WE CONTINUE FROM Part 2 with issues related to the weighing of evidence received by scholars.
Three categories of reasons for a scholar not following a [known] hadith
Ibn Taymiyyah said: “It is an established fact that none of the known and trustworthy imams of fiqh would deliberately opt for an opinion that is against a ḥadîth of the Prophet ﷺ, because they all agreed that the Sunnah has to be followed. The reasons that make them formulate an opinion which is against a ḥadîth of the Prophet ﷺ are grouped into three categories:
- They are either not certain that the Prophet ﷺ had actually said it, or
- They think that he ﷺ did not imply by that ḥadîth the particular problem to which one wants to apply it, or
- They think that the ḥadîth is abrogated.
Finding One’s Way Through Differences of Scholarly Opinion
We have touched upon just some of the many reasons for differences in scholars’ interpretations. People always hear and read about different opinions and wonder whom to follow.
One should, first, be aware that not everyone who discusses religion is a scholar. The scholar is the person whose faith, knowledge and character are well known and trusted. There are two points to consider:
- How did these scholars differ from the implications in the Quran and the Sunnah? The answer lies partly in what has been mentioned as reasons for disagreeing. Also, students of knowledge can search for other reasons on specific issues.
- How does one follow the scholars? Which scholars should we follow? Should one follow an imam and not deviate from his opinion even if it is not correct, as do some blind followers of the main fiqh schools, or should one follow stronger evidence, even if it is the opinion of a different imam?
The answer is that a person should always follow the stronger evidence. Anyone who knows the evidence is obliged to follow it, even if it is not what some imams may have adopted, unless there is a consensus by the Ummah on a specific issue. Everyone (imams and followers) is supposed to follow consensus. No one other than the Messenger of Allah ﷺ should be followed without questioning.
Seeking Fatwa and Reaching Rulings
However, one may still get confused because many claim that they have the evidence, even without understanding its meaning and purpose. To prevent the harm that may result because of that, Muslims can be classified—in terms of ability in understanding evidences and in reaching fiqh rulings—as follows:
Group One: Scholars who have knowledge and comprehension.
This group has the right (actually, they are obliged) to make ijtihad and deliver a ruling on its own.
Group Two: Students of knowledge who have attained a certain level of knowledge, but who are not at the level of a scholar. This category includes those upon whom Allah has bestowed knowledge, but they haven’t reached the rank of the first group.
There is no harm in these persons following general rulings; however, they should be careful of being content with this; they should always ask those with greater knowledge.
Group Three: Average (common) people who have no knowledge.
The people of the third group are those who have very little or no knowledge. Such people should ask the people of knowledge: So ask of those who know the Scripture if you know not. With clear signs and books… [Sûrat Al-Naḥl, 16:43-44]. It is the responsibility of these people to ask.
But whom should they ask? There are many people that call themselves, or are called by others, ‘scholars.’ Some scholars believe that these people should ask whomever they trust as being knowledgeable from among the scholars in their community. This is exactly what people may do when they become ill. They look for a doctor whose knowledge they trust. Other scholars believe that these people don’t have to ask the more knowledgeable scholars all the time, for even the more knowledgeable a scholar may be strong in some issues and not so strong in others.
The people at the time of the Companions used to ask those with less knowledge than others, even though the more knowledgeable people were present. The truth is that people are not obligated to ask a specific person even if he is believed to be the most knowledgeable. However, they ought to ask a person with good and known faith, knowledge and character.
Cautions and Advice
Muslims, especially students of knowledge, should be extra careful not to hasten to answer a question or deliver a ruling in the religion until they have carefully researched and investigated the matter so that they do not speak about Allah without knowledge. The person who delivers a fatwa is like a mediator between Allah and His servants.
The Prophet ﷺ said: The scholars are the heirs of the prophets.
He ﷺ also said when he mentioned categories of judges:
- One of them [judges] is in Paradise having learned the truth and having judged by it.
- Also, when such judges have to give a fatwa, they should turn to Allah asking Him for knowledge and guidance before doing anything else. Some scholars used to advise a person who was being asked for a fatwa about an issue, to ask Allah for forgiveness, as Allah said: Surely We have sent down to you the Book in truth that you might judge between men by that which Allah has shown you; so be not a pleader for the treacherous. And seek the forgiveness of Allah. Certainly, Allah is ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful [Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:105-106].The increase in seeking forgiveness results in erasing the effect of sins, which are the reasons for ignorance and forgetting knowledge: Because of their breach of their covenant We cursed them and made their hearts grow hard. They changed the words from their places and have forgotten a good part of the message that was sent to them [Sûrat Al-Mâ’idah, 5:13].
Imam Shâfiʿi is reported to have said:
I complained to Wakîʿ (his teacher), regarding my bad memory
And he advised me to abstain from sins
He told me: ‘Know that knowledge is a light (guidance)
And the light of Allah will not be given to a sinner.’”
There is no doubt, then, that seeking forgiveness is a reason for Allah to bestow knowledge and guidance on those who seek it.