Is it time for an American madhab?

Yes, Robert, I’m back.  And I’m teed off.

In 2005, shortly after Dr. Amina Wadud led a Friday prayer service in NYC, a Muslim activist I know stated that it may be time for an American madhab (school of Islamic jurisprudence). I figured she was going a little overboard- after all, Islamic law is much more nuanced and sophisticated than most people, including Muslims, believe it to be. It’s definitely not “kill all the infidels” and a general rubber stamp on whatever horrors Muslim men wish to visit upon women. What it is, however, is a collection of ancient and medieval legal systems that its keepers refuse to bring out of its intellectual Brigadoon.

I’m taking an online class on a rather narrow but personally useful branch of Islamic law. A faith with rituals and law will develop law related to those rituals, which is why one could study rulings and legal concepts related to menstruation and lochia for quite some time before being considered expert. The class is merely an introduction to these issues.

It takes quite a bit to bore a nerd like me;  my idea of a wild night is a concert/lecture on the musics of the Ottoman Empire, followed by coffee. Still, I was bored stiff with the mere question and answer tennis match that this class turned out to be. We aren’t expected to explore concepts or reason through problems; we’re expected to swallow and regurgitate answers whose origins are still cloaked in mystery. I could stand seeming inconsistencies and illogic regarding past rulings, presuming that certain medical facts wouldn’t always be known to medieval religious scholars. All that I would expect from someone who had perhaps never been exposed to alternate methods of education. But for an American woman born in the 20th century to think up and spout the rubbish I heard Saturday last was too much.

The discussion turned to feminine hygiene during Ramadan, and while I didn’t immediately see the connection, I figured it would make loads of sense by the time I took it all in. It still doesn’t. Apparently, if any substance enters female genitalia (water, urine) while fasting, it breaks the fast. Considering that cleanliness is essential to prayer, does this mean that one must choose between fasting and being clean for prayer, as washing up carries the risk of breaking one’s fast?

What made me want to “walk out” in protest, however, is her insisting to her female class that gynecological exams were only neccessary for sexually loose women. Many fatawa on medical matters have been quite pragmatic, and I thought that the possibility of a broken, stretched, or absent hymen would take a backseat to the need to protect and preserve the health of a young woman. I thought wrong. Apparently, having your annual Pap smear, or being checked for infections (which aren’t always sexually transmitted) makes you a floozy.

How much of this rubbish will American Muslims put up with? When can we stop the insanity? for surely God does not require foolishness of His servants. Fiqh is not a static tradition, and an Islamically sound case can be made that the stuff I had to slog through for half a semester was not just dangerous rubbish, but contradicts the respect we are to have for Divine Order and our own bodies.

This class focused on opinions from one school of Islamic jurisprudence, but all four have hosted hair-raising nonsense, so simply avoiding a particular scholar or school of thought won’t work. Neither will throwing the baby out with the bathwater- pretending that 14 centuries of scholarship is irrelevant will only result in making many of the same mistakes that our predecessors have. What is needed is to examine the past, draw from it what is best preserved, but we should not hesitate to leave old errors to gather dust. Islam came to correct past errors and misguidance. That fact alone should point the way forward.



