The Four Schools of Islamic Jurisprudence in the Balance

Author : Dr. Hassan Abu_Arqoub

Date Added : 30-09-2019

The Four Schools of Islamic Jurisprudence in the Balance

In a mocking tone of voice, somebody claimed that it is forbidden to follow the schools of Islamic jurisprudence, and that a Muslim must rely on the Quran and the Prophetic Sunnah to derive rulings by himself. This is because the heathens disabled their minds when they followed the erroneous ways of their ancestors and were doomed to Hell as a result.

I will give a brief answer to this issue:

First: One who fulfilled all the requirements of Ijtihad (juristic effort to infer expert legal rulings) must exercise it and isn`t allowed to imitate other Mujtahids (Plural of Mujtahid: one whoexercises Ijtihad).

Second: One who did Ijtihad in a certain issue and arrived at an opinion that outweighs the opinions of his own Madhab (School of thought), or even contradicts them, must adhere to that opinion.

Third: One who didn`t fulfill the requirements of Ijtihad must imitate a Mujtahid, because it isn`t permissible that he does Ijtihad on his own. The evidence on this is that Allah the Almighty says, "If ye realize this not, ask of those who possess the Message."{An-Nahil,43}. In this verse, Allah the Almighty commands us to ask those who possess the Message and to follow their opinions. Thus, how did the above "Somebody" conclude that it is forbidden to follow the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence (Madahib)?

He the Exalted also says, "O ye who believe! Obey God, and obey the Apostle, and those charged with authority among you."{An-Nisa`, 59}. Here, " those charged with authority" refers to those who possess the Message(Scholars/learned men of the faith).

Fourth: Does the ordinary person master the tools of Ijtihad in order to be able to derive rulings from the Quran and the Prophetic Sunnah? Does he understand the holistic meanings of the Quran and the Sunnah? Does he have the required language skills? Actually, calling ordinary people to do Ijtihad is like calling them to operate on patients under the pretext that they can easily access the books of medicine. They will definitely fail to do so because it isn`t their specialty.

Fifth: The above simile offered by that "Somebody" is incorrect. Disabling their minds-due to imitating their heathen ancestors- to hinder them from knowing Allah is a matter of belief in which certainty is required while imitation (Taqlid) is dispraised. This is because imitation is founded on conjecture not certainty. In Fiqh (Jurisprudence) issues, it is acceptable to resort to imitation because conjecture suffices in those matters. However, certainty is required in matters of Aqida (Creed) as Allah has banned imitation in them. Nonetheless, He the Exalted allowed it in Fiqh and there is a world of difference between the two.

Having pointed out that imitating a Mujtahid in matters of Fiqh is an obligation and backed that with evidence from the texts of Sharia, somebody might object to that by saying that a Mujtahid is a human being and humans do make mistakes. Why should I follow his opinion and leave the Quran and the Sunnah, which are flawless? The answer is included in the following points:

First: We are agreed on the flawlessness of the Quran and the Sunnah, and the fact that a Mujtahid is liable to make mistakes.

Second: Undoubtedly, a Mujtahid is a human being who could be right or wrong. However, 'Amr bin al-'Aas (RA) narrated:

He heard Allah's Messenger (PBUH) say, "When a judge gives a ruling, having tried his best to decide correctly, and is right (in his decision), he will have a double reward; and when he gives a ruling having tried his best to decide correctly, and is wrong (in his decision), he will have a single reward." [Agreed upon]. This Hadith is about the one who does Ijtihad after having fulfilled all its requirements. In all situations, he is rewarded for trying his best and Allah burdens not a soul beyond its scope. It suffices that he arrives at the ruling by what is probable, and this is sufficient to ensure the validity of the acts of worship in the sight of Almighty Allah. Moreover, it also suffices the imitator (Muqalid) to follow the Mujtahid since the former doesn`t know for sure that the latter has arrived at the correct ruling, but thinks that is probable, and this is sufficient.

Third: Although a Mujtahid could be right or wrong, he is more likely to be right than wrong since he masters the tools and methods of Ijtihad. Accordingly, how could an ordinary person, who hasn`t fulfilled the requirements of Ijtihad, be better than the scholar who has? Isn`t that ordinary person a human being as well? Aren`t his mistakes going to be greater than the times he is right, if any? Therefore, who is better?

