Imām Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī al-Shawkānī [d. 1250 AH] said:1
As for the one who has alleged the permissibility of blind imitation, he stands as one who has made an unverified claim for which it is incumbent that he provides evidence. They have come to us with several pieces of evidence. From them is the saying of the Most High:
“So ask the people of the (prior) remembrance if you do not know”
They say: The Exalted has commanded the one who does not possess knowledge to ask those who are more knowledgeable than him. We answer: This blessed verse pertains to that which is outside the sphere of this discussion as proven by the preceding and succeeding context of the verse specified as evidence. Ibn Jarīr [al-Ṭabarī] and al-Baghawī and most other interpreters of the Qurʾān have elucidated the fact that the verse was revealed as a refutation against the polytheists in light of their objection that a messenger [of God] could be a human being. This fact has been clarified very succinctly by al-Suyūṭī in Al-Darr Al-Manthūr and such is the meaning that is explicated from the verse’s context. Allāh the Most High says:
“And We sent not before you [as messengers] except men to whom We revealed from among the people of cities”
Even if we were to acquiesce that the meaning of these verses is general [rather than contextual], its meaning would be to ask the people of remembrance. This remembrance is monopolised by the Book of Allāh and the Sunnah of His Messenger (ﷺ) only, there is none than these two sources. Moreover, I do not reckon opposition to this fact as all unadulterated legislation comes either from Allāh the Exalted in Power, which is the Glorious Qurʾān, or from the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ), which is the pure sunnah. There exists no third [source]. Thus, if the command [as in the verse] is to pose all queries to the people of the Qurʾān and the Sunnah, then the specified verse is evidence against the blind imitators, not in favour of their view. This is because the verse proves their requirement to ask the people of remembrance who, when asked, will reply with: Allāh has said such-and-such or His Messenger (ﷺ) has said such-and-such. The poser [of the question] must then act in light of what has been clarified.
However, this is not what the blind imitators desire from using this verse as evidence. Rather, they have attempted to use the verse to prove the efficacy of their methodology of blindly following the opinions of men without seeking evidence for their expressed opinions. For such is blind imitation. In fact, they have clearly defined it as such; acceptance of the opinion expressed by another without requesting proof/evidence. Thus, the reality of blind imitation is that one never needs to ask about the Book of Allāh or the Sunnah of His Messenger (ﷺ). Instead, he needs to only seek clarification concerning the madh`hab of his imām. If he was to only add to this and ask concerning what has been related in the Book [of Allāh] and the Sunnah, he would not be considered a blind imitator.
This is an ideal that is unchallenged and unobjectionable by all blind imitators. It is an established fact that the one who seeks clarity from the Book of Allāh and the Sunnah of His Messenger [may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him] is not considered a blind imitator. Even if you were to recognise that the verse is not contextual, rather it pertains to asking about any issue of jurisprudence like the blind imitators allege, this evidence would still be unrelentingly thrown back in their faces and used to spitefully break their backs.
Part 2: The Misinterpretation of Evidences to Support Blind Following
Imām Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī al-Shawkānī [d. 1250 AH] said:2
As for the one who has alleged the permissibility of blind imitation, he stands as one who has made an unverified claim for which it is incumbent that he provides evidence. They have come to us with several pieces of evidence. From among what they have utilised as evidence is the sound narration that the Prophet [may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him] in the ḥadīth of the companion of al-shujjah [a head wound which lays open upon the skull]: ‘If they had but asked if they did not know. Indeed, the only cure for ignorance is to ask.’ Also, the ḥadīth of al-ʿAsīf [one who acts recklessly or unjustly] in which a man fornicated with a female employee of his, the father of this man said: ‘I asked the people of knowledge and they told me that my son is deserving of one hundred lashes and the woman is to be stoned.’ This is an authentic, sound narration they claim concerning: he [the Prophet [may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him]] did not object to his imitation of one who possesses more knowledge than him. We reply: [The Prophet [may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him]] did not guide them in the ḥadīth of the companion of al-Shujjah towards merely seeking the arbitrary opinion of men, rather he guided them towards seeking the rule of judicial [Islamic] law that has been confirmed from Allāh and His Messenger [may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him]. Thus did he invoke [Allāh] against them in reprimand for issuing a judicial Islamic rule without knowledge saying: ‘They have killed him, may they be killed.’
