Differences of Opinion & Determining Sound Scholarship

Hanafi Fiqh

Answered by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razacq

Question: If we do whatever Allah asks us to do without questioning, why do different scholars have different opinions about different aspects of our religion? The permissible and impermissible is not clear and there are many different ways of interpreting something. Some scholars say watching Hollywood movies is impermissible, some say it is not. Some say music can be permissible or impermissible and different Islamic deeds have different levels of priority. Why didn’t Allah make his religion clear-cut to us so that we do exactly what He tells us to do? I know of some female Islamic scholars like Laleh Bakhtiar, Leila Ahmed and Amina Wadud who are very different in their opinions regarding many Islamic issues. They are also highly educated and against wearing hijab. Now, I am really confused about the image of Islam. Who should I consider to be trustworthy or a reliable scholar?

Answer: In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. May the peace and blessings of Allah descend on the Prophet Muhammad, his family, his companions, and those who follow them.

Dear Sister,

Assalamu alaikum,

Thank you for your question. I pray you are in good health and iman.

Your questions are hugely important and I’m not sure I can do them justice in a brief response.

I disagree with your contention that Allah Ta’ala has not made this deen clear. The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “That which is lawful is plain and that which is unlawful is plain and between the two of them are doubtful matters about which not many people know. Thus he who avoids doubtful matters clears himself in regard to his religion and his honor, but he who falls into doubtful matters falls into that which is unlawful, like the shepherd who pastures around a sanctuary, all but grazing therein. Truly every king has a sanctuary, and truly Allah’s sanctuary is His prohibitions. Truly in the body there is a morsel of flesh which, if it be whole, all the body is whole and which, if it be diseased, all of it is diseased. Truly it is the heart.”

One important lesson from this hadith is that one can safeguard her religion by avoiding what is doubtful. Much of popular entertainment falls into this category, while much of it is clearly unlawful. You bring up music and movies.  Most scholars concur that music, in its current form, is unlawful. However, they might also point to alternatives, such as traditional Islamic nasheeds, qasa’id, na’at, and mawlids. Similarly, with movies. I cannot think of too many qualified scholars who would encourage Muslims to watch movies, although there might be some exceptions. The bigger point here is that our scholars are in agreement on the essentials of our faith. But they might disagree on cultural issues and this disagreement can be healthy. Indeed, the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said that the disagreement of the scholars is a mercy for our community.

Last but not least, you need to be very careful about your exposure to media. The internet has given everyone a platform and not all who speak for Islam are the most qualified. Qualified scholars have a chain of transmission, or isnad, going all the way back to the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace. They do not contravene the generational consensus of the knowledgeable men and women of this deen. They are not swayed by pop culture trends. And they direct their students to that which is beneficial.

At the end of the day, which time is better spent? That listening to music and watching movies, or that spent seeking and spreading knowledge which is truly beneficial to ourselves, our families, and our communities?

I highly recommend you look into classes at SeekersGuidance and SunniPath. These classes are taught by highly qualified, God-fearing, balanced men and women. I can say this because I have worked with these people and can vouch for the way they present Islam.

May Allah Ta’ala bless you with beneficial knowledge,

Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razacq
May 18, 2010/Jumada al-Thani 5, 1431

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani