْن – ‘The fatwas of mujtahids are to the laity as shari‘ah evidences are to the mujtahids.’12
Imam Ibn al-Qayyim rounds off his offensive on this kind of forbidden taqlid with this assertion:
‘This is the type of taqlid that the pious predecessors and the four Imams were united in their upbraiding and prohibition of. As for the taqlid done by a person who strives to follow what Allah has revealed, yet despite this some parts of it remain obscure to him, so he imitates someone more learned than himself, this is admirable, not deplorable; for this he is rewarded, not punished.’13
XVII. UGLY TAQLID: WHEN BLIND FOLLOWING BECOMES SHIRK
Of course, the forbidden taqlid may even move from bad to ugly if the heart harbours false or extreme attitudes about the one being imitated. While explaining to whom the censure of taqlid deservedly applies, Shah Wali Allah al-Dehlawi wrote:
‘[It also applies to] a layman who does taqlid of one specific jurist and who – believing that the likes of him can never err, and that whatever he opines is always correct – has secreted into his heart never to abandon taqlid of him, even if an evidence which runs counter to his view comes to light. This is what al-Tirmidhi records from ‘Adi b. Hatim, who said: I heard the Prophet ﷺ recite: اتَّخَذُوا أَحْبَارَهُمْ وَرُهْبَانَهُمْ أَرْبَابًا مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ – They take their rabbis and priests as lords besides Allah. [9:31] and then explain: أَلَيْسَ يُحَرِّمُوْنَ مَا أَحَلَّ اللهُ فَتُحَرِّمُوْنَهُ، وَ يُحِلُّوْنَ مَا حَرَّمَ اللهُ فَتُحِلُّوْنَهُ. فَتِلْكَ عِبَادَتُهُمْ – “When they declare a thing lawful, don’t the people take it as lawful; or when they declare a thing unlawful, don’t they take it as unlawful? That is their worship of them.”14’15
Here, again, there’s a dire need to disabuse this hadith of the improper use it’s been put to by the feckless and reckless. This hadith is not suggesting for a minute that a layman following the ruling of a qualified mufti or faqih, due to an inability to rigorously probe and appraise all the relevant proofs on the topic himself, is shirk! God forbid! In other words, it is not a slap in the face against the legislated taqlid. What it is rebuking is the attitude whereby the mufti’s view is bigotedly followed or dogmatically clung too, even when the layman is fully convinced it opposes the Qur‘an or the Sunnah. As for how he will ever know when this happens to be the case, is another matter altogether: for here we are concerned with the principle, not the mechanics.
It also applies to when the layman knows for certain that a particular ruling – be it an obligation or a prohibition – is undoubtedly part of Islam, and has been deemed so by a consensus or by a well-known chain of practice from Islam’s very outset, yet chooses to believe the misguided pronouncement of someone stating otherwise. Let such people not be surprised, on the Day of Judgement, if they are charged in the Divine Court with the heinous crime of shirk.
XVIII. THE FOUR IMAMS ON TAQLID
Let’s first [re]visit the statements of the Four Imams (Abu Hanifah, Malik al-Shafi‘i and Ahmad b. Hanbal) concerning their emphatic denunciation of taqlid, and then examine to whom their rebuke does and does not apply:
First up are these words of Imam Abu Hanifah: إِذَا صَحَّ الحَدِيْثُ فَهُوَ مَذْهَب – ‘When there is a sound hadith, that is my view.’16 From this illustrious Imam’s censure of taqlid is this too: حَرَامٌ عَلَى مَنْ لَمْ يَعْرِفْ دَلِيْلِي أَنْ يُفْتِيَ بِكَلَامِي – ‘It is forbidden for someone who does not know my evidence to give a fatwa with my words.’17
As for the venerable Imam Malik, the following are from his words on the topic: إِنَّمَا أَنَا بَشْرٌ، أُخْطِئُ وَأُصِيْبُ، فَانْظُرُوْا فِي رَأْيِيْ؛ فَـكُلُّ مَا وَافَقَ الْكِتَابَ وَ السُّنَّةَ فَخُذُوْهُ، وَ كُلُّ مَا لَمْ يُوَافِقِ الْكِتَابَ وَالسُّنَّةَ فَاتْرُكُوْهُ – ‘Indeed I am only a human being; I can be mistaken or correct. So look into my opinion; whatever conforms to the Book and the Sunnah, accept it; whatever opposes them, reject it.’18
As for the mujaddid of the second century, Imam al-Shafi‘i, he declared in no uncertain terms: كُلُّ مَا قُلْتُ فَكَانَ عَنِ النَّبِيِّ خِلاَفُ قَوْلِي مِمَّا يَصِحُّ فَحَدِيثُ النَّبِيِّ أَوْلىَ فَلاَ تُقَلِّدُونِي – ‘All what I say, for which something sound from the Prophet contravenes my statement, the Prophet’s hadith takes precedence. So do not imitate me.’19
Finally comes the saintly scholar and exemplar, Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal: لَا تُقَلِّدْنِي وَلَا تُقَلِّدْ مَالِكًاً وَلَا الشَّافِعِيَّ وَلَا الثَّوْرِيَّ وَلَا الْأَوْزَاعِيَّ، وَخُذْ مِنْ حَيْثُ أَخَذُوا – ‘Do not imitate me; nor imitate Malik, al-Shafi‘i, al-Awza‘i or al-Thawri. But take from where they took.’20
XIX. STEADYING ANOTHER MODERN SEISMIC BLUNDER
Let us now analyse the above. Phrases like: take from where they took (Ahmad), or: look into my opinion (Malik), and: do not make taqlid of me (al-Shafi‘i, Ahmad), and that: it is forbidden to give fatwas without knowing the proofs (Abu Hanifah), speak to the duty of evaluating evidences. And the very notion of scrutinising evidences, in the context of a legal argument (and obviously in the original Quranic Arabic language), clearly suggests another thing too: juristic qualification!
