Kitab Al-Kasb Series (Part 48): Legal Ruling on Plastering Mosques with Gypsum and the Like

Every Wednesday, I will share a part of the translation of the book Kitab Al-Kasb (the book of Earning a Livelihood) written by Muhammad Ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaybani.

Part 48: Legal Ruling on Plastering Mosques with Gypsum and the Like
Imam Muhammad Ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaybani says, “There is no harm in plastering mosques with gypsum, teak, or gold paint.”

Al-Sarakhsi says, “Our teacher, the Imam Shams al-A’immah al-Halwani used to say, ‘It is implicit in the wording the allusion to the fact that a person is not rewarded for doing that, for he said: there is no harm; and this phrase is used for absolving from blame, not for affirming reward”. This means that it suffices for a person that he is merely not held to account for doing this per se, and this is the legal position of the jurisprudents.

But the people of literal understanding abhor that and they consider sinful whoever does that. They say, “Because in this there is contradicting the Messenger of Allah in what he chose as the way; for indeed, when it was said to him, ‘Shall we not take apart your mosque and then we build it (afresh)?’, he said, ‘No; but rather a canopy like Musa’s, or he said, ‘…a canopy like Musa’s canopy’ [Documented by al-Haythami]. Moreover, the roof of the mosques of the Messenger of Allah used to be of dried palm fronds, and it used to leak when rains fell on them, so much so that they used to prostrate (when praying) in water and mud.” [Allusion to the hadith narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim].

And it is narrated from Ali that he once passed by an embellished and ornamented mosque, and was brought to say, “For whom is this church?” Now, he only said that due to his abhorrence for this manner of work on mosques [Narrated by Ibn Abi Shaybah].

When al-Walid ibn Abd al-Malik (Umayyad caliph) sent forty thousand dinars for the purpose of adorning the mosque of the Messenger of Allah the money was brought to the attention of Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz whereupon he said, “The poor are more in need of this wealth than columns.” The basis of this is what was narrated from the Messenger of Allah that he said, “Among the signs of the last hour is that mosques are embellished, and the minarets raised high, while their hearts are bereft of faith.” [Hadiths of different wordings but similar import are narrated by Abu Dawud, al-Nasa’i ibn Majah, Abu Ya’la and Ibn Khuzaymah].

But we say, “There is no harm in doing that because of what it involves of augmenting the congregation of worshippers, encouraging people to engage in a spiritual retreat in the mosque, and sitting therein in anticipation of the prayer. And in all these there devotion and obedience; and moreover, actions are by intentions.”

Furthermore, the proof that there is no harm in doing that is what was narrated that the first who built the mosque of Jerusalem (Bayt al-Maqdis) was Dawud (David) then Sulayman (Solomon) completed it after him, and he embellished it until he placed a ruby jewel on the top of the dome. It became the most impressive and exquisite thing known during that time, and it used to sparkle over a mile’s distance, and the woman spinners use to spin (cloth) by its light at night from a mile’s distance (away).

Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib was the first who embellished the Sacred Mosque after the passing away of the Messenger of Allah. ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab embellished the mosque of the Messenger of Allah and expanded it. Likewise, Uthman after him, who built a mosque with his own money and expanded it, and went to great lengths to adorn it. This shows that there is no harm in doing so.

Now, the interpretation of what (apparently) contradicts this position (of there being no harm) is already alluded to at the end of the hadith (in question), “… while their hearts are bereft of faith,” which means that they adorned the mosques, yet were not constant in performing the congregational prayer therein; or it means that the adornment was no funded from wholesome wealth, or that it was for the objective of eyeservice or ear service. So these apparent contradictions can be interpreted away along some of these lines in order for there to be concord between the different reports on the issue.

All of this (is acceptable) if a person does so by using his own wealth which he earned licitly; but as for when he does so by using the mosque’s wealth, then he is sinning by doing so. For the mosque’s wealth should only be used to fortify its structure, whereas embellishment has nothing to do with fortifying and building at all, so much so that our teachers say, “The mosque trustee should plaster the walls with gypsum with the mosque’s funds, but he should not embellish by engraving the plastered walls with the mosque’s funds; but if he does so, then he is liable (for it), for plastering fortifies the building, but engraving on the plaster is weakening the building not fortifying it, hence the trustee is held accountable for what he expends of the mosque’s funds on it.

Imam Muhammad Ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaybani says, “Do you not see that a person may construct for himself a house, and engrave its roof with gold paint, yet he does not become sinful for doing so?”.

By this, he means that the person spends on embellishing his house with the intention of himself benefitting from it only, whereas in spending for embellishing the mosque he is benefitting himself and others. Hence, if it is permissible for him to spend his wealth for benefitting himself in this manner, then it is even more permissible for him to spend it for benefitting himself and others; and moreover, we have been directed to hold the mosques in high esteem.

There is no doubt that holding the mosques in high esteem means, in the hearts of some people of the lay public, augmenting the mosques by beautifying them; and hence in this manner, a person is rewarded for what he does. (It is narrated) in a hadith that the Prophet says, “The believer is rewarded for spending his wealth in everything except in building,” [Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and al-Tabarani],  and in some narrations, there is the addition, “…other than mosques” [Documented by al-Suyuti]. If the soundness of this addition is established, then it is proof that a person is rewarded for what he spends on building mosques and embellishing them.


22 The Book of Earning-700x700

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Author: Abu Tariq Abu Tariq Muhsin is a zakat officer for Zakat Centre of Federal Territory of Malaysia. A writer, researcher and publisher of various writing focusing on Zakat & Islamic studies.

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