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.
It has now been four years since I started this three part instalment. It’s been over three years since I wrote the rough outlines for this third and final part. One thing or another, however, stopped me from completing it. But given Saudi Arabia’s current socio-religious changes or transition under the Crown Prince Muhammad b. Salman; given how so many western ‘ISIS-brides’ wish to return home; given that the ISIS ‘caliph’ was recently killed, and given that even if ISIS as an entity has all but been vanquished, its kharijite ideology lives on, this seems as good a time as any to post the third and final part.
The first instalment of the blog (here) traced the ruthless and murderous pedigree of ISIS back to the first heterodox Muslim sect, the Khawarij. Anyone wishing to get to the nub of today’s Muslim political violence needs to first understand who or what the Khawarij are. Without understanding the religious component of this extremism and misuse of religion, any political analysis of the phenomenon is likely to be significantly flawed.
The second part (which can be read here) tackled ISIS’s claim of being a true caliphate, by addressing the question of what makes a caliphate legitimate in Islam? It also tackles the sensitive topic of jihad, beyond the usual cliches, and addresses whether a Muslim state wages jihad against a non-Muslim one because of their disbelief, or because it has shown hostile intent or aggression against a Muslim state?
This final part discusses the violent political programme which ISIS and al-Qaeda model themselves on: The Management of Savagery. It explains the rationale for the jihadi-takfiri worldview and violence. As for just how instrumental Saudi ‘Wahabbism’ has been to the mass takfir narrative, and to the ideology underpinning ISIS and al-Qaeda, that sits at the centre of our discussion. So with six fairly in-depth sections covered in the first two parts, here are the last five:
In 2004, a treatise was posted on the internet which, as it turns out, was nothing less than a manifesto for global murder and mayhem. It was aptly and unblushingly entitled, idarat al-tawahhush – ‘The Management of Savagery.’ Published online, possibly by an al-Qaeda ideologue Abu Bakr Naji, its aim was to offer a definitive strategy for al-Qaeda and other such groups to establish an Islamic Caliphate.1 It laid out the various stages of the jihadi-takfiri violence in the following terms:
First comes the ‘stage of disruption and exhaustion’ wherein the enemy is politically worn down, economically drained and socially demoralised, by constant campaigns of violence and terror. ‘Diversify and widen the vexation strikes against the Crusader-Zionist enemy in every place in the Islamic world, and even outside of it if possible,’ Naji writes, ‘so as to disperse the efforts of the alliance of the enemy and thus drain it to the greatest extent possible.’
Hand in hand with the above stage comes ‘the management of savagery’. This is a phase of violent resistance and assault, with an emphasis of carrying out shockingly visible acts of terror. This serves as a glaring message to all its enemies, allies and sympathisers alike. Here the objective is to get the enemy, mainly the United States and its allies, to ‘abandon its war against Islam by proxy … and to force it to fight directly.’ Such media managed savagery is intended to recruit new youths into the takfiri fold and program and help push weaker regions of the Muslim world towards breakdown and savagery. Nothing can ever be achieved without the singular method of total warfare: ‘We must drag everyone into the battle in order to give life to those who deserve to live and destroy those who deserve to be destroyed,’ proclaimed the manifesto.
The final stage is to be the empowerment of ‘the regions of savagery’. Here, the sequence of events runs something like this: During “the management of savagery” steps, the first priority is to bring these regions under their administrative control. For such mayhem will spontaneously polarize those who live in these lawless regions of savagery and will drive these people, in their desperate desire to seek stability and security, into the arms of the jihadi-takfiris. ‘We will find,’ explained Naji, ‘that along with this first step there will be a continuous emigration of the youth of other regions to our regions’ in order to flee the anarchy and mayhem so as to live under some political stability. He also noted, of course: ‘There is a difference between the people accepting administration so that security may be provided for them and so forth, and between joining the ranks and working towards set goals and joining in the battle.’ Once under their control, the takfiri indoctrination and extremism can truly begin, and new soldiers and die-hard leaders can arise. About this, Naji wrote that, ‘speaking on the pulpit is easy, and in the newspaper even easier; and in books even easier than that. As for having [one’s] home destroyed and one’s family made homeless, or one’s mother and sister torn to pieces, only the most extraordinary men are capable of [bearing] that. Great leaders and hardened troops will not come forth save in an atmosphere like this.’
As for the relevance of Naji’s treatise, we need only look at how closely al-Qaeda sought to contour this manifesto in its strategies and actions, and how many of the plans laid out in the manifesto have already been carried out by ISIS!
Despite the plethora of fatwas (commencing two decades before, and right after, 9-11) by senior Salafi/Wahhabi scholars against unbridled takfir, suicide bombings, acts of terror and targeting civilians in war, as well as against political agitation and rebellion against Muslim state authority, a forceful argument has been made that the al-Qaeda/ISIS modus operandi is inspired, in significant part, by Wahhabism. So let’s look into the claim:
Now the idea that al-Qaeda and ISIS are inspired by Wahhabism is not anything strange; especially given how the works of Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhab (d.1206H/1792CE), and books from other scholars from the same Wahhabi stream of thought, were a staple diet of both al-Qaeda and ISIS, and were/are core components of their educational curricula. But whilst that is very telling, the real issue is: did ISIS and al-Qaeda pick up their mass takfiri habbits from Wahhabi shaykhs, or is it something that the Saudi Wahhabi/Salafi scholars are free of? (I’m employing the terms Wahhabi and Salafi descriptively, not pejoratively; as well as using them interchangeably.) As for when a charge of takfir may or may not be made against an individual, and the conditions required to be actualised in doing so, I’ve explained the matter here.
It has long been alleged by the Muslim world, and most of its scholars, that Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab didn’t just make takfir of certain specific individuals (which he certainly did), but more than that, he made mass takfir of whole Muslim societies and states; and that this mentality of mass takfir was carried on by his descendants and by other leading Wahhabi scholars and ideologues till our present time.
The more informed supporters of Shaykh Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab and his da‘wah will, at this point, demand that it is upon the accusers to bring a clear, unambiguous statement from him to support the allegation of mass takfir; and they’re quite right on insisting so. They may even point to specific statements from Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab refuting those who made such allegations against him during in his own lifetime – of which there are quite a few. From them are: ‘As for what has been mentioned to you that I make generalised takfir [of the masses] (takfir bi’l-‘umum), then this is from the lies of the enemies.’2 There’s also the following:
‘As for the lie and slander, its like is their saying that we make generalized takfir … And when it is the case that we do not make takfir of those who worship the idol which is on the grave of ‘Abd al-Qadir [al-Jilani], or the idol upon the grave of Ahmad al-Badawi; and their likes – due to their ignorance and an absence of one to caution them – how could we then make takfir of those who does not commit shirk, when they do not migrate to us, nor make takfir of us, nor fight us?’3
His holding a certain act to be disbelief (kufr), but not accusing one who commits the act to be an unbeliever (kafir), is in keeping with a well known scholarly rule: laysa kullu man waqa‘a fi’l-kufr sara kafir – ‘Not everyone who falls into disbelief becomes a disbeliever.’ And: laysa kullu man waqa‘a fi’l-shirk sara mushrik – ‘Not everyone who commits idolatry becomes an idolater.’ That is, scholars might judge a statement or act to be shirk or kufr, but refrain from declaring the one who utters such a statement or does such an act to be a mushrik or a kafir – either because of not being informed (or sufficiently informed) about the falseness of the act, or due to a mistaken interpretation that warrants giving them an excuse or amnesty.
