Between Ḥadīth and Fiqh

Between Ḥadīth and Fiqh

Building on his previous articles looking at the intersection of ḥadīth and fiqh, this monograph pushes that discussion further to more forcefully delineate the boundaries of each discipline. Specifically, he sees the two broad sources of attaining knowledge as being historical reports (in which you are informed of information from someone else) and intellectually derived views, termed philosophy (in which you essentially derive your own information). Ḥadīth reports fall under the former and require their own set of rules for verification, while fiqh, and most other disciplines, fall under the latter and require a different approach.

Between Hadith and Fiqh-1

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They asked: We were impressed by your article “Between Ḥadīth and Philosophy”[1] and benefited from it greatly. We were able to distinguish between the true natures of ḥadīth and philosophy, recognize the scales and parameters of each, and avoid blurring the lines between them. So please reveal to us now the true difference between ḥadīth and fiqh, removing some confusions and misperceptions concerning them.

I replied:

Go back and read that article again and you will find a clear explanation concerning what you are asking me about.

They asked: Ḥadīth and fiqh are the most esteemed topics for us, as well as the most important. We have great need to probe their depths and study them profoundly. We also do not want to misunderstand your words or to attribute to you what you haven’t said.

I replied:

If you do indeed insist, then listen:

Ḥadīth are historical reports, while fiqh is law and philosophy. Ḥadīth in its technical usage is informing of the words of the Prophet, peace be upon him, or of his actions, approvals, characteristics or any other matter concerning him. It is also applied to the reports of the Companions and Followers. Fiqh in its technical usage is knowledge of the practical rulings of the Sharīʿah as deduced from its detailed evidences from the Book of God, the Sunnah of His Prophet, inherited practices, consensus, the universal maxims, and analogical deduction. Ḥadīth has its own particular methodology for verification while fiqh has its own which resembles philosophy. So if you want to know, for instance, about the Battle of Badr or the description of the Prophet’s prayer or his Ḥajj, you need to establish that through the method of the historians, which is exactly what the ḥadīth scholars actually did. In fact, they far surpassed historians in their diligence and caution, and in their precision and accuracy. That is all laid out in the Risālah of Imām Shāfiʿī, the Muqaddimah of Imām Muslim, and other books of the science and terminology of ḥadīth. If you want to know, on the other hand, about the pillars of ṣalāh, or its recommended acts, you would need to establish those by proving them from the Noble Qurʾān—specifically its textual evidences and those evidences that are general, inferred or necessitated—and from the practices transmitted from the Prophet to the Companions and Followers, from the consensus of the jurists, from the legal maxims which were relied upon by the pious scholars of ijtihād, and from analogical deduction based on finding common rationales and similarities.

They asked: Do we need ḥadīth for fiqh?

I replied:

Yes, you would need it if you were to ascribe a statement or view to the past, because in that case it would become a historical report, and the methodology of the ḥadīth scholars is best suited for determining the veracity of historical reports. For fiqh, you would also require an understanding of the Qurʾān, language, medicine, and economics. It would be necessary for the jurist to refer to scholars of tafsīr if the meaning of a verse proved difficult, or to scholars of ḥadīth if there were a need to establish the veracity of a report, or to scholars of language if some Arabic words or expressions become problematic. A jurist would also need to refer to physicians if a problem concerning medicine of the physical body were presented to them, or to economists if the issue were one concerning financial matters.

They asked: Is it correct to oppose a fiqh ruling with ḥadīth?

I replied:

This matter requires further elaboration. If a jurist built a ruling on evidences from the Qurʾān, transmitted Sunnah, and juristic maxims and principles, then it would not be correct to oppose that with a ḥadīth or report, because ḥadīth and other reports are peripheral matters that can contain mistakes or ambiguity.

They asked: Is it okay to oppose it with the reports of trustworthy narrators then?

I replied:

No, because even the trustworthy narrators can err and make mistakes, and because sound reports can carry multiple possibilities [of meaning and application], or even be abrogated. So such reports cannot reach the level where they could nullify rulings.

They asked: What is the other side of this explanation?

I replied:

If a jurist had built a ruling on a ḥadīth report and possessed no other evidence—neither from the Qurʾān, Sunnah, transmitted practice or legal maxim—then in that case it could be correct to oppose that with a stronger ḥadīth, and it is obligatory on the jurist to rely on the principles of ḥadīth scholars in authenticating reports.

They asked: Why do later jurists insist on explaining the principles of ḥadīth according to their schools?

I replied:

They are mistaken in that, and I have explained their error in an article entitled “Principles of Ḥadīth in the Ḥanafī School.”[2]

They asked: How would we defend the Ḥanafī school when ḥadīth scholars oppose it through ḥadīth?

I replied:

The Ḥanafī school does not need us to defend it. Rather we first need to study it deeply, understand it and preserve it, and then present it to people and explain it to them without any distortion, amendment or apology.

They asked: Is it warranted for a ḥadīth scholar to talk about fiqh?

I replied:

No, unless they reached the level of expertise of jurists. Few were those that combined ḥadīth and fiqh with proficiency like Sufyān al-Thawrī, Mālik and Bukhārī.

They said: So what do you say about ḥadīth scholars that opposed jurists?

I replied:

They were mistaken in that. Let everyone—jurists, ḥadīth scholars, tafsīr scholars, grammarians, physicians, economists—confine themselves to their discipline without crossing its bounds.

They asked: We want you to acquaint us with the virtue of jurists over others.

I replied:

Try to understand what I have presented to you thus far and be patient and wait for a forthcoming article.

[1] Nadwī, Dr. Mohammad Akram. “Between Ḥadīth and Philosophy.” Imlā al-Khāṭir Series. UK: Al-Salam Institute, 2018.

[2] Nadwī, Dr. Mohammad Akram. “Principles of Ḥadīth in the Ḥanafī School.” Imlā al-Khāṭir Series. UK: Al-Salam Institute, 2018.


Imlā al-Khāṭir Series

In this series, which he names Imlā al-Khāṭir (literally, “dictation of thoughts”), Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi follows in the tradition of the Ḥanbalī scholar Ibn al-Jawzī’s Ṣayd al-Khāṭir and shares with the world his reflections on a variety of topics ranging from theology to law, history to heart softeners, philosophy, education and more. Composed in a casual, conversational style consisting of questions followed by their brief answers (each portion predicated by qālū/qultu, “they said”/”I responded”), he utilizes therein the highest level of Arabic, reflecting his love of the language and his extensive expertise in Arabic grammar and rhetoric. These short but poignant reflections are part of the balāghah genre and tradition of Arabic literature. It should be noted that these translations, done by his senior students, serve as a guide and can never fully match the style, tone and eloquence of the original Arabic. Also note that Dr. Akram does not necessarily review each translation and is not responsible for any errors, improper word choices, or the likes, that are an inevitable part of the translation process.


سلسلة إملاء الخاطر| Imlā al-Khāṭir Series


A Centre for Arabic and Islamic Sciences

Oxford . London . Online



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