A Short Note on Islamic Law
Sunk and lost in the abyss of modern day’s chaos, confusion, and dysfunction, today’s youth needs to be addressed. Follow not the small-timers. Chase not shadows. Battle not against supposed enemies. Your crusade against the four Schools of Law will exhaust you. Waste not your time and energy on unachievable missions. Channel them into what will pay back in gold coins: study of the Qur’an and Sunnah in their language, for instance; exceling in games like boxing, karate, etc.; feeding the widows; educating the orphans, writes SYED IQBAL ZAHEER.
According to both the uneducated as well as those taught a few ahadith (in English), the Fiqh A’immah (the four Imams) appeared some two hundred years after the Prophet. Basing on that little piece of information, they assume, (untaught as they are that assumption is disallowed in Islam)… that until their appearance, everyone – during those 200 years – consulted the Qur’an and Hadith to take out answers to their everyday questions concerning ‘how to do this and how to do that.’ Therefore, they conclude, every Muslim today could – and should – also refer to the Qur’an and Sunnah, to work out details of the Law, as did the Salaf, and, consequently, do away with the four Fiqh schools, to get closer to the Salaf.
In reality, they are as far away from the Salaf as Dallas is from Madinah, in many senses of the metaphor.
Ignorance leads to greater ignorance, which leads to blunders, ultimately to denial of many truths, and, finally, to disbelief. As is known, ‘a little educated’ is more dangerous than the uneducated, if he (or she) assumes that he is ‘educated enough,’ and that he can now preach. He is dangerous to himself as he is dangerous to his society. Today they are teeming around in noticeable numbers.
Their above assumption is based on another assumption, namely, every one of those first two hundred years or so, knew whole of the Qur’an and whole of the Sunnah. Hardly so. The number of Companions who had committed the ‘whole of the Qur’an’ to memory during the Prophet’s life were not a large percentage – when compared to the hundreds of thousands spread over 8,000,000 sq. km living in ravines, deserts and valleys, where no man other than their inhabitants had ever set foot. These people knew a little from here, a little from there of the Qur’an – but not the whole of it. And the numbers of those – primarily living in Madinah – who had memorized the Qur’an were vastly dwindled by the wars of Apostasy. They were dying in battlefields in such large numbers that `Umar (ra) felt concerned about preservation of the Qur’an suggesting that it be compiled as one whole, in one volume – whatever the physical format. Then soon started the exodus of early Muslims in battle formations heading against Roman and Persian Empires in the north. Obviously, war times are not the best times for anything as serious as memorization of more than six thousand verses.
The Hadith fared no better. It had to wait almost 200 years before a collection could be available for the educated class (not everyone) of major towns. Not everyone in the streets, markets, or farms and fields was educated, nor were the Hadith collections available in every city, town, village and army barracks. There were no bookstores yet, no public libraries: only personal collections. Public libraries had to wait until – gone were the Umayyads – the Abbasid Caliphate had settled down in Baghdad.
So, according to the fallacious assumption, it was not the Qur’an and Sunnah that were the sources of Law for the great majority of people in Makkah, Madinah, Yemen, the African West coast, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Persia, Asia Minor etc. because they were not available to them. The question arises: were the newest of Muslims, now in millions, leading a life of whims and fancies, because they – every individual, man and woman – living over an area now spread over several hundred million square kilometres – had no access to the two sources?
Assumptions of the ‘little-educated’ can, and do, lead to disastrous inferences.
Of course, both Qur’an and Hadith were taught by the scholars in major towns. But, barring some exceptions, majority of the townspeople were not engaged in such studies, and majority of the population did not live in towns and cities. At best, peoples of pocket populations delegated their representatives to learn the religion and teach them when they came back. They did not bring back books, (let alone 30,000 ahadith of Ahmad bin Hanbal in 100 volumes) – in many cases, nothing in writing. Who was mad enough to say that he would accept nothing less than the Qur’an and Sunnah, first hand, all by himself, because so had the Prophet instructed?
Today some of the ‘somewhat educated’ Muslims unfurl their flags displaying the Prophet’s dictum: “I am leaving behind me two things, that, if you followed, you will never be misguided: the Qur’an and my Sunnah?” Was this dictum ever ignored by the Ummah, starting with the earliest Muslims itself?
Rather not. Those who refuse to give a decade or two to Islamic Studies (so much is their love of the Qur’an and Sunnah) cannot know the difference between principles and practices; between guidelines and everyday applications.
