Salafi Scholars’ Stance on Ibn Hajar and Imam Nawawi


One of the Muslim scholars in Medina, where I live, said that Imam Ibn Hajar and Imam Nawawi were innovators.  He presented some evidence from Fath ul Baari to justify his view and gave an example on that with the Sharh of Imam Ibn Hajar for the purpose of (seeking) the face of Allah and His Mercy.  What do you think?


The Ahlus us Sunnah wal Jama’ah are just in the matters of judgment on others.  They do not raise the people above what they deserve nor do they diminish their worth.  And it is part of justice to clarify the mistakes of the people of knowledge and favor, to explain them to people and to forbid against them.  Similarly, it is from justice to warn from their mistakes.  This is done so that one may not be misled by their prestige, whereby, following them in what they erred in.  And the Ahlus us Sunnah do not slack from ruling against the one who deliberately goes against the sunnah as an astray innovator.

And it is found in our times the one who discredits the imams, Ibn Hajar and Nawawi, by ruling them to be astray innovators!  And some of them reached the point of stupidity by saying that it is necessary to burn their books Fath ul Baari and Sharh Muslim!

This does not mean that these two imams did not err in issues of Shariah, particularly in the subject of Allah’s Attributes, but our scholars criticized it, clarified it and responded to them with mercy.  And they praised them in what they deserve, made supplication (dua) for them and advised in benefiting from their books.  And this is the justice by which the Ahlus us Sunnah wal Jama’ah are known which is contradictory to the one who accuses these two imams of heresy, being astray and says to burn their books, and it is also contradictory to the one who derives from their speech as if it were revealed law by making what they believe to be the absolute truth without any doubt in it.  So, we will mention what is available from the speech of our scholars for the Muslim making his judgment dependent on justice, knowledge and ruling these two imams with fairness.

The standing committee for issuing fatwas was asked:

What is our stance regarding the scholars who interpreted the Attributes of Allah, such as, Ibn Hajar, Nawawi, Ibn Jawzi and other than them?  Do we consider them from the imams of Ahlus us Sunnah wal Jama’ah or what?  Do we say that they were mistaken in their interpretation or do we say they were astray in that?

They answered:

Our stance on Abu Bakr Al-Baqlaani, Al-Bayhaqi, Abu Faraj bin Al-Jawzi, Abu Zakariyyah Nawawi, Ibn Hajar and those like them who interpreted some of the Attributes of Allah or made tafweedh in their original meaning is that they are from the senior scholars of the Muslims from whose knowledge Allah benefited the ummah, so, may Allah have vast mercy on them and reward them on our behalf the best of rewards.  And they were from Ahlus us Sunnah in what they agreed in with the companions (may Allah be pleased with them) and the imams of the salaf from the first three generations to which the Prophet (pbuh) bore witness to with good.  And they erred in what they interpreted of the Attributes from the texts and contradicted through it the salaf of the ummah and the imams of the sunnah, may Allah be pleased with them, whether they interpreted the Attributes of Essence, Action or other than that.

-Shaykh Abdul Azeez ibn Baaz. Shaykh Abdu ur Razzaq Afifi. Shaykh Abdullah bin Qauud.

Fatwas of the Standing Committee (3/241)

Shaykh Muhammad bin Saalih Al-Uthyameen, may Allah have Mercy on him, was asked:

With regards to those scholars who made some mistakes in aqeedah, such as the issue of Allah’s Names and Attributes and other than it, we pass by their names in the university during class, so what is the ruling on asking Allah’s Mercy for them?

Shaykh: Like who?

Questioner: Like Zamkhashri, Zarkhashi and other than them

Shyakh: Zarkhashi in what?

Questioner: In the subject of Allah’s Names and Attributes

So he answered:

In any case, there are people who belong to a particular group whose slogan is innovation, such as, the Mu’tazilah and from among them is Zamkhashri.  He was a Mu’tazili and described those who affirm the Attributes of Allah as Hashawiyyah1, anthropomorphic and astray.  For this reason, it is an obligation on the one who reads his book Al-Kashaaf, a work of Quranic exegeses (tafseer), to be warned from his speech in the sections dealing with Attributes of Allah.  But wherever he mentions Arabic rhetoric and linguistic rhetorical semantics, then it is good.  And utilizing his book for this purpose is very useful.  However, it is dangerous for a person who does not know anything about Allah’s Names and Attributes. But there are well-recognized scholars who have goodness and they do not belong to a specific group from the people of innovation, however, in their speech is something from the speech of people of innovation.  For example, Ibn Hajar and Nawawi, may Allah have mercy on them both.  Some foolish people slandered these two in a total unrestricted sense in every aspect, so much so, that it was told to me that some of the people say, “It is an obligation to burn Fath ul Baari because Ibn Hajar was an Ash’ari.”  And this is not correct, because I do not know today of anyone other than these two individual men that surpassed others for sake of Islam in the subject of hadiths of the Messenger.  And the proof for you that Allah (swt) with His Might and Power – though I am not certain such is the case- accepted it is that:  Whatever was written by these two men was accepted by the people, students of knowledge and even the masses.  So now the book Riyadh Saliheen is read in every gathering and mosque. The people benefit from it greatly.  I hope Allah makes for me a book like this book.  Everyone is benefiting with it in his house and his mosque, therefore, how can someone say about these two that they are astray innovators, that it is not permissible to seek mercy for them nor read from their books or that it is obligatory to burn Fath ul Baari and Sharh Saheeh Muslim?!  Glory be to Allah!  And who can undertake for the sake of Islam and the Muslims as these two men have done except that Allah Wills, so, I say:  May Allah forgive Nawawi, Ibn Hajar Al-‘Asqalaani and whosoever resembles their situation from whom Allah benefited Islam and the Muslims.  Say Ameen to that. End quote.

