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Ijtihad and the Refutation of Nabhani

Mahmud Shukri al-Alusi


Mahmud Shukri al-Alusi (Iraq, 1857–1924) was the foremost proponent of religious reform in late Ottoman Iraq. A prolific writer, he addressed such controversial religious issues as independent reasoning (ijtihad) in Islamic law and innovations in worship. He also contributed to the reform movement by searching for and publishing the works of earlier scholars like Ibn Taymiyya (1263–1328). His modernist inclination appears in arguments for the harmony of modern scientific views, like heliocentrism, with the Qur'an. Alusi came from a long line of prominent religious scholars, the most famous of whom was his grandfather, the author of a major exegesis of the Qur'an. After a traditional religious education, he taught in several Baghdad mosques and seminaries. Around 1890, he began to criticize popular veneration of saints’ tombs and the inclusion of music and dance in Sufi rituals. In 1902, conservative scholars plotted to remove him from Baghdad for allegedly spreading Wahhabi ideas, but their effort failed. Alusi gathered a small number of religious students who continued to pursue Islamic reform in Iraq. He is also notable for attracting the attention of European scholars. He befriended the great French Orientalist Louis Massignon (1883–1962), and he won a prize from the Stockholm Oriental Languages Academy for his three-volume history of the pre-Islamic Arabs. This selection is excerpted from a polemical attack, published anonymously, on a scholar who objected to ijtihad. After the Ottoman Young Turk Revolution of 1908, his publishers wrote Alusi's name by hand on each copy of the book.1 Muhammad Bahjat al-Athari, Mahmud Shukri al-Alusi wa-ara’uhu al-lughawiyya (Mahmud Shukri al-Alusi and his Views on Language) (Cairo, Egypt: Jami‘at al-Duwal al- ‘Arabiyya, 1958); Ibrahim Samarra’i, al-Sayyid Mahmud Shukri al-Alusi wa-bulugh al-‘arab (Mahmud Shukri al-Alusi and the Rise of the Arabs) (Beirut, Lebanon: al-Mu’assasa al- Jami‘iyya li’l-Dirasat wa’l-Nashr wa’l-Tawzi‘, 1992).

The time has come for the pen to gallop along the racecourse of debate, stirring up the dust of controversy in the face of the most intractable opponent, who has mounted the steed of obstinacy. I ask God, the Exalted, not to allow the tip of my pen to descend into false accusation, but to safeguard me against wrongdoing and lapses in word and deed, for God is the Protection and Refuge from all ills. I will achieve success only through Him; on Him I depend, and to Him I turn in repentance.

[Yusuf] al-Nabhani [Palestine-Lebanon, 1850– 1932] wrote, “The first section of the introduction, on the termination of al-ijtihad al-mutlaq [unrestricted or absolute freedom of Islamic legal interpretation] —a capability claimed, falsely, by the Wahhabi [scripturalist] group and other ignorant heretics from various Islamic madhhabs [legal schools] who admire them.” I made this discussion into a separate treatise, entitled al-Siham al-sa’ibah li-ashab al-da‘awi al-kadhiba [Arrows that Strike Those Who Make False Claims]. After presenting the prologue of that treatise, [al-Nabhani] continued, “I hold that the claim of ijtihad in this age—by [Wahhabis] and others, no matter how learned—is false. It should be ignored, and should not be relied upon.” He also stated, “I responded to those who claim ijtihad in this age in my book Hujjat Allah ‘ala al-‘alamin [God's Proof to Mankind]. I cited on this issue statements of religious scholars such as the Imam [leading scholar] [‘Abd al-Wahhab] al- Sha‘rani [1492–1565], the Imam [Abu’l-‘Abbas] Ibn Hajar al-Haytami [1504–1567], Imam [‘Abd al- Ra’uf] al-Munawi [1545–1621], and others, which should serve to persuade every person endowed with common sense and sound understanding.” Then he said, “As for ijtihad, it is not claimed today except by those of defective mind and religion, unless it is through wilaya [here, an outstanding mystic's special status or closeness to God], as was stated by the great Shaykh Muhyi al-Din Ibn al-‘Arabi [1165– 1240].” Then he quoted al-Jami‘ al-saghir [The Small Compendium], by Ibn Hajar, which al-Munawi also quoted in the beginning of his large commentary on this book: “[Ibn Hajar] said, ‘When Jalal [al- Din] al-Suyuti [1445–1505] claimed ijtihad, his contemporaries attacked him and criticized him en masse. They wrote him a petition presenting a number of legal questions on which Shafi‘i jurists had proposed two different rulings considered equally valid. They demanded that if he had even the lowest level of ijtihad—that is, ijtihad al-fatwa [the ability to select among the legal opinions proposed within a particular legal school]—then he should explain the opinion he considered most acceptable in this regard, and provide the appropriate evidence according to the rules of ijtihad. Al-Suyuti, however, sent back the petition without writing any answer, and excused himself, saying that he was busy with other concerns that prevented him from looking into the matter.’ Ibn Hajar said, ‘Contemplate the difficulty of this level, I mean ijtihad al-fatwa, which is the lowest of all the levels of ijtihad, and it will become apparent to you that anyone who claims it—let alone claims unrestricted ijtihad—is addlepated and his thinking disturbed, like someone who rides blindly and strikes randomly.’ [Ibn Hajar] said, ‘Even if someone could conceive mentally of the level of unrestricted ijtihad, he would be too ashamed before God to claim it for any person of these times.’ Moreover, [Ibn Hajar] said, ‘[Taqi al-Din] Ibn al-Salah [al-Shahrazuri, 1181–1245] and his followers stated that [ijtihad] had terminated about 300 years before their time, and Ibn al-Salah was about 300 years ago, since he lived in the sixth century [A.H., or 12th century A.D.], so as of today it has been discontinued for 600 years’—that is, with respect to the era of Ibn Hajar, who lived in the tenth century. So [ijtihad] has now been discontinued for about a thousand years, for we are in the seventeenth year of the fourteenth century [A.H., or 1899–1900 A.D.], the year I [al-Nabhani] wrote the book Hujjat Allah ‘ala al-‘alamin.”

[Al-Nabhani] said, “Ibn al-Salah cited a scholar of the Islamic jurisprudence to the effect that, after the era of [Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad] al-Shafi‘i [767–820], there has not been a mujtahid mustaqil [independent interpreter of the law].” [Al-Nabhani] said, “Then Shihab al-Din Ibn Hajar said, ‘If there has been a longstanding debate among leading scholars of the legal tradition concerning whether or not Imam al-Haramayn [the Imam of Mecca and Medina, that is, Abu’l-Ma‘ali al-Juwayni, 1028–1085] and Hujjat al-Islam [the Proof of Islam] [Abu Hamid Muhammad] al-Ghazzali [1058–1111] are among those who have produced authoritative variant opinions [wujuh, singular wajh] within the Shafi‘i legal school, what then might you think about others? Indeed, the leading scholars said about [Abu’l- Mahasin] al-Ruyani [13th century], the author of al- Bahr [The Sea], that he was not among those who produced wujuh—this despite [al-Ruyani's] statement, “If all of al-Shafi‘i's texts were lost, I could dictate them from memory.” If such great scholars are not qualified for ijtihad al-madhhab [the ability to interpret within a particular legal school], how then could those who cannot even understand the greater part of their expressions correctly allow themselves to claim a higher level, that of unrestricted ijtihad? Glory be to You, O God! This is great slander!’” Then [al-Nabhani] quoted a number of statements by scholars corroborating his view that ijtihad had been discontinued. This senseless jabber continues until the end of his discussion of this topic, indicating his ignorance, his bankruptcy of all knowledge, and the falseness of his claim. To mention all the fallacies included in his discussion would take a long time, so instead we will criticize his argument in general, and not in its details, as follows.

