Wahhabi Rejection of Consensus, Ijma’

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is extracted from Imam Jamil Swiddiqi ibn Muhammad Faydhi az-Zahawi al-Kurdi’s (r.a.), al-Fajr asw-Swadiq fi ar-Radd ‘ala Munkiri at-Tawaswswul wa al-Khawariq, “The True Dawn: A Refutation of Those Denying Miracles & Intercession in Islam”.

Since the very substance of the Wahhabi creed contradicts what the noble swahabah, the great mujtahidun and the totality of the ‘ulama have reached a consensus on, they must reject ijma’ as an aswl of Islamic legislation and deny its probative value as a basis for practical application.  In consequence, they have declared disbeliever any Muslim who says, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah,” other than themselves because Muslims visit the graves of prophets and awliya’, and ask Allah (s.w.t.) for something for the sake of a prophet.

They pronounce this declaration of unbelief despite the fact that the Muslim ummah has reached a consensus that whoever articulates the shahadah, the ordinances of the religion become immediately binding.  As we have seen from the hadits, “I have been Ordered to fight people until they say, ‘There is no god but Allah,’” and the hadits, “It is sufficient that folk say, ‘There is no god but Allah is sufficient.’”

Imam ibn Qayyim (r.a.) said, “Muslims have reached a consensus that when the disbeliever says, ‘There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah,’ he enters Islam.”  For that reason, there is a general agreement that when the apostate apostatises by an act of idolatry, repentance is accomplished by utterance of the shahadah.

Furthermore, Wahhabis consider seeking the intercession of the Prophet (s.a.w.) after his death an act of kufr even though a consensus allowing it is in place.  At the same time, they say following and emulating the legal rulings of one of the four mujtahidun, Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.), Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.), Imam Malik (r.a.) and Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.), is prohibited.  As a result, anyone, they say, may derive legal rulings, istinbath al-ahkam, directly from the Qur’an according to their capability; notwithstanding the existence of consensus to the effect that no one is capable of being an imam in the religion or school of law unless he satisfies the criteria for a mujtahid.  It is not up to anyone to take from Qur’an and sunnah until he has satisfied those criteria by joining in himself the qualifications of the mujtahid which are, simultaneously, the conditions of ijithad.

Ijtihad is the agreement of the mujtahidun of the Muslim ummah in a certain generation on a matter of religion or dogma.  A corollary to this is that consensus on any matter is absent after the disappearance of a generation of mujtahidun.  While this is the case, one knows that if no consensus has been agreed upon, there exists a possibility in each generation of reaching a settlement on questions about which a clear ruling in Qur’an and sunnah is absent and which mujtahidun of the past have not discussed.

We consider these examples.  A man hears it said that the Earth is moving around the Sun.  Without thinking, he says, “If the Earth is moving around the Sun, then my wife is divorced,” since there is no clear evidence in Qur'an and sunnah for affirming the Earth’s movement around the Sun.  The ‘ulama of the Muslim ummah therefore need to make a clear pronouncement regarding this question.  Hence, their consensus regarding the Earth’s motion does not exist until a question like this is settled.

Or, suppose a man fasts, riding in a balloon in the air before the setting of the Sun and he is lifted into the air until he arrived at the height of ten thousand miles.  Then the Sun sets on Earth and the people on land break their fast but the Sun is not absent from his eyes when he is in the air by reason of the Earth’s roundness.  Is it permitted for him to break fast and it is obligatory for him to pray swalat al-maghrib?  This is an example where there is no clear ruling upon in Qur’an and sunnah.  It follows, then, that the ‘ulama of a generation must clarify a judgment of things like this and agree upon it.  And what we say agrees with Imam al-Ghazali’s (r.a.) definition of ijma’.  He defines it as agreement of the community of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) upon a certain matter and what is meant by agreement is the manifest and unhidden agreement of its ‘ulama.

