In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
Amongst the most important replies that I have given, is my reply concerning the one who has deviated to the point where he censures the importance of studying the branches [furu’] of jurisprudence, and we seek refuge in Allah from the deviation of such a wandering deviant. Would that he simply had claimed independent reasoning (ijtihad) for himself only, and Allah is his reckoner, but abandoned the call of Muslims to leave that which is incumbent upon them. In our reply to such a one, we make mention what the scholars of the methodological bases of Islamic jurisprudence (usuli’un) and the Imams of jurisprudence themselves have said about such a matter. As for my labeling him a deviant, it is only because he has desired to impose upon common people the precious rank of absolute independent reasoning [ijtihad], about which Muhammad an-Nabigha said,
And ijtihad in the land of the Moroccans,
The western phoenix has taken to flight with it.
I say in reply, that the following of qualified scholarship (taqlid) is an obligation on anyone other than an absolute mujtahid. I shall make mention of all his prerequisites if Allah wills. [Sidi Abdullah Ould Hajj Ibrahim] has said in his Maraqi as-Sa’ud:
“[taqlid] is necessary for other than the one who has achieved the rank of absolute ijtihad. Even if he is a limited [mujtahid] who is unable [to perform absoluteijtihad].”
Commenting on this line, [Sidi Abdullah] said in Nashru al-bunud,
“It means that taqlid is an obligation on anyone who is not an absolute mujtahid, even if he has achieved the limited rank of ijtihad muqayyad . . . [until he says], ‘And ask the people of the reminder, if you yourselves do not know.’”
By using the line of Muhammad an-Nabigha above, I am in no way claiming that all ijtihad has been severed in every land; how [could I say such a thing] when [Sidi Abdullah] says in Maraqi as-sa’ud:
“The earth will never be void of a mujtahid scholar until its very foundations shake.”
He also said,
“[Regarding] the necessity of binding to a specific madhhab, the [scholars] have mentioned its obligation upon anyone falling short [of the conditions of ijtihad].”
He says in Nashru al-bunud,
“It means that it is incumbent for whoever falls short of achieving the rank of absolute ijtihad to follow a particular madhhab.”
Again, in Maraqi as-Sa’ud, Sidi Abdullah says,
“The consensus today is on the four, and all have prohibited following [any] others.”
He says in Nashru al-bunud,
“This means that the consensus of the scholars today is on the four schools of thought, and I mean by the schools of Malik, Abu Hanifa, Shafi’i and Ahmad. Indeed, all of the scholars have prohibited following any other school of an independent and absolute mujtahid since the eighth century when the school of Dawud adh-Dhahiri died out and until the 12th Century and all subsequent ones.”
In the chapter concerning inferential reasoning, from Maraqi as-sa’ud, [Sidi Abdullah] says,
“As for the one who is not a mujtahid, then basing his actions on primary textual evidence [Qur’an and hadith] is not permissible.”
He says in Nashru al-bunud,
“It means that it is prohibited for other than a mujtahid to base his actions upon a direct text from either the Book or the Sunna even if its transmission was sound because of the sheer likelihood of there being other considerations such as abrogation, limitations, specificity to certain situations, and other such matters that none but the mujtahid fully comprehends with precision. Thus, nothing can save him from Allah the Exalted excepted following a mujtahid. Imam al-Qarafi . Ahmad ibn Idris Shihabudin as-Sanhaji al-Qarafi al-Maliki was born in Egypt in the seventh Century, and died there in the year 684. He was one of the greatest Maliki scholars who ever lived and is especially known for his work in methodology and law (usul al-fiqh). He was a master of the Arabic language and has remarkable works in grammar. His book adh-Dhakhira is a magisterial 14 volume work recently published in the Emirates, that looks at Maliki fiqh with proofs from usuli sources. He is buried in Qarafi in Egypt near Imam as-Shafi’i. May Allah have mercy on them both. says,
‘And beware of doing what some students do when they reason directly from the hadith, and yet they don’t know their soundness, let alone what has been mentioned [by the Imams] concerning the subtleties involved in them; by doing this, they went astray and led others astray. And whoever interprets a verse or hadith in a manner that deviates from its intended meaning without proof [dalil] is a kafir.’”
As for the conditions of the absolute and independent ijtihad, they are mentioned in the Maraqi as-sa’ud in the following line and what follows:
“And that [word ‘faqih’]Sidi Abdullah says in his commentary on this line that the faqih is synonymous with mujtahid in the science of usul. There are different types of faqih. A faqih according to the scholars of usul is anyone who has achieved the rank of ijtihad. According to the scholars of furu’u, a faqih is anyone who has reached the level of knowledge in which he can give valid juristic opinion. This latter definition is important considering endowments that are given to fuqaha. See Nashur al-bunud `ala maraqi as-sa’ud, kitab al-ijtihad fi al-furu’u (1409 Hijrah. Beirut: Maktabat al-Kutub. p.309) is synonymous with the [word] ‘mujtahid’ coupled with those things which bear upon [him] the burden of responsibility,
Such as his being of extreme intelligence by nature, and there is some debate about one who is known to reject juristic analogy [qiyas]
He knows the [juristic] responsibilities through intellectual proofs unless a clear transmitted proof indicates otherwise.
[Sidi Abdullah] says [in his commentary] Nashru al-bunud,
“This means that among the conditions of ijtihad is that [the mujtahid] knows that he must adhere to the intellectual proof which is the foundational condition [al-bara’atu al-asliyya]The foundational condition is that a human being is not asked by Allah to do anything other than those things which have a firm proof through the transmission of the prophets, peace be upon them, and that the human being is only accountable for those things in which there is clear responsibility. All other matters are considered permissible because of the lack of a proof indicating their impermissibility. until a transmitted proof from a sacred law indicates otherwise.”
He then goes on to mention the other conditions of a mujtahid:
[The sciences of] grammar, prosody, philology, combined with those of usul and rhetoric he must master.
According to the people of precision, [he must know] where the judgements can be found without the condition of having memorized the actual texts.
[All of the above must be known] according to a middle ranked mastery at least. He must also know those matters upon which there is consensus.
[Moreover, he must know] things such as the condition of single hadiths and what carries the authority of great numbers of transmissions; also [knowledge of] what is sound and what is weak is necessary.
Furthermore, what has been abrogated and what abrogates, as well as the conditions under which a verse was revealed or a hadith was transmitted is a condition that must be met.
The states of the narrators and the companions [must also be known]. Therefore, you may follow anyone who fulfils these conditions mentioned above according to the soundest opinion.
So, consider all of the above-mentioned, and may Allah have mercy upon you, and [may you] see for yourself whether your companion is characterized by such qualities and fulfils these conditions—and I highly doubt it. More likely, he is just pointing people to himself in his demands that the people of this age take their judgements directly from the Book and Sunna. If, on the other hand, he does not possess the necessary conditions, then further discussion is useless.
In Muhammad ‘Illish’s, Fath al-‘Ali al-Malik, there are many strong rebukes for those who wish to force people to abandon the study of the judicial branches and take directly from the Book and the Sunna. The actual text of the question put to him is as follows:
“What do you say about someone who was following one of the four Imams, may Allah the Exalted be pleased with them, and then left claiming that he could derive his judgements directly form the Qur’an and the soundly transmitted hadiths, thus leaving the books of jurisprudence and inclining towards the view of Ahmad bin Idris? Moreover, he says to the one who clings to the speech of the Imams and their followers, “I say to you ‘Allah and His Messenger say’, and you reply ‘Malik said’ and ‘Ibn al-Qasim said’ or ‘Khalil said.’”
To this, Imam ‘Illish replies:
“My answer to this all this is as follows: Praise be to Allah, and Prayer and Safety be upon our Master Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah. It is not permissible for a common person to abandon following the four Imams and take directly from the textual sources of the Qur’an and the hadiths for the simple reason that this entails a great many conditions that have been clarified in the books of usul. Moreover, these conditions are rarely met by the great scholars, especially in these last days in which Islam has become a stranger just as it began a stranger.”
Ibn ‘Uyyana, may Allah be pleased with him, has said,
“The hadiths are a source of error except for the jurists.”
What he means is that people, other than the scholars, might interpret a tradition based on an apparent meaning, and yet [the hadith may] have another interpretation based on some other hadith that clarifies the meaning or some proof that remains hidden [to the common people]. After a long discussion, he remarks,
“That as for their saying, ‘How can you leave clear Qur’anic verses and sound hadiths and follow the Imams in their ijtihads, which have a clear probability of error,’”
His answer to them is as follows:
“Surely the following of our [rightly guided] Imams is not abandoning the Qur’anic verses or the sound hadiths; it is the very essence of adhering to them and taking our judgements from them. This is because the Qur’an has not come down to us except by means of these very Imams [who are more worthy of following] by virtue of being more knowledgeable than us in [the sciences of] the abrogating and abrogated, the absolute and the conditional, the equivocal and the clarifying, the probabilistic and the plain, the circumstances surrounding revelation and their various meanings, as well as their possible interpretations and various linguistic and philological considerations, [not to mention] the various other ancillary sciences [involved in understanding the Qur’an] needed.
“Also, they took all of that from the students of the companions (tabi’in) who received their instruction from the companions themselves, who received their instructions from the Lawgiver himself, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, divinely protected from every mistake, who bore witness that the first three generations of Muslims would be ones of virtue and righteousness. Furthermore, the prophetic traditions have also reached us through their means given that they were also more knowledgeable than us through their means given that they were also more knowledgeable than those who came after them concerning the rigorously authenticated (sahih), the well authenticated (hasan), and the weak (da’if) channels of transmission, as well as the marfu’uThe transmission (sanad) goes to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) the hadith came from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace)., mursalA tabi’i related it from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace); a companion (sahabah) is missing from the line of the transmission., mutawatirThe hadith comes from so many sources that it is an absolute proof., ahadA hadith, that at some point in the line of transmission, has only one narrator., mu’dalTwo people in a row are missing in the chain of narrators. and gharibThe narrator of the hadith is trustworthy, but no one else related the hadith. transmissions.
“Thus, as far as this little band of men is concerned, there is only one of two possibilities: either they are attributing ignorance to Imams whose knowledge is considered by consensus to have reached human perfection as witnessed in several traditions of the truthful Lawgiver, upon him be prayers and peace, or they are actually attributing misguidance and lack of din to Imams who are all from the best of generations by the testimony of the magnificent Messenger himself, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. Surely, it is not the eyes that are blind, but blind are the hearts in our breasts.
As for their saying to the one who imitates Malik, for example, “We say to you ‘Allah says’ or ‘the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, says’ and you reply, ‘Malik says’, or ‘Ibn al-Qasim says’, or ‘Khalil says’, for example,” our response is that the follower who says, “Malik says . . . etc.,” means that, “Malik says based on his deep understanding of the Word of Allah, or of the words of the Messenger, or of those firmly adhering to the actions of the companions, or of the tabi’in who understood clearly the Word of Allah and the word of the Messenger of Allah or took their example from the actions of His Messenger.” And the meaning of [a follower] saying “Ibn al-Qasim said . . .” is that he has [faithfully] transmitted what Malik said based on his understanding of the Word of Allah or of what Ibn al-Qasim himself understood from the word of Allah the Most Exalted. And the meaning of him saying, “Khalil said . . . .”, for example, is that he is transmitting only from those [Imams] aforementioned. As for Malik and Ibn al-Qasim, they are both Imams whose spiritual and judicial authority is agreed upon by unanimous consensus of this Umma; and they are both from the best of generations.
As for the one who leaves their leadership and says, “Allah said and His Messenger said . . . ,” he has relied solely on his own understanding despite the fact that he is incapable of having any precision in the verses and hadiths that he quotes since he is unable even to provide chains of transmission [with any authority], let alone that he lacks knowledge concerning the abrogated, the absolute and the conditional, the ambiguous and the clarifying, the apparent and the textual, the general and the specific, the dimensions of the Arabic and the cause for revelation, the various linguistic considerations, and other various ancillary sciences needed. So, consider for yourself which is preferable: the word of a follower who simply quotes the understanding of Malik, an Imam by consensus—or the word of this ignoramus who said “Allah said and His Messenger said . . . .” But it is not the sight that goes blind, but rather the hearts in our breasts.
Furthermore, know that the origin of this deviation is from the DhahiriyyaThe Dhahiriyya followed Daw’ud ad-Dhahiri’s madhhab. who appeared in Andalucia [Muslim Spain] and whose power waxed from a period until Allah obliterated all traces of them until this little band of men set about to revive their beliefs. Imam al-Barzuli said, “The first one ever to attack the MudawwanaMudawwana: Imam Malik’s work of fiqh. was Sa’id bin al-Haddad.”
If you consider carefully the above-mentioned texts, you will realize that the one who censures you from following [the Imams] is truly a deviant. And I am using the word “deviant” to describe them only because the scholars [before me] have labelled this little band and their view (madhhab) as deviant. Moreover, you should know that those who condemn your adherence to the Imams have been fully refuted by Muhammad al-Khadir bin Mayyaba with the most piercing of refutations, and he himself called them, in his book, “the people of deviation and heterodoxy.” He called his book, Refuting the people of deviation of heterodoxy who attack the following [taqlid] of the Imams of independent reasoning, and I used to have a copy but no longer do. So, my brother, I seriously warn you from following the madhhab of these people and even from sitting in their company, unless there is an absolute necessity, and certainly from listening to anything they have to say, because the scholars have declared their ideas deviant. Ibn al-Hajj says in his book, al-Madkhal,
“Umar ibn al-‘Aziz said, ‘Never give one whose heart is deviant access to your two ears, for surely you never know what may find fixity in you.’”
I ask Allah to make you and me from those who listen to matters and follow the best of them.
Murabtal Haaj, Mauritania
|↑1||. Ahmad ibn Idris Shihabudin as-Sanhaji al-Qarafi al-Maliki was born in Egypt in the seventh Century, and died there in the year 684. He was one of the greatest Maliki scholars who ever lived and is especially known for his work in methodology and law (usul al-fiqh). He was a master of the Arabic language and has remarkable works in grammar. His book adh-Dhakhira is a magisterial 14 volume work recently published in the Emirates, that looks at Maliki fiqh with proofs from usuli sources. He is buried in Qarafi in Egypt near Imam as-Shafi’i. May Allah have mercy on them both.|
|↑2||Sidi Abdullah says in his commentary on this line that the faqih is synonymous with mujtahid in the science of usul. There are different types of faqih. A faqih according to the scholars of usul is anyone who has achieved the rank of ijtihad. According to the scholars of furu’u, a faqih is anyone who has reached the level of knowledge in which he can give valid juristic opinion. This latter definition is important considering endowments that are given to fuqaha. See Nashur al-bunud `ala maraqi as-sa’ud, kitab al-ijtihad fi al-furu’u (1409 Hijrah. Beirut: Maktabat al-Kutub. p.309)|
|↑3||The foundational condition is that a human being is not asked by Allah to do anything other than those things which have a firm proof through the transmission of the prophets, peace be upon them, and that the human being is only accountable for those things in which there is clear responsibility. All other matters are considered permissible because of the lack of a proof indicating their impermissibility.|
|↑4||The transmission (sanad) goes to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) the hadith came from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).|
|↑5||A tabi’i related it from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace); a companion (sahabah) is missing from the line of the transmission.|
|↑6||The hadith comes from so many sources that it is an absolute proof.|
|↑7||A hadith, that at some point in the line of transmission, has only one narrator.|
|↑8||Two people in a row are missing in the chain of narrators.|
|↑9||The narrator of the hadith is trustworthy, but no one else related the hadith.|
|↑10||The Dhahiriyya followed Daw’ud ad-Dhahiri’s madhhab.|
|↑11||Mudawwana: Imam Malik’s work of fiqh.|
The ummah’s greatest achievement over the past millennium has undoubtedly been its internal intellectual cohesion. From the fifth century of the Hijra almost to the present day, and despite the outward drama of the clash of dynasties, the Sunni Muslims have maintained an almost unfailing attitude of religious respect and brotherhood among themselves. It is a striking fact that virtually no religious wars, riots or persecutions divided them during this extended period, so difficult in other ways.
The history of religious movements suggests that this is an unusual outcome. The normal sociological view, as expounded by Max Weber and his disciples, is that religions enjoy an initial period of unity, and then descend into an increasingly bitter factionalism led by rival hierarchies. Christianity has furnished the most obvious example of this; but one could add many others, including secular faiths such as Marxism. On the face of it, Islam’s ability to avoid this fate is astonishing, and demands careful analysis.
There is, of course, a straightforwardly religious explanation. Islam is the final religion, the last bus home, and as such has been divinely secured from the more terminal forms of decay. It is true that what Abdul Wadod Shalabi has termed ‘spiritual entropy’ has been at work ever since Islam’s inauguration, a fact which is well-supported by a number of hadiths. Nonetheless, Providence has not neglected the ummah. Earlier religions slide gently or painfully into schism and irrelevance; but Islamic piety, while fading in quality, has been given mechanisms which allow it to retain much of the sense of unity emphasised in its glory days. Wherever the antics of the emirs and politicians might lead, the brotherhood of believers, a reality in the initial career of Christianity and some other faiths, continues, fourteen hundred years on, to be a compelling principle for most members of the final and definitive community of revelation in Islam. The reason is simple and unarguable: God has given us this religion as His last word, and it must therefore endure, with its essentials of tawhid, worship and ethics intact, until the Last Days.
