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Ayatollah Khamenei's FAQ page mentions several times the notion of "obligatory caution". One example is:

Permission of Her Father for Marriage. If the girl is virgin, it is necessary – by obligatory caution – to obtain the permission of her father/paternal grand father for her marriage.

M. B. al-Sadr in Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence [translated]: According to Shi'i Law, 2003 (Google Books) describes it as:

The primary principle to be observed in matters of probable prohibition or obligation is therefore caution, avoiding what we suspect to be unlawful and accomplishing what we think obligatory. ... The exercise of caution is rationally obligatory in cases of doubt.

And it's mentioned on Ayatollah Lankarani's webpage also.

Conspicuously absent from my search results is the notion of "obligatory caution" in Sunni Islam, and I'm wondering if Sunni scholars have a different stance or attitude towards obligatory caution.

Question: What role does "obligatory caution" play in Sunni Islam?

  • The heads of the four major schools of jurisprudence (Abu Hanifa, Malik, Al-Shafe'i, and Ibn Hanbal) were quoted on multiple occasions specifically requesting not to be followed without valid proof from Qur'an or Sunna in their fatwas (taqlid). Accordingly, I cannot see a situation from a Sunni point of view where obligatory caution — or preferred caution — may arise in a manner similar to a Shi'ite view. I stand corrected, however. My take is this question may end up with opinion-based responses, and discussions over who is right and who is wrong. – III-AK-III May 10 '17 at 11:12
  • @III-AK-III I'd be happy with that as an answer. (Sometimes people ask maths questions at math.SE which they don't realize are not answerable; I just do the best possible when I answer and explain why it's not easy.) – Rebecca J. Stones May 10 '17 at 16:33
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There is no obvious equivalent. I am presenting some different views from Sunni scholars on the topic of taqlid, but I doubt that a clear analogy exists.


Shi'a Definitions

NOTE: My own translation from Al-Fiqh Lelmoghtarebeen by Ali Al-Sistani, and Minhaj Al-Saliheen by Abu Al-Qasim Al-Khoei, so treat with care.

Mukallaf

Mukallaf (Arabic: المكلف): It is a person who has not reached the level of ijtihad; therefore, this person has to follow taqlid (imitation) or ihtiyat (caution). This continues until the person reaches the level of knowledge that the person to do or to leave in violation of a mandatory rule, even if for instance a tahreem legislation, or the provision based on necessities of religion or madhhab (jurisprudence school), as in some duties and prohibitions, and many of what is preferred and permitted. This is achieved by emotional science, that is, reassurance obtained from rational origins like testing and information through a knowledgeable expert.

Caution

Obligatory caution (Arabic: الإحتياط الوجوبي): It is the caution that leaves the choice to the mukallaf of taking an action, or of following another mujtahid with the most learned mujathid first, then the ones that follow in knowledge level in order.

Recomended caution (Arabic: الإحتياط الإستحبابي): It is the caution that leaves the choice to the mukallaf not to follow.


Sunni View

Generally speaking, most Sunni scholars agree that common Muslims without knowledge need to follow the rulings prescribed by scholars, provided that their opinions are supported by Qur'an and Sunnah. When one is confronted with opposing opinions, one should seek the opinion with the strongest argument, even if it is against one's madhhab or Imam, etc. A similar view was expressed on multiple occasions by the four Imams of the schools of jurisprudence.

Since this requires some level of discernment, it cannot be called taqlid. Since one must reach a conclusion, one way or another, on the permissibility of one's actions, the concept of obligatory vs. recommended caution does not exist in a similar manner. One has to feel within one's self that one is content with one's actions, as the Prophet ﷺ said in this hadith: "Ask your heart regarding it. Piety is that which contents the soul and comforts the heart, and sin is that which causes doubts and perturbs the heart, even if people pronounce it lawful and give you verdicts on such matters again and again."

Scholarly views on taqlid

In Al-Qawl Al-Mofeed Fi Adellat Al-Ijtihad Wa Al-Taqlid (Arabic: القول المفيد في أدلة الاجتهاد والتقليد) by Muhammad Al-Shawkani (Arabic: بدر الدين الشوكاني) compiled several opinions on the topic of taqlid:

قال ابن عبد البر أنه لا خلاف بين أئمة أهل الأعصار في فساد التقليد

— NOTE: My own translation, so treat with care:

Ibn 'Abdel-Barr said there is no difference in opinions among the Imams of the generations [the first three generations that the Prophet ﷺ specified] that taqlid is not correct.

