Scholars opinions about consensus
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Author:  Linguistic [ 11 Apr 2010, 05:02 ]
Post subject:  Scholars opinions about consensus

Professor Ahmed Ibrahim summarizes the opinions of scholars about consensus الإجماع in his short but excellent book علم أصول الفقه, pages 83-93. He was a renowned Professor of Islamic jurisprudence and law at Cairo University. He says it is defined as the agreement of scholars of any era about a religious matter, and that the majority agree that it is possible. Imaam Ibn Hanbal, however, said that it was impossible and that when a scholar states an opinion which he believes has consensus, he should not say, "There is consensus about this matter", but rather he should say, "I do not know of a differing opinion in this matter."

So, there is no consensus between scholars that consensus is possible!

Then Professor Ibrahim propounds the scholars opinions about the validity (حجية) and rank of consensus as a deduction method. He said that the majority see it as a decisive method (قطعي الدلالة) and that some have even said it has more force over an authentic text which may carry multiple meanings (متشابه) because such text is indecisive (ظني الدلالة). He said that a number of scholars disagreed and said that consensus is an indecisive method.

So, there is no consensus between scholars on the force of consensus as a deduction method!

He finishes by saying that he personally examined thousands of juristic matters, and rarely did he ever find consensus about any of them; there was always some dissenting opinion. This confirms Ibn Hanbal's view that consensus is simply impossible.

Author:  Linguistic [ 25 Apr 2010, 17:53 ]
Post subject:  Re: Scholars opinions about consensus

Proponents of consensus being a legitimate source of the law and a deduction method, often quote a hadeeth saying "My community will never agree to a falsehood" to support their premise. I am yet to find such hadeeth in any of the prominent books of Hadeeth, let alone learn of its authenticity. If any of you find it, please reply with a reference.

That said, let's examine if this is always the case. During the events of the treaty of Hudaybiya, the Prophet, peace be upon him, ordered Muslims to pack up so they can leave camp and go back to Medina. They refused! In fact, Umar was angry and said, "Why would we be given the lowest deal in our religion?" He did not like the treaty terms one bit. The Prophet (PBUH) went into his tent where his wife Umm Salama was helping and said to her, "Muslims have perished, Umm Salama! I ordered them and they did not comply." She calmly and wisely advised her husband to go out and pack up and set off toward Medina. She said that when Muslims see him doing that, they will follow. She was right.

This illustrates the point that consensus of Muslims is not always correct. That's only natural. They are human and can err.

Author:  Linguistic [ 25 Apr 2010, 18:17 ]
Post subject:  Re: Scholars opinions about consensus

Ibn Hazm, in his book إبطال القياس والرأي والاستحسان والتقليد والتعليل, propounds the evidence quoted by proponents of consensus. One of those is the verse,

He refutes the use of this as evidence for the authority of consensus, saying that Abu-Hurayra and others have said that "those in authority among you" means the righteous heads of state. It does not mean the scholars.

I'd humbly add that, ironically, the verse specifies what Muslims should do when they disagree: Refer it to God and the Messenger. That means the Quran and the authentic Sunna.

Author:  Linguistic [ 25 Apr 2010, 18:34 ]
Post subject:  Re: Scholars opinions about consensus

In his book إبطال القياس والرأي والاستحسان والتقليد والتعليل, Ibn Hazm quotes this hadeeth of the Prophet, peace be upon him,

دعوني ماتركتكم، فإذا أمرتكم بشيئ فأتوا منه مااستطعتم، وإذا نهيتكم عن شيئ فاتركوه

Translation: "Do not bother me with what I left out; when I order you something, do it as best you can, and when I forbid you something, leave it."

He concludes that whatever is not specified in the Quran and the Sunna as mandated or forbidden, is not something to fret over. He says the famous Completion verse, 5:3, confirms it. He comments on it, on page 37, saying, "Whatever is completed, there is no addition to it."

I looked for that hadeeth, but could not find it in those words. I did, however, find this authentic hadeeth, reported by Al-Bukhaari and Muslim, that says the same thing,

عن أبي هريرة قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم (ذروني ما تركتكم فإنما هلك من كان قبلكم بسؤالهم واختلافهم على أنبيائهم فإذا أمرتكم بشيء فخذوا منه ما استطعتم وإذا نهيتكم عن شيء فانتهوا) صحيح أخرجه البخاري ومسلم

Narrated Abu-Hurayra, "The Messenger of God, peace be upon him said, 'Do not bother me with what I left out. What destroyed those before you was that they asked too many questions and differed over their prophets. So, when I order you something, take from is as much as you can, and when I forbid you something, comply.' "

Author:  Linguistic [ 13 Jun 2010, 19:03 ]
Post subject:  Re: Scholars opinions about consensus

As evidence that it OK to go against the consensus, if one has a valid argument, Al-Ghaali, in his book بالحجة والبرهان لانسخ في القرآن, pages 9-11, quotes Ibn Hazm saying that he produced hundreds of juristic issues in which Abu-Haneefa, Maalik and Ash-Shaafi`i each came up with an opinion that was different from consensus. Al-Ghaali also mentions Ibn Taymiya, who often opined differently from consensus and his opinion became the consensus.

