Thursday, 28 June 2018

Reality of Ijma (Consensus)

بســم اللــه الرحمــن الرحيــم

والصلاــة والسلاــم علــى نبيــه الكريــم

وعلــى اهــل بيتــه الطيبيــن الطاهريــن المظلوميــن

والعاقبة للمتقين

As mentioned in the previous entry, there are four sources of Shari’a or Islamic law with Ahl us-Sunnati wal-Jama’a, the third of which is Ijma (consensus). However, a distinction needs to be made between the first two sources (Quran and Sunna), which are the primary sources, and the second two, Ijma and Ijtihad, which are the secondary sources. The Quran and Sunna are two independent sources, though the Quran is given priority over isolated narrations of Hadith where the two may possibly clash. Ijma, along with Ijtihad, are not independent sources of Islamic law, but in fact derive their authority from the primary sources of Quran and Sunna. Hence, the authority of Ijma is not absolute or independent, but rather a means of manifesting a correct understanding of a text of the Quran or something from the Sunna. It is in fact from certain Hadith that the validity of Ijma has been delegated and derived:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لاَ يَجْمَعُ أُمَّتِي -عَلَى ضَلاَلَةٍ وَيَدُ اللَّهِ مَعَ الْجَمَاعَةِ
“Verily, Allah shall not gather my Umma upon an error, and the Hand of Allah is with the Jama’a.” (Jami al-Tirmidhi #2167)
وَأَنْ لاَ يَظْهَرَ أَهْلُ الْبَاطِلِ عَلَى أَهْلِ الْحَقِّ وَأَنْ لاَ تَجْتَمِعُوا عَلَى ضَلاَلَةٍ
“The people of falsehood will never prevail over the people of truth, and neither shall you all be gathered upon an error.” (Sunan Abi Dawud #4253)
However, these narrations are not without criticism with regard to their authenticity. More importantly, the definition and reality of Ijma or concensus is hotly contested among the “orthodox” scholars themselves. The apparent wording of the narrations which provide a basis for Ijma as a legal concept in the principles of Islamic jurisprudence speak of the complete concensus of the entire Umma of the Prophet Muhammad (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) without restriction of time. There is no specification of this concensus referring to the concensus of scholars or the academic community only, or the concensus of the Prophet’s companions only. Taking these facts into consideration, it has to be concluded that although Ijma is acknowledged as the third source of Islamic law, this is merely theoretical, because in practice it doesn’t seem possible how to determine what is and what isn’t an example of concensus. As I have made clear, the function of concensus is only to reinforce or manifest something that is already present in the texts of Quran and Sunna. Concensus cannot be used to manufacture or legislate any law or doctrine that is independent of or does not already have a basis in the primary sources of Quran and Sunna. Practically speaking, it can be said that the function of Ijma then appears to be to only reinforce the most fundamental laws and beliefs in Islam, known by necessity, which are already firmly entrenched in the primary sources. For example, the concensus of the Muslim Umma that there are five mandatory prayers (Fajr, Zuhr, Asr, Maghrib and Isha), that pork and hard drink are forbidden, and the like of very basic rulings that are known by necessity. Those extremely isolated and deviant groups, such as the Ghulat and Zanadiqa, can be said to be deviated and even disbelievers on the basis of their breaching of the consensus of the Muslim Umma on these very basic rulings and teachings of Islam. If there are any authentic narrations of Hadith from which the concept of Ijma can be derived as a legal principle, it should be kept in mind that the primary objective of such narrations are not to give us a legal principle but to give the Umma glad tidings that it cannot ever go astray in totality, and Allah knows best.

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