By Mufti Sayyid ‘Abd al-Shakur Tirmidhi
Translated by Dr. Hanif Kamal
Firstly, it is essential to reiterate the fact obvious to anyone who studies the works of senior Deobandi scholars that their beliefs and practices are in complete conformance to the teachings of the Qur’an, the hadiths and Hanafi fiqh. Their suluk and tasawwuf is also according to the Sunnah. They are staunch Hanafis and high calibre Ahl al-Sunnah. None of their beliefs are against the Qur’an and hadiths, nor are any of their rulings against Hanafi fiqh. Deobandiyat is not a separate tract (maslak); in this era it is synonymous to the tract of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa ‘l-Jama’ah…
If the following basic principles are kept in mind, then the Shari’ah ruling regarding all contemporary innovations (bid’ah) will become easy to understand.
Allah Most High says, “Do not revile those whom they invoke other than Allah, lest they should revile Allah in transgression without having knowledge.” (6:108) Commenting on this, Hakim al-Ummah Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanwi writes: “The defamation of idols (gods) is per se permissible. However, if it becomes a cause of a prohibited act, that is the denigration of Allah Most High, then it would become prohibited and objectionable.” (Bayan al-Qur’an [vol.1-p.119]) This forms the proof of a ruling of fiqh. That is, if a permissible act becomes the cause of a prohibited act then that permissible act becomes haram.
Numerous verses of the Qur’an mention tawhid (Oneness of Allah Most High), prophethood, and the negation of disbelief and polytheism. At times, the disbelievers would mock the believers, denigrate Allah Most High and falsify the blessed Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). These incidents are well documented. However, there is no prohibition in discussing these issues. The reason for this variance is that the discussion of these subjects is essential (wajib) and required by Shari’ah. If some corruption did happen secondary to their discussion then these actions would not be abandoned. This is the second principle.
The denigration of idols is something permissible, but not required in Shari’ah. When such an act (the denigration) draws reprehensible acts, then abandoning it becomes necessary. This is the difference in the two principles. Both of these principles are treasure troves of knowledge. The rulings of numerous peripheral issues are derived from them. This difference has been mentioned in the answer of Abu ‘l-Mansur as mentioned in Ruh al-Ma’ani. Ibn Sirin has also been reported to agree to this.
The net result of these two principles is that:  if a permissible act and similarly a mustahab and Sunnah Zaidah becomes contaminated with prohibited acts, then it would be essential (wajib) to abandon the permissible act.  Secondly, if a prohibited act were to contaminate those actions that are themselves essential (wajib) and required by Shari’ah, then it would not be abandoned. Rather, it would be necessary to rectify those wrongs. This is the very difference, which if not kept in mind leads to the propagation of innovations.
Allah Most High Says: “O you who believe, do not say Ra’ina, but say Unzurna, and listen, as there is a grievous punishment for the unbelievers.” (2:104) From this, we come to know the ruling that if an individual’s own permissible act becomes an excuse for another individual to commit a prohibited action, then the [first] act becomes impermissible for the first person. For example, if an ignorant person were to justify a prohibited act on the basis of a scholar’s action, then if that act were non-essential its performance would become impermissible for the scholar. (Bayan al-Qur’an [vol.1- p. 57])
This is documented in Durr al-Mukhtar and in its commentary Radd al-Mukhtar under the discussion relating to the Prostration of Thankfulness: “[And the Prostration of Thankfulness is recommended (mustahab). This is the ruling that is given. It is, however, disliked after the prayer (Salah), as the ignorant would believe it to be a Sunnah or a Wajib. And every permissible [act] that leads to this is disliked (makruh).] In sum, that which is not a cause would not be disliked as long as performing it does not lead the ignorant to believe in it being a Sunnah like [those actions] that some people perform after the prayer.” (Al-Shami [vol.1-p.731])
Application of these Principles
It is based on these principles from the Qur’an, the hadiths and the rulings of Hanafi jurists that the Deobandi scholars have spoken out about contemporary rituals and polemical issues. It is based on well established principles that they have said that it is a bid’ah to appoint special dates and make other specific requirements for rituals like the noble mawlid gatherings, customs of fatiha, Tija and Daswa (post-death gatherings of isal al-thawab) etc. It was because of these designations and specifications that belief in them being necessary was developing. Even if the person performing them had correct beliefs, there was a danger of corrupting the beliefs of less knowledgeable people.
It is an established fiqh principle that in the same way it is important to save one’s self from harm, it is also essentially important to save others from such harms. In other words, in the same way it is important to preserve one’s own beliefs, it is equally important to save the beliefs of the general masses.
