Written by Br. Abuz-Zubair
The Opinion of the Majority: The Layman Has No Madhab, This is the opinion of the majority of the Malikis, Shafi’is and Hanbalis, according to Ibn Taymiyah.
It is also widely reported in Shafi’i sources, that Abu al-Fath al-Harawi – from the students of al-Shafi’i – said: “The Madhab of the generality of the followers (of al-Shafi’i), is that the layman has no Madhab. Hence, if he finds a Mujtahid, he makes Taqleed of him; and if he is unable to find one, but finds instead one who is well-acquainted with a Madhab, he makes Taqleed of him”
Al-Imam al-Nawawi says: “What is dictated by the evidence is that a person is not obliged to adhere to a Madhab; rather he should ask whoever he wishes.”
Ibn Qawan al-Shafi’i says in his al-Tahqiqat, “The truth is that it is not incumbent to adhere to a Madhab; Rather, a person should ask whoever he likes, but without seeking allowances (tatabbu’ al-rukhas).”
Mulla ‘Ali al-Qari al-Hanafi says (as reported by al-Ma’sumi): “It is not obligatory upon anyone from the Ummah to be a Hanafi, or a Maliki, or a Shafi’i, or a Hanbali; rather, it is obligatory upon everyone, if he is not a scholar, to ask someone from Ahl al-Dhikr (people of knowledge), and the four Imams are from amongst the Ahl al-Dhikr.”
Ibn al-Humam al-Hanafi says in his Tahrir (as quoted by al-Ma’sumi): “Adhering to a particular Madhab is not obligatory, according to the correct opinion, since nothing becomes obligatory, except that which Allah and His Messenger has commanded; and Allah and His Messenger did not oblige anyone to adhere to the Madhab of any particular individual from the Ummah, to make Taqleed of all that he says and to leave the sayings of everyone else. Surely, the blessed generations passed without obliging anyone to adhere to a particular Madhab.”
This is also the opinion of some of the leading Hanafi jurists of modern times, such as ‘Abdul-Fattah Abu Ghuddah – may Allah have mercy on him, (see his comments on al-Ihkam by al-Qarafi p. 231) in addition to Al-Zuhaili who says in his Usul al-Fiqh al-Islami 2/1166 that this is the correct opinion. He further adds, in the footnote of the same page, about the layman, that: “It is not correct for him to have a Madhab, even if he adheres to it.”
Ibn Muflih al-Hanbali, in al-Furu’, mentions the difference of opinion amongst the Malikis and Shafi’is, saying: “It not being obligatory is the most famous opinion”. Al-Mardawi comments: “And this is the correct opinion”.
Ibn al-Najjar al-Hanbali says: “A layman is not obliged to adhere to a Madhab…”
Ibn al-Qayyim says: “This is definitely the correct opinion, since there is nothing obligatory, except that which Allah and His Messenger made obligatory. And never did Allah or His Messenger oblige anyone to adhere to the Madhab of one of the Imams, to make Taqleed of one and leave the others.”
Ibn Taymiyah says: “If a Muslim faces an event without precedence, then he should ask the one he believes issues verdicts in accordance with Allah’s and His Messenger’s Shari’ah, irrespective of which Madhab he is from. It is not incumbent upon any Muslim to make Taqleed of a particular person amongst the scholars in everything he says” – to his words – “For one to follow someone’s Madhab due to his incapacity to find out the Shar’i ruling from other than him, then that is only permissible, and not something obligatory upon everyone if it becomes possible for one to obtain the knowledge of Shar’ through different means. In fact, everyone is obliged to fear Allah to his utmost, and seek the knowledge of what Allah and His Messenger have ordained, so that he may perform the ordered and abstain from the prohibited.”
He also says: “There are two opinions [with regards to this issue] amongst the followers of Ahmad, as well as amongst the followers of al-Shafi’i, and the majority from both groups do not oblige [adherence to one of the Madhabs]. And those who oblige it say: If one adheres to a Madhab, it is not possible for him to oppose it, so long as he is an adherent, or as long as it does not become clear to him that another Madhab is more worthy of being followed.”