Al-Nabhani's thesis will be addressed according to the following points:

The First Point

To attribute the call for ijtihad to the Wahhabiyya— the term [al-Nabhani] uses for those who share the beliefs of Shaykh Muhammad Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab [1703–1787]—is a false accusation, a lie, and a slander against them. All the people of Najd follow the school of the Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal [780–855], may God be pleased with him, adopting his opinions on the individual points of law and agreeing with him on theology and articles of faith. Shaykh Muhammad stated this explicitly in many of his treatises. He did not claim ijtihad, nor did he call on anybody to adopt him as an authority. He did, however, enjoin doing good and forbid doing evil. To associate the people of Najd and those who follow the sunna [the practice of the Prophet] with the Shaykh and to consider them a sect of Muslims apart from the ahl al-sunna [people of the sunna, that is, Sunni Muslims], is an injustice and an aggression; it is a false and slanderous accusation. Even more odd is that the adjective designating the Shaykh should be al-Muhammadiyya [and not al-Wahhabiyya], since ‘Abd al-Wahhab is Shaykh Muhammad's father, and it was the Shaykh, not his father, who supported the articles of faith, commanding good and forbidding evil, so to call students and supporters of the Shaykh Wahhabiyya is either plain ignorance or an insult, both of which are clearly wrong.

The Second Point

The topic of ijtihad has been exhausted, for the scholars of Islamic jurisprudence have discussed it extensively, particularly in the book al-Muwafaqat [The Reconciliations] by Ibrahim ibn Musa al-Shatibi, died 1388]. Despite that, some relevant issues should be mentioned here in brief. The scholars have declared that ijtihad is the utmost exertion of effort on the part of a jurist in order to arrive at a probable ruling. [Such cases] involve a mujtahid al-mutlaq [unrestricted interpreter]. Conditions [permitting such interpretation] are legal capacity—and not probity [that is, the full requirements for someone to act as an official witness in court cases], which is only necessary for adoption by others of a mujtahid's verdict in a court case—and aptitude. This aptitude involves the rational capacity for acquiring necessary knowledge of the law as a whole, or knowledge of the particular case at hand alone, ijtihad being divisible, and mental acuity, an innate, keen understanding of the intended meanings of speech, so that he might be able to deduce legal rules from evidence, recognize similar and dissimilar cases, properly analyze cause and effect, and recognize validity and invalidity. This ability is the foundation of the legal craft. Stupid or incompetent people are incapable of ijtihad. [A mujtahid] must also attain a mid-level [or higher] expertise in the Arabic language and theology; be learned in the Qur'anic verses and hadiths [narratives of the Prophet] with legal content; be familiar with legal issues on which consensus exists, abrogating and abrogated scriptural prooftexts, single and multiple chains of transmission, the occasions of Revelation, and the condition of hadith transmitters and texts. [For technical matters of hadith science and theology,] it is sufficient for the mujtahid to rely on the assessments of hadith experts and leading theologians. It is preferred that he be able to search for contradictory evidence. The rank lower than that of absolute or unrestricted mujtahid is mujtahid restricted to a madhhab, who is able to derive legal rulings from the texts of his Imam [the eponymous founder of the school of law to which he belongs]. Below this is mujtahid al-futya [interpreter restricted to the legal opinions already proposed within a single school], who becomes thoroughly versed in the law and able to perform tarjih [demonstrating the preponderance of one alternative ruling over another]. In addition, the scholars of jurisprudence mentioned numerous issues under this rubric that we need not relate, then disagreed on whether it is permissible for an age to be devoid of a mujtahid. Some held that it is permissible, and even that it actually occurs. Others held that it is not permissible, citing as evidence the hadith [of the Prophet], “A group of my nation will continue supporting the truth until God's command arrives”— that is, the Hour of Judgment. This issue will be discussed below, God willing.

This is a summary of the jurisprudents’ discussions of the topic, and you have learned that the conditions they laid down for ijtihad are not impossible but may exist in any era. You have also learned from our summary of their statements that they did not claim that the gate of ijtihad is closed, nor was this implied by their argument, nor was it indicated by a scriptural prooftext from the Qur'an or the sunna, the references to which we must turn in cases of disagreement. God, the Exalted, said: “O you who believe, obey God and the Messenger and those in authority among you; and if you are at variance over something, refer it to God and the Messenger, if you believe in God and the Last Day. This is good for you and the best of settlements.” [Qur'an, Sura 4, Verse 59] The opinion that ijtihad has terminated is not supported by any evidence; therefore, it should be dismissed, thrown back in the face of the person who espouses it, and returned to the one who upholds it.

The Third Point

The hadith expert [Muhammad] Ibn al-Qayyim [al- Jawziyya, 1292–1350] said, in response to this opinion [that ijtihad has been terminated]: “Muqallids [those who engage in taqlid, or the adoption of an authority's opinion without independent proof of its correctness] have flouted God's decree and His law with a false judgment that openly contradicts the statements of His Messenger, peace be upon him, thereby emptying the earth of people who uphold God's proofs for Him and stating that no scholar has existed since the early eras of Islam. One group of [muqallids] said, ‘No jurist has the right to choose between alternative legal rulings after Abu Hanifa [circa 699–767] and [his students] Abu Yusuf [Ya‘qub al-Kufi, died 798], Zufar ibn al-Hudhayl [died 775], Muhammad ibn al-Hasan [al-Shaybani, circa 750– 805], and al-Hasan Ibn Ziyad al-Lu’lu’i [734–819].’ This is the opinion of many Hanafi jurists. Bakr [Abu al-Fadl ibn Muhammad] ibn ‘Ala’ al-Din al-Qushayri, the Maliki jurist [died 955], stated that nobody has been able to choose between legal rulings since the year A.H. 200 [816 A.D.]. Others have said that nobody has been able to select rulings after [‘Abd al-Rahman] al-Awza‘i [707–774], Sufyan al-Thawri [716–778], Waki‘ ibn al-Jarrah [died circa 812], and ‘Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak [736–797]. [Another] group said that nobody could choose rulings after al-Shafi‘i. The followers of al-Shafi‘i disagreed about whose opinions should be relied upon among those associated with him, who could produce a wajh that others of lesser status could adopt in their judgements and rulings, and who could not. They divided [legal scholars] into three levels: a first group who produced wujuh, such as Ibn Shurayh [possibly Shurayh ibn al-Harith al-Kindi, 7th century], al-Qaffal [Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al- Shashi, died 976], and Abu Hamid [al-Ghazzali, died 1111]; a second group who produced ihtimalat [preferable variant rulings] but not wujuh, such as Abu’l- Ma‘ali [al-Juwayni]; and a third group who produced neither wujuh nor ihtimalat, such as Ibn Hamid [reference unclear] and others. They also disagreed about when the gate of ijtihad was closed, upholding many diverse opinions, none of which has God granted any authority [a reference to the Qur'an, Sura 12, Verse 40, and Sura 53, Verse 23].

