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Why Can’t We Unite? A Brief Overview of Moon-Sighting Wars (And How To Avoid Them) – Shaykh Sohail Hanif

Shaykh Sohail Hanif makes sense of the annual moon-sighting debates.

The blessed month of Ramadan is almost upon us. It is a month of contemplation, fasting, prayer and tranquility. But just as the tranquility of Paradise is “surrounded by disliked matters,”[1] Ramadan can only be arrived at after crossing the uncomfortable terrain of moonsighting debates. In this run up to the sacred month, otherwise ordinary words can acquire great rhetorical force: “Local!” “Global!” “Sighting!” “Calculations” “Saudi!” “Pakistan!” Each word is backed up by arguments, documents and video clips. But must these exchanges be inevitable, and is there a way out of this impasse? I believe there is if we read our classical heritage with some care.

It’s All Backed By Classical Scholarship

It is true that since the earliest times, scholars of Islamic law have disagreed over the correct method of declaring the beginning of the blessed month. There is a classical precedent for local sighting, global sighting, and even astronomical calculations. Thus, the disagreements that beset us at the beginning of the blessed month do have a basis in classical scholarship. However, there is something that we are missing as we churn out these classical positions: the missing point is process.

Process, Process, Process

Classical works of Islamic law provide details on how the new moon is to be established.

  • We are told by some classical jurists that if the sky is clear, a large number of people are required to have seen the moon. This is because the sighting of only a few people on a clear night is inherently suspicious since most onlookers did not see it.[2]
  • If the sky is overcast, then some jurists stipulated two witnesses for a valid sighting,[3] treating it as akin to establishing a fact in court, whilst others accepted a single witness,[4] treating it as a religious report.

In either case, they required that the individuals be morally upright. The question here is, who is it that will determine whether a group sighting is large enough on a clear night? Who is it that will decide whether a witness is upright or not? Who will determine the number of witnesses required on an overcast night? Each of these points has its own conditions that need to be verified by one who is both suitably trained and is vested with the authority to do so. This is the Muslim judge who has been placed in a position to declare the beginning of the month. Thus, the entry of Ramadan is established through a judicial process.

Waiting For Official Judgement

The commencement of Ramadan is not a private matter for individuals to declare. Individuals are only to raise their possible sightings to the appropriate authority who will then consider whether to accept or reject the sighting, and will consider which conditions to consider to declare the beginning of the month. This is why books of Islamic law discuss the case where an individual is sure that he/she saw the new moon, but was unable to convince the judge of this; should such a person fast? The commonly stated answer is that such a person does fast. However, this only applies to the person in question; everyone else is to await the official judgement on the matter.[5]
This is why, in Muslim countries, one rarely finds households divided over when they start fasting or celebrate Eid. In these countries, there is typically a governmentally appointed council that is vested with the authority to declare the beginning of the month. The man on the street need only turn on the radio or the television to know if the appointed council has declared the beginning of Ramadan. This is the process that works of sacred law attest to. The reason for this is clear. The communal purpose of Ramadan and Eid cannot be realised if a society is divided over when it starts and finishes the month. This process prevents that from happening.

What About Muslims Living As Minorities?

So what should people do in a minority context such as Britain? The answer is clear; the community must strive to appoint a representative council to declare the entry of the blessed month, which the community must then follow. This is not a new idea; there are many chapters of the law that attest to this. The Friday prayer is one example. Classical works of law imply that towns should, ideally, have only one Friday prayer service, so that the entire town comes together for a single congregation every week. This led to the question of who was to appoint the one imam to deliver the sermon and lead the town in prayer. If left to the people, each group and sect would vie endlessly to have its own group represented.
The answer, at least according to scholars of the Hanafi legal school, was that only the ruler, or the one appointed by the ruler, could choose the imam of this congregation.[6] The public had no authority to start their own Friday prayer. They could only choose to pray behind the appointed imam, or stay at home. In the minority context, scholars of the Hanafi school stated that where there is no Muslim ruler to make such a decision, the community itself must come together and appoint the imam.[7] In this case, no one individual can choose to lead the Friday prayer, only the one appointed by the community. This is effectively what happens in Mosques all over Britain. Mosques represent communities; members from the community run these mosques as representatives of the community, and they determine who leads the Friday prayer.
Shariah courts in Britain attempt to apply the same logic. Where there is no Muslim ruler to appoint judges to annul marriages in which women are abused, the Muslim community can come together to appoint a body to represent them in performing such a function. There is precedent to all of this in the works of Islamic law. The matter of Ramadan must be treated likewise.

