Necessity of Following a Madhab

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

الحمد لله رب العالمين والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله وعلى آله وصحبه أجمعين

Praise be to Allāh, the Lord of the Worlds, and peace and blessings upon the Messenger of Allāh, his family, and the Companions.

This is an abridgment, summary, and translation1 of the fatwa of Imām Muhammad ʿIllīsh al-Mālikī2 on the abandonment of the four madhāhib3—in other words a refutation of the ghayr-muqallidīn4 group and others who neglect taking jurisdiction from (true) scholars directly5 and the necessity of following a madhab. The translated passage of the fatwā has been taken from Taṭʿīm al-Mālikī al-Sālik ʿan Zaygi wa-Intihāk al-Madhhab al-Mālikī by Mukhtār bin ʿĀbidīn bin Mukhtār al-Shinqīṭī, and has been compared against Fatḥ al-ʿAlī al-Mālik.

Al-Imām ʿIllīsh was asked about a man who was previously a follower of one of the Imāms of the four schools of thought, who then claimed to take his rulings directly from the Qurʾān and authentic aḥadīth instead. Forsaking the books of fiqh as well, he claimed  that the books of fiqh are not devoid of errors and contain many rulings which contradict  the authentic aḥadīth. He used to say as well, “You say, ‘Mālik said,’ or ‘Ibn al-Qāsim said,’ or ‘al-Khalīl said,’” while I say, “Allāh (ﷻ) said or the Prophet (ﷺ) said!”

So al-Imām ʿIllīsh answered: 

It is impermissible for a layman to abandon the taqlīd of the Four Aʾimmah and take his rulings from the Qurʾān and the sunnah, as inference of rulings has many conditions  present in uṣūl that are not present in [even] most scholars (let alone laymen),6especially in the end of times where Islam has returned to being strange as it had begun,7 and because  many of the verses and aḥadīth,8 when taken at face value, have explicit (when viewed from an untrained perspective) kufr,9 and no one knows their true interpretation except Allāh (ﷻ) and those rooted in knowledge (referencing 3:7). 

Ibn ʿUyaynah said: The ḥadīth is a pitfall except for the fuqahāʾ.10 He intends by this that non fuqahāʾ may take (the meaning of) a ḥadīth at face value, but the meaning might be  interpreted in light of another ḥadīth, or evidence that is unknown to them, or something  else that may have obligated leaving the practice of the ḥadīth, this is only known by a learned individual.

Imām Mālik said: “Matters are only corrupted when they are extended to areas they shouldn’t be applied to.”11 He also said, “Knowledge is knowing the sunan and the early praxis which is known and has been acted upon.”

Al-Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī al-Ḥanafī said in Sharḥ al-Shifāʾ, “It was transmitted in al-Taqrīr Wa-l-Taḥbīr, from Yūnus bin ʿAbd al-Aʿlā, that he said, al-Shāfiʿī said to me,  “If you found the mutaqaddimūn of the ahl al-Madīna on a matter, let no doubt enter your  heart that it is the ḥaqq (truth). And whenever something else comes to you that is  different from it, ignore it.”’”

Al-Nawawī said in his Sharḥ Muslim, “The Ahl al-Madīna are the most knowledgeable on  sunan.” Ibn Taymiyyah writes, “The madhhab of the ahl al-Madīna in the era of the ṣaḥābah, the tābiʿīn, and their tābiʿīn is the most correct  of the madhāhib found in cities, east and west, and in both uṣūl and furūʿ (subsidiary and  primary matters).”

ʿIllīsh said, “And Imām Mālik used to say, “ʿAmal is more confirmatory than the aḥadīth. Men of the tābiʿīn used to receive aḥadīth (narrated) from others so they say: “We are not ignorant of these aḥadīth, but rather practice was implemented on others  (than those ḥadīth).” 12

Al-Nakhaʿī said, “If I saw the Companions washing up to the wrist in wuḍūʾ, I would have done the same despite reading the verse to the elbows. That is because they are  never accused of neglecting the Sunan and they are the most knowledgeable, and the  most careful of the creation of Allāh (ﷻ) in following the Prophet (ﷺ): “No one believes otherwise except someone with a doubt in his dīn.”13 

Imām Mālik built his madhhab based on four principles: A Qurʾānic verse,  an authentic ḥadīth free from opposition,14 ijmāʿ ahl al-Madīna, and the  agreement of their jumhūr (assemblage of scholars). Consensus has been established  by Ahl al-Sunnah Wa-l-Jamāʿah on the obligation of taqlīd for any individual who does  not carry the capacity for Ijtihad – this is mentioned in al-Dibaj by Ibn Farhun and ʿUmdat  al-Murīd by al-Laqqānī and others 15— this spread so large that it has become known to be from the religion by necessity.16

If you say: they claim that the preconditions of Ijtihad are found in their Shaykh, and he  has exceeded the mujtahidīn17 and the consensus you claim is only for those who do  not carry these preconditions. I (ʿIllīsh) say: Nay (he doesn’t carry them), this is known by  observation 18; although this is merely an excuse, they do not limit ijtihād to mujtahidīn but rather they believe in its obligation on every mukallaf (accountable person)19.

To make (the challenge) easier for them we say: bring your proofs and extract for us  rulings from the Qurʾān and authentic ḥadīths different from the rulings extracted by the  Four Imāms. 20

And he mentioned the saying of al-Jalāl al-Suyūṭī that the claim to ijtihād muṭlaq was  never agreed upon or given to anyone other than the Four Imāms—except for Ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabari, yet he was not given that status either. As for people such as Ibn al-Qāsim, al-Shaybānī, al-Muzanī, and their likes, their status was named Ijtihād was Muntasib li-l-Madhhab.21 

And he (ʿIllīsh) said: their saying (the questioner and other ghayr-muqallidīn): “The books of Fiqh are not devoid of errors.” By saying this if they intend that all of the books of Fiqh were mistaken (either on one or all rulings), this is an accusation that the Prophet (ﷺ) lied about his testimony that the ummah is protected from agreement on errors, and this saying means that the Four Imāms were astray and misguided despite them living in the best of centuries as the Prophet (ﷺ) said.

And if they intend by this that there are a certain number of wrong rulings let them point  out these rulings and warn us of them instead of rebutting the rulings of entire books. 

And if they intend by this that there is an uncertain number of wrong rulings, from where  do they have the capacity to declare that?! If they say: “This is from ikhtilāf (difference  of opinion), and the ḥaqq (truth) is only one (i.e with one person)”, we reply: “This is a  matter fully exhausted in the study of Usul, whoever says that truth (ḥaqq) is only one  has not finished a single book of Fiqh in his life. Erring (in ijtihād) is not something that Allāh (ﷻ) has made us accountable for (i.e searching for the correct ijtihād) out of His (ﷻ) generosity.