Such an explanation has obvious merit. But we will still need to explain some painful exceptions to the rule in the earliest phase of our history. The Prophet himself (pbuh) had told his Companions, in a hadith narrated by Imam Tirmidhi, that “Whoever among you outlives me shall see a vast dispute”. The initial schisms: the disastrous revolt against Uthman (r.a.), the clash between Ali (r.a.) and Talha, and then with Mu`awiyah, the bloody scissions of the Kharijites – all these drove knives of discord into the Muslim body politic almost from the outset. Only the inherent sanity and love of unity among scholars of the ummah assisted, no doubt, by Providence overcame the early spasms of factionalism, and created a strong and harmonious Sunnism which has, at least on the purely religious plane, united ninety percent of the ummah for ninety percent of its history.
It will help us greatly to understand our modern, increasingly divided situation if we look closely at those forces which divided us in the distant past. There were many of these, some of them very eccentric; but only two took the form of mass popular movements, driven by religious ideology, and in active rebellion against majoritarian faith and scholarship. For good reasons, these two acquired the names of Kharijism and Shi’ism. Unlike Sunnism, both were highly productive of splinter groups and sub-movements; but they nonetheless remained as recognisable traditions of dissidence because of their ability to express the two great divergences from mainstream opinion on the key question of the source of religious authority in Islam.
Confronted with what they saw as moral slippage among early caliphs, posthumous partisans of Ali (r.a.) developed a theory of religious authority which departed from the older egalitarian assumptions by vesting it in a charismatic succession of Imams. We need not stop here to investigate the question of whether this idea was influenced by the Eastern Christian background of some early converts, who had been nourished on the idea of the mystical apostolic succession to Christ, a gift which supposedly gave the Church the unique ability to read his mind for later generations. What needs to be appreciated is that Shi’ism, in its myriad forms, developed as a response to a widely-sensed lack of definitive religious authority in early Islamic society. As the age of the Righteous Caliphs came to a close, and the Umayyad rulers departed ever more conspicuously from the lifestyle expected of them as Commanders of the Faithful, the sharply-divergent and still nascent schools of fiqh seemed inadequate as sources of strong and unambiguous authority in religious matters. Hence the often irresistible seductiveness of the idea of an infallible Imam.
This interpretation of the rise of Imamism also helps to explain the second great phase in Shi’i expansion. After the success of the fifth-century Sunni revival, when Sunnism seemed at last to have become a fully coherent system, Shi’ism went into a slow eclipse. Its extreme wing, as manifested in Ismailism, received a heavy blow at the hands of Imam al-Ghazali, whose book “Scandals of the Batinites” exposed and refuted their secret doctrines with devastating force. This decline in Shi’i fortunes was only arrested after the mid-seventh century, once the Mongol hordes under Genghis Khan had invaded and obliterated the central lands of Islam. The onslaught was unimaginably harsh: we are told, for instance, that out of a hundred thousand former inhabitants of the city of Herat, only forty survivors crept out of the smoking ruins to survey the devastation. In the wake of this tidal wave of mayhem, newly-converted Turcoman nomads moved in, who, with the Sunni ulama of the cities dead, and a general atmosphere of fear, turbulence, and Messianic expectation in the air, turned readily to extremist forms of Shi’i belief. The triumph of Shi’ism in Iran, a country once loyal to Sunnism, dates back to that painful period.
The other great dissident movement in early Islam was that of the Kharijites, literally, the seceders, so-called because they seceded from the army of the Caliph Ali when he agreed to settle his dispute with Muawiyah through arbitration. Calling out the Quranic slogan, “Judgement is only God’s”, they fought bitterly against Ali and his army which included many of the leading Companions, until, in the year 38, Imam Ali defeated them at the Battle of Nahrawan, where some ten thousand of them perished.
Although the first Kharijites were destroyed, Kharijism itself lived on. As it formulated itself, it turned into the precise opposite of Shi’ism, rejecting any notion of inherited or charismatic leadership, and stressing that leadership of the community of believers should be decided by piety alone. This was assessed by very rudimentary criteria: the early Kharijites were known for extreme toughness in their devotions, and for the harsh doctrine that any Muslim who commits a major sin is an unbeliever. This notion of takfir (declaring Muslims to be outside Islam), permitted the Kharijite groups, camping out in remote mountain districts of Khuzestan, to raid Muslim settlements which had accepted Umayyad authority. Non-Kharijis were routinely slaughtered in these operations, which brought merciless reprisals from tough Umayyad generals such as al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf. But despite the apparent hopelessness of their cause, the Kharijite attacks continued. The Caliph Ali (r.a.) was assassinated by Ibn Muljam, a survivor of Nahrawan, while the hadith scholar Imam al-Nasai, author of one of the most respected collections of sunan, was likewise murdered by Kharijite fanatics in Damascus in 303/915.
Like Shi’ism, Kharijism caused much instability in Iraq and Central Asia, and on occasion elsewhere, until the fourth and fifth centuries of Islam. At that point, something of historic moment occurred. Sunnism managed to unite itself into a detailed system that was now so well worked-out, and so obviously the way of the great majority of ulama, that the attraction of the rival movements diminished sharply.
What happened was this. Sunni Islam, occupying the middle ground between the two extremes of egalitarian Kharijism and hierarchical Shi’ism, had long been preoccupied with disputes over its own concept of authority. For the Sunnis, authority was, by definition, vested in the Quran and Sunnah. But confronted with the enormous body of hadiths, which had been scattered in various forms and narrations throughout the length and breadth of the Islamic world following the migrations of the Companions and Followers, the Sunnah sometimes proved difficult to interpret. Even when the sound hadiths had been sifted out from this great body of material, which totalled several hundred thousand hadith reports, there were some hadiths which appeared to conflict with each other, or even with verses of the Quran. It was obvious that simplistic approaches such as that of the Kharijites, namely, establishing a small corpus of hadiths and deriving doctrines and law from them directly, was not going to work. The internal contradictions were too numerous, and the interpretations placed on them too complex, for the qadis (judges) to be able to dish out judgements simply by opening the Quran and hadith collections to an appropriate page.
The reasons underlying cases of apparent conflict between various revealed texts were scrutinised closely by the early ulama, often amid sustained debate between brilliant minds backed up with the most perfect photographic memories. Much of the science of Islamic jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh) was developed in order to provide consistent mechanisms for resolving such conflicts in a way which ensured fidelity to the basic ethos of Islam. The term taarud al-adilla (mutual contradiction of proof-texts) is familiar to all students of Islamic jurisprudence as one of the most sensitive and complex of all Muslim legal concepts. Early scholars such as Ibn Qutayba felt obliged to devote whole books to the subject.
The ulama of usul recognised as their starting assumption that conflicts between the revealed texts were no more than conflicts of interpretation, and could not reflect inconsistencies in the Lawgiver’s message as conveyed by the Prophet (pbuh). The message of Islam had been perfectly conveyed before his demise; and the function of subsequent scholars was exclusively one of interpretation, not of amendment.
Armed with this awareness, the Islamic scholar, when examining problematic texts, begins by attempting a series of preliminary academic tests and methods of resolution. The system developed by the early ulama was that if two Quranic or hadith texts appeared to contradict each other, then the scholar must first analyse the texts linguistically, to see if the contradiction arises from an error in interpreting the Arabic. If the contradiction cannot be resolved by this method, then he must attempt to determine, on the basis of a range of textual, legal and historiographic techniques, whether one of them is subject to takhsis, that is, concerns special circumstances only, and hence forms a specific exception to the more general principle enunciated in the other text. The jurist must also assess the textual status of the reports, recalling the principle that a Quranic verse will overrule a hadith related by only one isnad (the type of hadith known as ahad), as will a hadith supplied by many isnads (mutawatir or mashhur). If, after applying all these mechanisms, the jurist finds that the conflict remains, he must then investigate the possibility that one of the texts was subject to formal abrogation (naskh) by the other.
This principle of naskh is an example of how, when dealing with the delicate matter of taarud al-adilla, the Sunni ulama founded their approach on textual policies which had already been recognised many times during the lifetime of the Prophet (pbuh). The Companions knew by ijma that over the years of the Prophets ministry, as he taught and nurtured them, and brought them from the wildness of paganism to the sober and compassionate path of monotheism, his teaching had been divinely shaped to keep pace with their development. The best-known instance of this was the progressive prohibition of wine, which had been discouraged by an early Quranic verse, then condemned, and finally prohibited. Another example, touching an even more basic principle, was the canonical prayer, which the early ummah had been obliged to say only twice daily, but which, following the Miraj, was increased to five times a day. Mutah (temporary marriage) had been permitted in the early days of Islam, but was subsequently prohibited as social conditions developed, respect for women grew, and morals became firmer. There are several other instances of this, most being datable to the years immediately following the Hijra, when the circumstances of the young ummah changed in radical ways.
There are two types of naskh: explicit (sarih) or implicit (dimni). The former is easily identified, for it involves texts which themselves specify that an earlier ruling is being changed. For instance, there is the verse in the Quran (2:142) which commands the Muslims to turn in prayer to the Kaba rather than to Jerusalem. In the hadith literature this is even more frequently encountered; for example, in ahadith narrated by Imam Muslim we read: “I used to forbid you to visit graves; but you should now visit them.” Commenting on this, the ulama of hadith explain that in early Islam, when idolatrous practices were still fresh in peoples memories, visiting graves had been forbidden because of the fear that some new Muslims might commit shirk. As the Muslims grew stronger in their monotheism, however, this prohibition was discarded as no longer necessary, so that today it is a recommended practice for Muslims to go out to visit graves in order to pray for the dead and to be reminded of the akhira.
The other type of naskh is more subtle, and often taxed the brilliance of the early ulama to the limit. It involves texts which cancel earlier ones, or modify them substantially, but without actually stating that this has taken place. The ulama have given many examples of this, including the two verses in Surat al-Baqarah which give differing instructions as to the period for which widows should be maintained out of an estate (2:240 and 234). And in the hadith literature, there is the example of the incident in which the Prophet (pbuh) once told the Companions that when he prayed sitting because he was burdened by some illness, they should sit behind him. This hadith is given by Imam Muslim. And yet we find another hadith, also narrated by Muslim, which records an incident in which the Companions prayed standing while the Prophet (pbuh) was sitting. The apparent contradiction has been resolved by careful chronological analysis, which shows that the latter incident took place after the former, and therefore takes precedence over it. This has duly been recorded in the fiqh of the great scholars.
The techniques of naskh identification have enabled the ulama to resolve most of the recognised cases of taarud al-adilla. They demand a rigorous and detailed knowledge not just of the hadith disciplines, but of history, sirah, and of the views held by the Companions and other scholars on the circumstances surrounding the genesis and exegesis of the hadith in question. In some cases, hadith scholars would travel throughout the Islamic world to locate the required information pertinent to a single hadith.
In cases where in spite of all efforts, abrogation cannot be proven, then the ulama of the salaf recognised the need to apply further tests. Important among these is the analysis of the matn (the transmitted text rather than the isnad of the hadith). Clear (sarih) statements are deemed to take precedence over allusive ones (kinayah), and definite (muhkam) words take precedence over words falling into more ambiguous categories, such as the interpreted (mufassar), the obscure (khafi) and the problematic (mushkil). It may also be necessary to look at the position of the narrators of the conflicting hadiths, giving precedence to the report issuing from the individual who was more directly involved. A famous example of this is the hadith narrated by Maymunah which states that the Prophet (pbuh) married her when not in a state of consecration (ihram) for the pilgrimage. Because her report was that of an eyewitness, her hadith is given precedence over the conflicting report from Ibn Abbas, related by a similarly sound isnad, which states that the Prophet was in fact in a state of ihram at the time.
There are many other rules, such as that which states that ‘prohibition takes precedence over permissibility.’ Similarly, conflictinghadiths may be resolved by utilising the fatwa of a Companion, after taking care that all the relevant fatwa are compared and assessed. Finally, recourse may be had to qiyas (analogy). An example of this is the various reports about the solar eclipse prayer (salat al-kusuf), which specify different numbers of bowings and prostrations. The ulama, having investigated the reports meticulously, and having been unable to resolve the contradiction by any of the mechanisms outlined above, have applied analogical reasoning by concluding that since the prayer in question is still called salaat, then the usual form of salaat should be followed, namely, one bowing and two prostrations. The other hadiths are to be abandoned.
This careful articulation of the methods of resolving conflicting source-texts, so vital to the accurate derivation of the Shariah from the revealed sources, was primarily the work of Imam al-Shafi’i. Confronted by the confusion and disagreement among the jurists of his day, and determined to lay down a consistent methodology which would enable a fiqh to be established in which the possibility of error was excluded as far as was humanly possible, Shafi’i wrote his brilliant Risala (Treatise on Islamic jurisprudence). His ideas were soon taken up, in varying ways, by jurists of the other major traditions of law; and today they are fundamental to the formal application of the Shariah.
Shafi’i’s system of minimising mistakes in the derivation of Islamic rulings from the mass of evidence came to be known as usul al-fiqh (the roots of fiqh). Like most of the other formal academic disciplines of Islam, this was not an innovation in the negative sense, but a working-out of principles already discernible in the time of the earliest Muslims. In time, each of the great interpretative traditions of Sunni Islam codified its own variation on these roots, thereby yielding in some cases divergent branches (i.e. specific rulings on practice). Although the debates generated by these divergences could sometimes be energetic, nonetheless, they were insignificant when compared to the great sectarian and legal disagreements which had arisen during the first two centuries of Islam before the science of usul al-fiqh had put a stop to such chaotic discord.
It hardly needs remarking that although the Four Imams, Abu Hanifa, Malik ibn Anas, al-Shafi’i and Ibn Hanbal, are regarded as the founders of these four great traditions, which, if we were asked to define them, we might sum up as sophisticated techniques for avoiding innovation, their traditions were fully systematised only by later generations of scholars. The Sunni ulama rapidly recognised the brilliance of the Four Imams, and after the late third century of Islam we find that hardly any scholars adhered to any other approach. The greathadith specialists, including al-Bukhari and Muslim, were all loyal adherents of one or another of the madhhabs, particularly that of Imam al-Shafi’i. But within each madhhab, leading scholars continued to improve and refine the roots and branches of their school. In some cases, historical conditions made this not only possible, but necessary. For instance, scholars of the school of Imam Abu Hanifah, which was built on the foundations of the early legal schools of Kufa and Basra, were wary of some hadiths in circulation in Iraq because of the prevalence of forgery engendered by the strong sectarian influences there. Later, however, once the canonical collections of Bukhari, Muslim and others became available, subsequent generations of Hanafi scholars took the entire corpus of hadiths into account in formulating and revising theirmadhhab. This type of process continued for two centuries, until the Schools reached a condition of maturity in the fourth and fifth centuries of the Hijra.
It was at that time, too, that the attitude of toleration and good opinion between the Schools became universally accepted. This was formulated by Imam al-Ghazali, himself the author of four textbooks of Shafi’i fiqh, and also of Al-Mustasfa, widely acclaimed as the most advanced and careful of all works on usul, usul al-fiqh fil madhhab. With his well-known concern for sincerity, and his dislike of ostentatious scholarly rivalry, he strongly condemned what he falled ‘fanatical attachment to a madhhab’. While it was necessary for the Muslim to follow a recognised madhhab in order to avert the lethal danger of misinterpreting the sources, he must never fall into the trap of considering his own school categorically superior to the others. With a few insignificant exceptions in the late Ottoman period, the great scholars of Sunni Islam have followed the ethos outlined by Imam al-Ghazali, and have been conspicuously respectful of each others madhhab. Anyone who has studied under traditional ulama will be well-aware of this fact.
The evolution of the Four Schools did not stifle, as some Orientalists have suggested, the capacity for the refinement or extension of positive law. On the contrary, sophisticated mechanisms were available which not only permitted qualified individuals to derive the Shariah from the Quran and Sunnah on their own authority, but actually obliged them to do this. According to most scholars, an expert who has fully mastered the sources and fulfilled a variety of necessary scholarly conditions is not permitted to follow the prevalent rulings of his School, but must derive the rulings himself from the revealed sources. Such an individual is known as a mujtahid, a term derived from the famous hadith of Muadh ibn Jabal.
Few would seriously deny that for a Muslim to venture beyond established expert opinion and have recourse directly to the Quran and Sunnah, he must be a scholar of great eminence. The danger of less-qualified individuals misunderstanding the sources and hence damaging the Shariah is a very real one, as was shown by the discord and strife which afflicted some early Muslims, and even some of the Companions themselves, in the period which preceded the establishment of the Orthodox Schools. Prior to Islam, entire religions had been subverted by inadequate scriptural scholarship, and it was vital that Islam should be secured from a comparable fate.
In order to protect the Shariah from the danger of innovation and distortion, the great scholars of usul laid down rigorous conditions which must be fulfilled by anyone wishing to claim the right of ijtihad for himself. These conditions include:
(a) mastery of the Arabic language, to minimise the possibility of misinterpreting Revelation on purely linguistic grounds;
(b) a profound knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah and the circumstances surrounding the revelation of each verse and hadith, together with a full knowledge of the Quranic and hadith commentaries, and a control of all the interpretative techniques discussed above;
(c) knowledge of the specialised disciplines of hadith, such as the assessment of narrators and of the matn [text];
(d) knowledge of the views of the Companions, Followers and the great imams, and of the positions and reasoning expounded in the textbooks of fiqh, combined with the knowledge of cases where a consensus (ijma) has been reached;
(e) knowledge of the science of juridical analogy (qiyas), its types and conditions;
(f) knowledge of ones own society and of public interest (maslahah);
(g) knowing the general objectives (maqasid) of the Shariah;
(h) a high degree of intelligence and personal piety, combined with the Islamic virtues of compassion, courtesy, and modesty.
