The Path of Taqwa: Avoiding Differences of Opinion

Is there any benefit in trying to avoid differences of other schools? Why, and what are the limits?


“The way of the spiritual traveller is to avoid differences of opinion, and to stick to that which is agreed upon.” – Imam al-Barkawi

 Imam al-Haskafi said in his al-Durr al-Mukhtar, arguably the
most important commentary in the late Hanafi school for details of
legal rulings:

(And) wudu is (not) broken (by touching the penis) though it is
recommended to wash one’s hands (or by touching a woman) …
however, it is it recommended [to renew one’s wudu] to avoid the
difference on this issue, especially for the Imam. It is a condition,
though, [when seeking to avoid difference of opinion] that it not
entail doing something disliked in one’s own madhhab.

  Ibn Abidin commented on this in his Radd al-Muhtar (also
famous as, al-Hashiya, and al-Shami), considered the most important
authority for the definitive positions of the Hanafi school:

“(His saying, “It is recommended…”)

It is stated [by Umar ibn Nujaym] in al-Nahr: However, the degrees of recommendedness differ according to the strength or weakness of the evidence of the other school.

(His saying, “It is a condition, though…”)

… Does [avoiding something] disliked [in one’s own
school] include something slightly disliked? … It seems evident
that it does, such as praying fajr when the sky is still dark
(taghlīs), which is a sunna in the Shafi`i school, but the best
in our school is to pray when there is light in the sky (isfār),
and it is not recommended [per se] to avoid the difference of opinion
in it….” [Ibn Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar `ala al-Durr al-Muhtar, Bab Sunan al-Wudu’]

Imam al-Suyuti said in his al-Ashbah wa al-Naza’ir, in Shafi`i fiqh,

“The Twelfth Principle: Avoiding differences of opinion is recommended…

There are conditions to this:

One, that avoiding a difference of opinion not lead to falling into another difference…

Second, that the difference of opinion not go against an established
sunna [F: that is, it should not lead to leaving something recommended
or doing something disliked in one’s school]

Third, that its evidence have some basis, such that it is not
considered a mistake. This is why it is best to fast even while
traveling for one able to do so without hardship, and the difference of
Dawud [al-Zahiri, the Literalist] is not considered, because it is

In fact, Imam al-Haramayn [al-Juwayni] said regarding this issue,

scholars of discernment do not place any weight to the difference of
opinion of the Literalists (Ahl al-Zahir).” [al-Suyuti, al-Ashbah wa al-Naza’ir, p. 137]

Imam al-Barkawi said in al-Tariqa al-Muhamadiyya, a manual on how to operationalize taqwa:

  “The way of the spiritual traveller is to avoid
differences of opinion, and to stick to that which is agreed

Imam al-Khadimi commented on this in his al-Bariqa al-Mahmudiyya Sharh al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya: [2: 286-287]

  “… It is clear that the difference of other than
the Hanafi imams is not of consideration [f: for a Hanafi] in terms of
the legal ruling (fatwa). Rather, it is sought in terms of taqwa.,

The author pointed to this when he said,

(The way of the spiritual traveller) to Allah (is to avoid
differences of opinion). This is because they consider the differences
of opinion of all Imams… because though [according to the
methodology of the school one follows] he considers them mistaken in
their opinion, it is possible that they are right. This is because of
what we hold that the madhhab of Abu Hanifa is correct with the
possibility of being wrong, and the madhhabs of others are wrong with
the possibility of being right. Thus, the cautious God-fearing person
avoids this possibility as much as possible…

(and to stick to that which is agreed upon). Al-Bistami said in Hall al-Rumuz,
“It is incumbent on the sufi to acquire enough knowledge to make
his actions in accordance to the Sacred Law according to all four
madhhabs. This is because if the sufi is Hanafi, for example, it is
binding on him to exercise caution in the matters relating to his
ritual ablutions (wudu’) and prayer and other acts of worship
such that they are also in accordance with the madhhabs of Shafi`i,
Malik, and Ahmad , because the way (madhhab) of the sufis is to join
between the positions of the fuqaha. When this is not possible, they
act on that which is religiously most precautious and most appropriate.
This is because a Shafi`i would not question you why you did not
perform ritual ablutions with two qullas (216 litres) or more of water
[f: if filth fell in it, whereas this is not allowed for Hanafis], and
a Hanafi would not question you as to why you performed ritual
ablutions upon touching your private parts or a person of the opposite

And it is incumbent on the sufi to love the follower of the four
madhhabs, and to make dua for the good for all of them, and not to be
fanatical at all.

As for dispensations, it is binding that he leave them at all cost.” (end of the quote from al-Bistami)

This is in terms of taqwa, because acting on dispensations is
permitted according to the fuqaha (ahl al-fatwa)…”
[al-Khadimi, al-Bariqa al-Mahmudiyya Sharh al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya:, 2: 286-287]

It should be noted, however, that this is a noble perfection. The
first step towards it is to learn one’s own madhhab properly, and
to do one’s best to apply its rulings in one’s life without
exception, in all aspects of one’s life, being most careful about
that which relates to the rights of others and to the halal and haram.

And Allah alone gives success.


Faraz Rabbani.