Muhammad Ibn Saleh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (رحيمه الله)
Professor at the College of Shari’ah and Usool ud-Deen
Imaam Muhammad ibn Sa’ud Islamic University, ‘Unaizah, Al-Qaseem Saudi Arabia
Preface: Alhamdulillah wa salaat wa salaam alaa Rasoolillahi wa bad:
In the year 2000, a group of expatriate British and American Muslims had the great honor and privilege of meeting privately with the esteemed scholar Muhammad Ibn Saleh Ibn Al-Uthaimeen (رحيمه الله) after he graciously granted them exclusive time in his masjid office in ‘Unaizah, Saudi Arabia. What follows is a transcript of that meeting. After praising Allah and sending salaam upon His Final Messenger and Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) the shaykh began with a brief introduction emphasizing the great need for Muslims to be a unified as much as possible under the banner of pure Islam and that those who seek to impede the progress of Islam realize that disunity among Muslims and insertion of ideas among their ranks by their enemies to remove the Muslim’s insistence of standing firmly for Islam alone as the correct way for mankind is a key strategy. What follows are questions and answers from that meeting which although asked many years ago, are very relevant even today.
Questions and Answers
Q1: When two scholars give differing judgments on a personal issue, how do we decide upon which opinion to choose? Do we look at the specialization of the scholar, his age or just the evidence he brings?
Answer: It is well known and important that we know what is correct through the means of evidence. Yet it is upon him (the person seeking the truth) to follow whom he sees is closest to that which is correct. This is according to the scholar’s knowledge and the level of trust in him. As far as knowledge – there are indeed people who speak without knowledge. He may have some aspect of knowledge while having yet missed many other aspects. As far as trust – there are some people who have a lot of knowledge yet he looks to what the people desire and therefore becomes negligent and rules according to what suits the questioner. So if scholars disagree, look to who is closest to what is correct, just as two doctors may differ in diagnosis or treatment of an illness. You will follow the one whose diagnosis you see is deeper and more thorough.
Q2: If we choose one of the two scholars’ opinions about a person, group or issue, how do we treat those who choose an opinion different from us?
Answer: It is necessary that you cooperate in a manner that shows love and excusing them as long as they do not abandon or forsake (the correct) ‘aqeedah. Because the companions (radiallahu ‘anhum) differed in matters yet they agreed (in principle) and were in conformity. They were in agreement (muttafiqoon) that the aim was to reach the truth and what was correct, and they were in conformity (muwaafiqoon) with the shari’ah (Islam). Every person will not attain the same understanding as another. So if there is a difference upon an issue there is no need for dispute. We all agree to be on one line (i.e. the same ‘aqeedah) because I know that my companion (holding the other opinion) will not differ from me without following evidence and I likewise would not differ from him other than upon evidence. Our aim is the same. Then it is not permissible for one to have any hatred nor anger nor enmity towards the other. We have many examples of this. Among them is the matter of Bani Quraidhah. When the Prophet (ﷺ) returned from the battle of Al-Ahzaab and they had put down their preparations for war, Jibreel came to him and ordered him to go out to Bani Quraidhah in their homeland and fight them because they had broken the treaty (between them and the Muslims). So the Prophet (ﷺ) delegated his companions telling them not to pray Asr except in Bani Quraidhah, and it was far from Al-Medinah. They set out from Al-Medinah and the Asr prayer came in so some amongst them prayed saying that the Prophet (ﷺ) told us not to pray except in Bani Quraidhah only to urge us to hurry. Others said he (ﷺ) ordered us not to pray except in Bani Quraidhah so we won’t pray until we reach there even if the sun goes down. This reached the Prophet (ﷺ) and he did not blame or censure any of them nor did any of them find fault in the other. This is what is obligatory. If I know that my differing companion is well-intending and he would only differ from me due to evidence with him, it is necessary to know that it is not permitted for me to feel hatred toward him. Why (should I)? If I was to justify detesting him, it means that I am justifying to myself that I must be obeyed as though I am infallible. This is not permissible. His argument against me is like mine against him and he can say why don’t you obey me?