There are these words too: ‘As for takfir, I only make takfir of whoever knows the religion of the Messenger ﷺ and thereafter insults it, forbids people from it, and manifests enmity towards whoever practices it. This is who I make takfir of. And most of the ummah, and all praise is for God, is not like this.’4
Of course, his detractors will take issue with some of the things he actually considers to be shirk or kufr, or what he included under the category of insulting the religion. Many will also point out that Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, once he made an alliance with Ibn Sa‘ud, in 1744, inaugurating what is now called the first Saudi state, Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab gave his loyalty and unyielding support to Ibn Sa‘ud, the amir of the new state. Ibn Sa‘ud, in turn, spread the doctrines of Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab as a core part of his campaigns, killings and crusade, to bring the whole Najd province under his control. Opponents of Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab will point out that he endorsed Ibn Sa‘ud’s “jihad” against the people in various regions of the Najd, and took booty from them, and that this is proof writ large that he made large scale takfir upon Muslims – as jihad is only waged against a disbelieving enemy! Eye witness Wahhabi chronicles of Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab and his followers confirm that Ibn Sa‘ud did wage jihad against various peoples and provinces in the Najd: something these chronicles talk about with much pride and a great deal of satisfaction.5 So is this not a proof of mass takfir? It might well be!
What strengthens these allegations is that Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, in the year 1165H/1752CE, declared that the town of Huraymila had apostatised from Islam; including his very own brother Sulayman, their judge (qadi). That is, he made takfir of the whole town. Jihad was duly waged against them, and the booty was distributed among the Wahhabi warriors.6 If we add to this fatwa of town takfir, Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s claim that in the Najd, only he alone knew the true meaning of la ilaha illa’Llah; not even the other scholars did, then it’s not surprising that mass takfir and the shedding of Muslim blood is seen to be his legacy. Here are his words:
‘And I inform you of myself – by God, whom there is none deserving of worship save Him: I sought knowledge, and those who knew me believed I had knowledge whilst I did not know the meaning of la ilaha illa’Llah at that time, nor know the religion of Islam, before this goodness that God graced me with. Such was also the case with my teachers; there was no man among them who knew [any of] this. And if someone from the scholars of this and the surrounding areas claims he knew the meaning of la ilaha illa’Llah, or knew the meaning of Islam before this time, or claims about his teachers that someone from them knew that, then he has lied, uttered falsehood, hoodwinked the people, and praised him with something he doesn’t possess.’7
Remember, we are not discussing whether such statements constitute sheer arrogance or some devilish narcissism. Rather, we are looking at the question: Did Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab make mass takfir upon Muslims, from which outfits and misfits like ISIS have taken their cue? Although takfir of even one individual, without the conditions or impediments being taken into consideration, or without the pious caution which is a hallmark of mainstream Islamic orthodoxy, is abhorrent and misguidance. That said:
An argument is made that Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s policy was one of noninterference in the military activities of Ibn Sa‘ud, not active support or religious legitimation for them. That is to say, the shaykh’s attempts at religious reform were being eclipsed by the amir’s quest for state consolidation and material prosperity. By the time Ibn Sa‘ud had died, in 1767, and was succeeded by his son ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, the Wahhabi capital of Dir‘iyyah, rather than being famous as a centre of learning, became known instead for its opulence, wealth and strength. According to Ibn Bishr, people had grown weary of holding back their desires.8 The sources will have to be scrutinised to see just how well the argument holds up, and to evaluate if Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s takfir of the whole town of Huraymila was an exception to the rule. What is beyond a shadow of a doubt is that Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s da‘wah was used as justification – first by Ibn Sa‘ud, then his son – to kill, slaughter and assassinate multitudes of Muslims during Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s own lifetime; there being no public word of condemnation or unambiguous dissent recorded from him.
Again, it’s been suggested that Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab had a tendency to withdraw from Ibn Sa‘ud’s company during jihad operations. Be that as it may, what we do know is that the shaykh withdrew from his public position, in the year 1773, six years into the rule of ‘Abd al-‘Aziz b. Sa‘ud; and focused on teaching and authoring. He died nineteen years later, at the age of ninety-two, in 1792.
So did Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab make takfir? Yes he did; of, it appears, many individuals and at least one entire town. The contention was usually the issue of istighathah – calling on righteous, deceased persons for the fulfilment of a need. Unlike al-Razi or Ibn ‘Aqil before him who described the act as being shirk or kufr,9 Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab went steps further and made takfir of actual individuals who engaged in the act – after what he considered to be iqamat al-hujjah or “establishment of the proof” against them. As for mass takfir, the pro-Wahhabi sources do not mention it, except for Huraymila; and anti-Wahhabi sources, which I’ve chosen to avoid for this discussion, are adamant that he did! And Allah knows best.
After his demise, the first Saudi state expanded rapidly, growing even richer. It conquered Karbala, in 1802; and captured Makkah, in 1803. It reached its zenith in 1818, when it was vanquished by the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, Muhammad ‘Ali Pasha. It is during the years of Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s sons and grandsons, however, that we see categorical mass takfir being made. And that’s what we’ll address next:
The Ottoman-Egyptian armies of Muhammad ‘Ali landed in Arabia, in 1811, reestablishing their control over the Hijaz, and also sacking the capital of the first Saudi state, Dir‘iyyah, in 1818. What helped this all out victory is that large pockets of Arabs, either unconvinced with Wahhabism; disaffected with it; or unhappy with the Sa‘ud (Saudi) state moving into their provinces and wresting control from them, welcomed Muhammad ‘Ali’s armies and lent support to them. In fact, even during a truce between Muhammad ‘Ali and the Saudi state, in 1815, many of these dissatisfied people called for the resumption of attacks upon Saudi-Wahhabi forces. Unsurprisingly, the Wahhabi scholars considered such support to a foreign invasion as a serious act of treachery and disloyalty.
During this political upheaval, Sulayman b. ‘Abd Allah (d.1818), a grandson of Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab and one of the leading Wahhabi scholars of the time, wrote a tract on the highly sensitive topic of al-wala’ wa’l-bara’a – “Loyalty and Disavowal” – placing it in the context of the Saudi-Ottoman war.10 In it he asserts that any Muslim showing loyalty (muwalat, wala’) to the idolators – of whom he includes the Ottomans – is an idolator like them. The treaties opens with this passage: ‘Realise, may God have mercy upon you, that if a person manifests conformity (muwafaqah) to the religion of the idolators (mushrikin), from fear of them; or flattering them; or compromising so as to ward off harm from them, then he is a disbeliever like them – even if he detests their religion, loathes them, and loves Islam and the Muslims.’11 He continues by saying that those Arabs who assisted the Ottomans with loyalty, support or wealth, allied with them, conformed to their religion, and severed their connection to the [Wahhabi-Saudi] Muslims, ‘become from the soldiers of [worshipping] domes [over graves] (al-qubbab), and idolatry and its people.’12
Another core dimension of wala’ and bara’ah addressed in the tract, and another cause to excommunicate other Muslims, is the issue of al-isti‘anah bi’l-kuffar – “seeking help from the unbelievers” against other Muslims. Citing the verse: O you who believe! Take not the Jews or Christians as friends and allies, they are friends and allies one to another. Whoever amongst you takes them for friends and allies is of them. Indeed, God guides not an unjust people, [Q.5:51] the tract declares: ‘Such is the ruling upon one who allies themselves with the unbelievers from the Magians or the worshippers of idols: then he is of them.’13 By the latter depiction, he means the Ottomans. And once the idea of wala’ and bara’ah had been weaponised in this way, it would have serious repercussions for our contemporary times; as we shall see in sections ten and eleven.
