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Shaykh Murabit al Hajj’s Fatwa on Following
One of the Four Accepted Madhhabs
By Murabt al Hajj(1), Mauritania,
Translated by Hamza Yusuf Hanson
Copied from the book of the same name
In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
Amongst the most important replies that I have given, is my reply concerning the one who has deviated to the point where he censures the importance of studying the branches [furu‘] of jurisprudence, and we seek refuge in Allah from the deviation of such a wandering deviant. Would that he simply had claimed independent reasoning (ijtihad) for himself only, and Allah is his reckoner, but abandoned the call of Muslims to leave that which is incumbent upon them. In our reply to such a one, we make mention what the scholars of the methodological bases of Islamic jurisprudence (usuli’un) and the Imams of jurisprudence themselves have said about such a matter. As for my labelling him a deviant, it is only because he has desired to impose upon common people the precious rank of absolute independent reasoning [ijtihad], about which Muhammad an-Nabigha said,
And ijtihad in the land of the Moroccans, The western phoenix has taken to flight with it.
I say in reply, that the following of qualified scholarship (taqlid) is an obligation on anyone other than an absolute mujtahid. I shall make mention of all his prerequisites if Allah wills. [Sidi Abdullah Ould Hajj Ibrahim] has said in his Maraqi as-Sa’ud: “[taqlid] is necessary for other than the one who has achieved the rank of absolute ijtihad. Even if he is a limited [mujtahid] who is unable [to perform absolute ijtihad].”
Commenting on this line, [Sidi Abdullah] said in Nashru al-bunud,
“It means that taqlid is an obligation on anyone who is not an absolute mujtahid, even if he has achieved the limited rank of ijtihad muqayyad . . . [until he says], ‘And ask the people of the reminder, if you yourselves do not know.’”
By using the line of Muhammad an-Nabigha above, I am in no way claiming that all ijtihad has been severed in every land; how [could I say such a thing] when [Sidi Abdullah] says in Maraqi as-sa’ud:
“The earth will never be void of a mujtahid scholar until its very foundations shake.”
He also said,
“[Regarding] the necessity of binding to a specific madhhab, the [scholars] have mentioned its obligation upon anyone falling short [of the conditions of ijtihad].”
He says in Nashru al-bunud,
“It means that it is incumbent for whoever falls short of achieving the rank of absolute ijtihad to follow a particular madhhab.”
Again, in Maraqi as-Sa’ud, Sidi Abdullah says,
“The consensus today is on the four, and all have prohibited following [any] others.”
He says in Nashru al-bunud,
“This means that the consensus of the scholars today is on the four schools of thought, and I mean by the schools of Malik, Abu Hanifa, Shafi’i and Ahmad. Indeed, all of the scholars have prohibited following any other school of an independent and absolute mujtahid since the eighth century when the school of Dawud adh-Dhahiri died out and until the 12th Century and all subsequent ones.”
In the chapter concerning inferential reasoning, from Maraqi as-sa’ud, [Sidi Abdullah] says,
“As for the one who is not a mujtahid, then basing his actions on primary textual evidence [Qur’an and hadith] is not permissible.”
He says in Nashru al-bunud,
“It means that it is prohibited for other than a mujtahid to base his actions upon a direct text from either the Book or the Sunna even if its transmission was sound because of the sheer likelihood of there being other considerations such as abrogation, limitations, specificity to certain situations, and other such matters that none but the mujtahid fully comprehends with precision. Thus, nothing can save him from Allah the Exalted excepted following a mujtahid.Imam al-Qarafi
‘And beware of doing what some students do when they reason directly from the hadith, and yet they don’t know their soundness, let alone what has been mentioned [by the Imams] concerning the subtleties involved in them; by doing this, they went astray and led others astray. And whoever interprets a verse or hadith in a manner that deviates from its intended meaning without proof [dalil] is a kafir.’”
As for the conditions of the absolute and independent ijtihad, they are mentioned in the Maraqi as-sa’ud in the following line and what follows:
“And that [word ‘faqih’2] is synonymous with the [word] ‘mujtahid’ coupled with those things which bear upon [him] the burden of responsibility,
Such as his being of extreme intelligence by nature, and there is some debate about one who is known to reject juristic analogy [qiyas]
He knows the [juristic] responsibilities through intellectual proofs unless a clear transmitted proof indicates otherwise.
[Sidi Abdullah] says [in his commentary] Nashru al-bunud,
“This means that among the conditions of ijtihad is that [the mujtahid] knows that he must adhere to the intellectual proof which is the foundational condition [al-bara’atu al-asliyya3] until a transmitted proof from a sacred law indicates otherwise.”
He then goes on to mention the other conditions of a mujtahid:
[The sciences of] grammar, prosody, philology, combined with those of usul and rhetoric he must master.
