Today I was leading the Fajar salat and due to a mistake (prolonged silence before qirat while trying to remember the sura) I did sajda sahu. The Salafi brother got upset and a discussion ensued. They said that following a madhab strictly is like the following of the Jews and Christians of their rabis and priests. And may even lead to shirk! They said the differences of opinion in the past was because all the Hadith of the Prophet SWS was not known to everyone due to georgraphical distances and other factors. Now since we have books like Sahih Bukhari and Muslim that has all the sayings of the prophet SWS in one place we should use it as a yardstick to scan different views of the different imams of Fiqh and see who is closest to the sunnah. In this day of information technology it is card on every individual to cross check the facts including the 4 madhabs view point before implementing it in practise. Unless we do this we would fall under the other 72 sects that will not go to Jannah! Please help! JzakAllah Kheir.
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
As-salāmu ‘alaykum wa-rahmatullāhi wa-barakātuh.
Before we answer your query, it is important to understand that only one who is an`ālim and has studied intensively and exhaustively under the tutelage of other `ulamā’ can fully understand the intricacies and wisdoms that lie under following one madh`hab (school of thought) and the rulings issued from the Imam of a particular madh`hab. Picking and choosing from one madh`hab or another is not something for a layman to take into his hands regardless of what their heart tells them. This is especially in the case of one who acts on a certain ruling only for the sake of ease as this is another form of ittibā’ul hawā (following one’s desires) and constitutes disregarding the laws of Sharī’ah.
Nevertheless, in order to adequately respond to the objections raised by the brother, we will discuss the main points of contention that usually give rise to such an ideology that disregards the efforts of all the muḥaddithūn and fuqahā’ of the past, especially the efforts of those who were part of the khayr al-qurūn (the best generations).
Throughout Islamic history, the teachings of our beloved Messenger ﷺ were passed down from generation to generation until they reached us in the form we see today. The Messenger of Allāh ﷺ would issue a judgment according to divine knowledge, and his companions would secure it and pass it on to their students. At times the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ would verbally issue a ruling, and at other times his beloved companions (Radiallahu anhum) would simply learn through his actions. Through observation and companionship and through questions and answers, this divine knowledge passed on from the heart of the Messenger ﷺ to the hearts of his companions (Radiallahu anhum) and soon became the legacy known to us as the Sunnah of our beloved Nabī ﷺ.
As time passed, each companion imparted his knowledge to his own student, and their students imparted their knowledge to their own students. As new situations came up and the times brought forth new questions, each companion would use their knowledge of the Qur‘ān and Sunnah and reach a conclusion that would be in accordance with the principles established therein. This method of derivation and application became known as the knowledge of fiqh.
Not much time passed until the need arose to codify such laws and establish principles that would be utilized in deducing laws from the Qur’ān and Ḥadīth. In order to systemize an array of divine texts and establish guidelines that would not only protect divine law, but will also assist in decreasing human error, a system was introduced during the time of the Tab` Tābi`īn. This system was based on the same techniques used by the companions in deriving laws from the Qur’ān and Ḥadīth and eventually became known as Uṣūl al-Fiqh (the principles of fiqh). To this day, we still find writings on Uṣūl al-Fiqh written by scholars as early as the second century, such as Al-Risālah written by the great Imam al-Shāfi`ī /.
These principles were not only restricted to laws pertaining to derivation and deduction per se; rather, they also encompassed principles relating to ḥadīth typically found under the chapter of Sunnah throughout various books of Uṣūl al-Fiqh. However, it is apparent that the principles laid down by the fuqahā’ would somewhat differ from the principles laid down by the muḥaddithūn.
At this point, we would like to draw attention to a common misconception alleged by many who are not fluent in the sciences of fiqh and ḥadīth. The judicial rulings issued by the fuqahā’ are based on the principles of fiqh. This does not mean that they discarded authentic aḥādīth or solely used logic to come to their conclusions. On the contrary, the principles of fiqh are not only established by the Qur’ān and Sunnah, but they also mandate that one must use the Qur’ān and Sunnah before utilizing other sources of Sharī`ah (i.e. Ijmā` and Qiyās).
