The Fatwa of Shaykh al-Azhar, Muhammad ‘Illiyish On Sadl (Letting the Arms Hang Down While Praying)

The Fatwa of Shaykh al-Azhar, Muhammad ‘Illiyish On Sadl (Letting the Arms Hang down while praying)

The Fatwa of Shaykh al-Azhar, Muhammad ‘Illiyish  the Mufti of the Malikiyyah in al-Azhar, died in 1881

From al-Fath al-’Alii al-Maalik fi-l-Fataawi ‘alaa Madhab al-Imaam Maalik, vol 1, page 104 to 108.

In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.

May Allah bless and grant peace to our Master Muhammad, his Family and Companions. I was asked: Praise be to Allah who has made the Book and the Sunnah a way and the ‘Ulama a guide for this Community. Sir, please give us a ruling on the act of letting the arms hang down ones sides while praying (sadl). Is it related to the Sunnah? Was it transmitted that the Prophet, peace be upon him, did so or ordered that it be done? Is it the ijtihad by Ibn al-Qasim and his followers, not based on any proof (dalil) of the Sunnah, so that the fuqaha have continued to declare that placing one hand over the other (qabd) is unadvisable (makruh) in prayer obiligatory (fard), or do they have something on which to based this? Is the fact that the Prophet, peace be upon him, did so near the end of his life, while ill, a sufficient argument for it to be followed and to abrogate what came before? Please answer us with firm, definitive proof and a convincing argument. Thus you shall be granted absolute joy in Paradise in company of the Master of the sons of Adam, alayhi salam.

I textually replied as follows: Praise be to Allah, who has provided us the Book and the Sunnah and the straight, accepted path of the schools (madhhahib) of the four high ranking imams; who has conserved them (the schools), by his grace, until the Day of Judgement. Who has made his followers (muqallidun) outstanding, confirmed followers of the Sunnah and the Community (Ahl as-Sunnah wa al-Jamaa). May blessings and peace be upon our Master Muhammad, who said: “When instability (fitan) appears, along with innovations and my Companions are insulted, may the ‘ulama then demonstrate their science as, if he does not do so, he shall be cursed by Allah, the angels and everybody. Allah shall not accept any effort or justice at all from him.” And he said: “When the last of this community curse the first, he who hides a hadith shall have hidden what Allah has revealed.” And he said: “Innovators do not appear without Allah making proof appear in the mouth of whom he wishes among His creatures.” And he said: “Innovators are the worst creatures in the creation.” And he said: “Innovators are hellish dogs”. And he said: “Whoever respects an innovator will have taken part in the destruction of Islam.” And he said: “Allah does not accept the innovator’s prayer, nor fasting, or charity, or pilgrimage, or umra, or jihad, or effort, or justice. He leaves Islam just as a hair leaves the dough.” And he said: “When an innovator dies, Islam has triumphed.” May there also be said blessings and peace upon his Family, Companions, Followers (Tabi’in), Followers of the Followers (Tab’ Tabi’in) and the people of the Sunnah, among the followers (muqallidu) of the Four Imams and Pillars of the Deen.

You must know that letting the arms hang down ones sides (sadl) during prayer is firmly established by the Sunnah. It was done by the Prophet and he ordered that it be done by Consensus (ijma’) among the Muslims. Moreover, there is consensus among the Four Imams that it is permitted to do so during prayer. This is so widely known among the followers of the said Imams that it forms part of the Necessary Knowledge of the Deen (ma’lum mina d-din bi d-darura). This is the first and last way in which the Prophet prayed and ordered others to pray, peace be upon him. The proof that it is the first way in which the Prophet prayed and ordered others to pray is recorded in the hadith selected and mentioned by Malik, may Allah be pleased with him, in the Muwatta, transmitted by Sahl b. Sa’d, to which Al-Bukhari and Muslim adhered, the text of which is: “People were ordered to place their right hand on their left forearm during prayer”. The proof of this lies in the fact that they were ordered to place their hands in the aforementioned manner (qabd) implies that previously they let them hang by their sides (sadl). If this were not so, it would be a superfluous and repetitive instruction, something which is unthinkable of the Legislator, peace be upon him. It is likewise perfectly well known that the Companions would not have practiced sadl if they had not seen the Messenger, peace be upon him, do so. It indeed was he who ordered them to do so when telling them: “Pray as you see me pray.” As to the proof which demonstrates that sadl is the last way in which the Prophet prayed and ordered others to pray, lies in its continued practice by the Companions (Sahaba) and the Followers (Tabi’in). This was to such an extent that Malik said – as transmitted by Ibn Al-Qasim in the Mudawwana: “I do not know”, referring to the qabd in obligatory prayer (farida). As it is impossible for them not to have known the last way in which the Messenger, peace be upon him, prayed, or for them to have disobeyed him together, as they followed absolutely everything he did and had a perfect knowledge of his ways of doing things, imitating him in the prayer.

