That is the Problem!


Sh. Ali Tantawi

(May Allah have Mercy on him)

Published 1955 [1]

Translated & Edited by Al-Sirat Al-Mustaqeem team




I met an Egyptian writer who kept talking to me about Islam: its beauty, completion, perfection, and the importance of adhering and being committed to it.

He told me that he is a zealous passionate Muslim … Although, he may skip some Prayers due to work requirements … He is not consistent in his fasting because he fears it might have negative effects on his Health … He might occasionally drink alcoholic beverages during official parties or when at big hotels, going along with the prevalent social conventions … and that, he might have committed some [major] sins …

But that with that he is a Muslim, [who has submitted to Allah] … A passionate zealous Muslim!

I said: What are the signs of your Islam, if you leave prayers and fasting, drink alcohol, and commit these sins?

So he said: Signs?

You want [some] signs?

Ok, let me tell you: The signs of my Islam is that if I heard anyone attacking Islam, even if he was the greatest of people, I would do so-and-so …

And he then set forth, with great passion and in a rattling voice, describing what he does with whoever attacks Islam with [even the slightest of] words. As for his own attack on Islam, with his deeds [and actions], then he sees it as nothing, for that is the extent of his understanding of Islam!

He thinks that it is sufficient for him so that he can be from the [observant] Muslims that he [just] defends this Religion, even if he does not abide by its orders or refrain from its prohibitions, or act upon its rulings; like a “soldier” who does not wear his army’s uniform, nor carry their weapon … He does not enter their camps, nor walk among their lines, yet with that, he still [sees himself as] an active soldier because he does not let anyone slander the army or speak [ill] of it!

This is one of the strange understandings of Islam, and if one was to survey the image of Islam in the souls [and minds] of the people, he would see from its variety truly strange astounding matters.

There is a man, who does not pray except in the first congregation, and his tongue does not tire from the remembrance and glorification [of Allah]. He considers himself, and his friends consider him, from the pious and the righteous. Yet with that, he cheats when he sells, he turns back on his promises, he deceives through strange trickeries so that he can [unlawfully] eat the wealth of the people, [through means] which Iblees himself would be incapable of coming up with! Then, he does not stop until he has fashioned for [this deception of his] a cloak of permissibility from the words of the Fuqahaa [2] and from the articles of the Law. He conceals it with these, so that no Judge and no Ruler can get to him. He sees Islam limited to the congregational prayers, the repetition of Remembrance and Awraad [3]. As for interactions with others, then that is a different matter … A matter to him that is neither here nor there, and has nothing to do with the Religion!

And there is a woman who prays, fasts, and recites the Quran. She weeps [heavily] whenever she hears a reminder … She then goes out after that uncovered … Exposing her neck, hair, and chest!

And over there is [another] man, whom I [personally] know, who has transgressed against himself. He does not hold onto anything that is permissible, nor does he hold back from anything that is forbidden. He does not care through which means he gets his food when he is hungry, and does not care when he has a desire for women where he plants his seed. Yet, with all of that, he does not bear hearing anything ill said about the allies of Allah or the righteous … He shakes in anger, for Allah’s sake, until it is not known what he will do with this anger! Islam to him is [merely] being well mannered with the allies of Allah, drawing near to them, and seeking their blessings!

And here is another Muslim, establishing and strongly adhering to the acts of worship, keeping distant from that which is forbidden, however, he is a follower of Communism or a follower of Freemasonry, and prefers his brother in it, even if he was a Jew or a Christian, over his brother in Islam, and does not see any issue in this!

And a third one with a sound creed and belief, truthful in his dealings and transactions, he does not adopt any ideology or follow any sect that goes against Islam, but does not pray or fast!

* * *

Now, if we were to leave these individuals, and look at the Callers to Allah; those whom we hope will be a support for Islam and a means to returning it’s people to it, we would also see many of them differing in identifying the road which will lead to Allah, and we would find that Islam in the souls and minds of each one of them has a different picture than what is in the souls and minds of the others, even though all of them are callers to it!