Liqaatul ul Baab Al-Maftooh (43/Question 9)

Shaykh Salih bin Fawzaan Al-Fawzaan was asked:

There appeared between the students of knowledge a difference regarding the definition of the ‘innovator.’  Some of them said, “He is the one who said or did an innovative action even when the evidence was not established against him.”  And from them were some who said that the evidence must be established against him.  And from them were those who differentiated between the Mujtahid scholar and those whose principles were rooted in contradiction to the methodology of Ahlus us Sunnah wal Jama’ah.  It was apparent from some of their sayings that they labeled Ibn Hajar and Nawawi as innovators and lacked in seeking mercy for them?

He answered:

Firstly, the beginner students of knowledge and those other than them from the general public should not be busying themselves with labeling people as innovators and sinners.  Because that is a dangers task and they do not have the knowledge and expertise for it.  Also, this causes enmity and hatred between them. Hence, it is obligatory on them to busy themselves in seeking knowledge and refrain their tongues from that which is of no benefit, rather, it is harmful for them and others.

Secondly, innovation is something that is introduced into the religion and is not from it in accordance to the saying of the Prophet (pbuh), “Whoever introduces something into this matter of ours (i.e. Islam) that is not from it, will have it rejected” (Bukhari).  If someone does a contradictory action (to the Sunnah) out of ignorance, then he is to be excused for his ignorance and is not ruled to be an innovator even though his action is still considered an innovation.

Thirdly, whoever had with him ijtihaadi mistakes in interpretation, such as, Ibn Hajar and Nawawi, and what occurred from these two in interpretation of some of Allah’s Attributes, then such a person is not to be ruled as an innovator.  Rather, it is to be said, “This is where they had an error.”  He hopes for them forgiveness due to what they left behind of great service for the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh).  And they were both great imams.  They were trustworthy and reliable with the people of knowledge.  End quote.

Al-Muntaqa min fatawaa Al-Fawzaan (2/211-212)

And Shaykh Muhammad Naasir ur Deen Al-Albaani, may Allah have Mercy on him, said:

For example, Nawawi, Ibn Hajar Al-‘Asqalaani and their types.  It is unjust to say about them that they are from the people of innovation.  I know that they are from the Ash’aris but they did not intend opposition to the Book and the Sunnah. They were only deluded and thought whatever they inherited from the Ash’ari creed which is two things:

Firstly, that Imam Al-Ash’ari said that.  However, he did not say that except in the earlier part of his life because he later changed his position.

Secondly, that Imam Al-Ash’ari’s mistakes were correct.  However, they were not correct.

End quote from Man huwa al-kaafiru wa man huwa al-mubtadi’ (Cassette #666)

So, may Allah have Mercy on the two imams: Imam Nawawi and Ibn Hajar and forgive them their mistakes.

1Al-Hashawiyyah is a word that the innovators like Al-Mu’tazilah and others say to mean the companions, may Allah be pleased with them, and the generation who came after them of Ahlus-Sunnah Wal-Jamaa’h. They mean by this term the common people who do not understand the meanings of the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of the Prophet, sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam. It is said that the first person to utter this word was ‘Amr Ibn ‘Ubayd who said: “‘Abdullaah Ibn ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, was one of the Hashawiyyah.” So look at this impudence from this innovator about this great and honourable companion, may Allah be pleased with him! (Source:

The Youth Should Have Open Minds & Hearts Regarding Differences of Opinion Among the Scholars

By Shaykh Muhammad bin Saalih al-‘Uthaymeen

The youth who adhere to their Religion and are concerned with the da’wah should have open minds and hearts regarding differences of opinion among the scholars, finding a good excuse for the scholar who supports a view, which in their mind, is wrong. This is an issue of paramount importance, for there are those who search out for and scrutinize the mistakes of others, with the intention of ruining their reputation, and this is from the greatest of mistakes. If backbiting a common man [i.e., one who is neither a scholar nor a student of knowledge] is from the gravest of sins, then backbiting a scholar is graver and more severe. The harm of backbiting a scholar is not limited to his person, but it also extends to the Islamic knowledge he carries with him. If a scholar is lowered in the eyes of the people, what he says is also lowered. So if he speaks the truth and guides others to it, then backbiting him acts as a barrier between the people and the knowledge he has with him. And the danger involved in this occurring is considerable.

It is necessary for the youth to attribute good intentions to scholars when there is disagreement among them. At the same time, there is no harm for the youth to go to a scholar they think made a mistake, and discuss the matter with him, for it may happen that that scholar will be able to show them that he was in the right all along. Often times one imagines that a scholar erred, but after discussing the issue with him, one comes to realize that he was right.

“Everyone from the children of Adam errs frequently, and the best of those who err frequently are those who repent.” [33]

When people begin to rejoice over the mistakes of the scholars, spreading news of those mistakes to the people, discord and disunity will result, and that is not the way of the pious predecessors.

Likewise, in the case of rulers: it is not permissible for us to use their mistakes as a pretext for vilifying them in a general way, and yet remain blind to their good qualities and actions. Allaah [subhaanahu wa ta’aala] says in His Book:

“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allaah [subhaanahu wa ta’aala] and be just witnesses and let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice.” [Al-Ma’idah 5:8]

This means: do not let the hatred you have for a people lead you to being unjust, for justice is compulsory. And it is not permissible for one to take the mistakes of rulers, scholars, or anyone else for that matter, and then spread news of those mistakes to the people, while remaining quiet about their good qualities and deeds. This is not justice.

Always use yourself as a gauge in such matters. If one were to spread news of your bad qualities to the people and hide your good qualities, you would say that he committed a crime against you. If that is your attitude regarding your own self, then you must maintain the same attitude regarding others as well. I already mentioned the solution to this problem: contact the person you think made a mistake and directly discuss the issue with him, and then matters should become clearer [to you or to him] after the discussion.

