Statements from the Early Scholars of the Shafi’i School

1. Imām al-Haramayn, Abu l-Ma‘āli ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Abī Muhammad al- Juwaynī (417 – 478 H)[30] said:

“If it is said: Is it permissible for a layperson to subscribe in some juristic rulings to the madhhab of al-Shāfi‘ī and in some of them to the madhhab of Abū Hanīfah, and likewise the madhhab of all the Imāms in this fashion? If you say: That is permissible, and it is not necessary for anyone to adhere to the founder of a specific madhhab, then there is no need in that case to author this book, because he has no need to recognise the “more correct” and follow what is right and true [according to him], but he does whatever he wishes according to the madhhab of whomsoever he desires.

“The answer is: We say: It is not permissible for the layperson [to do] what you mentioned. Rather, it is definitely necessary for him to specify a madhhab from these madhhabs, either the madhhab of Al-Shafi‘ī – may Allāh be pleased with him – in all cases and subsidiaries, or the madhhab of Mālik or the madhhab of Abū Hanīfah or other than them – the pleasure of Allāh be upon them. He may not subscribe to the madhhab of al-Shāfi‘ī in some of what he desires and the madhhab of Abū Hanīfah in the remainder of what he approves, because if we allowed it, that will lead to immense confusion and lack of regulation. Its outcome will be the negation of [religious] obligations and there would be no benefit to the [religious] obligation established on him, since if the madhhab of al-Shāfi‘ī necessitates the impermissibility of something and the madhhab of Abū Hanīfah necessitates the permissibility of that very thing or vice versa, if he wishes he may incline towards permissibility and if he wishes he may incline towards impermissibility, so neither permissibility nor impermissibility would be realised. In this is the negation of obligation and nullification of its benefit and uprooting of its foundation. And that is rejected (bātil).

“If it is said: Was it not that in the era of the Sahābah, a person was given the option between selecting, in some cases, the madhhab of al-Siddīq, and in some, the madhhab of al-Fārūq, and likewise with respect to all the Sahābah in all cases, and they did not prevent him from that? So since this is permissible amongst the Sahābah, why is it not allowed in our time?

“The answer is that this was only so because the juristic principles of the Sahābah were not adequate for all cases, comprehensive of all rulings, encompassing all subsidiaries, covering all details, because they laid the groundwork, founded principles, paved the foundations and did not dedicate themselves to deriving subsidiaries and elaborating the details. Hence, the madhhab of Abū Bakr was not adequate for all cases, and likewise the madhhab of all Sahābah, so because of necessity, it was permitted for muqallids to follow Abū Bakr in some cases and in that which his opinion was not found, to follow al-Fārūq. As for this era of ours, the madhhabs of the Imāms are adequate and encompassing of all, because there is no case that occurs except that you find it in the madhhab of al-Shāfi‘ī or in the madhhab of other than him, either explicitly or by derivation, so there is no necessity to follow two Imāms together.” (Mughīth al-Khalq, 13-16)[31]

This is a very explicit passage showing the reason for the difference between pre and post codification of the madhhabs.

Al-Juwaynī mentions that, if allowed to follow more than one madhhab, it will lead to two things: one is immense confusion and the other is lack of regulation. It is possible that by “immense confusion” there could be an allusion to the inconsistency in juristic methodology that would arise if a layperson followed multiple madhhabs. This is supported by his reference to the “principles” of the Sahābah which he states were insufficient for all juristic issues. On the other hand, the principles of the codified madhhabs were complete and applied to more or less all juristic issues. It is because of the insufficiency of the methodologies of the Sahābah that, out of necessity, the layperson was permitted to accept rulings from multiple mujtahids.

“Lack of regulation” refers to, as al-Juwaynī elaborated, the removal of religious obligation, by giving the legally obligated individual the option to choose between different legal rulings on the same issue.

Moreover, al-Juwaynī is emphatic in this ruling, saying it is “definitely” (hatman) obligatory on the layperson to adopt a single madhhab, and the repercussions of saying otherwise is something that is outright rejected (bātil). Scholars who in the present time hold the same strict stance, therefore, are fully justified in doing so.

2. Recording the position of Shams al-Islām Abu l-Hasan ‘Alī ibn Muhammad Ilkiyā al-Harrāsī (450 – 504 H)[32], Imām al-Nawawī said:

“If [a layperson] is not ascribed [to a madhhab], it is premised on two views, which Ibn Barhān related, in that: Is it necessary for the layperson to adopt a particular madhhab, adopting its dispensations and strictures?…The second [view] is it is necessary for him. Abu l-Hasan al-Ilkiyā positively asserted it, and this applies to all who have not reached the level of ijtihād from the jurists and the adherents of all sciences. Its basis is that if following any madhhab he wished was permissible, it will lead to collecting the dispensations of the madhhabs, in following his desire, and choosing between permission and prohibition, obligation and permissibility, and that will lead to relinquishing the burden of responsibility; as distinguished from the first period [of Islām] because the madhhabs incorporating laws related to all outcomes were not refined.

