The Term Ijtihad

‘Ijtihad', according to the lexicographers, is derived from ‘juhd', which means employment of effort or endeavor in performing a cer­tain activity. Here we shall quote some of them:

Ibn al‑'Athir defines ‘ijtihad' as the effort and endeavor under­taken for attaining some objective.1He further remarks that the word (جهد) occurs in many ahadith. ’Juhd’ means employing ones complete strength, and ‘jahd' means hardship and difficulty. ‘2

Ibn Manzur al‑Misri says: Jahd and juhd mean power and strength. He adds that it is said that whereas jahd means hardship and difficulty, juhd gives the sense of power and strength.3 Later on he quotes al‑Farra' to the effect that in the verse of the Qur’an وَالَّذِينَ لَا يَجِدُونَ إِلَّا جُهْدَهُمْ 4 jahd is used in the sense of power and strength.5 In the same work, he states that ijtihad and tajahud mean exertion of power and strength.6 In the hadith narrated from Mu'adh the phrase اجهد رأي الإجتهاد used in the sense of effort and endeavour to achieve some purpose.

Said al‑Khuri says: Ijtihad means undertaking effort and endeav­our in performing some task. For instance it is اجتهد في حمل الحجر‘He exerted himself to carry the stone', but nobody says: إجتهد في حمل الخردلة(Khardalah=mustard seed).7He further adds that jahd (verbal of jahada) is used in the sense of strength ‑ as in أفرغ جهده(he did all in his power) as well as in the sense of trying hard, as in is افرغ جهده أصاب جهداused in the sense of strength.8

Al‑Munjid states: إجتهد في الأمر جد وبذل وسعه Ahmad al‑Qayyumi writes: Juhd in the usage of the people of the Hijaz and jahd in the non‑Hijazi usage means exerting one's strength and power, and it has been said that juhd means strength and jahd means toil and strain.9

He further adds:

اجتهد في الأمر بذل وسعه وطاقته في ظلبه ليبلغ مجهوده ويصل إلى نهايتهه

(Ijtihada means: he spent his strength and capacity to attain his goal and his ultimate objective').10

Al‑‘Allamah al Turayhi states: It occurs in a hadith that: أفضل الصدقة جهد المقل (‘the best of charities is that which is given by one in indigence’).11

He also says: means: اجتهد بيمينه أي بذل وسعة في اليمين وبالغ فيها (ijtihada bi yamanih means: He tried hard and did his utmost in order to fulfill his promise').12He explains that ijtihad involves doing one's utmost while striving and making effort.13

Ibn Abi Dhar’ah, quoting al-Mawarid, states that the literal mean­ing of ijtihad is to undertake effort and endeavour in accomplishing something that requires strain and difficulty, and to this is related jihad al‑nafs (the struggle against the carnal self) which involves labour and toil for winning the desired objective and goal.

Isma'il al-Jawharil 14and other lexicographers have also defined the word ijtihad in similar terms. Thus we come to the conclusion that in the light of the definitions given by the lexicographers’ ijtihad means employment of effort and endeavor to one's utmost capacity, and it does not make any difference whether it is derived from juhd or jahd, as effort and endeavor are not without strain and toil and accompany each other.

On the basis of this definition, the statements of the two Usuli scholars, Shaykh Hasan al-Amali al‑Jiba’I15 and Akhund al‑­Khurasani,16and others about this term, that the literal meaning of ijtihad is undergoing difficulty and hardship for accomplishing some­thing, appear to be incomplete and controvertible.

‘Ijtihad' in the Utterances of the Prophet (S)

The word ijtihad also occurs in the statements of the Prophet (S) in the same literal sense. Some examples may be cited here:

صلوا علي واجتهدوا في الدعاء.

Pronounce benedictions over me and be diligent in prayer.17

أما السجود فاجتهدوا في الدعاء فقمن ان يستجاب لكم.

As to the prostration, be diligent (or insistent) in prayer, for that makes it worthy of acceptance.18

فضل العالم على المجتهد مائة درجة.

The ‘alim (scholar) is superior to the mujtahid by a hundred degrees.19

In this tradition mujtahid is used in the sense of ‘abid (devotee), one who is diligent in ‘ibadah (worship).

‘Ijtihad' In the Utterances of Some Sahabah

‘A'ishah is reported to have said:

كان رسول الله يجتهد في العشر الأواخر ما لا يجتهد في غيره.

During the last decade of his life the Apostle of God worked harder than in any period.20

Talhah ibn ‘Ubayd Allah is reported to a stated:

عن رجلين على عهد رسول الله كان أحدهما أشد اجتهادا من الآخر نفر المجتهد منهما فاستشهد.

(There were) two men in the days of the Prophet (S), one of whom surpassed the other in his ijtihad (diligence in worship). The ‘diligent one' participated in war and was martyred.21

Abu Said al‑Khudri is reported as having said:

كان رسول الله إذا حلف اجتهد في اليمين.

Whenever the Apostle of God took an oath (to do something), he would take pains to fulfill the oath.22

The following is reported about ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy in relation to the campaign of Banu al‑Mustalaq:

فاجتهد بيمينه ما فعل.

He insisted on his oath that he had not done that.23

Umm Harithah is reported to have stated in a question she asked the Prophet (S):

إن كان الجنة صبرت وإن كان غير ذلك اجتهدت في البكاء.

