Shaykh Hisham Muhammad Kabbani

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Are we obliged to follow scholars and ijma` (the Consensus of the Scholars) since taqlid (following qualified opinion) is characterized by the "Salafis" as reprehensible, and some of them say: "We do not worship men" to support their opinion? What is ijma` exactly? And do the scholars' differences of opinion in religion constitute a blessing or a curse?


Allah’s Guidance is embodied in the scholars of Islam, may Allah be pleased with them. When the "Salafis" say: "We do not worship men," know that it is kalimatu haqqin yuradu biha al-batil -- a word of truth spoken in the pursuit of error. For it is only a flashy cover for their desire to follow other than the path of guidance clarified by the Imams and the fuqaha' on certain questions. Thus they will falsely characterize taqlid as blind imitation. This is the method of a pernicious book of theirs entitled Blind-Following of Madhaahib. They will further falsely characterize ijma` as a thing of the past, claiming that it is unverifiable at present due to the great scattering of the scholars and the multifarious character of modern communication.

The truth is that taqlid is obligatory upon the majority of the Muslim Community, since the majority are not qualified scholars; secondly, knowledge of the questions that enjoy ijma`and those that fall under khilaf has always been part of the obligatory curriculum of the scholars of Ahl al-Sunna, who exerted massive efforts to make themselves familiar with the positions of each other's schools at all times, although for them the means of communication and education was not nearly as developed as it is today. Yet they were the most intellectually accomplished, most dynamic and scholarly communicative of people, spurring on their mounts in the vanguard of other riders even past the age of sixty in the pursuit of knowledge. Thus the "Salafis'" pretense that there is no ijma` today only bespeaks their incapacity to keep abreast of such required knowledge and their estrangement from the scholarly community as well as from each other, as is visible from their perpetual internecine disagreements and mutual condemnations.


Imam al-Shafi`i defines the ijma` thus in his Risala:

The adherence of the congregation (jama`a) of Muslims to the conclusions of a given ruling pertaining to what is permitted and what is forbidden after the passing of the Prophet, Peace be upon him.

By "congregation of Muslims" he actually means the experts of independent reasoning (ahl al-ijtihad) and legal answers in the obscure matters which require insight and investigation, as well as the agreement of the Community of Muslims concerning what is obligatorily known of the religion with its decisive proofs.

Shafi`i continues (Risala p. 253): "The Prophet's order that men should follow the Muslim community is a proof that the Ijma` of the Muslims is binding." Later on (p. 286) he quotes the hadith whereby the Prophet said: "Believe my Companions, then those who succeed them, and after that those who succeed the Successors. But after them falsehood will prevail when people will swear to the truth without having been asked to swear, and testify without having been asked to testify. Only those who seek the pleasures of Paradise will keep to the Congregation..." Shafi`i comments: "He who holds what the Muslim Congregation (jama`a) holds shall be regarded as following the Congregation, and he who holds differently shall be regarded as opposing the Congregation he was ordered to follow. So the error comes from separation; but in the Congregation as a whole there is no error concerning the meaning of the Qur'an, the Sunna, and analogy (qiyas)."


The obligation to follow the opinion of those more knowledgeable than us is reported by Ibn Qayyim on his discussion of the different kinds of taqlid. He said: "There is an obligatory (wajib) taqlid, a forbidden taqlid, and a permitted taqlid... The obligatory taqlid is the taqlid of those who know better than us, as when a person has not obtained knowledge of an evidence from the Qur'an or the Sunna concerning something. Such a taqlid has been reported from Imam al-Shafi`i in many places, where he would say: "I said this in taqlid of `Umar" or "I said that in taqlid of `Uthman" or "I said that in taqlid of `Ata'." As al-Shafi`i said concerning the Companions -- may Allah be well pleased with all of them: "Their opinion for us is better than our opinion to ourselves."" Ibn Qayyim, A`lam al-muwaqqi`in `an rabb al-`alamin 2:186-187.

This is the meaning of Imam Ahmad's frequent warning in his answers: "Beware of speaking on a matter regarding which you don't stand on an imam (as your precedent)": iyyaka an tatakallama fi mas'alatin laysa laka fiha imam. Albani says: "This is a frequent saying of Imam Ahmad: see our editions of his responses to various questions, such as Masa'il `Abd Allah ibn Ahmad, Masa'il Ibn Hani' al-Nisaburi, and Masa'il al-Kharqi." Another saying of his under al-Ma'mun's Inquisition was: "How can I say what was never said before?" (kayfa aqulu ma lam yuqal), cited by Ibn Taymiyya in his Majmu` al-fatawa (19:320-341). See Albani's edition of San`ani's Raf` al-astar li ibtali adillat al-qa'ilina bi fana'i al-nar (Beirut & Damascus: al-maktab al-islami, 1405/1984), p. 41.

