The superiority of the religious scholar over the devout worshiper is like the superiority of the full moon over other heavenly bodies. The religious scholars are the heirs of the prophets. The prophets leave no money as a bequest, rather they leave knowledge. Whoever seizes it has taken a bountiful share.
[Imam Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, and Ibn Majah relate this hadith in their compilations.]
The scholars have learnt the knowledge of deen and spread it throughout the ummah. Yes, sometimes in some ages there have been groups with misguided knowledge. For example, at the time of Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal (ra) the Ameer had a batil aqeedah (wrong belief) which Imam Hanbal took a stand against. He was pelted with stones but he did not back down. Similarly, during each time-period true scholars have worked hard to preserve this knowledge. We have a whole jama’a (group) of scholars behind the knowledge that we have today which was preserved by them.
What constitutes The Knowledge?
كَمَآ أَرۡسَلۡنَا فِيڪُمۡ رَسُولاً۬ مِّنڪُمۡ يَتۡلُواْ عَلَيۡكُمۡ ءَايَـٰتِنَا وَيُزَكِّيڪُمۡ وَيُعَلِّمُڪُمُ ٱلۡكِتَـٰبَ وَٱلۡحِڪۡمَةَ وَيُعَلِّمُكُم مَّا لَمۡ تَكُونُواْ تَعۡلَمُونَ
As also We have sent in your midst a messenger from among you, who recites to you Our verses, and purifies you, and teaches you the Book and the wisdom, and teaches you what you did not know. [2:151]
Allah (swt) has told us the purpose of prophethood, and the duties thereof which comprise of the following:
- Tilawat (recitation)
- Tazkiya (purification)
- Taleem al Kitab (meanings of Qur’an i.e. tafsir)
- Hikmah (through the words and actions of Prophet (sws) i.e. sunnah)
All of these are included in knowledge. They have been transferred from generation to generation. This is complete guidance and guidance will not be lifted from us till the end of times.
Imam Ahmad (ra) relates from Syedna Anas (ra) that the Prophet (sws) said:
“The similitude of the religious scholars on earth is that of the stars in the sky, by which [people] are guided through the darkness of the land and sea.”
The legacy of Prophet (sws)
The legacy of Blessed Prophet (sws) is both in the form of pure revelation i.e. text, and also a pure and noble heart will be able to preserve this knowledge in its true essence. There are two Reasons why we have lost our connection with this tradition:
- We have lost our qadr (appreciation) for sacred knowledge
- We do not have respect for the people of knowledge anymore
We have turned sacred knowledge into drawing room discussions. The scholars are being discredited and taunted. In Pakistan this inclination to ridicule and make light of teachings of prophethood is getting worse day by day. In this day and age, there is a great need to revive the tradition of valuing and upholding the sacred knowledge.
It is true that certain people who are not true scholars do mislead and misguide people. However, we know that this knowledge is preserved till the end of times so there is always a jama’a that will be on haq (truth) in every age. We need to find these people. We have to learn to trust our scholars once again because they are the only source to get guidance of deen.
Literal meaning: A pathway, a path
Istalahi (figurative) meaning: Certain laws extracted from Qur’an and Hadith.
We get scared of this word thinking it is something too strict and rigid. But in reality shariah is everything that brings a person back to their fitrah (innate nature) and connects them to Allah (swt). Shari’ah forms the basis of an equitable society, and it is a means of eliminating evil and oppression.
It includes haram and halal as well, but more broadly speaking it is a way which, when followed, will grant us love of Allah (swt). People deride shari’ah saying this is a straight and narrow path. This is not true at all. It is a broad pathway on which a person can tread easily – it is like a highway, but regardless of how broad the highway is, if you get out of its boundary, then you are a goner.
Literal meaning: To understand/understanding
Istalahi meaning: Set of principles from Qur’an and Sunnah upon which Islamic jurisprudence is based.
Extremely deep understanding of a subject matter.
Usul al Fiqh
The study of principles and rules upon which Islamic jurisprudence is based.
