Professor Ahmed Ibrahim, rahimahullah, defines analysis الاجتهاد in his book علم أصول الفقه as "a jurist doing his best to obtain a juristic ruling by way of deduction." He says the analyst must be a jurist فقيه because otherwise he doesn't have the qualifications that entitle him to deduce rulings, much like an ordinary man cannot diagnose a disease.
He says that the aim is juristic, not theological. That is, the analysis will deal primarily with textual evidence addressing practical matters, not articles of the faith. Analysis of theology is a different discipline called علم الكلام "Ilm-ul-Kalaam" which may be translated as theological theory.
Then he makes the important observation that all analysis can only be of indefinite and/or indeterminate evidence ظني الورود أو الدلالة. That is because matters that are definite are not debatable and their rulings are explicit and unambiguous. That means that the conclusion may be right or wrong, but the analyst gets a reward for his effort anyway.
There are conditions, or qualifications, for one to be an analyst مجتهد. He mentions the following:
- Fluency in Arabic.
- Knowledge of the Quran, its vocabulary, what is general and what is specific, what is abrogating and what is abrogated, etc. He doesn't have to know all of the Quran, only the verses containing rulings. He also doesn't have to memorize the Quran, only that he can quote the verses.
- Knowledge of the Sunna, the text as well as the narration chain of the hadeeths and how reliable each narrator was. He says the latter is no longer possible but that we can rely on the excellent work already done in this regard by the compilers of authentic hadeeths, such as Al-Bukhaari and Muslim, may God have been pleased with them.
- Knowledge of analogy القياس, its aspects and how it can be validated. He says that this is well documented.
Finally, he says that all of this is available to us today, and therefore, analysis should not stop and that we today can and should exercise analysis too.