“According to these scholars, the world is devoid of those who uphold God's proofs for Him; those who speak with knowledge have vanished from the earth. No one is allowed any longer to examine God's Scripture [the Qur'an] or the sunna of His Messenger, peace be upon him, to extract the rulings of the Sacred Law. No one should rule or give a legal opinion without considering the statement of the one he imitates and follows. If the authority agrees with what is contained in the Qur'an and the sunna, the jurist gives a verdict or legal opinion accordingly; otherwise, he rejects the scriptural evidence and does not accept it. These opinions [about the closing of the door of ijtihad], as you see, have reached the utmost level of invalidity, falsehood, and contradiction. They represent the espousal of religious positions without any basis in knowledge, the rejection of God's proofs, and the abandonment of the Qur'an and the sunna of His Messenger as sources for the rulings of the Sacred Law. God, however, will ensure the completion of His Light and make manifest the truth of the saying of His Messenger that the earth shall never be devoid of those who uphold God's proof for Him, that a group among His umma [the Muslim community] shall remain faithful to the genuine Truth that He revealed through [the Prophet], and that every hundred years, He will continue to send to this umma someone to renew its faith.

“Concerning these invalid opinions, it is sufficient to object to those who uphold them: If no one is allowed to choose between rulings after those you have mentioned, by what right can you choose to adopt certain scholars as authorities and not others? How do you forbid a man from choosing positions that ijtihad leads him to adopt, in agreement with the Scripture of God and the sunna of His Messenger? How do you allow yourselves to choose taqlid of a particular [mujtahid], and how do you force the entire Muslim community to follow him, forbid taqlid of others, and consider him more acceptable for taqlid than others? What gives you the right to perform this selection, which is not supported by any evidence, whether a scriptural prooftext from the Qur'an or the sunna, an instance of consensus or legal analogy, or a statement of a companion of the Prophet, while you forbid selection of what has been demonstrated in the Scripture, the sunna, and the statements of the Companions?

“One should also object to this opponent: If, according to you or others, it is not permissible to choose between rulings after [A.H.] 200, how do you permit yourself—you who were not born until sixty years after the year 200 [apparently a reference to al- Qushayri]—to select the opinion of Malik [ibn Anas, 710–796, founder of the Maliki madhhab], rather than those of Companions [of the Prophet] who were more knowledgeable than he, or jurists from the major cities who are equal to him, or later jurists? According to this position, [the Maliki jurists] Ashhab [died 819], Ibn al-Majishun [died 829], al- Mutarrif ibn ‘Abdullah [died 835], Asbagh ibn al- Faraj [died 838], Sahnun ibn Sa‘id [777–855], Ahmad Ibn al-Mu‘adhdhal [ninth century], and other jurists of the same rank would have been able to choose between rulings to until the end of the last month of the year 200, but when the new moon of the month of Muharram in the year 201 appeared and the sun disappeared, on that night [July 30, 816] they would have been prohibited—all of a sudden—from choosing what they had been free to choose before.

“One should object to the others: Is it not one of the great catastrophes and wonders of the world that you grant only the imams you mentioned the capability to select rulings, to engage in ijtihad, to express an opinion about the religion of God on the basis of personal judgment and analogy, while you deny the capability of selection and ijtihad to the protectors of Islam—the most learned of the Muslim community concerning the Scripture of God, the sunna of His Prophet, and the sayings and legal opinions of the Companions—such as Ahmad ibn Hanbal, al- Shafi‘i, Ishaq Ibn Rahwayh [circa 778–853], Muhammad ibn Isma‘il al-Bukhari [810–870], Dawud ibn ‘Ali [founder of the Zahiri madhhab, died 884], and their likes, despite their wide knowledge of the sunna, their ability to distinguish authentic from inauthentic hadith reports, their efforts to record the sayings of the Companions and the Successors [the following generation of Muslims], their precise examination [of texts], and their ingenious use of evidence? When those among them who upheld the validity of legal analogy used this method, their analogies were the most accurate, the least questionable, and the closest to the texts of scripture. [Yet you refuse to grant them this status,] despite their extreme piety, the God-given affection of the faithful towards them, and the tremendous respect accorded to them by the Muslims, both scholars and the masses.

“Though each group of them argues for the preference of the particular [mujtahid] whom they accept as an authority on the basis of some type of superiority —precedence in time, asceticism, piety, acquaintance with teachers and authorities whom later scholars did not meet, or the vast number and illustrious status of their followers, unmatched by those of other scholars—the other groups can argue as much or even more for their own chosen authority's superiority on these points or others. It is also possible to object to all of these contending groups as follows: This opinion of yours, in order to hold water—if you insist on adhering to a contradiction—forces you to leave aside the opinion of your chosen authority in favor of the opinions of Companions and Successors who were earlier, more knowledgeable, more pious, more ascetic, and blessed with more numerous and more illustrious followers. How can one compare the followers of [‘Abdullah] Ibn ‘Abbas [619–686], [‘Abdullah] Ibn Mas‘ud [died circa 652], Zayd ibn Thabit [died 665] and Mu‘adh ibn Jabal [died 627], or the followers of ‘Umar [ibn al-Khattab, second caliph, 634–644] and ‘Ali [ibn Abi Talib, fourth caliph, 656–661], with followers of later imams in numbers and revered status? What of Abu Hurayra [companion of the Prophet, died 678], for example, about whom al-Bukhari wrote, ‘Eight hundred men, both Companions and Successors, transmitted knowledge from him.’ What of Zayd ibn Thabit, one of the companions of ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbas? Where among the followers of [later] imams can one find the likes of [the 7th and 8th century scholars] ‘Ata’ [ibn Abi Rabah], Tawus [ibn Kaysan], Mujahid [ibn Jabr al-Makki], ‘Ikrima, ‘Ubayd Allah ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Utba, and Jabir ibn Zayd? And where among the followers [of later imams] can one find the likes of the two Sa‘ids, [‘Amir ibn Sharahil] al-Sha‘bi, Masruq, ‘Alqama [al-Kufi], al-Aswad [ibn Yazid], and Shurayh? Where among the followers [of later imams] are the likes of Nafi‘, Salim, al-Qasim [ibn Muhammad], ‘Urwa [ibn al-Zubayr], Kharija ibn Zayd, Sulayman ibn Yasar [al-Hilali], and Abu Bakr ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman [al-Makhzumi]? What made [later] imams more fortunate with their followers than these [earlier figures] with their followers? It is true that the latter enjoyed the status of their era, so perhaps their greatness, fame, and elevated status prevented later scholars from following their example, as if [the later scholars] had said: ‘These [early Muslims] were too lofty for us, and we are in no way their equals.’ They stated this explicitly and testified to it against themselves, for their status did not allow them to derive religious learning directly from the Qur'an and the sunna. They would say: ‘We are not capable of this, not because of defects in the Qur'an or the sunna, but because of our own incapacity and defects. We have therefore made do with [the opinions of] someone who is more knowledgeable of [the Qur'an and sunna] than we are.’