Then his saying “They (the books of the Four Imāms) contain rulings that contradict  authentic aḥadīth,” we reply: “Yes, but this opposition does not cast aspersion on these  rulings; nor does it entail an obligation to reject these rulings. That is because these rulings  were founded on matters with a higher degree of establishment than the authentic ḥadīths you speak of. Namely: the actions of the Sahaba, and the tābiʿīn who are the  most knowledgeable of the ummah on what the Sunnah was finalized on, and they were the people who held the most unto the Sunnah. Their practice which contradicts an  authentic ḥadīth is stronger evidence (dalīl) of the ḥadīth’s abrogation and proof that  the Prophet (ﷺ) retracted from practicing it (the action in that ḥadīth). And  their practice of something which contradicts the apparent meaning of a verse is evidence  that the apparent meaning of the verse is not intended, rather what was intended by the  verse is what they are doing. How good was the saying of al-Nakhaʿī mentioned earlier! Does anyone understand the Qurʾān and ḥadīth with an understanding better than the sahaba and tābiʿīn? Nay, far from it!”22

Al-Khaṭṭābī said in al-Maʿālim: “The possessors of Sunan are the ḥuffāẓ of ḥadīth and  those who have an insight on it, such as the al-Aʾimmah al-Mujtahidūn and their students,  indeed they are the ones who understand what is contained within the Sunan from  aḥkām (rulings).” and he said in al-Mīzān: “The Sunnah makes clear what was generalized  (mujmal) in the Qurʾān, and the mujtahidūn pointed to and made clear to us what is there  inside the Sunnah from generalizations (ijmāl), and the students of the mujtahidūn are the ones who make clear to us what is generalized from the words of the mujtahidūn…and so on that way until the day of judgment.”

And he (al-Khaṭṭābī) said in it too (al-Mīzān): “A muqallid (a layman with no capacity for  ijtihād) should not neglect to do an action ordered by one of the Imāms of the madhāhib  and to (in order to) pursue their dalīl (evidence) for that action mentioned. This is  disrespectful in their right…”23

Al-Shaykh ʿIllīsh said after reading all of these quotes: “It has become evident from these  passages the falsity of their statement: The books of Fiqh are not devoid of error and have  many rulings that contradict authentic ḥadīths.” Then he began responding to their other  objection, he said: their saying “How do we abandon the verses and authentic ḥadīths and  follow the A’immah in their Ijtihad that is prone to mistakes?” So he answered:

Verily the taqlīd of the A’immah in their Ijtihad is not an abandonment of the Qurʾānic verses and authentic aḥadīth. Rather it is the embodiment of holding onto and putting  into practice the verses and ḥadīth24. The Qurʾān could not have been transmitted to us  except through them, and them being more knowledgeable than us in its Nasikh wa mansūkh (the abrogating and abrogated verses), muṭlaqah wa muqayyadah (the  generalized and specified verses), mujmalah wa-l-mubayyanah (The ambiguous and clear  verses), mutashabihāt wa-l-muḥkamāt (decisive and equivocal verses), wa-l-asbāb al-nuzūl (a revelation’s historical context), the explanation of the meaning of the verses, (detailed knowledge of) the Arabic language, and the rest of the (vast) Qurʾānic sciences. They  received these from the tābiʿīn, who then received from the Companions who received this Prophet’s (ﷺ) infallible form.

Likewise we could not have received the aḥadīth without them, despite them being more knowledgeable than those after them bi-ṣahīhiha (authentic ḥadīth), wa-ḥasanihā (the ḥasan ḥadīth), wa-ḍaʿīfihā (weak ḥadīth), wa maʿrifihā (elevated ḥadīth), wa mursalihā (ḥadīth with hurried isnād), wa mutawātirihā (mass-transmitted ḥadīth), wa aḥadihā (solitary isnād ḥadīth), wa muʿdalihā (perplexing isnād link ḥadīth), wa gharībihā wa taʾwīlihā (strange words and their intended meanings), wa tarikh al-mutaqaddim wa-l-mutaʾakhir (knowledge of which ḥadīth is earlier or latter), wa-l-nasikh wal-mansūkh (the  abrogating and abrogated ḥadīth), wa asbābihā wa lughatihā wa sāʾir ʿulumiha (the reason  for the ḥadīth being said, the language of the ḥadīth and the rest of the ḥadīth sciences) and with their complete memorization and refinement of the ḥadīth, and their completed  perception and memory, the strength of their belief, their carefulness and enlightened perception of matters.  

ʿIllīsh said: “The matter of this group is not devoid of two things: Either attributing  ignorance and incompetence to the entire Ummah, who have an agreed upon  completeness of their knowledge as indicated by various ḥadīths25 said by the Noble  Prophet (ﷺ) or attributing misguidance and incompleteness of faith to the  Aʾimmah who are from the noblest of centuries,26 as testified by the Prophet (ﷺ).” (It is not people’s eyes that are blind, but their hearts within their chests.” (al-Ḥajj : 46) 

I (al-Shinqīṭī) said: al-Dārimī reported—about this meaning—from Saʿīd bin Jubayr that he  once narrated a ḥadīth from the Prophet (ﷺ); (so a person told him: “There is a passage from the book of Allāh (ﷻ) that contradicts this!” So Saʿīd replied: “I do not see  that I narrate to you any ḥadīth from the Prophet (ﷺ) (that you contrast  against the Qurʾān; The Prophet (ﷺ) was more knowledgeable about the  book of Allāh (ﷻ) than you!”

And al-Bayhaqī reported from Ayyūb al-Sikhtiyānī that he said: A man said—in front of  Mutʿarif bin ʿAbd-Allāh—”Do not tell me anything except what is inside the Qurʾān,” so Mutʿarif said: “By Allāh (ﷻ) we are not making for what is inside the Qurʾān a substitute, rather we need someone more knowledgeable on the Qurʾān than us.Al-Imām al-Shāṭibī comments about the ḥadīth on the Khawārij “reciting the Qurʾānic  which will not go beyond their throats”: “This means that they do not grasp the Qurʾān  or involve themselves with its practice, they took the task of reading the Qurʾān and  teaching it until they innovated in it, but they were never educated about it nor did they  understand its objectives; for that they threw the books of scholars, called it Kutub al-Rayʾ  (books of conjecture), tore them and ripped them apart although the fuqahāʾ are the  people who appropriately made the meanings of the Qurʾān and Sunnah evident.”27

Shaykh ʿIllīsh continues: And their saying on those who do taqlīd of Mālik, or any of the  four Imāms for instance,” we (the ghayr-Muqallid) say and quote ‘Qala Allāh (ﷻ) wa Qala  al-Rasul’, Allāh (ﷻ) and his emissary (ﷺ) (said, but you (the Muqallid) say ‘Qala  Mālik `aw Qala Ibn al-Qasim’, Mālik or Ibn al-Qasim said etc..”