Based on this, it is necessary for one to strive to choose a specific madhhab he will follow. We will pave for him a simple path he should follow when striving to do so. Thus, we say: Firstly, he may not follow in this mere desire and inclination towards what he found his forefathers upon; and he may not adopt the madhhab of any of the Imāms of the Sahabah (Allah be pleased with them) and others from the early ones, even though they were more learned and higher in rank than those who came after them because they did not devote themselves entirely to compiling knowledge and outlining its principles and its branches, so none of them had a refined, codified and approved madhhab, and only those who came after them from the Imāms who were affiliated to the madhhabs of the Sahābah and the Tābi‘in took up this task, undertaking the responsibility of laying down the laws pertaining to all happenings before they occurred, and attempting to clarify their principles and branches, like Mālik, Abū Hanīfah and others.” (Al-Majmū‘ Sharh al-Muhadhdhab, 1:93)[33]

The position of Ilkiyā al-Harrāsī presented here is similar to that of his teacher, al-Juwaynī. However, here there is the addition that the layperson is obligated to select the madhhab he will follow based on a personal examination of which madhhab he feels is superior. As mentioned earlier, the reason for this obligation is the necessity to have firm belief in the correctness of the legal injunctions one is following.

3. Hujjat al-Islām al-Ghazālī, Abū Hāmid Muhammad ibn Muhammad (450 – 505 H)[34] said while discussing the conditions for condemning a wrong (munkar):

“The fourth condition is that its being munkar is known without ijtihād. So all that is in a place of ijtihād, there is no accountability therein. Hence, a Hanafī may not condemn a Shāfi‘ī for eating a lizard and hyena and [the animal over which] saying bismillāh was left out, and a Shāfi‘ī may not condemn a Hanafī for drinking non-intoxicating nabīdh and taking inheritance of distant relatives and residing in a house which he acquired by [the right of] pre-emption of a neighbour, and other such [examples] from the places of ijtihād.

“Yes, if a Shāfi‘ī sees a Shāfi‘ī drinking nabīdh and marrying without a guardian and [thereafter] engaging in intercourse with his wife, then this is in a place of consideration. The most apparent [view] is that he has [the right of] taking him to task and rebuking [him]; since none of the scholars have opined that it is permissible for a mujtahid to act on the dictates of the ijtihād of other than him; nor that the one whose judgement in taqlīd led him to a man he considers the best of the scholars that it is permissible for him to select the madhhab of other than him, choosing from the madhhabs the most pleasing of them to him. Rather, it is incumbent on every muqallid to follow his Imām in every detail. Thus, his opposition to [his] Imām is by agreement of the scholars a munkar, and he is sinful in opposing [him].” (Ihyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn, 2:321)[35]

In this passage, al-Ghazālī has quoted consensus that a muqallid must follow his Imām who he believes is superior to the other Imāms. Moreover, by mentioning that he may not “choose from the madhhabs the most pleasing of them to him,” there is an indication that the reason for this restriction is that it would lead to tatabbu‘ al-rukhas and following desires.
Al-Ghazālī further said in the same passage, rejecting the contrary view:

“The view of the one who opines that it is permissible for every muqallid to choose from the madhhabs whatever he wishes is not given consideration. Probably it is not authentic that any opiner opined it at all. So this is a view that is not established, and if established, it is given no consideration.” (Ihyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn, 1:322)[36]

In this passage, it is clear that what al-Ghazālī meant by the muqallid’s “Imām” in the previous passage is his madhhab, and not the individual Imām per se. Furthermore, al-Ghazālī knows of no disagreement on the impermissibility of selecting from all the madhhabs as one wishes. Rather, it is necessary to restrict oneself to a single madhhab. And finally, he says, even if anyone were to have disagreed, his opinion is rejected.

In a letter to Qādī Abū Bakr al-Mālikī (d. 543 H), Imām al-Ghazālī said:

“It is not permissible for the muqallid of a scholar to choose the most pleasing of the madhhabs to him and the most agreeable to his temperament. He must make taqlīd of his Imām who he believes to have the correct and right madhhab in relation to other than him, and follow him in all that comes and goes. Hence, it is not permissible for a Mālikī to switch to the madhhab of al-Shāfi‘ī unless it overpowers his mind that its opinions are more correct. In that case, it is necessary to make taqlīd of him in all juristic rulings. If it is not that, then there is no motive for him to oppose [his madhhab] except whim, just as it is not permissible for a mujtahid to oppose the conclusions that his ijtihād reached…

“It is necessary for every Muslim to follow what overwhelms his mind that it is the most correct in acts of devotion. This condition in the muqallid is achieved by considering what his Imām – whose opinion being sound has overwhelmed his mind – is upon as correct; just as knowledge of the best of doctors in the lands is achieved by the one who is ignorant of it. This is either through hearing from the mouths [of people] or observing most people [going to] a particular person, or his hearing two people or one person whose assessment is good [according to him] and his heart feels comfortable with him; like if he were to hear from his parents the excellence of Mālik and al-Shāfi‘ī, and he assents to it and his heart feels comfortable with it. Hence, it is not permissible [for him] to oppose his assessment.