A scholar who has fulfilled these conditions can be considered a mujtahid fil-shar, and is not obliged, or even permitted, to follow an existing authoritative madhhab. This is what some of the Imams were saying when they forbade their great disciples from imitating them uncritically. But for the much greater number of scholars whose expertise has not reached such dizzying heights, it may be possible to become a mujtahid fi’l-madhhab, that is, a scholar who remains broadly convinced of the doctrines of his school, but is qualified to differ from received opinion within it. There have been a number of examples of such men, for instance Imam al-Nawawi among the Shafi’is, Qadi Ibn Abd al-Barr among the Malikis, Ibn Abidin among the Hanafis, and Ibn Qudama among the Hanbalis. All of these scholars considered themselves followers of the fundamental interpretative principles of their own madhhabs, but are on record as having exercised their own gifts of scholarship and judgement in reaching many new verdicts within them. It is to these experts that the Mujtahid Imams directed their advice concerning ijtihad, such as Imam al-Shafi’i’s instruction that ‘if you find a hadith that contradicts my verdict, then follow the hadith’. It is obvious that whatever some writers nowadays like to believe, such counsels were never intended for use by the Islamically-uneducated masses. Imam al-Shafi`i was not addressing a crowd of butchers, nightwatchman and donkey-drovers.
Other categories of mujtahids are listed by the usul scholars; but the distinctions between them are subtle and not relevant to our theme. The remaining categories can in practice be reduced to two: the muttabi (follower), who follows his madhhab while being aware of the Quranic and hadith texts and the reasoning, underlying its positions, and secondly the muqallid (emulator), who simply conforms to the madhhab because of his confidence in its scholars, and without necessarily knowing the detailed reasoning behind all its thousands of rulings.
Clearly it is recommended for the muqallid to learn as much as he or she is able of the formal proofs of the madhhab. But it is equally clear that not every Muslim can be a scholar. Scholarship takes a lot of time, and for the ummah to function properly most people must have other employment: as accountants, soldiers, butchers, and so forth. As such, they cannot reasonably be expected to become greatulama as well, even if we suppose that all of them have the requisite intelligence. The Holy Quran itself states that less well-informed believers should have recourse to qualified experts: So ask the people of remembrance, if you do not know (16:43). (According to thetafsir experts, the people of remembrance are the ulama.) And in another verse, the Muslims are enjoined to create and maintain a group of specialists who provide authoritative guidance for non-specialists: A band from each community should stay behind to gain instruction in religion and to warn the people when they return to them, so that they may take heed (9:122). Given the depth of scholarship needed to understand the revealed texts accurately, and the extreme warnings we have been given against distorting the Revelation, it is obvious that ordinary Muslims are duty bound to follow expert opinion, rather than rely on their own reasoning and limited knowledge. This obvious duty was well-known to the early Muslims: the Caliph Umar (r.a.) followed certain rulings of Abu Bakr (r.a.), saying I would be ashamed before God to differ from the view of Abu Bakr. And Ibn Masud (r.a.), in turn, despite being a mujtahid in the fullest sense, used in certain issues to follow Umar (r.a.). According to al-Shabi: Six of the Companions of the Prophet (pbuh) used to give fatwas to the people: Ibn Masud, Umar ibn al-Khattab, Ali, Zayd ibn Thabit, Ubayy ibn Kab, and Abu Musa (al-Ashari). And out of these, three would abandon their own judgements in favour of the judgements of three others: Abdallah (ibn Masud) would abandon his own judgement for the judgement of Umar, Abu Musa would abandon his own judgement for the judgement of Ali, and Zayd would abandon his own judgement for the judgement of Ubayy ibn Kab.
This verdict, namely that one is well-advised to follow a great Imam as ones guide to the Sunnah, rather than relying on oneself, is particularly binding upon Muslims in countries such as Britain, among whom only a small percentage is even entitled to have a choice in this matter. This is for the simple reason that unless one knows Arabic, then even if one wishes to read all the hadith determining a particular issue, one cannot. For various reasons, including their great length, no more than ten of the basic hadith collections have been translated into English. There remain well over three hundred others, including such seminal works as the Musnad of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, the Musannaf of Ibn Abi Shayba, the Sahih of Ibn Khuzayma, the Mustadrak of al-Hakim, and many other multi-volume collections, which contain large numbers of sound hadiths which cannot be found in Bukhari, Muslim, and the other works that have so far been translated. Even if we assume that the existing translations are entirely accurate, it is obvious that a policy of trying to derive the Shariah directly from the Book and the Sunnah cannot be attempted by those who have no access to the Arabic. To attempt to discern the Shariah merely on the basis of the hadiths which have been translated will be to ignore and amputate much of the Sunnah, hence leading to serious distortions.
Let me give just two examples of this. The Sunni Madhhabs, in their rules for the conduct of legal cases, lay down the principle that the canonical punishments (hudud) should not be applied in cases where there is the least ambiguity, and that the qadi should actively strive to prove that such ambiguities exist. An amateur reading in the Sound Six collections will find no confirmation of this. But the madhhab ruling is based on a hadith narrated by a sound chain, and recorded in theMusannaf of Ibn Abi Shayba, the Musnad of al-Harithi, and theMusnad of Musaddad ibn Musarhad. The text is: “Ward off the hudud by means of ambiguities.“ Imam al-Sanani, in his bookAl-Ansab, narrates the circumstances of this hadith: “A man was found drunk, and was brought to Umar, who ordered the hadd of eighty lashes to be applied. When this had been done, the man said: Umar, you have wronged me! I am a slave! (Slaves receive only half the punishment.) Umar was grief-stricken at this, and recited the Prophetic hadith, Ward off the hudud by means of ambiguities.”
Another example is provided by the practice of istighfar for others during the Hajj. According to a hadith, ‘Forgiveness is granted to the Hajji, and to those for whom the Hajji prays.’ This hadith is not related in any of the collections so far translated into English; but it is narrated, by a sound isnad, in many other collections, including al-Mu`jam al-Saghir of al-Tabarani and the Musnad of al-Bazzar.
Another example pertains to the important practice, recognised by the madhhabs, of performing sunnah prayers as soon as possible after the end of the Maghrib obligatory prayer. The hadith runs: Make haste to perform the two rakas after the Maghrib, for they are raised up (to Heaven) alongside the obligatory prayer. The hadith is narrated by Imam Razin in his Jami.
Because of the traditional pious fear of distorting the Law of Islam, the overwhelming majority of the great scholars of the past – certainly well over ninety-nine percent of them – have adhered loyally to a madhhab. It is true that in the troubled fourteenth century a handful of dissenters appeared, such as Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn al-Qayyim; but even these individuals never recommended that semi-educated Muslims should attempt ijtihad without expert help. And in any case, although these authors have recently been resurrected and made prominent, their influence on the orthodox scholarship of classical Islam was negligible, as is suggested by the small number of manuscripts of their works preserved in the great libraries of the Islamic world.
Nonetheless, social turbulences have in the past century thrown up a number of writers who have advocated the abandonment of authoritative scholarship. The most prominent figures in this campaign were Muhammad Abduh and his pupil Muhammad Rashid Rida. Dazzled by the triumph of the West, and informed in subtle ways by their own well-documented commitment to Freemasonry, these men urged Muslims to throw off the shackles of taqlid, and to reject the authority of the Four Schools. Today in some Arab capitals, especially where the indigenous tradition of orthodox scholarship has been weakened, it is common to see young Arabs filling their homes with every hadith collection they can lay their hands upon, and poring over them in the apparent belief that they are less likely to misinterpret this vast and complex literature than Imam al-Shafi’i, Imam Ahmad, and the other great Imams. This irresponsible approach, although still not widespread, is predictably opening the door to sharply divergent opinions, which have seriously damaged the unity, credibility and effectiveness of the Islamic movement, and provoked sharp arguments over issues settled by the great Imams over a thousand years ago. It is common now to see young activists prowling the mosques, criticising other worshippers for what they believe to be defects in their worship, even when their victims are following the verdicts of some of the great Imams of Islam. The unpleasant, Pharisaic atmosphere generated by this activity has the effect of discouraging many less committed Muslims from attending the mosque at all. No-one now recalls the view of the early ulama, which was that Muslims should tolerate divergent interpretations of the Sunnah as long as these interpretations have been held by reputable scholars. As Sufyan al-Thawri said: ‘If you see a man doing something over which there is a debate among the scholars, and which you yourself believe to be forbidden, you should not forbid him from doing it.’ The alternative to this policy is, of course, a disunity and rancour which will poison and cripple the Muslim community from within.
In a Western-influenced global culture in which people are urged from early childhood to think for themselves and to challenge established authority, it can sometimes be difficult to muster enough humility to recognise ones own limitations. We are all a little like Pharaoh: our egos are by nature resistant to the idea that anyone else might be much more intelligent or learned than ourselves. The belief that ordinary Muslims, even if they know Arabic, are qualified to derive rulings of the Shariah for themselves, is an example of this egotism running wild. To young people proud of their own judgement, and unfamiliar with the complexity of the sources and the brilliance of authentic scholarship, this can be an effective trap, which ends by luring them away from the orthodox path of Islam and into an unintentional agenda of provoking deep divisions among the Muslims. The fact that all the great scholars of the religion, including the hadith experts, themselves belonged to madhhabs, and required their students to belong to madhhabs, seems to have been forgotten. Self-esteem has won a major victory here over common sense and Islamic responsibility.
The Holy Quran commands Muslims to use their minds and reflective capacities; and the issue of following qualified scholarship is an area in which this faculty must be very carefully deployed. The basic point should be appreciated that no categoric difference exists between usul al-fiqh and any other specialised science requiring lengthy training. Shaykh Sa`id Ramadan al-Buti, who has articulated the orthodox response to the anti-Madhhab trend in his book: Non-Madhhabism: The Greatest Bida Threatening the Islamic Shari`a, likes to compare the science of deriving rulings to that of medicine. “If ones child is seriously ill”, he asks, “does one look for oneself in the medical textbooks for the proper diagnosis and cure, or should one go to a trained medical practitioner?” Clearly, sanity dictates the latter option. And so it is in matters of religion, which are in reality even more important and potentially hazardous: we would be both foolish and irresponsible to try to look through the sources ourselves, and become our own muftis. Instead, we should recognise that those who have spent their entire lives studying the Sunnah and the principles of law are far less likely to be mistaken than we are.
Another metaphor might be added to this, this time borrowed from astronomy. We might compare the Quranic verses and the hadiths to the stars. With the naked eye, we are unable to see many of them clearly; so we need a telescope. If we are foolish, or proud, we may try to build one ourselves. If we are sensible and modest, however, we will be happy to use one built for us by Imam al-Shafi’i or Ibn Hanbal, and refined, polished and improved by generations of great astronomers. A madhhab is, after all, nothing more than a piece of precision equipment enabling us to see Islam with the maximum clarity possible. If we use our own devices, our amateurish attempts will inevitably distort our vision.
A third image might also be deployed. An ancient building, for instance the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, might seem imperfect to some who worship in it. Young enthusiasts, burning with a desire to make the building still more exquisite and well-made (and no doubt more in conformity with their own time-bound preferences), might gain access to the crypts and basements which lie under the structure, and, on the basis of their own understanding of the principles of architecture, try to adjust the foundations and pillars which support the great edifice above them. They will not, of course, bother to consult professional architects, except perhaps one or two whose rhetoric pleases them nor will they be guided by the books and memoirs of those who have maintained the structure over the centuries. Their zeal and pride leaves them with no time for that. Groping through the basements, they bring out their picks and drills, and set to work with their usual enthusiasm.
There is a real danger that Sunni Islam is being treated in a similar fashion. The edifice has stood for centuries, withstanding the most bitter blows of its enemies. Only from within can it be weakened. No doubt, Islam has its intelligent foes among whom this fact is well-known. The spectacle of the disunity and fitnas which divided the early Muslims despite their superior piety, and the solidity and cohesiveness of Sunnism after the final codification of the Shariah in the four Schools of the great Imams, must have put ideas into many a malevolent head. This is not to suggest in any way that those who attack the great madhhabs are the conscious tools of Islam’s enemies. But it may go some way to explaining why they will continue to be well-publicised and well-funded, while the orthodox alternative is starved of resources. With every Muslim now a proud mujtahid, and with taqlid dismissed as a sin rather than a humble and necessary virtue, the divergent views which caused such pain in our early history will surely break surface again. Instead of four madhhabs in harmony, we will have a billion madhhabs in bitter and self-righteous conflict. No more brilliant scheme for the destruction of Islam could ever have been devised.
 Abdul Wadod Shalabi, Islam: Religion of Life (2nd ed., Dorton, 1989), 10. This is the purport of the famous hadith : ‘The best generation is my own, then that which follows them, then that which follows them’. (Muslim, Fada’il al-Sahaba, 210, 211, 212, 214)
 The Khalifa was killed by Muslim rebels from Egypt, whose grievances included his alleged ‘innovation’ of introducing a standard text of the Holy Koran. (Evidently the belief among some modern Muslims that there can be no such thing as a ‘good innovation’ (bid`a hasana) has a long history!) For the full story, see pages 63-71 of M.A. Shaban, Islamic History AD 600-750 (AH 132): A New Interpretation (Cambridge, 1971).
 For the Kharijtes see Imam al-Tabari, History, vol. XVIII, translated by M. Morony (New York, 1987), 21-31. Their monstrous joy at having assassinated the khalifa `Ali ibn Abi Talib is recorded on page 22.
 For an account of the historical development of the fiqh, see Ahmad Hasan, The Early Development of Islamic Jurisprudence(Islamabad, 1970); Hilmi Ziya Ulken, Islam Dusuncesi (Istanbul, 1946), 68-100; Omer Nasuhi Bilmen, Hukuki Islamiyye ve IstalahatiFikhiyye Kamusu (Istanbul, 1949-52), I, 311-338.
 For a detailed but highly readable account of the Mongol onslaught, see B. Spuler, History of the Mongols, based on Eastern and Western Accounts of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries (London, 1972); the best-known account by a Muslim historian is `Ala’ al-Din al-Juwayni, Tarikh-i Jihangusha, translated by J.A. Boyle as The History of the World-Conqueror (Manchester, 1958).
 For the slaughter of the ulema, see the dramatic account of Ahmad Aflaki, Manaqib al-`Arifin, ed. Tahsin Tazici (Ankara, 1959-61), I, 21, who states that 50,000 scholars were killed in the city of Balkh alone.
 The critical battle was fought in 873/1469, when the Mongol ruler of Iran was defeated by the Turkomans of the (Sunni) Ak Koyunlu dynasty, who were in turn defeated by Shah Isma`il, an extreme Shi`ite, in 906-7/1501, who inaugurated the Safavid rule which turned Iran into a Shi`i country. (The Cambridge History of Iran, VI, 174-5; 189-350; Sayyid Muhammad Sabzavari, tr. Sayyid Hasan Amin, Islamic Political and Juridical Thought in Safavid Iran [Tehran, 1989].)
 The Kharijites represent a tendency which has reappeared in some circles in recent years. Divided into many factions, their principles were never fully codified. They were textualist, puritanical and anti-intellectual, rejected the condition of Quraishite birth for their Imam, and declared everyone outside their grouping to be kafir. For some interesting accounts, see M. Kafafi, ‘The Rise of Kharijism’, Bulletin of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Egypt, XIV (1952), 29-48; Ibn Hazm, al-Fisal fi’l-milal wa’l-nihal (Cairo, 1320), IV, 188-92; Brahim Zerouki, L’Imamat de Tahart: premier etat musulman du Maghreb (Paris, 1987).
 Ibn Qutayba, Ta’wil Mukhtalif al-Hadith (Cairo, 1326). Readers of French will benefit from the translation of G. Lecomte: Le Traite des divergences du hadith d’Ibn Qutayba (Damascus, 1962). There is also a useful study by Ishaq al-Husayni: The Life and Works of Ibn Qutayba (Beirut, 1950). Mention should also be made of a later and inmost respects similar work, by Imam al-Tahawi (d. 321): Mushkil al-Athar (Hyderabad, 1333), which is more widely used among the ulema.
 Imam Abu’l-Wahid al-Baji (d. 474), Ihkam al-Fusul ila `Ilm al-Usul, ed. A. Turki (Beirut, 1986/1407), §§184-207; Imam Abu Ishaq al-Sirazi (d. 476), al-Luma` fi usual al-fiqh (Cairo, 1377), 17-24; Juwayni, §§327-52, 1247; Imam al-Shafi`i, tr. Majid Khadduri, Al-Shafi`i’s Risala: Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence (Cambridge, 1987), 103-8. Shafi`i gives a number of well-known examples of Koranic texts being subject to takhsis. For instance, the verse ‘As for the thief, male and female, cut of their hands as a retribution from Allah,’ (5:42) appears to be unconditional; however it is subject to takhsis by the hadith which reads ‘Hands should not be cut off for fruits, nor the spadix of a palm tree, and that the hand should not be cut off unless the price of the thing stolen is a quarter of a dinar or more.’ (Malik, Muwatta’, Abu Daud, Sunan; see Shafi`i, Risala, 105.)
 Mohammad Hashim Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence (Cambridge, 1991), 356-65. This excellent book by a prominent Afghan scholar is by far the best summary of the theory of Islamic law, and should be required reading for every Muslim who wishes to raise questions concerning the Shari`a disciples.
