Usul al-Fiqh

The Imperative (Command)_small discussion

Commands (awamir) and Prohibitions (nawahy)

1. al-amr: ‘the demand to do an act from someone superior’ (talab al-fi‘l ‘ala wajh al-istila’).[1]

 There are several forms (sigha) of the imperative (amr). The three most common ones being:

 (a)   The form of ifal (do!): this is the singular grammatical form of the imperative in Arabic. Many verses abound with such forms, e.g. al-Suluk:78.

(b)  The present tense (mudari‘) with the letter ‘lam’ denoting a command (lam al-amr), e.g. Ali ‘Imran:104 & al-Baqarah:185.

(c)   The instructive sentence (jumlah khabariyya) intending a command (al-amr) and a request (talab) and not a report (akhbar).[2]

 There is disagreement amongst the scholars as to what exactly the primary (haqiqi) and secondary meaning (majazi) of a command is. Some have said a command is:

 (a)     A mushtarak (homonym): and so includes the sense of obligation, recommendation and permissibility altogether.

(b)    That which contains an obligation and recommendation only and not permissibility.

(c)     That which implies a permission to do[3]

Generally, the majority (jumhur) of the scholars have held that prior to any indications a command implies an emphatic command only (fa-la yasaru ila ghayr al-wujub illa bi-qara’in).[4] This may change, however, in the event of other contextual indication (qara’in) and circumstances (ahwal) which would change the nature of the command. The scholars of Usul have agreed upon 16 types of commands. They are:

1. al-wujub: the obligation, e.g. Hud:114 & al-Nur:56. 

2. al-nadb: the recommendation, e.g. al-Nur:33.

3. al-irshad: the instruction, al-Baqarah:282.[5]

4. al-ta’dib: Chastisement. It is included in the category of irshad.

5. al-ibahah: the permitted, e.g. al-Ma’idah:2; al-A‘raf:31 & al-Jum‘ah:10.[6]

6. al-imtinan: gratitude, e.g. al-Ma’idah:88.

7. al-ikram: the command of honour, e.g. al-Hajar:46 & Qaf:49.

8. al-tahdid: the threat, e.g. Fussilat:40 & Bani Isra’il:64.

9. al-indhar: the warning, e.g. Ibrahim:40. This is identical in meaning to al-tahdid.

10. al-sakhriyyah: the ridicule, e.g. al-Baqarah:65.

11. al-tajiz: the inability, e.g. al-Isra’:50-51 & al-Baqarah:23.[7]

12. al-ihanah: contempt, al-Dukhan:49.

13. al-taswiyyah: the equalisation, e.g. al-Tur:16.

14. al-dua’: the supplication, e.g. Sad:35; Ali ‘Imran:8  & Nuh:28.

15. tamanna: the desire.

16. kamal al-qudrah: the completion of Allah’s Power, e.g. al-Baqarah:117.[8]

 The Command after the Prohibition

(al-amr bada al-nahy

          The majority of the scholars have said that a command following a prohibition (hazar) amounts to permissibility (ibahah) not an obligation (wajib), e.g. al-Ma’idah:2 & al-Jum‘ah:10.[9]

          The Hanafis, however, take the view that a command following a prohibition amounts to an obligation. This is because the primary meaning of a command, according to them, conveys an obligation until and unless there is an indication to suggest otherwise. Moreover, their view is that this meaning (i.e. of being obligatory) remains unaffected by what might have preceded it.

          A third position which is that of some of the Hanbali and Kamal ibn al-Humam al-Hanafi, is that a command following a prohibition removes the prohibition (anna al-amr bada ’l-hazar yarfau ’l-hazara) and so the matter is consequently restored to its original state. Thus, if the command was a prohibition, then it would be restored to that and if it was recommended than likewise.[10]

Whether a Command Implies a Single Compliance or Repetition (dalalah al-amr ala ’l-takrar)

          A question that arises after establishing an act as obligatory is whether or not a command requires a person to perform the action once or continuously. The majority of the ‘Ulama’ agree that this can only be determined in the light of indications (qara’in) which might specify a single action (marrah wahidah) or a continuous one (takarrur).[11] Among the many indications that determine the repeated performance of an action, two are most commonly known:

1. yuallaqu ala al-shart: the command linked to a condition. Examples include: al-Ma’idah:6 where the particle ‘in’ is conditional. Thus the verse reads: wa in kuntum junuban (and if you are in a state of impurity), fa-tahharu (then purify yourselves). Thus, whenever the state of impurity arises (janabah) such as say, because of sexual intercourse, one must take the full bath, that is, in every instance of impurity.

