Local Customs and Innovations in Islam Essay

Local Customs and Innovations in Islam Essay

Islam is a relatively young and quite popular religion which, rooted in the Arabian Peninsula, has spread throughout the world nowadays. Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah provides an apposite example comparing Islam with the pure and clear river. Just like a river, Islam has many branches that stem from the same pillars of faith, but interpret the texts of Quar’an differently.


Value and general recognition of Deobandi school considerably crossed the boundaries of the Indian subcontinent. In the last 150 years, it is one of the most influential schools of traditional Islam. Scholars of Deobandi school are involved in almost all the Islamic sciences written in Arabic, Farsi, and English. Their performances in the field of classical science are not inferior to Arabic accomplishments. Pakistani publishers print excellent editions of the classic books which are included in the education program of Deobandi’s madrassas – Darul Uloom.

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Hanafi madhhab is a prevailing law school of Islam. It was founded by Abu Hanifa, a prominent Islamic scholar. Numerous efforts of the disciples of Abu Hanifa made his madhhab a comprehensive school of Islamic law, which can solve almost all problems of fiqh. Hanafi is spread in Middle and Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, and other countries.


According to Mawlana Shabbir Ahmad ‘Uthmani, for Deobandi there are four sources of law:

  1. Qur’an.
  2. Sunnah.
  3. The examples of the actions of the rightly guided caliphs, or ordinary activity of the Salafs.
  4. The actual legal decision (al-ijtihad al-mu’tabar) with its prerequisites, based on the texts.

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Hanafi’s method of rendering legal prescriptions is based on a larger number of sources than the one of Deobandi school:

  1. Qur’an.
  2. Sunnah (with careful selection of hadith). Sunnah is referred to as the second most important source of Islamic law. However, there are some reservations about its use. Hanafi believes that to use hadith as legal evidence only its accuracy (sahih) is not enough, it also has to be widely known. This condition was provided as a safeguard against fictional hadith which was common in the area settled by only a few of the prominent Sahabh.
  3. Ijma. This concept means the unanimous opinion of the Companions (Sahabah) of the Messenger of Allah. However, adherents of Hanafi school believe that statements of Tabi’uns (the generation next to the Sahabah) are not legally equal to the statements of Sahabah, as Tabi’uns did not directly communicate with the prophet Muhammad.
  4. Individual opinions of Companions of the Prophet – if Sahabah had different opinions on specific legal issues and Ijma on this issue was not reached, Abu Hanifa chose the view which was seen the most appropriate for this case. Setting it as one of the main principles of his madhhab, Abu Hanifa considered opinions of Sahabah to be more powerful than his own.
  5. Qiyas (reasoning by analogy with what is already available in Qur’an; a comparison of legal problems with the one already resolved). Abu Hanifa did not feel himself obliged to agree with the conclusions of Sahabah’s followers (Tabiun) in areas where there was no clear evidence in all the above sources. He believed himself and Tabiun to be equal and formulated his own Ijtihad based on the principles of Qiyas established by him and his disciples.
  6. Istihsan (preference contrary to Qiyas, but more suitable in the situation at issue). The term Istihsan means rather a preference for evidence than for the subjective appropriateness of a particular situation. Among the possible examples, there is a preference for a hadith which bears a specific rather than common meaning.
  7. Urf (local custom). Local customs always have a higher legal significance, where Islam does not prescribe any binding rules. Thanks to the practical application of this principle, different customs found in the diversity of cultures of the Islamic world entered the legal systems of various countries and are mistakenly referred to as Islamic.

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The fact that Qur’an and sunnah are the most important sources for Deobandi is represented in the following quote provided by Mawlana Shabbir Ahmad ‘Uthmani in Takmilah Fath al-Mulhim:

As for that which is not established as a good deed in the Qur’an, nor in the sunnah, the invention of such a practice, is an innovation that has no relation to this hadith. And Allah (Glorified is He) knows best. (5:407)

It turns out that the legal bid’ah has no justification in four sources of religion. Thus, the innovations are believed to be misleading. Deobandi proves it by the fact that every Friday during his sermon Messenger of Allah ordered to follow Qur’an and Sunnah and strictly warned against innovations. Mawlana Shabbir Ahmad ‘Uthmani in Takmilah Fath al-Mulhim transmitted, “The best of speech is the Book of Allah, and the best of guidance is the guidance of Muhammad. And the most evil of affairs are their innovations; and every bid’ah is misguidance” (328).

For this reason, the imams from the first and succeeding generations have always paid great attention to the importance of following the Sunnah and the danger of innovations in religion, discussing this issue in their works and devoting entire chapters in the collections of hadith to this theme.

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Hanafi treats culture, local custom (al-curf) and usage (al-cada) as something essential. According to their beliefs, al-curf and al-cada are those aspects of local culture that can be “generally recognized as good, beneficial, or merely harmless” (Umar Faruq Abd-Allah 6). They prove this statement to be right by Quar’anic text taken from verse 7:199, “Accept [from people] what comes naturally [for them]. Command what is customarily [good]. And turn away from the ignorant [without responding in kind].”

Al-Qarafi, the well-known lawyer of the thirteenth century, stated that the persons, who, while issuing judicial decisions, blindly followed the texts not taking into account the cultural realities of his people, were grossly mistaken. Such an adherence reflects misguidance in the religion of Islam and ignorance of the ultimate goals of previous scholars and great personalities of the past (Umar Faruq Abd-Allah 7).

Both schools of Islam compare the guidance of the Messenger of Allah with doctor’s prescriptions. However, even in this comparison, they see different sides of the problem: Deobandi believes that patient should not question doctor’s prescription, try to change it or preoccupy themselves with the principles of proportioning medicine. The only thing they should do is to follow the doctor’s instructions. At the same time, Hanafi considers it inappropriate to prescribe to all the patients the same medicine regardless of their individual features.


It is possible to conclude that both views on innovations, customs, and usages are justified and can find appropriate confirmation in Quar’an. The contradictions are stipulated by controversial interpretations of its texts. Given all the abovementioned, it seems impossible to reconcile these two practices of law, as modern fundamentalists stand for the restoration of early Islamic social institutions through a radical purge from all kinds of bid’ah. At the same time, Hanafi finds inappropriate strict adherence to the guidance created more than a century ago. They prove the necessity to adapt to conditions of modern life. Reconciliation of these two flows can be reached only through liberalization of Deobandi’s beliefs towards consideration of local custom as an additional source of law. It should be noted that Islamic fundamentalism, unlike extremism, does not threaten the people of other beliefs and religions. Thus, it is necessary to abstain from distorted consideration of the Deobandi tradition.