Form & Matter

أفاد حجة العصر مولانا الشيخ محمد قاسم النانوتوی رحمه الله: «الفرض کالمادة والواجب كالصورة»، يريد أن الفرائض في وجودها المعتبر شرعا يحتاج إلى الواجبات كما أن المادة تحتاج إلى الصورة .

( معارف السنن ١:٧٣)

A fundamental doctrine of Aristotelian metaphysics is that ordinary objects of our experience are composites of form (صورة ) and matter (مادة ) – a doctrine known as hylemorphism (sometimes spelt hylomorphism) – after the Greek words ‘hyle‘ (matter), and ‘morph‘ (form).

For instance, a rubber ball is composed of a certain matter, namely rubber and a certain kind of form, namely the form of a red round bouncy object. The matter by itself isn’t the ball for the rubber could take on the form of a door stop, an eraser, or any number of other things. The form by itself isn’t the ball either for you can’t bounce redness, roundness or even bounciness down the hallway, these being mere abstractions. It is only the form and matter together that constitute the ball. What Shaykh Qasim Nanotwi alludes to in the above statement is that Fardh acts are matter and Wajib acts are forms is essentially that for an act to exist, it requires that both matter and form exist together. Taking ritual prayer as an example, according to the Hanafi school, the matter is: takbir, qiyam and qira’ah etc; and reciting surah fatiha, and the final tashahhud etc is the form.

Taking this analogy further, we can understand the sophisticated and well-nuanced understanding of the Hanafi jurists when they state that certain acts require sajdat sahw (prostration of forgetfulness) and certain acts require the ritual prayer to be repeated. To use the above example of the rubber ball: sometimes a change in the rubber ball constitutes some non-essential feature, as when a red ball is painted blue but remains a ball nonetheless. Sometimes it involves something essential, as when the ball is melted into a puddle of goo and thus no longer counts as a ball at all. The former sort of change is a change in ‘accidents’, and the latter change is a change in ‘substance’, and corresponding to each is a distinct kind of form: what makes something exist substantially is called substantial form and what makes something exist accidentally is called accidental form. For a ball merely to change its colour is for its matter to lose one accidental form and take on another, while retaining the substantial form of a ball and thus remaining the same substance, namely a ball. For a ball to be melted into goo is for its matter to lose one substantial form and take on another, thus becoming a different kind of substance altogether, namely a puddle of goo. Along a similar line of thought, substantial change in the wajib actions necessitate the prayer to be repeated, whilst accidental change necessitate that sajdat sahw be made.

Shaykh Anwar Shah’s Presidential Address (1927)

Maulana Anwar Shah Kashmiri (1875-1933), a native of Kashmir, was a leading Islamic scholar and taught in the Darul-’Uloom at Deoband, India’s premier Islamic madrasa. Among the many Muslims who crusaded for the country’s independence from the British and called for an India where people of all communities could live together in peace and harmony and justice were numerous Deobandi ulama. Their leading role in the freedom struggle and in the effort to form a united front of all religious communities for a new India have, sadly, been largely forgotten. It is crucial that such voices be retrieved and an important part of Indian history—the heroic role of many Muslim leaders in the movement for free India—be brought before the general public.This translation of certain sections of a lecture of historical importance by Maulana Anwar Shah Kashmiri is a small effort in this regard.This lecture was delivered by Maulana Anwar Shah Kashmiri as a presidential address to the 1927 Peshawar meeting of the Jamiat ul-Ulama-i Hind. The lecture, recently published in Urdu by the Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Research Centre (Kokerbagh Dak Khana, Nowshehra, Srinagar, Kashmir) runs into over a hundred pages in the original Urdu. The Presidential Address of Hazrat Allama Anwar Shah Kashmiri to the Annual Session of the Jamiat ul-Ulama-i Hind, Peshawar, 1927. Continue reading →