In a hadith narrated by Imam al-Bukhari, the Prophet s.a.w. said:
مَنْ يُرِدِ اللَّهُ بِهِ خَيْرًا يُفَقِّهْهُ فِي الدِّينِ
"If Allah wants goodness for a person, He grants him a deep understanding of the religion.”
The Covid-19 pandemic witnessed the emergence of new problems and challenges. In dealing with these challenges, Muslims must be equipped with certain types of understanding. One of the types of understanding that every Muslim should know especially in this current pandemic is Fiqh Awlawiyyat or commonly known as the Fiqh of Priorities. This article attempts to provide answers to the following questions:
1. What is Fiqh Awlawiyyat?
2. Are there verses in the Quran which are related to Fiqh Awlawiyyat?
3. Did the Prophet s.a.w. teach Fiqh Awlawiyyat through his actions and words?
4. What are some principles related to Fiqh Awlawiyyat?
5. What are examples of the application of Fiqh Awlawiyyat in this current pandemic?
Linguistically, Fiqh means understanding. Some scholars are of the opinion that the word Fiqh does not merely mean understanding but a deep understanding of something. As for the word Awlawiyyat, it means priorities. To put it in a simple manner, Fiqh Awlawiyyat means understanding priorities.
Fiqh Awlawiyyat or understanding priorities refers to the act of placing every matter accordingly to its proper hierarchy with justice. Based on this understanding, if there are two things that are important, the one that is more important should be given priority.
There are several verses in the Quran that are related to Fiqh Awlawiyyat. One of which is in Surah Al-Bayyinah:
وَمَآ أُمِرُوٓا۟ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ ٱلدِّينَ حُنَفَآءَ وَيُقِيمُوا۟ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَيُؤْتُوا۟ ٱلزَّكَوٰةَ ۚ وَذَٰلِكَ دِينُ ٱلْقَيِّمَةِ
“And they were not commanded except to worship Allah, (being) sincere to Him in religion, inclining to truth, and to establish prayer and to give zakah. And that is the correct religion.”
(Surah Al-Bayyinah, 98:5)
According to scholars of Tafsir, this verse is related to the People of the Book (the Jews and Christians). They were commanded in the Torah and the Injil to worship Allah sincerely, as well as to perform the prayer and zakah. This verse shows the importance of ikhlas (sincerity) in acts of worship.
Based on this verse and other evidence from the Quran and Sunnah, scholars conclude that the action of the heart (ikhlas) is more important than the physical actions performed by the limbs. Ikhlas is, therefore, the core of an ibadah (worship). An act of worship will not be accepted by Allah if it is not accompanied by ikhlas. In a hadith narrated by Imam Muslim, the Prophet s.a.w.said:
قَالَ اللَّهُ تَبَارَكَ وَتَعَالَى أَنَا أَغْنَى الشُّرَكَاءِ عَنِ الشِّرْكِ مَنْ عَمِلَ عَمَلاً أَشْرَكَ فِيهِ مَعِي غَيْرِي تَرَكْتُهُ وَشِرْكَهُ
“Allah the Most High and Exalted said: I am the One, One Who does not stand in need of a partner. If anyone does anything in which he associates anyone else with Me, I shall abandon him with one whom he associates with Allah.”
Besides the Quran, there are many hadiths which are related to Fiqh Awlawiyyat. One such example is a hadith narrated by Imam Muslim:
أَحَبُّ الأَعْمَالِ إِلَى اللَّهِ تَعَالَى أَدْوَمُهَا وَإِنْ قَلَّ
“The acts most pleasing to Allah are those which are done continuously even if they are small.”
Imam Muslim placed this hadith under the chapter, “The virtue of a deed that is done continuously whether it be Qiyam al-Layl (night prayers) or anything else”.
This hadith shows that not all good deeds are the same. Some good deeds are more pleasing to Allah than the rest. Good deeds even if they are small but performed continuously are better than good deeds which are performed for a short period of time.
Scholars have extracted many principles related to Fiqh Awlawiyyat from the Quran as well as the Sunnah of the Prophet s.a.w. Here are some principles related to Fiqh Awlawiyyat:
1. Quality should be given priority over quantity.
2. Understanding is given priority over memorization.
3. Acts of worship which are continuous should be given priority over those which are not.
4. Actions that benefit many people should be given priority over those which benefit a particular individual.
5. Compulsory actions should be given priority over those which are sunnah.
6. Matters in the category of daruriyyat (necessities) should be given priority over matters in the category of hajiyyat (needs).
7. Things that are placed under the category of hajiyyat (needs) should be given priority over those under the category of tahsiniyyat (luxuries).
The understanding of Fiqh Awlawiyyat is extremely important in the current Covid-19 pandemic. When the temporary suspension of congregational and Friday prayers was announced last year in early 2020, there were some who voiced their disagreement with the fatwa, arguing that protection of religion (hifz al-din) should be given priority over protection of life (hifz al-nafs).
According to them, the maqasid (objective) of protecting the religion in the form of performing congregational and Friday prayers is more important and should be given priority over the maqasid (objective) of protecting lives in the form of taking preventive measures such as closing the mosque.
It is true that the protection of religion is given priority over the other daruriyyat (the necessities or essentials) according to the majority of scholars of Usul Fiqh and Maqasid. However, the temporary suspension of congregational and Friday prayers in mosques does not mean that protection of life is given priority over the protection of religion.
In this pandemic, the protection of peoples’ lives falls under the category of daruriyyat (necessities) while performing congregational and Friday prayers fall under the category of hajiyyat (needs) or tahsiniyyat (complementary or embellishments). When these two matters collide, the one which is at the level of daruriyyat is given priority over the one which is at the level of hajiyyat or tahsiniyyat. Such an understanding is in line with Fiqh Awlawiyyat where matters in the category of daruriyyat (necessities) should be given priority over matters in the category of hajiyyat (needs).
Fiqh Awlawiyyat or understanding priorities refers to the act of placing every matter according to its actual order and hierarchy with justice, whether relating to rules, values, or actions. Fiqh Awlawiyyat ensures that when two things that are important collide, the one which is more important should be given priority.
This Fiqh is not a new type of Fiqh introduced by contemporary scholars. It is a Fiqh which has its roots in the Quran and Sunnah. With the emergence of new problems and challenges in this current Covid-19 pandemic, it is extremely important for every Muslim to understand Fiqh Awlawiyyat.
 Mufti of Federal Territory, “Irsyad Usul Fiqh Series 52: Suspension of Friday prayer, is it considered as prioritizing life compared to religion”