The following is part of a letter the Mujlisul Ulama wrote to a brother who queried the Islamic concept of Taqleed:
(1) It should be remembered that the two senior Imaams, namely, Imaam Abu Hanifah and Imam Maalik were in touch with Sahaabah. They had acquired their Islamic knowledge from Sahaabah as well as from numerous such senior Scholars who had studied under the Sahaabah. Thus, they were in close proximity to the age of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam).
Secondly, the protection of the Qur’aan and Islam were undertaken by Allah Ta’ala Himself. He declares in the Qur’aan:
“Verily, We revealed the Thikr (Qur’aan) and We are it Protectors.”
Thus the preservation of Islam is a Divine Responsibility. At no stage in the history of Islam was there a time that the full Shariah was not available. Islam was perfected during the time of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). The Qur’aan is emphatic and explicit in making this claim. It is, therefore, Islamically unimaginable that the full and perfect Shariah did not exist with the illustrious Scholars until a couple centuries later when Imaam Bukhaari (rahmatullah alayh) appeared on the scene. Imaam Bukhaari appeared about 120 years after Imaam Abu Hanifah and about 200 years after Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). During this period, i.e. during the absence of Imaam Bukhaari, the Deen was flourishing. Every aspect of Islam was known to the Scholars. Nothing was hidden and unknown.
It is a ludicrous and a kufr supposition to assume that part of the Shariah was concealed from or unknown to the Salf-e-Saliheen of the first epoch of Quroon-e-Thalathah (The first three noble ages of Islam), and that the supposed ‘unknown’ portion became known only after Imaam Bukhaari (rahmatullah alayh) appeared on the scene 2 centuries later. This supposition is kufr because it militates against the Qur’aanic declaration of:
(1) The perfection of the Deen.
(2) The Divine Protection of the Deen undertaken by Allah Azza Wa Jal, Himself.
Thirdly, Imaam Bukhaari and the other Muhadditheen who compiled the Ahadith in book form did not do so for the benefit of the existing Scholars or for the Scholars before his time. The Scholars before his era were illustrious Fuqaha and Muhadditheen who were the direct students of the Sahaabah or of the Students of the Sahaabah. The Scholars of his time were his (Imaam Bukhaari’s) Ustaadhs and these Scholars were the Students of the Taabieen who in turn were the Students of the Sahaabah. Thus, it was Imaam Bukhaari who benefited from these illustrious Ustaadhs, not the other way around. The compilations of the Muhadditheen were for the benefit of posterity for the Muslims of later generations. The Scholars before Imaam Bukhaari and those during his time were not at all reliant on his compilations. They were completely independent of the Hadith compilations of the later Muhadditheen. The authorities on which the Scholars (Fuqaha and Muhadditheen) before Imaam Bukhaari’s time relied were Taabieen and Sahaabah. Their knowledge of Islam was firsthand and did not depend on compilations and books. Their Ilm was from the Taabieen whose base of knowledge was the Sahaabah who were Rasulullah’s (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) Students. The nonsense gorged out by the modernist and deviant Salafis of this age who blindly follow the half-baked so-called scholar, Al-Albaani is thus self-evident.
Fourthly, it is a well-known fact that the teaching of Imaam Abu Hanifah as well as of the other Imaams (Fuqaha) was that if an authentic Hadith is acquired with which his ruling conflicts, then such a ruling should be discarded and the ruling stated in the Hadith be accepted. It was made clear that the Math-hab of the Hadith was his (i.e. Abu Hanifah’s) Math-hab. Thus, if and whenever any of the Scholars who followed Imaam Abu Hanifah acquired a Hadith which in their opinion their Ustaad did not know of, immediately the ruling of the Ustaad on the specific issue would be adjusted to conform to the Hadith. But, this process of adjusting such rulings which could have been in conflict with the Hadith on account of all the Ahadith not having reached a particular Imaam, ended long before Imaam Bukhaari presented his compilation. We, therefore, find the Mutakh-khireen (i.e. the Hanafi Fuqaha of the third and fourth centuries) adhering to the rulings which the Hanafi Fuqaha of former times had issued despite them having the knowledge of all Compilations of Hadith prepared by the Muhadditheen. This in itself, is explicit evidence for the fact that the Fuqaha before Imaam Bukhaari were already fully apprized of the various Ahadith which the later Muhadditheen compiled in their Books.
