Contemporary Chaos In The Study Of Fiqh


I was writing up some material taken from Shaykh Abd al-Fattah al-Yafi’s excellent  book Al-Manhajiyyah al-Aamah which pretty well summed up mine and some other individuals observance regarding the teaching of fiqh.


In the past we would hear some groups’ condemnation of the ‘blind following’ of madhabs and enjoinment of the ‘following of evidences’.  To their credit this has been tempered somewhat to a more milder ‘We accept madhabs/study according to them but do not do so fanatically’

Teaching From A Text And Going Against It

Upon closer examination of this new approach we find (as mentioned below) not all is at it seems.  Yes, books of the madhabs are being used, but more as a structure/skeleton giving the teacher prompts from which he discusses the ‘evidences’ and then declares which one he believes to be the ‘strongest’.  For them the teaching of fiqh is just discussing and weighing up of the evidences for any particular issue.  Those who have had any taste of the traditional methods of study know how far removed this approach is from that which the they have experienced.

The following is a summary of what Shaykh al-Yafi mentions in his book:

Examples Of Contemporary Chaos in The Study of Fiqh
1-The abandoning of the books of the legal schools (madhabs) which have been traditionally studied, and focussing upon the books of the Zahiri school  or the fiqh of Imam al-Shawkani.  What is intended is not a criticism/mocking of the Zahiri school or Imam al-Shawkani (Allah have mercy on them) but what is meant is the exchanging of superior works for those which are of a lesser quality.

2-The abandoning of the books of the madhabs and a focussing on the deducing of legal rulings from books of hadith, such as the two Sahih’s, Sunan works, Bulugh al-Maram, al-Muntaqa and their like.  The good amongst these people is the one who looks at the commentaries.  Rare is that they refer to an issue in the books of fiqh.  As for the one studies fiqh of a madhab from A-Z then he is indeed rare to find.

3-Some of them when they saw that the study of fiqh without recourse to a madhab was not beneficial moved to teach some of the books of the madhabs, however they did not teach them as they should be taught and thereby fell in to a number of errors such as the following:

i) They did not proceed in their teaching as the previous scholars did, meaning by gradually taking the student through an increasingly difficult set of works.  This is by beginning with a brief/short text, then one of medium length, and then a detailed one.  Rather they jumped to the top of the ladder, whereas one who does not climb a ladder gradually will fall.  This approach results in the student not benefitting as he should, not completing the detailed book, nor fully understanding what he studies from it, because it is lengthy, detailed and above his level.  Its wording is often very precise and nuanced which requires the study of the medium length and brief works before it, in addition to someone to unpack it.

ii) When teaching a text of a madhab the teacher does not impart to the student knowledge of the madhab, rather in each issue he tells the student:  ‘The strongest opinion in this issue is such and such’.  Thus according to this teaching method there is no difference between the teaching of the books of al-Shawkani and books of the madhabs.

iii) That the teacher of the madhab work possesses no expertise in fiqh, nor has he studied the madhab which he is attempting to teach.  He is not fully qualified to teach and therefore many of the legal issues are difficult for him to decipher much less the students.  How can the students understand the legal issues if the teacher himself does not?

iv) Each of the four madhabs includes principles (usul) branches (furu) and maxims (qawaid).  A mistake is to mix between these three area’s for the student.  For example the student is taught fiqh according to a madhab, usul according to another madhab, and qawaid according to yet another, or not according to a madhab at all.

2 thoughts on “Contemporary Chaos In The Study Of Fiqh”

  1. Salaam

    I appreciate your diagnosis of this particular strain within ‘contemporary fiqh’. I hope I can take this opportunity to mention some broader concerns.

    [Note: I use the term Wahhabi to refer to a certain doctrinal deviance, while using the word salafi for a deviance in the application of fiqh]

    Firstly, your opening remarks show a clear move on the part of certain “Wahhabi-salafi’s” to re-invent themselves in public opinion. It is the same underlying methodology but with an improved PR campaign – al-maghrib institute is a case in point. So while the saudi fitna has cooled slightly over the years, there is still reason to be cautious.

    A more important point for me is the following. Shaykh Nuh once mentioned along the lines, that while Wahhabism will die out and can be warded off through the simple process of good education, there are deeper crisis’ which are slowly but surely forming the bedrock of the theological dilemmas that are set afflict our coming generations – radical Wahhabism isn’t it. Shaykh Nuh’s example was of Islamic Modernism, and my personal survey of the Muslim internet intellegensia along with their real-world counterparts has lead me to the same conclusion.