Example: there is a well and I need to take out water from it but I do not know how to do it. I will take a bucket and tie it with a rope to get the water out. Qur’an and Hadith are a treasure, like a well, but we are standing outside the understanding of Qur’an and Hadith, then we will make certain rules and principles. On the basis of these rules and principles we will understand Qur’an and Hadith. Then after understanding we will derive rulings out of them. For example, Qur’an says:
يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ لَا تَقۡرَبُواْ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَأَنتُمۡ سُكَـٰرَىٰ
O you who believe! Do not go near Salah when you are intoxicated [4:43]
And also that:
يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓاْ إِنَّمَا ٱلۡخَمۡرُ وَٱلۡمَيۡسِرُ وَٱلۡأَنصَابُ وَٱلۡأَزۡلَـٰمُ رِجۡسٌ۬ مِّنۡ عَمَلِ ٱلشَّيۡطَـٰنِ فَٱجۡتَنِبُوهُ لَعَلَّكُمۡ تُفۡلِحُونَ
O you who believe! Wine, gambling, altars and divining arrows are filth, made up by Satan. Therefore, refrain from it, so that you may be successful. [5:49]
How to act on both of these ayahs? With the ruling of Nasikh and Mansookh we know that the previous ayah was mansookh after the new ruling came.
Literal meaning: Superlative form; from juhd; to strive
- Highest level of physical exertion: jihad
- Educational exertion: ijtihad
- Spiritual exertion: mujaahida
Those who exert themselves in the knowledge of deen.
Four sources of theoretical knowledge
- Wahi – there is no ikhtilaf (difference of opinion)
- Qur’an (wahi-e-matlu [words and meanings are both from Allah (swt)])
- Sunnah (wahi-e-ghayr matlu [meanings are from Allah (swt) but words are from Blessed Prophet (sws)])
- Ghayr wahi – there is ikhtilaf
- ’Ijma (the evidence for this also comes from Qur’an and Hadith)
- ’Ijtihad (usually people get stuck here – where is this coming from? Actually ’ijtihad is also taken from Qur’an and Hadith)
Example: Sahaba (ra) were going on a ghazva and an ayah was revealed:
وَمَا كَانَ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنُونَ لِيَنفِرُواْ ڪَآفَّةً۬ۚ فَلَوۡلَا نَفَرَ مِن كُلِّ فِرۡقَةٍ۬ مِّنۡہُمۡ طَآٮِٕفَةٌ۬ لِّيَتَفَقَّهُواْ فِى ٱلدِّينِ وَلِيُنذِرُواْ قَوۡمَهُمۡ إِذَا رَجَعُوٓاْ إِلَيۡہِمۡ لَعَلَّهُمۡ يَحۡذَرُونَ
It is not (necessary) for all the believers to go forth [In case there is not a general call for jihad]. So, why should it not be that a group from every section of them goes forth, so that they may acquire perfect understanding of the Faith, and so that they may warn their people when they return to them, so that they may take due care (of the rules of Shari‘ah). [9:122]
That for Muslims it is not necessary that all of them should leave for the ghazva. Rather they should separate from every division a small group of people. Why? So that they can do tafaqquh (get an extremely deep understanding of religion) and then they can warn the people when they return.
Things to understand from this ayah:
- Virtue and merit of fiqh is because it requires excellence, dedication and deeper understanding. Fiqh has a quality to uphold.
- There is a constant effort that a person has to make in ilm.
- This is a specialized activity that certain special people would do.
- If we imagine that someone is at the time of Prophet (sws) in Madinah and he really wants to do this tafaqquh. Though he has the faculty it will have to be seen if he has the capability to do this. A chosen few will do it. Even all Sahaba (ra) did not do it.
- IMP: If the few people left behind get this deep understanding and knowledge, then those who return will have to follow those few people of knowledge. They have to do taqleed. They have to follow because they did not have the time to put in that effort or capability to understand deen at such a deep level. It does not mean one group is superior to the other. It means one group will benefit the other just like in a community different people do different tasks to build up a functioning society.
