The Top Six Mistakes in Usul (Part 3)


Made by Students, Regular Muslim Folks & Many in Between: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V Part VI

Mistake #4: “A daleel means a verse from the Qur’an or a hadith.” And, “If someone has daleel from the Qur’an and Sunnah for an issue, then there’s no room for differences of opinion.”

Here are some important points that must be understood before a person can competently discuss rulings of Shari’ah (Islamic law) and their respective daleels:

• A daleel may be something other than a verse from the Qur’an or a hadith (prophetic tradition).

The word daleel, often translated as proof or evidence, is defined in most books of Usul as an indication in the sources from which a practical ruling of Islamic law (hukm) can be deduced1 While the Qur’an and Sunnah are the primary and most essential sources from which rulings of Shari’ah are derived, other legitimate sources do exist.  Scholarly consensus (ijmaa’) and analogical reasoning (qiyas) are two of the most widely recognized sources after the Qur’an and Sunnah, while there are a number of others on which scholarly disagreement has existed historically, such as consideration of public interest (istislah), custom (‘urf), juristic preference (istihsan), and so on.  It is from this body of sources that a scholar does istinbaat, or their legal deduction, to come to a ruling on a matter in Shari’ah.  Therefore, the word daleel may be referring to verses from the Qur’an or hadiths, or to one of these other sources, depending on the issue in question.

• Citing a verse from the Qur’an or a hadith as a daleel for an opinion does not necessarily mean that it is the solitary, definitive opinion on the issue.

It is important to understand that while a verse from the Qur’an or a sound hadith may be definitive, absolute and decisive in its authenticity, it may only be probabilistic (dhanni) in its evidentiary nature in relation to a certain issue.  For example, the verse in the Qur’an that details the method of performing wudu (Qur’an 5:6) is one that, obviously, no Muslim would question as being Divinely revealed, authentic and accurate.  However, because of the verse’s wording, variant legal opinions can legitimately be derived from it.  For this reason we find some scholars stating that it is obligatory to perform the steps of wudu in the order mentioned in the text, while others say that it is in fact not an obligation – both using this same exact verse as their daleel.2 Most texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah are open to multiple interpretations in this way.  From this we can come to understand that when a Qur’anic verse or a hadith is used as a daleel for a particular opinion, that does not necessarily work to negate the other opinions on the same issue.

In the instances in which a Qur’anic verse or sound hadith is phrased in such a way that only one possible interpretation can be understood from it, then such a ruling would be considered authoritative and decisive.  However, in most cases, especially in relation to the issues we often find under discussion and debate in our communities, citing a verse from the Qur’an or a hadith as a daleel does not necessarily close the door on differences of opinion, as the same text can be interpreted in different ways by different scholars.

It may also be the case that a hadith that is cited as daleel for an opinion may not be definitive (qat’i) in its authenticity, such as those that are classified as aahad.3  In fact, as is implied by the name itself (aahad being the plural of ahad), what is intended here is any hadith that does not have the type or number of chains necessary to fulfill the requirements of tawattur, though they may be many in number. In such a scenario scholars may look at other sources and texts and weigh them more heavily in their analysis of the issue, and come to a conclusion that may seem to overlook or even contradict the hadith in question.  In this instance, such a hadith as a daleel would not make a ruling absolute or decisive, and would again leave room for other opinions to exist with their respective daleel.

• Extrapolating rulings from sacred texts is a complex process that requires knowledge and training.

It is further important to realize that though a Qur’anic verse or a hadith may seem clear and straight-forward in its meaning, we should not make the assumption that we can automatically derive legal rulings from it.  There are many factors that must be taken into consideration when determining such rulings.  When dealing with verses from the Qur’an, one must be well initiated into the various topics of ulum al-Quran (the sciences of the Qur’an) such as abrogation (naskh), specification of the text’s application by other verses or hadith (al-‘aam wal khaas), understanding it in light of other texts on the same subject or related subjects (istiqraa), and so on.  In terms of hadith, one must have some level of proficiency in the hadith sciences and the process of authentication.  In addition to this, one should have a level of mastery of the Arabic language in order to understand the linguistic implications of the grammar, word choice, etc. of the text in question, and a broader understanding of legal theory, which would include familiarity with the other legitimate sources from which the practical rules of Shari’ah can be derived, as well as other related Islamic sciences.