Undoubtedly, the Sahaabah had scattered throughout the Islamic empire. But, long before the Hadith compilations of Imaam Bukhaari, the Scholars had already become aware of the Ahadith narrated by the different Sahaabah. The age adjacent to the age of the Sahaabah was an age of intense Islamic learning. The entire Shariah with its jurisprudence (Fiqh) was systematized and codified long before the age of the Muhadditheen. Such systematization and codification are impossible without a total knowledge of Hadith because Hadith is the Tafseer of the Qur’aan. Without Hadith, there can be no Shariah. Thus, the Shariah which the Fuqaha had systematized was the Shariah which the Sahaabah had acquired from Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). Just as the Sahaabah were not reliant on written books for the knowledge and recital of the Qur’aan, so too the next group of Scholars (the Taabieen) was not reliant on any book of Hadith for the systematization of the Shariah. Just as the Sahaabah had the Qur’aan in their memories, so too did the Taabieen have the Ahadith in their memories. Islamic history bears ample testimony to this incontrovertible fact.
The aim of the Muhadditheen was to sift out the narrations and to prepare books of authentic compilations for the benefit of posterity just as was the aim of the Sahaabah when they had compiled the Qur’aan in book form. The aim was not to benefit the Sahaabah because they were not in need of a book or a written compilation of the Qur’aan. They had the Qur’aan in their memories. The Sahaabah had compiled the Qur’aan in book form for the benefit of posterity.
From this it should be realised that Imaam Bukhaari’s compilation was not for the benefit of the existing Scholars as they were in fact the instructors of Imaam Bukhaari. It is quite possible that the Fuqaha and Muhadditheen prior to Imaam Bukhaari had greater knowledge of Hadith and had a greater advantage in regard to the knowledge of authentic Hadith. The chain of narrators between Imaam Bukhaari and the Sahaabah is very long. In view of numerous narrators in a chain on account of the large time gap, it is possible that a Hadith which was authentic according to Imaam Abu Hanifah or Imaam Maalik became ‘weak’ in terms of the standard employed by Imaam Bukhaari. Imaam Maalik heard a Hadith directly from the lips of a Sahaabi. The authenticity was most perfect. However, the same Hadith could have reached Imam Bukhaari two centuries later in a slightly different form or in the same form but with a long chain of narrators. Some of the narrators may not have passed Imaam Bukhaari’s strict test, hence he would be compelled to classify the Hadith as ‘weak’ whilst in actual fact it is an authentic Hadith. Thus, if Imaam Abu Hanifah, for example, bases a ruling on the strength of a Hadith which according to Imaam Bukhaari is a ‘weak’ narration, the ruling of Imaam Abu Hanifah cannot be rejected on the basis of the designation given to the Hadith by Imaam Bukhaari because Imaam Abu Hanifah and all the early Scholars would not formulate rulings on suspect narrations nor were they reliant of the type of categorization of Hadith formulated by the later Muhadditheen.
(2) It is baseless to claim that the Math-habs came into existence in the middle of the 8th century of the Christian era. People who lack understanding in the Deen make such preposterous allegations. Since the Scholars taught nothing other than the SUNNAH of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), it is incorrect to claim that the Mathaahib were later accretions. It is inconceivable that the Fuqaha taught anything which was not taught by the Sahaabah. Yes, new rulings on new developments had to be formulated. But, such rulings were based on the principles enshrined in the Qur’aan and the Sunnah. The Fuqaha simply arranged everything in systematic order. The differences in the various acts of Ibaadat, for example, had all existed during the very time of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). The Scholars did not introduce the different ways we find in the acts of worship of the followers of the Mathaahib. Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and the Sahaabah had adopted these ways and forms which were passed on to the succeeding generation, viz., the Taabieen who in turn passed it on to the next generation.