Tafaqquh in Qur’an
We have a treasure of Qur’an and Hadith from which we have to take out the rulings.
يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓاْ أَطِيعُواْ ٱللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُواْ ٱلرَّسُولَ وَأُوْلِى ٱلۡأَمۡرِ
O you who believe, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority [4:59]
Syedna Abu Huraira (ra) while explaining the ayah, explained ulul amr to mean scholars and leaders both. So leaders in knowledge and political leaders both have to be followed because they have to administer the society. Layman will follow the lead of a specialized group.
Q. This ayah means that if there is disunity on a point between scholars, that disunity is a disunity of ummah?
This is not the case because the differences of opinion is not on the basis of aqeedah (creed). And in Islam we can see that there is flexibility to some extent in things unrelated to aqaid.
Q. Ulema have hijacked knowledge, so how do we understand this in the context that only certain people can become the scholars?
It’s like saying certain doctors have hijacked the health department. Can everyone lead the health department? No, but the capacity to gain knowledge can be developed. If you have the capability, no one is stopping you from gaining knowledge.
Another capacity Allah (swt) has given is to become close to Allah (swt). Everyone has this capability so no one has hijacked this, and this is the thing that truly matters. Another wrong criticism is that people compare this to the Christian concept of Papacy where their pastors tell them you are doomed to hell, or you are going to heaven – but this does not apply to Islam at all.
Q. Why is there a need for rulings/usul?
It is like saying why don’t I jump in the well to get the water. We will not go to ijtihad unless and until we require a ruling that is not clearly mentioned in Qur’an or Hadith. We cannot use ijma or ijtihad for things that are clear in Qur’an and Hadith for example, no new meaning would be derived for namaz etc.
We only go to it if we have a masla (jurisprudential issue) that has not been discussed in Hadith or Qur’an. For example, the case of test-tube babies. In Qur’an there is nothing relevant to test tube babies, nor in Hadith because it was not a reality of that time. But our deen is not stagnant, is gives a structure that can answer according to the changing societal needs. If we had a fixed structure, it would not have been able to develop with society. Qur’an and Hadith have both themselves pointed to the direction of ijtihad and ijma. And we are talking about people who have put their entire lives on the path of knowledge.
Scope of Fiqh and ijtihad
On Difference of Opinion
Sahaba (ra) also used to have a difference of opinion. Regarding the prisoners of war from Battle of Badr, the opinion of Nabi (sws) and Syedna Abu Bakr (ra) was to be lenient with them and let them off. While Syedna Umar (ra) was of the opinion that they should be killed so as to inhibit them from spreading mischief over and over again. Later revelation was revealed in favor of the opinion of Syedna Umar (ra).
مَا كَانَ لِنَبِىٍّ أَن يَكُونَ لَهُ ۥۤ أَسۡرَىٰ حَتَّىٰ يُثۡخِنَ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِۚ
It is not befitting a prophet that he has captives with him unless he has subdued the enemy by shedding blood in the land. [9:67]
Hanbli, Shaifi’i, Hanafi, Maliki is not ikhtilaf. These are different Schools of Thought with varying set of rulings. Their usul are different on the basis of which the mujtahid derives the rulings.
Some parts of Qur’an are so difficult to understand that even biggest of scholars have to exert themselves. When laymen like us read Qur’an we don’t even realize what level of depth the ayah holds. For example, Allah (swt) says in Qur’an:
إِنَّمَا جَزَٲٓؤُاْ ٱلَّذِينَ يُحَارِبُونَ ٱللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ ۥ وَيَسۡعَوۡنَ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ فَسَادًا أَن يُقَتَّلُوٓاْ أَوۡ يُصَلَّبُوٓاْ أَوۡ تُقَطَّعَ أَيۡدِيهِمۡ وَأَرۡجُلُهُم مِّنۡ خِلَـٰفٍ أَوۡ يُنفَوۡاْ مِنَ ٱلۡأَرۡضِۚ
Those who fight against Allah and His Messenger and run about trying to spread disorder on the earth, their punishment is no other than that they shall be killed, or be crucified, or their hands and legs be cut off from different sides, or they be kept away from the land (they live in) [5:33]
Which punishment is meant here?