Avoiding Sectarianism

Now, one might hear a voice stubbornly declare, “Okay, I’ll follow this appointed body as long as they follow local sightings!” Unfortunately, this is not how the process works. If the authority is vested in a judge, or a body acting as the judge, the prerogative is theirs to decide which method to use. The insistence of only observing the “correct” Ramadan is akin to insisting that only the “correct” Muslim enters one’s mosque; it is a thought process that is sectarian in nature and destructive in consequence. Unless the appointed judicial body totally violates and steps outside of what is considered acceptable opinion, it has to be followed. So where do we find this pool of acceptable opinion?
The world of Sunni Islam, the Muslim majority, ultimately settled on limiting the pool of acceptable opinion to the four established schools of law: the Hanafi, Shafi‘i, Maliki and Hanbali. This is not to say that great scholarship cannot exist outside of these schools. However, when it came to process, it was impossible to run a society with its need for clearly identifiable rules and procedures, if there was no clear way to limit and define acceptable legal opinion.[8] And as these four schools had matured to such a degree that it became increasingly hard to be recognised as one trained in law outside of the domain of these four schools, with their clearly defined hierarchy of rules, and great tradition of legal literature to draw upon, it made sense to only accept them as representing the law of God in the society of man. This Sunni paradigm ran Muslim societies for centuries, and it is of great use to us. It relieves us of having to force our own correct answer onto others. It is enough for an answer to be acceptable, after which we must strive for the right process in order to establish the will of God on earth.

Every Method Has A Basis In Sacred Law

If we look at the large corpus of legal works authored under the aegis of these four schools of law, we will find that every method currently followed, in Britain or elsewhere, has a basis in sacred law.

  • Relying on astronomical calculations, for example, is an opinion that a number of reputable scholars across legal schools have championed, with the strongest voices belonging to the Shafi‘i school.[9]
  • Global sighting, meaning following a sighting from a faraway land, has been upheld as the strongest opinion of the Hanafi and Hanbali schools, and, according to some, the Maliki school.[10]
  • Local sighting, meaning each locality following its own sightings, has been seen as the strongest opinion of the Shafi‘i school, and, according to some, the Maliki school.[11]

In truth, if a person looks through the corpus of legal works, he/she will see that the methods that were deemed acceptable were vast. As long as the judicial council vested with the authority to declare Ramadan follows any of these, then it must be followed. It is that simple.
So what to make of the long articles defending local sighting as the correct way to declare Ramadan, or global sighting, or other methods? These should all be seen as academic papers. These would be presented to such a judicial body to advise of the best method to follow. Otherwise, they are of little practical consequence because an individual cannot declare their own month.
The issue of moonsighting illustrates the wider purpose of the central devotional acts of Islam that make up its five pillars. Each of these upholds not only the faith of individuals, but the very community of faith to which these individuals belong. The detailed rules of the ritual prayer, fasting and zakat provide much guidance and clarity onhow a community of faith is to be formed, strengthened and spiritually nourished. If the community finds itself in discord and disarray, its members can only blame themselves for not having established these pillars as they were instructed.