Sharp of intellect, pious to the core, clear of self-evaluation, and aided by Divine guidance, the Prophet’s early followers knew the exact meaning and implication of the rule pertaining to the Qur’an and Sunnah as the sources, and never assumed that they – as common individuals – were required to work out the Law themselves. They knew and believed fully in the Qur’an which had warned them of playing with the rules and had instructed them to ask and follow the ‘People of Dhikr,’ which they submissively did. (Much behind rejection of the four Fuqaha’ in our times is refusal to submit).
The Prophet had known of the difficulty for individuals of all kinds and class to work out the Shari`ah, and had said: “Unto you is my Sunnah, and the Sunnah of the Rightly-guided Khulafa‘ after me.” Does it strike the proud that a third source had been added? The Qur’an had identified four sources of Law: Qur’an, Sunnah, Consensus and Analogy. (4: 59)
The truest of Imams came immediately following the Prophet’s death. Recommended by no less than he himself, the four Caliphs became the A’immatu al-Fiqh, together, and in succession, issuing Fatawa. The hundreds of thousands of the commoners from among the Companions became, to use the language of our times, Muqallidin – because, neither the Qur’an was available in the markets for sale, nor in the mosques, nor the Hadith. So, they blindly followed rulings of the four Khulafa’. Thus they had been ordered by the Qur’an and thus they had been ordered by the Hadith.
To be sure, they were aided by other A’immah, such as Ubayy b. Ka`b (for matters related to the Qur’an), Ibn `Abbas (for matters involving Qur’anic commentary), Mu`adh b. Jabal, (for issues relating to the Abrogations of the Qur’an), Zayd b. Thabit (for matters involving Inheritance), `A’isha (for matters involving women’s affairs), etc. They issued Fatwa for the benefit of the Companions and the Followers, many arriving from Yemen, Oman, Bahrayn, Persia, Asia Minor, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and so many other regions.
Such were the Imams after the Prophet and such were – so to say – the Muqallidin. They were the truest of Muqallidin. They never disagreed with their guides. For them, the fatawa given out by their guides were golden rulings which would become, for the later scholars of Fiqh, one of the sources of Islamic Law, when the Law began to be coded.
Some six generations passed. The Ummah remained following the rules of the Shari`ah as dictated by their contemporary scholars. There wasn’t any group to claim that they would rather follow none but the Qur’an and Sunnah. Those were not days of slogans to hide true intentions.
But then began to surface complications of changing times, cultures, regional ways of life, customs of the land, complex business transaction, and so on. First collections of Hadith had appeared, e.g. Muwatta of Imam Malik. There were others. But, to the newest questions that arose, newest problems that began to crop up, the Qur’an and Sunnah did not offer direct answers. Qatadah was asked about something. He said, “I don’t know.” He was asked, “What’s your personal opinion?” He replied, “I haven’t expressed my personal opinion since forty years.” (He was then about fifty years old). Even a person like Ibn `Umar, an expert on Sunan of the Prophet, when asked about something, replied, “I don’t know.” Incredibly, Imam Malik, the collector of a bulk of hadith, was asked 48 questions, to 32 of which he said, “I don’t know.”
Why were they saying that they did not know? It was because such were the complications of the New Age. And if “I don’t know” was so commonly said in those times, how often not it should be said in our much more complex times and situations? The Salaf were declaring their ignorance because the Qur’an and Sunnah did not contain any direct answers for the growing problems.
In consequence, and following the Qur’anic direction itself, there arose the need and use of the fourth and no less important function of Fiqh: Qiyas (analogy).
We shall not dwell on the subject of Analogy now. It is best understood with example of how it was put to work, without confrontation with the Qur’an and Sunnah, but rather, through the Qur’an, Sunnah and Ijma`. But such examples can only be presented in Arabic, and, in addition, hard to understand for the non-specialist. The Fuqaha’ who did it were amazingly intelligent, hard-working, God-conscious, pure of intentions, meek, humble, spiritual who preferred the next world to this.
Information can be obtained even by a scoundrel. But `Ilm is for the chosen. Someone said to Hasan al-Basri, “O `Alim.” He retorted in anger saying, in effect, “Stupid! Have you ever seen an `Alim in your life?”
Sunk and lost in the abyss of modern day’s chaos, confusion, and dysfunction, today’s youth needs to be addressed. Follow not the small-timers. Chase not shadows. Battle not against supposed enemies. Your crusade against the four Schools of Law will exhaust you. Waste not your time and energy on unachievable missions. Channel them into what will pay back in gold coins: study of the Qur’an and Sunnah in their language, for instance; exceling in games like boxing, karate, etc.; feeding the widows; educating the orphans.
The world is in pain; people are moaning. Rescue whom you can. Get chosen.