 Kamali, 150; Ibn Rushd, The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, tr. Imran Nyazee and Muhammad Abdul Rauf (Reading, 1994), 97. This new translation of the great classic Bidayat al-Mujtahid, only the first volume of which is available at present, is a fascinating explanation of the basic arguments over the proof texts (adilla) used by the scholars of the recognized madhhabs. Ibn Rushd was a Maliki qadi, but presents the views of other scholars with the usual respect and objectivity. The work is the best-known example of a book of the Shari`a science of `ilm al-khilaf (the ‘Knowledge of Variant Rulings’; for a definition of this science see Imam Hujjat al-Islam al-Ghazali, al-Mustasfa min `ilm al-usul, [Cairo, 1324] I, 5).
 Kamali, 154-160; Baji, §§383-450; Shirazi, 30-5; Juwayni, §§1412-1454; Ghazali, Mustasfa, I, 107-129. The problem was first addressed systematically by Imam al-Shafi`i. ‘There are certain hadiths which agree with one another, and others which are contradictory to one another; the abrogating and the abrogatedhadiths are clearly distinguished [in some of them]; in others the hadiths which are abrogating and abrogated are not indicated.’ (Risala, 179.) For cases in which the Holy Koran has abrogated a hadith, or (more rarely) a hadith has abrogated a Koranic verse, see Ghazali, Mustasfa, I, 124-6; Baji, §429-39; Juwayni, §1440-3. The sunna is able to abrogate the Koran because it too is a revelation (wahy); as Imam al-Baji explains it, ‘The Blessed Prophet’s own sunnas do not in reality abrogate anything themselves; they only state that Allah has cancelled the ruling of a Koranic passage. Hence the abrogation, in reality, is from Allah, whether theabrogating passage is in the Koran or the Sunna.’ (Baji, §435.)
 Sayf ad-Din Ahmed Ibn Muhammad, Al-Albani Unveiled: An Exposition of His Errors and Other Important Issues (London, 2nd ed., 1415), 49-51; Ibn Rushd, The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, 168-170; Shafi`i, Risala (Khadduri), 199-202.
 For some expositions of the difficult topic of qiyas, see Kamali, 197-228; Shirazi, 53-63; Juwayni, §§676-95; Imam Sayf al-Din al-Amidi (al-Ihkam fi Usul al-Ahkam, Cairo, 1332/1914), III, 261-437, IV, 1-161.
 The question is often asked why only four schools should be followed today. The answer is straightforward: while in theory there is no reason whatsoever why the number has to be four, the historical fact is that only these four have sufficient detailed literature to support them. In connection with the hyper-literalist Zahiri madhhab, Ibn Khaldun writes: ‘Worthless persons occasionally feel obliged to follow the Zahiri school and study these books in the desire to learn the Zahiri system of jurisprudence from them, but they get nowhere, and encounter the opposition and disapproval of the great mass of Muslims. In doing so they often are considered innovators, as they accept knowledge from books for which no key is provided by teachers.’ (Muqaddima, tr. F. Rosenthal [Princeton, 1958], III, 6.)
 These are (in order of length, shortest first), al-Khulasa, al-Wajiz, al-Wasit and Basit. The great Imam penned over a hundred other books, earning him from a grateful Umma the title ‘Hujjat al-Islam’ (The Proof of Islam). It is hardly surprising that when the ulema quote the famous sahih hadith ‘Allah shall raise up for this Umma at the beginning of each century someone who will renew for it its religion,’ they cite Imam al-Ghazali as the renewer of the fifth century of Islam. See for instance Imam Muhammad al-Sakhawi (d. 902AH), al-Maqasid al-Hasana fi bayan kathirin min al-ahadith al-mushtahira `ala al-alsina (Beirut, 1405), 203-4, who lists the ‘renewers’ as follows: `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz, al-Shafi`i, Ibn Surayj, Abu Hamid al-Isfaraini, Hujjut al-Islam al-Ghazali, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, Ibn Daqaq al-`Id, al-Balqini. Imam Ibn `Asakir (d. 571AH), in his famous work Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari fima nusiba ila al-Imam Abi’l-Hasan al-Ash`ari, ed. Imam Muhammad Zahid al-Kawthari (Damascus, 1347, reproduced Beirut, 1404), 52-4, has the following list: `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz, al-Shafi`i, al-Ash`ari, al-Baqillani, al-Ghazali.
 ‘The most characteristic qualities of the great ulema are dignity and serenity, respect for other scholars, compassionate concern for the Umma, and following the Prophet, upon whom be blessings and peace, whose view was always broad, his wisdom perfect, and his toleration superb.’ Imam Yusuf al-Dajawi (d. 1365AH), Maqalat wa-Fatawa (Cairo: Majmu` al-Buhuth al-Islamiya, 1402), II, 583. `True fairness is to regard all the Imams as worthy; whoever follows the madhhab of a Mujtahid because he has not attained the level of Ijtihad, is not harmed by the fact that other imams differ from his own.’ (Shatibi, I`tisam, III, 260.) There are many examples cited by the scholars to show the respect of the madhhabs for each other. For instance, Shaykh Ibrahim al-Samadi (d. 1662), a pious scholar of Damascus, once prayed to be given four sons, so that each might follow one of the recognized madhhabs, thereby bringing a fourfold blessing to his house. (Muhammad al-Amin al-Muhibbi, Khulasat al-atar fi a`yan al-qarn al-hadi `ashar [Cairo, 1248], I, 48.) And it was not uncommon for scholars to be able to give fatwas in more than one madhhab (such a man was known technically as mufti al-firaq). (Ibn al-Qalanisi, Dhayl Tarikh Dimasq[Beirut, 1908], 311.) Hostility between the Madhhabs was rare, despite some abuse in the late Ottoman period. Al-Dhahabi counsels his readers as follows: ‘Do not think that your madhhab is the best, and the one most beloved by Allah, for you have no proof of this. The Imams, may Allah be pleased with them, all follow great goodness; when they are right, they receive two rewards, and when they are wrong, they still receive one reward.’ (al-Dhahabi, Zaghal al-`Ilm wa’l-Talab, 15, quoted in Sa`id Ramadan al-Buti, Al-Lamadhhabiya Akhtar Bid`a tuhaddid al-Shari`a al-Islamiya, 3rd edition, Beirut, 1404, 81.) The final words here (‘right … reward’) are taken from a well-known hadith to this effect (Bukhari, I`tisam, 21.)
 It will be useful here to refute an accusation made by some Orientalists, and even by some modern Muslims, who suggest that the scholars were reluctant to challenge the madhhab system because if they did so they would be ‘out of a job’, and lucrative qadi positions, restricted to followers of the orthodox Schools, would be barred to them. This is a particularly distasteful example of the modern tendency to slander men whose moral integrity was no less impressive than their learning: to suggest that the great Ulema of Islam followed the interpretation of Islam that they did simply for financial reasons is insulting and a disgraceful form of ghiba (backbiting). In any case, it can be easily refuted. The great ulema of the past were in almost every case men of independent means, and did not need to earn from their scholarship. For instance, Imam Ibn Hajar had inherited a fortune from his mother (al-Sakhawi, al-Daw’ al-Lami` li-Ahl al-Qarn al-Tasi` (Cairo, 1353-5), II, 36-40). Imam al-Suyuti came from a prominent and wealthy family of civil servants (see his ownHusn al-Muhadara fi akhbar Misr wa’l-Wahira [Cairo, 1321], I, 153, 203). For examples of scholars who achieved financial independence see the editor’s notes to Ibn Jam`a’s Tadhkirat al-Sami` fi Adab al-`Alim wa’l-Muta`allim (Hyderabad, 1353), 210: Imam al-Baji was a craftsman who made gold leaf: ‘his academic associates recall that he used to go out to see them with his hand sore from the effects of the hammer’ (Dhahabi, Tadhkira, III, 349-50); while the Khalil ibn Ishaq, also a Maliki, was a soldier who had taken part in the liberation of Alexandria from the Crusaders, and often gave his fiqh classes while still wearing his chain mail and helmet (Suyuti, Husn al-Muhadara, I, 217.) And it was typical for the great scholars to live lives of great frugality: Imam al-Nawawi, who died at the age of 44, is said to have damaged his health by his ascetic lifestyle: for instance, he declined to eat of the fruit of Damascus, where he taught, because it was grown on land whose legal status he regarded as suspect. (al-Yafi`I, Mir’at al-Janan wa-`Ibrat al-Yaqzan [Hyderabad, 1338], IV, 1385.) It is not easy to see how such men could have allowed motives of financial gain to dictate their approach to religion.
 A mujtahid is a scholar qualified to perform ijtihad, defined as ‘personal effort to derive a Shari`a ruling of the furu` from the revealed sources.’ (Bilmen, I, 247.) His chief task – the actual process of derivation – is called istinbat, originally signifying in Arabic ‘bringing up water with difficulty from a well.’ (Bilmen, I, 247.)
 ‘When Allah’s Messenger, upon him be blessings and peace, wished to send Mu`adh ibn Jabal to the Yemen, he asked him: ‘How will you judge if an issue is presented to you for judgement?’ ‘By what is in Allah’s Book,’ he replied. ‘And if you do not find it in Allah’s Book?’ ‘Then by the Sunna of Allah’s Messenger.’ ‘And if it is not in the Sunna of Allah’s Messenger?’ ‘Then I shall strive in my own judgement’ (ajtahidu ra’yi). (Abu Daud, Aqdiya, 11.)
 Kamali, 386-8. Examples of such men from the time of the Tabi`un onwards include ‘Ibrahim al-Nakha`I, Ibn Abi Layla, Ibn Shubruma, Sufyan al-Thawri, al-Hasan ibn Salih, al-Awza`i, `Amr ibn al-Harith, al-Layth ibn Sa`d, `Abdullah ibn Abi Ja`far, Ishaq ibn Rahawayh, Abu `Ubayd al-Qasim ibn Salam, Abu Thawr, Ibn Khuzayma, Ibn Nasr al-Marwazi, Ibn Mundhir, Daud al-Zahiri, and Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, may Allah show them all His mercy.’ (Bilmen, I, 324.) It should be noted that according to some scholars a concession (rukhsa) exists on the matter of the permissibility of taqlid for mujtahid: Imam al-Baji and Imam al-Haramayn, for instance, permit a mujtahid to follow another mujtahid in cases where his own research to establish a matter would result in dangerous delay to the performance of a religious duty. (Baji, §783; Juwayni, §1505.)
 ‘The major followers of the great Imams did not simply imitate them as some have claimed. We know, for instance, that Abu Yusuf and al-Shaybani frequently dissented from the position of Abu Hanifa. In fact, it is hard to find a single question of fiqh which is not surrounded by a debate, in which the independent reasoning and ijtihad of the scholars, and their determination to locate the precise truth, are very conspicuous. In this way we find Imam al-Shafi`i determining, in his new madhhab, that the time for Maghrib does not extend into the late twilight (shafaq); while his followers departed from this position in order to follow a different proof-text (dalil). Similarly, Ibn `Abd al-Barr and Abu Bakr ibn al-`Arabi hold many divergent views in the madhhab of Imam Malik. And so on.’ (Imam al-Dajawi, II, 584.)
 ‘Whenever a mujtahid reaches a judgement in which he goes against ijma`, or the basaic principles, or an unambiguous text, or a clear qiyas (al-qiyas al-jali) free of any proof which contradicts it, his muqallid is not permitted to convey his view to the people or to give a fatwa in accordance with it … however no-one can know whether this has occurred who has not mastered the principles of jurisprudence, clear qiyas, unambiguous texts, and anything that could intervene in these things; and to know this one is obliged to learned usul al-fiqh and immerse oneself in the ocean of fiqh.’ (Imam Shihab al-Din al-Qarafi, al-Furuq (Cairo, 1346), II, 109.)
 The ulema usually recognize seven different degrees of Muslims from the point of view of their learning, and for those who are interested they are listed here, in order of scholarly status. (1,2) The mujtahidun fi’l-shar` (Mujtahids in the Shari`a) and the mujtahidun fi’l-madhhab (Mujtahids in the Madhhab) have already been mentioned. (3) Mujtahidun fi’l-masa’il (Mujtahids on Particular Issues) are scholars who remain within a school, but are competent to exerciseijtihad on certain aspects within it which they know thoroughly. (4) Ashab al-Takhrij (Resolvers of Ambiguity), who are competent to ‘indicate which view was preferable in cases of ambiguity, or regarding suitability to prevailing conditions’. (5) Ashab al-Tarjih (People of Assessment) are ‘those competent to make comparisons and distinguish the correct (sahih) and the preferred (rajih, arjah) and the agreed-upon (mufta biha) views from the weak ones’ inside themadhhab. (6) Ashab al-Tashih (People of Correction): ‘those who could distinguish between the manifest (zahir al-riwaya) and the rare and obscure (nawadir) views of the schools of their following.’ (7) Muqallidun: the ‘emulators’, including all non-scholars. (Kamali, 387-9. See also Bilmen, I, 250-1, 324-6.) Of these seven categories, only the first three are considered to be mujtahids.
 This is explained by Imam al-Shatibi in the context of the following passage, all of which is quoted here to furnish a further summary of the orthodox position on taqlid. ‘A person obliged to follow the rules of the Shari`a must fall into one of three categories. [I] He may be a mujtahid, in which case he will practice the legal conclusions to which his ijtihad leads him. [II] He may be a completemuqallid, unappraised of the knowledge required. In his case, he must have a guide to lead him, and 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 knows, 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 through taqlid someone who he knows is not qualified, in the way that a sick man should not put himself in the hands of someone whom he knows is not a doctor. [III] He may not have attained to the level of the Mujtahids, but he understands the dalil and its context, and is competent to understand it in order to prefer some rulings over others in certain questions. In his case, one must either recognize his preferences and views, or not. If they are recognized, then he becomes like a mujtahid on that issue; if they are not, then he must be classed alone with other ordinary non-specialist Muslims, who are obliged to follow Mujtahids. (al-I`tisam [Cairo, 1913-4] III, 251-3.)
An equivalent explanation of the status of the muttabi` is given by Amidi, IV, 306-7: ‘If a non-scholar, not qualified to make ijtihad, has acquired some of the knowledge required for ijtihad, he must follow the verdicts of the Mujtahids. This is the view of the correct scholars, although it has been rejected by some of the Mu`tazilites in Baghdad, who state: “That is not allowable, unless he obtains a clear proof (dalil) of the correctness of the ijtihad he is following.” But the correct view is that which we have stated, this being proved by the Koran, Ijma` and the intellect. The Koranic proof is Allah’s statement, “Ask the people of remembrance if you do not know,” which is a general (`amm) commandment to all. The proof by Ijma` is that ordinary Muslims in the time of the Companions and the Followers used to ask the mujtahids, and follow them in their Shari`a judgements, while the learned among them would answer their questions without indicating the dalil. They would not forbid them from doing this, and this therefore constitutes Ijma` on the absolute permissibility of an ordinary Muslim following the rulings of a mujtahid.’ For Amidi’s intellectual proof, see note 51 below.
 A muqallid is a Muslim who practices taqlid, which is the Shari`a term for ‘the acceptance by an ordinary person of the judgement of a mufti.’ (Juwayni, §1545.) The word ‘mufti’ here means either a mujtahid or someone who authentically transmits the verdict of a mujtahid. ‘As for the ordinary person [`ammi], it is obligatory [wajib] upon him to make taqlid of the ulema.’ (Baji, §783.) The actual choice of which mujtahid an ordinary Muslim should follow is clearly a major responsibility. ‘A muqallid may only make taqlid of another person after carefully examining his credentials, and obtaining reliable third-party testimony as to his scholarly attainments’ (Juwayni, §1511). (Imam Ibn Furak, however holds that a mujtahid’s own self-testimony is sufficient.) Imam Juwayni goes on to observe (§1515) that is is necessary to follow the best mujtahid available; whichis also the positoin of Imam al-Baji (§794). See also Shirazi (p. 72): ‘It is not permissible for someone asking for a fatwa to ask just anyone, lest he ask someone who has no knowledge of the fiqh. Instead it is obligatory (wajib) for him to ascertain the scholar’s learning and trustworthiness.’ And Qarafi (II, 110): ‘The Salaf, may Allah be pleased with them, were intensely reluctant to givefatwas. Imam Malik said, “A scholar should not give fatwas until he is regarded as competent to do so both by himself and by others.” In other words, the scholars must be satisfied of his qualifications. Imam Malik did not begin to give fatwas until he had been given permission (ijaza) to do so by forty turbaned ones [scholars].’
 ‘The dalil for our position is Allah’s commandment: So ask the people of remembrance, if you do not know. For if we forbade taqlid, everyone would need to become an advanced scholar, and no-one would be able [have time] to earn anything, and the earth would lie uncultivated.’ (Shirazi, 71.) ‘The intellectual proof [of the need for taqlid] is that if an issue of the furu` arises for someone who does not possess the qualifications for ijtihad then he will either not adopt an Islamic ruling at all, and this is a violation of the Ijma`, or, alternatively, he will adopt an Islamic ruling, either by investigating the proofs involved, or by taqlid. But an adequate investigation of the proofs is not possible for him, for it would oblige him, and all humanity, fully to investigate the dalils pertaining to the issues, thereby distracting them from their sources of income, and leading to the extinction of crafts and the ruin of the world.’ (Amidi, Ihkam, IV, 307-8.) ‘One of the dalils for the legitimacy of following the verdicts of the scholars is our knowledge that anyone who looks into these discussions and seeks to deduce rulings of the Shari`a will need to have the right tools, namely, the science of the rulings of the Koran and Sunna and usul al-fiqh, the principles of rhetoric and the Arabic language, and other sciences which are not easily acquired, and which most people cannot attain to. And even if some of them do attain to it, they only do so after long study, investigation and very great effort, which would require that they devote themselves entirely to this and do nothing else; and if ordinary people were under the obligation to do this, there would be no cultivation, commerce, or other employments which are essential for the continuance of humanity – and it is the ijma` of the Umma that this is something which Allah ta`ala has not obliged His slaves to do. … There is therefore no alternative for them to following the ulema.’ (Baji, §793.)
