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I've read these questions and their answers on consensus (ijma), forming a consensus through ijtehad, and opinion:

I'm wondering about when there is no ijma among scholars but there are a majority of scholars who, given some hadith, think the ruling should be X and a minority who believe it should be Y, but there is still some agreement.

To come up with a silly example (because I've seen this several times on different topics and don't want to get answeres sidetracked by a particular topic), the scholars find a hadith that you should eat baked beans on toast on a Sunday. The majority say it means you must only eat baked beans on toast on a Sunday and only on Sunday but the minority think it's good but not obligatory on the Sunday bit but say you can also eat it on other days too.

What is the responsibility of the non-scholar who follows their madhhab?

  • Should they go with the majority?
  • Should they pick from the opinion they think is best?
  • Should they avoid following either opinion? (if possible)

Perhaps there's a mechanism for this I'm unaware of, like the madhhab giving out different levels of advice?

Any insight on the matter would be greatly appreciated.

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I do not know of any established rules, so this is a matter of opinion. I do not think that the opinion of the majority always translates into the opinion being correct, or the opinion that must be followed.

Step 1: Check the stance of the scholars

For the scholars in disagreement (the minority in this case, since your question is focused on a majority vs. a minority), check:

  • Their autobiography for general level of knowledge about Islam, and their specific knowledge about the topic. If the matter is that of fiqh (jurisprudence), seek scholars in that domain; if it is about hadith, seek scholars in that domain; and so on.
  • Their integrity and soundness of character. Lack of either is grounds for rejecting their fatwa (as one would also reject their testimony in court, witnessing of a wedding, etc.).

Step 2: Select an opinion based on your level of knowledge

If your level of knowledge about the topic is at a level that you can discern which fatwa is well supported with evidence or seems to be more correct, follow this fatwa irrespective of the number of scholars with or against it.

If you are not at that level, follow the opinion of the scholar you perceive to have more knowledge.

If you cannot tell which scholar has more knowledge, check with your mufti, if you have one. Then follow the opinion of your mufti.

If you do not have a mufti, then follow the opinion that your heart leans toward being correct as the Prophet ﷺ said in a hadith.

References

You may refer to the following for more information:

  • Good answer and lots of info to digest, but good to see it's quite common sense. Thanks. – iain Jul 3 '17 at 22:43

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