Studying a School of Law (Madhab) vs. Studying Preferred Opinions

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Source: Ismail Ibrahim

Answer by Salih Al-Usaymi

Preferred opinion? What on earth is the preferred opinion!?

Brothers, this concept of “studying according to the preferred opinion” is a mistake when acquiring knowledge.

Preferred opinions are the legal preferences an independent researcher arrives at, whether he is an absolute or restricted researcher. This is the true meaning of preferred opinions.

In other words, it is the reasoning upon which the heart of an absolute or restricted researcher sets on. As thus, the concept of “preferred opinions” essentially means the choices of one sole researcher, whether this researcher is undertaking independent reasoning in only that issue, or has the power to do so in all legal matters. So, his opinion is the preferred opinion relative to him only.

When you want to study law and want to know the preferred opinion, the following question would naturally be: Do you want the preferred opinions of `Abd ‘l-`Azīz Ibn Bāz, or the preferred opinions of Muḥammad Ibn ‘l-`Uthaymīn, or the preferred opinions of Ṣāliḥ al-Fawzān, or the preferred opinions of other compatriots of ours who have taught law in recent years and possess their own preferences?

As thus, you can now begin to understand that the “preferred opinion” is for that one researcher and is relative to him only. It is his personal preference.

You cannot study law by studying the preferences of one researcher, because legal reasoning differs from person to person. That is one issue sorted out.

The other issue that requires a discussion is: Those who are able to reason in the law independently should realise that legal research does not mean researching an issue and then saying “The preferred opinion is such and such, because it is the opinion of Ibn Taymiyyah; the preferred opinion for all later scholars is the opinion of Ibn Taymiyyah.” As a result of this mentality now prevailing, the opinions of Ibn Taymiyyah become the standard position for the people. However, we would say that these are the preferred opinions insofar as Ibn Taymiyyah himself is concerned. As for you – as a person quoting, practising and propagating the preference of Ibn Taymiyyah – you are nothing other than his blind follower. Clearly, in the matter Ibn Taymiyyah discussed, you did not arrive at his opinion via your personal research.

The proof that such a quote-practice-propagate person is still a blind follower in this matter is that when you confront him with counterarguments – which are well known in comparative law – against Ibn Taymiyyah’s opinion, i.e. by nullifying Ibn Taymiyyah’s evidence, or by nullifying Ibn Taymiyyah’s application of the evidence, you will find that this quote-practice-propagate person is unable to debate any of that. As thus, he is a blind follower of Ibn Taymiyyah. This is the reality of what is prevalent in the so-called legal reasoning of our contemporaries today.

When you study the “preferred opinion” in the Faculty of Law, with many teachers saying “The preferred opinion is such and such”, then realise well that this all boils down to the choices of Ibn Taymiyyah. Who was he? He was from the later Ḥanbalī researchers.

So where on earth did this “study of law according to the preferred opinion” come from? Other than actually acknowledging that you are studying the legal choices of Ibn Taymiyyah only, there is no honest alternative to studying a school.

Still, the choices of Ibn Taymiyyah do not encompass all areas of the law, as not all of his opinions have been preserved. Also, in his books that are with us, Ibn Taymiyyah has one opinion in an issue in one book, and another opinion in the same issue in another book. This is because he wrote some of these books early on, like Sharḥ ‘l-`Umdah; and others were written later on. For that reason, to learn his final opinion, his students would have to be relied upon, especially Ibn Mufliḥ. In any one issue where you see a conflict of Ibn Taymiyyah’s opinion, the bottom line in knowing his final choice is what is outlined by his student Ibn Mufliḥ in his two books: al-Furū` and al-Ādāb al-Shar`iyyah. In fact, Ibn ‘l-Qayyim used to refer to Ibn Mufliḥ to ascertain Ibn Taymiyyah’s choices in the law, may Allah have mercy on all of them.

Given the above, the concept of “the preferred opinion” is a nonexistent cipher.

The established Schools have been in existence and have been followed for hundreds of years. Whosoever wants to read law, he must do so by studying one of the schools.

