A fresh look at fiqh – why I have chosen Mulla Ali al Qari’s book, Fath Bab al Inaya
Fiqh is a heavy topic for many people but it can also be fascinating. I have chosen to take you through this journey to give you a fresh look at this topic by going through some carefully selected excerpts from Mulla Ali al Qari’s renowned work, “Fath Bab al Inaya Sharh Kitab al-Nuqaya,” a 10th Century commentary on a Hanafi book.
My journey with this book
The decision to choose this particular book holds a deep personal significance and cherished memories from the past. In the 1988s I had the privilege to spend four transformative years immersed in classical circles in Damascus. I devoted my time to studying in the mosques and the homes of esteemed shuyukh, as well as the Shariah College in Damascus. Those days hold a special place in my heart as I was blessed with the opportunity to encounter and make friends with many beautiful souls and passionate knowledge seekers.
Upon returning to Lebanon, I was able to reconnect with our esteemed shuyukh among whom Shaykh Khalil al Mays (may Allah have mercy on him) stands out as one of my most influential teachers. A dynamic scholar, brimming with energy, he was a walking encyclopaedia of knowledge and erudition. He was perhaps the most prolific reader I have ever known and he read with a very critical eye. Shaykh Khalil oversaw studies at the Al Azhar Academy in Lebanon, which offers a comprehensive four-year Shariah course, which is a prerequisite for entry to university. Part of the curriculum was fiqh.
During one of our conversations, Shaykh Khalil recommended that we work on the book of Mulla Ali al Qari, as I was involved in establishing a private office dedicated to printing and editing manuscripts, which is known as tahqeeq. Alongside my brother Shaykh Mohammad and some friends and fellow knowledge seekers we collaborated on our first project, which was Mulla Ali al Qari’s book on the Sciences of Hadith, ‘Nukhbatul Fikar’, a classical text in Musnad al Hadith. It is a mandatory text for all aspiring knowledge seekers, and Mulla Ali al Qari’s commentary on ibn Hajar Asqalani’s text. Its sheer magnitude meant that it took us three years to complete as a team. We were so delighted when we produced it, it felt like our first child. When we proudly visited Shaykh Khalil to present him a copy, he suggested to us that we publish Mulla Ali al Qari’s book on fiqh.
This would be a formidable task as we didn’t have all the manuscripts we would need or even the complete book. All we had was a tenth of the book, the book of purification ‘Kitabu Tahara’, which had been published by Shaykh Abdul Fattah Abu Ghuddah (may Allah have mercy on him) in the 1960s or 70s. In those days, you had to search for everything manually and apply and ask for permission and photocopy the book, or get a microfiche of the book. It was a laborious process compared to the wonders of technology we have today at our fingertips.
Fortunately, there was a Turkish student studying with us, so we asked him to look in the extensive libraries in Turkey, replete with manuscripts to see if he could find it. Eventually, after an 8-month search, he manged to procure a microfiche of the book, which we took this as a sign that we should publish the book. Following this, we embarked on Hajj and in Madinah where we continued our search, among the plethora of libraries and bookshops. There we stumbled upon an old, faded copy which had been printed in Karachi and spanned two very large volumes.
Having done istikhara, in 1993, three years of intense work began to edit and publish this invaluable manual of fiqh, so it could be ready for Shaykh Khalil al Mays to teach it in 1997. We managed to condense the work into three fat volumes though it could easily have been spread over five, but we wanted to minimise the expense and finally it was printed. Shaykh Khalil wrote the introduction and fulfilled his promise of making it the textbook for Al Azhar.
Although it was not perfect by any means, it was innovative and beautifully produced. We included extra additions, comparing the manuscript with the microfiche, as well as the book which had been printed in Karachi, and where Mulla Ali quoted other sources, we referenced them, which had been an arduous task.
Who was Mulla Ali al Qari?
Mulla Ali was repository of vast knowledge and not just a faqhi but a qari (recited) and the theologian, as well as a muhaddith. In addition, he was a calligrapher of great talent, whose handwriting was so beautiful that the sale of his handwritten mushaf (Quran), would earn enough for him to live off for a year.
Mulla Ali’s father discouraged him from becoming a scholar, fearing that he would he penurious and knocking on the door of the Emir’s for handouts, so Mulla Ali was careful not to fall into this position by supporting himself through his handwritten mushafs.
