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Islam Reigns

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Statements such as these by the illustrious   Fuqaha are to be understood in their proper context. They were addressing them to their students and scholars alike who were mujtahids (jurists) and were fully qualified for ijtihaad,not to any lay people and non-specialists in fiqh and hadith.Their words were aimed squarely at their student, as well as anyone like them who were, in varying competent degrees, versed in legal reasoning and ijtihad. Indeed, this has always been the classical scholarly understanding of their words.

1)Imam Ibn 'Ashur in his treatise on Maqasid al shariyah explained:

''It is here also that we can realise the inaccuracy and unsoundness of the statement attributed to al-Shafi'i, in which he is reported to have said: ''If a tradition (khabar) from God's Apostle is proven authentic, then that is my adopted position,'' for such as statement cannot be uttered by a scholar who has attained the level of a mujtahid. Moreover, evidence from al-Shafi'i's juristic doctrines compels us to believe that this statement is either wrongly attributed to him or has been distorted, unless he means by authenticity the perfect signification based on the considerations that we have explained, and provided it is free from opposition from what we have warned against.''(maqasid pg26)

Imam Ibn 'Ashur then clarifies how this statement from al-Shafi'i (and others) should be understood,
''Accordingly al-Shafi'i's statement can be interpreted as follows: When you examine my juristic views, you should know that they are based on authentic tradition.''( Ibn 'Ashur, Maqasid p, 27)

2)Imam Al-Nawawi(author of riyadus saaliheen) explained:

''What imam al-Shafi'i said does not mean that everyone who sees a sahih hadith should say “This is the madhhab of al-Shafi'i,” applying the purely external or apparent meaning of his statement. What he said most certainly applies only to such a person as has the rank of ijtihad in the madhhab. It is a condition for such a person that he be firmly convinced that either imam al-Shafi'i was unaware of this hadith or he was unaware of its authenticity. And this is possible only after having researched all the books of al-Shafi'i and similar other books of the companions of al-Shafi'i, those who took knowledge from him and others similar to them. This is indeed a difficult condition to fulfil. Few are those who measure up to this standard in our times. What we have explained has been made conditional because imam al-Shafi'i had abandoned acting purely on the external meaning of many hadiths, which he declared and knew. However, he established proofs for criticism of the hadith or its abrogation or specific circumstances or interpretation and so forth.(Al-Nawawi, al-Majmu' Sharh al-Muhadhdhab 1:64)

Among those who lived in Al-Nawawi’s centure were Al-Fakhr Al-Razi, Ibn al-Salah, Al-Mundhiri, Ibn ‘Abdus-Salam, Al-Qurtubi, Ibn Al-Qattan, Al-Diya’ Al-Maqdisi, Ibn Qudama, and Ibn Daqiq.All being gaints of hadith and fiqh,yet imam nawawi says'Few are those who measure up to this standard in our times'.

3)Imam Abu 'Amr [Ibn al-salah] said:

“It is no trivial matter to act according to the apparent meaning of what imam al-Shafi'i said. For it is not permissible for every faqih – let alone a layman ('ammi) – to act independently with what he takes to be a proof from the hadith… Therefore, whoever among the Shafi'i's finds a hadith that contradicts his School must examine whether he is absolutely accomplished in all the disciplines of ijtihad, or in that particular topic, or specific question. [If he is,] then he has the right to apply it independently. If he is not, but finds that contravening the hadith bears too heavily upon him–after having researched it and found no justification for contravening it–then he may apply it if another independent imam other than al-Shafi'i applies it. This is a good excuse for him to leave the madhab of his imam in such a case.” (Ibn al-salah's Fatawa wa Masa'il 1:54, 1:58-59). Cf. al-Tahanawi, I'la' al-Sunan (2:290-291)

Imam Ibn al-Salah also said in ‘Adab al-Mufti wal Mustafti’ p.118:

“Acting upon the literal of what al-Shafi said is not easy, so it is not permissible for every jurist (faqih) to be alone in acting on that which he regards as being a proof from the hadith.”

4)The great Shafi’i Imam, Shaykh ul Islam Taqi Al-Din Al-Subki wrote a wonderful treatise explaining this statement of Imam Ash-Shafi’i titled,

“Ma’na Qawl Al-Imam Al-Muttalibi Idha Sahha Al-Hadithu Fahuwa Madhhabi” (The meaning of the statement of the Imam, the Muttalibi, ‘If the hadith is authentic, that is my madhhab’)
he copied at the beginning the words of Imam Ibn Salah and Imam al-Nawawi : (p.102) and said:

“This is a clarification of the difficulty of this rank(ijtihaad), and that not everyone should be deluded by it.”