Other statements of mass Ottoman takfir include: Sa‘ud b. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, the third ruler of the first Saudi state (r. 1803-1814). In one of his letters to an Ottoman governor, he writes: ‘But if you continue upon this condition of yours, and do not repent from the shirk you are upon; nor adhere to the religion of God with which He sent his Messenger; nor abandon idolatry and innovations, we will never cease fighting you until you return to the upright religion of God, and traverse its Straight Path.’14
And if anyone was having doubts about the legitimacy of this mass takfir of the Ottomans, ‘Abd Allah, son of ‘Abd al-Latif – the latter being the most learned Wahhabi scholar of his time – wrote: ‘Whoever does not acknowledge the disbelief (kufr) of the [Ottoman] State, nor differentiate between them and Muslim rebels (bughat), does not know the meaning of la ilaha illa’Llah! If, along with that, he believes the State is Muslim, then this is worse and is graver. This is what is [considered] doubting the disbelief of one who disbelieves in God, or commits shirk with Him. So whosoever aids and abets them against the Muslims, with any type of help, then this is clear-cut apostasy.’15
In fact, the fatwas, tracts and writings of the Wahhabi ‘ulema are replete with the verdict, and unanimous in their conviction, that the Ottoman empire was a disbelieving state; that it was dar al-harb – a “land or war” – exempting those towns, villages or settlements that accepted the Wahhabi da‘wah; and that the Al al-Sa‘ud, the Saudi ruling dynasty, was the true caliphate (khilafah).
Thus, Ibn Sa‘ud’s biography in al-Durar al-Saniyyah describes him as the ‘khalifah in Najd from the [Islamic] year 1157-1179; and the khilafah has continued through his descendants till now.’16 ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Hasan, a prominent Wahhabi scholars of his age during the second Saudi state, described the reign of ‘Abd Allah b. Faysal (r. 1865-1871) as khilafah nubuwwah – ‘caliphate [upon the pattern of] prophethood.’17 And to a previous ruler, he addresses him as: imam al-muslimin wa khalifah sayyid al-mursalin – ‘leader of Muslims, and caliph of the master of the messengers.’18 So the vexing question about whether the Wahhabi-Saudi alliance rebelled against the Ottoman caliphate need not be asked. For in the Wahhabi worldview, the Ottomans were mushriks, and hence had no Islamic rule, let alone being caliphs. In fact, in this worldview, it was the mushrik Ottomans who rebelled against the [Wahhabi-Saudi] caliphate!
For our purpose, the Saudi story doesn’t quite end here. Although the victory over the first Saudi state was thorough and complete, by 1824, Turki b. ‘Abd Allah had retaken Riyadh. This marked the beginning of the second Saudi state. Things were going along pretty well, particularly during the reign of Turki’s son, Faysal. But when Faysal died in 1865, and his son, ‘Abd Allah, became the new ruler, this is where the story takes on a greater relevance for our times.
‘Abd Allah’s legitimacy was militarily challenged by his brother Sa‘ud. And although he managed to keep the reigns of leadership for several years, Sa‘ud took power in 1871. For the next decade or so, the second Saudi state was enmeshed in a civil war which erupted between the two brothers. In the same year, in 1871, ‘Abd Allah wrested back control; two years later, in 1873, Sa‘ud seized control for a second time. His reign lasted two years, but in 1875 he was replaced by ‘Abd al-Rahman. A year later, ‘Abd Allah regained power and reigned until his death in 1889. The above ‘Abd al-Rahman succeeded him and reigned for two more years by which time, weakened by all the political infighting, the second Saudi state (with very little territorial expansion during its time, and with diminished religious zeal) was led to its demise in 1891. Ibn Sa‘ud – having regained control of Riyadh in 1902, and most of the Arabian cities and regions by 1926 – established the third, modern Saudi state in 1932; formally calling it the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The point of this history is that they way ‘Abd Allah regained leadership (for a third time) from ‘Abd al-Rahman, was by calling upon the Ottomans for help and support. Although most Wahhabi scholars of the time viewed soliciting the Ottoman “mushriks” for political support to be a necessity, a small, yet powerful clique of leading Wahhabi scholars were incensed by this. Harkening back to the treatise of Sulayman, the grandson of Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab in his treatment of wala’ and bara’ah, and of al-isti‘anah bi’l-kuffar, as well as add their own take on the matter, they declared that this amounted to an act of disbelief and duly made takfir upon Ibn ‘Ajlan, the Wahhabi judge who backed ‘Abd Allah’s decision. At the forefront of the charge was the preeminent Wahhabi scholar of the time, ‘Abd al-Latif b. ‘Abd al-Rahman Al al-Shaykh (d.1876) and Ibn ‘Atiq (d.1883). The latter wrote a tract on the issue, entitled: Sabil al-Najat wa’l-Fikak min Muwalat al-Murtaddin wa’l-Atrak – “Path of Salvation and of Separation from Loyalty to the Apostates and the Turks.”19
The tract commences with a few hadith citations, one of which states that the ummah will fight the unbelieving Turks (al-turk al-kuffar) described as having small eyes, ruddy faces, flat noses and faces like leather shields.20 He laments how so many Muslims have fallen into love, loyalty and imitation of non-Muslim ways and lifestyles.21 But the most novel and significant thing to come out of the treatise is that Ibn ‘Atiq didn’t just emphasise not having wala’ for non-Muslims as a foundational part of faith, but that Muslims must also show bara’ah towards non-Muslims by actively disavowing them and showing contempt for them. So whilst Sulayman’s Dala’il spoke about the unlawful, inadmissible wala’, Ibn ‘Atiq’s Sabil shifted the emphasis to compulsory bara’ah.22
Fast-forward a century or so, and the fatwas of Shaykh Sulayman and Ibn ‘Atiq were given a new lease of life in the writings of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi (b.1959).23 Inspired by the proof-texts and textual arguments in the Dala’il and Sabil, al-Maqdisi penned (1984) his Millat Ibrahim – “The Religious Way of Life of Abraham” – where he restated the duty to show enmity towards shirk and the mushriks, as part of having true faith, preferably by waging jihad against them. In it, he also re-weaponised wala’ and bara’ah by calling for jihad against what he deemed as nominal or token Muslim states and rulers.24 Ironically, whilst the establishment Saudi scholars had all but disregarded these 19th century tracts on wala’ and bara’ah, and had for varying rationales sanitised and depoliticised them, al-Maqdisi quoted freely and extensively from them, demonstrating their political relevance for today’s Muslim world. Summarising the radical jihadi-takfiri imperative, al-Maqdisi, wrote: ‘Know that from the most particular traits of the Abrahamic way of life, and most important of its essentials, which we see most of the callers in our age falling extremely short in – in fact, most have forsaken them and have let them die out – are: [i] Manifesting bara’ah against the idolators and their false objects of worship; [ii] Proclaiming disbelief in them, their deities, and their methods, legislations and idolatrous laws; [iii] Initiating enmity and hatred of them and their statutes and conditions of disbelief until they return to God; abandoning all of this, disavowing it all and disbelieving in it. God, exalted is He, stated: There is an excellent example for you in Abraham and those who followed him, when they said to their people: ‘We are free of you and that which you worship besides God. We disavow you; and enmity and hatred has arisen between us, until you believe in God alone.’ [Q.60:4]’25