Al-Shawkani elaborates on the topic in pp. 42-43 by further quoting the view of Ibn 'Abdel-Barr:

أما العلماء إذا أجمعوا على شيء من تأويل كتاب الله أو حكاية لسنة رسول الله ﷺ أو اجتمع رأيهم على شيء فهو الحق لا شك فيه ولكن قد اختلفوا فيما قلدت فيه بعضهم دون بعض فما حجتك في تقليد بعض دون بعض وكلهم عالم ولعل الذي رغبت عن قوله أعلم من الذي ذهبت إلى مذهبه فإن قال قلدته لأني علمت أنه صواب قلت له علمت ذلك بدليل من كتاب أو سنة أو إجماع فإن قال نعم فقد أبطل التقليد وطولب بما ادعاه من الدليل وإن قال قلدته لأنه أعلم مني قيل له فقلدت كل من هو أعلم منك فإنك تجد من ذلك خلقا كثيرا ولا تخص من قلدته إذ علمك فيه أنه أعلم منك

When there is scholarly concensus on the meaning of a verse in the Book of Allah or a narration of the sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ, the concensus is the truth. If the scholars disagree, if one copies a specific scholarly view and skips the others, what would one's reason be? They are all scholars. If the reason given is following the most correct view, one must have known so based on evidence from Qur'an or sunnah or concensus, which nullifies taqlid [since it is based on evidence]. If one says that one is adopting the view of the most knowledgable, then one has to be able to discern who is most knowledgable as there are lots of people who are.

Al-Shawkani goes on to quote other scholars (e.g., Ibn Al-Qayyim, and the heads of the four schools of jurisprudence). He then mentions that taqlid only started in 200 AH, well after the first three generations (commonly known as salaf), and that blind following [taqlid] of one madhhab over another only happened well after the demise of the four Imams.

Jurisprudence schools on taqlid

The heads of the four major schools of jurisprudence (Abu Hanifa, Malik, Al-Shafe'i, and Ibn Hanbal) were quoted on multiple occasions specifically requesting not to be followed without valid proof (taqlid) from Qur'an or Sunna in their fatwas. In other words, they are asking us to follow their proof, not to follow them per se.

Malik ibn Anas

In Jami' Bayan Al-'Ilm, Ibn 'Abdel-Barr (Arabic: جامع بيان العلم وفضله لابن عبد البر), quotes Malik ibn Anas:

إنما أنا بشر أخطئ وأصيب، فانظروا في رأيي فكلما وافق الكتاب والسنة فخذوا به, وكلما لم يوافق الكتاب والسنة فاتركوه

— NOTE: My own translation, so treat with care:

I am only human; sometimes I err, and sometimes I am correct. Inspect my opinion: Whenever I agree with the Book [Qur'an] and Sunnah, then take it; and whenever I contradict the Book and the Sunnah, then abandon it.

And another quote:

ليس أحد بعد النبي ﷺ إلا ويؤخذ من قوله ويترك إلا النبي ﷺ

Anyone other than the Prophet ﷺ, his opinion may be adopted or discarded, except for the Prophet ﷺ.

Al-Shafi'i

In Al-Majmoo' (Arabic: المجموع شرح المهذب), Al-Nawawi quotes Al-Shafi'i:

إذا وجدتم في كتابي خلاف سنة رسول الله ﷺ فقولوا بسنة رسول الله ﷺ ودعوا قولي

If you find in my book what contracticts the sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ, then adopt what the Prophet ﷺ said and discard what I said.

And another quote:

إذا صح الحديث فهو مذهبي

If a hadith is authentic, then this is my madhhab.

In Tabaqat Al-Shafi'ieen:

ما قلت فكان عن النبي ﷺ خلاف قولي مما يصح فحديث رسول الله ﷺ أولى فلا تقلدوني

If I say an opinion that afterwards you learn that the Prophet ﷺ has said something to the contrary in an authentic hadith, then take what the Prohet ﷺ said and do not copy me.

