5. What should the layman do when the scholars he asks differ?

 

(This part of an ongoing translation of Sheikh Shithrī’s treatise pertaining laws and principles for the non-Mujtahid).

(Part 8)

If a layman asks a group of scholars a question and their answers differ from one another, it becomes incumbent upon his to give preference to one of the opinions based upon the righteousness and scrupulousness of the scholar. This is because there is no other distinguishing way to choose between the variant opinions and also because it is more likely that the more righteous and scrupulous scholar is, the more likely he will be correct. Therefore it is not permissible for him to go against what he thinks is most likely to be correct.

Also, one of the two opinions is bound to be incorrect since the truth will always lie in only one of the opinions. Therefore, when there is a conflict of views the layman must adopt an opinion that is more likely to be correct in accordance to the righteousness and scrupulousness of the scholar just as the mujtahid must choose the strongest of two evidences.

The layman is required to follow the law of Allāh (swt) and it is not possible for him to know what the law of Allāh (swt) is unless he knows the statement of the scholars. Therefore, if he comes across a variety of different opinions, he must act in accordance to what he thinks is the law of Allāh (swt), whether that be due to the great number of scholars that adopt a particular opinion or due to the virtue and righteousness of them or due to the evidence that is available to him.[1]


[1] Sharḥ al Kawkab al Munīr 4/573, al Majmū’ 1/97, al Mustaṣfā 2/391, al Muwāfaqāṭ 4/132.


10 responses to “5. What should the layman do when the scholars he asks differ?

  • Fulaan ibn Fulaan

    Assalamaleikum Wa Rahmatulah

    Also, one of the two opinions is bound to be incorrect since the truth will always lie in only one of the opinions.

    Not convinced by this namely because of the famous hadith of Banu Qurayza:
    It is related that Ibn ‘Umar said, “When the Prophet. may Allah bless him and grant him peace, returned to us from the Battle of the Parties (Ahzab), he said, ‘No one should pray ‘Asr before they get to Banu Qurayza. For some of them ‘Asr became due on the way. Some people said, ‘We will not pray until we get there.’ Others said, ‘No, we should do the prayer. That was not what he meant.’ This was mentioned to the Prophet and he did not rebuke any of them.”

    Because two legitimate completely different of opinion were allowed to mutually coexist – and the Prophet did not indicate preference for either opinion, does this also mean that only one interpretation was correct? If so why did the Prophet not indicate which one?

    Also if we go to the difference between the Shaffis and other over the obligation of wiping over the head – the Shaffis hold that it is three hairs or more minimum (as the interepret the ‘bi’ as being for ba’d or part of), whilst the other says wiping the entire head is required (as they say the ‘bi’ is for tawqeed or emphasis) – where do we end up?

    We can combine the two opinions and say that it is safest to follow the wiping the entire head opinion – but that does not answer the question of which is correct, or to paraphrase ‘the truth’ – and nor do I think an answer can be acheived for the question – nor to be honest do I think it is that important.

    We will be questioned on what we understood to be the truth, what we understood to be correct to after striving to understand to the best of our abilities, and if we strive and fall short after exerting our best efforts – will we be held to account about this failing?
    After all we are told that Allah will not task us with more than we can bear.

    Following the scholar whom you find more righteousness and scrupulousness is a good guide – but sometimes the one who is more righteousness and scrupulousness may be significantly less knowledgeable about the reality of the issue in question – so is it more than a good general rule of thumb?

    For example one teacher of mine will give people the Maliki ruling for kaffarah for voided fasts during Ramadan due to marital relations, even though he is Shaffi (the Malikis allows choice between the kafaarah, not ordering due to inability to complete the each level i.e. 60 days fasting or feeding 60 ppl, etc not 60 days fasting then if you are incapable feeding 60 ppl.)

    He gives the Maliki ruling as he believes both are valid and correct opinions and the Maliki ruling is easier for the person to perform – also as kaffarah is a ni’mah (blessing) from Allah it allows the believer to obtain that blessing easier) – is that incorrect, and is their only one correct opinion?

