Lecture for 1st year medical students on 3rd November 2000 by professor Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr.



‘Ilm al sirat involves study of the life of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH), his personality, his attributes, all his behaviour in private and in public, his methodology in Islamic work, his leadership and management, and all his interactions with his companions and others in the society. The lives of the companions are sometimes included within ‘ilm al sirat because they reflect the training of the prophet (PBUH). Because of its religious importance ‘ilm al sirat is studied separately from history, ’ilm al tarikh. ‘Ilm al sirat is also separate from ‘uluum al hadith because unlike the latter it employs a less rigorous methodology in collecting, analyzing, and accepting information.



Understanding of sirat, fiqh al sirat, is very important because the life of the prophet was the human and practical manifestation of the teachings of the Qur’an. Aisha said that the Qur’an was the prophet’s character, kaana khulquhu al Qur’an. We study sirat even today to learn lessons on how to build our own civilisation and our own society. Study of the sirat enables us also to understand many verses of the Qur’an. It is also useful in elucidating some matters in Islamic law. Since the biography of the prophet is so well documented and in detail, it is further proof of the authenticity of the prophet; he lived a very transparent life that all could see and yet no negative report about his character has been made even by his enemies. Study of sirat also shows the humanness of the prophet. His greatness is enhanced when his character and achievements are set against the background that he was a normal human being like all his followers.



The sources of ‘ilm al sirat are: the Holy Qur’an, books of hadith, Arab poetry of that time, and special books of sirat that were written. The Qur’an is a continuous record and commentary on the major events during the 23 years of prophet hood. Books of hadith record words and actions of the prophet (PBUH) and his closest companions.



The main scholars of ilm al sirat in the ancient period were: Muhamad Ibn Ishaq (d. 151 AH), Muhammad bin Omar al Waqidi (d. 207 AH), Abd al Malik bin Hisham (d. 213 AH), Muhammad bin Sa’ad (d. 230 AH), and Ali bin al Hasan ‘Ibn Asakir’ (d. 571 AH). The early books of sirat were descriptive with their main aim being to preserve the facts for posterity. The early writers concentrated on the military expeditions and at one time the term maghazi was used as a synonym for sirat. The writings also highlighted the actions of the prophet (PBUH) but put less emphasis on those of his companions and other events in the general society.



The main authors of ‘ilm al sirat in the modern period are: Muhammad Heykal (d.  ), al Mubarakpuri (b. 1942 AH), Abul Hasan al Nadawi (b.   ), and Mahmud al ‘Akkad (d.  ). Some characteristics distinguish the modern writers from the ancient ones. The modern writers are more analytical. They comment on the social, political, and religious significance of the events they report. Some even go ahead to relate the events in sirat to the experiences of contemporary dawah movements. The modern approach provides a wider context for a fuller understanding of the biography of the prophet.


4.0 SCIENCES OF THEOLOGY, 'uluum usul al ddiin


‘Ilm usul al ddiin has also been named ‘ilm al tauhid, ‘ilm al kalaam, & ‘ilm al aqidat. It was defined by al Suyuti as the science that deals with obligatory matters of the creed, ‘ilm yabhathu ‘amma yajibu I’itiqadihi. The Islamic creed is characterised by simplicity, basaatat, realism, waqi’iyyat, tolerance, tasaamuhu, and a humane approach, insaniyat. There would not have been a necessity for a new and separate discipline on theology if historical events did not demand that.



During the era of the prophet (PBUH) matters of ‘aqidat were explained and were understood in very simple terms. There was no need for a special discipline to study ‘aqidat. However soon after the start of the great fitnat the need for a special discipline became necessary. There were a lot of confusing discussions about khilafat and pre-destination, qadar. The khawarij and mu’tazilat were instrumental in provoking these discussions. Allah’s attributes (sifat Allah) and the fate of those who commit major sins became controversial intellectual issues. Contact of Muslims with the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Greece, Rome, Byzantine, and Persia introduced many philosophical ideas. Greek logic became popular and Muslim scholars resorted to a deep study of usul al ddiin to be able to respond to those intellectual challenges.



Among the famous scholars in usul al ddiin were:  Ahmad bin Muhammad Abu Ja’afar al Tahawi (d. 321 AH), Ali bin Ismail Abu al Hasan al Ash’ari (d. 324 AH), Muhamad bin Muhammad al Maturdi (d. 333 AH), Muhammad bin al Tayyib Abu Bakr al Baqillani (d. 403 AH), Abdul Qadir al Baghdadi (d. 429 AH), Abd al Malik bin Abd Allah Imaam al Haramain al Juwayni (d. 478 AH), Muhammad bin Muhammad Abu Hamid al Ghazzali (d. 505 AH), Muhammad bin Omar al Fakhr al Razi (d. 606 AH), and Muhammad Ibn Abd al Wahhab (d. 1206 AH).



