What is the Difference Between Beneficial Purposes (Maṣāliḥ) and the Religious Law (Ṣhariah)?

What is the Difference Between Beneficial Purposes (Maṣāliḥ) and the Religious Law (Ṣhariah)?

الْفرق بَين الْمصَالح والشرائع

Part Two: The Difference between Beneficial Purposes (Maṣāliḥ) and the Religious Laws

From the first category – that which is part of propagating the message [click here to read part one] – can be further divided into two types of knowledge which are distinct from one another:

1. Knowledge of beneficial purposes (maṣāliḥ) and harmful acts.

2. Knowledge of the divine law, punishments (ḥudūd) and the obligatory duties. This will be covered separately.

علمُ الْمصَالح والمفاسد

knowledge of beneficial purposes and harmful acts

This is where knowledge of the beneficial purposes [of religion] are provided without precise details. For example, the Prophet ﷺ discussed refining the soul through the acquisition of virtues, manners of conduct and of the household, how to manage political affairs, and to how to eliminate their opposites, without providing precisely detailed rulings. Rather, he encouraged praiseworthy things and urged abstaining from their opposite. For example, he praised courage and cleverness, maintaining friendship, showing compassion, and adopting a middle course in life, while discouraging their opposite.

وكل مصلحَة حثنا الشَّرْع عَلَيْهَا وكل مفْسدَة ردعنا عَنْهَا فَإِن ذَلِك لَا يَخْلُو من الرُّجُوع إِلَى أحد أصُول ثَلَاثَة

 أَحدهَا: تَهْذِيب النَّفس بالخصال الْأَرْبَع النافعة فِي الْمعَاد أَو سَائِر الْخِصَال النافعة فِي الدُّنْيَا

وَثَانِيها إعلاء كلمة الْحق وتمكين الشَّرَائِع وَالسَّعْي فِي إشاعتها

 وَثَالِثهَا انتظام أَمر النَّاس وَإِصْلَاح ارتفاقاتهم وتهذيب رسومهم

If we  trace the beneficial purpose as to why the divine law either encourages us towards praiseworthy acts or abstention from evil, we will find that they relate to one of three principles:

1. To refine the soul by acquiring the four virtues of purity, humility, magnanimity and justice for the life to come and other virtues such as mercy, courage, and others, for this life. The opposite would be to destroy the soul by acquiring attributes that are the opposite of what we have just mentioned.

2. To promote the word of God, the Almighty, and to establish and spread the divine law. The opposite, for example, would be to become an impediment to the spreading of the word of God, the Almighty, or to oppose it.

3. To organise society and improve their wellbeing whilst reforming their corrupt customs.

The achievement of these three principles occurs in four ways. If it is something to be achieved then it is affirmed. If it is something to be removed, it is negated. The beneficial purposes are achieved in one of four ways:

1. a part of it: such as modesty is a part of faith. And, immodesty is not a part of it.

2. a source of its presence: such as giving charity is a proof of generosity being present in a person. While being miserly alluded to its absence.

3. bound up with it: such as faith comes with trust. While betraying a trust is bound up with hypocrisy.

4. a lead to it: such as giving salām to one another is a way of creating love and bond between people.  While severing relations leads to animosity between people.

Reminding us of the Platonic dialogue, Euthyphro, the question of whether morality is autonomous; independent of religion or adjunct to it has been debated by early Muslim thinkers. The Mu‘tazilīte hold that the final authority of whether an act is good or bad is entirely rational, while the Aṣh’ārīs hold that they are, from God’s perspective, neither moral nor rational but rather exclusively legal concepts. God has permitted human reason to discern good and evil but not to determine or legislate them. Only God can do that. The position of the Maturidīs lies somewhere in between.

The point is, the three beneficial purposes outlined above are connected to God’s pleasure and displeasure; a meta-ethical claim, even before His sending of prophets. In other words, while the beneficial purposes are fixed, divine laws and punishments can only be instituted after the sending a prophet. In other words, we are held accountable on based on obeying or disobeying God’s messenger, not purely because something is intrinsically right or wrong. Thus, adultery is an execrable offence primarily because it offends God, the Almighty, not merely because it injures human relationships or destroys trust. Why does it offend God? It involves deception, lies, and exploitation; and no one, who is morally sane, wonders why these should offend God, the Almighty. The secular and religious bases for the moral condemnation of adultery may coincide; the secular person, however, considers only the intrinsic immorality of lying and deception, not the extrinsic fact that God disapproves of certain immoral attitudes.(For more on this, see this excellent article by my dear friend, Dr. Harvey.)

Returning back to the discussion, it is solely God’s grace that we were informed exactly what needed to be done to acquire His pleasure and avoid His wrath by the setting of stipulation and laws – without which there would be moral anarchy, something which is visible for all to see. The beneficial purposes are partly rationally comprehensible – we agree on the virtues of bravery and intelligence and that their opposites are undesirable – and part of it relies on the intelligence of minds blessed with prophetic light. Whosoever masters what we have discussed thus far will find it easy to understand the import of the prophetic traditions. Finally, the beneficial purposes do not require ijtihād, nor do they change with time or require abrogation (naskh), they do not conflict, nor is there any need for reconciliation (taṭbīq) and so on.

And only Allah knows best.

Most of my reflections and thoughts here are adapted from the works of the Delhi divine, Ṣhāh Walī Allah Dehlawi and his magnum opus, the Ḥujjat Allah al-Bāligha.

Explaining the Categories of Knowledge of the Prophet ﷺ

Explaining the Categories of Knowledge of the Prophet ﷺ

Given the vast canon of ḥadīth literature available to us, it is important, nay, imperative, that we situate statements of the Prophet ﷺ in their right context. To take a statement related to him without paying due regard to how it should be categorised and understood can result in manifest injustice to our rich intellectual tradition. Not only can it lead to unnecessary burden on the individual and society (which was never the intent as I have mentioned elsewhere) but it is implicitly being an accomplice in dishonouring the Prophet. [1] Over a number of articles I want to look at one way of approaching and applying the ḥadīth canon, inṣhā’Allah. [2]

What has been related to us from the Prophet ﷺ can be placed in two broad categories: that which is part of propagating the message i.e. directly related to our guidance; and that which is not. As for the first one, we find the statement of God, may He be exalted:

وَمَا آتَاكُمُ الرَّسُولُ فَخُذُوهُ وَمَا نَهَاكُمْ عَنْهُ فَانتَهُوا

And whatever the Prophet has given you, take; and what he has forbidden you, refrain from.[3]

This includes four things:

  1. Knowledge in relation to eschatological matters, i.e. life after death and the wonders of the Malākūt (the angelic realm). This is based solely on revelation.
  2. Divine laws, the way of worshipping God, may He be exalted, and how the support of civilisation is to be achieved. Part of this is based on revelation while the other part is based on independent reasoning (ijtihād) of the Prophet ﷺ. The latter in essence is part of revelation too since the Prophet ﷺ was safeguarded from ever falling into error. It is not necessary that his independent reasoning is based on the Qu’rān; God, may He be exalted, taught him the purpose behind the divine law, the principles of facilitation, and laws and rulings from which he would then reveal and explain accordingly to humankind.
  3. Practical wisdom and beneficial purposes that did not have a defined limit or specific time, such as his explanation of what is included good character and what is not. Since God, may He be exalted, informed him of only the principles, he derived its wisdom (ḥikma) and general principles through independent reasoning.
  4. The virtues of actions and the status of those who excel in good deeds. Part of this is based on revelation while the other part is based on independent reasoning.

As for the second one, i.e. that which is not part of propagating the message; rather it forms part of his personal opinions. In such matters, it is not compulsory to follow them. We find the following instance:

حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ الرُّومِيِّ الْيَمَامِيُّ، وَعَبَّاسُ بْنُ عَبْدِ الْعَظِيمِ الْعَنْبَرِيُّ، وَأَحْمَدُ بْنُ، جَعْفَرٍ الْمَعْقِرِيُّ قَالُوا حَدَّثَنَا النَّضْرُ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ، حَدَّثَنَا عِكْرِمَةُ، – وَهُوَ ابْنُ عَمَّارٍ – حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو النَّجَاشِيِّ، حَدَّثَنِي رَافِعُ بْنُ خَدِيجٍ، قَالَ قَدِمَ نَبِيُّ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم الْمَدِينَةَ وَهُمْ يَأْبُرُونَ النَّخْلَ يَقُولُونَ يُلَقِّحُونَ النَّخْلَ فَقَالَ ” مَا تَصْنَعُونَ ” . قَالُوا كُنَّا نَصْنَعُهُ قَالَ ” لَعَلَّكُمْ لَوْ لَمْ تَفْعَلُوا كَانَ خَيْرًا ” . فَتَرَكُوهُ فَنَفَضَتْ أَوْ فَنَقَصَتْ – قَالَ – فَذَكَرُوا ذَلِكَ لَهُ فَقَالَ ” إِنَّمَا أَنَا بَشَرٌ إِذَا أَمَرْتُكُمْ بِشَىْءٍ مِنْ دِينِكُمْ فَخُذُوا بِهِ وَإِذَا أَمَرْتُكُمْ بِشَىْءٍ مِنْ رَأْىٍ فَإِنَّمَا أَنَا بَشَرٌ