Jamil Effendi Sidqi al-Zahawi of Baghdad (d. 1930 CE) wrote in al-Fajr al-sadiq, a refutation of the Wahhabi heresy: "Among the evidences for the probative value of ijma' is the Prophet's statement, on him be peace: "My community will never agree on error." The content of this hadith is so well-known that it is impossible to lie about it [mutawatir] simply because it is produced in so many narrations, for example: "My community will not come together on misguidance"; "A group of my community will continue on truth until the coming of the Hour."; "The hand of Allah is with the congregation"; "Whoever separates from the congregation..."; "Whoever leaves the community or separates himself from it by the length of a span, dies the death of the Jahiliyya (period of ignorance prior to Islam)" etc."

`Abd Allah ibn Mas`ud said:

Whatever the Muslims deem to be good is good in the eyes of Allah and whatever they consider bad is bad in Allah's view.

This is an authentic saying of Ibn Mas`ud. Ahmad related it in his Musnad (1:379 #3599), also al-Bazzar and Tabarani in the Mu`jam al-Kabir as Haythami said in Majma` al-zawa'id, and he adds: "Its narrators are trustworthy." Al-Amidi considered this to be a hadith whose chain of narration goes back to the Prophet (al-Ihkam fi usul al-ahkam 2nd ed. Beirut, 1401/1982, 1:214). Ahmad Hasan points out that Abu Hanifa's disciple Imam Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Shaybani initially reported this as a hadith, but that later it was attributed to Ibn Mas`ud.

It is not true that its chain as related by Ahmad contains Sulayman ibn `Amr al-Nakha`i as claimed by `Abd al-Wahhab `Abd al-Latif the commentator to Malik's Muwatta' as narrated by Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani" in his notes (p. 91); nor that it is not contained in Ahmad's Musnad, as `Abd al-Latif further claims; this is a mistake on the part of hafiz al-Sakhawi in al-Maqasid al-hasana (p. 368) where he says: "Ahmad narrated it in al-Sunna and whoever ascribes it to the Musnad is mistaken [it is in the Musnad]... It is extracted by al-Bazzar, al-Tayalisi, al-Tabarani, and Abu Nu`aym in his biography of Ibn Ma`sud in the Hilya, also by Bayhaqi in al-I`tiqad."

Imam al-Tahawi said in his `Aqida al-tahawiyya:

Wa la nukhalifu jama`at al-muslimin "We do not separate [in belief and practice] from the largest group of the Muslims."

The commentators have explained that the "largest group of the Muslims" here refers to the ijma` al-mujtahidin or consensus of major scholars.

Both the knowledge of the questions on which there is consensus, and that of the differences of opinions on the questions on which there isn't, are requirements of Islamic scholarship. The first scholar to compile a list of questions on which there was consensus was Ibn al-Mundhir (d. 318) with his Kitab al-ijma` in which he lists 765 questions of worship and social transactions -- leaving out doctrine -- on which there is agreement not among 100% but among the majority of scholars, which is enough to form consensus according to the definition of Shafi`i and others such as Tabari (d. 310) and Abu Bakr al-Razi (d. 370). (Abu Ishaq al-Isfarayini said that the questions on which there was consensus exceeded 20,000. However, the author of the more recent Mawsu`at al-ijma` fi al-fiqh al-islami [Encyclopedia of Consensus in Islamic Law] compiled a total of 9,588 questions.) Then Ibn Hazm (d. 456) authored Maratib al-ijma` in which he included matters of doctrine but for which he was criticized by Ibn Taymiyya in his Naqd maratib al-ijma` (pub. 1357 H) for claiming that he had compiled the questions on which there was unanimous agreement although he himself contradicts it many times. Suyuti's (d. 911) Tashnif al-asma` bi masa'il al-ijma` was unfortunately lost.

Tirmidhi reports Ibn al-Mubarak's view that jama`a means the concentration of the manners and knowledge of the Sunna in a living person (or group of persons) at any given time, i.e. without the necessity of their forming the congregation of Muslims. Abu Bakr ibn al-`Arabi remarks that this is one of the many meanings of the word, and that the most common meaning is that of congregation in the large sense.

Ibn Taymiyya has two contradictory views about ijma`. In the Mukhtasar al-fatawa al-misriyya (Cairo, 1980) he says: Al-a'imma ijtima`uhum hujjatun qati`atun wa ikhtilafuhum rahmatun wasi`a: "The consensus of the Imams [of fiqh] on a question is a definitive proof, and their divergence of opinion is a vast mercy" (p. 35); and: "If one does not follow any of the four Imams [of fiqh]... then he is completely in error, for the truth is not found outside of these four in the whole shari`a" (p. 54).