 ‘There is ijma` among the scholars that this verse is a commandment to whoever does not know a ruling or the dalil for it to follow someone who does. Almost all the scholars of usul al-fiqh have made this verse their principle dalil that it is obligatory for an ordinary person to follow a scholar who is amujtahid.’ (al-Buti, 71; translated also in Keller, 17.)
 See also Dajawi, II, 576: ‘The Companions and Followers used to give fatwas on legal issues to those who asked for them. At times they would mention the source, if this was necessary, while at other times they would limit themselves to specifying the ruling.’ Al-Ghazali (Mustasfa, II, 385) explains that the existence of taqlid and fatwa among the Companions is a dalil for the necessity of this fundamental distinction: ‘The proof that taqlid is obligatory is the ijma` of the Companions. For they used to give fatwas to the ordinary people and did not command them to acquire the degree of ijtihad for themselves. This is known necessarily (bi’l-darura) and by parallel lines of transmission (tawatur) from both the scholars and the non-scholars among them.’ See also Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddima (Bulaq ed., p. 216): ‘Not all the Companions were qualified to give fatwas, and Islam was not taken from all of them. That privilege was held only by those who had learnt the Koran, knew what it contained by what of abrogated and abrogating passages, ambiguous (mutashabih) and perspicuous (muhkam) expressions, and its other special features.’ And also Imam al-Baji (§793): ‘Ordinary Muslims have no alternative but to follow the Ulema. One proof of this is the ijma` of the Companions, for those among them who had not attained the degree ofijtihad used to ask the ulema of the Companions for the correct ruling on something which happened to them. Not one of the Companions criticized them for so doing; on the contrary, they gave them fatwas on the issues they had asked about, without condemning them or telling them to derive the rulings themselves [from the Koran and Sunna].’ See also Imam al-Amidi: in note 49 above.
A list of the muftis among the Companions is given by Juwayni (§§1494-9); they include the Four Khalifas, Talha ibn `Ubaydillah, `Abd al-Rahman ibn `Awf, and Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas. Others were not muftis, such as Abu Hurayra, who despite his many narrations of hadiths was never known for his judgements (§1497). Shirazi (p. 52) confirms the obvious point that some Companions are considered more worthy of being followed in legal matters than others.
 As we have seen above, the ulema regard a mastery of the Arabic language as one of the essential qualifications for deriving the Shari`a directly from the Koran and Sunna. See Juwayni, §§70-216, where this is stressed. Juwayni records that Imam al-Shafi`i was so expert in the Arabic language, grammar and rhetoric that at a very young age he was consulted by the great philologist al-Asma`i, who asked his help in editing some early and very difficult collections of Arabic poetry. (Juwayni, §1501.) We also learn that Imam `Ibn al-Mubarak, the famous traditionalist of Merv, spent more money on learning Arabic than on traditions [hadith], attaching more importance on the former than the latter, and asking the students of hadith to spent twice as long on Arabic than on hadith … al-Asma`i held that someone who studied hadith without learning grammar was to be categorized with the forgers of hadith.’ (Siddiqi, 84-5.)
 This is an important collection of hadiths who accuracy Imam al-Hakim al-Nisaburi considered to meet the criteria of Imams al-Bukhari and Muslim, but which had not been included in their collections. Published in four large volumes in Hyderabad between 1334-1342.
 Needless to say, the amateurs who deny taqlid and try to derive the rulings for themselves are even more ignorant of the derivative sources of Shari`a than they are of the Koran and Sunna. These other sources do not only include the famous ones such as ijma` andqiyas. For instance, the fatwas of the Companions are considered by the ulema to be a further important source of legislation. ‘Imam al-Shafi`i throughout his life taught that diya (bloodmoney) was increased in cases of crimes committed in the Haramayn or the Sacred Months, and he had no basis for this other than the statements of the Companions.’ (Juwayni, §1001.)
 For these writers see Ahmad ibn al-Naqib al-Misri, tr. Nuh Keller, Reliance of the Traveller (Abu Dhabi, 1991), 1059-60, 1057-9. The attitude of Ibn al-Qayyim is not consistent on this issue. In some passages of his I`lam al-Muwaqqi`in he seems to suggest that any Muslim is qualified to derive rulings directly from the Koran and Sunna. But in other passages he takes a more intelligent view. For instance, he writes: ‘Is it permissible for a mufti who adheres to the madhhab of his Imam to give a fatwa in accordance with a differentmadhhab if that is more correct in his view? [The answer is] if he is [simply] following the principles of that Imam in procedures ofijtihad and ascertaining the proof-texts [i.e. is a mujtahid fi’l-madhhab], then he is permitted to follow the view of another mujtahidwhich he considers correct.’ (I`lam al-Muwaqqi`in, IV, 237.) This is a broad approach, but is nonetheless very far from the notion of simply following the ‘dalil’ every time rather than following a qualified interpreter. This quote and several others are given by Shaykh al-Buti to show the various opinions held by Ibn al-Qayyim on this issue, which, according to the Shaykh, reveal ‘remarkable contradictions’. (Al-Buti, 56-60.)
 Many of Ibn Taymiya’s works exist only as single manuscripts; and even the others, when compared to the works of the great scholars such as al-Suyuti and al-Nawawi, seem to have been copied only very rarely. See the list of ancient manuscripts of his works given by C. Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur (2nd. Ed. Leiden, 1943-9), II, 126-7, Supplement, II, 119-126.
 `Abduh, in turn, was influenced by his teacher and collaborator Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1839-97). Afghani was associated with that transitional ‘Young Ottoman’ generation which created the likes of Namik Kemal and (somewhat later) Zia Gokalp and Sati` al-Husari: men deeply traumatized by the success of the Western powers and the spectacle of Ottoman military failure, and who sought a cultural renewal by jettisoning historic Muslim culture while maintaining authenticity by retaining a ‘pristine essence’. In this they were inspired, consciously or otherwise, by the wider 19th century quest for authenticity: the nationalist philosophers Herder and Le Bon, who had outlined a similar revivalist-essentialist project for France and Germany based on the ‘original sources’ of their national cultures, had been translated and were widely read in the Muslim world at the time. Afghani was not a profound thinker, but his pamphlets and articles in the journal which he and `Abduh edited, al-`Urwat al-Wuthqa, were highly influential. Whether he believed in his own pan-Islamic ideology, or indeed in his attenuated and anti-historicist version of Islam, is unclear. When writing in contexts far from his Muslim readership he often showed an extreme scepticism. For instance, in his debate with Renan concerning the decline of Arab civilization, he wrote of Islam: ‘It is clear that where-ever it becomes established, this religion tried to stifle the sciences and it was marvellously served in its designs by despotism.’ (Reply to Renan, translated by N. Keddie in An Islamic Response to Imperialism: Political and Religious Writings of Sayyid Jamal al-Din ‘al-Afghani’ (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1968), 183, 187. It is hardly surprising that `Abduh should have worked so hard to suppress the Arabic translation of this work!
Afghani’s reformist ideology led him to found a national political party in Egypt, al-Hizb al-Watani, including not only Muslims, but in which ‘all Christians and Jews who lived in the land of Egypt were eligible for membership.’ (Jamal Ahmed, The Intellectual Origins of Egyptian Nationalism (London, 1960), 16.) This departure from traditional Islamic notions of solidarity can be seen as a product of Afghani’s specific attitude to taqlid. But his pupil’s own fatwas were often far more radical, perhaps because `Abduh’s ‘partiality for the British authority which pursued similar lines of reform and gave him support’ (Ahmed, 35). We are not surprised to learn that the British governor of Egypt, Lord Cromer, wrote: ‘For many years I gave to Mohammed Abdu all the encouragement in my power’ (Lord Cromer,Modern Egypt [ New York, 1908], II, 180). An example is the declaration in `Abduh’s tafsir (much of which is by Rida) that the erection of statues is halal. The same argument was being invoked by Ataturk, who, when asked why he was erecting a statue of himself in Ankara, claimed that ‘the making of statues is not forbidden today as it was when Muslims were just out of idolatry, and that it is necessary for the Turks to practice this art, for it is one of the arts of civilization’. (C. Adams, Islam and Modernism in Egypt [London, 1933], 193-4.)
 A poorly-argued but well-financed example of a book in this category is a short text by the Saudi writer al-Khajnadi, of which an amended version exists in English. This text aroused considerable concern among the ulema when it first appeared in the 1960s, and Shaykh Sa`id Ramadan al-Buti’s book was in fact written specifically in refutation of it. The second and subsequent editions of al-Buti’s work, which shows how Khajnadi systematically misquoted and distorted the texts, contain a preface which includes an account of a meeting between al-Buti and the Albanian writer Nasir al-Din al-Albani, who was associated with Khajnadi’s ideas. The three-hour meeting, which was taped, was curious inasmuch as al-Albani denied that Khajnadi was stating that all Muslims can derive rulings directly from the Koran and Sunna. For instance where Khajnadi makes the apparently misleading statement that ‘As for the Madhhabs, these are the views and ijtihads of the ulema on certain issues; and neither Allah nor His messenger have compelled anyone to follow them,’ Al-Albani explains that ‘anyone’ (ahad) here in fact refers to ‘anyone qualified to make ijtihad’. (Al-Buti, 13.) Al-Albani went on to cite several other instances of how readers had unfortunately misunderstood Khajnadi’s intention. Shaykh al-Buti, quite reasonably, replied to the Albanian writer: ‘No scholar would ever use language in such a loose way and make such generalizations, and intend to say something so different to what he actually and clearly says; in fact, no-one would understand his words as you have interpreted them.’ Albani’s response was: ‘The man was of Uzbek origin, and his Arabic was that of a foreigner, so he was not able to make himself as clear as an Arab would. He is dead now, and we should give him the benefit of the doubt and impose the best interpretation we can on his words!’ (al-Buti, 14.) But al-Albani, despite his protestations, is reliably said to believe even now that taqlid is unacceptable. Wa-la hawla wa-la quawwata illa bi’Llah.
 The ulema also quote the following guiding principles of Islamic jurisprudence: ‘That which is wrong (munkar) need not be condemned as [objectively] wrong unless all scholars agree (in ijma`) that it is so.’ (Dajawi, II, 583.) Imam al-Dajawi (II, 575) also makes the following points: ‘The differences of opinion among the ulema are a great mercy (rahma) upon this Umma. `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz declared: “It would not please me if the Companions of Muhammad, upon whom be blessings and peace, had not disagreed, for had they not done so, no mercy would have come down.” Yahya ibn Sa`id, one of the great hadith narrators among the Followers (Tabi`un), said: “The people of knowledge are a people of broadness (ahl tawsi`a). They continue to give fatwas which are different from each other, and no scholar reproaches another scholar for his opinion.” However, if ordinary people took their rulings straight from the Koran and Sunna, as a certain faction desires, their opinions would be far more discordant than this, and the Four Schools would no longer be four, but thousands. Should that day come, it will bring disaster upon disaster for the Muslims – may we never live to see it!’
One could add that ‘that day’ seems already to be upon us, and that the resulting widening of the argument on even the most simple juridical matters is no longer tempered by the erstwhile principles of politeness and toleration. The fiercely insulting debate between Nasir al-Din al-Albani and the Saudi writer al-Tuwayjiri is a typical instance. The former writer, in his book Hijab al-Mar’a al-Muslima, uses the Koran and Sunna to defend his views that a woman may expose her face in public; while the latter, in his al-Sarim al-Mashhur `ala Ahl al-Tabarruj wa’l- Sufur, attacks Albani in the most vituperative terms for failing to draw from the revealed sources and supposedly obvious conclusion that women must always veil their faces from non-mahram men. Other example of this bitter hatred generation by the non-Madhhab style of discord, based in attempts at direct istinbat, are unfortunately many. Hardly any mosque or Islamic organization nowadays seems to be free of them.
The solution is to recall the principle referred to above, namely that two mujtahids can hold differing opinions on the furu`, and still be rewarded by Allah, while both opinions will constitute legitimate fiqh. (Juwayni, §§1455-8; Bilmen, I, 249.) This is clearly indicated in the Koranic verses: ‘And Daud and Sulayman, when they gave judgement concerning the field, when people’s sheep had strayed and browsed therein by night; and We were witness to their judgement. We made Sulayman to understand [the case]; and unto each of them We gave judgement and knowledge.’ (21:78-9) The two Prophets, upon them be peace, had given different fatwas; and Sulayman’s was the more correct, but as Prophets they were infallible (ma`sum), and hence Daud’s judgement was acceptable also.
Understanding this is the key to recreating the spirit of tolerance among Muslims. Shaykh Omer Bilmen summarizes the jurists’ position as follows: ‘The fundamentals of the religion, namely basic doctrine, the obligatory status of the forms of worship, and the ethical virtues, are the subject of universal agreement, an agreement to which everyone is religiously obliged to subscribe. Those who diverge from the rulings accepted by the overwhelming majority of ordinary Muslims are considered to be the people of bid`a and misguidance, since the dalils (proof-texts) establishing them are clear. But it is not a violation of any Islamic obligation for differences of opinion to exist concerning the furu` (branches) and juz’iyyat (secondary issues) which devolve from these basic principles. In fact, such differences are a necessary expression of the Divine wisdom.’ (Bilmen, I, 329.)
A further point needs elucidating. If the jurists may legitimately disagree, how should the Islamic state apply a unified legal code throughout its territories? Clearly, the law must be the same everywhere. Imam al-Qarafi states the answer clearly: ‘The head of state gives a judgement concerning the [variant rulings which have been reached by] ijtihad, and this does away with the disagreement, and obliges those who follow ijtihad verdicts which conflict with the head of state’s to adopt his verdict.’ (Qarafi, II, 103; affirmed also in Amidi, IV, 273-4.) Obviously this is a counsel specifically for qadis, and applies only to questions of public law, not to rulings on worship.
 This was understood as early as the 18th century. Al-Buti quotes Shah Waliullah al-Dahlawi (Hujjat Allah al-Baligha, I, 132) as observing: ‘The Umma up to the present date … has unanimously agreed that these four recorded madhhabs may be followed by way of taqlid. In this there are manifest benefits and advantages, especially in these days in which enthusiasm has dimmed greatly, and souls have been given to drink of their own passions, so that everyone with an opinion is delighted with his opinion.’ This reminds us that Islam is not a totalitarian religion which denies the possibility and legitimacy of variant opinions. ‘The Muslim scholars are agreed that the mujtahid cannot incur a sin in regard to his legitimate ijtihad exercised to derive judgements of Shari`a. [Only the likes of] Bishr al-Marisi, Ibn `Aliyya, Abu Bakr al-Asamm and the deniers of qiyas, such as the Mu`tazilites and the Twelver Shi`a, believe that there is only one true ruling in each legal issue, so that whoever does not attain to it is a sinner.’ (Amidi, IV, 244.) This is of course an aspect of the Divine mercy, and a token of the sane and generous breadth of Islam. ‘Allah desires ease for you, not difficulty.’ (Koran, 2:185) ‘I am sent to make things easy, not to make them more difficult.’ (Bukhari, `Ilm, 12.) ‘Never was Allah’s Messenger, may blessings and peace be upon him, given the choice between two options but that he chose the easier of them, unless it was a sin.’ (Bukhari, Manaqib, 23.) But the process lamented in Dahlawi’s day, by which people simply ignored this Sunna principle, has nowadays become far more poisonous. What is particularly damaging is that egos have become so powerful that the old Muslim adab of polite tolerance during debate has been lost in some circles, as people find it hard to accept that other Muslims might hold opinions that differ from their own. It must be realized that if Allah tells Musa (upon him be peace) to speak ‘gently’ to Pharoah (20:43), and commands us ‘not to debate with the People of the Book save in a most excellent way,’ (29:46) then how much more important must it be to debate politely with people who are neither Pharoahs nor Christians, but are of our own religion?
 Probably because of an underlying insecurity, many young Muslim activists cannot bear to admit that they might not know something about their religion. And this despite the example of Imam Malik, who, when asked forty questions about fiqh, answered ‘I do not know’ (la adri) to thirty-six of them. (Amidi, IV, 221; Bilmen, I, 239.) How many egos nowadays can bear to admit ignorance even once? They should remember the saying: ‘He who makes most haste to give a fatwa, makes most haste to the Fire.’ (Bilmen, I, 255.) Imam al-Subki condemns ‘those who make haste to give fatwas, relying on the apparent meaning of the [revealed] phrases without thinking deeply about them, thereby dragging other people into ignorance, and themselves into the agonies of the Fire.’ (Taj al-Din al-Subki, Mu`id al-Ni`am wa-Mubid al-Niqam (Brill, 1908), 149. Even Imam al-Sha`bi (d.103), out of his modesty and adab, and his awareness of the great complexity of the fiqh, did not consider himself a mufti, only a naqil (transmitter of texts). (Bilmen, I, 256.)
 Cf. Imam al-Dajawi, II, 579: ‘By Allah, this view (that ordinary people should not follow madhhabs) is nothing less than an attempt to fling the door wide open for people’s individual preferences, thereby turning the Book and the Sunna into playthings to be manipulated by those deluded fools, driven by their compounded ignorance and their corrupt imaginings. It is obvious that personal preferences vary enormously, and that ignorant people will arrive at their conclusions on the basis of their own emotions and imaginings. So what will be the result if we put them in authority over the Shari`a, so that they are able to interpret it in the light of their own opinions, and play with it according to their preferences?’