How often it occurs that one rescinds one of his opinions after discussing it with someone else:

“The example of a believer in relation to another believer is that of a building; parts of it strengthen its other parts.” [34]

And the Prophet [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] said:

“Whomsoever it pleases to be taken away from the Hellfire and to enter Paradise, then let his death come to him while he believes in Allah and the Last Day. And let him take [or give] to the people that which he loves to come to him.” [35]

This is justice and uprightness

The heart of the caller should be open to those who differ with him, especially when he knows that the other party has good intentions, differing only because of some proof he considers to be stronger. One must be flexible in such matters, not allowing differences of opinion lead to enmity and hatred between brothers, except in the case of a man who is obstinate in his view: the truth becomes clear to him, yet he persists upon his falsehood. Such a person should be warned against; his enmity to the truth became established when the truth became manifestly clear before him, yet he still refused to follow it.

Nevertheless, we must make a distinction here: there are secondary issues that people differ in, and in reality, Allaah [subhaanahu wa ta’aala] made such matters in such issues wide and spacious for His slaves; here I am referring to issues that are not from the primary teachings of the Religion; those teachings regarding which the one who opposes is ruled to be a disbeliever. Other than those primary teachings, Allaah [subhaanahu wa ta’aala] made matters spacious for His slaves; the Prophet [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] said:

“When the judge rules after making Ijtihad [using all resources – proofs and sound principles of deduction – available to him in order to arrive at a ruling], and is then correct, then he has two rewards. And if he is mistaken, then he has one reward.” [36]

In any case, whether he is wrong or right, the judge is rewarded, with two rewards if he is right and with one reward if he is wrong.

If you do not want anyone to differ with you, keep in mind that every other person also does not want anyone to differ with him. And Allaah [subhaanahu wa ta’aala] clarified the returning point for any disagreement:

“And in whatsoever you differ, the decision is with Allaah [subhaanahu wa ta’aala] [He is the ruling Judge].” [Ash-Shura 42:10]

And Allaah [subhaanahu wa ta’aala] said:

“[And] if you differ in anything amongst yourselves, refer it back to Allaah [subhaanahu wa ta’aala] and His Messenger [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam], if you believe in Allaah [subhaanahu wa ta’aala] and in the Last Day. That is better and more suitable for final determination.” [An-Nisa 4:50]

Whenever two parties disagree among themselves, they must defer to these two primary sources – the Book of Allaah and the Sunnah of Allaah’s Messenger [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam]. It is categorically forbidden to oppose the speech of Allaah and His Prophet [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam], no matter whose speech it is that one is giving preference to. When the truth becomes clear to you, it is incumbent upon you to “strike the saying of anyone who opposes that truth against the side of a wall,” and you must never look back at that saying, no matter how high the status and knowledge is of the person who said it. Human beings err, but there is not a single error in the speech of Allaah and His Messenger [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam].

It greatly saddens me to hear that some people who are considered to be serious in their pursuit of the truth, are divided, with each one of them taking on a different title or descriptive quality. In reality, this is a serious mistake, for Allaah’s Religion is one, and the Ummah [Nation] of Islam is one. Allaah [subhaanahu wa ta’aala] says:

“And verily! This, your religions is one religion, and I am your Lord, so keep your duty to me.” [Al-Mu’minun 23:52]

And Allaah [subhaanahu wa ta’aala] said to His Prophet, Muhammad [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam]:

“Verily, those who divide their religion and break up into sects, you [O Muhammad [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam]] have no concern in them in the least. Their affair is only with Allaah [subhaanahu wa ta’aala], Who then will tell them what they used to do.” [Al-An’am 6:159]

And Allaah [subhaanahu wa ta’aala] said:

“He [Allaah [subhaanahu wa ta’aala]] has ordained for you the same religion which He ordained for Nuh, and that which We inspired in you [O Muhammad [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam]], and that which We ordained for Ibrahim, Musa and ‘Isa saying you should establish religion and make no divisions in it [religion] [i.e. various sects in religion].” [Ash-Shura 42:13]

Because this is the guidance of Allaah [subhaanahu wa ta’aala], we must follow and implement it. We must gather and discuss issues in order to improve and rectify our situation, and not in order to accuse another or exact retribution from one another. Whenever one debates an issue with another person, intending to achieve victory for his view and to belittle the view of his opponent, without intending betterment, then for the most part, he will leave the debate in a way that does not please Allaah and His Messenger [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam].

In matters of discord, we must truly become one Nation. I am not saying that no one makes mistakes; people are sometimes right and sometimes wrong in their views. But what we are discussing here is how to rectify and mend what is wrong. I am not helping to change a person’s incorrect view by backbiting and slandering him. The way to help him is to meet him and to discuss the situation with him, and if he stubbornly persists in his falsehood, I then have the right, or rather the duty, to clarify his mistake and to warn people against it. And by following this methodology, we can help improve matters.

As for division or the forming of factions, this is something that pleases no one save the enmeies of Islam and of Muslims.


[33] Related by Ahmad in his Musnad [3/198]; by Al-Darimi [2727] in the chapter, “About Repentance.” Al-Tirmidhi related it [2499] in chapter 49, Ibn Majah [4251] related it in the chapter, “About the Mention of Repentance.” In Sahih al-Jami’ [4/171], Al-Albani related that it is hasan. In Sharh al-Sunnah [5/92], Al-Arna’ut said, “Its chain is hasan,” from the hadeeth of Anas [radee Allaahu ‘anhu]

[34] A portion of a hadeeth related by Al-Bukhari [6026] in the chapter, “The Believers Cooperating with one Another.” Muslim [2585] related in the chapter, “The Mutual Mercy, Compassion, and Help of the Believers,” from the hadeeth of Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari [radee Allaahu ‘anhu]

[35] A portion of a hadeeth related by Muslim [1844] in the chapter, “It is Compulsory to be Faithful to One’s Pledge to the Khalifah…” from the hadeeth of ‘Abdullaah ibn ‘Amr ibn Al-‘As [radee Allaahu ‘anhu]

