Questioning the Basis of Ijma`
We have been told time and again by religious people that it is binding on all Muslims to follow ijma‘ (the consensus of opinion of religious scholars on a certain issue). On the contrary we (i.e. me and the school of thought I am representing) believe that ijma‘ has no role to play in determining the acceptability of an opinion on religious matters.
Our position on the issue is that what the majority of scholars say about the authenticity of ijma‘ has no religious basis whatsoever. Our religion is based on the teachings of the Qur’an and sunnah which have both been transmitted to us through undisputable sources. There has never been an ijma‘, not even on a single matter of religious understanding, except on the fact that Qur’an and sunnah have been transmitted authentically.
How can one prove that all Muslim scholars of the ummah agreed on a certain matter when we don’t even have a reliable research that tells us the correct number of scholars the Muslim ummah has produced? Who is going to define what a scholar is? Even if we were able to define a scholar who would tell whether they were five thousand in all, ten thousand, one million, or what?
Has the process of their production stopped or is still going on? If scholars of the present times don’t count, when then did the genuine Islamic scholarship end? Who would decide that the process has stopped or is still continuing? Even if by some miracle a remarkable research answering all these questions convincingly is done, how would one go about proving that all those thousands or millions of scholars agreed on a certain issue? Has anyone the ability to go back through the time tunnel to meet each one of them to know their opinion? We normally learn about the views of people of the past through what they have written themselves or through what others write about their views. However, most of them may never have written anything on the issue nor anyone else may have written about their views.
What if there is a tiny minority of scholars that disagrees? Going by the existing trend of narrow-minded religious people, if there is a minority opinion, it should be rejected because it goes against ijma‘. The question is, if there is a minority opinion on a certain issue, how could there be an ijma‘ claimed on it? And if the entire population of scholars agrees on an issue, and nobody can disagree on it, what then is the utility of this concept of ijma‘?
The fact of the matter is that ijma‘ is an unnecessary term that has been coined by some Muslims. It serves no purpose except that it confuses people or helps some conservative Muslims in condemning certain religious views as heretical simply because they find them different from what they have been trained to accept. When some religious people don’t find convincing reasons to satisfy their followers that the religious view competing with theirs is incorrect, they use the tool of ijma‘ to influence the ordinary people to convince them that the other view is incorrect and misleading. The end result of this exercise is that instead of concentrating on the issue from the point of view of the arguments of Qur’an and sunnah, people are emotionally blackmailed into accepting a religious view on the basis of ijma‘. This tendency is misleading and condemnable.
Muslims, whether they are scholars or non-scholars, are expected to follow the truth under all circumstances. The truth about the religion of Islam is contained in the Qur’an and sunnah. Anyone who looks for religious understanding from outside these two sources is being unfair in his pursuit of truth and is biased towards the opinion of scholars he likes. This tendency is clearly against the Qur’anic expectation from believers which says this: “O you who have attained faith! Be ever steadfast in upholding justice, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it goes against your own selves or your parents or kinsfolk.” (4:135) How can we be fair in forming a religious opinion if we are not even listening to the religious points of view other than those we think belong to our religious group? May Allah Almighty enable us to see the truth as truth and give us the ability to follow it and may He enable us to see the untruth as untruth and give us the ability to stay away from it. Amen.