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Is it Necessary to Follow an Imaam? Can I not Refer Directly to the Hadith

What is the need for Fiqh (Jurisprudence) & the Fuqahaa (Jurists)?

Fiqh and FuqahaaWHAT IS FIQH?

Generally a misconception exists that Fiqh is a science which is in contradiction to the science of Hadeeth. It is sometimes even alleged that if an individual follows Fiqh, he is opposing the Ahaadeeth of Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam). This then results in some even saying that Fiqh is mutable and can be changed. However, this is incorrect since Fiqh is not an innovation of latter times. Instead it is actually the explanation and application of the Ahaadeeth.

It is common knowledge to anyone who is familiar with the science of Hadeeth, that one will find apparently contradictory Ahaadeeth regarding a single situation. Some of the reasons for this apparent contradiction are that at times Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) issued a ruling but it was restricted to a specific situation, or this ruling was later abrogated by another verdict. Now if an individual wants to follow the Hadeeth directly, which of the Ahaadeeth will he follow? Therefore the only option that he has is to follow the Fiqh of a qualified Imaam which will show him the application of these apparently contradictory Ahaadeeth.

Let us take a simple practical example to illustrate this point. A person enters the Musjid and finds the Imaam in ruku`. Now, one Hadeeth commands him to join the Imaam in ruku` (Musannaf `Abdur Razzaaq, #3373). However if he joins the Imaam he will be contradicting another Hadeeth which says: “The Salaah of the one who does not recite Surah Faatihah is not accepted” (Bukhaari, #756). Both these Ahaadeeth seem to be contradicting each other. At this point this individual will be forced to refer to a Faqeeh who will explain to him the correct application of these Ahaadeeth. The Faqeeh will tell him that he should join the Imaam in ruku` and his Salaah is valid. He will further explain that the Hadeeth regarding the recitation of Surah Faatihah does not apply to him, rather it applies to an Imaam and a munfarid (a person offering Salaah by himself). As for a muqtadi (the one following an Imaam), the Hadeeth: “Whoever is following an Imaam, the recitation of his Imaam suffices on behalf of his recitation,” (Musannaf Ibnu Abi Shaibah, #3800) applies to him.

The above manner of reconciling between the Ahaadeeth and applying everything to its proper place is what is meant by the statement “Fiqh is the correct application of the Hadeeth”. It is for the very same reason that the great Muhaddith Abdullah bin Mubaarak (Rahmatullahi Alayh) used to say: “Do not say: ‘This is the view of Abu Hanifah’. Rather say: ‘It is the explanation of the Hadeeth’.” (Manaaqibul Imaamil A`zam`Ali Al-Qaari, Al- Jawaahirul Mudee’ah vol. 2, pg. 460)


The difference between a Muhaddith and a Faqeeh could be easily understood from the difference between a pharmacist and a doctor. The pharmacist may be an expert in the different types of medication, their properties, the different pharmaceutical companies that manufacture them, the alternatives, etc. However, he can only dispense medication and is not in the capacity to prescribe the appropriate medication for the specific illness. This is the work and duty of a doctor and physician.

Similarly, in the era of the Tabi’een and in the period that followed thereafter, there existed mainly two groups of Ulama. One group had dedicated themselves to the preservation, collating and memorisation of the text of the Ahaadeeth together with their different chains of transmission. They also studied and scrutinized each chain of narration and the life of each narrator. They were known as the Muhadditheen.

On the other hand, there were those who had devoted their lives to understand the correct meaning and intent of the Qur’aan and Hadeeth and deduce laws and injunctions from them. They were called the Fuqahaa.

Imaam A`mash (Rahmatullahi Alayh), the great expert of Qiraat and Hadeeth, explained this difference in his famous statement:

يا معشر الفقهاء ! أنتم الأطباء ونحن الصيادلة

“Oh Fuqahaa (jurists)! You are the physicians and we (the narrators of the Ahaadeeth) are the dispensers.”(Manaaqibul Imaamil A`zam – `Ali Al-Qaari, with Al- Jawaahirul Mudee’ah, vol. 2, pg. 484)

The difference between a Muhaddith and a Faqeeh has also been pointed out in the following Hadeeth:

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : نضر الله امرأ سمع منا حديثا فحفظه حتى يبلغه ، فرب حامل فقه إلى من هو أفقه منه ، ورب حامل فقه ليس بفقيه

(رواه أبو داود ، رقم : 3660)

Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) said: “May Allah Ta`ala keep that person radiant who hears from us a statement and remembers it until he conveys it, since there are many people who convey Fiqh (by narrating the Hadeeth) to those who have greater understanding than themselves (the narrators), and many a person carries Fiqh but is not himself a Faqeeh (Jurist).”