    Before giving examples, I would like to draw out one subtlety that is sometimes overlooked. The maxim, as i see it, is that you may see two separate accounts of theological heterodoxy which while on the surface appear to be at opposite corners of the spectrum; nonetheless, the underlying motivations are one and the same. Thus while most people would think that Wahhabism is a polar antithesis to ‘Islamic modernism/feminism/democratisation etc’, the motivations are one and the same – namely, a recourse to abandoning or mutating the structure of codified Law.

    This leads me to my central concern in all this. The approach to Shariah which I find most worrying is not that of the Wahhabi’s or modern secualrists who on the basis of their staunch theological differences are noticeably removed and distinct from the Islamic mainstream. It is the pseudo-sunni salafism that is gaining sway amongst the masses. I would mention as an example, two contemporary scholars: al-Qaradawi and bin Bayyah. In essence, their approach is little different from that of the late bin Baz or al-Uthaymeen, in that they see fit to contravene established juristic norms, take fatwas from a broad resource base which exceeds even the dhahiri or shawkanian influences and dissolves into taking direct fatwas attributed to any mujtahid in the past. The danger is deeper here because many people see these scholars as representative or at least included within the framework of orthodox methodology. These scholars are also more apt in making use of sunni qawaid and usul and present their arguments not as emotive calls to a return to the past (Qur’an and Hadith sloganism) but as a reasoned call to a ‘correct and mature’ application of orthodox usul. The conservative madhab-bound scholars are deemed as being unaware of the reality, lost in the past, and intellectually small sighted etc.

    Personally, the irony of these slurs against the ulema has not been lost on me; I have found the proponents of this very type of reform or re-application, to fall in the slight but very dangerous gap that exists between something being not understood and its being well understood. That is to say that things are poorly, incompletely or partially understood. The refocussing of fiqh towards a broad ‘Maqasid’ which transcends the individual madhabs and similar principles, without the preliminary paradigmatic analysis that we find introduced in the works of thinkers like al-Attas is only going to perpetuate our stumbling to meet the challenges we face. You would assume that practitioners of law who wish to emphasise on the importance of knowing ‘the reality’ would take the time to define, critique and employ the conceptual framework that underpins that analysis: i.e social theory, feminist theory, post-colonial theory, philosophy of economics and science, new trends in historiography and text criticism etc etc. I don’t find any indication of these types of considerations in the strange contra-madhab fatwas that are coming out on mortgages, finance and gender interactions.

    I pray that we can meet the challenges of the age; I pray that Allah subhaana wa ta’ala allows us to see things as they are in reality and for us to have the energy and commitment to act accordingly.

    Wallahu a’alum

  2. assalamu `alaykum

    I dont think I have witnessed misinformation at the level of what was stated in point 3 above. Shaykh Nuh’s camp have no demand for the shari`ah at the “personal” level? I will assume the person typing these comments was in a daze at the moment he did so, which fogged his opinion, an opinion built on…

    Let it be made clear, having lived and studied in Jordan for two years now, as well as seeing dozens of Shaykh Nuh’s students, the above comment could only have come from someone utterly unaware of the Shaykh, his teachings, and his students. Being obliged to keep a written record of every instance one backbites, lies, tale bears, speaks about evil without need, shows off, boasts, and praying two cycles of salat al-tawba when such an occurrence takes place, coupled with being obliged to make up every prayer one missed in one’s life – with a stipulation of 4 days worth of make-ups a day -, paying back all of one’s loans before progressing on the spiritual path, not missing any prayer outside its time, reciting the daily prescribed litanies, reading a portion (juz) of the Qur’an daily, going to the mosque five times a day for one close to it, the requirement to study some Arabic and Fiqh, having an income to support one’s family, etc etc is certainly being concerned about implementing the shari`ah in one’s “personal” life.

    Not only that, but Shaykh Nuh has spoken out against modernistic tendencies, of making the religion “flower power” that can change at whim, numerous times, and constantly stresses tradition and the past. The perfection of the Ummah is in the past, not the future or the present.

    As for Shaykh `Abdullah Bin Bayyah and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf: They are great scholars, and, as is said, the mistakes of the greatest are the greatest of mistakes. So, the initial poster was spot on in his analysis, and it is precisely Shaykh Bin Bayyah’s being an Ash`ari who is specialized in a valid school of thought that makes the issue much more complicated. Whereas an outright secular or extremist Wahabi may not have the added element of being accepted within the mainstream, Shaykh Bin Bayyah does, which means he is looked up to as an authority. which further entails that this maqasid based approach will be latched onto by the masses due to their deeming of the individuals promoting it as “mainstream”.

    As alluded in the initial post, one only needs to look at the fatwas relating to gender interactions, mortgages, finance, and the like to see who is taking on this “modernist” tinge.

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