Q3: Does this apply as well if a scholar has criticized a person?
Answer: Yes. I do not like scholars to criticize one another, especially at this time. The youth have not reached this level. It is my opinion that there should be respectfulness from the side of the scholars and whoever sees his fellow scholar as mistaken should speak to him privately and if it becomes clear that the truth is with one or the other it is then obligatory to follow him (i.e. the correct one) in it. And if the truth is not made clear then each one has his place. As far as harsh disputation, indeed outright partisanship and hotly taking sides reaching the level of enmity and hatred over differing over some person among the scholars, this is an error. A scholar may even die and Allah will account all and he may have been correct or in error. If I learn he has made an error in his words it is obligatory to leave that and not repeat it. And I should find an excuse for him, especially if I know the man was of good intention and should consider his making ijtihaad (i.e. attempting to arrive at the truth).
Q4: Who has a right to say someone has a bid’ah (religious innovation) or fallen into it or call someone a deviant or an innovator? And what is the meaning of the word ‘inhiraaf’?
Answer: Inhiraaf means to swerve from the straight path. It could be a complete inhiraaf that reaches the level of kufr (disbelief) or it could be an inhiraaf amounting to a shortcoming that does not lead to disbelief. The truth is we don’t just decide the matter of what is innovation. The scale upon which we weight the matter is the Kitaab and Sunnah. If this was not the case, then every issue in which there was a difference between scholars in fiqh – and how many there are – we would say that all those who differ are innovators (mubtadi’een) and everyone who differs from us are innovators and all the fuqahaa (scholars of fiqh i.e. jurisprudence) would be considered as having fallen into innovation! There are few issues where there is absolutely no difference.
Q5: Then if inhiraaf (meaning deviation) is applied to a person, what is meant?
Answer: [The shaykh visually illustrated an example in the room saying…] Here is a straight path from here to the door, if one goes (away) from here then (what)? (The group responded: Inhiraaf?) Yes, it is inhiraaf. However, it may be slight and easy to return from or it could be major. And this is the example given by the Prophet (ﷺ) when he drew a straight line and then lines from both sides.
Q6: How can someone return if going off that path?
Answer: By Allah the way to get them back is to clarify the truth with kindness and compassion without assaulting a man a saying to him “You mubtadi’ (innovator), you are astray!” That may do nothing except cause him to hold more tightly to his opinion and at the least he will seek to defend himself or seek to support himself. However one should come to him with that which is better. Invite him to your home or go to him for a visit and say ‘this matter is causing a problem for me.’ He will say for sure it is a problem. However, decrease the dispute with him by approaching him humbly (almost as though you have the problem). Allah the Mighty and Majestic says: ‘Is Allah better or those who they ascribe as partners?’, knowing full well that Allah is indeed better but this was put for the sake of disputant (for the sake of argument). Go and say to him “We came to settle this problem. Your words were such and such. Please clarify to me so we can come to some understanding or agreement.” If one goes to this extent I believe the brother will humble himself and comply in the face of such leniency and kindness.
Q7: What do we do in a situation where some brothers say “We will not go to such and such a place because so-and-so will be there?” In other words what are the guidelines with regards to doing hijraan (boycott) in the matter of inhiraaf (deviation)?