[36] Related by Al-Bukhari [7352] in the chapter, “The Reward of a judge when he makes Ijtihad…” And Muslim related it [1716] in the chapter, “Clarification of the Judge’s Reward when he Makes Ijtihad…” from the hadeeth of ‘Amr ibn Al-‘As [radee Allaahu ‘anhu]

Source: The Islamic Awakening, Pgs. 67-71, by Shaykh Muhammad bin Saalih al-‘Uthaymeen [d.1421H], Translated by Faisal ibn Muhammad, Published by Al-Hidaayah Publishing & Distribution

The Impermissibility of Commanding the Good and Forbidding the Evil in Matters of Disagreement Among the Scholars

The rulings of commanding the right and forbidding the wrong only apply to matters that are agreed upon among scholars as being obligatory or unlawful. As for something that is differed upon, such as the issue under discussion, it is not permissible to condemn someone for doing it. It is, however, recommended for one to give sincere advice to such a person and to encourage him to adopt the more religiously precautionary position by extricating himself from the disagreement of the scholars.

The great scholar, the Proof of Islam, Imam Ghazali said in the Ihya during his discussion of the integrals and conditions of commanding the right:

“The fourth condition is that the matter being condemned be something that is condemnable without being subject to scholarly disagreement. Commanding the right and forbidding the wrong does not apply to anything that falls under the realm of scholarly disagreement. It is therefore not permissible for a follower of the Hanafi school to condemn a follower of the Shafi`i school for eating a lizard, a hyena, or meat upon which the name of Allah was not pronounced [even though such matters may be unlawful in the Hanafi school].”

Imam Nawawi said in his commentary on Sahih Muslim:

“Scholars only condemn what is agreed upon [as being unlawful]. As for something that is differed upon, it may not be condemned because either (a) the conclusion of every mujtahid is correct—and this is the position adopted by many (or most) of the scholars of exacting verification—or (b) only one of them is correct but we don’t know with certainty which one is incorrect and [whoever he may be] he is not sinful [for reaching his incorrect conclusion].

However, if one encourages such a person to extricate himself from scholarly disagreement by way of giving sincere advice, then this is a good and praiseworthy thing when done with gentleness. This is because scholars agree that is encouraged to extricate oneself from scholarly disagreement when doing so does not result in contravening a sunna or falling into another disagreement.”

And Allah Most High knows best what the correct position is and to Him is the final return.

Source: The Ruling of Shaving and Shortening the Beard in the Shafi`i School –

How Muslim Scholars Deal With Perceived Contradictions in Islamic Texts

Methodology of the Majority of Scholars of Islam

The perspective that guides each step of the process [for them] is maintaining the validity and viability of the evidence as far and as much as possible.

  1. Reconciling where possible – the justification is that the Lawgiver only provided the evidence in order to guide humanity to the rules He intends for them; therefore, to use all the evidence on an issue is preferable to rejecting some of it; and it is the best method for preserving the Shari’ah from charges of imperfection.  Therefore, if two seemingly contradictory pieces of evidence from the text can be understood in a way where both can be harmoniously followed, it is the first and most preferred way for the majority.
  2. Tarjih where possible – to give preponderance to one evidence over another, to consider it weightier. That is because the evidence which is overridden can be resurrected under changing circumstances; for example, the position that stoning the Jamaraat before the zenith during the Days of Tashreeq [at the pilgrimage to Mecca] is lawful, based upon the lack of stipulation of a specific time by the Lawgiver is worthy of resurrection in an era of intense crowding; whereas previously, precedence was given to the practice of the Prophet (pbuh), i.e., he stoned each day after the zenith.
  3. Naskh (Abrogation) – it comes after the first two choices above cannot be applied because the abrogated evidence is permanently disabled.  It is determined through chronology of the evidence.  The earlier text is abrogated by the later text.
  4. Disqualifying both pieces of evidence – it comes [as a] last [resort], because it causes the permanent loss of the two pieces of conflicting evidence. In such circumstances, one returns to the starting assumption (al-bara’ah al-asliyyah – everything is allowed unless evidence that it is prohibited [in worldly matters], there is no obligation unless there is evidence to indicate that it is so, etc.)

Methodology of the Hanafis

  1. Naskh – Unlike the majority, they turn to it first.  Their reasoning is that, if you know the date, you have to go with the later of the two  evidence.  They say that this was the practice of the companions of the Prophet (pbuh).
  2. Tarjih – When it is impossible to determine the dates of the evidence, they turn to tarjih. The argument they use to give it precedence over reconciliation is that all rational people agree that a weaker evidence cannot be treated on a par with a stronger evidence; therefore tarjih is warranted.  The majority’s response to the Hanafis: One compares the relative strength of two pieces of evidence to disqualify one of them when they conflict; but if it can be shown that they do not conflict, then there is no need for that.
  3. Reconciliation – Same concept as discussed in the section of the majority
  4. Disqualifying both pieces of evidence – Same concept as discussed in the section of the majority

Methodology of Some Hadith Scholars

  1. Reconciliation
  2. Naskh
  3. Tarjih
  4. Disqualifying both pieces of evidence

Above is what I gathered from the notes of Sh. Riaz Ansary that he provided to us during a lecture on Usul-ul-Fiqh (Fundamentals of Islamic Jurisprudence) at IOU.  I found it quite enlightening and thought it would be useful for many students of this sacred knowledge.  What shows above are his notes (mostly) and a few of my own comments where I felt clarification was needed.

Weakness of Faith Due to Scandalous Conduct of Some Religious Scholars – Imam Al-Ghazali

There are three remedies for this sickness:

One of them is for you to say: “The learned man who, you allege, devours what is illicit, knows that such illicit things are forbidden just as well as you know that wine and pork and usury–to say nothing of backbiting, lying, and slander–are forbidden.  Now you know that, yet you do such things, not because of the lack of your belief that it is disobedience, but rather because of your desire which gets the better of you.  Well his desire is like yours, and it has indeed got the better of him.  So his technical knowledge of subtle questions beyond this prohibition, by which he is distinguished from you, does not necessarily involve a more severe warning against this or that specific illicit action.  How many a man who believes in medicine cannot abstain from fruit and cold water, even though he has been warned against them by his physician!  But that does not prove that they are not injurious, or that faith in medicine is unsound.  This, therefore, is the way to construe the faults of the learned.”