“One should object to them: Why do you blame those who follow the teachings of [the Qur'an and sunna], make [these scriptural texts] the arbiters of their disputes, bring their suits to them for a verdict, and hold up scholars’ statements to them for comparison, accepting statements that agree with [these sources] and rejecting those that contradict them? Just because you have not yet reached this bunch of grapes, why do you deny it to those who have reached it and tasted its sweetness? Why do you limit that which God's bounty, that human reason or imagination cannot fathom, has made broad? Even if jurists live in your era, grow up with you, and have a close kinship with you, God bestows gifts upon whom He wishes among his worshipers. God, glory be to Him, censured those who opposed the prophecy [of Muhammad] by arguing that He had denied it to prominent men and town leaders, giving it to someone else of lesser stature, saying: ‘Are they the ones who dispense the favor of your Lord? It is He who apportions the means of livelihood among them in this world, and raises some in position over others, to make some submissive. The favors of your Lord are better than what they amass.’ (Sura 43, Verse 32)

“The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, ‘My nation is like rain; one does not know which is better, its beginning or its end.’ God, glory be to Him, informed us that the foremost believers (who will reside in Heaven) are ‘a multitude of those of old, and a few of those of later time.’ (Sura 56, Verses 13– 14) God, glory be to Him, also informed us that [He] ‘raised among the Meccans a messenger from amongst them, who recites His revelations to them, reforms them, and teaches them the Scripture and the Law, for before him they were clearly in error.’ (Sura 62, Verse 2) He also said, ‘And for others among them who have not joined them yet. He is mighty and wise.’ (Sura 62, Verse 3) Then He related, ‘That is the bounty of God, He gives whosoever He please. God is master of great bounty.’ (Sura 62, Verse 4)” This ends the statement of the hadith expert Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya in his book I‘lam almuwaqqi‘ in [The Notification of Court Clerks].

Ibn Qayyim's passage makes it perfectly clear that the statements made by al-Nabhani—following his deviant predecessors—are evidence of his ignorance and bankruptcy in the fields of knowledge, in both their subsidiary topics and their fundamental theories, since only one who is more ignorant than the son of an owl,2 [In Iraq, the owl is held to be the epitome of ignorance. —Ed.] such as himself, would uphold his thesis.

The Fourth Point Indicating the Invalidity of the Ignoramus al-Nabhani's Thesis

Any knowledge which has no evidence to indicate it is unacceptable. Ijtihad is not like a prophecy so that it could be said to have been sealed by so-and-so. As for prophecy, texts from the Qur'an and the sunna provide evidence that it has been sealed. God, the Exalted, said, “Muhammad is not the father of any man among you, but a messenger of God and the seal of the prophets.” (Sura 33, Verse 40)

In the Sahih [Collection of Sound Hadiths], al- Bukhari cites Abu Hurayra, who quotes the Prophet, peace be upon him, as saying, “I and the prophets before me are like the following example: A man builds a fine and beautiful house, except for a single corner brick. The people walk around it and wonder at its beauty, but they say, ‘Would that this brick be put in its place!’ I am that brick, and I am the last of the Prophets.” The fact that prophecy has been sealed is also supported by rational proofs such as the perfection of the shari‘a [sacred law], its inclusion of legal rulings for all ages and times, and its miraculous preservation from change and modification, while being the most moderate of faiths, without any exaggeration or shortcoming.

All of this indicates that prophecy ended with the Seal [Muhammad], peace be upon him. For ijtihad, however, we have seen no evidence of its termination, either in the Book of God or the sunna of His Messenger, peace be upon him, or even in the sayings of the Companions. Rather, we have seen evidence indicating that the science of shari‘a and its scholars shall continue until the Hour of Reckoning. Kumayl ibn Ziyad al-Nakha‘i [died circa 778] said, “‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, may God be pleased with him, took my hand and brought me out with him near the cemetery. When we reached the desert he began to sigh, then said, ‘O Kumayl ibn Ziyad, people's hearts are vessels; the best among them are those that are most capacious. Remember what I am telling you. There are three types of people: the divine scholar, the student who learns as a means to salvation, and the riffraff rabble, who follow anyone who shouts, bend with every wind, remain impervious to the light of knowledge, and fail to resort to a solid support. Knowledge is better than wealth. Knowledge guards you, but you guard wealth. Knowledge grows the more you give away’”—or according to another version, “the more you put it into practice”—“‘but wealth decreases as you spend it. Knowledge is the ruler and wealth is the one ruled. The love of knowledge is a creed to adhere to. Knowledge gains for a scholar obedience during his lifetime and fine praise after his death, but the effect of wealth disappears once it is exhausted. The hoarders of money die, while scholars live on. Here is knowledge! Scholars shall live on until eternity. Though they themselves might be lost, their likes shall live on in the hearts [of humankind]. Look, here! Here is knowledge!’ and [‘Ali] pointed to his chest. ‘If unworthy bearers become attracted to it, it may end up in the hands of people who cannot be trusted. They might use the tool of religion for worldly gain, trying to gain power over the Qur'an with His proofs and ascendance over His worshipers with His blessings, or merely follow the people of truth, without any insight in their bosom, so that doubt penetrates their heart at the first sign of specious challenge, or be bent on the pursuit of delights, easily driven by lust, or obsessed with gathering and piling up wealth. Such people are not ones who call to the faith. They are most like sa’iba camels.3 [In pre-Islamic Arabia, the term sa’iba (unhindered) applied to camels accorded an honored status because they had born a large number of offspring or as the result of a vow on the part of the owner. They were allowed to roam, pasture, and drink freely, and were exempted from most labor. This and related customs are rejected in the Qur'an. (Sura 5, Verse 103) Alusi's point here is that scholars who do not pass on their knowledge cease to benefit society.—Ed.] Their knowledge dies with the death of its bearers. O God! Yes, indeed, the earth will never be devoid of those who uphold God's proofs, lest His proofs and pronouncements come to nought. These [persons] are few in number, yet their statements are great in the eyes of God. Through them, God defends His proofs so that they might convey them to their peers and plant them in the hearts of people like themselves. Knowledge brings them near the truth of reality, so that they find easy what the affluent find difficult, and they welcome that which frightens the ignorant. Their bodies live in this world, while their souls ascend to divine heights. These are the representatives of God on earth and the propagators of His religion. Oh, how I long to meet them! I ask God's forgiveness for myself and for you. If you wish, you may leave.’” This was recounted by Abu Nu‘aym [al- Isfahani, 948–1038] in Hilyat al-awliya’ [The Adornment of the Saints] and by other authors. Abu Bakr al-Khatib [al-Baghdadi, 1002–1071] said, “This is a fine hadith, one of the best in letter and in spirit.”

Imam Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya has interpreted this hadith in detail in his book, Miftah dar al-sa‘ada [The Key to the Abode of Happiness], where he wrote about ‘Ali's statement, “O God. Yes, indeed the earth shall not be devoid of those who uphold God's proofs for Him”: “This is confirmed by the following authentic hadith of the Prophet, peace be upon him: ‘A group of my community shall remain steadfast in the Truth, not affected by their tormentors or detractors. Until God's command arrives, they shall remain so.’” [This hadith] is also confirmed by the report related by [Abu ‘Isa Muhammad] al-Tirmidhi [died 892], citing Qutayba, Hammad ibn Yahya al-Abahh, from Thabit, from Anas [ibn Malik, companion of the Prophet], who reported, “The Messenger of God, peace be upon him said: ‘My nation is like rain: one does not know which is better, its beginning or its end.’” [Al-Tirmidhi] said: “This is a reliable but uncommon hadith.” It is related that ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Mahdi [died 813] considered Hammad ibn Yahya al-Abahh a trustworthy transmitter. He used to say, “[Hammad] is one of our shaykhs [respected teachers].” In the same chapter, on the authority of ‘Ammar [ibn Yasir, died 657] and ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr [died circa 680] [appears the report]: “If there were no mujtahid to uphold God's proofs in the last [days] of the umma, they would not be described as having such good qualities.”