‘Allamah Ibn ‘Abidin al-Shami has mentioned this principle under the discussion of fixing the recitation of a particular Surah in prayers. In that, wherever there is a possibility of distorting a ruling of Shari’ah or a fear of creating a misunderstanding in the minds of the ignorant, then there would be dislike [in performing that act]. ‘Allamah Ibn ‘Abidin writes: “And I say that the meaning of the words of the above two shaykhs is to explain the reason why it is makruh to persist [in the recitation of a fixed Surah]. In that if he considers it to be necessary then that would be makruh in terms of changing that which has been ordained by Shari’ah or else it would be makruh in terms of giving a false impression to the ignorant.” (Al-Shami [vol.1-p. 508])
The reason behind stopping the general masses [from contemporary rituals] is the changing of that which has been ordained by Shari ‘ah and for the elite is giving a false impression to the ignorant…
A general principle established is that a permissible act should not exceed its limits (both in knowledge and practice) and a general act (mutlaq) must not change from its generalness (itlaq) both in knowledge and practice, and likewise a restricted act (muqayyad) must not change. There are many verses and hadiths proving this. As this is an established principle there is no need to mention proofs. However, just to remind those who are forgetful I shall mention some proofs below.
It is narrated in Muslim that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: “Do not single out the night (preceding) Friday from among the nights for prayer; and do not single out Friday from among the days for fasting, but only when anyone among you is accustomed to a fast which coincide with this day (Friday).”
Since, the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) mentioned numerous merits for Friday and the Friday Prayer, there was a possibility that some would decide to specially set aside these days for praying and fasting. For this, the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) himself negated this thinking and reiterated that only those things that he had mentioned in this regard are recommendable and Sunnah. If someone exceeds them then this would not be acceptable.
Imam Nawawi explains this principle: “The ‘ulama use this hadith to prove the dislike of the bid’ah prayer called Salat al-Raghaib. May Allah destroy the fabricator and creator of this prayer. This is because it is a reprehensible innovation from the type of innovations that is divergent and ignorant.” (Sharh Sahih Muslim).
Based on this principle, Ibrahim al-Halabi mentions in Ghunyah al-Mutamalli some proofs as to why the Salat al-Raghaib is a bid’ah: “Among them is doing it in congregation when it is non-incumbent (nafl) and this (nafl in congregation) is not proven in Shari’ah; and among them is that the general masses believe it to be Sunnah.” The reason for this is that it is essential (wajib) to avoid every permissible act that leads to corruption of the beliefs of people so as not to change the Shari’ah ruling regarding that thing. Are not all these reasons for which the Salat al-Raghaib is bid’ah present in activities done these days (such as the mawlid, ‘urs etc.)._____________________________
- Mufti Sayyid ‘Abd al-Shakur Tirmidhi was the khalifah of both Mawlana Zafar Ahmad ‘Usmani and Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ Usmani who were both granted khilafah in the Chishti-Sabri-Imdadi tariqah from Hakim al-Ummah Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanwi. The above is a translation of selected excerpts from an article published in Mufti ‘Abd al-Shakur’s Maqalat-e-Tirmidhi. [↩]
- Edited by Ismaeel Nakhuda [↩]
- The above principles are mentioned by Hakim al-Ummah Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanwi in a letter produced in Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhalwi’s Aap Biti (Translator). Hakim al-Ummah writes: “A well-known principle (of fiqh) states that in whichever action an expediency and corrupt trait gathers, and according to the Shari’ah that action is not something that is required, then in such a situation the action will be abandoned. Hence, in line with this principle, one should not be concerned with the acquiring of those expediencies. Rather, one will abandon the action to save oneself from those corrupt influences.
“It should be borne in mind that if corrupt traits are to appear in those actions that are necessary, then the compulsory actions would not be abandoned. Rather, one will endeavour to remove those corrupt traits. All these rulings and principles are found in the prophetic traditions and the (accepted) principles of fiqh.
“It should be clear to the intelligent reader that all this has already been mentioned in my book Islah-e-Rusum (The Rectification of Customs). When my views regarding this issue were rectified, then all those issues that stemmed from them, by the grace of Allah, were also rectified. Hence, I was also rescued from remaining in the company of and meeting with dervishes whose actions were contrary to the Shari’ah. I have also written and published an amendment to Faysla Haft Masala through which any doubts relating to a sense of negligence and excess in the matter were removed…”
(The full article can be accessed here.) [↩]