The Meaning of Ijma'
Dr. Ahmad Shafaat
means consensus, that is, acceptance of a matter by a specified
group of people. In Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) the
matter on which ijma' is of interest is understood in
one of the two following ways:
Any matter related to Shari'ah(1)
Any matter (of interest to Muslims)(2)
The group involved in the consensus is
understood in the following ways, in which an exception is made for
children and those who suffer from mental disorder:
All Muslims of all times(3)
All Muslims of a particular time(4)
(In the following
definitions an age after the death of the Prophet is assumed.)
All mujtahidin who are just,
righteous and who avoid bid'a (innovation)(5)
All mujtahidin who avoid
innovation including those who may not be muttaqin
(righteous and God-fearing)(6)
Majority of all mujtahidin(7)
All companions of the Prophet(9)
of Makka and Madina (or Kufa and Basra)(10)
The first four khulafa or the first
The last three opinions are not strictly
speaking definitional, that is, ijma' is not defined
as agreement, say, between the first two khulafa but rather that
such an agreement realizes ijma'.
Types of ijma'
Explicit (ijma' 'azima or
ijma' qawli). This type of ijma' takes place
as follows: A question arises and people express their different
views. Then there is discussion on these views and finally a
common position is agreed upon.(13)
Silent (ijma' rukhsat or
ijma' sakuti). If an opinion is expressed by some and their
contemporaries, after learning about it, have made no comments
either in favor or against, then we have what is known as
Unknown opposition ('adam al-ilm
bi al-mukhalif). This situation occurs when a view generally
held but it is not known whether or not there are experts who
disagree with it.(15)
Absolute (ijma' qat'i). This is
ijma' on a matter in which there never has been any
sustained difference (ikhtilaf mustaqar) and which is
established with tawatur (continuity), that is, we can show
that all generations of Muslims or Muslim mujtahidin agreed
on the matter.(16)
The authority of ijma'
The following opinions exist among
jurists about the type of authority possessed by ijma':
provides a conclusive proof for a view.(17)
is only an argument for a view but not a conclusive proof.(18)
Only ijma' of the
companions (suhaba) provides conclusive proof.(19)
Silent ijma' is not a
Silent ijma' is not a
conclusive proof except in case of the suhaba(21) or in
case it remains in place for a period of time(22) or in
case circumstances establish that silence meant approval.(23)
established by an absence of knowledge of opposition is not
Other issues connected
Is it possible for ijma' to take
place without basis (sanad) from the Qur'an, Hadith or
Qiyas (analogy)? The following views exist among jurists:
It is not possible for the
Muslim Ummah or the jurists to agree on a position without
sanad from the Qur'an, Hadith or qiyas.(25)
It is not possible for ijma'
to take place without sanad from the Qur'an or Hadith. (Qiyas
cannot be a basis for ijma'.)(26)
It is not possible for ijma'
to have validity unless it is on the basis of qiyas.(27)
It is possible for ijma' to
take place without any sanad from the Qur'an, Hadith, or
In the books of fiqh there are
many rulings for which no sanad is found anywhere. Those who
believe that ijma' is possible with sanad explain this
by saying that isnad for these rulings once existed but are
Another issue raised in connection with
ijma' is as follows:
If in an age jurists held one or the
other of two (ijma' ala qawlayn) or more views, it is
permissible to hold a view different from these two or more views.
For example, if a man leaves only a grandfather and a brother as his
inheritors, then there are found only two opinions concerning their
shares. First, the two will share inheritance equally. Second, all
inheritance will go to the grandfather. Is it possible to have a
According to al-Amdi the answer is
negative for a majority of jurists and positive for some shi'a, some
Hanafi jurists and some ahl al-zahir (people who reject
According to Sadr al-Shari'ah
hanafi jurists agree that ijma' of suhaba on two or
more views on a matter binds us to stay within those views but they
disagree concerning the ages after the suhaba.(30)
Refusal to accept
If a ruling is reached by a form of
ijma' considered conclusive by some scholars, then in the eyes
of those scholars that ruling must be obeyed and the failure to do
so after knowing about it is haram. But what if a person
refuses to accept that ruling all together? Will he be committing
Even when scholars
consider a form of ijma' conclusive and binding, they do not
necessarily regard the rejection of a ruling reached by it as
kufr. They are in general far more
cautious in declaring refusal to reject the result of ijma'
on a matter as kufr than in declaring a particular type of
ijma' as conclusive and binding.
