Shaltut's Fatwa on the Permissibility of Acting Upon Shi'a Jurisprudence

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Text of Shaltut's fatwa in recognition of the arguments in Shi'a jurisprudence

Shaltut's fatwa on the permissibility of adopting Shi'a jurisprudence is a ruling issued by Mahmud Shaltut, the president of al-Azhar University in Egypt at the time, allowing Muslims to follow the Imami jurisprudence. This fatwa was motivated by the recognition of the superiority and stronger reasoning behind certain legal rulings found in Shi'a jurisprudence relative to Sunni jurisprudence.

One outcome of this fatwa was the establishment of a position for teaching comparative jurisprudence and Shi'a jurisprudence at al-Azhar University. Additionally, the fatwa had a profound impact on the attitudes of Salafists, who previously considered Shi'a Muslims as outside the fold of Islam. Shaltut's fatwa received endorsement and praise from certain Sunni scholars, including Muhammad al-Ghazali, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Muhammad al-Fahham, the former president of al-Azhar. However, it also faced criticism from others such as Abd al-Latif al-Subki and Abu al-Wafa Kiristani. Interestingly, Yusuf al-Qardawi, a Sunni scholar who edited some of Shaltut's works, denied that Shaltut ever issued such a fatwa.

Issuance and Significance of the Fatwa

Shaltut's fatwa was issued in response to an inquiry regarding the permissibility of following Imami and Zaydi Shi'a jurisprudence. It was issued by Shaltut, a Hanafi jurist who served as the president of al-Azhar University at the time and was a co-founder of Dar al-Taqrib bayn al-Madhahib al-Islamiyya (House of Proximity among Islamic Denominations). The fatwa was issued on Rabi' al-Awwal 17, 1378/October 17, 1958 which coincided with the birthday of Imam al-Sadiq (a). Representatives from Imami Shiism, Zaydi Shiism, and the four Sunni jurisprudential schools were present during the issuance of the fatwa. Some believe that Shaltut's fatwa was influenced by the efforts of Muhammad Taqi Qummi and Sayyid Husayn Burujirdi during the establishment of Dar al-Taqrib.

Prior to the issuance of this fatwa, Sunni scholars generally did not permit the adoption of Shi'a jurisprudence. It is reported that Shaltut's motivation for issuing this fatwa stemmed from the recognition of the superiority and strength of the arguments in Shi'a jurisprudence, particularly in areas such as inheritance and divorce, when compared to Sunni jurisprudence.

One consequence of this fatwa was the establishment of a position for teaching comparative jurisprudence and Shi'a jurisprudence at al-Azhar University in Egypt. Additionally, the fatwa reportedly had a profound impact on the attitudes and behaviors of Salafists in Saudi Arabia, who previously excommunicated Shi'a Muslims from Islam.

Text of the Fatwa Inquiry

According to the request of fatwa addressed to Mahmud Shaltut, some individuals held the belief that adherence to religious rulings necessitated following the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, while Imami and Zaydi Shi'a jurisprudences were considered unacceptable. The questioner sought the opinion of Shaykh Mahmud Shaltut regarding the permissibility of following Islamic denominations such as Imami and Zaydi Shi'a. In response, Shaltut stated that Islam does not require strict adherence to any specific school of jurisprudence. He emphasized that every Muslim has the freedom to follow any jurisprudential approach that employs proper methodology. Shaltut further asserted that following the Twelver Shi'a jurisprudential school is permissible, just like the Sunni jurisprudential schools, and that Muslims should avoid unjustifiable bias towards any particular school of jurisprudence.

Shaltut forwarded the text of the inquiry and his fatwa to Muhammad Taqi Qummi, who served as the general secretary of Dar al-Taqrib, for archiving purposes. Muhammad Taqi Qummi then passed the document, complete with Shaltut's signature, to Sayyid Muhammad Hadi Milani, where it is currently preserved in Astan Quds Razavi in Mashhad, Iran.