I shall bear with patience if my son is in Paradise, but if that isn't the case, I shall mourn for him to the limit of my strength.24

‘Ijtihad in the Utterances of the Imams (A)

In the utterances of the Imams (A) of the Prophet's Ahl al‑Bayt, too, the word ijtihad is used in its literal sense. Following are three examples:

In Nahj al-balaghah, Imam 'Ali (A) states:

عليكم بالجد والاجتهاد والتأهب والاستعداد والتزود. في منزل الزاد

It is for you to make effort and to strive, to, prepare yourselves and to supply yourselves with in this stage of provision (i.e. this world).25

Al‑'Imam Al‑Baqir (A) is reported to have said to a group of Shi’is:

والله اني لاحب ريحكم وارواحكم فاعينوا على ذلك بورع واجتهاد واعلموا أنّ ولايتنا لا تنال إلاّ بالورع والاجتهاد.

By God, I love your fragrance and (the purity of) your souls. So strengthen them by means of piety and endeavor (ijtihad). You should know that you will not approach our wilayah except by deeds and through endeavor. 26

Al‑'Imam Al‑Sadiq (A) is reported to have said to Said ibn Hilal al‑Thaqafi:

اوصيك بتقوى الله والورع والاجتهاد

I advise you to fear God, to be pious, and to be diligent (in fulfilling your duties).27

Ijtihad as a Technical Term

There is no consensus of opinion among scholars belonging to dif­ferent Islamic schools regarding the literal meaning of the term ijtihad. A section of Sunni ‘ulama' believes that ijtihad means making effort and endeavor in order to achieve presumption (zann) regarding a hukm (law) of the Shari'ah. The same definition is also found in the writings of some Shi'i ‘ulama'. But this interpretation was first proposed by a group of Sunni ‘ulama'. In any case, it would be appropriate to cite some of the views held by Shi'i and the Sunni ‘ulama' in this regard:

(a) The great ‘Allamah Sayf al‑Din al‑'Amidi al‑Shafi’i (d.631/1234) says: Ijtihad means putting in of effort and endeavor in order to reach presumption (zann) regarding one of the ahkam of the Shari'ah in such a manner that one feels that he can do nothing more.28

(b) Al‑‘Allamah Ibn Hajib Abu ‘Amr ‘Uthman ibn ‘Umar ibn Abi Baler al‑Kurdi al‑Maliki (c. 570 ‑ 646/1174 ‑ 1248) writes in his Mukhtasar al‑‘usul: Ijtihad means making effort to arrive at presump­tion or conjecture regarding a hukm of the Shari'ah.

(c) Qadi ‘Abd al‑Rahman ibn Ahmad ibn ‘Abd al‑Ghaffar al‑Shafi’i al-Adudi (d. 756/1355), in his book Sharh Mukhtasar usul Ibn Hajib, writes: Ijtihad is employing one's effort and capacity in the way of arriving at a presumption regarding some hukm of the Shari'ah.

(d) Abu Hamid Muhammad al‑Ghazali al‑Shafi’i (460‑505/1068­1111) quotes the writer of Fawatih al‑rahamut to the effect that: Ijtihad is the effort made on the part of the faqih to derive a presumed hukm of the Shari’ah.29

(e) Muhammad Ma’ruf al‑Dawalibi writes: Ijtihad means the exer­cise of ray which is not acceptable to all the ‘ulama', for if it is accept­ed by all it would be called ijma’ (consensus), not ijtihad. Therefore, ijtihad is on a lower standing than ijma’.30

(f) The great mujtahid al-’Allamah al-Hilli (648‑726/1250‑1325), in his work al Nihayah on usul al-fiqh, writes: Ijtihad means employ­ment of effort for arriving at presumption with regard to a hukm of the Shari ah, in a way that is not blameworthy on account of negligence or omission.

(g) Al-’Allamah al Turayhi says: Ijtihad is to employ one's effort and endeavor in pursuit of some difficult task and for arriving at pre­sumption with regard to a hukm of the Shari’ah.31

(h) The Usuli mujtahid al‑‘Amili al‑Jiba’i says: Ijtihad is the effort and endeavor of a faqih in order to arrive at presumption in regard to a hukm of the Shari’ah.32

(i) Al-Shaykh al‑Bahai in his Zubdah quotes al‑Hajibi to the ef­fect that: By ijtihad is meant the exhaustive efforts of a faqih for ar­riving at presumption in regard to a hukm of the Shari’ah. Al-’Allamah al-Hilli agrees with this definition in his book Tahdhib al‑‘usul.

(j) Al ‘Allamah Taj al‑Din al‑Subuki, in his book Jam’ al jawami’, writes: Ijtihad as a technical term means the utmost efforts made by a faqih for arriving at presumption in regard to a hukm (of the Shari'ah).

Critique of the Above Definitions

The above‑mentioned definitions of ijtihad do not appear to be correct; for if these are meant for determining the logical and technical limits of ijtihad, these definitions fail to do so. However, if only an ex­planation and clarification of the term ijtihad is meant, they are not objectionable. Beyond that purpose, they have no scientific value. Here we shall briefly point out the defects in the said definitions.

According to the science of logic, a definition should be inclusive of all the members of the set and exclude all alien elements; the said definitions are not such. For, if by ‘presumption' (zann) they mean something based on the Shari'ah or reason, they are not inclusive of all their concerned instances. Because, an argument (dalil) related to a hukm and derived from the Shari'ah or reason belongs to one of the following three kinds:

1. The argument creates presumption.

2. The argument creates certainty.

3. The argument creates neither presumption nor certainty.

The said definitions deal with the first kind alone, and leave out the two remaining kinds; whereas a definition of ijtihad should include these two as well.