The second remedy is that the man in the street be told: “You ought to be believe that the learned man has acquired his learning as a provision for himself in the afterlife and supposes that his learning will save him and will be an intercessor for him.  So in view of that he may be negligent in his actions because of the merit of his learning.  And though it be possible that his  learning will be additional evidence against him, yet he thinks it possible that it will procure him a higher rank in heaven.  This may be the case for, even though he has given up good works, he can adduce his learning in his favor.  But you, common man that you are, if you pattern yourself on him and give up good works without having any learning, you will perish because of your evildoing, and there will be no intercessor for you!”

The third remedy, and this is the real one, is that the true man of learning commits a sin only by way of a slip, but will in no way stubbornly persist in his sins.  For true learning is that which leads to the knowledge that sin is a deadly poison and that the afterlife is better than this  life.  And anyone who knows that will not barter the better for something inferior.  This knowledge is not the fruit of the various types of knowledge with which most men busy themselves.  Hence the knowledge they acquire only makes them bolder in disobeying God Most High.  True knowledge, on the other hand, increases its possessor’s reverence, fear, and hope, and this stands between him and the commission of sins, save for those slips from which, in moments of weakness, no man is free.  But this is not a sign of weak faith, for the believer is tried but continually repentant, and he is far from stubborn impenitence.

Source: Deliverance from Error (al-Munqidh min al-Dalal) by Al-Ghazali (translated by R.J. Mccarthy, S.J.), pp. 79-80. Please note that the title given is of my own and not included in the actual work.

Why Muslim Scholars Differ: Notes From Ibn Taymiyyah’s Raf’ al-Malaam ‘an al-A’immah al-Al-A’laam (The Removal of Blame From the Great Imams)

I had always wondered why certain scholars, especially the highly reputable ones like the four imams, chose to go against clear authentic hadiths which contradict their opinion(s).  It always bothered me and made me feel a bit uneasy but I could never really figure out why such was the case.  If the Qur’an and Sunnah are one, I would think to myself, then how can there be two or three or four different opinions on an issue?  Alhamdulillah, over the years, it had started to make more and more sense to me.  The more I learned and advanced in Islamic knowledge, the more clear and respect I started to gain for the differences of opinion especially for the scholars who held those opinions.  I realized that they have legitimate and good basis for their opinions.  There are many factors which take place that cause a scholar to affirm or deny an opinion.  No reputable scholar in Islam intentionally goes against a clear and confirmed hadith.

There are a few works written on this issue and are available in the English language, such as, The Differences of the Imams by the famous Hanafi scholar Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhelvi and Differences of Opinion Amongst the Scholars by the famous Hanbali scholar Muhammad ibn ‘Uthaymeen.  Both of these books are good introductory works to read in order to delve deeper into this topic.

However, my most favorite book on this topic [as of yet], is Raf’ al-Malaam ‘an al-A’immah al-Al-A’laam by the legendary scholar Shaykh ul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah and it has been translated into English under the title The Removal of Blame From the Great Imams and can be downloaded.  It is much more comprehensive than the previous two books and is an excellent book to study on the topic.  The reader will come out with intense respect for the intelligence and diligence of Muslim scholars.

In short, he argues that the reputable Muslim scholars are not to be blamed for having differences of opinion and then goes on to provide some reasons as explanation of why they differed.  His intent in the work is to create a good image of the scholars in the mind of the reader and to keep away any evil thoughts about them, hence, the title of the book The Removal of Blame From the Great Imams.  He also provides extensive examples to back up his claims which are very helpful.  It may be a difficult read for someone who has never studied fiqh or usul ul fiqh at a basic level.  The previous two books mentioned above may be better suited for such an individual.

I read Ibn Taymiyyah’s translated book recently and took notes and wanted to share them here, because I find this to be a very important topic in our times.  Confusion over this issue has led to two extreme positions.  On one side, you have the extreme conservatives who think that some of these reputable scholars intentionally went against opposing authentic evidence.  On the other side, you have the extreme liberals who think that these Muslim scholars are just making up opinions out of a hat, therefore, they should not be relied upon.  This is only due to their ignorance over this topic and lack of understanding.  They do not realize the amount of work, pondering, research, and effort that goes into forming these opinions by such scholars.

The notes are below.  I only took notes from his work on what is related to the topic.  Ibn Taymiyyah has a habit of going into long tangents in his works so I avoided that aspect.  May Allah make it beneficial for myself, first and foremost, and anyone who reads it.  I apologize for any mistakes or misunderstandings on my part from his work.

Note: Since WordPress is not very good at displaying bullet notes, you can download a cleaner version in pdf format here for easy printing and better reading.


  • None of the imams intentionally opposed the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
    • They believe that words of anyone other than the Prophet may be accepted or rejected
  • If the opinions of any of the accepted imams are found to be in opposition to an authentic hadith, there is a valid excuse for it and generally falls into one of three categories
    • First Category: Scholar does not believe that the Prophet (pbuh) ever said such a thing. There are various reasons for this
    • Second Category: Scholar does not think that the hadith is intended to refer to the issue in question
    • Third Category: Scholar believes that the ruling is abrogated

Reasons for the Differences

Reason 1: The hadith may have never reached him

    • Hence, he gives a ruling based on a verse of Qur’an or another hadith
    • It’s not possible for one person to know all of the hadiths
      • Mujtahaid’s objective should be to know most of the hadiths so that only a few of the details will escape him
    • This is the most likely reason that is found in the opinions of the pious predecessors (salaf)
      • Ex: Abu Bakr did not know the inheritance of the grandmother even though he spent so much time with the Prophet and Umar didn’t know the Sunnah on seeking permission before entering a house. Similar examples are there from Uthman and Ali’s lives.
        • Those less knowledgeable than them had the hadiths with them and told them about it
        • If this was the case with the Sahabah, the most knowledgeable, then what of those in later generations?
    • The collections of hadiths that were compiled came after these imams