This one, sees that Islam is in following one Madhhab [4] from the four Madhahib and stopping at the fatwas issued by the later Fuqahaa of the Madhhab, even if that fatwa was based on a specific custom that has changed and no longer applies today, or was based on an Ijtihad and a stronger viewpoint has become apparent in the Ijtihad of another, which the needs of today calls to it and the interest necessitates it; he considers the departure from the Hashiya of ibn Abideen [5] as a departure from the Religion! He believes that the door of Ijtihad has been shut until the Day of Judgement, as if it is impossible for Allah (and we seek refuge in Allah from this!) to create an intellect like the intellect of Abu Hanifa, or a view like the view of Al-Shafie, or a vision like the vision of Malik, or a narration like the narration of Ahmad. He sees that everything that can be derived from the Book and the Sunnah has already been derived, and that they have been squeezed dry like a lemon is squeezed, and that it is no longer permitted for anyone to deduce a ruling from them or to derive any evidence from them. He sees them only suitable for seeking their blessings and for kissing them. He sees them suitable for reading the Quran [for example] with no understanding or reading “Al-Bukhari” so that it may rain … Believing that a house that has the book of “Al-Bukhari” in it cannot catch fire or flood … even though, if you threw the book in fire it would burn, and if you threw it in water it would get wet and sink!

And another [caller to Allah] sees Islam is in leaving the Madhahib altogether and returning to the Sunnah, so everyone who is capable of reading Al-Bukhari and Muslim and Majma’ Al-Zawaid, and can search into the names of the narrators in Al-Taqreeb or Al-Tahzeeb, then he ought to do his own Ijtihad, and Taqlid [6] becomes forbidden on him. They call this strange Fiqh, which is similar to the Fiqh of Burd [7] (the father of Bashar), the “Fiqh of the Sunnah”; they do not realize that arriving at prophetic traditions and realizing its chains and its level is one thing, and deriving rulings from it is another, and that the Muhaditheen (i.e. Scholars of Hadeeth) are like pharmacists, while the Fuqahaa are like doctors. A pharmacist memorizes the names of the medicines and knows its different types and categories, that which a doctor does not know, yet he is not able to diagnose an illness or cure the sick, and that among the companions themselves, there were only a hundred who issued Fatwas, and that the remaining hundred thousand Muslims who the Messenger of Allah (Blessings and peace upon him) died and left behind used to return back to those hundred for fatwas and did not do Ijtihad for themselves. And that if an Imam from the Imams was not aware of a specific narration from the narrations, then the followers of his Madhhab got a chance to examine and study this narration during the long centuries that followed, and that they were more fearful of Allah and more caring for their religion than to go against an authentic narration because of a view of their Imam or someone other than their Imam. And that the Madhhab did not consider the narrations alone; rather they took the narrations, along with what the companions, the Tabi’een, and those who followed them said about them, and recorded all these explanations and consecutive understandings, and then deduced from them a ruling. Whoever neglects all these efforts of the scholars of the Ummah, is like the one who sees a plane flying after all what has gone into it from consecutive efforts and sequential improvements, and then leaves all this and ignores it and attempts to fly with wings which he builds himself, like what was done by Abbas ibn Firnas!

These calls to prevent Taqlid in the Religion are false calls, because in every field there are specialists just as there are those who are foreigners and strangers to it. When a stranger wishes to know a ruling, he returns back to the specialists of that field, just as the layperson who wishes to find a cure for his illness or wishes to build his house or wishes to fix his watch; he refers back to the doctor, engineer, or watch repairman, and follows them in what they arrive to from Ijtihad [8].

* * *

All these callers are forever in a state of dispute, each one of them grabbing the other by the throat, forever in a constant debates and argumentations, exchanging refutations and replies, not in Egypt, Shaam, and Iraq alone, rather in the Lands of Islam altogether. I have witnessed in Karachi those who are known as Ahle-Hadeeth, and others who are [strictly] adherent to the views of the later Fuqahaa of the Hanafis, not diverting from it even by a hair’s breadth, as if it is the revealed book. Those who are upon the path of Sufism, and others who are different than these and those. The disputes and disagreements is well established between them. I have also witnessed similar disputes in the Religion in Indonesia as well.

