Following An Imam On Matters Of Shariah

Contemporary Fatawa, Fiqh / Monday, October 11th, 2010

Q. “It is generally believed by the Sunni Muslims that each one of the Madhahib of Hanafi, Shafi‘i, Maliki and Hanbali, being one of the possible interpretations of Shari‘ah, is right and none of them can be held as something against the Shari‘ah. But on the same time we see that the followers of Hanafi school never depart from the Hanafi view and never adopt the Shafi’i or Maliki view in any juristic matter. Rather, they deem it impermissible to follow another jurist’s view in a particular issue. How can this behavior be reconciled with the belief that all the four madhahib are right? If all of them are right, there should be no harm if the Hanafi Muslims follow Shafi’i or Maliki or Hanbali views in some particular matter.

(Husain Ahmad, London).

A. It is true that all the four madhahib are right, and following any one of them is permissible in order to follow the Shari‘ah. However, a layman who lacks the ability to compare between the arguments of each madhhab cannot be allowed to pick and choose between different views only to satisfy his personal desires. The reason for this approach is two fold:

the Holy Qur’an in a number of verses has emphatically ordered to follow the guidance of Shari‘ah, and has made it strictly prohibited to follow the personal desires vise a vise the rules of Shari‘ah. The Muslim jurists, while interpreting the sources of Shari‘ah never intend to satisfy their personal desires. They actually undertake an honest effort to know the intention of Shari‘ah and base their madhhab on the force of evidence, not on the search of convenience. They do not choose an interpretation from among the various ones on the basis of its suitability to their personal fancies. They choose it only because the strength of proof leads them to do so.

Now, if a layman who cannot judge between the arguments of different madhahib is allowed to choose any of the juristic views without going into the arguments they have advanced, he will be at liberty to select only those views which seem to him more fulfilling to his personal requirements, and this attitude will lead him to follow the ‘desires’ and not the ‘guidance’ a practice totally condemned by the Holy Qur’an.

For example, Imam Abu Hanifah is of the view that bleeding from any part of the body breaks the wudu’, while Imam Shafi’i believes that the wudu is not broken by bleeding. On the other hand, Imam Shafi‘i says that if a man touches a woman, his wudu’ stands broken and he is bound to make a fresh wudu’ before offering Salah, while Imam Abu Hanifah insists that merely touching a woman does not break the wudu.

Now, if the policy of ‘pick and choose’ is allowed without any restriction, a layman can choose the Hanafi view in the matter of touching a woman and the Shafi‘i view in the matter of bleeding. Consequently, he will deem his wudu’ unbroken even when he has combined both the situations, while in that case his wudu’ stands broken according to both Hanafi and Shafi‘i views.

Similarly, a traveler, according to the Shafi‘i view, can combine the two prayers of Zuhr and ‘Asr. But at the same time, if a traveler makes up his mind to stay in a town for four days, he is no more regarded a traveler in the Shafi‘i view, hence, he cannot avail of the concession of qasr, nor of combining two prayers. On the other hand, combining two prayers in one time is not allowed in the Hanafi school, even when one is on journey. The only concession available for him is that of qasr. But the period of travel, according to Hanafi view is fourteen days, and a person shall continue to perform qasr until he resolves to stay in a town for at least fourteen days.

Consequently a traveller who has entered a city to stay there for five days cannot combine two prayers, neither according to Imam Shafi’i because by staying for five days he cannot use the concession, nor according to Imam Abu Hanifah, because combining two prayers is not at all allowed according to him.

But the policy of ‘pick and choose’ often leads some people to adopt the Shafi’i view in the matter of combining prayers and the Hanafi view in the matter of the period of journey.
It is evident in these examples that the selection of different views in different cases is not based on the force of arguments leading to them but on the facility provided by each. Obviously this practice is tantamount to ‘following the desires’ which is totally prohibited by the Holy Qur’an.

If such an attitude is allowed, it will render the Shari‘ah a plaything in the hands of the ignorant, and no rule of Shari‘ah will remain immune from distortion. That is why the policy of ‘pick and choose’ has been condemned by all the renowned scholars of Shari‘ah. Imam Ibn Tamiyyah, the famous muhaddith and jurist, says in his ‘Fatawa’:

“Some people follow at one time an imam who holds the marriage invalid, and at another time they follow a jurist who holds it valid. They do so only to serve their individual purpose and satisfy their desires. Such a practice is impermissible according to the consensus of all the imams.”

