The body of Din which has reached us can be divided into two kinds. One kind is that which has reached us in a particular state and form; it is called mansus bi’l wada‘ (laid down in writing by the Lawgiver), and is desired and required in the same state and form. In other words, these are the affairs of al-Din, which have reached us through authentic historical records in a particular state and form, such as the pillars of Din and many obligatory duties which the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) not only examined verbally but also demonstrated in their physical forms by his own practice, i.e., prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, ablution, etc.
The other kind of Din is that in which the spirit (essence) of the thing is desired and required. In view of the multifarious exigencies, benefits and interests arising out of the changing environments and needs of people, the Lawgiver did not fix any particular forms and ways of these things. The thing desired was mentioned without any definite form of it being laid down. Though the thing itself is mansus and so obligatory, its form or method, is left open. For instance, jihad fi sabil Allah (struggle in the Cause of Allah), and da‘wah ’ila Allah, to carry on the work of Din and to transmit the knowledge of it and its Commands to the people — all these are required from the Millat-i-Islamia, and if the Ummah neglects it and completely forsakes its duty, it will be regarded as sinful.
All these things are desired but no form or method is fixed; it is left to the judgment of the Ummah to adopt any form or way of fulfilling these duties according to their convenience and the requirements of time and place.
A clear example of these duties (ghair mansus bi’l wada‘) is the matter of dress. There are laid down special instructions about the dress required for men and women. It should cover their private parts and men’s clothes should not be made of silk, which is lawful only for women. It should not be conspicuous. Thus dress is necessary (mansus) and its condition are also necessary but a particular form, color, design etc., are not necessary (i.e., ghair mansus). All these things are left to the wisdom and intellect of the Ummah and the convenience of the people according to the requirements of their environment. Another example is mosques, which are required, and also their cleanliness. It is also desired that people should engage in the remembrance of Allah in them. But no special form of architecture is required or desired. The form of the mosques is left to the intellect and convenience of the people.
Only a building is required for praying and remembering Allah and the Muslims are free to build these mosques (places of worship) in any manner they choose for their convenience, provided they fulfill their functional requirements. Likewise, calling to Allah (da‘wah ’ila Allah) is obligatory whether individually or collectively, by speech or writing, openly or secretly; but no form is prescribed. The Quran has clearly stated through the tongue of the Prophet Nuh (peace be upon him) that it can have many forms and ways: “O My Lord! I have called to my people night and day” (70:5). “I have called to them aloud” (70:8). “I have spoken to them in public and in private” (70:9).
Thus every individual and party engaged on the work of calling people to Allah is free to adopt any method to convey the message of Islam which he regards as suitable and effective in any situation. They have full liberty to use any manner or style in their efforts to do this work of da‘wah which they think effective and beneficial to their work. In this respect no one has the right to call any of these ways of da‘wah lawful or unlawful, so long as no unlawful element which is against Shari‘ah or the object of Din is included in them.
But many of the people have now mixed up both these aspects of Din and given mansus (prescribed by the Lawgiver) the status of ghair mansus (not obligatory) and ghair mansus the status of mansus. This can create many difficulties and different forms of disputes and wrongdoings between different parties and groups. If the difference between these two aspects of Din is properly understood, many of the difficulties and disputes can easily be solved. When the real nature of things is understood and the standard of judging the place and status of each element of Din is fully grasped, then there is no room left for dispute between sincere people and organizations which are working for the cause of Allah. If there is any difference left in between them, it is only the difference of their experiences and the conditions in which they are working. Obviously, each party or each person is the best judge as to what form and method of da‘wah is most effective in achieving the best results in their own circumstances.
In the same way, effectiveness and benefit of a particular form and method in a particular situation can be explained to people. But no one can be compelled to follow any particular experience or method, as is the case with the obligatory Commandments in the Quranic texts (mansus Quran). Any party engaged in the work of da‘wah is fully justified in adopting any method (provided it is not opposed to the principles of Din or the established way and thinking of the salaf salihin).
