The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

“We Only Follow the Qur’an & Sunnah.” Really?

In an earlier post (it can be read here), I discussed how the words of the Four Imams (Abu Hanifah, Malik, al-Shafi‘i and Ahmad bin Hanbal) concerning taqlid (incorrectly translated as “blind following”) continue to be misunderstood and misused by many groups and individuals today.

In this post, I wish to tie-up some loose ends on the subject of taqlid – “the following of qualified scholarship” – by addressing some common objections raised about the matter. It is advisable to read the previous posting on the subject, if it has not already been read, for it lays down certain cornerstones for us. Scholars state, man lam yutqin al-usul hurima’l-wusul – “Whoever lacks a firm grasp of the foundations, will be barred from arriving [at the goal].”

1. The objection most frequently heard against the permissibility of taqlid is: “We only follow the Qur’an and the Sunnah!” What is commonly implied by such a statement is: (i) that each Muslim has a duty to go directly to the root sources and derive their own fatwas and religious rulings, or (ii) that every Muslim must “weigh-up” the proofs and “select” the strongest scholarly view on the issue. Aside for highly seasoned jurists or fuqaha, permitting this to the religiously unqualified is nothing short of a wicked and woeful innovation. Explaining Ibn Hazm’s (d.456H/1064CE) words, ‘I follow the truth, make ijtihad, and do not limit myself to a [single] madhhab,’ Imam al-Dhahabi (d.748H/1348CE) wrote:

‘Yes! Whoever reaches the level of ijtihad, and a number of scholars testify to it, taqlid is not allowed to him. Much like how a novice jurist, or a layman who has memorised the Qur’an or most of it, is not permitted to attempt ijtihad at all. How could he make ijtihad? What could he possible say? On what can he base his opinion? How can he fly and he has yet to grow wings? The third type is a highly skilled, intelligent, discerning jurist who – having committed to memory a primer in fiqh, and on juristic maxims and legal theory; mastered grammar; memorised the Book of God and busied himself with its exegesis (tafsir); and possesses a sharp, analytical intellect – has now reached a rank of restricted ijtihad and is thus qualified to investigate the scholarly proofs. So whenever the truth becomes apparent to him in any given issue, or the proofs well established, and it has been acted upon by one of the great Imams like Abu Hanifah, for instance, or Malik, al-Thawri, al-Awza‘i, al-Shafi‘i, Abu ‘Ubayd, Ahmad or Ishaq, he should follow [what he sees as] the truth; without chasing concessions, but instead by being scrupulous. Taqlid is not allowed to him in the issue after the proofs have been established to him.’1

Now compare this with the da’wah that obligates (or at least, encourages) those who have nothing of the above depicted skill-set to “investigate” and weigh-up proofs! A mournful case of ducklings that can barely wade into water, convinced they can swan gracefully across the lake of legal rulings. Inna li’Llahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun!

2. A second objection runs as follows: If taqlid is “accepting the ruling of a scholar, but without knowing the proof for it,” then when a layman learns a proof in an issue, he is no longer a muqallid (one who is doing taqlid). To this confusion, Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (d.728H/1328CE) wrote:

‘As for someone who knows the opinion of one scholar; along with his proofs, but not that of the other scholar or his proof, he is still from the generality of the muqallids. He is certainly not of those scholars who can evaluate and weigh-up [proofs].’2

This is a highly important point that is very often misunderstood. The great majority of jurists maintain that if a person is aware of a basic proof (dalil) for any given matter, but is unaware of the complete proofs, he is still classed as a muqallid (some calling him a muqallid muttabi‘ – a muqallid nonetheless). This complete knowledge entails three aspects: knowing the relevant proof-texts; knowing how rulings actually arise from them; and knowing how to resolve textual conflicts (ta‘arud al-adillah). Hence the muqallid includes: (i) a layman who does not know any proofs; and (ii) a layman who knows some proofs, but in an incomplete manner, and (iii) a student of fiqh ‘who has gained some learning of a law school and has studied a few of the manuals of the later scholars … yet despite this, is deficient in examining the proofs and evaluating the views of the jurists. Such a person is also required to perform taqlid.’3