References
Note: Most references below are to the Kuwaiti Fiqh Encylopaedia (al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah) which is perhaps the best and most accessible comparative fiqh reference compiled in the modern era, contributed to by leading scholars across the Muslim world. Each entry in the encyclopaedia provides references to the primary legal sources from which it draws.
[1] “The Fire is surrounded by lusts; and the Garden is surrounded by disliked matters;” al-Bukhari, hadith no. 6487.
[2] This is the insight of the Hanafi legal school: al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Khabar,” vol. 19, p. 16. Some Maliki texts also indicate this: al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, p. 25.
[3] This is the strongest position of the Maliki school: al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Khabar,” vol. 19, p. 17; and c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, p. 25.
[4] This is the strongest position of the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools, who stipulate this whether the sky is overcast or clear, and of the Hanafi school, who only stipulate this if the sky is overcast: al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Khabar,” vol. 19 pp. 16-17; and c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, pp. 25-7.
[5] This is the opinion of all four schools of law, who differ only on whether such a person must expiate for consciously violating the fast, or not. Some notable scholars of the early Muslim community, however, held that such a person is not obliged to fast at all. There is greater disagreement concerning someone who sees the new moon for the month of Shawwal (the day of ‘Id al-Fitr) if the judge does not accept their testimony. Many scholars held that such a person does not fast; although, Malik and Ahmad b. Hanbal (founders of the Maliki and Hanbali legal schools) held that such a person must ignore their own sighting and fast. See al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Ihlal,” vol. 7, pp. 150-1.
[6] Al-Marghinani, al-Hidayah, ed. Talal Yusuf, 4 vols. (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 2000), vol. 1, p. 82.
[7] Al-Laknawi, ‘Umdat al-ri‘ayah ‘ala Sharh al-Wiqayah, ed. Salah Abu al-Hajj, 7 vols. (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2009), vol. 1, pp. 321-3; Ibn ‘Abidin, Radd al-muhtar ‘ala al-Durr al-mukhtar, (Cairo: 1885), vol. 1, pp. 540-1.
[8] A good exploration of the social need for fixed rules as the reason for the dominance of the schools of law is Mohammad Fadel, “The Social Logic of Taqlīd and the Rise of the Mukhtaṣar,” Islamic Law and Society, 3, (1996): pp. 193-233.
[9] Scholars upholding this can be traced all the way back to the first Islamic century. The textual basis for this opinion is the hadith narrated by al-Bukhari, “When you see it [the new moon of Ramadan] then fast; and when you see it [the new moon of Shawwal], then break the fast. If it is hidden from you (ghumma ‘alaykum) [i.e. if the sky is overcast] then estimate it (fa-qdiru lahu);” (al-Bukhari, hadith no. 1900). The last verb, fa-qdiru, can be validly understood to mean calculation. Of the scholars who held this, are Abu al-‘Abbas b. Surayj (d. 306/918), one of the leading founders of the classical Shafi‘i school, the Shafi‘i scholar and renowned mystic Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 465/1072), the leading Shafi‘i judge Taqi al-Din al-Subki (d. 756/1355), the Shafi‘i legal theorist al-Zarkashi (d. 794/1392), the renowned Maliki legal theorist al-Qarafi (d. 684/1285), and some Hanafi scholars. The late Shafi‘i commentator al-Qalyubi (d. 1069/1659) held that all sighting-claims must be rejected if calculations show that a sighting was impossible, stating, “This is manifestly obvious. In such a case, a person may not fast. Opposing this is obstinacy and stubbornness.” See al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, pp. 31-4. The leading scholar of the late Shāfi‘ī school Muhammad al-Ramli (d. 1004/1596) held that the expert astronomer was obliged to follow his own calculation as was the non-astronomer who believed him; this position has been used by some contemporary Shafi’i scholars to state that in the modern world, with its precise calculations, the strongest opinion of the Shafi’i school should be that everyone must follow calculations; see ‘Umar b. al-Habib al-Husayni, Fath al-‘ali fi jam‘ al-khilaf bayna Ibn Hajar wa-Ibn al-Ramli, ed. Shifa’ Hitu (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2010), pp. 819-22. See also the fatwa of the Hanafi scholar Dr Salah Abu al-Hajj (http://www.anwarcenter.com/fatwa/معنى-حديث-لا-تصوموا-حتى-تروا-الهلال-ول) last accessed 9/5/2016) which states, after arguing against relying on calculations, “However, the position of [following] calculations is the position of a considerable group of jurists, so it is a respected disagreement in Islamic law, whereby, if a state were to adopt it, it is not rejected, because the judgement of a judge removes disagreement, and the adoption of a state is [as] the judgement of a judge.”
[10] Al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, pp. 36-8.
[11] Al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, p. 37. The authors of the Mawsu‘ah state that local sighting is only the strongest opinion of the Shafi‘i school. However, many key Maliki texts also attest to the superiority of local sighting; see for example al-Dasuqi, Hashiyat al-Dasuqi ‘ala al-Sharh al-kabir, 4 vols. (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, n.d), vol. 1, p. 510.

Photo by Bernd Thaller. Republished with much gratitude to our friends at Islamicate.

