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Aqeedah and Fiqh

We Hear and We Obey

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We know the ideal. When we encounter the statements of Allah and His messenger, we hear and we obey. But in a splintered ummah, in a world of competing sects, with Islamic authority contested at every turn, the ideal is hard to achieve. Even in areas of creed, we encounter widely varying views, all of which claim authority from the Quran and Sunnah. And far more contested than the core matters of faith, when it comes to implementing Islam in our present world, applying the texts to unprecedented realities, we common Muslims find ourselves utterly confused. Instead of hearing and obeying, we listen….then listen some more…then cautiously act…while remaining skeptical.

The Muslim layperson employs several strategies in navigating the seas of Islamic authority, some of which I will highlight here.

The red flag / green light approach: With this strategy, the Muslim focuses on a set of issues or concerns about which he feels fairly certain, using them as a litmus test for individual sheikhs. Perhaps he feels confident that the prohibition of usury applies to mortgages. Any sheikh who allows mortgages gets a red flag. Or the Muslim feels that America is the best place for him to practice his deen. A sheikh who affirms this position get a green light. In my view, this is probably one of the most common strategies employed by the Muslim layperson. Critics will say that it only amounts to following one’s desires, which is unfair. A Muslim may arrive at a position based on deep personal experience or extensive research. However, if he is wrong, this strategy will doom him to follow only those who affirm his incorrect position.

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The charisma approach: With this strategy, a Muslim follows the sheikh whose charisma effectively overpowers doubt. The burden of ignorance for this Muslim becomes too much to bear, and he wants easy answers. He wants a complete package, delivered in a few succinct lectures. This phenomenon is not limited to one school of thought. Ultimately, the charisma high starts to fade and the old doubts emerge. This can lead to a serious crisis in faith. And those sheikhs who accept or even encourage this brand of adulation deserve serious scrutiny. If the charismatic sheikh’s errors ever become apparent to his devotee, faith will plummet.

The culture approach: A Muslim must distinguish between culture and deen, and leave those aspects of the former that conflict with the latter. However, this can be a traumatic and unsettling experience. Converts often face a kind of cultural violence, and end up feeling that Islam requires a total negation of their identity. When the burden becomes excessive, or one realizes the lack of cultural self-scrutiny among other Muslims, the convert scurries back to the warm embrace of culture. For other Muslims, culture and deen are one, and they never bother to assess their compatibility. In such cases, the culture sheikhs hold sway. Cultural distinctiveness can be a wonderful asset for our communities, but the potential costs are obvious–stagnation and fragmentation.

The taqleed (blind following) of a madhhab or manhaj approach–This topic is too much for me to handle…but it’s safe to say that culture and charisma often play more of a role in this approach than most are willing to admit.

The desires approach–This is iman on life support. After the roller-coaster of zeal, extremism, adherence to one school of thought, and then another, the Muslim commits to the basic acts of ibadah, and then lets desires reign in the rest of life. The sheikh of the desires approach is one’s blameworthy self. This may seem like a path of stability and sanity, but it is a downward spiral. As sins stain the person’s heart–and the “desires approach” always involves sins–the ultimate result is weaker faith and often apostasy.

This is our condition. May Allah grant us the knowledge to hear and obey as we should.

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Musa Maguire is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and accepted Islam after graduating from college. In 2004-2005, he received a Fulbright grant to study in Egypt, and then spent the following year working at Huda TV, an English-language Islamic satellite channel that broadcasts from Cairo.

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. iMuslim

    April 11, 2007 at 8:02 AM

    Assalamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah

    I agree with your analysis, but not sure where i fit into it.. a’authobillah, perhaps dangerously close to the last one?

    The first step in fixing a problem is knowing that there is one; now we must work towards a solution(s). Do you have any insights about how this should be done?

    Wa’salam

  2. Hassan

    April 11, 2007 at 9:56 AM

    What would be a right approach?

  3. Shahzad

    April 11, 2007 at 10:12 AM

    Bismillah, Assalamu ‘alaikum.