Answer: First, know that it is not permissible against one who is a believer. Every believer is not permitted to be boycotted (i.e. absolutely) even if he is an adulterer or a thief a drinker or a killer because none of that takes him out of having imaan. As Allah stated:
وان طائفتان من المؤمنين اقتتلوا فاصلحوا بينهما فان بغت احداهما على الاخرى فقاتلوا التي تبغي حتى تفيء الى امر الله فان فاءت فاصلحوا بينهما بالعدل واقسطوا ان الله يحب المقسطين
If two parties among the believers fall into a quarrel, make ye peace between them: but if one of them transgresses beyond bounds against the other then fight you (all) against the one that transgresses until it complies with the command of Allah; but if they comply then make peace between them with justice and be fair: for Allah loves those who are fair (and just). [Al-Hujuraat, 9]
So it is not permitted that a believer be boycotted. It is not allowed for a man to boycott another believer for more than three days. If the two meet the best one is the one who initiates the salaam. Do you understand? It is not permissible unless there is an overall benefit to the boycott. Namely, that it causes the person being boycotted to leave the sin he is being boycotted for. In this case the boycott is medicine. If such would be a cure for the illness then let it be so, but if not then stay away from it. Sometimes boycotting can be a cause for increase in the deviation and the loss of the person. If however, you give the greetings to the person and smile in his face, he will be softer and return to the truth. To boycott because he cuts his beard or smokes cigarettes or deals with riba is not correct. He is still a believer. The kaafir is one whom we do not initiate giving the salaam, but what if he greets us with salaam? We are obligated to return the greeting according to the statement of Allah ta’aala,
واذا حييتم بتحية فحيوا باحسن منها او ردوها ان الله كان على كل شيء حسيبا
When a (courteous) greeting is offered you, meet it with a greeting still more courteous, or (at least) of equal courtesy… An-Nisaa 86
We don’t stay away and such a person is a kaafir. These issues are in actuality very specific and ones in which it is not allowable for us to judge according to emotions. We must always return to the judge, namely return to the kitaab and the sunnah and the deeds of the righteous predecessors (as-Salaf as-Saalih).
Q8: Let us be more specific and ask one of the main issues in question, but without naming names or personalities. Suppose one of the scholars said a group was very bad or worse or more dangerous than the Jews and the Christians and someone else says we can’t generalize because there are so many people among them who are ignorant of this group’s problems and it is a greater wrong to make a general statement that will unduly hurt them. How do we treat that person?
Answer: Why doesn’t he (the scholar) say ‘the madhhab (way) of this group is more dangerous to Islam than the Jews and the Christians.’? This is more correct and safer without committing excess upon the members of the group. Let’s give an example of the Shi’ah. The extreme Shi’ah are more dangerous than the Jews and the Christians because they say their imaams control the universe, that their imaams are better than the Messenger. Then they curse the companions on the minbars and they curse the Mother of the Believers, ‘Aaishah (radiallahu ‘anhaa) – the one upon whose chest the Prophet (ﷺ) died and whose saliva was the last thing he tasted in this world, on her day, in her house. They would accuse her! Not even the Jews and the Christians say such a thing! On top of it is the problem that they say this is Islam! This is a problem. Look and read in Soorah Al-Munaafiqeen. What does Allah say about them? He says:
…عليهم هم العدو فاحذرهم …
“…they are the enemy so be on guard against them!” [Al-Munaafiqoon, 3]
This is a type of restrictive sentence so know its two parts. They are the enemy – so be on guard against them. Even with this, I don’t see a total rejection or dismissal of them saying such as “You Shi’ah are a bunch of kaafirs!” I say rather that madhhab and whoever follows its way is more dangerous to Islam than the Jews and the Christians. This is more correct. Is that clear?
Q9: How do we deal with a person who rejects saying that to these groups? We see him as mistaken or unaware of the truth of these groups. He says ‘Don’t make a general statement like that about them because there are pious and righteous people among them’ – not meaning the Shi’ah, while we see it as necessary to say so. Do we make the same blanket judgment about those among these groups who write on issues such as haakimiyyah and the like without complete knowledge and the leaders of these groups and the average person on the street who just follows the leaders sees them as good and who may have even been led to Islam by them? Do we say to him that such people are more dangerous to Islam than the Jews and the Christians?