As for their opponents, the opponents of all of these groups altogether, and the opponents of Islam, from among the Baathists, the communists, the atheists, and the spreaders of corruption from among the followers of the orientalists, are watching and looking on at these disputes. They are rejoicing and are moving forward in the various fields which we have left vacant and are proceeding in them alone, enjoying themselves and doing as they wish.

And Islam, which Muhammad ibn Abdullah (Blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) came with, is One … having one understanding, so why all these disputes?

How are we to bring Islam closer to the people’s understanding, and to make it familiar to those who do not know it and present it to them upon its reality: easy, clear, and rational, if we are differing upon the image which we ought to present Islam upon?

I am not saying that we should unify the understanding and forbid from any differences, for I do not think that this can be, for if your Lord had willed He would have made the people as one nation, rather what I am saying is that we ought to agree on the basic foundations which we shall call to Islam through, and the image which we should use to present Islam to the students in schools, to the general Muslims in the mosques, and to the foreigners in the West, so that we can confidently say to them: This is the principle foundations of Islam, and these are its pillars, and this is the way through which you can enter it.

We should not shock anyone of them with the disputes in understandings of specific verses, or about the matters of Ijtihad and Taqlid, or carry them into individual views which are not established and endorsed by all.

So what is the possible practical methodology through which we can achieve this end? Can this be achieved through a conference attended by the scholars of the Muslims, or should it be administered by a specific institute from the academic institutes, or should it be done by someone from among the Muslims? What is the manner to achieve this?

* * *

After which, I had initially prepared an article different from that which I have written [above], however, what our brother Ustadh Abu Ayman wrote in the last issue of the “Muslimoun” [magazine] pushed me into thinking about this problem and presenting it to the writers in this magazine, as well as to its readers, so that they may contemplate upon it too, so that perhaps they can find a solution.

* * *


[1] Fusool fi Al-Da’wah wa Al-Islaah p. 77-85

[2] Islamic Jurists

[3] Awraad is the plural of Wird and it is a prescribed or set amount of recitation, supplications, and remembrance which one repeats every day.

[4] Madhhab is the generic term for a school of thought within Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence).

[5] He is Muhammad Ameen ibn `Aabideen ash-Shaami, a prominent Islamic scholar and Jurist who lived in the city of Damascus, Syria during the Ottoman era. His most famous work was Radd al-Muhtar ala Ad-Durr al-Mukhtar, is considered an authoritative text of Hanafi fiqh till this day.

[6] Taqlid literally means "to follow (someone)", "to imitate". In Islamic legal terminology, it means to follow a Mujtahid in religious laws and commandment as he has derived them, that is, following the decisions of a religious expert without necessarily examining the scriptural basis or reasoning of that decision, such as accepting and following the verdict of scholars of Fiqh without seeking an explanation of the processes by which they arrive at it.

[7] Bashar was the name of a boy who used to write poetry criticizing and speak ill of people, during his childhood. The people would go to his father, Burd,  to go complain about his action, who would hit him as a result. When this repeated many times, Bashar told his father, Burd: “Tell them next time that my son is blind, and Allah says {No blame is there upon the blind} [al-Nur 24:61]”. So the next time this happened, the father told them as he was told, so they said: “Verily, this understanding (or Fiqh) of Burd is more difficult on us then the poetry of Bashar!”

[8] A few short paragraphs, after this, were left out of the translation. The Shaykh gives other examples of disputes between different groups in matters of Aqeedah, and then discusses Sufism and the division of people regarding it, as well as various groups and sects. We felt that these paragraphs may distract from the main point being conveyed by this article, and the examples the Shaykh gave which have been translated are sufficient in conveying the point being made. Those interested can refer to the original Arabic in the above mentioned reference.

[9] Abu Ayman is Saeed Ramadhan, owner of ‘Al-Muslimoun’ magazine, which this article was published in. He used to write an opening to the new magazine releases, and would sign it off most of the time with his Kunya, however, he would occasionally write his full name (Mujahid).