The problem the Fuqaha had was to establish which way and which manner of the Holy Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and the Sahaabah were the final acts abrogating former acts. In such issues differences arose.
Qur’aanic and Hadith interpretations had to be resorted to for finding solutions or the clear-cut rulings of the Sahaabah who had happened to be the Ustaadhs of a particular line of Scholars, were adopted.
Whatever had happened and whichever way was adopted, it is absurd to claim that ‘numerous of the Hadith which reached Imaam Bukhaari did not reach the Fuqaha and that the Mathaahib had been formulated on the basis of insufficient Hadith narrations’. Such a claim is utterly baseless. In fact, it militates against the explicit Qur’aanic declaration:
“This day have I perfected for you your Deen…”
When a Scholar acquires the knowledge of an authentic Hadith, he does not dismiss that Hadith simply because the Hadith conflicts with the ruling of the Math-hab he happens to be following. He first examines the standard of the Hadith. If it is established that the Hadith is Saheeh (Authentic), he fully accepts it as being authentic. A man who rejects an authentic Hadith commits kufr. He is not a Muslim. If there are no Qur’aanic and Hadith proofs to conflict with the authentic Hadith which he has acquired, he immediately adopts the ruling of the Hadith and sets aside the ruling of the Math-hab which was earlier formulated on the basis of insufficient proof and facts. But, if there is strong and overwhelming Qur’aanic and Hadith evidence conflicting with the authentic Hadith which he had just acquired, he is forced to assign suitable interpretation to the Hadith and while accepting its authenticity, he cannot issue a ruling on its basis. But, this process had applied during the age of the Fuqaha in the age of the Taabieen when the Sahaabah were involved in spreading the Deen. It did not apply to the age after Imaam Bukhaari. It must be categorically stated that the Fuqaha had the knowledge of all the Ahadith which are today found in the various Hadith compilations. In fact, they had greater knowledge in the field of Hadith authenticity and in view of there being hardly any links between them and the Sahaabah.
(3) All the Usool of the Mathaahib were formulated on the basis of the Qur’aan and Hadith. Those Scholars who followed the Usool of a particular Math-hab were obliged to adhere to the Usool. They could differ in the Furoo’ (details). But, the Furoo’ which they formulated were based on the same Usool. Such differences largely pertain to new developments, not to clear teachings which were acquired from the Sahaabah.
The Usool were established by the ‘Founding’ Imaams. Their students adopted these principles and formulated rulings for new developments on the basis of the principles established by their senior Ustaadhs.
(4) While Ijtihaad in the principles is no longer permissible, Ijtihaad in new developments will remain valid until the Last Day. There will always be new developments. The Usool established by the early Fuqaha on the basis of the Qur’aan and Sunnah are all-encompassing. It is not possible to create any further Usool because such an attempt will be in conflict with the Qur’aan and Sunnah. Any new attempt will be beyond the confines of the Qur’aan and Sunnah. Hence no one has ever ventured to establish new Usool. If today anyone attempts, his kufr will be transparent as the conflict between his conjectured ‘usool’ and the Qur’aan will be conspicuous. Nowadays people simply resort to baseless interpretation (Ta’weel Baatil) to gain acceptance for their Baatil views.
(5) New issues and new developments do not require any new Usool. The very same Usool which the early Fuqaha had extracted from the Qur’aan and Sunnah are the only basis on which rulings for new issues have to be formulated. Discardence of the USOOL of the Fuqaha is tantamount to discardence of Islam.