Rāfi’ bin Khadīj reported that Prophet ﷺ, came to Medina and the people had been grafting the trees. He said: What are you doing? They said: We are grafting them, whereupon he said: It may perhaps be good for you if you do not do that, so they abandoned this practice (and the date-palms) began to yield less fruit. They made a mention of it (to the Prophet ﷺ), whereupon he said: I am a human being, so when I command you about a thing pertaining to religion, do accept it, and when I command you about a thing out of my personal opinion, keep it in mind that I am a human being.[4]

Another instance in the case of pollinating the palms, has the following:

حَدَّثَنَا قُتَيْبَةُ بْنُ سَعِيدٍ الثَّقَفِيُّ، وَأَبُو كَامِلٍ الْجَحْدَرِيُّ – وَتَقَارَبَا فِي اللَّفْظِ وَهَذَا حَدِيثُ قُتَيْبَةَ – قَالاَ حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو عَوَانَةَ عَنْ سِمَاكٍ عَنْ مُوسَى بْنِ طَلْحَةَ عَنْ أَبِيهِ قَالَ مَرَرْتُ مَعَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم بِقَوْمٍ عَلَى رُءُوسِ النَّخْلِ فَقَالَ ” مَا يَصْنَعُ هَؤُلاَءِ ” . فَقَالُوا يُلَقِّحُونَهُ يَجْعَلُونَ الذَّكَرَ فِي الأُنْثَى فَيَلْقَحُ . فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ” مَا أَظُنُّ يُغْنِي ذَلِكَ شَيْئًا ” . قَالَ فَأُخْبِرُوا بِذَلِكَ فَتَرَكُوهُ فَأُخْبِرَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم بِذَلِكَ فَقَالَ ” إِنْ كَانَ يَنْفَعُهُمْ ذَلِكَ فَلْيَصْنَعُوهُ فَإِنِّي إِنَّمَا ظَنَنْتُ ظَنًّا فَلاَ تُؤَاخِذُونِي بِالظَّنِّ وَلَكِنْ إِذَا حَدَّثْتُكُمْ عَنِ اللَّهِ شَيْئًا فَخُذُوا بِهِ فَإِنِّي لَنْ أَكْذِبَ عَلَى اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ

Mūsa bin Talḥā reported: I and Allah’s Prophet ﷺ, happened to pass by people near the date-palm trees. He (the Prophet ﷺ) said: What are these people doing? They said: They are grafting, i.e. they combine the male with the female (tree) and thus they yield more fruit. Thereupon Allah’s Prophet ﷺ said: I do not find it to be of any use. The people were informed about it and they abandoned this practice. Allah’s Prophet ﷺ (was later) on informed (that the yield had dwindled), whereupon he said: If there is any use of it, then they should do it, for it was just a personal opinion of mine, and do not go after my personal opinion; but when I say to you anything on behalf of Allah, then do accept it, for I do not attribute lie to Allah, the Exalted and Glorious.

Tellingly, Imām Nāwawī, may Allah be pleased with him, placed this ḥadīth under the following chapter ‘the obligation to obey what he says with regard to matters of religion, but not what he says with regard to worldly matters.’

This category includes six things:

  1. Medicine, such as the Prophets ﷺ statement:

فِي الْحَبَّةِ السَّوْدَاءِ شِفَاءٌ مِنْ كُلِّ دَاءٍ إِلاَّ السَّامَ

There is healing in black cumin for all diseases except death. [5]

  1. Based on his own experience such as The Prophet ﷺ said in relation to the best horse for Jihād:

خَيْرُ الْخَيْلِ الأَدْهَمُ الأَقْرَحُ الْمُحَجَّلُ الأَرْثَمُ طَلْقُ الْيَدِ الْيُمْنَى فَإِنْ لَمْ يَكُنْ أَدْهَمَ فَكُمَيْتٌ عَلَى هَذِهِ الشِّيَةِ

‘…the black one with a white blaze on the forehead. [6]

  1. As part of his daily routine which was incidental, not as a form of worship. Such as eating on a mat made from leather, or a bowl from made wood or sleeping on palm leaves.
  2. His discussions and conversation as part of the culture he was inextricably intertwined with, such as the lengthy ḥadīth of Um Zara’ narrated by ‘Aiṣha, may God be pleased with her, narrating the story of eleven women who divulged about their husbands,[7] and the ḥadīth of Khurāfata, where the Prophet ﷺ talks about a storyteller from the age of ignorance who had been kidnapped by jinns only to return later and inform people of his experiences.[8] We observe that the Prophet ﷺ would talk about stories which were true though they had no practical religious significance. Contrary to the views of some religious zealots and those of meek understanding, the Prophet ﷺ intimately too part in the warp and woof, as it were, of daily life; he did not live a life detached from concerns of wider society. Zaid bin Thābit, may God be pleased with him, mentions a narration wherein there is a clear indication that the Prophet ﷺ would hold discussions just like anybody else:

دَخَلَ نَفَرٌ عَلَى زَيْدِ بْنِ ثَابِتٍ، فَقَالُوا لَهُ: حَدِّثْنَا أَحَادِيثَ رَسُولِ اللهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم، قَالَ: مَاذَا أُحَدِّثُكُمْ؟ كُنْتُ جَارَهُ فَكَانَ إِذَا نَزَلَ عَلَيْهِ الْوَحْيُ بَعَثَ إِلَيَّ فَكَتَبْتُهُ لَهُ، فَكُنَّا إِذَا ذَكَرْنَا الدُّنْيَا ذَكَرَهَا مَعَنَا، وَإِذَا ذَكَرْنَا الآخِرَةَ ذَكَرَهَا مَعَنَا، وَإِذَا ذَكَرْنَا الطَّعَامَ ذَكَرَهُ مَعَنَا، فَكُلُّ هَذَا أُحَدِّثُكُمْ عَنِ رَسُولِ اللهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم.

      …What can I describe to you of ﷺthe Prophet (It is beyond my means to describe them). I was the neighbour of the Prophet ﷺ(Therefore he was mostly present and knew many facts. He was also a scribe of the revelation). When revelation was revealed to the Prophet ﷺ, he sent for me, I came and wrote it. (The Prophet always showed kindness, and made us feel at ease). Whatever we discussed, he discussed the same. If we discussed some worldly affairs, he also spoke of it. (It was not that he only spoke about the hereafter to us, and despised the talking of worldly affairs). When we spoke of the hereafter, he too spoke of the hereafter. When we began speaking of the hereafter, he described its events etc in detail). When we spoke of food, the Prophet ﷺ also spoke of it. (Its etiquette, benefits, tasty foods, foods that are harmful, etc. Elsewhere many such comments of the Prophet ﷺ are mentioned. i.e. ‘What a wonderful curry vinegar is’, ‘Use olive oil, it is from a blessed tree’. etc.). All this I am saying are facts on the Prophet. [9]

  1. Things that are mentioned which are specific to that time and not for the entire community. Such an instance may call for an order to be changed if an appropriate opinion was to be put forward. For example, after a long and grueling march, the Muslims arrived first at Badr. The Prophet ﷺ commanded his exhausted men to make camp. Al-Hubāb ibn al Mundhir asked the Prophet, ﷺ whether it was a command from God to camp here. The Prophet ﷺ said that it wasn’t a command from God but his own choice. Al-Hubāb sought permission from the Prophet ﷺ and suggested if they could move to another location and was granted permission immediately.[10] This can also include rules that have within them a specific beneficial purpose as in the case of ‘Umar, may God be pleased with, and his following of the ramal, the fast walking including vigorous movements of arms and legs during the ṭawāf, to display physical strength:

فِيمَ الرَّمَلاَنُ الْيَوْمَ وَالْكَشْفُ عَنِ الْمَنَاكِبِ، وَقَدْ أَطَّأَ اللَّهُ الإِسْلاَمَ وَنَفَى الْكُفْرَ وَأَهْلَهُ مَعَ ذَلِكَ لاَ نَدَعُ شَيْئًا كُنَّا نَفْعَلُهُ عَلَى عَهْدِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم

What is the need of walking proudly (ramal) and moving the shoulders (while going around the Ka‘ba)? Allah has now strengthened Islam and obliterated disbelief and the infidels. In spite of that, we shall not forsake anything that we used to do during the time of the Prophet of Allah .[11]

This act of ramal, was instituted by the Prophet ﷺ due to a specific need at a moment in time. ‘Umar, may God be pleased with him, however, maintained this practice.