He answers:

When a muqallid says, “Mālik said,” it means that Mālik’s jurisdiction was based on his understanding of the words of Allāh (ﷻ) or the words of his Prophet (ﷺ) or it can be based on the action of the sahaba or who have a superior  understanding of the verses of the Qurʾān and the statements in ḥadīth or have seen the  Prophet (ﷺ) (do something in a way. When a muqallid says, “Ibn al Qāsim said,” this means that Ibn al-Qāsim transmitted from Mālik what Mālik understood  from the words of Allāh (ﷻ), or it is the direct understanding of Ibn al-Qāsim for the words of  Allāh (ﷻ) etc…

The great scholarship of Imām Mālik and Ibn al-Qasim is something agreed upon, and they  lived in the best of centuries. In contrast with the non-muqallid who says: “Allāh (ﷻ) and His Prophet (ﷺ) said” with his own [anomalous]—understanding, despite his inability to narrate a  verse or a ḥadīth precisely and having no connected sanad.28 Let alone his inability in  knowing the Qurʾān’s abrogated and abrogating verses, its generalized and specified verses, its ambiguous and clear verses, its decisive and equivocal verses, the general  meaning of the verses and the context in which the verses were revealed in, and the vast  different sciences of the Qurʾān. Ponder now on who’s saying has more weight: the saying of the muqallid “Imām Mālik said,” who is an Imām by ijmāʿ, or the saying of an insolent ignoramus that “Allāh (ﷻ) and his Prophet (ﷺ) said such and such.” 

Then Imām ʿIllīsh says:

Know that the origin of this deviancy are al-Ẓahiriyyah, which is a group that appeared in  Al-Andalus. They were strengthened for a period of time then Allāh (ﷻ) erased their path,  only for this group (i.e. the ghayr-muqallid) to seek to revive their sayings. (Fatwa ends) 

Al-Suyūṭī says surrounding this in his al-Hāwī:29

“Astonishing is the case of someone who infers (rulings) using the Qurʾān and he is not  from the people who perfected the Arabic sciences of interpretation and rhetoric —which  the eloquence and ways of the Qurʾān can only be understood by. Neither did he master a single science of the fifteen30—which without perfecting no one is permitted to speak  on the Qurʾān.” and he said: “Astonishing is that person’s pursuit of seeking evidence  (dalīl), yet if you responded to him with evidence that contradict what he brought about  he would not know what to do.”

He also said in al-Hāwī: “How is it permissible for someone who has not mastered a single  science from the obligatory sciences to be able to speak on the Qurʾān—and their number is fifteen—to have the audacity to infer rulings or any matter from verses in the Qurʾān, ignorant of the ways of inference and incapacitated in attaining its preconditions?!” He  said: “Such person is the individual mentioned in the ḥadīth of the Prophet (ﷺ) (Whoever says about the Qurʾānic without knowledge, then let him take his seat in  the Fire—and in a narration: then he has blasphemed].”

“If this person feared God he would have stayed in his lane – which is taqlīd – and he  would have left inference to its people. Allāh (ﷻ) says: “Had they referred it to the Messenger (ﷺ)  and to those having authority among them, the truth of the matter would have come to–the knowledge of those of them who are able to investigate” (al-Nisāʾ 83). The people  who are able to investigate are the mujtahidūn.” 

Al-Suyūṭī then says: 

“The quarrelsome in our age are many, and most of them have no knowledge on the ways  of (correct) inference; discussion with them is futile. However, I explain my words in a  way to the disputatious that makes their thinking closer to mine; the most they can say  is: “What was narrated in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim contradicts your statements (i.e your rulings).”” 31

If this quarreler was from our Shāfiʿī Madhab I say to him:

It was established in ṣaḥīḥ Muslim that [ the Prophet (ﷺ) did not read ‘bi smi llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm in the prayer ] and you do not accept the validity of the ṣalāh without the Basmala.

It was authentically established aswell in Bukhārī and Muslim that the Prophet (ﷺ) said: [ The Imām is to be followed. Say the takbīr when he says it; bow if he  bows; if he says ‘Sami`a l-lahu liman hamidah’, say, ‘Rabbanā wa laka-l-ḥamd,’ prostrate  if he prostrates and pray sitting altogether if he prays sitting ], if the Imām says ‘Samiʿa-llāhu liman hamidah,’ you say, ‘Samiʿa-llāhu liman ḥamidah’ too, and if the Imām prayed  sitting for an excuse and you have the ability to upright whilst praying behind him then you pray upright and not sitting.  

It was authentically established in Bukhārī and Muslim too that the Prophet (ﷺ) (said in ḥadīth al-Tayammum: [This would have been enough for you,” and he struck  the earth with his hands once, then he wiped the right hand with the left one, and the  outside of the palms of his hands and his face ] yet it is insufficient for you in Taymmum  to strike once, nor to wipe to the wrists. So how do you oppose these authentic aḥadīth authentically transmitted in the two  authentic books (al-Ṣaḥīḥayn) or one of them? 32 

Indeed, it is a must that if this person even had a whiff from knowledge to say “Other  (stronger) evidences (dalīl) were established that oppose the aforementioned, so they  (rightfully) took precedence; and I say to him: This is the only way to establish proof  against you and your likes, because it forces you rationally to accept the truth. 

If the quarreler was a Mālikī I say to him: It was authentically narrated in al-Bukhārī and  Muslim that the Prophet (ﷺ) said: “Both parties in a business transaction  have a right to annul it so long as they have not separated” yet you do not affirm the  option of contract withdrawal before departing (khiyār al-majlis).  

It was authentically transmitted as well in al-Bukhārī and Muslim that the Prophet (ﷺ)  performed wuḍūʾ (ablution) without wiping his entire head—yet you  obligate wiping the entire head in wuḍūʾ. How do you oppose what is in al-ṣaḥīḥ? The  answer will be that other (stronger) evidence took precedence, as before. 

If the quarreler was a Ḥanafī I say to him: It was authentically narrated in al-ṣaḥīḥ that the  Prophet (ﷺ): [When a dog drinks out of a vessel belonging to any of  you, he must wash it seven times], yet you do not oblige in purifying the najāsah (impurity) of a dog seven washes.  

It was also authentically narrated in al-Ṣaḥīḥayn: [He who does not recite Fatiḥat al-Kitāb is not credited with having observed prayer] yet you validate prayer without al-Fatiḥah.  

It was also authentically transmitted in al-ṣaḥīḥayn that the Prophet (ﷺ) sold al-Mudabbar, yet you do not allow selling the mudabbar. So how did you oppose  these authentic ḥadīths? The answer will be that other (stronger) evidence took  precedence, as before. 