To believe these Four Imams were addressing the illiterate; or those who have no fiqh and usul al-fiqh mastery whatsoever, is utterly ludicrous. The idea that the Four Imams were telling the unqualified, untrained masses to evaluate proofs, is so off the mark, it just beggars belief! Any unblinkered or unbiased reading of their statements makes it crystal clear that their words were aimed squarely at their student (and those like them) who were versed in ijtihad and discovering the divine intent in the revealed texts. This has always been the classical scholarly understanding of their words. Thus Ibn ‘Abidin, explaining the above words of Imam Abu Hanifah, wrote:
‘It will not be hidden that this is for those who are qualified to examine the proof-texts and who know those that are clear beyond doubt from those that are abrogated.’21
Resonating a similar juristic vibe, Ibn Taymiyyah puts Imam Ahmad’s above words into their correct, orthodox context:
‘As for the likes of Malik, al-Shafi‘i and Sufyan, or Ishaq b. Rahawayh and Abu ‘Ubayd, there is a clear stipulation in another place that he [Imam Ahmad] deemed it unlawful for a scholar capable of ijtihad to make taqlid of them. He said: “Do not make taqlid of me, nor of Malik, al-Shafi‘i, or al-Thawri” … He instructed the lay people to seek fatwas from Ishaq, Abu ‘Ubayd, Abu Thawr and Abu Mus‘ab. But he forbade the scholars from among his students – like Abu Dawud, ‘Uthman b. Sa‘id, Ibrahim al-Harbi, Abu Bakr al-Athram, Abu Zur‘ah, Abu Hatim al-Sijistani, Muslim and others – from making taqlid of any other scholar. He would say: “Stick to the basic principle by [following] the Book and the Sunnah.”’22
Much of the chaos surrounding the correct view of taqlid stems from misapplying the words of the Four Imams. Regrettably, one now finds these statements being quoted to the masses out of context in a legion of books, talks and websites. And one will be hard pushed to find in them a caveat making clear that such words were addressed to their mujtahid colleagues and students; not the unqualified masses. Still more tragic, and not without its irony, is that this flawed reading has been blindly parroted and uncritically spread far and wide, and has turned into something of an article of faith in the minds of a certain faction of Muslims. In this sense, it may not be too dramatic to say that this is possibly one of the worst bouts of blind following in Islam’s recent history.
XX. ITTIBA‘ & THE MUTTABI‘: A RED HERRING?
The Qur’an states: اتَّبِعُوا مَا أُنْزِلَ إِلَيْكُمْ مِنْ رَبِّكُمْ وَلاَ تَتَّبِعُوا مِنْ دُونِهِ أَوْلِيَاءَ – Follow what is sent down to you from your Lord, and follow no protecting friend other than Him. [7:3] The command to “follow”, ittiba‘, occurs in numerous places in the Qur‘an.
Based on such verses, some in recent times insist that, in fiqh matters, people fall into three categories: the mujtahid, the muqallid and a class in between; the muttabi‘ – the one who “follows’ the evidence. The qualifications of a mujtahid are explicit and clear-cut (and can be read here). The muqallid is anyone who doesn’t have the qualifications for ijtihad, as has already been thrashed out. But who is a muttabi‘? What qualification does the muttabi‘ have in fiqh issues that does not place him among the mujtahids, yet raises him above the level of muqallids?
Unfortunately, for the tiny minority that advocates this three-tier distinction, there is very little agreement on the scholarly definition of a muttabi‘. On the one hand ittiba‘ is described as being: ‘Any ruling whose proof from the Qur’an, Sunnah or consensus is clear-cut and free from textual conflict (salim min al-mu‘arid) – in such a case taqlid is not lawful, nor is ijtihad; rather ittiba‘ is obligatory. The reality of ittiba‘ is: accepting whatever is established by a proof from the Qur’an, Sunnah or consensus, providing it is free from being in conflict with others proofs.’23 As can be seen, ittiba‘ can only be gauged by a highly competent jurist who is in a position to determine when a proof is or is not salim min al-mu‘arid – when it is clear-cut in meaning and applicability and free from textual conflict with other proofs. The muqallid will still have to make taqlid of a jurist in knowing all this, and is thus still a muqallid!
Then there’s this vague bash to explain a muttabi‘ as being those who are: ‘to a degree able to evaluate viewpoints and are able to determine which of them are stronger in light of the evidences … they may not have this ability in every issue and hence may still be required to perform taqlid in some issues.’ This somewhat wooly clarifications can be taken in two ways:
Firstly, if what is intended is that a lay person unqualified in fiqh – irrespective of how academic, intelligent or professional they are in their secular vocations and lives – can and should be examining proof-texts in fiqh issues and weighing-up what is stronger, then this is a sheer bid‘ah. And to then attribute this to what the non-jurists among the salaf used to do is … well … simply not true. Regrettably, this is how many laymen from the contemporary salafi movement take it, falsely imagining they aren’t muqallids, but are in the ranks of the so-called muttabi‘. And Allah’s refuge is sought from such a trial and misgiving.