Reason 2: The hadith reached the Mujtahid but not authentically

    • But it may have reached other imams authentically
      • Ex: the hadith reaches one Mujtahid with a broken chain but to another with an unbroken chain
    • It may be that the Mujtahaid thinks the hadith is not authentic but it actually is
      • Ex: he considers someone in the chain as unknown but he is known to another imam
    • This reason was common among the Tabi’een and the Tabi’ Tabi’een up to the time of the well-known imams
      • Because hadiths had spread wide by then and to some they reached authentically while to others they did not
      • This is why the imams in this era would say if a hadith reaches them authentically, they would change their ruling on a matter

Reason 3: The scholar makes ijtihaad and declares the hadith weak

    • But another scholar’s ijtihaad may conclude it to be authentic
      • Reasons
        • One scholar considers a particular transmitter in the hadith as not trustworthy while another scholar disagrees
        • One scholar does not believe that the transmitter heard the hadith from the narrator he is transmitting from while another scholar disagrees
        • One scholar thinks that a particular narrator transmitted the hadith in a state of confusion [he may have lost his books, he became confused later in age, etc.] while another scholar disagrees and believes the narrator reported the hadith in his sound state
        • Transmitter forgets that he related a particular hadith and is unable to remember it at a later date or denies that he ever related such a hadith. This causes one scholar to deny the hadith considering it defective while another scholar still accepts it and does not consider it defective
        • Many Hijaazi scholars held the view that unless a hadith originated in Hijaaz, it should not be cited as evidence. Hence, they did not accept hadiths that originated in Iraq or Shaam.
          • Because they thought that the Hijaazi people had mastered the Sunnah so that not a single hadith had escaped them and they looked at hadiths originating in Iraq or Shaam with suspicion
            • Some of the Iraqi scholars thought the same about hadiths originating in Shaam
            • Ibn Taymiyyah points out that most people of knowledge don’t use this criteria as a basis to weaken hadiths. He further says that the hadiths should be accepted as long as its chain of narrators is sound no matter where it originated from.
        • There are other reasons as well, Ibn Taymiyyah points out, but does not mention them.

Reason 4: One scholar stipulates certain conditions for the acceptance of a hadith while another scholar opposes him because he does not accept such conditions

    • Examples
      • Some say the hadith must be compared to what is in the Qur’an and established Sunnah
      • Some say that the transmitter must be a jurist if his narration contradicts that which can be deduced through textual principles
      • Some say that the narration of the hadith needs to be widespread and known if it deals with an issue known to have occurred frequently at the time of the Prophet
      • There are other conditions placed as well which Ibn Taymiyyah does not mention

Reason 5: The hadith reaches the scholar authentically but he has forgotten about it.

    • Ex: When Umar gave a fatwa saying that a person in a state of major ritual impurity must not pray until he finds water. Then ‘Ammar reminded him of the hadith in which prophet allowed Umar and ‘Ammar to do Tayammum in such a case
      • After this reminder Umar still could not recall the incident
    • Such incidents frequently occur among the early and later scholars

Reason 6: The scholar does not know the implication of the concerned hadith

    • Reasons
      • The scholar is unfamiliar with a particular term mentioned in the hadith or he disagrees with other scholars with regards to its meaning
        • Ex: the word ighlaaq. Scholars differed as to what it means
      • The scholar understands a particular term in the hadith in a way which is common in his own custom and dialect; however, it was understood differently at the Prophet’s time
        • Usually because he views that a word retains its original meaning until proven otherwise
        • Ex: some thought the word khamr in the Qur’an and Sunnah refers to intoxicants made from grapes only because this was what it meant in their own dialect. But there are hadiths which clarify that its meaning refers to every type of intoxicating drink
      • Certain terms in the Qur’an and hadiths can be homonyms, ambivalent in their meanings, or hovering between the literal and the metaphorical. So the scholar takes what he thinks is the nearest to the intended meaning but is wrong
        • Ex:
          • The companion who thought the white and black thread in the Qur’anic verse about beginning the fast was literal but it was only metaphorical
          • The scholars who understand the word hands in the verse dealing with dry ablution (tayammum) to mean entire arm up to the armpit
        • Sometimes the hadith’s import is obscure
          • Indications that can be drawn from a statement are very diverse and people differ in their ability to comprehend them
            • Ex: a scholar might know the general implication of a text but he might not recognize that this specific case is included within that general context
              • Or he may have realized it but had forgotten later on
        • It is also possible that a person commits a mistake by deriving from a statement what is not conceivable within the Arabic language with which the Prophet (peace be on him) was sent

Reason 7: Scholar thinks that the hadith does not carry any specific implication

    • The difference between this reason and the one before it is that in the previous [instance] the scholar did not know that specific implication whereas in this reason he knows the specific implication but believes that it ought not to be applied based on some principles he had which invalidated that implication, regardless of whether he was in reality right or wrong.
      • Ex: scholar believes that the specified general text is not a valid proof, or that the implication is not a valid proof, or that a general ruling established for a specific cause is applied only where that cause exists, or that a general imperative does not necessitate obligation or immediate compliance, or that the alif and laam [constituents of the Arabic definite article] do not denote generality, or that negated verbs neither negate its essence nor all of its rulings, etc.
    • Half of the disputes arisen in usul ul fiqh fall under this field [of implications]

Reason 8: The scholar deems that implication of the text to be opposed by something indicating that it could not have been so intended

    • Ex: general term being opposed by a specific one, an absolute term (al-mutlaq) by a qualified one (al-muqayyad), an absolute imperative by that which negates it, or the literal (al-haqiqah) one by that which indicates a metaphor (al-majaz), and so on.

