The 20 Principles of understanding Islam

 Principles of Understanding
By: Imam Hassan Al-Banna

Through what he called ‘the twenty principles”, Imam al-Banna called for a general covenant whose base is these twenty principles, which clearly draw the background needed for the Islamic starting point towards the revival.

In his book Nazarat fil Qur’an al Karim (Reflection on the Ever-honorable Qur’an) where these twenty principles appeared for the first time, Imam al-Banna said, “I spent much time thinking about the difference that may be called a scientific difference between Muslim organizations first in Egypt and secondly in countries throughout the Muslim world. I also spent much time seeking a way with which I could gather the Muslims’ hearts around a supreme aim that would unify their souls and stimulate their activity, and that would be a foundation of the prospective revival.  I wanted to display these principles – which are, Allah willing, in compliance with the truth – before Muslim thinkers, aiming that they would draw near the different viewpoints. I hope that they would contemplate them deeply, and if they would find them suitable to gather them Muslims’ viewpoints together, we might take them as a basis…”

The twenty principles are introduced in an explicit, specific, and logical form. They actually contribute to setting a base for cooperation between all Muslims for the sake of the proposed revival. Imam al-Banna said about them,

  1. They draw near those who are far from one another.
  2. They are in conformity with the truth, according to the measures of knowledge.

Furthermore, Imam al-Banna asked scholars to meditate on these principles that should be a constitution of cultural unity among Muslims. He also enjoined on his adherents that the first pillar of their pledge with him is to understand these matters very well and invite the Ummah to adopt them.

In order to make dealing with the twenty principles easier, we will introduce them in groups as follows:

  1. The dogmatic method (principles pertaining to understanding the creed)
  2. The method of principles (principles pertaining to understanding the principles of Islamic Jurisprudence)
  3. The Fiqhi method (principles pertaining to understanding Islamic Jurisprudence)
  4. The general method (general principles)

The Dogmatic Method
(Principles Pertaining to Understanding the Creed)

 1-     The Principle regarding the comprehensiveness of Islam

“Islam is a comprehensive system which deals with all spheres of life. It is a country and a homeland or a government and a nation. It is conduct and power or mercy and justice. It is a culture and a law or knowledge and jurisprudence. It is material and wealth or gain and prosperity. It is jihad and a call or army and a cause. And finally, it is true belief and correct worship.” (The Teaching, the first principle)

2-    The Principle regarding understanding the Quranic verses speaking about Allah’s attributes

“Recognizing Allah’s existence (Exalted be He), believing in His Oneness, and glorifying Him are the most sublime beliefs of Islam. We believe in the Quranic verses and authentic Ahadith of the Prophet (saws) which describe the exalted attributes of Allah and glorify His name. We also believe in the Quranic verses which are not entirely clear (mutashabihat), which serve this same purpose, without rejecting any part of them or attempting to interpret them on our own. We stand aloof from the differences which exist among the scholars concerning these verses; it is enough for us to adopt the attitude of the Prophet (saws) and his companions: “…and those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: ‘We believe in it; the whole of it (clear and unclear Verses) are from our Lord’…” (Ale-‘Imran: 7). (The Teaching, the Tenth Principle)

3-     The principle regarding forbidden to accuse Muslims of disbelief

“Never label as an unbeliever (kafir) any Muslim who has confessed the two declarations (Shahadatayn) of belief, acts accordingly and performs the obligatory (fard) duties of Islam unless he clearly professes the word of unbelief, refuses to acknowledge a fundamental principle of Islam, denies the purity of the Qur’an, or commits an evident act of unbelief.” (The Teachings, the Twentieth principle)

4-     The principle regarding tawassuland invocation

“Supplication to Allah via an intermediary is a minor difference of opinion – more to do with the method of performing supplication rather than a question of belief (‘aqidah).” (The Teaching, the fifteenth principle)

5-     The principle regarding ill thinking and claiming that one knows the unseen

“Talismans, incantations, placing of shells around the neck, fortune telling whether by drawing lines on sand or astrology, sorcery, and claiming to have knowledge of the unseen and similar practices, are all evil that must be fought, except what is mentioned in the Qur’an or transmitted to us as an authentic narration of the Prophet (saws). (The Teaching, the fourth principle)

6-     The principle regarding bid’ah that has no origin

“Every innovation (bid’ah) introduced by the people into the religion of Allah on the grounds of their whims and without authentic foundation, whether by adding to the principles of Islam or taking away from them, is a serious deviation which must be fought and abolished by the best means as long as it does not lead to a greater evil”. (The Teachings, the eleventh principle)

7-     The principle regarding bid’ahs pertaining to graves and the dead

“Visiting grave sites and tombs is an authentic sunnah if done in the manner prescribed by the Prophet (saws). But seeking the help of the dead, whomever they may be, appealing to them, asking them to fulfill certain requests, vowing to them, and swearing with their names instead of the name of Allah, building high tombs, covering them with curtains, illuminating them, and everything of the same nature, are evil innovations and major sins that must be fought. We do not need to interpret such actions offering excuses for them.”

8-     The principle regarding love, honor, and prestige towards those who are close to Allah

“Love of pious people, respecting them, and honoring their righteous achievements brings one closer to Allah (Exalted be He). These (the ones who are close to Allah) have been mentioned by Allah in the Quranic verse: “Those who believed (in the Oneness of Allah – Islamic Monotheism), and used to fear Allah much” (Yunus: 63). Honor and prestige are due to them with the conditions prescribed by Islamic Law, but we must firmly believe that they (may Allah be pleased with them) had no power over their own fates and, thereby, cannot avail or harm anymore after their death.” (The Teachings, the thirteenth principle)

The Method of Principles
(Principles Pertaining to Understanding the Principles of Fiqh)

There are some problems that the Ummah faces when dealing with the principles of Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence). These problems should be considered. There are also some regulations that, when neglected, stifle the process of revival. These regulations should be identified.

The science of Usul al-fiqh (Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence) is concerned with the method of reaching Shar’i rulings. The principles of this science are defined as a collection of rules and researches with which jurists can deduce practical shara’i ruling, i.e. fiqhi rulings. Scholars divided the sources of these principles into:

a)     Adopted principles, and these include the Qur’an, the Sunnah, consensus of the opinions (Ijma’), and analogical deduction (qiyas).

b)    Principles or proofs about which scholars have differed, and these are the sayings of the Companions, laws of the preceding nations, the actions of the people of Madinah, customs (‘urf), presumption of continuity (istishab), application of discretion in a legal decision (istishan), etc..

c)     Non-adopted principles and these include the principles that Sufis added like divine manifestation, visions, inspiration, and conceptions.

9-     The principle regarding reference

“The glorious Qur’an and the purified sunnah of the Prophet (saws) are the reference points for every Muslim to get acquainted with the rules of Islam. The Qur’an can be understood by applying the rules of the Arabic language without constraint or controversy, and the Sunnah can be acquired by reference to trustworthy transmitters of Hadith.” (The Teachings, the second principle) 

10-  The principle regarding non-infallibility of people’s sayings

“Everyone’s opinion, except that of the infallible Prophet (saws) is liable to changes and modifications. We accept all that has reached us of the opinions and rulings of the pious predecessors (Salaf) as long as they are in agreement with the Qur’an and the Sunnah. If this is not the case, the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of the His Messenger are more deserving of our adherence. However, we do not scorn or attack those individuals who differed, since we do not know what their intentions were or the circumstances that necessitated their decision.” (The Teachings, the sixth Principle)

11-  The principle regarding the non-adopted proofs of rulings

“True belief, proper worship, and jihad in the way of Allah have light and warmth. Allah casts them in the hearts of whomever He chooses from among His servants. Though they may be blessed, the visions, notions, inspirations, and dreams are not authentic references for Islamic Law, and therefore should not be given any consideration except when they do not conflict with the authentic references and established principles of Islam.” (The Teachings, the third principle)

12-  The principle regarding personal reasoning and imitation

“Any Muslim who has not reached the level to understand the different branches of Islamic jurisprudence may follow one of the four great Imams of this religion. And if so, he should try his best to grasp the evidence put forward while being open to the opinions (supported with evidence) of trustworthy people. This will provide him with enough knowledge to find the Islamic solutions to the contemporary problems of his society. Besides, if this man is from the people of knowledge, let him exert himself to acquire such a level of understanding.” (The Teachings, the seventh principle)

The Fiqhi Method
(Principles Pertaining to Understanding (Fiqh)

The extent to which we understand Islam is one of the most important factors that affect our movement towards the revival. Imam al-Banna discussed the most significant matters that we must follow in Fiqh so that it may become a source of mercy and common consent instead of difference and disagreement. Fiqh is a science that deals with Shar’i rulings. It is known that there are two fiqhi schools that appeared after the accident of performance of prayer in Banu Qurayzah. These two schools are the school of text, which deals with the content of the text, and the school of objectives, which is concerned with the reason why this text was mentioned.

13-  The principle regarding precedence between actions

“Belief (‘aqidah)
is the basis of action. The deeds done by the heart are more significant than those done by the organs. However, the Muslim is requested to attain improvement in both spheres, even though the degree of request is not the same.” (The Teachings, the seventeenth principle)

14-  The principle regarding following the opinion of an Imam

“The opinion of the Imam or his deputy is acceptable in matters having no text as proof, matters having variety of ruling, and matters pertaining to unrestricted interest, provided that his opinion does not conflict with any established principle of Islam. It may change in light of circumstances, customs, and convention. Rituals of worship are originally confined to mere worship with no consideration for meaning, while customary affairs are originally confined to hidden meanings, wisdom, and objectives.” (The Teachings, the fifth principle)

15-  The principle regarding forbidding causing division within the ranks of the Muslims

“In subsidiary matters of Islamic Jurisprudence, differences should not cause division, contention, or hatred within the ranks of the Muslims. To every seeker of knowledge is a reward. In cases of disagreement, however, there is no harm in objective scientific investigation in an atmosphere of love for the sake of Allah and cooperation with the aim of realizing the truth, as long as this does not lead to fanaticism, obstinacy, or controversy.” (The Teachings, the eighth principle)

16-  The principle regarding forbidding to waste time and effort in trivial matters that will not lead to action

“Wasting time and effort in investigating trivial matters that will not lead to action is forbidden in Islam. This category includes debating minute aspects of rulings in cases which have never occurred, investigating the meaning of the Quranic verses which are still beyond the scope of human knowledge, and differentiating between the Companions of the Prophet, or investigating the instances of disagreement that took place among them. Every Companion (may Allah be pleased with them all) has the honor and distinction of being a Companion of the Messenger of Allah (saws), and to each is the recompense of his motives. Besides, authenticating reports about them always secures a way out of controversy.” (The Teachings, the ninth principle)

17-  The principle regarding bid’ahs that have no origin in the religion

“There is a difference of opinion regarding innovations which do not contradict established Islamic principles (such as praising Imams and religious figures with pronouncements of their credibility) and binding people to acts of worship left open to one’s choice. We adopt what can be confirmed by sound evidence.” (The Teachings, the twelfth principle)

The General Method
(General Principles)

There are a number of principles that can be included in any of the pervious methods, particularly the method of deriving principles, but they seem to have something common between all the methods. That is why we regard them as general matters. They are:

18-  The principle regarding avoiding incorrect practices and deceiving terminology

“Incorrect practices which are common amongst people (known as ‘urf) are not to change the reality of Shar’i terms. Rather we must define the intended meaning. We must also be on the guard for deceptive words relating to worldly and religious matters. What is worth considering here is not names but what these names stand for.” (The Teachings, the sixteenth principle)

19-  The principle regarding the relation between Shar’i contemplation and contemplation of the mind

“Both Shar’i contemplation and contemplation of the mind may deal with what is attached to the circle of the other. But, they never differ as regards definite matters: no sound scientific fact will conflict with an established Shar’i one and the speculative matters of any of them should be interpreted to be in conformity with the definite one. If however the two are speculative, it is recommended to follow the Shar’i contemplation until contemplation of the mind is established or otherwise.” (The Teachings, the nineteenth principle)

20-  The principle regarding contemplation of the mind

“Islam liberates the mind, urges contemplation of the universe, honors science and scientists, and welcomes all that is good and beneficial to mankind. And, ‘Wisdom is the missing goal of the believer, so wherever he finds it, he becomes the most worthy of it’.” (The Teachings, the eighteenth principle)



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