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As we've discussed in several other questions, one of the important bodies from which we derive fiqh (legislative rulings) is ijmaa, or consensus of the scholars.

I wonder, then, how is it that ijmaa is established? How do you know if there's ijmaa on a topic or not? Particularly because some issues have a claimed difference of opinion about ijmaa -- some scholars say "there is consensus on this topic" while others say "no there isn't."

Edit: Here's an example. In the science of hadith, the end result is: "this hadith is da'eef (weak), hassan (good), or saheeh (strong)." This depends on the qualities of narrators in the chain, as well as the text itself.

In the science of hadith, you can have a difference of opinion about the authenticity of a hadith. This comes down to difference of opinion from various scholars about certain narrators in a chain. Some may say "his memory is weak, da'eef hadith" while others say "his memory is good, saheeh hadith." In this case, we clearly understand how and why a hadith can have ikhtilaf about authenticity.

So what about Ijmaa?

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    I'm not expecting an ayah or hadith about this. But brownie points if there's some relevant ayah or hadith that relates to this concept. – ashes999 Jun 22 '12 at 16:54
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    Why DV? No explanation? – ashes999 Jun 22 '12 at 19:02
  • The best article (so far) I have read regarding Ijmaa' is this. I don't want to copy-paste stuff because it is not useful and redundant. You can read the article. Might help you clear some doubts. – Abdullah Jun 22 '12 at 22:53
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Irony in the question noted :)

Classically, ijma' is defined as

the unanimous agreement of the mujtahidun of of the Muslim community of any period following the demise of the Prophet Muhammad on any matter (Amidi, Shaukani, and others).

So right away we see that there must be a plurality of mujtahids (who are taken to be representative of the ummah) who are discussing an issue and who unanimously agree on a certain ruling about the issue. The majority view is that all of the mujtahidun must agree, else no ijma' materializes.

In matters of fiqh, if a faqih is known to have actively invited people to innovation in religious matters, they are excluded from the requirements of ijma'.

This kind of ijma' has occurred in the past for example with groups of the Companions of the Prophet (saws) (there are examples from inheritance and other issues). However, apart from that era and some spotty examples from the Spanish Umayyads who set up official 'ulema councils and had the issue rulings, this standard has not been known to be achieved at other times.

Given the difficulty of identifying "every" mujtahid, and getting each one's opinion on a matter, clearly this is an extremely high standard to hold the Ummah to, so in reality the scholars impose certain other conditions to make it feasible. For example, Imam ash-Shafi'i restricts ijma' to matters that are obligatory only, saying that it's impossible to get ijma' on other matters. Imam Ahmad was of the opinion that ijma' only refers to the consensus of the Companions. Imam Malik preferred to base ijma' on the people of Madinah. The Shi'a base it on consensus of members of the Prophet (saws)'s family.

There are two kinds of ijma': Explicit (sarih) and tacit (sukuti). Explicit ijma', of course, is binding and definitive - it is where every mujtahid expressly expresses their opinion. With tacit ijma', a group of mujtahids of a particular time express their opinion, while others remain silent.

Now we come to the crux of the question: How is ijma' transmitted? Ijma' can be transmitted either by tawatur (multiple channels, conclusive) or ahad (solitary). The only tawatur ijma' known is from the Companions' era; nothing after that. This is the main reason there is more disagreement in later ages about which issues have ijma' or not. The 'ulema disagree on the value of solitary transmission of ijma' - the Ghazalian point of view is that solitary transmission is inherently "speculative" whereas ijma' by definition cannot involve any element of speculation. Other scholars accept the proof of ijma' on a matter by solitary reports.

In the end, it's not exactly a binary matter. The 'ulema of usul (principles of jurisprudence) maintain that if ijma' is transmitted through solitary reports, it loses its value and the matter must be proven from primary sources (where the ijma' was derived from in the first place).

Tl;dr answer: if someone claims there is no ijma' on a matter, ask them to produce a mujtahid who is agreed upon who clearly expressed his dissenting opinion. That is valid to break ijma'.

And Allah knows better. Please feel free to point out any mistakes.

This answer is sourced from Muhammad Hashim Kamali's book "Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence."

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As we all know, there is no central database of the ijmaa and fatwas. They are generated and propagated. When it reaches a scholar, he decides based on his own understanding, if he finds it right or if he trusts the source, he lets it propagate, otherwise not.

It is not necessary that the ijmaa would have reached the scholars. It takes time to propagate and most importantly for the doubts of the scholars to be cleared.

So only suggestion from my side is that don't ask just one scholar. Keep asking different muftis until you get a "yes, there is a consensus".

And verily, Allah is the all knower.

Jazaakallah

  • I'm tempted to DV. I've heard of collections written about "ijmaa al-ulamaa," which catalogue all of these. So my hunch is that your answer is not entirely correct. – ashes999 Jun 22 '12 at 20:17
  • Do you think the compilers of the book would not have selected the ijmaa based on his understanding? Na'uzubillah, Even if they don't, not all consensus reach them for the book to be 100% updated. Every new morning there are new fatwas. . . . Correct me if I am wrong. – Tabrez Ahmed Jun 22 '12 at 20:33
  • I've updated my question to include an example. Does that help? – ashes999 Jun 22 '12 at 20:45
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Ijmaa is what is accepted by all different sects and scholars

Opinion is the idea of one scholar or sect.

in Shia Islam if Ijma has conflict with authentic saying of any of the fourteen infallibles it is not accepted because saying of any of the fourteen infallibles in certainly true and any Ijma conflicting them Indeed has error.

ref: http://wikifeqh.ir

  • This doesn't answer my question, which is "why is there difference of opinion about ijmaa." – ashes999 Jun 22 '12 at 21:10
  • @ashes999 oh sorry. yes. it is for my English. about difference in shia and sunni I explained. also there are 5 different types of Ijma. – Battle of Karbala Jun 22 '12 at 21:29

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