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July 14, 2019

In Defence of Shaykh Muhammad Saeed Ramadan al-Buti

In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful, Most Kind

Shaykh Muhammad Saeed Ramadan al-Buti, God have mercy on him, (1928-2013) was a notable Sunni Muslim scholar who was a revered authority of orthodox Sunni Islam across the Arab world and beyond. He was a prolific writer whose sermons were regularly broadcast on television and authored more than sixty books on various Islamic issues. He was considered an important scholar of the approach based on the four schools of Sunni Islam and the orthodox Ash’ari creed. He was assassinated in 2013 whilst giving a lesson in a Damascus mosque and was widely mourned across the Sunni world. His political stance of not supporting the Syrian uprising was controversial, however, with the passage of time he was proven to be accurate in his predictions of the anarchy and chaos that would result from protests.

Amongst Shaykh al-Buti’s most popular work was his acclaimed al-Lamadhhabiyya in which he tackled the Salafi movement and its approach to the issue of following schools of law (madhabs) and following qualified scholarship (taqlid). In this book he presented – without mentioning names – a discussion he had with a Salafi teacher on this issue, which was subsequently translated by Shaykh Nuh Keller and uploaded to Masud Khan’s website.

This translated article shortly thereafter received a response from a student of knowledge from the Wycombe Islamic Society (WISE) in which he identified this unnamed Salafi teacher as Shaykh Eid al-Abbasi and made the following comments based on Shaykh al-Abbasi’s book Bidah Tassub al-Madhabi:

  1. Shaykh al-Buti exaggerated the contents of the discussion and was a liar.
  2. The answers the Salafi teacher gave were astonishing and not credible.
  3. The Salafi teacher was made to look like a “fool”.
  4. A “beginner in Salafeeyah” would not have answered in this manner.

Who Was Accurate in Their Description of the Discussion?
We have two differing accounts of this discussion and lack a video or audio recording to be able verify the accuracy of the opposing accounts. Shaykh al-Buti, however, in his response to accusations of having exaggerated and lied about the discussion mentioned on page 133 of al-Lamadhhabiyya that there were close to ten witnesses who could verify the accuracy of his version of events.

Shaykh Eid al-Abbasi also mentioned witnesses in passing (p. 291) but did not name them nor cite their testimony which would have been the easiest course of action. Rather, he ignored collating witness testimony and instead challenged Shaykh al-Buti to a Mubahala (p.296) calling on Allah Taala for the swift death and punishment of the party who was lying. Readers should note that both parties lived for decades after this incident, Shaykh al-Buti gaining the lofty rank of a martyr (Shahid) and Shaykh Eid al-Abbasi is still living (as far as I know).

Readers will note that Shaykh al-Buti saw no need to engage in a cursing of himself when he had already mentioned the presence of several witnesses to verify his version of events.

Would a Salafi Scholar Make Such Statements?
We then come to the other aspect of this attack on Shaykh al-Buti, namely that, according to the Salafi translator, he was “astonished at some of the answers that this Salafee Teacher gave”. Were these responses far fetched and not befitting a Salafi scholar? We will leave it to readers to make up their mind based on passages from Shaykh Eid al-Abbasi’s very same book which we believe:

  • Support the general meaning of Shaykh al-Buti’s testimony.
  • Contain statements many scholars (including some Salafis) would find disturbing and regard as absurd, thereby undermining the claims of astonishment and a beginner not making such mistakes.

Note: We are only highlighting some issues here, a number of the central points were discussed in detail by Shaykh al-Buti in his book which can be referred to. Also note, Shaykh Eid al-Abbasi does cite some scholars to support his views, but these quotes are often grossly out of context, incomplete, misleading or from scholars who followed a minority view which was rejected by many Sunni scholars. An example of a minority viewpoint being a lay person must leave his madhab because he/she comes across an evidence which conflicts with their school, only a minority of scholars hold the view presented by Shaykh al-Abbasi.

Taqlid and Following the Evidence
Shaykh al-Abbasi stresses in a number of places that he and other Salafis permit a common person to make taqlid (follow qualified scholarship), and that the claim that they oblige everyone to deduce rulings by themselves is a lie against them. However, their position of permitting taqlid on closer examination still obliges the common man to grapple with Quran and Sunnah evidences and go against what they may have been taught, he said on page 40:

I have mentioned previously that the ignorant common person (Al-Ami al-Jahil) is permitted by the sacred law to make taqlid of the person whom he deems trustworthy in his knowledge and religion, and he is not obliged to study the shariah evidences and derive rulings from them. However we must highlight that this is on condition that this Muqallid (person who makes taqlid) has not received from a trustworthy scholar a noble verse or Sahih hadith which contradicts that which he is making taqlid of in some matters, thus if it reaches him he must abstain from making taqlid and follow what this scholar states.”

