THE evening dinner started as usual with casual, lighthearted banter among us sisters who were present. In one comical exchange, a sister shared with us how terribly dry her feet were, so much so that they cracked often.
“Sometimes I’m praying,” she said between chuckles, “and I have to keep leaving Salaat to make wudhoo because of my feet!”
I creased my forehead. “But why would you make wudhoo because of your feet?”
“Because sometimes the cracks bleed.”
“Um…” I said. “You don’t have to make wudhoo because of that. ‘Umar Ibn Khattab kept praying even after he was stabbed, and he was bleeding a lot.”
“Well, in the madhhab I follow, you do.”
I nodded, remembering just then having read about this opinion.
…The sister went on to talk about the necessity of following a madhhab, and how we “ignorant people” (i.e. laypeople) absolutely have to.
Though I was trying to maintain a sense of diplomacy, I felt myself growing a bit annoyed…
…Conscious that the whole discussion was spiraling into a fruitless emotional argument, I tried the middle ground:
“Alhamdulillaah, all the madhhabs are good.”
“Well,” the woman responded authoritatively, “Abu Hanifah was the best of all of them because—”
By then, I mentally drowned her out and decided to keep silent, even as she—in her “authoritative ignorance”—droned on and on about how even Imam Malik and Imam Shafi’ee and Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal were not as trustworthy as Imam Abu Hanifah…
It was clear that this “ignorant” person was a bit ahead of herself, but I decided to keep quiet on this one…
…But I couldn’t help thinking of the glaring contradiction I was witnessing: How could she claim that we were so “ignorant” that it’s forbidden to even research the validity of an opinion from any school of thought, but she’s so knowledgeable in her ignorance that she can confidently make a claim that assumes full knowledge of the authenticity of every opinion in every school of thought?
Was she serious?
But I kept my additional thoughts to myself and said something general again like, MaashaAllah, Allah knows best, as I knew continuing the argument would only lead to more fitnah…
Then, in the middle of all of this, something miraculous happened: The adhaan for Maghrib was called.
Internally, I breathed a sigh of relief. I hated leaving any gathering feeling like I had hurt my sister in Islam or had been the source of fitnah. And now, from Allah, there was an opportunity for us to close this argument once and for all—not through agreeing with each other but through joining our hearts by standing shoulder-to-shoulder in prayer to our Creator, as Muslims do five times each day.
My heart lifted in anticipation as I saw her proceed to make wudhoo (I had feared that she might be unable to pray this week)…
When she returned from wudhoo and placed a prayer mat in its place and faced the Qiblah, I lined up next to her…
…The sister’s eyes widened as a condescending grin formed on her face, and she turned her head to me after I lined up shoulder-to-shoulder next to her. “What are you doing?”
Her expression and question confused me, and I momentarily imagined that I had mistaken her intentions. I had thought she was about to pray Maghrib, but maybe I was wrong…
“Did you pray Maghrib yet?” I asked, my forehead creased, my confused expression only inches from her face as she stood next to me, her body facing the Qiblah even as her head was turned to her side to look at me.
“No…” she said, her expression still carrying that look that seemed to say, Uh, what exactly do you think you’re doing standing next to me?
“I didn’t either,” I said, relaxing, realizing that I hadn’t been mistaken after all. I turned my head toward the Qiblah again and waited for her to start the prayer. A few seconds passed as I sensed that she was still staring at me.
“Uh…you’re going to pray with me?” she asked, her tone condescending and humored.
I felt small in that moment.
“Aren’t you about to pray Maghrib?” I asked, confused again.
“Yes…” she said, a trace of amused sarcasm still in her tone. She continued to look at me, as if waiting for something. “But…” she said (still smiling), “not with you.”
I just stared at her. I was too shocked to speak.
“Women don’t pray in jamaa’ah,” she said finally.
Oh. My heart fell as the realization came to me.
“According to your madhhab,” I muttered, answering for myself as I walked away, defeated.
“Just so you know,” I told her before she raised her hands in takbir, “the female companions did pray in congregation.”
She turned her head slightly over her shoulder, still wearing a smirk as she looked at me.
“But it wasn’t emphasized,” she said before she turned her head toward the Qiblah, calmly raising her hands in start of Maghrib prayer, apparently not the least bit perturbed by my deep hurt—or her own cruelty.
“I don’t think,” the mother raised her voice at me, her voice loud through the receiver that I held in my hand. “I throw my brain away. That’s what I do. And that’s what you should do.”