(6) Yes, Scholars who were students did differ with their illustrious Ustaadhs in matters of Furoo’. While both the Ustaad and the student would argue a certain issue (fara’) on the basis of the same principle which the Ustaad had established, they would sometimes come to different conclusions. This is essentially the result of difference in understanding, difference in taqwa, difference in their respective bonds with Allah Ta’ala. And, it could be the result of differences in their respective experience pertaining to the issue. Also sometimes, the Student will differ with the ruling which was issued by the Imaam because circumstances had changed, new facts had come to light which had not existed at the time the Imaam had issued his ruling. In short, there were a variety of factors which determined differences in rulings inspite of the rulings being based on the same Usool. Take for example the issue of shrimps. This is a mas’ala pertaining to the Furoo’. All the Hanafi Fuqaha are agreed on the principle that of the sea animals only fish is halaal. There is no difference in this principle. However, some Hanafi Ulama have ruled that shrimps are permissible while the overwhelming majority states that shrimps are haraam. Those who say that shrimps are permissible, do not reject the principle. But, in terms of their knowledge they claim that shrimps are fish, hence, halaal. They do not claim the permissibility of shrimps on the basis of the principle of another Math-hab. Simply on account of their knowledge of shrimps, which they believe to be fish, they state that shrimps are halaal. They thus do not differ in the principles.
(7) The Scholars never reasoned that all possible issues were already addressed and that there would be no longer need for formulating rulings on later developments. The unanimity is in the closing of the doors of Ijtihaad in respect to the Usool, not to new developments which obviously will come into being from time to time. But, the principles are established already for the formulation of the rulings necessary to categorize new issues and developments.
(8) The Shar’i meaning of Taqleed, means to follow a particular Imaam in all matters pertaining to the Shariah. Ittiba’ means to follow in obedience. one may accept the Taqleed of a particular Imaam without applying ittiba’ in practical life. Example: A man making Taqleed of Imaam Abu Hanifah, accepts and believes shrimps to be haraam. But, when he goes to a friend’s home (who may not be a Hanafi), he eats shrimps. He says that he follows (makes Taqleed) of Imaam Abu Hanifah and that he knows the view of Imaam Abu Hanifah is correct and that he accepts this, but simply to appease his friend he eats shrimps. Thus, while making Taqleed, he is not making ittiba’.
(9) In all ages there were people of baatil who attempted to subvert the Deen. This process of conflict between Haqq and Baatil will endure as long as the world endures. The conspiracies of baatil are more rife and rampant in our day. Almost every Tom, Dick and harry who has studied some Hadith translations of has a couple of kuffaar university degrees behind his name thinks himself capable of making Ijtihaad in even the Usool. May Allah Ta’ala save us from such deviation.
(10) The Fuqaha of the early times did not close the Door of Ijtihaad in respect to the Usool because unqualified persons attempted to make inroad into this domain. The Doors were closed because they were 100% certain that no new Usool can any longer be established since the Usool which they had established were all-encompassing. For such certitude a very high degree of Taqwa and spiritual elevation are imperative. These men were not only men of book knowledge. Their knowledge was true knowledge which is a Noor (Celestial Light). The Islamic definition of Knowledge given by the illustrious Ulama is:
“ILM (KNOWLEDGE) is a Noor in the heart of the Mu’min. The Noor is acquired from the lanterns in the Niches of Nubuwwat.”
True knowledge initiated from the heart of the Nabi and it passed on from breast to breast. From the breast of the Sahaabah to the breasts of the Taabieen, and so on until it has reached us. Such Noor enters the heart only after the Bond with Allah Ta’ala has been rectified, developed and solidified.
(11) A Muqallid who claims to follow the Sunnah while differing with the ruling of his Math-hab deceives himself by believing that he is following the Sunnah. Following the Sunnah is not possible beyond the confines of the Math-hab. The authorities of the Math-hab were fully aware of the Ahadith which allegedly conflict with the rulings of the Math-hab. They had the necessary knowledge pertaining to such affairs. It is, therefore, a shaitaani deception for the Muqallid, especially weak Muqallideen such as us in this belated age, to believe that we are following the Sunnah while we reject the rulings of the Aimmah.