In the second view Ibn Taymiyya departs from the above and divides the definition of ijma` into two kinds, a general one as expressed in views similar to the above, and a particular one to which he reserves particular adherence, which is that of the Salaf (Pious Predecessors). He says in his Aqida wasitiyya:

The Ahl al-Sunna... are also called Ahl al-Jama`a because jama`a (community) implies ijtima` (gathering), its opposite being furqa (separation), and the expression jama`a has become a name for people who share the same conviction, while ijma` (consensus) is the third principle (asl) on which knowledge of divine law (`ilm) and Religion (din) rest... Ijma` is defined as everything which people follow (jami` ma `alayh al-nas) in matters of religion. But the ijma` to which there is to be meticulous adherence is what the first pious generations (al-salaf al-salih) agreed upon, for after them divergences became numerous and the Community became spread out.

Note that he scatters the concept of ijma` between two diametrically opposed areas: the amorphous, unfalsifiable mass of "the people" on the one hand, and the bygone, crystallized era of the Salaf. The above departs from the position of all four schools, for whom the notion of ijma` is very much alive and rests on two fundamentals:

a) the consensus of Muslim scholars;

b) the consensus of Muslim scholars at any given time in history.

That Ibn Taymiyya particularly departed from the Hanbali school's position is clear from Muwaffaq al-Din Ibn Qudama's concept of ijma` in his al-Rawda fi usul al-fiqh as providing a categorical proof which permits of neither abrogation nor allegorical interpretation -- unlike Qur'an and the Sunna -- while Ibn Taymiyya rejects the notion that the Community is incapable of agreeing on an error. Perhaps this explains why he himself left ijma` alone on more questions than anyone else of those considered among Ahl al-Sunna before him, although Imam Ahmad said that for the single scholar to leave ijma` constitutes shudhudh (dissent and deviation). Ibn Taymiyya was severely brought to task for this by such scholars as Shaykh al-Islam al-hafiz Taqi al-Din al-Subki, al-hafiz al-`Izz ibn Jama`a, Shaykh al-Islam Imam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami, Taqi al-Din al-Hisni al-Dimashqi, Imam al-San`ani (in Raf` al-astar), and others.


  1. Fa`tasimu bi hablillahi jami`an wa la tafarraqu

    "Hold fast to the rope of Allah, all of you, and do not split into

    factions" (3:103).

  2. Wa la tafarraqu illa min ba`di ma ja'ahum al-`ilmu baghyan baynahum

    "And they were not divided until after the knowledge came unto them, through rivalry among themselves" (42:14).

  3. Ya ayyuha al-ladhina amanu ati`ullaha wa ati`u al-rasula wa uli al-amri minkum

    "O you who believe, obey Allah and obey the Prophet and thoseof authority among you" (4:59).

  4. Wa man yushaqiq al-rasula min ba`di ma tabayyana lahu al-huda wa yattabi` ghayra sabil al-mu'minin nuwallihi ma tawalla wa nuslihi jahannama wa sa'at masira

    "Whoever contraverts the Messenger after guidance has become clear to him and follows other than the believers' way, We shall give him over to what he has turned to and expose him unto hell, and how evil an outcome!" (4:115).

  5. Wa asbir nafsaka ma` al-ladhina yad`una rabbahum bi al-ghadati wa al-`ashiyyi yuriduna wajhah wa la ta`du `aynaka `anhum turidu zinat al-hayat al-dunya wa la tuti` man aghfalna qalbahu `an dhikrina wa ittaba`a hawahu wa kana amruhu furutan

    "Restrain thyself along with those who call upon their Lord at morning and evening, seeking his pleasure; and let not thine eyes overlook them, desiring the pomp of this worldly life; and obey not him whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance, who followeth his own lust and whose case has gone beyond all bounds." (18:29)

  6. Ati`u Allaha wa ati`u al-rasula wa uli al-amri minkum...

    "Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those who are in charge of affairs among you. Should you happen to dispute over something, then refer it to Allah and to the Messenger." (4:58-59)

  7. `Alaykum bi al-jama`a fa innallaha la yajma`u ummata Muhammadin `ala dalala

    "You have to follow the congregation for verily Allah will not make the largest group of Muhammad's community agree on error."

  8. La yajma`ullahu ummata Muhammadin `ala dalala

    "Verily Allah will not make Muhammad's community agree on error."

    La yajma`ullahu ummati `ala dalala

    "Verily Allah will not make my community agree on error"

    Inna Allaha la yajma`u ummati -- aw qala: ummata Muhammadin --`ala dalalatin wa yadullahi ma` al-jama`a

    "Verily Allah will not make my community -- or Muhammad's community -- agree on error, and Allah's hand is with the largest congregation." Tirmidhi said: "And the meaning of "jama`a" according to the people of knowledge is: the people of jurisprudence, learning, and hadith."