In reference to such a baseless claim, Shaykh ibn Taymiyyah states:
وَمَنْ ظَنَّ بِأَبِي حَنِيفَةَ أَوْ غَيْرِهِ مِنْ أَئِمَّةِ الْمُسْلِمِينَ أَنَّهُمْ يَتَعَمَّدُونَ مُخَالَفَةَ الْحَدِيثِ الصَّحِيحِ لِقِيَاسِ أَوْ غَيْرِهِ فَقَدْ أَخْطَأَ عَلَيْهِمْ وَتَكَلَّمَ إمَّا بِظَنِّ وَإِمَّا بِهَوَى
Whosoever assumes that Imam Abū Ḥanīfah or any other Imam purposely intended to act against authentic ahādīth by using logical analysis or any other method then he has surely committed an error and speaks due to false assumptions or to please one’s own desire.
From the above discussion we can conclude on the point that every madh`hab is formed on principles associated with deriving rulings from the Qur’ān and Sunnah. As such, each madh`hab is directly linked to the teachings of the Qur’ān and the Holy Prophet ﷺ and is essentially following those teachings per the principles associated with that madh`hab. Furthermore, it is commonly accepted between contemporary `ulamā’ that there is no problem if one intends to follow one of these four madhāhib (schools of thought), especially when they are taught throughout thousands of Islamic universities across the Muslim world. This is even more so when we see that great scholars such as Ḥafiẓ ibn Ḥajar al-`Asqalānī /, Imam Nawawī /, Imam Abū Dāwūd /, Imam Taḥāwī /, Imam Ibn Kathīr / and many others who established fundamental sciences in Islam were adherents of their respective schools of thought. Otherwise we will be will be accusing great muḥaddithūn (hadīth masters), muffasirūn (Quran exegetists), and fuqahā’ of not adhering to the teachings of the Qur’ān and our beloved Nabī ﷺ.
It is important to take note that those who claim that taqlīd of Imams leads to shirk and further dissuade others from doing so are following the footsteps of a deviated sect known as the mu`tazilah as they also use to dissuade others from taqlīd and make it incumbent on every such person to first analyze the source of such rulings before acting upon them. Shaykh Majd ibn Taymiyyah /, the grandfather of Aḥmad ibn Taymiyyah, states in his Musawwadah that the majority of `ulamā’ hold the stance that taqlīd of an `ālim is allowed for those who do not have the tools to make ijtihād and to claim its impermissibility is the stance of the mu`tazilah from Baghdad.
We would also like to allude to the fact that following the `ulamā’ in matters of dīn has always remained as an essential part of divine teachings. Allāh Ta`ālā says in the Holy Qur’ān:
فَلَوْلَا نَفَرَ مِنْ كُلِّ فِرْقَةٍ مِنْهُمْ طَائِفَةٌ لِيَتَفَقَّهُوا فِي الدِّينِ وَلِيُنْذِرُوا قَوْمَهُمْ إِذَا رَجَعُوا إِلَيْهِمْ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَحْذَرُونَ
Why should not then a company from every party from among them go forth to obtain understanding in religion, and that they may warn their people when they come back to them that they may be cautious? [6:122]
The verse above shows that from each group of people some must go and attain the knowledge of dīn so that they may disperse it and teach it to their people when they return. This clearly shows that this religion is meant to be learned and passed down from the `ulamā’ and it is not the place of each and every person to consider himself his own teacher and interpret it as he seems fit. If such were true, then the status of the `ulamā’ would bear no position amongst the layman. It is incumbent upon unlearned persons that they seek their knowledge from the learned persons as it is the `ulamā’ alone who are aware of the intricacies surrounding the teachings of the Qur’ān and Sunnah. In the words of Ibn Qayyim /, “To follow the `ulamā’ is synonymous to following the Rasūl ﷺ.”
To fully grasp the vastness of such knowledge and to truly expose the deficiency a layman has in its comprehension, we deem it necessary to outline a few points regarding the sciences of ḥadīth so that one may truly have respect for the efforts of the Salaf Ṣāliḥīn (pious predecessors).
First and foremost, the general claim that we now have access to “all” the aḥādīth and we have the ability to crosscheck the rulings of the esteemed Imams with “all” these aḥādīth stems from a lack of knowledge about the memory of the salaf and the sheer amount of aḥādīth the past scholars had access to and had further committed to memory. To gauge their knowledge of aḥādīth, we have provided a small list that explains the different levels of hifẓ (memorization of aḥādīth) according to the muḥaddithūn:
- Muḥaddith: One who has memorized a good portion of ḥadīth texts (without the full chains of transmission) and recited or listened to at least the following books of aḥādīth from a teacher of ḥadīth:
- The six famous books of hādīth: Bukhārī, Muslim, Tirmidhī, Abū Dāwūd, Nasa’ī and Ibn Mājah
- Muwaṭṭa’ of Imam Mālik /
- Mustadrak of Imam Ḥākim /
- Musnad of Imam Aḥmad /
- 1,000 or more Ajzā’ of aḥādīth
- Al-Mufīd: One who has fulfilled the condition for a muḥaddith and further possesses a trait to pass down his knowledge of aḥādīth to his students along with providing explanations for the aḥādīth.
