Custom (`urf) and the scope of Islamic legal rulings (fatwâs)
27 Aug 2011 08:21 GMT
Is it true that in our present century, every fatwâ that is passed in one country is equally binding upon people in other countries, even if the level of Islamic understanding in those other countries is very much different?

Answered by

the Fatwa Department Research Committee - chaired by Sheikh `Abd al-Wahhâb al-Turayrî

That depends on the fatwâ in question. If the fatwâ deals with an indisputable matter of belief or Law derived from the Qur’ân and Sunnah, then it applies to all Muslims everywhere. Some examples of this would be the obligatory nature of the five prayers, the prohibition of drinking alcohol, and the obligation for women to cover everything besides their faces and their hands.

If the fatwâ pertains to a question that is subject to juristic discretion (ijtihâd) where more than one opinion is acceptable and where scholars have disagreed, then different people will follow different opinions. An example of this would be the issue of veiling the face for women or the question of the purity or impurity of alcohol. The resulting difference in practice will not necessarily be geographical in its distribution. Different people living in the same area might follow different opinions on a given matter, depending on which scholar’s opinion they follow or which evidence has convinced them.

If the fatwâ is contingent on cultural considerations and customary usage (`urf), then the fatwâ will be relevant only within the cultural context for which it was intended. Custom plays a role in matters of Islamic Law where there is a general ruling given without the details of that ruling having been precisely defined.

Among the evidence for the recognition of custom in Islamic Law is the following hadith related by `A'ishah:

Hind, the mother of Mu`âwiyah, said to the Prophet (peace be upon him): “Abû Sufyân (Hind's husband) is a tight-fisted man. Is there anything wrong if I take money from him secretly?”

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Take for yourself and your children to suffice your needs according to what is customary.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî]

Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalânî, in his commentary on Sahîh al-Bukhârî, makes the following comment about this incident: “He referred her to customary usage in a matter that was not precisely defined in Islamic Law.” [Fath al-Bârî (4/407)]

Rulings in Islamic Law that pertain to dress are particularly sensitive to considerations of customary usage. For instance, it is prohibited for men to dress like women. This is without dispute. The Prophet (peace be upon him) cursed men who imitate women and women who imitate men. However, the question of what is considered women’s dress is left mostly undefined – except for certain things like gold and silk, which have been specifically described in the sacred texts as being exclusively for women. What is considered men’s dress and women’s dress is, in most cases, wholly dependent on the culture in which a person lives.

A good example of this is the question of whether or not men are allowed to wear wraparound skirts. In some cultures, like those of Somalia, Indonesia, and Pakistan, it is customary for men to wear wraparound skirts of one form or another. Therefore it is permissible for Muslim men in those countries to wear such clothing. In other parts of the Muslim world, however, a wraparound skirt is viewed exclusively as the dress of women. In those cultures, it would be forbidden for a man to wear them, since according to the prevailing custom, he would be dressing in women’s clothing. He would be sinful if he did so. He would not be able to cite the practice of Indonesia or Pakistan to justify his mode of dress. What matters is how his style of dress is viewed according to the customs of the country in which he resides.

And Allah knows best.

Source: Islam Today

-- Al Arabiya Digital