3. Another popular anti-taqlid objection bases itself upon the verse: When it is said to them: “Follow what God has sent down,” they retort: “We will follow what we found our forefathers following.” What! Even though their forefathers understood nothing, nor where they rightly-guided. [2:170] It is claimed that since God condemned blind-following of one’s forefathers, this is proof that taqlid of the scholars is also forbidden. Al-Qurtubi (d.671H/1273CE) rebutted this erroneous thinking centuries ago, saying:

‘One group have linked this verse to the condemnation of taqlid, since God censured the unbelievers for following their forefathers in their falsehood and emulate them in their disbelief and disobedience: which is true in terms of falsehood. But as for taqlid in the truth, then this is one of the foundational principles of the religion, and one of the safeguards that the unlearned Muslims who are unable to examine detailed issues can take shelter in.’4

Ibn Taymiyyah wrote: ‘One who [totally] turns away from following the Book and the Sunnah, and from obeying God and His Messenger – turning instead to his customs; or that of his forefathers or community – is from the people of ignorance; deserving to be under the threat of divine chastisement … As for one who is unable to ascertain the ruling of God or His Messenger, and so follows in the issue a scholar; knowing of no other view preferable than his one, he is to be praised and rewarded; not rebuked or punished.’5

In conclusion: The matter of taqlid and ijtihad is straightforward enough, a summary of which is given in this passage from Ibn Taymiyyah: ‘What the great majority of the ummah hold is that ijtihad is permitted, in general; and taqlid is permitted, in general. Ijtihad is not obligated on everyone while taqlid forbidden, nor is taqlid obligated on everyone and ijtihad forbidden. Rather, ijtihad is legislated for whoever possesses the qualification, while taqlid is legislated for those incapable of ijtihad.’6

A final point to press home. If the above type of taqlid is sanctioned by religion – not only that, but jurists have reached a consensus (ijma‘) on its lawfulness; how then can it then be spoken of in derogatory terms (i.e. taqlid is “blind-following”)? Rather, piety demands that this type of taqlid be spoken of in praiseworthy terms and be depicted for what it truly is: “Following qualified scholarship in the detailed rulings (furu‘) of the religion.” After all, following qualified fatwas and rulings, without being burdened with knowing the juristic reasoning behind them, is something one gets rewarded for by God. The muqallid is praised for taking recourse to taqlid, never censured! Indeed, abandoning such misrepresentations of taqlid, and the doors of religious anarchy this has flung open, is seriously long overdue.

1. Siyar Alam al-Nubala (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 18:191-92.

2. Majmu‘ al-Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 35:233.

3. Ibn Mu‘ammar, Risalah fi’l-Ijtihad wa’l-Taqlid (Jeddah: Dar al-Andalus, 2000), 43-46.

4. Al-Jami‘ li Ahkam al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1996), 2:142.

5. Majmu‘ al-Fatawa, 20:225.

6. ibid., 20:203-4.

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35 thoughts on ““We Only Follow the Qur’an & Sunnah.” Really?

  1. Salaamun ‘Alaykum,

    While in general I agree with what you have said here, what I find noteworthy is the lack of support in the words and practices of the first three generations you have provided. I consider myself both a student of knowledge, and a follower of the Hanbalee Mathhab. However, for this to be truly convincing argument it should maintain it’s principles and quote support for it from the Salaf (i.e. the Companions, the Followers, and the Follower of the Followers — may Allaah shower them all in mercy). Allaahu A’lam!

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    • Muhammad Saleem Anwar on said:

      I think the following quotes should be of some help in this regard. Abu ‘Aaliyah would have much more to add in sha Allaah.