Almost all jurists agree that refusal to
accept an ijma' other than an ijma of suhaba or
an ijma established with continuity, tawatur, in all
the previous generations of Muslims (ijma' qat'i),
like the Qur'anic verses, is not kufr. In case of ijma'
suhaba and ijma' qat'i two cases are distinguished:
on matters related to the fundamentals of din whose
comprehension is needed by all Muslims, e.g. the belief in the
oneness of God and in prophethood, the obligatory character of the
five "pillars" of Islam, facing the Ka'bah while praying, the
number of rak'at in each prayer, the times for hajj and fasting,
prohibition of adultery, alcoholic drinks, stealing and usury.
on matters whose knowledge is expected only from "specialists" (khawas),
e.g. marrying at the same time a woman and her paternal aunt or a
murderer being cut off from inheritance.
There seems to be a general
agreement that refusal to accept ijma' suhaba or ijma
qat'i on matters of the first category is kufr but
opinions differ as to whether a refusal to accept ijma' suhaba
or ijma qat'i on matters of the second category is also
Imam al-Harmayn (Diya al-Din 'Abd
al-Malik al-Juwayni) says that refusing to accept a method of
deriving rules of shari'ah is not kufr. Therefore, a person
does not accept the principle of ijma' as a valid source of
rules is not a kafir. Only a person who accepts the principle
of ijma' and also recognizes that a certain ruling is based
on ijma' and then refuses to accept it can be declared as
Justifying the binding
authority of ijma'
Is the principle that in some form
ijma' provides conclusive argument and has binding authority
taught in the Qur'an and Hadith?
There is no agreement among jurists as
to which statements in the Qur'an and Hadith,best replica watches if any, provide
justification for the principle of ijma'. Generally the
jurists see a justification for the principle in the Qur'anic
verses: 2:143, 3:103, 3:110, 4:59 and 4:115. But Sadr al-Shari'ah
(33) finds nothing in 2:143, 3:110, and 4:115. Instead he uses
3:105, 98:4, 9:122, 4:59, 91:7, 16:43, 9:115. Allama al-Taftazani
(34) however, rejects all the arguments by Sadr al-Shari'ah.
There are also some ahadith that are
used in support of the principle of ijma'. Al-Ghazali(35)
says that of these ahadith the strongest support for the principle
of ijma' is provided by: lan tajtami'u ummati 'ala al-dalala
(My Ummah cannot get together on the wrong way). But Shah Wali Allah(36)
says that this hadith "does not mean that ijma' is hujja
The truth is that
there is no argument supporting ijma' on the basis of the
Qur'an and Hadith for which reputed jurists have not raised a
whole series of objections. And we even
have reputed jurists like Imam al-Harmayn al-Juwayni who "recognized
that in the received teachings there is no proof that ijma'
has binding authority (wajib al-ittiba') and the final resort
is to "reason" and that "the arguments on the basis of reason are
The difficulty of supporting ijma'
on the basis of revelation is illustrated by a report about Imam
Shafi'i. It is related by Muhammad Yahya ibn Shaykh Aman(38)
that the Imam was asked about a proof for ijma' from the
Qur'an. The Imam went into seclusion (ihtikaf) in his house
for three days and each day read the whole Qur'an in search of a
proof. Finally he came up with the verse 4:115. As we have already
noted this verse is not enough for Sadr al-Shari'ah and Imam al-Harmayn.
Although it would be unacceptable to
establish ijma' by the use of ijma' but
it is interesting to note that ijma' is
not proved even by ijma' itself. To see this
let us distinguish between two definitions of ijma':
As the majority view
As the unanimous view
Now the majority of jurists do not agree
that the majority view constitutes ijma' with binding
authority.(39) Hence under the
first definition ijma' is not proved by ijma'.
Take now the second definition. We have seen above there is no view
of ijma' on which jurists unanimously agree except possibly
ijma' suhaba and ijma' qat'i. We cannot, however,
demonstrate that the suhaba believed that their ijma' or
ijma' qat'i has binding authority, while such a demonstration
would obviously be necessary to prove ijma' on the basis of
Two genuine Islamic
Whatever the definition and authority of
ijma' may be, there is no denying the fact that the principle
of ijma' addresses two genuine and very important Islamic
The need of the Muslims to know what
the Islamic teachings on various matters are.