The purpose of studying a school is to help oneself comprehend the legal issues, as mentioned by Sulaymān bin `Abd ‘llāh bin Muḥammad bin `Abd ‘l-Wahhāb in his book Taysīr ‘l-`Azīz al-Ḥamīd, in “The chapter about the one who obeys the scholars and rulers in allowing what Allah has legalised and disallowing what Allah has prohibited.” He has mentioned this very point and explained that the purpose of studying law from the legal texts is to help oneself comprehend the legal issues – gradually.

The jurists – may Allah have mercy on them – have a hierarchy in legal text authorship: they have abridged manuals, then they have texts for the level above, then for the level above, then for the level above. This was so that a student is able to comprehend the legal issues gradually.

Every school has a study hierarchy: the Ḥanbalīs, the Shāfi`īs, the Mālikīs, and the Ḥanafīs. When you study law in orderly fashion, you can comprehend the issues gradually. After that, you move on to studying more legal issues on top of the basics you previously studied, then you cover all the law but without dedicating yourself to evidence, then you learn the evidences of the school, then you would learn the opinions of the Four Schools.

After all this, if your law teacher exercises preference in the true sense of the word, you may read by him to learn his personal opinions.

However, if your teacher comes and tells you “The preferred opinion is such and such, because it is the choice of Ibn Taymiyyah”, then this teacher of yours is a blind follower who does not have any opinion of his own in that issue, because legal reasoning requires one to have knowledge of the evidences upon which the opinion is based on, and is able to answer questions levelled at the opinion by utilising evidences according to this opinion.

This is why, for example, when the opinion of later Ḥanbalīs is mentioned after the matter of “It is desirable for a man to wrest his private part thrice”, they add “This is an innovation according to Ibn Taymiyyah, and his student Ibn ‘l-Qayyim in Ighāthat ‘l-Lahfān.” Is labelling it an innovation the preferred position? You guys know this issue?

Although Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn ‘l-Qayyim said what they said in the matter of wresting, we find great Imams like al-Shāfi`ī mentioning it differently, summarising that wresting has two meanings:

1) The type of wresting that is the only way to achieve complete detachment from urine, by moving the private part and channelling the leftover urine therein so that it exits and none remains. This amount of wresting is agreed upon by consensus. It is not possible to label it an innovation, as detachment from all urine, which the law ordained, is only achievable through this;

2) An amount that is in excess of the first category of wresting.

So the early jurists mentioned wresting without qualification, but the later scholars specified it to specifically mean “wresting with the hand.” Using the hand when wresting is not the only connotation of wresting; rather the application of wresting is not confined to using hands.

In that case, the preferred understanding of this matter is that the wresting is obligatory when it means detachment from urine. As for continued wresting with the help of the hand that is in excess of the required amount, then that is the meaning to which the statement of Ibn Taymiyyah applies.

Likewise, the same procedure of understanding what the jurists actually meant applies in many other issues, whether for the Ḥanbalīs or for the other schools.

So when you want benefit by studying law, then do so in sequence and in orderly fashion, in accordance to one of the relied-upon schools. I am not telling you to always adhere to the position of the school no matter what; what I am saying however is that you should stick to studying law in this manner. If you have a preference against your school of study, or your teacher has a preference against the school and you agree with him, or your heart inclines to what Ibn Taymiyyah mentioned and you want to follow him in that issue, then that is your business.

However, it will not be possible for you to acquire an understanding of the legal provisions without the method as I have mentioned.

Attempting to acquire law in a disorganised fashion is not beneficial at all. In fact, this creates people who do not understand law as it should be. I have seen one such person who prepared some notes, in which he cut-and-pasted the words of Ibn Taymiyyah, and ended up saying that music is permissible, and that it is permissible for to listen to music with women singing, along with a long list of other things. This is because he did not understand Ibn Taymiyyah at all, let alone the law. These people pop their heads out of the woodwork yet have zero legal insight, yet want to understand the words of the lawyers like Ibn Taymiyyah.