(12) The opinions of the Aimmah do not contradict the Hadith. It is our limited knowledge and total inability which make us believe that the opinions of the Aimmah conflict with certain Ahadith. There are valid and Shar’i explanations and interpretations for any apparent conflict. We in this day are not in position to fully understand all the different facets which had produced the opinions of the Aimmah. The reliable Ahadith are not rejected. They are accepted, but the relevant facts pertaining to the reliable Hadith in question are stated.
(13) Any difference which the Students of Imam Abu Hanifah had with him on issues of detail, e.g. raising the hands, etc., was not in conflict with the Usool. While they were of such standing that they could resort to such differences in view of the on-going process of Hadith transmission in their time, we in this time cannot act in the same way on the basis of our defective knowledge of Islamic sciences. We simply have to follow the rulings of the Jamhoor of the Math-hab.
(14) The incumbent duty of the Muqallid is not only Taqleed, but Ittiba’. We have to make Ittiba’ of the Jamhoor of the Math-hab. If we don’t, we are bound to fall into deviation. The first step into the path of deviation is to abandon Ittiba’. once shaitaan has made us accustomed to abandon Ittiba’, the ground will become fertile to reject Taqleed. The modernist Salafis have fallen into this Satanic trap.
(15) It is dangerous for the masses to seek answers from the Books of Fiqh in which appear Ikhtilaafaat (difference of opinion) and Dalaa-il. The masses on account of lacking totally in higher Islamic knowledge will become confused. They should adhere to books which teach the masaail for practical purposes.
(16) Without following a particular Math-hab, a person is bound to stray into deviation. He will follow his desires. It is, therefore, incumbent to follow a Specific math-hab.
(17) Picking and choosing rulings from the different Math-habs, is the product of desire. The nafs constrains a person to adopt such an exercise. No Math-hab permits this. However, when there is a real need for adopting a ruling of another Math-hab, the Ulama will study the circumstances and incorporate such a ruing into the Math-hab on the basis of the Usool of the Math-hab. Picking and choosing at random and desire is to trifle with the Deen. Such trifling can lead to the destruction of Imaan.
(18) An exercise to unify the Math-habs will imply the initiation of a fifth Math-hab. Since the rulings of the Math-habs are based on Dalaa-il and certain Dalaa-il are the product of interpretation, unification is not possible. There are and will always be differences among the Scholars who are Muqallids of the same Math-hab. Furthermore, such an attempt is uncalled for. Differences in the Math-hab never lead to disunity and conflict. Ignorance leads to disunity and conflict. We are taught to respect all the four Math-habs. Although we are followers of the Hanafi Math-habs, we always insist that followers of the other Math-habs adhere strictly to the ruling and teachings of their respective Math-habs. The belief of the followers of all Math-habs is that the Four Math-habs are on the Haqq because their basis is the Qur’aan and the Sunnah. While conceding that errors are possible and that errors in opinion have been committed, no Math-hab can be branded as baatil or in deviation. Rasulullah (sallall~hu alayhi wasallam) said:
“The differences of my Ummah are a blessing.”
Such differences existed among the Sahaabah also. These differences of the Sahaabah were inherited by the Students of the different Sahaabah, hence the differences in the Math-habs.
The Math-habs do not advocate sectarianism or antagonism among the followers of the different Math-habs as the deviant, anti-Math-hab Salafis of this age claim. We see such antagonism only in the ranks of the ignorant ones. If the Shaafi performs Witr in his way and the Hanafi in his way, what is the need for antagonism? Some of our friends are Shaafi Ulama for whom we have great respect and love. There is absolutely no ill-feeling. No sectarianism. No antagonism. But, jahl (ignorance) is an evil disease.
This letter is a very brief answer to your queries.