Reason 9: The scholar thinks that the hadith is opposed by contrary evidence which is accepted by all scholars, such as a Qur’anic verse, another hadith, or consensus, thereby indicating the hadith’s weakness, abrogation, or interpretation if it is amenable to interpretation

    • Two types
      • The scholar believes that the contrary evidence is preferable (rajih) in general, leading to one of the three possibilities without specifying any one of them
        • Weakening of the hadith
        • Its abrogation
        • Its interpretation away from the undesirable meaning
      • The scholar specifies one of the three possibilities mentioned above
        • He may err though
          • There is the possibility, however, that he might commit a mistake regarding the abrogation by considering the later evidence to be the earlier one
          • He might err in interpretation by understanding the hadith in a way which its wording does not permit, or where there is something extraneous which rules out that interpretation
          • It is possible that the opposing hadith is not equal in strength to the first one in terms of the authenticity of its chain of transmitters and the clarity of its text (matn)
        • In most cases, the claim of a consensus is actually no more than the absence of knowledge about any opposing opinion
          • This is due to the fact that the ultimate aim for many scholars is to know the opinions of the scholars who were their contemporaries within their region while not knowing the opinions of other scholars
            • Some knew opinions of only the Medinan or Kufan scholars while not others
            • Some knew only 2-3 reputable scholars’ opinions and not others so they thought it was a consensus
          • Fearing to go against the consensus or believing that they may be going against the consensus led many scholars to not adhere to the obvious import of the evidence [in some cases]

Reason 10: The scholar thinks the hadith was opposed by evidence indicating the hadith’s weakness, abrogation, or contrary interpretation, whereas his view that this is a contrary evidence is not shared by other scholars, or even by those who belong to his group, or the contrary evidence is not in reality the prevalent one

    • Ex: Kufans who, when an authentic hadith is opposed by the apparent meaning of a Qur’anic text, believe that the apparent Qur’anic text, such as one expressing generality, is given preference over the explicit meaning of a hadith
    • Sometimes a scholar might consider something to be apparent which is not in reality apparent; this is because there are many potential implications of a statement

Other Issues

  • It is possible in many cases that the scholar has a proof for not acting upon a hadith which we are not aware of because the ways of comprehending knowledge are manifold and we cannot know all of what is in the hearts of the scholars
    • But it is not permitted for us to follow this opinion in light of an opinion that is established with an authentic hadith and is followed by some people of knowledge
      • Because the opinion of the scholar whose evidence is unknown may be wrong
    • Hence, he may have a valid excuse for not following the Shari’ evidence
  • The Mujtahid, despite his error, is rewarded because of his ijtihad and his mistake is forgiven due to the fact that arriving at the correct opinion on every occasion is either impossible or highly unlikely
  • Three possibilities for one who did not act in accordance to a given hadith. Either:
    • His leaving the hadith was permissible
      • For example, he was unaware of it
    • His leaving the hadith was not permissible.
      • This is unlikely for the great imams. They would not leave a hadith unless due to a legitimate reason
    • He gave an opinion without fully comprehending the issue
      • He may be deficient in his deduction so he concludes without an evidence though he may have used some sort of ijtihaad
        • He may be influenced by a custom or predisposition
        • He may have not taken his reasoning to its appropriate conclusion
  • Scholars sometimes disagree whether a given hadith is explicit (nass) or apparent (zaahir) in its implication
  • Conceivable interpretation of the texts plays a role in differences as well
  • Some scholars differed whether a certain action was totally forbidden or just disliked
  • If a scholar has a reasonable interpretation for a hadith, then it cannot be said that he will be liable for the punishment stated in the hadith
    • Ex: a hadith says such and such should not be done else will be punished in the afterlife but scholar allows that action based on interpreting the hadith differently
    • For the punishment to apply, there must be absence of all conditions which prevent the blame from taking place (evidence never reached the scholar, he misunderstood something, etc.) and the absence of all the impediments (repentance, doing good deeds which remove bad deeds, Allah’s Mercy, trials and tribulations in life which may make up for it, etc.)
      • It may apply to those who were aware
        • It’s case by case basis [my comment]
  • Majority of the Salaf say that Allah has only one [correct] ruling with regard to any given issue and the one who differs from this position based on an acceptable piece of ijtihad is mistaken, excused, and rewarded
  • Whenever it is possible for a person to know the truth and he falls short, he is not to be excused
    • Those who fall short in their ijtihad due to invalid reasons or those who imitate with a standard that could not make the action permissible could be liable to punishment in the hereafter
      • Unless there are other impediments which may remove it (repentance, good deeds which remove bad ones, etc.)
      • If however he sought the truth [to the best of his ability] and did not leave it to his own desires, then Allah does not burden a soul beyond what it can bear
    • Those who practice legitimate ijtihaad are not included under this because they have a valid excuse, rather, they will be rewarded for their ijtihad even when wrong
  • In disputed matters, it is not allowed to say that specific people are cursed under the threat of punishment mentioned in certain hadiths because there may be impediments which prevent the threat and/or punishment from them (repentance, good deeds erasing bad ones, etc.)
    • Ex: a hadith says those who do such and such are cursed but you find a scholar who allows that action. It may be that the scholar interprets that hadith differently [based on sound evidence] or if the doer is a layman, he might repent or his good deeds outweigh his bad ones or tribulations in his life might remove that sin from him or Allah may have mercy on him, etc.  These impediments could apply to the mujtahid as well.
    • Hadiths which speak about cursing those who perform certain actions are to be understood in general terms and not specific. So we say those who do such acts are under the threat mentioned in the hadith but we don’t specify certain people individually of being guilty of the curse because the curse may not apply to them due to absence of certain conditions (ex: the knowledge did not reach him) or presence of certain impediments (ex: repentance, Allah’s Mercy, good deeds remove bad deeds, etc.).