  1. Specific rulings and decrees.

Bearing such broad principles will assist in categorising prophetic statements in their right context while alleviating us from unnecessary hardship. The Prophet ﷺ and his entire corpus of the Sunnah is an antidote in any number of ways to the demands and confusion of the modern world. Let us refrain from becoming a means of further confusion.

And only Allah, the Exalted knows best.

[1] It is worth relaying a ḥadīth from Bukhārī wherein the Prophet ﷺ is reported to have said: ‘Convey from me even an verse (āyah) of the Qur’ān… ….but he who deliberately forges a lie against me let him have his abode in the Hell.’

[2] Most of my reflections and thoughts here are adapted from the work of the great work of the Delhi divine, Ṣhāh Walī Allah Dehlawi and his magnum opus, the Ḥujjat Allah al-Bāligha.

[3] Qur’ān 59:2

[4] Muslim.

[5] Muslim.

[6] Ibn Mājah.

[7] Bukhārī.

[8] Aḥmad and at-Tirmidhī.

[9] At-Tirmidhī.

[10] Al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah.

[11] Abū Dāwūd.

‘Name Us Your Men’ in Ḥadīth Criticism and the Split Between Jurists and Traditionists

‘Name Us Your Men’ in Ḥadīth Criticism and the Split Between Jurists and Traditionists

In The Name of Allah, The Merciful, The Compassionate

The total number of companions, may God be pleased with all of them, is not known by an exact number. Based on al-‘Irāqī’s assessment there are more than one hundred and fifty thousand companions, though there was no official census.[1] We know that forty thousand witnessed the Farewell Pilgrimage and seventy thousand witnessed Tabūk with the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him. Abū ‘Abd Allāh al-Ḥakim places this at four thousand and for al-Dhahabī, the number does not seem to exceed two thousand.[2] The fact that relatively few ḥadīth have reached us can be explained by the fact many companions were deterred from coming to the Caliph, ’Umar, may God be pleased with him, because he would interrogate them and demand corroboration. The statement of Ibn Sirīn, is instructive in signalling and reflecting a movement to ḥadīth criticism, or more accurately, character criticism:

لم يكونوا يسألون عن الإسناد فلما وقعت الفتنة قالوا : سموا لنا رجالكم ، فيُنْظَرُ إلى أهل السنة فيُؤْخذ حديثُهم ، ويُنْظَر إلى أهل البدعة فلا يؤخذ حديثهم

‘They did not ask about the isnād but when civil war (fitnā) arose, they said: name to us your men; those who belong to ahl al-Sunnah, their traditions were accepted and those who were innovators their traditions were neglected.’

The fitna here could refer to two signifiant events that happened very close to one another: the fitna between ‘Ali and Mu’awiyah, may God be pleased with both of them, only decades after the death of the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him; and, the assassination of the caliph ‘Uthman, may God be pleased with him. It is worth noting that Ibn Sīrīn was from the generation after the Companions of the Prophet, the tabi’īn, may the peace and blessings of God be upon them all, although there were still companions, mostly junior, around during this time. Another event, though no less significant was that people were narrating without mentioning the companion – the link to the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him. The mursal was born. It’s worth reiterating that the companions, all of them, possess the special trait that their integrity and uprightness cannot be questioned Generally, the uprightness of a narrator is judged by the external state of the person. However, the Companions inner uprightness, or their inner purity has been affirmed by the Qur’ān itself. Hence, they are above criticism. However, this does not preclude us from questioning their understanding of the ḥadīth. Since the strength of a tradition is drawn broadly from two sources: uprightness (‘adālah), and memory or retention (ḍabṭ). We do not question the former but can with the latter. We find the great Imām Mālik, may Allah be pleased with him, saying:

كَانَ مَالِكُ بْنُ أَنَسٍ يَقُولُ : لا يُؤْخَذُ الْعِلْمُ مِنْ أَرْبَعَةٍ ، وَيُؤْخَذُ مِمَّنْ سِوَاهُمْ.لا يُؤْخَذُ مِنْ سَفِيهٍ ، وَلا يُؤْخَذُ مِنْ صَاحِبِ هَوًى يَدْعُو إِلَى بِدْعَتِهِ ، وَلا مِنْ كَذَّابٍ يَكْذِبُ فِي أَحَادِيثِ النَّاسِ ، وَإِنْ كَانَ لا يُتَّهَمُ عَلَى حَدِيثِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ، وَلا مِنْ شَيْخٍ لَهُ فَضْلٌ وَصَلاحٌ وَعِبَادَةٌ ، إِذَا كَانَ لا يَعْرِفُ مَا يَحْمِلُ وَمَا يُحَدِّثُ بِهِ.

I do not accept knowledge from four types of people: (1) a person well-known to be foolish, even though all the other people narrate from him, (2) a person involved in committing heresy and calling others towards the innovation in religion, (3) a person who lies in regular conversation with people, even though I do not accuse him as liar in regards to ḥadīth, (4) and a person who is pious worshipper or scholar, but does not properly and correctly memorise what he narrates. (emphasis, mine)

In our circles today, people often conflate piety with knowledge: being pious does not necessarily equate to being knowledgable or reliable in passing (or even teaching) knowledge.


This is the period that witnessed the emergence of the teachers of Imām Abū Ḥanīfah and Imām Mālik, may God be pleased with them. In the early and mid second century, writing was still rudimentary, known as saḥifās, though the companions did have specific writings on certain topics, what we would refer to as jotters today. The junior successors, the tabi’īn, began composing musannafs, legal transcripts, reflecting the new challenges the Islamicate was facing, as governors, teaches and judges. They were in effect acting as independent thinkers, or mujtuhidīn, in their own right. For example, in Kufā, apart from Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib, Mughirah ibn Ṣhu’bah, and Abū Musā al-Asharī, we observe Qādī Ṣhuraih ibn al-Hārith, Alqama ibn Qays al-Nakha‘ī all of whom were very close to ibn Mas’ud, may Allah be pleased with all of them. They then became regional in their outlook, and included prophetic and non-prophetic literature, with the latter being greater in number. [3]

Forms of expressions and tadlīs

As transmission begins to proliferate, forms of expression become significant with tadlīs, the act of hiding a discontinuity in the chain of a report’s narrator, also known as irsāl khafī. For example, saying that, ‘so-and-so said’ implying that he had heard the narration directly when in fact he hadn’t heard it directly. Though this was not always done for insidious reasons. Al-Khatīb al-Baghdādī and ibn Ḥajar have written major books on this topic. It is also worth noting that when the classical scholars, the mutaqadimīn, were using words, for the most part, it was in the literal or linguistic sense, e.g. ḥassan, or ‘good,’ and was not a technical usage – they simply meant that it was okay as a narration.


During the late second and third centuries, we observe a shift to ḥadīth collected according to the transmitters, or isnād. Non-prophetic statement are being dropped. This is still a stage where ḥadīth are being collected irrespective of their authenticity or otherwise – they were simply acting in effect as chroniclers. The masanīd became the raw materials for the six books of ḥadīth. The condensation or filtration process was given birth. For example, we find Isḥāq bin Rahwaih, a compiler of musnad, proposing to students that “it would be better if you collect the authentic traditions.” This spurred Imām Bukhārī to compile his aḥīḥ. Until now, the books were inaccessible for the layman. So in the third century, there are two things that are important to mention: this generation committed to writing all the ḥadīth that were in circulation, and secondly, ḥadīth criticism was nearing its completion. The fourth century welcomed the era of ḥadīth preservation. The demarcation between the early generation, the muta’akhirūn and the latter generation, the mutaqadimūn is chronologically set thus:

الحد الفاصل بين المتقدم والمتأخر: الحد الفاصل بين المتقدم والمتأخر هو رأس سنة ثلثمائة

The demarcation between the early generation, the muta’akhirūn and the latter generation, the mutaqadimūn, occurs at the end of the third century.

Though it is difficult to draw a line between the two generations, according to al-Dhahabī the boundary seems to occur around the end of the third century. Aside from looking at this purely from a chronological perspective, it would be helpful and more useful to view this as a change in method: the early generation was an era of direct narration of prophetic statements and an active assessment of them while the latter generation is a move towards simply referencing a book or citing a text.

Fourth century preservation and split between the jurists and traditionists

Reliant on books, ḥadīth now came to be canonised. Two things took place in this generation: one observes that the science of principle of ḥadīth, usūl ḥadīth, becomes a form of complaint against students who, not having truly struggled in the search for ḥadīth collections, are not the same calibre as the previous generation of scholars. Al-Khaṭtābī, in his introduction to Ma’ālim al-Sunan harh Sunnan Abī Dad, laments:

فقد عاد الدين غريباً كما بدأ وعاد هذا الشأن دارسة أعلامه خاوية أطلاله وأصبحت رباعه مهجورة ومسالك طرقه مجهولة

In our days, religion has once again become something alien, as it was when it began; its signposts have been obliterated, the remains of its encampments are empty, its quarters deserted, and the paths to its roads unknown. [4]

 He also mentions another crucial split: between the jurists, or fuqahā and the traditionists, or muhadithīn. It is worth dwelling on this point a little bit more:

ورأيت أهل العلم في زماننا قد حصلوا حزبين وانقسموا إلى فرقتين أصحاب حديث وأثر، وأهل فقه ونظر

I see the scholars in our time divided into two parties and split into two groups: [1] The people of the ḥadīth and the prophetic heritage, and [2] The people of jurisprudence (fiqh) and reflective reasoning.