  1. You have in the Muslim world, as well as in America:

    1. Those who follow only the Quran but they reject the Sunnah; specifically the vast literature of Hadith. They claim that the Quran is enough and there is no need for Hadith. In their catechism (if I spelt the word right), they belief that the Quran is Absolute, it is the word of God, whereas the the Hadith is the word of man which is not absolute in its purity. By rejecting hadith they want to rid the world of the “inconsistencies” created by hadith. This group of people are rejectors of the Sunnah and not in the fold of Islam by all logical and Quranic evidence.
    2. The second group are those who follow the Quran and Hadith but reject the Fiqh. They claim that the Quran and Hadith is enough, and that Fiqh is the reason for confusion. These people have gone so far as to brand the four schools of thought as the reason behind the disunity of this ummah. They claim to follow the Quran and Sahih hadith only but this claim is erroneous and false. They will never show anyone a single hadith from Imaam Bukhari to show the proof of where to tie the hands. So, they make the rule and they break the rule. This group of Muslims has created more confusion in the Ummah by blindly following their own teachers, lecturers and Imaams yet branding everyone misguided for assuming such a position. They have taken established practices of Islam and rejected them; for example they insist on 8 rakaats of taraawih instead of 20. They always want the masses to focus on “daeef” and “Sahih” but they never tell the people the whole truth. For example, they never tell the people that there is not a single Sahih hadith in Bukhari or Muslim where the prophet (pbuh) uttered the words “Tarawih”. So, where did they get this word from? Well, their scholars stole it from the four schools of thought but failed to tell the people that they have done so. For example, the Hadith of Aisha they can never show anyone how they concocted the rule that 8 rakaats outside ramadaan is “Night Prayers” but inside ramadhan is “Taraawih”. This is not the place to talk about it but it should be noted that they steal six (6) major issues relating to salaatul taraawih from Imaam Abu Hanifa and the other 3 fuqahaa; yet they tell their masses an open lie that they are following Hadith.

    So, now what it all comes down to is mass confusion from these two groups that never tell people their position. For example, the Maghrib institute has done a dis-service to Muslims in America by not really explaining the basis of Fiqh. By not explaining fiqh, and talking to people about “Usool-ul-Fiqh”, yet being rejectors of the four established Fiqh is a very veyr dangerous position. I as a Muslim should be honest and open to the people when explaining something; and letting people know my position; allowing others to gauge my approach. But by playing Mickey Mouse games, hide and seek, charging people money, and passing out printed material with not even 1/1000 of what Fiqh shows that there is something seriously wrong with such groups of Muslims.

    Before the need for another Fiqh can be suggested, we need someone that can explain the existing Fiqh as understood by the Jurists. For example the hadith on a fly falling into a cup of Milk is known to all Muslims. But this is the ONLY hadith. If the group mentioned above in the second category (or the first category) were to ask, “please could you show me a hadith or ayat where if an ant falls in the water we can’t drink.” It is here that we find the intelligence of the Fuqahaa who derived from this hadith a list of drinks, foods and insects. Ijtihaad in modern issues is necessary but the rules to base the ijtehaad have to come from the established four schools; the Usooleen.


  2. “Ijtihaad in modern issues is necessary but the rules to base the ijtehaad have to come from the established four schools; the Usooleen.”
    Why must they? While it’s true that it would provide structure and order, there’s nothing prohibiting the revival of a defunct madhab, or the creation of a new one. Only insofar as the structure benefits Muslims, should a system be followed. If it ceases to be of service, then it can and should be re-examined, and if need be, disposed of.


  3. “Why must they?”. To answer this question we have to understand the following available options:

    1. Exercise our capability of reasoning (Qiyas), dependent only on the Quran and Hadith.
    2. Exercise our capability of reasoning (Qiyas), based on the Quran, Hadith and Ijema.
    3. Exercise our capability of reasoning (Qiyas), based on the Quran, Hadith and Ijema and codified by Imaam Abu Hanifa, Imaam Malik, Imaam Shafi and Imaam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal.

    Now, to understand the Quran, Hadith, Ijema and the positions of the four Imaams, one would need an excellent understanding of the Arabic Language, Commentaries of the Quran, Commentaries of the Hadith, Science of Hadith and at least have a large portion of the Quran memorized.

    If anyone one wants to become a doctor or an engineer, one has to pass high school and graduate from college. One can not walk into an interview and claim, “I am an engineer”. The question would be, “What field of engineering do you belong to? Mechanical, Electrical, Civil?” If the answer is, “why do we need to be specific about all this, I am an engineer, I have read the books on my own, of my own choice and firmly believe I am an engineer.” Obviously, this will not be accepted because such a person would be considered crazy / insane. Can you imagine if Boeing was hiring people that claimed to be engineers; how many planes will fall out of the sky; rather no planes will ever be built. Everything has a science and fundamental basis; Usool. In Islam, if we have to establish a New Madhab or revive a “defunct madhab”, we have to start somewhere….pick up some book to understand the 101.