Al-Ghaali says that much of the consensus is following, as opposed to agreement after analysis. He notes that the word النقد (critique) is frowned upon in the Muslim world and people consider critique an insult. He laments that and fondly mentions Muhammad Abduh's school of thought, adhered to by his student Rasheed Ridha and praised by Al-Ghazaali, a thought process that advocated healthy critique and reform. Alas, he says, that school of thought was quickly aborted.

Imaam Ahmad ibn Hanbal was right in his advice to a student. He said to him, "Do not say 'this is what the consensus is', for there may be a dissenting opinion you don't know about. But rather say, 'I don't know of dissenting opinions.'"

Author:  Linguistic [ 12 Jul 2010, 05:48 ]
Post subject:  Re: Scholars opinions about consensus

Ihaab Hasan Abduh, in his book استحالة وجود النسخ بالقرآن, pages 124-135, discusses the subject of consensus. He shows that scholars have not agreed on any aspect of consensus!

  • Some said it is the opinion for which no dissension is known. Others disagreed.
  • Some said it's the consensus of the Sahaaba. Others said only up to the early years of Uthmaan's caliphate. Others added the second generation too. Others still said consensus can occur in every era.
  • Maalik said it was the consensus of the scholars of Medina. Some followers of Abu-Haneefa said it was the consensus of the scholars of Koofa.
  • Some said it is the unopposed opinion of a Sahaabi, even if following generations of scholars disagreed. Others did not think so.
  • Some said consensus is the essentials of the religion only. Others commented, "then consensus is redundant, isn't it?"

Evidence quoted:

  • The Zaahiris, Mu`tazilis and At-Tabari all said that the evidence quoted in consensus cannot be analogy and cannot be narrations by a few (آحاد).
  • Some scholars, such as Ibn Qadaama, said that consensus can be without textual evidence. Those said that analogy is acceptable as evidence. Ibn Taymiya and Ibn Hazm strongly disagreed; they insisted on textual evidence.
  • Ibn Qadaama said that many of the scholars who approve of consensus as a deduction method but not of analogy, have used for evidence consensus that was based solely on analogy!


  • Ibn Hazm said that consensus is decisive (قطعي) and the ones who deny its force are disbelievers!
  • Ibn Taymiya agreed that it is decisive, but disagreed about those who deny its force being disbelievers. His argument is that the evidence quoted in consensus issues is indecisive (ظني). I'd comment that all the more reason the conclusion from it is! You can't start from indecisive evidence and reach a decisive conclusion because there is always the possibility of another interpretation of the evidence. Ibn Burhaan Al-Baghdaadi beat me to it; he said that if consensus is to be a decisive deduction method, it had better be based on decisive evidence.
  • An-Najri said in his book إشفاء العليل that consensus is an indecisive deduction method.

Other points mentioned by Ihaab,

  • Al-Husayn ibn Mahdi An-Na`mi At-Tihaami said he found countless issues where consensus was claimed but dissenting opinion soon followed.
  • Ibn Hazm and Ibn Al-Mawsili said that many scholars claimed consensus in issues where there was none. Ash-Shaafi`i and Ahmad ibn Hanbal exposed many of these.
  • Sa`di Abu-Habeeb said that some scholars claimed consensus in issues but what was said was actually said by commoners, not scholars! And some was said by only one scholar.
  • Ibn Hazm wrote a book, مراتب الإجماع, which he hoped would list all issues where there was consensus, but ended up showing that each one of them had a dissenting opinion! The book was a revision to his teacher Ibn Al-Muzhir's book, الإجماع, which attempted to do the same. Then Ibn Taymiya wrote his own book, نقد مراتب الإجماع, criticizing Ibn Hazm's book.
  • Ihaab points out that consensus of people has rarely been right! Prior nations have consensus on issues that contradict the Quran. Therefore, Ihaab says, "Consensus is the tool of him who runs out of evidence and it leads to blind following."

    I'd add that various schools of thought as well as other sects of Islam also claim consensus in the matters they distinguish themselves with from other schools and sects, so how can consensus be a valid deduction method then?

Author:  Linguistic [ 27 Jul 2010, 04:18 ]
Post subject:  Re: Scholars opinions about consensus

In showing that consensus cannot abrogate authentic text, Imaam Ar-Raazi stated that consensus is not a valid juristic evidence. I quote Jamaal `Ataaya from his book حقيقة النسخ وطلاقة النص في القرآن, pages 86-87.

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