Answer: It is as I mentioned at first. My opinion is to concentrate on the madhhab and the method not the person even if the person is astray, not to mention if he has knowledge, and may have made ijtihaad. There is no call for severity and vehemence towards him because some people gang up on a person just like that. However, if we concentrate on the method, this is beneficial. On this point, none of leaders of disbelief (Al-Quraish) is mentioned by name in the Qur’aan except one (i.e. Abu Lahab). We must follow this way and consider a person’s dignity. Even if the innovator comes to us about whom we say his bid’ah is greater than the danger of the Yehood (Jews) and Nasaara (Christians)…how will you convince him of your opinion? He will ask ‘Why is this not right?’ ‘[Say] This [i.e. such and such] is the way. If you follow this way, it is up to you, if you follow it, that is what we want.’
Q10: Suppose I see someone who has made a mistake in their religion, maybe in ‘aqeedah [beliefs], maybe in an action or in manhaj [manner of practice]. Is it permissible for me with little knowledge to advise him?
Answer: Has it not reached you that the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Convey about me even if it be a single aayah.”? Enough?
Someone states: We love you for the sake of Allah Shaykh!
Shaykh Ibn Al-‘Uthaimeen: We love the One Who has caused you to love me. Allah has made us beloved to one another and made us of those who strive in His cause (awliyaa-ihi). Verily He is in control of all things. Remain firm and stick together!
Q11: Is it correct for a group of students of knowledge to make a ruling on an individual without going to him to speak with him or advise him first and instead go to others and warn them against this person?
Answer: No. No. Never! First if you hear something about a person and you see him as mistaken there are stages. The first stage is confirmation. The transmission about the person may or may not be correct. How many people transmit some statement about a person and they either misunderstand it or with the intention of causing enmity between the Muslims? So first is confirmation. And what could be better than the statement of Shaykh Al-Islam (Ibn Taymiyyah) in refutation of the Raafidhah (Shi’ah) in his book, The Way of the Sunnah about when a text is mentioned “the first thing demanded is verification of the transmission.” This is a rule and important.
Secondly, if the transmission is verified let us look. Is there an explanation for it that perhaps the transmitter did or did not understand? If we see that there is an explanation and the transmitter misunderstood, we say to the transmitter “Brother fear Allah! The man isn’t such and such!” or “The meaning is so and so.” Then we would be defending the truth and saving this man from slandering his brother (buhtaan).
Thirdly, if there is no explanation then it is obligatory that we go to whom the news is being said about and say “We heard such and such. Is it correct or not?” If he says yes then we should be polite and mannerly with him and not provoke or upset him and let him know there is a problem here. Did not Allah say such and such did not the Messenger say such and such? It is necessary that we return to the truth. He may have knowledge that is not with me and when I engage him he may point me to some knowledge and it would be obligatory to follow it.
Q12: Is it permissible to say to the person, “We saw you with so and so mubtadi’ as though you follow this innovating group?”
Answer: Never. You engage him as though you never heard a thing about it.
Q13: If a brother feels harmed or hurt by the actions of some other brothers and they have hidden themselves from that person and as a result he feels this hurt in his heart, how can he go about healing that or making some type of reconciliation in himself and how can those brothers perhaps be corrected if their actions indeed are wrong?
Answer: He should remember the statement of the Prophet (ﷺ): Allah showed mercy to my brother Musa who was harmed more than this and he was patient. Be patient and the end is for the pious.
تلك من انباء الغيب نوحيها اليك ما كنت تعلمها انت ولا قومك من قبل هذا فاصبر ان العاقبة للمتقين
This is of the knowledge of the unseen We have revealed to you. You were not aware of it nor were your people before you. Be patient for indeed the end is for the pious. [Hud, 49]
From a separate session:
Q: What is obligatory upon a Muslim, and in particular, those seeking knowledge and making Da’wah, in regards to befriending scholars capable of performing Ijtihaad – that is under the assumption that adhering to a group of scholars who are capable of Ijtihaad is one of the obligatory means of adhering to the Jama’ah?
