Reasonable Questions to Ask
1. If blindly following (taqleed) of the scholars is obligatory, why then were they all reported to have said, “Do not imitate us”?
1. Did the scholars (Imams) to whom the four schools of jurisprudence are attributed really intend to found systems of jurisprudence which others after them would blindly follow, or did they rather devote themselves to the service of truth in the knowledge that they would sometimes be right and sometimes be wrong?
2. Did they enable those who come after them to take up this work where they left off and continue to search out the rulings and the opinions that were closest to truth with full fairness and without bigotry?
3. Are the thoughts of the four schools free from any error? If each is free from error, then why do we have four different madh-habs today?
4. When the four Imams disagree about a matter, then we know that the truth should most likely be with one of them, not all of them.
5. When we disagree about a matter, we should go to them, but when they themselves disagree among themselves do they go to other Imams or do they return to the Book of Allah and the sunnah? And do not
forget that the scholars ordered us intensively to do the same, and not to follow blindly, saying, “Do not imitate us, and when you find our words contradicting the sunnah of the Prophet, then throw away our words and stick to the Book of Allah and to the sunnah of His Prophet.
6. Did these Imams used to be angry with anyone who sought to distinguish the most predominant opinion among the four opinions of theirs, or did their flexibility, their understanding and broadmindedness make them accept it? They were in fact endowed with tolerance and understanding which we seem to have lost today.
7. If a non-Muslim converted to Islam, what Imam should we order him to follow? Would not it be shameful to tell him that he should be selecting one of the four Imams and to follow blindly what madh-habs imposes? Would that be counted as an Islamic way of searching for truth? Would that give a good reputation to Islam? Is it an Islamic way to follow a person in everything, whether correct or incorrect? Is this fitting for the Muslims, the bearers of truth to the world, the bearers of the light of knowledge to the East and West to retreat to the darkness of ignorance? The Second Example: Imagine what it would be like if people became so obsessed with the inventor of the first car (Ford) and believed that his design was perfect and no one can come after him and dare to suggest any modification or development, or he will be considered an enemy to the first inventor.
Imagine if they did not allow anyone to change the original design in any way, and insisted that to do so would be an insult and injury against its designer and an arrogant assertion of one’s superiority to him. If this had happened we would still be chugging along today in eighty-year-old Model-T Fords, without any refinements. The work of the scholars who came before us is not a revelation that must never be questioned or changed, and never be challenged. Indeed, to refine their work is a step toward the better, especially when we know that each madh-hab is not free of wrong decisions or verdicts (fatwa) simply because no matter how high degree of knowledge the scholar has, he is still a human being capable of making mistakes. We must not become rigid, considering the words of the imams final and set in stone forever. If we did this then, what would be the difference between us and those who assert that their Imams (leaders of religion) are sinless and that any one who objects or opposes their Imams is opposing Allah? They believe that their Imams are infallible. This fanaticism goes against the methodology of the Imams al-Shafi’i, Abu
Hanifa, Malik and Ahmad.
The Imams were always committed to the truth. They would revise their opinions when it became clear that the truth lay elsewhere. They did not care if any ignorant person accused them of contradicting themselves, because for them it was easier to be blamed by people today than to be blamed tomorrow by Allah, and because the point was that truth is worthier to be followed than men, unlike those who came after them and made men worthier than truth to be followed.
Abu Hanifa said, “We are people who say something today and contradict it tomorrow.” He meant that if it became clear that they were wrong, they would not hesitate to change their views. The Imams were so dedicated to the truth and not to anything else, that you find Imam Al-Shafii said “I have never debated someone but I wished that Allah shows the truth through him.”
Therefore, those who warn against blindly following them are not denying the great remarkable work of these Imams, in fact, they are only warning people against something the Imams themselves warned us about. They used to say, “Do not imitate us.”
We must be grateful to their remarkable work; we need to know their views, thoughts and understanding of the Qur’an and the sunnah, to investigate the truth among the four thoughts they have offered. But we should not place their systems of jurisprudence and their fatwas above the Book of Allah and the sunnah of His Messenger. We should not judge our differences by their words rather than by the Book of Allah and the Sunna of His Messenger. This is the blind imitation of which they all warned us.Furthermore, who is he to claim that the schools of jurisprudence were four?
Whoever thinks that he is mistaken. Al-Thawri had his system of jurisprudence, as did al-Awza’i, and Ibn Hazm. But although these no longer have any following, nevertheless they had followers before. We know that the word “shafi’I” means one who follows the madh-hab and the methods of Imam al-Shafi’i. But what was the madh-hab which Imam al-Shafi’i followed? Was al-Shafi’i a follower of Shafi’i? Was Abu Hanifa a follower of Hanafi? Was Malik a follower of Maliki? Was Ahmad a Hanbali follower?
Well, let us hear their declaration of methodology. They all said, “If the hadith is sahih (authentically narrated), then that is my way “madh-hab.”(61) The authentic report of the Prophet is what I follow, in other word, The Prophet way is my “madhhab.” Al-Muzani, reported that Imam Shafi’i said, “If you find anything in my book that contradicts the sunnah of the Messenger of Allah then follow the Sunna and leave
what I said aside, and do not imitate.” And he also said, “All Muslims agreed, that when the Sunna of the Messenger of Allah is clear, no one may leave it for the opinion of anyone else.”(62) The blind follower is the one who really does disservice to the methods of the Imams, for he is the one who is in fact not following the madh-hab. People have taken the Imams as icons which they blindly follow. They follow everything they said except for this: “Do not follow us blindly”.
Blind following is negative, a sort of training to limit or dwarf or incapacitate the mind of a person till he becomes unconcerned with proof or evidence for a position.He has an emotional attachment to a personality. He will not claim that his “Imam” is infallible, but his actions prove that this is what he truly believes. It is well known that the ijtihads of the Imams produced contradictory positions. Some would say that such and such a thing is permitted and others would say that is forbidden. And don’t be surprised when you find that correct positions on various issues are distributed among the various madh-habs. On one matter al-Shafi’i is right, and on another Abu Hanifa is right. Sometimes Malik is right and sometimes Ahmad, and so on and so forth. None of them is always right.
If they disagree among one another, then what should we be doing? Should we then use a referendum to select one of the four different decisions? We must return to the Book of Allah and the sunnah of His Prophet . Allah said, “And if you disagree over anything among you, then refer it to Allah and the Messenger if you [truly] believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is better way and better result.” (4:59)
Despite their gifts and their knowledge, the Imams are human beings and are not infallible. They have limits like all people do. Knowledge encompasses men but no man encompasses all knowledge.The Hanafis may think that following al-Shafi’i is an insult to Abu Hanifa.
And the Malikis may think that someone who follows Imam Ahmad is insulting Malik. But the person who searches for truth has the advantage of all of them and knows that none of them has a monopoly on truth.
(61) See Al-intiqaa P. 145 For Ibn Abdil-bir. Almeezan P. 1:62 for Ash-sharani. Almajmou for Annawawi 1:63. Al-hilyah for Abuno-aim 9:106-107 .
(62) Siyar al-a’lam 10/33 Adab al-Shafi’i wa manaqibihi, 69.