If the quarreler was a Hanbali I say to him: It was authentically narrated in al-ṣaḥīḥayn  that the Prophet (ﷺ) said: [ He who observes the fast on a doubtful day,  has in fact disobeyed Abul-Qasim (i.e: me) ] it was also reported in them: [Do not observe  fast for a day, or two days ahead of Ramaḍān]. Yet you say of fasting the day of doubt  (Yawm al-Shak). The answer will be that other (stronger) evidence took precedence, as  before.

If the quarreler was of those people who write ḥadīth but study no Fiqh it is said to him: The predecessors said: “A muḥaddith without fiqh is like a pharmacist who is not a  physician; there is medication in his store yet he has no knowledge what it is used for. A  faqih without ḥadīth is like a physician without medication, he has knowledge of what  certain medicines are used for but he has none in his possession.” 33 

Al-Suyūṭī concludes this by saying: “And the intention behind presenting all of this is to  show that one should not always opine with what a ḥadīth in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim states or  implies, as opposing evidence may exist”. and he also said elsewhere: “An authentic  ḥadīth if contradicted by other preponderant evidence necessitates that we give the  evidence precedence and that we interpret the ḥadīth by other than its apparent  meaning—as taught in Uṣūl al-Fiqh.34

End of translation. 

Ubaydullah ibn ‘Amr reported: We were with Al-A’mash, may Allāh (ﷻ) have mercy on him,  while he was asking Abu Hanifa about legal issues and Abu Hanifa answered him. Al A’mash said to him, “From where did you get this?” Abu Hanifa said, “You narrated to us  from Ibrahim as such. You narrated to us from Al-Shaʿbī as such.” Al-Aʿmash said,  “O scholars of fiqh, you are the doctors and we are the pharmacists.”

Appendix and marginal commentary: 

1- This is in no way a professional or literal translation, but rather an attempt at conveying the words of the author as literally as possible, with bracketed words that are implied but not in the Arabic text. The  purpose of the marginal commentary is to make the document reader-friendly for everyone,  explain the translation when ambiguous and elaborate statements with real-world examples. 

2- Imām Muhammad ʿIllīsh was a 19th century (1802 CE to 1882 CE) Egyptian jurist of tripolitanian  origin. He is a very important scholar of the Māliki school and one of the last widely read and  respected sources for traditional fatawa for the Mālikī school. He was (and still is) quite popular as an Azharite scholar and was appointed the Mālikī Muftī of the institution during his lifetime.

3- The following is a summarized clear explanation of madhāhib for laymen from several authors, with particular thanks to Shaykh Mahdi Lock and the teachers on SeekersGuidance.  

A madhhab is a school of Islamic law, and each madhhab is based on a systematic methodology of  interpreting the Qurʾānic and Prophetic sunnah. Each of these schools is named after an Imām from  the very first centuries of Islam. These are the schools of: Imām Abu Hanifa (Ḥanafī), Imām Mālik  (Māliki), Imām Shafii (Shafii), Imām Ahmed bin Ḥanbal (Ḥanbalī). These schools agree on the basics of jurisprudence but differ in the branches. What must be understood is that the Prophet (ﷺ) taught  his Companions different things when it came down to details. Some Companions were told to  raise their hands in prayer, while others were told not to. Some wiped their entire heads when  washing for prayer (known as wuḍūʾ) while others only wiped a third. There are many more  examples like this, and we must realize that these differences are a mercy. Because the  Companions differed on various minor issues, it is impossible to think that later Muslims could  resolve these differences. The four madhabs are a natural consequence of these early differences  of opinion. At a personal level, the madhhab ensures that a layperson follows established authority  and not his own whims and desires. It provides the individual with a means to fulfill his religious  duties without having to engage in in-depth study of the tradition that would be a difficult  undertaking given other commitments. Following scholarly authority is a commandment of God  and the Prophet (ﷺ). For this reason, among others, the scholars of our traditions have always stressed  adherence to the schools of law. The idea of following authority is nothing new. For example, after  the Prophet (ﷺ) departed this earthly-realm. Most of the Companions relied upon a  select number of individuals for answers to their religious questions, such as the four Caliphs. To refer to legal rulings of each madhhab pertaining to basic rituals, see this.

For further reading and books refer to the madhhab appendix on this link (click me).

And these two excellent articles:

What is a Madhhab? Why is it necessary to follow one?

Understanding the four Madhabs

4- Taqlīd literally means imitation. It follows a Mujtahid or an Imām in a school of law (a madhab) without knowing the evidence on which the fatwa was based. Taqlid is an obligation on every  unqualified person to make Ijtihād. In other words, someone who does not know a ruling in sacred  law has to follow someone who does (a Mufti), this is called Taqlid. A mujtahid is someone qualified  to perform Ijtihād; they can infer rulings directly from evidence. An example of a Mujtahid would  be Imām Abu Hanifa or al-Imām al-Shāfiʿī, the two Imāms who made the Ḥanafī and Shāfiʿī  Madhab. Ijtihād is the act of extracting legal rulings from foundational proofs; it must only be done  by a competent person (hence a Mujtahid). A ghayr-muqallid means someone who is not obliged  to do taqlid, and that would be the opposite of Muqallid, the opposite of a Muqallid would be a Mujtahid. However, in this paragraph we are not referring to this definition of ghayr-muqallid,  rather we are referring to the movement found in many countries, particularly the Subcontinent,  which calls for laymen to abandon imitation of the four madhabs and to extract rulings directly  from evidence (as a mujtahid would do). While the movements rarely verbally admit that they call  for independent ijtihād, that is what their slogans lead to. 

Note: that there are different ranks of Ijtihād and different ranks of being a mujtahid so one person  can be a mujtahid in one topic and muqallid in another or fully a mujtahid or nothing at all. The  highest degree of Ijtihād is mujtahid muṭlaq, absolute mujtahid, who are the four Imāms that  devised the principles and derived rulings from the primary evidence without following anyone in  fundamental or derivative rulings.

In any case, anyone who extracts rulings must be a competent person qualified to do so. There are  generally six conditions for being a mujtahid (this is the minimum): 

— Mastering knowledge of the Qurʾān 

— Mastering knowledge of the aḥadīth 

— Mastering knowledge of the [scholarly] consensus 

— Mastering knowledge of analogical deduction 

— Mastering knowledge of the differences of opinion 

— Mastering knowledge of classical Arabic linguistics 

There is a category between mujtahid and scholar; there can be scholars who are not mujtahid  (such as a mufti who transmits opinions of senior scholars). There is, however, no category in  between mujtahid and muqallid (which will be elaborated upon).