Q. Why do you say that in order to understand Qur’an you need to have a deep knowledge, but Qur’an itself says, that We have made it easy to understand?
وَلَقَدۡ يَسَّرۡنَا ٱلۡقُرۡءَانَ لِلذِّكۡرِ فَهَلۡ مِن مُّدَّكِرٍ۬
Indeed We have made the Qur’an easy for seeking advice. So, is there one to heed to the advice? [54:17]
Qur’anic knowledge is of three types:
- Akhlaq/adaab, desciption of Jannah Jahannum etc
- Fiqh and rulings
Certain ayahs are very easy to understand. The person with deeper knowledge can explain these on a higher level, but on a superficial level ordinary people can understand them as well. Now the hiraba ayah mentioned above is extremely difficult to understand even on a superficial level. For certain ayahs we need a very deep understanding of Qur’an. So in that context it means We have made Qur’an easy to get feelings of, to get tawheed from, to get general guidance from.
We can see in certain ayahs there are words that have capacity to hold deeper meanings. If Allah (swt) wanted to use certain other words, Allah (swt) could have made every ayah very clear cut. The fact that Allah (swt) chose these words means that Allah (swt) wants the ayahs to hold this capacity of a broader meaning.
Making case of ’Ijtihad
Nabi (sws) asked a Sahabi (ra) that if you wanted a ruling, then what will you do? He (ra) said that I will look into Qur’an. Nabi (sws) said if you do not find it in Qur’an then? He replied I will look at your (sws) sunnah. Nabi (sws) asked again if you do not find in sunnah? He (ra) said I will do ijitihad on my opinion. Nabi (sws) was happy with this answer and said that all praise be to Allah who has guided the messenger of the Messenger (sws). This has opened door for ijtihad, so we can see that ijtihad is also sunnah.
Harith ibn Amr reported: Some men among the companions of Mu’adh said the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, sent him to Yemen and the Prophet said: How will you judge? Mu’adh said, “I will judge according to what is in the Book of Allah.” The Prophet said: What if it is not in the Book of Allah? Mu’adh said, “Then with the tradition (sunnah) of the Messenger of Allah.” The Prophet said: What if it is not in the tradition of the Messenger of Allah? Mu’adh said, “Then I will strive to form an opinion (ijtihad).” The Prophet said: All praise is due to Allah who has made suitable the messenger of the Messenger of Allah. [Sunan At-Tirmidhi]
Just because the door of ijtihad has opened does not mean that anyone can do ijtihad. Nabi (sws) also sent that Sahabi (ra) who had a very high and deep level of deen. We cannot depend for guidance on those people who do not even have a complete knowledge of deen. Even in some very general issues we go to specialists e.g. we might say we do not appreciate your opinion on dieting because we would rather go to a professional nutritionist.
If someone says this ruling is not the opinion of Nabi (sws) but of a scholar. Our reply to them is that Nabi (sws) had appreciated and allowed for scholars to do ijtihad in certain cases (only for the rule not found in Qur’an and Hadith, or are not clear).
’Ijtihad at the time of Sahaba (ra)
There was a 149 jama’a of scholars among Sahaba (ra) and from amongst them 15 or 7 had the highest authority and their opinion was given highest regard (i.e. they were mujtahideen).
No Sahabi (ra) ever gave an opinion on something that was already in Qur’an or Hadith. People say things like do you follow Imam Abu Hanifa (rh) or do you follow Qur’an? Imam Abu Hanifa (rh) was doing ijtihad based on the teachings of Qur’an and Hadith.
Qur’an has over 6,000 ayahs and the ones giving hukam are only 350. These ahkam (rulings) are related to the issues ummah at that time had faced. But what about the ummah that will come in future, where things will change with time and certain new issues will prop up?