Point to note: It does not matter if a person is an ignorant common person, if a Salafi scholar presents an evidence to them they must leave their madhab and follow the evidence, even though they have no skills to understand what is being presented to them.

Unification of the Madhabs in to One
The clearest example of an absurd proposition from the book and clear contradiction within the space of one paragraph is the issue of creating a new fifth madhab. Shaykh Eid al-Abbasi starts by denying this claim against the Salafis for wishing to create a new fifth madhab but then within a few lines contradicts himself saying on page 61:

We in reality dislike division, difference and despise sectarianism and dispute, thus it would be absurd for us to strive to create a new fifth school – as our opponents claim. We find it troubling that Muslims are divided into four Madhabs, rather we are working to unify these madhabs in to one madhab as was the case at the time of the Salaf al-Salih.”

He goes on to say on page 66,

We now are at the start of a comprehensive revival and it behoves us to do that which was missed the people of the later generations, which is to produce for people a unified Islamic fiqh madhab based on the most authentic evidences and opinions of the Muslim schools of law, more specifically the four.”

Question: How is unifying the four madhabs in to one unified madhab not creating a fifth madhab?

Process for Creating the New Unified Madhab
Shaykh al-Abbasi then proceeds to suggest a process for formulating this new unified madhab including a name for it, he said on page 67,

Due to all of these mentioned reasons we suggest the following:
1. Form a committee consisting of the leading scholars of the Muslim world, including different specialities in the Shariah, their focus being the unification of the Islamic fiqh madhabs (madhahib fiqhiyyah islamiyyah) in to one.
2. This committee will work according to the following plan…
c. In the issues where there is a clear difference of opinion which conflict with each other the evidence of each madhab is examined and the strongest view in terms of evidence is taken without partisanship to any view.
d. For issues which it is difficult to give preference to any view and their evidences are equally strong, any of the views can be adopted and it is good to give preference to that which is for the public benefit of the Muslims…
4. This madhab will be called the madhab of the Kitab and Sunnah and all of the Imams (Kitab wal-Sunnah wa Jami al-Aimmah)”

The Majority of Sunni Scholarship is Misguided
Shaykh al-Abbasi gives little credence to the majority of mainstream Sunni scholars regarding the following of madhabs and argues the following on page 111,

We admit to that which al-Buti said that these madhahib which millions follow and adhere to, and books are filled with the names of scholars who follow them, we accept this, have seen it and have lived amongst this. We know that the vast majority of those who claim knowledge of the shariah are blind followers (muqallidun) and adhere to a madhab, and that those adhering to the sunnah and following the path of the Salaf are small in number in comparison to them. However al-Buti should not rejoice at these large numbers, for Allah the Exalted has stated that the followers of the truth are always small in number, and the followers of falsehood are always the majority, except at some very rare occasions in time.”

Salafi Scholars Tolerance of Madhab Followers & Straw Man Arguments
Shaykh al-Abbasi’s understanding of following a madhab was presented earlier, in this passage he explains the lack of understanding and tolerance he would promote of madhab followers trying to follow their school, along with a poorly constructed “straw man argument”. He said on page 121

Real Life Examples of the Difference Between the Callers to the Sunnah and their Opponents…It is relevant that we present to you some real life examples of this difference which we live in…

Between a Salafi and a Muqallid Maliki
One of the callers to the Sunnah meets one of the scholars…from the muqallidin (followers) of the madhab of Imam Malik for example and sees him praying with his hands by his side. So he asks him: Why do you place your hands by your side in the prayer?
The muqallid (follower) will say: I make taqlid of the Maliki madhab which states that hands are placed on the side.
The salafi says: However it is reported from the Imam of your madhab himself Malik (Allah have mercy on him) that he would place his right hand on the left in the prayer, and this is mentioned in his book al-Muwatta itself.
The muqallid says: However the later scholars from the Malikis stated the opposite to this.
The Salafi says to him: Is the view of the later scholars more correct and stronger than the hadith of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the view of the Imam of your madhab himself? The muqallid says: Perhaps they were aware something which I am not aware of.
The Salafi says to him: What is it that they were aware such that they give it precedence to the hadith of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the view of the Imam? The muqallid says: I do not know….
Is this behaviour acceptable from a Muslim who follows the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace)…”

And the discussion goes on, with Shaykh al-Abbasi giving examples from the four madhabs where the follower could be confronted with evidence which they would not be able to answer. All of the scenarios are poorly written and constructed.