The exclusion of the second kind in the definitions cited ‑ that is that the argument should create certainty ‑ is due to the fact that cer­tainty is different from presumption and the word ‘presumption' does not include it. As to the exclusion of the third ‑ in which an argument does not produce either presumption or certainty ‑ the reason is that the argument may not create presumption.

For instance, if the validity (hujjiyyah) of al‑shuhrat al‑fatwa’iyyah or khabar al‑wahid or al‑'ijma’ al‑manqul is presupposed in such a way that despite not causing presumption they should still be regarded as hujjah, then, according to this hypothesis, the derivation of ahkam of the Shari'ah by means of al­-shuhrat al‑fatwa’iyyah, khabar al‑wahid and al‑ijma'al‑manqul would not be ijtihad ‑ since we have supposed that they do not create presumption ‑ and in the light of the said definitions ijtihad means attain­ment of presumption.

If, in the above‑mentioned definitions, should ‘presumption' be taken to include both trustworthy and untrustworthy presumptions ‑ as it obviously does ‑ the definition will include untrustworthy presump­tion also, while the attainment of presumption regarding a hukm of the Shari’ah by means of untrustworthy presumptions is not considered as ijtihad; because, it is certain that unreliable presumption cannot be a source of legislation. Accordingly, the definitions cited fail to exclude alien elements.

In addition they suffer from another fault ‑ especially those defi­nitions which mention the faqih ‑ as they fail to avoid a vicious circle.

In the definitions cited, the definition of ‘ijtihad' rests upon the definition of ‘faqih' and vice versa, for ‘faqih', in the technical sense, cannot be imagined without the technical qualification defined as ‘ijtihad', and all scholars and thinkers unanimously agree on the invalid­ity of the vicious circle.

Regarding this vicious circle, al-Muhaqqiq al‑Qummi writes: The faqih is a scholar who knows the Divine ahkam through the means of reliable (mu'tabar) proofs (adillah) and sources (manabi’). This ability does not materialize without ijtihad, and without it no faqih can exist. Accordingly, the definition of ‘faqih' rests upon defining ijtihad, and vice versa.

Regarding the solution of the problem of the vicious circle, cer­tain Usulis have said: "According to these definitions, faqih is a person who is acquainted with and is well‑versed in fiqh; as opposed to one who has no knowledge of fiqh whatsoever. It does not mean someone who has the knowledge of all the ahkam. It is clear that in this sense the meaning of ‘faqih' does not rest on that of ijtihad; this avoids the vici­ous circle, because whereas the definition of ijtihad is dependent upon that of ‘faqih', the definition of ‘faqih' is not dependent upon that of ijtihad.”

But al-Muhaqqiq. al‑Qummi objects to this statement and says: Firstly, such a sense imputed to ‘faqih' is figurative', as it literally means one who knows all the ahkam, not one who knows only a few of them or some of those things that are related to the ahkam. Secondly, the effort made by one who is a ‘faqih' in this sense does not give rise to the quality of ijtihad; for, one who knows the outlines of the issues of ijtihad and has read a few books on argumentative fiqh but lacks the faculty that enables him to revert the furu to the usul, would not be considered a faqih.

Then, in an effort to remove the vicious circle, al-Muhaqqiq al­ Qummi says: The ‘faqih' is a person possessing such capacity as would lead to the knowledge of far’i ahkam of the Shari'ah. Thus, the defini­tion of ijtihad is made dependent on that of the faqih, whereas the vice versa is not essential. For, the knowledge of the ahkam of the Shari'ah exists in a faqih as a (potential) capability, and in ijtihad it exists as an actuality.

This view of the Muhaqqiq is objectionable, since faqih as a term is applied to one who actually knows the far'i ahkam of the Shari'ah through a command of its sources, not one who possesses merely the faculty and capacity of doing so; as mere capacity and faculty do not qualify one for this appellation, though the appellation of ‘mujtahid' may fit him. Therefore, the vicious circle still remains; as it is quite clear that the definition of ‘faqih' in the above sense is dependent upon that of ‘ijtihad', and vice versa.

Moreover, the apparent meaning of this definition is unacceptable not only in the Shi’i view of ijtihad but is also incomplete and objection­able according to the Sunni viewpoint; because legal grounds (adillah Shar’iyyah) are not confined to presumption and conjecture alone according to Sunnis and include other things besides.

In any case, the definitions cited are too restrictive in some re­spects, and in some others they do not exclude what is alien to ijtihad. Such definitions are not sound according to the science of logic, and it may be concluded that they are unacceptable to both the Muslim sects. Many a time such incorrect definitions of ijtihad have been responsible for giving rise to negative views about ijtihad, and made persons like Mirza Muhammad Amin al‑'Astarabadi, the founder of the Akhbari school, to negate ijtihad out rightly. As a consequence of it ijtihad had been declared as one of the innovations (bid’at) and impermissible activities (this will be discussed in detail while dealing with the Akhbari revolt against ijtihad).

