Ijtihad (meanings, application and scope)


Seeing through the post 9/11 ordeal and the events taking shape in its backdrop, one can hear the loud whisper: ‘where people are ignorant, uncritical and irrational, they are unjust, cruel, ready to perpetrate and to tolerate abuses of unscrupulous and unchecked power.’ The Muslim Umma, instead of making the best of God-sent treasure of guidance, has consigned it to oblivion, sheer ignorant of the nihilist forces and their ruthless modus operandi.

It were Muslims who, once upon a time, illumined the world with the light of ‘guidance’ and gave birth to the present day Europe. In the words of the 20th century eminent scholar Dr. Robert Briffault in his famous book The Making of Humanity:

“It was not science which brought Europe back to life. Other and manifold influences from the civilization of Islam communicated its first glow to European life … Down to the fifteenth century whatever scientific activity existed in Europe was engaged in assimilating Arab learning without greatly adding to it…The Canons of Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and the Surgery of Abu’l-Qasim, remained the text books of medical science throughout Europe until the seventeenth century.”

According to him, the Arabs introduced three inventions into Europe, each of which was to bring about a world-transforming revolution:

  1. The mariner’s compass which was to expand Europe to the ends of the earth;
  2. Gun-powder which was to bring to an end the supremacy of the armoured knight;
  3. And paper which prepared the way for the printing press and opened numerous doors of knowledge and learning.

The Muslims were then a rational community, employing all their faculties of mind, doing a scientific errand on the globe. Open, refined, humanizing, creative, productive, promoting man’s stature round the earth, they went everywhere and lit the lamps of reasoning, logic, scientific method and love and dignity of mankind. History pays them homage.

But then it so happened that the law of nature wrapped their day into the night and the lamp of reason was put out; they slipped into a dreadful slumber and lost their contact with reality. Now they were rigid misologists reposing in the idea of the bygone glory.

Allama Dr Muhammad Iqbal felt the misery and strived to enlighten them:

“The ultimate spiritual basis of all life, as conceived by Islam, is eternal and reveals itself in variety and change. A society based on such a conception of Reality, must reconcile in its life, the categories of permanence and change. It must possess eternal principles to regulate its collective life; for the eternal gives us a foothold in the world of perpetual change. But eternal principles, when they are understood to exclude all possibilities of change which, according to the Qur’an, is one of the greatest signs of God, tend to immobilize what is essentially mobile in its nature.”

But the things had taken a calamitous shape. They are not ready even today to reconcile the changed realities with the permanent divine law and have thus failed in regulating their life in the world of perpetual change in accordance with the revealed eternal principles – their main foothold. This process of reconciling the ever-changing realities with the intentions of the permanent laws is what is called ijtihad.

The Muslims have been exercising ijtihad in every age. They rose to the pinnacle of glory through this scientific method of reasoning. And they suffered when they stopped doing it. It is nothing but fulfilling the day-to-day requirements of life within the framework of permanent principles. Within this framework change is not only permissible but advisable. The conditions of life are always changing and the constitution of the state and machinery of the government have got to be revised and brought up-to-date from time to time. Without this sound legislative exercise we simply cannot cope up with the ever-growing and ever-changing demands of life. We must bear in mind that progress is a change that brings the system nearer to perfection. It is change which, while preserving the values achieved, adds to them and raises them to a higher level.

But we are so heavily fettered in shackles of rigidity and misology (hatred for reason, logic and enlightenment) that even butchery has failed to bring us to our senses although the idea is so easy to grasp. Take up the concept of tauba (repentance). One commits a sin and then feels guilty conscious. Where does this sense of guilt come from? There is a permanent principle which he departed from and then compared his action against it. He could only return to it to attain to the feeling of contentment. That is what we call tauba. It generates from reasoning. The sinner introspects and finds his error. If his heart is imbued with a firm faith in the Commands of Allah, he will fall back upon it and through reasoning and private meditations will seek forgiveness from Allah which He will award him mercifully for his come-back. Likewise, there is hardly any aspect of din in which devoid of the process of reasoning. The misology, therefore, is unintelligible.

Shaikh-ul-Islam Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri is blessed with the vision that pierces through the mysteries of age and discerns the hidden realities of time. He is born with the pang to bring to the Umma the awareness of these realities and unveil to them the secret of their survival. He has devoted his entire life to make us see the Holy footsteps of the Beloved Messenger of Allah and kindle in our heart the flame of love for the Holy Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). He is doing it for the sole reason that this way the Umma will wake up soon and start seeking the same legislative reasoning - ijtihad afresh which will open to them the doors of logic, wisdom and intellect which the Holy Prophet was sent to disseminate to mankind. Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri wants the Muslim community to behave moderate, flexible and stable and shun rigidity, irrationality and extremism and all its forms so that they once again regain the glory which is their due. The path of ijtihad will take them to that because what seems apparently an individual behaviour is in fact the collective behaviour as it is designed by the culture and designs the culture as well. Ijtihad has its roots in the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunna and in the Qur’anic society shaped by the Holy Prophet 1400 years ago. And our thoughts are not our thoughts; the remotest past has gone to the building of them. Read any of the books written by Shaikh-ul-Islam Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, or listen to any of his recorded lectures, you will find him making an all-out endeavour to make us believe that it is only the love of the Holy Prophet and following his sirah that can open our eyes and minds, equip us with the revitalizing reasoning called ijtihad and elevate us to that exalted station which Allah has promised to bestow upon those who make use of all the faculties of their mind in complying with the Prophetic teachings.

This treatise is one of his most scholarly discourses on the subject which serves you many cues to the Islamic way of reasoning and makes solid contributions to the mental milieu of the Muslim Community.

Shaykh Abdul Aziz Dabbagh

  1. Dr Robert Briffault, The Making of Humanity, pp. 202, 207.
  2. Dr M. Iqbal, Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, p. 140.

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