We Respect the Madhabs – Sort of
After proclaiming respect and appreciation for the madhabs and their work Shaykh al-Abbasi follows it with the following disclaimer on page 136,

We however also believe that there has occurred in the fiqh madhabs after the blessed three generation many deviations and significant mistakes and many negatives (uyub) have been associated with them, and they have in many matters gone in different directions to the directives of the Kitab, Sunnah and that which all of the Imams call to. We therefore believe that it is necessary to review them from anew and cleanse them of their mistakes, deviations and mistakes.”

Likening Madhab Followers to the People of the Book
Shaykh al-Abbasi explains his views of madhab followers further in the following passage saying on page 143,

Some may object and say: How can you liken the muqallids (followers) of the madhabs to the Jews and Christians? and how can you apply this verse to them when it was revealed regarding the People of the Book, whereas these (followers of madhabs) are Muslim and they (People of the Book) are non Muslim?
The answer is that we ask them: What was the reason for the misguidance of the People of the Book? Was it not turning away from the words of Allah and His Messenger and giving priority to the words of so and so from their notable figures? …”

Madhab Works Have Replaced the Quran and Sunnah
Shaykh al-Abbasi further criticizes the well known and respected works of the Sunni madhabs saying on page 160:

The book Ghayah wal-Taqrib and Manhaj [sic] for the Shafi’s, the book Maraqi al-Falah and Kanz for the Hanafis, the book Mukhtasar al-Khalil and al-Risalah al-Qayrawani according to the Malikis, and the book Zad al-Mustaqni according to the Hanbalis. These books are the first and last reference that each group from them refers back to if in dispute, and accept its ruling and are happy with it. These abridged works (mukhtasarat) have taken the place for them (the madhab followers) similar to that of the noble Quran and Sunnah…”

Do Not Teach the Above Madhab Works to the Young
Shaykh al-Abbasi said on page page 163

“We do not accept teaching the abridged texts (mutun al-mukhtasarah) to the young…rather we hold that teaching them should be done by means of the study of the evidence in a simplified way from the Book and the Sunnah, and there is no harm in choosing topics which they will be able to understand…”

The Classical Madhab Works Do Not Produce Real Scholars
Shaykh al-Abbasi continues his criticism further saying on page 164,

Whereas these mutun (textbooks of Islamic law) do not produce a single real scholar, all of whom they produce are blind followers (muqallidun) whom it is not correct to call Ulema except metaphorically as was accepted by al-Buti.”

We Follow Shaykh al-Albani and Not the Madhabs
Shaykh al-Abbasi makes this surprising admission in his book, clearly stating his preference for Shaykh al-Albani’s teachings over any of the four Sunni schools, he explained on page 258 saying,

“And from this is our preference for following our Shaykh Nasir al-Din al-Albani rather than following other from Imams, Mujtahids and scholars. This is because he has benefited from their efforts and extracted the finest of them, and his [Shaykh al-Albani’s] views are the most accurate and correct, even though the virtue in this returns back to the earlier scholars…but this does not mean that the ijtihad of our Shaykh are the final word on matters…and our method is not to accept the views of Shaykh Nasir without evidence or proof..”

We will leave readers with the above brief selections from the work of Shaykh Eid al-Abbasi to form their own conclusions about the discussion which was conveyed by Shaykh al-Buti, and the accusations of exaggeration and lying against him. To recap:

  • Shaykh al-Buti mentions there were close to ten witnesses to the discussion who can affirm he was accurate in his conveying of it.
  • There are numerous passages from the work of Shaykh Eid al-Abbasi which seem to support the general meaning of the discussion as conveyed by Shaykh al-Buti.
  • There are numerous passages from the work of Shaykh al-Abbasi which are astonishing and deeply concerning, and would severely weaken the claim of the author of the article attacking Shaykh al-Buti that a Salafi scholar could not have made those comments.

Author: Saleh – Abu Hashim

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