He critiques both camps beginning with the scholars of ḥadīth:

فأما هذه الطبقة الذين هم أهل الأثر والحديث فإن الأكثرين منهم إنمّا وكدهم الروايات وجمع الطرق وطلب الغريب والشاذ من الحديث الذي أكثره موضوع أو مقلوب لا يراعون المتون ولا يتفهمون المعاني ولا يستنبطون سيرها ولا يستخرجون ركازها وفقهها وربما عابوا الفقهاء وتناولوهم بالطعن وادعوا عليهم مخالفة السنن ولا يعلمون أنهم عن مبلغ ما أوتوه من العلم قاصرون وبسوء القول فيهم آثمون.

Their interests only lie in:

…the transmissions, the collecting of paths [of transmission], and searching for the uncommon and irregular [accounts and expressions] of the Prophetic tradition, most of which are either fabricated (mawdū’) or distorted (maqlūb )…

They fail to study the ḥadīth tradition seriously or examine the content and meaning critically and end up defaming the jurists by accusing them of diverging from the normative traditions of the Prophet, may Allah peace and blessings be upon him:

…[In so doing,] they (i.e., the scholars ḥadīth) do not realise that they cannot reach the level of knowledge which they (i.e., the jurists) have attained, and that they (i.e., the scholars of ḥadīth) are sinning by defaming them.

His concern lies with trying to bring both camps together and recognising that they both depend on each other, since ḥadīth is the foundation and root of religion while fiqh is the building upon which it rests:

ورأيت أهل العلم في زماننا قد حصلوا حزبين وانقسموا إلى فرقتين أصحاب حديث وأثر، وأهل فقه ونظر، وكل واحدة منهما لا تتميز عن أختها في الحاجة ولا تستغني عنها في درك ما تنحوه من البغية والإرادة، لأن الحديث بمنزلة الأساس الذي هو الأصل، والفقه بمنزلة البناء الذي هو له كالفرع، وكل بناء لم يوضع على قاعدة وأساس فهو منهار، وكل أساس خلا عن بناء وعمارة فهو قفر وخراب

Indeed, any structure that does not have a firm foundation is prone to collapse while any foundation without its structure is as a good as a ruin. As for the jurists, they fail to distinguish between the various categories of ḥadīth and are guilty of using weak ones as evidence when debating with their opponents so long as it in one way or another agrees with their school:

وأما الطبقة الأخرى وهم أهل الفقه والنظر فإن أكثرهم لا يعرجون من الحديث إلاّ على أقله ولا يكادون يميزون صحيحه من سقيمه، ولا يعرفون جيده من رديئه ولا يعبؤون بما بلغهم منه أن يحتجوا به على خصومهم إذا وافق مذاهبهم التي ينتحلونها ووافق آراءهم التي يعتقدونها وقد اصطلحوا على مواضعة بينهم في قبول الخبر الضعيف والحديث المنقطع إذا كان ذلك قد اشتهر عندهم.

Al-Khaṭtābī then moves on to back up his claims by citing examples from the four schools:

وهؤلاء وفقنا الله وإياهم لو حكي لهم عن واحد من رؤساء مذاهبهم وزعماء نحلهم قول يقوله باجتهاد من قبل نفسه طلبوا فيه الثقة واستبرؤوا له العهدة. فتجد أصحاب مالك لا يعتمدون من مذهبه إلاّ ما كان من رواية ابن القاسم والأشهب وضربائهم من تلاد أصحابه فإذا وجدت رواية عبد الله بن عبد الحكم وأضرابه لم تكن عندهم طائلاً. وترى أصحاب أبي حنيفة لا يقبلون من الرواية عنه إلاّ ما حكاه أبو يوسف ومحمد بن الحسن والعلية من أصحابه والأجلة من تلامذته فإن جاءهم عن الحسن بن زياد اللؤلؤي وذويه رواية قول بخلافه لم يقبلوه ولم يعتمدوه.وكذلك تجد أصحاب الشافعي إنما يعولون في مذهبه على رواية المزني والربيع بن سليمان المرادي فإذا جاءت رواية حرملة والجيزي وأمثالهما لم يلتفتوا إليها ولم يعتدوا بها في أقاويله. وعلى هذا عادة كل فرقة من العلماء في أحكام مذاهب أئمتهم وأستاذيهم.

Al-Khaṭtābī forcefully argues that if they maintain such standards of reliability in positive law, or furū’, when it comes to ascribing statement to their ‘masters’ of their school, then how is it possible, or even for them to become indifferent, when it comes to the communication and the transmission of the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him:

فإذا كان هذا دأبهم وكانوا لا يقنعون في أمر هذه الفروع وروايتها عن هؤلاء الشيوخ إلاّ بالوثيقة والثبت فكيف يجوز لهم أن يتساهلوا في الأمر الأهم والخطب الأعظم وأن يتواكلوا الرواية والنقل عن إمام الأئمة ورسول رب العزة، الواجب حكمه اللازمة طاعته، الذي يجب علينا التسليم لحكمه والانقياد لأمره من حيث لا نجد في أنفسنا حرجاً مما قضاه ولا في صدورنا غلاً من شيء مما أبرمه وأمضاه.

However, both group of scholars seem to get off lightly when we look at his criticism of another group, the speculative theologians, or the mutakallimūn:

ولكن أقواماً عساهم استوعروا طريق الحق واستطالوا المدة في درك الحظ وأحبوا عجالة النيل فاختصروا طريق العلم واقتصروا على نتف وحروف منتزعة عن معاني أصول الفقه سموها عللاً وجعلوها شعاراً لأنفسهم في الترسم برسم العلم واتخذوها جُنّة عند لقاء خصومهم ونصبوها دريئة!!! للخوض والجدال يتناظرون بها ويتلاطمون عليها، وعند التصادر عنها قد حكم للغالب بالحذق والتبريز فهو الفقيه المذكور في عصره والرئيس المعظم في بلده ومصره هذا وقد دسّ لهم الشيطان حيلة لطيفة وبلغ منهم مكيدة بليغة. فقال لهم هذا الذي في أيديكم علم قصير وبضاعة مزجاة لا تفي بمبلغ الحاجة والكفاية فاستعينوا عليه بالكلام وصلوه بمقطعات منه واستظهروا بأصول المتكلمين يتسع لكم مذهب الخوض ومجال النظر، فصدق عليهم ظنه وأطاعه كثير منهم واتبعوه إلاّ فريقاً من المؤمنين. فيا للرجال والعقول أنّى يذهب بهم وأنّى يختدعهم الشيطان عن حظهم وموضع رشدهم والله المستعان.

However, there are people who may find the path to the truth rough, and the time to gain fortune long if they love speedy gain. Thus they shorten the path to knowledge and content themselves with bits and pieces detached from the sense of the foundations of jurisprudence, calling them “causes” (ilal ). They take them as banners for themselves in pretending to be knowledgeable and use them as a shield in their meetings with their opponents, and as a target for them [in order] to start discussing and arguing [with them] in debates and clashes over them. At the end of the discussion, the “winner” will have been accredited with “astuteness” and “superiority.” He is said to be the “distinguished jurisconsult of his time”, the “glorified leader of his country and region.” However, with this the Devil has already introduced a “fine trick” to them and drawn them into a grave plot. He (i.e., this so called “distinguished jurist”) then says to them: “That, which is in your hands, is [only] insignificant knowledge and an inferior commodity; it does not reach the level of what is “necessary” and “satisfactory” [in this regard]. Therefore, you should seek the assistance of kalām, add a few items thereof, and seek the support of the foundations of the knowledge of the speculative theologians!

With this, the method of examination) and the field of rationalist reflection will increase!” He (i.e., the “mischievous jurist”) was right in his assumption about them. Many of them obeyed and followed him, with the exception of one group of believers. Oh, what men and what intellects! Where the Devil leads them and how he tricks them out of their luck and their intelligence! It is only Allah who grants help!

And only Allah knows best.

[1] See Muqaddimah ibn al-Ṣalāḥ fī ‘Ulūm al-Ḥadīth.

[2] It is worth noting that many of entries (ma‘ājim) are not companions and there remains debate as to whether they are or are not. Out of the many companions, the ‘narrator’ companions do not exceed two thousand.

