Coming To Islam
As much as Islam (submission to Allah) is our natural state as people, there is plenty that becomes normalised in our lives that we need to adjust and remove when we go from being a non-Muslim to embracing Islam. Converts want to come to Islam in full submission, but our adjustment can be difficult because our worldview, our actual reality, and the lens through which we live our lives has to shift. There's so much we don't know.
When we learn about Islam, often through people with little understanding or through online sources which lack balance and comprehensive explanations, it is no doubt going to be confusing at some (many) points. We try to learn how to pray but realise there are different methods, we're told to follow a madhab (school of thought) but no one tells us what this actually means or why or how these different, apparently conflicting positions are justified. (read this)
In our striving to please Allah, we want to do it right, obviously, and we recognise that as new Muslims we don't know much- we can't trust ourselves to navigate through all the different positions and rulings and extra opinions about something as important as our religion. Salafism simplifies this for us. We can wonder about something and be told "this is the correct view" on that. It's easy because there is no other truly right way- and here's a fatwa to prove it. We seek certainty and get definitive answers in Salafi sources. But in our sprint towards ease we can end up making things more difficult for ourselves.
Islam is for everyone, and in most ways, it is one-size-fits-all- but even when something is one-size-fits-all, doesn't it still look different on different people?
To me, comparative fiqh is fascinating. And we (being the majority of Muslims) don't have to, and shouldn't interpret and relay a (translation of) hadith or ayah without context or understanding with the intention of arriving at a fiqh ruling. Similarly, if we were to absorb every fatwa specific to every community in Islamic history, we'd be so restricted with contradictions we might be lost without following an established school of thought.
Following A Madhab
If you follow a madhab, you'll know that even when fiqh from a different school contrasts with what you personally do, it's still accepted as a valid form of practice. Why? Because they've been determined using sets of principles. To new Muslims, this can result in confusion and be disheartening if you've been doing something one way and then someone (intentionally or unintentionally) implies that what you are doing is wrong, because it's not the way they do it.
Once I had a better understanding of madahib, their principles of fiqh and the Imams that established them I learnt to take that uncertainty about what was correct and turn it into more love for Islam. That doubt from lack of knowledge was replaced by appreciation and satisfaction that what I'm doing is justified through meticulous consideration of everything from Qur'an and sunnah relating to the issue, context, linguistic meaning, and application of other principles (such as consensus, reasoning, the ways of the people of Madina, among others, respectively) that brought us the comprehensive madahib that we know today.
I'm one of many Muslims who can't understand Arabic well (yet, in sha Allah), which is necessary to undertake any significant study in order to have a proper understanding of the fundamental sources of Islamic information. And I will probably never be able to commit my life to studying ahadith and Qur'an in order to understand rulings at a fundamental level from my intellect alone. That's why I learn my how-to's in Islam by studying a madhab, from fiqh produced through principle-based methods by the mujtahid (someone qualified to give Islamic rulings) who did.
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