It was 1784 C.E, and Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio, was at the age of thirty, during the height of the Islamic reform movement he ignited in the central Bilad as-Sudan. It was during the reign of Bawa Dan Babari over the Habe Hausa kingdom, who gave the Shehu and his colleagues government permission to call the people of his kingdom to GOD. 

Sultan Muhammad Bello ibn Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio said that it was during this period that his father was concerned with refuting the delusions which some students had concocted regarding the science of scholastic theology (`ilm al-kalaam). They falsely claimed and spread among the common people that whoever was not preoccupied with the study of tawheed in the manner which they had studied, then he was a disbeliever.           

As a result, the Shehu composed several texts, first explaining the aspects of tawheed which are specifically obligatory (fard `ayaan) for every responsible person (mukallaf) to know and believe; and those aspects of tawheed which are a part of the collective obligations (fard kifaaya). In his Tamyeez al-Muslimeen, the Shehu designated three groups in Hausaland that were either unadulterated disbelievers, or they were those who intermixed disbelief with their Islam. These groups were either openly worshipping fetish idols, djinn, ancestral totems or made sacrifices to trees, rivers or the natural elements. The Shehu composed Hausa and Fulfulde poems exhorting these people to abandon their false beliefs and to come into the worship of Allah, the One Unitary Absolute Being.           

In addition to this, the Shehu instructed the new converts and common believers that the science of tawheed, which is the first of the sciences every responsible person must know and believe in; is divided into two divisions: [1] a division which is obligatory upon every person to know called the foundation of the religion (usuul ‘d-deen); and [2] a division which is a collective obligation, only obligatory upon the scholars to know, called scholastic theology (`ilm al-kalaam).           

In his Fath al-Basa’ir, the Shehu said: “Realize that the science of divine unity (fann’t-tawheed) is divided into two divisions: [1] the foundations of the religion (usuul’d-deen); and [2] the science of scholastic theology (`ilm’l-kalaam). Usuul’d-deen is a part of the individual obligations (furuud’l-`ayaan) and the science of scholastic theology (`ilm’l-kalaam) is a part of the collective obligations (furuud’l-kifaaya).

Abd’r-Rahmaan as-Suyuuti said in his commentary of the al-Kawkab: ‘Among the scholars are those who call the science of usuul’d-deen scholastic theology because the first issue addressed in the science of usuul’d-deen is the issue related to theology (kalaam).’ He then said in the Jam`i’l-Jawaami`: ‘This science has been divided into two divisions: [1] applied (`amaliyyun) which is obligatory to believe in (i`tiqaaduhu); and [2] theoretical (`ilmiyyun) which is not obligatory regarding beliefs (al-`aqaa’id) because it is a part of intellectual training.’

Then Abd’r-Rahmaan as-Suyuuti said: ‘Strictly speaking, the second division is not called usuul ‘d-deen. It is named the science of scholastic theology (`ilm’l-kalaam). If the first division (usuul ‘d-deen) is united with the establishment of rational proofs (nasbu’l-adaalat’l-`aqliyyat) along with the elucidating the variants of the teachings of the people of innovation (aqwaal ahli’l-bid`a) and the philosophers – then that is also scholastic theology.’ If not, then the science of the foundations of the religion (usuul ‘d-deen), its divine, its prophetic and its after-life are well established in the Mighty Qur’an. It has also been established by the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, in his sunna as we have clearly demonstrated in our books called Mirat ‘t-Tulaab and Umdat ‘l-Ulama.”           

During 1784 there had emerged a cadre of students of scholastic theology who claimed that it was obligatory for the common people to know and articulate the evidence using their specific technical language. However, the Shehu refuted this false assumption in his Haqeeqat al-Iman wa’l-Islam where he said:

“Further, no one among the common of the Muslims should be declared disbeliever, due to their lack of knowledge of the evidence of the foundations of the doctrines of belief. This is because whoever has articulated the two testimonies of faith (shahadatayn) and believes in it whole heartedly; then this will suffice. For, his faith is sound, and he should be considered among the people of the Qibla and the people of Paradise. This is the sound view upon which the majority of the scholars uphold; as Abd’s-Salaam ibn Ibrahim al-Laqani said in his Fath al-Majeed.”           