In fact, if ijtihad means exactly what it has been described to be in the definitions, its rejection is justified: for, to claim something as a hukm of the Shari'ah on the basis of presumptive and unreliable grounds (dala'il) and to act according to them is not permissible in Islamic law. Verses of the Qur’an expressly forbid reliance on presumption and con­jecture. God Almighty has stated in the Qur’an:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِنَ الظَّنِّ

O ye who believe, shun much suspicion (al‑zann).... (49:12)

In another place He says:

وَمَا يَتَّبِعُ أَكْثَرُهُمْ إِلَّا ظَنًّا ۚ إِنَّ الظَّنَّ لَا يُغْنِي مِنَ الْحَقِّ شَيْئًا ۚ

Most of them follow naught but conjecture. Assuredly conjecture can by no means take the place of the truth.... (10:36)

For positing a hukm of the Shari'ah only certainty, or such argument or methods as have been validated by the Shari'ah, may be relied upon. Such trustworthy grounds as khabar al-wahid and the Practical Principles (al‑'usul al‑‘amaliyyah) of the Shari'ah (Bara'ah, Ihtiyat, etc), though they do not lead to certainty as to the real hukm (al‑hukm al‑waqi’i) ‑ for they may be suspect regarding their chain of transmission, or meaning, or authenticity of source ‑ but the certainty of their validity and reliability justifies reliance upon them and action in accordance with them and provides security from Divine chastisement.

Anyhow, the Usulis do not conceive ijtihad in the above sense. By ijtihad' they mean the knowledge of the ahkam of the Shari'ah from sources and grounds whose validity has been affirmed by the Shari'ah, and it is by using such sources, principles and dicta that the mujtahid is able to meet the needs of contingent issues and events of life.

Accordingly, the result of ijtihad in the context of deduction of ahkam of the Shari'ah is to refer new furu’ to the fundamental usul (which are the general precepts of the Book and the Sunnah) and to apply the usul to their corresponding instances. It is by means of ijtihad that sufficient evidence or hujjah regarding a hukm of the Shari'ah is secured for answers to emergent and contingent issues. Ijtihad is not meant for providing presumption or conjecture.

It is this sound meaning of ijtihad that the Usulis have accepted, and who­soever has faith in Islam and believes in its eternal and immortal character is bound to accept it in accordance with the precepts of the Shari'ah and the dictates of reason. Because, it is not possible to posit the ahkam of the Shari’ah for issues for which there is no specific express test without sufficient evidence and valid grounds, and this is a conception which Muhammad Amin al-’Astarabadi also accepts.

It is by means of such ijtihad that valid grounds and basic and general ahkam are employed for deriving a hukm of the Shari'ah on a contingent issue. Such ijtihad is approved by the Akhbaris too, though they do not call it ijtihad'.

Thus, the incorrect conception of ijtihad ‑ i.e., the attainment of presumption on a hukm of the Shari'ah ‑ which incited the Akhbari opposition, is one which the Usuli also do not accept and one which they have never approved of. The ‘presumption' which al-’Allamah al-­Hilli, the author of Ma’alim al‑'asul, and some other Shi’i scholars mention in their definitions of ijtihad, is not presumption in its general sense, but one which is trustworthy and supported by some specific dalil.

Therefore, it does not include such presumption as is not supported by a dalil; for such presumption has been forbidden by verses of the Qur’an and ahadith. Hence, it cannot be said that the ‘presumption' mentioned in the definitions includes this (untrustworthy) kind of presumption. Accordingly, the ijtihad approved by the Usulis means procurement of sufficient evidence (hujjah) regarding a hukm of the Shari'ah ‑ a conception which the Akhbaris also do not reject.

On this basis, it can be said that the dispute between the Usulis and the Akhbaris is merely a verbal one, not one which is essential or substantial, for both of them approve of securing sufficient evidence for a hukm shar’i, with the difference that the Usulis call it ijtihad whereas the Akhbaris do not name it so.

In reality, the only objection that the Akhbaris raise regarding ijtihad relates to the definition of ijtihad and not to the Usulis or the mujtahidun as such; for the Akhbaris themselves never act on presump­tion unless it is validated by a reliable Shar'i proof (dalil).

Thus, if the word ‘presumption' (zann) is replaced with the term hujjah (evidence) in the said definition and it is said: "Ijtihad means employment of one's powers to secure sufficient evidence (hujjah) in regard to a hukm of the Shari'ah", there is no doubt that this controversy can be completely avoided and a synthesis of the views of the Akhbaris and the Usulis can be achieved.

Second Definition of Ijtihad

Another group of scholars defines ijtihad as effort on the part of a faqih for deriving the ahkam of the Shari'ah. Here we shall cite the views of some of them.

(a) The great scholar Abu Hamid Muhammad al‑Ghazali al‑Shafi’i says: "Ijtihad is the effort (on the part of the mujtahid) and employ­ment of one's utmost powers to extract a command (hukm). This term is not used unless when it involves hardship and strain. Hence it is said:

إجتهد في حمل حجر الرحى

‘He exerted himself to carry the millstone’.

But it will not be said that:

إجتهد في حمل الخردلة

He exerted himself to carry a grain of mustard seed.’

But in common usage this word is specifically used for the effort made by the mujtahid in the way of acquiring the knowledge of the ahkam of the Shari’ah."33 Al-Ghazali further remarks: “Ijtihad in its complete sense is to make utmost effort in achieving a goal so that it is not possible for one to do anything more."34

(b) Muhammad Khidri Bek writes: Ijtihad is the effort made by a faqih for acquiring the knowledge of the ahkam of the Shari’ah.35 He adds: Ijtihad in its complete sense is the utmost effort that a faqih undertakes for extracting a hukm (of the Shari'ah) in such a manner that he feels that he has exhausted his capacity.36

Critique of the Second Type of Definitions

The above‑mentioned definitions also are incomplete and defective in spite of their being closer to a technical definition and freedom from the defects of the former ones. They are still imperfect because the word ‘waza'if' (lit. duties) needs to be added; because, besides having to deduce the ahkam of the Shari’ah, a mujtahid is supposed to procure the Practical (al usul al‑'amaliyyah) and the Rational Rules (al‑'ahkam al‑‘aqliyyah) ‑ such as Bara'ah, takhyir and Ihtiyat.