Those that deny ijma’ claim: the occurrence of such a consensus is impossible.  They deduce evidence for their denial by arguing that agreement of the ‘ulama presupposes their being equally placed with regard to the legal situation in question.  Their being scattered in remote countries over the face of the earth precludes this.  We refute this objection by rejecting the reasoning that the ‘ulama being spread abroad is an impediment to their agreement in view of the unconditional strictness of their scrutiny of shari’ah evidences.

Those rejecting ijma’ claim further that agreement is based either on a dalil in the sources which is decisive, qath’i, or on a speculative one, zhanni.  Both, they say, are invalid.  The decisive indication is invalid because, they say, if it were existent there would be no need for recourse to agreement in the first place; and the speculative indication is invalid because agreement on a ruling is impossible since temperaments differ and points of view differ out of natural habit.  Our answer is a rejection of both their objections.  Regarding the decisive indication there is no need of transmitting it since consensus is stronger than it, and for the elimination of difference entailed through its transmission.  With regard to the speculative indication, their objection does not stand up because of the possibility of consensus being too obvious for either differences of temperament and/or point of view to prevent it.  Only in what is minute and obscure lie impediments to reaching consensus.

In further objection, they claim, even if we grant establishment of consensus in itself, then knowledge of their agreement would still be impossible.  They argue that in the habitual course of things there is no chance of affirmation of a legal ruling concerning this thing or the other declared by every individual member of the ‘ulama in the world.  Likewise, they argue that in the habitual course of things transmission of a consensus is impossible because its transmission from single individuals is not conveyed and the consensus does not issue in practical application.  One simply cannot conceive of a thing being so widely known that lying about it is impossible, tawatur, they claim, inasmuch as such a situation would involve the necessary equaling out of points of view on a given state of affairs with the result that pro and con positions and a middle position would be unfeasible.  Moreover, it is unlikely that people informed of something so well-known that lying about it is impossible to have seen and heard all the ulama in every country and in that fashion to have transmitted it from them, generation to generation, until it reaches us.

To both their arguments, there is one answer.  Its procedure consists in causing one to doubt that there exists a conflict with what is necessary.  For it is well known in a decisive manner that the companions and the successors reached a consensus on the priority of a decisive indication over a speculative one and that this is the case only by reason of its being established with them and its transmission to us.  Furthermore, ijma’ constitutes a proof in the view of all the ‘ulama except the Mu’tazila and some of the Khwarij.  The proof of its evidentiary nature, hujjiyyah, is that they agree upon the decisive certainty of the error of contradicting ijma’.  Ijma’, therefore, counts as proof in shari’ah legislation because custom transforms the agreement of a number of many recognised ‘ulama from the status of non-decisive to the status of decisive certainty in a matter pertaining to the shari’ah.  By virtue of custom the implication of a decisive text necessarily counts as decisive indication that to contradict ijma’ is error.

On this point, no one says here that there is affirmation of ijma’ by ijma’ nor affirmation of ijma’ by a decisive text whose establishment is itself dependent on ijma’: that would be to reason in a circle.  We are saying: what is being claimed is that the fact of ijma’ itself constitutes a proof for ijma’.  What establishes this is the existence of a decisive text indicated by the existence of a formal consensus, which custom precludes were it not for that text.  The establishment of this formal consensus and its customary indications pointing to the existence of a text are not dependent upon the fact that ijma’ constitutes a proof.  This is because the existence of such formal consensus is derived from tawatur, what is known as true beyond doubt so that the possibility of people's collusion on a lie is precluded, and because the formal evidence indicating a text is derived from the custom.

Among the evidences for the probative value of ijma` is the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) statement, “My ummah will never agree on error.”  The content of this hadits is so well-known that it is impossible to lie about it, mutawatir, simply because it is produced in so many narrations, for example: “My ummah will not come together on a misguidance,” as recorded by Imam ibn Majah (r.a.).

Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) has pointed out that this hadits is not technically mutawatir.  Having said this, however, Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) added that a number of prominent companions have reported ahadits from the Prophet (s.a.w.), which although different on their wording, are all in consonance on the theme of the infallibility of the ummah and its immunity from error.  Aside from Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.), Imam al-Amidi (r.a.) wrote in his al-Ihkam that the main purport of these ahadits conveys positive knowledge, and that the infallibility of the ummah is sustained by their collective weight.  This is recorded also in Imam ibn al-‘Arabi al-Maliki’s (r.a.) list of the ahadits pertaining to ijma’ in his commentary on Imam at-Tirmidzi’s (r.a.) relevant section in Kitab al-Fitan.

The Prophet (s.a.w.) also said, “A group of my community will continue in truth until the dawning of the Hour,” and this is mutawatir by Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.) and Imam Muslim (r.a.).

And the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “The Hand of Allah is with the jama’ah,” and Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.) reported it as hasan.

And the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “Whoever leaves the ummah or separates himself from it by the length of a span, dies the death of Jahiliyyah,” and this is in Swahih Muslim, as reported through ibn ‘Abbas.  Imam Muslim (r.a.) also related it with slight variations through three more chains.  Imam ibn Abi Shaybah (r.a.) also related it in his Muswannaf.

And there are many more such ahadits.  As for the ahad ahadit involved, even if they are not widely attested, they possess value equivalent to the widely attested ahadits and, indeed, positive knowledge results from them just like stories we hear relating the courage of ‘Ali (k.w.) and the generosity of Hatim (r.a.).

The deniers of the evidentiary nature of ijma’ use as proof the verse from the Qur’an:

… and We have Sent Down to thee the Book Explaining all things... (Surah an-Nahl:89)

Then they say that there is no reference for the exposition of legal rulings except the Qur’an.  The answer to them is this does not preclude that there can be something other than the Book also exposing matters; nor does it  preclude that the Book can expose certain things by means of the ijma’.  If it did, we would wind up with external meanings which nevertheless do not oppose the decisive texts.  This principle is azh-zhahir la yuqawimu al-qath’i, “The external sense does not stand in opposition to what is decisively known.”

They also invoke against the probative nature of ijma’, Allah’s (s.w.t.) Statement:

... If ye differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger... (Surah an-Nisa’:59)

Therefore, there is no source of reference, they claim, other than Qur’an and sunnah.  The answer is that this text refers specifically to what people are differing about.  But what is agreed upon is not like that.  Or it specifically concerns the companions.  If we were to accept that this is not the case, then, again, one ends up with external meanings not clashing with what is decisive just as we claimed earlier.

In addition, they adduced the hadits of Mu’adz (r.a.) as evidence that he left out ijma’ when he mentioned his evidences in answer to the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) query about them, and the Prophet (s.a.w.) approved what he said.  As related by Imam Abu Dawud (r.a.), it is reported that the Prophet (s.a.w.) asked Mu’adz ibn Jabal (r.a.) upon the latter’s departure as judge to the Yemen, “How will you apply judgment when the occasion arises?”

He answered, “I shall judge according to Allah’s Book.”

The Prophet (s.a.w.) asked, ‘And if you do not find [an answer]?”

He replied, “Then by the sunnah of His Messenger.”

The Prophet (s.a.w.) asked again, “And if you do not find [an answer]?”

He replied, “Then I shall do my best to form an opinion and spare no pain.”

The Prophet (s.a.w.) slapped his chest and said, “Praise Belongs to Allah Who has Blessed the messenger of Allah’s Messenger's with something pleasing to Allah’s Messenger.”

They say this indicates that ijma’ does not count as evidence.  The answer is that Mu’adz (r.a.) did not mention it only because at that time ijma’ did not yet constitute a formal proof in case of failing to settle upon a source with respect to Qur’an and sunnah.  It does not follow that ijma’ did not become a proof in its own good time and after taking its place as a source.


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