[3] Examples include the Muwaṭṭa of Imām Mālik, Muannaf ibn Jurayj, Kitāb al-Athār while the latter ones, such as the Muannaf of Abd al-Razzāq and Muṣannaf of Ibn Abī Ṣhaybah, were more comprehensive.

[4] For a more detailed discussion see, Gunther, S. (2008). In our days, religion has once again become something alien: Al-Khattabis Critique of the State of Religious Learning in Tenth century Islam. American Journal of Muslim Social Scientists, (25-3), 1-30. I have relied on much of the translation from this paper with a few minor edits where necessary.






The Causes of Abrogation in Islamic Law

In The Name of Allah, The Merciful, The Compassionate

The Causes of Abrogation [1]

God, the Exalted, says in the Qur’ān:

مَا نَنسَخْ مِنْ آيَةٍ أَوْ نُنسِهَا نَأْتِ بِخَيْرٍ مِّنْهَا أَوْ مِثْلِهَا ۗ أَلَمْ تَعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

‘No sign do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but that We bring which is better than it or like unto it. Dost thou not know that God is powerful over all things?’ [2]

In the Qur’ān and Sunnah certain temporary legal rulings are being superseded or abrogated by some other permanent and universal rulings, which have been enacted by the same God-the Lawgiver, especially during the course of promulgation of those rulings. Truly, the course of Qur’ānic revelation had been gradual.

There are broadly two types of abrogation:

One that occurs when a ruling that was affirmed by the independent reasoning (ijitihād) of the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, was abrogated either through a Qur’ānic revelation, or, by a change in his independent reasoning. [3]

Examples of abrogation of Prophetic independent reasoning

An instance is when the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, was ordered to change his face toward the Kaba and the command to face Jerusalem (during prayers) was thus abrogated.[4] As for the example of Prophet abrogating his own ruling via his independent reasoning, this was when he initially forbade making nabīdh [5] in any vessel except animal skin. This was because the intoxicating property was something difficult to discern, and, therefore, he pointed to an external reference i.e. to not drink from vessels that were not porous such as ones made of clay, wood, or gourds, because they quickened the intoxication properties of the nabīdh in them. However, he subsequently changed his independent reasoning to anything that causes intoxication because this is something that can be seen by bubbling. Another interpretation has it that the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, observed that people were addicted to intoxicants and the only sure way to completely detach them from this addiction was to forbid all other forms of vessels so that they could not find any excuse to consume intoxicants. However, with the passage of time and the strength of Islam, such vessels had come out of usage, so the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, pointed out the intoxication itself. This example is important in illustrating that rules change according to the change of the anticipated harm or benefit of that ruling.

The second case occurs when something that was deemed to be beneficial or harmful at a certain point in time is abrogated because that particular consideration no longer applies.

For example, when the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, migrated to Medina there was no help available for them from their blood relatives. The only form of aid available was in the form of brotherhood aid, which needed to occur given the precarious situation of the early Muslim community. The Qur’ān was thus revealed basing inheritance on a relationship of brotherhood, where God himself explained its benefit:

إِلَّا تَفْعَلُوهُ تَكُن فِتْنَةٌ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَفَسَادٌ كَبِيرٌ

‘If you do not do it there will be sedition on the earth and a great evil’[6]

Then when Islam became strong and the immigrants were reunited with their families, the command was revoked in favour of the previous inheritance of kinship.

And only God knows best.

[1] From Islamic history of exegesis and jurisprudence it is obvious that many Qur’ānic exegetes and jurists have emphasised that the knowledge of al-nāsikh and al-mansūkh is extremely important not only to understand the meanings of the Qur’ānic verses but also the passages that prescribe legal rulings (akām). A brief bibliographical survey reveals that many works on the phenomenon of al-naskh have been authored by scholars such as Qatadah ibn Da‘amah al-Sudusi (d.117 A.H), Abu ‘Ubayd al-Qasim ibn Sallam (d.223 A.H), Sulayman ibn Ash‘ath Abu Dawud al- Sijistani (d.275 A.H), Ahmad ibn Muhammad Abu Ja‘far al- Nahhas (d.377 A.H), Hibbat Allah ibn Salamah (d.410 A.H), Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn al-‘Arabi (d.543 A.H), ‘Abd al- Rahman ibn al-Jawzi (d.597 A.H), Makki ibn Talib (d.437 A.H), Badr al-Din al-Zarkashi (d.794 A.H), Jalal al-Din al- Suyuti (d.911 A.H) and their contributions to this science are not only in-depth but also worth nothing.

[2] Qur’ān 2:106

[3] It is important to know the meaning of the terms al-nasikh and al-mansukh to understand the concept. The terms are derived from the Arabic root word nasakha which literally means to abolish, to replace, to abrogate, to cancel, to invalidate, to remove and to withdraw and thus the lexical meaning of the term al-naskh refers to removal, elimination, abrogation, cancellation or invalidation. However, the word technically refers to lifting of a hukm (legal ruling) by a legal address. On the other hand, al-mansukh lexically refers to “the abrogated”while its technical meaning refers to the abrogated hukm or the passage of the Qur’anic revelation.

[4] Qur’ān 2:142-145. Other examples include The observation of fast on the day ‘Ashurah was confirmed by Sunnah and the Qur’ān abrogated it by the verse 2:185. It has been argued that eating, drinking and sexual intercourse were prohibited by Sunnah during the nights of Ramadan for those who observed fast. Then, it was abrogated by the verse 2:187.

[5] A drink allowed to remain and ferment from dates and barley.

[6] Qur’ān 8:73

Islam and the Problem of Evil

Islam and the Problem of Evil

In The Name of Allah, The Merciful, The Generous

Islam and the Problem of Evil [1]

By Timothy Winter – Summarised by Haroon Sidat

Dr Winter begins by outlining a number of approaches to the question of theodicy in Islam.[2] Firstly, that patience and virtuous endurance will lead to a reward later on. Secondly, suffering can be seen as the wages of sin. Thirdly, as for those who are innocent, ultimate justice – though not always served in this world – will be served after the eschaton. Fourthly, a Muslim as someone who submits or is resigned to God, will see distress as a form of divine favour. This echoes somewhat the Sufi Weltanschauung if you like. However, there remains the duty to reduce suffering wherever possible. Fifth, trials are a form of discernment and that earthly atonement for misdeeds take place for what would otherwise attract punishment in the next world. Finally, there is the idea of a ‘soul-making theodicy’ where suffering acts as a divine pedagogy, or via purgativa.

            However, these explanations are open to challenge. For example, what to say of Prophets who suffer though they are effectively sinless, and, though they are tested, they are all already perfect beings. Before moving on, we are reminded that the suffering of children and animals is best understood with them being gifted paradise and receiving justice respectively, as their indemnity for the tribulations of this world. But what of innocent adult suffering?            Firstly, much comfort can be found that in the fullness of time, human forgetfulness and the intensity of paradisal delights will help expunge the memory of any earthly misery. Recourse to eschatology was a frequent move but that didn’t stop theologians searching for ways to interpret God that allowed His actions to be justified in this-wordly terms. The Mu‘tazilites opted for the cosmic justice machine arguing that God created the best of worlds and they thus restricted His freedom in stating that He must be just. Against this choiceless Mu’tazilite deity emerged Ash‘ārīsm which contested the limited divine freedom and capacity: it is empirically demonstrable that ours is not the best of all worlds, since, by applying the constraints of the Mu’tazilites, God would not be able to create suffering for those who would eventually end up in hellfire – yet they reasonably exist. Beginning with God’s omnipotence and freedom, Ash‘ārīsm, boldly, denies objective moral facts. Cue Ghazālī, good and evil, for humankind, are relational qualities that vary with which to that they relate, and not of qualities of essences; two people may see a single action as good and bad.

            Firstly, much comfort can be found that in the fullness of time, human forgetfulness and the intensity of paradisal delights will help expunge the memory of any earthly misery. Recourse to eschatology was a frequent move but that didn’t stop theologians searching for ways to interpret God that allowed His actions to be justified in this-wordly terms. The Mu‘tazilites opted for the cosmic justice machine arguing that God created the best of worlds and they thus restricted His freedom in stating that He must be just. Against this choiceless Mu’tazilite deity emerged Ash‘ārīsm which contested the limited divine freedom and capacity: it is empirically demonstrable that ours is not the best of all worlds, since, by applying the constraints of the Mu’tazilites, God would not be able to create suffering for those who would eventually end up in hellfire – yet they reasonably exist. Beginning with God’s omnipotence and freedom, Ash‘ārīsm, boldly, denies objective moral facts. Cue Ghazālī, good and evil, for humankind, are relational qualities that vary with which to that they relate, and not of qualities of essences; two people may see a single action as good and bad.

            For Ash‘ārīsm, all that is created is from God (including evil) but this is an oversimplification and discourtesy. ‘Evil’ is a locution that carries a negative evaluative content so far as it is experience by our human subjectivity, but it is a fallacy to state that evil per se is a divine enactment. To summarise our discussion thus far, ‘divine omnipotence includes the capacity to impose suffering that by human measuring is certainly unjust or unbearable, but this cannot compromise the principle of divine wisdom.’

