Hot Topics Islamic Law

The Top Six Mistakes in Usul

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

Out of all the Islamic subjects I’ve had the opportunity to explore in my time studying abroad, one of my favorites has been Usul al-Fiqh – the study of the methodology scholars employ to derive and extract rulings from Divine sources.  Instead of looking at the details of specific rulings, Usul al-Fiqh “zooms out” to study the entire process, and to note the underlying principles used by scholars to make judgments about religious issues.

I’ve often found that at times, people misinterpret, misunderstand, and draw incorrect conclusions about Islamic law and Islamic legal rulings, due to their lack of refined understanding about these important principles and concepts.   For this reason, I’d like to discuss six common mistakes people make related to the science of Usul al-Fiqh, and why understanding them correctly is important.

Mistake #6: “If I do something that is considered valid Islamically, it means that Allah accepts and loves that action.”

An act that is legally valid in Islam means that it fulfills all the external and internal requisites outlined by Shari`ah for it to have a legal ‘existence’. It is therefore effectual, binding and has legal consequences. This legal validity, however, does not guarantee that Allah will reward an individual for commission of that action, that He will accept it from them, or that He is pleased with them for performing it. Attaining Allah’s acceptance and pleasure is based on many more factors, including the person’s intention, his or her internal state when performing the action, and what means the individual used to accomplish it.

For example, a person may perform a prayer that is legally valid – fulfilling all of its prerequisites and external and internal components – yet, their intention while performing it is one of ostentation, their prayer is done in a completely absent-minded state, and they pray on land that had been illegally usurped and in clothes acquired in an impermissible way. While such a prayer may be technically valid, 1 we cannot say that it is something Allah will accept and love.  In truth, it may be that such an individual has actually accrued sin, and further distanced themself from Allah, all while performing a technically valid action.

Another example would be a man who marries a second wife in a manner that includes deception, dishonesty, and that greatly grieves the first wife and breaks the ties of love and loyalty between them. While he may staunchly defend his second marriage as one that is valid in Islamic law, its validity does not negate the improper conduct by which it was accomplished and the consequences of it, for which he will be held accountable. The marital contract may have been in line with the letter of the law, but the real meaning and spirit of the law – the objectives and goals of marriage as a place of mutuality, love, tranquility, and support for one another, as described in the Quran and in the manner of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ – has been left by the wayside.

Making sure our actions are correct and valid from a legal perspective is certainly very important, and is the first critical and essential step towards drawing close to Allah and attaining His pleasure. However, one must not stop there. We should also make sure that the act is done with sincerity and in a principled and ethical manner, which we learn from studying the Qur’an and the Sunnah in a holistic and thematic way.

We often find fatwas2 couched in the language of ‘validity’ and ‘invalidity’, and not necessarily delving into the morality of the act in question. This is because the fuqaha3 have historically been very focused on the legal ramifications and the worldly consequences of their rulings, which they were responsible for establishing and enacting. For example, does this act deserve the hadd4 punishment? Was this marriage conducted correctly, so that it has legal existence and the children from it rightfully inherit? Etc. This was and is the focus of the fuqaha, more so than on heavenly consequences, which is beyond their responsibility, and has to do with whether an action is moral, ethical, and pleasing to Allah.

As individual Muslims, who are striving to be believers, enter Paradise, and to make all of our actions from among those that Allah loves and accepts, we must think beyond the language of the legal jurists and remember the spiritual and ethical dimensions of the law, along with its letter. We should hold ourselves to a high and principled standard, in line with the Prophetic example, instead of seeking out loopholes in the law to excuse or justify immoral behavior by saying, “Well, my action is still valid!” Along with that, we must be cautious of falling into the mistake of overconfidence in our deeds, believing that Allah will automatically accept them because of the correctness of their outward form. It is only when that outward form is linked with the proper inner state that it moves from the realm of legal consequence to the meadows of Divine reception.

May Allah the Most High make us people who perform our deeds with sincerity, uprightness, and in line with the letter and the spirit of Divine teachings.  Ameen.

*Read about the next five mistakes in the rest of this series, to be published soon, insha’Allah.

