Guidelines For Seeking Religious Rulings


By The Egyptian House of Fatwa

All praise is due to Allah alone, may the peace and blessing of Allah be upon the final messenger, our master Muhammad the Messenger of Allah; his family, companions and whoever follows him in an excellent manner until the last day.

The Post of Mufti

The issuing of religious verdicts is an honorable position and lofty post. The mufti stands before the Muslim community in the place of the Prophet [God’s peace and blessings be upon him]; acting as his delegate in disseminating religious rulings.1

Imam al-Nawwawi [Allah’s mercy be upon him] said, “Know that issuing of religious verdicts is a grand function, a great position and profuse with blessings. This is because the dispenser of religious verdicts is the inheritor of the Prophets,2 may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon them all; fulfilling a communal obligation.3 However, he is prone to error. And for that reason it is said, “The dispenser of religious verdicts speaks on behalf of Allah.” 4

The following etiquette must be tended to by the Muslim who seeks religious guidance:

1. Seeking the Qualified in Religious Affairs

Do not seek religious verdicts unless you do so from one who is qualified. Your religion is the greatest trust which Allah charged you with, and just as you would tend to your illness by seeking a highly qualified specialist, you should do the same when it comes to setting your religious affairs aright. In fact, your religion has a greater right to be tended to.

The Qur’an states:

“Indeed Allah has ordered you to place your trust in those who are qualified.” (Surah 4, verse 58)

And,

“Ask those who know if you do not know.” (Surah 16, verse 43)

2. The Difference between Religiosity and Academic Rigor

Do not be deceived by anyone’s appearance or their notoriety which encourages you to seek religious edicts from them. Fame and prestige amongst the masses are not regarded, and it is possible that their origin is based in trickery and fraudulence. There lies a difference between academic rigor and religiosity, between sparse religious knowledge and being able to deliver religious verdicts, between a teller of motivational stories and one who is able to teach the people with his speeches based on sound knowledge and understanding.

This religion is a discipline like any other discipline. It has its sources, methodologies and fundamentals which require specialization and dedication of one’s time and effort. As for religiosity, then it is related to one’s behavior. It appears on a person and it does not require scholarship or even study! Remember always the statement of Ibn Sirin, “This knowledge is religion! So be cautious with who you take your religion from.”

Once a man came to Rabi’a al-Ray’i, the teacher of Imam Malik, and he found him crying. He said to him, “Why are you crying? Have you been afflicted with some trial?” Rabi’a responded, “No! Religious edicts are sought from those who have no knowledge and [due to that] a grave matter has appeared in this religion.” We say today, as Ibn al-Salah said many years ago, “May Allah grant mercy to Rabi’a. How would it be if he were to witness our state of affairs? There is no power, nor might except by the will of Allah! Allah is sufficient for us and the best of protectors!”

3. The Difference between Literacy and Scholarship

Just because something is found in books or the internet does not mean it is acceptable to use for religious verdicts because events and customs fluctuate. The scholars have clearly stated that “A fatwa can change according to time, place, people and circumstances.”5 For example, it would not be acceptable to issue a religious ruling pertaining to oaths and vows, the proclamation of divorce or confessions and other similar issues linked to the language of a people unless the scholar was well versed in their synonyms and cultural usage within a given context.

Just as it is inappropriate to act on any piece of information, it is not acceptable to implement every statement of the scholars of Islamic law. Scholars, throughout the ages, rose to address the obligation of their time utilizing what they inherited from the tradition; grasping it in light of their circumstances, exemplary in their application of religious rulings and insuring that they agreed with the intent of Islamic law. It is that process which is an obligation upon us today.

There is a difference between gaining knowledge of Islamic due to reading or through a cultural process, spreading that information and qualified scholarship. The former is not equal to issuing a religious ruling. The latter comprises relating religious information, explaining its meaning to others and knowing how to apply the ruling of Allah according to the circumstances. This demands research; insuring that the objectives of Shari’ah are honored while honoring what is beneficial for the people.6

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1 “The dispenser of religious verdicts stands before the Muslim community in the place of the Prophet.” See al-Muwafaqat of Imam al-Shatibi vol. 4 pg. 244

2 The Prophetic tradition, “Indeed, the scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets. The Prophets did not bequeath any gold or silver currency. Instead, what they left was knowledge. Thus, whoever takes it, has taken a complete share.” This hadith was related by Abu Dawud vol. 10 pg. 47 hadith number 3157 and al-Tirmidhi Vol. 9 Pg. 296 hadith number 2606. It makes up part of a longer hadn’t whose authenticity is disputed, however, the narration of Ibn Majah is authentic. Note: the scholars stated that the statement “gold or silver currency” is a figurative statement encompassing all material possessions.

3 Al-Faruq Imam Shihab al-Din al-Qarafi vol. 4 pg. 89

4 Al-Majmo’u by Imam al-Nawwawi vol. 1 pg. 40

5 See ‘Ilam al-Muwqq’in ‘an Rab al-‘Alamin vol. 3 pg. 149

6 See Qawa’id al-Ahkam fi Masalih al-Anam vol. 1 pg. 50, Kashful al-Asrar vol. 7 pg. 6, al-taqrir wa al-tahbir vol. 4 pg. 220, Sharh Kawaqib al-Munir vol. 2 pg. 405

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4 Comments

  1. Ghalib ayoakin Akinlabi says:

    Please, I’ll like to get in touch with Imam Shuaib Webb again. I met him around 2002/ 2003 while I was a visiting scholar in Berkeley. Most importantly I’ll like him to visit Nigeria as he is currently in Africa in an all expenses paid trip.
    Jazakumu llahu khaerun

  2. KR says:

    As salaamu alaikum,

    So what are the credentials for an Islamic Scholar? Who determines who is a scholar? Does one have to have an Islamic degree? Does one have to have ijaza to be legitimately called a scholar? Please reply and thanks.

  3. Ihsan says:

    Interesting anecdote on ijaza:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ijaza

  4. Ghalib ayoakin Akinlabi says:

    Assalamu alaekun,
    Please the imam should oblige us in Nigeria by coming for the convocation ceremony of the University of Benin, coming up on the 21st of November. We will be commissioning our new mosque on that day. The mosque was built jointly by Abdul Hakeem Olajuwon and SULTAN OF SOKOTO. The Sultan is like the Amir of muslims in Nigeria and he his also the Chancellor of the University. He will be praying his jumat in the mosque on that day and we will like you to be the guest lecturer.

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