This is part 2 of a series of articles. Click here to read Part 1.
The Benefits of Learning general Usul al Fiqh For the Layman
1. The knowledge of usul is a shar’i knowledge and therefore the reward for seeking sacred knowledge can be obtained with a sound intention.
The ruling of doing an act whilst not knowing its ruling.
The scholars have determined that it is obligatory upon a person to know the ruling of every action before they do it in order to be sure that it is not prohibited. A consensus has been mentioned about the prohibition of doing an action whilst not knowing its ruling.
It was reported that Umar bin al Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) would not permit anyone who did not know the rulings of buying and selling to trade in the market. He used to say: “No one should trade in our markets unless he has learnt the fiqh of the religion (tafaqqaha fid-deen).”
The scholars have also mentioned that if a particular country did not have a mufti and it was not possible for the layman to consult mujtahideen; it becomes obligatory upon him to make hijrah and it is not permissible for him to remain in such a country. However, in reality this issue does not apply to today’s circumstances due to the widespread availability of modern means of communication.
The reason why the mukallaf adheres to shar’i rulings.
It is from the mercy of Allah to His servants that He has made the application of shar’i rulings a means to obtain the benefit and welfare of creation in both this life and the hereafter. Thus, it is considered that the shar’i rulings are mu’allalahfor the welfare of creation as an act of generosity from Allah and as an act of mercy for his servants.
The specific reason behind an action could sometimes be apparent to the mukallaf whereas at times it could be obscure or sometimes unknown to him. It is important to note however, that it is not befitting for the mukallaf to implement a ruling with the sole intention of attaining a worldly gain from it. Rather it is imperative that he intends by that action to please Allah (swt) and to obtain reward in the hereafter. Thus if a person intended by an action worldly gains only, he will not deserve any reward in the hereafteras Allah said:
“Whoever desires the life of this world and its adornments – We fully repay them for their deeds therein, and they therein will not be deprived. Those are the ones for whom there is not in the Hereafter but the Fire. And lost is what they did therein, and worthless is what they used to do.”
“Whoever should desire the immediate – We hasten for him from it what We will to whom We intend. Then We have made for him Hell, which he will [enter to] burn, censured and banished.”
If a person purely intends by his action worldly gains, he will fall into one of two categories, either the action is a type of worship that can only be considered an act of worship like prayer for example. In this case the action will be invalid and will not be legally recognised. Or, the action could be considered to be an act of worship or other than that such as providing for one’s family, keeping family ties and leaving prohibited matters. In this case the action will be valid (saheeh) by which the obligation is fulfilled and the sin removed. However he will not deserve the reward for that in the hereafter.
How to arrive at a ruling.
A mukallaf who faces a particular circumstance and wants to know the ruling of Allah regarding it will fall into one of two situations: either he is capable of doing ijtihad, thus necessitating that he derive the ruling from the evidences by using the principles of usul, or he is incapable of performing ijtihad. In this situation he has to become acquainted with the ruling by asking the scholars.There is ample evidence to prove this point:
III. The hadith of the one who acted recklessly and asked the people of knowledge resulting in them issuing a fatwa for him. The Prophet (peace be upon him) was aware of this and did not condemn him asking. 
IV. The saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him): “Why did they not ask if they did not know? For indeed the cure to ignorance is to ask.” Ash-Shatibi said: “If a muqallid comes across a matter pertaining to the religion then he has no choice except to ask about it.”
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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.