It is his al-Kawashif al-Jaliyyah fi Kufr al-Dawlah al-Sa‘udiyyah – “The Evident Unveilings Concerning the Disbelief of the Saudi State” (1989) which took the Wahhabi weaponised understanding of wala’ and bara’ah to what appears to be its logical conclusion: accusing Saudi Arabia of being a kafir, infidel state. Again, drawing upon Wahhabi scholarship of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; and the twentieth century former Senior Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Muhammad b. Ibrahim Al al-Shaykh (d.1969), al Maqdisi insists that Saudi Arabia is a kafir state from three principle angles:
Firstly, that the kingdom, although it legislates with certain shari‘ah laws, also legislates with man-made laws in place of, as well as along with, many shari‘ah prescriptions. Al-Maqdisi calls the kingdom’s attempts at making people believe that it only legislates with shari‘ah laws as ‘an obvious lie!’26 He then goes on to devote the next ten pages or more documenting law after law after law that Saudi Arabia has legislated with respect to home affairs and foreign policy, and which violate shari‘ah teachings.27 To add insult to injury, he also records a volley of fatwas and letters by the former mufti, Muhammad b. Ibrahim wherein he rejects a whole raft of laws the kingdom introduces and which he believed was in opposition to the shari‘ah: these letters also advise the kingdom’s movers and shakers to keep to the straight and narrow, but to little or no avail.28 During this meticulous, yet scathing censure of how the kingdom has adopted man-made laws contrary to the norms of Islamic legislation, al-Maqdisi also marshals certain Quranic verses to nail the point; verses such as: Do they have partners [with God] who have made lawful for them in religion that for which God has not authorised? [Q.42:21] Also: Have you not seen those who pretend that they believe in what is sent down to you and what was sent down before you? They seek the judgement of false gods, although they are ordered to reject them. [Q.4:60] And: Is it a judgement of ignorance that they seek? Who is better in judgement than God for people who have sure faith? [Q.5:50] It should be noted, that despite Muhammad b. Ibrahim’s rejection of certain laws the kingdom introduced, he never once made takfir of the government, or deemed Saudi to be an unIslamic country (even if it did have some unIslamic laws).
Secondly, the kingdom has accepted membership of certain foreign organisations, such as the International Court of Justice and the United Nations, with its Charter, that govern on the basis of man-made laws. Such membership is an endorsement of man-made laws, and man-made laws are tawaghit (sing. taghut) – “false objects of worship” besides Allah.29
Thirdly, al-Maqdisi tries to demonstrate that Saudi Arabia’s ties with, and dependency on, the United States is a reason for it being a kafir state. This he does by giving a detailed, pedantic account of Saudi defense expenditure, showing that although the kingdom has spent billions of dollars on weaponry, Saudi still has a weak and incompetent army. This, he asserts, is because most of this military budget is spent on American advisors, soldiers, trainers and planners who are employed by the kingdom, not for Saudi interests, but for America’s (and for its main ally in the region, Israel).30
Al-Maqdisi’s radical solution to this Saudi ‘fitnah’, as he put it, is simply migration (hijrah) and jihad.31 Migration away from the kingdom (to where, he doesn’t really say), and then jihad against it (as well as against all other Muslim majority states and their leaders who have also substituted (tabdil) divine legislation with man-made laws). Writing about the Kuwaiti constitution, by then a typical example of legislators in Muslim lands replacing shari‘ah rulings with man made laws in their bid to modernise, al-Maqdisi wrote: ‘Before all else, you must disbelieve in this idol – the [Kuwaiti] constitution and its laws – hate it, show enmity to it, disavow it, and not be pleased or submit except to the rule of God alone. This is so that one actualises the meaning of la illaha illa’Llah … And just as it is obligatory upon you to disavow this idol – i.e. the constitution and its laws – it is likewise obligatory on you to disavow everyone who defends it, protects its laws, and persists in legislating it and enslaving people to it.’32 In other words, enmity is not just to the laws themselves, but also to those who uphold them and defend them: be it rulers, legislators, bureaucrats, army, police, or the secret services. Such an outlook, slow to take off at first, would soon become the pivotal rationale for the jihadi-takfiri program – particularly after the First Gulf war of 1990.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Ottoman tanzimat reforms, which started in 1836, saw many shari‘ah laws being replaced with man-made laws; largely based on the Napoleonic Code and French law. It is this tabdil or “substitution” of shari‘ah laws, alongside Ottoman ideas of istighathah and their contravention of wala’ and bara’ah, that were the principle factors animating Wahhabi takfir of the Ottoman empire.
What is important to note in all of this is that al-Maqdisi draws heavily on the fatwas and works of preeminent eighteenth and nineteenth century Wahhabi scholars like Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, Sulayman, ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Hasan and Ibn ‘Atiq. In his view, and the jihadi-takfiri cohort which was beginning to grow and mature around him and transnationally, Wahhabism was the doctrine giving legitimacy to the Saudi state; but the Saudi dynasty has for a long time now been biting the hand that feeds it, so to speak, thereby losing the right to govern. Wahhabi theology, once used to confer validity on the Saudi dynasty, had come full circle and was now being used to pull down the House of Sa‘ud! And as black and white, hostile, extreme, and devoid of compassionate concern for human welfare the traditional, non-Wahhabi ‘ulema find the Wahhabi worldview to be, there’s no mistaking al-Maqdisi’s pedigree: it is thoroughly Wahhabi, through and through.
Al-Maqdisi’s voice was not a native Saudi one, being born in the West Bank. It would be a whole ten years after publishing his Kashf al-Niqab (1988) and his Kawashif, and almost fifteen years after his Millat Ibrahim, that the isti‘anah bi’l-kuffar theme would be raised by a native Saudi scholarly voice; putting it into, as al-Maqdisi did, a contemporary context. The first of these voices was that of Humud b. ‘Uqala (1927-2002), who penned al-Qawl al-Mukhtar fi Hukm al-Isti‘anah bi’l-Kuffar (1999). A few other voices followed, like al-‘Uyayri (d.2003), who was the first leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Nasr b. Hamd al-Fahd. After 9/11, it wasn’t just a case of the jihadi-takfiris accusing the Saudis of seeking help from the [American] disbelievers. But due to their participation in the U.S.-led ‘war on terror’, they could be accused of another act of kufr: of helping the disbelievers against other Muslims.
