By Shaykh Ridhwan Saleem
In the name of Allah. All praise is for Him, our Lord and Protector, and may peace and mercy be upon His final prophet.
The following comments are not intended to offend anyone. We love all our brothers, who love Allah and His messenger (mercy of Allah and peace be upon him), and are working sincerely for this deen, no matter which orientation they take. If the following words are seen to be a little harsh on some, it was in view of the serious nature of the age we live in that we felt it was time to get to the point.
The following brief comment arose as a result of my being asked the legal ruling on a certain issue. The questioner also wanted to know the "evidences" for the ruling. I realized that they intended to compare the "evidences" from different people they asked and come to their own conclusion as to which opinion was "strongest".
I felt that presenting the "evidence" from the Hanafi legal school on this issue to such a layperson was inappropriate. I will try and explain why.
I mentioned the ruling from the Hanafi legal school, and said: Such a fatwa, if it comes from one of the four legal schools of ahlis-sunnah wal-jamaa'ah , is the result of the study, research, and ijtihad of hundreds of the greatest scholars of this ummah, who contributed to, and revised the legal rulings of each school . They were masters of the Islamic disciplines, many of whom memorized over one hundred thousand hadiths of the beloved Prophet (mercy of Allah and peace be upon him). Many scholars of the Hanafi legal school reached this respected rank known as 'Guardian ( Hafidh ) of the Hadith'.
In addition to this they were people of the highest levels of piety and fear of Allah, which is absolutely confirmed from their biographies. Therefore we gladly accept the verdicts they gave without having to question them for their "evidences" , and we do not turn to those who do not submit to the authority of these great scholars of this ummah, and want to examine the "evidence" for every ruling, despite the fact most of them have not even had a basic training in the Islamic sciences, or even studied any of the authentic books of hadith with a teacher.
For such a layperson to ask for "evidence" is ridiculous. It's like someone who hasn't even studied GCSE science arguing about the theory of relativity with a professor of physics. Or like someone who has not even the basic knowledge of biology or chemistry arguing with a leading physician about which medicine is better for a particular disease.
Such a person would be a laughed at! Do you think a professor would even pay any attention to him?
He wouldn't even waste his time engaging him in a discussion. Such a person, if he really wishes to give his opinions on theoretical physics, should first go and study his GCSEs for two years, then do his A-levels for two years, then get a degree (3 years), then a masters (1-2 years), then a PhD (3-5 years). Finally, he will be in a position to begin a discussion with the professor!
Similar, or worse, is the Muslim who hasn't even studied a basic curriculum in Islamic Law, and yet steps forward to challenge the greatest scholars of Law, of the salaf and khalaf of this ummah! He does not even have the basic tools to understand or evaluate an "evidence".
Do you think giving opinions on Islamic Law is easier than giving opinions in theoretical physics?
The very fact that you ask for "evidence" is itself a clear daleel of your ignorance of what the process of ijtihad involves.
Do you think getting an "evidence" is as simple as being told a verse of Qur'an or a single hadith?
Your job as a layperson or a beginner in the sacred knowledge is not to ask for the legal rulings on an issue along with "evidences". Rather, your job is just to ask for the legal rulings alone, from one of the four accepted legal schools, and to know that the rulings are based on a deep knowledge and study of the sources.
If you really are interested in the "evidences" please step forward to study the sacred knowledge. You are most welcome! Just to get to a basic level will take at least 5-8 years of serious study. That's just a basic graduate; you haven't even begun to specialize yet!
Trust me, the "evidences" are there for each of the legal schools. The encyclopaedic reference works which discuss detailed evidences for the rulings of the Hanafi legal school are numerous and well-known, written by great masters of Hadith and Jurisprudence. Please feel free to consult them any time you wish to see the "evidence" for a legal ruling. But an untrained person, such as yourself, reading such works will not be able to make sense of them, like a GCSE science student trying to read advanced research papers in quantum physics, or cutting-edge medical research. He'll end up more confused than anything else.
It is time to be humble. If you are a GCSE student, you need to study the basics, and accept what your teachers tell you for now. In many years time, if you are an intelligent student, and put in lots of hard work, you may be in a position to discuss complicated theories and form your own opinions.
Unfortunately, as part of the reprehensible innovations of modern times, a movement has developed within our ummah which rejects the following of the four established legal schools , and encourages laypersons to question every legal ruling, so they can form their own opinions and forge their own way! (This may well be the sunnah of the American singer, Frank Sinatra, who sang "I did it my way", but it certainly isn't the sunnah of the scholars of the salaf .) If you believe that as a GCSE student you can give opinions on quantum theory, then ahlan wa sahlan!
