A Brief Look At The Senses Of Literacy In The History Of Islamic Legislation

In the era of the Companions (sahaba) the learned were termed “Qur’aa” -the literate ones. In a later phase, in the history of Islamic legislation, the terms Ulema and Fuqaha appeared. These were terms that denoted a class possessed of technical knowledge. After this age emerged the age of taqlid and then a period of stagnation. Literacy, as a notion and concept, one can gather from a thorough read of the history of Islamic legislation, took on a series of senses with the progress of the history of Islamic fiqh.

When we trace the senses of literacy we see that literacy initially denoted none other than understanding the Book and the Sunnah. With the maturation of Caliphate, literacy as a meaningful notion was expanded to include knowledge of the fatwa of the leading companions (r ) Abu Bakr and Umar. In this early period consensus (ijma) of the companions (r ) emerged as a source.

Literacy in the time of the followers of the companions denoted knowledge of the Book and Sunnah and the fiqh of the companions. Then the sense of literacy was transformed and intended knowledge of fiqh according to the Imams of the madhabs. With time literacy was restricted to knowledge of the fiqh of the four madhabs.

A major transformation took place in the notion of literacy after the period of the Mujtahid Imams of the Four schools it meant knowledge of fiqh according to the scholars of the four madhabs. Eventually literacy was restricted to a cultural understanding of practice until today when the attempt the recapture literacy in the Ummah has meant a return to various senses of literacy as understood in the early phases of the history of Islamic legislations. Today literacy means knowledge of the Book and Sunnah and the fiqh of the Companions (r) and knowledge of the madhabs.


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In The Month Of Shaban Coming Upon Ramadan

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1 Comment

  1. Asad says:

    I wonder what percentage of the Muslim Ummah today would qualify as literate in Islam, according to the original standard, meaning having an understanding of the Quran and Sunnah.

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