 Buti, 107-8. The same image is used by Imran Nyazee: ‘Taqlid, as distinguished from blind conversatism, is the foundation of all relationships based on trust, like those between a patient and his doctor, a client and his lawyer, and a business and its accountant. It is a legal method for ensuring that judges who are not fully-qualified mujtahids may be able to decide cases in the light of precedents laid down by independent jurists … The system of taqlid implies that as long as the layman does not get the training for becoming a doctor he cannot practice medicine, for example. In the case of medicine such a person may be termed a quack and may even be punished today, but in the case of Islamic law he is assuming a much graver responsibility: he is claiming that the opinion he is expressing is the law intended by Allah.’ (Introduction to The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, xxxv.)
 It hardly needs adding, as a final observation, that nothing in all the above should be understood as an objection to the extension and development of thefiqh in response to modern conditions. Much serious ijtihad is called for; the point being made in this paper is simply that such ijtihad must be carried out by scholars qualified to do so.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in learning Islam correctly today is the scarcity of traditional ‘ulama. In this meaning, Bukhari relates the sahih, rigorously authenticated hadith that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,
“Truly, Allah does not remove Sacred Knowedge by taking it out of servants, but rather by taking back the souls of Islamic scholars [in death], until, when He has not left a single scholar, the people take the ignorant as leaders, who are asked for and who give Islamic legal opinion without knowledge, misguided and misguiding” (Fath al-Bari, 1.194, hadith 100).
The process described by the hadith is not yet completed, but has certainly begun, and in our times, the lack of traditional scholars—whether in Islamic law, in hadith, in tafsir ‘Qur’anic exegesis’—has given rise to an understanding of the religion that is far from scholarly, and sometimes far from the truth. For example, in the course of my own studies in Islamic law, my first impression from orientalist and Muslim-reformer literature, was that the Imams of the madhhabs or ‘schools of jurisprudence’ had brought a set of rules from completely outside the Islamic tradition and somehow imposed them upon the Muslims. But when I sat with traditional scholars in the Middle East and asked them about the details, I came away with a different point of view, having learned the bases for deriving the law from the Qur’an and sunna.
And similarly with Tasawwuf—which is the word I will use tonight for the English Sufism, since our context is traditional Islam—quite a different picture emerged from talking with scholars of Tasawwuf than what I had been exposed to in the West. My talk tonight, In Sha’ Allah, will present knowledge taken from the Qur’an and sahih hadith, and from actual teachers of Tasawwuf in Syria and Jordan, in view of the need for all of us to get beyond clichés, the need for factual information from Islamic sources, the need to answer such questions as: Where did Tasawwuf come from? What role does it play in the din or religion of Islam? and most importantly, What is the command of Allah about it?
As for the origin of the term Tasawwuf, like many other Islamic discliplines, its name was not known to the first generation of Muslims. The historian Ibn Khaldun notes in his Muqaddima:
This knowledge is a branch of the sciences of Sacred Law that originated within the Umma. From the first, the way of such people had also been considered the path of truth and guidance by the early Muslim community and its notables, of the Companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), those who were taught by them, and those who came after them.
It basically consists of dedication to worship, total dedication to Allah Most High, disregard for the finery and ornament of the world, abstinence from the pleasure, wealth, and prestige sought by most men, and retiring from others to worship alone. This was the general rule among the Companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the early Muslims, but when involvement in this-worldly things became widespread from the second Islamic century onwards and people became absorbed in worldliness, those devoted to worship came to be called Sufiyya or People of Tasawwuf (Ibn Khaldun, al-Muqaddima [N.d. Reprint. Mecca: Dar al-Baz, 1397/1978], 467).
In Ibn Khaldun’s words, the content of Tasawwuf, “total dedication to Allah Most High,” was, “the general rule among the Companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the early Muslims.” So if the word did not exist in earliest times, we should not forget that this is also the case with many other Islamic disciplines, such as tafsir, ‘Qur’anic exegesis,’ or ‘ilm al-jarh wa ta‘dil, ‘the science of the positive and negative factors that affect hadith narrators acceptability,’ or ‘ilm al-tawhid, the science of belief in Islamic tenets of faith,’ all of which proved to be of the utmost importance to the correct preservation and transmission of the religion.
As for the origin of the word Tasawwuf, it may well be from Sufi, the person who does Tasawwuf, which seems to be etymologically prior to it, for the earliest mention of either term was by Hasan al-Basri who died 110 years after the Hijra, and is reported to have said, “I saw a Sufi circumambulating the Kaaba, and offered him a dirham, but he would not accept it.” It therefore seems better to understand Tasawwuf by first asking what a Sufi is; and perhaps the best definition of both the Sufi and his way, certainly one of the most frequently quoted by masters of the discipline, is from the sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) who said:
Allah Most High says: “He who is hostile to a friend of Mine I declare war against. My slave approaches Me with nothing more beloved to Me than what I have made obligatory upon him, and My slave keeps drawing nearer to Me with voluntary works until I love him. And when I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he seizes, and his foot with which he walks. If he asks me, I will surely give to him, and if he seeks refuge in Me, I will surely protect him” (Fath al-Bari, 11.340–41, hadith 6502);
This hadith was related by Imam Bukhari, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, al-Bayhaqi, and others with multiple contiguous chains of transmission, and is sahih. It discloses the central reality of Tasawwuf, which is precisely change, while describing the path to this change, in conformity with a traditional definition used by masters in the Middle East, who define a Sufi as Faqihun ‘amila bi ‘ilmihi fa awrathahu Llahu ‘ilma ma lam ya‘lam,‘A man of religious learning who applied what he knew, so Allah bequeathed him knowledge of what he did not know.’
To clarify, a Sufi is a man of religious learning,because the hadith says, “My slave approaches Me with nothing more beloved to Me than what I have made obligatory upon him,” and only through learning can the Sufi know the command of Allah, or what has been made obligatory for him. He hasapplied what he knew, because the hadith says he not only approaches Allah with the obligatory, but “keeps drawing nearer to Me with voluntary works until I love him.” And in turn, Allah bequeathed him knowledge of what he did not know, because the hadith says, “And when I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he seizes, and his foot with which he walks,” which is a metaphor for the consummate awareness of tawhid, or the ‘unity of Allah,’ which in the context of human actions such as hearing, sight, seizing, and walking, consists of realizing the words of the Qur’an about Allah that,
“It is He who created you and what you do” (Qur’an 37:96).
The origin of the way of the Sufi thus lies in the prophetic sunna. The sincerity to Allah that it entails was the rule among the earliest Muslims, to whom this was simply a state of being without a name, while it only became a distinct discipline when the majority of the Community had drifted away and changed from this state. Muslims of subsequent generations required systematic effort to attain it, and it was because of the change in the Islamic environment after the earliest generations, that a discipline by the name of Tasawwuf came to exist.
But if this is true of origins, the more significant question is: How central is Tasawwuf to the religion, and: Where does it fit into Islam as a whole? Perhaps the best answer is the hadith of Muslim, that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab said:
As we sat one day with the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), a man in pure white clothing and jet black hair came to us, without a trace of travelling upon him, though none of us knew him.
He sat down before the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) bracing his knees against his, resting his hands on his legs, and said: “Muhammad, tell me about Islam.” The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “Islam is to testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and to perform the prayer, give zakat, fast in Ramadan, and perform the pilgrimage to the House if you can find a way.”
He said: “You have spoken the truth,” and we were surprised that he should ask and then confirm the answer. Then he said:
“Tell me about true faith (iman),” and the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) answered: “It is to believe in Allah, His angels, His inspired Books, His messengers, the Last Day, and in destiny, its good and evil.”
“You have spoken the truth,” he said, “Now tell me about the perfection of faith (ihsan),” and the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) answered: “It is to worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you see Him not, He nevertheless sees you.”
The hadith continues to where ‘Umar said:
Then the visitor left. I waited a long while, and the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said to me, “Do you know, ‘Umar, who was the questioner?” and I replied, “Allah and His messenger know best.” He said,
“It was Gabriel, who came to you to teach you your religion” (Sahih Muslim, 1.37: hadith 8).
This is a sahih hadith, described by Imam Nawawi as one of the hadiths upon which the Islamic religion turns. The use of din in the last words of it,Atakum yu‘allimukum dinakum, “came to you to teach you your religion” entails that the religion of Islam is composed of the three fundamentals mentioned in the hadith: Islam, or external compliance with what Allah asks of us; Iman, or the belief in the unseen that the prophets have informed us of; and Ihsan, or to worship Allah as though one sees Him. The Qur’an says, in Surat Maryam,
“Surely We have revealed the Remembrance, and surely We shall preserve it” (Qur’an 15:9),
and if we reflect how Allah, in His wisdom, has accomplished this, we see that it is by human beings, the traditional scholars He has sent at each level of the religion. The level of Islam has been preserved and conveyed to us by the Imams of Shari‘a or ‘Sacred Law’ and its ancillary disciplines; the level of Iman, by the Imams of ‘Aqida or ‘tenets of faith’; and the level of Ihsan, “to worship Allah as though you see Him,” by the Imams of Tasawwuf.
The hadith’s very words “to worship Allah” show us the interrelation of these three fundamentals, for the how of “worship” is only known through the external prescriptions of Islam, while the validity of this worship in turn presupposes Iman or faith in Allah and the Islamic revelation, without which worship would be but empty motions; while the words, “as if you see Him,” show that Ihsan implies a human change, for it entails the experience of what, for most of us, is not experienced. So to understand Tasawwuf, we must look at the nature of this change in relation to both Islam and Iman, and this is the main focus of my talk tonight.
At the level of Islam, we said that Tasawwuf requires Islam,through ‘submission to the rules of Sacred Law.’ But Islam, for its part, equally requires Tasawwuf. Why? For the very good reason that the sunna which Muslims have been commanded to follow is not just the words and actions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), but also his states, states of the heart such as taqwa ‘godfearingness,’ ikhlas ‘sincerity,’ tawakkul‘reliance on Allah,’ rahma ‘mercy,’ tawadu‘ ‘humility,’ and so on.
Now, it is characteristic of the Islamic ethic that human actions are not simply divided into two shades of morality, right or wrong; but rather five, arranged in order of their consequences in the next world. The obligatory (wajib) is that whose performance is rewarded by Allah in the next life and whose nonperformance is punished. The recommended (mandub) is that whose performance is rewarded, but whose nonperformance is not punished. The permissible (mubah) is indifferent, unconnected with either reward or punishment. The offensive (makruh) is that whose nonperformance is rewarded but whose performance is not punished. The unlawful (haram) is that whose nonperformance is rewarded and whose performance is punished, if one dies unrepentant.
Human states of the heart, the Qur’an and sunna make plain to us, come under each of these headings. Yet they are not dealt with in books of fiqh or ‘Islamic jurisprudence,’ because unlike the prayer, zakat, or fasting, they are not quantifiable in terms of the specific amount of them that must be done. But though they are not countable, they are of the utmost importance to every Muslim. Let’s look at a few examples.
(1) Love of Allah. In Surat al-Baqara of the Qur’an, Allah blames those who ascribe associates to Allah whom they love as much as they love Allah. Then He says,
“And those who believe are greater in love for Allah” (Qur’an 2:165), making being a believer conditional upon having greater love for Allah than any other.
(2) Mercy. Bukhari and Muslim relate that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Whomever is not merciful to people, Allah will show no mercy” (Sahih Muslim, 4.1809: hadith 2319), and Tirmidhi relates the well authenticated (hasan) hadith “Mercy is not taken out of anyone except the damned” (al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 4.323: hadith 1923).
(3) Love of each other. Muslim relates in his Sahih that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “By Him in whose hand is my soul, none of you shall enter paradise until you believe, and none of you shall believe until you love one another . . . .” (Sahih Muslim, 1.74: hadith 54).
(4) Presence of mind in the prayer (salat). Abu Dawud relates in his Sunan that ‘Ammar ibn Yasir heard the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) say, “Truly, a man leaves, and none of his prayer has been recorded for him except a tenth of it, a ninth of it, eighth of it, seventh of it, sixth of it, fifth of it, fourth of it, third of it, a half of it” (Sunan Abi Dawud, 1.211: hadith 796)—meaning that none of a person’s prayer counts for him except that in which he is present in his heart with Allah.
(5) Love of the Prophet. Bukhari relates in his Sahih that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “None of you believes until I am more beloved to him than his father, his son, and all people” (Fath al-Bari, 1.58, hadith 15).
It is plain from these texts that none of the states mentioned—whether mercy, love, or presence of heart—are quantifiable, for the Shari‘a cannot specify that one must “do two units of mercy” or “have three units of presence of mind” in the way that the number of rak‘as of prayer can be specified, yet each of them is personally obligatory for the Muslim. Let us complete the picture by looking at a few examples of states that are haramor ‘strictly unlawful’:
(1) Fear of anyone besides Allah. Allah Most High says in Surat al-Baqara of the Qur’an,
“And fulfill My covenant: I will fulfill your covenant—And fear Me alone” (Qur’an 2:40), the last phrase of which, according to Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, “establishes that a human being is obliged to fear no one besides Allah Most High” (Tafsir al-Fakhr al-Razi, 3.42).
(2) Despair. Allah Most High says,
“None despairs of Allah’s mercy except the people who disbelieve” (Qur’an 12:87), indicating the unlawfulness of this inward state by coupling it with the worst human condition possible, that of unbelief.
(3) Arrogance. Muslim relates in his Sahih that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,
“No one shall enter paradise who has a particle of arrogance in his heart” (Sahih Muslim, 1.93: hadith 91).
(4) Envy,meaning to wish for another to lose the blessings he enjoys. Abu Dawud relates that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,
“Beware of envy, for envy consumes good works as flames consume firewood” (Sunan Abi Dawud, 4.276: hadith 4903).
(5) Showing off in acts of worship. Al-Hakim relates with a sahih chain of transmission that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,
“The slightest bit of showing off in good works is as if worshipping others with Allah . . . .” (al-Mustadrak ‘ala al-Sahihayn, 1.4).
These and similar haram inward states are not found in books of fiqh or ‘jurisprudence,’ because fiqh can only deal with quantifiable descriptions of rulings. Rather, they are examined in their causes and remedies by the scholars of the ‘inner fiqh’ of Tasawwuf, men such as Imam al-Ghazali in hisIhya’ ‘ulum al-din [The reviving of the religious sciences], Imam al-Rabbani in his Maktubat [Letters], al-Suhrawardi in his ‘Awarif al-Ma‘arif [The knowledges of the illuminates], Abu Talib al-Makki in Qut al-qulub [The sustenance of hearts], and similar classic works, which discuss and solve hundreds of ethical questions about the inner life. These are books of Shari‘a and their questions are questions of Sacred Law, of how it is lawful or unlawful for a Muslim to be; and they preserve the part of the prophetic sunna dealing with states.
Who needs such information? All Muslims, for the Qur’anic verses and authenticated hadiths all point to the fact that a Muslim must not only do certain things and say certain things, but also must be something, must attain certain states of the heart and eliminate others. Do we ever fear someone besides Allah? Do we have a particle of arrogance in our hearts? Is our love for the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) greater than our love for any other human being? Is there the slightest bit of showing off in our good works?
Half a minute’s reflection will show the Muslim where he stands on these aspects of his din, and why in classical times, helping Muslims to attain these states was not left to amateurs, but rather delegated to ‘ulama of the heart, the scholars of Islamic Tasawwuf. For most people, these are not easy transformations to make, because of the force of habit, because of the subtlety with which we can deceive ourselves, but most of all because each of us has an ego, the self, the Me, which is called in Arabic al-nafs, about which Allah testifies in Surat Yusuf:
“Verily the self ever commands to do evil” (Qur’an 12:53).
If you do not believe it, consider the hadith related by Muslim in his Sahih, that:
The first person judged on Resurrection Day will be a man martyred in battle.
He will be brought forth, Allah will reacquaint him with His blessings upon him and the man will acknowledge them, whereupon Allah will say, “What have you done with them?” to which the man will respond, “I fought to the death for You.”
Allah will reply, “You lie. You fought in order to be called a hero, and it has already been said.” Then he will be sentenced and dragged away on his face and flung into the fire.
Then a man will be brought forward who learned Sacred Knowledge, taught it to others, and who recited the Qur’an. Allah will remind him of His gifts to him and the man will acknowledge them, and then Allah will say, “What have you done with them?” The man will answer, “I acquired Sacred Knowledge, taught it, and recited the Qur’an, for Your sake.”
Allah will say, “You lie. You learned so as to be called a scholar, and read the Qur’an so as to be called a reciter, and it has already been said.” Then the man will be sentenced and dragged away on his face to be flung into the fire.
Then a man will be brought forward whom Allah generously provided for, giving him various kinds of wealth, and Allah will recall to him the benefits given, and the man will acknowledge them, to which Allah will say, “And what have you done with them?” The man will answer, “I have not left a single kind of expenditure You love to see made, except that I have spent on it for Your sake.”
Allah will say, “You lie. You did it so as to be called generous, and it has already been said.” Then he will be sentenced and dragged away on his face to be flung into the fire (Sahih Muslim, 3.1514: hadith 1905).