He further elaborates the point by several examples when he says:
“For example if a person wants to pre-empt a sale he adopts the view of those who give the right of pre-emotion to a contingent neighbor, but if they are the vendee of a property, they refuse to accept the right of’ pre-emotion for the neighbor of the vendor (on the basis of Shafi’i view) …. and if the relevant person claims that he did not know before (that Imam Shafi’i does not give the right of pre-emotion to the neighbor) and has come to know it right then, and he wants to follow that view as from today, he will not be allowed to do so, because such a practice opens the door for playing with the rules of Shari‘ah, and paves the path for deciding the halal and haram in accordance with one’s desires.” (Fatawa Ibn Taymiyyah Syrian ed. 2: 285, 286).

That was the basic cause for the policy adopted by the later jurists who made it necessary for the common people to adopt a particular madhhab in its totality. If one prefers the madhhab of Imam Abu Hanifah, he should adopt it in all matters and with all its details, and if he prefers another madhhab, he should adopt it in full in the same way and he should not ‘pick and choose’ between different views for his individual benefit.

The consequence of the rightness of all the madhahib, according to them, is that one can elect to follow any one of them, but once he adopted a particular madhhab, he should not follow another madhhab in a particular matter in order to seek convenience or to satisfy his personal choice based on his desire, not on the force of argument.

Thus the policy of allegiance to a particular madhhab was a preventive measure adopted by the jurists to prevent anarchy in the matter of Shari‘ah. But obviously, this policy is meant for the people who cannot carry out ijtihad themselves, or cannot evaluate the arguments advanced by every madhhab in support of their respective views. Such people can do nothing better than following a particular madhhab as a credible interpretation of Shari‘ah.

But the people equipped with necessary qualifications of ijtihad need not follow a particular madhhab. They can derive the rules of Shari‘ah directly from their original sources. Similarly, the persons who are not fully qualified for the exercise of ijtihad, yet they are so well-versed in the Islamic disciplines that they can evaluate the different juristic views on pure academic grounds without being motivated by their personal desires are never forbidden from preferring one madhhab over the other in a particular matter. There is a large number of Hanafi jurists who, despite their allegiance to Imam Abu Hanifah, have adopted the view of some other jurist in several juristic issues. Still, they are called ‘Hanafi’.

This partial departure from the view of Imam Abu Hanifah was based on either of the following grounds: sometimes they, after an honest and comprehensive study of the relevant material, came to the conclusion that the view of some other Imam is more forceful. Sometimes they found that the view of Imam Abu Hanifah is based on pure analogy, but an authentic Hadith expressly contradicts that view and it is most likely that the hadith was not conveyed to Imam Abu Hanifah, otherwise he would not have adopted a view against it.

In some other cases, the jurists felt that it is the requirement of the collective expedience of the Ummah to act upon the view of some other imam, which is an equally possible interpretation of Shari‘ah, and they adopted it not in pursuance of their personal desires, but to meet the collective needs of the Ummah and in view of the changed circumstances prevailing in their time.

These examples are more than enough to show that the followers of a particular madhhab have never taken it as a substitute of Shari‘ah or as its sole version to the exclusion of every other madhhab. In fact, they have never given a juristic madhhab a higher place than it actually deserved within the framework of Shari‘ah.

Before parting with this question, I would like to clarify another point which is extremely important in this context: some people having no systematic knowledge of Islamic disciplines often become deluded by their superficial information based on self-study, and that too, in most cases, through translations of the Holy Qur’an and ahadith. By virtue of this kind of cursory study, they presume themselves to be the masters of the Islamic learning, and start criticizing the former Muslim jurists. This attitude is totally wrong and devoid of any justification. The inference of juristic rules from the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah is a very meticulous exercise which cannot be carried out on the basis of a sketchy study.

While studying a particular juristic subject one has to collect all the relevant material from the Holy Qur’an and from the ahadith found in different chapters and different books, and to undertake a combined study of this scattered material. He has to examine the veracity of the relevant ahadith in the light of the well settled principles of the science of hadith. He has to discover the historical background of the relevant verses and traditions. In short, he has to resolve a number of complicated issues involved. All this exercise requires very intensive and extensive knowledge which is seldom found in the contemporary ‘Ulama, who have specialized themselves in the subject, let alone the common people who have no direct access to the original sources of Shari‘ah.

The upshot of the above discussion is that all the four madhahib being based on solid grounds, it is permissible for a competent Hanafi ‘alim to adopt another juristic view, if he has the required knowledge and ability to go into the merits of each madhhab on the basis of adequate academic research without being indulged in persuing his personal desires. But the people who do not fulfil these conditions should not dare to do so, because it can lead to a dangerous state of anarchy in the matter of Shari‘ah.

For a detailed dicussion on this topic refer to the book:

The Legal status of following a Madhab by Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani

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