Differing in Matters Where there is Room for Ijtihād Should not be Allowed to Damage our Unity―Ibn Taymiyyah and Al-Fawzān

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In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Bestower of Mercy.

Shaikh Al-Fawzān stated: “The Muslims will not be united except upon a correct ‘aqeedah. It was the ‘aqeedah that united the Sahābah after they were divided just as Allah stated:

وَاذْكُرُوا نِعْمَتَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنتُمْ أَعْدَاءً فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُم بِنِعْمَتِهِ إِخْوَانًا

‘And remember the bounty of Allah upon you when you were enemies against one another and then Allah brought your hearts together and by the grace of Allah you became brothers.’ (Āli-‘Imrān, 3)

What was it that gathered the Sahābah together and united them after their division, quarelling and infighting except this ‘aqeedah which is built upon the saying, Lā ilāha illallāha, Muhammadun rasoolullāh?!

So the people will not be united except upon the correct ‘aqeedah―and as for those who differ between themselves in their beliefs, then they will never be united.

As for differing that takes place (between Ahlus-Sunnah) in matters of fiqh where there is room for ijtihād because the proofs can be understood in different ways, then this does not harm unity―and it does not lead to division (furqah) and enmity because this ijitihād is permissible. However, differing in matters of belief (the ‘aqeedah) is not permissible and those who differ concerning it will never be united no matter how much they work at it―they will not be united because they want to unite between things that contradict and oppose each other―and it is not possible to bring together opposing and contradicting beliefs.” (It’hāf Al-Qārī bi Ta’liqāt ‘alā Sharhis-Sunnah lil-Imām Al-Barbahārī, 1/43)

Shaikh Al-Fawzān (may Allah preserve him) continued: “If differing occurs (between Ahlus-Sunnah) in fiqh or in matters connected to jurisprudence for which varying possibilities exist, then this is allowable alongside the fact that it is obligatory to follow the evidence, even in affairs of fiqh. Allah (the Most High) stated:

فَإِن تَنَازَعْتُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَالرَّسُولِ إِن كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ

‘So if you differ in any affair between yourselves, then return it to Allah and the Messenger if you truly believe in Allah and the Last Day.’ (An-Nisā, 59)

However, these differences in understanding that have valid possibilities are not a cause of division between the Muslims. For this reason among Ahlus-Sunnah you find the Hanafi, the Māliki, the Shāfi’ee and the Hanbali―all praise is due to Allah―they do not divide because these ijtihāds in fiqh have legitimate angles to them, and they have valid possibilities based upon the proofs. As for their ‘aqeedah, then their ‘aqeedah is one: the Hanbalis, the Hanafis, the Shāfi’ees and the Mālikis―their ‘aqeedah is one, even though some of their [later] followers opposed the imāms in the ‘aqeedah. And this is found among the Hanbalis, the Shāfi’ees, the Mālikis and the Hanafis―you will find those who ascribe to them opposing the beliefs of the Imāms. So, they are not considered as followers of those Imāms because they follow them in one aspect (fiqh) but they oppose them in matters that are more important (i.e. the creed). So, they are not counted as followers of the Imāms because they oppose them in the ‘aqeedah.” (It’hāf Al-Qārī bi Ta’liqāt ‘alā Sharhis-Sunnah lil-Imām Al-Barbahārī, 1/46-47)

Shaikh Al-Fawzān stated elsewhere: “The foundations from which the rulings are derived by the scholars of usūl (the jurists) are foundations which are agreed upon and others which are differed over. Those which agreed upon are four:

The First Foundation: The Noble Qur’ān.