He then discusses the issue of changing Madhabs and saying that if one changes his Madhab for worldly reasons, or merely seeking allowances, then that is, without doubt, condemned; it is like the companion who was known as ‘the migrant for Umm Qais’, who migrated from Makkah to Madinah to marry a woman, about which the Prophet said: “Indeed actions are based on intentions…”. As for the one who changes his Madhab due to religious reasons, or leaves an opinion in his Madhab when opinion of another Madhab appears stronger to him, then that is not only praiseworthy, but also obligatory, as no one has the right to oppose the verdict of Allah and His Messenger .
Hence, our conclusion is that, it is not obligatory on a layman to follow a Madhab, but it is still allowed for the one who finds no way but this, to obtain Allah’s ruling on an issue.
Prohibition of Devising Opinions and Following Allowances:
By ‘devising opinions’ (Talfiq), we mean the practice of selecting various opinions in a particular issue from the different Madhabs and combining them, such that the end result is considered invalid in the sight of all the Madhabs. An example of this would be for a person to wipe only a part of his head in Wudu, in accordance with the Shafi’i opinion, and then to touch a woman, while believing that does not break Wudu, following the Maliki opinion. Such Wudu, however, is invalid according to both Malikis and Shafi’is, because the Malikis believe in wiping the head in its entireity, whilst the Shafi’is believe that to touch a woman, even without desire, breaks one Wudu.
Although the majority of the latter scholars from the Malikis, Shafi’is and Hanbalis prohibit Talfiq absolutely, most of the Hanafis allow it. They argue that the phenomenon of Talfiq did not exist at the time of the Companions, as there were many occasions where a Companion would be asked about an issue yet he would not forbid the Mustafti from seeking Fatwa from other than him. Albani al-Husaini mentions many examples from the four Imams and their followers of practicing Talfiq, not to mention praying behind each other, in spite holding different opinions concerning the conditions of Wudu. In addition, many times a layman would ask numerous Muftis, without knowing the Madhabs they adhered to, about different aspect of prayer, which may often result in Talfiq, yet none considered their acts of worship to be invalid.
However, those who permit Talfiq, do not allow all of its types, and moreover, they stipulate further conditions. Therefore, the type of Talfiq they deem to be prohibited is when the end result in and of itself is Haram, such as the consumption of alcohol or fornication. An example of this is for a person to marry without a guardian, following the Hanafi opinion, and without any witnesses, following the Maliki opinion; The end result of such Talfiq is marrying a woman without guardian nor witnesses, which is essentially fornication, an act clearly forbidden by all scholars. Another type of prohibited Tafliq is that which is prohibited due to additional factors; for example to deliberately hunt out the most lenient opinions from the Madhabs, without any need or excuse. This is very brief discussion of the issue of Talfiq, and if the reader desires to know more of the issue, then the best resource would be Albani al-Husaini’s book “’Umdat al-Tahqiq Fi al-Taqlid wa al-Talfiq”.
Following allowances (Tatabbu’ al-Rukhas) is for a person to “pick and choose from every Madhab the most lenient opinion for himself”, as stated Ibn Qawan al-Shafi’i. That is, as Imam Ahmad said: “If a person were to act on the opinion of people of Kufa in [permissibility] of Wine (Nabidh), and the opinion of people of Madinah in [permissibility] of music, and the opinion of the people of Makkah in [permissibility] of temporary marriage (mut’ah), he would be considered a Fasiq”. Sulayman al-Taimi said: “If you were to take allowances of every scholar, all the evil will be gathered in you”.