Fourth: The objection made by that "Somebody" carries with it an untrue assumption, which is that the Mujtahid contradicts the Quran and the Sunnah. As if that "Somebody" is saying that Mujtahids derive rulings from other sources. If that is the case, then that "Somebody" is free to take whatever he wants from the Quran and the Sunnah and avoid following the Mujtahids. This is a very grave assumption since a Mujtahid derives rulings from the Quran and the Sunnah where judgment to what is right and what is wrong rests with Allah alone. In other words, a Mujtahid doesn`t come up with rulings from his own mind. The rulings are there, but he simply explicates them.

It is no secret that the schools of Islamic jurisprudence were subjected to vicious attacks, which aim to make Muslims question this sublime jurisprudential authority and abandon it. As a result, people turn to the ignorant as their leaders; then they are asked to deliver religious verdicts and they deliver them without knowledge, they go astray, and lead others astray.

One of those vicious attacks is the call to abandon the schools of Islamic jurisprudence completely and to prohibit affiliating with any. This is under the pretext that the schools rest on human Ijtihad, which is fallible, and that a Muslim must follow the Quran and the Sunnah, which are infallible. One proponent of this call even had the audacity to tell those praying behind him: Would like that I lead you according to the prayer of the Shafie or the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH)? How dare he speak ill of this distinguished Imam who was called the defender of the Sunnah. Is it possible that the defender of the Sunnah contradicts the Prophet (PBUH)?. This is knowing that he died in (204 H) i.e. he is close to the era of the Prophet (PBUH). He is also the disciple of Imam Malik, the Imam of Medinah. Actually, this call is a deliberate attempt to degrade the great Imams and scholars of the Muslim nation. Fortunately, this heinous attack had declined along with all the afflictions resulting from it.

The next call isn`t less evil than the first, although might seem a bit gentler. It recognizes the important role of the schools of Islamic thought, but confines that role to the times in which they prevailed. In other words, they aren`t fit for modern times. Moreover, there were calls for the renewal of the Islamic jurisprudence. The strange thing about the latter calls is that they came from individuals who aren`t specialized in Sharia sciences. Some of the main results for these are:  calling for equality between males and females, freeing women from the guardianship of husbands, abolishing the prescribed penalties under the pretext that they are contradictory with human rights and changing the concept of Awrah (Private parts) for men and women. This is in addition to giving a new concept to prayer, fasting and other acts of worship. This so-called gentler call aims to destroy the very foundations of the Islamic religion all together.

The first call aimed to defame the Imams to destroy the concept of role model while the second aimed to uproot the pillars of Islam by showing it as a modern, limitless, westernized religion.

Some people might be under the impression that the schools of Islamic thought were only fit for past times and can`t be useful for today, is this true? I will answer this question through the following points:

First: schools of Islamic thought aren`t sayings of Imams in the past. Rather, they are methods of Ijtihad. If we say that Al-Shafie said so and so about a certain religious issue, this doesn`t mean that it is his personal opinion. Rather, it is the methodology of the school itself, which aims to address the various needs of the people. In fact, Al-Shafie`s views represent his school`s methodology in Ijtihad.

Second: Some religious rulings relied on customs and public interest. The latter have changed according to change in time and place and the rulings changed accordingly. For example, the judge used to sit in the mosque and deliver final judgments about almost all issues of everyday life. However, nowadays, there are three levels of litigation: court of first instance, court of appeal and court of cassation. This is in addition to competent courts and the judiciary. All of this depends on the public interest embodied in achieving justice, which is among the higher objectives of Sharia. Accordingly, Islamic jurisprudence accepts this development and doesn`t disagree with it.

Third: People`s needs are constantly changing and the schools of Islamic thought are flexible enough to absorb that change. As a result, there is always an answer-from Islamic jurisprudence-to emerging issues. When an Imam dies, it doesn`t mean that his school of thought dies with him. Every new generation will use the principles of those schools to arrive at answers for the different religious questions.

Fourth: Sharia is divided into two parts: Acts of worship and transactions. The first doesn`t change regardless of change in time and place while the second, which is the largest, does. The jurisprudent delivers religious judgments that suit time and place in line with the methodology of his school of thought.

In conclusion, schools of Islamic jurisprudence are fit for every time and place because they rest on Sharia, which is, definitely, fit for every time and place.