Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine
Jamadiul-Akhir / Rajab 1423 H
September 2002
Volume 15-09 No:189

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Our Dialogue


The position of the four schools of thought
Islamic duties and un-Islamic traditions
Installments and Repayments
Children's inheritance and using Miswak
Supplication in one's language
When travelling is too costly
Respect when reading the Quran
Offering prayer in the mosque or the office


By Adil Salahi

The position of the four schools of thought

Q.Could you please explain the status of the four schools of thought and the reasons for the major differences between them. Is it obligatory for a Muslim to strictly follow one of these schools, or could one take up verdicts and rulings from schools other than his own? Is it obligatory to follow rulings based on qiyas and ijmaa’?

A. Islam spread into wide areas shortly after the Prophet’s death. Life in these areas presented numerous situations which had no ruling in the Qur’an and the Sunnah to show the Muslims how to behave concerning them. Moreover, the passage of time presents new situations and problems, all of which need to be considered in the light of Islam, so as to determine the right Islamic conduct concerning them. This means that scholars need to come up with answers to such questions on the basis of Islamic teachings outlined in the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

Muslim scholars started to do so right from the early days of Islam. The Prophet’s companions included a number of scholars who were able to deduce rulings on the basis of the Qur’an and what they heard the Prophet saying in different situations. This established a tradition of construction and deduction which allowed that a ruling is available to cater for all cases. Over a period of two or three generations, the process led to a movement towards schools of thought or schools of law in various areas. With the turn of the first century of the Islamic era, the founders of some of these schools were looking into all matters relevant to Islamic life in their generation. We find Imam Malik in Madinah and Imam Abu Haneefah in Iraq distinguished for their scholarship and having students from far and wide learning under them. A short while later, Imam El-Shafie and Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal gained wide fame and reputation.

A school of thought is established through a process of several generations of scholars following the same lines of deduction and construction. These scholars will also be of high calibre, able to deduce new rulings for new situations. They follow the same lines as their school and its founder.

In the history of Islam, there were numerous scholars of high calibre. They continued the tradition of diligent scholarship. At the time of the founders of the four schools, there were many others who were of equal and even better calibre, and they ruled on numerous questions, but there were not many scholars over several generations to follow in their tradition. That is why they did not become associated with independent schools of thought. Otherwise their views remain valid in the questions they considered. There is no virtue in having only four schools of thought. Indeed we have many more.

There is no ruling that one must follow a single school of thought. Indeed, very rarely anyone does that. A scholar who has studied these schools of thought will take rulings from each, according to suitability to different situations. If he is considering a question put to him, he will try to give the ruling which is most suitable for the person concerned, with little regard to the person’s own school of thought. That is because there is no obligation to follow any of them. For example, if a couple get married and the woman’s father or guardian is not present. The woman acts for herself and consents to the marriage in front of witnesses. If the case is put to a scholar, he does not ask the couple which school of thought they follow. He will rule that the marriage is valid, in spite of the fact that three schools of thought do not approve of it. He will take the fourth school’s view which approves of it, because otherwise he would make the couple adulterers and their children illegitimate.

An ordinary person will not realize what rulings are made on the basis of qiyas, or analogy, and ijmaa’, or unanimity of scholars. When he is told of a ruling that has been approved by scholars, he should implement it unless he has a legitimate objection to it on the basis of accurate knowledge of the Qur’an and Sunnah.

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Islamic duties and un-Islamic traditions

Q. I married against our local traditions, which are influenced by the Hindu faith. My marriage was in line with Islamic requirements. My parents, however, dislike the fact, as my marriage did not bring me the privileges expected, while my sisters have to follow the local tradition and their marriages are expected to be very costly to my parents. I have been sending my parents all the money I could save to help with the demands of our large family. Now my wife is saying that I should be attending more to my own family's needs, sending my parents what they need for their own living. Is this correct?

A. If you are supporting your parents with their living expenses and looking after their dependents, i.e. your sisters and young brothers, then you have fulfilled all that Islam requires of you. If you can provide for your sisters' marriages and you are willing to do so, that is very kind of you and you stand to earn great reward for it, but this is not required as a duty of yours. It is something you do out of love and dutifulness to your parents who have educated you and given you the means to have a decent job.

