by Dr. Ali Abdul Jabbar al-Sururi | Translated by Suhaib Webb
This principle was mentioned by Ibn al-Qayyim and it lends to the notion of a step by step outlook and gradual approach in one’s practice of Islam. When a Muslim finds himself in a situation where he does not have the capacity to observe certain obligations, then, under such circumstances, the obligation is removed due to his inability to perform it.
‘On more than one occasion, God informed us that He “does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity” (2:286). And while ordering people to be dutiful to Him, he conditioned it to one’s ability saying, “So fear Allah as much as you are able…”’ (64:16).
These texts indicate that He does not obligate a person with what is beyond his scope. Thus, the scholar who struggles to clarify the correct ruling on a manner, whether he is an imam, ruler, or mufti, if he labors to formulate an opinion based on evidences then he has succeeded in being dutiful to God according to his ability, performed what God has obligated upon him, obeyed Him and is eligible for His generous bounties and favors.
The same applies to a disbeliever residing in the lands of the non-Muslims who received the message of Prophet ﷺ, recognized him as God’s messenger, believed in him ﷺ and the revelation that accompanied him. Such a person has been dutiful to God according to his ability just like Najashi and others. Najashi was not able to migrate to Muslim lands, or perform all of the rites of Islam or openly profess his faith because his conditions would not allow it, and there was no one there to teach him his faith. However, he was a believer in God from the people of Paradise just as the believing man (who hid his faith) from the people of Pharaoh, Pharaoh’s wife and Prophet Yusuf, God’s peace be upon him, when he lived in Egypt. At that time the people of Egypt were disbelievers and it was not possible for Prophet Yusuf to practice amongst them everything he knew about his faith. He invited them to recognize God’s oneness and believe, but they did not answer his call. God says in the Qur’an,
“And Joseph had already come to you before with clear proofs, but you remained in doubt of that which he brought to you, until when he died, you said, ‘Never will Allah send a messenger after him’…” (40:34).
Najashi’s case was similar. Even though he was the king of the Christians, only a few people obeyed his orders and accepted Islam while the majority refused. For that reason, when he died, there was no one there to pray the Muslim funeral prayer for him. Thus, the Prophet ﷺ performed his funeral prayer in Madina with his ﷺ companions – may Allah be pleased with them – announcing to them, “A righteous brother of yours from the people of Ethiopia has died.” (al-Bukhari and Muslim). Najashi was unable to perform most of the rites of Islam such as hijrah (migration), jihad (sacred combat) and hajj (pilgrimage), because they were simply beyond his capacity.’
In summary, there is no difference amongst the jurists that one who lives in the lands of the non-Muslims is not obligated to perform what he does not have the ability to do because obligations are based on ability.
Majmu` al-Fatwa, vol. 19, pg. 216-220.