Thus the field of operation of the mujtahid includes the ahkam of the Shari’ah as well as the Practical and the Rational Rules, whereas the above‑mentioned definitions focus merely on the former alone. In this sense, it is not a comprehensive definition.

Third Definition of Ijtihad

A third group of scholars of usul defines ijtihad as: Deduction of the ahkam of the Shari'ah from the usul, the adillah, and their sources in the sacred Shari’ah. It would be appropriate to quote some of these related views.

(a) Ahmad Mustafa al‑Zarqa', the author of the valuable work al­ Madkhal al‑faqhi al‑'amm, says: Ijtihad means deduction of the ahkam of the Shari’ah from their elaborate adillah found in the Shari'ah.37

(b) Al-’Allamah Abu ‘Abd Allah Shah Wali al‑Faruqi al‑Dihlawi al‑Hanafi, in his book Kitab al‑'insaf fi sabab al‑ Ikhtilaf, writes: Ijtihad means employment of effort and endeavor for the comprehension of the far’i ahkam of the Shari'ah from their elaborate adillah, which comprise the Book, the Sunnah, ijma’ and qiyas.

(c) Muhammad Amin has also defined ijtihad in his book Taysir al‑tahrir in similar terms.

(d) Dr. Subhi al‑Mahmasani says: Ijtihad means exertion and effort for discovering the ahkam and laws of the Shari'ah from their legal sources.

Critique of the Third Type of Definitions

These definitions are also not free from the defects of the earlier ones, because, like the previous definitions, they need the word waza'if in order to include the Practical and the Rational Rules with the ahkam of the Shari'ah. Another objection against the definition given by al-­Dihlawi is that he has considered qiyas one of the sources of the ahkam, a viewpoint which is rejected by the Shi'ah (this will be dealt in detail while discussing the sources of ijtihad).

Fourth Definition of Ijtihad

The great thinker and scholar of the Islamic world Muhammad ibn al‑Hasan ibn ‘Abd al‑Samad, popularly known as Al-Shaykh al-Bahai, in his book Zubdat al-’usul, writes: Ijtihad is a capacity (malakah) by means of which one obtains the power of deducing the ahkam of the Shari'ah.

Some other scholars have also defined ijtihad in different words that are close in meaning to this definition. Here we shall quote two of them as specimen.

(a) Ijtihad is the manifestation of the capacity for discovering the hujaj (pl. of hujjah) and adillah for deriving the ahkam of the Shari'ah and the Practical Obligations (al‑waza'if al‑‘amaliyyah), whether posited by the Shari'ah or affirmed by reason.

(b) Ijtihad is a capacity by means of which a faqih becomes able to relate the minor premises with the major premises and thereby obtains a hukm of the Shari'ah or an answer to a Practical Obligation.

Critique of the Fourth Type of Definitions

These definitions, also, are controvertible like the previous ones, because firstly, they do not convey the real meaning of ijtihad, for ijtihad per se is not a capacity; for had ijtihad been a capacity, its addi­tion would have served an explanatory purpose, and such is not the case here.

Secondly, the titles that have been mentioned in traditions, like 'faqih, arif, (عرف احكامنا) nazir, (نظر في حلالنا وحرامنا) rawi, (روى حديثنا) as in the widely accepted tradition narrated by ‘Umar ibn Hanzalah, and other such titles which are mentioned in other riwayahs ‑ are not applicable to one who merely possesses the capacity, but apply only to those in whom the capacity has reached the stage of actualization. Capacity (malakah) is a potential ability; it may or may not reach the point of actualization. It is for this very reason that the phrase يقتدر بهاhas to follow the words ملكة above definitions.

Thirdly, the jurisprudential authorities (maraji taqlid) have set forth three courses by way of al‑wajib al‑takhyiri in their handbooks of rulings (rasa’il 'amaliyyah) and works of fiqh for the mukallaf (adult person liable to perform religious duties); they are: ijtihad, taqlid (imitation) and ihtiyat (caution).

If ijtihad be a capacity, it is not correct to put it by the side of taqlid and ihtiyat; for taqlid and ihtiyat are concerned with actual practice, while capacity is an inner psychic state. Accordingly, there is no doubt that in the above statement about a mukallaf's duty ijtihad is the de facto knowledge of the ahkam of the Shari'ah and the Practical Rules derived from the sources of the Shari'ah.

Further Clarification

It is evident that the actual ahkam issued by the Sacred Lawgiver (like obligatory duties and impermissible acts, etc.) are known to apply to all the mukallafun. This essential knowledge with the possibility of chastisement is before every mukallaf.

And since every sane person essentially knows that God Almighty has prescribed certain duties for him, his rational faculty enjoins him to comply with the dictates of reason in comprehending his duties, and to obtain the certainty of their fulfillment; and ‑ as is said in ‘ilm al-’usul ‑ the certainty of execution brings the certainty of fulfillment.

Anyone who is in quest of the certainty of fulfillment (of his duties) and wants to tread the path which can assure him that he has performed all the Shari’i duties assigned by the Supreme Lawgiver, will have to perform one of these three things:

1. He should himself perform ijtihad and comprehend his duties, according to the criteria, from the sources of the Shari'ah.