Similarly, Allah says in Surah al-Nur:2: The adulterer and adulteress, flog them each 100 lashes. The flogging is upon a condition and that is that the ‘illah (effective cause) is present which is the act of zina (adultery). So, the verse could be read as: ‘if they commit zina, then give them each 100 lashes but not otherwise.’[12]

2. yuallaqu ala al-sifah: the command linked to an attribute or a cause. An example is in Bani Isra’il:18 where Allah says: aqimu ’l-salah li-duluk al-shams – ‘establish the prayer when the sun declines.’ Thus, when the specified time of Salah arrives it becomes the ‘cause’ (sabab) or attribute whereby one has to perform the Salah. This performance must be repeated.[13]

Commands Requiring Immediate Performance or Delayed Performance

(dalalah al-amr ala al-fawriyyah aw al-tarakhy)

 There is disagreement amongst the scholars whether or not a command requires immediate performance or delayed performance. A command may either be specific to a time-frame (maqayyad bi-waqtin muwassain) or not specific, i.e. flexible (ghayr muqayyad bi-waqt mudiq).[14] Indeed, a command consists of a demand and the manner of its performance must be determined in the light of indications (qara’in) and the surrounding circumstances (ahwal) as it would be difficult to ascertain this by the statement alone.[15] This is the opinion of the Hanafi and the Ja‘fariyyah.

          Consider the following statement: ‘S commands P to bring some water’ while S is thirsty. The indication of ‘thirst’ would suggest that P bring some water immediately. Thus, it is the indication that suggests the nature of the performance.

 Finally, a question remains as to whether a command to do something implies the prohibition of its opposite. Three broad views exist regarding this:

(a) The majority (jumhur) view is that a command to do something does imply the prohibition of its opposite.

(b) The command to do something does not imply the prohibition of its opposite.[16]

(c) The command to do something only implies one of the opposing prohibited acts.[17]

(d) The command itself dictates the opposing act. So, if the command is an obligation (wujub) then its opposition would be prohibition (tahrim) or if the command is an abomination (karahiyyah) then its opposite would be a recommendation (nadb).

 Peace and Blessings be upon our Master Muhammad, his family and noble Companions. Amin.


S. Z. Chowdhury

[1] See, Samih ‘Atif al-Zayn, Usul al-Fiqh al-Muyassar: al-Muqaddamah li-Mawsuah al-Ahkam al-Shariyyah fi ’l-Kitab wa ’l-Sunnah, Dar al-Kutub al-Lubnani, Beirut 1990, p227 & cf. Dr. ‘Abd al-Karim al-Zaydan, al-Wajiz fi Usul al-Fiqh, Mu’assasah al-Risalah, Beirut 1998, p.292; Mujam al-Lughah al-Fuqaha’, ed. Dr. Muhummad Rawwas Qal‘aji, Dar al-Nafa’is, Beirut 1996, pp.69-70 & Yahya b. ‘Ali al-Shawkani, Irshad al-Fuhul min Tahqiq al-Haqq ila Ilm al-Usul, Dar al-Fikr, n.d. p.91. The above definition of ‘command’ is different from that of ‘supplication’ (دعاء) and a ‘request’ (إلتماس). The former is a command from an inferior to a superior whereas the latter is a command of someone who is an equal or near-equal status.

[2] ‘Atif al-Zayn, Usul al-Fiqh al-Muyassar, p.229 & al-Zaydan, al-Wajiz, p.294. al-Subki writes that generally a command is literal (حقيقي) with respect to statements and metaphorical with respect to actions (مجازي), Imam Taj al-Din al-Subki, Jam al-Jawami‘, Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut 2001, p.40. 

[3] al-Shawkani, Irshad al-Fuhul, p.91.

[4] See al-Zaydan, al-Wajiz, p.294 for fuller references.