5)Imam Ibn Abidin as-shami wrote:

 ''It is not hidden that this is for one qualified to examine the texts and has knowledge of its non-abrogated from its abrogated, so when the scholars of the madhhab deliberate on an evidence and act upon it, its attribution to the madhhab is sound due to it issuing by permission from the founder of the madhhab, since there is no doubt that if he knew the weakness of his proof, he would go back on it and follow the stronger proof.'' (Hashiya of Ibn 'Abidin 1:68)

6)It also appears in Ilaaus Sunan of Muhaddith Zafar Ahmad Uthmani (rahmatullah alayh):

"Imam Sha'raani has also narrated it (i.e. the statement "When the authenticity of a Hadith is established, it is my mathhab."), attributing it to the four Imams. It is not hidden (from understanding) that this is for the one who has the ability (insight and qualifications) in the Nusoos and the knowledge of its clear laws and abrogations."( Volume 2, page 226)

7)Discussing this statement in his treatise, imam Yusuf bin Ismaail Nibhaani says:

"Verily, the statement: "When the Hadith has been authenticated, then it is my mathhab" has been narrated from each of these four Imams who were free from personal opinion. The audience to whom this statement ("When the Hadith is Sahih, it is my mathhab.") was directed, is on his (the imam's) Ashaab (the Fuqaha of his Mathhab) who were the great and illustrious Aimmah among the great 'Ulama of his mathhab, those who where the Ahl at-Tarjeeh (a high category of 'Ulama). All of them who were the haafizeen of the Hadith of Rasulullah (s.a.s.) were fully aware of the daleels (proofs) of all the mathhabs These are the ones whom the Imam (of the mathhab) had directed his statement: "When the Hadith is Sahih, it is my mathhab" Verily, they (these great Fuqaha) are able to reconcile between the Hadith from which the Imam had derived proof, and the latest Hadith which was established as authentic after the Imam. They (these illustrious Fuqaha) can see which of the two Hadiths is more authentic, stronger and which of the two Hadiths is the later one so that the later one can be the Naasikh (abrogator) for the earlier one." (Hujjatullah alal Aalameen)

8)Imam Shah Waliyyullah dehlawi has summarised such statements thus:

"These statements can be assessed against those who have some ability to exercise Ijtihad - albeit in one single issue; or against those who have conclusively determined that the Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa sallam ordered this and prohibited that [and the issue is not abrogated]. This may be achieved by researching the corpus of the Hadith, the statements of those scholars who opposed and supported [the view in question] or this may be acquired by realising that many expert scholars have opposed the view in question which in itself can only be supported by analogy or deduction. If such is the case, then there is no reason to go against the Hadith of the Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa sallam.( Hujjatul Baligah: vol. 1, page 155)

Imam shah waliyullah clearly says that these statements are diracted towards mujtahids who posess the ability and necessary qualifications of ijtihad.

The age for weighing the verdicts of the Aimmah-e-Mujtahideen against the Ahadith has long passed. It is downright silly and stupid for anyone in this age to run away with the puerile notion of having the ability to rectify, amend or refute any of the rulings of the Aimma-e-Mujtahideen. Any such amendment to any of the rulings of the Aimmah-e-Arba-ah was affected many centuries ago - a thousand years ago - by their great students and Ashaab. Indeed the deviate Salafis are suffering from the disease of self-conceit and pride in their belief that "erroneous" fataawa of the Aimmah had remained undetected for the past thousand years and that it was only now in this age that a deviate salafis acquired the "honor" to correct the "mistakes" of the great Imams of the madhhab.

Imam ibn taimiyya writes

"Imam Ahmad instructed the common people to learn the rulings from Imam Ishaq (rah), Abu Ubaid, Abu Thawr and Abu Musayb (rah). And, he disallowed those of his companions who were Scholars from making Taqleed of anyone. They were Abu Dawud, Uthman Ibn Sa’eed, Ibrahim al-Harabi, Abu Bakr al-Atharam, Abu Zar’ah, Abu Hatim Sajistani and Imam Muslims (rah), And he instructed them that it was Wajib for them to turn to the book and Sunnah." [Fatawa Ibn Taymmiyah, Volume 002, Page No.240]

 It is very clear from this text of Ibn Taymmiyah that the Mujtahids who disallowed Taqleed had actually disallowed those of their students who were  themselves great scholars of Hadith and expert jurists and were fully qualified to perform Ijtihad. As for those who were not Mujtahid, not only did they disallow them but instructed them to follow the Mujtahids named.               

Ibn Taymiyyah wrote a treatise on the topic" Raf al Malam 'an al-A 'immat al-A 'lam "(The Removal of Blame from the Great Imams)

 Ibn Taymiyyah writes in the treatise
"there has never been anyone from among the Imams who has deliberately opposed the sunnah. When we find a statement from an Imam which goes against the sunnah, the hadith in question does not fulfil the requirements of authentication of that Imam.
This each Imam has their own sets of rules which determine if a hadith is authentic or weak so what may be an authentic hadith to one Imam may not be recognised as authentic by another "
[Rafu’l malaam, pages 15-16, by imam Ibn Taymiyyah].

In the above treatise imam ibn Taimiyya gives more than 10 reasons as to why mujtahid imams did not act upon certain ahadith.


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