Thus, Malik linked their Practice to the legislatory aliya, to hadith sahih which does not contradict the Practice and Consensus (Ijma’). He made these four the fundaments of his method (madhhab). As to qabd in the obligatory prayer, there is a difference of opinion as to whether it is unadvisable (karahah), advisable (nadab) or allowed (ibahah). This is without there being any difference as to the fact that the Prophet, peace be upon him, did so and ordered others to do so. Those in favor of qabd being advisable and permissible disagree as to the manner in which it is to be carried out. Thus, according to the school of Malik, there are four opinions thereon, which are clearly expressed by Imam Ibn ‘Arafa and others. Among these opinions, the most widespread (mashhur) and accepted by the majority of the followers of Malik is that transmitted by Ibn Al-Qasim in the Mudawwana: that qabd is unadvisable (karahah), which is thus a proof that qabd had been abandoned by the Companions and by the Followers and that they practiced sadl, just as mentioned. This indicates the abrogation of the legal enforcement of qabd. You should know that Ibn Al-Qasim belongs to the generation of followers of the followers (Tab’ut Tabi’in), one of the greatest generations, whose excellency was prophesied by the Great Messenger, peace be upon him.

Likewise, there is Full Consensus (ijma’) as to the imamate, reliability, precision, integrity, scrupulosity and rectitude of Ibn Al-Qasim. The Maliki school has agreed that what Ibn Al-Qasim transmits from Malik in the Mudawwana takes priority over other transmissions which contradict it. All of the Imams of the other schools (madhhahib) have shown their acceptance of the aforementioned transmission, adding as follows: “That is the posture of the majority of the followers of Malik and it is the most widespread opinion among them”. An-Nawawi says (as to sadl) in his commentary of Sahih Muslim: “Al-Laith b. Sa’d is of that opinion.” Al-Qurtubi says, also commenting on said Sahih: “Sadl is backed up by the fact that qabd consists of resting one hand over the other while praying, which is prohibited in the book by Abu Dawud”. Ash-Sha’rani says in the Mizan: “The explanation of this matter – apart from it being something the Legislator, peace be upon him, provided – lies in the fact that the person praying placing his hands below his chest generally distracts him from fully concentrating on Allah. In such case, letting the arms drop by the sides and occupying oneself and concentrating on Allah is preferable to observation of form. Thus, whoever considers himself unable to concentrate fully on Allah during the prayer due to qabd should preferably let the arms drop by his sides.”

The same thing was stated by ash-Shafi’i in his book Al-Umm’, where he said: “There is no harm in letting the arms drop by your sides, if you do not play about”. Whoever considers himself able to fulfill both conditions should place his hands below his chest, which would be preferable for him. Thus, the opinions of the Imams are unified, may Allah be pleased with them. You may thus appreciate that the way the question is made does not allow for necessary acceptance of differences and that what is unanimously agreed must be complied with (al-mujma’ ‘alaih), as it rejects it. You must know that this is a contradiction and a lack of respect is committed, which must be regretted by biting the tongue and knocking ones fingers. As to the contradiction committed, it is clear when he says that “Allah has made the Book and the Sunnah a way for this Community.” This implicitly states that what the Imams and their followers said is not a way for this Community. That is a Dhahiri (literalist) deviation. He later contradicted himself by saying that “Allah has made the ‘ulama a guide for this Community.” He contradicts himself again when he asks whether “it is an ijtihad by Ibn Al-Qasim and his followers, without being based on any proof (dalil).” In this case, after encountering the ‘ulama, he treats them as traitors and doubts whether to classify them as ignorant or transgressors. Finally, he contradicts himself again by requesting a legal finding from someone who is not even worthy to tread the ground trodden by Ibn Al-Qasim and his followers. As to the lack of respect, this is what is stated when he asks whether “it is an ijtihad by Ibn Al-Qasim, without it being based on any proof whatsoever, so that the fuqaha have followed him.” This suggests that Ibn Al-Qasim is not an ‘alim and guide and that he makes ijtihad at random, without basing them on any proof at all. He also suggests that the fuqaha who thereafter followed him blindly, while wavering between ignorance and lack of scruples. How is this possible, if the Messenger, peace be upon him, said: “This deen shall be transmitted by the most spotless (adul) of each generation.” And he said: “My Community shall not agree as to an error.” And he said: “There will always be a part of my Community firm before the truth in the West (maghreb) until the order comes from Allah.” There are also other hadiths.