In this instance, they issued a law based on their own opinion. Thus is this ḥadīth evidence against them [blind imitators], not in favour of them. The ḥadīth comprises two matters: The first is guiding towards seeking a confirmed [Islamic] ruling with its evidence. The second: blame falls upon one who chooses to wholly support himself with his own opinion and issues laws in light of it. This is a well-known ideal to all scholars. For the one who is guiding towards seeking clarity is the Messenger of Allāh [may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him] while he was still among them. This guidance towards asking, even if it be general [as in the ḥadīth], holds no other meaning than asking himself [i.e. the Prophet [may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him]] or one who knows the ruling from him. The blind imitator, as is well known, is not considered an imitator unless he does not ask concerning evidence. If he was to ask concerning it, he is not an imitator.
Hence, how can one rightly use these aḥādīth as evidence [for blind imitation]? Can one who is in his right mind use that which refutes his very claim as evidence to confirm it? Or to prove his own efficacy with that which clarifies the corruption of his methodology? For we do not seek from you, O party of blind imitators, except that which clearly proves the integrity of what you have come to us with. We say to you: ask the people of remembrance concerning the remembrance; the Book of Allāh and the Sunnah of His Messenger [may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him], then act in accordance with only it, and leave forever the opinions of men, and hearsay. We say to you what the Messenger of Allāh [may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him] has said: ‘If they had but asked. Indeed, the only cure for ignorance is to ask concerning the Book of Allāh and the Sunnah of His Messenger [may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him], not to ask concerning the opinion of so-and-so or the madh`hab of so-and-so. For, truly, if you were to ask purely concerning opinions, then the one supplying you with their views has [proverbially, as in the ḥadīth] slaughtered you, as the Messenger of Allāh [may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him] said in the ḥadīth of the companion of al-Shujjah: ‘They have killed him, may they be killed.’
Part 3: Allegiance to the Prophet(ﷺ) Supersedes the Opinions of Men
Al-Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Rajab [d. 795 AH] said:3
It is obligatory upon all those to whom the order of the Messenger (ﷺ) has reached, who fully comprehended it, to clarify it to this ummah, to advise them, and to order them to follow this order. Even if [this order] is contrary to the opinion of an individual of great repute from this ummah. Truly, the order of the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) is more deserving of glorification and imitation than the opinion of any renowned personality who has chosen to defy his order in some matters, even if it be unintentional. Thus the ṣaḥābah and those who came after them refuted every contrarian to the authentic sunnah.
In some instances they would show harshness in their refutation. [This harshness] was not born of hatred, rather they [their opposers] were beloved to them, and were venerated by them to their very souls. However, the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) was more beloved to them [his companions]; his order earned a place above the order of all other creation.
So if there was ever a contradiction between the command of the Messenger [may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him] and the command of any besides him, then the order of the Messenger (ﷺ) is more deserving of being brought to the forefront and enacted. This does not prevent the honouring of those who [unknowingly] act contrary to his order. For they are forgiven [for the judicial strife they have employed]. Rather, those [unknowing] contrarians who are forgiven would themselves hold no hatred for any who would defy them, if it becomes clear that the command of the Messenger (ﷺ) is contrary [to their own opinion].
Part 4: Examples of the Salaf in Differing with Their Imāms When Shariʿāh Evidence Required Such
Shaykh Muḥammad ibn Naṣir al-Dīn al-Albānī [d. 1420 AH] said:4
[The scholar and jurist] ʿIṣām ibn Yūsuf al-Balkhī—who was from among the close companions of Imām Aḥmad and a close adherent of Imām Abū Yūsuf [one of the most prominent jurists under Imām Abū Hanīfah]—would frequently issue Islamic edicts contrary to that of Abū Ḥanīfah [his teacher]. Simply because he [Abū Ḥanīfah] was unaware of the evidence [for those issues]. For this reason, he used to raise his hands [in ṣalāh] when entering the rukūʿ and when he would rise from it, as this is the authentic sunnah confirmed from multiple independent lines of inquiry [mutawātir] to him (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). He did not desist from enacting this simply because three of his teachers espoused that which was contrary to it. It is obligatory on every Muslim to act thus; by the testification of the four Imāms themselves and other than them [all of whom they claim to follow].
