Is the door of ijtihad closed? (Part 1)

Who is Right?

Is the door of ijtihad closed?

Part 1

Mufti Muhammad Qasim Attari

In some circles, it has become fashionable to echo the phrase that Islam is in decline, arguing that the core reason for this is that the doors of ijtihad have been closed due to idle ulema who have been unable to move with the times. We will assess this claim in this article and its subsequent parts.

Ultimately, this claim reeks of the protestations of fake doctors who complain to the health department as to why they are not allowed to practise. They are confounded as to why they are not allowed to treat patients, whilst any reasonable person would answer by saying they are incapable and unqualified. For this reason, they should be not permitted to play with people’s lives. Hence, the door of medical ijtihad is closed for them. The same applies to unqualified thinkers who freely shared their uninformed views on Islamic law. They are rightly reminded of their lack of qualifications to address religious issues. Therefore, the door of Islamic ijtihad is closed for them. However, incompetent individuals continue to protest this matter. So we can safely say that indeed, the doors of ijtihad are closed, but only for the inept and unqualified.

These concerns apply to people from all walks of life. Simply because they have been elected to positions of responsibility in worldly affairs, they think they have reached the level of ijtihad in Islam. This could not be further from the truth, for how can these folks, who struggle to read the Quran correctly, delve into the oceans of ijtihad!

Think for a moment; should such people be stopped from enacting ijtihad the way fake doctors are stopped from practising, or will they be given permission to play with the public’s faith? Any reasonable person will answer that they should be forbidden from performing ijtihad, as this is a great responsibility entrusted to the Ummah.

 Allah states:

اِنَّ اللّٰہَ یَاۡمُرُکُمۡ اَنۡ تُؤَدُّوا الۡاَمٰنٰتِ اِلٰۤی اَہۡلِہَا ۙ

“Indeed, Allah commands you to hand over whatever you hold in trust to their owners.”[1]

 The Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم said:

فإذا ضيعت الأمانة فانتظر الساعة، قال: كيف إضاعتها؟ قال: إذا وسد الأمر إلى غير أهله فانتظر الساعة 

“When honesty is lost, then wait for the Hour.” Someone asked, “How will honesty be lost?” The Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم answered, “When authority is given to unfit people, then wait for the Hour.”[2]

The door of ijtihad is also closed to those who have read the Quran and hadith but are enslaved by their desires and fettered by their capricious whims. The ijtihad of such uneducated, self-proclaimed mujtahids distances people from Islam, draws them closer to their base desires, and leads to a revisionist approach which undermines 1400 years of scholarship. Such people are also incapable of conducting ijtihad. In order to understand the level of their incapability, one must study the Quran deeply.

Allah states:

فَخَلَفَ مِنۡۢ بَعۡدِھِمۡ خَلۡفٌ اَضَاعُوا الصَّلٰوۃَ وَ اتَّبَعُوا الشَّہَوٰتِ فَسَوۡفَ یَلۡقَوۡنَ  غَیًّا (ۙ۵۹

“So, after them in their place came those unworthy successors who missed Salah and pursued their lusts; so, they will therefore soon encounter the jungle of Ghayy in Hell (i.e. a dreadful valley in the Hellfire)”.[3]  

The context of this verse is that after mentioning many noble Prophets عَـلَـيْـهِمُ الـصَّلٰوةُ وَالـسَّـلَام  in Surah Maryam, Allah states that these are the people upon whom He has granted His special favour. They were given the rank of prophethood, they were firm on guidance, and they were chosen to interpret Allah’s sharia. The practical state of these individuals was such that whenever the Quran was recited, they would cry and fall into prostration.

However, the people after them were inept, and the sign of their incompetence was that “they wasted their prayers” and made it their lifelong goal “to follow nothing but their desires”. They will therefore “soon encounter the jungle of Ghayy in Hell.” Ghayy is the name of a valley in Hell, and it can also mean disobedience.

Now look towards the structure of the verse. First the perfected individuals who listen to the book of Allah and fall into prostration crying were described. Next, the people who came after them were mentioned, those who adopted sin, wasted their prayers, became slaves of their desires and continued to disobey Allah throughout their lives. The latter are those who deviated from the correct path and became the fuel of Hell.

Now we will look at the condition of the people of our time in light of the Quran. There are people who talk about opening an ijtihad think-tank as if it were a retail store. Then they fulfil their passion of ijtihad themselves or allow someone who sits in a government building and earns a high salary to perform ijtihad. Look at but a week of such people’s lives. The people who usually talk about carrying out ijtihad are typically academics, researchers, or religious scholars. Nevertheless, just observe them for a week. You will find that they fail to fulfil even the basic duties of Islam such as the 5 daily prayers.

After the year 2002, there was a man who would speak a lot about ijtihad. His interviews were published in magazines too. His ijtihad had reached a point where he declared that alcohol consumption was not a big deal. The issue of consuming alcohol was a matter of ijtihad according to him. Later it was discovered that he was a regular user of alcohol. The scholars say that the doors of ijtihad are closed for such people. The true, competent scholars of our time do engage in true ijtihad, by Allah’s grace. As new issues and problems arise, the scholars of Islam formulate legal solutions for them—and this is ijtihad.

The Imams of the four schools of jurisprudence and the later jurists did not address contemporary financial dealings or the modern banking system, for example. Yet, the true scholars of today have explained all these issues and developed Islamic legal solutions for them through ijtihad. It was the scholars of Malaysia, Indonesia, Qatar, Bahrain, Amman, and Dubai who laid the foundations of Islamic banking and successfully demonstrated it in practise. Then the scholars of Pakistan followed the scholars of these countries and did further work in this matter.

[1] [Kanz al-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 5, Surah al-Nisa, verse 58)

[2] aī al-Bukhāri, vol. 1, p. 36, hadith 59

[3] [Kanz al-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 16, Surah Maryam, verse 59)




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