Introduction to Ijtihad and Mujtahid

In Islamic scholarship, particularly among the Usuliyyin (scholars of principles of Islamic jurisprudence), it is widely accepted that the concepts of “ijtihad” (independent reasoning) and “mujtahid” (one who exercises ijtihad) are exclusive to fiqh (jurisprudence) and the jurists. Ijtihad is thus perceived as strictly juristic, and a mujtahid is seen solely as a jurist who has achieved the level of ijtihad in deriving legal rulings from the Shariah.

Limitations of Jurisprudence-Based Ijtihad

Confining religious ijtihad to jurisprudence and jurists has led to a significant issue: scholars who engage in ijtihad cannot come from outside the circle of jurisprudence, no matter their knowledge, thought, understanding, creativity, and contributions. This limitation is a substantial problem and a considerable loss for knowledge, ijtihad, and the Muslim community. Numerous Islamic scholars and great thinkers, including interpreters of the Qur’an, Hadith scholars, philosophers, Usuliyyin, theologians, economists, caliphs, leaders, judges, and intellectuals, cannot be recognized as mujtahids simply because they do not specialize in “jurisprudence” and do not hold the title of “jurist.”

Broader Applications of Shariah Texts

The foundational texts of the Shariah, which ijtihad and reasoning in religion are based on, were not initially presented in a juristic context but in politics, judiciary, and public affairs governance. For example, the verse:

“When there comes to them some matter touching (public) safety or fear, they make it known. But if they had referred it to the Messenger or to those charged with authority among them, the proper investigators would have understood it from them” (Qur’an 4:83).

This verse pertains to political, security, and military ijtihad and reasoning before applying to juristic reasoning and ijtihad.

Similarly, the Hadith:

“If a judge gives a verdict using his best judgment and is correct, he will have two rewards. If he gives a verdict and is incorrect, he will still have one reward” (agreed upon).

This Hadith was initially about the ijtihad of judges and leaders, and later, the ijtihad of jurists was included under this category. Most efforts of judges involve investigating claims, events, and evidence rather than deriving legal rulings from Shariah texts and other Usuli evidences.

Inclusivity in Ijtihad

If purely juristic ijtihad can be included alongside “political and security reasoning” and “judicial ijtihad” through analogy or by negation of differences, then any ijtihad that seeks truth, justice, benefit, and wisdom within the framework of Shariah, its evidences, and its objectives should also be considered legitimate Shariah ijtihad. Its practitioners should be acknowledged as mujtahids.

Supporting Views from Scholars

This perspective is supported by the esteemed scholar Muhammad ibn Salih al-Uthaymin in his explanation of the Hadith, where he states:

“In the Hadith of ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If a judge uses his judgment and is correct, he will receive two rewards. If he is incorrect, he will still receive one reward. The term ‘judge’ here refers to a judge, but it appears that it also includes a mufti. This means that if a person strives to find the truth and then issues a fatwa or a ruling based on what he believes to be correct, he is doing well. If he is correct, he will have two rewards; one for reaching the correct conclusion and another for his effort. If he is incorrect, he will have one reward for his effort, and Allah will not waste the reward of one who strives to do good.”

Practical Example in Academic Discussion

Once, during a discussion of a doctoral thesis that I was supervising, one of the examiners harshly criticized the author for citing Ibn Khaldun’s opinions in matters related to fiqh, Usul, and Shariah politics. He argued that Ibn Khaldun was merely a historian and could not be relied upon for jurisprudence or Usul. I restrained myself and left the debate between the professor and the student.

After the discussion, I said to the esteemed professor: “Ibn Khaldun was a great thinker and an unparalleled genius. His renown in history does not detract from his valid insights in jurisprudence and Usul. In fact, his expertise in history enhanced his understanding and reasoning in these fields. Moreover, he served as a judge, and every judge is inherently a jurist and more.”

Broadening the Scope of Ijtihad

I have always found it perplexing and surprising that Imam Shatibi described himself as a follower (muqallid) who adhered to the well-known school of thought. Although the norms and etiquettes of jurisprudence and Usul dictate this, outside these formalities, Shatibi was one of the great mujtahid leaders.

If anyone downplays the significance and negative impact of this matter in the past, I will not engage in a prolonged discussion here. Instead, I would like to highlight our urgent need today to expand the scope of ijtihad and the recognition of mujtahids to include all scientific and reformative fields. Every scholar with academic qualifications, intellectual contributions, and scientific efforts, who brings forth new benefits from legal rulings, foundational principles, and objectives, and who derives solutions, theories, and frameworks from Shariah and its evidences, should be considered a mujtahid. Such individuals deserve to be heard, acknowledged, and relied upon in forming consensus or otherwise in their respective fields. A mujtahid may be right or wrong, but this does not strip them of their status as a mujtahid.

Conclusion: The Need for Diverse Ijtihad

Today, we need numerous ijtihad efforts and mujtahids in the methodologies of jurisprudence, Shariah objectives, Qur’anic sciences, Qur’anic studies, Shariah politics, foundational principles of jurisprudence, theoretical jurisprudence, new theology, constitutional jurisprudence, Islamic economics, education, da’wah (Islamic propagation) methodologies, reforms, and international relations.

The ijtihad of jurists and even the Fiqh Councils on specific contemporary issues is not necessarily more deserving than the ijtihad of specialists in these critical and comprehensive fields concerning the Muslim Ummah. Furthermore, the Fiqh Councils themselves need the input of thinkers and scholars of comprehensive fields, theories, and Islamic systems in their memberships and rulings, ensuring that their participation is recognized as that of scholars and intellectuals, not merely jurists, experts, or advisors.