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]