Friday, 6 November 2009

Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveller) - Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri


Shihabuddin Abu al-'Abbas Ahmad ibn an-Naqib al-Misri (1302 – 1367) was a Sunni Shafii scholar who excelled in the area of fiqh (jurisprudence). He wrote the text Umdat al-Salik wa Uddat al-Nasik (Reliance of the Traveller and the Tools of the Worshipper) as a comprehensive introduction to Shafii fiqh.

The text has been rendered into English by the American Muslim scholar Nuh Ha Mim Keller with the title “Reliance of the Traveller”.

Fundamental Ideas

This is a classic manual of fiqh rulings based on Shafii School of jurisprudence and includes original Arabic texts and translations from classic works of prominent Muslim scholars such as al Ghazali, al Nawawi, al Qurtubi, al Dhahabi and others. It is an important reference for Muslims who need to research on Islamic rulings on daily Muslim life containing more than 6,000 rulings of Islamic Law, a biography of every person mentioned, an extensive bibliography and subject-index.

Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri based his work on the previous Shafii works of Abu Ishaq as-Shirazi and the conclusions of Nawawi's encyclopaedic al-Majmu: Sharh al-Muhadhdhab (The Compendium: An Exegesis of the Rarefaction) and Minhaj at-Talibin (The Seeker's Road), works that consist of the soundest positions of the Shafii school.

There are three introductory sections before the main work to form a user's guide to fiqh, as well as eight major appendices after the main work that consist of various topics, ranging from personal ethics and character to Islamic spirituality and tenets of faith. There is also a biographical section at the end providing background to the figures mentioned throughout the book's legal texts.

The book starts with an introductory chapter on Sacred Knowledge, covering traditional Asharite ideas of “Good and Bad” (husn and qubh) and how the mind is unable to determine such notions without the guidance of revelation. It then goes on to discuss the superiority of sacred knowledge over devotion, the sin in seeking knowledge for aims other than for Allah’s pleasure, the individual and communal nature of the obligation of seeking knowledge and finally, which subjects do not fall under the ambit of sacred knowledge.

The translation then commences with al-Misri’s text, commencing with the traditional chapter of ritual purification (and impurities) before elaborating a chapter on the ritual prayers, the obligatory prayers as well as the recommended and supererogatory.

The book continues with an elaboration of the details of zakat, fasting and pilgrimage before looking at trade, inheritance , marriage, justice and the major sins in Islam as well as considering some traditional Sufi topics before ending with a summary of the scholars cited in the text.


The text advocates the strongest positions of the Shafii school of legal thought and succeeds in doing this well. The translator maintains both the original Arabic alongside the translation which makes it useful for referencing the original. However the convenience of the small text al-Misri produced is lost by the extensive additional chapters the translator adds from his own Sufi background rendering a final text of over 1000 pages.