The Principle of Blocking the Means

Translated by Zameelur Rahman

The ummah have agreed that when an abomination is attached to a permissible or desirable action and it becomes a means to disobedience or innovation, even though that is not the intention and objective of the doer, it is obligatory to remove this disobedience whatever it may be. Thereafter, they differed:

Some of them said: This desirable act should be totally abandoned in order to block the means to disobedience and to sever the substance of innovation in the religion.

And some of them said: This abomination is removed, and a recognised desirable act is not abandoned for its sake.

The Hanafis, Malikis and Hanbalis have inclined to the first [view]. Their proof is in His (Exalted is He) statement: “O you who believe, do not say ra‘ina, but say unzurna,” (Qur’an 2:104), as Ibn Kathir said in his Tafsir:

Allah Almighty forbade His servants from resembling the disbelievers in word and deed, and that is because the Jews would keep in mind the allusion in the speech with the objective of degrading [the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace)] – may the curses of Allah be upon them. Thus, when they intended to say: “Listen to us,” they would say: “Ra‘ina” (observe us) with the hidden meaning of “stupidity” (ru‘unah). [This is] as He (Exalted is He) said: “Among the Jews there are some who distort the words against their contexts, and say, ‘We hear and disobey,’ and, ‘Hear. May you not be made to hear,’ and, ‘Ra‘ina,’ twisting their tongues and maligning the religion.” (Qur’an 4:46)

Al-Baydawi said:

“Twisting their tongues,” twisting and turning with [their tongues] the speech into what resembles an insult, since they used ra‘ina, which resembles what they would use to insult one another, in place of unzurna.

It is not hidden that the sanctity of the Sahabah (Allah Almighty’s pleasure be on them all) is far removed from them [ever] alluding as the Jews would allude, or twisting their tongues as they would twist [them], yet despite this, you see they were forbidden from this word. This is not but from the door of blocking the means to abomination, and severing resemblance with the disbelievers. This is an elementary principle, from which uncountable branches derive.

From this the meaning of “relative innovation” (al-bid‘ah al-idafiyya) which ‘Allamah al-Shatibi discussed in his book al-I‘tisam is understood, and we will quote here a beautiful passage from it. He said:

Often an original practice is lawful but it falls onto the pattern of an innovation through the door of means…The reason for the inclusion of innovation here is that all that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) performed continuously of optional prayers and which he displayed openly in congregations, they are Sunnah, so acting on optional activities which are not Sunnah in the way a Sunnah is practiced equates to removing the optional act from its place stipulated in the Shari‘ah. Then a consequence of this is the laypeople and the ignorant believe that it is a Sunnah. This is a great evil! Because believing what is not a Sunnah [to be a Sunnah], and acting upon it within the remit in which a Sunnah is practiced equates to changing the Shari‘ah, just as if it were believed that an obligation is not an obligation or that that which is not an obligation is an obligation, and then practice in accordance with this belief – For, this is ruinous! So, granted, the action is originally valid, but its extraction from its remits [stipulated in the Shari‘ah] in belief or practice equates to ruining the laws of the Shari‘ah.

From this the justification of the righteous Salaf in their intentional avoidance of Sunnahs becomes manifest – so that the ignorant person doesn’t believe that it is from the obligations, like the sacrifice (udhiyah) and other than that, as has preceded. This is why most of them also forbade tracing the relics [of pious people], as al-Tahawi, Ibn Waddah and others transmitted from Ma‘rur ibn Suwayd al-Asadi, he said: “I attended the [Hajj] season with the commander of the believers, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him). When we turned back to Medina, I went back with him. When he had prayed with us the Morning Prayer and recited therein alam tara kayfa fa‘ala (Sura 105) and li’ilafi Quraysh (Sura 106), he then saw people taking a path, so he said: ‘Where are these people going?’ They said: ‘They are going to a mosque here wherein the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) prayed.’ He said: ‘Those before you were destroyed because of this! They traced the relics of their Prophets and adopted them as churches and monasteries. Whoever [unintentionally] catches the prayer in any of these mosques in which the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) prayed, then he should pray in them, otherwise he should not intentionally proceed to them.’”

Ibn Waddah said: I heard ‘Isa ibn Yunus – the Mufti of the people of Tartus – say:

‘Umar ibn al-Khattab ordered the cutting of the tree under which the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) was pledged allegiance. He cut it because the people would go and pray under it, so he feared temptation for them.