It must, of course, be said that other Salafi scholars have written rebuttals of al-Maqdisi’s views, attempting to offer alternative interpretations whilst trying to remain faithful to the classical Salafi-Wahhabi worldview. Muhammad b. ‘Umar Bazmul’s Mudhakkirah al-Radd ‘ala Kutub Mashbuhah, and Tabdid Kawashif al-‘Anid of ‘Abd al-‘Aziz b. Ra’is, are two such rebuttals. Both tracts attempt to defend Saudi against the takfir charges, and demonstrate how al-Maqdisi’s lack of scholarly credentials and nuance in such delicate issues, and his hastiness and generalisations, are his downfall. Bazmul noted that in his introduction, al-Maqdisi says: ‘I composed these pages out of an urgency of the matter and restricted time. I haven’t spent much time [doing so], nor a lot of effort.’33 To this, Bazmul retorts: ‘This, may God guide him, is what he says about giving such a critical matter its due.’34
Al-Ra’is, while clarifying the issue of al-wala wa’l-bara’ah, writes that some have gone to extremes in understanding the Quranic verses on the topic, while others have fallen short of what is required. He then said: ‘Of those who have gone into extremes in the matter; in fact, the utmost extreme, is this obstinate al-Maqdisi.’35 He then runs through the types of relationships with non-Muslims in respect to wala and bara’ah, seeking to put verses like: You will not find a people who believe in God and the Last Day loving those who oppose God and His Messenger … [Q.58:22] in their proper context. He explains, in fairly typical Salafi fashion, that wala (love, loyalty) for the non-Muslims is of three categories: Firstly, loving a non-Muslim due to their religion or beliefs: this itself is clear-cut disbelief. The Quranic verse applies in this case: Whoever turns to them is of them. [Q.5:51] Secondly, loving a non-Muslim for a worldly motive or reason. This is forbidden and sinful, but not disbelief. You will not find a people who believe in God and the Last Day loving those who oppose God and His Messenger … [Q.58:22] speaks to this. Thirdly, natural love, affection or affinity (wala’ tab‘i, hubb tab‘i) for a non-Muslim due to them being one’s parents, siblings, wife (in the case of a Muslim man being married to a Jewish or Christian lady); or a kind and loveable relative or close friend. The Qur’an says to the Prophet ﷺ about the guidance of his dear uncle, Abu Talib, who was a non-Muslim: You cannot guide whom you love, but God guides whomsoever He wills. [Q.28:56]36 So this is the more nuanced Salafi-Wahhabi take on wala and bara’ah, contrasted with al-Maqdisi’s jihadi-takfir notions, and seemingly even those of nineteenth century Wahhabi thought.
It would be useful to research (if it hasn’t already been done so) just how well highlighted the idea of a natural wala has been in the writings of Salafi shaykhs before 9-11, and how much has come as an afterthought. For it is seldom enough just to have the correct stance. Often, it’s also a case of how one emphasises an issue or downplays it that has a crucial bearing on sound Islamic education and nurturing.
Ruling by other than the judgement of God (hukm bi ghayri ma anzala’Llah) likewise has its nuances, as well as a difference of opinion between Wahhabi-Salafi scholars. Shaykh Muhammad b. Ibrahim elucidated what looks to be the dominant stance of senior Salafi-Wahhabi jurist-theologians on the matter. He explains that the disbelief (kufr) of ruling by other than God’s judgement is of two types: the greater form of kufr, which takes a person out of the fold of Islam, and a lesser kufr, which makes a person a sinful Muslim; but not an apostate. He says that the greater kufr involves:
[i] To totally reject judging by God’s judgments, believing it is not required at all. [ii] The belief that some other judgement or system of legislation is better than God’s law. [iii] The belief that another judgement is equal to, but not better than, God’s judgement. [iv] The belief that it is permissible to give a judgment that opposes the judgement of God – even if one believes nothing is equal to, or better than, God’s laws. [v] To judge by one’s tribal or cultural norms and conventions, in complete disregard for God’s laws. [vi] To substitute the shari‘ah and shari‘ah courts with man-made systems of legislation, root and branch. As for the lesser kufr, which Ibn ‘Abbas explained was: ‘Disbelief lesser than [the greater] disbelief (kufr duna kufr)’, it is when someone judges in opposition to God’s judgement, whist believing it is forbidden and that one is sinful for doing so.37Is not God the best of Judges? [Q.95:8] speaks to all the above, as does: Whoever judges not by what God has sent down, such are the disbelievers. [Q.5:44]
About the last category of tabdil – “substituting”, “replacing” the shari‘ah with man-made laws from top to bottom; completely or predominantly, Muhammad b. Ibrahim said: ‘This is the greater, most extensive, clearest obstinacy against the shari‘ah; haughtiest rejection of its laws; and worst defiance of its law-courts [in terms of] organisation, maintenance, provisions, foundations, branches, forms, types, rulings, diktats, or sources of reference. For just as the shari‘ah courts have their reference points they refer to – each relying on the Book of God and the Sunnah of His Messenger ﷺ – then these courts that judge with a patchwork of disparate man-made laws also have their reference points; be it the French, American, British, or other legal systems … So what disbelief is more audacious than this? Or what greater opposition is there to the testimony that Muhammad ﷺ is the Messenger of God?’38
Other Salafi scholars, in concert with most other non-Wahhabi ones, hold the view that the act of tabdil alone isn’t sufficient to prove disbelief or apostasy in one’s heart, unless accompanied by istihlal – a verbal affirmation that one “believes it to be lawful” to do so. This was the view held by Bin Baz (d.1999), al-Albani (d.1999) and a few other prominent Salafi scholars.39 What that means is that one cannot declare a ruler or a government to be apostates, unless and until they verbally declare their belief that the man-made rules they have substituted, instituted, or inherited are permissible to judge by in opposition to the shari‘ah. Therefore, such governments or leaders are, at best, sinners; not apostates.
So where are we in all this politics and theology? Well the fact remains, whilst the views of the Saudi establishment scholars concerning the Islamic forbiddance of suicide bombings or targeting civilians can and has made significant inroads in the deradicalising process, they appear to be struggling to win the argument against the jihadi-takfiris in other areas such as hukm bi ghayr ma anzala’Llah and isti‘anah. For here, the latter have the firm and decisive support of early Wahhabi fatwas and theology. Not only that, but the way Middle-Eastern politics has and is unfolding, and the current liberalesque reforms in Saudi, only serve to exacerbate the situation. There is, of course, a flip side to all this extremism and radicalism. The voices of our ‘ulema have, since 9-11, been key in combating jihadi-takfiri extremism head on; with the Salafi ‘ulema addressing these concerns earlier still – since possibly the 1980s. Another factor in deradicalisation is simply age: young people who may hold radical views about politics, or about the world and their place in it, will often grow out of their black and white take on things when they grow into the responsibilities of life, marriage, job and family. There’s also the growing mistrust with the promises of Islamism (although the term is semantically problematic, I use it for lack of a better one), particularly after the Arab Spring. And while the Muslim world reconsiders the pros and cons of anti-government protests and uprisings, the ummah is in dire need of a prophetic uprising; that’s for sure. Religious burn outs and religious apathy may, in part, be behind this mistrust: but they are two more reasons for a reduction in extremism. Another is that a large and growing part of the ummah, especially its younger elements, just wish to live a worldly life; have fun; and catch up (or keep up, as the case may be) with the rest of the “progressive” world! Lastly, there are government-orchestrated deradicalisation programs for which, I suppose, we ought to be guardedly thankful.