            For the Māturīdīs, the divine predicate of wisdom led to a beautiful outcome, which was, to a certain extent, humanly knowable. Their claim, as opposed to the Ash’ārī’s – who insisted that wisdom was in effect a synonym for divine agency – was that suffering served a higher purpose which might be only to known to God. What emerged was a mode of argument that stated that humanly perceived imperfections in the created order are in fact signs of God’s existence. Ghazālī, however, with his distinction of ‘nothing possible is more splendid than the actual’ quietly doubted the nominalism of Ash’ārīsm – of a meaningful wise deity. For him, there was the possibility of seeing everything in creation as perfect; the devout must look on God’s works as showcases of His perfect wisdom, building on the Qur’ān’s cosmological arguments.

            Finally, for Sunni theologians, God did not inhabit the same moral community as humans: He is not a component of the Cosmos and neither is he comparable to other entities. Put simply, he is not some sort of humanoid. The utility of theodicy lies in its ability to serve as a pedagogic tool, which for Ghazālī, exists mainly for the majority of the faithful who require a God that is accessible ‘by anthropopathic descriptions.’ For the metaphysicians amongst us, this is all unnecessary. We shift from a God of ‘resemblance’ (taṣbīh) to a God of ‘otherness’ (tanzīh). In the end, it is this otherness of God that leaves theodicy helpless.

  And only Allah knows best.


[1] See The Cambridge Companion to the Problem of Evil edited by Chad Meister and Paul K. Moser.

[2] Theodicy is a specific branch of theology and philosophy, which attempts to solve The Problem of Evil—the problem that arises when trying to reconcile the observed existence of evil in the world with the assumption of the existence of a God who is fully good (or benevolent) and who is also all-powerful (omnipotent). A “theodicy” also refers to any attempted solution to this conundrum.

Drinking wine and prayer not being accepted for forty days

Drinking wine and prayer not being accepted for forty days

There are a number of Prophetic sayings (aḥādīth) regarding the one who consumes wine and their prayer not being accepted for forty days. Among them is the following:

Narrated but ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (may God be pleased with him):

مَنْ شَرِبَ الْخَمْرَ لَمْ يَقْبَلِ اللَّهُ لَهُ صَلاَةً أَرْبَعِينَ صَبَاحًا فَإِنْ تَابَ تَابَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ فَإِنْ عَادَ لَمْ يَقْبَلِ اللَّهُ لَهُ صَلاَةً أَرْبَعِينَ صَبَاحًا فَإِنْ تَابَ تَابَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ فَإِنْ عَادَ لَمْ يَقْبَلِ اللَّهُ لَهُ صَلاَةً أَرْبَعِينَ صَبَاحًا فَإِنْ تَابَ تَابَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ فَإِنْ عَادَ الرَّابِعَةَ لَمْ يَقْبَلِ اللَّهُ لَهُ صَلاَةً أَرْبَعِينَ صَبَاحًا فَإِنْ تَابَ لَمْ يَتُبِ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَقَاهُ مِنْ نَهْرِ الْخَبَالِ قِيلَ يَا أَبَا عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ وَمَا نَهْرُ الْخَبَالِ قَالَ نَهْرٌ مِنْ صَدِيدِ أَهْلِ النَّارِ

The Messenger of God (ﷺ) said: “Whoever drinks wine, prayer is not accepted from him for forty days. If he repents, then God will accept his repentance. If he returns to it, then God will not accept his prayer for forty days. If he repents, then God will accept his repentance. If he returns to it, then God will not accept his prayer for forty days. If he repents, then God will accept his repentance. If he returns to it a fourth time, God will not accept his prayer for forty days, and if he were to repent, God would not accept his repentance, and he will be given to drink from the river of Al-Khabāl.” They said: “O Abu ‘Abdur-Raḥmān! What is the river of Al-Khabāl?” He said: “A river of the pus from the inhabitants of the Fire.”


Though there has remained some disagreement by the fuqahā, the jurists, as to what exactly constitutes khamr, or wine (and it’s ruling), wine itself is nonetheless forbidden, as affirmed by the Qur’an and Prophetic sayings. There are four verses in the Qur’ān in relation wine:

وَمِن ثَمَرَاتِ النَّخِيلِ وَالْأَعْنَابِ تَتَّخِذُونَ مِنْهُ سَكَرًا وَرِزْقًا حَسَنًا ۗ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَةً لِّقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ

“And from the fruits of the date palm and the vine, from which you derive strong drink and a goodly provision. Surely in this is a sign for a people who understand.” (Qur’ān, 16:67)

This is a Meccan verse and alludes towards intoxication. Strong drink translates sakar, which etymologically refers to something that is intoxicating and is thus in reference to the wine that can be made from either grape (the fruit of the vine) or dates. This verse, suggests that the strong drink of the date palm and the vine is among the many blessings God has bestowed on human beings. Qurānic verses coming later on in Madinah begin to discourage the consumption of intoxicating beverages and eventually prohibit them altogether. The next verse sets this in motion:

يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ ۖ قُلْ فِيهِمَا إِثْمٌ كَبِيرٌ وَمَنَافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ وَإِثْمُهُمَا أَكْبَرُ مِن نَّفْعِهِمَا

They ask you about wine and gambling. Say, “In them there is great sin and [some] benefit for mankind, but their sin is greater than their benefit.” (Qur’ān, 2:219)

People understood from this verse that the prohibition of wine is to follow. The Qur’ān recognises that there are some benefits of drinking wine. Imām al-Qurtubī mentions that it helps with digestion, makes a miserly person magnanimous, gives boldness to the timid, gives colour to the face, helps one to have sex, and makes one feel good for a short time. However, the harms outweigh the benefits.

The third verse can be viewed as a gloss of the previous verse and states:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَقْرَبُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَأَنتُمْ سُكَارَىٰ حَتَّىٰ تَعْلَمُوا مَا تَقُولُونَ

“O you who believe!, Draw not near to unto prayer when you are drunken until you know what you are uttering.” (Qur’ān, 4:43)

Here, the consumption of wine was reduced to times that would not cause prayer to be misread. This part of the verse was reportedly revealed when some of the Companions of the Prophet attempted to pray after having drunken wine (when it was still permissible) and incorrectly recited a Qurānic passage during prayer. The fourth verse instructs Muslims to avoid wine (and gambling) entirely:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنَّمَا الْخَمْرُ وَالْمَيْسِرُ وَالْأَنصَابُ وَالْأَزْلَامُ رِجْسٌ مِّنْ عَمَلِ الشَّيْطَانِ فَاجْتَنِبُوهُ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ

“O you who believe!, Wine, gambling, and idols, and diving arrows are are but means of defilement, of Satan’s doing. So avoid it that haply you may prosper.” (Qur’ān, 5:90)

إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ الشَّيْطَانُ أَن يُوقِعَ بَيْنَكُمُ الْعَدَاوَةَ وَالْبَغْضَاءَ فِي الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ وَيَصُدَّكُمْ عَن ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ وَعَنِ الصَّلَاةِ ۖ فَهَلْ أَنتُم مُّنتَهُونَ

“Satan only desires to sow enmity and hatred among you through wine and gambling, and to turn you away from the remembrance of God, and from prayer. Will you then refrain?” (Qur’ān, 5:91)

Islamic jurisprudence, basing itself upon the corpus of Prophetic sayings and practice (Sunnah), has consistently viewed the last revealed verse as the authoritative one that abrogates the legal implication of the other three.

Consequences of wine consumption

بَين الله تَعَالَى أَن فِي الْخمر مفسدتين: مفْسدَة فِي النَّاس، فان شاربها يلاحي الْقَوْم يعدوا عَلَيْهِم، ومفسدة فِيمَا يرجع إِلَى تَهْذِيب نَفسه، فان شاربها يغوص فِي حَالَة بهيمية، وَيَزُول عقله الَّذِي بِهِ قوام الاحسان

 Despite its benefits, consuming wine leads to loss of one’s rational faculties, quarreling, violence, promiscuity, and impaired judgment. Recall that one the aims of the divine law is to ensure one’s happiness in this world. This can only be achieved if civilization is allowed to function unhindered. Alcohol consumption inevitably leads to many societal, health and mental problems which are very clear for all to see. As for the religious consequence, it takes one away from the remembrance of God, since it leads one to stoop towards their animalistic side.

