Please note: The answers on Hawramani.com constitute friendly advice rather than fatwas. Where relevant, we translate the opinions and fatwas of respected scholars and present them in our answers.

On which scholar’s opinions to follow and scholarly consensus (ijmāʿ)

I don't mean to offend you in any way but I just want to know (because I find other Islamic sources different from your answers sometimes). But I'm wondering when people ask you a certain thing on your blog , do you go after the scholars who give the fatwas/explanations that sounds most logic or do you go after the consensus of the scholars (إجماع) ? Example of this is the issue of apostasy which you disagreed with. Also that kuffar isn't just non-muslims. Could you please clear this up. Thanks.

There is no consensus among the scholars about the concept of ijmāʿ (“consensus”), making it little more than a rhetorical tool used to make one’s own opinion appear stronger despite the existence of disagreement from other scholars. According to Ahmad ibn Hanbal, the only true ijmāʿ is consensus among the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad on some matter as recorded in the books of hadith. While I do not belong to Ibn Hanbal’s school, this is perhaps the best opinion on this matter. If all of the Companions of the Prophet agreed that the prayer should be done a certain way, then we have to follow their opinion (in reality, there was also great disagreement among the Companions regarding various issues within Islam after the death of the Prophet Muhammad).1

There is no such thing as consensus among the Muslims on most things unless you intentionally cut out those who disagree. When it comes to most matters, the general opinion of the ʿulemāʾ is good enough to follow, since we cannot research every single issue within Islam to find out the best opinions about it. The ʿulemāʾ have done this hard work for us and if they think something should be a certain way, then what they is generally safe to follow.

However, there is nothing in Islam that asks us to shut down our critical thinking ability. The Quran constantly asks us to use our reasoning ability, to question things, to find out things for ourselves. Islam is not supposed to have a priesthood who do the religious thinking for everyone else (although this is what some of the ʿulemāʾ claim to be their place in Islamic societies). We Muslims are one community and there are no class distinctions between us. The ʿulemāʾ help the community as repositories of knowledge, but they are not rulers, politically or intellectually, who tell everyone else what to think. The Quran never denies a person’s right to think for themselves and to use their reasoning ability. There is nothing in the Quran to give a small number of Muslims (the self-elected ʿulemāʾ) to become the brains of everyone else by claiming to agree with another.

If the ʿulemāʾ say there is agreement on a subject, all it takes is to find one single disagreeing scholar to prove what they say false; that there is no agreement. In the early Islamic period, in the era of Imam Malik (711 – 795 CE), scholars, instead of shutting down discussion by claiming consensus, acted the exact opposite way; a single disagreeing voice was considered sufficient to establish an equally valid opinion on a matter (see Shaykh Umar Abd-Allah’s Mālik and Medina). So if most of the ʿulemāʾ agree on some thing, but there are a few good and honorable ʿulemāʾ  who have a different opinion, their alternative opinion, according to the thinkers of early Islam, is just as valid as the majority opinion. The early Islamic scholars followed the principle of riʿāyat al-ikhtilāf (“mindfulness of dissent”). Instead of attacking those who disagreed with the majority, they wrote down their opinions (in books like al-Muwaṭṭaʾ and al-Mudawwanah) as forming valid alternatives.

That open-minded scholarly culture of early Islam is the correct and proper way to practice Islam, as opposed to the scholarly culture of groupthink of the past few centuries where dissenters were attacked instead of being respected.

At this point the criticism can be mentioned that if we follow minority opinions this can cause a breakdown in Muslim societies where everyone follows random opinions. That would only be true if we were robot-like creatures whose brains had to be programmed by the scholars. In reality, humans who in good conscience try to find out the truth about things and who listen to the scholars and follow the best opinions they hear are bound to be rightly guided. If we believe in the Quran’s teachings and try to follow them in good faith, then that is most of Islam. It would be extremely unjust to call a Muslim evil and misguided despite the fact that they read the Quran and do their best to follow it just because they differ from us in some opinions.

The reality of Muslim societies today is sufficient to support my opinion. Talk to any devout Muslim and you will find that they have various personal opinions that disagree with the commonly accepted ones. They continue to be faithful and devout and continue to belong to the Muslim community. This was also the experience of Imam Malik’s community; there was strong disagreement on most issues inside Medina and outside it. Instead of this leading to hatred and division, people continued to respect each other and the community was united around the core teachings of Islam without using the side issues as causes for division. This is how unity is achieved: by agreeing on a small number of things (the core teachings of Islam) and respecting people’s right to disagree on everything else.

There is no such thing as kind-hearted and well-intentioned people who read the Quran and the Sunnah and follow the best opinions they hear from the scholars and who are evil and misguided (as takfīrī Wahhabis think there are). This type of thinking assumes that God does not exist; that He is happy to watch humans go to ruin even though they believe in Him, worship Him, pray to Him and read His Book. This, of course, is pure fantasy; it is an invention of those who wish to imply that only they are the truly guided ones. This gives them the moral right to attack, defame and even murder those who disagree with them.

At this point I should mention a hadith much abused by takfīrīs in which it is mentioned that the Muslims will separate into 73 sects and that all of them will enter the Hellfire except one. It is generally accepted that the part that says “all of them will be thrown into Hell save one” is a fabrication added to the hadith later on.

Footnotes

  1. See Umar F. Abd-Allah, Mālik and Medina: Islamic Legal Reasoning in the Formative Period, Leiden: Brill, 2013.
And God knows best.

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