others say, "if differing in the deen is forbidden, what do you say about the differences among the companions and among the imaams after them? is there any distinction between their differing and that of later generations ?"
answer: yes, there is a big difference between these two examples of differing, which manifests itself in two ways: firstly, in cause; secondly, in effect.
a) as for the differing among the companions, that was unavoidable, natural difference of understanding: they did not differ by choice. other factors of their time contributed to this, necessitating difference of opinion, but these vanished after their era.4 this type of differing is impossible to totally remove and such people cannot be blamed in the light of the above mentioned aayaat because of the absence of the appropriate conditions, i.e. differing on purpose and insisting on it.
however, as for the differing found among the muqallideen today, there is no overriding excuse for it. to one of them, the proof from the book and the sunnah is shown, which happens to support a madhhab other than his usual one, so he puts the proof aside for no other reason except that it is against his madhhab. it is as though his madhhab is the original, or it is the deen which muhammad (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) brought, while other madhhabs are separate deens which have been abrogated! others take the opposite extreme, regarding the madhhabs - for all their differences - as parallel codes of law, as some of their later adherents explain5: there is no harm in a muslim taking what he likes from them and leaving what he likes, because they are all valid codes of law !
both these categories of people justify their remaining divided by this false hadeeth, "the differing among my ummah is a mercy" - so many of them we hear using this as evidence! some of them give the reason behind this hadeeth and its purpose by saying that it ensures flexibility for the ummah! apart from the fact that this "reason" is contrary to the clear qur'aanic verses and to the meanings of the imaam's words mentioned, there is also text fom some imaams to refute it.
ibn al-qaasim said,
"i heard maalik and laith saying about the differing of the companions of the messenger of allaah (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam), 'it is not as people say: "there is flexibility in it"; no, it is not like that, but it is a matter of some being mistaken and some being correct'."6
"maalik was asked about the person who accepted a hadeeth narrated by reliable people in the authority of the companions of the messenger of allaah (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam): 'do you see any flexibility there?' he said, 'no, by allaah, so that he may be on the truth. truth can only be one. two contradictory views, can both be correct?! truth and right are only one."7
imaam muzani, a companion of imaam shaafi'i said,
"the companions of the messenger of allaah (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) indeed differed, and some of them corrected others. some scrutinised others' views and found fault with them. if all their views had been correct, they would not have done so.
'umar ibn al-khattab became angry at the dispute between ubayy ibn ka'b and ibn mas'ood about prayer in a single garment. ubayy said, 'prayer in one garment is good and fine; ibn mas'ood said, 'that is only if one does not have many clothes.' so 'umar came out in anger, saying, 'two men from among the companions of the messenger of allaah (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam), who are looked up to and learnt from, disputing? ubayy has spoken the truth and not cared about ibn mas'ood. but if i hear anyone disputing about it after this i will do such-and-such to him'."8
imaam muzani also said,
"there is the one who allows differing and thinks that if two scholars make ijtihaad on a problem and one says, 'halaal', while the other says, 'haraam', then both have arrived at the truth with their ijtihad! it can be said to such a person, 'is this view of yours based on the sources or on qiyaas (analogy) ?' if he says, 'on the sources', it can be said, 'how can it be based on the sources, when the qur'aan negates differing ?' and if he says, 'on analogy', it can be said, 'how can the sources negate differing, and it be allowed for you to reason by analogy that differing is allowed?! this is unacceptable to anyone intelligent, let alone to a man of learning."9
if it is said further: "what you have quoted from imaam maalik that truth is only one, not plural, is contradicted by what is found in al-madkhal al-fiqhi by shaikh zarqaa' (1/89), "the caliphs abu ja'far al-mansoor and later ar- rasheed proposed to select the madhhab of imaam maalik and his book al-muwatta' as the official code of law for the 'abbaasi empire, but maalik forbade them from this, saying, "indeed, the companions of the messenger of allaah (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) differed in the non- fundamental issues and were scattered in various towns, but each of them was correct."