We should not fool ourselves about this, because our fate depends on it: in our childhood, our parents taught us how to behave through praise or blame, and for most of us, this permeated and colored our whole motivation for doing things. But when childhood ends, and we come of age in Islam, the religion makes it clear to us, both by the above hadith and by the words of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) “The slightest bit of showing off in good works is as if worshipping others with Allah” that being motivated by what others think is no longer good enough, and that we must change our motives entirely, and henceforth be motivated by nothing but desire for Allah Himself. The Islamic revelation thus tells the Muslim that it is obligatory to break his habits of thinking and motivation, but it does not tell him how. For that, he must go to the scholars of these states, in accordance with the Qur’anic imperative,
“Ask those who know if you know not” (Qur’an 16:43),
There is no doubt that bringing about this change, purifying the Muslims by bringing them to spiritual sincerity, was one of the central duties of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), for Allah says in the Surat Al ‘Imran of the Qur’an,
“Allah has truly blessed the believers, for He has sent them a messenger of themselves, who recites His signs to them and purifies them, and teaches them the Book and the Wisdom” (Qur’an 3:164),
which explicitly lists four tasks of the prophetic mission, the second of which, yuzakkihim means precisely to ‘purify them’ and has no other lexical sense. Now, it is plain that this teaching function cannot, as part of an eternal revelation, have ended with the passing of the first generation, a fact that Allah explictly confirms in His injunction in Surat Luqman,
“And follow the path of him who turns unto Me” (Qur’an 31:15).
These verses indicate the teaching and transformative role of those who convey the Islamic revelation to Muslims, and the choice of the word ittiba‘ in the second verse, which is more general, implies both keeping the company of and following the example of a teacher. This is why in the history of Tasawwuf, we find that though there were many methods and schools of thought, these two things never changed: keeping the company of a teacher, and following his example—in exactly the same way that the Sahaba were uplifted and purified by keeping the company of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and following his example.
And this is why the discipline of Tasawwuf has been preserved and transmitted by Tariqas or groups of students under a particular master. First, because this was the sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) in his purifying function described by the Qur’an. Secondly, Islamic knowledge has never been transmitted by writings alone, but rather from ‘ulama to students. Thirdly, the nature of the knowledge in question is ofhal or ‘state of being,’ not just knowing, and hence requires it be taken from a succession of living masters back to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), for the sheer range and number of the states of heart required by the revelation effectively make imitation of the personal example of a teacher the only effective means of transmission.
So far we have spoken about Tasawwuf in respect to Islam, as a Shari‘a science necessary to fully realize the Sacred Law in one’s life, to attain the states of the heart demanded by the Qur’an and hadith. This close connection between Shari‘a and Tasawwuf is expressed by the statement of Imam Malik, founder of the Maliki school, that “he who practices Tasawwuf without learning Sacred Law corrupts his faith, while he who learns Sacred Law without practicing Tasawwuf corrupts himself. Only he who combines the two proves true.” This is why Tasawwuf was taught as part of the traditional curriculum in madrasas across the Muslim world from Malaysia to Morocco, why many of the greatest Shari‘a scholars of this Umma have been Sufis, and why until the end of the Islamic caliphate at the beginning of this century and the subsequent Western control and cultural dominance of Muslim lands, there were teachers of Tasawwuf in Islamic institutions of higher learning from Lucknow to Istanbul to Cairo.
But there is a second aspect of Tasawwuf that we have not yet talked about; namely, its relation to Iman or ‘True Faith,’ the second pillar of the Islamic religion, which in the context of the Islamic sciences consists of ‘Aqida or ‘orthodox belief.’
All Muslims believe in Allah, and that He is transcendently beyond anything conceivable to the minds of men, for the human intellect is imprisoned within its own sense impressions and the categories of thought derived from them, such as number, directionality, spatial extention, place, time, and so forth. Allah is beyond all of that; in His own words,
“There is nothing whatesover like unto Him” (Qur’an 42:11)
If we reflect for a moment on this verse, in the light of the hadith of Muslim about Ihsan that “it is to worship Allah as though you see Him,” we realize that the means of seeing here is not the eye, which can only behold physical things like itself; nor yet the mind, which cannot transcend its own impressions to reach the Divine, but rather certitude, the light of Iman, whose locus is not the eye or the brain, but rather the ruh, a subtle faculty Allah has created within each of us called the soul, whose knowledge is unobstructed by the bounds of the created universe. Allah Most High says, by way of exalting the nature of this faculty by leaving it a mystery,
“Say: ‘The soul is of the affair of my Lord’” (Qur’an 17:85).
The food of this ruh is dhikr or the ‘remembrance of Allah.’ Why? Because acts of obedience increase the light of certainty and Iman in the soul, and dhikr is among the greatest of them, as is attested to by the sahih hadith related by al-Hakim that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,
“Shall I not tell you of the best of your works, the purest of them in the eyes of your Master, the highest in raising your rank, better than giving gold and silver, and better for you than to meet your enemy and smite their necks, and they smite yours?” They said, “This—what is it, O Messenger of Allah?” and he said: Dhikru Llahi ‘azza wa jall, “The remembrance of Allah Mighty and Majestic.” (al-Mustadrak ‘ala al-Sahihayn, 1.496).
Increasing the strength of Iman through good actions, and particularly through the medium of dhikr has tremendous implications for the Islamic religion and traditional spirituality. A non-Muslim once asked me, “If God exists, then why all this beating around the bush? Why doesn’t He just come out and say so?”
The answer is that taklif or ‘moral responsibility’ in this life is not only concerned with outward actions, but with what we believe, our ‘Aqida—and the strength with which we believe it. If belief in God and other eternal truths were effortless in this world, there would be no point in Allah making us responsible for it, it would be automatic, involuntary, like our belief, say, that London is in England. There would no point in making someone responsible for something impossible not to believe.
But the responsibility Allah has place upon us is belief in the Unseen, as a test for us in this world to choose between kufr and Iman, to distinguish believer from unbeliever, and some believers above others.
This why strengthening Iman through dhikr is of such methodological importance for Tasawwuf: we have not only been commanded as Muslims to believe in certain things, but have been commanded to have absolute certainty in them. The world we see around us is composed of veils of light and darkness: events come that knock the Iman out of some of us, and Allah tests each of us as to the degree of certainty with which we believe the eternal truths of the religion. It was in this sense that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab said, “If the Iman of Abu Bakr were weighed against the Iman of the entire Umma, it would outweigh it.”
Now, in traditional ‘Aqida one of the most important tenets is the wahdaniyya or ‘oneness and uniqueness’ of Allah Most High. This means He is without any sharik or associate in His being, in His attributes, or in His acts. But the ability to hold this insight in mind in the rough and tumble of daily life is a function of the strength of certainty (yaqin) in one’s heart. Allah tells the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) in Surat al-A‘raf of the Qur’an,
“Say: ‘I do not possess benefit for myself or harm, except as Allah wills’” (Qur’an 7:188),
yet we tend to rely on ourselves and our plans, in obliviousness to the facts of ‘Aqida that ourselves and our plans have no effect, that Allah alone brings about effects.
If you want to test yourself on this, the next time you contact someone with good connections whose help is critical to you, take a look at your heart at the moment you ask him to put in a good word for you with someone, and see whom you are relying upon. If you are like most of us, Allah is not at the forefront of your thoughts, despite the fact that He alone is controlling the outcome. Isn’t this a lapse in your ‘Aqida, or, at the very least, in your certainty?
Tasawwuf corrects such shortcomings by step-by-step increasing the Muslim’s certainty in Allah. The two central means of Tasawwuf in attaining theconviction demanded by ‘Aqida are mudhakara, or learning the traditional tenets of Islamic faith, and dhikr, deepening one’s certainty in them by remembrance of Allah. It is part of our faith that, in the words of the Qur’an in Surat al-Saffat,
“Allah has created you and what you do” (Qur’an 37:96);
yet for how many of us is this day to day experience? Because Tasawwuf remedies this and other shortcomings of Iman, by increasing the Muslim’s certainty through a systematic way of teaching and dhikr, it has traditionally been regarded as personally obligatory to this pillar of the religion also, and from the earliest centuries of Islam, has proved its worth.
The last question we will deal with tonight is: What about the bad Sufis we read about, who contravene the teachings of Islam?
The answer is that there are two meanings of Sufi: the first is “Anyone who considers himself a Sufi,” which is the rule of thumb of orientalist historians of Sufism and popular writers, who would oppose the “Sufis” to the “Ulama.” I think the Qur’anic verses and hadiths we have mentioned tonight about the scope and method of true Tasawwuf show why we must insist on the primacy of the definition of a Sufi as “a man of religious learning who applied what he knew, so Allah bequeathed him knowledge of what he did not know.”
The very first thing a Sufi, as a man of religious learning knows is that the Shari‘a and ‘Aqida of Islam are above every human being. Whoever does not know this will never be a Sufi, except in the orientalist sense of the word—like someone standing in front of the stock exchange in an expensive suit with a briefcase to convince people he is a stockbroker. A real stockbroker is something else.
Because this distinction is ignored today by otherwise well-meaning Muslims, it is often forgotten that the ‘ulama who have criticized Sufis, such as Ibn al-Jawzi in his Talbis Iblis [The Devil’s deception], or Ibn Taymiya in places in his Fatawa, or Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya, were not criticizing Tasawwuf as an ancillary discipline to the Shari‘a. The proof of this is Ibn al-Jawzi’s five-volume Sifat al-safwa, which contains the biographies of the very same Sufis mentioned in al-Qushayri’s famous Tasawwuf manual al-Risala al-Qushayriyya. Ibn Taymiya considered himself a Sufi of the Qadiri order, and volumes ten and eleven of his thirty-seven-volume Majmu‘ al-fatawa are devoted to Tasawwuf. And Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya wrote his three-volume Madarij al-salikin, a detailed commentary on ‘Abdullah al-Ansari al-Harawi’s tract on the spiritual stations of the Sufi path, Manazil al-sa’irin. These works show that their authors’ criticisms were not directed at Tasawwuf as such, but rather at specific groups of their times, and they should be understood for what they are.
As in other Islamic sciences, mistakes historically did occur in Tasawwuf, most of them stemming from not recognizing the primacy of Shari‘a and ‘Aqida above all else. But these mistakes were not different in principle from, for example, the Isra’iliyyat (baseless tales of Bani Isra’il) that crept into tafsir literature, or the mawdu‘at (hadith forgeries) that crept into the hadith. These were not taken as proof that tafsir was bad, or hadith was deviance, but rather, in each discipline, the errors were identified and warned against by Imams of the field, because the Umma needed the rest. And such corrections are precisely what we find in books like Qushayri’s Risala,Ghazali’s Ihya’ and other works of Sufism.
For all of the reasons we have mentioned, Tasawwuf was accepted as an essential part of the Islamic religion by the ‘ulama of this Umma. The proof of this is all the famous scholars of Shari‘a sciences who had the higher education of Tasawwuf, among them Ibn ‘Abidin, al-Razi, Ahmad Sirhindi, Zakariyya al-Ansari, al-‘Izz ibn ‘Abd al-Salam, Ibn Daqiq al-‘Eid, Ibn Hajar al-Haytami, Shah Wali Allah, Ahmad Dardir, Ibrahim al-Bajuri, ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi, Imam al-Nawawi, Taqi al-Din al-Subki, and al-Suyuti.
Among the Sufis who aided Islam with the sword as well as the pen, to quote Reliance of the Traveller, were:
such men as the Naqshbandi sheikh Shamil al-Daghestani, who fought a prolonged war against the Russians in the Caucasus in the nineteenth century; Sayyid Muhammad ‘Abdullah al-Somali, a sheikh of the Salihiyya order who led Muslims against the British and Italians in Somalia from 1899 to 1920; the Qadiri sheikh ‘Uthman ibn Fodi, who led jihad in Northern Nigeria from 1804 to 1808 to establish Islamic rule; the Qadiri sheikh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza’iri, who led the Algerians against the French from 1832 to 1847; the Darqawi faqir al-Hajj Muhammad al-Ahrash, who fought the French in Egypt in 1799; the Tijani sheikh al-Hajj ‘Umar Tal, who led Islamic Jihad in Guinea, Senegal, and Mali from 1852 to 1864; and the Qadiri sheikh Ma’ al-‘Aynayn al-Qalqami, who helped marshal Muslim resistance to the French in northern Mauritania and southern Morocco from 1905 to 1909.
Among the Sufis whose missionary work Islamized entire regions are such men as the founder of the Sanusiyya order, Muhammad ‘Ali Sanusi, whose efforts and jihad from 1807 to 1859 consolidated Islam as the religion of peoples from the Libyan Desert to sub-Saharan Africa; [and] the Shadhili sheikh Muhammad Ma‘ruf and Qadiri sheikh Uways al-Barawi, whose efforts spread Islam westward and inland from the East African Coast . . . . (Reliance of the Traveller,863).
It is plain from the examples of such men what kind of Muslims have been Sufis; namely, all kinds, right across the board—and that Tasawwuf did not prevent them from serving Islam in any way they could.
To summarize everything I have said tonight: In looking first at Tasawwuf and Shari‘a, we found that many Qur’anic verses and sahih hadiths oblige the Muslim to eliminate haram inner states as arrogance, envy, and fear of anyone besides Allah; and on the other hand, to acquire such obligatory inner states as mercy, love of one’s fellow Muslims, presence of mind in prayer, and love of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). We found that these inward states could not be dealt with in books of fiqh, whose purpose is to specify the outward, quantifiable aspects of the Shari‘a. The knowledge of these states is nevertheless of the utmost importance to every Muslim, and this is why it was studied under the ‘ulama of Ihsan, the teachers of Tasawwuf, in all periods of Islamic history until the beginning of the present century.
We then turned to the level of Iman, and found that though the ‘Aqida of Muslims is that Allah alone has any effect in this world, keeping this in mind in everhday life is not a given of human consciousness, but rather a function of a Muslim’s yaqin, his certainty. And we found that Tasawwuf, as an ancillary discipline to ‘Aqida, emphasizes the systematic increase of this certainty through both mudhakara, ‘teaching tenets of faith’ and dhikr, ‘the remembrance of Allah,’ in accordance with the words of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) about Ihsan that “it is worship Allah as though you see Him.”
Lastly, we found that accusations against Tasawwuf made by scholars such as Ibn al-Jawzi, and Ibn Taymiya were not directed against Tasawwuf in principle, but to specific groups and individuals in the times of these authors, the proof for which is the other books by the same authors that showed their understanding of Tasawwuf as a Shari‘a science.
To return to the starting point of my talk this evening, with the disappearance of traditional Islamic scholars from the Umma, two very different pictures of Tasawwuf emerge today. If we read books written after the dismantling of the traditional fabric of Islam by colonial powers in the last century, we find the big hoax: Islam without spirituality and Shari‘a without Tasawwuf. But if we read the classical works of Islamic scholarship, we learn that Tasawwuf has been a Shari‘a science like tafsir, hadith, or any other, throughout the history of Islam. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,
“Truly, Allah does not look at your outward forms and wealth, but rather at your hearts and your works” (Sahih Muslim, 4.1389: hadith 2564).
And this is the brightest hope that Islam can offer a modern world darkened by materialism and nihilism: Islam as it truly is; the hope of eternal salvation through a religion of brotherhood and social and economic justice outwardly, and the direct experience of divine love and illumination inwardly.
© Nuh Ha Mim Keller 1995
This the text of a lecture give at Islamic Foundation (Markfield Center, Leicester) January 1995 and Croydon Mosque 30th January 1995.
The word salafi or “early Muslim” in traditional Islamic scholarship means someone who died within the first four hundred years after the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), including scholars such as Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafi’i, and Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Anyone who died after this is one of the khalaf or “latter-day Muslims”.
The term “Salafi” was revived as a slogan and movement, among latter-day Muslims, by the followers of Muhammad Abduh (the student of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani) some thirteen centuries after the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), approximately a hundred years ago. Like similar movements that have historically appeared in Islam, its basic claim was that the religion had not been properly understood by anyone since the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the early Muslims–and themselves.
In terms of ideals, the movement advocated a return to a shari’a-minded orthodoxy that would purify Islam from unwarranted accretions, the criteria for judging which would be the Qur’an and hadith. Now, these ideals are noble, and I don’t think anyone would disagree with their importance. The only points of disagreement are how these objectives are to be defined, and how the program is to be carried out. It is difficult in a few words to properly deal with all the aspects of the movement and the issues involved, but I hope to publish a fuller treatment later this year, insha’Allah, in a collection of essays called “The Re-Formers of Islam“.
As for its validity, one may note that the Salafi approach is an interpretation of the texts of the Qur’an and sunna, or rather a body of interpretation, and as such, those who advance its claims are subject to the same rigorous criteria of the Islamic sciences as anyone else who makes interpretive claims about the Qur’an and sunna; namely, they must show:
1. that their interpretations are acceptable in terms of Arabic language;
2. that they have exhaustive mastery of all the primary texts that relate to each question, and
3. that they have full familiarity of the methodology of usul al-fiqh or “fundamentals of jurisprudence” needed to comprehensively join between all the primary texts.
Only when one has these qualifications can one legitimately produce a valid interpretive claim about the texts, which is called ijtihad or “deduction of shari’a” from the primary sources. Without these qualifications, the most one can legitimately claim is to reproduce such an interpretive claim from someone who definitely has these qualifications; namely, one of those unanimously recognized by the Umma as such since the times of the true salaf, at their forefront the mujtahid Imams of the four madhhabs or “schools of jurisprudence”.
As for scholars today who do not have the qualifications of a mujtahid, it is not clear to me why they should be considered mujtahids by default, such as when it is said that someone is “the greatest living scholar of the sunna” any more than we could qualify a school-child on the playground as a physicist by saying, “He is the greatest physicist on the playground”. Claims to Islamic knowledge do not come about by default. Slogans about “following the Qur’an and sunna” sound good in theory, but in practice it comes down to a question of scholarship, and who will sort out for the Muslim the thousands of shari’a questions that arise in his life. One eventually realizes that one has to choose between following the ijtihad of a real mujtahid, or the ijtihad of some or another “movement leader”, whose qualifications may simply be a matter of reputation, something which is often made and circulated among people without a grasp of the issues.