  9. Man arada minkum bi habuhat al-jannati fal yulzim al-jama`at

    "Whoever among you wants to be in the middle of Paradise, let him cling to the congregation."

  10. Inna al-shaytana dhaybun ka dhayb al-ghanam ya'khudh al-shat al-qasiya wal-najiya fa iyyakum wal-shu`aab wa `alaykum bil-jama`ati wal-`aammati wal-masjid

    "Shaytan is a wolf like the wolf that preys on sheep, taking the isolated and the stray among them; therefore, avoid factionalism and keep to the congregation and the collective and the masjid."

  11. Inna ummati la tajtami`u `ala dalalatin fa idha ra'aytum al-ikhtilaf fa `alaykum bi al-sawad al-a`zam.

    "My community shall never agree upon misguidance, therefore, if you see divergences, you must follow the greater mass or larger group."

    1. Lan tajtami`a ummati `ala dalalatin fa `alaykum bi al-jama`ati fa inna yadullahi `ala al-jama`a.

      "My Community shall not agree upon misguidance. Therefore, you must stay with the congregation, and Allah's hand is over the congregation."

  12. Innallaha qad ajara ummati min an tajtami`a `ala dalala

    "Verily Allah has protected my Community from agreeing upon error."

  13. Kana al-nasu yas'aluna Rasulallahi `an al-khayr wa kuntu as'aluhu `an al-sharr...qultu ya rasulallahi sifhum lana [ayy al-du`at `ala abwabi jahannam] qala hum min jildatina wa yatakallamuna bi alsinatina qultu fa ma ta'murni in adrakani dhalik al-yawm? qala tulzim jama`at al-muslimin wa imamahum

    "People used to ask the Prophet about the good and I used to ask him about the evil... I said: O Messenger of Allah, describe them to us [the callers at the door of the fire]. He said: They are of our complexion and they speak our very language. I said: What do you order me to do if that day reaches me? He said: You must keep to the congregation of Muslims and to their leader."

  14. Yadu Allah `ala al-jama`a

    "Allah's hand is over the group."

    al-Munawi said: "Allah's hand is over the group means His protection and preservation for them, signifying that the collectivity of the people of Islam are in Allah's fold, so be also in Allah's shelter, in the midst of them, and do not separate yourselves from them. Whoever diverges from the overwhelming majority concerning what is lawful and unlawful and on which the Community does not differ has slipped off the path of guidance and this will lead him to hell."

    Yadu Allah `ala al-jama`at wa man shadhdha shadhdha ila al-nar.

    "Allah's hand is over the group, and whoever dissents from them departs to hell."

    Yadu Allah `ala al-jama`a, ittabi`u al-sawad al-a`zam fa innahu man shadhdha shadhdha ila al-nar.

    "Allah's hand is over the group, follow the largest group, for verily whoever dissents from them departs to hell."

    Man faraqa al-jama`ata shibran mata maytatan jahiliyya.

    "Whoever leaves the community or separates himself from it by the length of a span, dies the death of the Jahiliyya (period of ignorance prior to Islam)";

  15. 15. Ma ra'ahu al-muslimuna hasanan fa huwa `ind Allahi hasanun.

    "That which the Muslims consider good, Allah considers good."

  16. Sataftariqu ummati `ala thalathat wa sab`ina firqatin kulluhum fil nari ila millatin wahidat, qalu man hiya ya rasulallah, qala ma ana `alayhi wa as-habi

    "My Community will split into seventy-three sects. All of them will be in the fire except one group. They asked: Who are they, O Messenger of Allah? He said: Those that follow my way and that of my companions."

  17. La tazalu ta'ifatun min ummati yuqatiluna `ala al-haqqi zahirina ila yawm al-qiyama

    "There will always be a group from my Community that fight for truth and remain victorious until Judgment Day."


Certain other ahadith and sayings that relate to the scarcity of the People of the Sunna are sometimes misinterpreted as meaning that the Jama`a and the Sawad al-a`zam do not mean the largest group on the sole strength of Ibn al-Mubarak's saying reported by Tirmidhi (see introductory section above). This is a weak opinion, as the scarcity in the said sayings refer in fact to the major Companions, major Tabi`in, great scholars, and great saints such as the Imams, abdal (Substitutes), and Renewers of religion which are few and far in-between. The Sawad al-a`zam is not only formed by them but by those who follow them also. Its lexical meaning of "massive gathering of human beings" is ascertained by the hadith in Tirmidhi (hasan sahih):

Ibn `Abbas narrated: When the Prophet was taken up to heaven he passed by Prophets followed by their nations and he passed by Prophets followed by their groups and he passed by Prophets followed by no one until he saw a tremendous throng of people (sawad `azim) so he said: "Who are these?" and the answer was: "These are Musa and his nation, but raise your head and look up," whereupon the Prophet said: "(I raised my head and saw) a tremendous throng (sawad `azim) that had blocked up the entire firmament from this side and that!" And it was said: "These are your Nation..."