The need to form an Islamic society
capable of taking unified action when such action is required.
Now basic Islamic teachings can be known
easily from the Qur'an and Hadith, especially if a person is endowed
with iman. The Qur'an says:
"We have made the
Qur'an easy to understand and remember, so is there any to pay
However, in some details uncertainty can
arise due to the following factors:
Like most statements, no matter how
clear, the verses of the Qur'an and ahadith of the Prophet can be
often understood in more than one way.
It may not be possible to uniquely
determine which Qur'anic verses and prophetic ahadith are
applicable to a given question and in which order.
It may not be certain whether some
applicable ahadith are authentic or not.
The Qur'an and Hadith may not contain
answers to questions faced a long period after the revelation and
so people come up with their own different answers by qiyas
(analogy) or by other less than completely objective approaches.
Now, as far as individuals are
concerned, they can still lead righteous lives despite different
possible answers to some questions of detail, as indeed Muslims have
done throughout history. The Qur'an guarantees
that everyone who has ikhlas (sincerity, honesty) and strives
in the way of God (which includes controlling one's desires, obeying
the clear commandments and practicing dhikr and fikr,
that is, remembrance of God and thinking and reflecting) will be
protected from the devil, that is, going astray and will be shown
the path of God:
"And (the devil)
said: By Your honor (O Lord) I will lead them all astray except
such among Your servants as are sincere." (38:83)
"And those who exert
effort in Our way we show them Our paths and God is surely with
the good." (29:69)
So, individuals will be able to find the
way of God despite differences in matters of detail. However, often
a need is felt by Muslims for collective, united, action and in such
cases differences in views can be crippling. This is why the
establishment of Islamic states in Muslim countries has been found
very difficult. In fact, it can be said
without hesitation that after the time of four rightly guided
khulafa Islam has largely existed as a way of life of individuals
and not of societies. Yet it is clearly an intention of Islam
to shape both individuals and societies according to its principles.
One of the
purposes of ijma' is to limit differences and to prevent them
from disintegrating the Muslim society. This
role of ijma' is comparable to the role of the Pope in
Catholicism. But ijma' has not been as effective in ensuring
cohesion of the society and in providing answers to new questions.
This is because ijma' is itself subject
to differences of views, as we have seen above. Furthermore,
it is often extremely difficult to know whether or not ijma'
on a matter has taken place, so much so that Imam Ahmad bin Hambal
reportedly used to say that anyone claiming ijma' (after the
age of suhaba) is a liar.(40) In other words, we do not
know exactly what ijma' is or what it is saying. In contrast,
those who believe in papacy can know both who the Pope is and what
he is saying.
This, of course, does not mean that
Muslims should adopt something like the institution of papacy. The
idea of a priestly hierarchy having an exclusive right to define
religious doctrines and rules and given obedience as infallible is
totally against the grain of Islam and is apparently condemned as
shirk in the Qur'an:
"And (Jews and
Christians) take their ahbar (priests) and ruhban (monks,
saints) as lords besides God" (9:31)
Indeed, history shows that an
institution like that of papacy can, along with cohesion and
continuity in the life of a group, cause untold repression and
plunge a society in the uttermost depths of darkness.
So, how can we achieve maximum
enlightenment and freedom of thought and conscience along with
cohesion and continuity? By following four well-known Islamic
institution of an Islamic government
government by consultation
rule by majority
Amr bi al-ma'ruf wa nahi 'an
al-mukar, enjoining right and forbidding
These four principles require the
following mode for the functioning of a suhaba on "decisions". These
always concerned legal rulings, state policies, strategies for war,
etc. In the interpretation of Qur'an and Hadith we can encounter
purely theological questions (e.g. whether the ascension of Jesus
was physical or spiritual). On such questions ijma' of
suhaba has been seldom demonstrated, if at all.
Whatever has been said above about
ijma' suhaba also applies to ijma' qat'i.
No other type of ijma' by itself
constitutes a conclusive historical argument that a certain position
is Islamic. Most ijma'at do carry weight but how much weight
will depend on direct evidence from Qur'an and Hadith and other
1. Sadr al-Shari'ah 'Ubayd Allah,
Tanqih wa Sharh al-Tawdih (Egypt, 1957), II, 211.