i say: this incident of imaam maalik (rahimahullaah) is well- known, but his saying at the end, "but each of them was correct" is one for which i find no basis in any of the narrations or sources i have come across10, by allaah, except for one narration collected by abu nu'aim in hilyah al- awliyaa' (6/332), but with a chain of narrators which includes al-miqdaam ibn daawood who is classified among the weak narrators by dhahabi in ad-du'afaa'; not only this, but the wording of it is, "... but each of them was correct in his own eyes." hence the phrase "in his own eyes" shows that the narration in madkhal is fabricated; indeed, how could it be otherwise, when it contradicts what has been reported on reliable authority from imaam maalik that truth is only one and not plural, as we have mentioned, and this is agreed on by all the imaams of the companions and the successors as well as the four mujtahid imaams and others. ibn 'abdul barr says, "if the conflicting views could both be right, the salaf would not have corrected each other's ijtihaad, judgments, and verdicts. simple reasoning forbids that something and its opposite can both be correct; as the fine saying goes,
to prove two opposites simultaneously is the most hideous absurity."11
if it is said further, "given that this narration from imaam maalik is false, why did he forbid al-mansoor from bringing the people together on his book al-muwatta' rather than acceding to the caliph's wish ?"
i say: the best that i have found in answer to this is what haafiz ibn katheer has mentioned in his sharh ikhtisaar 'uloom al-hadeeth (p.31), that imaam maalik said, "indeed the people have come together on, and know of, things which we are not acquainted with." this was part of the excellence of his wisdom and impartiality, as ibn katheer (rahimahullaah) says.
hence, it is proved that all differing is bad, not a mercy! however, one type of differing is reprehensible, such as that of staunch followers of the madhhabs, while another type is not blameworthy, such as the differing of the companions and the imaams who succeeded them - may allaah raise us in their company, and give us the capability to tread their path.
therefore, it is clear that the differing of the companions was not like that of the muqallideen. briefly: the companions only differed when it was inevitable, but they used to hate disputes, and would avoid them whenever possible; as for the muqallideen, even though it is possible in a great many cases to avoid differing, they do not agree nor strive towards unity; in fact, they uphold differing. hence there is an enormous gulf between these two types of people in their difference of opinion.
this was from the point of view of cause.
b) the difference in effect is more obvious.
the companions (radi allaahu 'anhum), despite their well- known differing in non-fundamental issues, were extremely careful to preserve outward unity, staying well-away from anything which would divide them and split their ranks. for example, there were among them those who approved of saying the basmalah loudly (in prayer) and those who did not; there were those who held that raising the hands (in prayer) was recommended and those who did not; there were those who held that touching a woman nullified ablution, and those who did not; - but despite all that, they would all pray together behind one imaam, and none of them would disdain from praying behind an imaam due to difference of opinion.
as for the muqallideen, their differing is totally opposite, for it has caused muslims to be divided inthe mightiest pillar of faith after the two testifications of faith: none other than the salaah (prayer). they refuse to pray together behind one imaam, arguing that the imaam's prayer is invalid, or at least detestable, for someone of a different madhhab. this we have heard and seen, as others beside us have seen12; how can it not be, when nowadays some famous books of the madhhabs rule such cases of invalidity or detestability. the result of this has been that you find four mihraabs (alcoves) in some large congregational mosques, in which four imaams successively lead the prayer, and you find people waiting for their imaam while another imaam is already standing in prayer!!!
in fact, to some muqallideen, the difference between the madhhabs has reached a worse state than that, such as a ban in marriage between hanafees and shaafi'is; one well known hanafi scholar, later nicknamed mufti ath-thaqalayn (the mufti for humans and jinn), issued a fatwaa allowing a hanafi man to marry a shaafi'i woman, because "her position is like that of the people of the book"13 ! this implies - and implied meanings are acceptable to them - that the reverse case is not allowed, i.e. a hanafi woman marrying a shaafi'i man, just as a muslim woman cannot marry a jew or christian?!!
these two examples, out of many, are enough to illustrate to anyone intelligent the evil effects of the differing of the later generations and their insistence upon it, unlike the differing of the earlier generations (the salaf), which did not have any adverse effect on the ummah. because of this, the latter are exempt from the verses prohibiting division in the deen, unlike the later generations. may allaah guide us all to the straight path.
