Imam Sha’fi on Knowledge

Imaam ash-Shafi’ee

29. Someone asked me: What is knowledge and how much should men know of it?

30. Shaafi’ee replied: Legal knowledge is of two kinds: one is for the general public, and no sober and mature person should be ignorant of it.

31. He asked: For example?

32. replied: For example, that the daily prayers are five, that men owe it to God to fast the month of Ramadan, to make the pilgrimage to the House whenever they are able, and to the legal alms in their estate; that He has prohibited usury, adultery, homicide, theft, wine, and of that sort which He has obligated men to comprehend, to perform, to pay in their property, and to abstain from He has forbidden it to them.

This kind of knowledge may be found textually in the Book of God, or may be found generally among the people of Islam. The public relates it from the preceding public and ascribes it to the Apostle of God,.nobody ever questioning its ascrip-tion or its binding force upon them. It is the kind of knowledge which admits of error neither in its narrative nor in its interpretation; it is not permissible to question it.

33. He asked: What is the second kind?

34. Shaafi’ee replied: It consists of the detailed duties and rules obligatory on men, concerning which there exists neither a text in the Book of God, nor regarding most of them, a sunna. Whenever a sunna exists , it is of the kind related by few authorities, not by the public, and is subject to different interpretations arrived at by analogy.

35. He asked: Is this kind as obliga-tory as the other, or is it not obligatory so that he who acquires such knowledge performs a supererogatory act, and he who neglects it falls not into error? Or, is there a third kind, derived from a narrative (khabar) or analogy?

36. replied: There is a third kind .

37. He asked: Will you explain it, give its source, and state what of it is obligatory, and on whom it is binding and on whom it is not binding?

38. replied: The public is incapable of knowing this kind of knowledge, nor can all specialists obtain it. But those who do obtain it should not all neglect it. If some can obtain it, the others are relieved of the duty ; but those who do obtain it will be rewarded.

39. He asked: Will you cite a liarrative or any other rele-vant information as a basis for analogy?

40. replied: God has imposed the the jihad as follows:

God has bought from the believers their selves and their posses-sions against Paradise . They fight in the way of God; they kill, and are killed; that is a promise binding upon God in the Torah and Gospel and the Qur’an; and who fulfils his cove-nant better than God? So rejoice in the bargain you have made with Him. That is the mighty triumph .

And He said:

Fight the polytheists totally as they fight you totally; and know that God is with the godfearing .

And He said:

Slay the polytheists wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in ambush for them everywhere. But if they repent and perform the prayer and pay the zakat, then let them free. God is All-forgiving, All.compassionate .

And He said:

Fight those who do not believe in God nor in the Last Day, who do not forbid what God and His Apostle have made forbidden, and who do not practice the religion of truth, of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the jizya out of hand and have been humbled .

41. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz b. Muhammad al-Darawardi’ told us from Muhammad b. ‘Amr b. ‘Alqama from Abu Salama from Abit Hurayra, who said that the Apostle of God said:

I shall continue to fight the unbelievers until they say: ‘There is no god but God,’ if they make this pronouncement they shall be secured their blood and property, unless taken for its price, and their reward shall be given by God.

And God, glorified be His praise, said:

O believers, what is the matter with you, that when it is said to you: ‘Go forth in the way of God,’ you sink down to the ground? Are you so content with this present life as to neglect the Here-after? The enjoyment of this life is little in comparison with the Hereafter. If you do not go forth, He will inflict upon you a painful punishment, and instead of you He will substitute another people; and you will not hurt Him at all, for God is powerful over everything .

And He said:

Go forth, light and heavy! Struggle in God’s way with your possessions and yourselves! That is better for you, did you but know .

42. said: These communications mean that the jihad, and rising up in arms in particular, is obligatory for all able-bodied , exempting no one, just as prayer, pilgrimage and alms are performed, and no person is permitted to perform the duty for another, since performance by one will not fulfil the duty for another. They may also mean that the duty of is a collective (kifaya) duty different from that of prayer: Those who per-form it in the war against the polytheists will fulfil the duty and receive the supererogatory merit, thereby preventing those who have stayed behind from falling into error.But God has not put the two on an equal footing, for He said:

Such believers who sit at home-unless they have an injury-are not the equals of those who fight in the path of God with their possessions and their selves. God has given precedence to those who fight with their possessions and their selves over those who sit at home. God has promised the best of things to both, and He has preferred those who fight over those who sit at hoine by a mighty reward .

The literal meaning of this communication is that the duty is obligatory on all men.

43. He asked: Where is the proof for your opinion that if some people perform the duty, the others would be relieved of punishment?

44. said: It is in the communication that I have just cited].

45. He asked: In what part of it?

46. replied: God said: “Yet to each God has promised the best of things.”
Thus God has promised “the best of things” for those who stayed behind and could not go to the jihad, although he clearly specified his preference for those who went to the jihad over those who stayed at home. If those who stayed at home were in error, while others were fighting, they would be committing a sin, unless God forgives them, rather than receiving ” the best of things.”

47. He asked: Is there any other [proof]?

48. replied: Yes, God said:

It is not for tile believers to go forth all together, but why should not a party of every section of them go forth, to become learned in religion, and to warn their people when they return to them, perhaps they will beware [Q. IX, 123].

[When] the Apostle went to battle he was accompanied by some of his companions while others stayed at home; for ‘Ali b. Abi Talib stayed at home during the battle of Tabuk. Nor did God ordain that all Muslims were under obligation to go to battle, for He said: “Why should not a party of every section of them go forth?” So He made it known that going into battle was obligatory on some, not on all, [just] as knowl-edge of the law is not obligatory on all but on some, save the fundamental duties which should be known to all men. But God knows best.

49. Shaafi’ee said: In like manner are other duties, the fulfillment of which is intended to be collective; whenever they are performed by some Muslims collectively, those who do not perform them will not fall in error.If all men failed to perform the duty so that no able-bodied man went forth to battle, all, I am afraid, would fall into error (although I am certain that this would never happen) in accordance with [God’s] saying:

If you do not go forth, He will inflict upon you a painful punish-ment [Q. IX, 39].

50. He asked: What is the meaning [of this communication]?

51. replied: It means that it is not permissible that all men should fail to “go forth”; but that if some go forth, so that a sufficient number fulfils [the collective duty], the others do not fall into error, because the going forth by some would fulfil the [duty of] ‘going forth.’

52. He asked: Are there examples other than the jihad?

53. replied: Ys, such as the funeral and burial prayers, the performance of which should not be neglected; but men are not all under the obligation to attend to their performance, for those who perform them will relieve those who do not from falling into error.In the same [category falls the duty to] reply to a salutation. For God said:

When you are greeted with a greeting, respond with a better one, or return it. Verily God keeps account of everything [Q. IV, 88].

The Apostle of God said:

He who is standing shall greet hin who is sitting. If [only] one replies to a greeting, he would fulfil [the duty] on behalf of the others.

These are merely intended to mean that a reply must be made. So the response of the few fulfils the duty for all who are obligated to reply, for the [collective] response is sufficient. So far as I have been informed, the Muslims have continued to act as I have stated, from the time of the Prophet to the present. Only a few men must know the law, attend the funeral service, perform the jihad and respond to greeting, while others are exempt. So those who know the law, perform the jihad attend the funeral service, and respond to a greeting will be rewarded, while others do not fall into error since a sufficient number fulfil the [collective] duty.


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