But seeds had been sown. In the 1980s, al-Maqdisi revived the writings of eighteenth and nineteenth century Wahhabi ‘ulema on the incendiary socio-political topics of wala and bara’ah, and al-isti‘anah bi’l-kuffar. In the 1990s, a group of diehards centred on Humud b. ‘Uqala propagated al-Maqdisi’s books and ideas, and soon added their own works to his. ‘Uqala et al. were pivotal in convincing a generation of how they should hold firmly to the pure Wahhabi ideals, unsullied by the state’s more palatable version of Wahhabism; and how they should stand against Western intrusion and hate both it and the West. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, after 9-11, provided just the right pretext to demonstrate that contempt and bara’ah. We must add to the mix certain jihadi-takfiri foot soldiers, like al-Maqdisi’s one time prodigy, al-Zarqawi (d.2006). Al-Zarqawi, ideologically forged by al-Maqdisi; but his time as actual practitioner of war, terror and mass murder in Afghanistan and Iraq, in the early 2000s, in contrast to a jihadi-takfiri academic like al-Maqdisi, earned this jihadi thug a sizeable following. This self-proclaimed leader of ‘Al-Qaeda in the land of the two rivers’ took his ideas of takfiri terror to new heights, disturbing people like his former mentor and even Bin Laden! And so it is that a mixture of Wahhabi ideology, their application to the contemporary Muslim world by al-Maqdisi, al-‘Uqala, and co., al-Naji’s Management of Savagery, and the grassroots strategies of terror devised by the likes of al-Zarqawi, became the potent mixture that would form the operational basis for the jihadi-takfiri outlook of ISIS and their like. That this well-defined program and outlook is wholly khariji; of Kharijite nature and nurturing, should be of little doubt.
Today’s jihadi-takfiris extend their jihad to all rulers over Muslims states, along with their armies, police force and government administrators. The political logic behind the enmity and violence is simply that: [i] Hakimiyyah, (“sovereignty”, “judgement”) belongs solely to God. [ii] Today’s rulers do not judge by God’s laws, hence they are disbelievers (kuffar). [iii] It is obligatory to fight against them, remove them and replace them with true Muslim leaders. [iv] Those who side with such rulers (be they scholars, bureaucrats, or citizens) are also disbelievers. [v] Since the rulers are disbelievers, all their covenants of security, and domestic or international treatises, are null and void. Only the jihadi-takfiris are true Muslims; hence political violence must fill our cities! For them, fighting and acts of terror are ideally for tamkin – “consolidating” or “establishing” authority over a particular piece of land or region; and if not, then for nikayah – inflicting as much harm, damage, murder and mayhem as possible. Even if one takes out the first two pillar about hakimiyyah, and convince the jihadi-takfiris about the correctness of the second view on tabdil, it only gets replaced with: [i] Wala’ should only be for God and Islam. [ii] Today’s rulers do not have wala for God, Islam or its laws, hence they are disbelievers!
This, then, is the jihadi-takfiri agenda; inspired – in great part – by original, authoritative Wahhabi teachings. And while groups like al-Qaeda or ISIS emotionally employ atrocities of Western foreign policy in Muslim countries, Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, or the murder and tyranny of brutal dictators against their Muslim citizens, as a recruitment tool and motivator; and while many who join their terrorist bandwagons may not be clued up about the details of the core jihadi-takfiri philosophy, the real driver for their raison d’être and savage activism are the above five pillars of their religious-political logic. It is not only Western foreign policies and interventions in the Middle-East and Palestinian grievances that need to be redressed. But to truly take the sting out of these terrorist outfits and their ideologues, we ask that our ‘ulema continue to deconstruct their falsehood, twisted logic and extremism – especially as it concerns the Quranic understanding of wala’ and bara’ah and al-hukm bi ghayri ma anzala’Llah – “ruling by other than the judgement of God”. But merely contenting ourselves with labelling them Kharijites and terrorists, and not tackling their warped understanding of these delicate religious texts and concepts head-on, we do our religion; ourselves; and the wider world a possible disservice.
Conclusion: Whether blaming Wahhabism (and indirectly, Saudi Arabia) for acts of terror carried out in Islam’s name is a red herring or not has been fiercely debated for over two decades. Yet while it is true that there is no single-cause explanation behind why people join terrorist groups, Wahhabi ideas are certainly the main driver behind the jihadi-takfiri worldview – as evinced by the fact that all its main ideologues subscribe to the Wahhabi-Salafi form of religion. We have further seen that even if the charge of mass takfir against Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhab seems to be inconclusive; or at best, untrue, mass takfir is undoubtedly found from his descendants and other leading Wahhabi scholars in the end part of the first Saudi state, and throughout the era of the second Saudi state. Given how the earliest Wahhabi historians, Ibn Ghannam and Ibn Bishr, weren’t shy of recording the takfir verdicts (large scale or otherwise) of Wahhabi ‘ulema – in fact, it often seems like a badge of honour – one would expect them to have chronicled any mass takfir of Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab himself, if he had done so. And God knows best.
Again, while there are complex political, economical or psychological reason people join terrorist outfits like ISIS; and while other conservative, apolitical forms of Salafism (even if there is religious intolerance), do not necessarily lead to becoming terrorists, we noted how al-Maqdisi infused a new lease of life into the takfir fatwas of the 18th & 19th century leading Wahhabi ‘ulema, which would soon become the very backbone of the jihadi-takfiri worldview and activism.
Likewise, it is absurd to suggest that would-be terrorists, especially in Britain and Europe, end up joining or supporting ISIS by wandering from mosque to mosque or trawling the internet, and stumbling upon the book Kitab al-Tawhid by Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, then a few weeks later the book incites them to make their way to Syria, or to plot terrorist attacks in their native countries. The reality is far more involved than that. Yet that mustn’t obscure the fact that core Wahhabi tenets are the linchpin for today’s jihadi-takfiri ideas. Certainly, Sayyid Qutb (d.1966) may have partly inspired some core al-Qaeda members, though less so core ISIS ones. And yes, he may have supplied some of the jihadi-takfiri vocabulary and context. But there is no doubt that the bulk of the jihadi-takfiri theological scaffolding and inspiration is decidedly Wahhabi. Starting with early Wahhabi takfir writings, through to al-Maqdisi, then ‘Uqala and others, the pillars of the jihadi-takfiri method were forged:  Hakimiyyah.  Apostasy of all the rulers.  Jihad against the apostate rulers and regimes to establish an Islamic State.  The only viable means to change secular Muslim states is the bullet, not the ballot box.  The inevitable conflict between faith (iman) and disbelief (kufr); between the jihadi–takfiris and the rest.