This is not to say that we cannot understand or benefit from the words of the Prophet (peace be upon him) or the Divine words of the Book of Allah.  However, this type of personal benefit is very different from the process of deducing rulings of Shari’ah, which we should defer to those with proper training and knowledge.  The seriousness of this enterprise is alluded to in the title of one of Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya’s most famous books, I’laam al-Muwaqi’een, literally ‘Informing the Signatories’, implying that scholars who work to derive such rulings are signatories on behalf of God.

When discussing differing opinions on an issue, we may hear some people say, “I don’t want to hear other people’s opinions, I only want to hear Qala Allah and Qala Rasulullah (“Allah said… and The Prophet said…”).  While this statement is well intended, it in many ways oversimplifies matters.  Unless a person is trained in the Islamic sciences in the aforementioned way, he or she may not fully understand what the verses and hadiths actually imply about the strength of the opinion in question.  Such a person may be requesting daleels while they do not have the proper grounding to actually analyze and draw conclusions from them properly.  This is why Imam Shatibi is reported to have said, “The legal opinions (fatawa) of qualified scholars work for laypeople in the way the proofs and evidences from the texts (the daleels) work for scholars!”4

There is nothing wrong with inquiring about the basis or method by which a scholar has reached a legal ruling on a matter.  What is intended here is that one should not presume that one could engage in the actual process of legal deduction on one’s own, as it is an intricate process that takes some expertise.  Our goal should be to gain literacy in the methodology of the scholars, such that we can recognize those who are qualified from those who are not, and distinguish between opinions that have been soundly deduced from those which are baseless.

Conclusion

We see from the above points that a daleel can in fact be something other than a verse from the Qur’an or a hadith, depending on the issue being discussed, and that even if it were a verse or a hadith, room for differing opinions would still exist in most cases.  We also come to understand that extrapolating rulings from the daleels is not a simple matter.  In the same way that a layperson may possess the same tools as an artist, and yet be unable to bring beauty to a canvas in the way an artist would, we may have certain texts at hand but be unable to deduce legal rulings from them justly.

May Allah Most High grant us appreciation for the artistry of our scholars, whose careful brushstrokes paint for us a picture of how to worship our Lord and practice our religion.  May He grant us understanding and insight into Islam and allow us to worship Him in the best and most beautiful of ways.  Ameen.

*Look out for the top three mistakes in the upcoming posts in this series, coming soon insha’Allah!

  1. Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence by Mohammad Hashim Kamali, p. 11.
  2. For an excellent detailed case study of this issue, see http://theiau.com/blog/arsalan-haque/comparative-studies-in-islamic-jurisprudence-%E2%80%93-part-2-of-4/
  3. The term aahad hadith is often mistranslated as ‘a solitary report’ or ‘a report in which there is only one chain of narration’.
  4. Al-Lamadhabiyya by Dr. Said Ramadan al-Bouti, p. 86. Dar al-Faraabi Publishers, Damascus, Syria.
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2 Comments

  1. searcher of Beauty says:

    Great read masha’Alah! I’ve really gained a lot from reading Khaled Abou El Fadl’s works written about this.

  2. salih says:

    MashaAllah! Mistake #4 is truly an issue for muslims in the West. My teacher told us that schools of thoughts are recognized by their usols. Also, he said that the problem for muslims in the West is not about the amount of information and authentic sources available, its about organizing these information. That being said, I hope someone will write a detail paper that lay out the differences of usols used by the four major schools of thoughts. Barakallahu Fik for such a beautiful work.

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