In a recently published collection of Muftī Taqī al-‘Uthmānī’s Arabic articles, under the title Maqālāt al-‘Uthmānī, an article reviewing Shaykh Muḥammad ‘Alawī al-Mālikī’s Mafāhīm Yajibu an Tuṣaḥḥaḥ has been included. The article was originally written in the 1980s and then published in the al-Balāgh journal with an explanatory note in the mid-1990s. (The review article is translated below.)
As an introduction to the review, Muftī Taqī al-‘Uthmānī writes:
The book Mafāhīm Yajibu an Tuṣaḥḥaḥ by Shaykh Muḥammad al-‘Alawī al-Mālikī has become a subject of debate and disagreement in some academic circles at the present time. The debate became more intense and argumentations increased upon the publication of its Urdu translation. My endorsement was something of an evidence and argument for some and a cause of doubts and misunderstandings for others. Thus, I felt it best to publish it prefaced with this explanatory introduction to clarify the matter and remove the veil from the reality of the issue.
It is known that the author of this book Shaykh Muḥammad al-‘Alawī al-Mālikī is the son of Shaykh Sayyid al-‘Alawī, who was from the notables amongst the great scholars of Makkah al-Mukarramah. He had connections and links with the scholars of India and Pakistan, amongst whom were my respected father Muftī Muḥammad Shafī‘ and Shaykh Muḥammad Yūsuf al-Bannūrī (Allāh have mercy on them). Because of these links, his son spent some time in Pakistan acquiring the religious sciences at the hands of these scholars. Thus, studying with both my respected father and Shaykh al-Bannūrī (Allāh have mercy on them) was decreed for him. In that period, some meetings and visits occurred between myself and him which had ended with his return to Saudi Arabia, after which there was no communication between us for an extended period.
Some years ago, I unexpectedly received a phone call from him in which he informed me that he is coming to Karachi, on the route to returning to Saudi Arabic from Indonesia, only to visit me for an important task of his. He came to the Dār al-‘Ulūm in the company of the respected Shaykh ‘Abd al-Ḥafīẓ al-Makkī (Allāh preserve him), and he informed me that he wrote a book called Mafāhīm Yajibu an Tuṣaḥḥaḥ to clarify and verify serious issues that had become areas of harshness and extremism amongst some scholars and that he requested from me and my respected brother Muftī Muḥammad Rafī‘ al-‘Uthmānī (Allāh preserve him) a written endorsement of it.
It happened that I was at that time very busy, and I had plans to travel the next day. I apologised to him explaining that these obligations do not allow me to read it such that I can fulfil its due in giving an endorsement. He presented to me the endorsements of some Arab and Pakistani scholars certifying the book and praising it greatly. He asked me to do one of two things, explaining that doing either of them will not take up much time: signing one of those write-ups, or writing down some words to certify the book and agreeing with it based on those endorsements. I responded by apologising a second time, saying that I respect and revere these scholars, but endorsement is a trust and it is not allowed for me to express a positive opinion of the book without reading it and having knowledge of its contents. He agreed to this and insisted that I spare some time to take a glance at the book and then endorse it. In response to his insistence, I studied his important discussions despite the opportunities to doing so being limited. I discovered in it correct matters that deserve praise and support, just as some criticisms of it surfaced to me. I called him by phone informing him that I cannot endorse the book and certify it completely since some criticisms and objections to it surfaced to me while studying it. He asked me to include those criticisms in my endorsement. I said this would only be possible if you include my endorsement in its entirety in your book without any cutting or editing. He agreed to this. So I wrote an article in which I tried to explain both dimensions of the book: its positives and the criticisms on it. My respected brother Shaykh Muftī Muḥammad Rafī al-‘Uthmānī studied those discussions himself and held the same opinion as myself on the book and signed the same [review] article. We sent over the article to the respected author. I remained waiting for it to be published in the next edition of his book, but he, as far as I know, did not publish it yet despite its continuous publication.
It is worth mentioning that I wrote this endorsement quickly and while having many obligations and sufficed in it with brief pointers, and it was not my intent at that point to comment on every part of the book. Thus, it would not be farfetched that there are other places of the book that can be critiqued or objected to besides what I have mentioned in this article. Allāh (Glorified is He) gives direction.
Muḥammad Taqī al-‘Uthmānī
(Maqālāt al-‘Uthmānī, p. 76-8)
A translation of the review is as follows:
All praise belongs to Allāh, Lord of the Worlds, and blessings and peace be upon our leader and our master Muḥammad, the trustworthy prophet, and on his progeny and all his companions, and on all who follow them in excellence to the Day of Recompense.