Is Tarawih 8 or 20 Rakats? – Shaykh Rami Nsour

In this video, Shaykh Rami Nsour explains about the Sunnah behind the Tarawih prayers, and advises us how to best pray them.

Unity of the community is important, but so is fulfilling the Sunna. In Ramadan, we are sometimes torn between how to pray the Tarawih prayers. Some say that the prayer is 20 rakats, others say it is 8 rakats.

Shaykh Rami Nsour explains that, the first thing we should do, is not to cause disunity in the community, and go about our actions with the best possible etiquette.

He then goes on to explain about the different Sunnas relating to the Tarawih prayers, and how the Prophet Muhammad began by praying them in the mosque. However, he later prayed them alone in his home so that people would not think they were obligatory. After his death, the Caliph Umar moved the prayer back to the mosque, because people no longer felt that it was mandatory.

This case teaches us that we can do Tarawih both at home and in the masjid. In terms of length, some jurists say that even 2 rakats qualify as Tarawih prayer.

Shaykh Rami encourages us to choose whichever routine suits us best. It is good to pray at the masjid if it encourages you, but if you can maintain the routine, you can do it at home. In addition, we can pray up to 20 rakats, or less if we can’t do 20. The important thing is to do as much as you can keep up, and do it sincerely for Allah.


With gratitude to Tayba Foundation.


Resource for Seekers

The Dangers of Judging People Based on Their Status Updates, by Ustadh Salman Younas

Do you find yourself painting a mental picture of someone based on their social media profile? Ustadh Salman Younas has valuable advice on how to keep a good opinion, especially if you disagree with them.

 

My personal rule is not to formulate judgments about people based purely on online interaction/information. This applies especially to those who I do not see eye-to-eye with on particular issues. There are exceptions to this rule but my personal experience demonstrates that perceptions formulated based on web-interactions are often highly deceptive and skewed. I’ll mention two examples here:

A Learned Scholar With Impeccable Character

My first experience was with Shaykh Muhammad ibn Yahya al-Ninowy: Prior to meeting him, I would read and hear a lot of things concerning him and his views. His connection to X group of scholars, his views on such and such theological matter, or this and that prophetic tradition, and so forth. When I first had a chance to meet and spend a few days with him nearly a decade ago, the person I saw was a learned scholar with impeccable character, attentive and caring to those around him, generous with his time, always smiling, and very positive.

I remember holding the door open for him one day and he kept telling me to enter first. Later, I asked him about the issue of disobeying the commands of elders and scholars when it was done out of adab as Ali (God be well-pleased with him) had done with the Prophet (blessings be upon him). He laughed, held my hand, and simply said, “I am not the Prophet, Salman, and I pray to God that you will be like Ali.”

Graves, Music, and Miracle Stories?

My other experience was with Shaykh Nuh Haa Meem Keller. I always thought Haa Meem was a rather odd middle name. Being a Sufi did not aid my initial perception of Shaykh Nuh either, nor did the hadra, and nor the fact that Sufis were associated with graves, music, miracle stories, and a host of other practices and beliefs that seemed extremely odd at the time. I eventually matured and settled in Amman where I lived for nearly half a decade. To this day, I have never seen anyone more actualized in his spiritual state than Shaykh Nuh, nor anyone more attached to the sunna of the Prophet (blessings be upon him). There was no grave “worship”, no music, no giving your money to the shaykh, no constant miracle stories. All I heard was one message: realize tawhid, worship Him, trust in Him, be people of good and benefit, etc. He is the one who demonstrated to me that the notion of al-insan al-kamil (‘the perfect man’) was in fact a reality and continues to be a reality realized by some.

These are two examples from among many where the portrayal of someone on social media and websites turned out to be utterly deceptive and false. We have a tendency to be quick in formulating judgments about others based on some website setup against that person, or some limited exposure to certain views, or the polemics of certain people and groups.

Small Screen Projects Resentment

Among our own fellow brothers and sisters whom we may discuss and disagree with publicly on the internet, we fall into the error of reading anger, resentment, hatred, and animosity into their comments and stances. This projection on our part is amplified manifold by the small screen that stands between us. I have found that meeting people humanizes them; it brings about a more respectful, civilized, and beneficial relationship. Some of my closest colleagues today are people who are in some ways my polar opposites and who disagree with me on fundamental issues. I was fortunate enough to have actually had the chance to sit with them and discuss things like real people are meant to.