There is no doubt that the demands made on the bride's parents in some parts of India and Pakistan are not only too heavy, but also un-Islamic. Islam makes it the duty of the bridegroom to look after his wife, providing her with a decent home and standard of living, according to his means. Moreover, he pays her dowry, which becomes her own property. In the Hindu tradition, which is unfortunately followed by some Muslims, it is the reverse: the bride has to pay a large dowry and provide a family home. This means that a family with a couple of daughters is at a great disadvantage. Now if all such expenses are to be paid for by one brother, and if his own means are not that good, then that is totally unfair.

Our reader should realize that what he did with his marriage is the correct Islamic practice. He should not yield to any pressure on this point. Moreover, what his parents want to do with the marriage of his sister is not Islamic, but they may have to follow the local tradition. Unfortunately, people do not realize that when more and more of them rebel against un-Islamic tradition the sooner these ill-conceived and unfair traditions will collapse.

Our reader is wondering whether the fact that his parents are now suffering because he has reduced what he sends them will nullify his good deeds. The answer is that dutifulness to parents is one of the most important deeds a person does in life after believing in God and Islam. But I understand that he was in the habit of sending them every last riyal he earns, retaining only what he needs for himself and his wife. That is extremely dutiful. As I have already explained, his responsibility is to provide for his parents' and sisters' living expenses. Nothing nullifies his past, exemplary kindness and dutifulness.

He also asks whether he has to pay zakah on his salary. What zakah? According to what he says, he does not own anything. Therefore, he is not liable to any zakah. Zakah is payable only when a person owns the threshold of zakah, which is around 4,000 riyals. If he saves this amount then when he has saved it, that date becomes his zakah date. He should make a note of it. The following year, and every subsequent year, on the same date he calculates what he has. If it is above that amount, he pays zakah on what he owns at the normal rate of 2.5 percent. But according to the information he has written, he is not liable to zakah at the present moment.

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Installments and Repayments

Q.1. People in many countries buy expensive items by installments; a practice that involves paying more than the cash price. Is this permissible?

Q.2. In some countries, students in higher education receive loans from government to pay for their expenses, and they start repayment after they are in employment. Is this permissible, considering that a low rate of interest is applied?

A.1. If the seller says to you: this car will cost you 50,000 if you pay cash, or 55,000 if you pay over a period of one year, this is perfectly acceptable. On the other hand, if he says to you: if you cannot pay the whole price immediately, I will lend you the money, but you pay me 5,000 extra, then that is a usurious loan, and it is forbidden. The difference is not in how you pay and how much you pay in both situations, but in how the matter is looked upon. In the first case, which is acceptable, one price is set for cash payment, and one for installments. In the other case, a loan is given which is then repaid in a larger amount. That is usury, or riba.

A.2. Normally governments which provide loans to students during their higher education charge a very low rate to cover the administrative expenses of running the scheme. They are not in it for profit, but they operate it to help students get their education, and repay the loans so that the funds can pay for the education of other students. There is nothing wrong with that.

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Children's inheritance and using Miswak

Q.1. If a father wishes to distribute his property among his children and heirs before he dies, how should he do it?

Q.2. When the moon is sighted in a particular place, to what area is the sighting applicable?

Q.3. Some people pray in the mosque while wearing their shoes which they have used in the street. Please comment.

Q.4. Some people use their miswak before and after prayer. Should this not be at the time of performing ablutions?

A.1. It is wrong for a parent to distribute his property to his heirs and children before he dies. To do so is to precipitate God’s actions, which is not what a Muslim may do. Besides, justice cannot be maintained in such a distribution, because the person concerned cannot be sure who of his heirs will survive him and who will have died by the time he himself dies. It is infinitely better to leave matters to take their course and those who are entitled to inherit from him will do so at the time when such inheritance becomes operative.

A.2. The moon sighting is applicable to the area where it is sighted. In the old days, when fast means of communications were not yet invented, people tried to cite the moon in every locality. Thus, the moon may be sighted in one place, while some 30 or 50 km away it may not be sighted because the sky is overcast. Nowadays with our means of communications we are able to extend the validity within each single country. That is appropriate. It is also possible to extend it to other countries. But the proper way is to make use of scientific information to ensure the correctness of our sighting and the area to which it is applicable.

A.3. Wearing shoes while praying is acceptable, provided one is certain that no impurity has attached to them. To wear shoes inside the mosque is allright if we can be sure that we do not dirty the place.

