On Lay Muslims Following a Madzhab

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is taken from “On Lay Muslims Following a Madzhab” by Shaykh ‘Ali Juma’ah.

Are lay Muslims obliged to follow only one of the four schools of jurisprudence of the Ahl as-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah?  Are there any other options that one can follow?  Regarding this issue, there is a difference between learning and applying.  When it comes to applying, abiding by a certain legal school of jurisprudence for lay people is not obligatory in every matter as they are eligible to adopt the legal opinion of other juristic scholars and mujtahidun.  Therefore, lay people have no certain legal school of jurisprudence because they follow the juristic opinion of the scholar they ask.

This is the established opinion for the Hanafis.  The renowned Hanafi scholar Imam ibn ‘Abidin (r.a.) stated in his commentary in reference to Imam ash-Sharnibali (r.a.) that he said, “One does not have to abide by a certain legal school and he is permitted to follow an opinion which opposes the opinion of the juristic legal school which he follows.  He is allowed to adopt two opposite opinions in two separate incidents that are not related to each other.  He is not permitted to nullify an action he did by the virtue of following the juristic opinion of another scholar because engaging in an action is similar to passing a verdict by a judge with no appeal.”

This opinion is Supported with Allah (s.w.t.) as He Asserted the obligation of following scholars in general with no specification or dedication to one scholar over the other.  Allah (s.w.t.) Says:

… if ye realise this not, ask of those who possess the Message. (Surah an-Nahl:43)

Also when people posed their questions at the time of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) companions and the scholars of the next generation, they did not abide by a certain school but they rather asked eligible scholars without limiting themselves with the opinion of someone while denying the opinion of the other.

Following one of the opinions of the mujtahidun, eligible scholars who practice independent legal reasoning, is in fact, following the truth.  All the mujtahidun are correct and this means that each of them follows his own independent legal reasoning which led him to believe in the validity of the concluded ruling.  As one chooses to follow any of the scholarly opinions of these renowned mujtahidun, he should not believe that this is the only correct juristic opinions and other opinions are invalid.

As for the issue of learning and studying different legal schools of jurisprudence, following a certain school of jurisprudence is inevitable.  The four schools of jurisprudence of the Ahl as-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah were well served and deeply studied by generations of renowned scholars in a way that other schools of jurisprudence were not subjected to.  The four schools were well edited and the popular and favoured opinions were highlighted and backed with authentic supporting evidence.  The biographies of the renowned scholars of each school were documented and their methodologies of deriving juristic legal rulings were scrutinised so each of them became an independent school of jurisprudence that benefits those who seek religious knowledge.


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