The second way it can be taken, and this isn’t what salafis usually intend, is: someone who is qualified to exercise some level of ijtihad and make tarjih – the murajjih. We’ve already seen in the first part (section III), how al-Dhahabi depicted the one qualified to undertake restricted ijtihad. This is similar to Imam al-Shatibi’s middle category of the ”comparatist”; the murajjih (see section XIII above). Thus if by muttabi‘ one means the mujtahid-murajjih (for want of a better term), then such a level must be conceded. Such a person, however, falls under the ijtihad category: it does not need a third and separate classification. The vast majority of classical jurists have not deployed such a confusing distinction. For them, in terms of fiqh and fatwas, one is either a mujtahid – of varying ranks and degrees, or a muqallid – again, of varying degrees.
XXI. THE LAYMAN AND A MADHHAB
I’ll keep the question of madhhabs brief, intending a more detailed write up to follow at some future date, God willing. So for now, we’ll leave the question of why only Four madhhabs (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi‘i and Hanbali schools) and no more? Or how it is that something which wasn’t around during the prophetic era (and these codified madhhabs were not) can then become a legislated part of Islam? But the reality is that since only four orthodox Sunni schools of law now remain, and since no scholar has ever rejected the legitimacy of these madhhabs, let’s address the central issue about it, as it relates to the layman:
The crux of the matter is the question of whether or not a layman is required to follow one madhhab, or law school, in all that it instructs and informs. The truth is that jurists have a legitimate difference over this all-important question: ‘Sticking to a madhhab of a specific imam is better by agreement. It being required is a matter of difference.’24
I believe the following words of Imam al-Nawawi pretty much get to the gist of things, as far as juristic responses go. He writes:
‘That which the proof necessitates is that a layman is not obligated to follow a specific madhhab. Instead, he seeks a fatwa from whoever he wishes or comes across, provided he does not chase after concessions. Perhaps those who prevented him did so because they were not convinced he would not chase after concessions.’25
Jurists like al-Nawawi, who do not require a layman to follow a single madhhab, tilt the balance in favour of the original principle, which is that a layman may ask any qualified mufti regardless of the mufti’s madhhab affiliation. Those who obligate it gave greater weight to the likelihood that lay people would play fast and loose with religious rulings and follow concessions (al-rukhsah) so as to gratify their whims or desires. And if we’re honest, most of us need not look far to see how the idea of rukhsah – a concessionary ruling brought about by mitigating circumstances, so as to bring about ease in difficult situations – is being misused in the face of diminishing piety, obedience to desires, and the ego’s incessant tantrums for its alleged rights and entitlements.
XXII. RULES ABOUT FOLLOWING CONCESSIONS
The lawful concession (rukhsah), or relaxation of the law, is forbidden to seek without a valid shari‘ah justification. Moreover, a shari‘ah-legislated rukhsah is based on observing certain obligatory guidelines; which include: [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 someone known to be qualified and known also for their 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; the more ‘stringent’ normative ruling. [v] The rukhsah must never lead to the forbidden type of talfiq (lit. ‘piecing together’), where the picking and choosing; the mixing and matching, of madhhabs either contravenes an established ijma‘, or leads to a totally new ruling not confirmed by any madhhab or mujtahid.26
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. One must never divorce such matters from the believer’s ultimate quest and goal: اَلتَّحَبُّبُ إِلٰى الله بِمَا يَرْضٰى – ‘Becoming beloved to Allah by doing what pleases Him.’
XXIII. ON MOVING FROM MADHHAB TO MADHHAB & FATWA TO FATWA
The reality of mahbubiyyah, of loving Allah and becoming beloved to Him, has its root in adherence to the prophetic teachings. The Qur‘an informs: قُلْ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ اللَّهَ فَاتَّبِعُونِي يُحْبِبْكُمْ اللَّهُ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ذُنُوبَكُمْ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ – Say: ‘If you do love Allah, follow me; then Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. Allah is Forgiving, Compassionate.’ [3:31]
The objective of this adherence, the nobility in it, and the secret behind it, is that: يَخْرُجُ الْاِنْسَانَ مِنْ مُرَادِ نَفْسِهِ إِلٰى مُرَادِ رَبِّهِ – ‘A person renounces his own likes and wants for what his Lord likes and wants.’27 In fiqh matters, this is best achieved when we get our egos to submit to the higher authority of a madhhab, rather than to pick and choose rulings based on the dictates of our personal whims, pathologies or paltry learning. This may go some way in explaining why one often finds those who reject following madhhabs, in favour of a DIY approach to Islam, tend to be hostile, extreme, argumentative, highly divisive and self-righteous. For despite some of the outer trappings of religion, little to no effort is made on inward purification of the egotistical self.
Even when one does follow a madhhab, there’s always a danger that desires get in the way – as discussed by Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah in the next passage:
‘Whoever follows a specific madhhab, then acts in opposition to it – without making taqlid of another scholar’s fatwa; nor inferring it from a proof that requires acting contrary to it; nor has an excuse from the shari‘ah to allow it – is following his desires. He is neither making ijtihad nor taqlid, but doing something forbidden without a valid excuse from the shari‘ah: and this is repugnant! … There is a clear-cut stipulation from Imam Ahmad and others that it is unlawful for someone to believe something to be obligatory or forbidden, and to then not believe it to be obligatory or forbidden, based on his desires … But if it becomes clear to him that which necessitates preferring one view over the other – either due to detailed evidences if he knows and comprehends them; or because he holds one of the two scholars to be more learned in the issue and more God-fearing in what he says, and so he deems this view to be preferable than the other – it is allowed: in fact, it is obligatory. There being a clear stipulation from Imam Ahmad concerning this.’28
XXIV. MADHHABS AS MEANS TO AN END
Those following a specific madhhab must keep in mind the following guidelines: Firstly, a madhhab is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The end is to obey Allah and His Messenger ﷺ by knowing the rulings of religion. Secondly, one avoids bigotry (ta‘assub) or partisanship (hizbiyyah) at all cost, by not thinking their madhhab is superior than all others, and by not basing their allegiance or enmity around it. Thirdly, one must have a firm conviction that the words of Allah and His Messenger take precedence over that of others, whatever their rank.