The noble brother, the respected scholar, the researcher, Shaykh Sayyid Muḥammad al-‘Alawī al-Mālikī (Allāh preserve him and maintain him) requested from us that I offer to him my opinion on his book Mafāhīm Yajibu an Tuṣaḥḥaḥ. This was only because of his humbleness before Allāh and his love for knowledge and its seekers and his search for truth and accuracy as he is from a learned and noble family, more esteemed than being in need of praise from the likes of us for their works. His father (Allāh have mercy on him) is recognised in the Islāmic world for his knowledge, virtue, scrupulousness and piety. And indeed he, by Allāh’s grace, is an excellent successor of an excellent predecessor. However, it is a privilege for us to write these lines in obedience to his command, and hoping for his supplications, and expressing the happiness and pleasure that overcame us from most of his discussions, and what occurred to us of criticisms in some other parts.
The topics that the author discussed in this book are dangerous topics, in which excess and negligence have appeared [amongst the Muslims] that has divided the word of the Muslims and has caused disunity and strife amongst them from which every believing heart would be hurt. Rarely would it be found that someone assesses these issues with balance and justice, and puts everything in its place, walking the path of fairness, and avoiding excess and negligence.
Many such issues are secondary, theoretical matters and not the basis of faith, and not a criterion between Islām and disbelief. On the contrary, some of them will not be questioned about in the grave nor at the resurrection nor the reckoning, and if a man were not to know of them for his entire life, that will not diminish his religion and faith the weight of a mustard seed – for example, the reality and nature of the intermediary life, and other such purely theoretical and philosophical matters. However, it is very unfortunate that when discussion and argumentation on these matters increased, these issues came to be like the primary objectives of religion or from the foundational creeds of Islām. Hence, some people displayed extremism in such matters, accusing those who oppose their view of disbelief, polytheism and deviance. This narrow mindset is often forgiving of the destructive currents attacking the foundations of Islām, but is avid over these secondary theoretical matters more than its avidness in tackling pure apostasy, absolute lawlessness, open profligacy and abominations imported from the disbelievers and outsiders.
Our brother, ‘Allāmah Sayyid Muḥammad al-‘Alawi al-Maliki (Allāh protect him), spoke regarding this narrow mentality with guided speech, and established that those who believe in what is necessarily known to be from religion may not be anathematised because of his preference of some views on which there are disagreements amongst the scholars of Islām, both past and present.
Then he spoke about some of these secondary issues on which disagreement occurred amongst the Muslims, and some of them attacked others because of them with declarations of disbelief and deviance, like the issue of tawassul in supplication, and travelling to visit the grave of the Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace), and tabarruk (taking blessings) from the relics of the prophets and companions and pious, and the reality of prophethood, humanity and the intermediary life. The position that he preferred in these matters is a safe position supported by bright proofs from the Book and Sunnah and the actions of the companions and successors and pious predecessors. He proved with clear proofs that one who allows tawassul in supplication and tabarruk from the relics of the prophets and pious or he travels to visit the grave of the Messenger (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) and believes it is from the greatest of rewards, or believes in the life of the prophets in the graves with an intermediary life which exceeds the intermediary life attained by others, he has not acquired any sin, let alone having committed polytheism or disbelief, since all of these are established by evidences of the Qur’ān and Sunnah and the inherited practice of the pious predecessors and the sayings of the majority of the firmly grounded scholars in every age.
Similarly, the author spoke about the Ash‘arīs and their method of interpreting the divine attributes. There is no doubt that the safest position in this is what the ḥadīth-masters have expressed in their statement: “Pass them over without how,” but figurative interpretation is an approach reached by the ijtihād of the Ash‘arīs to preserve Allāh’s transcendence and oppose assimilation, and nothing led them to this but their strong adherence to the belief of tawḥīd and their avoidance of any trace of corporealism, and many of the great scholars of the past chose this path, whose excellence none but an ignoramus or obstinate person will dispute. So how is it possible to accuse the Ash‘arīs of disbelief and deviance? And expel them from the fold of Ahl al-Sunnah and put them in the category of the Mu‘tazila and Jahmiyya?! Allāh protect us from this!