[5] This is close to a recommendation the main difference being that a recommendation (nadb) is for the benefit of the Hereafter (لمسلحة أخروية) whereas the instruction (إرشاد) is for the benefit of this temporal world (لمسلحة دنيوية), ‘Atif al-Zayn, Usul al-Fiqh al-Muyassar, p.228.

[6] Cf. al-Shatibi, al-Muwafaqat fi Usul al-Ahkam, ed. by Muhummad Hasanayn Makhluf, Matba‘ah al-Salafiyyah, Cairo 1341 AH, vol.3, p.88.

[7] In al-Baqarah:23, Allah challenges those who reject the Divine authenticity of The Qur’an and he does this by commanding them to produce a chapter like it. This command indicates an ‘inability’ on the part of anyone to do such a feat not that Allah wants anyone to do so. In fact, he negates this ability ever occurring in the future with the particle ‘lan’ (لام لنفي المستقبل).

[8] For all these references cf. al-Zaydan, al-Wajiz, p.292-294. al-Subki adds the following: al-idhn (permission) as when s.o. says udkhul, ‘enter!’ meaning ‘you have permission to enter’; al-ihtiqar (scorn) as in Yunus:80; al-inam (benefaction) as in al-Baqarah:172; al-tafwid (consignment) as in Taha:72; al-taajjub (astonishment) as in al-Isra’:48; al-takdhib (denial) as in Ali ‘Imran:93; al-mashwarah (consultation) as in al-Saffat:102 & al-itibar (consideration) as in al-An‘am:99, Jam al-Jawami‘, p.40-41.

[9] This is the view of the Hanabli, Maliki and the explicit position of al-Shafi‘i, see al-Zaydan, al-Wajiz, p.295 & Atif al-Zayn, Usul al-Fiqh al-Muyassar, p.229. The reason they argue is that there are plenty of texts to indicate this, see al-Ghazali, al-Mustasfa min Ilm al-Usul, Maktabah al-Tijariyyah, Cairo 1937, vol.1, p.83 & al-Amidi, al-Ihkam fi Usul al-Ahkam, ed. ‘Abd al-Razzaq ‘Afifi, 2nd edn, al-Maktab al-Islami, Beirut 1982, vol.4, p.211.

[10] al-Zaydan considers this to be the most appropriate view, al-Wajiz, p.296 & Mohammad Hashim Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, Islamic Texts Society, Cambridge 2003, p.191.

[11] Majority of the Hanbali and some of the Shafi‘i scholars argue that a command requires a continuous repetition throughout one’s lifetime unless there is evidence to suggest otherwise, see al-Zaydan, al-Wajiz, p.296; al-Shawkani, Irshad al-Fuhul, p.8 & ibn Hazm, al-Ihkam fi Usul al-Ahkam, ed. Ahmad Muhummad Shakir, Dar al-Afaq al-Jadidah, Beirut 1980, vol.3, p.294.

[12] The command is not conditioned upon, i.e. is not linked to, the punishment of lashing, but rather to the cause (‘illah) of the punishment which is the act of zina.

[13] al-Shawkani, Irshad al-Fuhul, pp.99-102 & al-Zaydan, al-Wajiz, p.297-298. The obvious points that make the action repetitive is because the sun sets every day, not just once and the fact the Prayer has been commanded to be established five times a day and not just five times in a lifetime.

[14] An example of a command that specifies no time limit is in the case of expiation (kaffarah) which can be delayed (yajuz al-ta’khir) infinitely but owing to one’s uncertainty of the time of death, it is recommended to perform it early, al-Zaydan, al-Wajiz, p.298 & Irshad al-Fuhul, pp.99-101.

[15] al-Zaydan, al-Wajiz, p.298.

[16] Upon this view, an example is that a command to do an obligation does not imply its prohibition, thus if it is unlawful to commit adultery, it does not follow that its opposite is that it is obligatory to commit zina! Likewise, the prohibition of suicide does not imply that its opposite is that it is obligatory to live! The values have to be determined independently with independent indications. This is the view of al-Juwayni, al-Ghazali, ibn al-Hajib and the Mu‘tazilah, see al-Shawkani, Irshad al-Fuhul, pp.101-102.

[17] This is the view of some of the Hanafi and Shafi‘i scholars, al-Shawkani, Irshad al-Fuhul, pp.101-102 & Hashim Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, p.193.


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