#Article (Archive)

Religious Variety: The case of convergence (Part 2)

Apr 29, 2011, 3:36 PM

A concept that has continually found deeper roots as the result of the following items:

1. The main source of ijtihad is the Quran and the traditions of the noble Prophet (s). It is evident that the Shariah and, in general, all Islamic beliefs have not been presented in the form of universally understandable statements and formulas; rather, the totality of the corpora pertaining to the Shariah has been presented in such a manner that exhaustive and fundamental collation and the inference is called for, necessitating a comprehensive body of preliminary knowledge and extensive scholarly investigation.

2. The more we are distanced from the historic periods in which these texts were originated, the more we have need for such endeavours, i.e. ijtihad, not only in magnitude but also in variety. the reasons for this are that a great deal of hadiths, not to mention the contexts, co-texts, and related texts that must be considered with them in tandem, have been lost; the circumstances surrounding the presentation of various Islamic texts (both the Quran and hadith) have been forgotten; changes have been introduced in the manner of their expression; mistakes and blunders may have been made; and finally, the detrimental role of maleficent individuals must also be considered.

3. Significant changes in lifestyle, complexities in desiderata, varieties of bonds and relations, and modern issues which are not explicitly dealt with in religious texts all necessitate that corresponding rules be derived from general laws, subordinate principles, or practical truths- all of which are subsumed within ijtihad and serve the function of resolving doubt and irresolution.

4. Humanity is in need of specialists that specifically enquire into various branches of Islamic studies and guide the process of coordinating Islam and its rulings with the various aspects of life by integrating the doctrinal, emotional, and behavioral positions of Islam into an integrated whole. This is a sine qua non for conclusive arbitration in matter of controversy which is requisite for total effectuation of Islamic decrees. Thus, the issue of ijtihad was introduced and emphasized by he ulama’ (i.e. Islamic scholars) while, on the other hand, the opponents of Islam, who fully understand the role of ijtihad in the flexibility of Islam and the preservation of the Ummah have mounted a crusade against ijtihad under the pretext of denying the ulama’ domination over society.


Naturally, ijtihad can also involve harm brought about by the subjectivity of the mujtahid (i.e. Islamic jurist). This subjectivity is inherent in the process of ijtihad as a result of the mujtahid’s background, perspectives, predilections, and beliefs. Thus, the procedures (and hence the results) can differ for any two individuals that perform ijtihad on a particular topic using the same text. In other words, despite the fact that all the texts represent a singular truth and unique decree in accordance to Divine Knowledge, subjectivity affects the process and results of ijtihad. Even so, it is incumbent upon each mujtahid and their respective followers to act in accordance with the results of the jurist’s ijtihad.

It is for this reason that in Islamic thought the results of this process cannot be considered actual Islam in an absolute sense, so as to deny the possibility of having any further say in the matter. However, under no circumstances does this issue pertain to cases where the text possesses conclusive credentials and indisputable signification since in these cases no ijtihad occurs. Ijtihad is only germane to instances of doubt where the matter in question deviates from the path of certainty.

The damage of subjectivity escalates when the procedure of ijtihad goes beyond personal decrees and enters into the area of general Islamic beliefs and doctrine. Shahid Muhammad Baqir Sadr (r) considered this phenomenon to stem from several pitfalls the most important of which are:

1.         Uniformed interpretation of existing circumstances and prevailing truths by mujtahid;

2.         Confining the text to a particular framework;

3.         Abstraction of canonical rationales form their conditions and context;

4.         Prejudgment about the text (Sadr, 1990:82).

The point on which doubters of Islamic thought and gainsayers of ijtihad support their refutations and on which they advocate its abolishment from human life is that it delves into the domain of the profane and fallible. As has been previously indicated, some sacred areas of Islamic study are immune to the contravention of transgressors and those with inimical intentions. Moreover, in areas of doubt there are cases where incontrovertible rationales-such as hujjiyat-e zuhur (effectivity of the manifest)-leas the way to truth. On the whole, vast expanses of Islamic study are thus made secure against encroachment from all possible angles. This can be seen in the fact that in many cases of doubt-in view of the ineluctable nature of the exercise of ijtihad as a natural system for interpreting law or religious texts- the ulama’ pursue the method of caution so as to mitigate as much as possible any harm that might be caused by their subjectivity.

As a result, the science of Usul-e Fiqh (jurisprudential fundamentals) has been developed comprising meticulously detailed instructions and parameters. This science systematizes the ijtihad procedure using the following mechanisms:

a. Discourses on conclusive rationales in matter of shariah. These include verbal rationale such as comprehensive discourses on origin, verbal expression, signification, hujjiyat-e zuhur, and the real-world instances of each, as well as logical rationale such as the relations between decrees, the relations between decrees and their real-world instances, and the preludes and results of each.

b. Canonical principles with the purpose of solving problems in cases where there are no conclusive rationales including “Sufficiency of Cursory Knowledge” or “Istishab.

c.Comprehensive discourses regarding contradictions among rationales.

After discourses in jurisprudential fundamentals, diverse highly methodical juristic discourses are considered. Because of their potential effect on the process of inferring religious commandments, some of the ulama’ fittingly appended the necessity to consider goals defined by the shariah to the aforementioned items. Equally, a series of general, incontrovertible Islamic principles such as realism, innateness, balance, comprehensiveness, eternality, finality, moderateness, coherence of decrees as a whole, and universality may also be included among these items.


It is self-evident that at the time of the holy Prophet (s), since he directly received the religious concepts and commandments form God, there was little need for ijtihad, though some of the Sahabah (Companions of the Prophet (s) advanced various ijtihads which the Prophet (s) corroborated.

In that period, differences were simple. However, after expansion of the Islamic territory, the Verse of Nafr (emigration; cited bellow) was revealed which formulated the basis of ijtihad and the credibility of khabar-e wahid (i.e. singular narrations). God Almighty declares:

Yet it is not for the faithful to go forth en masse. But why should not there go forth a group from each of their sections to become learned in religion, and warn their people when they return to them, so that they may beware? (9:122)

It was, however, natural for the trend of ijtihad to increase after the passing of the holy Prophet (s). In the era of the Tabi’in this (i.e. those who are next to the Companions) trend escalated to such heights that various Islamic schools with distinctive characteristics emerged.

Sais (n.d.:94) ventured the opinion that in the period from the start of the second century of the middle of the fourth century of the Hijra (lunar reckoning) the world of Islam was witness to 134 jurisprudential schools such that many cities possessed their own distinct school. Asad Haydar (1990:160), however, considered the number of these schools to have been in excess of fifty.

To be continued.