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What They're Reading in American Mosques, Pt. 3 – 'Umdat al-Salik' (Reliance of the Traveller)

NOTE: In addition to the alarming results of the survey, Shari’a and Violence in American Mosques– where 81% of mosques in this country contained texts that advocate violent jihad- the survey presents a standard that can give law enforcement a way to monitor or potentially to predict where violent jihad may take root. The mosques surveyed contained a variety of texts, ranging from contemporary printed pamphlets and handouts to classic texts of the Islamic canon. Of these, seven Islamic texts were selected that either ‘moderately’ or ‘severely’ advocated violent jihad. Nearly a decade after 9/11, Americans need more than ever to know what is being read in this country’s mosques. This series will provide a beginning guide to ‘the Islamist bookshelf’; readers will see that, rather than being old, dusty or obsolete religious tracts, the seven books described here are currently in use and, critically, form the basis for how modern Muslims actually understand Islam. In gathering materials and research for the Mapping Sharia website, we assessed the importance of each of the seven books, described their availability- usually, their ubiquity- in print and online. For those curious, we have attached links to PDFs of the complete works. At the end are samples of quotes advocating violent jihad found in the book. (Read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series).

3. Umdat al-Salik (The Reliance of the Traveller)

Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveller), in English and Arabic

The Reliance of the Traveller, or Umdat al-Salik, was composed in the 14th Century by Shihabuddin Abu al-‘Abbas Ahmad ibn an-Naqib al-Misri (1302-1367). It is a classical manual of Shafi’i fiqh, meaning it is an authoritative summation of the Islamic jurisprudence- also known as Shari’a- associated with the Sunni Shafi’i school. al Misri based the Umdat al-Salik on the previous Shafi’i works of Nawawi and Abu Ishaq as-Shirazi.

The Umdat al-Salik is broken into sections dealing with every area of life Shari’a is concerned with- from epistemological questions on “sacred knowledge” to practical legal rulings on marriage, divorce, trade, inheritance, fasting, zakat, etc. As Shari’a is the basis for the Islamic legal/political doctrine, the section on Jihad is located within chapter 9, “Justice.” It states, plainly:

Jihad means to war against non-Muslims, and is etymologically derived from the word mujahada, signifying warfare to establish the religion. Page 617

As is explained in the Umdat al-Salik– or with any manual of Islamic law, or Shari’a- “scholarly consensus is legally binding.” This means that, for Muslim followers of Shari’a, once a consensus of scholars rules on a matter, it is no longer subject for debate. According to al-Misri:

When the four necessary integrals of consensus exist, the ruling agreed upon is an authoritative part of Sacred Law that is obligatory to obey and not lawful to disobey. Nor can mujrahids [scholars] of a succeeding era make the thing an object of new ijtihad [Islamic legal opinion], because the ruling on it, verified by scholarly consensus, is an absolute legal ruling which does not admit of being contravened or annulled. Page 23-24

The Umdat al-Salik was translated into English by Nuh Ha Mim Keller (a prominent scholar of Islamic jurisprudence based in Jordan), and subtitled, “A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law.” This popular hardcover edition is published in the United States by Amana Publications, and features facing Arabic and English text.

In his introduction to the Umdat al-Salik, Keller notes that:

The four Sunni schools of Islamic law, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali, are identical in approximately 75 percent of their legal conclusions, while the remaining questions, variances within a single family of explainers of the Holy Koran and prophetic sunna, are traceable to methodological differences in understanding or authentication of the primary textual evidence, differing viewpoints sometimes reflected in even a single school. Page 3

Even given its age, the Umdat al-Salik is by no means an irrelevant or outdated document. Certificates of authenticity attest to the translation from the governments of Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia- and the text is the first Islamic legal work in a European language to receive certification from the most important seat of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, Cairo’s al-Azhar University. Kitaabun Books Services in Leicester, England- a UK distributor of the Umdat al-Salik- includes al-Azhar’s praise on their website:

We certify that this translation corresponds to the Arabic original and conforms to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni community (Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama’a). — Al-Azhar, the Muslim world’s most prestigious institution of higher Islamic learning (Cairo; February, 1991)

In addition, the opening pages of the Umdat al-Salik contains a similar endorsement from the Muslim Brotherhood-linked International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) in the United States (also from KBS):

There is no doubt that this translation is a valuable and important work, whether as a textbook for teaching Islamic jurisprudence to English speakers, or as a legal reference for use by scholars, educated laymen, and students in this language.” Dr. Taha Jabir al-‘Alwani, International Institute of Islamic Thought (Herndon, VA; December 1990)


The Umdat al-Salik, as translated into English by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, is published in the United States by Amana Publications in Beltsville, Maryland. It is a best-seller on, and can be found online in PDF form at Yousef al-Khattab’s Online Library.

Read It For Yourself

Author: Shihabuddin Abu al-‘Abbas Ahmad ibn an-Naqib al-Misri

Download: Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveller) (PDF, 1251 pages, 31.7MB)

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