Ibn Taymiyyah was once asked whether it was correct to say that Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani was the best of all shaykhs and that Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal was the best of all imams? This was his reply:
‘As for preferring some imams or shaykh over others, like a person preferring the imam whose madhhab he learns fiqh from or the shaykh that he follows – for example, like someone who prefers Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir, Shaykh Abu Madyan, or [Imam] Ahmad, or others – then most people speak about this matter based on conjecture and what their desires incline to. They do not really know the reality of the ranks of these scholars or shaykhs, and nor do they intend to follow the absolute truth. Instead, each follows his own desires in thinking the one that he follows to be better than others; even when he has no proof for this.‘29
Imam Ibn Taymiyyah also gives us this timely and timeless piece of advice:
‘Rather the names that are allowed to call oneself by – for instance, peoples’ affiliation to an imam, like Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i or Hanbali; or to a shaykh, like Qadiri, ‘Adawi or their like; or an ascription to a tribe, like Qaysi or Yemeni; or a province like Syrian, Iraqi, Egyptian – then it is not permissible for anyone to test people on such a basis, or form enmity or allegiance on such names. Instead, the best of people in God’s sight are those who have the most piety: whatever group they belong to.’30
XXV. TAQLID & MADHHABS: IN A NUTSHELL
Bringing down the curtains on the second and final part of this article, let me distill the issue of taqlid and madhhabs into these four points:
• In fiqh issues, we noted how one is either a mujtahid of varying ranks, or a muqallid of varying degrees: وَاَلَّذِي عَلَيْهِ جَمَاهِيرُ الْأُمَّةِ أَنَّ الِاجْتِهَادَ … جَائِزٌ لِلْقَادِرِعَلَى الِاجْتِهَادِ وَالتَّقْلِيدَ جَائِزٌ لِلْعَاجِزِ عَنْ الِاجْتِهَادِ – ‘That which the vast majority of the ummah hold is that … ijtihad is for the one capable of it, while taqlid is for those who are incapable of it.’31
• The muqallid does not have the juristic skill set to weigh up proofs in any meaningful way or form: مَنْ كَانَ مُقَلِّدًا لَزِمَ حُكْمَ التَّقْلِيدِ، فَلَمْ يُرَجِّحْ، وَلَمْ يُزَيِّفْ، وَلَمْ يُصَوِّبْ، وَلَمْ يُخَطِّئْ؛ – ‘Whoever is a muqallid, then the ruling of taqlid applies to him: he cannot weigh-up, evaluate, or judge [a view] to be correct or incorrect.’32
• We came across this rule: ‘There is a consensus among the Muslims that it is unlawful for a muqallid to state that something is halal or haram in those issues of ijtihad where he’s doing taqlid of someone else. What he can say is: “This is the ruling in the madhhab I follow” or that: “I sought a fatwa and this was the response.”’33
• Following a madhhab (particularly for the core pillars of practice: taharah, salat, zakat, sawm, hajj) is unarguably the preferred and safest path; especially in these times where egos are rife and rampant, following false desires know of no bounds, and caution has long since been thrown to the wind.
The above concerns a layman. As for the deeply-versed and highly intelligent jurist: the murajjih, al-Dhahabi paints this overall picture:
‘There is no doubt that anyone who has a thorough grasp of fiqh, whose knowledge is broad and intention sound, is not allowed to stick rigidly to one madhhab in all that it stipulates. For perhaps another madhhab may present stronger evidences in an issue and evidences may emerge by which the proof is established to him. [In this case] he should not follow his imam, but must act in accordance with the proof, by following the imam with whom the proof lies; not out of obeying his whims. However, he is not to give a fatwa to the general public except in accordance with the madhhab of his imam.’34
The Four Imams have been described by some as ‘grammarians of the divine Word’, and the four streams of law and legal culture that flowed from them lent themselves to the overall stability of Muslim societies and polities for over a millennium. But by the beginning of the 20th century – ‘the Age of Extreme’, as it’s been dubbed – reaction to the madhhabs was being made felt, even to the general public. Here, as is often the case, extremes meet. On the one hand, modernists dismissed the classical legal formulations as being out of date and irrelevant to the times; on the other, a ‘fundamentalist’ bent sought to ‘return to the Qur’an and the Sunnah in its pristine purity’, and sift the wheat from the chaff in the madhhabs. Some of its ideologues chose to ignore the bulk of classical legal culture in an attempt to return to this pristine state; others made it their goal to patch together a meta-madhhab; a madhhab to end all madhhabs. What they had in common was an unwillingness to admit that the men whose works and insights they so lightly regarded were probably far better and wiser than they were. Thus:
Those who, for reasons of wanting to revive the Sunnah, opened the door for ordinary, religiously unqualified Muslims to ‘weigh-up’ and follow the ‘strongest’ proof in issues of taharah, salat and personal piety, but somehow imagined they could keep the door closed when it came to the more fragile, volatile matters of politics and public affairs: well that logic seems not to have faired so well. Such a bid‘ah was unheard of in Islam until less than a century ago, and it is a myth to claim that the early Muslim scholars, the salaf, instructed the laity to dabble in the dalil.