      Abdullah ibn Mas’ood RA: “Whoever wishes to follow should follow the footsteps of those who have passed away. This is because living people are not immune from corruption [and change for the worse]. They [those who are worthy of following] are the Companions of the Prophet SAW . They were the best of this community…So acknowledge their merit: follow their footsteps and hold fast – as much as possible – to their guidance and character for they were upon guidance”.
      [Mishkaat-al- Masaabeeh]

      Imam Abu Yusuf RA: “The lay person must follow the jurists since he is not capable of understanding the Hadith independently”.
      [Hidayah]
      Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal RA: Imam RA said, “Instruct the lay person to ask Ishaaq, Abu ‘Ubaid, Abu Thawr and Abu Mus’ab. However, to the scholars among his students like Abu Dawood, Uthman ibn Sa’eed, Ibrahim al-Harbi, Abu Bakr al-Athrum, Abu Zar’ah, Abu Hatim and Muslim (among others) he would say, ‘You must follow the sources of the Qur’an and Sunnah”.
      [Majmoo’s al-fatawa ibn Taymiyyah]

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    • Wa alaykum al-salam br Saeed, wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu. It is a pleasure speaking to you again. I hope and pray all is well with you.

      While it is certainly admirable to want support from the fatwas and actions of our noble salaf, this will not always be possible – particularly when the issues at hand only arouse ( or became “problematic”) after the age of the salaf.

      In other words, the specific issues of (i) the lay people “weighing-up” proofs, or (ii) thinking that merely by knowing a hadith for any given ruling puts someone in a higher category than a layman, or (iii) equating verses that forbids blind-following of unbelieving forefathers with that of accepting the fatwas of qualified scholars without knowing their proofs – never occurred among the righteous salaf. Those who were scholars among them did what scholars do; while those who were non-scholars simply followed their scholars. Therefore nothing can be cited from them on these issues except general things like Hafiz Saleem Anwar has cited above.

      Yes, Ibn al-Qayyim can list for us those few Companions who were authorised to give fatwas in the prophetic age; yes, Ibn Qudamah and others can cite an ijma’ of the Companions about the permissibility of taqlid; and yes narrations can be cited from the salaf forbidding the unqualified from giving fatwas or issuing religious rulings; and yes, hundreds of fatwas may be cited from the salaf showing how they responded only with a ruling or hukm, without citing a single proof-text (even in issues of purification, prayer and fasting) – but those were not the specific issues tackled in the posting.

      I hope the point is clear – and Allah knows best.

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  2. Atif Jung on said:

    The objection most frequently heard against the legality of taqlid is: “We only follow the Qur’an and the Sunnah!” – Another thing this statement implies is that the 4 madhabs follow something other than the Quran and Sunnah, how arrogant a statement. It is as though they are the only ones following the Book and Sunnah and everyone else is following a made up religion!

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  3. Muhammad Saleem Anwar on said:

    Following one’s forefathers is blameworthy only when they are categorically known to be upon misguidance.

    Sayyiduna Yusuf AS expressed his pride in following his forefathers and used it as a proof to his credibility. Qur’an resounds his words:

    “And I follow the ways of my fathers,- Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and never could we attribute any partners whatever to Allah: that (comes) of the grace of Allah to us and to mankind: yet most men are not grateful”. (12:38)

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  4. Adil Cole on said:

    Al Hamdu lAllahi ar-Rabb ‘l ‘alameen. Nice post. I always like to explain taqlid as a natural division of labor upon which mankind relies upon for progression and survival. If every individual was required to train up to the level of a mujtahid, then no food would be grown, bridges and roads could not be built, etc. There has to be certain experts specializing in the various types of knowledge necessary to sustain society.

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    • Jazakallahu khayran. The idea of: ” … then no food would be grown, bridges and roads could not be built …” is something mentioned in many of the classical works on usul al-fiqh when pointing out the benefit of permitting taqlid to the layman and other non-mujtahids.

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  5. shyaan on said:

    The anti madhab, taqlid camp seems to be propagating globally and the tradional scholarship seems to be neglected and dwindling away.

    Would it be right to say the Ulema in the Najd are misguded? Are they choosing not to look at the bigger picture to look deep into the proofs and foundations of a madhab? I find that hard to fathom, a experienced scholar in saudia wouldnt research it a little more?

