Usul al-Fiqh Series: Part I
Primer in Conceptualizing Usul al-Fiqh
The following series is intended to introduce usul al-fiqh in a systematic manner. In this section, we will introduce some key concepts that outline briefly what usul al-fiqh is about, what is beneficial about this science, and why it is important.
Defining and Describing Usul al-Fiqh
Usul al-fiqh is the body of knowledge which clarifies the various research methods and principles that aid us in understanding the Qur’an and Sunnah and it shows us how to derive benefit from them.
Secondly, usul al-fiqh outlines for us what is a proof in the Shar’iah, why it is considered a proof and how to understand how to properly work with proofs especially when they are unclear in meaning and or when they appear to contradict each other.
Thirdly, it teaches us the appropriate means by which we can derive rulings from the Qur’an and Sunnah – rulings that guide human action by determining if an act is:
- Prohibited (haram)
- Disliked (makruh)
- Obligatory (wajib)
- Recommended (mandub, mustahab)
- Permissable (mubah)
Fourthly, usul al-fiqh outlines for us the rules that govern the patterned way the Arabic language works in the Qur’an and the Sunnah so that we know what is being communicated to us and we understand how to properly interpret them based on linguistic or textual evidence.
The process of understanding the primary sources and extracting from them guidance and ruling in a systematic manner is called ijtihad (independent research).
Benefits of Usul al-Fiqh
Usul al-fiqh gives us a research framework for understanding the language of the Qur’an and Sunnah and how to use the various types of evidences in a manner in which they serve as a guide to our Islamic practices and belief. By understanding usul al-fiqh as a research methodology, we also come to understand how scholars construct their positions through the use of evidences found in the Arabic language or in the Qur’an and Sunnah.
Through usul al-fiqh, we also learn that positions that are not constructed by referring to the principles and means found in the sciences are positions which are not considered acceptable to follow, because they are constructed and concluded without properly attending to acceptable research methodology and therefore have no binding authority. Authoritative positions in Islam are only concluded and constructed by way of proper research techniques. These techniques guide research by outlining what constitutes a source for research and what principles are to be used to understand that source. Furthermore, the techniques emphasize how, when, and why a rule is derived from that source under research and what qualifications must he or she possess as a researcher in order to qualify for such an undertaking.
Goal of Usul al-Fiqh
Usul al-fiqh helps us to develop the proper research skills and mental frame that allow us to have a systematic understanding (research method) necessary to properly comprehend the Qur’an and Sunnah. It supplies us with the necessary tools for engaging in ijtihad and developing not only legal minds and juristic capacity, but the mind capable of properly interpreting the source texts of Islam and applying them to life. In short, the goal of usul al-fiqh is ijtihad (independent reasoning, research).
Framing Usul al-Fiqh: Three Primary Concerns of the Science
There are 3 key areas of study in the science of usul al-fiqh:
These key areas of study are focused studies, which clarify the following themes.
Qualities of the Mujtahid:
By understanding these criteria we understand who is skilled and qualified in matters of scholarship versus who is not. The person not skilled in and qualified to practice ijtihad is known in usul al-fiqh literature as a muqalid. The muqalid is a person not qualified to engage in independent investigation because he lacks the qualifications, meaning that he has not mastered the principles of research methodology. Consequently, this category of persons is obligated to follow the research of those who are qualified to research, but he is encouraged to make an effort to learn and understand with time and gradually how scholars come to conclusions and the reasoning governing their positions.
The Arabic language is governed by usages and patterns. Upon understanding these, it is possible to conclude what is being indicated by a particular pattern. For simplicity’s sake, we only refer to those indications which tell us if a ruling is a command to do something or not do something, or if the pattern only recommends to do or not to do an action, or just leaves the matter up to decision. There are other patterns found in the Arabic language that refer to understanding if a matter is general or specific, but we will suffice with mentioning that the language is governed by patterns which must be understood in order to conclude their meaning.
Rules for Dealing with Proofs:
In usul al-fiqh we also learn how to weigh, rank and distinguish between proofs by determining their strength and relationship to other proofs and principles. When an apparent conflict arises among these proofs, the scholar must understand how to reconcile these proofs. Upon determining that the proofs cannot be reconciled after thorough and long investigation, it may be determined that one of the two proofs is to be abrogated. The rules governing the process of ranking, reconciliation, and abrogation when working with evidences are a major concern of usul al-fiqh and this is an area wherein only the most skilled of scholarship can maneuver and show itself.
- What is the goal of usul al-fiqh?
- Why is usul al-fiqh important?
- What are the 3 main areas of study in usul al-fiqh?
- Why is it proper to have methodology in understanding the Qur’an and Sunnah?
- Who is the person that can independently research the Qur’an and Sunnah?
- Can a person research the Qur’an and Sunnah without understanding the criteria that determines research and the researcher?