An-Nawawi never wrote a book on aqeedah. His aqeedah may, however, be derived from his commentary on Sahih Muslim.
When talking about difference of aqeedah, at least from what I noted in the chapter, the author is referring to the Names and Attributes of Allah subhaana wa ta’aala. Whatever Allah and His Messenger have said about Allah’s Attributes is accepted and true; without needing to reinterpret. Reinterpretation is known as ta’weel. For example, interpreting “Allah’s Hand” to mean His Power or Mercy would be ta’weel. Allah says He has a Hand, therefore, we believe that He has a Hand. wAllahu ‘Alam (Allah knows best).
An-Nawawi made ta’weel in his commentary of Sahih Muslim, but it would seem that An-Nawawi was not consistent in doing it. Therefore, there are many different opinions as to what aqeedah he followed.
May Allah have mercy on Ibn Taymiyyah, who said,
Almost everyone of the later scholars had some mistakes in his writings due to the misconceptions and confusions spread by the heretics. That is why one will find in many o fthe writings on legal theory, creed, fiqh, asceticism, Qur’anic commentary, and hadith, that a person will quote a number of different views and people but the view with which Allah sent His Messenger will not be mentioned. This is not because they do not like what the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam taught, but simply because they had no knowledge of it.
An-Nawawi lived at a time in which the Ashari school of thought was dominant. In the introduction of his Majmoo’, he wrote that one should resort to ta’weel in order to refute the heretic groups.
Some people of to two extremes when it comes to An-Nawawi: some reject all of his works because he made ta’weel on some occasions, whereas others may blindly follow him, even in that which goes against the Qur’an and Sunnah. Of course, both such people would be incorrect. Following a middle path is more correct, as Ibn Taymiyyah so beautifully said:
No one is permitted to follow the slips of the scholars. Similarly, no one is allowed to say anything about the people of knowledge and father except for what is becoming of them. Verily, Allah has overlooked the mistakes of the believers. Allah says [in the Qur’an as a supplication], “Our Lord, do not hold us responsible if we forget or err.” (2:286) And Allah said, “I have done so.” We have been ordered to follow that what has been revealed for us from our Lord and we do not accept or follow anyone else as our patron besides Him. We have also been ordered not to obey any created being in an act which is disobedience to the Creator. Furthermore, we seek forgiveness for our brothers who proceeded us in faith. We say [as Allah has taught us in the Qur’an]: “Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers who have proceeded us in faith.”
Even if we feel that a scholar following the Qur’an and Sunnah made a mistake, we must maintain our respect for them. We should also keep in mind that just because someone has made a mistake in aqeedah, it does not doom him to hell. Perhaps the person was a mujtahid [exercising his mental capabilities and striving to find the truth], for whom Allah has forgiven his mistake. It is also possible that he didn’t have enough information about the topic to come to the correct conclusion.
Ibn ‘Uthaymeen was asked about An-Nawawi and ibn Hajr, and he gave a lengthy reply. I’m just posting a snippet here:
The two shaykhs and preservers of the religion have their place of prominence, honesty and great benefit for the Muslim nation. Even if they made some mistake in reinterpreting some of the texts mentioning the Attributes [of Allah], such mistakes are covered and immersed by what they had of virtue and great benefit. We suspect that what they stated was only the result of their own personal ijtihaad and a permissible form of interpretation – at least in their view.
An-Nawawi was of the Shafi’ee school of thought. Among the Shafi’ees, an-Nawawi and al-Rafi’ee became known as al-shaikhain, or “the two shaikhs.”
He was a great faqih (jurist). He was not muta’asib (a blind and patriotic follower of a specific school of fiqh). That basically means he could follow the laws of the Shari’ah directly from the Qur’an and Sunnah. He had a great love for the hadith of the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. He was much better grounded in hadith than a lot of scholars. In the long run, it made him a superior jurist.
There are three aspects that stand out in an-Nawawi’s writings:
- They are widely accepted and appreciated.
- He wrote so much in a short period of time (again, look at how blessed his time was). He was only 44 when he died. In a span of 12 – 13 years, he compiled some of the most important works in Islam. It is said that he wrote 50 books.
- An-Nawawi’s style of writing – the clarity, conciseness and comprehensiveness of his writing.
A Great Sunnah
Another thing I’d like to mention here is that an-Nawawi began a great Sunnah for this Ummah. Before an-Nawawi, scholars – even the scholars of hadith – would mention hadith in their books without mentioning if the hadith was authentic or not. In his works of fiqh, an-Nawawi discussed the hadith, mentioned who recorded it and declared whether it was authentic or not.
Some of his most famous works include:
Al Majmoo’ Sharh al-Muhadhdhab
Along with Ibn Qudhamah’s Al Mughni, this is considered one of the best fiqh works ever. It is a commentary on fiqh
His Commentary on Sahih Muslim
It is the best commentary on hadith ever, along with Ibn Hajr’s Fath al-Baari (a commentary on Bukhari). An-Nawawi was an expert in hadith, Arabic language and fiqh, making this commentary the main reference for Sahih Muslim. It was one of the last works that an-Nawawi completed in his lifetime. He completed it in two years.
He began a commentary on Bukhari, but unfortunately, he never completed it 😦
Riyadh as Saliheen (Gardens of the Righteous)
This is a collection of Qur’anic verses and hadith arranged according to topic. Just like the 40 hadith, many scholars have written similar books, but none so widely accepted and popular as an-Nawawi’s. One reason for popularity: there are very few weak hadith. This is not surprising, as an-Nawawi was a very strong scholar of hadith.
Raudhat al Talibeen wa Umdat al Mufteen
This is one of the most important works of the Shafi’ee school of thought. It is an abridged version of one of al-Rafi’ee’s works. Not only is it abridged, but an-Nawawi often differed with the authors conclusions. Amongst the other interesting aspects of this book is that he distinguishes Shafi’ee’s old views in Iraq from the new ones in Egypt. Unfortunately, an-Nawawi left out evidences for the positions he stated. He meant to edit it, but passed away before he could.
Another one of the most important fiqh works of the Shafi’ee madhab (or school of thought) : ) an-Nawawi abridged al-Rafi’ee’s Al-Muharrar. Since the time of an-Nawawi, it is standard practice for the Shafi’ee’s to memorize this work.
An-Nawawi taught for many years and many people benefited from him. Amongst his well known students: ibn al-Attar, the great scholars of hadith Jamaal al-Deen al-Mizzi, Abu al-Abbaas ibn Faraah, al-Badr Muhammad ibn Jamaah and Abu al-Rabi al-Haashimi.