As for the non-Wahhabi, classically-trained ‘ulema: In general, for much of the twentieth century these ‘ulema scrutinised the contents of the shari‘ah, in order to accord Muslims some principled accommodation with the emerging global reality. As it happens, Islam’s legal tools were well-disposed to the task. The juristic tool of tahqiq al-manat – identifying the context for laws so as to ascertain their current form and application, and maslahah mursalah – taking account of public interest and utility, moved the legalists of the major centres of Muslim scholarship in the direction of acclimatisation and adaption. Yet while it’s not Islam’s calling to conform to the age – it is, after all, the great global dissent – it can and must furnish Muslims with the spiritual and social technologies required to live in the age and navigate its eclectic mix of challenges. More than that, true religion must offer people insights into how best to heal modernity’s discontents and despair too.
Those doctors of Islam’s legal tools, who are also blessed with being spiritually rooted in the realities of ihsan, teach us that God’s law exists to instantiate mercy not severity; ease not hardship; good news (tabshir) not alienation (tanfir). They insist that today’s times call for tashil; facilitation, but not tasahul; slackness or over-leniency. And that far from caving-in to secular modernity, as the short-sighted or fiqh-less zealots believe, this path maintained a wise, far-sighted openness to gentleness, which long predated the advent of the modern world. Sufyan al-Thawri stated: ‘In our view, knowledge entails granting legal concessions (rukhsah). As for being strict, anyone can do that.’40Sayyiduna ‘Ali, may God be pleased with him, once said: ‘The scholar is not the one to cause people to despair of God’s mercy, nor to give them licence to sin.’41
Such scholars were also concerned about pseudo-scholars and charlatans, and the weak-spirited, not turning Islam into as many things as modernity wants Religion to be; in that Islam’s texts are twisted and tortured so as to make them compliant with whatever “ism” that happens to be modernity’s prevailing mood or zeitgeist: be it humanism, secularism, materialism, or nationalism; or in more recent times, liberalism, individualism, feminism, etc. Such concerns were not unjustified!
Some of the ‘ulema were also quick to realise that whatever political or religious spectrum Muslims advocate, most Muslim activism and movements that sought change, throughout the twentieth century till today, are locked in the logic of modernity, and can only operate within its hegemonic parameters. Islam, however, premised on the Adamic fitrah and the prophetic Sunnah, lies outside the monoculture’s plethora of philosophies, and so cannot be made subordinate to it. And this is why Islam is, and continues to be, the great global dissent from the totalising ideology of liberal modernity.
Another insight of the ‘ulema was that one cannot simply go crashing into the juggernaut of modernity, as it has a tendency to flatten anything that comes charging at it. Therefore, instead of the Wahhabi obsession of defining what we are against, these ‘ulema privileged the notion of what we are for. Of course, shirk is shirk and tawhid is tawhid, and never the twain shall meet. Thus, for example, a Muslim’s relationship with non-Muslims would be guided by privileging this Quranic passage over others: God does not forbid you in terms of those who neither wage war against you on account of your religion, and nor drive you from your homes, from being kind to them and treating them justly. God loves the just. God only forbids you from befriending those who wage war against you on account of your religion, or drive you from your homes, or aid others in your expulsion. Whoever befriends them, those are the unjust. [Q.60:8-9] The Wahhabi insistence on enmity and hate would be privileged by the prophetic virtue of loving guidance and goodness for the non-Muslims wandering in the darkness and distractions of disbelief.
Of course, such privileging, or giving emphasis to one thing over another, isn’t without its dangers and difficulties. For those unschooled in ihsan – in the beauty of shari‘ah-rooted suluk or spirituality – will only bring ugliness into the world. If we are to be constructive healers, healing the world a day at a time or an act at a time, we must ensure that our fiqh deliberations are infused with the profound wisdoms and insights of our suluk tradition.
Let me wrap-up the post (and, indeed, this series) with these reflections – which speak of where we Muslims need to be heading. Explaining his own contention: ‘Being heretics to the Monoculture requires both courage and style,’ Abdal Hakim Murad writes:
‘The challenge of modern Muslimness is to combine a confident dissent from the global culture with a sense of service and humility. Triumphalism is no less damaging to the soul than an inferiority complex. Where loyalty is for God, and love is for what humanity is called to become, the believer can combine pity for the monoculture’s shrunken victims with gratitude for God’s guidance.’42
Part of that gratitude and humility, he says, involves an awareness that not everyone can muster up the strength to be different: ‘Human nature is conformist and the monoculture increasingly demonises Muslim distinctiveness. Browbeaten Muslims, anxious to please, are everywhere; they are no use to their communities, or, ultimately, to their hosts, since they cannot function as healers, only as a chorus of frightened eulogists. Allah is testing us through them; and the only successful response to this test is to be forgiving, and try and find an ointment for the scars inflicted by the melting-pot, as it grows ever hotter, year after year.’43
We ask Allah for guidance, courage, humility and safety.
Allahumma ‘rzuqna’l-iman wa’l-aman fi kulli bilad wa’ruqna’l-fahm wa tasihhu’l-jihad anta rabb wa nahnu al-‘ibad. wa’rzuqna khayr al-zad.
1. First posted on the now defunct al Ekhlas website, it was translated into English in 2006 by William McCants and released by the Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point. See: Stern & Berger, ISIS: the State of Terror (London: William Collins, 2015), 23. A translation is downloadable here.
2. Al-Durar al-Saniyyah fi’l-Ajwabat al-Najdiyyah (n.p, 2004), 10:131, a collection of essays, tracts and fatwas by Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab and early Wahhabi scholars,
3. Mu’allafat al-Shaykh al-Imam Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhab (Riyadh: Jami‘ah al-Imam Muhammad b. Su‘ud, 1398H), 4:11.
4. Al-Durar al-Saniyyah, 1:82-3.
5. Cf. Ibn Ghannam, Tarikh Najd (Riyadh: Dar al-Thuluthiyyah, 2010), volume two devoted to the jihad campaigns, ending in 1206H with the death of Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab; Ibn Bishr, Unwan al-Majd fi Tarikh Najd (Riyadh: Matbu‘at Darat al-Malik ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, 1982), 1:46, which speaks about the first of many jihad campaigns.
6. Consult: Unwan al-Majd, 1:65, 69-72.
7. Al-Durar al-Saniyyah, 10:51.
8. Cf. Unwan al-Majd, 1:44.
9. See: al-Razi, Tafsir al-Kabir (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1981), 17:63; Ibn ‘Aqil, approvingly cited in Ibn al-Jawzi, Talbis Iblis (Cairo: Dar Ibn al-Haytham, 2004), 388-89; also al-Alusi, Ruh al-Ma‘ani (Beirut: Dar al-Ihya al-Turath al-‘Arabi, n.d.), 6:128. As for Ibn Taymiyyah, then he has a separate treatise on the issue, entitled: al-Istighathah fi Radd ‘ala’l-Bakri (Riyadh: Maktabah Dar al-Minhaj, 1426H).
10. The tract is called, al-Dala’il fi Hukm Muwalat Ahl al-Ishraq (The Proofs Against Loyalty to the Idolators), and can be found in al-Durar al-Saniyyah, 8:121-43.
