By Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi | Translated by Jamaal Diwan
No Condemnation in Areas of Ijtihad from ‘How to Deal with the Tradition, Mathabs, and Differences in Opinion’
From the foundations of this fiqh (the fiqh of disagreement) and its focuses is the principle: There is no condemnation in issues of ijtihad1 (la inkaara fi masaa’il al-ijtihad). This means that it is not allowable for a jurist (mujtahid) to negate another mujtahid in areas of ijtihad. This is because no mujtahid is more deserving of being right, none of them are perfect, and all are equally susceptible to being right or wrong.
It is no wonder then that we see the precise (muhaqqiqun) scholars of our Ummah strongly declaring the impermissibility of condemnation in areas where the scholars disagreed with one another.
The Opinion of Imam al-Ghazali
Imam al-Ghazali mentions the following in the chapter on “Commanding the Good and Forbidding the Evil” in his book Ihya Ulum ad-Din when discussing the pillars of moral policing (al-hisba): “The thing that is being rejected (muhtasab fih) should be a known evil that is not based on ijtihad. Anything that is based on ijtihad cannot be rejected. Therefore a Hanafi cannot reject the action of a Shafi’ and a Shafi’ cannot reject the action of a Hanafi (when each acts according to their mathab2 in contradiction to the other mathab).
The Opinion of Imam Nawawi in His Explanation of Sahih Muslim
Imam Nawawi says in his explanation of Sahih Muslim when explaining the hadith, “whoever from you sees an evil should change it by his hand…”: “The scholars rebuke matters upon which there is consensus. As for matters in which there is disagreement, there is no rebuking in them. This is because the scholars are of one of two opinions. The first is that every mujtahid is correct and this is the opinion of many or the majority of the precise scholars (muhaqqiqun). The second is that only one of them is correct, but we do not know which one and the scholar who was incorrect is not sinful. Actually we say that he is rewarded one reward as is established in the authentic hadith.”
The Opinion of Ibn Rajab
The great scholar Ibn Rajab says in The Compendium of Knowledge and Learning: “The evil that must be rejected is that upon which there is consensus. As for areas of disagreement, then from our companions (the Hanbalis) there are those who said that it is not obligatory upon a person to rebuke someone else for what they did based on their ijtihad or their following of the ijtihad of another scholar. The Justice Abu Ya’la mentions an exception to this in his book The Ordinance of Government. He says that if the difference of opinion is weak and leads to something that is prohibited then it should be rebuked. An example of this would be temporary marriage (mut’a) because it leads to fornication.
What is Narrated from al-Thawri
This is also the opinion that is narrated on behalf of many of the great early scholars. Abu Nu’aym narrates in Al-Hilya that the great Imam Sufyan al-Thawri said: “If you see someone who is doing an action upon which there is disagreement, and you have a different opinion than them, do not prevent them.” It is also narrated by al-Khatib al-Baghdadi in his book Al-Faqih wa al-Mutafaqqih that al-Thawri said: “I do not prevent any of my companions from taking an opinion upon which the legal scholars have disagreed.”
The Opinion of Ibn Taymiyyah
Imam ibn Taymiyyah was asked if it is allowable for a governor to force the people to follow his mathab and prevent them from following their mathabs. He responded: “He is not allowed to do so, or anything like it, in areas where ijtihad is permitted, and he does not have evidence for doing so from the Qur’an, Sunnah, or scholarly consensus.”
He was guided in this situation by the story of Imam Malik when al-Rashid or Abu Ja’far asked him about obligating the people to follow al-Muwatta and Imam Malik rejected the idea. He said: “The companions of the Prophet (saw) have spread into different lands and each people has established their legal opinions based on the knowledge that came to them (in another narration he says: so if you obligated them all to follow one opinion it would be fitna).”
Some of the scholars used to say because of this, “Their (the scholars) consensus is a definitive proof and their disagreement is a vast mercy.”
In another situation Ibn Taymiyya was asked about someone who blindly follows some scholars in areas of ijtihad, should he be rebuked? What about someone who acts by one of two opinions? He responded: “All praise is due to Allah. The one who acts by the opinion of some scholars or by one of two opinions should not be rebuked. If the strength of one of the opinions becomes clear to the person he should follow it, otherwise it is okay for him to follow the views of some scholars that he depends upon to clarify for him the strongest opinion.”
The Decision of Imam as-Suyuti
It is not surprising, then, to see that al-Hafiz al-Suyuti placed as the thirty-fifth maxim that should be followed in fatwa and legal cases the following rule: “There is no condemnation in areas where scholars disagreed, rather, only in areas where there is scholarly consensus.”
Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s Application of This Principle
From the examples of how this principle is applied is what the Shaykh of the Arabian Peninsula, Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, said about the issue of tawassul (praying to Allah by using someone else as an intermediary), the issue that his followers start ideological battles over with those that disagree with them. However, the Shaykh handled the question with the serenity and composure of the people of knowledge. He said: “About some allowing tawassul through righteous people, others restricting it to the Prophet (saw), and the majority of scholars prohibiting and disliking it: it is a fiqh based question. So even if our opinion on the issue is the position of the majority, that it is disliked, we do not rebuke the one who does it because there is no condemnation in areas of ijtihad.”
This is the exact issue that many of the followers of the Shaykh in our times fiercely criticize Imam Hasan al-Banna for because he said in the fifteenth principle of his twenty principles of understanding: “Supplication to Allah that is accompanied with tawassul through a righteous person is a fiqh issue that is disagreed about in regards to how to make du’a and it is not an issue of belief.”
What Imam al-Banna said in this principle does not stray, even in the slightest, from what Shaykh ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab said, but many times issues are taken too far and become extreme, and moderation is always the best path.
It is Allowable for Someone to Follow the Opinion of a Recognized Mathab
As a result of what has been mentioned it is clear that a person may follow the opinion of one of the established mathabs, the opinion of a Companion of the Prophet (saw), one of their followers, or a recognized Imam, and they should not be condemned for their decision.
What is allowed is for someone to express his or her differing opinion in an objective, knowledge-based way. It should be done without degrading others or attacking them, but merely by showing another opinion and explaining its evidence. In doing so one should maintain wisdom, use kind speech, be loving, and distance themselves from severity and harshness. The latter should never be the approach of the one who is promoting good and preventing harm unless the issue at hand is a matter of clear consensus between the scholars.
This is why Ibn Taymiyyah said: “These issues of ijtihad are not obligated or condemned by force and it is not the right of anyone to force others to follow his opinion in them. Rather, he should discuss them, presenting clear evidence. Then if one opinion appears strongest to someone they should follow it and they should not rebuke someone who follows the other opinion.” This is justice.
- The process by which the qualified legal scholar exerts his or her full effort in order to derive the ruling of Islam in a particular issue from the sources of Islamic law. ↩
- A term used to refer to one or more of the established schools of Islamic law. Some examples are the schools of Malik, Abu Hanifa, Shafi’, and Ahmad ibn Hanbal. ↩