I have been asked by a friend for a detailed account of your methodology in arriving at decisions. I know that you say your only source is Qur’an and Sunnah. Does consensus of scholars or ahadith play any part at all in the formation of your thought?
Jazakum Allah khair for your work. I truly appreciate this website.
As you would appreciate, explaining the methodology of interpreting and placement of the various directives of Islam would require extensive explanation of the methodology of interpreting the Qur’an, Sunnah and Hadith; defining the relationship between the Qur’an, Sunnah and Hadith, the relative importance and scope of the three referred sources of information of the Shari`ah and many other pertinent aspects, each of which would require independent and detailed articles for thorough explanation and understanding. Such extensive discussions can only be handled in more detailed write-ups and presentations and cannot generally be handled sufficiently in answers to questions. A comprehensive explanation of our methodology of interpreting Islam will, therefore, have to wait till the time we can write detailed and comprehensive articles on the various relevant topics. In the mean time, however, you may send us your specific questions – as you have done in the latter half of this question – that deal with any one specific aspect of our overall methodology relating to the interpretation and placement of the directives entailed in the Qur’an, Sunnah and Hadith.
Does consensus of scholars or ahadith play any part at all in the formation of your thought?
‘Consensus of scholars’ is a very loosely used phrase. Sometimes the agreement of the four1 Muslim jurists is referred as the ‘consensus of scholars’, while at other times some other scholars are added to the list. Likewise, most of the times, the concept of ‘consensus of scholars’ is not based on positive evidence, but is actually based on the lack of any negative evidence, which, in the specific case of opinions is an extremely flimsy basis2.
If you closely consider the actual meaning of the word ‘consensus’, then, in all honesty, ‘consensus’ of scholars’ of an interpretive nature cannot be claimed on any given issue, unless the opinion of each and every one of the Muslim scholars of all times can be positively ascertained on that particular issue. In my opinion, therefore, in the case of opinions and interpretations, it is more accurate to use phrases like ‘agreement of a large majority of scholars’, ‘no significant deviations recorded’ etc., rather than ‘consensus of scholars’ which, in an extremely large number of cases, cannot even be positively substantiated to be true.
The foregoing clarification may raise another pertinent question in your mind: ‘Does the agreement of a large majority of scholars on a particular (interpretive) opinion play any part in the formation of your thought?’
Yes, we do consider and thoroughly deliberate over an opinion which is reportedly ascribed to a majority of respected Muslim scholars. Nevertheless, our ‘consideration’ and ‘thorough deliberation’ does not always result in our agreement with the reported opinion of the majority of scholars. Some clarifications follow:
It is obvious that here we are concerned only with either a) interpretive opinions or b) application-oriented opinions (Ijtehad) of the respected Muslim scholars; we are not concerned with their personal likes and dislikes.
As for the interpretive opinions, we know that these opinions are, in fact, based on the interpretation, understanding and placement of the original – primary as well as secondary – sources of the Shari`ah. These interpretive opinions do not, by themselves, hold any importance unless they are supported and substantiated to be correct through the original sources. We also know that all the original sources on the basis of which such interpretive opinions have been formed are available to us, just as they were available to Muslims in the past. Thus, in the case of interpretive opinions, we try to take into consideration the bases upon which those opinions are formed and then form our own opinion regarding the issue. The opinion under consideration is only accepted to be correct if the original sources support and substantiate it.
As for the application-oriented opinions, which are generally based on an application or extension of any of the express directives of the Shari`ah to a practical situation, we try to assess not only the correctness of the interpretation which provides the basis of the subsequent application (as given in the preceding paragraph), but also try to evaluate the similarity in the practical-life situation in which the opinion was formed with one that is currently at hand. If it is ascertained that not only the opinion under consideration is based on correct interpretation of the original sources but that it is also equally applicable to the practical situation at hand, then we accept the considered opinion and vice versa.
Besides interpretive and application-oriented opinions, there is another sphere in which the phrase ‘consensus of scholars’ can be used. This sphere relates to incidents, material facts etc3. In this sphere, ‘consensus of scholars’, in some cases is representative of ‘consensus of Muslims’, which provide the foundation of all the essential basic beliefs and practices of the Muslim creed. Ignoring or deviating from a ‘consensus’ in such a case can result in a deviation from the very creed of Muslims.
With reference to the position in which we hold Hadith, please refer to some of our earlier responses on the topic.
I hope the foregoing clarification shall be sufficient to answer your question.
March 24, 2003
- i.e., Abu Hanifah, Malik, Shafi`ee and Ahmad ibn Hanbal. [↩]
- For example, ‘consensus of scholars’ may be claimed on a particular issue on which the opinion of a number of scholars is not even expressly known, merely on the grounds that the opinion of these scholars is not expressly known to be otherwise than what is being claimed. [↩]
- Examples of this kind of ‘consensus’ include: ‘Muhammad (pbuh) was born in Mekkah’; ‘The Prophet (pbuh) made it obligatory upon the Muslims to offer prayers at five times during the day’; ‘There are two obligatory Rak`ahs in the Fajr prayer’; ‘Fajr prayer is to be offered before sunrise’ etc. [↩]