Tahseen (Approbation) and Takbih (Disapproval)
Author : Dr. Jadallah Bassam
Date Added : 28-01-2024

Tahseen (Approbation) and Takbih (Disapproval) between Reason and Sharia

"One of the Landmarks of the Methods of Fatwa and Deduction in the Jurisprudence of Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jama'ah"



The religion of Islam is based on servitude to Allah in all aspects of life. The actions, beliefs, character, and interactions of a Muslim, whether with oneself or others, are regulated by this principle. Understanding this concept makes a person eligible to comprehend the realities of divinity and fulfill the obligations of servitude, while avoiding following one's desires and redirecting them towards obedience. Allah, the Almighty, says {What means}: "Then seest thou such a one as takes as his god his own vain desire? God has, knowing (him as such), left him astray, and sealed his hearing and his heart (and understanding), and put a cover on his sight. Who, then, will guide him after God (has withdrawn Guidance)? Will ye not then receive admonition? [Surah Al-Jathiya: 23].


The scholars of theology (Ilm al-Kalam) and principles of jurisprudence (Usul al-Fiqh) have discussed a significant aspect of servitude known as "tahseen" (approbation) and "taqbeeh" (disapproval). The researchers in this field have comprehensively addressed this matter, presenting the evidence, exploring various perspectives, and responding to opposing views, particularly those held by the Mu'tazilah. Through their discussions, the underlying principles of this issue became clear, establishing that tahseen and taqbeeh are matters of religious judgment rather than rational ones.


In this article, my sole intention is to draw attention to certain points of contention in the issue, clarifying areas of agreement. This is aimed at dispelling doubts that some writers and thinkers have fallen into, which should not be attributed to the scholars of Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jama'ah, including theologians, scholars of principles, and jurists. Therefore, with the help of Allah, seeking His guidance, I say:

Regarding the terms "al-Husn" (excellence or goodness) and "al-Qubh" (ugliness) in language, they are clear opposites in meaning. Al-Husn is the opposite of al-Qubh, and it is used to praise and commend. "Al-Tahseen" is the act of beautifying something, and the derivation of the verb refers to the concept of making something excellent. Therefore, "Tahseen" is the act of making something good or excellent, while "Taqbeeh" is the act of making something ugly. There is no dispute among people regarding these linguistic meanings, as they are quite clear.


As for what caused the disagreement among the sects in the first place, it is the determination of the origin of judging human actions as commendable or condemnable. In other words, what is the rationale behind evaluating actions and rulings as either good or bad? The followers of the Sunni tradition, in accordance with the principles of belief, assert that the origin of this lies in the decree of Allah, which can only be known through the teachings of Sharia. Hence, they speak of "legislated commendation and condemnation." The Mu'tazilites and those who agree with them, however, have differing opinions. They fluctuate between stating that the origin of commendation and condemnation lies in the action itself or in a quality within it. According to them, the intellect can comprehend this on its own and is not contingent upon waiting for the guidance of Sharia. Thus, they advocate for "rational commendation and condemnation."


I would like to emphasize that one of the reasons for disagreements among intellectuals is what scholars of research and debate refer to as "failure to clarify the intended meaning." When the intended meaning is clarified, the disagreement tends to diminish, and the points of contention may disappear. After elucidating the intended meaning, there may be little room for dissent, and the positive aspects of the argument become apparent. Therefore, the investigation into the mentioned issue revealed the invalidity of the Mu'tazilites' position. Scientific inquiry prevailed, grounding commendation and condemnation in accordance with Islamic law. The jurists then established this as a criterion for deduction and derivation.


For the sake of scientific clarity and the duty to elucidate the intended meaning, we find that scholars and theologians, in their examination of the issue in the works of earlier and later scholars, engage in clarifying the intended meaning and specifying the areas of disagreement and agreement before anything else. We are doing so now, as it is the ultimate goal of our discussion. We will follow up with a brief statement to address some side points.


The elite scholars and theologians from various generations of the Ash'ari school, such as Al-Ash'ari himself and his disciples, Al-Baqillani, Al-Juwayni, Al-Ghazali, Al-Razi, Al-Amidi, Al-Baydawi, Ibn al-Hajib, Al-Sabki, and Al-Saad, as mentioned in the accredited books and their commentaries, agree that the evaluation of actions as commendable or condemnable falls within the scope of human intellects based on one of three possibilities. There has been consensus between us and the Mu'tazilites on the origin of two of these possibilities, while there is disagreement on the origin of the third. I will mention them here in order ([1]):


The first meaning is that "al-husn" (commendable) carries the sense of perfection, while "al-qubh" (condemnable) carries the sense of deficiency. For example, when we say that knowledge, the perfection of the body's form, and the completeness of its abilities are commendable, we mean that commendable here implies perfection. Conversely, ignorance, the loss of a body part, or the lack of its balance to the extent that it appears deformed—all of these are considered condemnable, signifying deficiency. The Ash'ari scholars have affirmed that this commendable and condemnable, according to this meaning, are rational and do not require explicit guidance from the divine law. If we were to conceive of these meanings before the existence of the Sharia, we would still judge commendability or condemnability based on the understanding of these things as perfection or deficiency. The followers of the Sunni tradition have asserted that this is an area of consensus among intellectuals in general, not subject to dispute between the rational thinkers, whether they be Mu'tazilites or others.