How wonderful is what our brother, the author, said in this respect: “Is it not enough for the opponent to say that they (Allāh have mercy on them) did ijtihād and erred in the interpretation of the attributes, and it would have been better if they did not tread this path, instead of accusing them of deviance and becoming annoyed at those who consider them from the Ahl al-Sunnah?” (p.39)
This methodology which the author adopted in these matters is a balanced methodology which if the Muslims chose in their secondary disagreements with complete openness of heart, many of the knots would be untied and many of the efforts which the enemies are undertaking to divide Muslims will fail.
Now, it is necessary to mention the criticisms which came to our minds when reading this book. This stems only from fulfilling the obligation of love and goodwill for the sake of Allāh, and obedience to the command of the author himself. They are as follows:
- The topics which the author (Allāh preserve him) discussed are dangerous topics, which have become very sensitive, and the excess and negligence that have occurred in them have occurred, and renovating one part may spoil another part, and focusing on one aspect may sacrifice the right of another aspect. So, it is necessary on one speaking about these issues to take extreme precaution, and keep in mind both sides, and be on guard that anybody misuse his words for falsehood.
Since this book is for the purpose of refuting the extremism of anathematising the Muslims and accusing them of polytheism due to venerating and loving the noble Messenger (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) and the saints and pious, it is natural that there will not be a detailed refutation of those who are extreme in their veneration to such a degree of extremism that is prohibited in the Book and Sunnah and by the scholars of the Sharī‘ah in every age and place, but despite this, it is necessary, as far as I am concerned, in view of the seriousness of the topic, that this side is also touched on, even if briefly, so that those who transgress the bounds in this veneration to what, at the very least, leads to suspecting polytheism is refuted.
- We found in some parts of the book brevity in some important issues which may be misunderstood by some people, so they may argue from that something that was not originally meant, and exploit it to support some false beliefs. From them is the issue of ‘ilm al-ghayb as the author (Allāh preserve him) quickly passed over it and mentioned that ‘ilm al-ghayb is for Allāh (Glorified and Exalted is He) and then said after this: “It is established that Allāh Most High taught His Prophet from the ghayb what He taught him, and gave him what he gave him.” (p.91) This speech is true, and is meant the plentiful news of the ghayb which Allāh (Glorified and Exalted is He) revealed to His Noble Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace). However, some people don’t stop at attributing these news to him (Allāh bless him and grant him peace), but say clearly that he (upon him peace) is knower of the ghayb with an exhaustive knowledge of all that was and will be to the establishment of the Hour, so we fear that this general statement will leave the possibility of this false interpretation which the scholars of Ahl al-Sunnah have been refuting for a long time.
- Similarly the author said about our Noble Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) that “he is alive in the two abodes, with constant attention towards his ummah, freely-disposing by Allāh’s will in their affairs, aware of their conditions, the blessings of blessers from his ummah being shown to him and their salutations being conveyed to him despite their abundance.” It is clear he does not mean by disposition complete absolute disposition, nor by him being aware of their conditions encompassing knowledge of all particulars, as this is baseless and not from the beliefs of Ahl al-Sunnah. He only intended some particular activities that are established specifically, as is clear from his giving the example of blessings and peace being shown to him and his response to them. But we fear that this expression suggests the opposite of this intent, and will be misused by some extremists from the other side.
- The author did brilliantly as we previously indicated in his precaution in the matter of anathematisation of a Muslim, so a Muslim is not be anathematised as long as there is a sound interpretation for his speech or an interpretation that does not necessitate anathematisation at the least. However, anathematisation is one thing and preventing a person from using baseless words or suggestive words is another thing. Precaution in anathematising is withholding from it as long as there is an escape from it, but precaution in the second matter is preventing the likes of these words absolutely.
From this is the statement of the author: “The speaker saying ‘O Prophet of Allāh cure me and repay my debt,’ if it were supposed that one said this, he only meant: ‘Intercede for my cure and pray for the repayment of my debt and turn to Allāh in my affair.’ Thus, they are not asking from him except what Allāh has made them capable of and given them control over of supplication and intercession…and thus such an attribution in the speech of people is from the [rhetorical style of] majāz ‘aqlī (metaphor).” (p.95) This is a good interpretation to prevent anathematisation which is from the aspect of holding a good opinion of believers. However, good opinion only arises in one who does not deny this interpretation of his speech. As for the one who does not himself approve of this interpretation as is a reality in some people as far as I am aware, how can his speech be interpreted in a way he himself does not approve?
