Part 3: Ijmāʿ
We turn now from the primary sources, the Qur’an and the Sunnah, to the secondary sources of uṣūl al-fiqh.
The first secondary source is ijmāʿ
is the consensus of all mujtahid
jurists in the same era on a particular ruling.
There is no difference of opinion that ijmāʿ
is a part of uṣūl al-fiqh
, but there are some differences as to its scope and possibility in later times. Some scholars maintain that it is more accurate to limit ijmāʿ
to the Companions (ṣaḥābah
), since knowing their opinions on issues was relatively easy. For example, we know that the Companions unanimously agreed to fight those who refused to pay the zakāh
, and that they deemed it an obligation to settle the debts of the deceased before executing their will.
was thus formed on these issues and they became legally binding. However, after the era of the Companions, the Muslim scholars were scattered in different lands, and their consensus was difficult to confirm. Nonetheless, the majority of scholars hold that ijmāʿ
is binding and possible after the time of the Companions.
What is the proof for ijmāʿ
? There are many hadiths where the Prophet ﷺ indicates that the ummah
will not gather upon misguidance.
Additionally, Allah states the following:
وَمَنْ يُشَاقِقِ الرَّسُولَ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُ الْهُدَى وَيَتَّبِعْ غَيْرَ سَبِيلِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ نُوَلِّهِ مَا تَوَلَّى وَنُصْلِهِ جَهَنَّمَ وَسَاءَتْ مَصِيرًا
Whoever breaks away from the Messenger after the right path has become clear to him, and follows what is not the way of the believers, We shall let him have what he chose, and We shall admit him to the hellfire, which is an evil place to return. (Qur’an 4:115)
The great exegete Ibn Kathīr mentions that this ayah
was the proof that, after much thought and due consideration, Imam al-Shāfiʿī relied on to establish that ijmāʿ
is a proof that cannot be opposed. He then mentions this is the best and strongest derivative deduction that ijmāʿ
is legally binding.
These are just some of the many texts that highlight the validity of ijmāʿ as a source of Islamic law. It is important to remember and clarify that ijmāʿ is not an independent source of law; it is dependent upon the fundamental sources. However, it is absolutely necessary in order to keep scholars from making erroneous or gross misinterpretations of certain core values and beliefs in the religion. Therefore, it serves as a protection of the religion. Ijmāʿ is particularly important in our times, because too often we have individuals making very bold claims that go against what has been unanimously agreed upon by the scholars of Islam.
Part 4: Al-qiyās
Another secondary source in uṣūl al-fiqh is
known as al-qiyās. Al-qiyās
is defined as “the deduction of legal prescriptions from the Qur’an or Sunnah by analogic reasoning.”
What is the proof for qiyās
? In the hadith of Muʿādh mentioned earlier, the third source he said he would rule by if he could not find the answer in the Qur’an or Sunnah was ijtihād
, which means to strive or struggle to find out something. Al-qiyās
falls under the process of ijtihād
In another hadith
, a woman came to the Prophet ﷺ and said “My mother vowed to go for ḥajj
, but she died before she did so. Can I perform ḥajj
on her behalf?” He ﷺ said: “Yes, perform ḥajj
on her behalf. Do you not think if your mother owed a debt that you would pay it off for her? Fulfill her debt to Allah; for Allah is more deserving that what is owed to Him should be paid.” Put differently, the Prophet ﷺ analogized debt to ḥajj
, and thus deduced a ruling on ḥajj
. Just as she would be able to pay a debt for her mother, she could make ḥajj
on her behalf.
There are rules and regulations concerning qiyās, which consists of four essential elements:
- The Fundamental Issue (aṣl): One must first identify the fundamental issue. The example we will use is wine or alcohol.
- The Secondary Issue (farʿ): Next, we identify a secondary issue that is not directly addressed in the Qur’an and Sunnah, but we need to determine its ruling. This secondary issue is known as the farʿ, which literally means branch. In our example, let us attempt to determine the ruling on heroin or cocaine, which is now our secondary issue.
- The Ruling on the Fundamental Issue: In order to determine the ruling on heroin or cocaine, we need to establish the ruling on the fundamental issue. When it comes to wine or alcohol, the ruling is that it is ḥarām or forbidden based on a clear Qur’anic commandment.