To summarise: I sincerely hope that none from among the muqallidīn rush to criticise the origins of this book [Ṣifat Ṣalāh], or that they leave benefiting from the Prophetic sunnah it contains through alleging that it contradicts their madh`hab. Rather, I hope that they remain mindful of the excerpts from these imams that clearly show the obligatory nature of acting in accordance with the sunnah, and to leave their opinions that contradict it. Let them know that any criticism they procure towards the way this book has been put forth [from not confining the opinions expressed to one madh`hab], is truly a criticism against the very Imām they claim to imitate, whoever he may be. For we have only taken this methodology from them.
Whoever objects to being guided by them in their own methodology has put himself in grave danger. For it stipulates contrariness to the sunnah itself while we have been ordered that any disputes should be returned to it, and to seek support from it, as the Most High says:
‘But no, by your Lord, they will not [truly] believe until they make you, [O Muḥammad], judge concerning that over which they dispute among themselves and then find within themselves no discomfort from what you have judged and submit in [full, willing] submission’
Part 5: Refuting the Claim: Differing Is but a Mercy
Shaykh Muḥammad ibn Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Albānī [d. 1420 AH] said:5
Some [of the Muqallidīn and Madhhabiīn] say: There can be no doubt concerning the obligatory nature of returning to the guidance of the Prophet [may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him] in matters that pertain to our dīn, especially those among them classified purely as acts of worship. For there could be no conceivable place for opinion or judicial strife [ijtihād]6 of any sort regarding such acts. They would be termed tawqīfiyyah [acts that are implemented as described] like ṣalāh for example. However, we almost never hear any of the leaders of blind imitation encouraging [the implementation of judicial strife in these issues]. Rather, they fully acknowledge the existence of differing opinions but claim this difference is a means of respiteful accommodation for this ummah. They proffer, as evidence of this, the ḥadīth which they perpetually parrot when addressing the defenders of the sunnah: ‘Differences among my ummah are but a mercy.’ It appears as if this ḥadīth contradicts the methodology you preach, upon which you have orchestrated this book [Ṣifat al-Ṣalāh] and others like it. So what is your opinion regarding this ḥadīth?
The answer is from two standpoints:
The first is that the ḥadīth is not authentic, rather it is false; possessing no origin. Al-ʿAllāmah al-Subkī said: ‘I have not come across a chain [of narrators] for it that is authentic, nor weak, nor [even] fabricated.’ I say concerning it: it is narrated with the wording: ‘The differences that occur amongst my companions are a mercy for you’ and ‘My companions are like the stars, whichever one you choose to imitate you will be guided’ and both wordings are likewise inauthentic. The first being extremely weak and the other completely fabricated. I have fully elaborated on this issue in ‘Silsilah al-Aḥadīth al-Ḍaʿīfah’ (No. 85, 59, and 61).
Secondly, in addition to this ḥadīth being weak, it also contradicts the Glorious Qurʾān. Indeed, the verses that prohibit differing in matters of this dīn and ordering agreement regarding it are more widely known than to be mentioned. We shall mention but a few as examples; Allāh says:
‘But they will not cease to differ except whom your Lord has given mercy’
So if the ones whom your Lord has chosen to have mercy upon do not differ with one another; rather, only the people of falsehood differ; how, then, could anyone fathom that differing with one another is mercy?
Thus, it is confirmed that the ḥadīth is not authentic, not its chain [of narrators], nor its text. Hence, it becomes abundantly clear that it is impermissible to take a matter of confusion as a means to avoid acting in accordance with the Book [of Allāh] and the sunnah, as ordered by the Imāms [themselves].
