Differences Among the Sahaabah

The differences of opinion that occurred among the Sahaabah (companions of Muhammad (pbuh)) were, for the most part, natural and unavoidable. A large portion of it was due to their different reasoning abilities that showed up in their various interpretations of Qur’aanic verses and hadeeths.  There were other causes which led to differences during their time which later disappeared; for example, the wide distribution of hadeeths made it impossible for any individual Sahaabee to be aware of them all, and thus wrong decisions were bound to be made where information was lacking. Obviously, they cannot be blamed for these and similar mistakes, which were not intentional. Furthermore, it is clear that they readily corrected their wrong decisions when authentic information or more relevant evidence indicated that this should be done. It is this willingness to cast aside wrong decisions in the search for truth that excludes these conflicting rulings from the category of accursed disagreements. In this connection, the Messenger of Allaah (pbuh) was quoted by ‘Abdullaah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘Aas as saying:

“If a judge strives his utmost and makes a correct ruling, he receives two rewards, but if he strives and errs he still receives one.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari, vol. 9, pp. 330-1, no. 450 and Sahih Muslim, vol. 3, p. 930, no. 4261).

Based on this hadeeth, the Sahaabah are considered absolved from blame for conflicting rulings. However, any discrepancies apparent in their different rulings are not to be glorified and perpetuated. In fact they themselves disliked disagreements, as is shown in the following narration quoted by ash-Shaafi‘ee’s student, at-Muzanee: “’Umar ibn al-Khattaab, the second Righteous Caliph, got angry because of a dispute between the Sahaabee, Ubayy ibn Ka‘b, and another Sahaabee, Ibn Mas‘ood, over the performance of Salaah in a single piece of cloth. Ubayy considered it quite all right while Ibn Mas‘ood felt that was so only when cloth was scarce. ‘Umar angrily left his residence and declared, ‘Have two of the companions of Allaah’s messenger disagreed, and they are among those whom the masses watch closely and imitate? Ubayy is correct and Ibn Mas‘ood should desist! If I hear of anyone disputing about this matter after his point, I will deal with him.” (Jaami‘ Bayaan al-‘Ilm, vol. 2, p. 83-4.)

Indeed, the early scholars were well aware of the causes of differences between the Sahaabah and the tendency for people to want to perpetuate them. Accordingly, they made definitive statements on the matter in an effort to stave off dogmatism and sectarianism based on conflicting rulings of the Sahaabah. The following are a few examples of their statements on this vital subject. Ibn al-Qaasim, who was among the leading students of Imaam Maalik, said, “I heard Maalik and al-Layth both say the following concerning the differences among the Sahaabah: ‘People say there is leeway for them in it, but it is not so; it was a case of wrong and right rulings.” (Jaami‘ Bayaan al-‘Ilm, vol. 2, pp. 81-2.)

Ash’hab, another of Imaam Maalik’s students, said, “Maalik was once asked whether one was safe to follow a ruling related to him by reliable narrators who had heard it from companions of the Prophet (pbuh). He replied, ‘No, by Allaah, not unless it is correct: the truth is only one. Can two opposing opinions be simultaneously correct? The opinion which is correct can be only one.” (Jaami‘ Bayaan al-‘Ilm, vol. 2, pp. 82, 88-9.)

Imaam ash-Shaafi‘ee’s student, al-Muzanee, put it this way, “The Companions of Allaah’s Messenger (pbuh) disagreed from time to time and declared each other mistaken. Some of them examined the statements of others and researched them thoroughly. Therefore, if all of them felt that whatever they said was correct, they would never have investigated each other’s statements or declared each other mistaken.” Al-Muzanee also said, “The following question should be put to the one who allows disagreement, claiming that if two scholars strive to arrive at a decision concerning the same incident one ruling that it is Halaal and the other that it is Haraam, both are correct. ‘Are you basing that judgement on a fundamental text [the Qur’aan or the Sunnah] or on Qiyaas?’ If he claims that it is based on a fundamental text, he should then be asked, ‘How could it be based on a fundamental text when the Qur’aan, [which is the major fundamental text] condemns disagreement?’ If he claims that it is by Qiyaas, he should be asked, ‘How could the fundamental text reject dispute and you in turn deduce from it that dispute is allowed?’ No common person capable of reason would allow that, much less a scholar.” (Jaami‘ Bayaan al-‘Ilm, vol. 2, p. 89)

Although the Sahaabah differed in the application of some principles, they used to go to great lengths to preserve an appearance of unity and avoid things that would divide their ranks. But, among later scholars and followers who blindly and dogmatically clung to the inherited Math’habs (legal schools of thought), we find the complete opposite. Their differences at one point even led to the splitting of their ranks over Salaah, the greatest pillar of Islaam after the two testimonies of belief. (See my book The Evolution of Fiqh)

Taqleed literally means “putting a necklace on one’s neck,” however, according to its technical meaning, it refers to “following the opinions of others without evidence.” It is permissible for one who has not gained knowledge of the evidence based on the Almighty’s statement:

“Ask those who know if you do not know.” (Quran 16:43)

Source: Taken from Bilal Phillips’s footnotes on the “Radiance of Faith” book by Ibn Qudaama al-Maqdisee P. 140-141.

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