Kissing the hand of a scholar is Sunna
The following is a refutation by Shaykh Hisham Kabbani of a fatwa which states kissing the hand of a scholar is haram

Question: Is it allowed to kiss the hand of an 'aalim? Some 'ulamaa' regard this as sort of respect.

Albani's answer: Kissing the hand of an 'aalim has a basis in the Sunnah; however, this basis is one of allowable action, not one of a recommended example. Nowadays in many Islaamic lands, many of the shaykhs do not know the example of the Prophet (saw) of shaking hands with his Companions: as Abu Dhar said, "Whenever the Messenger of Allaah (saw) met us, he would shake hands with us." These shaykhs only know how to extend their hands to be kissed; as for extending the hand to shake, they have no idea! This sort of kissing in place of shaking hands is not allowed. The Prophet (saw) encouraged his ummah, "Any two Muslims who meet and shake hands before parting, their sins fall as leaves fall from a tree in autumn."

Shaykh Hisham says:

The question is not about Muslim brothers meeting and shaking hands but about the etiquette of the ordinary Muslim meeting the older `alim or scholar of Religion. Similarly, the hadith of the Prophet's meeting the Companions and shaking hands with them does not apply as much as the hadiths of the Companions coming up to the Prophet and kissing his hand do. This is an important difference which is altogether overlooked, whether inadvertently or deliberately, in the above answer. Nor did it escape our notice that Shaykh Albani's reply declares the same thing allowed and yet not allowed at one and the same time.

As for the claim that "Nowadays in many Islaamic lands, many of the shaykhs do not know the example of the Prophet (S) of shaking hands with his Companions" and "These shaykhs only know how to extend their hands to be kissed; as for extending the hand to shake, they have no idea," then this is iftira' -- slanderous fabrication -- of the sort which have been unfortunately accustomed from that source, as Shaykh Hasan `Ali al-Saqqaf amply demonstrated in his compendium of Albani's insults of the `ulama entitled Qamus shata'im al-Albani. Let us repeat the excellent warning our master Mawlana Shaykh Nazim gave concerning the stance of "Salafis" regarding the ethics of respect in Islam: "They want to break the relationship between the Believers and their Teachers in Islam."

Allah ordered the Prophet: "Lower your wing for the believers" (15:88) from which some have inferred the order to show courtesy to Muslims, and He said: "Who magnifies the sacred symbols of Allah, then it is better for him with his Lord" (22:30), and: "Who magnifies the symbols of Allah then it is truly from the piety of hearts" (22:32). The scholars are, after the Prophets, of the greatest symbols of Allah on earth and the receptacles of the Religion. To insult them or seek to lower their image in the eyes of Muslims is a grave sin indeed. To insult a Muslim is one of the Kaba'ir, then what about those who insult their teachers? To insult the awliya' is an even greater enormity, and al-Shafi`i said that the scholars are the foremost awliya'. That is why the Prophet warned strenuously against harming the rights of the scholar in Islam when he said in an authentic hadith: "Whoever does not know the rights of our scholars is not one of my Community" (which Albani authenticated in his Sahih al-targhib 1:44!).

The least that one may say about kissing the hand of the scholar in Islam is what Imam Ahmad said: la ba'sa bihi, there is no harm in it and not add to it needlessly. However, our position and that of Tamim ibn Salama, Sufyan al-Thawri, and the school of Imam Shafi`i including Bayhaqi and Nawawi is that it is Sunna and mustahabb as it shows the necessary ta`zim (magnification) and tawqir (reverence) of a person of religion and knowledge in Islam, and as shown by the narrations, it is closer to the practice of the Companions with the Prophet and the knowledgeable ones among themselves as well as the true Salaf.

The ruling among the authorities that kissing the hand of the scholar is mustahabb is categorically proven by the fact that when Imam Muslim met the Mountain of Hadith Mastership -- Imam Bukhari -- he desired to kiss not merely his hands but his feet. This was not gratuitous behavior on the part of Imam Muslim but an excellent and meritorious display of humbleness and respect on his part. They purposely imitated in this -- and Allah knows best -- Abu `Ubayda when he met `Umar ibn al-Khattab in Jerusalem, and the precedent of those two, who were of the "Ten Promised Paradise" by the Prophet is enough proof in itself that it is Sunna.

It is authentically recorded that others of the true Ahl al-hadith did this also, such as the Tabi`is Khaythama ibn `Abd al-Rahman al-Ju`fi (d. 85) and Talha ibn Musarrif (d.112) kissing each other's hand, and the same Talha kissing the hand of Malik ibn Mighwal (d. 159), and Sufyan ibn `Uyayna and Fudayl ibn `Iyad kissing the hand and foot of Husayn ibn `Ali al-Ju`fi (d. 203) respectively.

Narrations of the Prophet relevant to kissing the hand of the ulama:

Narrations of the Companions and their explicit practice of kissing the hand: Fatawa and practices of the Tabi`in and major `ulama on kissing the hand of the `alim or the just leader of the Muslims: To conclude: Allah said: "Above every knowledgeable one there is one with more knowledge" (12:76). Respect for the people of knowledge in Islam, the `ulama and shaykhs, is based upon the recognition that they stand above us by virtue of their effort (ijtihad) and renunciation of worldly pursuits (zuhd) towards the acquisition of the Highest Knowledge (al-`ilm). The above verse shows that there are innumerable ranks and levels of knowledge in the sight of Allah.

The divine warning for every individual to know his ignorance in relation to one more knowledgeable is uttered in the Qur'an in the form of a rhetorical question: "Are the knowledgeable equal with the ignorant?" (39:9) Of course they are not. Allah further addresses the ignorant by telling them to ask those who know: "Ask the People of Remembrance if you do not know" (16:43). One cannot ask sincerely and at the same time claim equal status with the one who knows, or grudge him respect under a false notion of egalitarianism. Respect for the people of knowledge is therefore of the foundation of religion, because knowledge is the foundation of religion, and has been handed down from the more knowledgeable to the less knowledgeable from the time of the Prophet when he gave it to the Companions.

Shaykhs and `ulama are the guardians of the Islamic knowledge of preceding generations. As such they should be respected and obeyed, and even cherished and venerated by Muslims as they have been traditionally in fourteen centuries of Islamic culture. Kissing their hand is but an elementary and ordinary outward sign of such ethics. Their fellowship should be sought, their advice heeded, and their du`a requested, because all three are ways of receiving mercy from Allah Most High. They should receive every mark of courtesy and every affordable service, for even a kind look towards a `alim's face will receive its reward. It is the mark of the enemies of Islam, not of Muslims, to injure the honor and rank of the ulama or abolish it. Therefore those who scoff at the ranks or grades given by Allah to His ulama, and grudge them their extra respect, and consider them the same as ordinary people, are only injuring themselves and those who imitate them. And Allah knows best.

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