The Path of Taqwa: Avoiding Differences of Opinion

Hanafi FiqhShafi'i Fiqh

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Question: Is there any benefit in trying to avoid differences of other schools? Why, and what are the limits?

Answer: In the Name of Allah, most Merciful

“The way of the spiritual traveler is to avoid differences of opinion, and to stick to that which is agreed upon.” – Imam al-Barkawi

Imam al-Haskafi said in his al-Durr al-Mukhtar, arguably the most important commentary in the late Hanafi school for details of legal rulings:

(And) wudu is (not) broken (by touching the penis) though it is recommended to wash one’s hands (or by touching a woman) … however, it is it recommended [to renew one’s wudu] to avoid the difference on this issue, especially for the Imam. It is a condition, though, [when seeking to avoid difference of opinion] that it not entail doing something disliked in one’s own madhhab.

Ibn Abidin commented on this in his Radd al-Muhtar (also famous as, al-Hashiya, and al-Shami), considered the most important authority for the definitive positions of the Hanafi school:

“(His saying, “It is recommended…”)

It is stated [by Umar ibn Nujaym] in al-Nahr: However, the degrees of recommendedness differ according to the strength or weakness of the evidence of the other school.

(His saying, “It is a condition, though…”)

… Does [avoiding something] disliked [in one’s own school] include something slightly disliked? … It seems evident that it does, such as praying fajr when the sky is still dark (taghlīs), which is a sunna in the Shafi`i school, but the best in our school is to pray when there is light in the sky (isfār), and it is not recommended [per se] to avoid the difference of opinion in it….” [Ibn Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar `ala al-Durr al-Muhtar, Bab Sunan al-Wudu’]

Imam al-Suyuti said in his al-Ashbah wa al-Naza’ir, in Shafi`i fiqh,

“The Twelfth Principle: Avoiding differences of opinion is recommended…

There are conditions to this:

One, that avoiding a difference of opinion not lead to falling into another difference…

Second, that the difference of opinion not go against an established sunna [F: that is, it should not lead to leaving something recommended or doing something disliked in one’s school]

Third, that its evidence have some basis, such that it is not considered a mistake. This is why it is best to fast even while traveling for one able to do so without hardship, and the difference of Dawud [al-Zahiri, the Literalist] is not considered, because it is baseless.

In fact, Imam al-Haramayn [al-Juwayni] said regarding this issue,

“The scholars of discernment do not place any weight to the difference of opinion of the Literalists (Ahl al-Zahir).” [al-Suyuti, al-Ashbah wa al-Naza’ir, p. 137]

Imam al-Barkawi said in al-Tariqa al-Muhamadiyya, a manual on how to operationalize taqwa:

“The way of the spiritual traveler is to avoid differences of opinion, and to stick to that which is agreed upon.”

Imam al-Khadimi commented on this in his al-Bariqa al-Mahmudiyya Sharh al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya: [2: 286-287]

“… It is clear that the difference of other than the Hanafi imams is not of consideration [f: for a Hanafi] in terms of the legal ruling (fatwa). Rather, it is sought in terms of taqwa.,

The author pointed to this when he said,

(The way of the spiritual traveler) to Allah (is to avoid differences of opinion). This is because they consider the differences of opinion of all Imams… because though [according to the methodology of the school one follows] he considers them mistaken in their opinion, it is possible that they are right. This is because of what we hold that the madhhab of Abu Hanifa is correct with the possibility of being wrong, and the madhhabs of others are wrong with the possibility of being right. Thus, the cautious God-fearing person avoids this possibility as much as possible…

(and to stick to that which is agreed upon). Al-Bistami said in Hall al-Rumuz, “It is incumbent on the sufi to acquire enough knowledge to make his actions in accordance to the Sacred Law according to all four madhhabs. This is because if the sufi is Hanafi, for example, it is binding on him to exercise caution in the matters relating to his ritual ablutions (wudu’) and prayer and other acts of worship such that they are also in accordance with the madhhabs of Shafi`i, Malik, and Ahmad , because the way (madhhab) of the sufis is to join between the positions of the fuqaha. When this is not possible, they act on that which is religiously most precautious and most appropriate. This is because a Shafi`i would not question you why you did not perform ritual ablutions with two qullas (216 litres) or more of water [f: if filth fell in it, whereas this is not allowed for Hanafis], and a Hanafi would not question you as to why you performed ritual ablutions upon touching your private parts or a person of the opposite sex.

And it is incumbent on the sufi to love the follower of the four madhhabs, and to make dua for the good for all of them, and not to be fanatical at all.

As for dispensations, it is binding that he leave them at all cost.” (end of the quote from al-Bistami)

This is in terms of taqwa, because acting on dispensations is permitted according to the fuqaha (ahl al-fatwa)…” [al-Khadimi, al-Bariqa al-Mahmudiyya Sharh al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya:, 2: 286-287]

It should be noted, however, that this is a noble perfection. The first step towards it is to learn one’s own madhhab properly, and to do one’s best to apply its rulings in one’s life without exception, in all aspects of one’s life, being most careful about that which relates to the rights of others and to the halal and haram.

And Allah alone gives success.


Faraz Rabbani.

MMVIII © Faraz Rabbani and SunniPath.