On Legal Knowledge

ed. OmarKN

Excerpt from his Risala

29. Someone asked ...: What is [legal] knowledge and how much should men know of it?

30. Shafiʿi replied: Legal knowledge is of two kinds: one is for the general public, and no sober and mature person should be ignorant of it.

31. He asked: For example?

32. [Shafiʿi] replied: For example, that the daily prayers are five, that men owe it to Allah to fast the month of Ramadan, to make the pilgrimage to the [Sacred] House whenever they are able, and to [pay] the legal alms in their estate; that He [Allah] has prohibited usury, adultery, homicide, theft, [the drinking of] wine, and [everything] of that sort which He has obligated men to comprehend, to perform, to pay in their property, and to abstain from [because] He has forbidden it to them.

This kind of knowledge may be found textually in the Book of Allah, or may be found generally among the people of Islam. The public relates it from the preceding public and ascribes it to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, nobody ever questioning its ascription or its binding force upon them. It is the kind of knowledge which admits of error neither in its narrative nor in its interpretation; it is not permissible to question it.

33. He asked: What is the second kind?

34. Shafiʿi replied: It consists of the detailed duties and rules obligatory on men, concerning which there exists neither a text in the Book of Allah, nor regarding most of them, a Sunna. Whenever a Sunna exists [in this case], it is of the kind related by few authorities, not by the public, and is subject to different interpretations arrived at by analogy.

35. He asked: Is [legal] knowledge on this kind as obligatory as the other, or is it not obligatory so that he who acquires such knowledge performs a supererogatory act, and he who neglects it falls not into error? Or, is there a third kind, derived from a narrative (khabar) or analogy?

36. [Shafiʿi] replied: There is a third kind [of knowledge].

37. He asked: Will you explain it, give its source, and state what [portion] of it is obligatory, and on whom it is binding and on whom it is not binding?

38. [Shafiʿi] replied: The public is incapable of knowing this kind of knowledge, nor can all specialists obtain it. But those who do obtain it should not all neglect it. If some can obtain it, the others are relieved of the duty [of obtaining it]; but those who do obtain it will be rewarded.


A Declaration Concerning the Duty Imposed by Allah, as Laid Down in His Book, [Ordering Men] To Follow the Prophetʿs Sunna

86. Shafiʿi said: Allah has placed His Messenger —[in relation to] His religion, His commands and His Book—in the position made clear by Him as a distinguishing standard of His religion by imposing the duty of obedience to Him as well as prohibiting disobedience to Him. He has made His merits evident by associating belief in His Messenger with the belief in Him. For Allah, Blessed and Most High, said:

{So believe in Allah and His Prophets, and do not say: “Three.” Refrain; [it will be] better for you. Allah is only one God. Glory be to Him. His having a son is something alien to him }[Quran, Sura IV, 169].

And He said:

{The believers are only those who have believed in Allah and His Messenger, and who when they are with him on some common affair do not go away until they ask his permission }[Quran, Sura XXIV, 62].

Thus [Allah] prescribed that the perfect beginning of the faith, to which all other things are subordinate, shall be the belief in Him and then in His Messenger. For if a person believes only in Him, not in His Messenger, the name of the perfect faith will never apply to him until he believes in His Messenger together with Him.

So the Messenger laid down the Sunna [of reciting the Prophetʿs name together with that of Allāh] for testing the faith of every man [as the following tradition indicates]:

Malik b. Anas told us from Hilal b. Usama from Ataʿ b. Yasar from Umar b. al-Hakam, who said:

I went to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ with a slave-girl and I asked him: ‘I have taken an oath [to free a slave]; may I free her?ʿ ‘Where is Allah?ʿ the Messenger asked her. ‘In heaven,ʿ she answered. ‘And who am I?ʿ asked he. ‘You are the Messenger of Allah,ʿ she answered. ‘You may free her,ʿ [the Prophet] said.

[The transmitterʿs name, Umar b. al-Hakam — Shafiʿi says—should read Muʿawiya b. al-Hakam, for Malik, I believe, has not correctly reported the name, as others did.

87. Shafiʿi said: Allah has imposed the duty on men to obey His divine communications as well as the Sunna of His Messenger. For He said in His Book:

{O our Lord, raise up amongst them an Messenger, one of selves, to recite to them Thy signs and to teach them the Book and Wisdom and to purify them. Verily Thou art All-mighty, All-wise }[Quran, Sura II, 123].

And He, glorious be His praise, said:

{And also we have sent among you an Messenger, one of yourselves, to recite to you our signs, and purify you, to teach you the Book and the Wisdom, and to teach you what you did not know }[Quran, Sura II, 146].

And He said:

{Allah bestowed a favor upon the believers when He raised up amongst them an Messenger, one of themselves, to recite His signs to them, to purify them and to teach them the Book, although they had formerly been in manifest error }[Quran, Sura III, 158].

And He, glorious be His praise, said:

{It is He who has raised up an Messenger among the untutored people, one of their number to recite to them His signs, to purify them, and to teach them the Book and the Wisdom, though formerly they had been in manifest error }[Quran, Sura LXII, 2].

And He said:

{But remember the goodness which Allah has shown you and how much of the Book and the Wisdom He has sent down to you to admonish you thereby }[Quran, Sura II, 231].

And He said:

{Allah has sent down to thee the Book and the Wisdom, and has taught thee what thou did not know before; the bounty of Allah towards thee is ever great }[Quran, Sura IV, 113].

And He said:

{And call to mind the signs of Allah and the Wisdom which are recited in your houses; verily Allah is gentle, well-informed }[Quran, Sura XXXIII, 34].

So Allah mentioned His Book—which is the Qurʿan—and Wisdom, and I have heard that those who are learned in the Quran—whom I approve—hold that Wisdom is the Sunna of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. This is like what [Allah Himself] said; but Allah knows best! For the Quran is mentioned [first], followed by Wisdom; [then] Allah mentioned His favor to mankind by teaching them the Qurʿan and Wisdom. So it is not permissible for Wisdom to be called here [anything] save the Sunna of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. For [Wisdom] is closely linked to the Book of Allah, and Allah has imposed the duty of obedience to His Messenger ﷺ, and imposed on men the obligation to obey his orders. So it is not permissible to regard anything as a duty save that set forth in the Quran and the Sunna of His Messenger. For [Allah], as we have [just] stated, prescribed that the belief in His Messenger shall be associated with the belief in Him.

The Sunna of the Messenger makes evident what God meant [in the text of His Book], indicating His general and particular [commands]. He associated the Wisdom [embodied] in the Sunna with his Book, but made it subordinate [to the Book]. Never has Allah done this for any of His creatures save His Messenger.

This excerpt is from Fons Vitae Publ. at:
- expired link (before 2023-02-04) fonsvitae.com/shafii.html
where an English translation by Majid Khadduri is for sale.


•  L I N K S:

•  Notes On Religion
•  About Allah (swt)
•  Al-Shafiʿi On Legal Knowledge
•  Al-Shafiʿi On Religion

•  TEXTS REG. A L L A H (swt):

•  A Question To Pose (Regarding Allah)
•  About Allah (swt) [the above text]
•  Allah's Names GFH
•  Is Belief In God Enough? OmarKN
•  What or Who Is God? Murat Yagan
•  On Wahdat-ul Wujūd
•  The Term Oneness of Being Means The Necessary Existence Of Allah,
•  The Self-Disclosure of God Ibn ʿArabi
•  How God Brought The Cosmos Into Existence Disclosing Himself Ibn ʿArabi
•  On The New Creation Ibn ʿArabi




latest update: 2015-11-24

* living Islam – Islamic Tradition *