بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Q: What is the (Islamic) precept pertaining to being excused due to ignorance?
A: The ignorant is he to whom which the proofs have not reached. He is either new to Islam and abandons an action from Islam’s pillars due to not learning Islam. For instance if a person accepts Islam and does not believe in the obligation of zaykat, hajj, etc due to neither the textual evidence reaching him nor any Muslim teaching him, this individual is excused due to ignorance.
Similarly a person in a country that is distant from knowledge, Islam, worship, tawheed, etc. He lives deep in the jungles like the jungles in the middle of Africa, or in countries passed India, countries of ignorance and misguidance. This person is also excused due to ignorance in certain affairs that have not reached him, so if he falls short therein we do not pass the judgement of disbelief, on the contrary we teach and make matters clear to him. We say to him, how come you don’t pay zaykah? Why don’t you perform the pilgrimage? If he says it’s not binding upon me to do, we then say, on the contrary, it is binding upon you to do and the proof is this. This (being his condition) before the proofs reached him, he came ignorant and is excused as a result of it.
As for he who lives in an Islamic country amidst the people of knowledge, religion, and good he is not excused. That is because in most cases he shuns learning and does not actually want the truth. The people of the interval (of time between prophets), the mentally challenged, the young, and those who the proofs have not reached are all excused and will be tested on the day of resurrection. We do not consider them to be disbelievers and Allah will not enter them into the Fire without (first) sending a messenger to them in order to test them. He will say to them, “enter the Fire!” So whomsoever is prepared to enter it will be safe and secure, but whoever refuses and rejects will enter it.
The people of the interval will come and say , no herald came to us. The insane person will come and say I was tossed on the streets and the children would shove me while in (varying) pathways and I didn’t comprehend. I did not have intellect. Our Lord will not burden this type. The child is without sound intellect as well and has not reached the age of puberty. These individuals will be tested on the day of resurrection. Whoever dies before maturity will be tested. If he is prepared to enter the Fire being obedient to (the command) of this messenger (sent by Allah), he will be safe and secure. However he who refuses to enter the Fire this is disbelief and denial (on that day), consequently he will enter the Fire.
The textual evidence for this is what is reported by imam Ahmad from the chain of Qatadah, from Ahnaf ibn Qais upon the authority of Al-Aswad ibn Saree where the Prophet -sallahu alayhi wa salaam- said, “Four will be excused on the day of resurrection. The deaf man who doesn’t hear anything, the insane man, the elderly (senile) man, and the man who died during the interval (between Esa and Muhammad -sallahu alayhi wa salaam-). As for the deaf man he will say, my Lord indeed Islam came but I didn’t hear a thing. As for the insane he will say, my Lord Islam came yet the children would fling filth at me. The elderly man will say, my Lord Islam came but I didn’t comprehend anything. Lastly the man who died during the interval, he will say, my Lord no messenger of yours came to me. Thus a covenant will be made (in which they will agree) to obey Allah and (as a result) He will send a messenger to them who will tell them to enter the Fire. I swear by Him in whose hands is the soul of Muhammad, if they enter the Fire it will be for them cool and tranquil.
Ahmad also reports (another chain from Muadh ibn Hisham that leads back to) Abu Huraira narrating similar, except that the ending differs. “So whoever enters it, it will be for them cool and tranquil, and whoever does not enter it will be dragged therein.“
The conclusion drawn is that the more probable interpretation with Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaa’ah is that the ignoramus is excused until the proof is presented to him. So the people of the interval are excused and will not enter the Fire unless the proof is established (against them) in the next life. To reiterate; the soundest with Ahlus Sunnah is that anyone that commits an action deemed to be disbelief is not considered a disbeliever until the proof is presented to him, as some companions fell into the consumption of intoxicants, they drunk it and considered it to be lawful and this is disbelief. As a result the companions like Umar, Ali, Uthman and others assembled. They called for the summoning of them and said (after establishing the proofs concerning the consumption of intoxicants) if they acknowledge the prohibition of intoxicants then upon them is the Islamic legal punishment (for the infraction), but if they declare it lawful then the capital punishment for apostasy is applied. So they repented and the legal punishment was implemented.
Translated by Najeeb Ibn Yusuf Al Anjelesi
Source: فتاوى فضيلة الشيخ العلامة ربيع بن هادي عمير المدخلي