Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Legality Of The Four Schools Of Sunni Islamic Thought

Are lay-Muslims obliged to follow only one of the four schools of jurisprudence of the Ahlus-Sunnah w'al-Jama’ah? Are there any other options that one can follow? Regarding this oft-debated issue, there is a difference between learning and applying.

When it comes to applying, abiding by a certain legal school of jurisprudence for laymen is not obligatory in every matter as they are eligible to adopt the legal opinion of other juristic scholars and mujtahidun. Therefore, ordinary laymen have no certain legal school of jurisprudence because they follow the juristic opinion of the scholar they ask.

This is the established opinion for the Hanafis. The renowned Hanafi scholar Imam ibn ‘Abidin stated in his commentary in reference to Imam ash-Sharnibali that he said,
“One does not have to abide by a certain legal school and he is permitted to follow an opinion which opposes the opinion of the juristic legal school which he follows. He is allowed to adopt two opposite opinions in two separate incidents that are not related to each other. He is not permitted to nullify an action he did by the virtue of following the juristic opinion of another scholar because engaging in an action is similar to passing a verdict by a judge with no appeal.”
This opinion is supported by Allah as He asserted the obligation of following scholars in general with no specification or dedication to one scholar over the other. Allah says:

…if ye realize this not, ask of those who possess the Message.
[Quran 16:43]

Also when people posed their questions at the time of the Prophet’s Companions and the scholars of the next generation, they did not abide by a certain school but they rather asked eligible scholars without limiting themselves with the opinion of someone while denying the opinion of the other.

Following one of the opinions of the mujtahidun, eligible scholars who practice independent legal reasoning, ijithad, is in fact, following the truth. All the mujtahidun are correct and this means that each of them follows his own independent legal reasoning which led them to believe in the validity of the concluded ruling. As one chooses to follow any of the scholarly opinions of these renowned mujtahidun, he should not believe that this is the only correct juristic opinions and other opinions are invalid.

As for the issue of learning and studying different legal schools of jurisprudence, following a certain school of jurisprudence is inevitable. The four schools of jurisprudence of the Ahlus-Sunnah w'al-Jama’ah were well served and deeply studied by generations of renowned scholars in a way that other schools of jurisprudence were not subjected to. The four schools were well edited and the popular and favored opinions were highlighted and backed with authentic supporting evidence. The biographies of the renowned scholars of each school were documented and their methodologies of deriving juristic legal rulings were scrutinized so each of them became an independent school of jurisprudence that benefits those who seek religious knowledge.

Therefore, if following a certain legal school of jurisprudence is not mandatory then what is the Divine Wisdom behind having four different legal schools of jurisprudence with so many various juristic opinions? Why the scholars do not agree on one juristic opinion and base their opinions only on definite authentic legal evidence?

The issues of the shari’ah are divided into two categories.

The first category has to do with issues that reached the Muslims’ consensus such as the number of the obligatory prayers, specifying the month of fasting, destination of prayer, location of pilgrimage, prohibition of intoxicants, adultery and usury and other matters which formulate the Islamic identity. These matters are not subject to dispute as the legal evidences of these matters are definite.

The second category has to do with issues which the scholars differed about. The reason for their different opinion is related to the fact that Allah made the supporting legal evidences for these issues speculative and not definite which means that the evidence bears the possibility of multiple ways of understanding it.

The shari’ah could have been formed of only the first category which refers to matters of consensus with no disputes among scholars. But the fact is that Allah decided for this religion to be the final Divine Word from Heaven to Earth and it is Last Testament from Allah to the whole of Creation. Therefore, the second category was solid evidence and an eye witness to testify to the flexibility of the shari’ah and its applicability in different times, various geographical locations, all circumstances and diverse people.

Prophet Muhammad conferred the validity of differences in understanding the possible legal evidence when he said to his companions,
“No one among you prays the afternoon prayer until you reach the tribe of Banu Qurayza.”
Some of the Prophet’s companions abided by the literal understanding of the Prophet’s words and refused to pray the afternoon prayer until they reached the tribe of Banu Qurayza which was after the sunset prayer. Other companions understood the embedded meanings behind the Prophet’s words, which was some sort of encouragement and stimulation not to be late in arriving to Banu Qurayza, so they prayed the afternoon prayer while along their way to Banu Qurayza before the sunset prayer was due in accordance with following the spirit of the text and not its literal meaning. These two different opinions resemble the two different intrinsic natures of human beings; abiding by the literal meaning of the text and embracing the spirit of the text.

The Prophet did not deny the opinion of any of the two parties which indicates the legality and permissibility of differences in understanding and opinions as this kind of differences falls under variation and not contradiction. Therefore it was said,
“Differences among my Ummah is a Mercy.”
If the legal evidences on these matters were definite, there would be no room for scholarly debate. It was according to Allah’s Divine Wisdom that the legal evidences on these matters were speculative and probable to make it easier on people so this is one of the beauties of religion.

Confrontations and disputes only occurred among some Muslims who did not understand these prominent meanings of the concept of ‘difference’ in the philosophy of the shari’ah. They, unfortunately, dealt with speculative issues with the mindset of one exclusive opinion that does not bear the possibility of change or alteration and at the same time they deem their opponents as wrong or innovator in religion and this attitude is prohibited and not allowed.

— Mufti Ali Goma'a, transmitted via Sidi Terence Helikaon Nunis of A Muslim Convert Once More

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