5- Which means this is also a general refutation of Qurʾānists who tend to reject the  authoritativeness of scholarship and resort to independent exegesis. It is also a refutation of  certain Salafi branches that reject Taqlid (such as al-Albānī’s group) or other branches which make  middle grounds between taqlīd and ijtihād (mutābiʿ al-dalīl, follower of evidence)—such  distinction does not exist and is completely rejected by all traditional scholars. As we will read later  in the fatwā, we will see that people fall into only two groups: people with the capacity  for ijtihād, who master many sciences, and people with a limited or no capacity for ijtihād, who fall  into the muqallid category. The people who attempt to establish a third category always  fall into the mistake of prepondering fatawa based on conjecture and personal desire, a layman  simply does not meet the preconditions to follow evidence. (Refer to Appendix 3 and 5.) 

6- Al-Imām al-Shāṭibī confirms this understanding in this passage found in al-Muwafaqāt.  

فتاوى المجتهدين بالنسبة إلى العوام كا الأدلة الشرعية بالنسبة إلى المجتهدين . والدليل عليه أن وجود الأدلة بالنسبة إلى المقلدين  وعدمها سواء ؛ إذ كانوا ال يستفيدون منها شيئا ، فليس النظر في الأدلة والاستنباط من شأنهم ، وال يجوز ذلك لهم ألبتة ، وقد قال  تعالى : فاسألوا أهل الذكر إن كنتم ال تعلمون 

(Translation will be provided.) 

Under the heading “The fatwā of mujtahid for a layman is like (should be treated the same as)  legislative evidence (dalīl) for a mujtahid

He says: And the proof for that: The presence of evidence (dalīl) or the absence of it for a  Muqallid (i.e blind followers, laymen) are the same, as they do not benefit anything from it (since  they do not understand rules of inference). Looking into evidence and inferring laws from evidence  is none of their business, and it is totally forbidden. And Allāh (ﷻ) said: “Ask the people of the  Remembrance, if it should be that you do not know” (Sūrat al-Anbiyaʾ). A muqallid is someone who  is not a ʿālim (scholar), and nothing (of inference) is permissible for them except asking the people  of remembrance (scholars), and they are the reference for the laws of the religion. ” 

Ibn Abī Laylā said, “A man does not understand ḥadīths until he knows what to take from it and what to leave.”

7- It was narrated from Abu Hurairah that the Messenger (ﷺ) of Allāh (ﷻ) said: “Islam began as  something strange and will go back to being strange, so glad tidings to the strangers.’”

8- Aḥādīth or aḥādīth is plural for the word “ḥadīth” in Arabic. I left it untranslated.

9- Imām al-Sanūsī has said in his al-Muqaddimāt: The origin of disbelief and heresy is rooted in  seven causes.. and he mentioned in the sixth one: Al-Tamassuk fī ʿAqāʾid al-Īmān bi Mujarradi  Ẓawāhir al-Kitāb wa-l-Sunnah: Literal Interpretation of Qurʾānic and ḥadīths in creedal matters—without reconciling them with rational proofs and doctrinal issues clearly and explicitly specified  by the Sharīʿah. 

10- There are many quotes along those lines from the Salaf. A lot of which have been translated by  Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad in Sunnah Notes (Vol 1, pg.36 and onwards). 

Ibn Abī Zayd al-Mālikī reports Sufyān ibn ʿUyayna as saying: “ḥadīth is a pitfall (maḍilla) except for  the fuqahā’,” and Mālik’s companion ʿAbd Allāh (ﷻ) ibn Wahb very frequently said: “ḥadīth is a pitfall  except for the Ulema. Every memorizer of ḥadīth that does not have an Imām in fiqh is misguided  (ḍāll), and if Allāh (ﷻ) had not rescued us with Mālik and al-Layth [ibn Saʿd], we would have been  misguided. Ibn Abī Zayd comments: “He [Sufyān] means that other than the jurists might take  something in its external meaning when, in fact, it is interpreted in the light of another ḥadīth or  some evidence which remains hidden to him; or it may in fact consist in discarded evidence due to  some other [abrogating] evidence. None can meet the responsibility of knowing this except those  who deepened their learning and obtained fiqh.” Imām al-Haytamī said something similar. 

11- By the phrase, “Many of these ḥadīths are misguidance,” Mālik means their adducing them in  the wrong place and meaning, because the Sunna is wisdom and wisdom is to place each thing in  its right context.

12- Sufyān al-Thawrī used to say to the ḥadīth scholars: “Come forward, O weak ones!” He also said: “If ḥadīth were a good thing it would have vanished just as all goodness has vanished,” and ”Pursuing the study of ḥadīth is not part of the preparation for death, but a disease that  preoccupies people.” Al-Dhahabī commented: “He said this verbatim. He is right in what he said  because pursuing the study of ḥadīth is other than the ḥadīth itself.”

13- Al-Nakhaʿī also said: “Truly, I hear a ḥadīth, then I see what part of it applies. I apply it and leave  the rest.” Shaykh Muhammad ʿAwwāma said: “Meaning, what is recognized by the authorities is  retained while anything odd (gharīb), anomalous (shādhdh), or condemned (munkar) is put aside.”

14- Not every authentically transmitted ḥadīth is conclusive enough to make judgments by.

15- These are some other references which mention the obligation of taqlīd for the layman:

al-Hattab, Mawāhib al-Jalīl (1/30) 

al-Juwayni, al-Burhān (2/744) 

Ibn Nujaym, al-Asbah wal-Anthar (1/131) 

Ibn Mufliḥ, al-Furūʿ (6/374) 

al-Asnawī, al-Tamīd (1/527) 

Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī, al-Fatāwā (4/325) 

Ibn Rajab, al-Radd (13) 

Al-Mardāwī, al-Tahbīr (1/128) 

Ibn Khaldūn, al-Muqadimma (355) 

Al-Qarāfī, al-Dhakhīrah (10/14) 

Al-Ghazālī, al-Mustaṣfā (1/372) 

16- The correct position to take about this statement is that the Imām ʿIllīsh intends that it is  something obvious to everyone. Not that it is from the qawāṭīʿ (certain principles) of the religion.  The denial of qawātiʿ would exit someone from the religion. However, denial of taqlīd as an  obligation, while a vile sin, would not make someone a disbeliever.

17- Consensus has almost been established by Ahlul-Sunnah that no one has exceeded nor will exceed the Four A’immah in their Ijtihād. It is impermissible to exit the four madhabs. For example:  Check al-Zarkashī in al-Bahr al-Muḥīṭ (8/24) & Ibn Muflih in al-Furūʿ (6/374).

18- If anyone claims Ijtihād Muṭlaq in our modern age we reject their claim because we can easily  observe that this person wouldn’t carry the capacity for it. 

19- Ibn Ḥazm said “Each individual must exercise his own Ijtihād to the best of their ability”.  This statement of his and his followers is a great evil, and he was rebuked very harshly by Ahlul Sunnah for making this atrocious claim. Although this quote is very rarely quoted by groups in our  age, it comes in other empty slogans such as “Follow Qurʾān and Sunnah and not the Imāms”.  This quote carries the same meaning as what Ibn Ḥazm says simply in a softer tone as the slogan necessarily implies that every person (layman or not) should exercise Ijtihād.