If we consider our particular method of work better and more beneficial in enlivening and revitalizing the Din, it is perfectly proper to present this way of Din to others; in fact we may present it in even more attractive and better ways. But because of differences of work and methods, we consider others wrong and negate the usefulness of the approach which they have adopted on the basis of their experience and study, then this is a mistake. We can request them to reconsider their approach and compare the results of the two methods, but it would be absolutely wrong to debase them, contradict them wrong and in error. This attitude would only confine and limit the bounds of the work of da‘wah within narrow boundaries and would be equivalent to severing the relation between Din and environment of time.
In fact, there are some things in the work of da‘wah and the method of Din on which the Shari‘ah has laid special emphasis. And there are administrative methods that can be deduced from the Quran and the Sunnah and which can be found in principle in the lives of the Companions of the Prophet, but which are not explicitly described.
All those matters are subject to independent judgment (ijtihad) and individual experience; it is therefore not right to insist on particular forms in every situation or for every individual as in the case of mansus (prescribed by the text) Commands.
Moderation is the most difficult thing of all. The Prophets (peace be upon them) have perfect moderation but after them people gradually leave the path of moderation and go to extremes, this way or that way. Thereafter, some righteous individuals make a few adjustments in the work of da‘wah or the work of Din according to the changed circumstances of their time and place and find them useful and effective, but sometimes others oppose them and organize resistance to their work on the grounds that it is against the way of their ancestors. This attitude is not tenable and insistence on it is sheer prejudice. It is because some people think that whatever way they have inherited from their forefathers is the only Right Way and all other ways are wrong. So long as people do not follow their way, they consider their efforts a sheer waste.
This attitude and way of thinking is far from the moderate way of the Prophets. It is this way of thinking which has created different sects and groups in the Ummah. The only reality is that deliberations, reflection and experience has shown such-and-such to be useful and beneficial in practice. As long as it is beneficial, we should continue to use it, but when the benefit no longer results, we should look for better more effective ways to carry on our work of Din and da‘wah. But if people follow any particular way, come what way, even when it has lost all its benefits, than that way becomes a mere custom. Then it is the duty of the righteous and the virtuous to work and destroy such customs. Many practices are adopted in the beginning with pious intentions and good objects but later on take wrong forms. Then it becomes difficult to distinguish between reality and custom, Sunnah and innovation, obligation and option.
If kufr, ilhad, and sin are external enemies of the Prophet’s da‘wah and training, then formalism (with any real spirit) is its internal sickness, which drains the life-blood of the Ummah and renders its life ineffective. Its beliefs become ineffective and its deeds and ‘Ibadah without any essence (or spirit) so that it does not reflect any Light (of Revelation). All obligations are fulfilled like empty ceremonies and rites, without any purpose. These have no real power to help to withstand the temptations of the self or the attractions of the environment or to safeguard them against the attacks of the Devil. They lose all their revolutionary spirit and intellectual appeal or become so weak as to have absolutely no effect. Usually this situation is the result of the absence of da‘wah and training, or deprivation of effective, reformatory, and educative personalities.
Centuries may past without any movement for the revitalization of Din Allah which might enliven the dead souls with the Light of Faith and create a spirit of sacrifice in the Cause of Allah. The evil consequences of this on the Ummah are devastating: division and disputes on petty things become common. People confuse ‘obligatory’ with ‘permissible’, so that what is permissible becomes obligatory and what is obligatory becomes permissible. They lose sight of the true essence and spirit of Din and its obligatory duties and concentrate on the formal rites, without realizing the original purpose or object of the Commandments.
The result is that rites and ceremonies (forms) of Din become the be-all and end-all of their activities and the spirit of Din is completely lost. The body of the Ummah is rendered lifeless and all its revolutionary spirit from the original inspiring Message is sacrificed on the altar of formalism and rites.
(“An Important Principle to Save Distortion of Din and the Workers of Din from Exaggeration and Clashes”, in Al–Furqan, Lucknow, July, 1981, pp. 19-26)