- Al-Ḥāfiẓ: One who has memorized at least 20,000 texts of aḥādīth along with their chains of transmission, knowledge of distinguishing between the authentic and unauthentic narrations and in-depth knowledge of the majority of ḥadīth narrators to such an extent that if he says regarding a narrator, “I do not know of such a narrator”, then this narrator is classified as majhūl (unknown)
- Amīr al-Mu’minīn fī ‘l-Ḥadīth: One who has an extraordinary memory and a strong hold on the wordings of aḥādīth. He is also a master in the art of `Ilm al-Rijāl (knowledge of narrators and their status). Furthermore, he also has written an invaluable piece of work in the science of ḥadīth or has produced great Hāfiẓ of aḥādīth as his students.
It goes without saying that the level of the Mujtahid Imams was far greater than all those that came thereafter. From this one can understand how distant we are from reaching the levels of such great masters of aḥādīth and how absurd it is to assert that we now have greater knowledge of ḥadīth than those in the past.
One essential point we would like to make here is regarding the difference of opinion between the Imams. Often people conclude that we must pick and choose and find out which opinion is “authentic” and in accordance to “authentic” aḥādīth assuming that there is one “official” opinion that is the only truth and anything contrary to it is false. Such a notion stems from misunderstanding the reasons behind such differences and making an assumption that more than one answer cannot exist. An easy and simple example of this that all can understand is the difference in styles of reciting the Qur’ān as passed down to us by the ten a’immah of Qirā’ah. These different styles and variants and unanimously accepted by all scholars and no one claims that only one style is the absolute “correct” style. On the contrary, regardless of which style one chooses to adopt, it is always regarded as the “correct” style. The point we would like to make here is that if someone begins to claim that only one style is correct and further chooses to crosscheck each style with “authentic” aḥādīth, then such a person will surely be shunned by all the `ulamā’ in the Muslim world. Similarly, it is not the place of a layman to gauge the rulings of the Imams by making an assumption that such great people were unaware of narrations that we have with us today.
While we are on the subject of Qirā’ah, one must also understand that one reason why the Imams differed in their rulings was also due to the different styles of reading the Qur’ān. While one may have deduced a ruling according to one style, another deduced a ruling according to a different style.
Another reason for this difference is that certain companions (Radiallahu anhum) may have heard certain things from the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ that the other did not hear. While some were aware of narrations during the early years of Islam, others were present for the later years of Islam. Due to such a difference, many companions (Radiallahu anhum)(after dispersing to different areas throughout the world) issued rulings based on what they learned from the Messenger of Allāḥ ﷺ. As a result, the Imams also received varying narrations from each companion and used their own principles to deduce a ruling, especially when faced with varying opinions on a single subject. One prime example of this is when a certain companion narrates a certain action of the Messenger of Allāḥ ﷺ in his own words that differs from the statements of other companions.
It is important to understand that this does not mean that one companion who heard a ruling in a certain matter will be held liable for not being aware of a newer ruling regarding the subject issued by the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ later during his life. Similarly, the adherents of one the great Imams will not be held liable for acting on a ruling based on the principles used by one Imam in comparison to principles used by another Imam. It is narrated on the authority of Abū Hurayrah (Radiallahu anhu) that the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ said:
إِذَا حَكَمَ الحَاكِمُ فَاجْتَهَدَ فَأَصَابَ، فَلَهُ أَجْرَانِ، وَإِذَا حَكَمَ فَأَخْطَأَ، فَلَهُ أَجْرٌ وَاحِدٌ.
When a person of authority issues a judgment by making ijtihād and comes to the correct conclusion, then he is given two rewards. And when he issues a judgment and errs, then he receives one reward.