You should be warned however that what you are doing is completely haraam ie. giving a fatwa/legal ruling directly from the sources without being qualified to do so. If everyone was automatically qualified to issue/choose legal rulings, it would lead to disruption and chaos in the sacred law. (By the way, just because you are an Arab or speak Arabic doesn't make you an automatically-qualified mufti either!) All disciplines have curricula and methodologies for their study. Islamic Law and Juristic Methodology is one of the most difficult disciplines which takes many years to become proficient in.
To become a barrister, for example, you have to get excellent A-level results, then get a Law degree. Even after that you need to pass the Bar examinations. Still that is not enough! You then have to spend a further several years training with a barrister before you are allowed to practice for yourself. This is merely to become a junior barrister! After that how many years of continuing research and experience are required for one to become a QC, or a high-court judge?
Strange then it is that every Tom, Dick and Hamza from our ummah considers himself qualified to issue Islamic legal rulings after reading a few verses of Qur'an and a summarized version of al-Saheeh of al-Bukhari! It is a reflection of our deep ignorance of what it is we are dealing with. You haven't even entered Law school and you want to pass legal judgements!
You are a GCSE science student and you want to enter a discussion between professors!
Be humble! If you want to discuss issues of Islamic Law, go and sit at the feet of the scholars, the inheritors of the prophets (may peace be upon them), and study with them. Learn from their good character as well as their knowledge, purify yourself, so that you may become a worthy recipient of the light that is the sacred knowledge.
If you have spent your life studying engineering or medicine, or pursuing business ventures, instead of seeking the sacred knowledge, and now, in your older age, you have decided to get a bit "religious", start coming to the masjid, and so on, please don't think you can do a "crash course" in the deen by reading "Fiqh us-Sunnah" or the Tafseer of Mawdudi, and come to a level where you can debate with the scholars. Please leave the matters of the deen to those who actually did spend their youth and sacrifice many years of their lives to the study of the sacred disciplines.
As one of my teachers often says: " this is the deen, not teen (fig)!! " This is the teaching of Islam that you are dealing with! It's not the plaything of every common person. It is our western conditioning that makes everyone arrogant enough to believe they can give their opinions on all issues, from theology to Islamic Law.
The plain truth is you are not in any position to evaluate "evidences" for a legal ruling and come to a conclusion for yourself as to which opinion is the "strongest".
I remember once entering a discussion with an 18 year old, clean-shaven youth, dressed in jeans and a leather jacket, outside my local masjid. He had started practicing two years previously. He was quite soberly explaining to me how he examines the "evidences" put forward by the different legal schools on each "issue" and then is able to conclude for himself which is the strongest opinion! The fact that he didn't know a word of Arabic was not enough to deter his scholastic pursuits – he would get everything translated into English of course!
Unfortunately, such poor brothers have no idea of how complicated many legal rulings are, and how extensive the discussions between the legal schools on each issue can be. Don't they realize that they are merely "blindly following" whichever "scholar" has presented to them the information on this particular "issue". They haven't even checked the sources themselves, e.g. the reference books of the four legal schools, to see what they say in their discussion on the issue. It is well known that you cannot take Hanafi rulings from a Shafa'i text, or vice versa, because they often give inaccurate presentations of another legal school – you have to go to the texts of the school itself.
I will just give you one simple, commonly-seen, example where the poor brother/sister thinks that they have done a great "ijtihad", and come to their "own" conclusions on an issue (having realized that all the four legal schools got it wrong for the last 1,424 years). This is the issue of where to place the hands in the prayer. It is quite usual now to see Muslims praying while placing their hands on their chests or necks rather than the traditional above-or-below the navel position, which was the practice of the Muslims for over a thousand years until recent times. Indeed all four legal schools agree that the hands should be just above or below the navel – definitely not on the chest (except for women in the Hanafi school), and especially not on the neck! (Some of the Maliki's hold that the sunnah is to place the hands at the sides).
However the young mujtahids of the 21st century know better. Obviously all those great legal experts of the four schools didn't have access to " Fiqh us-Sunnah ", that essential guide for all budding mujtahids! It's even available in a handy translated version for non-Arabic mujtahids! You simply flick open the relevant chapter on: "Sunnah acts of prayer, The Position of the Hands" (vol.1 p.132) and you will discover that al-Tirmidhi narrates a hadith that the Prophet (mercy of Allah and peace be upon him) prayed with his hands on his chest, and that al-Tirmidhi grades this hadith "as hassan". Also you will read that a similar hadith is found in "The Saheeh" of Ibn Khuzayma, and that Ibn Khuzayma "considers it as sahih".