Also [the report]: “This nation is the most perfect of nations, the best nation ever brought to the people. Its Prophet is the seal of the prophets, and there will be no prophet after him. God made its scholars to succeed one another, so that the outstanding features of the faith might not be erased and its signposts not vanish. Among the Israelites, prophets continually succeeded one another, so that they were [always] led by prophets; the scholars of this nation are like the prophets of the Israelites.” In another hadith, as well: “This knowledge will be passed on by the virtuous and reliable members of each successive generation.” This hadith shows that Islamic religious knowledge is immune to the distortions of extremists, the pretenses of liars, and the misinterpretations of the ignorant. It indicates that knowledge will continue to be carried through the ages, century after century. In the collection of sound hadiths of [‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn] Abi Hatim [circa 854–938], there is a report of al-Khawlani [Abu Idris or Abu Muslim, died 699 or 682] who said that the Messenger of God, peace be upon him, said: “God will continue to plant in this faith seedlings that serve to maintain obedience.” These seedlings of God are the people of knowledge and pious works. If the earth were to become devoid of scholars, it would be devoid of seedlings of God. We have quoted sufficient material for the purpose at hand.

We have learned from this [fourth] point the invalidity of the senseless drivel the ignoramus al- Nabhani included in the introduction to his book. He is far from knowledge and enlightenment, without intellect or discernment. We leave this matter up to God.

The Fifth Point

[Al-Nabhani's] statement—“As for ijtihad, it is not claimed today except by those of defective minds and defective faith, unless it be through wilaya, as was stated by the great Shaykh . . .”—has neither meaning nor effect. We have already noted that it is not possible for an era to be devoid of a mujtahid, as Hanbali and traditionalist scholars of Islamic jurisprudence have stated. Why do those who fulfil the conditions for ijtihad, who are prepared to derive their religion [directly] from the Scripture and sunna, have defective minds and defective faith? Is this not but the statement of an ignorant person who has been struck by the touch of Satan? Then, what is the meaning of his statement: “unless it be through wilaya”? Have any religious scholars, experts in jurisprudence or the points of law, ever considered this term part of the topic of ijtihad? But it is no wonder that such ranting come from an ignorant heretic like al- Nabhani. Indeed, the ignorant injure themselves more than their enemies do. In addition, the Shaykh Muhyi al-Din [Ibn al-‘Arabi] is among those who claimed ijtihad al-mutlaq, as the texts of his books indicate. He said in one of his poems:

They claim that I follow Ibn Hazm [994–1064], but I am not among those who say, “Thus spoke Ibn Hazm,”

Or anybody else. Rather, my words are, “The text of the Scripture avers.” That is my judgment.

Or, “The Prophet says,” or “The scholars have agreed unanimously on the opinion I profess.” That is my knowledge.

Muhyi al-Din, God's mercy be upon him, indicated in these verses that he deduces legal rulings from the Scripture, sunna, and consensus; according to him, these three alone are the sources of the law, and not legal analogy. This point will be treated exhaustively in the appropriate place below.

The Sixth Point

[Al-Nabhani] quoted Ibn Hajar al-Makki as saying, “When Jalal [al-Din] al-Suyuti [1445–1505] claimed ijtihad, his contemporaries attacked him and criticized him en masse. They wrote him a petition presenting a number of legal questions on which Shafi‘i jurists have considered two disparate rulings equally valid. They demanded that if he had even the lowest level of ijtihad—that is, ijtihad al-fatwa [the right to choose from among alternative legal opinions]—then he should explain the opinion he considered most acceptable in this regard, and provide the appropriate evidence according to the rules of ijtihad. Al- Suyuti, however, sent back the petition without writing any answer, and excused himself, saying that he was busy with work that prevented him from looking into this matter.”

I respond that even if Ibn Hajar related the text of the quotation accurately, he is not trustworthy, for he fabricated even greater lies than this against the Shaykh al-Islam [Ibn Taymiyya, 1263–1328], and his lies are apparent, as will be seen in what follows. The response in defense of Imam al-Suyuti, mercy be upon him, is that the mujtahid need not have all the knowledge contained in the Preserved Tablet.

It is said that Imam Malik was asked 40 questions and said in response to 36 of them, “I don’t know.” This has been transmitted by the Imam Abu Hanifa and others. “. . . and not even a little of His knowledge can they grasp, except what He will.” (Sura 2, Verse 255)

The Seventh Point

As for Ibn Hajar's statement—“‘Ibn al-Salah and his followers stated that [ijtihad] had terminated about 300 years earlier, and Ibn al-Salah was about 300 years ago, since he lived in the sixth century [A.H., or 12th century A.D.], so, as of today, it has been discontinued for 600 years’—that is, in relation to the time of Ibn Hajar . . .”—my response is: This statement is beneath consideration on account of the arguments of the hadith expert Ibn al-Qayyim we have presented in the third section above and the texts and evidence of the falseness of this statement that we included there. Ibn Hajar's argument shifts, however, and his statements are inconsistent. He states here that ijtihad had been discontinued 600 years before his era, whereas he wrote in his book al-Jawhar almunazzam (Strung Jewels) in the course of insulting Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya:

The Shaykh al-Islam Taqi [al-Din] al-Subki [1284– 1355, a critic of Ibn Taymiyya], the great scholar of mankind, whose brilliance and ijtihad as well as righteousness and scholarly excellence are generally acknowledged, may God bless his soul and brighten his tomb, undertook to refute [Ibn Taymiyya] in an independent work in which he presented valuable and excellent arguments, precisely and clearly setting forth the correct approach through brilliant proofs. May God thank him for his effort, and continue to shower him with divine mercy and favor.

See how Ibn Hajar claims a consensus here on the ijtihad of al-Subki, because he follows the same heretical and whimsical approach and method, but then cannot bring himself to admit the ijtihad of one whose lofty status neither al-Subki himself nor his teachers could even approach. I am referring to Abu’l-‘Abbas Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyya, may God the Exalted have mercy upon him. In al-Jawhar almunazzam, in addition to the preceding statements, [Ibn Hajar] said: “The outrageous statements Ibn Taymiyya made—even though they were a horrendous offense whose sinful effect will never be undone, and a calamity whose misfortune will reflect on him until the end of time—are not surprising coming from him, for he let himself be so seduced by his whims, desires, and demons that he saw fit to attack the great mujtahids. The poor man did not realize that he was committing the foulest of sins.” [Ibn Hajar's text] continues in this manner, making it apparent to any impartial judge that Ibn Hajar followed his whims and chose the path of error. May God treat him with His justice.

The point here is that the words of fanatics such as these, because they speak according to their whims, cannot be used in valid arguments. They do not adhere to the evidence, but follow the worst of paths. The argument of the heedless al-Nabhani has crumbled and cannot be granted any serious consideration.

