by Muhammad al-Hassan Walid al-Dido al-Shinqiti | Translated and Abridged by Suhaib Webb
Taken from Fiqh al-Asr
Question: There are many different sects and madhāhib [schools of Islamic law]. When we look at them it is difficult to gauge their relationship with Ahl al-Sunna. Are they close or distant? Let us begin with the Ash’aris.
Answer: Let us first clarify what is meant by the word madhhab [school of thought]. A madhhab is a way of engaging the texts, therefore everything that Gibr̄il [Angel Gabriel] brought from Allah does not constitute a madhhab, and every text considered definitive in Islamic law is not a madhhab. A madhhab cannot occur except in the realm of ijtihad [independent interpretation made by a qualified legal scholar].
In light of that, the Ash’aris, Maturidis and Ahl al-Hadith all constitute different madhhabs [of their own]. This is due to the fact that the definitive texts are unanimously agreed upon by these three schools whereas they differed [established their madhabs] in areas where it was acceptable.
Whoever denies a definitive [about its meaning a consensus has been met] text from the Qur’an or the Sunna is a disbeliever. As for other issues based on the interpretations of men, they can be both correct and incorrect.
The Ash’āris were mistaken about certain issues, but those opinions did not take them out of Ahl al-Sunna. Similarly the Maturidīs were wrong about some issues which, as in the case of the Ash’aris, did not put them outside the category of Ahl al-Sunna.
Some of the great scholars of Ahl al-Sunna like Imām al-Bayhaqī (Allah’s mercy be upon him), Imām al-Hākim (Allah’s mercy be upon him), and Imām al-Nawwawī, Allah’s mercy be upon them were from the Ash’arī school.
Q. Some say those scholars were not Ash’ari – that they only agreed with the Ash’aris on a few issues?
A. Actually, they were indeed scholars of the Ash’ari school and for that reason the Ash’aris reference them and take them as references.
Q. How can they be considered from Ahl al-Sunna when they differ with us on 15 fundamental principles? The first being the mind is the source of guidance, rather than revelation?
A. How is it correct to say that the first source of guidance is the mind according to Imam Abu Hasan al-Ash’ari when he was from the scholars of hadīth, qirāt and tafsīr and he neither said nor wrote that?
Q. What about their contention that good and evil are independent of revelation?
A. They actually didn’t say that. In fact, they refuted it! What they meant by good and evil was what was blameworthy to one’s nature and repulsive to the intellect; that good and evil in the Hereafter is strictly a Shari’ matter established solely by revelation.
Q. What about the division of the Qur’an? Is it true they divided it into two parts, the uttered and the unuttered?
A. This is not a division related to the creation of the Qur’an. It is a division solely related to the description of Allah [the Most High]. This division is found among the later scholars of hadith. It is related to ijtihad and there is no definite text regarding it. Thus if a person were to die ignorant of this division, it would not harm him in the least.
Q. So what if someone wasn’t ignorant of it?
A. Even if someone knew about it, there is no harm done because this is an issue of ijtihad. In fact, a quick glance at the works of Sheikh al-Islam Ibn Tamiyyah illustrates that he held the same opinion all be it with different wording.
Q. What about the issue of declaring those who instead of exercising intellect, follow blindly, as heretics?
A. First let it be known that this is not a contention held exclusively by Imam Abu Hasan al-Ash’aris. This is a contentious issue amongst them, as well as a contentious issue amongst the Ahl al-Had̄ith. It is related by some of the scholars of hadith that Imām al-Shafi’ī had the same opinion.
Q. What about their contention that faith in the heart is sufficient, freeing one from other responsibilities?
A. They didn’t say that. This issue is related to the understanding of faith, in that does the understanding of faith enter into the realm of actions or not? This was an issue disputed by the students of the companions [al-Tabi’īn].
Q. What about their refusal to accept issues of creed found in the Sunna?
A. You will not find any of their scholars denying authentic texts because every authentic Sunna becomes definite whether related to issues of creed or deeds. Anyone who denies it is disbeliever. Allah says, By your Lord, they will not believe until they make you a judge in their disputes… (Qur’an 4:65).
Q. Are these things that we read and hear attributed to the Ash’aris not authentic?
A. Yes, most of the things attributed to them are not from authentic sources. It could be a mixing and matching of statements made by some Ash’aris [but not representative of the school]. As mentioned before, the school has many mistakes and Imam Abu Hasan al-Ash’ari made a number of mistakes. Some of them he changed and clarified in his works such as al-Maqalat al-Islamiyin and al-Ibanah. He failed to correct other mistakes and he and his followers continued to believe and act on them. Even so they remain from Ahl al-Sunna and their mistakes in creed were related to matters of ijtihad.
Q. Summarizing, then, these issues are not those that would take them out of the circle of Ahl al-Sunna?
A. No, they are not outside of Ahl al-Sunna. They do have some mistakes, but those mistakes do not take them out of the Ahl al-Sunna category. In this, they resemble schools of fiqh: the Hanafis, Malikis, Shafi’is and the Hanbalis. All of them are schools from the schools of Ahl al-Sunna. They all have their mistakes but their mistakes do not put them outside of the madhhab of Ahl al-Sunna.
Q. What do you say about the Sufis?
A. They differ according to their conditions and states. There are those who are Ahl al-Sunna in creed and practice, and they are accepted as such. Examples would be Sheikh ‘Abdul al-Qādir al-Jaylānī [Allah’s mercy upon him], al-Harawī [Allah’s mercy upon him] and other notable scholars and even Ibn al-Qayyim [Allah’s mercy be upon him] was a Sufi, and he is the sheikh of the true Sufis!
Q. Ibn al-Qayyim was a Sufi? That is hard to digest!
A. But why?! He said that about himself and wrote about it in Madārij al-Sālikīn and Udāt al-Sabirīn and other works which illustrate his tasawwuf.
The religion is based on three pillars: Faith, Islam, and Ihsān. Faith addresses the intellect, Islam addresses the body, and Ihsān addresses the spirit. As for the last pillar, there isn’t much attention given to it except from those who were concerned with spiritual progress. And these people are definitely called Sufis. Thus tasawwuf is like fiqh: there is the accepted and the rejected. It is as simple as what agrees with Islamic law is accepted and anything else is rejected.
May the peace and blessings be upon the Prophet, his family, companions and those who follow them until the end of time.
*He is, as many have called him, a walking ‘Encyclopedia.’ The sheikh is blessed with an astounding memory such that he has memorized the Qu’ran with all of its readings, all of the major books of hadith including the Muwatta and the major Mutun with their explanations. Once I was with him reading Lamyiat al-Afal and he started reading another line which I had not heard nor memorized with my teachers. When I looked puzzled he told me, “My family wrote a commentary on it. For the first line there are 99 lines to explain it.” Once I was with him and he explained the Shamil for two hours straight, quoting hadith, poetry and asanid without any notes. With all of that knowledge Allah has blessed the sheikh to be with the people, sit with them and tend to their needs. He has started a school for preparing scholars in Mauritania. I encourage all serious students to visit and benefit from his knowledge and character. May Allah protect him and grant us his likes amongst those in the USA.