Uniting Amidst Differences
What should be our attitude towards the differences of opinions between the Imaams and how do we unify ourselves with these differences?
Praise be to Allaah.
At the time of the Revelation, the Muslims learned the rulings of Islam from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) through the verses of the Holy Qur’aan and the ahaadeeth of his Sunnah. Hence there were no differences of opinion among them except with regard to some minor issues. If that happened, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) would explain to them what was correct.
When the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) died and the Sahaabah spread out to various regions to teach the people Islam, there appeared some differences with regard to some matters of fiqh which arose at different times and in different places. These differences were due to a number of reasons, which we will sum up here from the words of the scholars:
- The evidence had not reached the one who held a different opinion, and he made a mistake in forming his opinion.
- The hadeeth had reached the scholar, but he did not regard the transmitter as trustworthy, and he thought that it went against something that was stronger, so he followed that which he thought was stronger than it.
- The hadeeth had reached him but he forgot it.
- The hadeeth had reached him but he understood it in a way other than the intended meaning.
- The hadeeth reached him but it was abrogated, and he did not know the abrogating text.
- He thought that it contradicted something that was stronger than it, whether that was a text or scholarly consensus (ijmaa’)
- The scholar used a weak hadeeth as the basis for his ruling, or he derived the ruling by means of weak arguments.
For a detailed discussion of these reasons and others, see Raf’ al-Malaam ‘an al-A’immati’l-A’laam by Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah, and al-Khilaaf bayna al-‘Ulama’: Asbaabuhu wa Mawqifuna minhu by Shaykh al-‘Uthaymeen.
We think that what we have mentioned about the reasons for differences among the scholars i.e., with regard to matters of fiqh, will be clear to you, inshaAllaah.
What should the Muslim’s attitude be towards differences that arise between the scholars? In other words, which scholarly opinion should the Muslim follow in matters where they differed? The answer depends:
- If the Muslim is one who has studied shar’i knowledge and learned its basic principles and minor issues, and he can distinguish right from wrong with regard to scholarly views, then he has to follow that which he thinks is correct and ignore that which he thinks is wrong.
- If he is one of the rank and file, or has not studied shar’i knowledge, and thus cannot distinguish between right and wrong with regard to scholarly views, then he must follow the fatwa of a scholar whose knowledge he trusts and who he believes to be trustworthy and religiously committed, whether he is from his own country or another country, and differences between scholars will not matter after that. He does not have to change what he is doing because he hears another scholar issuing a fatwa that differs from the one he is following, unless he realises that what he learned later on is the correct view, on the basis of his confidence in the religious commitment and knowledge of the second Shaykh.
Shaykh Muhammad ibn Saalih al-‘Uthaymeen (may Allaah have mercy on him) said:
“The one who has knowledge of evidence is required to follow the evidence, even if it goes against some of the imams, if it does not go against the consensus of the ummah.”
The one who does not have any knowledge should ask the scholars, because Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“So ask of those who know the Scripture, if you know not” 1.
He should ask one who he thinks has more knowledge and is more religiously committed, but that does not mean that doing so is obligatory, because the one who is better may make a mistake with regard to a particular issue, and the one who is regarded as less knowledgeable may be right with regard to it. But priority should be given to following the one who is more knowledgeable and more religiously committed.
Shaykh Haitham bin Jawwad al Haddad gives a very beneficial and clear insight to the issue, which we pray benefits, Aameen.
- al-Nahl 16:43 ↩