In the name of Allāh,
the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Peace and Blessings of Allāh on Mohammad.
Allāh–the Glorious and the High,
Lord of the worlds
Mohammad–who brought the world
to our feet and eternity to our arms.
“Ijtihad is the third source from which the laws of Islam are drawn.” The first two being the Qur’an and Sunnah (Sayings and practice of the Prophet). Muhammad Ali notes in his comprehensive work The Religion Of Islam:
“Reasoning or the exercise of judgment, in theological as well as in legal matters, plays a very important part in the religion of Islam, and the value of reason is expressly recognized in the Qur’an, which is full of exhortations like the following: “Do you not reflect?”…. “Have you no sense?” “There are signs in this for a people who reflect;” “There are signs in this for a people who understand;” and so on. Those who do not use their reasoning faculty are compared to animals, and spoken of as being deaf, dumb and blind.” (Qur’an 2:171; 7:179; 8:22); 25:44).
“The exercise of judgment (ijtihad) is recognized in Tradition as the means by which a decision may be arrived at when there is no direction in the Qur’an or Tradition.”
“The work had begun, as already shown, in the Prophet’s lifetime, since it was impossible to refer every case to him. After the Prophet’s death, the principle of Ijtihad obtained a wider prevalence, and as new areas were added to the material and spiritual realm of Islam, the need of resorting to the exercise of judgment became greater.”
“Decisions were given and laws made and promulgated subject only to the one condition that they were neither contrary to the Qur’an nor to the practice of the Prophet.”
“The exercise of judgment (ijtihad) is recognized in Tradition as the means by which a decision may be arrived at when there is no direction in the Qur’an or tradition. The following Tradition is regarded as the basis of Ijtihad in Islam: “On being appointed Governor of Yaman, Mu’adh was asked by the Prophet as to the rule by which he would abide. He replied, ‘By the law of the Qur’an.’ ‘But if you do not find direction therein,’ asked the Prophet. ‘Then I will act according to the practice (Sunnah) of the Prophet,’ was the reply. ‘But if you do not find any direction therein,’ he was again asked. ‘Then I will exercise my judgment (ajtahidu) and act on that,’ came the reply. The Prophet raised his hands and said: ‘Praise be to Allah who guides the messenger of His Apostle as he pleases,” (Abu Dawud, 23:11). This tradition shows not only that the Prophet approved of the exercise of judgment, but also that his Companions were well aware of the principle, and that reasoning or exercise of judgment by others was freely resorted to when necessary, even in the Prophet’s lifetime.”
(During the rule of the Caliph ‘Umar) “When there was a difference of opinion, the decision of the majority was acted upon. Besides this council, there were great individual teachers, such as ‘Aishah, Ibn Abbas, Ibn ‘Umar and others whose opinion was highly revered. Decisions were given and laws made and promulgated subject only to the one condition that they were neither contrary to the Qur’an nor to the practice of the Prophet.”
The Prophet Mohammad is reported to have said “The differences of my people are a mercy”–(J.S. p. 11)” (Tragically, Muslims have denigrated this blessing into a curse –polarizing ourselves into sects, engaged in internecine wars, etc).
“The impression prevailing in the Muslim world at present that no one has the right, even in the light of the new circumstances which a thousand years of the world’s progress have brought about, to differ with the four Imams, is entirely a mistaken one. The right to differ with the highest of men below the Prophet is a Muslims’ birthright, and to take away that right is to stifle the very existence of Islam. …In fact, the closing of the door on the free exercise of judgment, and the tendency to stifle independence of thought which took hold of the Muslim world after the third century of Hijrah, was condemned by the Prophet himself who said: “The best of the generations is my generation, then the second and then the third; then will come a people in which there is no good”–(KU. VI, 2068)”
(The three generations referred to in the tradition) “refer to three centuries, the first century being the century of the Companions, since the last of them died at the end of the first century after the Prophet and the second and the third being those of the next two generations known as Tabi’in and taba’ Tabi’in. As a matter of fact, we find that while independence of thought was freely exercised in the first three centuries, and even Muhammad and Abu Yusuf, the immediate followers of Abu Hanifah, did not hesitate to differ with their great leader, rigidity became the rule thereafter with only rare exceptions. The time when independence of thought was not exercised is, therefore, denounced by the Prophet himself, as the time of a crooked company.”
Allah the Gracious revealed that He created everything in the heavens and the earth for our use (and whose subjection and utility can only be achieved through knowledge). And the Prophet Mohammad, the magnanimous, taught us, (quoting from memory):
‘The superiority of the learned scholar
over the pious worshipper is as
the superiority of the (full) moon
over the stars.’
If Muslims are not illuminated by this brilliant flame from the mighty Messenger of Allah, to explore the expanse of reason and progress, no other human being can brighten the density of our minds.
Quotes from Muhammad Ali, The Religion of Islam, pp. 97, 98, 99, 100, 115-116. Italics and emphasis added. For this book see www.muslim.org.