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An Introduction to Ijtihad

Prepared by Zubair Malik

Ijtihad linguistically means to expend efforts in order to reach some difficult matter.  Islamically ijtihad means to expend every effort to derive an Islamic ruling or judgment.  A mujtahid is someone who practices ijtihad.  The Prophet (saw) said:

Amr ibn Al-As reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “If a judge makes a ruling, striving to apply his reasoning (ijtihad) and he is correct, then he will have two rewards. If a judge makes a ruling, striving to apply his reasoning and he is mistaken, then he will have one reward.”  But this reward does not just go to anyone that tries to make ijtihad, there are certain conditions that must be met prior to one becoming a mujtahid.

The first condition that one should meet to be considered a mujtahid is that they should have knowledge of the Arabic language so that they can understand the Quran and Sunnah in its original language.  The person should not only know the basics of the language of Arabic, but rather should have a mastery of it so that they can understand nuances of the language to explain and understand the text of the Quran and Sunnah at a deeper level.  Second, the mujtahid should have a comprehensive knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah, in particular in regard to legal contents of the Quran and the Sunnah, and also the rules and laws related to abrogation.  Also in regards to the Sunnah, the mujtahid must have extensive knowledge in the science of hadith, to determine whether the hadith are authentic, strong or weak so that they can apply the correct hadith for the correct situation without using weak hadith to make their rulings.  The mujtahid must be able to confirm the Ijma (consensus) of the companions, the successors, and the leading imams and mujtahideen of the past in order to prevent making rulings that go against the ijma.  Also, the one making ijtihad must understand the sharia and within this they must preserve the 5 necessities: life, religion, intellect, wealth, and lineage.  The mujtahid must understand the fiqh as well as the usool al fiqh, so that they apply the correct principles on coming up with their decision.  Finally the mujtahid must be able to extract rulings from the evidence, meaning he must be smart and able to use his intellect.

These above conditions must be met for one to be able to make ijtihad.  Too often we see people making ijtihad that do not meet the above conditions.  This becomes most dangerous when it is done by someone considered a student of knowledge who has some knowledge, but doesn’t fully understand yet, and they begin making rulings based on one hadith or don’t understand abrogation and therefore incorrectly make verdicts.  Therefore it is imperative that a mujtahid fulfill the above conditions.  The mujtahid will not raise himself to that level, but rather based on the respect of his knowledge and understanding, he will be raised to that level by his teachers and other scholars from his peers.

Allah knows best.

Sources

  • Al-Usool min ‘Ilmil Usool, Shaykh Saalih al-Uthaimeen.
  • Fatwa 111926 Rulings on ijtihaad in Islam and the conditions to be met by the mujtahid. info
  • The Code Evolved, Shaykh Yasir Birjas
  • Majmu ‘al Fatawa, Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah.
  • The Compendium of Knowledge and Wisdom, ibn Rajab al-Hanabli.

Dr. Zubair Malik currently resides in South Jersey and practices medicine in Philadelphia,PA.  He is actively involved in his community as a member of GCLEA's outreach committee, volunteers his time with the boy's youth group, and serves as a substitute teacher of the Sunday School.  He is enrolled in Al-Hikmah Institute's Diploma Program in Islamic Sciences and Arabic & Quranic Studies.

This article was presented as the Hadith 101 course essay assignment.