  1. 1. al-Hafiz al-Bayhaqi in his book al-Madkhal and al-Zarkashi in his Tadhkirah fi al-ahadith al-mushtaharah relate:

    Imam al-Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr al-Siddiq said: "The differences among the Companions of Muhammad are a mercy for Allah's servants."

    al-Hafiz al-`Iraqi the teacher of Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani said:

    This is a saying of al-Qasim ibn Muhammad who said: The difference of opinion among the Companions of Muhammad is a mercy.

  2. Al-Hafiz Ibn al-Athir in the introduction to his Jami` al-usul fi ahadith al-rasul relates the above saying from Imam Malik according to al-Hafiz Ibn al-Mulaqqin in his Tuhfat al-muhtaj ila adillat al-Minhaj and Ibn al-Subki in his Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyya.
  3. Bayhaqi and Zarkashi also said:

    Qutada said: `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz used to say: "I would dislike it if the Companions of Muhammad did not differ among them, because had they not differed there would be no leeway (for us)."

  4. Bayhaqi also relates in al-Madkhal and Zarkashi in the Tadhkira:

    al-Layth ibn Sa`d said on the authority of Yahya ibn Sa`id: "The people of knowledge are the people of flexibility (tawsi`a). Those who give fatwas never cease to differ, and so this one permits something while that one forbids it, without one finding fault with the other when he knows of his position."

  5. Al-Hafiz al-Sakhawi said in his Maqasid al-hasana p. 49 #39 after quoting the above:

    I have read the following written in my shaykh's (al-Hafiz ibn Hajar) handwriting: "The hadith of Layth is a reference to a very famous hadith of the Prophet, cited by Ibn al-Hajib in the Mukhtasar in the section on qiyas (analogy), which says: "Difference of opinion in my Community is a mercy for people" (ikhtilafu ummati rahmatun li al-nas). There is a lot of questioning about its authenticity, and many of the imams of learning have claimed that it has no basis (la asla lahu). However, al-Khattabi mentions it in the context of a digression in Gharib al-hadith... and what he says concerning the tracing of the hadith is not free from imperfection, but he makes it known that it does have a basis in his opinion."

  6. Al-`Iraqi mentions all of the above (1-5) in his Mughni `an haml al-asfar and adds:

    What is meant by "the Community" in this saying is those competent for practicing legal reasoning (al-mujtahidun) in the branches of the law, wherein reasoning is permissible.

    What `Iraqi meant by saying "the branches wherein reasoning is permissible" is that difference is not allowed in matters of doctrine, since there is agreement that there is only one truth in the essentials of belief and anyone, whether a mujtahid or otherwise, who takes a different view automatically renounces Islam as stated by Shawkani.

    Albani in his attack on the hadith "Difference of opinion in my Community is a mercy" ignores this distinction and even adduces the verse: "If it had been from other than Allah they would have found therein much discrepancy" (4:82) in order to prove that differences can never be a mercy in any case but are always a curse. His point is directed entirely against those who are content to follow a madhhab. The only scholar he quotes in support of his position is Ibn Hazm al-Zahiri, whose mistake in this was denounced by Nawawi.

  7. Ibn Hazm said in al-Ihkam fi usul al-ahkam (5:64):

    The saying "Difference of opinion in my Community is a mercy" is the most perverse saying possible, because if difference were mercy, agreement would be anger, and it is impossible for a Muslim to say this, because there can only be either agreement, or difference, and there can only be either mercy, or anger.

    Imam Nawawi refuted this view in his Commentary on Sahih Muslim:

    If something (i.e. agreement) is a mercy it is not necessary for its opposite to be the opposite of mercy. No-one makes this binding, and no-one even says this except an ignoramus or one who affects ignorance. Allah the Exalted said: "And of His mercy He has made night for you so that you would rest in it," and He has named night a mercy: it does not necessarily ensue from this that the day is a punishment.

  8. al-Khattabi said in Gharib al-hadith:

    Difference of opinion in religion is of three kinds:

    In affirming the Creator and His Oneness: to deny it is disbelief;

    In His attributes and will: to deny them is innovation;

    In the different rulings of the branches of the law (ahkam al-furu`): Allah has made them mercy and generosity for the scholars, and that is the meaning of the hadith: "Difference of opinion in my Community is a mercy."

