Is a person with learning difficulties legally responsible (Mukallaf)?

ⓘ Supported by Al Medina 313.



Islamic Text

Yes, a person with learning difficulties is legally responsible (Mukallaf) unless they are severe to the extend that this adult has the mental capacity of a child and not an adult.

عَنْ عَلِيٍّ، أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ: ” رُفِعَ القَلَمُ عَنْ ثَلَاثَةٍ: عَنِ النَّائِمِ حَتَّى يَسْتَيْقِظَ، وَعَنِ الصَّبِيِّ حَتَّى يَشِبَّ، وَعَنِ المَعْتُوهِ حَتَّى يَعْقِلَ “ وَفِي البَابِ عَنْ عَائِشَةَ: حَدِيثُ عَلِيٍّ حَدِيثٌ حَسَنٌ غَرِيبٌ مِنْ هَذَا الوَجْهِ

(Sayidina) Ali narrated that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, ‘The pen has been lifted from three. The sleeping person until he wakes, the child until he becomes a young adult, and the feeble-minded until he gains intellect.’ (Tirmidhi 1423, Hasan).

Imam al-Tirmidhi considered the Hadith above to be Hasan. It was also narrated by Imam Abu Dawood (4402), and Imam Hakim (2385). The narration in Hakim was considered Sahih by Imam Hakim. Imam al-Dhahabi concurred saying, it is sahih according to the conditions of Imam Muslim.

The better-known narration of this Hadith mentions the Majnoon (insane person) instead of the Matooh (feeble-minded person). In both cases it is important to recognise that there is a broad spectrum and not everyone will suffer from these ailments to the same degree. Therefore, it is not always possible for us to identify who is legally responsible (Mukallaf) and who is not.

With regards to the Matooh (feeble-minded), if this person’s ability to comprehend is that of a child then he or she is not Mukallaf. If the learning difficulties are not that severe then he or she is responsible. It is not always clear to the observer which category a particular individual falls into.

In any case it is still beneficial to encourage this person to pray, fast and carryout other religious obligations. Since we do so with an actual child, so someone who has the mental capacity of a child should be encouraged too. However, one should keep in mind that this person may not be legally responsible. Therefore it will not be appropriate to push the person, rather gentle encouragement is the correct way.

A person with severe learning difficulties may be considered to fall into the category of Ma’tooh. There is some difference of opinion amongst the scholars regarding the Ma’tooh, and whether he is legally responsible or not.

وَأَحْسَنُ الْأَقْوَالِ فِي الْفَرْقِ بَيْنَهُمَا أَنَّ الْمَعْتُوهَ هُوَ الْقَلِيلُ الْفَهْمِ الْمُخْتَلِطُ الْكَلَامِ الْفَاسِدِ التَّدْبِيرِ، لَكِنْ لَا يَضْرِبُ وَلَا يَشْتُمُ بِخِلَافِ الْمَجْنُونِ اهـ وَصَرَّحَ الْأُصُولِيُّونَ بِأَنَّ حُكْمَهُ كَالصَّبِيِّ إلَّا أَنَّ الدَّبُوسِيَّ قَالَ تَجِبُ عَلَيْهِ الْعِبَادَاتُ احْتِيَاطًا. وَرَدَّهُ صَدْرُ الْإِسْلَامِ بِأَنَّ الْعَتَهَ نَوْعُ جُنُونٍ فَيَمْنَعُ وُجُوبَ أَدَاءِ الْحُقُوقِ جَمِيعًا كَمَا بَسَطَهُ فِي شَرْحِ التَّحْرِير. (رد المحتار على الدر المختار)

The best explanation regarding the difference between them (the insane person and the feeble-minded) is that the Ma’tooh exhibits weak comprehension, incoherent speech, and an inability to organise. However, he does not strike out or insult. As opposed to the insane person.

The scholars of Usool were explicit with regards to the fact that his ruling is that of a child. Except for al-Dabbusi, who said acts of worship are obligatory upon him out of caution (as opposed to other aspects of the Shariah). However, Sadr al-Islam refuted him saying, feeble-mindedness is a type of insanity. Therefore, it prevents the obligation of fulfilling rights being established, this is inclusive (of all rights). As he elucidated in Sharh al-Tahreer. (Radd al-Muhtaar, Imam Ibn Abideen).

حُكْمُ الْمَعْتُوهِ كَالصَّبِيِّ الْعَاقِلِ فِي تَصَرُّفَاتِهِ وَفِي رَفْعِ التَّكْلِيفِ عَنْهُ زَيْلَعِيٌّ. (رد المحتار على الدر المختار)

The ruling of the Ma’tooh (feeble-mindedness) is that of the comprehending child, with regards to his transactions and the fact that he is not legally responsible, Zayla’i. (Radd al-Muhtaar, Imam Ibn Abideen).

As seen in the Nusoos (texts) above, there is a difference of opinion regarding the Matooh. However, the strongest opinion is that he is considered to be similar to a comprehending child. Therefore, any person who experiences such severe learning difficulties that he or she has the comprehension of a child is not Mukallaf (legally responsible). As mentioned above this is not always clear to the onlooker, thus it is best to gently encourage such people to fulfil the rulings of the Shariah.

And Allah Most High Knows Best.

-Answered by Shaykh Noorud-deen Rashid (25.07.2022)

See also:
Would this schizophrenic person be mukallaf?

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