The second meaning is that "al-hasan" (commendable) refers to what is in harmony with nature and purpose, while "al-qubh" (condemnable) refers to what contradicts them. For example, consuming nutritious and delicious food of various kinds that appeal to the senses, breathing fresh air, and contemplating the meanings of beauty—all of these align with human nature and purpose, making them commendable in this sense. The recognition of their commendability is not dependent on Sharia. On the other hand, ingesting harmful poison or exposing oneself to harm, such as facing death, robbery, and the like, does not align with human nature or purpose, rendering them condemnable in this sense. According to the followers of the Sunni tradition, this meaning is apprehended by reason, and they assert that it is an area of consensus among intellectuals.


As for the third meaning, "al-hasan" (commendable) refers to actions for which one will be rewarded on the Day of Judgment, while "al-qubh" (condemnable) refers to actions that entail punishment. For example, performing the specific physical movements known in Sharia as "prayer" is commendable (hasan), meaning it will be rewarded on the Day of Judgment. Conversely, neglecting to perform these actions is condemnable (qubh), meaning it will incur punishment on the Day of Judgment. This third meaning is where the well-known disagreement has occurred.


It is evident that the statement of the followers of the Sunni tradition is correct. How could the intellect, on its own, know that the performance of certain actions will lead to reward or punishment? How could it determine the obligation or prohibition of something without any established divine law? Moreover, how could the intellect make judgments in these matters, while knowing through its own rational evidence that the assignment of reward and punishment to actions and the declaration of something as obligatory or prohibited are among the unique attributes of divinity? These are inherent aspects of the absolute divine will, unrestricted by limitations or boundaries. However, when it comes to the intellect, it falls within the realm of permissible estimation in all respects. Thus, the intellect is dependent on the guidance of the divine law to pass judgment on what is commendable or condemnable.


The scholars have clarified that the third meaning is the one that naturally comes to mind when examining the origin of commendation and condemnation. Based on this, they have asserted that it is of a legal nature. They have not denied the commendation and condemnation by reason according to the first and second meanings.


The scholars have highlighted the spontaneous emergence of the third meaning and stressed that the issue of reward and punishment is within the realm of the realities of divinity and the attributes of power and will. Therefore, they have judged the assertion of rational commendation and condemnation in the aforementioned third sense as being far removed from the principles and branches of Islam. It is not favored by Muslims and does not find any acceptance. Al-Baqillani, a prominent scholar in the field of Usul al-Fiqh (the principles of Islamic jurisprudence), stated, "A Muslim does not say that knowledge of the goodness of something inclines the nature towards it and hastens to benefit from it, and knowledge of its ugliness causes the nature to recoil from it. Nor does he say that this is the meaning of describing something as 'hasan' (commendable) or 'qabih' (condemnable), because nature tends towards avoiding scrutiny and investigation, seeking comfort, indulging in desires, and warding off pain through various means, including avoiding looking deeply into the proofs of monotheism and abstaining from fasting in hot weather, prayers, pilgrimage, and all acts of worship. However, this is not an indication of their ugliness. A Muslim does not find joy in realizing the meaning of 'hasan' and 'qabih' in this way. Many of the Qadarites and their allies from the Magians, Sabians, and others rely on this interpretation of 'hasan' and 'qabih,' and it is contrary to the religion of the Muslims" ([2]).


In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that the fruit of this issue is that a jurist, when engaging in deduction and derivation, must strictly refer to the sources of Islamic law, without resorting to general considerations of interest. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that out of the mercy and generosity of Allah, many legal rulings are based on legitimate reasons that serve the interests of humanity and protect them from harm.


When the matter becomes clear, it is inconceivable for someone to claim that the jurisprudence of the Sunni scholars does not establish the actions of individuals, whether in society or privately, based on a systematic jurisprudential and ethical foundation built on wisdom. Similarly, asserting that the four Sunni legal schools do not consider the humanity of individuals and their aspirations for emancipation from oppression, or claiming that Islamic Sharia, as viewed by the Sunni consensus, does not bring worldly benefits but is contrary to human interests and goals in life – all these statements are unlikely to be made except by a group of modernist philosophers or followers of flawed philosophical approaches that lack a foundation rooted in a true belief in divinity. This is because they differ in the foundational principles regarding the perspective on Allah, the world, and the place of humans in worshiping Allah. We ask Allah for guidance and protection.



([1]) There are numerous references on this issue, both linguistic and jurisprudential. For example, see Al-Sa'di Al-Tafutazani's "Tahzeeb al-Kalam wa Sharhuhu" by Al-Sanandaji, Vol. 2, p. 192, and Al-Sabki's "Jam' al-Jawami' ma'a Sharh al-Mahalli bi Hashiyat al-'Attar," Vol. 1, p. 78.

([2]) Al-Baqillani, "Al-Taqreeb wa al-Irshad al-Saghir," edited by Abu Zaneed, Vol. 1, p. 285.
















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Summarized Fatawaa

Is it permissible for the mother to offer an Aqeeqah (the sheep slaughtered on the seventh day from the child`s birth)for her son?

Aqeeqah is due on the one obliged to provide for the newborn, and it is permissible for the grandfather, or the mother to offer the Aqeeqah.

Is it permissible for a wife`s family to demand her husband to divorce her although she doesn`t want that?

It is forbidden for them to do that in case their daughter doesn`t want divorce unless there was a sin that continues as long as the marriage survives.

Is the Saum(Fasting) of someone who ate and drank forgetfully while offering fasting of oath expiation invalidated ?

Whosoever eats, or drinks forgetfully is exempted by Allah; therefore, he/she shouldn`t break their fast whether it was obligatory, non-obligatory, or expiatory.

Should one obey his mother even if she was wrong?

Obeying one`s mother is mandatory in matters that are beneficial to her and as long as she drive her children to commit sin.