According to the people of precision, [he must know] where the judgements can be found without the condition of having memorized the actual texts.
[All of the above must be known] according to a middle ranked mastery at least. He must also know those matters upon which there is consensus.
[Moreover, he must know] things such as the condition of single hadiths and what carries the authority of great numbers of transmissions; also [knowledge of] what is sound and what is weak is necessary.
Furthermore, what has been abrogated and what abrogates, as well as the conditions under which a verse was revealed or a hadith was transmitted is a condition that must be met.
The states of the narrators and the companions [must also be known]. Therefore, you may follow anyone who fulfils these conditions mentioned above according to the soundest opinion.
So, consider all of the above-mentioned, and may Allah have mercy upon you, and [may you] see for yourself whether your companion is characterized by such qualities and fulfils these conditions—and I highly doubt it. More likely, he is just pointing people to himself in his demands that the people of this age take their judgements directly from the Book and Sunna. If, on the other hand, he does not possess the necessary conditions, then further discussion is useless.
In Muhammad ‘Illish’s, Fath al-‘Ali al-Malik, there are many strong rebukes for those who wish to force people to abandon the study of the judicial branches and take directly from the Book and the Sunna. The actual text of the question put to him is as follows:
“What do you say about someone who was following one of the four Imams, may Allah the Exalted be pleased with them, and then left claiming that he could derive his judgements directly form the Qur’an and the soundly transmitted hadiths, thus leaving the books of jurisprudence and inclining towards the view of Ahmad bin Idris? Moreover, he says to the one who clings to the speech of the Imams and their followers, “I say to you ‘Allah and His Messenger say’, and you reply ‘Malik said’ and ‘Ibn al-Qasim said’ or ‘Khalil said.’”
To this, Imam ‘Illish replies:
“My answer to this all this is as follows: Praise be to Allah, and Prayer and Safety be upon our Master Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah. It is not permissible for a common person to abandon following the four Imams and take directly from the textual sources of the Qur’an and the hadiths for the simple reason that this entails a great many conditions that have been clarified in the books of usul. Moreover, these conditions are rarely met by the great scholars, especially in these last days in which Islam has become a stranger just as it began a stranger.”
Ibn ‘Uyyana, may Allah be pleased with him, has said,
“The hadiths are a source of error except for the jurists.”
What he means is that people, other than the scholars, might interpret a tradition based on an apparent meaning, and yet [the hadith may] have another interpretation based on some other hadith that clarifies the meaning or some proof that remains hidden [to the common people]. After a long discussion, he remarks,
“That as for their saying, ‘How can you leave clear Qur’anic verses and sound hadiths and follow the Imams in their ijtihads, which have a clear probability of error,’”
His answer to them is as follows:
“Surely the following of our [rightly guided] Imams is not abandoning the Qur’anic verses or the sound hadiths; it is the very essence of adhering to them and taking our judgements from them. This is because the Qur’an has not come down to us except by means of these very Imams [who are more worthy of following] by virtue of being more knowledgeable than us in [the sciences of] the abrogating and abrogated, the absolute and the conditional, the equivocal and the clarifying, the probabilistic and the plain, the circumstances surrounding revelation and their various meanings, as well as their possible interpretations and various linguistic and philological considerations, [not to mention] the various other ancillary sciences [involved in understanding the Qur’an] needed.
“Also, they took all of that from the students of the companions (tabi’in) who received their instruction from the companions themselves, who received their instructions from the Lawgiver himself, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, divinely protected from every mistake, who bore witness that the first three generations of Muslims would be ones of virtue and righteousness. Furthermore, the prophetic traditions have also reached us through their means given that they were also more knowledgeable than us through their means given that they were also more knowledgeable than those who came after them concerning the rigorously authenticated (sahih), the well authenticated (hasan), and the weak (da’if) channels of transmission, as well as the marfu’u4, mursal5,mutawatir6, ahad7, mu’dal8 and gharib9 transmissions.
“Thus, as far as this little band of men is concerned, there is only one of two possibilities: either they are attributing ignorance to Imams whose knowledge is considered by consensus to have reached human perfection as witnessed in several traditions of the truthful Lawgiver, upon him be prayers and peace, or they are actually attributing misguidance and lack of din to Imams who are all from the best of generations by the testimony of the magnificent Messenger himself, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. Surely, it is not the eyes that are blind, but blind are the hearts in our breasts.