If he were to say: ‘My assessment in other than this legal case is that the one I made taqlīd of is wrong,’ muqallids are not entitled to this. His ijtihād in individual issues is an error and it is as though in his mind he knows that which his Imām does not know in other than this issue [in which he made taqlīd of him], and this is ignorance!

As for following al-Shāfi‘ī in an issue in which he opposed a Sahābī, it is necessary to have the assumption of al-Shāfi‘ī that he did not oppose him except for an evidence stronger than the madhhab of the Sahābī. If this was not assumed, he would ascribe to al-Shāfi‘ī ignorance of the position of the Sahābī, and this is impossible.

This is the reason for giving preference to the madhhab of the later ones [i.e. the four Imāms] over the earlier ones [i.e. the Sahābah], despite knowledge of the superiority of their knowledge over theirs; as the earlier ones heard hadīths solitarily and dispersed in the lands and their fatwas and decrees differed in the lands, and sometimes hadīths reached them and they withheld from what they opined and decreed. In the first era, they did not get involved in collecting hadiths due to their occupation with jihād and laying down [the foundations of] the religion.

Then when the people reached [the time of] the successors of the Tābi‘īn, they found Islām settled and established, so they diverted their attention towards collecting hadīths from the furthest lands and places by means of journeys and travels. Thus, the later ones inspected after encompassing all the proofs of the laws, and they did not contravene what was opined in the earlier [period] except for an evidence stronger than it…” (Al-Mi‘yār al-Mu‘rib, 11:164-5)[37]

This is an explicit passage that according to al-Ghazālī, a muqallid must make taqlīd of the madhhab of his Imām in all rulings. He may not follow one madhhab in some rulings and another in other rulings, and al-Ghazālī is clear that the only reason that a muqallid would do this is in following his desires. The limit of a muqallid’s ijtihād is to determine that one madhhab appears superior to the other. Beyond that, the muqallid does not have the capacity to adjudicate between the madhhabs on individual points of difference. Hence, he must choose one madhhab he feels is superior and adhere to it completely, as the only reason for shifting in individual rulings would be vain desire (even if the muqallid does not realise it).

4. Shāfi‘ ibn ‘Abd al-Rashīd Abū ‘Abdillāh al-Jīlī (470 – 541 H)[38] is referred to in the following passage of al-Zarkashī:

“If [a muqallid] adhered to a specific madhhab, like [the madhhab of] Mālik or al-Shāfi‘ī, and he believed in its superiority in general, is it permissible to oppose his Imām in some juristic rulings and select the opinion of another mujtahid besides him? In this are [the following] views: First, prohibition. Al-Jīlī positively asserted this in al-I‘jāz, because the view of every Imām is independent in individual cases, so there is no need to shift except following desires, and due to what is in it of following dispensations and playing with religion.”[39]

There is a clear indication in this statement that the only reason the earlier generations did not restrict themselves to a single mujtahid is because there was a need: the rulings of each mujtahid on all juristic issues were not known, making it necessary to refer to multiple mujtahids. Al-Juwaynī was quoted earlier making the same point.

Furthermore, the reason for restricting oneself to a single madhhab, i.e. the potential of following desires, is also alluded to in this statement. Although al-Jīlī does not say that a layperson must at the outset select a madhhab, but since his reasoning is that to have the option to select from multiple madhhabs bears the consequence of following desires and playing with the dīn, it would entail that his opinion is it is necessary for a layperson to choose one madhhab he will follow in all its rulings. Safī al-Dīn al-Hindī (644 – 715 H) said after mentioning this very reasoning:

“This evidence demands that it is necessary for the layperson to subscribe to a specific madhhab at the outset.”[40]

Moreover, it is also clear from this passage that al-Jīlī saw no reason why a muqallid would shift from one madhhab to another – when there was no dire need as in the early period – besides following vain desire (tashahhī).

