Categories of Human Actions

Answered by Sidi Moustafa Elqabbany

I believe there is some difference between the schools regarding the punishability of certain acts. In the Maliki school all sunnah mu’akkada are mandub and there is no punishment for not performing them so that it is not a sin to not perform them. Similarly, in that school makruhat do not carry a punishment but a reward for non-performance. How are the sunnah mu’akkada and makruhat treated in the Shafii school as regards punishment and reward?

Answer:
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

In most cases, the Shafii school divides the rulings of human actions into five categories:

Obligatory (Ar. Wajib) acts are those that the Lawgiver has required of us. One who performs them out of obedience to Allah is rewarded and one who doesn’t is worthy of punishment.

Recommended (Ar. Sunnah) acts are those that the Lawgiver has ordered us to do without strictly requiring them. Anyone who does these acts out of obedience to Allah is worthy of reward. However, one who doesn’t do them is not worthy of punishment. Optional acts are subdivided into three categories:

I. The confirmed sunnas (Ar. Sunnah Mu’akkada). These are acts that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) never abandoned except on rare occasion to demonstrate that they are not obligatory. One who doesn’t do these acts is worthy of blame and censure, but is not sinful.

II. The regular, non-confirmed sunnas are those that the Lawgiver has ordered generally, but which the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) was not consistent in performing, such as fasting on Thursdays. One who abandons these acts is not worthy of blame or censure.

III. Matters of decorum (Ar. Adab) and merit (Ar. Fadl) are those that are not a part of the law, but that were a practice of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace). Doing such acts out of love for the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) will bring one closer to Allah. Such acts include dressing, speaking, and eating like the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace).

Merely permissible (Ar. Mubah) acts are those that the Lawgiver has neither required of us nor prohibited us from. Examples of such acts are eating and sleeping. One is neither rewarded nor punished for such acts. However, these acts can be transformed into acts of worship by intending drawing closer to Allah through them. For example, one can eat or sleep with the intention of strengthening one’s body for the worship of Allah. Similarly, when working at one’s job or doing housework, one can intend caring for others (or some other noble intention) in order to draw closer to Allah.

Disliked (Ar. Makruh) acts are those that the Lawgiver has ordered us to abstain from but has not prohibited outright. A person who commits such an act is not sinful, but one who avoids it out of obedience to Allah gets a reward. This is known as preferential dislikedness (Ar. Karaha Tanzihiyya) and it is the usual (and unqualified) meaning of dislikedness in our school. This is in marked contrast to our Hanafi masters, who often use the term to mean prohibitive dislikedness (Ar. Karaha Tahrimiyya), which is far more serious in its implications. The ruling of prohibitive dislikedness rarely appears in Shafii texts.

Forbidden acts are those that the Lawgiver has prohibited outright. A person who commits such acts is worthy of punishment and one who avoids them out of obedience to Allah is rewarded, Allah willing.

When one reads texts that refer to The Five Rulings (Al-Ahkam Al-Khamsa), it is referring to the above categorization.

Allah the Exalted knows best.

Moustafa Elqabbany
Metro Vancouver, Canada