The Eighth Point Indicating the Invalidity of the Ignoramus al-Nabhani's Thesis

Each of the imams has stated that if a hadith is sound, it must be followed and its purport must be accepted. That is why many of the imams have stated that one must accept the sound hadith and forsake all statements by mujtahids that contradict it. In the book I‘lam al-muwaqqi‘in, [Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya states], “The four imams [the founders of the four primary Sunni madhhabs] forbade the blind adoption of their own opinions and sharply censured adherence to their statements without proof. Al-Shafi‘i said that he who seeks knowledge without proof is like someone who gathers firewood at night: he might, without realizing it, pick up a bundle of fire wood with a snake in it and so get bitten. [This statement] is cited by [Ahmad ibn al-Husayn] al-Bayhaqi [994– 1066].” Isma‘il ibn Yahya al-Muzani [791–878] said at the beginning of his Mukhtasar [The Abridgement], “I have summarized this from the teachings of al-Shafi‘i and the gist of his statements in order to make them more accessible to the interested student, but at the same time I would have him know that al-Shafi‘i prohibited the blind adoption of his own opinions or those of others. Therefore, may [the student] examine [al-Shafi‘i's teachings] for the sake of his faith and exercise caution for the sake of his soul.” Abu Da’ud [al-Sijistani, circa 817–889] said, “I asked Ahmad [ibn Hanbal], ‘Is al-Awza‘i more deserving of being followed, or Malik?’ He said, ‘Don’t imitate either of them for your faith. Adhere to what has come down from the Prophet, peace be upon him, and the Companions. After these, one is free to accept or reject the opinions of the Successors [the generation after the Companions].’” Ahmad differentiated between taqlid and ittiba‘ [critical acceptance]. Abu Da’ud said, “I heard [Ahmad ibn Hanbal] say that ittiba‘ means following what has come down from the Prophet, peace be upon him, and from his Companions. After that, one is free to accept or reject the opinions of the Successors.” [Ibn Hanbal] also said, “Don’t imitate me, and don’t imitate Malik, al-Thawri, or al-Awza‘i. Rather, draw from the sources that they draw from.” [Ahmad ibn Hanbal] said, “It is a sign of limited understanding that a man base his exercise of religion on taqlid.” Bishr ibn al-Walid [8th century] reported that Abu Yusuf said, “Nobody is allowed to adopt our opinion until he knows the evidence on which it is based.” Malik stated explicitly that anyone who abandoned the words of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab for the words of Ibrahim al-Nakha‘i [666–715, a generation later] needs to repent, so what about those who abandon the words of God and His Messenger for the words of one like Ibrahim, or one lesser than he?! Ja‘far al- Firyabi said: “Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Dawraqi told me that al-Haytham ibn Jamil told him: ‘I said to Malik ibn Anas, “O Abu ‘Abdullah! People among us have written books, and one of them, having written that someone related such-and-such, citing ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, and someone else related such-andsuch, citing Ibrahim [al-Nakha‘i], then adopted the words of Ibrahim.” Malik inquired, “Did they consider the words of ‘Umar to be authentic?” I replied, “It was a transmission as reliable as that from Ibrahim.” Then Malik stated, “These [people] should be asked to repent.”’”

The Ninth Point

The dim-witted al-Nabhani's opinion implies that the statements of one who is accepted as an authority today are to be given more weight than authentic prophetic hadiths that contradict the opinions of the mujtahid, and this is the essence of error. I have heard a Turkish judge say: “If I were to see a text in Munyat al-musalli [The Wish of the Worshipper, a Hanafi legal text by Sadid al-Din Kashghari, 13th century], and a hadith in Imam al-Bukhari's al-Sahih that contradicts this text, I would accept what is in the Munyat and leave aside the hadith from al-Sahih and not rule by it.” Just look at this stupidity and tremendous ignorance.

Shaykh al-Islam Abu’l-‘Abbas Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyya, may God bless his pure soul, was asked about a man who studied law according to one of the madhhabs and became accomplished in it, but then studied hadith at a later time and found authentic hadiths, not abrogated, restricted, or contradicted by any known scriptural text, which went against elements of his madhhab. Should he practice according to the madhhab or practice according to the hadiths that contradict his madhhab?

[Ibn Taymiyya] answered: “Praise be to God, Lord of the worlds. It has been established in the Qur'an, sunna, and consensus that God, the Exalted, made obedience to Him and His Messenger, peace be upon him, a religious duty for His worshipers. He did not require this nation's obedience to any particular person, in everything he commanded and forbade, except His Messenger, peace be upon him. Thus Siddiq al-Umma [The Truthful One of the Nation, Abu Bakr, first caliph, 632–634], the best [of the Muslim community] after its Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘Obey me as long as I obey God, the Exalted, for if I disobey God, the Mighty and Sublime, you owe me no obedience.’ All [of the four imams] agreed that no one is infallible, in all of what he commands and forbids, except God's Messenger, peace be upon him. That is why several of the [four] imams instructed [people] to pick and choose from the speech of anyone except for the Messenger of God, peace be upon him [who must be obeyed]. These four imams, mercy be upon them all, warned people not to adopt all of their own statements blindly, as was their duty. Imam Abu Hanifa said, ‘This is my opinion. It is the best I can do, and if someone comes up with a better opinion, we will accept it.’ That is why, when Abu Yusuf, the most learned of Abu Hanifa's disciples, met with the imam of Dar al-Hijra [Medina], Malik ibn Anas, and asked him about the sa‘ measure, alms to be paid for vegetables, and various species [a debate raged over which sorts of produce were subject to alms-giving requirements], Malik, God's mercy be upon him, informed him what was indicated in the sunna concerning these [matters], and [Abu Yusuf] responded, ‘I cede to your judgment, O Abu ‘Abdullah, and had my master [Abu Hanifa] seen what I have, he would have ceded likewise.’ Malik, God's mercy be upon him, used to say, ‘I am only human. I am sometimes correct and sometimes wrong. You must compare my statements with the Qur'an and sunna,’ or words to this effect. Al-Shafi‘i, God's mercy be upon him, used to say, ‘It is limiting to a man's knowledge to adopt the opinions of other men regarding matters of his faith.’ He also said, ‘Don’t adopt your faith from men, for they are bound to make mistakes.’ Established reports relate that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, ‘When God wishes somebody well, He makes him knowledgeable in matters of religion.’ Implicit in this statement is that those whom God, the Mighty and Sublime, does not make knowledgeable in matters of religion are not wished well by Him, so that the acquisition knowledge of religion is a religious duty. To acquire knowledge of religion means to know the rulings of the shari‘a through the appropriate scriptural evidence. Those who do not know this do not have knowledge of religion.

“Some people, however, might be incapable of acquiring knowledge of religion; they are only required to do what they can. Some say that anybody capable of using evidence to establish proof is absolutely prohibited from taqlid. Others say that taqlid is allowed without restriction. Still others say that taqlid is allowed only when necessary, such as when the time allowed for producing such a proof is limited—this is the most correct of these opinions, God willing. Ijtihad is not a monolithic capability, but may be parceled and divided. A man might be a mujtahid in one particular field, topic, or issue, but not in another field, topic, or issue. Each person's ijtihad varies according to his ability. If someone examines an issue that has been disputed by scholars and finds scriptural prooftexts that appear to corroborate one of the disputed opinions and are not contradicted by any other known texts, he is faced with two options. First, he might follow the opinion of the later jurist, just because he is the imam of the madhhab in which he studied law—but this is not a legitimate legal proof, only a mere convention contradicted by the conventions of others who have studied in the madhhabs of other imams. Second, he may follow the opinion that seems more likely to him, in view of the texts that indicate it. In this case, his agreement with one imam implies taking issue with another, but the prophetic texts remain protected from violation in practice—and this is the more correct option.