The Second Foundation: The Prophetic Sunnah because that is second form of revelation after the Qur’ān… And it known and established that acting in accordance to the Sunnah is from acting in accordance to the Qur’ān…

The Third Foundation: Al-Ijmā’ (Consensus of the Scholars). The proof for this is the saying of Allah:

وَمَن يُشَاقِقِ الرَّسُولَ مِن بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُ الْهُدَىٰ وَيَتَّبِعْ غَيْرَ سَبِيلِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ نُوَلِّهِ مَا تَوَلَّىٰ وَنُصْلِهِ جَهَنَّمَ ۖ وَسَاءَتْ مَصِيرًا

‘Whoever opposes the Messenger after the guidance has been made clear to him, and he follows other than the Path of the believers, We will leave him in the path he has taken and drive him into Hell, and what an evil destination.’ (An-Nisā’, 115) Likewise, the saying of the Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam):

إِنَّ اللَّهَ لاَ يَجْمَعُ أُمَّتِي – أَوْ قَالَ أُمَّةَ مُحَمَّدٍ صلى الله عليه وسلم – عَلَى ضَلاَلَةٍ وَيَدُ اللَّهِ مَعَ الْجَمَاعَةِ وَمَنْ شَذَّ شَذَّ إِلَى النَّارِ

‘Indeed Allah will not unite my Ummah upon misguidance…’ (Abu Dāwūd no. 4253, At-Tirmidhi no. 2167, Ibn Mājah no. 3950)

And the stated Ijmā’ (Consensus) of the scholars is a clearcut proof. As for a non-stated, non-verbal Ijmā’ then it is a speculative proof because there maybe a scholar who differs (with the others) but he has not made that apparent. However, if all of the scholars state (and make apparent) a position that they have agreed upon, and no one differs with them, then that is a clearcut proof (in the Sharī’ah).

The Fourth: Al-Qiyās (Deduction)―and it is to link an event/affair that occurs (al-far’) to a Textual proof (al-asl) due to an underlying cause (al-‘illah) that is shared between them. This is what is referred to as Qiyās al-‘Illah (i.e. a deduced ruling based upon a reason that is shared). The majority of the scholars approve of it―but the Dhāhirees disallow it as do some of the Hanbalis and a small group of [other] scholars. But the majority of the Scholars of the Ummah approve the use of Qiyās―it is a valid proof if the conditions stated in the books of usūl (principles of jurisprudence) are met.

And there are a number of other principles too such as the saying of a Companion, continuation upon the origin in affairs (istishāb al-asl)―and these are matters wherein the scholars differ, and the differing can be strong…” (Explanation of the Mandhoomah al-Hā’iyyah, pp. 58-61)

Shaikh Al-Fawzān further stated: “Make your Religion such that it is taken from the Book of Allah (the Mighty and Majestic) and the Sunnah of His Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam)―and this refers to the authentic narrations. As for what comes from other than these, then it is to be investigated―if it agrees with the Book and Sunnah, then it is adopted―and if it opposes the Book and Sunnah, then it is rejected from the one who spoke with it. And this is what the Imāms and Scholars advised with.

Imām Ash-Shāfi’ee (rahimahullāh, d. 204H) said: ‘If my saying opposes the saying of Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam), then take the saying of Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) and cast my saying to one side.’

Imām Mālik (rahimahullāh, d. 179H) said: ‘Everyone of us rebuts or is rebutted except the person in that grave.’ And he intended the Messenger of Allah (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) because Imām Mālik used to teach in the Prophet’s Mosque (Al-Masjid An-Nabawiyy), so he said, ‘except the person in that grave’―and Allah’s Messenger (salallauhu ‘alaihi wasallam) is never rebutted, rather his speech is always accepted. As for other than him, then if his speech agrees with the Book and Sunnah, it is adopted, and if it opposes, then it is rejected.

Imām Abu Hanīfah (rahimahullāh, d. 150H) was the first of the Four Imāms, and he said: ‘If a hadeeth comes from Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam), then we accept it wholeheartedly. If a narration comes from the Companions of Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam), then we accept it wholeheartedly. However, if a narration comes from the Tābi’een, then they were men and we are men.’ Meaning that whatever comes from from other than Allah, His Messenger and the Companions, it is to be investigated―even if it is the saying of some of the best of the scholars, even if it is from the Tābi’een―if the speech agrees with the Book and Sunnah, we take it and if it opposes it we leave it.