The one who seeks and follows allowances is considered a Fasiq, according to the correct opinion, which has been expressed explicitly byAhmad (nass), as well as an opinion amongst Shafi’is. Ibn Taymiyah says that if it is allowed for the layman to make Taqleed of whomever he wishes, then what the statements of our [Hanbali] scholars indicate is that it is not permissible for him to seek and follow allowances in any circumstance. Al-Mardawi says that: “Ibn ‘Abdil-Bar mentioned consensus (Ijma’) on this issue, and such a person is regarded to be a Fasiq in the opinion of Ahmad – may Allah have mercy upon him – as well as others”. Although the consensus mentioned by ibn ‘Abdil-Barr is not definitely established, the prohibition of following allowances remains to be the opinion of the vast majority of the scholars. Even the minority who permit it – that is, the majority of the Hanafis – only do so in certain situations, such as a person facing extreme hardship, or a person affected with constant whispering from the devil (wiswas). This is understood from the statement of al-Zuhaili in the section on the occasions when Talfiq is prohibited: “Tatabbu’ al-Rukhas (following allowances) intentionally, that is, for one to deliberately select the most lenient opinion from every Madhab without any necessity or excuse, is forbidden, in order to prevent the means (Sadd al-Dhara’i) which would absolve one of their Shar’i responsibility.”
However, the correct opinion – and Allah knows best – is that which has been favoured by the majority of the scholars, namely, that Tatabbu’ al-Rukhas is forbidden under all circumstances; since a Muslim is obliged to follow the orders of Allah, and not merely the most lenient opinion, for that entails following desires, and not revelation.
Point of Benefit:
Those who oblige every layman to make Ijtihad and abandon Taqleed usually use statements of the four Imams that indicate absolute prohibition of Taqleed in support of their position, such as the statement of Abu Hanifah: “It is not allowed for anyone to follow our opinion if he does not know from where we obtained it”; or that of Malik: “I am only a human being, who is correct and errs. Hence, look into my opinions, and all that which corresponds to the Book and the Sunnah, follow it. And all that conflicts with the Book and the Sunnah, leave it”; or that of al-Shafi’i: “If you find in my book that which opposes the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah then follow the Sunnah Messenger of Allah and leave what I said”; or that of Ahmad: “Do not make Taqleed of me, nor Malik, nor al-Shafi’i, nor al-Awza’i, nor al-Thawri. Rather take from where they took”.
All these statements are correct, but they were not intended for every layman, rather they were addressed to the students of these Imams, while barely any of them was a Mujtahid Mutlaq. They were, however, able to derive rulings from the sources of Islam and assess and evaluate evidences. In this regard, Sheikh Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyah says: “[Imam Ahmad] would order the layman to ask (yustafti) Ishaq, Abu ‘Ubaid, Abu Thawr, Abu Mus’ab, whilst he would forbid the scholars from his followers, such as Abu Dawud (the compiler of Sunan), ‘Uthman ibn Sa’id, Ibrahim al-Harbi, Abu Bakr al-Athram, Abu Zur’ah, Abu Hatim al-Sajistani, Muslim (the compiler of Sahih) and others, from making Taqleed of anyone from the scholars. He would say to them: You must refer to the sources, to the Book and the Sunnah.”
(See al-Manhaj 373-376, al-Tahqiqat 643-645, Majmu’ah 20/116, 124-126, al-Mustadrak 2/241, 258, al-Furu’ 6/492, al-Insaf 11/147, I’lam 6/203-205, Mukhtasar al-Tahrir 103, Hal al-Muslim Mulzam… 14, Rawdhat al-Talibin 11/117, Usul al-Fiqh al-Islami 2/1166
a) There is absolutely no evidence from the sources of Islam – the Qur’an, Sunnah, consensus (Ijma’) and analogy (qiyas) – nor a statement from one of the four Imams in support of this position.
