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FARD AL-KIFAYAH. In Muslim legal doctrine the fard al-kifayah (lit., “duty of the sufficiency”) defines a communal responsibility. According to this doctrine, within a community of Muslims, if some religious obligation belonging to the category of fard al-kifayah is not fulfilled, the whole have collectively sinned. If a sufficient number of the community undertake the duty, however, the responsibility on the community is discharged; for example, it is necessary that at least one Muslim recite the funeral prayers. If no one does, the entire community is at fault. If, however, someone performs the service, the obligation is lifted from the entire community. If a foundling is neglected, the entire community is at fault; if someone cares for it, the penalty is not applied to the community. The remarkable feature of this doctrine is that for this set of obligations a Muslim may have his or her duty discharged by someone else; likewise, for someone’s neglect, another Muslim can be punished.

Although it is tempting to describe the fard al-kifayah as a collective duty, it is one which can in some cases be discharged by a single individual. It is more accurate to say that fard al-kifayah can be an occasion for collective transgression if it is not sufficiently discharged.

The doctrine of fard al-kifayah is an old one, though the terminology is post-Qur’anic. It is plausible to suppose that it is implicit in the Qur’anic assumption that some, but not all, will “struggle in the way of God.” In any case, by the time of al-Shafi’l (d. 820) the doctrine is taken for granted-returning a greeting, prayer for the dead, and the obligations of jihad are all assumed to be obligations of the sufficiency (Risalah, section 971). In a foreshadowing of the importance that fard alkifayah is to have, al-Shafi’i extends the scope of the doctrine to argue that there are two sorts of knowledge and hence two sorts of obligations: those incumbent on scholars and those incumbent on the generality of Muslims.

Fard al-kifayah was one of the major vehicles used by jurists to talk about society in the aggregate, as a collective entity. It is not too much to suggest that fard alkifayah/fard al-`ayn take the places in moral discourse of the concepts of public and private spheres. By the eleventh century CE, the sources’ lists of fard al-kifdyahs are a virtual compendium of the religious and moral obligations that glued Islamic society together, including: undertaking proofs and demonstrations to know what God has established and what attributes must be ascribed to him; the study of the sciences of the shar`, that is, Qur’dnic commentary, hadith, and the law; the quest for the legal position on novel cases (ijtihad); serving as judge; issuing legal opinions; competence in medicine; the ability to determine the direction of prayer; preparation of the dead; returning a greeting; bearing witness; calling to prayer; the practice of crafts and industries; buying and selling; warehousing; writing biographical dictionaries; rescuing a foundling; undertaking jihad; and commanding the good, and forbidding the reprehensible.

In recent Muslim literature, there is some evidence of a reconsideration of this doctrine as a way to discuss social responsibility. Sayyid Qutb, for example, in his Social Justice in Islam (1987) contrasts social concern (al-takafful al-ijtima’i) and public concern (takafful `amm), which “makes everyone in a locality directly responsible for those who suffer from hunger” (p. 62; 70) Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in his Tawzih al-masd’il (1983) says that commanding the good and forbidding the reprehensible is a fard al-kifayah (wdjib kifd’i) unless accomplishing this requires the whole of those morally responsible to act (p. 573 ff.; questions 2786 ff.). In this instance, it becomes an obligation to act together. Fard al-kifdyah may prove an important concept in the restatement of values that in the 1900s is so prominent in the Muslim world.

[See also Fard al-`Ayn.]


Khomeini, Ruhollah al-Musavi. Risalah-i Tawzih al-Masd’il. Tehran, 1983. Translated by J. Borujerdi as A Clarification of Questions: An Unabridged Translation of Resaleh Towzih al-Masael. Boulder, 1984. Qutb, Sayyid. Al-`adalah al-ijtimd’iyah ft al-Islam. Cairo and Beirut, 1987. Translated into English by John B. Hardie as Social justice in Islam. Washington, D.C., 1953.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/fard-al-kifayah/

  • writerPosted On: November 26, 2012
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