Don’t let the internet damage your relationships with others. Don’t let it allow you to fall into the sin of ill-will towards people, arrogance, hatred for your fellow brothers/sisters, animosity, backbiting, and the like. Recognize the potential of this medium to distort your perception and take the means to make sure that does not happen. When discussing with another, refer to him/her respectfully, thank that person for sharing their thoughts, make a supplication, and do not say things you would not say to someone in person.

Follow Ustadh Salman Younas on Facebook.

Why Do We Need Scholars When There’s Quran And Sunnah?

Quran and Sunnah?

Why do we need scholars? Why can’t we directly go to the Quran and Sunnah?  Shaykh Walead Mosaad talks about the central role of scholars in transmitting, contextualizing and teaching Islam. He gives a relevant example of the role scholars had in the preservation of the Quran.

Ever get caught out on these issues? Deepen your understanding by taking a short course with SeekersHub.

Resources for seekers:

Cover photo by Van Karsten.

The Limits to Differences of Opinion In Islam – Dr Umar F Abd-Allah

Differences of opinion in Islam – do they harm Muslim communities or are they a source of strength and mercy? Are such discussions the domain of the knowledgeable or us laymen? What are the limits to this within the shariah?

Are you fed up of hearing, “I don’t believe in schools of thought or madhabs, I follow Islam – pure and simple!”?

Watch this captivating and enlightening explanation of differences of opinion in Islam from one of the foremost scholars of our time, Dr ‘Umar Faruq ‘Abd-Allah.


With sincere gratitute to the Beacon Foundation.

Resources on differences of opinion in Islam:

Want a deeper understanding? Take an online course with reliable, qualified scholars at the SeekersHub Academy.
Dr Umar Faruq AbdAllah on Differences of Opinion in IslamDr ‘Umar Faruq Abd-Allah (Wymann-Landgraf) is an American Muslim, born in 1948 to a Protestant family in Columbus, Nebraska. Dr. Abd-Allah did his undergraduate work at the University of Missouri with dual majors in History and English Literature. He made the Dean’s list all semesters and was nominated to the Phi Beta Kappa Honorary Society. In 1969, he won a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and entrance to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York to pursue a Ph.D. program in English literature. Shortly after coming to Cornell, Dr. Abd-Allah read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which inspired him to embrace Islam in early 1970. In 1972, he altered his field of study and transferred to the University of Chicago, where he studied Arabic and Islamic Studies under Dr. Fazlur Rahman. Dr. Abd-Allah received his doctorate with honors in 1978 for a dissertation on the origins of Islamic Law, Malik’s Concept of ‘Amal in the Light of Maliki Legal Theory. From 1977 until 1982, he taught at the Universities of Windsor (Ontario), Temple, and Michigan. In 1982, he left America to teach Arabic in Spain. Two years later, he was appointed to the Department of Islamic Studies at King Abdul-Aziz University in Jeddah, where he taught (in Arabic) Islamic studies and comparative religions for the next 16 years.
During his years abroad, Dr. Abd-Allah had the privilege of studying with a number of traditional Islamic scholars. He returned to Chicago in August 2000 to work as chair and scholar-in-residence of the newly founded Nawawi Foundation, a non-profit educational foundation. In conjunction with this position, he is now teaching and lecturing in and around Chicago and various parts of the United States and Canada, while conducting research and writing in Islamic studies and related fields. He recently completed a biography of Mohammed Webb (d. 1916), who was one of the most significant early American converts to Islam. The book was released September 2006 under the title A Muslim in Victorian America: The Life of Alexander Russell Webb (Oxford University Press).

With Hearts United, We Must Respect Differences of Opinion

One of the blessings of being Muslims is that this religion was sent by Allah to unite the hearts of believers. However, Shaykh Faid Mohammad Said warns us that this does not mean we don’t accept and respect differences of opinion amongst us. We must learn how to agree to disagree. Listen in for the full details.

Do the Differences Between the Legal Schools Render Our Worship Full of Errors?

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam

Question: Assalam aleikum,

Why do schools of fiqh contradict themselves to the point that something valid in one school is invalid in another school like wudu after touching a woman for example?