Quoting Shaykh Abu al-Mansur, the Shehu doubled down on protecting the common Muslim from being declared disbeliever by his words:

“As for those who truly accept Islam with their hearts, and corroborate this by articulating the two testimonies with their tongue; although something may bar them from articulating the evidence of this; then the consensus is unanimous regarding the soundness of their faith. So, if you know all of this, then you also know that declaring the common Muslim as disbeliever due to their lack of knowledge of the evidences of the foundations of the doctrines of belief, is not correct.”           

So, the Shehu was able to defend the doctrines of belief of the common Muslim, by protecting them from being declared disbelievers due to their inability to articulate the proofs of scholastic theology. However, not being satisfied with the common Muslims being left in their state of blind following (taqleed), the Shehu then composed this work which is before you: The Spiritual Ascension of the Common Muslim To Understanding the Science of Scholastic Theology.           

This work, as its title clearly indicates, was written for ‘the common Muslim’. Who or what is ‘the common Muslim’? In his Fath al-Basa’ir, the Shehu divided the Muslim community into three major groups, excluding the mujtahiduun (the scholars of independent judgment): [1] the scholars; [2] the intermediate students; and [3] the common people.

He said: “Ahmed az-Zarruq said in his `Umdat’l-Murid as-Saadiq after mentioning the words of Allah ta`ala; “Say: this is My way, I call to Allah by way of insight; I and those who follow me.”… this is an explanation that insight through investigation and research (tabassura) in the deen is a firm foundation from among the foundations of the deen.  Whoever takes the matters of the deen from his on ignorant opinion (raiyihi fi `amaaya) is not a follower of the Lawgiver.

However, people are three kinds, (meaning after the mujtahids).

[1] The scholar (`aalim) who is well established in his researched insight from taking issues by seeking after the proofs, (that is if he is not a mujtahid).

[2] The intermediate student (al-mutawassit) between the scholar and the common person. It is not correct to follow him except for the one who has researched insight into his affair (tabassara fi shaanihi). It is also binding upon him to make known from the shari`a that which he is following. Further, one cannot take from him whose knowledge from the fundamental principles of the shari`a is vague (yaabaahu). This is because it is not permissible for anyone to overstep his own knowledge (yata`addaa `ilmahu) and do not depend upon one whose knowledge is not known.

[3] The common person (`aamiyun), it is only appropriate for him to stop with that in which there is no doubt concerning its reality (maa laa yashuku fi haqeeqatihi) from the commands of Allah and His remembrance. He should behave earnestly in that which he has no doubt about. If he is not like this, then he is merely one who makes jest and toying in his religion. So, realize!”

So, this work was written for the common Muslim in order elevate their knowledge and discourse regarding the essentials of scholastic theology in order to move them from the status of commonality to being an intermediate student (mutawassit) to being one knowledgeable of the basic fundamental science of scholastic theology. This is what is meant by his title ‘the Spiritual Ascension.’           

The language of the text is simple and the Shehu avoids utilizing many of the difficult technical words developed within the science of scholastic theology, in order to give the common Muslim a ‘buraq’ (heavenly mount), a spiritual escalator or elevator, so to speak; with which they can ascend to understanding the Knowledge of GOD.

This work, The Spiritual Ascension of the Common Muslim does exactly what Waziri Junayd said about the Shehu in his Tuhfat ‘l-Ikhwaan          

“The Shehu removed the obscurities and errors from the servants and helped them obtain spiritual states. He illuminated the most remote regions and clarified                       the paths of guidance for people and elucidated them. He stood up with the Truth and corrected perceptions until falsehood found that it had no traces. The mysterious sciences step by step he disseminated it in a magnificent manner. He was an imam in the transmitted sciences and realize he was a complete slave and ascetic, so be astute!” 

Shaykh Muhammad Shareef bin Farid

A little before breaking fast,

Tuesday, 25th Ramadan, 1443Bamako, Mali

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