    Also we have madhab rejection but we also have schools of theology being rejected such as ashahri, maturidi, athari is this problematic as madhab rejection.

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    • Adil Cole on said:

      I would say the rejection of the theological schools are even more problematic, as they deal with actual faith and conception of Allah. I believe many of the Salafi/Wahabbi are close to “athari” in their ideology, except with some crytpo-anthropomorphism due to firm adherence to the literal meanings, and the propensity to restrain Allah – Subhana wa ta’ala – to a direction, etc.

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    • By the Najd, if one means the region of present-day central Saudi Arabia, then it has been noted for its Hanbali scholarship for close to four hundred years.

      During the 10th Islamic century (16th century of the Common Era) a number of Najdi scholars travelled to Syria and Egypt to study under the leading authorities of the Hanbali school at that time: al-‘Askari, Ibn ‘Abd al-Hadi and al-Hajjawi in Damascus; and al-Futuhi in Cairo. Prominent among these Najdi scholars were Hasan ibn ‘Ali ibn Bassam (d.945H) and Ahmad ibn ‘Atwah (d.948H). Such people returned to Najd as learned scholars who had acquired their learning through personal contact with the highest authorities of their madhhab. In fact, Ahmad ibn ‘Atwah even established himself as an author and teacher in Damascus where he had gone to study.

      During the 11th century, the most outstanding scholars of the school at that time with whom the Najdis studied were: Ibn Balban in Damascus; Mar’i ibn Yusuf and al-Buhuti in Cairo; and Ibn ‘Imad in Makkah. Ibn Musharraf (d.1012H) and Ibn Dhahlan (d.1099H) became through such learning two of the leading authorities of the Najd in this period, attracting numerous students.

      Notable jurists who continued the Hanbali sanad during the 12th and 13th centuries in the Najd and the surrounded provinces include: ‘Abd al-Rahman Abu Butayn (d.1121H); ‘Abd Allah ibn Fayruz (d.1175H); and Ibn Jami‘ (d.1240H). They were followed by scholars like Duwayyan (d.1353H); Muhammad ibn Mani‘ (d.1385H); and Ibn Qasim (d.1392H).

      Much of this has been documented in al-Juhany, Najd Before the Salafi Reform Movement (Reading: Ithaca Press, 2002), 129-33.

      The period immediately after this (the last half a century or so) is more complex. A significant factor that has changed the traditional Hanbali landscape in the Najd is the issue of certain scholars differing from the mu’tamid position of the school through their own ijtihad or tarjih, while not confining their juristic conclusions to their own personal ‘aml, but instead, opting to give fatwa and qada with such views. Jurists such as Ibn ‘Atiq, al-Sa’di and Ibn Baz are significant here (as is the impact of the non-Saudi shaykh, Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani). This approach, though well-intended, has opened up a Pandora’s box of untold ills that has done much to undermine traditional juristic authority in the kingdom.

      The other factor is the constant insistence by salafi scholars that the true Islamic call requires examining the proofs, without making it clear to whom such a task is addressed. The result is that this call has been taken up, not only by the qualified mujtahid and capable murajjih, but also by the intellectually impaired, the village idiot and the deluded pseudo-scholar. And Allah’s help is sought. Religious anarchy, extremism and disunity now rule the roost, with every ego insisting it has the right to decide what is Islamically correct and “sahih”.

      Not choosing to look at the bigger picture; perhaps not. Being blinkered to the bigger picture or severely misjudging it; perhaps so. And Allah knows best.

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  6. Jazzaka Allahu khairan Ustadh. May Allah bless your knowledge and bless your pen and make it a mean to unite our Ummah…not much to say, but to share the blessings of traveling experience. One of those blessings were to witness an entire nation follow one school of thought, no matter what their differences are. May Allah give this opportunity to everyone on their journey in seeking beneficial knowledge.

    16 years later, and this issue is still breaking families in the west. But Alhamdulilah It is truly been a heartwarming experience to go around masajid here and from one talk to another, radio shows that are on all day and hearing mostly what Imam Malik (rh) said. Which actually takes me back to my childhood and primary education in the heart of the Gulf and all I remember hearing was what Imam Ahmed (rh) said.