20- Only if people knew what these charlatans do. They look in the books of fuqahāʾ in secret to steal  rulings and their evidence from. After plagiarizing the ruling and its evidence, they claim it for  themselves and announce that they deduced their rulings directly from the Qurʾān and Sunnah.  This is the unfortunate case with many self-proclaimed ‘Imāms’ in our age. Many Salafī laymen, for  instance, claim to take their rulings directly from the Qurʾān and the aḥādīth; however, they quickly  realize their own ignorance and resort to taking rulings from their own teachers such as Ibn Bāz,  Ibn ʿUthaymīn, al-Fawzān and other Salafī figureheads. Little do they know, their teachers are  deeply rooted in ignorance and their fatāwā have absolutely no weight in comparison to the  extraordinary jurisdictions given by the four Imāms and their students. 

21- There were other scholars who did reach the level of absolute Ijtihād. However, either their madhāhib expired and were absorbed in one of the four schools (such as of Imām Sufyān al-Thawrī’s and ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Awzāʿī’s), or they themselves, out of reverence for their teachers, did not found separate schools, such as the star students of al-Imām al-Aʿẓam.

Muntasib li-l-Madhhab is a type of Ijtihād where the Mujtahid (person performing Ijtihād) is confined within the general jurisprudential approach (“uṣūl“) of the Imām they follow, though they can apply this approach to the sources directly without relying upon, or referring to, someone else.

22- “A student of ḥadīth can never truly understand the subject of ḥadīth and ultimately the  Sunnah of the Prophet (ﷺ) without fiqh, especially a careful study of the madhhabs, their uṣūl,  their history and their methodology of handling ḥadīths”. Excerpt from: 

The Problem of Studying Hadith without the Madhabs.

23- For more info about this you can refer to Adab al Muftī wa-l-Mustaftī pg.170 (or Appendix 2)

24- Al-Shāfiʿī narrated that Mālik ibn Anas was told: “Ibn ʿUyayna narrates from al-Zuhrī things you  do not have!” He replied: “Why should I narrate every single ḥadīth I heard? Only if I wanted to  misguide people! … Ibn Wahab says: “I gathered a lot of ḥadīths and they drove me to confusion. I would consult Mālik and al-Layth and they would say to me, ‘Take this and leave this.’” 

25- Ibn ʿUmar reported: The Messenger (ﷺ) of Allāh (ﷻ) said, “Verily, Allāh (ﷻ) will not let my  nation agree upon misguidance.” Al-Tirmidhī said, “The interpretation of the united community,  according to the scholars, are the people of Fiqh, knowledge, and ḥadīth.” Anas bin Mālik said:  “I heard the Messenger (ﷺ) of Allāh (ﷻ) say: ‘My nation will not unite on misguidance, so if you see  them differing, follow the great majority.’”

26- The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “The best people are those of my generation, and then those who will  come after them (the next generation), and then those who will come after them.” 

27- The actions al-Shāṭibī mention about al-Khawārij is oddly reminiscent of how Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb reviled the fiqh of Imām Abu Ḥanīfa: “And it was mentioned to us by a trustworthy person: that about forty years ago a Ḥanafī man came to Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb, and he gave him a short manual of the Ḥanafī jurisprudence and asked him to read to him in that book, so he took it in his hand, looked at it, then threw it in the dirt, and said: Abu Ḥanīfa has nothing to stand on.”

28- A sanad here means the chain of teachers (to an Imām) for the knowledge you received. 

29- Arabic speakers are advised to read this lengthy, but very intriguing passage of al-Suyūṭī intellectually addressing these kinds of people. (al-Hāwī 2/277), from : المجادلون في هذا الزمان كثير خصوصا في هذه المسألة وأكثرهم ليس لهم معرفة بطرق الاستدلال فالكلام معهم ضائع  

30- Imām Suyūṭī mentioned in his compendium on the sciences of the Qurʾānic, al-Itqān fī ʿUlūm al-Qurʾān, that there are 15 disciplines that a person must master in order to be qualified to  interpret the Qurʾānic. They are: 

1. Knowledge of Arabic language and its vocabulary.

2. Knowledge of Arabic grammar (naḥū). 

3. Knowledge of Arabic morphology (ṣarf). 

4. Knowledge of Arabic words and word structure (ishtiqāq).

5. Knowledge of Arabic rhetoric.

6. Eloquence.

7. Manners of oratory.

8. Knowledge of qirāʾāt

9. Knowledge of the principles of fiqh (uṣūl al-fiqh).

10. Knowledge of fiqh.

11. Knowledge of asbāb an-nuzūl.

12. Knowledge of naskh and mansūkh (abrogation).

13. Knowledge of ḥadīth.

14. Knowledge of ʿulum al-Qurʾān.

15. Divine endowment (divinely endowed talent). This is a type of gift from Allāh (ﷻ) to  whomever He chooses. This type of intellect was what the Prophet (ﷺ) prayed for when  he prayed for Ibn ʿAbbās: “O Allāh (ﷻ), grant him an understanding of interpretation.” 

31- Truly, history repeats itself. Ever since the time of Ṣaḥāba with Khawārij making takfīr of Imām ʿAlī  Ibn Abi Ṭālib for claiming he does not rule with the Qurʾān and Sunnah, to the time of al-Suyūṭī and our time now where the same mentality is still found in many illiterate laymen on social media.

32- What al-Suyūṭī intends by showcasing all of these narrations (and onwards too for the other  Madhāhib) is not to highlight that the Madhāhib neglect ḥadīth and disapprove of it. That is far  from the truth. What al-Suyūṭī intends to show is that one ḥadīth is not conclusive enough to extract rulings from. The responsibility of a Mujtahid Imām is to look in the wider corpus of  available legal proofs (Qurʾān, ḥadīth, qiyas, consensus, practice etc…) and extract a final ruling  from that. It is the case that sometimes proofs contradict each other, so the proof with the highest  foundation and reliability (which is a matter determined by the Mujtahid too) takes precedence. For this reason, we insist that jurisdiction is a very complicated matter and those who nauseate us with their ‘Bring me the Qurʾān wa-l-Sunnah!’ are completely clueless on the Sharīʿah. What has been said may be difficult to conceptualize at first, so to provide a practical example: 

It is well-known in the Shāfiʿī madhhab that both the Imām and those who pray behind him are  obliged to read al-Fatiha. We consider the strongest available evidence for this to be the ḥadīth

ʿUbada b. as-Samit reported God’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying, “He who does not recite the Fātiḥah is not credited with having observed the prayer.” 

This ḥadīth is contradicted by other evidence, such as the authentic ḥadīth that “There should be no  recital along with the Imām in anything.” 