  9. al-Hafiz al-Suyuti says in his short treatise Jazil al-mawahib fi ikhtilaf al-madhahib (The abundant grants concerning the differences among the schools):

    The hadith "Difference of opinion in my Community is a mercy for people" has many benefits among which are the fact that the Prophet foretold of the differences that would arise after his time among the madhahib in the branches of the law, and this is one of his miracles because it is a foretelling of things unseen. Another benefit is his approval of these differences and his confirmation of them because he characterizes them as a mercy. Another benefit is that the legally responsible person can choose to follow whichever he likes among them. [After citing the saying of `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz already quoted (#3 above), Suyuti continues:] This indicates that what is meant is their differences in the rulings in the branches of the law.

  10. The muhaddith al-Samhudi relates al-Hafiz Ibn al-Salah's discussion of Imam Malik's saying concerning difference of opinion among the Companions: "Among them is the one that is wrong and the one that is right: therefore you must exercise ijtihad." Samhudi said:

    Clearly, it refers to differences in legal rulings (ahkam). Ibn al-Salah said: "This is different from what Layth said concerning the flexibility allowed for the Community, since this applies exclusively to the mujtahid as he said: "you must exercise ijtihad," because the mujtahid's competence makes him legally responsible (mukallaf) to exercise ijtihad and there is no flexibility allowed for him over the matter of their difference. The flexibility applies exclusively to the unqualified follower (muqallid). The people meant in the saying: "Difference of opinion in my Community is a mercy for people" are those unqualified followers. As for the import of Malik's saying "Among the Companions is the one that is wrong and the one that is right," it is meant only as an answer to those who say that the mujtahid is able to follow the Companions. It is not meant for others."

  11. Imam Abu Hanifa said in the shorter version of al-Fiqh al-Akbar:

    Difference of opinion in the Community is a token of divine mercy.

  12. Ibn Qudama al-Hanbali said in al-`Aqa'id:

    The difference in opinion in the Community is a mercy, and their agreement is a proof.

  13. Ibn Taymiyya in the Mukhtasar al-fatawa al-misriyya says:

    al-a'imma ijtima`uhum hujjatun qati`atun wa ikhtilafuhum rahmatun wasi`a -- The consensus of the Imams [of fiqh] on a question is a definitive proof, and their divergence of opinion is a vast mercy... If one does not follow any of the four Imams [of fiqh]... then he is completely in error, for the truth is not found outside of these four in the whole shari`a.

  14. al-Shatibi in Kitab al-i`tisam said:

    A large group of the Salaf deemed the differences of the Community in the branches of the Law to be one of the paths of Allah's mercy...

    The exposition of the fact that the aforesaid difference is a mercy is what is narrated from al-Qasim ibn Muhammad (ibn Abi Bakr al-Siddiq)'s words: "Allah has made us gain through the differences among the Companions of Allah's Messenger in their practice." No one practices according to the practice of one of them except he (al-Qasim) considered it to be within the fold of correctness.

    Dumra ibn Raja' narrated: `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz and al-Qasim ibn Muhammad met and began to review the hadiths. `Umar then began to mention things which differed from what al-Qasim mentioned, and al-Qasim would give him trouble regarding it until the matter became clearer. `Umar said to him: "Don't do that! (i.e. don't question the difference.) I dislike stripping the favors (of Allah) from their differences."

    Ibn Wahb also narrated from al-Qasim that he said: "I was pleased by the saying of `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz: I would dislike it if the Companions of Muhammad did not differ among them, because if there were only one view then the people would be in difficulty. Verily the Companions are Imams which one uses for guidance (innahum a'immatun yuqtada bihim). If someone follows the saying of one of them, that is Sunna."

    The meaning of this is that they (the Companions) have opened wide for people the door of scholarly striving (ijtihad) and of the permissibility of difference in striving. If they had not opened it, the mujtahids would be in a bind, because the extent of ijtihad and that of opinions do not generally agree: the people who exert striving would then, despite their obligation to follow what they are convinced of, be obliged to follow what differs with them, and this is a kind of unbearable legal obligation and one of the greatest binds.

    Allah therefore gave the Community generous leeway in the existence of disagreement in the branches of the law among them. This is the door that He opened for the Community to enter into this mercy. How then could they possibly not be meant by "those on whom thy Lord has mercy" in the verses "Yet they cease not differing, save those on whom thy Lord has mercy" (11:118-119)?! Therefore, their difference in the branches of the Law are like their agreement in them (in the fact that both consist in mercy), and praise belongs to Allah.