Part 6: The Balanced Atharī Approach of the Student of Knowledge in Following His Shaykh
Imām Muḥammad ibn Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Albānī [d. 1420 AH] said:
Al-ʿAllāmah Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr said: O my brother! I encourage you to protect the foundations [of this dīn–the Qurʾān and Sunnah] and to pay it due attention and care. Know that whoever attends to the protection of the Sunnah and the rulings contained within the Qurʾān, and becomes acquainted with the views of the [Islamic] jurists making their opinions a means of aid for him in his own judicial strife [ijtihād], and a key to avenues of reasoning [in a debated judicial issue], and a means used to interpret the parts of the Sunnah that have differing meanings, all the while not blindly imitating any one person the way he imitates the Sunnah, which is obligatory in every situation without question, and never simply acquiescing to the the scholars’ attention to the Sunnah and their contemplation of it, rather he imitates them in their research, their seeking to gain a deeper understanding and a well-rounded opinion, while feeling the utmost gratitude for their perpetual strife that allowed them to cause him benefit and from which he is cautioned [from certain matters], and he praises them for their correct opinions that represent the vast majority of their discourse, while never alleging anyone of them as being completely free of all error, just as they themselves never made such a claim – such is the student who truly holds fast to the path of the pious predecessors.
He has prosperously attained the mark: an onlooker towards the path of goodness, a follower of the Sunnah of his Prophet (ﷺ) and the guidance of his Prophet’s companions (may Allāh be pleased with all of them). As for the one who vehemently refuses to look into any [judicial issues of debate], obstinately turning away from what we have mentioned, commensurating the Sunnah to his own opinion, desiring only to reject it in light of his own views, then he is misguided and seeks only to misguide others.
As for the one who is completely ignorant of all we have mentioned, forcibly hurtling himself into Islamic rulings without knowledge, he is even more blind and has taken an even more severe path of misguidance.
Part 7: Refuting the Claim That Abandoning the Stance of One’s Imām on Account of an Error Is Disrespectful
Imām Muḥammad ibn Nāṣīr al-Dīn al-Albānī [d. 1420 AH] said:8
There is a misconception that has become rampant among the muqallidīn which prevents them from following the Sunnah when it becomes clear to them that the madh`hab [they follow] is contrary to it. It is the idea that their following of the Sunnah stipulates the claiming of an error on the part of the companion [i.e. Imām] of the madh`hab.
This alleged error according to them further stipulates brazen defamation of their imām. So, if defamation towards any individual from among the Muslims is impermissible, then how could the same principle not apply to an imām from among their imams? The answer: is that this implication is false.
The reason for this [misconception] is their abandonment of gaining proper, beneficial, judicial knowledge from the Sunnah. Otherwise, how could a Muslim with any degree of intellect engage in such utterances? The Messenger of Allāh [may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him] is the one who has said: ‘If a jurist issues a ruling while implementing judicial strife [Ijtihād] [to that end], and he is correct [in his ruling] he is deserving of two rewards. If he issues a ruling out of the implementation of judicial strife [ijtihād] but is mistaken, he has but one reward.’ This ḥadīth completely refutes their misconception. For it clarifies, without question, that the saying of an individual, ‘So-and-So has made a mistake’ is the same as stating: ‘So-and-so is deserving of only one reward.’ If he is deserving of reward even according to the one who highlights his mistake, then how could one fathom that clarifying one of his errors stipulates defamation of him?
There can be no doubt that such an implication is a completely false notion. It is, therefore, obligatory upon all those who hold this supposition as true to rescind it. Otherwise, they are the ones who have engaged in the defamation of the Muslims. Not in any individual from among them, but rather in one of their most renowned imams from among the ṣaḥābah, the tābiʿīn, and those after them from among the imams who were implementers of judicial strife [mujtahidīn] and other than them. For we know with certainty that those exalted scholars used to highlight the errors of one another, just as they would reply to [the criticisms] of one another. So can an intellectual person actually make the claim that they were engaging in the defamation of one another? As the Prophet [may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him] pointed out the error of Abū Bakr in his interpretation of a dream a man had seen, as it comes in the authentic narration: ‘You are correct in some [of its interpretation] and you are mistaken in some of it.’ So, would these words be considered a form of defamation from him (ﷺ) towards Abū Bakr?