Imām Ahmad (rahimahullāh, d. 241H) said: ‘I am amazed at a people who know the chain of narration (isnād) of a hadeeth and its authenticity (sihhah) yet they still resort to the opinion of Sufyān!’ Referring here to Sufyan Ath-Thawri (rahimahullāh, d. 161H), the scholar of fiqh and great imām. Then he recited the saying of the Most High:

فَلْيَحْذَرِ الَّذِينَ يُخَالِفُونَ عَنْ أَمْرِهِ أَن تُصِيبَهُمْ فِتْنَةٌ أَوْ يُصِيبَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ

‘So let those beware who oppose the Prophet’s command, lest a fitnah strikes them or they are inflicted with a painful punishment.’ (An-Noor, 63)

So it is not permissible to adopt the saying of a scholar (faqeeh) no matter what level of fiqh or knowledge he has reached unless it is built upon an authentic proof―and if his saying opposes the proofs then it is not taken. That is because there is no saying of a person that can be placed alongside the saying of the Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam). Allah, the Most High, said:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تُقَدِّمُوا بَيْنَ يَدَيِ اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ

‘O you who believe! Do not put [yourselves] before Allah and His Messenger but fear Allah. Indeed, Allah is Hearing and Knowing.’ (Al-Hujurāt, 1)” (Sharh Al-Hā’iyyah, pp. 62-63)

Shaikhul-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah (rahimahullāh, d. 728H) stated: “And there is no one from the scholars except that he has sayings and actions that are not to be followed―alongside the fact that he is not to be censured or rebuked due to them. Statements and actions that are not known to be in clearcut contradiction to the Book and Sunnah, rather they are affairs open to ijtihād regarding which there is differing among the people of knowledge and imān, then it is possible that these affairs may be clearcut to some to whom Allāh has made the truth clear―however it is not allowed for him to make binding upon the people that which is clear to him but not clear to them.” (Majmū’ al-Fatāwa, 10/ 383-384)

Shaikhul-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah (rahimahullāh) said: “For this reason it is obligatory to make clear the condition of the one who errs in hadeeth and narrating, or the one who errs in opinion and fatwa, or the one who errs in Zuhd and worship. That is the case even if the mistaken person is a Mujtahid who is forgiven for his error and is rewarded for his ijtihād. Clarifying speech and action proven by the Book and Sunnah is obligatory even if that means opposing [the Mujitahid scholar] in his speech and action. And as for the one from whom it is known that ijtihād is admissible, then it is not permissible to mention him from the viewpoint of vilification and sin because Allah has forgiven him his mistake. Rather it is obligatory, due to what he possesses of imān and taqwā, to have allegiance for him and to love him, and to establish that which Allāh has obligated from his rights such as mentioning him with good, supplicating for him and so on.” (Majmū’ al-Fatāwa, 28/233-234)

All of this shows that a Salafi, a person of Sunnah and a student of knowledge should be measured and very careful in his approach to differing―he should make allowances for those who differ with him in matters where it is known that the early Salaf differed based on their understanding and reading of the texts. We should be tolerant, easy-going and gentle with Ahlus-Sunnah over matters of ijtihād wherein the scholars have differed. The Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) said:

يَا عَائِشَةُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ رَفِيقٌ يُحِبُّ الرِّفْقَ وَيُعْطِي عَلَى الرِّفْقِ مَا لاَ يُعْطِي عَلَى الْعُنْفِ وَمَا لاَ يُعْطِي عَلَى مَا سِوَاهُ

“O ‘Ā’ishah! Verily Allah is Gentle and Kind and He loves gentleness, and He rewards gentleness in a way that He does not reward harshness, nor anything else.” (Muslim, no. 2593)

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