The last two statements of this Hadeeth refer to a Muhaddith who merely carries the Ahaadeeth from which Fiqh is derived, and conveys it to the Faqeeh who deduces rulings from it.


From the above it is absolutely clear that the Fuqahaa were the ones who truly understood the essence of the Qur’aan and Hadeeth. They reached their conclusions after weighing the different arguments, understanding the contexts of the texts and following the correct procedures of giving preference to one narration over another. Therefore Imaam Tirmidhi (Rahmatullahi Alayh), the author of the famous compilation of Hadeeth, writes:

الفقهاء أعلم بمعاني الحديث

“The Fuqahaa are more knowledgeable about the meanings of the Ahaadeeth.”

Thus, we reach this conclusion that since the Fuqahaa have understood the correct meaning and intent of the Ahaadeeth, we are required to follow their explanation.


Failing to follow the Fuqahaa will result in serious problems. Hereunder are a few examples of the serious problems that can follow if one abandons the Fuqahaa.

  1. Moulana Sarfaraaz Khan (Rahmatullahi Alayh) writes: “I have a sincere Deeni conscious friend whose daughter-in-law claimed to follow the Hadeeth. She insisted that the Hadeeth of Saheeh Bukhaari only instructs one to throw three hands full of water over the head for a fardh (obligatory) ghusl and that there is no need to pour water over the entire body. This became such a serious problem that it led to divorce. The Hadeeth which she referred to does appear in Saheeh Bukhaari (#254) where Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) said whilst indicating with both his hands: ‘I pour water over my head thrice.’ However, this is one portion of the Hadeeth. The detailed narration (#256) which appears in the very same chapter after a few lines explains the procedure, where it says that thereafter he (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) poured water over his entire body.” (Al Kalaamul Mufeed, pg. 219)
  2. A Hadeeth of Saheeh Bukhaari (#1863) states: “An Umrah in Ramadhaan equals to a Hajj with me (i.e. Rasulullah Sallahu Alayhi Wasallam)”. Similarly another Hadeeth states: “The one who performs Fajr Salaah in congregation and thereafter sits till sunrise remembering Allah Ta`ala and performs two rakaats of nafl Salaah, he would attain the reward of a complete Hajj and Umrah (Sunan Tirmidhi #586)”. If a person looks at the apparent meaning of these two Ahaadeeth without the medium of the Fuqahaa, he would conclude that there is no need for him to perform his Fardh Hajj, since he has already attained the reward of a complete Hajj and a Hajj with Rasulullah (Sallahu Alayhi Wasallam). If he refers to a Faqeeh, he would explain that these Ahaadeeth only refer to the reward of Hajj. However these actions do not absolve him from the obligation which still remains on him.
  3. Another real example of the above is: Once a man (who was going for Umrah) came to an `Aalim and said: “The Hadeeth says that one Salaah in Makkah Mukarramah equals one hundred thousand Salaah elsewhere (Sunan Ibni Majah #1406). So if I perform one qadhaa Salaah there, won’t it compensate for all my qadhaa Salaah?” The Aalim replied: “If your deduction is correct, then not only will it compensate for your past Salaahs, rather there will be no need for you to perform any more Salaah in the future as well”. Thereafter he explained to him that this only refers to the reward and not the obligation.

