Can you explain the ruling with regards to insisting upon a recommended act? Also, is it permitted to kiss one’s thumbs during Adhan?
Elevating the status of a specific act or deed from its actual position in Shariah is considered to be offensive (makruh) and a form of innovation (bid’a) according to the majority of classical Ulama and jurists (fuqaha). Considering something that is merely permissible (mubah) to be recommended (mandub) or necessary (wajib), something recommended to be Sunnah or necessary, or something Sunnah to be necessary are all forms of reprehensible innovation.
Many acts and practices are recommended in Shariah and a means of gaining great reward; hence one will be rewarded for carrying them out. However, if one considers such acts to be necessary (wajib), or one gives them importance and significance to the point that those who choose not to practice them are looked down upon and considered to be in the wrong, then this would be blameworthy. The jurists (fuqaha) and other classical scholars term this practice as Israr (insistence) or Iltizam (considering something unnecessary to be necessary).
For example, writing a book for the benefit of other Muslims is a great act of merit and reward. However, if one considers writing a book to be necessary or restricts the duty of preaching (tabligh) to book-writing only, then instead of gaining a reward, one will be committing a sin by writing a book. Similarly, if one was to give a discourse (dars) every day after Maghrib prayer, and considered this specific method to be established through the Sunnah, then this would be wrong and a form of innovation.
Another example is the practice of group Dhikr. Making the Dhikr of Allah Most High, both individually or collectively, holds great merit and rewards, and is a means of strengthening one’s relationship with Allah Almighty. One may make this Dhikr of Allah in any way or form, for the command is general. However, if a particular method of Dhikr was considered to be necessary to the exclusion of others, then this would become a blameworthy practice.
Hence, there are many recommended and Sunnah practices that hold great virtues and rewards, and one should aspire to implement them in one’s life as much as possible. However, one should always refrain from considering these recommended acts to be necessary to the point that someone who does not carry them out is considered to be sinful.
Some evidences in this regard:
1) It was a regular practice of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) to fast on Fridays due to the auspiciousness of this day. It has been narrated that very rarely would the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) not fast on a Friday. (Sunan Tirmidhi, no: 742)
However, upon seeing the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) fasting regularly on Fridays, many companions also began fasting on this day to the point that fasting on Fridays became somewhat the norm, and people began to regard fasting on this day to hold some specific merit and reward. Due to this, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) prevented the companions from fasting on Fridays alone.
Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “None amongst you should observe fast on Friday, but only that he observes a fast before it or after it.” (Sahih Muslim, no: 1144)
Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Do not single out the night (preceding) Friday among the nights for prayer, and do not single out Friday amongst the days for fasting but only when one of you is accustomed to fast (on dates) which coincides with this day (Friday).” (Sahih Muslim, no: 1144)
Imam al-Nawawi (Allah have mercy on him) mentions that one of the reasons for the prohibition of observing a fast only on Fridays was so that people do not consider fasting on Fridays to be necessary. (See: al-Minhaj sharh Sahih Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, p: 858)
The fact is that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) himself observed a fast on Fridays due to the special merits attached to this day. However, when the Companions (Allah be pleased with them all) began to regularly fast on Fridays, he feared that people may begin to consider fasting on Fridays to be necessary, hence he prevented others from fasting on Friday alone.
2) The great Hadith master (hafidh), Imam Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (Allah have mercy on him) states in his monumental commentary of Sahih al-Bukhari, Fath al-Bari, whilst commentating on the following Hadith:
Sayyiduna al-Aswad narrates that Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud (Allah be pleased with him) said: “You should not give away a part of your prayer to Shaytan by thinking that it is necessary to turn (after finishing the prayer) towards one’s right side only. Indeed I have seen the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) often turning towards his left side.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no: 814)
Imam Ibn Hajar (Allah have mercy on him) states:
“Ibn al-Munir said: This Hadith indicates that recommended acts may become disliked (makruh) if they are elevated from their position (of being recommended). Right-sidedness (tayamun) is recommended (mustahab) in all acts of worship, but when Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud feared that people will begin to consider this recommended act as necessary, he pointed out to its offensiveness.” (Fath al-Bari, 2/437, Dar al-Salam edition)
3) Similarly, we see the jurists (fuqaha) disliking the idea of fixing a particular Surah for recitation in prayer to the exclusion of other Surahs. It is stated in the renowned Hanafi Fiqh masterpiece, al-Hidaya:
“It is disliked (makruh) to fix a portion of the Qur’an for recitation in any of the prayers, for in doing so one will be deserting the other parts of the Qur’an, and it will also indicate that the portion fixed for recitation is preferred over other parts of the Qur’an.”