  15. Ibn `Abd al-Barr said in Jami` bayan al-`ilm:

    The ulama are in agreement that it is permissible, for whoever looks into the differing opinions of the Prophet's Companions, to follow the position of whomever he likes among them. The same holds for whoever looks into the positions of the Imams other than the Companions, as long as he does not know that he has erred by contradicting the text of the Qur'an or Sunna or the Consensus of the scholars, in which case he cannot follow the above position. However, if this contradiction is not clear to him in any of the three respects mentioned, then it is permissible for him to follow the saying in question even if he does not know whether it is right or wrong, for he is in the realm of the common people (al-`amma) for whom it is permissible to imitate the scholar upon asking him something, even without knowing the bases of the answer...

    al-`Uqayli mentioned that Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Rahman al-Sayrafi said: I asked Ahmad ibn Hanbal: "If the Companions of the Prophet differed regarding a certain question, is it permissible for us to check their positions to see who among them is right so that we may follow him?" He replied: "It is not permissible to check on the Prophet's Companions (la yajuz alnazar bayna ashabi rasulillah)." I said: "Then what is the procedure in this?" He replied: "You follow whichever of them you like."

  16. Abu Dawud narrates that Ibn Mas`ud had censured `Uthman for completing the prayer while travelling (i.e. rather than shortening it to two cycles instead of four), yet when he prayed behind `Uthman he performed four cycles and did not shorten it. When this was pointed out to him he said: "Dissent is an evil" (al-khilafu sharr). (That is: dissent in the lines of prayer, or in the unity of Muslims.) Abu Dawud mentioned al-Zuhri's explanation that `Uthman had prayed four rak`at at Mina instead of two because that year the beduins had come in great numbers and he wished to teach them that the prayer consisted in four cycles.
  17. Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani related in his Jami` fi al-sunan that Ibn Mas`ud said:

    Whoever wishes to follow the Sunna, let him follow the Sunna of those that died (i.e. keep to the practice of the Companions). Those are the Prophet's Companions. They were the best of this Community, the purest of heart, the deepest in knowledge, and the scarcest in discourse. They were a people Allah chose for His Prophet's company and the establishement of His Religion. Therefore be aware of their superiority and follow them in their views, and hold fast to whatever you are able from their manners and their lives. Verily they were on a straight path.

  18. Ibn Qudama in al-Mughni relates the following examples of the great Imams' occasional practice of positions contrary to their ijtihad:

    Abu Hanifa, Muhammad al-Shaybani, and Abu Yusuf's position is that ablution is nullified by bleeding. Yet when Abu Yusuf saw that Harun al-Rashid stood for prayer after being cupped without performing ablution, based on Malik's fatwa for him -- since bleeding does not annull ablution in Malik's view -- he prayed behind al-Rashid, and did not repeat his prayer. That is: he considered the prayer valid, and that therefore the ablution is not nullified for one who follows Malik's fatwa.

    Another time Abu Yusuf performed ghusl and prayed Jum`a in congregation, then he was told that a dead mouse had been found in the tank of the bath water. He did not repeat the prayer but said: "We shall follow in the matter the opinion of our brothers from the Hijaz (i.e. school of Malik): If the quantity of water is more than two pitchers' worth, the water is still pure (if a dead mouse is found in it)."

    When Shafi`i prayed the dawn prayer with the Hanafis at the grave of Abu Hanifa in Baghdad, he did not make the supplication after rising from bowing in the second cycle of prayer as is required in his own school but not in the Hanafi.

    Imam Ahmad's opinion is similar to the Hanafis' concerning the necessity of ablution after cupping. Yet when he was asked: "Can one pray behind the Imam who stands up to lead prayer after being cupped without having renewed his ablution?" he replied: "How could I not pray behind Malik and Sa`id al-Musayyib?" and, in another narration: "Can I forbid you from praying behind So-and-so?" That is: behind the Imams who do not consider it necessary to renew ablution.

    Imam Ahmad also declared that one must pronounce the basmala loud when leading the prayer in Madina -- although this is contrary to his general view in the matter -- due to the fact that the majority of the people of Madina follow the school of Malik, which requires it. Ibn Taymiyya mentions it in his Qa`ida fi tawahhud al-milla.


Some mention the account of `Umar's position over the difference of opinion that took place between Ubayy ibn Ka`b and `Abd Allah ibn Mas`ud over the matter of praying in a single garment. Ibn `Abd al-Barr said in his book Jami` bayan al-`ilm:

`Umar ibn al-Khattab was angry about the disagreement between Ubayy ibn Ka`b and Ibn Mas`ud on the question of praying in a single cloth: Ubayy said that it was fine and good, while Ibn Mas`ud said that this was done only when clothes were scarce. `Umar said: "Two men disagreeing from among the Prophet's Companions who are those one looks at and takes from?!" -- and this supports the import of the hadith which they have declared weak whereby My Companions are like the stars; whoever among them you use for guidance, you will be rightly guided. `Umar continued: "Ubayy has told the truth, nor has Ibn Mas`ud fallen short of it: but don't let me hear anyone disagree about this matter after this point, or I will do such-and-such with them!"

