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The voice of unity - Part IV: The methods of obtaining knowledge and eradicating dispute

Nov 16, 2012, 10:52 AM

Third Method-Deep Understanding (tafaqquh):

There is another statement in the Quran which is the most famous statement regarding jurisprudence and ijtihad. This is the issue of ‘deep understanding,’ or ‘comprehensive learning’ (tafaqquh). The Quran states:

Yet it is not for 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 to warn their people when they return to them, so that they may beware? (9:122)

Since everyone will not be able to leave their cities and villages to meet the Prophet and learn from him, why does not a small group do this? A group should come to the Prophet or Imam to learn from him and ponder deeply over religion. A full discussion of what is meant by “deep understanding” and its role in jurisprudence is beyond the scope of this present study.  In general, it can be said that the term fiqh is used in the Quran to refer to deep hidden material that man must derive through deep though and understanding. Tafaqquh means thinking very deeply about a matter in order to understand it fully. This is one of the verses which are used to make the argument for the validity of ijithad. (This verse is also used to demonstrate the authority of a single-transmitted tradition). It is said that a group from every society must travel to the center of knowledge and ijithad in order to become a jurisprudent in religious matters; religious matters including religious law, beliefs, ethics, and practices. He should not only become a jurisprudent in religious law; rather he should obtain an insight into religion. He should become a religious authority and a person who has a deep understanding of religion. Then he should return to his society and warn them.

Therefore, another method for seeking knowledge that the Quran issues a command about is this tafaqquh or’ deep understanding.’ The idea of reflecting deeply and comprehensively on religion, even if it entails traveling to obtain such knowledge, has also been mentioned in traditions. It is stated: “A person who dies while seeking knowledge is a martyr.” A person who leaves his hometown for Qum, Najaf, Mashhad, or any other intellectual center and dies on the way is considered a martyr. In my opinion the actions of this person are very valuable and ‘deep understanding’ is closer to ijithad than the other methods that were discussed previously. In fact it can be said that it is not only nearer to ijithad, it is exactly what ijithad is. Doing taqlid, or emulation, of a jurisprudent is very different from this deep understanding of religion and religious laws. If it can be said to be in any way similar, it is but a very weak level of such penetrating thought.

Fourth Method-Giving Ear to All Opinion and Following the Best One

In our opinion, the best verses of the Quran that can be correlated to the issue of ijithad, but are apparently not used by the scholars to prove ijithad are:

As for those who stay clear of the worship of the Reble and turn penitently to Allah, there is good news for them. So give good news to My servants who listen to the speech and follow the best of it. They are the ones whom Allah has guided, and it is they who possess intellect. (39:17-18)

Do these verses not state that there are differences of opinion in religion? Do they not state that there are numerous verses and traditions? Do they not state that there are differing opinions? Do they not state that the best opinion must be followed?

The verse says “the best,” but in what way? It refers to the statement that contains the most prosperity; the one whose argument is stronger; the one which benefits people in general, not in particular; the one which benefits the society more; and the one which is easier. Hence it is this “word” or statement that should be chosen, as it is the one which suits the ease of religion better, for it is said: “I have been sent upon a generous, easy divine code.”

What is clear is that these verses present the fact that there are differences of opinion regarding religious issues. For instance, in certain cases, there are three or four traditions about one issue, or sometimes there is only one tradition, but there are three four opinions about that tradition or issue. Sometimes, the apparent disparity goes back to the Quran and we can note that various verses have been revealed about the “single” issue at hand. The solution that the Quran offers is that the jurisprudents must choose the best opinion when numerous opinions exist.

They must think and ponder; they must decide which opinion has a stronger argument. They must decide which better correlated with the religion and Islamic principles. They must determine which one further benefits Islam and the Islamic Ummah.

The term “best” (ahsan) includes all of these. Therefore, listening to opinions and following the best one is either close to, or exactly the same as, the “ijithad” which is current in Islam. But it must be remembered that the jurisprudents are different from the laymen. According to the traditions and arguments that have been put forward, lay person must do the taqlid of the jurisprudents. This corresponds on the one hand to the normative actions and common sense of rational beings, such as prescribe that the ignorant must follow the people of knowledge, or on the other, to the issue of “Questioning” which was mentioned in a pervious section. Imam ‘Askari (a), in a famous tradition, said: “It is incumbent for the laymen to perform taqlid to one of the jurisprudents, who guard himself, who protects his religion, who opposes his carnal desires, and who is obedient to the commands of his Lord.” This is with regards to the laymen, but what about the jurisprudent? First, the jurisprudent must listen to opposing views, must refer to differing traditions, and must review all of the verses about a certain topic. Then, he must weigh the arguments for and against the issue at hand. After doing this, eventually he will issue a verdict using the method of ijithad. But what does this ijithad entail? It involves effort, or “ijithad’ in choosing the better argument, and consequently, in issuing a verdict in accordance with the better argument. Therefore the verse about “deep understanding” and following the best opinion both prove the validity, rather than the obligation, of ijithad. 

Types of Ijihad

It is an accepted fact that religious matters are divided into two types, certain and uncertain. The former are matters given to certainty, in which there are no difference of opinion; and if one were to differ regarding them, such a person would be considered outside of the fold of Islam. The latter on the other hand are not certain, and are not considered as the “necessities of religion”. They are theoretical matters which are open to discussion. There can differences of opinions about these matters. They are supported by various arguments. It was this latter type that the above mentioned methods of obtaining knowledge were concerned about. The methods that were mentioned included: asking the people of remembrance, referring to the Quran and the Sunnah (referring to Allah and the Messenger), taking counsel, deep and comprehensive understanding of religion, and choosing the best argument. These are all the far-reaching methods of ijithad. Hence, we must accept and confess to the fact that many issue of religion are issue of ijithad. The necessities of religion are mainly comprised of general principles, for instance, Allah is attributed with the attributes of perfection which have been mentioned in the Quran. But, when one delves into the particulars are asks questions such as: are the attributes His essence or something other than His essence? Is divine will an attribute of essence, or an attribute of act? These are matters of ijithad. The laymen do not understand these issues at all; and do not need to understand them. Rather, these are discussion for the specialists. The scholars must think about these issues and provide opinions about them. Since they are in certain issues or the necessities of religion, differences of opinion regarding them, in their affirmation or negation, their acceptance to rejection-with valid reasoning-would not take one outside of the fold of Islam. Having differences of opinion about such matters, and either accepting them or rejecting them, do not form the criterion for Islam and disbelief. That is, they do not cause a group to leave Islam. Such discussions from the main bulk of the discussions that take place in the field of “proximity or conciliation between the Islamic schools of thought”, and hence they must take place with open mind and much magnanimity.

To be continued