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Friday, September 01, 2006

Consensus of Muslim Scholars

Ijma or the consensus of scholars signifies the importance of delegated legislation to the Muslim community. The Muslim society requires such a rule making power to meet the practical problems for implementation of Islamic Shariah (Islamic Law). Ijma has been technically defined as the consensus of the jurists of a certain period over a religious matter. Ijma is considered a sufficient evidence for action because the Prophet of Islam said, "Muslim (majority or main body) will never agree on a wrong mailer". The basis for scholarly consensus being a source of law is the Qur’anic command to resolve matters by consultation, as God stated, “Those who answer the call of their Lord, established prayer, and whose affairs are by consultation.” (42: 38). As such, the agreement of the scholars of Islam on any religious matter is a source of law in Islam

During the life time of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his companion might ask him directly about the rule on various matters if they dont find it in the Quran. Likewise, if they dont understand the correct meaning or the interpretation of a Qurnic verses, Prophet's explanation could be sought. But after the death of the prophet, in situations when Muslims have not been able to find a specific legal ruling in the Qur'an or Sunnah, the consensus of the community is sought.

Scholarly consensus is defined as being the agreement of all Muslim scholars at the level of juristic reasoning (ijtihad) in one age on a given legal ruling. Given the condition that all such scholars have to agree to the ruling, its scope is limited to matters that are clear according to the Qur’an and Prophetic example, upon which such consensus must necessarily be based.

Imam al-Shafi`i defines the ijma` thus in his 'Risala' (The masterpiece of Imam Shafi'i):

The adherence of the congregation (jama`a) of Muslims to the conclusions of a given ruling pertaining to what is permitted and what is forbidden after the passing of the Prophet, Peace be upon him.

By "congregation of Muslims" he actually means the experts of independent reasoning (ahl al-ijtihad) and legal answers in the obscure matters which require insight and investigation, as well as the agreement of the Community of Muslims concerning what is obligatorily known of the religion with its decisive proofs.

Shafi`i continues (Risala p. 253): "The Prophet's order that men should follow the Muslim community is a proof that the Ijma` of the Muslims is binding." Later on (p. 286) he quotes the hadith whereby the Prophet said: "Believe my Companions, then those who succeed them, and after that those who succeed the Successors. But after them falsehood will prevail when people will swear to the truth without having been asked to swear, and testify without having been asked to testify. Only those who seek the pleasures of Paradise will keep to the Congregation..." Shafi`i comments: "He who holds what the Muslim Congregation (jama`a) holds shall be regarded as following the Congregation, and he who holds differently shall be regarded as opposing the Congregation he was ordered to follow. So the error comes from separation; but in the Congregation as a whole there is no error concerning the meaning of the Qur'an, the Sunna, and analogy (qiyas)."

TEXTS ON IJMA` :

1. Fa`tasimu bi hablillahi jami`an wa la tafarraqu
"Hold fast to the rope of Allah, all of you, and do not split into

factions" (3:103).


2. `Alaykum bi al-jama`a fa innallaha la yajma`u ummata Muhammadin `ala dalala
"You have to follow the congregation for verily Allah will not make the largest group of Muhammad's community agree on error."

3. Man arada minkum bi habuhat al-jannati fal yulzim al-jama`at
"Whoever among you wants to be in the middle of Paradise, let him cling to the congregation."

4. Kana al-nasu yas'aluna Rasulallahi `an al-khayr wa kuntu as'aluhu `an al-sharr...qultu ya rasulallahi sifhum lana [ayy al-du`at `ala abwabi jahannam] qala hum min jildatina wa yatakallamuna bi alsinatina qultu fa ma ta'murni in adrakani dhalik al-yawm? qala tulzim jama`at al-muslimin wa imamahum
"People used to ask the Prophet about the good and I used to ask him about the evil... I said: O Messenger of Allah, describe them to us [the callers at the door of the fire]. He said: They are of our complexion and they speak our very language. I said: What do you order me to do if that day reaches me? He said: You must keep to the congregation of Muslims and to their leader."

5. Yadu Allah `ala al-jama`a
"Allah's hand is over the group."

al-Munawi said: "Allah's hand is over the group means His protection and preservation for them, signifying that the collectivity of the people of Islam are in Allah's fold, so be also in Allah's shelter, in the midst of them, and do not separate yourselves from them. Whoever diverges from the overwhelming majority concerning what is lawful and unlawful and on which the Community does not differ has slipped off the path of guidance and this will lead him to hell."


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Questions

1. What is the definition of Ijma'/Scholarly Consensus ?
2. Is muslim bound to the scholarly consensus? Why?
3. What is the basis for scholarly consensus being a source of law?

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