The next point we would like to make is that the majority of those who are not involved with the sciences of ḥadīth misunderstand the grading and standards used by muḥaddithūn to classify a ḥadīth as authentic or otherwise. To sum it up in one sentence, each muḥaddith uses his own standard to grade a ḥadīth as authentic even though they may agree on certain guidelines similar to how each Imam uses his own principles to derive rulings from the divine texts. It goes without saying that the Imams also had their own principles in grading aḥādīth and declaring them suitable for practice different to the principles used by the muḥaddithūn. Imam Ṣan`ānī / states in his Tawḍīh al-Afkār that many a times a certain ḥadīth might be declared as authentic according to the fuqahā’ while it is declared unauthentic according to the muḥaddithūn. Similarly, the converse may occur as well.  Due to this difference, each ḥadīth declared authentic by the muḥaddithūn may not have been considered suitable for practice by a faqīh due to some reason that went against their principles for deriving rulings from the Sunnah.
Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah states in Raf` al-Malām `an A’immat al-A`lām that sometimes we will find a statement from an Imam that seems to contradict an authentic ḥadīth. He further elaborates that this may be due to many reasons out of which one reason is that one Imam may have regarded a certain ḥadīth as weak based on his ijtihād while the other regarded the same ḥadīth to be authentic based on his individual ijtihād. And since the science of rijāl and jarḥ wa ta`dīl (disparaging of narrators) is a very liquid and vast field, it may contain differences like any other science.
While rebuking those who settle with simply listening, narrating, and writing aḥādīth and further belittle the science of ḥadīth by not making an effort to understand the complexities of it, Imam Nawāwī / states in his commentary of Saḥīḥ Muslim that seeking the knowledge of this science means that one must exert oneself in extensive research and observation regarding the meanings of aḥādīth, the chains of narration, and visiting the masters of this science and learning from their experiences. Thereafter, one must consistently keep up this practice and keep reading more and more about this art by sitting in the company of reliable scholars of ḥadīth until one establishes oneself in this field.
From the words of Imam Nawawī / we can understand the mistake made by many today who pick up books of aḥādīth and declare a ḥadīth to be weak by flipping through a few pages and looking up information on the internet without any knowledge of such a science. These people go as far as to attacking the great Imams and refuting their sayings by claiming that they have more knowledge of ḥadīth without showing any sign of respect either. May Allāh Ta`ālā protect us all from committing such an atrocity.
One misconception that many have today is that they believe that all authentic aḥādīth are restricted to the Ṣaḥīḥ of Imam Bukhārī / and Imam Muslim /. Commenting on the statement of Imam Nawawī / that Imam Bukhārī / and Imam Muslim / did not intend to gather all authentic aḥādīth in their respective books, `Allāmah Suyūtī states in his Tadrīb al-Rāwī that Imam Bukhārī / and Imam Muslim / themselves state they have not encompassed all the authentic narrations in their respective books. The fact of the matter is that Bukhārī and Muslim are termed as the most authentic books in relation to them as a whole. While both do contain authentic narrations, it does not mean that more authentic narrations cannot be found elsewhere in comparison to individual aḥādīth found in each book. Furthermore, the status of these two books as the “most authentic” is in comparison to the books that came afterwards and not in comparison to the knowledge of the mujtahidūn before them, for it is obvious that the mujtahidūn encompassed aḥādīth at a level that we cannot even begin to fathom in our times.
Similarly, some believe that the “most authentic” narrations are only found in these two books. In other words, if one finds a narration in another book contrary to the one in Bukhārī or Muslim, then he automatically concludes that the narration in Bukhārī and Muslim must be more authentic. In reference to such people, Imam Ibn Humām / states in his Fatḥ al-Qadīr that such a notion is mere conjecture and cannot be followed as the science of hādīth requires one to grade aḥādīth based on the strength of the narrators and not simply on the books they are found in. He further adds that if someone finds a ḥadīth whose narrators are stronger than the narrators of a ḥadīth found in Bukhārī or Muslim, will he simply discard such a narration because there is a weaker narration found in Bukhārī and Muslim?
Expounding on the same point, if one restricts himself to Bukhārī and Muslim, then he will be forced to make many decisions that are contrary to ijmā` (general consensus). For example, if one finds a certain verse of the Qur’ān in Bukhārī that is different in recitation to a verse we find written in the Qur’ān today, will be discard such a verse from the Qur’ān and read it according to the way it is mentioned in Bukhārī and Muslim? Simply having access to aḥādīth does not mean one has encompassed all aḥādīth. Anyone who says that they can find all the aḥādīth regarding a certain topic in Bukhārī has definitely not read Bukhārī itself. One who has read through its chapters will definitely conclude that at times certain aḥādīth will show up in places one would never had thought to look in.
