Can Ijtehad be absolute?

Beliefs & Practices, Chapter 10, Islam & Modernism / Sunday, August 17th, 2008

What we said above was about the principles in this regard. The recommendation of the committee that has come before us is that a Board of the Ulema (The Religious scholars) be formed to carry out Ijtehad and present their opinions on new problems. In this connection, I may be allowed to point out an important Islamic practice. The history of fourteen hundred years of Islam reminds us that, Islam never formed a supreme authoritative institution
or clergy, an institution whose opinion should be the last word depriving everyone the right of criticism as is the case with Christianity. It is in Christianity that Pope is regarded as beyond all errors and infallible to

The system in Islamic Ijtehad has been that no authoritative organization with absolute powers was ever formed. The opinion of the Ulema carrying out Ijtehad are publicized and are open to free criticism by other Ulema and ultimately the decision about their being right or wrong is made only on the basis of the collective consensus of the Ummah to accept an Ijtehad or reject it. Hence, if the intention of creating a Board of Ijtehad is that its interpretations are imposed on the Muslims as the last word, and other Ulema are not allowed to express their opinion against it, then in my opinion this is not a right objective.

Another thing to be noted is that establishing an institution exclusively for Ijtehad at this time may have some practical problems and may call for some financial implications as well. Hence I propose that we have already got an institution by the name of “Council for Islamic Ideology” and another institution by the name of “Institute of Islamic Research”, this responsibility may be entrusted to them. As has been proposed by the committee, a comprehensive list of the problems which need Ijtehad be prepared and handed over to these institutions.
However the officials of these institutions should not limit these considerations to themselves but they should invite other Ulema and scholars of the country to express their opinion before a decision is announced by the Council for Islamic Ideology. It will reduce the financial burden on the one hand, and on the other the duplication of work will be eliminated. Otherwise the new Board for Ijtehad in the presence of the Council of Islamic Ideology
may give birth to new problems. If a difference arises between the two institutions a third committee or institution will be needed to remove it.

Hence it will be better if the Council of Islamic Ideology or Institute of Islamic Research are entrusted the work of preparing a list of such problems and then call for the renowned, qualified jurists and devoted scholars of Islam for a joint session, and take guidance from them and then arrive at a unanimous conclusion.

It has been reported with authentic sources in the tradition of Majm’a-al-Zawaid by Hadhrat Ali bin Abi Talib that the Prophet (PBUH) was asked “We may be faced with problems, after you, in which there may be neither a command nor prohibition from you. What should we do in a situation like this?” In quite a few words the Prophet provided us with the right way. He said, “Consult the jurists (Legal experts) and the devotees cognizant with religion, and do not impose individual opinion as if it was the collective view of the Ummah”. He thus advised to call for people having two qualifications that is, they are jurists and devoted to the cause of Islam, consult them and then reach a conclusion.

If the Council of Islamic Ideology and Institute of Islamic Research keep these principles in view and
consult the Ulema when needed, then publish their opinion allowing open freedom of criticism to other Ulema. Anyone having opposing views should be allowed to express himself. In this way the process of Ijtehad can continue in the same manner as it had been continuing over the last fourteen years. In case we adopt self conceived means and methods we cannot hope to make the desired progress.

In the end I wish to submit that any such institution if formed under the supervision of the State it is essential to take into consideration the fact that governments keep changing and rulers are replaced. Hence it should be formed on the principles which keep them practicable under all circumstances. Thus the selection of the workers should be made on the basis of knowledge and devotion rather than on political grounds. If this factor is effectively incorporated in the basic terms of reference of such institutions, the process of Ijtehad will, by the Grace of Allah, be a source of blessing to us, and we shall be able to guard against the dangers which could be created by the wrong use of Ijtehad in our society.

With these reservations I endorse the recommendations of the committee.

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