That's it! The young mujtahid has done his job! Obviously there are sahih hadiths about this! (Don't know who that Ibn Khuzayma guy is…but he sounds important!) The four legal schools got it all wrong! Thereafter the brother is seen in the local masjid placing his hands high up on his chest, looking rather scornfully at those who "blindly" follow the legal schools.
Now let's have a closer look at the "evidences" given above in "Fiqh us-Sunnah". We make some startling discoveries.
First of all, those who actually studied "al-Jaami'" of al-Tirmidhi itself would realise that al-Tirmidhi does NOT even mention a hadith that the Prophet (mercy of Allah and peace be upon him) prayed with his hands on his chest! Let alone grade it as hassan!! A very serious mistake on the part of the author of "Fiqh us-Sunnah".
Second major mistake: although Ibn Khuzayma (may Allah have mercy on him) does mention a hadith of the Prophet (mercy of Allah and peace be upon him) placing his hands on his chest, he DOES NOT consider it to be saheeh. In fact Ibn Khuzayma makes no comment on the authenticity of the hadiths that he narrates in his book. But those who know Ibn Khuzayma's methodology will see that all indications are that he did not consider this narration as sound. First of all he does not mention placing the hands on the chest in the chapter heading of that chapter (which is his usual method of indicating his understanding of the legal implications of the narrations in the chapter). Secondly, he places the narration at the end of the chapter, which also indicates its weakness.
Anyhow, a look at the chain of narrators of this hadith will show that it contains Mu'ammal ibn Isma'il, who most scholars of hadith say is a weak narrator, pointing out that he had a terrible memory! Imam al-Bukhari (may Allah have mercy on him) actually says he is "munkar al-hadith", meaning his hadith are totally rejected! There are also further criticisms of this narration possible but we will not delve into these right now.
Now we see the problem. The young mujtahid was not really a mujtahid after all! He was the worst type of "blind follower" . He read a chapter from "Fiqh us-Sunnah" and accepted what he read "blindly", all the while thinking that he had done a great ijtihad! Imagine how many more mistakes this book contains. And it is one of the most popular books nowadays amongst Muslims! The type of mistakes pointed out above are serious errors. One of my teachers said that these are not the type of slips you would see sometimes in the writings of scholars. Rather they indicate a real ignorance in the author that is inexcusable.
At the end of the day, the reality is that you are a muqallid, whether you know it or not . The choice simply remains as to whom you follow: is it going to be the author of "Fiqh us-Sunnah", or al-Albaani, or one on the four legal schools. In the end, studying evidences for legal rulings is not wrong in itself, but it has a certain context and place.
Other comments may be made regarding these matters, but we will suffice with what has been stated, praying to Allah that He covers us all in His mercy and guides us to the truth in all matters, and enables us to follow it, and act according to what pleases Him at all times. And may peace and the mercy of Allah be upon His beloved messenger, his family, and all his companions. And all praise is to Allah, Lord of the Worlds.
servant of the sacred knowledge,
Ridhwan ibn Muhammad Saleem.
Damascus , Ramadhan 1424 H
1. "Refutation of those who follow other than the four legal schools" ("radd 'ala man ittaba'a ghayr al madhahib al arba'ah"), by Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (Arabic)
2. "Non-madhhabism: The most dangerous innovation threatening the Islamic Law" ("La madhhabiyyah: akhtar al-bid'ah tohaddidu al-sharee'ah al-islamiyyah"), by Shaykh Dr. Muhammad
Sa'eed Ramadhan al-Bouti (Head of the dept. of Sharee'ah, University of Damascus )(Arabic)
3. "The legal status of following a madhhab", by Justice Shaykh Taqi 'Uthmani (Chief Qadi of Pakistan ) (English)
4. "The Four Madhhabs", by Shaykh Abdul-Hakeem Murad (English)
5. "Benefits of the sciences of jurisprudence" ("fawaa'id 'uloom al-fiqh"), introduction to "'ilaa ul-
sunan", by Shaykh Kayranwi (Arabic)
6. "Meaning of the saying of the Muttalibi Imam: 'If a hadith is authentic, then it is my madhhab'", ("ma'na qawl al-imam al-muttalib: itha sahha al-hadith fa huwa madhhabi"), by Shaykh ul-Islam, Imam Taqi ul-Deen al-Subki (Arabic)
7. "Fatwa Concerning the Obligation of Following Rightly Guided Scholars", by Shaykh Murabit al-Haajj and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf (Arabic/English)