2. 'Abd al-Wahhab Taj al-Din ibn al-Subki,
Jam' al-Jawani' (Cairo: Mustafa al Babi al-Halbi), second
edition, II, 176.
3. Abu 'Abd al-Rahman al-Shafi'i
according to Muhammad al-Shawkani, Irshad al-Fahul ila Tahqiq al-Haqq
min 'Ilm al-Usul (Cairo: Mustafa al-Babi al-Halbi, 1356H/1937),
first edition, 83.
4. Qadi Abu Bakr Baqalani according to:
'Abd al-'Aziz al-Bukhari, Kashf al-Israr Sharh Bazdwi
(Egypt), iii, 237-239.
6. Ibid, III, 238.
7. al-Tabari and Abu Bakr Razi according
to: Sayf al-Din al-Amdi, Ahkam al-Ahkam (Egypt: Muhammad Ali
Sabih, 1347H), I, i20.
8. This view is held by Khawarij who
consider themselves as mu'minin. See Jamal al-Din al-Asmawi,
Nihaya al-Sawal fi Sharh Minhaj (Egypt: al-Maktaba al-Mahmudiyya
al-Tijara, 1340H), II, 233-234.
9. Da' ud Zahiri according to: al-Amdi,
op. cit. I, 117.
10.al-Amdi, op. cit., I, 125 and
Muhammad Yahya ibn Shaykh Aman, Nuzha al-Mushtaq (Egypt:
Matba' Hijazi, 1370H/195), 598.
11. al-Amdi, op. cit., I, 124.
12. al-Amdi, op. cit., I, 127.
13. Shah Wali Allah, Qura al-'aynayn
fi Tafsil al-Shaykhayn (Dheli: Mujtaba'i, 1310H) 251-255. Also
see: Muhammad Abu Zahra, Imam Ahmad bin Hambal, 267-268.
14. al-Shawkani, op. cit., 84.
15. Abu Zahra, op. cit., 267-268.
16. 'Abn al-'Ala, Fawatih al-Rahmuwat,
(Bulaq, 1325H), II, 143.
17. al-Shawkani, op. cit., 78.
18. al-Amdi, op. cit., 79. Shi'a also
hold the same view. For them ijma' has no authority unless it is
supported by qawl ma'sum (word of an infallible imam) which is
authoritative anyway (al-Bukhari, op. cit., III, 252).
19. Some hanafi jurists and Imam Bazdwi
according to: al-Amdi, op. cit., 79.
20. Da'ud Zahiri, Abu Bakr Baqlani
according to: al-Bukhari, op. cit., 84.
21. al-Shawkani. op. cit., 84.
22. al-Bukhari, op. cit., III, 228.
23. Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali,al-Mustasfa
min 'Ilm al-Usul (Bulaq, 1325H), I,191
24. Shams al-Din ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya,
'Ilam al-Mu'qi'in 'an Rabb al-'Alamin (Dheli), I, 32-33; II,
25. al-Amdi, op. cit., I, 135. Shah Wali
Allah says in Hujjat Allah al-Baligha (Egypt: 1352H), I, 121
that an ijma' without sanad will become a cause of tahrif
(corruption) in religion as in the case of Jews and Christians.
26. al-Shawkani, op. cit., 79-80.
27. & 28. Ibid
29. Op. cit., I, 137.
30. Op. cit., II, 42.
31. al-Amdi, op. cit., I, 144; and Sa'd
al-Din Mas'ud al-Taftazani, al-Talwih 'ala al-Tawdih (Egypt:
Muhammad Ali al-Sahih, 1957), II, 47.
32. See Muhammad Amin al-Husayni, al-Taysir
al-Tahrir (Egypt: Mustafa al-Babi al-Halbi, 1351H), III, 258.
33. Op. cit., II, 48-51.
34. Op. cit., II, 50.
35. Op. cit., I, 175.
36. al-Insaf fi Bayan Sabab al-Ikhtilaf
(Dheli: Mujtabai, 1935), I, 118-119.
37. See Qadi Taqi al-Din and 'Abd al-Wahhab,
al-Ibhaj fi Sharh al-Minhaj (Egypt: al-Maktaba al-Mahmudiyya
al-Tijariyya, 1340H), II, 239-240.
38. Op. cit., 576.
39. al-Amdi, op. cit., I, 120.
40. Ibn al-Qayyin al-Jawziyya, op. cit.,