11. Al-Durar al-Saniyyah, 8:121.
12. ibid., 8:121. Al-‘Anqari writes in the next volume, 9:157: ‘The reason for composing the Dala’il is that Shaykh Sulayman authored it when the Turkish armies invaded Najd in his time, intending to eradicate the religion from its foundations.’
13. ibid., 8:127-28.
14. ibid., 1:312. Towards the end of a letter to the Ottoman governor of Baghdad, Ibrahim Pasha, written at the close of the year 1810CE.
20. ibid., 25. The hadith about fighting the Turks is given in al-Bukhari, no.2928; Muslim, no.2912.
21. ibid., 62-3.
22. ibid., 23 onwards.
23. For a comprehensive review of al-Maqdisi’s life, ideology and influence as one of the most important radical jihadi thinkers of our age, see: Wagemakers, A Quietist Jihadi: The Ideology and Influence of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
35. Tabdid Kawashif al-‘Anid (Cairo: Dar al-Imam Ahmad, 2007), 86-7.
36. ibid., 91-8. Also consult: al-Fawzan, I‘anat al-Mustafid bi Sharh Kitab al-Tawhid (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 2002), 356, on natural wala’ towards non-Muslims.
37. See: Fatawa wa Rasa’il Samahat al-Shaykh Muhammad b. Ibrahim b. ‘Abd al-Latif Al al-Shaykh (Makkah: al-Hukumah al-Makkah al-Mukarramah, 1399H), 12:284-91. This letter is published as a separate epistle, under the title of Tahkim al-Qawanin.
38. ibid., 12:289-90.
39. Cf. al-Halabi (ed.), al-Tahdhir min Fitnah al-Takfir (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn Khuzaymah, 1997), 13-44, for al-Albani’s fatwa; and pp.45-9 for Ibn Baz’s approval of al-Albani’s fatwa and that istihlal is a condition for judging by other than God’s laws to be kufr akbar. Also cf. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz b. Baz, Majmu‘ Fatawa wa Maqalat Mutanawwi‘ah (Riyadh: Dar al-Qasim, 1420H), 5:355.
40. Quoted in Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm wa Fadlihi (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1994), no.1467.
41. Cited in al-Qurtubi, Kitab al-Tadhkirah (Riyadh: Maktabah Dar al-Minhaj, 1425H), 800.
42. Murad, Commentary on the Eleventh Contention (Cambridge: The Quilliam Press, 2012), 68; no.39.
Far from being foreign to Islam, sufism – the science of spiritual excellence (‘ilm al-ihsan) and purification of the soul (tazkiyat al-nafs) – is a central aspect of the religion. In fact, it is its very core or heart. This is especially true when such sufism reflects the spirit of the early traditionalists or ahl al-hadith renuncients and pietists; like Ma‘ruf al-Karkhi, Sari al-Saqati, Bishr al-Hafi, Sahl al-Tustari, Junayd al-Baghdadi, Yahya ibn Mu‘adh al-Razi, or other illumined souls mentioned in Qushayri’s Risalah or orthodox “Epistle on Sufism”. This was a sufism tightly-tethered to the Sunnah; severe against bid’ah; averse to the over-rationalising of the kalam practitioners; and devastating towards the metaphysics of the philosophers. It was a sufism ‘ala tariqat al-salaf – “upon the path of the predecessors”; a tasawwuf al-‘amali or “practical sufism”. Al-Dhahabi sketches the contours of this sufism (tasawwuf) and spiritual wayfaring (suluk), thus:
‘The critic of a genuine sufi becomes the target of the hadith: “Whoever shows enmity to a Friend of Mine, I shall be at war with him.”2 While one who forgoes all condemnation forwhat is plainly wrong in what he hears fromsome of them, abandons the commanding of good and forbidding of evil.’3
‘How beautiful was the sufism of the sahabah and tabi‘un! They never probed into such phantasms or whisperings. Instead, they worshipped God, humbled themselves beforeHim and relied upon Him. They had immenseawe and fear of Him, waged jihad against His foes, hastened to His obedience and shunned vain talk.’4
‘Rather, the perfect suluk entails being circumspect in one’s food and speech; guarding one’s tongue; making dhikr continuously; not socialising with people too much; weeping over one’s sins; reciting the Qur’an calmly, distinctly and by pondering over it; detesting one’s ego(nafs) and rebuking it for God’s sake; increasing in the prescribed fasts; praying tahajjud regularly; being humble with people; maintaining ties of kinship; being tolerant and largehearted; smiling alot; spending on relatives and dependants; speaking the truth, even if bitter, mildly and without haste or frustration; enjoining good; having a forgiving nature; turning away from the ignorant; guarding the frontiers; waging jihad; performing pilgrimage; only eating what is lawful, at all times; as well as seeking forgiveness of God abundantly in private. Such are the characteristicsof the awliya, and the qualities of the Muhammadans (sifat al-muhammadiyyun). May God cause us to die loving them.”5
Pointing to the worldly detachment required to purify the nafs and to wean it away from worldliness; and that it is the doing that counts, not mere book knowledge, Junayd said: ‘We did not take sufism from “he said this” or “he said that”; but from hunger, worldly detachment and abandoning comforts.’ After citing this, al-Dhahabi remarked:
‘This is excellent, and what is meant here is forgoing most comforts, renouncing what is superfluous of the world, and hunger without extreme. As for one who goes beyond limits in hunger, as monks do, or renounces the world and all comforts of the self – like food, sleep or family – he exposes himself to huge tribulation that can even impair his rational mind, and by which he forfeits much of the easy-going monotheistic religion. For every thing God has made a measure; and happiness lies in following the prophetic ways. So weigh matters justly. Fast and break fast, sleep and pray, cling to circumspection with regards to sustenance, be content with what God apportions for you, and keep silent save for good. May God have mercy be upon Junayd. Where is the likes of him in respect to his knowledge and spiritual state?’6
In order not to be, as al-Dhahabi put it, “empty”; hollow; a mere shell without substance, we must each have a serious regime of spiritual practice where prayer, fasting, dhikr and other religious practices are internalised; where true sincerity is cultivated; and where the ego is tamed and trained. And this is what sufism or tasawwuf – the normative scholarly term for this science – is all about. Of course, the rule to follow here is, as Ibn Taymiyyah writes, that there are two extreme tendencies in respect to sufism: ‘One type that affirms all that is true or false from it, and a type that rejects whatever is true or false from it – as certain theologians and scholars of law have done. The correct stance, as with any other thing, is to accept whatever conforms to the Qur’an and the Sunnah, and to reject from it whatever opposes them.’7 And, of course, the other scholarly maxim to follow is: al-‘ibrah bi’l-haqa’iq wa’l-ma‘ani la bi’l-alfadh wa’l-mabani – ‘Consideration is given to the realities and meanings, not to the jargon or terminologies.’
Attempts to kick the whole of sufism into the long grass is thus a retreat from normative Islam and a digression from Sunni orthodoxy. Afirm commitment to our fiqh, to the outer duties of Islam, is admirable and obligatory. But any following of the outward that is not illumined by a wise and transformative spiritual life, will only breed those who are harsh, hostile, self-righteous, who lash out against the innocent, and who thrive on schisms and controversy. Such has long been the received wisdom in Islam: our present state of affairs being the product of its collective neglect.
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.