As for their saying to the one who imitates Malik, for example, “We say to you ‘Allah says’ or ‘the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, says’ and you reply, ‘Malik says’, or ‘Ibn al-Qasim says’, or ‘Khalil says’, for example,” our response is that the follower who says, “Malik says . . . etc.,” means that, “Malik says based on his deep understanding of the Word of Allah, or of the words of the Messenger, or of those firmly adhering to the actions of the companions, or of the tabi’in who understood clearly the Word of Allah and the word of the Messenger of Allah or took their example from the actions of His Messenger.” And the meaning of [a follower] saying “Ibn al-Qasim said . . .” is that he has [faithfully] transmitted what Malik said based on his understanding of the Word of Allah or of what Ibn al-Qasim himself understood from the word of Allah the Most Exalted. And the meaning of him saying, “Khalil said . . . .”, for example, is that he is transmitting only from those [Imams] aforementioned. As for Malik and Ibn al-Qasim, they are both Imams whose spiritual and judicial authority is agreed upon by unanimous consensus of this Umma; and they are both from the best of generations.
As for the one who leaves their leadership and says, “Allah said and His Messenger said . . . ,” he has relied solely on his own understanding despite the fact that he is incapable of having any precision in the verses and hadiths that he quotes since he is unable even to provide chains of transmission [with any authority], let alone that he lacks knowledge concerning the abrogated, the absolute and the conditional, the ambiguous and the clarifying, the apparent and the textual, the general and the specific, the dimensions of the Arabic and the cause for revelation, the various linguistic considerations, and other various ancillary sciences needed. So, consider for yourself which is preferable: the word of a follower who simply quotes the understanding of Malik, an Imam by consensus—or the word of this ignoramus who said “Allah said and His Messenger said . . . .” But it is not the sight that goes blind, but rather the hearts in our breasts.
Furthermore, know that the origin of this deviation is from the Dhahiriyya10 who appeared in Andalucia [Muslim Spain] and whose power waxed from a period until Allah obliterated all traces of them until this little band of men set about to revive their beliefs. Imam al-Barzuli said, “The first one ever to attack the Mudawwana11 was Sa’id bin al-Haddad .”
If you consider carefully the above-mentioned texts, you will realize that the one who censures you from following [the Imams] is truly a deviant. And I am using the word “deviant” to describe them only because the scholars [before me] have labelled this little band and their view (madhhab) as deviant. Moreover, you should know that those who condemn your adherence to the Imams have been fully refuted by Muhammad al-Khadir bin Mayyaba with the most piercing of refutations, and he himself called them, in his book, “the people of deviation and heterodoxy.” He called his book, Refuting the people of deviation of heterodoxy who attack the following [taqlid] of the Imams of independent reasoning, and I used to have a copy but no longer do. So, my brother, I seriously warn you from following the madhhab of these people and even from sitting in their company, unless there is an absolute necessity, and certainly from listening to anything they have to say, because the scholars have declared their ideas deviant. Ibn al-Hajj says in his book, al-Madkhal,
“Umar ibn al-‘Aziz said, ‘Never give one whose heart is deviant access to your two ears, for surely you never know what may find fixity in you.’”
I ask Allah to make you and me from those who listen to matters and follow the best of them.
- Ahmad ibn Idris Shihabudin as-Sanhaji al-Qarafi al-Maliki was born in Egypt in the seventh Century, and died there in the year 684. He was one of the greatest Maliki scholars who ever lived and is especially known for his work in methodology and law (usul al-fiqh). He was a master of the Arabic language and has remarkable works in grammar. His book adh-Dhakhira is a magisterial 14 volume work recently published in the Emirates, that looks at Maliki fiqh with proofs from usuli He is buried in Qarafi in Egypt near Imam as-Shafi’i. May Allah have mercy on them both.
- Sidi Abdullah says in his commentary on this line that the faqih is synonymous with mujtahid in the science of usul. There are different types of faqih. A faqih according to the scholars of usul is anyone who has achieved the rank of ijtihad. According to the scholars of furu’u, a faqih is anyone who has reached the level of knowledge in which he can give valid juristic opinion. This latter definition is important considering endowments that are given to fuqaha. See Nashur al-bunud `ala maraqi as-sa’ud, kitab al-ijtihad fi al-furu’u (1409 Hijrah. Beirut: Maktabat al-Kutub. p.309)
- The foundational condition is that a human being is not asked by Allah to do anything other than those things which have a firm proof through the transmission of the prophets, peace be upon them, and that the human being is only accountable for those things in which there is clear responsibility. All other matters are considered permissible because of the lack of a proof indicating their impermissibility.
- The transmission (sanad) goes to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) the hadith came from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).
- A tabi’i related it from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace); a companion (sahabah) is missing from the line of the transmission.
- The hadith comes from so many sources that it is an absolute proof.
- A hadith, that at some point in the line of transmission, has only one narrator.
- Two people in a row are missing in the chain of narrators.
- The narrator of the hadith is trustworthy, but no one else related the hadith.
- The Dhahiriyya followed Daw’ud ad-Dhahiri’s madhhab.
- Mudawwana: Imam Malik’s work of fiqh.
(1): the biography of Murabit al-Hajj can be found here.