The main issue emphasised in ‘ulum usul al diin is the one-ness of Allah, tauhid, avoiding shirk in its major and minor manifestations, and rejection of any innovations in religion that affect the basic aqidat. In most cases there is a need to correct and remind because many Muslims have unconsciously followed practices that are not accepted in Islam. Many are just plain ignorance. Some are due to syncretism, an attempt to combine Islam with some other practices or beliefs current in the society. Yet many others are just pure superstition. 



There are no new issues causing controversy in the field of ‘aqidat. The same issues that have been discussed since the early centuries of Islam are still the ones being discussed today.


5.0 SCIENCES OF THE LAW & ITS FUNDAMENTALS, uluum al fiqh wa usulihi



There are several definitions of fiqh. Abu Hanifa defined fiqh as knowledge of an individual of his rights and obligations, ma’arifat al nafs ma laha wa ma alayha. Al Shafei defined fiqh as the knowledge of legal rules pertaining to conduct that have been derived from their specific evidences, al ‘ilm bi al ahkaam al shar’iyyat al ‘amaliyyat al muktasab bin adillatiha al tafsiiliyyat’ (Nyazee p. 22). Ibn Qudama defined fiqh as knowledge of the legal rulings on actions whether they are permitted or prohibited and whether they are valid or not, al ‘ilm bi ahkaam al af’al al shar’iyyat ka al hall wa al hurmat wa al sihat wa al fasaad..



Fiqh being the academic study of the Islamic legal system is a very important subject. Islamic law regulates the private and public life of Muslims as individuals, families and communities. It has also greatly influenced the intellectual and psycho-emotional development of Muslims to the extent that it is true to say that fiqh is the most powerful single change agent in Muslim communities.



Islam is a complete way of life covering all aspects and details of the life of the individual and the community. In the same way the law of Islam is comprehensive. Fiqh therefore covers the following fields: physical acts of worship, ibadat; civil transactions, muamalaat madaniyyat;  personal laws, ahwaal shakhsiyyat; criminal rulings,  ahkaam jina’iyyat; judicial rulings, ahkam qadha’iyyat; constitutional rulings, ahkaam dasturiyyat; international rulings, ahkaam dawliyyat; and economic rulings, ahkaam iqtisadiyyat.




Many schools of fiqh, madhahib fiqhiyyat, arose but only 4 of them survived and spread widely. The founders did not plan to establish schools. The schools were named after them after their death. Each school is not uniform; there are variations attributed to the various disciples of the founder. The hanafi school was initiated by Abu Hanifa Ibn al Nu’umaan bin Thabit (d. 150 AH). He used strict criteria for accepting hadith. He used qiyaas and istihsaan widely. He used general principles in specific cases. The Maliki school was initiated by Imaam Malik bin Anas al Asbahi (d. 179 AH). He relied on Qur’an, sunnat, consensus, ijmau; analogy, qiyaas; the practice of the Madanese, ‘amal ahl al madinat; the opinions of the companions, qawl al sahabat;  istihsaan, istislaah, and sadd al dharaei. The Shafei school was initiated by Muhammad bin Idris al Qurashi (d. 204 AH). He relied on Qur’an, sunnat, ijma, & qiyaas. He did not accept the opinions of companions, istihsaan, masaalih mursalat, and the practice of the Madanese. The Hanbali school was initiated by Ahmad bin Hanbal Abu Abd Allah al Shaybani (d. 241 AH). He relied on Qur’an, sunnat, opinion of companions, ijma, qiyaas, istihsaan, istishaab, masalih mursalat ,& sadd al dharaei. Geographical distribution of the schools of fiqh is as follows: The Maliki school is most popular in North West and West Africa. The Hanbali school is most popular in the Arabian peninsula. The Hanafi school is most popular in Turkey, Central Asia, and South Asia. The Shafei school is most popular in parts of Iraq, parts of Yaman, East Africa, and South-east Asia.