وَلما كَانَ قَلِيل الْخمر يَدْعُو إِلَى كَثِيره وَجب عِنْد سياسة الْأمة أَن يدار التَّحْرِيم على كَونهَا مسكرة، لَا على وجود السكر فِي الْحَال.ثمَّ بَين النَّبِي صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ أَن الْخمر مَا هِيَ، فَقَالَ:” كل مُسكر خمر وكل مُسكر حرَام ” وَقَالَ: “الْخمر من هَاتين الشجرتين النَّخْلَة والعنبة ” وتخصيصهما بِالذكر لما كَانَ حَال تِلْكَ الْبِلَاد، وَسُئِلَ عَلَيْهِ السَّلَام عَن المزر والبتع، فَقَالَ: ” كل مُسكر حرَام ” وَقَالَ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ:” مَا أسكر كَثِيره فقليله حرَام “

Scholars determine that the legal reason for the prohibition of drinking wine is because it is a drink that intoxicates. Though the traditions may not be exhaustive in listing the types of wine that are forbidden, any drink that results in intoxication is also forbidden to consume, like many modern-day alcoholic beverages. In the Ḥanafī school, the fatwa as it stands, is that of Imām Muḥammad (Durr al-Mukhtār), in that the quantity of alcohol is irrelevant.[1]

 The ḥadīth in particular

أَن ظُهُور صفة الْبَهِيمَة وغلبتها على الملكية بالإقدام على الْمعْصِيَة اجتراء على الله وغوص نَفسه فِي حَالَة رذيلة تنَافِي الْإِحْسَان وتضاده، وَيكون سَببا لفقد اسْتِحْقَاق أَن تَنْفَع الصَّلَاة فِي نَفسه نفع الْإِحْسَان وَأَن تنقاد نَفسه للحالة الإحسانية.

 As for ḥadīth stated above, there is a distinction scholars like to make between acceptance in terms of validity and acceptance in terms of reward. Acceptance in terms of validity means that one performed all of the prayer’s conditions, pillars, and necessary actions outlined by the jurists. Consequently, the prayer is valid and it does not need to be made up. Acceptance in terms of reward means that one may have performed the prayer in the correct manner but it is dependent upon God’s generosity if its performance is rewarded.

The aforementioned ḥadīth indicates that one who drinks intoxicants will not receive the reward for the prayers performed for forty days unless one repents. This is because they have allowed their soul to stoop towards their base desires and allowed it to overcome its angelic side. Hence, they are being deprived of the benefits of prayer.

It does not mean that the prayers are invalid and need to be made up because they are missing a condition of validity. Rather, it demonstrates the beauty of Islam because even if one wronged themselves, there is still hope for forgiveness and making a new beginning.

أَن الْقَيْح وَالدَّم أقبح الْأَشْيَاء السيالة عندنَا وأحقرها واشدها نفرة بِالنِّسْبَةِ للطبائع السليمة، وَالْخمر شَيْء سيال فَنَاسَبَ أَن يتَمَثَّل مَقْرُونا بِصفة الْقبْح فِي صُورَة طِينَة الخبال

As for the final part of the ḥadīth, description of pus is used to draw a link between wine, a flowing substance and another flowing substance: what they share in common is that they are both detestable substances.

Despite its legal prohibition, wines retains an important spiritual and symbolic significance in Islam. It is among the pleasures of the Garden of Paradise and is among one of its four rivers:

مَّثَلُ الْجَنَّةِ الَّتِي وُعِدَ الْمُتَّقُونَ ۖ فِيهَا أَنْهَارٌ مِّن مَّاءٍ غَيْرِ آسِنٍ وَأَنْهَارٌ مِّن لَّبَنٍ لَّمْ يَتَغَيَّرْ طَعْمُهُ وَأَنْهَارٌ مِّنْ خَمْرٍ لَّذَّةٍ لِّلشَّارِبِينَ وَأَنْهَارٌ مِّنْ عَسَلٍ مُّصَفًّى ۖ

The parable of the garden that has been promised to the reverent: therein lie rivers of water incorruptible, rivers of milk, whose flavour does not change, rivers of wine delicious for those who imbibe, and rivers of purified honey. (Qur’ān 47:15)

It is a sublime substance of which the inhabitants of the Garden will partake:

يُسْقَوْنَ مِن رَّحِيقٍ مَّخْتُومٍ

They are given to drink of pure wine sealed. (Qur’ān, 83:25)

The contrast between the Quran’s mention of wine as one of the enjoyments of the Hereafter and the explicit prohibition against drinking wine in this world served to make wine and intoxication a potent symbol in Sufi discourse for knowledge of God (ma’rifah), and for the encounter with the divine and the realisation of the reality of the Divine Presence, which ordinarily one cannot experience in this life, but which the pious will enjoy in the Hereafter and the spiritually realised might enjoy inwardly in this life. Moreover, as wine can represent simultaneously both the forbidden and the sublime, it served as a powerful symbol of certain Sufi spiritual practices and experiences, particularly ecstatic ones, the intensity of which was sometimes the subject of criticism by exoteric authorities.

And only God knows best.

[1] According to Ḥanafī school, the legal definition of khamr is the juice of grapes or date syrup (nabīdh) that has been fermented to a point that the sugar turned to alcohol, thereby making it into an intoxicant. The proof of this is in the decisive, unequivocal texts of the Qu’rān and Prophetic sayings, as the narrations of the prohibition of khamr together comprise multiple-chain transmission (tawātur). Its prohibition is also confirmed by scholarly consensus. The Prophet also said, “Intoxicants are from these two trees,” while pointing to grapevines and date-palms. (Muslim). There is also a consensus of the companions regarding this type of wine. What this means is, that any other form of intoxicant that is not included in the above definitions (grapes and dates) cannot legally be called khamr, and therefore the ruling would have to be based on scholarly legal judgments, known as ijtihād, or by analogy, which is known as qiyās. Therefore, any type of intoxicating drink made of barley, honey, figs, or anything other than those things that are clearly mentioned in the Quran and Sunnah, requires some detail and is subject to a difference of opinion. The evidence for such views are discussed in great detail in many works, including Sharh Ma‘ānī al-Āthār of al-Tahāwī, Sharh Mukhtasar al-Tahāwī of al-Jassās, al-Tajrīd of al-Qudūrī and al-Mabsūt of al-Sarakhsī. For a useful summary see: http://www.askimam.org/public/question_detail/31176



Causes of distortion in Islam

Causes of distortion in Islam

إحكام الدّين من التحريف

Fortifying the Religion from Distortion

It is the duty of all Muslims, and in particular, the ‘ulamā, the scholars of Islam, to ensure that Islam retains its pristine nature and is protected from being distorted (taḥrīf). Especially in an age where we are witnessing a small group of individuals using Islam for their own personal motives. Among the many causes of distortion in the religion are the following:


Being lax with matters such as prayers and education will lead to successive generations ultimately neglecting them. The teaching of religion and acting upon knowledge will become extinct, and enjoining good and forbidding evil will cease. Before long, customs will emerge that oppose the religion and the nature of people will conflict with the demand of the divine law.[1] Eventually, a time will come where nothing of the religion will remain. The cause of such laxity is to be found in a number of things:

عدم تحمل الرِّوَايَة عَن صَاحب الْملَّة وَالْعَمَل بِهِ

The absence or lack of regard of transmitting from the founder of the religion (i.e. the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him) and [failing] to act upon it. In essence, refusing to accept the proof of the prophetic traditions or taking them as a means of guidance for the conduct of our daily affairs.

الْأَغْرَاض الْفَاسِدَة الحاملة على التّأْوِيل الْبَاطِل

Corrupt intentions which lead to distorted and false exegesis and interpretations. This can stem from untrained individuals of the sacred sciences providing false exegesis to please leaders or trying to fit the divine law to suit modern concerns.

شيوع الْمُنْكَرَات وَترك عُلَمَائهمْ النَّهْي عَنْهَا

The spreading of evil acts and the scholars’ failure to forbid them. It is obligatory for scholars to remain firm in speaking the truth and standing up for justice.

Unnecessary hair-splitting

In essence, this occurs when the ruling of something that is ordered or forbidden is overextended to another ruling that resembles the original ruling in certain ways[2] or where a certain part of the ‘illah (reason for the legislation) is found. It can also occur when this ruling is overextended to some of its anticipated sources or motives.[3] Thus, the following can occur:

وَكلما اشْتبهَ عَلَيْهِ الْأَمر لتعارض الرِّوَايَات الْتزم الأشد، ويجعله وَاجِبا

When something is ambiguous due to a conflict with the traditions of the Prophet, holding firm to the most stringent view and making it obligatory.[4]

وَيحمل كل مَا فعله النَّبِي صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ على الْعِبَادَة، وَالْحق أَنه فعل أَشْيَاء على الْعَادة

To take everything that the Prophet did as an act of worship though the truth is that he did certain things according to the custom of his time. [5]

Being excessively strict

This occurs when acts of worship are pursued which the law-giver did not command, such as continuously fasting, praying the entire night, to remain celibate, to disengage from the world, and making recommended acts as something that is compulsory. Thus, you have the saying of the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him:

لن يشاد الدّين أحد إِلَّا غَلبه

‘No one makes religion too strict but that is overwhelms him.’ [6]

Preference (istiḥsān) [7]

فيختلس من أسرار التشريع، فيشرع للنَّاس حَسْبَمَا عقل من الْمصلحَة

This occurs when certain inner meanings of the law are appropriated by [ignorant] people according to what they think is the beneficial purpose. As an example, the Jews believed that the Law-Giver only commanded punishments (ḥudūd) as a deterrent and a mechanism for reforming society (i.e. not to be actually applied) so they considered stoning as an act that leads to dispute and hence something that would lead to a worse outcome. Therefore, they applied the principle of preference in sanctioning the blackening of the face and skin (of an adulterer) with coal instead.