    WS

    Fulaan

  • abuqutaybah

    Jazākallāhu Khairan for the reply.

    The ṣahābah who chose the opinion that entitled them to a reward where rewarded for their intention to adopt the correct opinion and for striving to understand the meaning of the Prophet’s (saw) words and not for following the opinion they chose. Imām ash-Shāfiʿī explicitly stated this. Also, Ibn Ḥajar mentions in fatḥ the following about the incident: “Using this incident as evidence that ‘every mujtahid is correct’ in absolute terms is not clear (lasya bi-wāḍiḥ [i.e. this incident cannot really be used to justify such a principle]) since the ḥadīth just mentions that the Prophet (saw) did not condemn them for striving to determine the truth. We therefore learn that they were not in sin only.”

    If we consider that one of the opinions was wrong it does not mean it has to be condemned since no wrong action was undertaken by the companions as they tried their hardest to reach the correct opinion so they were not at fault and therefore it cannot be said that multiple truths lie with Allāh (swt). Besides, the matter was that of tazāḥum al aḥkām (conflict of rulings) and not a conflict of adillah. Also, this view (multiplicity of truths) is a view championed by the mutakilliūm and not the salaf.

    Also, by stating that the other opinions that one does not adopt to be wrong doesn’t mean that there is no space to accomadate other opinions since one is only obliged to follow what he deems to be correct. Imām ash-Shāfiʿī said: “The opinion we chose is correct with the possibility of error and the views of others is incorrect with the possibility of being correct.”
    It is also clearly documented that the companions used to consider other companions mistaken and wrong in fiqhi issues but they would be tolerant with them.

    Imām ash-Shawkāni said about this issue: “And what a disgraceful thing to say that the ruling of Allāh (swt) is as numerous as the rulings of the mujtahidīn. Such a statement – whilst being at odds with adab with Allāh and His pure sharīʿah – is based upon mere raʾī and has no evidence for it, nor is such a view supported by any argument that is accepted by sound intellect. It also goes against the consensus of the ummah; from the salaf as well as khalaf. The companions and those that came after them, generation after generation continued declare as incorrect those who opposed their ijtihād (this does not mean though that they did not accept others adopting that opinion and show tolerance towards it: mine)…” Irshād al Fuḥūl.

    Unfortunately, this issue has become the backbone for what I believe to be a new approach to fiqh at-taysīr, which is evident in the example of kaffārah you gave. But that’s another issue altogether ☺
    Try and read up on this:

    Al Manhaj al Farīd fīl Ijtihād wat-Taqlīd by Dr. Wamīṣ al ʿUmari (dar an-Nafāʾis) and Manhaj at-Taysīr al Muʿāṣir (MA thesis) by ʿAbdullah aṭ-Ṭawīl (Dār al Hadiyy al Nabawiyy).

    • Yousef Shanawany

      “Using this incident as evidence that ‘every mujtahid is correct’ in absolute terms is not clear (lasya bi-wāḍiḥ [i.e. this incident cannot really be used to justify such a principle]) since the ḥadīth just mentions that the Prophet (saw) did not condemn them for striving to determine the truth. We therefore learn that they were not in sin only.”

      Where did Ibn Hajr say this?

      • abuqutaybah

        ثُمَّ الِاسْتِدْلَالُ بِهَذِهِ الْقِصَّةِ عَلَى أَنَّ كُلَّ مُجْتَهِدٍ مُصِيبٌ عَلَى الْإِطْلَاق لَيْسَ بِوَاضِحٍ وَإِنَّمَا فِيهِ تَرْكُ تَعْنِيفِ مَنْ بَذَلَ وُسْعَهُ وَاجْتَهَدَ فَيُسْتَفَادُ مِنْهُ عَدَمُ تَأْثِيمِهِ

        Fath al Bari (7/410/411)

      • Yousef Shanawany

        Thank you very much. May Allaah reward you. Where can I get a copy of Fath al-Baari?

