Differences of Opinion

1. What is a difference of opinion?
  • By the blessings of Allah, this Ummah does not have differences on the core concepts of this deen. There are no differences in regards to the fundamentals of Islam or on its primary sources the Quran and the Sunnah.
  • The differences arise in regards to legal rulings in Islam.
  • During the lifetime of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم,  he gave the final judgement on matters. His decisions were guided by Allah سبحانه وتعالى:

وَمَا يَنطِقُ عَنِ الْهَوَىٰ۞ إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا وَحْيٌ يُوحَىٰ

And he (the Prophetﷺ) does not speak of his own inclination.

It is but a revelation revealed. [Soorah Najm, Ayah 3-4]

  • After his death, the scholars sometimes differed in their judgement on a matter. They are human, and without the Divine Knowledge from Allah سبحانه وتعالى, they can make mistakes in their rulings.

وَخُلِقَ الْإِنسَانُ ضَعِيفًا

And humans were created weak. [Soorah Nisaa, Ayah 28]

  • There are two types of different opinions:
    • Opposing views
      • Example: The one who does not pray is a Muslim vs. the one who does not pray is a kaafir.
    • Variation, or non-opposing views.
      • Example: the different duas in Salaah.
  • Opposing views are further divided into two categories:
    • valid, which are permissible and allowed
    • invalid, which are not permissible and not allowed
2. What are some of the causes for these differences in opinion to arise?

-1- The relevant evidence was not known to the scholar when he made the ruling, or even during his lifetime.

-2- The relevant evidence was believed to be weaker than another evidence. For example, one scholar sees a particular Hadith as authentic but another sees it as weak.

-3- The evidence was not remembered at that time, even though the scholar may have been aware of it. 

-4- The evidence was understood incorrectly.

-5- The particular evidence was abrogated (overruled), but the scholar was not aware of this.

-6- The evidence is seen to conflict with a stronger text or with the scholarly consensus.

-7-  A weak hadith or a poor deduction and argument is used in the ruling.

3. How to determine if the difference of opinion is valid, and therefore allowed?
  • A valid difference of opinion is one that results from permissible ijtihaad
  • The criterias of ijtihaad are:
  1. The person doing it is qualified to be a mujtahid.

They must have a thorough understanding of the Quran, it’s sciences, the sunnah, the science of Hadith, the Arabic language, and the principles of Fiqh.

  • The person must exert all possible effort in researching the topic.
  • The research must be unbiased and not just an attempt to confirm one’s own opinion.
  • The topic being researched is one where ijtihaad is allowed.
    • There are no clear evidences from the Quran or Sunnah.
    • There is no existing scholarly consensus on the issue.

NOTE: If these criteria are not met, then the opinion has not resulted from permissible ijtihaad and is therefore not valid.

4. Dealing with the different opinions... how to know which one to follow?
  • A person is one of three types:
  1. A scholar: He is qualified to do ijtihaad and is obligated to give his understanding on an issue.
  2. A student of knowledge: This person has some knowledge of the Islamic sciences and can act by the evidences or understanding but must refer to the scholars.
  3. A layperson: This person must ask a person with knowledge to decide on a matter.

فَاسْأَلُوا أَهْلَ الذِّكْرِ إِن كُنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

So ask the people who have knowledge if you do not know. [Soorah Anbiyaa, Ayah 7]

-NOTE: The existence of different opinions does not mean that one can pick and choose. Rather, one must stick with who they see as being more knowledgeable, whether the decision is one they like or not. 

-NOTE 2: The existence of differences does not mean that all the views are permissible. If a view is not valid then it is incorrect to follow it.

5. How do you deal with the differences between the scholars?
  • We should always remember that they would never knowingly do something wrong or do something that is against the Quran and Sunnah.
  • We must always remember that no man is perfect, even a scholar. They can be correct in many matters and still make mistakes in some. 
  • We must respect all the scholars who follow the Quran and Sunnah whether they were right in a matter or not. 
    • Abu Dardaa رضي الله عنه said that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said:

      العلماء خلفاء الانبياء

      The scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets.

      (Tirmidhi, Abu Dawood, Ahmad)

    • Amr ibn al-‘Aas رضي الله عنه said that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم also said:

اذا حكم الحاكم فاجتهد ثم اصاب فله اجران. و اذا حكم فاجتهد ثم اخطا فله اجر

If a judge gives a ruling upon ijtihaad and is correct he will attain two rewards. And if he performs ijtihaad and errs in his ruling then he secure one reward. 

(Bukhaari 6919 and Muslim 1716)