I say, the obligation of the general public of the Muslim community is to follow those scholars who are known to be abundant in knowledge, correct in the Aqeedah (belief), and sound in their Manhaj (methodology). This is because Allah says,
وما ارسلنا من قبلك الا رجالا نوحي اليهم فاسالوا اهل الذكر ان كنتم لا تعلمون
“And ask ahlu-thikr (people of knowledge) if you do not know” [An-Nahl, 43]
And the scholars which I have just described are the “those in authority” – those who have Allah mentioned about in the Qur’aan,
يا ايها الذين امنوا اطيعوا الله واطيعوا الرسول واولي الامر منكم
“O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you.” [
Because “those in authority” comprises two groups of people, the first group being the scholars, and they are the primary object in this aayah, and the second group are the rulers, those who implement the Shari’ah of Allah over the slaves of Allah. The scholars are the people of clarification, knowledge and guidance, and the rulers are the people of implementation and jurisdiction.
So if the public were to take every person as one to be followed, following him without investigating his knowledge, trust, manhaj and aqeedah, then they would split apart from one another and go astray. And this, meaning, this division is what Allah has forbidden in more than one aayah of the Qur’aan. Allah says,
شرع لكم من الدين ما وصى به نوحا والذي اوحينا اليك وما وصينا به ابراهيم وموسى وعيسى ان اقيموا الدين ولا تتفرقوا فيه كبر على المشركين ما تدعوهم اليه الله يجتبي اليه من يشاء ويهدي اليه من ينيب
“It has been legislated for you in the religion that Nuh (Noah) was ordered with, and that which We revealed to you, and what We ordered Ibrahim (Abraham) with and Musa (Moses) and ‘Eesaa (Jesus) – (the command) Establish the religion and do not divide therein.” [Ash-Shoorah, 13]
And Allah says,
واطيعوا الله ورسوله ولا تنازعوا فتفشلوا وتذهب ريحكم واصبروا ان الله مع الصابرين
And obey Allah and His Messenger. and fall into no disputes, Lest ye lose heart and your power depart; and be patient and persevering: for Allah is with those who patiently persevere. [Al-Anfaal, 46]
And Allah says,
ولا تكونوا كالذين تفرقوا واختلفوا من بعد ما جاءهم البينات واولئك لهم عذاب عظيم
“And do not be like those who divided and differed after the clear evidence came to them, for them is great punishment” [Aali ‘Imraan, 105]
And Allah says,
فبما رحمة من الله لنت لهم ولو كنت فظا غليظ القلب لانفضوا من حولك فاعف عنهم واستغفر لهم وشاورهم في الامر فاذا عزمت فتوكل على الله ان الله يحب المتوكلين
As for those who divide their Religion and break up into sects, you have no part in them in the least: their affair is with Allah. He will in the end tell them the truth of all that they did. [Al-Anfaal, 159]
To Allah belongs all Praise, the ways and means of communication have become many. So now it is possible for a person living in the East to call one in the West in just one second, and then ask him for whatever he needs. So the evidence has been established and the information has become clear. So beware, beware of division – and I say division, not differing – for there is no escape from differing because people have disagreed in understanding, knowledge, imaan and taqwa. So if the people disagreed in these four subjects then how much more so differing in opinions? The only thing which requires guarding against is differing of hearts, and the abandoning of each other, until the end result is that people accuse others of misguidance, and of innovation, so beware and be warned.
Translation by Abdul-Qaadir Abdul-Khaaliq
 i.e. of being able to properly criticize the opinions or positions of one another, much less that of scholars.
 Indeed there are many differences in Muslim practices and different rulings regarding them amongst scholars, even those within the same school of thought. Some differences may be viewed as very serious, nevertheless not every difference can be deemed sufficient grounds to justify making an Islamic ruling of innovator upon the scholar who holds a particular view that is at odds with others. You will be hard pressed to find complete unanimity on issues of fiqh in particular but also know that the ummah will never be in unanimity upon that which is astray or misguided, whereas one will find unanimity upon the truth.