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The Partisans of Sunnah, Ijtihad and Taqlid

Excluding a few cases, as regards a general characterization of the prevailing atmosphere of Sunni fiqhi circles, it may be noted that beginning from the 6th century AH to the present, the idea of the Fourfold Schools – with the consideration of the school of Ahmad b. Hanbal as the fourth – and its corollary that every mukallaf must of necessity adhere to one of these fiqhi schools was the dominant belief. However, this should not lead to the impression that in the various stages of Sunni fiqhi history there have not been those who have operated outside of this legal framework. In fact, it appears that belief in a quintuple system, made up of the Hanafite, Malikite, Shafi`ite and Hanbalite systems as well as that of Sufyan Thawri, continued to have wide currency for a considerable period of time. Nuwawi asserts the existence of this belief in the 7th century AH, as well as a rival system comprising six fiqhi schools, the sixth being that of Dawud Isfahani. In the early part of the 8th century AH, Muhammad b. `Abd al-Rahman Sanjari (d. 721 AH), a Hanafite scholar of Jazirah, in his `Umdat al-talib sets forth the idea of a system consisting of the Three Schools (Hanafie, Shafi`ite, Malikite), the schools of Ahmad and Dawud as well as that of the Imamis and proceeds to elaborate the differences of views among the members of this six-fold system.

Though among the Sunnis even faqihs were obliged to imitate and, at times, in discussions of the closure of ijtihad the idea of imitation (taqlid) was considered as a “major benefit” to the ummah, there appeared mujtahids who not only adopted independent fiqhi positions, but also formulated novel usuli theories. Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728) is the prime example of this tendency, who adopted a Salafite approach while maintaining the continued legitimacy of practicing ijtihad. From a broad perspective, Ibn Taymiyyah should be viewed as a Hanbalite, who dissented from the mainstream Hanbalism on a number of issues. As a true Salafite, Ibn Taymiyyah insisted on a return to the ways of the Salaf (the pious ancients, i.e. the main witnesses of early Islam) in the early days of Islam. However, he was not so possessed with the idea as to ignore the opinions of the founders of major fiqhi schools, Ahmad and Malik in particular. In cases of dissent from certain Hanbalite views he often chose from among the views of other schools. In fact, there were very few cases in which he arrived at a conclusion in conflict with those of all the four fiqhi schools. In his approach to the Qur’an, at times, he adopted a literalist view which led him to a position other than that of the Four. Undermining the value of ijma` was another consequence of Ibn Taymiyyah’s Salafite position, though, he did set forth the alternative notion of ittifaq (agreement), i.e. agreement among mujtahids on a point of shari`ah which is based on evidence provided by a religious text (nass). He believed many cases of ijma` to have been the result of ignorance with regard to the existence of opposite points of view. In the main part of his book he discusses a number of ijma` cases offered by Ibn Hazm and lists views which are in conflict with their conclusions.

* source: Pakatchi , Ahmad "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 ,pp.455 - 456

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