Fiqh is Speculative

A common question I often here from young zealous brothers who are newly seeking knowledge is “What is the correct opinion regarding xyz issue?” Today, I want to discuss why this question is wrong, what led to us having this incorrect approach to Fiqh, the correct approach to Fiqh, and why this matters.

I want to start with an issue that does not seem relevant here but is actually crucial for understanding why we approach Fiqh incorrectly in the modern era, and that is the school system. Now most of you already know that I am highly critical of the current school system and believe that it is greatly flawed. One of the biggest flaws of modern education is that it trains the human brain to assume that there is only one right answer on any issue. School forces young people to spend 13 years in a system in which every test and question has just one right answer. Often the system is so strict that even if you arrive at the correct answer through a creative or different approach, it is still graded wrong, because you have to give the exact answer with exact method that the teacher prescribed.

This trains the human mind to think in a very binary way, that for every issue, there is a right answer and a wrong answer. We then carry this mindset into our study of Fiqh which leads to a completely incorrect approach to Fiqh as a whole. Fiqh as a science has always been a field of probability, in which no matter what conclusion you come to, you accept the possibility that you could be wrong and someone else could be right. To appreciate Fiqh, we need to let go of this binary thinking and accept the idea of a spectrum of possibility correct opinions. It is this adjustment in mindset that many people find difficult to make.

You may find it difficult to reconcile between the fact that Islam is the true religion with very clear beliefs and primarily laws, and the fact that Fiqh is mostly speculative and probabilistic, but the Muslims of the past did not see this as a contradiction. A distinction needs to be made between that which is known of the religion by necessity and that which Allah has left open to interpretation as a Mercy to us. Things like the six pillars of faith, the five pillars of Islam, and the major sins are clear and agreed upon. These are the fundamentals that every Muslim must know and follow, and in which there is no room for differences of opinion.

However, Allah as a Mercy to us, did not make the entire religion so stringent. It is only a few issues in which things are this clear-cut and agreed upon. The bulk of Fiqh was left purposely open to interpretation for a number of reasons which include to make things easy for people, to accommodate a diversity of thought patterns and approaches, and to keep the law flexible and practical. Scholars of Fiqh have always viewed Fiqh as a Dhanni science meaning that Fiqh is probabilistic and speculative, and there is always a possibility that you are wrong. It is learning to accept that possibility that is crucial for become tolerant to other Fiqh opinions and learning to live in peace with Muslims that follow a different opinion from you.

Let us look at a contemporary issue as an example, the issue of smoking cigarettes and related tobacco products. My opinion is that smoking such products are haram because these things are dangerous for one’s wealth and cause millions of deaths every year. A Muslim should not purposely destroy their own body in this manner. However, I accept the possibility that my opinion could be wrong, and that another opinion may be correct. I know that many scholars consider smoking to be makruh which means it is disliked but not sinful and they have good reasoning behind their opinion too. So how do we live with this clear difference of opinion.

The first step is to accept that both opinions have the possibility of being correct so whichever opinion you believe is stronger, you follow that, but you cannot make this issue a big deal or force your opinion on others. If someone else is convinced of a different opinion from you, you have to let them follow that opinion and respect their decision. This means that when I teach or advice people, I will make my opinion clear, explain the reasoning behind it, and try to persuade them to follow it. But in my daily dealings with fellow Muslims, I will not enforce my opinions on others, treat them badly for following a different opinion, or make it a big deal.

This is why it is important for us to have the correct approach to Fiqh. When we accept that Fiqh is about following what is probably the strongest opinion while accepting that you could be wrong, you automatically become more tolerant of the diverse range of opinions that exist within mainstream Islam. You do not force your opinion on others, make differences of opinion a big deal, or break ties with other Muslims over these issues. Over time, you may learn to appreciate these differences more, enjoy the diversity that makes up the ummah, and marvel at the vast scholarship behind these various madhabs.

I will end with a beautiful quotation from the great Caliph Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz (RA), when he was asked about why differences of opinion exist in such issues. He replied, “It pleases me that the companions disagreed on some matters because if not, then there would have only been one view, and this would be difficult on the people.” This should be our approach to dealing with differences in Fiqh, we must view them as a mercy from Allah and a gift from Allah that makes life easier for the believers.

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Posted by Ismail Kamdar

Ismail Kamdar is the Founder of Islamic Self Help and Izzah Academy, author of over a dozen books, and the operations manager of Yaqeen Institute.