All the schools are valid and all are based on authentic practice of the prophet. The un-initiated may wonder why different practices can be tolerated in the same religion. The existence and acceptance of these differences is one of the miracles of Islam and the proof that it is a religion for all times and all places. The prophet in his words and actions provided several alternatives for a valid action in order to give latitude to the followers even in generations yet unborn to choose the alternative most suited to their circumstances. Some of the differences among the schools of fiqh are just choice of a different alternative from among many that are valid. There are matters that were not given in detail in the text as a mercy for the believers so that they may have some latitude in interpretation. Each school made its own interpretation of such situations but whatever interpretation is adopted, it falls within the general framework of Islamic principles. We can therefore look at the different schools as systematizing the wide zone of tolerance and flexibility that Islamic practice provides. It is therefore futile to argue what school is valid or what is better than the other.




Usul al fiqh is the basic framework or methodology that jurists use to deduce objective and logical conclusions in the form of legal rulings, istinbat al ahkam, from the basic sources of Qur’an and sunnat. Usul al fiqh is analogous to logic in philosophy in being a methodology of analysis to reach a conclusion. Imaam al Shafei is credited with founding the discipline of usul al fiqh which he defined in his book al Risalat as knowledge of the legal rulings as derived from their specific evidence, al ‘ilm  bi al ahkaam al shar’iyyat al muktasab min adillatiha al tafsiiliyyat. al Qadh’i al Baydh’awi defined ‘ilm usul al fiqh as knowledge of the evidence of  fiqh in general and how to use the evidence and the circumstances of the user, ma’arifat dalaa’il al fiqh’ ijmaalan wa kayfiyat al istifadat minh’a wa h’aal al mustafiid’. Ibn Kh’uldun defined ‘ilm usul al fiqh as dealing with evidence of shariat and how legal rulings are derived from them, h’uwa fi al adillat al sh’ar’iyyat min h’ayth’u tu’ukhadh’ minh’a al ahkaam. A general definition of ilm al usul is principles by the use of which the mujtahid arrives at legal rules through specific evidence, ‘al qawaid allati yatawasalu biha al mujtahid ila ahkaam al shariat al amaliyyat min adillatiha al tafsiliyyat (Nyazee p 29). Usul al fiqh deals with the general principles and not the details, min hayth al jumlat la min hayth al tafsiil.



Qur’an, sunnat, ‘ilm al kalaam, ilm al lughat, & ahkaam shariat. The Qur’an is mainly a source of methodology. The sunnat is a corpus of legal rulings and practice from which methodological principles can be derived. In its historical evolution, ilm usul al fiqh, like many other Islamic sciences was influenced by Greek deductive logic either directly or through Greek impact on ‘ilm al kalam. There is therefore a need to Islamise some of the current concepts in this discipline. ‘Ilm usul al fiqh is very particular in its definitions and terminology which requires a good grounding in the Arabic language. The many legal rulings over the past 14 centuries continue to provide a methodological framework that is a continuous methodological inspiration for students and practioners of usul al fiqh.



Usul al fiqh does not deal with the legal rulings themselves; that is the concern of fiqh. Usul al fiqh deals with the methodology of analysing evidences, adillat, in order to derive rulings or conclusions. It is a methodological discipline par excellence. ‘ilm usul al fiqh deals with all sources of law as basic evidence. The sources of law (in order of importance) that are unanimously accepted: Qur’an, Sunnat, Ijma, qiyaas, Ijma and qiyaas operate together. Scholars are not unanimous about all the following as secondary sources of law: istihsaan, maslahat mursalat, istishab, ‘urf, & sadd al dharaei. The evidence may absent, incomplete or weak. There may be a need for combining weak evidences from more than one source to reach a conclusion.



Usul al fiqh provides a methodological guideline for the mujtahid so that he can pursue his analysis in a systematic and tried way. It also lends credibility to the conclusions of the mujtahid because people will know that he followed an established methodology and was not following his personal whims or fancies. Thus usul al fiqh helps people trust the conclusions of the mujtahid.


RATIONALISTS, ahl al ra’ay, AND TRADITIONALISTS, ahl al hadith:

There is a division among scholars of usul al fiqh that also mirrors the dichotomy in tafsir: rationalists, ahl al raay, and traditionalists, ahl al hadith. The former rely a lot on reason while the latter rely more on tradition. One of the motivations for the rise of usul al fiqh was to close the gap between the school of traditionalists and the rationalists by providing them with a common methodological framework. The two schools appeared in the second century of hijra. The former was in Hejaz and relied on riwayat and athar in explanation of the nass. The latter arose in Iraq and relied mainly on ijtihad.



Because of the reliance on text, the use of exact language and definition of terms is very important. Fiqh requires exact language as science requires mathematics for exactitude. The need for exact definitions makes usul al fiqh a difficult subject to study. Sometimes too much concern with exactitude in terminology constrains imagination and intellectual exploration that could open up new areas of thought.