The Shāfiʿī scholars considered this ḥadīth to be less authoritative in establishing the ruling than  the previous ḥadīth. ‘How?’ is too long to speak about here, for the sake of brevity. Examples of  factors that would be considered though might be the actions of the Companions, corroborating  narrations, strength of narrators, compatibility with other proofs and many more.. 

It should be noted that in discussion of Fiqh when we speak of two ḥadīths contradicting each  other the scholars do not intend that real contradictions exist. They intend that two ḥadīths may apparently contradict in the mind of the reader, but the contradiction is resolved after  investigation (contradictions are sometimes simple misunderstandings of a ḥadīth’s context for  example, or a misunderstanding of the wording, etc…).  

33- An example of an individual in our modern age who is neither a physician nor a pharmacist  would be al-Albānī whose arguments on the La-Madhabiyyah were refuted by al-Shaykh al-Būṭī. 

34- An excellent book on this topic for further reading would be “The Influence Of The Noble ḥadīth Upon The Differences Of Opinions Amongst The Jurist  Imāms” by Shaykh Muḥammad ʿAwwāmah.

End of commentary.

(Appendix 1) On the objection: “The Prophet (ﷺ) or sahaba did not practice x, hence x is forbidden.”

This objection, quoted most often by people with no knowledge of Sharīʿah, is a completely fruitless  and shallow objection. Scholars and students of knowledge who study uṣūl al-fiqh realize this fact already, and this is why you will never see this objection found in books of Fiqh (and if you see  anyone quoting this as a legitimate objection to a law then you should stay away from them). 

In fact, looking into the books of uṣūl, we see that most books have no section dedicated to the  non-action of the Prophet (ﷺ). Simply because they don’t even believe it is a reasonable objection to give attention to from the first place. 

Al-Tarku laysa bi-Ḥujja”.. “Nonpractice (non-deliberate) is not evidence is an axiom accepted by most, if not all, Fuqaha of the Ahl al-Sunnah. 

The non-practice of the Prophet (ﷺ) from something is a non-action, and as long as it is not a deliberate  abstinence then negatives are inconclusive. The use of a negative (i.e non presence of something,  like an action) to signify the prohibition of an act is an invalid source of legal inference in Usul. As  the Prophet (ﷺ) can perform a permissible action or leave it and neither would signify a prohibition. 

An ample number of sources: See al-Manthūr by al-Zarkashī 1/284, al-Taqrīr wa-l-Tahbīr by  Ibn Amīr 2/82, al-Mustaṣfā by al-Ghazalī 1/274, Sharh al-Maʿani wa-l-Āthār by al-Ṭaḥāwī 1/389, al-Mughnī by Ibn Qudamah 1/104, Iḥkām al-Ahkam by Ibn Daqīq 1/225, Fatḥ al-Bārī by Ibn Ḥajar in  quotation of several scholars 10/155, 9/13. 

(Appendix 2) On laymen asking scholars for proof being disrespectful and unneeded: 

This is an excerpt from “The Etiquettes of the Scholar and the Learner” which is a translation of  the introduction to al-Nawawī’s Kitāb al-Majmūʾ.  

“The layperson should not demand that the muftī provide evidence. He should not say, ‘Why have  you said this?’ If he wants to put himself at ease by hearing the proof then he should ask for it in  another gathering, or in the same gathering but after accepting the fatwā as it is.” Al-Samʿānī said,  “One is not prohibited from asking for evidence, and it is incumbent upon the muftī to mention  the evidence if the matter is decisive and settled.” It is not incumbent upon him if the matter is  not decisive and settled, because this would require him to discuss his ijtihād and this would be  difficult for the layperson to understand.

Refer to this useful article as well (click here), which elaborates on the obligation of taqlīd.

(Appendix 3) The war over terminology – Following (Ittibāʿ): 

A post by Dr. Saif al-Asri about the alleged third position between Ijtihād and Taqlīd

Those that oppose/avoid the Taqlīd (direct following and imitation) of the scholars of the islamic sciences, and approach Ijtihād (extraction of rulings directly from textual sources) without being  properly qualified, once you object to the path they have taken, and criticize their approach, they say, “Even if we have not reached the [level and rank of being able to do] Ijtihād, we are [still]  distinguishing/critical follower, outside of the realm of Taqlīd, and people are split into three levels:  Mujtahid [person capable of doing Ijtihād], muttabiʿ [person who does ittibāʿ], and Muqallid  [person who does Taqlīd]”! 

Some people have conceptions and areas of knowledge that have  caused them to rise above the bottom-most level of Taqlīd, without taking him into the high place  of Ijtihād, and this category can be considered as a third level between Ijtihād and Taqlīd. 

However, with regards to the building of legal rulings based on evidences, this third category  disappears, and its inhabitants fall back to either one of the two categories (Ijtihād or Taqlīd), since  the muttabiʿ (follower), if the conditions for Ijtihād are present in him, is then a Mujtahid, and if  he has failed in acquiring a condition or more from the conditions for Ijtihād, even if he is a scholar  with deep knowledge, then he is a Muqallid. And due to this, the scholars of Usūl [bases and  evidence which lay out how evidence is to be used in extracting rulings], had agreed on the dual categorization, rather than the triple-categorization. And ponder with me over two clear  quotations from two great scholars: 

The first, al-Āmidī said in al-Iḥkām Fī Uṣūl al-Aḥkām (4/228): (Whoever does not have the  qualifications to do Ijtihād, even if he has acquired some areas of knowledge that are recognized  in [being qualified for] Ijtihād, is required to follow the opinions of the Mujtahidīn [sg. Mujtahid]  and accepting their religious verdicts [i.e., Taqlīd]). 

The second—from the speech of ash-Shāṭibī in al-Muwāfaqāt (5/44), when speaking about the  scholar who has not fulfilled all the conditions of Ijtihād: (And if a person is capable of extracting  rulings, while this Mujtahid is like this with regards to other [required] fields of knowledge [i.e.,  needing to ask experts in those fields about them], then he comes under the second category [i.e.,  able to look over these fields, without being a Mujtahid in them], or else, this is [a] nonexistent  [case of Ijtihād]). 

And, accordingly, the knowledge attained by the one who has not fulfilled all the conditions of  Ijtihād is not considered or relied upon in the realm of constructing rulings, since, even though this  level [of knowledge] gives him personal surety [of his choices], it does not reach the level of being  considered following rules in Islamic studies, and the guidelines of understanding [information],  and the conditions of acquiring proper understandings from textual evidences.

And the Ḥāfiẓ [expert in ḥadīth with an encompassing view of narrations and opinions] Ibn as Salāh had found a way out of the discomfort that this group feels when following their legal school  [seemingly] against a legal evidence, in their view, and this way out can be organized as follows: 

First: it is not permissible to act upon the ḥadīth/legal evidence in following what they [i.e.,  members of this group] had concluded, due to lacking the qualifications, and scriptural texts are  protected from rejected guesses. 