From these examples we understand that going directly to the Ahaadeeth without the medium of the Fuqahaa is detrimental to our Deen. In the first situation, the woman’s ghusl was incorrect. Hence none of her Salaahs would be accepted. In the second example, the person would have discarded the fifth pillar of Islaam. In the third situation the person would end up discarding Salaah completely. Therefore, subjecting ourselves to the Fuqahaa is a means of protecting and safeguarding our Deen, as the great Muhaddith Sufyaan bin `Uyaynah (Rahmatullahi Alayh) used to say:

التسليم للفقهاء سلامة في الدين

Submitting to the Fuqahaa is safety in Deen.” (Al- Jawaahirul Mudee’ah, vol. 1, pg. 166)

He also said:

الحديث مضلة إلا للفقهاء

A person can be misled due to misunderstanding the Hadeeth, except the Fuqahaa (i.e. The Fuqahaa are saved from going astray due to having the correct understanding).” (Atharul Hadeethish Shareef, pg. 63)


In conclusion, when such great experts and luminaries in the field of Hadeeth felt it imperative to follow an Imaam in Fiqh, then how can a layman who depends on a translation of Bukhaari or any other book of Hadeeth regard himself to be absolved of the responsibility of following an Imaam and a Mazhab?

A Glimpse of Imaam Abu Haneefah’s (Rahmatullahi `Alayh) Expertise in The Science of Hadeeth

1. A question was once posed to Imaam Abu Haneefah (rahmatullahi `alayh) whilst seated in the presence of his Ustaadh Imaam A`amash (rahmatullahi `alayh) who was himself an expert in the science of Qiraat and Hadeeth. After answering the question, his Ustaadh Imaam A`amash asked him to furnish evidence for his answer. In support of his answer, Imaam Abu Haneefah began quoting Ahaadeeth which he had heard from Imaam A`amash himself, with their complete chain of transmission up to Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam. When he completed the sixth Hadeeth, Imaam A`amash stopped him saying, “This is enough, you have narrated to me in a short space of time what I have narrated to you over a period of one hundred days. I never expected you to be practicing on all these Ahaadeeth.

يا معشر الفقهاء ! أنتم الأطباء ونحن الصيادلة

Oh Fuqahaa (jurists)! You are the physicians and we (the narrators of the Ahaadeeth) are the dispensers.”    (He meant that the narrators of Ahaadeeth merely narrate the Ahaadeeth just as a pharmacist dispenses medication, but the Fuqahaa show the application of these Ahaadeeth just as a doctor prescribes the appropriate medication for the appropriate illness). Thereafter Imaam A`amash addressed Imaam Abu Haneefah saying:

وأنت أيها الرجل أخذت بكلا الطرفين

“But you have achieved both aspects (i.e. you are a Muhaddith and a Faqeeh; you narrate Ahaadeeth and also explain its correct application).” (Manaaqibul Imaamil A`azam – `Ali Al-Qaari, with Al- Jawaahirul Mudeeah, vol. 2, pg. 484).

2. Imaam Ahmad bin Hambal (rahmatullahi `alayh) was once asked, “Can a man be called a Faqeeh (jurist) if he commits one hundred thousand Ahaadeeth to memory”? He replied, “No.” The man then enquired: “What about two hundred thousand?” He replied in the negative. He then asked again: “Three hundred thousand?” Imaam Ahmad replied in the negative again. “What about four hundred thousand,” the man asked? Imaam Ahmad gestured with his hand, implying that perhaps this person may qualify to be a jurist and Mujtahid who will issue Fatwas to the people. (I`ilaamul Muwaqqi`een vol. 1, pg. 36).

A similar incident occurred with Yahya bin Ma`een (rahmatullahi `alayh). He also replied in the negative until the questioner inquired about memorising five hundred thousand Ahaadeeth. Thereupon he said: “I have hope that such a person may qualify.” (Al-Jaami`u li Akhlaaqir Raawi wa Aadaabis Saami`, pg. 345).

In one narration five hundred thousand has also been reported from Imaam Ahmad (rahmatullahi `alayh). (Al-Musawwadah, Atharul Hadeethish Shareef, pg. 175).

