Cooking Rice, Not Engineering It: Al-Shatibi’s Guidance on relevance in Usul al-Fiqh Studies

Joe Bradford

| 05/17/2023

Spanish Rice Paella - Photo by Young Shih on Unsplash

بسم الله والحمد لله والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله وبعد

            Consider the process of teaching someone to cook rice. You wouldn’t initially throw them into a deep discussion about the variations among Fahrenheit, Celsius, and Kelvin. That would be like tossing them into a whirlpool of confusion. Instead, the initial focus should be on the essentials: how to proportion the rice and water, when to adjust the heat to a simmer, and the signs of perfectly cooked rice. As for knowing the temperature scales, this is not at the heart of cooking, although it is related to it. Take the foregoing as an example of teaching Usul al-Fiqh. Some scholars of Usul injected into the the study of this topic issues alien to it, preoccupying the minds of the new learners with things that cause them to come out of class having retained nothing of benefit with regards to Usul.

Along these lines, Abu Ishaq al-Shatibi, in the fourth introduction of Al-Muwafaqat, stated:

“Every issue mentioned in Usul al-Fiqh that does not serve as a foundation for subsidiary legal rulings, ethical conduct, or provide assistance in that regard, then placing them in Usul al-Fiqh is futile.”

Many of the linguistic, grammatical, and hadith-related disputes should be settled within that realm of specialized knowledge, not within the field of Usul. How many students of jurisprudence gain no understanding when studying this topic and instead are endlessly lost? Their journey in studying Usul yields no results, like a person who neither traveled far nor did his horse survive. Or perhaps with more modern language, like a person who throttles their engine and burns it out while their tires are stuck in the mud; their car is damaged and they don’t get anywhere.

Al-Shatibi here does not want you to exert immense effort in understanding matters that have no benefit or do not aid in achieving the greatest purpose of studying the principles of Usul, namely: to know what Allah and His Messenger want from us regarding specific cases.

The focus of scholars of principles on such matters is a waste of time and a diversion from the path of Allah. Why? Because the whole is not the sum of its parts. For example, the debate among Usul scholars regarding whether the knowledge of the Prophet (peace be upon him) was based on personal reasoning (ijtihad) or not. This matter – regardless of the theological implications behind it – is to be settled in the field of theology or the science of Islamic beliefs (‘ilm al-kalam) and not within the realm of Usul. Usul students should not be preoccupied with such matters because they do not serve as a foundation for action. The same can be said about purely linguistic and hadith-related issues as well.

Therefore, this principle – that the whole is not the sum of its parts – narrows the scope of knowledge within the field of Usul. Not everything related to Usul is necessarily an essential part of Usul itself. 

The following example may clarify this further: If you want to teach someone how to cook rice, you do not begin by teaching them the mechanisms of modern rice hulling and the engineering principles behind it. Although this may be related to a specific ingredient used when cooking (rice and how its produced), it is not suitable for a cooking lesson but rather an engineering class. Including it in a cooking lesson would be a waste of time, a foolish notion, or an arrogant display of dominance.

Hence, the principles of Usul are theoretical with respect to practical legal issues derived based on their foundations, but they are not theoretical in the sense that they delve into purely theoretical matters.

"طهي الأرز، لا هندسته : الشاطبي وما ليس من أصول الفقه"

تخيل لو أردت تعليم شخص ما كيفية طهي الأرز. فإنك لن تطرح عليه نقاش عميق حول المقاييس المختلفة لمعرفة درجة الحرارة من فهرنهايت وسلسيوس (الدرجة المئوية) وكلفن . إذ لن يجدي فعلك هذا ولن يأتي إلا بالارتباك لهذا المتعلم الجديد. فالمعلم الناجح يجب أن ينصب تركيزه على تعليم الأساسيات العملية: من تناسب كميات الأرز للماء ، وضبط الحرارة، وما هي العلامات التي تنبئ على أن الأرز قد تم طبخه. وأما معرفة مقاييس درجة الحرارة فهذه ليس من صميم الطبخ وإن كانت ذات صلة به. وخذ ما سبق مثالا على تعليم أصول الفقه ، فمن الأصوليين من أدخل في كتب الأصول ما ليس منه وأشغل بها بال المتعلم الجديد حتى لم يخرج من درس الأصول بفائدة.

.قال أبو إسحاق الشاطبي في المقدمة الرابعة من الموافقات: “كُلُّ مَسْألَةٍ مَرْسُومَةٍ فِي أُصُولِ الفِقْهِ لا يَنْبَنِي عَلَيْها فُرُوعٌ فِقْهِيَّةٌ، أوْ آدابٌ شَرْعِيَّةٌ، أوْ لا تَكُونُ عَوْنًا فِي ذَلِكَ١؛ فَوَضْعُها فِي أُصُولِ الفِقْهِ عارِيَةٌ.”  انتهى

فكثير من الخلافات الكلامية واللغوية والحديثية موضع حسمها ميدان ذلك العلم خاصة ، لا ميدان الأصول. فكم من دارس لأصول الفقه لا يخرج بفائدة بل بنصف فائدة لدخوله في متاهات لا نهاية لها ؟ فسيره في الأصول لا يحقق له شيئا ، كمن لا أرضا قطع، ولا ظهرا أبقى أو بلغة معاصرة غرزت كفراته وحرق المكينة. 

فالشاطبي هنا لا يريدك أن تقدم جهدا عظيما لفهم مسألة هي أصلا لا طائل تحتها ولا تعينه على المقصد الأعظم من دراسة أصول الفقه وهو “ماذا يريده الله ورسوله مني في خصوص هذه الحالة؟”

فتركيز أهل الأصول على مثل هذه المسائل ضياع للوقت وصد عن سبيل الله. لماذا؟ لأن الكل ليس مجموع أجزائه ، فعلى سبيل المثال ، النقاش الدائر بين أهل الأصول في هل علم رسول الله اجتهادي أم لا؟ هذه المسألة – بغض النظر عن المغزى العقدي وراءه – حسمها يكون في مادة علم الكلام أو علم أصول الدين ، ولا يشغل بها الأصولي تلاميذه ولا ينشغلون ، إذ لا ينبني عليه عمل. ومثله يقال في المسائل اللغوية والحديثية البحتة.

فهذا الأصل – أعني الكل ليس مجموع أجزائه – تضييق للدائرة المعرفية الأصولية ، فليس كل ما اتصل بالأصول معرفيا صار من الأصول أصالة ، ولعل المثال يوضح ذلك أكثر: إذا أردت أن تعلم شخصا كيفية طبخ الأرز، فلن تبدأ بتعليمه آليات المكائن الحديثة الني تقشر الأرز ومبادئ الهندسة التي وراءها. فهذا – وإن كان له صلة بجزئية هي من مكونات الطبخ – إلا أنه لا يناسب درس الطبخ وإنما يناسب درس الهندسة .فالدخول فيه في درس الطبخ ضياع للوقت بل ضرب من الحماقة أو نوع من التكبر.

فأصول الفقه إذن نظرية بالنسبة لآحاد المسائل العملية المخرجة على قواعدها عند التطبيق ، وليست نظرية بمعنى أنها تبحث في المسائل النظرية البحتة.


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