            Ibn Sīrīn says:

أول من قَاس إِبْلِيس، وَمَا عبدت الشَّمْس وَالْقَمَر إِلَّا بالمقاييس

‘The first one to apply analogy was Iblīs and the worship of the moon and sun only came about through analogy.’

And from al-Ḥasan (al-Baṣrī) that he recited the following from the Qur’ān:

خلقتني من نَار وخلقته من طين

‘You created me fire and You created him from earth.’

and he then went on to say:

قَاس إِبْلِيس وَهُوَ أول من قَاس

‘Iblīs used an analogy and he was the first to use an analogy’ [8]

The crux of the matter here, and this is important, is that the istiḥsān of the ignorant ones is blameworthy, and not the istiḥsān of scholars of law, since this type analogy, is a proof in the religion.

Following consensus (ijmā’) without any basis

وَذَلِكَ فِيمَا لَيْسَ لَهُ أصل من الْكتاب وَالسّنة، وَهَذَا غير الْإِجْمَاع الَّذِي اجْتمعت الْأمة عَلَيْهِ فَإِنَّهُم اتَّفقُوا على القَوْل بِالْإِجْمَاع الَّذِي مُسْتَنده الْكتاب وَالسّنة أَو الاستنباط من أَحدهمَا

This occurs when consensus is declared on issues that do not find their basis in the Qur’ān and Sunnah. This is not the consensus which the community has agreed upon, since consensus is agreed upon when it is founded upon the Qur’ān and sunna, or is directly derived from one of them. For Allāh says:

وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمُ اتَّبِعُوا مَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ قَالُوا بَلْ نَتَّبِعُ مَا أَلْفَيْنَا عَلَيْهِ آبَاءَنَا ۗ

‘When it is said unto them, “follow what God has sent down,” they say, “Nay, we follow that which we found our fathers doing.”[9]

This often occurs when people claim consensus of their forefathers whilst remaining ignorant of the Qur’ān and sunnah. This is was what led to the Jews denying the prophethood of Jesus and Muḥammad, may peace and blessings of God be upon them; because they [blindly] followed their ancestors.

To [blindly] follow the legal decisions of someone who is not entirely fallible i.e. someone other than a Prophet

تَقْلِيد غير الْمَعْصُوم أَعنِي غير النَّبِي الَّذِي ثبتَتْ عصمته، وَحَقِيقَته أَن يجْتَهد وَاحِد من عُلَمَاء الْأمة فِي مَسْأَلَة، فيظن متبعوه أَنه على الْإِصَابَة قطعا أَو غَالِبا، فيردوا بِهِ حَدِيثا صَحِيح

 This occurs when someone other than a Prophet (whose infallibility is established) – a learned scholar – uses independent reasoning (ijtihād) and his followers assume that his answer is absolutely correct or correct in most cases, and thus, they reject a sound ḥadīth.

إِنَّهُم اتَّفقُوا على جَوَاز التَّقْلِيد للمجتهدين مَعَ الْعلم بِأَن الْمُجْتَهد يُخطئ، ويصيب، وَمَعَ الاستشراف لنَصّ النَّبِي صَلَّى اللهُ  عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فِي الْمَسْأَلَة والعزم على أَنه إِذا ظهر حَدِيث صَحِيح خلاف مَا قلد فِيهِ ترك التَّقْلِيد، وَاتبع الحَدِيث

This type of taqlīd is different from the one the rightly guided community has agreed upon, since it is agreed that taqlīd is permissible in following scholars of independent reasoning (mujtahidūn) whilst recognising that they may err or be correct, and if a reliable ḥadīth comes which opposes them, then taqlīd in this instance should be abandoned and the ḥadīth followed. [10]

The Prophet, may peace and blessings be upon him, stated in relation to the verse:

اتَّخَذُوا أَحْبَارَهُمْ وَرُهْبَانَهُمْ أَرْبَابًا مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ وَالْمَسِيحَ ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ وَمَا أُمِرُوا إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوا إلَاهًا وَاحِدًا ۖ لَّا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ ۚ سُبْحَانَهُ عَمَّا يُشْرِكُونَ

‘They have taken their rabbis and monks as lords apart from God, as well as the Messiah, son of Mary, though they were only commanded to worship one God. There is no God but he! Glory be to Him above the partners they ascribe.’[11]

إِنَّهُم لم يَكُونُوا يَعْبُدُونَهُمْ، وَلَكنهُمْ كَانُوا إِذا أحلُّوا لَهُم شَيْئا اسْتَحَلُّوهُ، وَإِذا حرمُوا عَلَيْهِم شَيْئا حرمُوهُ

‘That is was not that they used to worship them, but rather if they said that a thing was permitted to people, then they would take it as such, and that if they forbade them something, then they would take it to be forbidden.’ [12]

Mixing one religion with another

خلط مِلَّة بِملَّة حَتَّى لَا تتَمَيَّز وَاحِدَة من الْأُخْرَى، وَذَلِكَ أَن يكون إِنْسَان فِي دين من الْأَدْيَان تعلق بِقَلْبِه عُلُوم تِلْكَ الطَّبَقَة، ثمَّ يدْخل فِي الْملَّة الإسلامية، قيبقى ميل قلبه إِلَى مَا تعلق بِهِ من قبل لَمْ يَزَلْ أَمْرُ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ مُعْتَدِلاً حَتَّى نَشَأَ فِيهِمُ الْمُوَلَّدُونَ أَبْنَاءُ سَبَايَا الأُمَمِ فَقَالُوا بِالرَّأْىِ فَضَلُّوا وَأَضَلُّوا

This occurs when a person enters Islam but maintains some form of emotional attachment to what they believed in before. So much so that they will seek methods to make room for what they had before to bring it into Islam. Thus, we have the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, saying:

لَمْ يَزَلْ أَمْرُ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ مُعْتَدِلاً حَتَّى نَشَأَ فِيهِمُ الْمُوَلَّدُونَ أَبْنَاءُ سَبَايَا الأُمَمِ فَقَالُوا بِالرَّأْىِ فَضَلُّوا وَأَضَلُّوا

‘The situation of the Children of Israel was balanced until there rose among them those of mixed descent and the children of prisoners of (other) nations so they spoke on the basis of their own opinions and went astray and led others astray.’[13]

وَمِمَّا دخل فِي ديننَا عُلُوم بني إِسْرَائِيل وتذكير خطباء الْجَاهِلِيَّة وَحِكْمَة اليونانيين ودعوة البابليين وتاريخ الفارسيين والنجوم والرمل وَالْكَلَام

Among other things which have become interpolated in our religion are the canons of the Children of Israel, the exhortations of sermons of the age of ignorance, Greek sciences, propaganda of the Babylonians, history of the Persians, astrology, geomancy, and rationalist theology.

And only Allah knows best.

[1] As the Qur’ān, for example, states, ‘Then they were succeeded by a generation who neglected prayer and followed based desires’ (19:59).

[2] For example, by not eating or engaging in sexual intercourse before dawn because the law giver intended by fasting to subdue the lower self.

[3] For example, making it forbidden to kiss one’s spouse when fasting based on the view that it induces sexual intercourse or that it is similar to it. Though it is obviously not and the Prophet corrected this misunderstanding in this case.

[4] For example, to make ablution compulsory for that which has touched the fire.

[5] For example, the dietary preferences of the Prophet.

[6] Al-Bukhārī and Nasā’ī. The Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, said, ‘Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded; and gain strength by worshipping in the mornings, the afternoons, and during the last hours of the night.’

[7] This is not referring to juristic preference as understood and practiced by scholars of Islamic legal theory since this is legitimate deviation from qiyās in which a discretionary interpretation is used more freely with the goal of being a ruling for the public interest. Here, however, we are referring to the preference practiced by those not versed in legal theory.

[8] References (including subsequent ones) can be found in al-Dārimī, bāb taghayyur al-zamān wamā yaḥduthu fīhī. (the changing of the age and what changes in it).

[9] Qur’ān, 2:170.

[10] Though this is not a straightforward matter as it requires a number of options and processes to be followed by those trained in the sacred sciences.

[11] Qur’ān 9:31

[12] at-Tirmidhī.

[13] Ibn Mājah.