Indeed, those shaykhs who opened this door now see droves of zealous and unqualified people rushing through it, giving wild and fallacious fatwas on Islam – undermining qualified juristic authority, creating religious anarchy, and tearing apart what remains of Muslim unity – and they don’t know what to do or how to stem this tide. And, of course, out of this cavalier call and this collapse of traditional scholarly authority have come the liberals, with their laxity and low regard for sacred law; and the takfiris, with their terror and tribulations.
1. I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1423H), 3:447.
2. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1412H), 20:225.
3. Al-Jami‘ li Ahkam al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1417H), 2:142.
4. ibid., 2:142.
5. Risalah fi’l-Ijtihad wa’l-Taqlid, 47.
6. Al-I‘tisam (Amman: Dar al-Athariyyah, 1428H), 3:441-42.
8. Sifat al-Mufti wa’l-Mustafti (Riyadh: Dar al-Sumay‘i, 1436H), 271-3.
9. Abu Dawud, no.3641; al-Tirmidhi, no.2683. It has supporting chains that strengthen it, as said by Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, which should yield a final grading of at least hasan. See: Fath al-Bari (Egypt: Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 1434H), 1:245.
10. Consult: Ibn al-Qayyim, I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in, 2:18-22.
11. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 35:233.
12. Al-Muwafaqat (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn ‘Affan, 1417H), 5:336-37.
13. I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in, 3:448.
14. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.217-18; al-Tirmidhi, no.3095. It was graded hasan in al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1422H), no.3293.
15. Hujjat Allah al-Balighah (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1421H), 1:289.
16. Cited in Ibn ‘Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1423H), 1:167.
17. Its like is recorded in Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, al-Intiqa’ fi Fada’il al-Thalathat al-A’immah al-Fuqaha (Cairo: Maktabah al-Qudsi, 1350H), 145.
18. Cited in Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1414H), no.1435.
19. Quoted in Abu Nu‘aym al-Asbahani, Hilyat al-Awliya (Egypt: Dar al-Rayyan, 1406H), 9:106-07.
20. Cited in I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in, 3:469.
21. Radd al-Muhtar, 1:167.
22. Majmu‘ Fatawa, 20:226.
23. Bakr Abu Zayd, al-Madkhal al-Mufassal ila Fiqh Ahmad b. Hanbal (Riyadh: Dar al-Tawhid, 1411H), 1:66.
24. As said by Aba Butayn, Mukhtasar fi ‘Ilm Usul al-Fiqh (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 1430H), 110.
25. Minhaj al-Talibin (Beirut: Dar al-Basha‘ir, 1421H), 11:117.
26. Cf. Al-Bassam, Tawdih al-Ahkam (Riyadh: Dar al-Mayman, 1430H), 2:571-72.
27. The likes of this was voiced by Imam Ahmad, as per Abu Ya‘la, Tabaqat al-Hanabilah (Cairo: Matba‘ah al-Sunnah al-Muhammadiyyah, n.d.), 2:379.
Must each Muslim know the proofs behind a religious action before performing that act? In Islam, what counts as “proof”? Is accepting a fatwa of a qualified Muslim scholar on trust, without knowing his legal reasoning, blind following? Can ordinary Muslims who’ve had no legal training evaluate proof-texts and identify the strongest view. How can Muslim laymen utilise their God-given intellects in matters of fiqh? How true is it that there is no “clergy” or magisterium in Islam when it comes to religious authority and knowledge? And who were the Four Imams addressing when they forbade taqlid? Such questions lie at the very heart of understanding what sound Islamic epistemology and orthodoxy is; generating huge schisms, strife and religious anarchy in the ummah wherever and whenever they are misunderstood. This article is an attempt to shed some much needed clarity, balance and authenticity on the subject; God-willing.
Now if we strip these contentions down to their bare bones, they’ve historically been framed simply like this: What is the Islamic ruling (hukm) concerning taqlid, in terms of qualified jurists, as well as in terms of non-jurists and the general Muslim public? It is from this perspective that we’ll broach the above questions. For convenience sake, I’ve split the article into two parts because of its length.
A final point: Some will notice that I mostly cite from Hanbali and Shafi‘i scholars. The reason for this is simply because I have a working familiarity with the Hanbali school and its legal theory, and an acquaintance with Shafi‘i legal theory. But I cannot say the same for Hanafi and Maliki legal literature: hence the slant. Despite this, I believe that the overall picture represent the normative legal theory of all four law schools.
I. DEFINING TAQLID
Let us begin by first defining a few basic terms, so as to avoid any cross wires or being at cross purposes. Thus in Islam’s legal culture, the term taqlid has two meanings: one lexical, the other religious. Lexically, it stems from the word qalladah – a “collar” – and is defined as: ِوَضْعُ الْشَّيءِ فِي العُنُقِ مُحِيطاً بِه – ‘To place something around the neck so as to encircle it.’1 For the one doing taqlid, the muqallid, has entrusted his affair to the one he makes taqlid of. He is, so to speak, like someone being led by the collar.
Its religious/legal definition is: قَبُلُ قَوْلِ الغَيْرِ بِغَيْرِ حُجَّةٍ – ‘To accept the opinion of someone without knowing the proof.’2
Usually, but not always, the term taqlid refers to a layman (‘ammi) accepting a religious ruling from a qualified jurist, without knowing the proof (dalil) or legal rationale (ta‘lil) behind the ruling. In doing so, the layman resigns his affair to the scholar and agrees to be guided by him, out of a trust and a confidence he has in his scholarship. It is in this sense that jurists conventionally employ the term.3
II. UNDERSTANDING IJTIHAD
The science that evolved in understanding the shari‘ah, or Sacred Law of Islam, is called fiqh: usually translated as “jurisprudence”, and comes from the word faqiha, meaning: “to understand”. Fiqh, therefore, is all about understanding these divine laws and the way they shape the life-pattern of believers. Strictly speaking, shari‘ah refers to the body of laws revealed to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ which he taught and lived by in his day to day life; while fiqh is the science of understanding, extracting and developing these laws – and this involves human effort.