If we say that there is valid opinions that could be wrong, wouldn’t that imply that we have a religion were error exists? Why have truth and error been mixed up in Islam and became labelled as “valid opinions”?

Answer: Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

I pray that you are in the best of health and faith, insha’Allah.

All of the legal schools are valid and sound to follow, and correct according to their own, specific legal theory and methodology. The differences found between them are a mercy, as the scholars have mentioned, and it is difficult to understand the intricacies without spending some time learning how the general principles are applied and how law is derived.

I’d recommend reading: (1) The Differences of the Imams by Shaykh Zakariyya Kandhlawi, and (2) The Influence of the Noble Hadith Upon the Differences of Opinion Amongst the Jurist Imams by Shaykh Muhammad Awwamah.

Please also see: A Reader on Following Schools of Thought (Madhabs)

And Allah alone gives success.

wassalam,

Tabraze Azam

Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

How to Choose to Follow an Opinion within a School of Law?

Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas

Question: I follow the Hanafi school and I want to know what the principles of fiqh and tassawuf are when choosing an opinion within the Hanafi school. Take for example the difference of opinion when eating shrimps, the time of Asr, and others. Can a common Muslim choose an easier opinion for himself? What about a student?

Answer: assalamu `alaykum

The answer to your question is: sometimes yes; sometimes no.

The institution of the madhhab has a certain logic to it. This logic is both personal and social.

At a personal level, the madhhab ensures that a layperson follow established authority and not his own whims and desires. It provides the individual with a means to fulfill his religious duties without having to engage in in-depth study of the tradition that would be a difficult undertaking given other commitments. Following scholarly authority is a commandment of God and the Prophet. The Qur’an, for example states, “Ask those who know if you know not,” (16:43) while the Prophet (God bless him) said that “the cure for not knowing is asking.” [Abu Dawud]

For this reason, among others, the scholars of our traditions have always stressed adherence to the schools of law. The idea of following authority is nothing new. For example, after the Prophet (God bless him) departed this earthly-realm. most of the Companions relied upon a select number of individuals for answers to their religious questions, such as the four Caliphs, `Abd Allah ibn Mas`ud, Zayd ibn Thabir, `Abd Allah ibn `Umar, and so forth.

Following A Single Madhhab

While following a maddhab is required, following a single madhhab on every issue is not according to many scholars. The obligation of taqlid is to follow a school or an authority on a given issue or set of issues. Thus, for example, an individual is permitted to follow the Hanafi school in prayer and the Maliki school in rulings related to Zakat. This is not interdicted so long as one:

a. actually knows the rulings of the other school on the issue, and
b. does not systematically seek out dispensations (i.e. the easiest position).

[Ibn `Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar (1:33); Nabulsi, Khulasa al-tahqiq (56)]

Therefore, it would be permitted for you to follow the opinion of another school if you have a valid reason for doing so.

A valid reason should not be understood as simply referring to cases of real need or necessity. Rather, even convenience cab be a valid reason to follow another opinion. For example, you may choose to pray Asr according to the earlier time because it is easier for you from a scheduling perspective, something important for this working and studying. Similarly, you may choose to eat seafood because your family does so. The aofrementioned opinions have a strong basis in our tradition and, therefore, may be followed as long as one does not become habitual in seeking out dispensations of this nature.

Tasawwuf and the Madhhab

Regarding tasawwuf, the basis would be to follow the instructions of your spiritual guide. It would be permitted for you to follow a ruling from a school other than your own if your spiritual guide recommends so.

This is because the way of tasawwuf is a way of purifying the soul by submitting to someone who has traversed the path of gnosis. This individual, the murshid/spiritual guide, is akin to a doctor providing the student with spiritual medicine to cure the ills of his heart. It makes little sense to go against his advice by sticking to one’s own school. This is especially so for practices deemed central to the teacher’s instruction.

Therefore, as long as it is a valid opinion, it would be permitted for one to follow the opinion of a spiritual guide that is contrary to one’s own school. If someone is not willing to do this, he or she should speak to their spiritual guide and then perhaps see if they would want to remain on his path.

Please see:

Can a Hanafi Follow the Shafi’i Opinion on Joining Prayers When Traveling?

How Do I Choose A School Of Thought (madhhab) & Why?

