Ijma` – Role of Taqlid

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.

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