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What is Considered a Large Body of Water in the Hanafi School?

Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas

Question: I wanted to ask what the dominant position in the Hanafi school is regarding the determination of a large amount of water – 10×10 area whose bottom is not uncovered with a handful of water or a cistern whose one end is not disturbed by the stirring of its other end. It mentions in al-Wajeez fee al-Fiqh al-Islami that the former was the opinion of Saahibayn and the latter of Imam Abu Hanifah (rahmatullah ‘alayhim).

Answer: assalamu `alaykum

I pray you are well.

The position that scholars give fatwa on is that a large body of water is one that is more than  10 cubits by 10 cubits in surface area whose surface is not exposed when water is scooped by hand. [Shurunbulali, Maraqi al-Falah; Ibn `Abidin, Hashiya]

The Position of Abu Hanifa

The position famously narrated from Abu Hanifa is that a large body of water is what the onlooker considers a large body of water. Thus, the onlooker uses his own judgment to determine whether filth effecting one side would effect the other. If he believes it will not, it is considered a large body of water. [Tumurtashi, Tanwir al-Absar] It is also said that Imam Muhammad went back on his original position and adopted the position of Abu Hanifa. [Haskafi, Durr al-Mukhtar].

This is based on a key principle of Abu Hanifa that legal estimations are to be based on revelation and if revelation has not stipulated anything then it is consigned to the judgment of the onlooker. [Ibn Humam, Fath al-Qadir; Ibn `Abidin, Hashiya]

The Fatwa Position

Despite the above, most later authorities of the school stipulated that a large body of water is one that is more than 25 square meters in surface area. This position was chosen by the likes of Imam Mawsili in his Ikhtiyar, Sadr al-Shari`ah in his Sharh al-Wiqayah, Imam Marghinani in the Hidayah, and Qadhi Khan in his Fatawa.

This is also the original position ascribed to Imam Muhammad. [Ibn `Abidin, Hashiya]

These authorities also added that the depth of the water should be such that the bottom surface of the water not be exposed when scooped by hand.

The reason behind stipulating this was to make things easier on the laity and not burden them with the task of making such judgments. The scholars understood that much of the laity are not fully capable of making such judgments and leaving the matter to them could cause hardship, misgivings and doubts. [Ibn `Abidin, Hashiya]

Finally, it should be noted that this estimation was not randomly selected but follows from the original position of Imam Abu Hanifa. The scholars based their estimation on experience to determine what surface area is generally required to prevent filth from spreading to the other side of a body of water when originally effecting only one side. [Mawsili, Ikhtiyar]


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