I was silent as I held the phone to my ear and stood next to the bed in the guest room, where I had retreated for privacy. She had called because she felt that I was teaching the students all wrong, and she wanted to give me a piece of her mind.
“You have to follow a madhhab,” she fumed. “You have no right telling these students to research about Islam. It is not correct for us to research. We must blindly follow the scholars.”
I drew in a deep breath and exhaled. I really didn’t know how to handle this angry mother’s call to my home, and so late at night. I wanted to be with my family right then, but I also knew this issue wasn’t going away, at least not anytime soon.
Mentally, I tried to determine the best way to respond…
On a very basic level, she had a point. Yes, laypeople were bound to scholars, and they could not approach Islam by sitting and reading the Qur’an and hadith alone, with no reference at all to the understanding of the Prophet, sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, or his Companions—the first and greatest scholars of Islam—or the scholars that followed them, and come up with their own conclusions about what a verse or hadith meant…
But she was completely wrong in saying we should throw our brains away and that laypeople were not permitted to even research an Islamic issue in hopes of Allah guiding them to the right conclusion…
I also caught the personal attack in her words. She was assuming that I fit into her “I don’t follow a madhhab” stereotypical personality.
To people like this mother, there were only two categories of people in the world: Those who blindly followed one of the four famous schools of fiqh; and those who invented their own Islam, claiming to follow the “Qur’an and Sunnah,” while dismissing the validity of following any school of fiqh.
I fit into neither category.
But right then, that was beside the point…
“Let me ask you a question,” I said, deciding it was unwise to use the counterargument approach with someone old enough to be my own mother—though my mind was a stampede of rebuttals.
She had, minutes before, given the classic analogy used to argue against people who don’t blindly follow a single school of thought: If you want to pray, and you study all four schools of thought and take from all of them, when you pray, you are praying in a way that agrees with none of the schools of thought!
But, I’d said, my goal isn’t to pray according to a school of thought: It’s to pray like the Prophet, sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, as we were instructed.
“Let’s say you come across an opinion from your Imam,” I said, “and he says something like this, ‘Well, since I have no knowledge of any hadith on this topic, we can only conclude that this is the way we hold our hands in this position of prayer.’
“Then,” I said, “one day you happen across the same topic from an Imam from another school of thought, but he has an authentic hadith on that particular topic.
“Now,” I said, “do you follow your madhhab in this case, or do you follow the hadith you just learned?”
She was silent. When she spoke again, it was apparent that she was flustered. “Well, that’s a good question,” she said, confounded. “I’ll have to ask my Sheikh and get back to you.”
I left the dinner in a state of distress.
Part of me was disturbed by the actions of my sister in Islam—who refused to even pray next to me (something I knew even her favored madhhab scholar wouldn’t agree with, even if women praying in congregation “wasn’t emphasized”).
And another part of me was disturbed by the state of the ummah. Was this what we had come to, I’d thought pensively: “My madhhab is better than yours”?
When I spoke to the mother on the phone weeks later, it only made matters worse.
Somewhere in the course of the conversation, I’d asked the mother this question…
But if you don’t allow yourself to research anything in Islam because you must follow a single madhhab, how can you even be sure you’re following the Imam of the madhhab you claim? After all, you only know of these opinions because your Sheikh said they’re from this madhhab, not because you read it from the Imam himself… What if these opinions are not even from him? How would you even know?
I really wanted to know her answer because I knew that many of the opinions she was following were completely foreign to the Imam of the madhhab she claimed (Ironically, this I knew because I had researched). But of course she wouldn’t believe me, so I was hoping she’d do a bit of research herself.
…But, in response, she insisted that I was arrogant and had too much confidence in myself and I should throw my brain away as she had…
And that’s when it came to me.
I suddenly understood the problem I was witnessing…
No, these two women didn’t represent the vast majority of those who were dedicated to following a single madhhab (In fact, they represented none of those engaged in permissible taqleed).
Rather, these women were part of a growing body of Muslims who were engaged not in blindly following a legitimate fiqh scholar, but in blindly following their own madhhab…
…Not of their favored “school of fiqh”—but of their favored school of fitnah…
…For it goes without saying that, if you are so ignorant that you feel compelled to engage in blind following, then that same ignorance should keep you from calling others to your blindness (let alone with authority)…
Certainly, a blind person shouldn’t insist that those with minimal sight (or with at least the desire to see) should block even that minimal vision (or desire) in favor of blindness…
O Allah, I ask You for beneficial knowledge, a humble heart, certainty based on truth,
and a tongue that moves in constant remembrance of You!