Furthermore, although such interpretation is sufficient in preventing anathematisation of the speaker, should such words be encouraged? Never! Rather, this should be forbidden to prevent ambiguity and resemblance [with polytheism] at the very least, as the Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) forbade the word “my slave” for a bondman due to it being suggestive [of polytheism]. Therefore, it is necessary according to me for those who seek interpretations for these speakers to state clearly that it is forbidden so that this interpretation does not encourage them to use such suggestive words, for indeed “the one who grazes around the borders, almost falls in it”. The same is said about tawassul in the form of a vocation, and of the unrestricted usage of “reliever of distresses” (mufarrij al-kurubāt) and “fulfiller of needs” (qāḍī al-ḥājāt) for other than Allāh (Glorified and Exalted is He).
- The author mentioned that bid‘ah divides into two categories: good and evil, disapproving of the latter and not the first. This division is correct with respect to the linguistic meaning of the word bid‘ah, and in this sense, it was used by al-Fārūq al-A‘ẓam when he said : “What a brilliant bid‘ah this is!” As for bid‘ah in its technical sense, it is only evil, and in this sense Allāh’s Messenger (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) said: “Every bid‘ah is misguidance” as narrated by Muslim.
- The author (Allāh preserve him) was successful in describing the prophetic distinctions when he said: “Although the prophets are human beings who eat and drink…and are subject to the temporary states which overcome human beings of weakness, old age and death, but they are distinguished by special characteristics and are characterised by lofty and magnificent attributes which are with respect to them from the most necessary of necessities…” (p.127)
Then he mentioned a number of these special characteristics, especially the special characteristics of the Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace), so no one can claim that he (upon him blessing and peace) is equal to other than him in attributes and states – protection is from Allāh! The truth is that his (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) special characteristics are beyond what we are able to comprehend, but we believe that the Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) is more esteemed than us needing [to use] weak narrations to establish his distinctions, for his distinctions that are established in the Qur’ān and sound Sunnah are more in number, higher in status and stronger in affecting the hearts than the distinctions that are mentioned in some weak narrations like what is narrated that he had no shadow in the sunlight or moonlight, as it is a weak narration according the majority of the scholars and ḥadīth-masters.
- The author (Allāh protect him) said: “Gathering for the purpose of the noble prophetic birth is nothing but a customary practice, and is not at all part of worship, and this is what we believe and take as our religion before Allāh Most High.” Then he said: “We announce that specifying one night besides another for this gathering is the greatest estrangement from the Messenger (Allāh bless him and grant him peace).”
There is no doubt that commemorating the Noble Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) and describing his biography is from the greatest of blessings and the most virtuous of fortunes when it is not restricted to a day or date, nor is the belief of worship associated with it in gathering on a particular day in a particular form. Thus, gathering to commemorate the Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) with these conditions is in essence permissible, not deserving of condemnation or blame.
However, there is another approach adopted by many verifying and scrupulous scholars, which is that this gathering, although permissible in itself, many people believe it is from the objective acts of worship or from the religious obligations, and they specify for it specific days, along with what some of them mix with it of false beliefs and impermissible practices. Moreover, it is difficult for the general people to observe the subtle differences between custom and worship. Hence, if these scholars, by observing these matters, the importance of which cannot be denied, chose to prevent such gatherings, observing the principle of “blocking the means,” and recognising that repelling harms is favoured over attaining benefit, then they are holding firm to proofs of the Sharī‘ah, and thus do not deserve condemnation or blame. The course in these matters is like the course in matters which are open to differences in ijtihād, every man encouraging and giving fatwā according to what he believes to be true, and seeks Allāh’s reward according to it, and at the same time not shooting the arrows of criticism at another scholar who holds an opposing view.
In sum, the respected scholar, the researcher, Sayyid Muḥammad ‘Alawi al-Maliki (Allāh Almighty preserve him and benefit by him Islām and the Muslims) despite some of these criticisms, has assessed in this book many issues which were misunderstood by some people, and offered their correct understandings and their proofs from the Book and Sunnah. I wish that his book is studied with the eye of fairness and the spirit of mutual understanding, not with the objective of argumentation and quarrelling. I ask Allāh Most High to enable us and all Muslims to stand with justice as witnesses to Allāh even against ourselves. Verily, He Most High is Near, Ever-Responding to callers. May Allāh Most High bless our master and our leader, Muḥammad, and his progeny and all his companions.
Muḥammad Taqī al-‘Uthmāni, servant of the students of Dar al-‘Ulūm Karāchī
Muftī Muḥammad Rafī‘ al-‘Uthmāni, headmaster of Dar al-‘Ulūm Karāchī
(Maqālāt al-‘Uthmānī, p. 79-86)