Islamic Jurisprudence (Usul Al Fiqh): Ijtihad
By Shah Abdul Hannan*

     Ijtihad has been derived from the root word Jahada. Ijtihad literally means striving or self-exertion. Ijtihad consists of intellectual exertion.  Ijtihad is a very broad source of Islamic law and comes after the Quran and the Sunnah.

     The Quran and the Sunnah were completed at the time of death of the Prophet (SM). Ijtihad, however, continues and this is the source or methodology which gives Islamic law, its adaptability to new situations and capacity to tackle all new issues and problems.  Propriety or justification of Ijtihad is measured by its harmony with the Quran and the Sunnah.

     The sources of Islamic law other than the Quran and the Sunnah are essentially manifestations of Ijtihad.  When clear rule is available in the text (Nass) of the Quran and the Sunnah, Ijtihad is not applicable. The findings of Ijtihad are essentially Zanni in character.  The subject matter of Ijtihad is the practical rules of Shariah not covered by Nasus.  Ijtihad is a duty of the scholars. If the issue is urgent, Ijtihad is compulsory on each competent scholar. (Fard al Ayn or Wajib al Ayn). If the issue is not urgent, it is a collective obligation (Fard al Kafai or Wazib al Kafai).

     A scholar is supposed to avoid Taqlid (blind following of another scholar). Taqlid is permissible only for a layman. Ibn Hazm believes Taqlid is not permissible for any one. Shah Wali Ullah says, Taqlid is not permitted for a person who can investigate even some matters (Ref. : Al-Insaf fi Bayan-al-Asbabil Ikhtilaf, by Shah Wali Ullah). 

     Ijtihad is validated by the Quran and the Sunnah and the practice of the Sahabas.  The Quran - 59:2;   9:122;  29:69;   4:59  have been quoted in support of Ijtihad. These Ayats are Zahir in nature ( i.e. clear texts but liable to interpretation).

     Several hadith are quoted in support of Ijtihad. Of them, two are very important. First is the hadith in which Muadh bin Jabal replied to the Prophet (SM) that he would resort to Ijtihad, if he does not find a solution in the Quran and the Sunnah and the Prophet (SM) affirmed him (Narrated by Abu Dawood). Second is the Hadith in which the Prophet (SM) said that the Mujtahid will get two rewards if he is corrrect and one reward if he commits a mistake (Abu Dawood).

     Requirements of Ijtihad have been laid down by some scholars. Nothing has been mentioned in this regard in the Quran and the Sunnah. Abul Hussain al Basri, laid down for the first time the qualifications of a Mujtahid in the 5th century Hijra which was later accepted by Gazali and Amidi.  It is true that Ijtihad is the function of the competent schoars. The following are the requirements :

a)      Good knowledge of Arabic language.
b)      He must be knowledgeable in the Quran and the Sunnah and related subjects.
c)      He must be generally knowledgeable of the Ijtihad carried out by previous scholars.
d)      He must know the Maqasid of Shariah.
e)      He must be an upright person and must be capable of distinguishing between strong and weak evidence.

     It may appear that the qualifications are very tough.  But it is not really so. These are all attainable in reasonable time by any sincere and competent person.  The majority of Ulama hold that if a person is capable of making Ijtihad in one area, he can do Ijtihad in all areas. Procedure of Ijtihad is that the Mujtahid must first look at the Quran and the Sunnah. Only if solution is not found there, he may resort to Ijtihad.  Rules of Ijtihad by way of Qiyas, Istihsan, Istislah have been laid doesn by usul scholars.

     The majority hold that Ijtihad is liable to error. The minority hold that each of the several verdicts may be regarded as true on their merit. (Shawkani, Irshad).

     Mujtahids have been classified in various ways by some scholars according to their understanding.  The basic classification can be as follows :

a)      Major Mujtahids, who made their own rules of Ijtihad and did comprehensive Ijtihad.

b)      Other Mujtahids who in most part followed the rules of Ijtihad of other scholars and who undertook Ijtihad on that basis either fully or partially.

Some scholars were against Ijtihad after the first few centuries. This view has now been rejected. Shawkani said that this view is to be utterly rejected. Iqbal says that "closure of gate to Ijtihad is a pure fiction" Progress of Islamic civilization in future depend on Ijtihad by competent scholars.  In future, more and more Ijtihad is likely to be collective. (Reference Dr. Hashim Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence; Allamah Iqbal, Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam).

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