Book Reviews

The Fiqh of Worship

Fiqh of Worship

Title: The Fiqh of Worship
Commentary on ibn Qudamah’s ‘Umdat al-Fiqh (The Reliable Source of Fiqh)

Commentary and Translation: Dr. Hatem al-Haj
Publisher and Edition: 2011, International Islamic Publishing House (IIPH)
Pages: 384

Availability: Easily available for purchase online


Fiqh or Muslim Ritual Law is an essential element of Islamic practice, history, and scholastic tradition. Its application has permeated Muslim culture and the works written by a rich tradition of Islamic legal scholars have played a defining role as a foundational element of Islamic civilization. For this reason, the study of fiqh is the basis from which Islamic societies derived their understandings of the role of the divine in daily practice.

The Author: Ibn Qudama

Ibn Qudama (1147 – 1223 CE) was born in Palestine where he memorized the Quran at an early age and moved to Baghdad where he studied under some established scholars such as Shaykh Abdul-Qadir al-Jilani in his final days.

Ibn Qudamah wrote four major books in Fiqh which served as a curriculum, the first one (Umdat) suitable for the absolute beginner and the last one (Mughni) qualifying the student as a jurist. Umdat fil Fiqh by Ibn Qudamah is a basic textbook of Islamic jurisprudence according to the school of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal. As an aside, Ibn Qudama also wrote ‘Mukhtasar Minhaj all-Qasidin,’ a spiritual manual derived from Imam al-Ghazali’s ‘Ihya Ulum ad-Din’.

The Commentator: Dr. Hatem al-Haj

Dr. al-Haj is an Egyptian-American pediatrician who left his career at Mayo Clinic and dedicated himself to teaching Islam. He holds advanced degrees in medicine and traditional Islamic Studies and is one of the most humble individuals I have ever met who displays high level of Islamic adab.

The Book

The complete Umdat al-Fiqh has been translated by Muhtar Holland and published by Al-Baz Publishing, Inc. The present book is a partial translation and commentary of the sections of:

  • Purification (Tahara)
  • Prayer (Salah)
  • Obligatory charity (Zakat)
  • Fasting (Sawm)
  • Pilgrimage (Hajj)

The book is taught at Mishkat University, an online Islamic university, in the BA program. It is not suitable for Sunday schools, but is an excellent choice for college students, adult learning classes, and as weekend seminars. The book is not suitable for self-study, but is designed for learning in a traditional setting with a scholar. The commentator divides the page into three parts:

  1. Arabic text and translation at the top of the page
  2. commentary and notes below
  3. space for student notes

What I Like

  • A solid translation of the standard classical text of the Hanbali tradition by a noted Muslim scholar who brings his secular and Islamic learning to the commentary
  • On p. 28 the author provides a valuable guide to abbreviations used in the commentary: ‘Consensus,’ ‘Contemporary Issues,’ ‘Commentator’s Choice,’ ‘Textual Evidence,’ etc.
  • The commentator cites the hadith and frequently mentions Hanafi and Shafi opinions. It is essential, in my opinion, to promote tolerance in matters of fiqh.

What Can Be Improved?

  • Sometimes the positions of modern Hanafi scholars are not mentioned on the controversial points (e.g. wiping over thin socks)
  • The format can be confusing. The visual transition between the text and the commentary can be improved.
  • The guide to abbreviations can be included on every page as the commentary refers to them frequently. In the meantime, one can photocopy the guide, use it a bookmark, and use it when reading the book.