(Arabic اجتهاد) is a technical term of Islamic law
that describes the process of making a legal decision by independent interpretation of the legal sources, the Qur'an
and the Sunnah
. The opposite of ijtihad
A person who applies ijtihad is called a mujtahid, and traditionally had to be a scholar of Islamic law, an Islamic lawyer or alim. To become a mujtahid in theological terms is similar to having a doctorate in divinity in Islamic kalam, or in legal terms to reaching the status of a high or supreme court judge.
Generally, a Mujtahid is an educated Muslim who makes up his own ruling on the permissibility of an Islamic law but only for himself.
Ijtihad is mainly associated with the Shi'a Muslim Jafari school of jurisprudence. The "gates of ijtihad" were "closed" in the 10th century in Sunni fiqh, meaning that ijtihad is not practiced in Sunni Islam, and Sunnis, unlike Shi'as, have to follow rulings interpreted in the 10th century.
The word derives from the Arabic
verbal root of ج-ﻫ-د jimm-ha-dal
, "struggle"), the same root as that of jihad
; the is inserted because the word is a derived stem VIII verb. The shared etymology is worth noting, as both words touch on the concepts of struggle or effort. In the case of form VIII verbs, this means to "struggle with oneself", as through deep thought. Ijtihad is a method of legal reasoning that does not rely on the traditional schools of jurisprudence (madhabs).
The purpose in performing ijtihâd is to try to derive and interpret new rules from the Qur’an by analogy, i.e. by comparing the ayats and hadiths with implied meanings to overtly expressed ones. For instance, the meaning of the ayat commanding to obey your parents is, “Do not say, ‘Fie on you’, to them!” No mention is made to battery or invective. Since the exclamation “Fie on you,” which is by far milder than these forms of maltreatment, is expressed literally, mujtahids have deduced by ijtihâd that it must certainly be haram (forbidden) to beat or curse or insult one’s parents. Likewise, the Qur’an literally prohibits consumption of wine, without naming the other hard drinks. The reason for the prohibition of wine is that it blurs one’s mind and suspends one’s mental activities, as is understood from the expression used in the ayat. Hence, mujtahids have deduced by way of ijtihâd that all sorts of drinks carrying the features that cause wine must be forbidden as well; so they have stated that all sorts of intoxicants are haram. It is indicated that Allah commands to ‘do ijtihâd’ in the Qur’an. It is understood from various ayat that scholars of high grade and profound knowledge have been enjoined that they should perform ijtihâd. Then, ijtihâd is (an Islamic commandment called) farz enjoined on people in possession of full authority, eligibility and expertise, i.e. those who have the ability and capacity to understand the rules and matters hidden in the ayats and hadiths whose meanings cannot be understood clearly, by way of analogy, deduction and induction from their significations, tenors of discourse and denotations.
In early Islam ijtihad was a commonly used legal practice, and was well integrated with falsafa. It slowly fell out of practice for several reasons, most notably the efforts of Asharite theologians from the 12th century, who saw it as leading to errors of over-confidence in judgement since the time of al-Ghazali. He was the most notable of the Asharites and his work, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, was the most celebrated statement of this view.
It is debated whether Al-Ghazali was observing or creating the so-called "closure of the door of ijtihad". Some say this had occurred by the beginning of the 10th century CE, a couple of centuries after the finalizing of the major collections of hadith. In the words of Joseph Schacht: "hence a consensus gradually established itself to the effect that from that time onwards no one could be deemed to have the necessary qualifications for independent reasoning in religious law, and that all future activity would have to be confined to the explanation, application, and, at the most, interpretation of the doctrine as it had been laid down once and for all." This theory has been put in question recently by Wael Hallaq, who writes that there was also always a minority that claimed that the closing of the door is wrong, and a properly qualified scholar must have the right to perform ijtihad, at all times, not only up until the four schools of law were defined.
What is clear is that long after the 10th century the principles of ijtihad continued to be discussed in the Islamic legal literature, and other Asharites continued to argue with their Mutazilite rivals about its applicability to sciences.
Al-Amidi (1233) mentions twelve common controversies about ijtihad in his book about usul al-fiqh (the theory of Islamic law), amongst others, the question if the Prophet himself depended on ijtihad and if it should be allowed for a mujtahid to follow taqleed.
In Islamic political theory, ijtihad is often counted as one of the essential qualifications of the caliph, e.g. by Al-Baghdadi (1037) or Al-Mawardi (1058). Al-Ghazali dispenses with this qualification in his legal theory and delegates the exercise of ijtihad to the ulema.
Ironically, the loss of its application in law seems to have also led to its loss in philosophy and the sciences, which most historians think caused Muslim societies to stagnate before the 1492 fall of al-Andalus, after which Muslim works were translated and led in part to The Renaissance revival of Classical works, using improved methods, although the Muslims themselves were no longer using these methods in their daily life at all.