    Let me close this with an example. In the Quran or hadith there is no mention of a buffalo meat being halal or haraam. Similarly, if a fly falls in milk, we find only one hadith, but when we look at Imaam Abu Hanifa we find that he was able to take this hadith and extract 17 or so categories of foods, drinks, insects and flies to solve the problem of “something falling in food or drink”. Now, if we apply rule #1 and #2 and can’t even come up with 5 categories it will show anyone the limit of their modern day capabilities of reasoning (Qiyas). In fact, this is the challenge to all those who want to delve into this subject.



    In comparing the teachings of Islam as derived from the Book of God to the practices taught and enforced by the popular Sunni and Shia faiths (1.2 Bn followers), we find that the list is quite extensive, with some of the highlights as follows:

    In Islam, the requirement to be a Muslim is to simply accept and live according to the �Straight Path� (6:151-153), Vs. the Sunni or Shia 5-pillars which come from unauthorized books�

    In Islam, abolishing Slavery is taught to be an act of righteousness (90:12-13), Vs. Sunni and Shia teachings which encourages slavery under war�

    In Islam, women are never forbidden from praying or fasting during Menstruation (2:222), nor is there a specific dress code (i.e. the Headscarf) imposed on them beyond modesty, Vs. the Sunni and Shia which teach the undermining of women and forcing them to cover their hair and avoid praying or fasting at certain times…

    In Islam, a man or women may leave a Will, after settlement of debt (4:12), Vs. Sunnis who refuse to accept wills if there are any direct descendants…

    In Islam, Monogamy is the basis for normal relationships, while polygamy is only allowed in cases involving marrying the mothers of orphans under the man�s guardianship (4:3), Vs. Sunnis where a man may be a polygamist simply if he can afford to, and Shia which allow sex for pleasure (Mut�a)…

    In Islam, Divorce is enforceable only after a two-phase period, and it may be made nullified if the couple reconcile before the end of this period (65:1, 65:4), Vs. Sunni teachings that destroy families by allowing a divorce to occur on the spot with no waiting period and no nullification…

    In Islam, Thieves do not have their hands cut-off, but are made to work until they return that which is stolen (12:76), Vs. Sunni and Shia teachings which brutally amputate the hands causing disability…

    In Islam, no one is allowed to be killed or Stoned for adultery (24:2), Vs. Sunni and Shia laws of stoning married adulterers to death…

    In Islam, absolute Freedom of Faith is allowed (2:256, 10:99; 18:29; 88:21-22), Vs. Sunni and Shia requiring apostates to be killed and rejecting the practice of other faiths…

    In Islam, people are acknowledged as being diverse and each is to be respected for his/her level of spiritual growth. A Submitter �Muslim� must work to attain the status of Faithful �Mumin� (49:14), Vs. Sunni and Shia teachings that all followers of their religion must think, act, and even look the same (cult syndrome)…

    In Islam, War can only be declared in cases of self-defence – no offensives (2:190), Vs. Sunni and Shia teachings allowing raids and attacks on any people who are considered non-Muslim by their standards…

    In Islam, Pilgrimage is a centre for gathering of nations and for all to witness the benefits of being together (22:27-28), Vs. Sunni and Shia bringing in polytheistic rituals and superstition (touching of black stone, circling 7 times, etc..)…

    In Islam, a Year is a luni-solar count made of 365-days (17:12, 9:36), with all the seasons fitting-in-place Vs. Sunnis teaching it to be a lunar one based on 354 days which creates confusion of seasons and time�

    In Islam, males and females are not required to be Circumcised (32:7), Vs. Sunni and Shia teachings requiring all males to be circumcised and females in some cases…

    In Islam, music, statues, gold and silk are all Lawful(7:32-33, 16:116), Vs. Sunni beliefs forbidding silk & gold for men, and forbidding music & statues for all…

    In Islam, rule of Government is under the constitution of the Qur’an through consultation and free-speech (5:48, 42:38). Vs. Sunni teachings which allow the rise of dictators or monarchs, and Shia teachings which uphold self-appointed religious leaders based on genealogy.

    Real Islam is only the Quran. Quran is peace!


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