Ahmad ibn Hanbal

In I'laam Al-Muwaqqi'een 'An Rabb Al-'Aalameen (Arabic: إعلام الموقعين عن رب العالمين), Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya quotes Ahmad ibn Hanbal on taqlid:

لا تقلدني ولا تقلد مالكا ولا الشافعي ولا الأوزاعي ولا الثوري وخذ من حيث أخذوا

Do not copy me, or copy Malik [ibn Anas] or Al-Shafi'i or Al-Awza'i or Al-Thawri, and learn from where they learned [i.e., the Prophet ﷺ].

In the same book, Ahmad ibn Hanbal is quoted saying:

الإتباع أن يتبع الرجل ما جاء عن النبي ﷺ وعن أصحابه ثم هو من بعد التابعين مخير

The [proper] following is to follow what the Prophet ﷺ taught, and his companions, then after Al-Tabi'un [the generation after his companions], the choice is his.

Abu Hanifa

In the footnotes of Al-Bahr Al-Ra'iq (Arabic: البحر الرائق شرح كنز الدقائق), Zain Al-'Abedeen quotes Abu Hanifa:

لا يحل لأحد أن يفتي بقولنا حتى يعلم من أين قلنا

It is not permitted for someone to issue a fatwa based on what I said until he learns from where I got it.

In Al-Eeqadh (Arabic: إيقاظ همم أولي الأبصار) pp. 62 (), Al-Follanni (Salih ibn Muahammad ibn Nooh ibn 'Abdullah) quotes Abu Hanifa saying:

إذا قلت قولا يخالف كتاب الله تعالى وخبر الرسول ﷺ فاتركوا قولي

If I said something that contradictd Allah's Book and the teachings of the Prophet ﷺ, discard what I said.

A different view

A different view was expressed in Bolough Al-Sool Fi Madkhal 'Ilm Al-Asool (Arabic: بلوغ السول في مدخل علم الأصول) by Hassanain Muhammad Makhluf (Arabic: حسنين محمد مخلوف) in his counter-argument to Al-Shawkani:

والمكلفون بالنسبة لأحكام الشريعة وأدلتها قسمان: قسم قادر على أخْذ الأحكام من أدلتها بطريق الاجتهاد، وقسم دون ذلك

— NOTE: My own translation, so treat with care:

The mukallafs when it comes to the rulings of shari'a are two categories: those who can deduct rulings based on evidence, and those who are below this level.

والأول: هم المجتهدون، والثاني: هم المقلِّدون، ولابُدَّ لكل منهما من معرفة الحكم الشرعي ليعمل به حسبما كُلِّف فالأول بمقتضى التكليف العام مأمور بالاجتهاد للعمل بالأحكام الشرعية واتِّباعها. والثاني مأمور بتقليده كذلك

The first category is the mujtahids, and the second is the muqallids. Both must know the shari'a ruling in order to follow it. The first category [mujtahids] are ordered to do ijtihad, and the second category [muqallids] are order to do taqlid.

Makhluf then defines what taqlid is:

أما التقليد في الاصطلاح فله معنيان: أحدهما: العمل بقول الغير من غير حجة من الحجج الشرعية الملزمة، أي من غير دليل قائم على حكمه أو حجيته. والثاني: العمل بقول المجتهد من غير معرفة دليله معرفة تامة. والأول غير جائز باتفاق، والثاني جائز، بل لازم عند أهل العلم

And for taqlid, there are two meanings:

  1. To perform deeds without any evidence of the accepted shari'a evidence
  2. To follow a mujtahid without fully understanding their evidence.

The first is not permitted by [scholarly] consesus, and the second is permitted; rather, mandated by scholars.

والمراد بقولنا: "من غير معرفة دليله"، أي: معرفة تامة للدليل، وهي معرفة الاستنباط الاجتهادي والاكتساب الفقهي الذي يُشترَط في اعتبارهما توفر شروط الاجتهاد التي في كتب الأصول

What we mean by "without fully understanding their evidence" is to say without knowing fully the deduction method used and the level of fiqh knowledge required as conditions in the science of fundamentals.

Based on Makhluf's definition of taqlid, which was intended to be a counter-argument to Al-Shawkani as having taqlid as a valid option, it does not in my opinion resemble the Shi'a view of taqlid.

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