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Can a Layman Act On the Qur'an or Hadiths Without First Consulting a Scholar?

Bint e Aisha

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Can a Layman Act On the Qur'an or Hadiths Without First Consulting a Scholar?:


Ibn al-Qayyim was asked about someone who possessed a copy of Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, or one of the Sunan collections, if it was permitted for him to act on the hadiths in them without first consulting a scholar about their meanings. He replied as follows:


‘The correct view in the issue is that there is some detail: If the textual indication in the hadith is plain and clear to whoever hears it, allowing for no other plausable interpretation, he can act on it and give fatwa according to it: he doesn’t need the approval of any jurist or Imam. The saying of the Prophet ﷺ is proof in itself, no matter who it opposes.


‘But if the indication is vague, or the intent is unclear, then it is unlawful for him to act on it or give a fatwa based on what he thinks it means, until he asks a scholar and gets clarity about the meaning of the hadith … This applies to one who is qualified, but has shortcomings in his knowledge of fiqh, the principles of the legalists, and the Arabic language.


‘If he is not of the qualified, his duty is simply to act by what God has said: “Ask the people of knowledge if you don't know.” [16:43]’*


The upshot of Ibn al-Qayyim's words in terms of a layman are:


1. Hadiths that speak about general knowledge of Islam (basic beliefs, morals, well-known and clear-cut obligations or prohibitions, etc.) may be read and acted upon by the layman, without the need to consult a scholar first.


2. Hadiths dealing with the nitty gritty aspects of the shariah, or those related to larger socio-political issues, the lay people must consult a qualified scholar before acting on them.


3. The above guidelines are pretty much the same for the Qur'an too; not forgetting its broader purpose: “This is a Book We have sent down to you, full of blessings, that they may reflect upon its verses, and that men of understanding may be reminded.” [38:29]


4. When in doubt as to what is clear-cut or not, one consults a scholar first.


5. Finally, books like Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sunan Abu Dawud, and the like are not books that laymen should be reading, without scholarly instruction. Their overall benefit for non-specialists is limited. Books like Imam al-Nawawi's Riyadh al-Salihin, however, were not only written for scholars, but for educated laymen too.



*Ibn al-Qayyim, I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in (Jeddah: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2002) 6:164.


Shaykh Abu Aaliyah

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