What Muslim Scholars Opined on Takfir (Excommunication)

Dhahabi relates in his Siyar A’lam al-Nubala’ that Zahir al-Sarakhsi said: “When Abu ‘l-Hasan al-Ash’ari drew close to death in my house in Baghdad he called me and I went to him. He said, ‘Be witness that I do not make takfir of anyone from the people of the qibla (i.e. Muslims), because they all make reference to the same deity, just their verbiage is different.’” Dhahabi then says, “I also take the same as my belief. Similarly, during the end of his life, our Shaykh Ibn Taymiya used to say, ‘I do not make takfir of anyone from this umma.’ He would say that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, ‘Only the believer is regular in performing wudu (ritual ablution),’ so whoever is regular on their salat with wudu is a believer” (10:16). (Al-Ta’liq al-Muyassar 427)

Many exhortations have been reported from the scholars regarding takfir of Muslims. The Syrian Hanafi jurist Haskafi says, “Know that a formal legal opinion (fatwa) will not be issued regarding a Muslim whose statements can be interpreted in a positive way, or when there is a difference of opinion regarding the unbelief of a person [who makes such a statement], even if that [difference] is based on a weak narration” (Al-Durr al-Mukhtar 3:287). Ibn Nujaym states, “I have made it binding on myself not to issue a formal legal verdict of unbelief regarding any matter in which the scholars have differed” (Al-Bahr al-Ra’iq 5:210).

The Shafi scholar Ibn Hajar al-Haytami says, “What our scholars have clearly said is that no judgement should be made against a person who has uttered something that could constitute unbelief until he is questionsed, that is, he is asked of his intention. If he says, ‘I intended such and such’ and such a thing can be clearly taken as unbelief, then a judgement of takfir will be made. If he has intended a meaning that is not of unbelief, then takfir will not be made (Al-Fatawa al-Kubra 4:239).

Mulla Al-Qari has quoted that Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani said, “The correct opinion according to the majority of the early and later scholars is that we do not make takfir of the innovators and sectarians unless they declare open unbelief and not just words whose implications may be construed as unbelief. This is because the soundest opinion is that the necessary implications of a position cannot be taken as the position itself. Based on this, the Muslims have been dealing with such people as believers in terms of intermarriage, praying on their deceased, and burying them in their cemeteries, because even though such people are considered to be in error, unexcusable, and correctly labeled unrighteous and deviant, their intention by what they have uttered is not to adopt unbelief (Mirqat al-Mafatih quoted by Mubarakpuri in his Tuhfat al-Ahwadhi 2:326).

Shaykh Ghawji after compiling the above statements concludes by saying, “We should constantly keep in mind the words of Allah: ‘The believers are but a single brotherhood. So make peace and reconciliation between your two (contending) brothers; and fear Allah, that you may receive mercy’” (Qur’an 49:10). (Al-Ta’liq al-Muyassar 534).

Source: Abu Hanifa’s Al-Fiqh al-Akbar Explained, pg. 150, footnotes 154 and 155.

The Dispute Between Hanbali Scholars and Contemporary Salafis

By Sh. Faris ibn Falih al-Khazraji

Many people wonder about what is happening in the academic arena between the Hanbali scholars and contemporary Salafism, why this dispute exists, and whether the dispute is confined to creed alone? Our answers to these questions are as follows:

When we began to present the Hanbali jurisprudential, theological, foundational, and the mu’tamad discussions, opposition from contemporary Salafism emerged. Their rebellion erupted for three reasons:

Firstly, they believe that they are following the belief of all the companions of the Prophet ﷺ and that they are absolutely correct in their beliefs, jurisprudence, and hadith [discussions]. Therefore, anyone who speaks contrary to what they believe is considered to be opposing the beliefs of the companions of the Prophet ﷺ. However, in reality, they are only following some of the theological and jurisprudential choices of Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah and the [proposed] beliefs and jurisprudence of [some of their] contemporary scholars. In Hadith, they [exclusively] follow what Sheikh Al-Albani has written and said. This caused a clash between us [Hanbalis] and them.

Secondly, they believe that they are guardians of the religion in general, and of the Hanbali school of thought in particular, because they thought they were Hanbalis. They thought speaking about the Hanbali school is only permissible for those who follow their contemporary scholars’ method of belief, jurisprudence, preference, weakening, and correction.

Thirdly, contemporary Salafism is confined to reading limited books and having limited scholars (their own contemporary ones) because they are not allowed to do otherwise. If they go beyond that, they do not exceed the books of Ibn Taymiyyah but without understanding his words and methodology. Therefore, they do not know anything about the Hanbali school except what their contemporary scholars have repeated to them. When Allah Almighty revealed the Hanbali beliefs, it was a shock to them. Their Shaykhs, followers, and supporters started hurling insults, belittling and mocking.

They were disturbed by any disturbance in the creed of the Hanbalis. They wrote articles, authored books, published and spread them, however, they did not deviate an inch from what Ibn Taymiyyah decided on the Names and Attributes of Allah. Then one of them, a famous teacher, coined the term “new Hanbalis” and claimed that the later Hanbali scholars were innovators. Despite his childish attitude that reflects ignorance and bigotry, he was the bravest among them, as he expressed his position without any hesitation or ambiguity unlike the others. He claimed that Ibn Taymiyyah was a reformer of the theological and jurisprudential aspects of the Hanbali school.

In the view of contemporary Salafism, anyone who associates themselves with the Imam, the Hanbali school, and adheres to its principles and branches is a misguided innovator, deviant, jahmi, and a host of other insults. So then they asserted that we [Hanbalis] created the controversy and made a false claim even though contemporary Salafism is the one that confronts those who deviate from its path, not just limited to the Hanbalis. Anyone who opposes them is considered to be either an apostate or a misguided innovator with no other options.

Therefore, it was our duty to expose their selective, exclusionary, and innovative approach and their weakness in the methodological and cognitive research. We made it clear that they have no affiliation with the Hanbali school and our statement is firm.