Ibn Waddah said:

Malik ibn Anas and other jurists would dislike going to those relics of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) with the exception of Quba’ alone.

Malik would dislike all innovations even if it was [done] in goodness. All of this is a means to not take as a Sunnah what is not a Sunnah, or to consider as part of the Shari‘ah what is not recognised. Malik would dislike going to the Bayt al-Maqdis for fear that that would be taken as a Sunnah, and he would dislike going to the graves of the martyrs and he disliked going to Quba’ for that very fear – despite the reports that have come on encouragement towards this, but since the ‘ulama feared the consequence of that, they avoided it.

Ibn Kinanah and Ashhab said: We heard Malik say when he came to [the grave of] Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas: “I wish my legs were paralysed and I did not do this!”

Sa‘id ibn Hassan said: I used to read [hadiths] to Ibn Nafi‘, and when I read the hadith of spending generously [on one’s family] on the night of ‘Ashura’, he said to me: “Burn it!” I said: “Why is that O Abu Sa‘d?” He said: “For fear that it will be taken as a Sunnah.”

Hence, these are permissible or desirable activities, but they disliked their performance for fear of innovation, because taking them as Sunnah by continuously practicing upon them with open display of them – which is the nature of Sunnah – and when it falls on the pattern of Sunnahs, they turn into innovations without doubt. (End of abbreviated quote from al-Shatibi)

I say: This is the position of our Hanafi Imams (Allah Almighty have mercy on him). It is according to this [principle,] al-Halabi said in Sharh al-Munyah under “The Prostration of Gratitude and what is Done after the Prayer”: “It is disliked because the ignorant believe it is Sunnah or obligatory, and every permissible act leading to this is disliked.” Al-Shami said in the “Undesirable Acts of Prayer” of Radd al-Muhtar (1:43): “When a ruling wavers between Sunnah and innovation, avoidance of Sunnah is given priority.” The same [passage] is found in the Funerals [section] of Fatawa ‘Alamgiriyya and in it there is the addition: “That which wavers between obligatory and innovation, it should be practiced with caution.” Al-Tibi and al-Sayrafi said in their marginalia to Mishkat al-Masabih under the hadith of Ibn Mas‘ud, “None of you should make any part of his prayer for the devil by believing that it is duty-bound on him to turn to his right, for indeed I have seen the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) many times having turned to his left,”: “[The principle] behind this is that one who persists on a recommended act and has resolve on it, and does not act on a concession, then the devil has afflicted him, so what about the one who persists on innovations or abominations?” These [quotations] are found in Majmu‘at al-Fatawa al-Laknawiyyah (2:295).

In brief, blocking the means and cutting off resemblance with the disbelievers is a wide door in the religion on which is premised uncountable branches and rulings; and the basis of all of this is what is contained in this noble verse of a clear indication to this.[1]

Ahkam al-Qur’an, Idarat al-Qur’an wa al-‘Ulum al-Islamiyyah, Karachi: Pakistan, Third Edition, 1429 H, 1:54-6

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  1. This is part of the commentary of Surah Baqarah from the work Ahkam al-Qur’an which was completed by Mawlana Zafar Ahmad al-‘Uthmani on the 21st of Shawwal 1358 H (1939 CE) “under the shade of the knower of Allah, the sage of the Muhammadan nation, the renewer of the monotheistic religion, the interpreter of the Qur’an, the master of elucidation, the bringer of proof and evidence, the greatest of the exegetes of his time, the haven of the jurists and hadith-scholars in his time, the chief gnostic, the head of the perfect saints, the noblest of the practicing scholars, the trustworthy and firm proof, the pious saint, the commander of the believers in exegesis, hadith and jurisprudence, Mawlana Shaykh Muhammad Ashraf ‘Ali al-Thanawi, may Allah cause the shadows of his blessings to last, and overflow the worlds with his righteousness and good deeds, and lengthen his stay in safety, good health and happiness.” (Ahkam al-Qur’an, Idarat al-Qur’an wa al-‘Ulum al-Islamiyyah, Karachi: Pakistan, Third Edition, 1429 H, 1:746) []

2 Comments

  • Masha Allah! Founded and knowledge-based arguments are always easily recognized.
    What a splendid job of the aalim. May Allah bless them all, all the time. Aaameen.

  • MashaAllah. May Allah talaa shower His infinite blessings on Allama Zafar Ahmad Uthmani, all the aqaabir of Deoband, and all Saliheen of this Ummah.
    What a remarkable peice of writing subahAllah.

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