Sophisticated methods have enabled usul scholars to derive conclusions even where there  is no textual evidence. They rely on general paradigms that are developed from situations with textual evidence and are used where there is no evidence.




The oft-repeated statement about the closure of the door of ijtihad needs to be revisited. Ijtihad was never closed completely. At some time in the history of the ummat ijtihad relating to aqiidat and fundamentals of the religion was discouraged because of fear of confusion at a time of intellectual ferment when new ideas and philosophies some contradictory to Islam invaded the ummat starting in the 3rd century AH. The political circumstances did not allow the few authentic scholars the opportunity to expose and fight those ideas and philosophies. The practical alternative was to discourage ijtihad on the basic issues of aqidat for fear that ignorant people might be misled and mislead others. Ijtihad in other matters was not closed. There were just few new challenges requiring fresh ijtihad since the physical, social, and political life of the ummat declined and stagnated over a period of about 10 centuries. Even in this period of decline whenever the need arose there were individuals and groups who could stand up and make fresh ijtihad; Ahmad Ibn Taymiyat is a very good example. Ijtihad is being revived in our times because of the new challenges that we are facing and because of the general phenomenon of revival.



Nyazee described 3 modes of ijtihad: (a) literal which stays close to the text, nass (b) Analogy, ijtihad qiyaasi, is used to extend the law to situations not covered by the text (c) general principles of the law, maqasid al shariat, are used when neither literal nor qiyaasi ijtihad can apply. The maqasid mode of ijtihad is nearest the spirit of empirical science and research. It involves applying a general law or theory to a particular cause or situation.


ANALOGY, qiyaas:

Analogy, qiyaas: al Shafei was the first to write about qiyaas in his book al risalat. Qiyaas was defined by al Baaqillaani, al Razi, and al Juwayni as the assignment of  hukm of one problem to another problem about which the law is silent; the assignment being based on the resemblance between the 2 problems or an underlying cause, ‘illat, ‘haml ma’alum ala maaluum fi ithbaat hukm lahuma aw nafyihi anhuma bi amr jamei baynahuma min ithbaat hukm aw sifat aw nafyihima’. The term qiyaas has been used to refer to both qiyaas mantiqi, a type of deductive logic, and qiyaas usuuli, a type of inductive logic. Abu Muhammad Ali Bin Ahmad bin Hazm (d. 465 AH) accepted qiyaas mantiqi and refused qiyaas usuuli. Taqiu al Ddiin Ahmad ibn Taymiyyat (d. 728 AH) considered only qiyaas usuuli. Abu Hamid al Ghazzali (d. 505 AH) combined the two. The balanced view is to consider qiyas usuli in most matters use qiyas mantiqi in a few cases where it is relevant. In most cases both are used in sequence. Qiyaas is considered, by the majority of jurists, as a valid source of legal rulings, hujjat. The basic support for qiyaas is the famous hadith of Muadh bin Jabal when sent to Yaman by the Prophet (PBUH).  Four types of qiyaas can be identified depending on the method used: based on an underlying common cause, qiyaas al ‘illat, based on similarity, qiyaas al shubhat, based on meaning, qiyaas al ma’ana, and based on evidence, qiyaas al dalaalat. The pillars of qiyaas are: al asl, al far’u, hukm al asl, and ‘illat (legal cause). Asl is the first problem for which a ruling exists. Al far’u is the second problem for which no ruling is known. Hukm al asl is the ruling for the first problem. ‘Illat is the legal cause or logical link between the first problem and its ruling. The same link is used to apply the ruling of the first problem to the second problem.


Illat operates under qiyaas but because of its theoretical importance we decided to discuss it separately here. ‘Illat is the underlying explanation of a matter. In this it is very similar to the causal laws and the theories that are the object of empirical scientific research. It could be said that the purpose of science is to discover the ‘illat or underlying explanation in order to generalize. ‘Illat differs from sabab, shart, hikmat, and ‘alamat. Sabab is the cause on the basis of which a primary rule or hukm taklifi is invoked or is established. Shart refers to facts or actions that must take place before the cause can take effect and invoke the related hukm. Hikmat is the wisdom behind the illat.






What is the difference between tafsir and tarjamat

What is the commonest method of tafsir in your community?

Explain how tafsir ‘ilmi is related to I’jaz

Explain the difference between sunnat and hadith

What does the term sunnat tashrei mean?

How is sunnat taught in your community

Professor Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr. November 2000