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    • Adil Cole on said:

      There can be some issues with that as well. Problems arise when they don’t balance that with a statement saying other Imams have valid opinions. I am a firm believer in the 4 Sunni Schools of Law; however, I admit that portions of our history and even in the present day, detrimental things occur due to madhhaab fanaticism. If all you hear is Imam Malik said such and such – radiy Allahu anhu – then the possibility exists that one could believe the statements of that Imam are true Islam, while others are not.

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    • May Allah bless you all, Umm Shayma.

      It certainly can be a great blessing for a region to be following one legal “curriculum” or school. Of course, it can have its problems (as pointed out by br Adil).

      I found the book by Shah Wali Allah al-Dehlawi, al-Insaf fi Bayan Sabab al-Ikhtilaf (for which there is an English translation) excellent for explaining why certain regions became fixed with one madhhab. It’s well worth trying to get hold of a copy.

      Salams to your family.

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  7. Jazakallah Khayr, for your response a real eye opener and clarified so many issues and information that isnt so readily available. It is a real blessing to have access to you shaikh, inshallah as this website gets busier you may not have time to answer everyone so i am savouring this chance alhamdulillah.

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  8. Abu Hamza on said:

    salaamulaikum wa rahmatullah. my first post on this website and what a truly beneficial website it is mashallah – may allah reward you for it.

    having been brought up in a traditional pakistani family, my initial inclinations to becoming practising were heavily tainted with an anti-madhab based approach which to my eyes was flawed due its ‘blind’ following of cultural traditions (e.g. pirs/mandirs) rather than religious orthodoxy.

    as i grew into islam, i found it very hard to rid myself of these inherent biases and ironically it was salafi teachers which taught me to respect madhabs once again.

    i guess my questions boils down to: is it most correct that one’s taqleed (as i am a muqallid) is limited to a single person/shaikh, a single madhab or a single manhaj?

    my issue with following a single shaikh is that anyone at any given time can be mistaken and i should not limit myself to him alone. a recent example of that would be those that ardently followed sh ramadan al bouti of syria. if i remember correctly, he had many debates with sh al albani on matters of the deen. for the past 18 months this shaikh has been coming out with statements in support of bashar al assad’s syrian regime – it’s no longer feasible for his muqallids to follow him but how does one make that decisison? he is still a shaikh and still far more knowledgeable than the laymen that follow him.

    similarly with a madhab, have i confined myself to a base set of juristic principles which may or may not be the strongest in any given situation for deriving the most correct ruling?

    i therefore consider myself a muqallid of the salafi ‘manhaj’ – where i seek and take rulings from a group of scholars whose approach to the deen i am at peace with. is this sort of taqleed permissible? or is it fraught with the risk that i will end up choosing what suits me (something that bugs me constantly).

    jazakallah khair.
    Abu Hamza

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    • Mashallah, your question gets to the heart of the salafi-traditionalist debate on the matter (or ‘original’ Islam vs. ‘traditional’ Islam). With your permission, I would like to use your actual question as the basis for a blog, where I can respond to the question with some depth inshallah.

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      • Abu Hamza on said:

        Salaamulaikum wa rahmatullah

        Of course – I would be honoured if I received an in depth response in the form of a blog. I look forward to it.

        Jazakallah.

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      • As-salaamu `alaykum.

        Did the blog post you mentioned in the above comment ever get written?

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      • Uthman: I’m in the middle of working on it. But rather than limit myself to the actual question, I’ve broadened the issue to: What is Salafi fiqh, and is it valid?

        I ask that Allah grant me the tawfiq to complete it soon.

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      • Ameen! I look forward to reading it inshaAllah. By the way, my understanding is that even many of those who ascribe themselves to some degree or other to the salafi interpretation of Islam would themselves strongly disagree with what has come to be known as salafi fiqh. Is this not also your observation?