5. Al-Qaffāl al-Marwazī, Abū Bakr ‘Abdullāh ibn Ahmad’s (327 – 417 H)[41] opinion is mentioned in the following passage from al-Nawawī’s Sharh al-Muhadhdhab:

“Shaykh [Abū Muhammad al-Juwaynī] said: It will be considered if he [i.e. the layperson] is ascribed to a madhhab, we will premise it on two views which al-Qādī Husayn related in that the layperson does he have a madhhab or not?…The second, and this is the most authentic according to al-Qaffāl, is that he does have a madhhab, so it is not permissible for him to oppose it.” (al-Majmū‘ Sharh al-Muhadhdhab, 1:93)[42]

In explaining al-Qaffāl’s view, Ibn al-Salāh states:

“Because he believes that the madhhab which he is ascribed to is the truth and he gave it preference over other than it, so he must follow through with the demand of this belief of his. Hence, if he is a Shāfi‘ī he may not seek fatwa from a Hanafī, nor oppose his Imām.”[43]

This proves that according to al-Qaffāl once a muqallid has selected a madhhab, he must adhere to it in all its rulings.

6. The “Ashāb al-Wujūh” were major early mujtahids in the Shāfi‘ī madhhab, generally having lived between the third and fifth centuries. Al-Nawawī describes them as follows: “A mujtahid restricted to the madhhab of his Imām, independent in establishing his viewpoints with evidence, although he does not go beyond the foundations of his Imām and his principles in his evidences. His condition is knowledge of jurisprudence and its principles and the detailed evidences of laws, and insight into the methodology of [drawing] legal analogies and [determining] the ratio legis. [He is] fully trained in extraction and derivation, capable of linking what is not explicitly mentioned by his Imām to his principles.” Al-Nawawī then said: “This is a description of our Ashāb, the Ashāb al-Wujūh.” (Sharh al-Muhadhdhab, p. 76) Some examples of Ashāb al-Wujūh are: Abū ‘Alī al-Husayn ibn Sālih ibn Khayrān (d. 320 H), Abū Yahyā Zakariyyā ibn Ahmad al-Balkhī (d. 330 H), Zāhir ibn Ahmad al-Sarakhsī (d. 389 H) and Abū Bakr al-Awdanī (d. 385 H).

Al-Nawawī said:

“If [a layperson] is not ascribed [to a madhhab], it is premised on two views, which Ibn Barhān related from our Ashāb, in that: Is it necessary for the layperson to adopt a particular madhhab?…The second it is necessary for him. Abu l-Hasan al-Ilkiyā positively asserted it, and this applies to all who have not reached the level of ijtihād from the jurists and the adherents of all sciences. [This is so] in order that he does not collect the dispensations of the madhhabs; as distinguished from the first era when the madhhabs were not codified such that their dispensations may be collected. Based on this, it is necessary for one to strive to choose a specific madhhab he will follow in everything. He may not adopt a madhhab based merely on whim, nor with what he found his forefathers upon. This is the statement of the Ashāb.” (Rawdat al-Tālibīn, 8:101)[44]

In explaining the view of the Ashāb, al-Nawawī clearly mentions that in the early period the laypeople were not able to seek out the easiest opinions of the mujtahids, precisely because their madhhabs were not codified.

In short, there is very strong support from within the early Shāfi‘ī school for the paradigm of taqlīd we have proposed in the introduction. Furthermore, Imām al-Ghazālī effectively quoted consensus on this ruling, and as mentioned earlier, the disagreement of later scholars cannot override the binding consensus of the earlier jurists.

Next: Statements from the Early Scholars of the Mālikī and Hanbali Schools

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[30] “He was the shaykh of the Shāfi‘īs in his time. Abu Sa‘d al-Sam‘ānī said: “Abu l-Ma‘ālī was the absolute imām of imāms, with consensus in the east and the west on his imāmah. Eyes have not seen the like of him.” (Siyar A‘lām al-Nubalā’, Mu’assat al-Risālah, 18:469)

[31] Arabic quote to be added here.

[32] He was the shaykh of the Shāfi‘īs, a teacher of the Nizāmiyyah and one of the prime students of Imām al-Juwaynī. (Tabaqāt al-Shāfi‘iyyah al-Kubrā, 7:231)

[33] Arabic quote to be added here.

[34] He was the leading student of al-Juwaynī and a major authority in fiqh, usūl and other sciences, famed throughout the Muslim world in both scholarly and non-scholarly circles.

[35] Arabic quote to be added here.

[36] Arabic quote to be added here.

[37] Arabic quote to be added here.

[38] A senior Shāfi‘ī scholar who studied under both Ilkiyā al-Harrāsī and al-Ghazālī.

[39] Arabic quote to be added here.

[40] Arabic quote to be added here.

[41] He was the greatest Shāfi‘ī jurist of his time. (Siyar A‘lām al-Nubalā’, 17:406)

[42] Arabic quote to be added here.

[43] Arabic quote to be added here.

[44] Arabic quote to be added here.

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