Salman

Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Is it Permissible to Seek Out Legal Dispensations?

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam
Question: Aslamualaykum.
If one opinion in the Hanafi school is difficult to follow, then is it permissible to ask another Hanafi scholar and follow that opinion if it is easier?
Answer: Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
I pray that this finds you in the best of health and spirits, insha’Allah.
Yes, this would be permitted as long as you do not make it a habit to seek out “easier” positions.
But the basis is that you look for someone of knowledge and piety, whose state inspires you and whose speech points you to Allah, and follow them in your religious guidance.
See: Is it Obligatory to Follow a Fatwa?
And Allah alone gives success.
wassalam,
Tabraze Azam
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

Keeping One’s Faith While Navigating Differences of Opinion

Answered by Sidi Wasim Shiliwala

Question: Assalamualaykum,

 

My heart is heavy and I’m facing a dilemma.  I’ve been following Shafi’i school, but then I came across the Fiqh of Imam Ja’Far Shadiq and the teachings of Ahlul Bayt and started following that. Then I was introduced to Sufism.  Then I tried to combine what I learned from Sufism, with the fiqh of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, while still applying some of the Sunni hadith sources. But lately, everything seems to be contradictory.  Now I’m terribly confused, alone, and depressed. Please advise me.

 

 

Answer: Walaikum As-salaam wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu,

May Allah reward you for your question and your concern! While natural and oftentimes beautiful, the vast diversity of Islamic thought can be daunting for many of us Muslims who simply want a clear path to the Garden. Before addressing some of your main concerns, I want to first caution you against the damaging nature of doubts.

Doubts and Satanic Whispers (Waswasa)

When people delve into issues regarding differences of opinion, it opens a major door for the Shaytan to whisper doubts into their minds. This is natural, as it is Shaytan’s sworn duty to assault us from all directions as we trod upon the straight path (7:16-17). I say this not to discourage you from researching these important issues, but to remind you that Shaytan will use this opportunity to depress you and cause doubts about your faith.

It is therefore important that through this whole process you rely upon Allah, for Shaytan has no power over one who relies upon Allah (16:99). Whenever you hear these doubts or having feelings of depression, say the ta’awwudh, recite sura al-Nas (114), and make dua for guidance. You should also increase in your acts of worship, pray the istikhara prayer, and frequently make remembrance of Allah (dhikr).

For an explanation of the aforementioned tips, and links to other advice about waswasa, please see the following: Satanic Whisperings Are Making Me Withdraw From Muslims

When you put your trust in Allah and put your matters in His hands, you will feel a tremendous weight lifted off yourself. Remember that Allah has told us that He will not place a burden upon us that we cannot bear (2:286), meaning that He only expects that we do our best and nothing more. Allah does not wish difficulty for us, but it is Shaytan who wants us to become depressed and despairing, since that will decrease us in faith and in our worship of Allah.

The Universal Aspects of Islam

Regardless of what some zealous partisans might have led you to believe, most “sects” of Islam are actually quite united on the basics of the religion. Most importantly, they all uphold the testimony that “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger.” They all pray, fast, give to charity, and make the Hajj. They all believe in Allah, His messengers, His books, His angels, the Day of Judgment, and His decree (qadr).

They all advise that we pray, read the Qur’an, remember Allah frequently, improve our inner character, and strive to follow the example of the Prophet (peace be upon him). They all tell us that we should avoid the haraam and stay within the halal, and that we should seek Allah’s forgiveness if we make mistakes or sins. They all love Allah and His Prophet (peace be upon him), and strive to follow Allah’s commands with excellence.

This is not to say that our differences aren’t important, but rather to emphasize the importance of our commonalities. So long as we do our best to follow the Qur’an and Sunnah with sincerity (ikhlas) and excellence (ihsan), our actions will be accepted insha’Allah. As the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “When a scholar gives a judgement, strives in doing so, and is correct, then he has two rewards… [and if he] is wrong, then he has one reward.” [Bukhari]

We pray, then, for the guidance of all those who utter the shahada, and that Allah puts us on the correct path, and that He forgives us for any mistakes we make on this path!