What comes to many peoples minds these days when one says “Salafis” is bearded young men arguing about din. The basic hope of these youthful reformers seems to be that argument and conflict will eventually wear down any resistance or disagreement to their positions, which will thus result in purifying Islam. Here, I think education, on all sides, could do much to improve the situation.
The reality of the case is that the mujtahid Imams, those whose task it was to deduce the Islamic shari’a from the Qur’an and hadith, were in agreement about most rulings; while those they disagreed about, they had good reason to, whether because the Arabic could be understood in more than one way, or because the particular Qur’an or hadith text admitted of qualifications given in other texts (some of them acceptable for reasons of legal methodology to one mujtahid but not another), and so forth.
Because of the lack of hard information in English, the legitimacy of scholarly difference on shari’a rulings is often lost sight of among Muslims in the West. For example, the work Fiqh al-sunna by the author Sayyid Sabiq, recently translated into English, presents hadith evidences for rulings corresponding to about 95 percent of those of the Shafi’i school. Which is a welcome contribution, but by no means a “final word” about these rulings, for each of the four schools has a large literature of hadith evidences, and not just the Shafi’i school reflected by Sabiq’s work. The Maliki school has the Mudawwana of Imam Malik, for example, and the Hanafi school has the Sharh ma’ani al-athar [Explanation of meanings of hadith] and Sharh mushkil al-athar [Explanation of problematic hadiths], both by the great hadith Imam Abu Jafar al-Tahawi, the latter work of which has recently been published in sixteen volumes by Mu’assasa al-Risala in Beirut. Whoever has not read these and does not know what is in them is condemned to be ignorant of the hadith evidence for a great many Hanafi positions.
What I am trying to say is that there is a large fictional element involved when someone comes to the Muslims and says, “No one has understood Islam properly except the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and early Muslims, and our sheikh”. This is not valid, for the enduring works of first-rank Imams of hadith, jurisprudence, Qur’anic exegesis, and other shari’a disciplines impose upon Muslims the obligation to know and understand their work, in the same way that serious comprehension of any other scholarly field obliges one to have studied the works of its major scholars who have dealt with its issues and solved its questions. Without such study, one is doomed to repeat mistakes already made and rebutted in the past.
Most of us have acquaintances among this Umma who hardly acknowledge another scholar on the face of the earth besides the Imam of their madhhab, the Sheikh of their Islam, or some contemporary scholar or other. And this sort of enthusiasm is understandable, even acceptable (at a human level) in a non-scholar. But only to the degree that it does not become ta’assub or bigotry, meaning that one believes one may put down Muslims who follow other qualified scholars. At that point it is haram, because it is part of the sectarianism (tafarruq) among Muslims that Islam condemns.
When one gains Islamic knowledge and puts fiction aside, one sees that superlatives about particular scholars such as “the greatest” are untenable; that each of the four schools of classical Islamic jurisprudence has had many many luminaries. To imagine that all preceding scholarship should be evaluated in terms of this or that “Great Reformer” is to ready oneself for a big letdown, because intellectually it cannot be supported. I remember once hearing a law student at the University of Chicago say: “I’m not saying that Chicago has everything. Its just that no place else has anything.” Nothing justifies transposing this kind of attitude onto our scholarly resources in Islam, whether it is called “Islamic Movement”, “Salafism”, or something else, and the sooner we leave it behind, the better it will be for our Islamic scholarship, our sense of reality, and for our din.
©Nuh Ha Mim Keller 1995
The word madhhab is derived from an Arabic word meaning “to go” or “to take as a way”, and refers to a mujtahid‘s choice in regard to a number of interpretive possibilities in deriving the rule of Allah from the primary texts of the Qur’an and hadith on a particular question. In a larger sense, a madhhab represents the entire school of thought of a particular mujtahid Imam, such as Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafi’i, or Ahmad–together with many first-rank scholars that came after each of these in their respective schools, who checked their evidences and refined and upgraded their work. The mujtahid Imams were thus explainers, who operationalized the Qur’an and sunna in the specific shari’a rulings in our lives that are collectively known as fiqh or “jurisprudence”. In relation to our din or “religion”, this fiqh is only part of it, for the religious knowledge each of us possesses is of three types. The first type is the general knowledge of tenets of Islamic belief in the oneness of Allah, in His angels, Books, messengers, the prophethood of Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), and so on. All of us may derive this knowledge directly from the Qur’an and hadith, as is also the case with a second type of knowledge, that of general Islamic ethical principles to do good, avoid evil, cooperate with others in good works, and so forth. Every Muslim can take these general principles, which form the largest and most important part of his religion, from the Qur’an and hadith.
The third type of knowledge is that of the specific understanding of particular divine commands and prohibitions that make up the shari’a. Here, because of both the nature and the sheer number of the Qur’an and hadith texts involved, people differ in the scholarly capacity to understand and deduce rulings from them. But all of us have been commanded to live them in our lives, in obedience to Allah, and so Muslims are of two types, those who can do this by themselves, and they are the mujtahid Imams; and those who must do so by means of another, that is, by following a mujtahidImam, in accordance with Allah’s word in Surat al-Nahl,
“ Ask those who recall, if you know not ” (Qur’an 16:43),
and in Surat al-Nisa,
“ If they had referred it to the Messenger and to those of authority among them, then those of them whose task it is to find it out would have known the matter ” (Qur’an 4:83),
in which the phrase those of them whose task it is to find it out, expresses the words “alladhina yastanbitunahu minhum“, referring to those possessing the capacity to draw inferences directly from the evidence, which is called in Arabic istinbat.
These and other verses and hadiths oblige the believer who is not at the level of istinbat or directly deriving rulings from the Qur’an and hadith to ask and follow someone in such rulings who is at this level. It is not difficult to see why Allah has obliged us to ask experts, for if each of us were personally responsible for evaluating all the primary texts relating to each question, a lifetime of study would hardly be enough for it, and one would either have to give up earning a living or give up ones din, which is why Allah says in surat al-Tawba, in the context of jihad:
“ Not all of the believers should go to fight. Of every section of them, why does not one part alone go forth, that the rest may gain knowledge of the religion and admonish their people when they return, that perhaps they may take warning ” (Qur’an 9:122).
The slogans we hear today about “following the Qur’an and sunna instead of following the madhhabs” are wide of the mark, for everyone agrees that we must follow the Qur’an and the sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). The point is that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) is no longer alive to personally teach us, and everything we have from him, whether the hadith or the Qur’an, has been conveyed to us through Islamic scholars. So it is not a question of whether or not to take our din from scholars, but rather, from which scholars. And this is the reason we have madhhabs in Islam: because the excellence and superiority of the scholarship of the mujtahid Imams–together with the traditional scholars who followed in each of their schools and evaluated and upgraded their work after them–have met the test of scholarly investigation and won the confidence of thinking and practicing Muslims for all the centuries of Islamic greatness. The reason why madhhabs exist, the benefit of them, past, present, and future, is that they furnish thousands of sound, knowledge-based answers to Muslims questions on how to obey Allah. Muslims have realized that to follow a madhhab means to follow a super scholar who not only had a comprehensive knowledge of the Qur’an and hadith texts relating to each issue he gave judgements on, but also lived in an age a millennium closer to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and his Companions, when taqwa or “godfearingness” was the norm–both of which conditions are in striking contrast to the scholarship available today.
While the call for a return to the Qur’an and sunna is an attractive slogan, in reality it is a great leap backward, a call to abandon centuries of detailed, case-by-case Islamic scholarship in finding and spelling out the commands of the Qur’an and sunna, a highly sophisticated, interdisciplinary effort by mujtahids, hadith specialists, Qur’anic exegetes, lexicographers, and other masters of the Islamic legal sciences. To abandon the fruits of this research, the Islamic shari’a, for the following of contemporary sheikhs who, despite the claims, are not at the level of their predecessors, is a replacement of something tried and proven for something at best tentative.
The rhetoric of following the shari’a without following a particular madhhab is like a person going down to a car dealer to buy a car, but insisting it not be any known make–neither a Volkswagen nor Rolls-Royce nor Chevrolet–but rather “a car, pure and simple”. Such a person does not really know what he wants; the cars on the lot do not come like that, but only in kinds. The salesman may be forgiven a slight smile, and can only point out that sophisticated products come from sophisticated means of production, from factories with a division of labor among those who test, produce, and assemble the many parts of the finished product. It is the nature of such collective human efforts to produce something far better than any of us alone could produce from scratch, even if given a forge and tools, and fifty years, or even a thousand. And so it is with the shari’a, which is more complex than any car because it deals with the universe of human actions and a wide interpretative range of sacred texts. This is why discarding the monumental scholarship of the madhhabs in operationalizing the Qur’an and sunna in order to adopt the understanding of a contemporary sheikh is not just a mistaken opinion. It is scrapping a Mercedes for a go-cart.
© Nuh Ha Mim Keller 2000
The Ash‘ari school and Maturidi schools have represented the ‘aqida or “tenets of belief” of the majority of Sunni Muslims for more than a thousand years; just as the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi‘i, and Hanbali schools have represented the shari‘a or “Sacred Law” for the majority of Sunni Muslims for this period. Those against these two traditional schools of tenets of faith are people of bid‘a, defined in a fatwa or formal legal opinion by Imam Ibn Hajar Haytami as “whoever is upon other than the path of Ahl al-Sunna wa l-Jama‘a, Ahl al-Sunna wa l-Jama‘a meaning the followers of Sheikh Abul Hasan Ash‘ari and Abu Mansur Maturidi, the two Imams of Ahl al-Sunna” (Haytami, al-Fatawa al-hadithiyya, 280). In the past, such contraventions, aside from Mu‘tazilites, Shiites, and purely sectarian movements, were confined to a handful of mainly Hanbalis, whose bone of contention with the two traditional schools was that neither had anything to do with their literalist, anthropomorphic understanding of Allah Most High, which they promoted by all means at their disposal.
In answer to your question, the claims that Imam Abul Hasan Ash‘ari (d. 324/936) repudiated his own positions are not new, but have been circulated by these Hanbalis for a long time, a fact that compelled the hadith master (hafiz) Ibn ‘Asakir to carefully investigate this question, and thesanads (chains of narrators) for the attribution of these repudiations to Ash‘ari. The results of his research furnished probably the best intellectual biography of Ash‘ari ever done, a book that rebuts these claims thoroughly and uniquivocally, called Tabyin kadhib al-muftari fi ma nusiba ila al-Imam al-Ash‘ari [On showing the untruth of the liars, concerning what has been ascribed to Imam Ash‘ari], that proves that there are liars in all thesanads that impute this to Imam Ash‘ari. The book is in print, and whoever would like the details should read it.
Imam Ash‘ari’s al-Ibana ‘an usul al-diyana [The clarification of the bases of the religion] was not his last book, but rather among the first after he broke with Mu‘tazilism. Imam Kawthari states:
The Ibana was authored at the first of his return from Mu‘tazilite thought, and was by way of trying to induce [n: the Hanbali literalist] Barbahari (d. 328/940) to embrace the tenets of faith of Ahl al-Sunna. Whoever believes it to be the last of his books believes something that is patently false. Moreover, pen after pen of the anthropomorphists has had free disposal of the text—particularly after the strife (fitna) that took place in Baghdad [n: after A.H. 323, when Hanbalis (“the disciples of Barbahari”) gained the upper hand in Baghdad, Muslims of the Shafi‘i madhhab were beaten, and anthropomorphism became the faith (‘aqida) of the day (Ibn Athir:al-Kamal fi al-tarikh, 7.114)]—so that what is in the work that contradicts the explicit positions transmitted from Ash‘ari by his own disciples, and their disciples, cannot be relied upon (al-Sayf al-saqil, 108).
This is borne out by hadith master (hafiz) Dhahabi in his Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ (15.90), as well as Ibn ‘Asakir’s Tabyin kadhib al-muftari. As for seeing dreams, dreams may warm the heart, but they are not a proof for either Islamic law or tenets of faith. In his introduction to Ibn ‘Asakir’s work, Kawthari notes that “the anthropomorphists are the ones who seem to need this [relating of dreams]: when unable to prove their point while awake, they go to sleep, to find the proofs they are looking for while asleep, to fill their books with them” (Tabyin kadhib al-muftari (21–22).
In relation to your questions in general, it is noteworthy that Saudi Arabia has printed and distributed worldwide thousands of copies of a Salafi book called Manhaj al-Asha‘ira fi al-‘aqida [The methodology of the Ash‘aris in tenets of faith] by one Safar Hawali, a professor at Umm al-Qura University in Mecca. It ascribes to the Ash‘ari school the misrepresentations typical of that part of the world, identifying the school with the positions of heretical sects like the Jahmiyya, the Qadriyya, Murjiites, and so on, and contains a number of the things you asked about the Ash‘aris, so I would guess this is the misinformation that your English Salafis are going upon. One can find the details in Hasan Saqqaf’s recent rebuttal of the work entitled Tahni’a al-sadiq al-mahbub, wa nayl al-surur al-matlub, bi maghazala Safar al-maghlub [The greeting of the beloved friend, and attainment of happiness sought, in affectionate discourse with Safar the defeated]. I have heard that Hawali has since moved on from his positions, though I do not know the details.
Saqqaf also talks in his work about the bogus Hanbali “repentances” of various Ash‘ari Imams such as Ash‘ari, Juwayni, and Ghazali, that don’t appear in their books but have rather reached us by sanads each containing an anti-Ash‘ari or two, as is also corroborated by Ibn Subki in hisTabaqat al-Shafi‘iyya al-kubra [The greater compendium of the successive generations of Shafi‘i scholars] under the biographical entries on each of these scholars.
From the wider perspective of Islamic law, these forgeries are rather meaningless, since a Muslim may not believe in the Islamic faith (‘aqida) of Ahl al-Sunna merely because his Imam has said it, but rather because he sincerely believes it is the truth. Scholars say that it is not legally valid to follow qualified scholarship (taqlid) in tenets of Islamic faith (as opposed to rulings of Islamic law) unless one has full conviction of these tenets of faith from one’s own heart—which is why they tell us that one’s faith (iman) by taqlid in such tenets is only legally valid on condition that if one’s Imam were to cease believing something of them, one would not. So the forgeries would seem to have little scholarly relevance, other than to show the lengths to which their perpetrators were willing to go.
Ibn Kathir (d. 774/1373) is a scholar of Ahl al-Sunna who was of the Shafi‘i school (according to the first volume of his main work, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-‘Azim, 1.2), while Ibn Taymiya (d. 728/1328) was a scholar whose fiqh remained in the general framework of the Hanbali school. Ibn Taymiya’s controversies in tenets of faith (‘aqida) and literalist interpretations of the attributes of Allah were mostly adopted from what had historically been the more anthropomorphic end of the previous spectrum of Hanbali ‘aqida—Hanbali in that some of the followers of this school had these beliefs, not that Ahmad ibn Hanbal in any way supported them or that they were part of his madhhab. They have been resurrected in our times as Salafism or “return to early Islam” by moneyed supporters of the Wahhabi sect, whose differences with Ahl al-Sunna consist almost entirely of the ideas of Ibn Taymiya. In scholarship, Ibn Kathir was a hadith master (hafiz, someone with at least 100,000 hadiths by memory), while Ibn Taymiya was not: his name does not appear in any of the works of tabaqat al-huffaz or “successive generations of hadith masters,” that comprehensively document such scholars. Whatever length of time Ibn Kathir studied with Ibn Taymiya, he was in his twenties when the latter died, and his long and fruitful career extended over the next forty-six years.
Alhough I have not read all of Ibn Kathir’s Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir), I have not found in it any traces of Ibn Taymiya’s more unusual positions, the most significant of which, for ‘aqida and Qur’anic exegesis, is his claim that “there is no figurative expression (majaz) in the Qur’an” (Ibn Taymiya:al-Iman, 83), even in the use of such words as ‘hand’, ‘face’, ‘eyes’, ‘shin’, and the like with reference to Allah. He says, “Every word in the Book of Allah and His messenger is conditioned by that which clarifies its meaning, in none of which is there any figurative expression (majaz); rather, all of it is literal (haqiqa)” (ibid., 78). Compare this with what Ibn Kathir says about the verse “Then He ‘was established’ (istawa) upon the Throne” (Qur’an 7:54), (istawa here rendered as “was established” not by way of definitive interpretation, but rather out of need to answer the question):
People have many positions on this matter, and this is not the place to present them at length. On this point, we follow the position of the early Muslims (salaf)—Malik, Awza‘i, Thawri, Layth ibn Sa‘d, Shafi‘i, Ahmad, Ishaq ibn Rahawayh, as well as others among the Imams of the Muslims, ancient and modern—namely, to let the verse pass as it has come, without saying how it is meant (bi la takyif), without any resemblance to created things (wa la tashbih), and without nullifying it (wa la ta‘til): the literal outward meaning (dhahir) that comes to the minds of anthropomorphists (al-mushabbihin) is negated of Allah [italics mine], for nothing created has any resemblance to Him: “There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him, and He is the All-hearing, the All-seeing” (Qur’an 42:11) (Ibn Kathir: Tafsir al-Qur’an al-‘Azim, 2.220).
This is precisely the position of tafwid or “consigning the knowledge of what is really meant by such scriptural expressions to Allah” that Ash‘aris like Imam Nawawi and many others held concerning such verses. It cannot be lost on you how far Ibn Kathir is from anthropomorphism, and I haven’t found anything else in his tafsir that suggests he followed the ideas of Ibn Taymiya or his student Ibn Qayyim in the literalism that gives the impression of likening Allah to created things. And Allah knows best.