Ibn al-Qayyim says: “This is an ugly innovation, which was never claimed by anyone of the Imams of Islam, while they are the most high in ranking, and most respected, and the most knowledgeable of Allah and His Messenger to oblige the people with that.”
b) The only argument used by these scholars is the principle of ‘blocking the means’ (Sadd al-Dhara’i) for the layman to pick and choose whatever he likes from opinions, and thereby, freeing himself from Shari’ responsibilities, resulting in chaos. However, the one who looks at this issue justly, realises that this is merely a case of extending Sadd al-Dhara’i beyond that which is necessary, like for one to prohibit the growing of grapes, in case people use it to make wine. Moreover, the Hanafis and Shafi’is – if they do not deny its use altogether – are extremely lenient in applying this principle, so how can they use this as a support for their position. On the other hand, most of those who do not oblige the layman, with that which Allah did not oblige him, explicitly forbid a layman from seeking and following allowances. Moreover, following allowances is as much applicable to a Mujtahid as it is to a layman, as is apparent from the opinion of al-Qadhi Abu Ya’la (see footnote #52) and therefore, obliging the layman alone with adherence to a Madhab is not a solution to the problem.
c) This opinion necessitates that a person may only ask a Mufti of his own Madhab, even if the Mufti of a different Madhab is more knowledgeable and pious, and the truth lies with him. This also makes unnecessary restrictions on the Mustafti and causes him unnecessary hardship.
Ibn Taymiyah says: “Sticking to a Madhab necessitates obedience of other than the Prophet in all that he commands and forbids, and that is opposed to consensus (Ijma’).”
Ibn al-Qayyim says: “This opinion necessitates the prohibition of asking the scholars of Madhabs different to his, as it equally necessitates the prohibition of adhering to a Madhab similar to, or better than, that of his Imam, as well as other things that this approach entails, the invalidity of which points to the invalidity of the opinion itself. In fact, it necessitates that if he sees a text from the Messenger of Allah or an opinion of the four Caliphs, aiding someone other than his Imam, that he should abandon the text and the opinions of the Companions, and give precedence to the one to whom he attributes himself.”
d) Those who oblige the layman with Taqleed of a Madhab say that he must make Ijtihad in choosing a Madhab and then follow it. Moreover, Ibn al-Salah and al-Nawawi from the Shafi’is and Ibn Hamdan from the Hanbalis say that the layman should not simply pick and choose a Madhab as he wishes, nor should he incline to the Madhab of his fore fathers. Undoubtedly, this opinion obliges something on a layman which he is unable to accomplish, since, for a layman to be capable of comparing between Madhabs requires him to possess knowledge of the principles of each Madhab, as well as some background information on its founder, his companions, some of the major books, and generally how close each of the Madhabs are to the revelation, and this, as is apparent, is obliging the Muqallid with that which is far beyond his capacity. Moreover, a layman must also look at the Madhab predominantly followed in his land; for if a layman decides to make Taqleed of the Hanbali Madhab, because he believes it closest to the truth, whilst he is a resident in a country which is predominantly Hanafi, then his ‘Ijtihad’ in finding the most suitable Madhab will be pointless. Surely, the difficulty and inappropriateness of this methodology is only too obvious, as well as it being a divergence from what the layman is required to learn from the basics of the five pillars, to that which is of no benefit to him in this world or the next.
e) From the evil consequences of obliging the layman to compare between Madhabs is the spread of sectarianism and fanaticism in adherence to a Madhab. One cannot but notice sectarianism amongst the scholars who oblige the layman to make Taqleed of one of the Madhabs. Hence, Ibn al-Salah al-Shafi’i, while discussing this issue, claims to simplify the process of choosing the right Madhab, by arguing that because al-Shafi’i came after the great Imams like Abu Hanifah, Malik and others, he was able to look into their opinions, compare and evaluate, nor was he followed by someone else of his calibre; therefore, it follows that his Madhab is more worthy of being followed. Then came al-Nawawi, who summarised the work of Ibn al-Salah and included it in his Majmu’, using Ibn al-Salah’s argument in preferring the Shafi’i Madhab. Then came Ibn Hamdan al-Hanbali, who relied much on Ibn al-Salah and al-Nawawi’s work, except that he replaced ‘al-Shafi’i’ with ‘Ahmad ibn Hanbal’, and further refuted the Shafi’is in their preference of the Shafi’i Madhab over other Madhabs, arguing that since Ahmad was the last of the Imams, he was able to investigate into the opinions of Abu Hanifah, Malik as well as al-Shafi’i, and then compare and evaluate them; and since there is none after Ahmad of his calibre, it follows that Ahmad’s Madhab is the most worthy of being followed!