While his given name was Ali bin Sultan Muhammad al Qari, the honorific title Mulla reflect his high level of knowledge and deep understanding. He was called Al Qari because of his recitation (qiraat) as he had a beautiful voice and would recite in the mosque and was well versed on the subject. He wrote many books on it.
We don’t have precise records indicating his date of birth, but historical accounts indicate that was born in 930 AH and passed away 1014 AH. He was born in Herat, (in modern day Afghanistan), where he received his basic Islamic education. He left Herat due to the fitnah of Ismail Safawi who persecuted and killed many people and travelled to Makkah al-Mukarramah, where among other things, he mastered calligraphy and studied under the celebrated scholar Shaykh Ahmad ibn Hajar Haythami Makki. He taught and remained there for the rest of his life. It was common for scholars to migrate to Makkah or Madinah, which is called mujawat.
He was ascetic – a zahid, and remained single so he could devote himself on acquiring and disseminating knowledge. He would handwrite two mushafs a year, of which he would sell one copy for charity though his lifestyle was so humble. It was a testament to the calibre of his writing that it fetched enough money for him to life off it for a whole year.
Mulla Ali would carefully annotate the margins of the mushafs with explanations of the qiraat (recitation) and meaning of the words. He was dedicated to the Quran and Sunnah, wrote on spirituality (tasawwuf), and was a Hanafi faqhi. However he was not restricted to the Hanafi school and instead took a broader view, and would examine the evidences (daleel) behind the rulings and not simply or blindly follow his school.
Legacy and books
Accomplished in languages, linguists, fiqh and usul and he left about 150 books as his legacy, which covered books on theology, usul al fiqh and 20 books just on fiqh. He wrote on faraid, tafseer, qiraat, seerah, shamail, biographies (tarajim) and linguistics and mawaidh (reminders). One of the great huge books he wrote was Mirqatul Mafatih, which has its own story. It the most comprehensive commentary on Mishkat ul-Masabih. Mishkat ul Misabih is a selection of hadith compiled by Imam Khatib at-Tabrizi, containing 6,000 hadith selected from the Six Books, Musnad Ahmad, and various others. It is a comprehensive selection of hadith that covers almost all aspects of Islamic belief, fiqh, and virtues. Mulla Ali commented on in these hadith al ahkam (hadith of rulings) in ten volumes which are now published in 20-25 volumes. On Tirmidhi’s Shamail, his commentary filled two huge volumes and he commented on Al Shifa by Qadi Iyad.
Fath Bab al Inaya Sharh an-Nuqaya
The title of the book, Fath Bab al Inaya means Opening the Gate of Inaya. Inaya means to care, such as the intensive care unit. Usually it is used in relation to Allah care for us. In those days the common practice was to make titles rhyme, so Inaya rhymes with Shahr an Nuqaya. Similarly we have Fath al Bari Sharhal Bukhari, and Al Banaya Shahrul Hidaya.
Mulla ali al Qari’s Fath Bab al Inaya, which is 51 chapters published in three volumes thus provides a commentary on Al Nuqaya, which is the summary of Al Wiqaya, which is in turn a summary of the foundational work, Al Hidaya!
Al Hidaya by the legendary Burhan al Din al Marghinani (died 593 AH) is the cornerstone of the Hanafi school. The scholar Marghinani had profound expertise in various fields of knowledge, particularly in the realm of fiqh and earned great acclaim. Al Hidaya is the central and pioneering work upon which all subsequent books on Hanafi fiqh from the fifth century onwards have been based.
Due to its significance in Hanafi fiqh, numerous scholars have provided commentaries and summaries of Al Hidaya. There is difference of opinion among scholars as to which of the two commentaries are superior: Al Nuqaya by Sadruddin Ubayd ullah ibn Masoud al Mahboobi who passed away in 747 Hijri, or Al Wiqaya by Burhan al Shari`a.