Now “effort” in the area of jurisprudence is known as ijtihad (lit. “exertion”), and is the task of the mujtahid – a jurist qualified and capable of such juristic efforts, though only after receiving rigorous and prolonged legal training. For uncovering the intent of the Lawgiver – the murad al-shari‘ – and to infer new rulings and legislation from the root sources of Islamic law – the Qur’an and Sunnah, as well as analogy (qiyas) and scholarly consensus (ijma‘) – can be an uphill task. Often a mujtahid must struggle through long days and nights to reach a conclusion.
The phrase used to describe this effort is: بَذْلُ المَجْهُوْد or اِسْتِفْراغُ الْوُسْعِ – “expending every possible effort” so as to reach a legal judgement.4 The significance here is that ijtihad is not just one of juristic effort or exertion, but one of exhaustion! The mujtahid spends every possible effort, leaving no stone unturned, in order to arrive at a ruling. Ijtihad is certainly not merely surfing a few websites on the internet, or skimming some pages of a few Arabic books. It is nothing less than examining and interrogating all the relevant proof-texts on the matter before arriving at a legal judgement or hukm – however many hours, days weeks or months it may take.
III. AN INSIGHT INTO IJTIHAD
Jumping the gun slightly, let’s just get an idea into what level of learning is required so as to undertake ijtihad. Now ijtihad has varying levels. The highest is when a jurist can perform absolute ijtihad – i.e. they can infer rulings directly from the primary texts of the Qur‘an or Sunnah, unrestricted by anyone else’s legal framework. A mujtahid who reaches this rank is called a mujtahid mutlaq. Imam Ibn Hazm was one such mujtahid-jurist. Contextualising Ibn Hazm’s words: ‘I follow the truth, make ijtihad, and do not confine myself to a single law school (madhhab),’ Imam al-Dhahabi wrote:
“Yes! Whoever reaches the level of ijtihad, and a number of scholars testify to it, taqlid is not allowed to him. Much like how a novice jurist, or a layman who has memorised the Qur’an or most of it, is not permitted to attempt ijtihad at all. How could he make ijtihad? What could he possible say? On what can he base his opinion? How can he fly and he has yet to grow wings?5
He then proceeds to detail the type of learning needed to reach a rank of ijtihad below that of the highest or absolute level. He says:
‘An extremely versed and brilliant jurist who – having committed to memory a primer in law, as well as a book on juristic maxims and on legal theory; has mastered grammar; memorised the Book of God and busied himself with its exegesis; possessesing a sharp, analytical mind – has now reached a rank of restricted ijtihad and is thus qualified to investigate the textual reasoning of the leading scholars. Thus when the truth becomes apparent to him in a given issue, and the proof well established, and it has been acted upon by one of the great Imams like Abu Hanifah, for instance, or Malik, al-Thawri, al-Awza‘i, al-Shafi‘i, Abu ‘Ubayd, Ahmad or Ishaq, he follows [what he sees as] the truth; without chasing concessions, but instead by being diligent. Taqlid is unlawful to him in the issue after the proofs have been established to him.’6
Now compare this with the da‘wah that insists (or at the very least, encourages) those who don’t have even an iota of the above depicted skill-set to “investigate” and “weigh-up” the proofs! Such an insane approach isn’t just reckless. It is possibly the single most significant cause for religious anarchy, extremism, and undermining shari‘ah structures to have ever afflicted the body of the ummah. For when juristic restraints are loosened, and handed to those wholly unfit for purpose, all things run amok!
IV. DIVINE LAW AND THE DETAIL
Let’s shuffle back to the issue of taqlid. In Islam, religious terms or concepts often have nuances or multiple meanings. Thus, both justice and academic integrity demand that we take to tafsil, “distinction” and “detail” and not be black and white. It might even be said (figuratively, of course) that when it comes to Islamic law, it is the divine – and not the devil – that is in the detail! To this end, Ibn al-Qayyim versified:
‘Take to distinction and differentiation; For generalisations without clarification; Have corrupted this existence and ruined Intellects and opinions in every age.’7
With that in mind, the texts of the Book and the Sunnah, and the words of the eminent jurists, identify that taqlid is of two types: one prescribed, the other prohibited. Getting to the nub of the matter, one jurist wrote: ‘It is obligatory upon the lay people who do not have the ability to learn [proofs or means of juristic inference], to ask the scholars, and to then act on the fatwas they are given. This is taqlid in the conventional sense; its reality being: “Accepting the view of someone without knowing the proof.” And it is of two types: permissible and impermissible.’8
V. THE PRESCRIBED TAQLID
Here now is an outline of the lawful form of taqlid, courtesy of Shaykh Muhammad al-Amin al-Shanqiti, followed by its textual justifications:
‘Inquiry establishes that there is a type of taqlid that is permissible and a type that isn’t permissible … As for the permissible taqlid, which none from the Muslims contest, it is a layman’s taqlid of a scholar qualified to give fatwas about various occurrences. This type of taqlid was in vogue during the Prophet’s time ﷺ and there was no difference about it. So the layman would ask whoever he wished from the Companions of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ about the ruling for the situation he faced. When a response was given, he acted on it.’9
As for the textual proof for this type of taqlid, and who it applies to, this next account goes a long way in bringing clarity to the matter:
‘The legislated taqlid is performing taqlid of the scholars whenever there is an inability to decipher proof-texts. Those to whom this applies are of two groups: Firstly, the lay people who aren’t versed in jurisprudence (fiqh) or in the prophetic traditions (hadiths); nor can they evaluate the words of the scholars. Such people are required to perform taqlid; there being no contention over this. In fact, a number of jurists have recorded a consensus to this effect.
