Why my focus is on fiqh instead of adab

I don’t see the shortage of books, classes, interest, and literacy in adab that I see when it comes to fiqh.

Imam al-Ghazali’s Ihya, Bidayat al-hidayah, and many other adab-centric books have been translated and are taught, yet none of his fiqh-centric books have made it into English. Imam al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith, Riyad al-salihin, Al-Adhkar, and Wird are all in English, yet Al-Maqasid (his short pamphlet on personal obligations) is his only fiqh-ish book to make it into English. Many people are still taken by surprise to learn that Imams al-Ghazali and al-Nawawi were Shafiis, and that Imam al-Ghazali wrote Shafii fiqh books throughout his entire scholarly life.

One of the most frequent criticisms I encounter is that fiqh is outdated. I don’t hear that about adab.

We, as a species and planet, are experiencing unprecedented rates of technical, social, and political change. Many of these changes require that we be able to identify what is halal and what is haram, to realize what is fixed and what is flexible, and all that other fiqh-ish stuff – and to make clear calls about it.

I already see a massive and increasingly growing need for improving fiqh literacy across the board; when it comes to adab, the literacy is there even if its implementation lags.

Since Shafii principles of jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh) and fiqh are the tools I have available for addressing the aforementioned points, they’re what I’ll continue to use.

Adab is important and I will continue to bring it into my classes, lectures, and writings; and I will continue to support those who focus on this area. But given the relative availability of adab offerings and the relative dearth of fiqh offerings combined with its increased need, my focus will remain on fiqh triage.

And success is only from Allah.

8 thoughts on “Why my focus is on fiqh instead of adab”

  1. al-salam ‘alaykum,

    Is there any evidence that Imam al-Ghazali became Maliki at the end of his life? I have heard some people make this claim, but haven’t encountered any evidence, except that the Imam in the Ihya’ argues for the Maliki position concerning how pure water can become filthy. (Imam al-Zabidi doesn’t seem to take up the issue of whether or not Imam al-Ghazali became Maliki; it doesn’t even seem to be a question.)

    An example of the claim being made without evidence is what Shaykh ‘Abd-Allah b. al-Haj Ibrahim al-Shinqiti writes in Maraqi al-Su‘ud:
    أما التمذهب بغير الأول * فصنع غير واحد مبجّل
    كحجّة الإسلام والطحاوي * وابن دقيق العيد ذي الفتاوي

    In their commentaries, Shaykh Muhammad Yahya al-Wulati and Shaykh Muhammad al-Amin al-Shinqiti just repeat the claim, again without providing any evidence.

    Are you aware of any evidence for this claim?

    Best wishes,

    • wa alaykum al-salam

      Yes, I am aware of the claim. When the water example is mentioned in our books, it’s often pointed out that that opinion is one of Imam al-Shafii’s older opinions. So it’s a Shafii mujtahid employing his Shafii ijtihad to arrive at preferring a Shafii opinion. That sounds awfully Shafii to me. Also, Imam al-Ghazali wrote multiple books in fiqh: Al-Basit, Al-Wasit, al-Wajiz, and Al-Khulasah. All of those are Shafii books – and Al-Wasit references the Ihya in its book of marriage, indicating continued Shafii-fiqhing even after writing what he did in the Ihya. The last book he wrote is Al-Mustasfa, which favors Shafii usul positions. It seems really odd that Imam al-Ghazali would continue churning out Shafii fiqh books and championing its usul if he had switched madhhabs.

      By the way: I address this very issue in The Evident Memorandum, p7.

      Hope this helps.

  2. Interesting points. I incline more towards dealing with one because you can “see” results and progress a lot more in fiqh thany you can in adab. You mentioned an interesting paradox, the availability of adab-ish translations and the lack of fiqhishness literature. This is truly juxtaposed with the failing implementation though of one vs. the other. In practicality people tend to jam you up on a fiqh item (brother, you didn’t make wudu properly), but aren’t going to necessarily do that on an adab item (you didn’t arrange your shoes carefully on the rack). Perhaps increased literacy in fiqh would actually make such occurrences less frequent.


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