2. He should follow the rulings of an all‑round (jami’ al‑shara'it) mujtahid.

3. He should choose the path of ihtiyat (i.e., among other things, refrain from every act that is not known for certain to be permissible).

In any case, it is essential to take one of the paths; for if one does not act or abstain from performing a certain act in accordance with one of these courses; he faces the possibility of Divine chastisement. The rational faculty of every mukallaf individual considers it essential to avoid every possible harm and punishment; and to avoid such a danger is not possible except by following either the path of ijtihad, or taqlid or ihtiyat.

Thus, we see that ijtihad, as one of the choices, is de facto com­prehension of one's duties from the sources of the Shari'ah that results in avoiding possible chastisement; mere possession of the capacity to comprehend one's duties cannot be regarded as ijtihad; rather, it means: the identification of the ahkam, their deduction, and acting according to them.

Accordingly, a mujtahid' who possesses the capacity of ijtihad alone, but does not employ the usul and principles for deriving the ahkam is not different from a non‑mujtahid; for, in the same way as a non­-mujtahid faces the possibility of chastisement in performing of acts and abstaining from them, a mujtahid who does not use his capacity of ‘ijtihad is equally exposed to such a danger.

Thus, anyone possessing the capacity of ijtihad should be either a mujtahid, who has derived the ahkam of the Shari’ah from its sources, or he should be a muqallid or muhtat; otherwise, he shall not be secure from chastisement. Anyone who is endowed with the capacity of ‘ijtihad but has not reached the practical stage of deriving the ahkam of the Shari'ah may be called a ‘mujtahid'; but as far as practice is concerned he is not different from a non‑mujtahid. In any case, ijtihad should be defined in a manner that is free from such flaws.

A Misconception

Some people believe that the capacity of ijtihad is similar to some other traits (like generosity, justice, valour, etc.), which is acquired after practice and exercise in deriving the ahkam of the Shari'ah, in the same way as other qualities reach the stage of actualization after repeti­tion and practice.

They reason that, as in the case of some qualities and traits which are not separable from action (generosity is not separable from acts of generosity, justice is not separable from acts of justice, valour is not separable from deeds of valour) ijtihad also is not separable from deduction of the ahkam of the Shari'ah. Accordingly, whosoever pos­sesses the capacity of ijtihad has inevitably derived the ahkam of the Shari'ah from its sources, and this necessarily makes him secure from chastisement. Hence the above definition is correct.

This argument is not valid, for the capacity of ijtihad is not similar to other qualities. Other qualities cannot be actualized without many attempts and persistent repetition, but the capacity of ijtihad can be acquired without deducing any hukm.

For instance, the quality of valour is acquired by repeatedly exposing oneself to danger and through performance of acts involving danger, because their continuation grad­ually drives out fear from the heart, to the extent that one can take part in big battles without any fear and nervousness in his heart. Similar is the case with generosity and self‑denial: repeated performance of the act of generosity leads man to such a point when he can bear to be thirsty and hungry in order to feed others.

Therefore, the realization of these qualities needs repeated per­formance, whereas the capacity of ijtihad does not need any such prac­tice. On the contrary, unless one possesses the capacity of ijtihad and the ability to derive the ahkam, he cannot perform ijtihad and derive ahkam of the Shari'ah. Hence it is the exercise of deriving which is dependent upon the capacity, not the capacity on repeated derivation.

It is possible for a person to possess the capacity of deriving the ahkam without having derived even a single hukm; as the capacity of ijtihad depends upon learning certain sciences like Arabic grammar and syntax, vocabulary, tafsir, rijal and ‘ilm: al-’usul, etc., whose knowledge enables one to derive the ahkam of the Shari'ah. Therefore, the act of derivation from the viewpoint of realization is posterior to the capacity ‑ contrary to other qualities whose realization follows performance.

It is true that extensive derivation and repeated employment of the capacity of ijtihad. can enhance this faculty, but this has nothing to do with its actual realization and existence.

In short, ijtihad in the sense of faculty does not guarantee security from Divine chastisement, or repel its potential danger from the mukallaf. It cannot be placed in the category of taqlid and ihtiyat either, for that which is equivalent to taqlid and ihtiyat is the knowledge of the ahkam from the Shar'i sources. Hence ijtihad should be defined in a way which is not open to such objections.

Fifth Definition of Ijtihad

Some other scholars have defined ijtihad in yet another way. ‘Abd al‑Wahid al-Khallaf says: Ijtihad means employment of effort and endeavor for understanding the ahkam of the Shari'ah for issues for which there is no specific express text (in the Book and the Sunnah), by exercising ray and subjective judgement, as well as by using other methods for deriving the laws of the Shari'ah.38

Critique of the Fifth Definition

This definition is also objectionable like other definitions, but, as we shall see in the discussion about ijtihad bi al‑ray and subjective judgement, in Islamic fiqh valid ijtihad means employment of effort for deriving the ahkam of the Shari'ah for emergent and contingent issues from the Shar’i sources (the Book, the Sunnah, ijma’ and ‘aql), not the exercise of one's subjective opinion and judgement. We shall elaborate on this matter later on and there we shall see that no individual ‑ even the Prophet (S) ‑ may legislate laws by exercising personal judgement; for legislation is exclusively a Divine prerogative.

In Islamic law there is a hukm for every issue, either as a particular or a general law. As for the issues for which no express text exists, a mujtahid can derive laws by applying to them the general laws of the Book or the Sunnah. Therefore, in emergent issues a mujtahid is required to discover an express Shar'i text, and whenever he is unable to dis­cover such a proof or express text, he has to secure an ‘apparent' hukm (al‑hukm al‑zahiri) for the mukallaf from such Practical Rules as Bara'ah, Takhyir, Istishab, etc.