`Umar considered neither Ubayy nor Ibn Mas`ud to be wrong, as illustrated by `Umar's answer in the following hadith from the Book of Prayer in Sahih al-Bukhari:

Narrated Abu Hurayra: A man stood up and asked the Prophet about praying in a single garment. The Prophet said, "Has everyone of you two garments?" A man put a similar question to `Umar whereupon he replied: "When Allah makes you wealthier then you should act wealthier. Let a man gather up his clothes about himself. One can pray in a loinwrap and mantle, or a loinwrap and shirt, or in a loinwrap and long sleeves, or in trousers and a cloak, or in trousers and a shirt, or in trousers and long sleeves, or in legless breeches and long sleeves, or in shorts and a shirt." The narrator added: "And I think he said: "Or in shorts and a cloak."

Ibn Hajar in Fath al-Bari relates that the second questioner in the above hadith, that is: the man who asked `Umar, was `Abd Allah ibn Mas`ud. He mentions the report in the Musannaf of `Abd al-Razzaq whereby Ibn Mas`ud approached `Umar due to his difference with Ubayy who permitted prayer in a single garment in the sense that it is not offensive (makruh), while Ibn Mas`ud held that this was the case only at the time there was scarcity in clothing, whereupon `Umar went up to the pulpit and said: "What is right is what Ubayy said, and Ibn Mas`ud certainly did not fall short" (al-qawlu ma qala ubayy wa lam ya'il ibnu mas`ud).

Thus the decision of `Umar whereby he authorized praying in a single garment without blame is not a proof that "one was right and the other was wrong" as some superficial observers understand, rather it is a proof that `Umar exercised his own ijtihad and authority as the Greater Imam in settling the question. He ruled without dismissing any view. Furthermore, if Ibn Mas`ud held his position from the Prophet he cannot change it even after the ruling of the Greater Imam. This is true of every true mujtahid at any time: he is obligated to follow the result of his own ijtihad even if it should differ with that of every other mujtahid of the past and present, unless he becomes convinced that he was mistaken in his previous ijtihad.

According to all the scholars it is incumbent upon the leader of Muslims to be a mujtahid and it is his responsibility in such cases to settle the question for the sake of the people of his time, and that is the proper context of Imam Malik's injuction: "Exercise ijtihad." It is addressed to the mufti who must establish what is correct in clearcut fashion, not to the muqallid or follower who is only interested in "a way to follow" (= madhhab) without having to verify its proofs and inferences. The muqallid is not free to follow other than what he accepts as correct, nor is the ijtihad of the unqualified ever considered valid for others. However, another mufti may reach another conclusion and be followed, and is not bound by that of the first, nor are those who take their fatwa from him, and no-one finds fault with the other, as al-Layth ibn Sa`d stated. Those who condemn taqlid unconditionally are innovating in religion. As Ibn Qayyim said, there is a kind of taqlid that is even obligatory:

There is an obligatory (wajib) taqlid, a forbidden taqlid, and a permitted taqlid... The obligatory taqlid is the taqlid of those who know better than us, as when a person has not obtained knowledge of an evidence from the Qur'an or the Sunna concerning something. Such a taqlid has been reported from Imam al-Shafi`i in many places, where he would say: "I said this in taqlid of `Umar" or "I said that in taqlid of `Uthman" or "I said that in taqlid of `Ata'." As al-Shafi`i said concerning the Companions -- may Allah be well pleased with all of them: "Their opinion for us is better than our opinion to ourselves."

A clear proof that the fatwa of the leader overrules but does not invalidate the opinion of the Companions even if it directly contradicts it, is the fact that when `Umar ibn al-Khattab proposed to have all the hadith collected and written down he consulted the Companions and they unanimously agreed to his proposal; later he disapproved of it and ordered that everyone who had written a collection burn it. Yet `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz later ordered that hadith be collected and written.

Those who think they are mujtahid but in reality are unqualified, when faced by the followers of madhahib, camouflage their deviation under the claim: "We must follow Qur'an and Sunna, not madhahib." When it is pointed out to them that to follow a madhhab is to follow Qur'an and Sunna through true ijtihad, they become upset: "How can the four madhhabs differ and be right at the same time? I have heard that only one may be right, and the others wrong." The answer is that one certainly follows only the ruling that he believes is right, but he cannot fanatically invalidate the following of other rulings by other madhahib, because they also are based on sound principles of ijtihad. At this they rebel and begin numbering the mistakes of the mujtahids: "Imam Shafi`i was right in this, but he was wrong in that; Imam Abu Hanifa was right in this, but he was wrong in that..." They do not even spare the Companions. But when they are rebuked for this blatant disrespect "They become arrogant in their sin" (2:206). And this is the legacy of the "Salafi" movement.

As-Sunna Foundation of America