Space-Time Correlation in Inferring Islamic Rulings

An example of spatiotemporal variations

According to the Shafi`i school of thought, the recitation of qunut supplication (while standing) in the second rakah of the Fajr prayer is a sunnah muakkadah (a stressed sunnah or a strongly recommended act of Prophet Muhammad [peace be upon him]). 

If one misses to do it, they have to perform sajdah sahw, that is, extra prostrations as compensation for the inadvertent error. Conversely, in the Hanafi, Maliki, and Hanbali madhhabs (schools of thought), the qunut invocation in the Fajr prayer is not essential.

However, when the eponymous founder of the Shafi`i school of thought migrated from Iraq to Egypt, he led prayers with a congregation comprising mainly followers of the Hanafi school; so he did not recite the qunut in the Fajr prayer out of respect for the Hanafi practice.

By narrating this anecdote, Kamal Hassan intended to drive home the message that, in issues of opinion differences (khilafiah), one should not be fanatical or dogmatic; rather, one should be flexible in approach, humble, and accommodating in attitude.

How Imam Ash-Shafi`i approached Quran and Sunnah

In the tradition of Islamic jurisprudence, Imam Ash-Shafi`i developed his methodology of Islamic jurisprudence and his own way of approaching the Quran and Hadith. 

He first introduced his own school of thought – qawl qadim (old opinion) – in Iraq. He then significantly modified his interpretations and introduced a different set of jurisprudential theories and rulings – qawl jadid (new opinion) – once he settled in Egypt. Thus, his madhhab in Egypt had different paradigms and assumptions owing to the variant social dynamics of his new country of residence. 

The differences between the two phases of the development of his thoughts were owing to the specific local conditions where they evolved.

Socio-cultural contexts and forming opinions

The above and similar examples in the Islamic juristic tradition suggest that knowledge of Islam’s primary texts (the Quran and Hadith) and that of socio-cultural contexts are very important to offer an informed opinion. Such knowledge is also crucial to adjudicate and pass a reliable verdict – involving a specific location.

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This important principle of Islamic jurisprudence is often forgotten. Many half- or ill-educated people in religious garb dare to pass verdicts based on the literal interpretation of Islamic texts. Such decontextualized views or verdicts do a severe disservice to Islamic law and societies, as they cause confusion and misapprehension among people about Islamic teachings.

Forming opinions based on social sciences only

Conversely, there is another group of people with an inadequate understanding of Islam’s primary texts. They dare to give definitive Islamic rulings or juristic opinions only based on their knowledge of social sciences or social conditions.

In the aforementioned essay, Taha Jabir al-Alwani implies that both these groups are ineligible to infer proper Islamic rulings. He argues that a one-sided interpretation of Islamic teachings can cause catastrophes and major disasters.


Time-space dimensions are crucial in understanding social realities and in the application of Islamic teachings in everyday life. Hence, true scholars of Islamic jurisprudence must be conversant with the text and context of Islamic teachings.

In his essay titled “A return to the Quranic paradigm of development and integrated knowledge: The Ulu al-Albab model” (2010), Kamal Hassan uses the Quranic term of Ulu al-Albab to describe such “intellectuals and scholars par excellence who combine the understanding of the Book of Nature with the Book of Revelation and integrate human reason with Divine revelation.”


Al-Alwani, Taha Jabir. 1995. “The Islamization of knowledge: Yesterday and today.” American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, 12(1): 81-101.

Hassan, Mohd. Kamal. 2010. “A return to the Qur’ānic paradigm of development and integrated knowledge: The Ulū al-Albāb model.” Intellectual Discourse, 18(2): 183-210.

Dr. Md. Mahmudul Hasan is with the Department of English Language and Literature at International Islamic University Malaysia.

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