Whereas the truth, as Sheikh Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiya said, is that: “Most of the people speak out of conjecture and what the hearts desire, for they do not know the reality of the levels of Imams and Sheikhs, nor do they intend to follow the truth completely; rather, everyone’s heart desires that he favours the one he follows, and so he prefers him (over other Imams) based on conjecture, even if he has no proof for that. Sometimes, it may even lead to quarrelling, fighting and disunity, which is something Allah and His Messenger prohibited.”
Indeed, it led to wars amongst the Hanafis and the Shafi’is in Asfahan that resulted in the burning and destruction of the city as reported in Mu’jam al-Buldan 1/209. Hanafis and Shafi’is are known for their rivalry throughout Islamic history. It was their fanaticism, which lead some of Hanafis to say: “It is allowed for a Hanafi to marry a Shafi’i woman, but it is not allowed for a Shafi’i to marry a Hanafi woman. We regard them to be like the people of the Book”. Another fanatic, who was a Hanafi, saw in a dream that the Shafi’is will enter paradise before the Hanafis, so he became a Shafi’i. Even Imams such as al-Juwaini, wrote a book insulting the Hanafi Madhab and obliging everyone to follow the Shafi’i Madhab, which al-Kawthari – the “Abu Hanifah fanatic” – rebutted, insulting the Shafi’i Madhab; indeed, in some books, he went further than that and would even cast doubt on his lineage (as he did in his Ta’neeb), while the Prophet explicitly considered such behaviour to be from the acts of Jahiliyah!
Amongst the examples Hanafi fanaticism is what Muhammad ibn Musa al-Hanafi (d. 506) said: “If I had the authority, I would have charged Jizya on the Shafi’is”. Some Hanafis fanatics even claimed that ‘Isa – peace be upon him – would rule according to the Hanafi Madhab upon his return. Another one of them claimed that al-Khidr would attend the lessons of Abu Hanifah in the mornings, and after his death, he would go to Abu Hanifah’s grave to continue his lessons. Another one of them claimed that Allah called out to Abu Hanifah and said: “You and all those adhering to your Madhab are forgiven”!
Amongst the signs of such fanaticism in the ranks of the Shafi’is is what al-Nawawi reported from al-Isfara’ini, that a Shafi’i may not pray behind a Hanafi, due to the Hanafis not fulfilling the conditions of Wudu as affirmed by the Shafi’is. Another Shafi’i, al-Subki, claims that Allah told him to adhere to the Madhab of al-Shafi’i in his dream.
Indeed, it was due to obliging every layman to adhere to a Madhab that once a Sunni Iran, was turned into a Shiite Iran, when the Iranian ruler, Kharabandah ordered the Iranians to adhere to the Shiite Madhab.
If this is the condition of the learned men amongst the jurists, then what is expected of the layman? Therefore, if the principle of Sadd al-Dhara’i is to be applied, then surely it is more worthy of being applied here, in order to prevent internal conflicts between Madhabs and for the promotion of unity.
