Religious rulings : Causes of differences

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Some people often wonder as to why are there differences in the rulings of the religious scholars (Mujtahideen). Which means, why are some minor differences found in the rulings of these scholars for some particular matter, when the rulings are based on four studies – Quran, traditions, consensus amongst scholars and logic.

It should not be forgotten that these scholars are humans like us. Its true that they have studied the Quran, learnt the science of traditions, referred to the opinions of other scholars., are learned people, intellectuals; and bearers of traditions; yet they are human beings. None can question the fact that Allah has bestowed man with varying capacities. The intellect of all human beings is not the same. One Mujtahid might reach a conclusion which might differ from another, on a particular issue. But this difference is not an evidence of either of them being wrong. For there might be a difference in the rulings, yet both can be acceptable and can also be implemented. For example, two engineers draw two designs for a building. If both the designs have planned a strong construction, then both of them are acceptable. And if there is a difference, it is neither a crime nor an offense. On the contrary, it is appreciated that two engineers have designed two different structures for one single building!

To elaborate, let us look at another example. It wouldn’t be inappropriate if we translate “Mujtahid” in English as a “Doctor”. He is a religious doctor, who composes his opinion, and obeying him is in conformity with logic and reasoning. Thus, to explain the issue further, we take the analogy of a medical doctor for a Mujtahid.

  1. To write a prescription, a doctor should be aware of the science of Anatomy – the study of the making of the body and the functioning of the joints. So that, he can very quickly detect the origin of the sickness.
  2. He should also be well-versed in the study of Physiology, so that he can follow which organ has failed in its functioning or has functioned contrary to its duty.
  3. His study of Pathology also plays a vital role. Because with his knowledge of anatomy, physiology and pathology, he can correctly detect the illness and can rightly explain the root of the disease.
  4. Pharmacology is also the subject of a doctor, so that after detecting the illness he can prescribe the right medicine for the patient, in order to relieve him from the illness at the earliest.

These are the four basic sciences for which any doctor, be he a specialist or a general physician, devotes an important period of his life. The significance of this study is such that, without its knowledge of which a doctor can never become a specialist. Their importance has made their study the foundation of a doctor’s knowledge. For it is from this that he derives the skill to prescribe the right medicine for the sick. However, the prescriptions of the doctors differ, and consequently the constituents of the medicines differ, as well.

Now, the patient after some thought and pondering would definitely wonder, is it that I suffer from two different diseases or have both the doctors failed to diagnose my ailment?

Since he is an intellectual he will visit yet another doctor and present before him his dilemma. Seeing such a case, the third doctor will definitely declare, “My dear friend, both the doctors have diagnosed the same ailment, but since both are human beings, differing in intellect and analysis their prescriptions contain disparities. Although their prescriptions differ, the medicines are the same. The variance being the medicines of one prescription are manufactured by one pharmaceutical firm, the medicines of the other are manufactured by another firm. It wouldn’t matter which medicine you use, both will have the same beneficial effect.”

The system of the Mujtahideen is in perfect consonance with this example. They too base their rulings on four basic sciences – Quran, traditions, consensus and logic. As for the differences in the rulings, it is absolutely analogous to the differences between the doctors. Like the differences in the prescriptions, differences in the rulings is found, and the possibility of any damage is again remote. Because, like the third doctor, if another Mujtahid is referred, he will not term it as a difference but understand them both to be right on account of different analysis.

Jurisprudence and Its Sources :
Literally, jurisprudence (Fiqh) has numerous meanings – Minute analysis and understanding resulting from intelligence, cleverness and relentless effort.

The Science of Jurisprudence :
The science of jurisprudence implies the knowledge of the practical laws and commandments of religion, which are essential in one’s individual and social life. As jurisprudence means, to understand Allah’s commandments and acting upon them, it is necessary that, to consider any action as a duty towards Him, its validity is established. So that one is convinced about the acts and the program of life which Allah has designed for man. Consequently, the scholars have defined Jurisprudence as, “The science of knowing the religious ordinances with proofs and concrete evidences.”

Sources and References of Jurisprudence :
Just as sources and references are presented to prove the validity of a ruling in any practical law, evidences also exist in Jurisprudence. These sources help to establish the rulings as religious which are, as is well-known amongst the scholars and the learned, four in number –

  1. The Holy Quran
  2. The Sunnat: Literally Sunnat means way of life and tradition. Terminologically, it means the sayings and traditions of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) and his twelve successors.
  3. Consensus (Ijma’): It is an opinion for a particular matter, to which all religious scholars of all ages subscribe to. If there is apparently no clear Quranic verse or authentic tradition in this regard, the unanimity of the scholars is considered to be acceptable to Allah and the Masoomeen (as). Thus, it is considered to be “Proof” (Hujjah), and the unanimity is termed as ijma’.
  4. Logic: Fundamentally in Islam, the judgment of the intellect and acceptance of reasoned proofs, is considered as a foundation not only for religiousness and honesty but also for humanity. Thus, along with the above-mentioned three sources, logic is added to be the fourth source.

Inshallah, in the following lessons we shall deal with each of the above sources at a greater length. We request our respected readers to kindly read the treatise first in solitude, and then once again with their friends and relatives. However, still if any point remains unclear, kindly do write to Al-Montazar.

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