Finding Sound Knowledge

As you search for authentic Islamic knowledge, I strongly recommend that you stop reading all vicious and polemical material. You should avoid anyone who uses curses and insults in their arguments, as it is in itself against the Prophetic way. Indeed, endless and angry argumentation is highly discouraged in Islam, and the Prophet (peace be upon him) said that whoever avoids argumentation will have a home built for him in Paradise. [Sunan at-Tirmidhi]

I encourage you to stick to authentic works of scholarship and to especially focus on how these various groups derive their opinions. What are their sources, and how reliable are they? Do they embody the sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him)?

For some more advice on determining and finding sound scholarship, please see the following answer: Differences of Opinion and Determining Sound Scholarship

The Balanced Path of Sunni Islam

Instead of trying to discourage you from joining any of a number of groups or schools of thought, I would like to inform you about what I do know: the breadth, depth, and balance of the Sunni tradition. While some members of the Sunni community might try to convince you that it is actually very strict, the reality is that Sunni Islam is actually quite open, and it encompasses a broad variety of valid differences of opinion, including a number of the groups you mentioned.

Sunni Creed

In order to understand Sunni Islam, you must first get a clear understanding of what Sunnis believe. I encourage you to read through The Creed of Imam al-Tahawi to get an understanding of how simple, straightforward, and logical Sunni belief is. For further explanation, you can take the SeekersGuidance course on Imam Dardir’s Kharida.

As a starting point, I also recommend this answer, which identifies some key traits about Sunni Islam: Some Distinctive Traits of Sunni Islam

These basic beliefs are agreed upon by all Sunnis, and they encompass the differences over details represented by the Ash’ari and Maturidi schools. As such, these differences are not something to stress about, and I advise you see this excellent clip from Shaykh Hamza Karamali for some perspective on these differences: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2pQ175vaRk

Sunni Law

As I mentioned before, all schools of law (madhhabs) within Islam agree on the basics: we pray 5 times a day, pay zakat, fast in Ramadan, and go on Hajj at least once in our life if we’re able. Even the major parts of each action are agreed upon: for example, all schools agree that the Fajr prayer is 2 cycles, the Dhuhr is 4, and so on.

The differences of opinion emerge in trying to explain the best way to do these actions. So long as the opinions themselves can be soundly justified using the Qur’an and sunnah in a clear and consistent manner, then they are valid. As such, the fact that there are numerous schools of Sunni law shouldn’t be daunting, since they all represent sincere efforts to follow the sunnah.

For more information on the schools of law, see the following reader: A Reader on Following Schools of Thought

Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq and Sunni Islam

You specifically mentioned an affinity toward Imam Ja’far, and suggested that following him would conflict with following Sunni Islam. However, this isn’t the case, as the Sunnis revere him and follow him. Please read the following answer for more information on this matter: Was Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq Sunni or Shi’i?

Sunnis do not reject Imam Ja’far’s fiqh; what is rejected are certain reports about his legal positions that do not meet Sunni scholarship’s rigorous standards for reliable reports. Furthermore, his fiqh survived in the Sunni tradition through his students Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Malik, the founders of the first two schools of Sunni law.

Indeed, one aspect of the balance of Sunni law is that in its effort to emulate the behavior of the Prophet (peace be upon him), it tries to take the best from all those pious companions and early jurists who transmitted the sunnah. This includes the likes of Ali, A’isha, ibn Mas`ud, `Umar, and many, many others – may Allah be pleased with them all.

Finally, there is something to be said for sticking to the majority, as this is the advice given to us by the Prophet (peace be upon him). Please see the following answer for an explanation: The End of Times: Isolating Oneself, Sticking to the Majority, and Protection from the Dajjal

Above all, we are Muslims

It is a sad reality in our times that people focus on labels more than they do on hearts. Remember that Allah does not say that only members of Islamic sect X, Y, or Z will enter jannah. To the contrary, He simply commands us to follow Him and the Prophet (peace be upon him), and He informs us that the truly successful are those who present Allah with a sound heart (4:69, 26:88-89).

Above all, never let differences of opinion be an excuse for you to decrease in worship. This is a clear trick of Shaytan, who will try to convince you that since scholars differ over how you should do a particular act, you should leave it altogether. Rather, times of difficulty and doubt are when one should increase in their remembrance, worship, and reliance upon Allah, as that is when His help is needed most.

And Allah knows best, and only He grants victory and success.

Baarak Allahu Fikum,
-Wasim

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani