Originally published in January 2010
By the Grace of Allah, we have a beautiful tradition of law filled with rich wisdom that balances between a deep understanding of our scripture and the reality of those to whom it is applied. Consequentially, our scholars have dealt with the modern world by developing two new applications of fiqh. One is referred to as Fiqh al-Nawazil which means the ‘Islamic Jurisprudence of New Realities’ (not present when the schools of jurisprudence were formed) and a subdivision of this is Fiqh al-Aqalliyyaat which is ‘Islamic Jurisprudence for Muslim Minorities’ living in non-Muslim lands. The famous axiom which led to the formation of these modern applications of the principles and objectives of our sacred texts is “The legal ruling on a given matter may change according to different eras, places, or circumstances.” This axiom is held by the vast majority of scholars from the four schools of Islamic Jurisprudence. To my knowledge there is no exception, but I was taught to be cautious about claiming it a consensus.
One of the new realities we face is that the vast majority of Muslims don’t speak Arabic. Similarly many Muslims live in communities where Arabic is not a spoken language and it would be unrealistic to expect the vast majority of them to learn it.
Regarding the language of the Friday Sermon (khutbah) given to majority non-Arab audiences, there has arisen two schools of thought amongst our scholars today. The majority opinion is that the khutbah may be a mixture of both Arabic and the local language. Even some notable scholars of today hold the opinion that there is no clear requirement for any of the Khutbah to be in Arabic except verses of the Qur’an when it is delivered to a majority non-Arab audience. The other opinion is that the khutbah is not acceptable unless it is all in Arabic.
More often than not, the literalist school of thought, which tends to issue opinions from centuries old fiqh books, doesn’t benefit these new realities. In dealing with the fiqh of new realities, our scholars and the collective councils often look at what is in the best interest (maslahah) of Islam and Muslims in the new realities they face. When there are texts which relate to an issue, they try and derive the reasoning (‘illah) behind the text in order to form an opinion which is more practical and facilitating. If there is no text prohibiting something then once again they look at the general objectives of Islam and if it fits with those objectives of our Divine law, then they will encourage it.
When dealing with this subject, I thought it to be highly relevant to mention the positions of world fiqh councils and comprehensive works rather than just stating the proofs behind it. This is because the followers of the minority opinion purport that theirs is the undoubtedly correct and majority opinion (it has even been said that there is a consensus for their opinion). With all due respect to them, in my opinion, this is due to the reclusiveness of their group which stems from an extreme form of blind following (taqleed) of their scholars.
Let’s start in the Islamic Encyclopedia formed in Kuwait. This research is the largest comparative fiqh work known to the recorded history of Islam. The idea came collectively from representative scholars of many Muslim countries in world fiqh conferences in the 1950’s. It was started in Egypt and then shifted to the ministry of endowments and religious affairs of Kuwait in the late 60’s. In Kuwait, many scholars from different countries like Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Kuwait based in all four legal schools (madhabs) began researching for the project. It was recently finished at 45 volumes and is being spread across the Muslim world as a primary encyclopedic reference for Islamic Law. The current expert supervisor of the encyclopedia is a Hanafi scholar from Aleppo (Halab), Syria named Dr. Ahmad al-Hajji al-Kurdi who is also on Kuwait’s national committee for issuing religious edicts (iftaa). Aleppo is a stronghold of the Hanafi madhab in Syria with a population of over 5 million and thousands of Hanafi scholars. Shaikh Ahmad and his family are well-known among them. 1
In the 19th volume on page 177 it describes the pillars of the Khutbah according to the different madhabs, “According to Abu Hanifa it is simply to say alhamdulillah, subhan’Allah or la ilaaha illa Allah. Abu Yusuf and Muhammad added that there should be a longer portion which customarily can be called a khutbah. The Malikis said that however small it may be that anything can be called a khutbah according to Arabs. The Shafi’i school says that it is 5 things: alhamdulillah, salat upon the Prophet, admonishment to taqwa, praying for the Muslims, and at least a clear part of a verse of the Qur’an. That being said, on page 180 it says under the 6th condition for the soundness of the khutbah, “To be in Arabic. What is meant by this is that its pillars are said in Arabic. This is because they are the obligatory pillars so it is a condition that they must be in Arabic even if the audience doesn’t speak Arabic. This is the majority opinion (Maliki, some Shafi’i and most Hanabilah).” So what’s being said according to these schools of thought here is that the pillars of the khutbah must be in Arabic since that is what is obligatory for the khutbah to be sound and anything added to that whether in Arabic or otherwise will not harm it’s soundness. The only exception is that most Malikis did hold the opinion that the khutbah can only be delivered in Arabic. This is since they held that the khutbah is part of the salah taking the place of the first two rakah’s of Dhuhr prayer and in their school the whole prayer must be in Arabic.
Continuing on page 180 of the 19th volume, “And Abu Hanifa said – and this is the established opinion of the Hanafi school of thought – the khutbah is sound even if the whole thing is in a language other than Arabic regardless if the khateeb knows Arabic or not. Although Abu Yusuf and Muhammad agreed with the majority opinion except if the khateeb isn’t able to deliver it in Arabic.”
To further clarify this point, we find in the 27th volume on page 201 under the heading conditions for a sound Khutbah, “It must precede the Salah, it must be a reminder that people customarily consider a sermon. So whenever the Imam fulfilled these two conditions after the time of Dhuhr has begun, then he has surely performed a sound Khutbah regardless if he was standing or sitting, he did one Khutbah or two, he read Qur’an or not, it was in Arabic or another language…This is the Hanafi opinion.” For this they cited three of the most comprehensive and representative Hanafi fiqh books which all Hanafis refer to in proving what their school says on a given issue. They are Bada’I al-Sana’I 1/262, Hashiyyat ibn ‘Abideen 1/567 and Majma’ al-Anhaar 1/163. 2
Confirming this is a prominent Syrian scholar, Wahbah Zuhayli who is the head of the comparative Fiqh Department in the faculty of Shari`ah in the University of Damascus and also a senior member and advisor of juristic councils in Jeddah, Makkah, India, America and Sudan. In his eleven volume comparative fiqh masterpiece called Islamic law and its proofs, he notes in the second volume on the bottom of page 1304 about the conditions for a valid Friday Sermon according to the Hanafis: “They permitted the sermon to be in other than Arabic even if the khateeb is able to do it in Arabic and regardless if the people were majority non-Arabs.”3 It’s interesting to note that those who are strictest about the obligation of the khutbah being in Arabic consider themselves to be following the Hanafi madhab.
Now some detractors of these proofs might unwisely pass judgment in their bias and say that the scholars who wrote this either do not know what they’re talking about or that they are modernized liberal scholars who are approving an innovation.
Let’s look at the opinions of some of the strictest of scholars in following the Prophet ﷺ – or what some call Salafi or Wahhabi. According to the previous Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Shaykh Abdul Azeez ibn Baz, “If most of the audience of the Khutbah doesn’t understand Arabic then there is nothing wrong with delivering it in their language …” Later in the same Fatwa he notes that he issued this edict with full knowledge that “it is known that the early generations would deliver khutbahs in Arabic to crowds with new non-Arab Muslims and it was not reported that they would translate the khutbah or deliver it in the local language. This was because in those days the honor and glory was with the Muslims who were, in that case, the ruling authority and their language was Arabic.” He then states that what leads him to make this fatwa is that Allah said, ‘We have not sent any messenger except that he preached in the language of his people in order to clarify to them.’ (Qur’an, 14:4)”4 I think it’s commendable to note Bin Baz’s understanding of the fiqh of Muslim minorities in what is underlined in his fatwa.
According to another Saudi scholar, the renowned Shaykh Ibn al-Uthaymeen, who is known for his strictness in matters of `aqeedah and a literalist following of the Prophet ﷺ and his companions (may Allah have mercy on them), “The correct opinion in this matter is that it is permissible for the khateeb to deliver the khutbah in the language that the audience is accustomed to…This is because the khutbah was intended to be a means of clarifying the religion and guiding the people. The only exception is that the verses of the Qur’an must be recited in Arabic and then translated. Verse 4 of surah Ibrahim indicates the permissibility of delivering the sermon in the local language, ‘We have not sent any messenger except that he preached in the language of his people in order to clarify to them.’”5
According to the official decision of the Fiqh Council of the Muslim World League, of which Mufti Taqi Usmani and many other of the greatest scholars representing the Muslim World are esteemed members, “The better opinion is that delivering Khutbatul-Jumu’ah in Arabic is not a condition for its validity. The best thing is to deliver the introduction and the Qur’anic verses in Arabic (the pillars). This is so that non-Arabs will get used to hearing Arabic and so it will make it is easy to learn (since it is the language of our holy scripture). Then the khateeb follows that with an admonishment in the language of the audience. Then Iqamatus-Salah.”6
According to the standing committee for issuing edicts in Saudi Arabia, the members of which are some of the most revered Saudi scholars, “There is no hadith which indicates that delivering the khutbah in Arabic is a condition for its validity. Indeed the Prophet ﷺ used to speak Arabic in the khutbah and at all other times simply because that was his language and the language of his people…”7
I will limit the list of scholarly bodies and their members who hold this view to what has been mentioned for the sake of brevity.
The following are some responses to the opinion that the Khutbah must be in Arabic. First they say that since the Prophet ﷺ and his companions never did it, therefore it must be wrong. I encourage them to read this research. This research proves that the lack of action on the part of the Prophet ﷺ and the early generations is not a proof in itself. We should also review the abovementioned point made by the standing committee for issuing fatwas in Saudi Arabia.
The next argument they make is that the khutbah is like reading Qur’an and prayer which must be said in Arabic. Therefore it is not acceptable to be in any other language. They add to this, if we allow the khutbah to be in other than Arabic then that will open the door to the adhan and prayer being reduced to translations. The response is that, first of all, the scholars are not in agreement that the khutbah takes the place of the first two raka`ahs of Dhuhr prayer. Clearly the Hanafis are not of this opinion because they only hold that delivering one khutbah without sitting is sufficient, thus the absence of the two khutbahs representing the first two raka’ahs of Dhuhr. The Malikis are reported to have this opinion as mentioned before. The response to them is that `Eid prayer comes before the Khutbah and it doesn’t replace Dhuhr, yet it was still the practice of the Prophet to make two sermons and Allah knows best as to why since he never said why. Also in response to the idea that the two sermons are exactly like the first two raka’ahs of prayer is the fact that the Prophet ﷺ would not recite a surah after al-Fatihah in the last two rak’ahs of Dhuhr, yet in Jumu’ah salah which is supposed to replace the final two rak’ahs of Dhuhr he always recited another surah after al-Fatihah. Finally this is an assumption based upon ijtihad not similar to the famous Hadith about Tawaf (circling the Ka’bah) which says that it is like prayer except that talking aloud is permissible.
Finally, it cannot be said that the khutbah is similar to the Qur’an since the Qur’an is the word of Allah and the khutbah is the words of a person. It also cannot be said that the khutbah is like the adhan and prayer since the statements of the adhan and prayer are according to authentically transmitted statements of the Prophet ﷺ who said “Pray as you have seen me praying.” On the other hand, the khutbah is simply the words made up by the khateeb. So whether he made the sermon in Arabic or another language they have no holy textual value like the Qur’an, adhan, or salah as they are the khateeb’s own invention. So no scholarly analogy can be used between the permissibility of giving the khutbah in a local language and translating the adhan.
With all due respect to our beloved scholar Mufti Taqi Usmani, his colleagues and followers, I believe this to be an issue that Muslims need to be on the same page on. It has created fitnah between Imams, community leaders, and their communities. As we have seen, according to the vast majority of today’s esteemed scholars around the world, including Mufti Usmani’s colleagues in the Muslim World league, it is the more balanced and practical opinion to allow the khateeb to deliver the general admonishment of the khutbah in the local language.
Without a doubt it is a priority that local scholars should represent the Muslims in their locality by forming a consultative (shurah) council. There is nothing wrong with individually following a scholar or madhab in matters pertaining to your own worship. In order to avoid fitnah and for Muslims to build upon unity, they should follow scholarly councils in major issues which effect Muslims collectively. This way the scholars can discuss amongst themselves the issues facing Muslims and come to an opinion which is in their best interests. That is what was done in the Fiqh Council of the Muslim World League as mentioned earlier. This is the opinion of the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America, which is a host of notable PhD level scholars who reside or convene in America yearly to discuss issues relating to Muslims in America.
In its Sixth conference held on the 31st of October 2009 the sixth collective decision in matters of worship was “The original ruling is that the khutbah is in Arabic. If the khateeb wasn’t able to or the audience doesn’t understand Arabic then the khutbah can be delivered in the language the audience understands. That being said, the pillars of the khutbah, the verses of the Qur’an, and the Hadiths should all be in Arabic.”
I hope everyone understands here that I am not attempting to refute Mufti Usmani’s opinion. I am simply passing on the opinion of his peers in this matter in clarifying the majority opinion as well as an attempt to unite the Muslims upon it. The purpose of this research was to make a case for four main issues which are of more benefit (maslahah) to Muslims in the West than the old opinion. They are: to clarify that this is the position of the majority today’s scholars and councils, to make it obligatory upon the non-Arab Muslims to attend a khutbah that they may benefit from, to promote non-Arab spiritual development by not Arabizing matters which aren’t tawqeefi such as general supplication (du`a’) and the khutbah and to make it clear to non-Muslims and new Muslims that our religion is not an emphatically Arabic religion, but a universal religion.
And Allah knows best!
- For more information, click here. ↩
- For more information, click here. ↩
- He cites the books Fath al-Qadeer ma’l-‘Inayyah vol. 1 313-315, Al-Darr al-Mukhtar vol. 1 pg. 757-760, Muraaqee al-Falah pg. 87, Badaa’i al-Sanaa’I Vol. 1 pg. 262, Tabyeen al-Haqaa’iq vol. 1 pg. 219+. ↩
- Bin Baz’s collection of Fatwa’s vol. 12 #372. ↩
- Fatawa Nurun alal-darb ch. Salah al-Jumu’ah. ↩
- Page 99, the fifth resolution of the fifth session. ↩
- The edicts of the standing committee, vol. 8 page 253. ↩