“We have made this partial concession only because someone might object that the speculative ability of this particular person might be limited and his ijtihad regarding this issue might be incomplete. If, however, he were capable of complete ijtihad, such that there would not exist any evidence on the side of the opposing opinion sufficient to reject the scriptural text, then such a person would be required to follow that text. If he did otherwise, he would be following speculation and the dictates of whim, and would be most disobedient toward God, the Exalted, and His Messenger.

“His situation would be completely different from that of someone who claims that the opposing opinion is supported by proof which carries more weight than the scriptural text, but says that he does not know what that proof is. To this person, one should respond that God, the Exalted, said, ‘So fear God as much as you can.’ (Sura 64, Verse 16) Your best attempt, in terms of knowledge and understanding of the law, indicates that the first opinion is more likely, so you must follow it. If you later find that the text is contradicted by more convincing evidence, your situation would then be like that of the independent mujtahid when his ijtihad changes. To change from one opinion to another because of some truth which becomes apparent is praiseworthy. This is to be distinguished from insisting on an opinion unsupported by any proof, shying away from an opinion that has been proved clearly, or shifting from one opinion to another simply out of custom or whim—such acts are reprehensible. When a muqallid [person engaging in taqlid] has heard a hadith and then abandoned it— especially if it was narrated by a person with a record of probity—such a case, if it indeed occurs, is not an excuse to abandon the scriptural text. Our writings in defense of the distinguished imams have demonstrated that they had some twenty reasons for abandoning practice according to certain hadiths. We have shown that they were justified in their rejection of certain hadiths for these reasons. We, too, are justified in rejecting these hadiths for these same reasons. However, if one person rejects a hadith in the belief that it is not authentic, that its transmission is anonymous, or some such reason, but another person knows at the same time that this hadith is authentic and that its transmitter is trustworthy, then the reasons of the first person are invalid with respect to the second person. Whoever abandons a hadith on the grounds that the clear meaning of the Qur'an, or legal analogy, or the practice of some of the Ansar [early Muslims of Medina] contradicts it—and at the same time, it becomes apparent to another person that the clear meaning of the Qur'an does not contradict it, and that the text of a sound hadith has priority over the unambiguous texts of the Qur'an, legal analogy, and the deeds [of the Ansar]—then the first person's reason [for rejecting the hadith] no longer holds with respect to the second person. Legal understandings occur to people's minds or remain hidden to them in a process we cannot entirely fathom. This is especially the case if someone abandons a hadith because he believes that its use was abandoned by the Muhajirun [early Muslims who fled from Mecca to Medina] and the Ansar—the people of Medina and others—who are said not to have abandoned a hadith unless they believed it to have been abrogated or contradicted by a preferable [hadith], but later hears that the Muhajirun and Ansar did not in fact abandon this hadith, that some of them, or some Muslims who heard it from them, practiced in accordance with it, or other such reasons which render invalid the evidence that contradicts the scriptural text.

“Suppose someone were to challenge this petitioner who is seeking guidance [to whose question Ibn Taymiyya is responding], asking, ‘Are you more knowledgeable or is the Imam so-and-so?’ This would be a corrupt comparison, because Imam soand- so has been contradicted on this issue by his equals among the other imams. You are not more knowledgeable than this or that imam. In relation to each other, the various imams are like [the Companions of the Prophet] Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman [died 656], ‘Ali, Ibn Mas‘ud, Ubayy [ibn Ka‘b, died circa 652], Mu‘adh, similar prominent figures, and others. These Companions were equal to one another in debate. If they were at odds about something, they deferred the question to God and His Messenger, even though some of them were perhaps more knowledgeable than others in certain areas. Debate among [later] imams is similar.

“People abandoned the statements of ‘Umar and Ibn Mas‘ud, may God be pleased with them, regarding the performance of tayammum [performing ritual ablutions with sand or dry ground when water is not available] on the part of someone with a major ritual impurity, and adopted the statements of Abu Musa al-Ash‘ari [died 662] and others because of the evidence from the Qur'an and sunna they cited. They abandoned the statements of ‘Umar regarding the blood money due for the loss of fingers or toes, adopting instead the statement of Mu‘awiyya ibn Abi Sufyan [caliph, 661–680], because of the statements he transmitted from the Prophet, peace be upon him, saying, ‘This and that are equivalent.’ A certain person, arguing with Ibn ‘Abbas about temporary marriage, said to him, ‘Abu Bakr said [such-and-such] and ‘Umar said [such-and-such]!’ So Ibn ‘Abbas said, ‘Stones are about to rain down on you from the sky! I tell you that the Messenger, peace be upon him, said [one thing], and you tell me that Abu Bakr and ‘Umar said [something else]!’ When [Ibn ‘Abbas] was asked about [temporary marriage], he declared it permissible. His interlocutors objected, presenting as contradictory evidence the statement of ‘Umar, so he showed that ‘Umar had not intended what they claimed. But they pressed him, so he remonstrated: ‘Who has more right to be followed, the Messenger of God, peace be upon him, or ‘Umar?’ The people [tend to forget this,] despite their awareness that Abu Bakr and ‘Umar are more knowledgeable than Ibn ‘Umar [‘Umar's son] and Ibn ‘Abbas, may God, the Exalted, be pleased with them. If this gate is opened [to adopting later imams as ultimate authorities], it would be necessary to turn away from the commandments of God, the Exalted, and His Messenger, peace be upon him. Each imam would have the same status among his followers as a prophet among his people, and this would alter the religion. This is similar to what God, the Exalted, faults the Christians with in His words, ‘They consider their rabbis and monks and Christ, son of Mary, to be gods apart from God, even though they had been enjoined to worship only one God, for there is no god but He. Too holy is He for what they ascribe to Him!’ (Sura 9, Verse 31) God, glory be to Him, knows best.”

The Tenth Point

One understands from the words of the dim-witted al-Nabhani that for the last thousand years Muslims, east and west, have had to adopt the opinions of one of the four mujtahids, and that anyone deriving his faith from the Qur'an and sunna, or adopting the opinions of others—such as a Companion or some other figure—has departed from the path of correctness and followed a way other than that of believers. This is one of the implications of his false words and worthless statements. It is to be rejected, and no scholar of recognized learning has ever professed it.