- The Effective Cause (ʿillah): Finally, the fourth prerequisite requires us to determine the effective cause, or the ʿillah, between our fundamental issue and the secondary issue. We can establish that both heroin and wine are detrimental to our state of mind. The reasoning behind prohibiting wine is because of its intoxicating effects. Thus, based on the original ruling that wine is ḥarām because of the ʿillah of intoxication, scholars rule that heroin and other mind-altering drugs are also ḥarām because of their intoxicating effects.
One of the beauties of qiyās is that it shows us how universal our religion is. People may argue that there is no clear hadith that states that heroin is ḥarām, and is thus permissible. We can acknowledge that there is in fact no hadith that explicitly mentions heroin, but that is simply because this substance was not available at the time of the Prophet ﷺ. Thus, the ultimate purpose of uṣūl al-fiqh is to help preserve the religion and allow it to be relevant at all times. Therefore, when a new issue arises, we can use qiyās and make an analogical deduction to determine the ruling for a new issue. This holds true whether it is today, ten years ago, or far into the future.
Part 5: What about differences of opinion?
It is important to recognize that even the best of generations, the Companions of the Prophetﷺ, differed on some issues. The scholars have recorded many differences amongst the most illustrious Companions. One example is when two groups of the Companions were traveling to Banī Qurayẓah.
The Prophet ﷺ told them, “No one among you should pray ʿAsr
except at Banu Qurayzah.” So, the companions set out, and the time for the ʿAsr
prayer commenced while they were still on the road. Some of the companions understood the Prophet’s ﷺ command to pray ʿAsr
to emphasize they hasten to their destination of Banī Qurayẓah. Since they had been taught to pray every prayer during a fixed time, this group stopped and prayed on the road. The other group said, “We will not pray ʿAsr
it until we reach Banī Qurayẓah.” This group understood the Prophet’s ﷺ statement literally, and did not stop to pray since that would be a direct contradiction of his explicit command, which is forbidden. Neither of the two groups were rebuked for what they did. When the Prophet ﷺ was informed of what happened, he did not say that either group was incorrect. They both made their judgment to the best of their abilities based on what they had learned from the Prophet ﷺ.
It is also important to recognize that there are valid differences and invalid differences of opinion. The differences must remain within the uṣūl of Islam. To better understand this concept, let us take the example of two physicians. They both have the same training, but they may have different approaches as to how to treat a particular disease. That doesn’t necessarily mean that one is wrong or one is more correct—they simply have unique approaches. If one were to open a medical practice having just read some books or watched some videos on medicine, they would be prosecuted for medical fraud. Only after proper training and credentials will differences in their approaches be valid. Similarly, there have to be legitimate differences of opinion in the Islamic sciences. There are no differences in fundamental beliefs. No scholar, for example, will disagree that it is obligatory to believe in Heaven and Hell.
An example of a valid difference regards wiping the head in wuḍūʾ. The command to do so is based on the following Qur’anic verse,
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا قُمْتُمْ إِلَى الصَّلَاةِ فَاغْسِلُوا وُجُوهَكُمْ وَأَيْدِيَكُمْ إِلَى الْمَرَافِقِ وَامْسَحُوا بِرُءُوسِكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُمْ إِلَى الْكَعْبَيْنِ
O you who have believed, when you rise to [perform] prayer, wash your faces and your forearms to the elbows and wipe over your heads and wash your feet to the ankles. (Qur’an 5:6)
This verse uses the Arabic letter bāʾ, which can imply wiping some of the head or all of the head. For this reason, some scholars deemed it obligatory to wipe only some of the head during wuḍūʾ, while others held that one must wipe the entire head. This is a legitimate difference of opinion based on the Qur’anic verse. In this case, it was the difference of a linguistic implication. Oftentimes, we view differences of opinions as contentious and perplexing. Many of these differences, however, add a level of richness, depth, and tolerance to our historic tradition, which is truly a blessing from Allah.
To summarize the discussion on legitimate differences of opinion, we conclude with the following quote from Dr. Nazir Khan:
It is important, of course, to remember that our yardstick in addressing benefit or harm is not the yardstick handed to us by secular humanism, hedonistic materialism, or western liberalism. Rather, benefit and harm must be assessed according to the hierarchical value structure inherent in Islam, which situates human beings on a spiritual journey towards God as custodians upon His earth.
With this, we have discussed some sources in uṣūl al-fiqh
, and in shāʾ Allāh
it is now clearer why we have differences of opinion and what room exists for valid differences of opinion in Islam.