Who is entitled to be asked by the layman?

(Part 7)

2.    Who is entitled to be asked by the layman?

If a layman falls into a situation and wants to know the Islamic ruling regarding it by asking someone, he must be aware that not every individual is qualified to be asked such questions. Rather there are specific conditions which must be fulfilled in order to qualify to be asked. From amongst these conditions: He must have knowledge of the evidences of the shari’ah in general and in detail. He also must be capable of applying the principles of usul to the evidences. However, there still remains a pertinent question: how can a layman know whether the person he asks has met all the conditions of ijtihad?

The scholars have mentioned a number of ways how the layman can know that:

  1. 1.    The layman may have known from before that the person he asked was known for his knowledge and integrity.
  2. 2.    The one asked could hold an official position of giving fatwa or teaching as well as being generally respected by people. This is all an indication of his competence to issue verdicts. This is especially true if the layman knew that nobody holds such an official position unless they are a mujtahid, otherwise they would not hold such a position.
  3. 3.    A person of integrity and experience could inform the layman about the scholar’s competence.
  4. 4.    It could be the case that it is widely accepted that the scholar is qualified to issue verdicts.
  5. 5.    Referring back to scholars regarding his statements and verdicts.

If the layman does not know whether the person he asks is qualified to do ijtihad, then he should not be asked. In addition to that, the layman must feel contentment and feel assured that the fatwa he is given is in accordance with the ruling of Allah (swt).[1]


3.      Adhering to the fatwa of a mujtahid.

If a layman acted upon a fatwa that was issued to him by a mujtahid regarding a particular circumstance, it is binding upon him to continue acting upon it. In addition to that, it is not permissible for him to go back on the fatwa for another fatwa in that issue. A consensus has been reported regarding this[2] unless the layman knew that the fatwa opposed the shar’i evidences.

If the layman however did not act upon the fatwa of the mujtahid, then it is not binding upon him to adhere to it, unless he believed it to be in accordance with the ruling of Allah (swt) in that issue. In such a situation it will be compulsory for him to act in accordance to that fatwa.[3]

4. What the layman should do if the mujtahid he initially asked changed his opinion.

What should a layman do if a mujtahid issued a verdict regarding a matter to him and then changed his opinion? Should the layman remain upon the original fatwa or should be act in accordance with the new ijtihad? In such a case, he will fall into one of two situations:

  1. Either he had acted upon the original ijtihad, which would imply the permissibility for him to remain upon the initial ruling and it not being compulsory to act according to the new ijtihad. This is because it is from the established principles that an “ijtihad is not annulled by another ijtihad.” An example of that being if a judge passed a ruling and then changed his opinion thereafter.
  2. Or he had not acted upon the initial ijtihad. In this situation he should act upon the second ijtihad and not the first.[4]


[1] Sharh al Kawkab al Muneer 4/574.

[2] Sharh al Kawkab al Muneer 4/579, Tayseer at-Tahreer 4/53.

[3] Ibid 4/580.

[4] Ibid. 4/512.

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