Not all texts within every school of thought can be considered reliable, however, the four top textbooks of the Hanafi school are:
- Al Wiqaya by Burhan al Shari`a (673AH)
- Al Mukhtar by al Mawsili (683AH)
- Kanz al Daqa’iq fil Fiqh al Hanafi by Imam an Nassafi (710AH)
- Majma al Bahrain by ibn Sa’ati (694AH)
According to another opinion the three most reliable primers in the Hanafi school are:
- Al Wiqaya by Burhan al Shari`a (673AH)
- Kanz al Daqa’iq fil Fiqh al Hanafi by Imam an Nassafi (710AH)
- Mukhtasar by Imam al Quduri (428AH)
While many fiqh books focus on specific topics such as purification, prayer, fasting, zakat, or Hajj, Al Nuqaya covers a wide range of fiqh topics. Depending on the level of detail, it encompasses between 30 to 40 topics, and in some cases, extends to around 60 topics. This breadth and thoroughness make Al Nuqaya a valuable and comprehensive resource.
Mulla Ali quoted Al Nuqaya on top and wrote his commentary underneath. The reason why Shaykh Khalil al Mays asked us to publish this book was because Mulla Ali combined his ability as a muhaddith and as a faqhi. Therefore when he commented on a ruling, he would bring the evidences from both fiqh and hadith and then discuss them.
Moreover, he did not stop at providing the evidence of the Hanafi school but open the discussion between the madhabs and bring the Shafi, Maliki and the Hanbali evidences and understanding as well. It was comparative jurisprudence and I would use this book to teach in the Islamic university. It is a very beautiful book which takes you through the thinking of to different schools and judge which is most reliable. It trains the students and knowledge seekers on the methodology of reaching the ruling, rather than simply dictating to them what the ruling is.
Critical and reliable
As Mulla Ali had a sharp memory he would quote ahadith and the statements of scholars from his memory, which made it very difficult for us to reference them, as we could not just google search them in those days, we had to pore through our books and indexes trying to locate them, and this was very time consuming, but fruitful.
Due to Mulla Ali’s very critical mind, he would dissect every ruling systematically, checking it thoroughly before he accepted it. He would not take it merely on the authority that another scholar had accepted it. And at times, he would even reject it. You do not find level of discernment in many fiqh books.
You also find this precision in al Durr al Mukhtar by Ibn Abidin considered the most reliable text in the Hanafi school. No writer is infallible and no know claims is immune to mistakes.
I will do my best to chose what is relevant in this book to our lives now. There are issues now that never existed before and we will look at the rulings of the present day Shariah Councils, such as related to financial transactions such as the use of cryptocurrencies and purification (can we use toilet paper?).
While Mulla Ali commented on Al Nuqaya he referred extensively to Sharhil Hidaya by Ibn Humam which is 9 volumes, and when we talk about references of hadith, he referred to the 10 volumes by Imam Zayrai Nasburaya. In this way, his work becomes a remarkable consolidation of these extensive tomes which is of huge benefit to us.
What I learned from Mulla Ali
I learnt a lot from Mulla Ali as I worked on his books for so many years. In the beginning I was a staunch Hanafi but I wanted to be Hanafi with daleel (evidences), not just a staunch Hanafi. So the best way to support this is to study the scholars of fiqh in the Hanafi school who also have expertise in hadith – the top of these was Mulla Ali and Zayla and the book I used I’laa’ As Sunan which is the top book in Hanafi daleel. This book composed of eighteen volumes, and was authored by Shaykh Thafar Ahmad at Tahaanawi. It came as a response to the people who say that he Hanafi School of jurisprudence lacks evidence supporting their opinions. I would have sleepless nights searching for the evidences if they were not cited. Until I was satisfied that the evidence for a matter was clear and strong, it would bother me deeply. I could keep searching for the evidence – rummaging through books upon books. This was inspired by him.
Escaping tunnel vision
The best thing about him is that Mulla Ali was not a biased scholar, he was not affiliated narrowly or blindly to his madhab but had very critical and had breadth in his knowledge.
The paradigm shift happened when I arrived in the West and realised that it did not matter whether one was Hanafi or Shafi, but whether one had faith or not. I realised that it was a matter of belief or disbelief and tried my best to bring ease through facilitation from any reliable school, so that they could keep practicing Islam. As long as the evidence is reliable, it does not matter at the end of the day which school’s opinion you follow as long as they are valid and authentic. This was a huge shift in my thinking.
Shaykh Haytham Tamim 11th May 2023
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