    On a somewhat related topic, one of our teachers recently discussed the various approaches that people use to determine which opinion to follow. Each of these approaches has textual evidence to justify it’s use:

    1. Majority (jamhoor) opinion: Follow the ruling agreed upon by the majority of scholars.

    2. Safest opinion: Example, there is difference of opinion of whether or not sleep invalidates wudu, but the careful Muslim will follow the safest way, which is to do wudu after sleep.

    3. Easiest opinion: When there are two opinions, some Muslims will follow the easiest one.

    4. Maddhab Fiqqhiyya: Stick to a specific maddhab

    5. Ar-Raajih (Most preferred opinion): Some scholars will compare various opionions and choose the one that is the strongest.

    6. Follow a local sheikh who is trusted in knowledge and taqwa

    7. Comparative Fiqh approach (fiqh maqaarib): Become a student of knowledge or stick to those teachers who study all opionions and present the evidences. Basically go where the evidence takes you while being tolerent of other opinions that have evidence for them, even if they be weaker. I believe this latter approach is most satisfying since we learn the breadth of Islamic rulings but still adopt the ruling that has the strongest evidence. A good book that uses this approach is Sh. Sayyid Sabiq’s Fiqh us Sunnah. I have no problem sitting with a Hanafi, Shaa’fi’, Maaliki or Hanbali. Or for that matter, sitting with a Salafi or Sufi. Becoming a student of knowledge allows us to develop an “Islamic thick skin” so when I sit with someone, I try to understand his proofs, and methodology for using those proofs. And I try to differentiate between the personal opinion of a teacher versus what can be substantiated by evidence.

    And Allah knows best.

  4. Manas Shaikh

    April 11, 2007 at 1:38 PM

    Probably I fit into the first catagory (or the last? astaghfirullah!). May He save me from following errors!

    Allahu alim.

  5. Pingback: Different Approaches to Islam at Ijtema

  6. Bint Amina

    April 11, 2007 at 4:28 PM

    Wallahu ‘alam, I fear the concept of Sami’na wa Ata’na [Hear and Obey] has left many of us. SubhaanAllah, it seems we are more inclined to hear, question and forget – perhaps never even implementing the ‘ilm or the rulings which have been bestowed upon us. SubhaanAllah, how great our Ummah would be if we took from the mannerisms of Abu Bakr As Siddiq [radiallahu ‘anhu]. Upon hearing of the Prophet’s [sallalahu ‘alayhi wasallam] night journey, while others disbelieved, Abu Bakr immediately displayed his confidence in the trustworthiness of the Prophet [sallahu ‘alayhi wasallam] saying: “If he said it, then it is true.” MashaaAllah. Yet, even still, how many of us hear of a hadeeth and do not act upon it or learn that something is haraam and do not give it up? SubhaanAllah, how many of us are like this? Perhaps it is love of this world or the deception of the Shaytaan, for surely, if we had the akhirah in our minds – at the forefront – we would not be in such a state.

    May Allah elevate us, allowing us to focus our attentions to the akhira as opposed to the dunya life which is but a fleeting moment, a passing enjoyment.

  7. Shahzad

    April 11, 2007 at 6:09 PM

    Bismillah, Assalamu ‘alaikum,

    What is the actionable point here? The condition that Musa describes is not new, but has been there since the beginning of this ummah. Starting with the khawaarij, the contention between knowledge and ignorance has been and will always be part of the Islamic experience.

    I can see two actionable points here. Firstly, the commandment to seek knowledge started with the word iqra. The Prophet, peace be upon him, stated that seeking knowledge is compulsory on every Muslim. So making Islamic education available to our various communities is an important part of the solution.

    Secondly, a HUGE difference between the past and our current condition is leadership. A lack of strong Islamic leadership in our communities means that the effects of ignorance and deviation become more pronounced.

    It is virtually impossible to make all Muslims knowledgeable about the Deen. But a core group of knowledgeable Muslims who engage the community and provide leadership can make a difference. I remember the statement of ‘Uthman (ra), that the number of Muslims who came to Islam through the Quran were very few. The large number of them came to the Deen because of the power and prestige of Islam (see surah Nasr).

    and Allah knows best.