  • Translation of the fatwa request from Shaltut:

Some individuals hold the belief that, in order for a Muslim's acts of worship and transactions to be considered valid, they must adhere to one of the four well-known schools of jurisprudence, which do not include Imami Shi'a and Zaydi jurisprudence. Do you generally agree with this opinion, which does not allow for the following of the Imami Shi'a school of jurisprudence?

  • Translation of Shaltut’s fatwa:

Islam does not mandate that its followers adhere to a particular school of jurisprudence. On the contrary, we state that every believer has the right to choose and follow any of the properly transmitted schools whose rulings are well-documented in their respective books. Furthermore, it is permissible for someone who follows one school to switch to another without any issue in this regard.

The Ja'fari school, also known as the Twelver Imami school, is a valid religious denomination that can be followed just like the Sunni schools. It is important for Muslims to be aware of this and avoid any unfounded biases or unwarranted support for a particular school. The religion of God and Sharia are not limited to or bound by any specific school. Any individual who has attained the level of ijtihad is considered a mujtahid, and their actions are accepted by God. For those who do not possess the capacity for ijtihad, it is permissible to follow a mujtahid and act according to their jurisprudence, both in matters of worship and transactions.


Following the issuance of Shaltut's fatwa, there were various reactions, both in support and opposition to it.

Supportive Responses

  • Muhammad Albahi, a leading member of Majma' Taqrib, expressed his support for the arguments presented in Shi'a jurisprudence and consequently endorsed Shaltut's fatwa.
  • Muhammad al-Sharqawi wrote a note titled "al-Azhar and the schools of Islamic jurisprudence," in which he described Shaltut's opinion as courageous, self-sacrificing, and sincere.
  • Following the issuance of the fatwa, Muhammad Taqi Qummi, the general secretary of Dar al-Taqrib bayn al-Madhahib, wrote an article entitled "The story of proximity [among Islamic sects]." In this article, he emphasized the necessity of fostering such proximity and discussed its dimensions, highlighting the importance of proximity between Shiism and Sunnism. The article was published in the journal Risalat al-Islam.
  • Muhammad Muhammad al-Madani, the editor-in-chief of the journal Risalat al-Islam and the dean of the Sharia Faculty at al-Azhar University, wrote an article titled "The shake of resurrection in the Sharia Faculty." In this article, he rejected the notion that Imami and Zaydi Shias were excessively extremist, emphasizing that they differed from other Shi'a sects. He also expressed his support for Shaltut's fatwa regarding the inclusion of Shi'a jurisprudence in al-Azhar's curriculum, addressing inquiries on the matter.
  • Muhammad al-Ghazali wrote a note titled "Early on the way" in the al-Azhar journal, where he praised Shaltut's fatwa as a significant step. In this note, he highlighted the efforts of Nader Shah in promoting unity among Islamic sects and successfully recognizing Shiism as the fifth official denomination of Islam. Additionally, he sarcastically criticized certain Muslim scholars in his remarks.

Opposing Responses

  • Shaykh Abd al-Latif al-Subki, the head of the fatwa delegation and a prominent figure among Hanbalis in al-Azhar, authored a scathing critique of the efforts towards unity between Shiism and Sunnism. He dismissed these endeavors as mere empty fantasies, claiming that they were pursued unilaterally by Sunni Muslims.
  • Yusuf al-Qaradawi categorically denied the existence of any fatwa issued by Shaltut on this matter, pointing to its absence in Shaltut's published works. However, Muhammad Hassoun countered al-Qaradawi's claim by explaining that this fatwa was issued after the publication of Shaltut's books. Furthermore, the Egyptian Mufti Ali Gomaa explicitly referenced this fatwa in his discussions on Shabaka Isharat al-Akhbariyya.
  • Umar Abdullah Ahmad penned an article in which he cited several Sunni scholars who opposed Shi'a perspectives, thereby questioning Shaltut's fatwa.
  • Abu al-Wafa Kiristani wrote a letter to Shaltut expressing his criticisms. In response, Mahmud Shaltut provided further elaboration on his fatwa.