As of late, it is through this door that faults have entered into the ranks of the Muslims, as the weak opinions of the schools have become religion, whereas the jurists have consensus over the prohibition and impermissibility of passing verdicts in accordance to weak opinions. What they did talk about was passing verdicts in accordance to non-preferred positions, which have a degree of strength in them but are not preferred due to the presence of stronger opinions. As for weak opinions, which are fanciful without any evidentiary reality, then it is impermissible to pass verdict according to them.

Today, a person can come, not knowing the legal profession, adopts these weak opinions, and makes them into religion in which people start to believe. This is why what was illegal yesterday has become legal today, because the legally unqualified want to discuss law. And when the unqualified speak in the religion, they produce calamities and catastrophes that spread in the Muslims. This fault came about only as a result of teachers and students lacking in instinctive self-esteem for the religion, and by these unqualified people not adhering to the path of the predecessors.

Do not allow fame to deceive you. Days will pass by, but Islam is not changed by time. How many a time have people been caught up in crises and shaken in some matter over which they cried foul, but it was only a matter of a few years until those crises went away, like disappearing foam, leaving behind only that what benefits people.

Consider the same in more recent times. There have been quite a number of catastrophes and tribulations that have befallen the Muslims, which even swept away a considerable number of religious people, who possessed religious symbolism and leadership. Yet, within a few years, those catastrophes phased themselves out as if they were never in existence.

Look at the peaks of nationalism and communism, and those so-called scholars who spoke about them, writing about “Islamic socialism”, and that “Abu Dharr al-Ghifari is the Imam of socialism”, and those who have legal verdicts in favour of socialism etc. – they all turned into useless froth after Allah had eliminated them all. And what remained? The pure religion of Allah.

So realise that there is no fear for the religion becoming unstable from within, but rather the fear is over you and you alone, that you might drown while attempting to understand the religion of Allah. What will save you, by the permission of Allah, is that you learn how to take your religion, that you adhere to the path of the predecessors, and that you stick to their advice.

Bond yourself with the long-standing tradition, following the traditional understand of religion. Beware of the opinions of men, even if they adorn them through speech. Adorned speech will vanish, and the truth shall remain. The dominion of falsehood lasts for just a moment; the dominion the truth is up to the Day of Judgement.

You will never eradicate what the great Imams from the jurisprudents, the scholars of prophetic tradition and the exegeses have established. You cannot eradicate this through immature, petty discourse. What they have established will most definitely remain, whether anyone wants it or not.

There were recently some people who looked down at Zād ‘l-Mustaqni` in disdain, making mockery and fun out of those who studied, taught and memorised it. However, only a few years passed and some of these people came back to their senses, realising that there is no way to learn Islamic law without books like these – the same books they used to describe as overly conventional, old, and backward.

These books will stay, because the religion of Allah is to stay. Allah said, “He made it a word that will remain in his progeny.” So as long as the progeny of Ibrāhīm will remain, the word of monotheism and the religion of Islām shall remain. You already know the narrations about the assisted group and the saved sect.

The purpose of all this is you become wary of any random balderdash that people are easily attracted to. Do not be deceived by such noise. Do not even be deceived by what I tell you. Look whether there is anyone from the predecessors supporting it or not. If there is, stick to it; but if it is from the lapses of some baseless speech, throw it over the wall, as it will not be of benefit to you.

Safety is to be on the path of the predecessors – this will be safer for you in your religion when standing in front of Allah. It is better for you to meet Allah with the evidence in your religion being the great Imams from the Companions, the Followers, and the Imams of guidance like Aḥmad, al-Shāfi`ī, Mālik, al-Bukhārī, al-Dārimī, and those after them, such as Ibn Taymiyyah, his student Ibn ‘l-Qayyim, Ibn Mufliḥ, Ibn Rajab. This is all better than having to meet Allah with your evidence being so and so from the contemporaries.

I ask Allah, the Most High and the Great, to give us all the ability to us to that which He loves and that what pleases Him. And the answer ends with this. May Allah grant ability to all. And praise is for Allah, Lord of the worlds.

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