        Also, have you written anything on the whole issue to do with Bid`ah, given the controversy which surrounds it, and whether all Bid`ah in the religion is blameworthy or whether there exists a category of praiseworthy Bid`ah? It is often the subject of impassioned disagreement between Muslims from different groups. I would be very interested to read something from you which clarifies the topic from your perspective, and hopefully allow me to settle upon one understanding once and for all.

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      • This is my understanding too, that many salafis would and do disagree with it. However, even among such people there is hardly any clarification of who can and cannot “weigh-up” proofs. There is also a distinction to be made, I believe, between those salafis who take their cue from the moderrn Ahle Hadis (ahl al-hadith) movement of the subcontinent, and between those who take it from the Saudi/Wahhabi discourse. The latter are far more balanced than the former (judging from the scholars and books I’ve read from them – both in Arabic and Urdu). And Allah knows best.

        As for bid’ah. I’d like to tackle that issue some day. Am gathering up my notes and books for such a purpose. I ask Allah to grant me ease and understanding for such a purpose.

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  9. rasheed on said:

    As a hanafi i dont follow abu hanifah as such i follow his school of law which has been refined and discussed and debated over the centuries starting from his students. Matters pertaining to worship are as im aware all done and dusted there is no need to re-invent the wheel.

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  10. rasheed on said:

    The Salafi mantra is we follow the quran and sunnah so does that mean the traditionalists (madhabis) dont? Of course they do, my opinion madhabs follow it more closely than the salafis do. Why because highly qualified unparalleled, unmatched in all aspects of religion both outward and inward; scholars have spent over 1,000 years debating it, discussing it, going over it with a fine toothcomb to come to rulings which are pretty much set in stone.

    Now in this modern era with data so readily available and hadiths a click away some people seem to think we are more qualified to revisit established rulings..Don’t let technological scientific advances delude us into thinking that it’s easier to deduce rulings we need to have a bit more respect for fiqh in that respect and the scholars of the past.

    This having been said our salafi brothers and sisters come from a good place we are all trying to please Allah inshallah. I think after learning our obligatory knowledge time spent learning about Allah through his names, pondering about creation, reflection on the insights and wisdoms of the pious scholars of the past, trying to get closer to Allah reading and studying about things that are going to transform us as individuals really appeals to me personally.

    Yours Brother Ramble

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  11. Assalamualaikum,

    Will there be a continuation to this series on Taqlid?

    Like

    • Wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah.

      I’ve covered taqlid and madhhabs and how to study fiqh in three of four postings. There are one or two more issues connected to it that I’d like to discuss in a future posting. But my next posting related to the topic will attempt to discuss the legality or otherwise of what some refer to as salafi fiqh.

      Like

  12. Revising on said:

    I would like to comment briefly with the following;

    1- The theology aspects such as being an Ash’ari or a Maatureedi or a Salafi has nothing to do with the 4 Fiqh Schools.

    2- The issue of Taqleed is starting to get clarified by some Salafis Ulamaa and there is now a very nice PhD research on Following a Madhab, Tamadh’hub, in 3 volumes.

    http://www.dorar.net/article/1461

    http://www.salmajed.com/node/40014

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  13. Assalamu ‘alaykum. Jazakallah.
    It seems, from my observation, that the ‘salafi school’ is evolving. Is this true?
    I mean, they seem to be retracting their old anti-madhab views, and they seem to be ‘re-marketing’ themselves in recent times? For instance, by describing themselves using different labels such as ‘orthodox’, and by giving attention to areas they previously neglected, such as spirituality? I think they have quietly been ‘taking lessons’ from their ‘sufi’ opponents (but I doubt they would admit it).
    I think it is a good move, but what frustrates me is their refusal to let go of their ideological framework, and particularly their disingenuous and misleading attempts to give themselves historical credibility and authority. I just don’t like people to be mislead by their ‘tricks’. Just my thoughts, I wonder if these observations/thoughts are real?

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  14. Re: My above comment: …However, I don’t think that this ‘evolution’ of ‘Salafism’ is necessarily across the board. I also think that there exists various repetitive cycles as young people come into ‘Salafism’ as newcomers.

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