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Doctrine of Ijma

Doctrine of Ijma

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05/03/2011

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The Doctrine of
Ijma 
:Is there a consensus?
Dr. Mohammad Omar FarooqAssociate Professor of Economics and FinanceUpper Iowa UniversityJune 2006
[Draft: Feedbacks welcome]
 
 
Ijma 
or consensus is one of the four sources of Islamic jurisprudence. The Qur'an and theSunnah are two primary and foundational sources, while
ijma 
and
qiyas 
(analogical reasoning)are two secondary sources.
“Classical Muslim methodology (
usul 
) refers to the basic textual sources and methodsused in producing Muslim attitudes in different spheres of life including internationalrelations. These sources are the Qur'an, Sunnah,
ijma 
(consensus), and ijtihad (the useof human reason or
aql 
) in elaboration and interpretation of the Shari'ah.
Ijtihad 
includesthe fourth major
source of Muslim thought, the qiyas (analogy) ...”
1
 "... no one at all should [give an opinion] on a specific matter by merely saying: It ispermitted or prohibited, unless he is certain of [legal] knowledge, and this knowledgemust be based on the Qur'an and the sunna, or [derived] from
ijma 
(consensus) and
qiyas 
(analogy)."
2
 From dogma to norms to laws/codes,
ijma 
is recognized to have a pivotal place in Islamicdiscourse and socio-religious unity."This important doctrine played a vital role in the integration of the Muslim community. Inits early phase it manifested itself as a general average opinion, a common feeling of thecommunity, and as a binding force of the body of law against unsuccessful and strayopinions. In the classical period it developed with its complex theory and ramifications. Itbecame a decisive authority in religious affairs. All religious doctrines were standardizedthrough
ijma 
. Its rejection was considered heresy, indeed sometimes tantamount tounbelief."
3
 "It must be noted ... that unlike the Qur'an and Sunnah,
ijma 
does not directly partake ofdivine revelation. As a doctrine and proof of Shari'ah,
ijma 
is basically a rational proof.The theory of
ijma 
is also clear on the point that it is a binding proof."
4
 
"Ijma 
plays a crucial role in the development of Shari'a. The existing body of fiqh is theproduct of a long process of
ijtihad 
and
ijma 
."
5
 
“Only
ijma 
can put an end to doubt, and when it throws its weight behind a ruling, thisbecomes decisive and infallible.
Ijma 
has primarily been regarded as the instrument ofconservatism and of preserving the heritage of the past. ...
Ijma 
enhances the authority ofrules that are of speculative origin. Speculative rules do not carry a binding force, butonce an
ijma 
is held in their favor, they become definitive and binding. ... Lastly,
ijma 
 represent authority. Once an
ijma 
is established it tends to become an authority in its own
right, and its roots in the primary sources are gradually weakened or even lost.”
6
 
1
AbdulHamid A. AbuSulayman.
The Islamic Theory of International Relations: New Directions for Islamic Methodology and Thought 
[Herndon, VA: The International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1987], pp.58-59.
2
Al-Shafi'i.
Al-Shafi'i's Risala: Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence 
[translated byMajid Khadduri; Cambridge, UK: The Islamic Texts Society, 2nd Edition, 1987], p. 78.
3
Ahmad Hasan.
The Doctrine of Ijma': A Study of the Juridical Principle of Consensus 
[New Delhi,India: Kitab Bhaban, 2003. See Introduction.
4
Mohammad Hashim Kamali.
Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence 
[Cambridge, UK: Islamic TextsSociety, 2003], p. 228.
5
Kamali, p. 231.
6
Kamali, p. 232.
 
Interestingly, despite the well established position of
ijma 
in Islamic jurisprudence, commonMuslims generally are unfamiliar with the reality that
ijma 
as an authority or source of Islamic jurisprudence stands on rather very thin ice. While
ijma 
has played to certain extent an integrativerole in Islamic legal discourse, it also has contributed to some entrenched divisiveness. But evenmore importantly, there have been abuses of
ijma 
, as a frequently cited tool to quieten theopponents. Also, the abuse has occurred through the frequent claims of
ijma 
on something,where there isn't any
ijma 
. This issue is of vital importance, because the orthodox is that if thereis
ijma 
on something, whether dogma or legal issues, it is binding upon the Muslims.Those who are not familiar with
ijma 
as a concept or dogma might wonder as to why I haven'tprovided any definition about
ijma 
right at the start. Well, there is a valid reason. The readersmight be surprised (even shocked) to learn that there isn't a consensus (
ijma)
even about thedefinition of
ijma.
In this essay, the notion of
ijma 
is discussed in sufficient detail to introduce thecommon Muslims to be familiar with the uses and abuses of this otherwise valid tool of Islamic jurisprudence. It also provides ample illustrations to help the readers recognize and appreciatethe fact that there is still room for utilizing
ijma 
, if its prevalent problems and limitations are dealtwith and appropriately adapted to make it relevant to our contemporary time.
Orthodox emphasis on
ijma 
 
This chapter draws extensively from Ahmad Hasan's comprehensive work, where all thereferences are fully annotated.Al-Baydawi (d. 482 A.H.), a Hanafi scholar:"One who rejects the doctrine of ijma rejects the religion at large. This is because the orbit of allthe fundamentals of religion and their returning point is the
ijma 
of Muslims."
7
 Al-Sarakhsi (d. 490 A.H), another Hanafi scholar:"One who denies the validity of
ijma 
seeks to indirectly demolish religion per se."
8
 Abd al-Malik al-Juwayni (d. 478 A.H.), a Shafi'i scholar:"
Ijma 
is the strap and support of the Shari'ah and to it the Shari'ah owes its authenticity."
9
 Al-Qarafi (d. 684 A.H.), a Maliki jurist:"
Ijma 
is anterior in respect of decisiveness to the other three sources of law, namely the Qur'an,Sunnah and Qiyas."
10
 Notably, al-Juwayni stakes Shari'ah's authenticity not on the Qur'an, Sunnah or
qiyas 
, but on
ijma 
. Al-Qarafi has gone even much further. In terms of decisiveness, he regarded
ijma 
having aposition higher than the Qur'an, Sunnah and
qiyas 
.
“Some jurists have exaggerated the value of ijma so much so that they consider it prior to
the Qur'an and Sunnah. In favour of this view it is argued that both the Qur'an andSunnah are liable to abrogation and interpretation. But ijma is infallible and decisive.There is no room for doubt if a rule is supported by ijma. It is also prior to
qiyas 
(analogy)because the latter is sometimes liable to fallacy. It is worthy of remark that the ijma whichis considered prior to the Qur'an and Sunnah is the kind which is decisive (
qat'i 
), verfal(
lafzi 
), visible or tangible (
mushahad 
), or reported by
tawatur 
. As regards speculative
7
Hasan,
op.cit.
, p. 36.
8
Hasan, p. 36.
9
Hasan, p. 36.
10
Hasan, p. 36.

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