The Mujtahid Sahaba (ra) if all agreed upon a single ruling then it would become an ijma. Ijma would then become binding based on this Hadith:
Allah will never let my Ummah agree upon misguidance, and the hand of Allah is over the group (Jama’ah), so follow the great mass of believers, and whoever dissents from them departs to hell. [al-Tirmidhi]
Q. If I say all the students in this class agree on something, then will it be an ijma? Or if I say that all the scholars agree but I do not agree on that then is it not ijma?
Our opinion does not matter as we are laymen. We are speaking about the scholars of a very high caliber here. If we spend our lives in the path of ilm and exert ourselves then our opinion will matter as well. The opinion of big scholars will matter.
قُلۡ هَلۡ يَسۡتَوِى ٱلَّذِينَ يَعۡلَمُونَ وَٱلَّذِينَ لَا يَعۡلَمُونَۗ إِنَّمَا يَتَذَكَّرُ أُوْلُواْ ٱلۡأَلۡبَـٰبِ
Say, “Can those who know and those who do not know become equal?” It is only the people of understanding who are receptive of the advice. [39:9]
Syedna Abu Bakr (ra) would ask Sahaba (ra) that what opinion do you have about this issue? Or do you know of any rule that could be relevant to it – so he would be asking for guidelines. Why was Syedna Abu Bakr (ra) asking when he had so much knowledge himself? He was the oldest companion of Nabi (sws).
There was a group that used to say we will follow all other rulings of Islam but not give zakah. Syedna Abu Bakr (ra) said we will fight them, but Syedna Umar (ra) said that we can fight later because otherwise people will say that Sahaba (ra) are fighting among themselves and this will lead to discord. But Syedna Abu Bakr (ra) did so much takeed (i.e. emphasized) that later Syedna Umar (ra) also sided with his opinion.
Example of Ijtihad
We look at the reason for ruling. For example, liquor is haram and its reasoning is intoxication. This reason can be found in hashish, marijuana etc. So they are ruled as being haram as well. This is the method Sahaba (ra) employed that they would ask do you think there ever was a situation that could be applicable here, from which a more general ruling could be derived?
At the time of Syedna Umar (ra) there were a lot of conquests, and for so many newly converts it became an issue as to who would tell them about Islam? Syedna Umar (ra) would send Qadhi (judges) to different areas so that a system of justice was developed. Sunnah is like a spring, the asal is there but so many other branches burst forth from it. Our root is Qur’an and Sunnah. All other knowledge is derived from them.
One Faqih Sahaba (ra) was sent to Yemen. This shows the entire Yemen had to do taqleed of one Sahaba (ra) [i.e. follow him]. At the time of Syedna Ali (ra) qiyas increased more. The point is that during the time of Sahaba (ra) the institutions of ijma, qiyas and ijtihad had already begun to establish.
Tabi’in & Circles of Learning
Tabi’in were the people who would get the company of Sahaba (ra) to learn about the life of Nabi (sws). Many many tabi’in would acquire knowledge under one Sahabi (ra). In the time of Tabi’in, halaqas (circles of learning) were developed where religion would be learnt in different regions. Almost 25 such halaqas were developed for ijtihad. But not more than them because not everyone could be a part of these halaqas. These halaqas were making the rules for making the laws. That’s how different Schools of Thought came about with differences in opinion.
One misunderstanding should be clarified that ikhtilaf does not mean larai, it does not mean scholars hold grudges against one another. In case of difference of opinion, which one should be given tarjeeh? There should be a system that would determine this, otherwise people will just end up following their nafs. The solution to this is not that we pick and choose one opinion according to our temperament and say others are false. No, all are correct but we will follow just one.
So in our deen there is room for difference of opinion but there are certain conditions that need to be met. Not everyone is entitled to having an opinion. This method of ijtihad was approved by Blessed Prophet (sws) and was exercised during the time of Sahaba (ra) and then later Tabi’in and Taba Tabi’in and so forth.