A.4. The proper time for using the miswak to brush one’s teeth is during the performance of ablutions, or wudhu, when one rinses one’s mouth. People use it before prayers because they misunderstand a Hadith which says: “Had it not been for the fear of making things difficult for my community, I would have ordered that they brush their teeth for every prayer.” Another version of this Hadith replaces the word “prayer” with the word “ablution”, which explains the Prophet’s purpose, because it is the logical, cleaner and more hygienic way is to rinse one’s mouth after brushing one’s teeth. This can be done only when one is performing ablutions. To use the miswak as one stands to pray does not avail one of the chance to rinse one’s mouth or wash his miswak.

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Supplication in one's language

Q. Is it permissible to pray to God in our own language during obligatory prayers, particularly when we prostrate ourselves?

A. Many scholars are of the view that during prayer, particularly obligatory prayers, we should confine ourselves to the supplication the Prophet used to say. This is understandable because the Prophet's supplication is concise and encompasses every good thing, both in this life and in the life to come. Of course, all this supplication is in Arabic and if one learns a few of these and repeats them, that would ensure great blessings for him in his life. Supplication for ordinary matters are preferable at the end of the prayer, just before one finishes it with salam. Again there are forms of supplication for this position. After the prayer, one may make any supplication in any language. This is perfectly appropriate, because supplication preceded by an act of worship is sure to be answered. Formal prayers should be in Arabic because this is the way the Prophet prayed. Besides, in formal prayers we read from the Qur'an, and the Qur'an is in Arabic.

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When travelling is too costly

Q. A person living in the US visits his ailing, very old father in India as frequently as he can. How often should he make such visits? In case the father dies shortly after one of these visits, can the son pray for his deceased father without having to travel to India, particularly because he cannot leave his wife on her own?

A. The Islamic rule with regard to any duty is that expressed in the last verse of Surah 2: "God does not charge a soul with more than it can undertake." This person can judge for himself the reasonable frequency of visiting his ailing father. Indeed, he should consider whether visiting his father is the best way of showing his dutifulness.

It may be that rather than spending his money on costly air tickets, he can make his father's life much more comfortable by sending him the money to improve his living conditions, or to buy medicines, or to provide him with good care. It may be that for the price of one ticket he can hire him a nurse for one year. That would be a better way of using the money and demonstrating dutifulness. Should the father die, his burial must not be delayed to wait for his son to attend. In fact, his son need not attend. He can pray the janazah prayer for his father wherever he happens to be, and frequently pray to God to have mercy on him. He may also offer the pilgrimage on his behalf if the father did not offer it in his lifetime, or spend whatever he can in charity on behalf of his father. All these are better acts of dutifulness than attending his father's funeral.

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Respect when reading the Quran

Q. Some people betray lack of respect to the Qur'an when they read it. They may put it on the floor in the mosque and even leave it there when they stand up for prayer or to leave the mosque. Is their attitude right?

A. Of course, it is not right. People should handle the Quran with respect. They must not place it in such a way where it could be inappropriately handled. Thus, it is wrong to put it on the floor when one is reading it, or after one has finished. It may not be left on the floor when one goes away, because someone else may not observe it and by mistake may step on it. It is important to teach our children how to respect the Qur'an, by being ourselves very respectful of it.

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Offering prayer in the mosque or the office

Q. Some of our colleagues insist on praying in the office despite the fact that there is a mosque close by.
Please comment.

A. Present-day working conditions are so different from what used to be the case in old days. Therefore, scholars of past generations may have said certain things about prayer which may not be easily applicable today. If people in an office arrange their own congregational prayer, when prayer falls during working hours, that is perfectly appropriate, even though a mosque is close by. No matter how close the mosque is, going there takes more time. If this can be accommodated with the needs of the work, then it is fine for the employees to go there. But if prayer in the office is more convenient, or even more suited to the requirements of the work, it is better to pray there.

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News| Community Roundup | View from the Other Side | Editorial| Readers Comments| Investigation|
Muslim Perspectives| Book Review| Children's Corner| Quran Speaks to You| Hadith|
Our Dialogue| Religion| Back to Past| Opinion| Living Islam| From Darkness to Light | Matrimonial|
Jobs| Archives| Feedback| Subscription| Links| Calendar|

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