All praise is due to Allah, and may the peace and blessings be upon the Messenger of Allah.
There is no doubt that knowledge of usul al fiqh is from the branches of shar’i knowledge which a person is rewarded for learning if done for the sake of Allah. This reward is not confined to those mujtahideen who learn this science but also includes those who learn it from amongst the non-mujtahideen as well. It is popularly held by many scholars that knowledge of usul al fiqh is a communal obligation whereby it becomes binding upon the entire ummah to put forward someone who would learn this knowledge. This is in order that there will be from this ummah mujtahideen who can deduce shar’i rulings from the detailed evidences so that people can adopt their verdicts.
One who observes the particulars of this knowledge will find they are of two types in relation to this Ummah:
1. Matters that help a person attain the level of ijtihad. These are matters that every mujtahid is required to know in order to extract rulings from their evidences. As for the layman, then he will not benefit from knowing these matters whilst he remains to be a layman even though they can assist him in reaching the level of ijtihad on condition he completes and perfects the studying of usul as well as having knowledge of the detailed shar’i evidences. This type of learning is considered to be from the communal obligations.
2. Fundamental matters (masaa’il usuliyyah) that every layman needs. This knowledge is considered to be from the individual obligations by which it becomes binding upon every individual to learn due to the need he has to act upon such knowledge.
Due to the fact that many scholars of usul have chosen to show a certain degree of evasion from the second category I have decided to clarify these issues so that laymen can learn and act upon them.
Muslims in the West are in need of learning these issues just like any other group of Muslims. However, their need is greater due to the scarcity of scholars that they have. This becomes especially apparent to the one who looks into their affairs and is aware of their uniqueness and the needs by living amongst non-Muslims and adhering to their systems. Thus the importance of this topic should now be apparent.
I have divided this series into the following sections: an introduction, and then three main articles. This is the introduction where I have spoken about the importance of the topic as well as outline this series.
The first chapter will discuss the fundamental principles that are a must for a layman to know when faced a situation (naazilah). The second chapter will discuss the fundamental principles that a layman must learn with regard to seeking a fatwa (istiftaa’). The third chapter three will discuss other fundamental issues that have a direct relationship with the layman.
I have endeavoured whilst writing this paper to make it suitable for non-Mujtahids by avoiding matters that the scholars have differed on with there being no benefit in mentioning. I have also attempted to write this for the contemporary reader as well. I have given references for all the issues discussed.
Finally, I ask that Allah grants us all tawfeeq and His assistance.
Ustdah Alomgir has a BA in Arabic & English language and has studied Arabic and Islamic studies in Cairo. He is currently pursuing a degree in Shariah at al Azhar University in Cairo. He has translated a number of books and holds weekly Tafseer classes in London and is a regular Khateeb in a number of mosques in London. He also taught Arabic and Islamic studies at the Tayyibun Institute in London and is currently an instructor for the Sabeel retreats and seminars.