Furthermore, Bukhārī and Muslim are not the only books of aḥādīth that contain authentic narrations (as understood from the statement of Imam Nawawī /). There are hundreds of books of aḥādīth, each containing authentic narrations scattered throughout their pages. If many of us barely know the names of such books, how do we ever expect to find such aḥādīth, let alone grade their authenticity and derive a ruling without any knowledge of the sciences of ḥadīth and fiqh? As a matter of fact, each author of these books tends to have their own style and way of classifying ḥadīth and narrating them, more popularly known as the author’s manhaj.
It is also common to see that many people regard weak narrations as something to discard and throw away into the bin. However, upon analyzing the general trend amongst the muhaddithūn and fuqahā’, one will see that even weak aḥādīth play an important role and provide certain benefits such as increasing the strength of a ḥadīth and allowing room for practice in narrations regarding virtues of performing certain deeds.
Before we conclude, we would like to point out that certain times one may see a ruling issued by an Imam that clearly contradicts an authentic ḥadīth. The truth of the matter is that such a conclusion is only reached when one is severely lacking in the knowledge of aḥādīth and contemporary and past writings on such subjects. If one were to take a look at such writings, they will see that the contradiction never really existed; rather, there were many other reasons why they thought there was an “apparent” contradiction. A few of these reasons may include the following:
- The Imam is acting on the ḥadīth but due to a certain verse in the Qur’ān the ruling deduced from the ḥadīth has been reconciled to fit with the Qur’anic verse.
- There were multiple narrations on the same subject; therefore, the Imam attempted to reconcile all such narrations by providing a ruling that fits in such a way that no ḥadīth is left out.
- The ḥadīth was abrogated (mansūkh) by a Qur’ānic verse, another ḥadīth, or ijmā`.
In reference to the Ḥanafī Madh`hab, one fill find numerous writings about such aḥādīth along with answers to each and every objection made against a certain ruling issued by the Imams of the madh`hab. This is especially in the case of the `ulamā’ of the Indian subcontinent who have left no stone unturned in authoring numerous works on ḥadīth regarding the science of ḥadīth along with detailed explanations about the meanings of each ḥadīth and the principles utilized by the Imams in deriving rulings from them. For the sake of understanding their tremendous work in this field, we have provided examples of a few of these works below:
- Fayḍ al-Bārī commentary on the Ṣaḥīḥ of Imam Bukhārī / authored by `Allāmah Anwar Shāh Kashmīrī / (Arabic)
- Lāmi` al-Dirārī commentary on the Ṣaḥīḥ of Imam Bukhārī / authored by `Allāmah Rashīd Aḥmad Gangohī and compiled by Shaykh al-Ḥadīth Muḥammad Zakariyyā Kāndhlawī / (Arabic)
- Fatḥ al-Mulhim and Takmilat Fatḥ al-Mulhim commentary on the Ṣaḥīḥ of Imam Muslim / authored by Mawlānā Shabbīr Aḥmad `Uthmānī and Muftī Muḥammad Taqī `Uthmānī (Arabic)
- Badhl al-Majhūd commentary on the Sunan of Imam Abū Dāwūd authored by Mawlānā Khalīl Aḥmad Sahāranpūrī (Arabic)
- Al-`Arf Al-Shadhī commentary on the Jāmi` of Imam Tirmidhī / authored by `Allāmah Anwar Shāh Kashmīrī / (Arabic)
- Ma`ārif al-Sunan commentary on the Jāmi` of Imam Tirmidhī / authored by Mawlānā Yūsuf Binnorī / (Arabic)
- Awjaz al-Masālik commentary on the Muwaṭṭa’ of Imam Mālik / authored by Shaykh al-Ḥadīth Muḥammad Zakariyyā Kāndhlawī / (Arabic)
In reference to the ḥadīth quoted by the brother, we would like to point out that the 72 groups who are destined to the fire refers to deviant groups who had differences in `aqīdah (creed) and purported false beliefs. As far as the juristic differences that exist between the different madhāhib, this difference is regarded to be a mercy and has been accepted unanimously by all our pious predecessors since the inception of these madhāhib over 1200 years ago.
We conclude by making du`ā that Allāh Ta`ālā keeps the shadows of our elders over us and grants us the will of our pious predecessors along with their sincerity in gaining the pleasure of Allāh the Almighty. Amīn.
And Allah Ta’āla Knows Best
Checked and Approved by,
Mufti Ebrahim Desai.