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    by Young Muslims UK

    The Shahada. Seven words that changed the world in less than twenty-five years. It was the inspiration for reflecting into the signs of the Creator, when He (swt) said: "We will show them Our signs on the horizons and in themselves, and they will recognize them to be Truth" [Qur'an 41:53]

    What happens when - absent an Islamic structure - the scholars are unable to relate Shari'ah as the motivation for continuous learning and exploration, as "the cure for what is in the hearts and a mercy for believers" [Qur'an 17:83] ?

    This question was asked by Imam Juwayni (478 AH) in Ghiyathul Umam. He addressed the necessity for public awareness of the characteristics of Shari'ah. By the grace of Allah, this is an effort to bring a few characteristics of Shari'ah from the perspective of Islam's divine guidance as an ideal faith. We would endeavor to present its various characteristics not only from the sources of Shari'ah (the Qur'an and Sunnah), but also by contrasting it with the extremism and failures of human whim and individualistic judgment. This effort is not worthy of being mentioned with the great names it quotes, and is only attempting to relate their teachings to the reader of English.

    The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: "May Allah bless whoever hears my words and relates them as he understands them. Perhaps one would carry fiqh (understanding of the Deen) and be not a faqeeh. And perhaps one would carry fiqh to someone who exceeds him in it". Indeed, all glory belongs to Allah.

    Methodology and Definitions

    This effort revolves around three issues: Faith as identity, the timeless, eternal applicability of Shari'ah, and the spiritual awareness needed in the process of exploring its characteristics. Dates are related to give the reader a sense of the continuity of Islamic scholarly tradition through the ages and to place the element of thought in its proper socio-political historical context. We would also attempt to relate the human dimension of Shari'ah by relating the stories and wit of its carriers (the Sahaba and the early scholars) not as legends, but real people with hopes, dreams and families to feed.

    Constructive Knowledge

    It is by virtue of knowledge that Allah has elevated the human above the ranks of the angels when He said: "and He taught Adam all names" [2:31]. Allah (swt) also said to His Messenger (saw): "Know that there is no god but Allah." [47:19].

    The Prophet Muhammad (saw) said: "The best deen is to fear what might hurt you in the akhira (hereafter)". Al-Hafith ibn 'Abd al-Birr (463 AH) in Jami Bayan al-'Ilm categorized "knowledge incumbent upon a Muslim," into four areas: "to know your Lord", "to know yourself through what He (swt) intended for you" (this is through the message of the Prophet), "to know what He requires of you" (that is His injunctions and prohibitions) and "to know how to repent to Him from your faults."

    In Minhaj al-Abideen, Imam Ghazali (505 AH) says that incumbent knowledge is "that which one does not feel safe from demise through his ignorance regarding it - particularly in matters of 'aqeeda". According to the author of Miftah al-Jannah, all sciences of the deen (Shari'ah) and its means are based on the explanation of the honorable word of tawheed. These sciences illustrate what duties La Ilaha Ill Allah makes incumbent in matters of worship and worldly dealings - through conviction, word and deed.

    Shari'ah emphasizes what is constructive of knowledge to bring us closer in sincerity to Allah. He (swt) said: "Say: I do not seek any reward from you, nor am I pretentious" [38:86]. This is why the Sahaba (ra) warned their students about complex philosophical questions that do not lead to action and upon which no injunction (takleef) would be based. 'Umar (ra) ibn al-Khattab (23 AH) said: "If a matter is to be, Allah will facilitate for you its attainment." Thus, intellectual capacity in the Islamic discipline, according to Abu Bakr al-Baqallani (403 AH), is to "understand what is required (wajibat), to know what is impossible (mustaheelat) and to realize universal divine laws that govern all existence (majari al-'adat)".

    The Messenger said: "There will come a time upon people where scholars (fuqaha) will be few and orators would be many. Few can quench people's abundant search for knowledge. At that time, knowledge is better than action." This is a warning against action without proper knowledge - and not a call to knowledge without action. This may also be explained further by the hadith on the authority of Anas (ra) ibn Malik (93 AH) who said:

    "A man came to the Prophet and asked him about the best knowledge. The Messenger replied that it was 'knowledge of Allah'. The man then asked about the best action, and the Prophet said it was 'knowledge of Allah'. Upon wondering about the identical reply, Prophet explained to the man: 'Little action is beneficial with knowledge while ample action is not beneficial with ignorance' ".

    In this regard Hasan al-Basri (110 AH) explained the du'a in the verse 2:201 "Our Lord grant us good in this life" as knowledge and worship, and "good in the Hereafter" as paradise. The Prophet constantly sought refuge in "knowledge that does not benefit its bearer".

    Imam Awza'i (157 AH) described knowledge ('ilm) saying: "It is what is transmitted by the companions of the Prophet. What is not transmitted on their authority is not knowledge. You should only mention them [the sahaba] and anyone from your Ummah kindly. And if you hear someone criticize another, he is in essence saying, 'I am better than him' ". When Ata' replied to a question, the questioner asked, "Is this answer opinion (raiy) or knowledge ('ilm)?" And Ata, the Imam of tabi'een in Mecca said, "We heard from so and so that he heard the Prophet say...".

    Conversely, supreme ignorance, as described in the Qur'an, is moving away from, or denying one's inherent humanity (fitra) - for there "is no way to alter Allah's creation" [30:30]. Ali (ra) ibn Abu Talib (40 AH) said: "He who does not respect his limitations will break down. He who seeks to penetrate complexity will drown. He who is impressed with his own opinion will go astray. He who feels self-sufficient with his intellect will fall. And he who is lead by ignorance finds the path of injustice". What greater injustice is there than dividing our Ummah based on ignorance, or selfish opinion toward any material gain?

    Imam Shatibi related in al-I'tisam that 'Abdullah ibn Abbas (ra) explained the reason for difference among the Ummah, though our Messenger is one, our book is one, and our qibla is one. He said: "When a verse was revealed, we (the Sahaba) knew when it was revealed, why it was revealed and we understood its injunctions and prohibitions. There will come a time when people would read a verse and they do not understand its language [Arabic]. They do not know when it was revealed or why it was revealed, and they understand neither its injunctions nor its prohibitions. When asked about it, they will state their own opinions and their opinions will clash. And when their opinions clash they will fight among each other."

    As Imam Ghazali relates, divine guidance is one and does not divide people. Any difference which generates divisiveness or bickering is not in the spirit of Shari'ah and has its roots in ignorance. Positive 'difference' is that which encourages growth in the service of Shari'ah. When Imam Ahmad (241 AH) was asked about a book that one of his students had entitled 'The Book of Diversity (ikhtilaf) among Scholars' he said call it 'The Book of Sunnah' !

    Imam ibn al-Qayyim (751 AH) in 'Ilam al-Muwaqi'een relates numerous incidents where the Sahaba (ra) had to exercise their understanding of established principles within the changing context of human experience. Thus, the established aims (maqaasid) and principles (usul) of Shari'ah are eternal. Different opinions about ancillary, side issues were never considered differences by the Sahaba (ra), but rather a manifestation of the richness and timeless applicability of Shari'ah.

    (courtesy of

    "I put my trust in Allah, my Lord and your Lord! There is not a moving creature, but He has a grasp of its forelock. Verily, my Lord is on the straight path. (The truth)"

    "...Indeed my prayer, my sacrifice, my living and my dying are for Allaah, the Lord of the worlds" (6:162)