Second: he has to look for an Imām besides his, who had [also] reached the qualifications for  Ijtihād, and if he finds someone from the Mujtahids who followed this evidence, he follows him. 

Thus, he moves from one form of taqlīd to another. Imām Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ, who had brought together  ḥadīth and Fiqh, in his Fatāwã (1/58): (Whoever finds from the Shāfiʿīs [or any other school] a  ḥadīth that goes against [the legal ruling of] his legal school, then he observes: if he has acquired  all the required fields of Ijtihād, either out-right, or in this specific chapter, or in this specific matter,  as was previously explained, is allowed to independently follow this ḥadīth. And if he did not  acquire all such fields, and finds in his heart some burning/pain from going against the ḥadīth,  after having searched [widely], and not finding any fulfilling answer to [justify] his going against it,  then he may look to see if this ḥadīth was followed by any independent Imām/jurist [i.e., a  Mujtahid], and if he finds one, then he can follow his opinion in following this ḥadīth, with a proper  excuse in leaving the position of his [original] Imām in this matter, and true knowledge is with Allāh (ﷻ)  – the Transcendent and Exalted. 

(Appendix 4) On the misuse of the quote “When a ḥadīth is ṣaḥīḥ, then it is my Madhhab” to justify laymen Ijtihād

Al-Nawawī explains the statement “If the ḥadīth is authentic, it is my madhhab” (idhā ṣaḥḥa al ḥadīth fa-huwa madhhabī) in Kitāb al-Majmūʾ.  

“Al-Shāfiʿī’s statement does not mean that anyone who encounters an authentic ḥadīth could then  say that this is the madhhab of al-Shāfiʿī and act according to its superficial meaning. Instead, this  statement is (only) directed toward the one who has attained the level of ijtihād in the madhhab  according to what was previously mentioned of the Mujtahidʾs attributes, or something close to it.  The condition is that he be most certain that al-Shāfiʿī did not encounter that ḥadīth or  was unaware of its authenticity. This can only be determined after reviewing all of al-Shāfiʿīʾs books  as well as the books of those who learned from him and so on. This condition is difficult and those  who meet it are few. This condition was placed because al-Shāfiʿī abandoned acting on the  superficial meaning of many ḥadīth which he saw and knew. However, the evidence he had led  him to criticize it, or consider it abrogated, specific, or he interpreted it, etc.”

(Appendix 5) Imām Ibn Rajab speaks of the importance of having a scholarly class:

It became common for someone to speak without knowledge or claim it for himself while not being  qualified. If the state of the earlier times—where everyone gave rulings according to what  appeared to him to be the truth—had continued in the later times, it is inevitable that there would  be no order in the religion, and the lawful would have become prohibited and the prohibited  lawful. Everyone would have said what they wanted, and our religion would have become like the  ‘aqīdah of the people of the two books before ours [the Jews and Christians]. 

So it is the wisdom of Allāh (ﷻ) Most High that [He] set the religion and protected it and appointed  Imāms for the people: Imāms among the scholars of juridical opinion and ḥadīth, whose  knowledge, understanding, and arriving at the furthest goals in the ranks of knowledge of rulings  and legal verdicts, are [all] agreed-upon. People came to rely upon them for legal verdicts and to  refer to them for knowing judgments. Allāh (ﷻ) raised people who corrected their schools and  formulated their principles until each Imām’s methodology in jurisprudence, basic principles, and  details were established; until the rulings were traced back to the basic principles concerning the issues of the lawful and the prohibited were established. 

This is among Allāh’s (ﷻ) gentle kindness toward His (ﷻ) believing slaves, and among the mass of His (ﷻ) customary laws in preserving this religion. If not for this, people would have seen the wonder of  wonders: every imbecile, hotheaded, insolent, sham who was impressed with his opinion would  claim that he is the greatest of all Imāms, that he is the one to guide the community, that people  should turn only to him, and that no one else should be relied upon. 

End of excerpt from: “Refutation of Those Who Do Not Follow the Four Schools of Thought.” Translated by Shaykh Musa Furber. 

Refer to this article by Shaykh Nuh Keller as well: Why Muslims follow Madhhabs?

(Appendix 6) Imām al-Ḥaramayn on the obligation of adhering to the madhāhib:

Imam al-Juwayni (RA) said: “There is an agreement between the muḥaqqiqūn (researchers/verifiers) that the ordinary/common muslims should not adhere [directly] to the madhhab of any particular Ṣaḥābī. Rather, it is necessary for them to follow the madhāhib of the Imāms who researched, analyzed, formulated chapters, mentioned issues that clarify and were exposed to the madhāhib of their predecessors. The reason for this is that the predecessors, despite the fact that they are an example in religion and an example to the Muslims, did not keep themselves busy in the codification of the paths of ijtihād and clarifying the ways of considerations and arguments. While the Imāms of fiqh, who came after them, have sufficiently looked into the madhāhib of the Ṣaḥāba, and thus the general public was ordered to follow these madhāhib of those who have researched.” [Source here]

Sh. ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Ḥanafī, furthermore, inquires those who pose the question as to why fiqh cannot be taken directly from the Companions, as to why they do not take knowledge of Arabic grammar directly from al-Aṣmaʿī, Abī ʿAmr ibn al-ʿAlāʾ, or Khalīl ibn Aḥmad, but rather turn to the Baṣrans and Sībawayh, or turn directly to the Companions from the Quraysh, when it is known that they spoke in a clear Arabic tongue? He affirms that while the Companions are worthy of being followed, it is not possible for a layman to determine which Companion should be followed in a particular situation, given that they have had disagreements. And nor is it the case that anyone other than scholars belonging to the madhāhib compiled and transmitted their statements and positions. It is not the case that these scholars formulated their schools independently, but rather that their schools are merely codifications of the schools of the Companions. Abū Ḥanīfa, for example, relied on the school of Ibn Masʿūd, who had accompanied the Prophet (ﷺ) for 23 years, as well as ʿUmar bin al-Khaṭṭāb and ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib, to varying degrees. Mālik, on the other hand, had relied upon Nāfiʿ, who had been the emancipated slave of ʿAbd-Allāh bin ʿUmar, Ubayy ibn Kaʿab and ʿAbd-Allāh ibn ʿAbbās, to some degree. Even among the Companions, there were those who, in cases, issued incredibly lenient or aberrant opinions. The madhāhib, instead of pushing aside their fiqh, standardized it and refined it so it could evolve and adapt to subsequent generational changes.

The end, and God knows best. 

والحمد الله رب العالمين وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد، ورحمة هللا على شيخنا عليش المالكي وجميع الصالحين

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