When we examine the stature of Imaam Abu Haneefah and his calibre, we find that it is an indisputable fact that he was one of the greatest jurists. The Muhaddith and Faqeeh (jurist) par excellence Sufyaan Thauri (rahmatullahi `alayh) said regarding him:

أفقه أهل الأرض

“Abu Haneefah is the greatest jurist on the surface of the earth.” (Qawaa`id fi `Uloomil Hadeeth, pg. 310). Abdullah bin Mubaarak (rahmatullahi `alayh) says:

أفقه الناس أبو حنيفة ، ما رأيت في الفقه مثله

“Abu Haneefah is the greatest jurist; I did not see the like of him in fiqh (jurisprudence).” (Tahdheebut Tahdheeb, vol. 10, pg. 450). Imaam Shaafi`ee (rahmatullahi `alayh) says:

الناس عيال في الفقه على أبي حنيفة

“Every person is indebted to Abu Haneefah in fiqh (jurisprudence).” (Tahdheebut Tahdheeb, vol. 10, pg. 450). Thus, if memorising five hundred thousand Ahaadeeth is the minimum requirement to qualify as a Faqeeh (jurist), one could imagine how many Ahaadeeth Imam Abu Haneefah must have memorized to receive such a high rank amongst the jurists, and to be titled “The greatest jurist”. Haafiz Abu Yahya Zakariyya Naysaaburi (rahmatullahi `alayh) in his kitaab Manaaqibu Abi Haneefah quotes the statement of Imaam Abu Haneefah:

عندي صناديق من الحديث ، ما أخرجت منها إلا اليسير الذي ينتفع به

“I have many trunks full of Hadeeth. However I have only narrated a small portion of it which people can easily benefit from.” (Al-Imaam Ibnu Maajah wa Kitaabuhu As-Sunan, pg. 54).

3. Mis`ar bin Kidaam (rahmatullahi `alayh) was a great Muhaddith and a contemporary of Imaam Abu Haneefah. He possessed such expertise in the field of Hadeeth that great Imaams like Shu`bah and Sufyaan Thauri (rahmatullahi `alayhima) (both of whom were known as Ameerul Mu’mineena fil Hadeeth-leader of the believers in the science of Hadeeth) would refer to him when they would differ amongst themselves regarding any matter of Hadeeth. They would address each other saying: “Let us go to the Meezaan (criterion) Mis`ar bin Kidaam.” (Al-Imaam Ibnu Maajah wa Kitaabuhu As-Sunan, pg. 50). He once commented:

طلبت مع أبي حنيفة الحديث فغلبنا ، وأخذنا في الزهد فبرع علينا ، وطلبنا معه الفقه فجاء منه ما ترون

“I studied Hadeeth with Abu Haneefah and he surpassed us. We focused on piety and abstention from the world and in this also he excelled. Then we studied fiqh (jurisprudence) together with him and in this also he has produced such results that are clearly visible to you.” (Manaaqibu Abi Haneefah – Zahabee, pg.27). It is a common fact that one of the greatest compliments is the compliment of a contemporary, because generally rivalry exists between contemporaries. Furthermore, in this instance the contemporary is no ordinary person. Instead he is a great expert in the field of Hadeeth. This is further supported by the statement of Makki bin Ibraaheem and Yazeed bin Haaroon (rahmatullahi `alayhima) in which they said:

أحفظ أهل زمانه

“Abu Haneefah was the greatest Haafiz of Hadeeth in his time.” (Ibne Maajah aur `Ilme Hadeeth, pg. 166).

4. As was the prevalent custom amongst the great luminaries of the past where they contributed to the field of Hadeeth by compiling the Ahaadeeth of Nabi Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam in a book form, similarly did Imam Abu Haneefah accomplish this feat by compiling his widely acclaimed kitaab, “Kitaab-ul-Aathaar”. However, the unique feature of this kitaab is that it is compiled in a systematic format following the sequence of the chapters of fiqh that is commonly followed by the Fuqahaa and Muhadditheen who came later. Moreover, it covered every chapter that one would normally find in the books of fiqh. On the other hand, the compilations prior to the compilation of Imam Abu Haneefah were not systematic; rather they covered different Ahaadeeth without any specific chapter or topic. Similarly, there were other compilations that did have a sequence to some extent, but only covered a few topics. Thus the oldest systematic compilation of Saheeh Ahaadeeth that is found today is the Kitaab-ul-Aathaar of Imam Abu Haneefah. (Ibne Maajah aur `Ilme Hadeeth, pg. 159).

He selected the Ahaadeeth therein from a collection of forty thousand Ahaadeeth. (Ibid, pg. 164).

Besides Kitaab-ul-Aathaar, there are approximately fifteen compilations that contain the Ahaadeeth of Imam Abu Haneefah. (Sharhu Musnadi Abi Haneefah – `Ali Al-Qaari, pg. 7).