‘Secondly, a person that has acquired some awareness of a law school, and has studied a few of the texts of the later scholars … yet despite this, is deficient in examining proofs or evaluating the opinions of the jurists. Such a person must also perform taqlid. He is not obliged to shoulder what he cannot, for: Allah does not charge a soul with more than it can bear. [2:286]
‘The textual stipulations from the scholars about the legality of taqlid for such people are many, well-known, and rooted in Allah’s words: فَاسْأَلُوا أَهْلَ الذِّكْرِ إِنْ كُنتُمْ لاَ تَعْلَمُونَ – So ask the people of knowledge if you do not know. [21:7]; and in the Prophet’s words ﷺ that say: أَلاَّ سَأَلُوا إِذْ لَمْ يَعْلَمُوا فَإِنَّمَا شِفَاءُ الْعِيِّ السُّؤَالُ – “Why didn’t they ask if they knew not? The cure for ignorance is to ask.”10
‘The lay people haven’t ceased – since the time of the Companions, the Successors, and their followers – asking their scholars about rulings of the shari‘ah. Scholars, in turn, have readily responded to such queries without necessarily mentioning proofs; nor did they forbid this to them in the least. So this is a point of consensus on the lawfulness of the laity making taqlid of their mujtahid scholars, and that they are only required to do this of one whom they consider to be a scholar.’11
VI. CONSENSUS OVER THE PRESCRIBED TAQLID
As alluded to, the prescribed taqlid is a matter about which jurists are unanimous. That is to say, it is a point of scholarly agreement or consensus (ijma‘), and is thus a hallmark of Islamic orthodoxy; of ahl al-sunnah wa’l-jama‘ah. In fact, historically, only a handful of deviant innovators have ever rejected it.
So, for instance, Ibn Qudamah stated: وَأَمَّا التَّقْلِيدُ فِي الْفُرُوعِ فَهُوَ جَائِزٌ إِجْمَاعًا – ‘As for taqlid in the detailed branches of the law (furu‘), it is permitted by consensus.’12
Imam al-Qurtubi has similarly written: ‘There is no difference among the scholars that the lay people should perform taqlid of their scholars.’13
Ibn Qudamah also tells us of who injected this erroneous idea into the religion, seeking to burden the masses, and other non-specialists in fiqh, with an impossible task:
وَذَهَبَ بَعْضُ الْقَدَرِيَّةِ إِلَى أَنَّ الْعَامَّةَ يَلْزَمُهُمُ النَّظَرُ في الدَّلِيْلِ في الْفُرُوْعِ أَيْضاً ، وَهُوَ بَاطِلٌ بِإِجْمَاعِ الصَّحَابَةِ
‘It is the view of some of the Qadariyyah that the lay people are required to investigate the proofs, even in the furu‘. But this is futile by consensus of the Companions.’14
Thus the belief requiring lay people to first know the evidence for the religious ruling they wish to act upon, isn’t just a hopeless and undoable task. The actual antecedent or predecessors of this bid‘ah was a faction of the Qadariyyah: one of the most heterodox and misguided of the seventy-two sects.
VII. THE MUQALLID & THE COMPLETE PICTURE
Now if taqlid is defined as a person following a scholarly opinion while not knowing the proof, how can a partially learned person, or a layman who is familiar with a proof-text or two in a few religious issues, be considered a muqallid? Ibn Taymiyyah furnishes us with the answer. He explains:
‘As for a person who knows the opinion of one scholar and his proof, but not the other scholar and his proofs, then he is from the generality of the muqallids. He isn’t from the scholars capable of evaluating and weighing-up [proofs].’15
This is a highly important point that is all too often misunderstood. The great bulk of jurists maintain that if a person knows a proof-text for any given issue, but is unaware of the complete proofs, he is still a muqallid (albeit one familiar with a proof or two, but not enough to evaluate the juristic strengths and weaknesses of each argument). This “complete” knowledge has three aspects to it: Firstly, knowing the relevant proof-texts. Secondly, knowing how legal rulings are extracted from them. Thirdly, knowing how to resolve any textual conflicts (ta‘arrud al-adillah). So the muqallid includes: (i) a layman who does not know the proof-texts; and (ii) someone who knows some proof-texts, but in an incomplete manner.