Qualifications of a mujtahid
A mujtahid is an Islamic scholar, competent to interpret divine law (sharia) in practical situations using ijtihad (independent thought). In some, but not all, Islamic traditions, a mujtahid can specialise in a branch of sharia - economic or family law for example.
The qualifications for a mujtahid were set out by Abu’l Husayn al-Basri (died 467 AH / 1083 CE ) in “al Mu’tamad fi Usul al-Fiqh” and accepted by later Sunni scholars, including al-Ghazali. These qualifications can be summed up as (i) an understanding of the objectives of the sharia and (ii) a knowledge of its sources and methods of deduction. They include
- a competence in the Arabic language which allows him/her to have a correct understanding of the Qur’an . That is, s/he must appreciate the subtleties of the language so as to be able to draw accurate deductions from the “clear and un-crooked Arabic” of this infallible source, and that of the sunnah.
- an adequate knowledge of the Meccan and Medinese contents of the Qu'ran, the events surrounding their revelation and the incidences of abrogation (suspending or repealing a ruling) revealed therein. S/he must be fully acquainted with its legal contents (the ayat al-ahkam) - some 500 verses, according to al-Ghazali. S/he need not have a detailed knowledge the narratives and parables, nor of the sections relating to the hereafter, but s/he must be able to use these to infer a legal rule. S/he needs to be acquainted with all the classical commentaries on the ayat al-ahkam, especially the views of the Companions of the Prophet .
- an adequate knowledge of the sunnah, especially those related to his specialisation. S/he needs to know the relative reliability of the narrators of the hadith, and be able to distinguish between the reliable from the weak. S/he needs to have a thorough knowledge of incidences of abrogation, distinguish between the general and specific, the absolute and the qualified. One estimate (by Ahmad ibn Hanbal) suggests that 1,200 hadith need to be known.
- s/he should be able to verify the consensus ijma of the Companions of the Prophet, the successors and the leading imams and mujtahideen of the past, especially with regard to his/her specialisation. Complementary to this, s/he should be familiar with the issues on which there is no consensus.
- s/he should have a thorough knowledge of the rules and procedures for reasoning by analogy (qiyas) so s/he can apply revealed law to an unprecedented case.
- s/he should understand the revealed purposes of sharia, which relate to "considerations of public interest", including the Five Pillars protection of "life, religion, intellect, lineage" and property. S/he should also understand the general maxims for the interpretation of sharia, which include the "removal of hardship", that "certainty must prevail over doubt", and the achievement of a balance between unnecessary rigidity and too free an interpretation.
- s/he must practice what s/he preaches, that is s/he must be an upright person whose judgement people can trust
Some Islamic traditions consider that these high conditions cannot be met by anyone nowadays, while for others - especially the Shi’ite tradition - they are met in every generation.
Ijtihad in Twelver Shi'a Islam.
Shi'a hawza students start their studies learning fiqh, kalam, hadith, tafsir, philosophy and Arabic literature. After mastering these levels they can start becoming mujtahid by studying advanced textbooks known as sat'h, and research courses known as kharij.
The following points are presented in order to clarify the purpose of ijtihad:
- God is all-powerful, all-knowing.
- God created laws for humankind and only God has the authority to do so.
- God appointed messengers to convey the laws to humankind.
- God appointed imams to guide humankind about the laws.
- At present, neither the messenger (Muhammad), nor the imams (God-appointed leaders) are accessible. The current imam, al-Qaaim al-Muntadhar al-Mahdi, is in the Occultation.
- Therefore, qualified jurists have the duty to find God's law, not create God's laws.
- Therefore, ijtihad is the process of finding God's law from the Qur'an and the hadith using specific methods.
In modern times
Muslims living in the West are subject to secular laws of the state rather than Islamic law. In this context ijtihad becomes mainly a theoretical and ideological exercise without any legal force.
Conservative Muslims say that most Muslims do not have the training in legal sources to conduct ijtihad. They argue that this role was traditionally given to those who have studied for a number of years under a scholar. However, liberal movements within Islam generally argue that any Muslim can perform ijtihad, given that Islam has no generally accepted clerical hierarchy or bureaucratic organization.
On March 19, 2004 a meeting on ijtihad took place in Washington, D.C., hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace.
- Glassé, Cyril, The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd Edition, Stacey International, London (1991) ISBN 0-905743-65-2
- Goldziher, Ignaz (translated by A And R Hamori), Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law, Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey (1981) ISBN 0-691-10099-3
- Kamali, Mohammad Hashim Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, Islamic Text Society, Cambridge (1991) ISBN 0-946621-24-1
- Wael Hallaq: "Was the Gate of Ijtihad Closed?", International Journal of Middle East Studies, 16, 1 (1984), pp. 3-41