  8. Musa Maguire

    April 11, 2007 at 7:07 PM

    There is also the issue of information overload. We have access to every variety of scholarly opinion and sectarian position. In the West our communities often reflect the same blend. Without doubt, this is a unique and defining feature of our age.

  9. inexplicabletimelessness

    April 12, 2007 at 9:02 AM

    As salaamu alaikum:

    for related info, check out sheikh Yasir’s lecture called “The Role of Reason and Intellect in Islam”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixc3_Niv0WU

  10. Suhail

    April 12, 2007 at 5:59 PM

    Assalaamu Alykum,

    Shiekh ul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said that a layman had no madhab. This means that basically a person is on the madhab of the mufti he is following.

    As such a person like me and other common muslims dont have any knowledge of the madhab so sticking to it is baseless. Sticking to a madhab is for a student of knowledge who is studying usul al fiqh and learning that madhab.

    For a layman we just have to ask a mufti about our doubts and obey it. As Allah said that if you dont know ask someone who is more knowledgable.

    So really sticking to a madhab is a moot point here.

    Yes samina wa aatana is right but when it is according to the quran and sunnah not just based on cultural notions which are widespread.

    Remember folks when Allah said that rule by his law then it is just not for the rulers but for the layman also. Our lives should be governed by the laws of Allah Subhanahuwa taala.

    Jazakallah Khair
    Suhail

  11. AnonyMouse

    April 12, 2007 at 6:14 PM

    As-salaamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatu,

    I dunno where I fit in… basically, what my family does is what my dad ascertains is the right opinion (which he does after comparing the opinions and seeing which one’s evidence is strongest). So that’s point 7 that brother Shahzad mentioned in his first post…

    Of course, not everyone can do that ‘cuz they don’t know how to tell if the evidence is strongest or not! Going to, or having gone to, an Islamic university (like my dad) helps a lot, though…

    -Mouse

  12. Abu Bakr

    April 12, 2007 at 8:05 PM

    I think the ideal balance for the non-scholar is to look for scholars whom he trusts but at the same time, don’t rent out your brain to someone else so that he can place whatever he likes inside it.

    it is exactly this approach to the religion that has allowed misconceptions and misguidance to become widespread. it is wajib on every muslim to read the Qur’an for himself… anyone who has truly done that with an open heart and mind would never dare to go fatwa shopping so as to justify his mortgage or anything else along those lines

  13. inexplicabletimelessness

    April 12, 2007 at 9:31 PM

    Wa alaikum as salaam

    For many of us here, it means comparing the fatwas between Islam-QA and Islamtoday. :D

    wAllahu a’alam.

  14. AnonyMouse

    April 12, 2007 at 11:34 PM

    LOL @ sis inexplicable!!! :D

  15. nuqtah

    April 14, 2007 at 12:04 AM

    What I don’t understand is, how do people asrtain which opinion is *strongest*, unless they are mujtahidun?

  16. Abul-Hussein

    April 14, 2007 at 11:28 PM

    AS

    It is nice to hear such honesty rarely is it brought forth and contributes to the problem. many people feel and or think like you akhi Musa. It becomes overwhelming to see the Muslims in the condition that we are in.

    We must say that “you must learn” –you have to study this is the only way out of this intellectual chaos. First, focus on a diet of the Qur’an and a small does of hadith like 40 hadith. Keep it simple. Any book in fiqh at a basic level is ok dont get into the politics of it all.

    Then while studying get familiar with the objectives of the Shariah there is a lecture online somewhere on this topic. With the objective of the Shariah you train your mind to judge matters at least in a decent way that in rooted in Shariah. {maqasid ash-shariah}

    Focus on a curriculum and study hard and ask Allah {swt} to help us all.

    If you trust me and need help or want to help me email me I am at your service.

    Always search for what is agreed upon before what is disagreed upon. Because we have little access to Ulema in the West you have to do for yourself and that means study and search for your knowledge.

    AS

    Abul-Hussein
    Shaukani.Wordpress

  17. Pingback: Open Thread Sunday 6-22-08 | MuslimMatters.org

  18. Fathima nazhath

    September 19, 2015 at 3:17 AM

    I need a best bayans an hadees to my email

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