further, how we wish that the harm caused by such differing be limited to among themselves and not extend to the other peoples being given da'wah, for then it would not be that bad, but it is so sad when they allow it to reach the non- believers in many areas around the world, and their differing obstructs the entry of people in large numbers into the deen of allaah! the book zalaam min al-gharb by muhammad al- ghazaali (p. 200) records the following incident,
"it so happened during a conference held at the university of princeton in america that one of the speakers raised a question, one which is a favourite of the orientalists and the attackers of islaam: 'which teachings do the muslims advance to the world in order to specify the islaam towards which they are inviting ? is it islamic teachings as understood by the sunnis? or is it as understood by the imaami or zaidi shee'ahs? moreover, all of these are divided further amongst themselves, and further, some of them believe in limited progression in thought, while others believe obstinately in fixed ideas.'
the result was that the inviters to islaam left those being invited in confusion, for they were themselves utterly confused."14
in the preface to hadiyyah as-sultaan ilaa muslimee bilaad jaabaan by 'allaamah sultaan al-ma'soomi (rahimahullaah), the author says,
a query was posed to me by the muslims from japan, from the cities of tokyo and osaka in the far east, "what is the actual deen of islaam? what is a madhhab? is it necessary for one ennobled by the deen of islaam to adhere to one of the four madhhabs? that is, should he be maaliki, hanafi, shaafi'i or hanbali, or is it not necessary?"
this was because a major differing, a filthy dispute, had occured here, when a number of groups of japanese intellectuals wanted to enter into the deen of islaam, and be ennobled by the nobility of eeman. when they proposed this to some muslims present in tokyo, some people from india said, "it is best that they choose the madhhab of abu haneefah, for he is the lamp of the ummah"; some people from indonesia (java) said, "no, they should be shaafi'i!" so when the japanese heard these statements, they were extremely perplexed and were thrown off their original purpose. hence the issue of the madhhabs became a barrier in the path of their accepting islaam!!
cf. al-ihkaam fi usool al-ahkaam by ibn hazm, hujjatullaah al-baalighah by al-dehlawi, & the latter's essay dealing specifically with this issue, 'iqd al-jeed fi ahkaam al- ijtihaad wat-taqleed.
see faid al-qadeer by al-manaawi (1/209) or silsilah al- ahaadeeth ad-da'eefah (1/76, 77)
ibn 'abdul barr in jaami' bayaan al-'ilm (2/81-2)
ibid. (2/82, 88-9)
cf. al-intiqaa' by ibn 'abdul barr (41), kashf al-mughatta fi fadl al-muwatta' (pp. 6-7) by ibn 'asaakir, & tadhkirah al-huffaaz by dhahabi (1/195).
jaami' bayaan al-'ilm (2/88)
see chapter eight of the book, maa laa yajooz min al-khilaaf (pp. 65-72), where you will find numerous examples of what we have indicated, some of them involving scholars of al-azhar.
i now say: muhammad al-ghazaali's recent writings such as his newly-released book entitled as-sunnah an-nabawiyyah bayna ahl al-hadeeth wa ahl al-fiqh (the prophetic sunnah between the people of hadeeth and the people of fiqh) have confirmed that he himself is one of those inviters to islaam who are "themselves utterly confused"! his writings have for long betrayed his confusion, his distortion of the sunnah, and his using his intellect to authenticate or falsify ahaadeeth, not by turning to the principles and science of hadeeth, nor to the experts of that field; instead, whatever appeals to him, he authenticates, even if it is weak, and declares unreliable whatever is not to his liking, even if it is agreed to be authentic!
his above approach is shown most obviously in his discussion of the ahaadeeth in his previous book fiqh as- seerah , where he explains his methodology of accepting unreliable ahaadeeth and discarding authentic ones on the basis of the text of the hadeeth alone, from which the reader can see that the objective criticism of hadeeth has no value in his eyes if it contradicts a "reasoned analysis", which varies enormously from person to person, for what is truth to one is falsehood to another! thus the whole of islaam becomes subject to personal whims, having no principles nor reference points except personal opinion; this is poles apart from the position of the early leading 'ulamaa of islaam, "that the isnaad is part of the religion; were it not for the isnaad, people would have said whatever they wished."
his latest above-mentioned book has exposed to the people his mu'tazilite methodology, his blatant disregard for the imaams of hadeeth and their efforts over the ages in serving the sunnah, and distinguishing the genuine traditions from the unreliable ones, and his lack of appreciation of the efforts of the imaams of fiqh in their laying down principles and developing issues on that basis, for he takes from these and leaves from them whatever he wishes, with no consistency towards any set of principles or fundamentals!