Mulla `Ali Qaari (rahmatullahi `alayh) writes: The Mashaayikh (teachers) of Imam Abu Haneefah total up to four thousand. (Ibid, pg.8)

Is it Necessary to Follow an Imaam? Can I not Refer Directly to the Hadith

In this belated era, one often hears questions about the need to follow an Imaam or a Mazhab. The ear-catching slogan of “DIRECTLY” following the Qur`aan and Hadeeth is heard more frequently. The answer to such questions and the reality behind these slogans is highlighted by the following eye-opening incident, which has been reported by Imaam Ahmad bin Hambal and Imaam Tahaawi (rahmatullahi `alayhima). Once `Urwah bin Zubair (rahmatullahi `alayh) addressed `Abdullah bin `Abbaas (radhiyallahu `anhuma) thus:

“You have led the people astray Oh Ibnu `Abbaas!”

When `Abdullah bin `Abbaas (radhiyallahu `anhuma) inquired about the reason, `Urwa (rahmatullahi `alayhi) mentioned a ruling pertaining to the laws of Hajj which `Abdullah bin `Abbaas (radhiyallahu `anhuma) had issued contrary to the ruling of Abu Bakr and `Umar (radhiyallahu `anhuma). `Abdullah bin `Abbaas (radhiyallahu `anhuma) replied: “This is the exact reason why you have been led astray. I am narrating from Rasoolullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam and you are opposing it with the view of Abu Bakr and `Umar (radhiyallahu `anhuma).” `Urwah (rahmatullahi `alayh) said to Ibnu `Abbaas (radhiyallahu `anhuma):

“Indeed Abu Bakr and `Umar (radhiyallahu `anhuma) were more knowledgeable about the Sunnah of Rasoolullah sallallahu alayhi wasallam than you.” (Musnad Ahmad, vol. 4, pg. 132, No. 2277, Sharhu Ma`aanil Aathaar, vol. 1, pg. 423).

In a narration of Tabraani the same incident has been recorded with a slight difference. According to this version, when `Urwah (rahmatullahi `alayh) objected, Ibnu `Abbaas (radiyallahu `anhuma) said to him: “Woe be to you! Do you give preference to Abu Bakr and `Umar (radhiyallahu `anhuma) over the book of Allaah and the Sunnah of Rasoolullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam.” Upon this `Urwah (rahmatullahi `alayh) replied: “They were more knowledgeable about the Book of Allaah and the Sunnah of Rasoolullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam than you and I.” Ibnu Abi Mulaykah, the narrator of this incident comments: “Ibnu `Abbaas (radhiyallahu `anhuma) did not have any answer for this.”     (Al-Mu`jamul Awsat, vol. 1, pg. 42, No. 21).

The answer of `Urwah (rahmatullahi `alayh) is exactly the answer to those who raise objections such as: What is the need to follow an Imaam? Is it better to follow Rasoolullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam or to follow Abu Haneefah, Maalik, Shaafi`ee and Ahmad bin Hambal (rahmatullaahi alayhim)? In reply to these objections Shaykh Muhammad `Awwaamah writes: “We say to them: We are not pleased to have you as a substitute for these Imaams, as they were more knowledgeable about Rasoolullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam than you.” In fact, when we say “more knowledgeable” we do not mean to draw a comparison, because there is absolutely no comparison between you and them in knowledge. And it is our ardent desire to cling onto the way of Rasoolullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam that drives us to follow their understanding of the pure Sunnah.” (Atharul Hadeethish Shareef, pg. 101).

The crux of these answers is that one does not follow an Imaam in OPPOSITION to the Quraan and Sunnah. Instead, the following of an Imaam is based purely on the intention to follow the Quraan and Sunnah, and they were far more knowledgeable of the Quraan and Sunnah than anyone in this era.


Another simple answer to these types of questions could easily be understood from a common day to day situation. Take the example of a close relative who requires a triple bypass or needs to undergo a major operation. Will an unqualified relative ever dare to research the procedure of that operation and carry it out by himself? The answer is obvious. Rather, he will employ the services of the greatest expert in that field. Why? Since the well being of our dear one means much to us. If our Deen is beloved to us, then this should be our attitude with regards to the matters of Deen as well.

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