According to Abu Bakr al‑Razi, the term ijtihad has been applied to the following three meanings:

(1) Qiyas, when the cause (‘illah) does not lead to the hukm, for it may not possibly contain the hukm (on account of its being an incomplete and not a complete cause). As a result, the cause does not lead to certainty about the desired hukm, which has to be based on ijtihad and derivation through ray.

(2) Any­thing that gives rise to presumption without the existence of a cause, like ijtihad regarding time, direction of Qiblah, price of a commodity, etc.

(3) Argument based on usul for positing a hukm of the Shari’ah.39

This statement is also objectionable; for, of the three points that which can relate to the technical sense of ijtihad, the first one ‑ i.e., derivation of ahkam by means of qiyas ‑ is invalid from the Shi'i point of view. The second meaning also is not right, as giving judg­ments about ordinary external details is not the duty of the mujtahid. In the third point, ijtihad is used in a general, non‑specific sense, as it includes qiyas and other things also.

The great jurist Akhund al‑Kurasani has defined ijtihad as employ­ment of one's powers for acquisition of hujjah regarding the ahkam of the Shari’ah.40

Another scholar has defined ijtihad as effort and endeavour made in deriving the far’i ahkam of the Shari'ah, or securing legal validity through (the study of) its elaborate adillah. If the criterion of the validity of an act is considered acquisition of hujjah, the above given definition is safe from the objections raised against the earlier definitions, as hujjah is inclusive of: certainty; the adillah that lead to certainty (such as reliable usul and dicta); and presumption, in accordance with the Sunni outlook. Similarly the term hujjah covers presumption during the period of closure of doors of certainty, in accordance with the belief of those who believe in such a closure.

Accordingly, employment of effort for securing legal validity in regard to the ahkam of the Shari'ah is no doubt regarded as ijtihad, whether the hujjah leads to certainty or is based on a dalil; and it does not make any difference whether it gives rise to presumption or not. Accordingly, the earlier objections cannot be raised against this defini­tion.

Objections Against the Definition

It may be objected that the above definition is not logical or tech­nical, for a technically and logically correct definition should closely correspond to the thing defined, whereas the said definition is rather loose. It states that ijtihad is to derive and determine ahkam from the sources; it does not specify that the person performing derivation should also possess the capacity, whereas the mujtahid is one who possesses the capacity of ijtihad.

This objection is valid, unless it is said that ijtihad depends on the capacity and it is not possible to derive ahkam from reliable sources except through that capacity, and here possession of the capacity is taken for granted.


It is appropriate here to clarify one thing about the capacity of ijtihad: it is a capacity acquired through the knowledge of ten types of disciplines on which derivation and understanding of the ahkam of the Shari'ah depends. In this regard, the requirement of another faculty ‑ the so‑called quwwah qudsiyyah ‑ is not essential, for the‑ijtihad which is acceptable to all means derivation of the Shar'i ahkam from the sources, and in the same way as a just' (‘adil) mujtahid can perform this task, it can also be performed by a mujtahid who is not ‘just'.

Two Different Conceptions of Ijtihad

The term ijtihad as used in the writings of scholars of different Islamic sects conveys two different meanings, each of which gives rise to different viewpoints regarding the sources of Shar'i ahkam. In the first conception ijtihad means derivation of Shar’i hukm through personal judgement and ray for an issue for which the mujtahid does not find any express text in the Qur’an or the Sunnah. Such a meaning of ijtihad is found in the writings of ‘Abd al‑Wahhab al-Khallaf and most of Sunni fuqaha' also subscribe to this view.

Ijtihad in this sense is. considered by most of Sunni scholars as an independent source parallel to the Qur’an, the Sunnah, ijma’ and ‘aql, and is acknowledged as one of the bases for determining the ahkam.

It means that in the same manner as a mujtahid relies on sources like the Qur’an, the Sunnah, ‘aql and ijma’ for deriving ahkam, he can also rely on ray and subjective opinion by taking recourse to instruments of presumption (like qiyas, istihsan, masalih mursalah, istislah, madhhab al‑Sahabi, fath al‑dhara'i’, sadd al‑dhara'i’, etc.) for issues on which there is no express text in the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

In the second conception ijtihad means deduction of the fari ahkam from the reliable sources (the Qur’an, the Sunnah, ijma’ and ‘aql). Ijtihad in this sense occurs in the writings of Ahmad Mustafa al‑Zarqa', the author of al‑Madkhal al‑fiqhi al‑‘amm, and Shi'i fuqaha' have sub­scribed to this view long since.

According to this conception, the activity of the mujtahid involves deduction of the laws of the Shari'ah for emergent issues and new phenomena of life by employing general principles and rules. Thereby the mujtahid refers new secondary issues to the general principles and applies the general laws to their particular instances in external reality, thus obtaining the ahkam governing them. According to this conception, ijtihad is not counted as an independent source of law parallel to the Qur’an and the Sunnah, but merely as a means for deriving and determining the ahkam from the sources.

Ijtihad as an Independent Source in Sunni Fiqh

Leading Sunni jurists have chosen the first conception of ijtihad, as an independent source parallel to the Book of God and the Sunnah of the Prophet (S). They have included ijtihad itself, besides the four sources of fiqh, as the fifth one. Accordingly, they have specified for it a separate section in their books of usul such as Usul al‑fiqh, al­ Mustaqfa, al‑Ahkam and other works ‑ and have undertaken diverse discussions about it.