  • Fulaan ibn Fulaan

    Barakhalfeekhum for eludicating this issue; as for your comment about multiplicity of truth being an idea advanced by the mutakallimeen and not the salaf – what can I say, you know where I am studying, and it is not Hanbali usul that we are covering 🙂

    But to be succint, what your reply essentially states is that ascertaining the absolute truth for an opinion is actually irrelevant for purposes of punishment and reward; and being certain that you on the absolutely truth for an issue is impossible whence there is a multiplicity of differing opinions – according to what Imam Shaffi said.

    Let us restrict ourselves to the case where there is agreement on the actual evidences and the difference in opinion is due to differing understanding of the evidences leading to say 4 different conclusions – let’s for clarity of example make it some of the rukns of wudu between the four different madhabs, we have the madhabs differing on:
    – whether the washings need to be in order or not and
    – whether bodily part must still be wet when you start to wash the next bodily part.

    Let us say:-
    opinion A is order required, wetness required.
    opinion B is order NOT required, wetness required.
    opinion C is order required, wetness NOT required.
    opinion D is order NOT required, wetness NOT required

    Now whilst is is clear that opinion A is the safest as it will guarantee that you fulfill the rukns according to all four opinions it does not necessitate that it is the absolute truth.

    But as the same point from what you have stated, the absolute truth is irrelevant in terms of reward (beyond the additional reward given to the mujtahid who correctly found the correct opinion), as the slave will be rewarded according to them striving to ascertain the truth to the best of their abilities and following it – even if they are incorrect.

    Another further problem arises – which is the other reason for fiqh at-tayseer which is beyond simple multiplicity of truths, and that is that the person can not decide which opinion is actually correct as the reasoning for two or say all of the opinions in compelling, for example the linguisitic interpretation of ‘bi’ which I mentioned before wrt wiping.

    You look at both opinions and have no clue as to which is more correct as they are equally weighted to you; so someone comes to you and says I have only being wiping part of my head for wudu for the last 10 years, has my wudu been valid? Do I need to repeat my prayers?

    You could confuse him and answer according to the Shaffi opinion you are fine but according to the Malikis you are not, or you could refer him to a Shaffi mufti who would give him a suitable (for his situation) ruling, or you could say better to be safer than sorry and repeat the last ten years of prayer!

    So in practical terms – does the singularity of the absolute truth for a fiqh opinion change the way rulings are done or fatwa is given?
    As let’s face it most mufti believes that he is correct (and on the absolute truth) and everyone else is mistaken 🙂

    Regardless -as we stated the prescription that you follow the mufti
    whom you think is the most scrupulous and cautious is a good one
    as it is better to be aslam (more safe) than ahkam (more precise.)

    I’ll try and get hold of the books you mentioned inshallah, though it may be problematic depending on the publishers.

  • asim khan

    …”because it is more likely that the more righteous and scrupulous scholar is, the more likely he will be correct.”

    Should read “because it is more likely that the more righteous and scrupulous A scholar is, the more likely he IS to be correct.” Sah?

    • abuqutaybah

      Jazākallāhu khairan,

      I would like someone to proofread the translations. Would you be interested Asim?

      • Asim

        As they say in the cooperate world, ‘the customers always right- they just have to lay for it!’

        Lol. I’m kidding. Inshallah I can try when time permits.

  • Abu Ibrahim

    Salam alaykum

    Extremely beneficial: JazakAllahu khair

    Still a bit confused:

    If there are conflicting opinions what should be the order:

    Check to see which opinion is adopted by the majority; if that can’t be determined then look at the “righteousness and scrupulousness” of the muftis and if that’s a wash then follow what he thinks is the correct opinion?

    Also, can you explain this quote: “…whether that be due to the great number of scholars that adopt a particular opinion”.

    Does it mean great number of contemporary scholars? Or historically? For example, we know great number of scholars don’t agree that hands should be placed on the chest? Would it be ok to abandon this position even though contemporary scholars who are trusted like ibn Baaz, al-Uthaymeen, and al-Albani say it should be placed on the chest?

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