This lack of respect also arises in relation to other Imams who accept this transmission from Ibn Al-Qasim, whether Hanafis, Malikis, Shafi’is or Hanbalis. Likewise, you must know that lacking respect for Ibn Al-Qasim alone is a great disgrace and scandal. How would you thus lack respect for him and his successors. How would you thus fail to respect them and those who have confirmed them. Moreover, in this case Ibn Al-Qasim does nothing other than to transmit the words of Malik in the Mudawwana as follows: “Malik advised not to place the right hand on the left during obligatory prayer and said: ‘I do not know that; although there is no problem when performed during supererogatory prayer which is lengthened in order to help oneself’.” The lack of respect is really committed against Malik, just as stated in the hadith which reads thus: “The son of Adam insults the vicissitude of destiny, and I am those vicissitudes.” And the hadith: “Do not insult the vicissitudes of destiny, as Allah is said vicissitudes.” The hadith which indicates “qabd” was taken by Bukhari and Muslim from the hand of Malik, who transmits it in his Muwatta; however, he judged it inadvisable, according to the transmission of Ibn Al-Qasim in the Mudawwana. This transmission, by consensus of the people of the madhab, is given priority over any which contradicts it.

Thus, it is not allowed to say that the hadith did not come to Malik’s knowledge. Neither is one allowed to say that Malik disregarded the hadith on his own initiative, without any grounds, as there is Consensus among the Community as to avoiding attribution of such behavior to Malik. This consensus was by the Followers (Tabi’in), who are among the best generations. The latter, in addition to having interpreted the hadith of “‘alim of Medina” as if it referred to Malik. The same happened to the Followers of the Followers (Tab’ at-Tabi’in) down to our days. Thus, there is nothing else to believe than that Malik confirmed the abrogation of said hadith. So he returned to “sadl”, the original practice. This is shown in the words of the transmission in the Mudawwana where it says “I do not know of it”, that is: I do not know of “qabd” being a practice of the Followers (Tabi’in). The real intention of these dogs is to slander Malik, the Imam of the Imams in hadith, fiqh, ‘amal and scrupulousness (wara’), according to the consensus of the Followers (Tabi’in) and those who succeeded them right down to our days.

However, as they knew that slandering Malik is an unbearable act and would be like hurling stones against their own roofs, they took Ibn Al-Qasim as a scapegoat to carry out their intentions, believing he was not important at all and that they could slander him without anything coming of it. This is not so, by Allah! His status is similar to that of Imam Ash-Shafi’i and near to that of Malik. How right Imam An-Naj’i was when he said: “If I had seen the Companions (Sahaba) do wudu up to the wrists, that is what I would have done, although it literally says, ‘up to the elbows’”. Likewise, I also say that as Malik said in the transmission by Ibn Al-Qasim in the Mudawwana “as he said qabd was not recommendable in obligatory prayer” I have decided not to practice it, in spite of the fact that, if we were to base ourselves on the hadith set forth in the Muwatta and the two Sahihs, we would have to practice it.

My success depends on none other than Allah. I seek refuge in Him and to Him I return. May Allah bless and grant peace to our master Muhammad, the Beloved and all his family. The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said: “There are three types of person Allah hates most: atheists who are in the Haram, those who wish to establish a custom from the Jahiliyya in Islam and those who demand a man’s blood without reason, for the mere wish for it to be spilt.” (Transmitted by Al-Bukhari from Ibn ‘Abbas.) And he said, peace be upon him: “Have you indeed any consideration in denouncing the shameless? Denounce them, so the people know them!” (Transmitted by Al-Lhatib, according to the transmission by Malik). And he said, peace be upon him: “Are you worried that people discover who is a scoundrel? Denounce the shameless and their wicked deeds and let the people beware of them!” (Transmitted by Ibn Abi Dunya, Al-Hakïm, Al-Häkim, Ash-Shirazi, Ibn ‘Udayy, At-Tabarani, Al-Bayhaqi, Al-Katib de Bahz Ibn Hakïm from the father of his grandfather.) And he said, peace be upon him: “He who makes the worst transaction is the one who spends his life hoping that time will not bring reality about, abandons this world with no provision at all and comes before Allah without any justification at all.” (Transmitted by Ibn Al-Bukhari from Amir Ibn Rabi’a.) And he said, peace be upon him “There are three things I fear for my Community: failure by a wise man, hypocritical argumentation with the Qur’an and denying Destiny.” (Transmitted by At-Tabarani from Abu Darda.)

The arabic version of this fatawa can downloaded here.

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