VIII. LET US ALL GROW IN SACRED LEARNING
The Prophet ﷺ said in regards to the excellence of seeking sacred knowledge: مَنْ سَلَكَ طَرِيقًا يَلْتَمِسُ فِيهِ عِلْمًا سَهَّلَ اللَّهُ لَهُ طَرِيقًا إِلَى الْجَنَّةِ – ‘Whosoever traverses a path in order to seek knowledge, Allah will make easy for him a path to Paradise.’16
Another hadith says: مَنْ تَعَلَّمَ عِلْمًا مِمَّا يُبْتَغَى بِهِ وَجْهُ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ لاَ يَتَعَلَّمُهُ إِلاَّ لِيُصِيبَ بِهِ عَرَضًا مِنَ الدُّنْيَا لَمْ يَجِدْ عَرْفَ الْجَنَّةِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ – ‘Whoever learns knowledge by which the face of Allah is to be sought, but does so only to acquire some worldly thing, shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise on the Day of Resurrection.’17
Just because lay people aren’t obligated to know the proof behind a fatwa of ruling they read or are given, should not prevent them from increasing in their overall knowledge of the Qur’an or the Hadith corpus. As a rule of thumb, it is encouraged for all Muslims to increase in their share of sacred knowledge. Let the lay people apply their God-given intellects to grow in understanding textual proofs related to religious foundations (usul al-din), ethics and good character, matters of the heart and spiritual growth, and basic rights and responsibilities. Books like Imam al-Nawawi’s Riyadh al-Salihin are priceless in this regard. It is only in the area of detailed Islamic law, in fiqh, where the proofs are usually complex and difficult to fathom without legal training. And it is here that taqlid is legislated in order to relieve such hardships. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi remarked:
‘As far as the Islamic rulings go, they are of two types. Firstly, those known by necessity to be part of the Prophet’s religion ﷺ – like the five daily prayers, zakat, or pilgrimage; and the prohibition of adultery, intoxicants, etc. In such issues taqlid is not allowed, for these are issues every person must know. The second: rulings that need to be inferred, like the details of the acts or worship (‘ibadat) or the social transactions (mu‘amalat). It is in these issues that taqlid is permitted.’18
So let the lay people grow in sacred knowledge and engage with the texts of the Qur‘an and hadiths in such clear-cut and unambiguous matters; whilst avoiding giving fatwas, inventing their own interpretations or speaking about religious matters without sound comprehension. And there’s plenty here for them to get on with. Even then, when they are unsure of what the texts mean or point to, let them heed Allah’s bidding: فَاسْأَلُوا أَهْلَ الذِّكْرِ إِنْ كُنتُمْ لاَ تَعْلَمُونَ – So ask the people of knowledge if you do not know. [21:7].
Perhaps it doesn’t need saying, but I’ll say it anyway. It’s not that the muqallid is seen as foolish or unintelligent. For muqallids could be theoretical physicists, mathematicians, doctors, erudite economists, philosophers, accountants, or a host of other professions which require intelligence and specialist learning. They could even be scholars in other branches of Islam: hadith experts, seasoned Arabic grammarians, cultivated linguists, accomplished theologians, or highbrow historians. But they aren’t schooled in fiqh and legal theory, and are not capable of ijtihad in juristic matters. And that, in itself, is not a blight upon their faith, character, or intellectual abilities.
IX. GOOD TAQLID: THE BOTTOM LINE
It terms of the legislated taqlid, it pretty much boils down to what Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah encapsulated when he said:
‘That which the vast majority of the ummah hold to is that ijtihad is allowed in general, and taqlid is allowed in general. Ijtihad isn’t obligated on everyone and taqlid forbidden, nor is taqlid obligated on everyone while ijtihad forbidden. Rather, ijtihad is for the one capable of it, while taqlid is for those who are incapable of it.’19
Again, stressing the limitations of a muqallid layman in the detailed and exacting art of fiqh, Ibn Taymiyyah reminds us that the muqallid is in no position whatsoever to make a just or knowledge-based evaluation of the proof-texts or scholarly positions in strictly legal matters:
‘It is not permissible for anyone to prefer one view over another without a proof, nor to be bias towards one opinion over another; or one person’s saying over another, without an evidence. Instead, whoever is a muqallid, then the ruling of taqlid applies to him: he cannot weigh-up, evaluate, or judge [a view] to be correct or incorrect.’20
Another demand arising from taqlid is: ‘There is a consensus among the Muslims that it is unlawful for a muqallid to state that something is halal or haram in those issues of ijtihad where he is doing taqlid of someone else. What he may say is: “This is the ruling in the madhhab I follow” or that: “I sought a fatwa and this was the response.”’21 If only people stuck to their levels and put the above rule into practice. So many quarrels and disputes would vanish into the twilight as egos wore thin and righteous conduct rolled in. But alas! Our social media age, whilst permitting a greater flow of information, has now elevated the hasty and ill-informed opinion to the same level as the seasoned and qualified one!
One last point. If this kind of taqlid is sanctioned by the Book and the Sunnah; and not only that, but jurists have a consensus about its legality, one cannot use a derogatory term for what Islam prescribes – i.e. taqlid is merely “blind-following.” Rather, this type of taqlid is Islamic, praiseworthy and must be seen for what it truly is: ‘The following of qualified scholarship in the details of the religion.’ After all, does one not get rewarded by Allah for this type of taqlid? Does it not count as an act of divine obedience drawing one closer to Allah?
X. THE PROHIBITTED TAQLID
Having covered the outlines of the prescribed taqlid, in particular how it relates to the layperson and anyone else incapable of ijtihad, let us now turn to the forbidden taqlid. Here, Ibn al-Qayyim said: ‘A mention about the details of taqlid and that it is classified into:  the prohibited;  the obligatory;  the permitted, but not obligatory.’22
Then he writes that the forbidden kind of taqlid takes three forms, which he goes on to elaborate as being:
‘The first category is of three types: Firstly, to turn away from what Allah has revealed and not resort to it, sufficing instead with following one’s forefathers. Secondly, doing taqlid of someone, not knowing if they are qualified so that they can be authoritatively followed. Thirdly, doing taqlid in the face of the proof being established, and it is clear that the proof opposes the view of the authority being followed.‘23
This concludes the first part of the discussion. The second begins by looking into each of these three types of forbidden taqlid and, in the process, sweep away the myths and misinterpretations that have crept into this area, and that erroneously pass as religion in certain quarters of Muslim thought. The words of the Four Imams and their censure of taqlid will also be put into their rightful context. Finally, I’ll attempt to round off the article with a brief word about madhhabs.