From the book I‘lam al-muwaqqi‘in, by the hadith expert Ibn al-Qayyim, mercy be upon him: “Must the person seeking a fatwa engage in [a type of] ijtihad in order to choose the right mufti for consultation, appealing only to the one he estimates is most knowledgeable and most pious—or not? Concerning this issue, there are two schools of thought, as we have already discussed: the correct opinion is that he ought to, because everyone is commanded to fear God as much as one can.” [Ibn al-Qayyim] states: “When two muftis differ over an issue, and one is more pious while the other is more knowledgeable, which one should be followed? There are three approaches to this issue, which have been presented above. Is the layperson obliged to follow one of the well-known madhhabs or not? There are two opinions on this issue. One is that [the layperson] is not obliged—and this is the correct and undeniable opinion. This is because there are no religious duties except what God and His Messenger have imposed, and God and His Messenger have not obliged anybody to follow the madhhab of an ordinary man, adopting as his faith this man's opinion and no one else's. The noble [early] centuries of Islam and the early generations of Muslims came and went entirely free of such practices. Moreover, a madhhab is not appropriate for laypeople. Even if they follow one, they ought not to, because only those who possess the means of rational inquiry and deductive reasoning and are versed in the various madhhabs on account of this ability, or those who have read a book on the points of law according to this madhhab and have learned the legal opinions and statements of its imam, are entitled to claim a madhhab. Someone who is not qualified for this at all, but nevertheless says, ‘I am a Shafi‘i’ or ‘I am a Hanbali,’ and so on, does not become so by his mere utterance of such a statement. It is as if he had claimed to be a jurist, a grammarian, or a professional secretary: one does not become such things just by saying so. This is clarified by noting that one who says he is a Shafi‘i, a Maliki, or a Hanafi claims that he follows this imam and adopts his path, which can only be true if he takes after [the imam] in knowledge, learning, and deductive reasoning. With his ignorance and the extreme disparity between him and the imam in behavior, knowledge, and scholarly method, how can he properly claim to be related to him except through an empty claim, a statement devoid of all meaning? It is not imaginable that a layman can properly have a madhhab. Even if it were possible, neither he nor anyone else would be under the obligation to follow the madhhab of an ordinary man, such that he would have to accept all of his opinions and reject the opinions of all others. This disgraceful heresy has recently befallen the Muslim community; none of the leading scholars of Islam has ever professed this opinion, for they are higher in degree, more distinguished in status, and more knowledgeable of God and His Messenger than to impose such an obligation on the people. More outlandish than this is the opinion of those who state that one is obliged to follow the madhhab of a particular scholar, and even more outlandish is the opinion of those who state that one is obliged to adopt one of the four madhhabs.

“O God, how astonishing! The madhhabs of the Companions of the Messenger of God, peace be upon him, and the madhhabs of the Successors and their successors, and all the imams of Islam, have died and altogether ceased to exist, except for the madhhabs of four souls from among all the leading scholars and jurists. Has any of the leading scholars ever held this opinion, or called for it? Does a single word of their statements indicate it?!

“The obligations imposed by God, the Exalted, and His Messenger upon the Companions, the Successors, and their successors are the same obligations imposed on all who succeed them until the Day of Resurrection. Religious duty does not differ or change, though it might differ in terms of execution or amount according to variations in ability, time, place, and circumstance—but this is also inherent in the obligations imposed by God, the Exalted, and His Messenger. Those who consider that a layperson can have a madhhab say: ‘He believes that this madhhab he has adopted is the truth, so he must fulfill the obligations of his belief.’ If what they say is correct, then it would be prohibited for him to petition legal scholars outside his adopted madhhab, to follow the madhhab of an imam comparable, or even preferable, to his own, or other untenable implications of evident invalidity that indicate the invalidity of the premise on which they are based. Indeed, these ideas would require that, when faced with a text by the Messenger of God, peace be upon him, or a statement by the [first] four caliphs that contradicts his imam, such a person be required to reject the text or the statements of the Companions, and give precedence over them to the opinion of the imam he follows. On the contrary, the true position is that he may petition a legal opinion from any of the followers of the imams or others that he wishes and that he is not obliged by the consensus of the Muslim community, nor is the mufti, to limit himself to the positions of one of the four imams. Moreover, the scholar should not be limited to the hadith transmitted by the people of his region or any other region. If a hadith is sound, he should follow it, whether it be Hijazi, Iraqi, Syrian, Egyptian, or Yemeni. In addition, by consensus of the Muslims, one is not obliged to limit oneself to the seven well-known variant readings of the Qur'an, but if the reading one adopts matches the unpointed text of the Uthmanic codex, is correct in terms of Arabic grammar and usage, and has a sound chain of authority, one may read and pray according to it, by consensus. Even if one reads a version which departs from that of the Uthmanic codex, but which the Messenger of God, peace be upon him, and the Companions after him read, then it is permissible to read according to it, and prayer performed using it remains valid, according to the most correct opinion. The second opinion is that prayer performed using it is invalid. These opinions are both reliably reported from the Imam Ahmad [ibn Hanbal]. The third opinion is that if he prays the standard prayers using it, he has not fulfilled his obligation, but if he uses it in other prayers, they are not invalid. This is the opinion espoused by Abu al-Barakat Ibn Taymiyya, on the grounds that, in the first case, the requirements for the standard prayer were not completely met, and that, in the second, no invalidating element occurred. However, [the petitioner for legal opinions] may not seek out the easiest obligations among the various madhhabs or seek out what he wishes from whatever madhhab he finds to contain it. Rather, he must endeavor to seek the truth as far as this is possible.”


It should be apparent to you, from the arguments presented in the ten points above, that the miserable al-Nabhani's thesis concerning the closing of the gate of ijtihad is false and heretical. We know necessarily that no single man during the time of the Companions engaged in the blind adoption of all of the opinions of another Companion, not dismissing any of his opinions while dismissing all the opinions of others. Nor did such a person exist among the Successors, or the successors of the Successors. Let the muqallidun try to prove us wrong by identifying a single man who followed their disastrous ways in the virtuous centuries, as they were termed by the Messenger of God, peace be upon him [that is, the first three centuries of Islam]. This heretical innovation, for which the Messenger, peace be upon him, expressed blame, occurred in the fourth century [A.H., or 10th century A.D.]. Muqallids, who follow their supposed authorities in everything they say, permitting or prohibiting the taking of women, lives, and property, without knowing whether this is right or wrong, are in grave danger. They shall be in a difficult position before God [on the Day of Resurrection], when those who made religious arguments without knowledge will realize their error, for they did so without any justification.

The hadith expert Ibn al-Qayyim criticized muqallids extensively in his book I‘lam al-muwaqqi‘in, refuting the arguments of the ignorant concerning the termination of ijtihad, and other respected scholars have also written useful books on this issue. Had this ignoramus [al-Nabhani] not raised the issue—even though it has nothing to do with the topic of his book—we would not have needed to open our mouth or move our pen concerning it.

Bibliography references:

Mahmud Shukri al-Alusi, Ghayat al-amani fi’l-radd ‘ala al-Nabhani (The Utmost Desire, a Refutation of Nabhani) (Cairo, Egypt: ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Tilimsani, 1907), volume 1, pp. 44–60. First published in 1903. Translation from Arabic by Hager El Hadidi, edited by Devin Stewart. Introduction by David D. Commins.


1. Muhammad Bahjat al-Athari, Mahmud Shukri al-Alusi wa-ara’uhu al-lughawiyya (Mahmud Shukri al-Alusi and his Views on Language) (Cairo, Egypt: Jami‘at al-Duwal al- ‘Arabiyya, 1958); Ibrahim Samarra’i, al-Sayyid Mahmud Shukri al-Alusi wa-bulugh al-‘arab (Mahmud Shukri al-Alusi and the Rise of the Arabs) (Beirut, Lebanon: al-Mu’assasa al- Jami‘iyya li’l-Dirasat wa’l-Nashr wa’l-Tawzi‘, 1992).

2. [In Iraq, the owl is held to be the epitome of ignorance. —Ed.]

3. [In pre-Islamic Arabia, the term sa’iba (unhindered) applied to camels accorded an honored status because they had born a large number of offspring or as the result of a vow on the part of the owner. They were allowed to roam, pasture, and drink freely, and were exempted from most labor. This and related customs are rejected in the Qur'an. (Sura 5, Verse 103) Alusi's point here is that scholars who do not pass on their knowledge cease to benefit society.—Ed.]

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