The Reliance of the Traveller

From Mapping Shari’a:

The Reliance of the Traveller, or Umdat al-Salik, was composed in the 14th Century by Shihabuddin Abu al-’Abbas Ahmad ibn an-Naqib al-Misri (1302–1367). It is a classical manual of Shafi’i fiqh, meaning it is an authoritative summation of the Islamic jurisprudence– also known as Shari’a– associated with the Sunni Shafi’i school. al Misri based the Umdat al-Salik on the previous Shafi’i works of Nawawi and Abu Ishaq as-Shirazi.

The Umdat al-Salik is broken into sections dealing with every area of life Shari’a is concerned with– from epistemological questions on “sacred knowledge” to practical legal rulings on marriage, divorce, trade, inheritance, fasting, zakat, etc. As Shari’a is the basis for the Islamic  legal/political doctrine, the section on Jihad is located within chapter 9, “Justice.” It states, plainly:

Jihad means to war against non-Muslims, and is etymologically derived from the word mujahada, signifying warfare to establish the religion. Page 617

As is explained in the Umdat al-Salik– or with any manual of Islamic law, or Shari’a– “scholarly consensus is legally binding.” This means that, for Muslim followers of Shari’a, once a consensus of scholars rules on a matter, it is no longer subject for debate. According to al-Misri:

When the four necessary integrals of consensus exist, the ruling agreed upon is an authoritative part of Sacred Law that is obligatory to obey and not lawful to disobey. Nor can mujrahids [scholars] of a succeeding era make the thing an object of new ijtihad [Islamic legal opinion], because the ruling on it, verified by scholarly consensus, is an absolute legal ruling which does not admit of being contravened or annulled. Page 23-24

The Umdat al-Salik was translated into English by Nuh Ha Mim Keller (a prominent scholar of Islamic jurisprudence based in Jordan), and subtitled, “A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law.” This popular hardcover edition is published in the United States by Amana Publications, and features facing Arabic and English text.

In his introduction to the Umdat al-Salik, Keller notes that:

The four Sunni schools of Islamic law, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali, are identical in approximately 75 percent of their legal conclusions, while the remaining questions, variances within a single family of explainers of the Holy Koran and prophetic sunna, are traceable to methodological differences in understanding or authentication of the primary textual evidence, differing viewpoints sometimes reflected in even a single school. Page 3

Even given its age, the Umdat al-Salik is by no means an irrelevant or outdated document. Certificates of authenticity attest to the translation from the governments of Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia– and the text is the first Islamic legal work in a European language to receive certification from the most important seat of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, Cairo’s al-Azhar University. Kitaabun Books Services in Leicester, England– a UK distributor of the Umdat al-Salik– includes al-Azhar’s praise on their website:

We certify that this translation corresponds to the Arabic original and conforms to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni community (Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama’a). — Al-Azhar, the Muslim world’s most prestigious institution of higher Islamic learning (Cairo; February, 1991)

In addition, the opening pages of the Umdat al-Salik contains a similar endorsement from the Muslim Brotherhood-linked International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) in the United States (also from KBS):

There is no doubt that this translation is a valuable and important work, whether as a textbook for teaching Islamic jurisprudence to English speakers, or as a legal reference for use by scholars, educated laymen, and students in this language.”  Dr. Taha Jabir al-’Alwani, International Institute of Islamic Thought (Herndon, VA; December 1990)

Availability

The Umdat al-Salik, as translated into English by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, is published in the United States by Amana Publications in Beltsville, Maryland. It is a best-seller on Amazon.com, and can be found online in PDF form at Yousef al-Khattab’s Online Library.


Read It For Yourself

Author: Ahmad ibn an-Naqib al-Misri
Title: Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveller)(PDF, 1251 pages, 31.7MB)


Relevant Quotes

The quotes below come from the Umdat al-Salik and, crucially, represent what is considered to be an authoritative work of Shari’a from the Shafi’i school of Islamic jurisprudence. As we have seen from the concept of “scholarly consensus” (explained above), the rulings included here are legally binding, according to Shari’a.

On children:

  • When a child with discrimination (O: meaning he can eat, drink, and clean himself after using the toilet unassisted) is seven years of age, he is ordered to perform the prayer, and when ten, is beaten for neglecting it (N: not severely, but so as to discipline the child, and not more than three blows). f1.2

On apostates:

  • Someone raised among Muslims who denies the obligatoriness of the prayer, zakat, fasting Ramadan, the pilgrimage, or the unlawfulness of wine and adultery, or denies something else upon which there is scholarly consensus (ijma’, def:b7) and which is necessarily known as being of the religion (N: necessarily known meaning things that any Muslim would know about if asked) thereby becomes an unbeliever (kafir) and is executed for his unbelief (O: if he does not admit he is mistaken and acknowledge the Obligatoriness or unlawfulness of that which there is scholarly consensus upon. As for if he denies the obligatoriness of something there is not consensus upon, then he is not adjudged an unbeliever). f1.3
  • The following are not subject to retaliation: … (3) a Jewish or Christian subject of the Islamic state for killing an apostate from Islam (O: because a subject of the state is under its protection, while killing an apostate from Islam is without consequences); o1.2
  • When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostatizes from Islam, he deserves to be killed. o8.1
  • In such a case, it is obligatory for the caliph (A: or his representative) to ask him to repent and return to Islam. If he does, it is accepted from him, but if he refuses, he is immediately killed. o8.2

On jihad:

  • The caliph (o25) makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians (N: provided he has first invited them to enter Islam in faith and practice, and if they will not, then invited them to enter the social order of Islam by paying the non-Muslim poll tax (jizya, def: o11.4)-which is the significance of their paying it, not the money itself-while remaining in their ancestral religions) (O: and the war continues) until they become Muslim or else pay the non-Muslim poll tax (O: in accordance with the word of Allah Most High, “Fight those who do not believe in Allah and the Last Day and who forbid not what Allah and His messenger have forbidden-who do not practice the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book-until they pay the poll tax out of hand and are humbled” (Koran 9.29) o9.8
  • The caliph fights all other peoples until they become Muslim (O: because they are not a people with a Book, nor honored as such, and are not permitted to settle with paying the poll tax (jizya)) o9.9
  • A free male Muslim who has reached puberty and is sane is entitled to the spoils of battle when he has participated in a battle to the end of it. o10.1
  • As for personal booty, anyone who, despite resistance, kills one of the enemy or effectively incapacitates him, risking his own life thereby, is entitled to whatever he can take from the enemy, meaning as much as he can take away with him in the battle, such as a mount, clothes, weaponry, money, or other. o10.2

One thought on “The Reliance of the Traveller

  1. There are two pages in this book on the proper way to perform what my grandmother used to call “Number Two.” Lots of directions, which is really bad if you’ve got one of those urgent occasions!

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