ACCORDING TO IMAM Al-Nawawi (d.676 H/1277 CE), there are two opinions as to whether a lay person is obligated to follow a particular school of law (mathhab) or not. He stipulates:
What the proof necessitates is that a layman is not required to adhere to a specific mathhab. Instead, he seeks a fatwa from whomsoever he chooses or whomsoever he encounters [from the scholars] —on the condition that he not hunt for concessions (rukhaṣ, sing: rukhṣa). Perhaps those who forbade him from doing this did so because they weren’t convinced that he would not avoid chasing after concessions.[i]
Thus strictly following one mathhab in all that it orders or forbids is not obligated, but it is not forbidden either. Rather it is preferred.
Having said this, the most effective way to learn fiqh, as our scholars point out, is for the student of knowledge to follow one specific mathhab from the four remaining orthodox Sunni mathhabs; namely, Ḥanafi, Mâliki, Shâfiʿi, and Ḥanbali Mathhabs. There are many benefits and advantages in doing so:
- It spares the student of knowledge the confusion of not knowing what to do when faced with differing opinions on a given fiqh issue.
- It trains the ego to submit to some higher authority, instead of the other way around.
- It facilitates the learning of religious rulings, principles and maxims in a systematic fashion.
- It ensures that we will not be sinful when we chose to adopt a religious ruling (ḥukm), because in so doing we are following legitimate and authoritative rulings; not our own whimsical concoctions.
Shah Wali Allah Al-Dehlawi (d.1176 H/1762 CE) stated:
The Ummah, or rather those in it whose [legal] views are worth considering, are agreed that these four codified Mathhabs may be followed. For in doing so lie certain apparent benefits, particularly in our time when peoples’ resolve is hugely deficient; souls are drunk with desires; and when each individual is infatuated with his own opinion.[ii]
Acquiring Sound Knowledge of Fiqh: Pragmatic Steps
Now, let us consider some pragmatic steps for acquiring sound knowledge of fiqh:
- One either builds on the mathhab they were raised on; cementing and enhancing one’s grasp of it. Or else one commits to learning a mathhab whose teachers and texts are practically and readily accessible.
- It is preferred to study with a qualified teacher who has been authorized to teach by recognized scholars; starting with a primer or beginners text.
- Commit to a step-by-step study of fiqh. Begin with the rules related to purification (ṭahâra), Prayer (Salah), Zakah, and Fasting (Ṣawm); then move on to the rules concerning marriage, buying, selling, and other relevant areas of fiqh as your needs dictate.
- One learns the actual rulings – i.e. one must know if the act, or the aspect of the act, is obligatory (wâjib), recommended (mustaḥab), offensive (makrûh), prohibited (ḥarâm), or licit (mubâḥ).
- Learning the proofs (adilla, sing: dalîl) underlying a ruling is commendable; it is not a requirement. The goal is not for us to all become fully-fledged jurists, but to present to God works of faith based on a valid Sharîᶜah understanding. This taqlîd – “following the legal opinion of a qualified scholar without knowing the proofs” – is allowed in our religion by juristic consensus (ijmâʿ). Ibn Qudâmah Al-Maqdisi (d.620 H/1223 CE) remarks: “Taqlîd in the branches of the law (furûʿ) is permitted by scholarly consensus.” [iii]
- Along with learning basic acts of worship (ʿibâdât), social dealings and business transactions (muʿâmalât), one learns the rights and responsibilities (ḥuqûq) owed by us to others: be they to Allah, the Prophet ﷺ, parents, relatives, other Muslims, non-Muslims, the animal world, or the Earth itself. One should also study a text which outlines the major sins, as well as learn basic rulings of Quran recitation (aḥkâm al-tajwîd).
- Lastly, we should never forget that the Fiqh School we follow is a means to an end; it is not an end in itself. Bigotry or taʿṣṣub to any mathhab or scholar is prohibited. Al-Thahabi (d.748 H/1348 CE) said:You must not believe your mathhab is the best one or the one most pleasing to God. You have no proof for this; nor does the one who differs with you. The Imams, may God be pleased with them, were all upon great good. Those issues wherein they were correct, they will receive a double reward; those in which they erred, they shall receive a single reward.[iv]
Ibn Taymiyyah (d.728 H/1328 CE) stated:
Rather, the names that are permissible to call oneself by – such as an ascription to an Imam [of fiqh] like Ḥanafi, Mâliki, Shâfiʿi, and Ḥanbali, or a [Sufi] Shaykh like Qâdiri or ʿAdawi, or a tribe like Qaysi or Yemani, or a region like Syrian, Iraqi or Egyptian – then it is unlawful to test people using them, or form allegiances or enmity around them. Instead, the noblest people in God’s sight are those who have the most piety – whatever group they belong to.[v]
Originally posted at The Humble I
[i] Minhaj Al-Talibin (Beirut: Dar al-Basha’ir al-Islamiyyah, 2001), 11:117.
[ii] Hujjat Allah Al-Balighah (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2001), 1:286-7.
[iii] Rawdat Al-Nazir (Riyadh: Maktabat al-Rushd, 1996), 3:1015.
[iv] Bayan Zagh al-‘Ilm (Saudi Arabia: Maktabat al-Rushd, 2010), 124.
[v] Majmu‘ Al-Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 3:416.