The commentator of al-Hidaya, Imam Kamal ibn al-Humam (Allah have mercy on him), whilst commentating on the above text, states that the recitation of Surah al-Sajdah and Surah al-Dahr in the Fajr prayer of Friday and the recitation of Surah al-Munafiqun in the Jumu’ah prayer is Sunnah. However, if one fixes these Surahs to the exclusion of others, it will be Makruh. He (Ibn al-Humam) then quotes Imam al-Tahtawi and al-Istijabi as saying that this is when one considers the recitation of these Surahs to be necessary, hence if one continuously recited them with the intention of gaining Barakah and following the Sunnah, there would be nothing wrong in doing so. However, one should occasionally recite other Surahs, so that an ignorant person does not regard their recitation to be necessary. (See: Fath al-Qadir with al-Hidaya, 1/337, Dar al-Fikr edition)
4) Imam Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) also gives the same message whilst discussing the Surahs whose recitation is considered Sunnah in Witr prayer. He says:
“(Imam al-Haskafi’s statement: “It is a Sunnah to recite the three Surahs”) meaning Surah al-A’la, al-Kafirun and al-Ikhlas (in Witr prayers). However, it is mentioned in al-Nihaya that fixing them and reciting them regularly may lead some people to regard their recitation to be necessary (wajib) which is not permissible, hence their inconstant recitation would be better.” (Radd al-Muhtar, 2/6, Bab al-Witr wa al-Nawafil)
5) Imam Abd al-Hay al-Lakhnawi (Allah have mercy on him) states:
“Many permitted acts and practices become disliked (makruh) due to regarding them necessary similar to other necessary actions, as has been mentioned by Mulla Ali al-Qari in his Sharh al-Mishkat (Mirqat al-Mafatih) and Imam al-Haskafi in his Durr al-Mukhtar.” (Sibahat al-Fikr fi al-Jahr bi al-Dhikr, P: 62)
The meaning of all of the foregoing is that if an act or practice is recommended in Shariah, then one must ensure that it remains on the level of recommendation and not be elevated to the level of necessity; otherwise it will become offensive and a form of innovation. Similarly, it is improper to firmly insist (israr) on others to practice or take part in this act of recommendation to the point that those who do not take part are considered to be sinful or in the wrong. However, if others are encouraged, even if seemingly in an insisted manner, but without them being considered sinful should they choose not to practice, then there would be nothing wrong with that.
Kissing one’s thumbs and wiping eyes during Adhan
An example of what has been mentioned above is the issue of kissing one’s thumbs and placing them on one’s eyes upon hearing the name of our master and beloved Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him eternal peace) during the Adhan. The narrations mentioned in the recommendation of this act are considered by the scholars of Hadith to be weak (da’if), as pointed out by Imam Ibn Abidin in his Radd al-Muhtar.
Unfortunately, many people become quite extreme in their attitude towards this practice. They regrettably make a big deal out of something that is merely a secondary issue, thus overlooking many more important matters of faith.
Some consider the kissing and placing of thumbs on one’s eyes during the Adhan to be an outright innovation (bid’a) to the point that it has no basis whatsoever in Shariah, and that whoever practices this, regardless of the nature it was practiced in, is committing a major act of Bid’a.
This is something that really needs to be avoided. Kissing the thumbs and placing them on one’s eyes cannot be considered, in of itself, an outright act of innovation unless it entails something that makes it an act of Bid’a. If one practiced this act out of love for the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and due to the narrations of Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with him), even if the narrations are considered weak, then there would be nothing wrong with that.
The great contemporary scholar Shaykh Taqi Usmani (Allah have mercy on him) also mentions the non-offensiveness of this act in his “Discourses of Islamic Way of Life” thus he states:
“Upon listening to the Adhan in the Masjid, you heard the words “Ashhadu Anna Muhammad al-Rasul Allah” you suddenly felt a deep sense of love for the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and in this state of love and ecstasy you kissed your thumbs and placed them on your eyes. This action, in of itself, cannot be considered sinful or Bid’a. The reason being is that you did this out of love for the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), and love and respect for the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) is a praiseworthy act and a sign of faith….” (Islahi Khutbat (Urdu), 1/231)
The above statement from one of the renowned scholars of the Deobandi School clearly shows that the act of kissing one’s thumbs and placing them upon the eyes during Adhan is not, in of itself, an act of innovation. Those who categorically condemn this practice altogether should realize that it is not a baseless act that was invented by some Muslims in the Indian Subcontinent. It is something that is practiced in other parts of the Muslim and Arab world also, such as in Syria and Yemen. If one was to visit the famous city of Syria Halab (Aleppo), one would see many Arab Muslims including scholars kissing their thumbs and placing them on their eyes upon hearing the name of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) during the Adhan.
