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The Excuse of Ignorance
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The Shaykh (rahimahullaah) addresses this matter in the course of the discussion of zakah and the ruling on the one who withholds it out of rejection (juhood) of it.
The following is a translation of the contents of the above PDF file:
Ignorance (al-jahl) is excused by the Book, the Sunnah and the Ijmaa' of the Muslims in generality (meaning, not in every situation, but in the generality of situations). Evidences from the Qur'an include, "And We never punish until We have sent a Messenger (to give warning)" (17:15), "And We sent not a Messenger except with the language of his people, in order that he might make (the Message) clear for them" (14:4), "And never will your Lord destroy the towns (populations) until He sends to their mother town a Messenger reciting to them Our Verses. And never would We destroy the towns unless the people thereof are oppressors" (28:59), "And if We had destroyed them with a torment before this, they would surely have said: 'Our Lord! If only You had sent us a Messenger, we should certainly have followed Your signs before we were humiliated and disgraced'." (20:134). And in the Sunnah, the saying of the Messenger (alayhis salaatu was-salaam), "Indeed Allaah has pardoned for my Ummah that which occurs due to error, forgetfulness and compulsion." And the evidences indicating that ignorance is an excuse are very many. However is the claim of ignorance accepted from everyone?
What the Shaykh's speech indicates is that we distinguish between the kufr of i'raad, when a person has a shubhah and is able to learn and find out the truth, yet he is satisfied with what he is upon and does not seek the truth and between the kufr of juhood, which is when a person wilfully rejects and opposes the truth when he comes to know it. In the speech of the Shaykh, those who are excused (when they fall into that which is kufr) are those to whom knowledge has not come, and they have no shubhah (doubt, misconception), rather they believe that what they are upon is from Islam and nearness to Allaah, and they are not aware they are opposing what the Messenger brought, and no one has taught them otherwise. So they neither make juhood (rejection after knowledge) nor i'raad (turning away after having a shubhah necessitating that they seek knowledge). So these people, even if their action is kufr, they are not declared disbelievers in person (bil-'ayn) until the proof is established (qiyaam al-hujjah), and establishment of the proof is when it comes to their realization that they are in opposition to what the Messenger (brought). When they are made to realize this, if they do not pursue knowledge of what is correct and turn away (i'raad) or wilfully deny (juhood) after their realization that their actions are in opposition to what the Messenger brought, then no doubt they are disbelievers.
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