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The Dislike of the Salaf with Regards to Giving Religious Verdicts

By Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali

This is similar to the hatred of the Salaf al-Salih (the Pious Predecessors) that a person should put himself forward to give religious verdicts (fatawa) and to crave them, and to hasten to it, and to do it in excess. Ibn Lahi‘ah reports from ‘Ubayd Allah ibn Abi Ja‘far in mursal form from the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) that he said, “He who is boldest from you in giving religious verdicts will be the boldest in proceeding to the Fire”.[1] ‘Alqamah states, “They used to say, ‘The boldest of you in giving religious verdicts is the one having the least knowledge.’”

Bara’ once said, “I met a hundred and twenty of the Ansar from the Companions of Allah’s Messenger (upon him blessings and peace) and when one of them was asked about a matter there was not a single man amongst them except that he wished that his brother would suffice him (by answering).”[2] In a narration there occurs the addition, “…so this one would refer it to another, and he would refer it to someone else until it would eventually return to the first one.” It is reported on the authority of Ibn Mas‘ud, may Allah be pleased with him, who said, “The one who gives a religious verdict to the people about everything that he is asked is indeed insane.”[3]

‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz was asked about a question and replied, “I am not one who is bold about giving religious verdicts.” He also wrote to one of his governors, “By Allah I am not one who craves giving religious verdicts as long as I can find a way to avoid it.”

Ibn Yaminah said, “This affair is not for those who love that the people should have need of them; rather this affair is only for those who love that someone can be found to take their place.” It is also reported from him that he said, “The most knowledgeable of people concerning religious verdicts is the one who is most often silent, and the most ignorant of people about them is the one who speaks the most with regard to them.”[4]

Sufyan al-Thawri once said, “We reached the scholars and they used to hate answering questions and giving religious verdicts until they could find no way out except to give a verdict. But if they were relieved of having to do so then that was more beloved to them.”

Imam Ahmad once said, “He who puts himself forward to give religious verdicts has put himself forward to something very serious, unless he is forced through necessity.” It was said to him, “Then which is better for him: to speak or to remain silent?” He said, “It is more beloved to us that he should withhold.” It was said, “But if there is a necessity?” So he started saying, “Necessity! Necessity!” And he said, “It is safer for him to withhold.”

So those who give religious verdicts should realize that they are transmitting Allah’s orders and prohibitions and that he will be made to stand to account and be questioned about it. Al-Rabi‘ ibn Khaytham said, “O giver of religious verdicts! Look and see how you are giving verdicts.” ‘Amr ibn Dinar said to Qatadah when he sat to give religious verdicts, “Do you realize the affair that you have fallen into? You have come between Allah and His worshippers and say, ‘This is correct and this is not correct.’”[5] It is also reported from Ibn al-Munkadir that he said, “The scholar enters between Allah and His creation, so let him look and see how he enters between them.”[6]

When Ibn Sirin was asked about anything pertaining to the permissible and forbidden his color would change and he would alter so that he would not seem to be the same person.[7] When Ibrahim al-Nakha‘i was asked about something, displeasure would appear on his face and he would say, “Could you not find someone else to ask other than me?” He also said, “I spoke and if I had found any way out I would not have spoken, and indeed a time when I am the scholar of Kufah is an evil time.”[8]

It is related that Ibn ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “You ask us for religious verdicts in such a manner that it is as if we are people who are not going to be questioned about the verdicts that we give you.”[9] It is also reported from Muhammad ibn Wasi‘ who said, “The first of those who will be called to account are the scholars.” It is reported about Malik, may Allah have mercy on him, that when he was asked about a matter it was as if he were standing between the Paradise and the Hell-Fire.[10]

One of the scholars also said to a person who used to give religious verdicts, “When you are asked about a matter then do not let your concern be to escape and find a way out for the questioner, but rather to escape and save your own self.”[11] Another said, “If you are asked about a matter then first ponder. If you find a way out of it then speak, otherwise remain silent.” The sayings of the pious predecessors about this are too many to quote and gather.

From The Evil of Craving for Wealth and Status © 1995 al-Hidaayah


[1] Reported by Darimi 1/57. Its chain of narration according to the muhaddiths is weak since it is mursal (i.e. there is a missing link or links between the last narrator and the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace).

[2] This saying is reported by Darimi (1/53) and Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr in his Jami‘ (2/163). However it is the statement of ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Abi Layla and not the statement of Al-Bara’, and its chain of narration is sahih. As for the statement of Al-Bara’, then it is, “I saw three hundred of the people of Badr and there was not a single one of them except that he loved that someone else should take his place in answering,” it is reported by Ibn al-Mubarak in al-Zuhd (no. 58), Ibn Sa‘d (6/11), and others and its chain contains Abu Ishaq al-Sabi‘i who is acceptable (saduq) except that he was a mudallis and reports it without stating that he heard it directly.

[3] Reported by Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (2/164-165), al-Khatib in al-Faqih wa ’l-Mutafaqqih (2/197-198) and Abu Khaythamah in al-‘Ilm (no. 10), and its chain of narration is sahih.

[4] Reported by al-Khatib in al-Faqih wa ’l-Mutafaqqih (2/166) and its isnad is weak.

[5] Reported by al-Khatib in al-Faqih wa ’l-Mutafaqqih (2/168).

[6] Reported with variations in wording by Darimi (1/53), and al-Khatib in al-Faqih wa ’l-Mutafaqqih (2/168) and its isnad is sahih.

[7] Reported by Ibn Sa‘d (7/195), al-Khatib in al-Faqih wa ’l-Mutafaqqih (2/167) and its isnad is sahih.

[8] Reported in meaning by Abu Khaythamah in al-‘Ilm (no. 131).

[9] Reported by al-Fasawi (1/490) and al-Khatib in al-Faqih wa ’l-Mutafaqqih (2/168) and its isnad is weak.

[10] Reported by al-Khatib in al-Faqih wa ’l-Mutafaqqih (2/167) and its isnad is weak.

[11] The one who said this was ‘Umar ibn Khaldah al-Zurqi and he was speaking to Rabi‘ah ibn Abi ‘Abd al-Rahman. This narration is reported with very close wordings by al-Fasawi (1/556-557), Abu Nu‘aym in al-Hilyah (3/260-261) and al-Khatib in al-Faqih wa ’l-Mutafaqqih (2/169) and its isnad is sahih.]

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