I was writing up some material taken from Shaykh Abd al-Fattah al-Yafi’s excellent book Al-Manhajiyyah al-Aamah which pretty well summed up mine and some other individuals observance regarding the teaching of fiqh.
In the past we would hear some groups’ condemnation of the ‘blind following’ of madhabs and enjoinment of the ‘following of evidences’. To their credit this has been tempered somewhat to a more milder ‘We accept madhabs/study according to them but do not do so fanatically’
Teaching From A Text And Going Against It
Upon closer examination of this new approach we find (as mentioned below) not all is at it seems. Yes, books of the madhabs are being used, but more as a structure/skeleton giving the teacher prompts from which he discusses the ‘evidences’ and then declares which one he believes to be the ‘strongest’. For them the teaching of fiqh is just discussing and weighing up of the evidences for any particular issue. Those who have had any taste of the traditional methods of study know how far removed this approach is from that which the they have experienced.
The following is a summary of what Shaykh al-Yafi mentions in his book:
Examples Of Contemporary Chaos in The Study of Fiqh
1-The abandoning of the books of the legal schools (madhabs) which have been traditionally studied, and focussing upon the books of the Zahiri school or the fiqh of Imam al-Shawkani. What is intended is not a criticism/mocking of the Zahiri school or Imam al-Shawkani (Allah have mercy on them) but what is meant is the exchanging of superior works for those which are of a lesser quality.
2-The abandoning of the books of the madhabs and a focussing on the deducing of legal rulings from books of hadith, such as the two Sahih’s, Sunan works, Bulugh al-Maram, al-Muntaqa and their like. The good amongst these people is the one who looks at the commentaries. Rare is that they refer to an issue in the books of fiqh. As for the one studies fiqh of a madhab from A-Z then he is indeed rare to find.
3-Some of them when they saw that the study of fiqh without recourse to a madhab was not beneficial moved to teach some of the books of the madhabs, however they did not teach them as they should be taught and thereby fell in to a number of errors such as the following:
i) They did not proceed in their teaching as the previous scholars did, meaning by gradually taking the student through an increasingly difficult set of works. This is by beginning with a brief/short text, then one of medium length, and then a detailed one. Rather they jumped to the top of the ladder, whereas one who does not climb a ladder gradually will fall. This approach results in the student not benefitting as he should, not completing the detailed book, nor fully understanding what he studies from it, because it is lengthy, detailed and above his level. Its wording is often very precise and nuanced which requires the study of the medium length and brief works before it, in addition to someone to unpack it.
ii) When teaching a text of a madhab the teacher does not impart to the student knowledge of the madhab, rather in each issue he tells the student: ‘The strongest opinion in this issue is such and such’. Thus according to this teaching method there is no difference between the teaching of the books of al-Shawkani and books of the madhabs.
iii) That the teacher of the madhab work possesses no expertise in fiqh, nor has he studied the madhab which he is attempting to teach. He is not fully qualified to teach and therefore many of the legal issues are difficult for him to decipher much less the students. How can the students understand the legal issues if the teacher himself does not?
iv) Each of the four madhabs includes principles (usul) branches (furu) and maxims (qawaid). A mistake is to mix between these three area’s for the student. For example the student is taught fiqh according to a madhab, usul according to another madhab, and qawaid according to yet another, or not according to a madhab at all.