f) A layman cannot be attributed to a Madhab, because a person’s attribution to the Madhab must be based on reasonable links between a person and the Madhab. However, in reality, it is quite common for the layman to not even know the founder of the Madhab he might be attributing himself to, and therefore, such attribution is deemed senseless. Adherence to a Madhab is for those who take up the path of education by gradually learning the books of a Madhab, knowing the evidences and the methodology of deducing rulings according to the principles of a Madhab. As for attributing an ignorant layman to a Madhab, then that is nothing but oppression on that Madhab; for in how many instances, a person who claims to be following certain Madhab, is clueless about the opinions of the Madhab with regards to the basics of ritual purification (Taharah) and prayer. Furthermore, many laymen are, in fact, following their culture, while believing they are following their Madhab. Indeed, many of those who may attribute themselves to a Madhab, might not even be Muslims, if they are those who are drowned in sins that amount to Kufr or Shirk! So from what angle or perspective, or from what justice should a layman be regarded an adherent to any Madhab?
Ibn al-Humam says in his Tahrir (as reported by al-Ma’sumi): “…majority of the Muqallids say: I am a Hanafi, or a Shafi’i, while having no knowledge about the path of his Imam, hence, he does not become so by merely a claim. This is as if he were to say: I am a jurist, or an author; he does not become as such, by merely a claim, whilst he is far distant from the life of his Imam. Therefore, how can such attribution be valid, by merely a claim, and futile speech without any meaning?!”
Ibn al-Qayyim says: “A layman cannot have a Madhab even if he adheres to one, for the layman has no Madhab. This is because the Madhab is only for the one who has some insight and a way of deducing rulings, who also has insight into Madhabs befitting his level, or the one who studies a book in the applied Fiqh of that Madhab, and knows the verdicts of his Imam and his sayings. As for the one who has not accomplished any of that, yet says: I am a Shafi’i or a Hanbali, or other than that, then he does not become that merely by his claim. This is as if he were to say: I am a jurist, or a grammarian, or an author, he does not become one merely by a claim.
What makes it clearer is that the one, who says he is Shafi’i or a Maliki, or a Hanafi, actually claims that he is the follower of that Imam, adhering to his way. This can only be true for him if he were to tread his path in knowledge, understanding and deduction. As for one who is ignorant and distant from the life of the Imam, his knowledge and his path, how can his attribution to him be correct, with merely a claim, and futile speech in every sense?”
Misconceptions About Ibn Rajab’s Position:
There are some from the contemporaries who claim that Ibn Rajab in his book ‘al-Radd ‘ala Man Ittaba’a Ghair Madhahib al-Arba’ah’ (Rebuttal of those who follow other than the four Madhabs), obliges the layman to adhere to a Madhab. However, the book does not even deal with the aforementioned issue, for in no place does Ibn Rajab speak about obliging the layman to stick to a Madhab; rather, his book is a general advice to some of his contemporaries amongst the jurists who, according to him, did not reach any level of Ijtihad, while they also freed themselves from Taqleed, and began to issue verdicts that fall outside of the four Madhabs. This also corresponds to what Ibn Taymiyah said that the truth generally does not fall outside the four Madhabs, while in very few issues, it may fall outside of the four Madhabs according to the correct opinion.
Nor is it correct to understand from the book that Ibn Rajab condemns anyone who opposes the Imam of his Madhab, or claims Ijtihad. This is because Ibn Rajab says in the same book (page 25-26), that in spite of the four Imams and their Madhabs, people have appeared, claiming Ijtihad and do not make Taqleed of any of the Imams; and amongst them are those who are truly Mujtahids and those that are not. What further supports this is that we find Ibn Rajab describing Sheikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah as a “Mujtahid” in his Dha’il Tabaqat. In fact, even Ibn Rajab himself did not adhere to his Madhab in every issue, for he was also known for his verdict on three Talaqs only occurring as one (as mentioned in al-Jawhar by ibn al-Mabrid), an opinion which falls outside of the four Madhabs, which he later left for the majority opinion.
(See Principles 314-317, al-Wadih 162, Majmu’ah 20/161, Mawsu’at Ahl al-Sunnah 2/988-992, I’lam 6/203-205, al-Mustadrak 2/250, 251, Tasmiyat al-Muftin 72)