  1. Such a prayer would be considered technically valid by the Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanafi schools.
  2. A fatwa is a religious ruling or verdict given by a qualified scholar.
  3. Plural of faqih. A faqih is a scholar who specializes in legal matters related to everyday practice of religion, and the details of acts of worship, family issues, marriage and business contracts, etc.  This is in contrast to other scholars who may specialize in theology, exegesis of the Quran, authentication of Prophetic narrations, and so on.
  4. A category of crimes that has specified punishments outlined in the Quran.

About the author

Shazia Ahmad

Shazia Ahmad

Shazia Ahmad was born and raised in upstate New York. She graduated from the State University of New York (SUNY) Albany with a Bachelors in Psychology and History. During her time in university, Shazia was involved in the Muslim Students’ Association, community and interfaith work, and a local radio show entitled ‘Window on Islam.’ She has studied with Dr. Mokhtar Maghraoui and is a long time contributor to and After graduating, Shazia spent two years in Syria, studying briefly at the University of Damascus and then at Abu Nour University where she completed an Arabic Studies program for foreigners (Ad-Dawraat) and a program in Islamic Studies (Ma’had at-Taheeli). She also studied in a number of private classes and attained her ijazah in Qur’anic recitation from the late Sh. Muhiyudin al-Kurdi (rahimahullah). While in Syria, Shazia composed a blog of her experiences entitled Damascus Dreams. She currently resides in Cairo, Egypt with her husband and one-year old son, and is seeking to further her education through private lessons and study. She currently blogs at Cairo Caprices.


  • That is a very important distinction between validity and soundness. My understanding of the Amman Message is that all 8 traditional madhabs are valid, meaning anyone who follows them is a Muslim protected from takfir, but this does not mean everything in every madhab is sound or correct. Not everything Sunnis do is part of the Sunnah, and not everything Salafis do is rooted in the practice of the Salaf, and not everything Sufis do is an authentic expression of Islamic spirituality, and not everything Shi’ites do would be approved by Ali (RAA). Allah knows best.

    Thanks for the article and I look forward to the next in the series.

  • For people like me whose knowlege of fiqh is very low, this is very informative and eye opening. Looking foward to the rest of the series.

  • Very good….but I would rather see this as a call to the fuqaha to exercise their authority to remedy situations where immorality has blatantly occurred, not only delving into validity. Too much is gotten away with if we choose to rely on reminding people to fear Allah only. This is not to belittle this act but obviously such a person has little taqwa to begin with. Few women have recourse beyond a faqih for remedying these immoral situations. The families advise patience and remind her of the problems of divorce. The laws in some cases favor men in custody. And then the qadi looks only to legalism. Where to turn?

    • As salamu alaykum Tricia,

      I like the article and I see your point, you are rooted in this world here and now, maybe you will think I am a dreamer, but I´ve seen dramatic situations turn into solved situations,using more than reminding the others of fearing Allah(swt), asking Allah(swt) for Forgiveness and Love, to be able to Love and Forgive us and to be able to Love and Forgive the others. This way we focus on what we can change, that is ourselves with God´s Help. It is so simple that takes a lot to accept that is an effective path to follow, insha´Allah. Give it a try with simple situations, be open eyes to see the changes and then try with other situations, …. I know this is a kind of standar phrase but it is real, I believe we can change the world, and I discovered that the only tool we have to do it is us, and, of course,…. we know where lies the power within us.
      Allah(swt) knows best.
      Thank you for listening to me.


  • Salam Shazia

    Jazak Allah for this, it’s something which has been in my mind for many years. I’m glad you brought up the example of taking a second wife, I’ve often thought of it the way you have described it. I look forward to the rest of this series, may Allah guide us and keep us guided.

  • Sister Shazia, I was very happy to see this issue being addressed. The issue of marriage to a second wife in particular comes up all the time, for example see this question posted just yesterday at my website:

    My husband has done nikah with another in secret: is it valid?

    Exactly as you said, the focus is exclusively on validity and not morality and “rightness”. I’m going to quote you in my reply Insha’Allah, if you don’t mind.

  • Assalamo elikuim
    Jazak Allah Khair for th is wonderful and informative article, Sr Shazia.
    Waiting for remaing parts.

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