However, the other side of the coin is what we are discussing in this article, which is to over-emphasise something that may be merely considered a recommended act. Unfortunately, the other extremism found in some of our brothers is that they consider this act to be firmly established through the Sunnah like it is mentioned in a Hadith of Sahih al-Bukhari, hence they consider it to be a sign of being a true Muslim, and the one who does not kiss his thumbs is committing a sin. Thus, Shaykh Mufti Taqi Usmani (may Allah preserve him) further states:
“However, if an individual begins to tell the whole world that whenever during the Adhan you hear “Ashhadu Anna Muhammad al-Rasul Allah” you must all kiss your thumbs because it is Sunnah or Mustahab to do so, and whoever fails to kiss his thumbs does not truly love the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), then this act, which was otherwise completely permissible, will become an act of reprehensible innovation. This is a minute difference between the two situations, in that if this lawful act is done with a right attitude, then it is not an innovation. However, if it is considered binding or thought to be an established Sunnah to the point that the one who wishes not to practice it is condemned, then it will become an innovation.” (Islahi Khutbat, 1/231)
It is noteworthy here that Shaykh Taqi Usmani permits this act even if it is not classified as Mustahab, as we have seen in the extract of his provided earlier. Thus, even if this act was not considered to be Mustahab, it would be permitted to carry it out in of itself. If one does consider this act to be recommended based on the weak narrations, then there is nothing wrong with that also, but one must avoid regarding it to be binding or being decisively proven through the Sunnah.
Therefore, we need to really stop arguing and fighting over this issue. Those who practice this act should be left alone, whether one considers this act to be Mustahab or otherwise. One should presume that this person is practicing it out of genuine love for the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). On the other hand, those who do practice this act should realize that this act is not something that is decisively established through the Sunnah. There are few extremely weak narrations in this regard; hence they should abstain from considering those who do not practice this to be in the wrong. It is definitely not a action that is a sign of being a true and genuine Muslim.
It should be noted here that I am not saying all those who practice this act always consider others to be in the wrong and consider this act to be a sign of being a true Muslim. What I am saying is that this kind of approach and attitude is blameworthy hence should be avoided, but it does not necessarily mean that everyone acts in this manner.
So in conclusion, the condition for recommended actions established by weak Hadiths is that one does not have the firm conviction that this is established from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) himself. However, if one does it because there is a weak narration encouraging it and that some scholars have mentioned it to be a virtuous action, then there is nothing wrong with it. If one is firmly convinced that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) himself did this or encouraged it, which is not authentically established, then it would be an innovation.
Difference between continuous practicing and insisting:
Finally, one must remember that there are two separate things connected to our discussion and it is important to understand the difference between the two. One is to firmly insist on others to practice (or take part in) a recommended act to the point that one who wishes not to practice it is considered to be in the wrong. This is known as Israr (insistence). However, there is another thing, which is to continuously and regularly practice an act of recommendation, known as Mudawama or Muwazaba. This is permitted and not considered offensive in any way.
For example, a Shaykh regularly gives a discourse every day after Fajr prayers. Now, the giving of a discourse regularly every day after Fajr prayers does not make this practice offensive or Bid’a, for there is nothing wrong in regular practice (mudawama). However, if the giving and attending of this discourse is considered to be necessary to the point that those who wish to go home and not attend the discourse are rebuked, then this will become an act of innovation.
When we read some Fuqaha mentioning that it is better to leave out a Sunnah or Mustahab act occasionally, it is for this very reason, in that if a Sunnah or Mustahab act is practiced regularly, there is a fear that people may regard it to be necessary. However, if it is made clear to the people (or it is commonly known) that this act is not necessary as such, it will not be necessary to occasionally abstain from practicing it.
The above is a very fine line between something being recommended (mustahab) and being disliked (makruh), or something being Sunnah and Bid’a. If the above principle is clearly understood, then many of our arguments in matters of controversy would be solved, Insha Allah.
And Allah knows best
[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK