On Abu Bakr al-Asamm

Bismillah.  Another interesting piece by Arnold Yasin Mol.
The Mu’tazilah Abi Bakr al-‘Asamm (أبي بكر الأصمُّ) was an early scholar and judge (died 220H/843CE), well respected by the then Sunni caliph. As far as I know none of his complete works have survived, but many tafasir/Qur’an commentaries mention his opinions and interpretations in their works, especially Imam al-Razi, al-Tabarsi and al-Tusi. From their works Dr. Hudr Muhammad Nabha has distilled al-‘Asamm’s tafsir into one volume, which I’m researching now. Al-‘Asamm has many interesting opinions that show that to him, reason/’aql has more authority than tradition/naql, a typical early theological Kalam tafsir approach (tafsir al-ra’y/exegesis of opinion) of the Mu’tazilah school.

One of the surprising and rare opinions is on the place of Surah al-Fatiha in the daily salat prayer. As far as I know, all scholars deem it mandatory to recite it in the daily prayers, although they differ if it has to be recited with every raka’ah. This is also how the tafsir of al-‘Asamm begins before the surprising twist:

(في المسائل الفقهية المستنبطة من هذه السورة : أجمع الأكثرون على أن القراءة واجبة في الصلاة، و عن الأصمّ والحسن بن صالح أنها لا تجب.) “On the deduced juristic issue on this chapter: The consensus of the majority on its mandatory recitation in the prayer. And (the opinion) of al-‘Asamm and al-Hasan bin Salah that it (the recitation of al-Fatiha) is not mandatory.”

Al-‘Asmm’s proof (حجّة الأصمّ) is that the Prophet’s saying (صلّوا كما رأيتموني أصلي) “Pray as you’ve seen me pray”, (جعل الصلاة الأشياء المرئية والقراءة ليست بمرئية، فوجب كونها خارجة عن الصلاة) and this makes the prayer of the visual things and recitation is not visual. Thus what is only mandatory is the exterior of the prayer.”

Further on he is quoted as saying: (وهو أن القراءة غير واجبة أصلا) “And the recitation (in prayer) is not a primary obligation.”

His interpretation of the famous Hadith “Pray as you’ve seen me pray” [graded hasan in Bukhari] is unique in that that the term “ra’ytumuni/you’ve seen me” is reduced to visual observation only, and all the things said, every prayer and Qur’an recitation, are thus not part of the mandatory Sunna of prayer. Only the movements are mandatory, but not the spoken contents. There are of course many other Ahadith/Prophetic traditions concerning prayer and al-Fatiha’s place in it, but the above mentioned Hadith belongs to on of the most accepted traditions among the schools, and thus it seems al-‘Asamm took the most used and accepted Hadith on prayer and interpreted it in a way which makes most of the other Ahadith on prayer unauthentic. Was he aware that this opinion would make all the verbal sayings in the prayer, next to Qur’an recitation, not prescribed in a mandatory way? As the Qur’an nowhere clearly mentions how or what to pray (it only gives direction/qibla, timings, general movements, and that the Qur’an is recited in it without specifying what parts), it may explain al-‘Asamm’s reluctance to make anything outside of the Qur’an mandatory practice, but I’ve to research his opinions more to see if he takes similar stances elsewhere. The Mu’tazilah laid great emphasis on the Qur’an as unique revelation, and saw Ahadith not really as secondary revelation. Ahadith were a source of knowledge and were needed to understand the rituals of worship, but they were not as enforcing as the Qur’an or human reason.

Interesting is that this opinion of al-‘Asamm became his most infamous one as he is mentioned in several works on prayer (Fiqh al-‘Ibadat) as ‘the one who alone believes al-Fatiha is not mandatory in prayer’.

[p.31, Tafsīr Abī Bakr al-‘Asamm, Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2007, Beirut]

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4 Responses to “On Abu Bakr al-Asamm”

  1. sayedahmad201 Says:

    Here are my comments on the article Abu Bakr al-Asamm
    Since this article is lengthy, therefore to save time and to make short my comments I will copy the part on which I want to write my comments on and then I will write my comments about that.
    If we go to the introduction part of the article under the name of “Another interesting piece by Arnold Yasin Mol.” In one part of it, it is written “As far as I know none of his complete works have survived, but many Tafseer/Qur’an commentaries mention his opinions and interpretations in their works, especially Imam al-Ra “Pray as you’ve seen me pray” [graded Hassan in Bukhari] Termizi, al-Tabarsi and al-Tusi. From their works Dr. Hudr Muhammad Nabha has distilled al-’Asamm’s Tafseer into one volume, which I’m researching now.”
    From the works of Dr. Hudr Muhammad Nabha it is clear that Al Asamm has provided his own Tafseer of Quran Karim. This Tafseer of Quran Karim by him means that he has not paid any attention to the following order of the verse 7 Al Emran which states: Translation; likewise he send to you a book, part of which are commands that are the main part of the book and part of it are similarities and analogous, then those whose aim is perversion and aberration are following these similarities and analogous for the sake of creating seduction and seducement, and covet from its interpretation. No one except Allah (s.w.t) knows its interpretation. But the intellectuals of them who are firm in knowledge say that; we believe in it, all of them are from Allah (s.w.t) no one will remember this fact except the man of understanding.
    And according to the verse 33 Al Forqan which states that: Translation; no example has been introduced to you unless it was found to be the best explanation to bring you forward to the truth and correct understanding of the fact.
    These two verses clearly show that, we can only make the translation of Quran Karim and not its interpretation and Tafseer, as the Tafseer of Quran Karim has been made by Allah (s.w.t). And no one is more intellectual then him to provide better or equivalent Tafseer of Quran Karim.
    Then it means that; Abu Bakr al-Asamm has violated these orders of Quran Karim to achieve some evil aim he wanted to achieve. This aims can be understood after studying his Tafseer.
    In the mean time in another part of this introduction it was narrated from Abu Bakr “Al-’Asamm has many interesting opinions that show that to him, reason/’aql has more authority than tradition/naql, a typical early theological Kalam tafsir approach (tafsir al-ra’y/exegesis of opinion) of the Mu’tazilah school. “
    Here we see that he is encouraging people to rely on his reasoning / Aql then relying on tradition/naql. Here once again we observe that he transgressed the verse 50 Al Qesas which in its last part it states that: who is the more aberrant then the one who is relying on his own way of reasoning and Aql without relying on Quran Karim.
    And as we go to the rest of the article we will observe the true fact of the verse 7 Al Emran; which in part of it; it was said, people are trying to make Tafseer of Quran Karim for some evil aims they have. One of the Evil aims of Abu baker was to tell the people to quit from Quran Karim and rely on their own logic and reasoning as the present great majority of the Muslims are doing. And thus are facing different calamities and disasters and is much away from the orders of Quran Karim. And thus all those are not performing based on Quran Karim will face the torture of the fire of the hell.
    So far as the recitation of Al Fateha and other verses of Quran Karim during Salat are considered, its recitation is compulsory: Here is short answer for this:
    If we go to the verse 45 Al Ankaboot which states that: Translation: Recite Quran Karim and pray Salat. Verily Salt prevents you from adultery and fornication and rebutting and this is the best way of reminding Allah (s.w.t). Allah (s.w.t) know s what you are doing and performing.
    This is obvious when someone reminds someone he says something about him. Now this question comes to us, what we should say when we remind Allah (s.w.t)? To answer this question we will go to the verse 239 Al Baqarata, in part of this verse it says that: remind Allah (s.w.t) the way he has taught you. And if we go to the verses 1 and 2 of Al Rahman we will read there: Translation; The Allah (s.w.t) taught you Quran Karim.
    It means that: when you pray Salat you should recite some verses of Quran Karim.
    So far as reciting of Al Fateha is considered; we know that in the verse 2 of Al Baqarata it states that: Translation: That book, without any doubt is the guide for those they fears from Allah (s.w.t). Since this book starts with
    بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
    And then Fateha; therefore we should start when we want to recite some verses of Quran Karim, the recitation should start with reciting
    بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم
    And then we should recite Al Fateha in order to be straight on the guide lines.
    But un fortunately the follower of wrong Ahadith are guiding themselves and others in wrong and impossible direction. As for example they say based on a so called authentic Hadith (“Pray as you’ve seen me pray” [graded hasan in Bukhari]”), According to this Hadith since we cannot see him then we should not pray, which is not true.
    This is this fact that: I tell all the Muslims to Clutch on Quran Karim and study everything based on Quran Karim to be safe and achieve best results of their performance. Otherwise they will not achieve anything of their activities for the dooms day.

  2. wildmystic Says:

    As you are well aware – this opinion is not recorded by any book of al-Assam but it is found in Tafsir al-Kabir of al-Razi – who advances his views on the matter to some length.

    It is likely that al-Assam had more evidences and proofs for his judgement.

    As to the basis of al-Fatiha being mandatory or not is the following Quranic verse:

    وا ما تيسر منه وأقيموا الصلاة وآتوا الزكاة وأقرضوا الله قرضا حسنا وما تقدموا لأنفسكم من خير تجدوه عند الله هو خيرا وأعظم أجرا واستغفروا الله إن الله غفور رحيم

    “So recite what is easy from it” 73:20.

    Hanafi are of a similar opinion – that if al-Fatiha is made Fard – then the generality conveyed by Maa ما becomes redundant. For this reason they combine the Ahadith and the command conveyed of the Quran by giving reading al-Fatiha the status of Wajib [as opposed to Fard].

    – – –

    “and thus it seems al-’Asamm took the most used and accepted Hadith on prayer and interpreted it in a way which makes most of the other Ahadith on prayer unauthentic.”

    I do not know what you mean when you say:

    “which makes most of the other Ahadith on prayer unauthentic.”

    How so?

    Also – as far as I know – this Hadith is still of class Khabar al-Wahid – then how is it more authentic? The Hadith – No prayer without Fatiha – is of a similar status.

    – – –

    As far as his interpretation goes – it is clearly wrong. As al-Razi points out – “Pray as you’ve seen me” is not limited to the visual physical prayer.

    The word Sa-La-Wa – means to supplicate – in other words verbally. This is how Salah acquired its technical meaning.

    – – –

    المعتمد في أصول الفقه

    By Abu Hussain al-Basri is a useful book on the early Mutazilah methodology and principles. I wonder if you have studied it?

  3. Jibreel Says:

    Assalamalaykum Dr Hasan. I have been thinking about the theory of evolution. but i have trouble reconciling it with a few verses that seem to have similar meanings: Here are the verses: “O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate” 4:1

    “He it is Who did create you from a single soul, and therefrom did make his mate that he might take rest in her. “” 7:189

    “He created you from one soul. Then He made from it its mate” 39:6

    This seems to imply that Eve was created from Adam, this appears to contradict Evolution. Do you know any other meanings of these verses? I would really appreciate your help.

  4. Ahmed Says:

    Hadith Qudsi: Abu Huraiyra (ra) narrated. Recite Al Fatiha to yourself, for I have heard the Prophet (May the blessings and peace of Allah be up on him) say: “Allah (mighty and sublime be He), had said: ‘I have divided prayer between Myself and My servant into two halves, and My servant shall have what he has asked for.

    When the servant says: ‘Al-hamdu lillahi rabbi l-alamin’ 

    Allah (mighty and sublime be He) says: ‘My servant has praised Me.’And when he says: ‘Ar-rahmani r-rahim’ 

    Allah (mighty and sublime be He) says: ‘My servant has extolled Me,’and when he says: ‘Maliki yawmi d-din’ 

    Allah says: ‘My servant has glorified Me’ – and on one occasion He said: ‘My servant has submitted to My power.’ And when he says: ‘Iyyaka na budu wa iyyaka nasta in’ 

    He says: ‘This is between Me and My servant, and My servant shall have what he has asked for.’ And when he says: ‘Ihdina s-sirata l- mustaqim, siratal ladhina an amta alayhim ghayril-maghdubi alayhim wa la d-dallin’ 

    He says: ‘This is for My servant, and My servant shall have what he has asked for.’”

    This instance is proof that knowledge without guidance from above is redundant, and as the Prophet said, like a donkey carrying a heavy load of books…

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