In accordance with this conception, al‑Shafi’i considers qiyas to be same as ijtihad in his Risalah. He writes:

What is qiyas? Is qiyas the same as ijtihad, or are they different'? I say, qiyas and ‘ijtihad are two terms which convey the same meaning like ‘man' and ‘human being’.41

In Risalah he rejects the opinions of most of Sunni fuqaha' who believe istihsan to be one of the sources of ijtihad,42 for the majority of them believe ‘ijtihad to be synonymous with ray, qiyas, istihsan and istinbat.

Mustafa ‘Abd al‑Razzaq is one of them; he writes: The ray of which we speak is the mujtahid's reliance on his subjective opinion and judgement for obtaining a law of the Shari'ah. This is what we mean by ijtihad and qiyas, which are synonymous with istinbat and istihsan.43

This statement appears to be strange, for ijtihad, istinbat, ray, qiyas and istihsan are terms which are different from one another regarding their meaning. How can they be considered synonymous and equivalent terms, and how can it be said that these words convey the same meaning when there is nothing common either between the words or their meanings?

It may be said in justification of the above‑mentioned statement that the equating of ray with ijtihad is for the reason that the personal judgement of a mujtahid in the event of absence of any express text of the Qur’an and the Sunnah is synonymous with ijtihhd bi al‑ray and hence this sort of istinbat has been named ray as well.

But other practices like qiyas, istihsan, masalih mursalah, istislah, sadd al‑dhara'i’, fath al‑dhara'i’, madhhab al‑Sahabi, Shari’at al‑salaf, ‘urf, etc. (which shall be discussed in detail) each one of them is considered an instance of ijtihad, but is not equivalent to or synonymous with ijtihad bi al­-ra'y. The reason for the error in equating ijtihad with ijtihad bi al‑ray is that the meaning of ijtihad has been confused with that of one of its elements.

  • 1. Al‑Nihayah vol. 1, p. 219.
  • 2. Al-Nihayah vol. 1, p. 219.
  • 3. Lisan al‑Arab, vol. 3, p. 133.
  • 4. 9:79
  • 5. Lisan al-Arab, vol. 3, p. 133.
  • 6. Ibid.,p.135
  • 7. Aqrab al-mawarid, vol. 1, p. 144.
  • 8. Aqrab al-mawarid, vol. 1, p. 144.
  • 9. Al Misbah al‑munir, vol. 1, p. 144.
  • 10. Al Misbah al‑munir, vol. 1, p. 144.
  • 11. Majma' al‑bahrayn, vol. 3, p. 32.
  • 12. Majma' al‑bahrayn, vol. 3, p. 32.
  • 13. Majma' al‑bahrayn, vol. 3, p. 32.
  • 14. Sihah al‑lughah, vol.1, p. 457.
  • 15. Ma'alim al‑ usul, p. 232.
  • 16. Kifayat al‑'usul, vol. 2, p. 42.
  • 17. Sunan al-Nasa’i, the chapter on the command to pronounce benedictions on the Prophet (S), vo1.1, p.90; see also the Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, vol. 1, p.199.
  • 18. Sahih Muslim, kitab al‑salat, hadith 207; Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, vol. 1, p.219.
  • 19. Muqaddimah of Sunan al‑Darimi, vol. 1, p.100.
  • 20. Sahih Muslim, kitab al-itikaf, hadith 8; see also Sunan Ibn Majah„ kitab al‑sawm, hadith 1767.
  • 21. Sunan Ibn Majah, kitab al-ru’ya; hadith 3925; Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, vol. 3, p.163.
  • 22. Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, vol. 3, pp. 33,138.
  • 23. Sahih al‑Bukhari, vo1.3, p.136.
  • 24. Sahih al‑Bukhari, kitab al jihad, vo1.2, p. 93; Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, vol. 3, pp. 260, 283.
  • 25. Wasa'il al‑Shi ah, vol. l, twentieth of abwab muqaddamat al-­ibadat, ahadith 1, 11, 20.
  • 26. Wasa'il al‑Shi ah, vol. l, twentieth of abwab muqaddamat al-­ibadat, ahadith 1, 11, 20.
  • 27. Wasa'il al‑Shi ah, vol. l, twentieth of abwab muqaddamat al-­ibadat, ahadith 1, 11, 20.
  • 28. Al‑'Ihkam fi usul al‑'ahkam, vol. 4, p. 218.18.
  • 29. Al‑Mustusfa fi usul al‑fiqh, p. 55
  • 30. Al‑Madkhal ila `ilm usul al‑fiqh, p. 55.
  • 31. Majma' al‑bahrayn, vol. 3, p. 32.
  • 32. Ma'alim al‑'usul p. 232.
  • 33. Al‑Mustasfa fi usul al‑fiqh, vol. 2, p. 350
  • 34. Al‑Mustasfa fi usul al‑fiqh, vol. 2, p. 350
  • 35. Usul al-fiqh, p. 357.
  • 36. Usul al-fiqh, p. 357.
  • 37. The journal Hadarat al‑Islam, No. 2, p. 2.
  • 38. Masadir al‑tashri`, p. 7.
  • 39. Irshad al‑fuhul, p. 250
  • 40. Kifayat al‑'usul, vol. 2, p. 422.
  • 41. Al‑Risalah, p. 477.
  • 42. Ibid. p. 504.
  • 43. Tamhid al-ta'rikh al-falsafeh‑ye Islami, p. 138.