Among the most surprising effects of this misconception upon the ones who adopt it is that it prevents them from following the Sunnah which is contrary to their madh`hab. For if they were to follow the Sunnah, it would be as if they defamed their imām. If they follow their imām–even if they act contrary to the Sunnah–it would be as if they respected and glorified their imām! Thus, they are perpetual in their blind imitation [taqlīd], constantly attempting to escape this supposed defamation.
Part 8: One’s Following of an Imām Must Coincide with the Truth
Imām Muḥammad ibn Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Albānī [d. 1420 AH] said:9
Ash`hab said: Imām Mālik was once asked concerning the person who acts in accordance with a ḥadīth narrated by one who is trustworthy from the companions of the Messenger of Allāh [may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him]: Do you view this person as being free [to act or desist from acting in accordance with it]? He replied: “By Allāh No! Until his act coincides with the truth. The truth [in any judicial issue] is but one. Two contrary opinions [in the same issue] will both be true? The truth and that which is upright is but one.” If someone was to say this: What you have mentioned from Imām Mālik concerning the fact that the truth is one rather than numerous is contrary to the content of the book ‘Al-Madkhal al-Fiqhī’ by Ustādh al-Zarqā (1:89): ‘Abū Jaʿfar al-Manṣūr and [Hārūn] al-Rashīd after him indeed desired to make the madh`hab of Imām Mālik and his book ‘Al-Muwaṭṭaʾ the sole rule of law in the ʿAbbāsī state. Imām Mālik forbade them from this saying: ‘Verily, the companions of the Messenger of Allāh [may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him] differed with one another in assorted branches [i.e. actions; not pertaining to creed]. They distributed themselves in the land, and all are correct [in whatever opinion they took].’ I say: This is a famous, well-known story related to Imām Mālik (may Allāh have mercy on him). As for his saying at the end: ‘And all are correct, this has no foundation in any of the narrations [of this occurrence] in any of the books I have come across – O Allāh! – save for narration from Abū Nuʿaym in his book ‘Al-Ḥilyah’ with a chain of narrators that contains the narrator al-Miqdām ibn Dāwūd who was mentioned by al-Dhahabī in his book ‘Al-Ḍuʿafāʾ [the Weak Narrators].
Even this narration comes with the wording: ‘And all [companions] were correct [in their opinions] according to their own estimations.’ Therefore, the [missing excerpt] ‘according to their own estimations’ proves that the narration contained within the book ‘Al-Madkhal’ has been doctored. How could it be otherwise when it contradicts trustworthy narrations from Imām Mālik that prove [his view] of the truth being one rather than numerous, as we have already mentioned? This is also the opinion taken by the ṣaḥābah, the tābiʿīn, the four imāms, implementers of judicial strife [mujtahidīn], and other than them.
Part 9: Displaying Blind Fanaticism for a Specific Madh`hab
[From among the methodologies of this tafsīr [Aḍwā al-Bayān]] is the clarification of judicial rulings elucidated from all of the verses. We intend to expound upon the rulings [the verses] contain, along with evidence from the Sunnah, and the opinions expressed by the scholars [of jurisprudence]. Then, we will lend credence to the opinion expressed that appears to us to be the closest to the truth along with its evidence without displaying blind fanaticism for a specific Madh`hab, either for a specific opinion because it has been expressed by a specific jurist. For we look at the contents of one’s postulation, rather than the person himself. As all discourse contains that which is acceptable and that which must be rejected, save for his words (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). It is well-known that the truth remains the truth even its proprietor is from among the most inconsiderable of people. Do you not see that the Queen of Sabaʾ spoke the truth and, even though she and her people used to prostrate to the sun besides Allāh, Allāh testified as to the truthfulness of her speech? Her disbelief did not absolve recognition of the truthfulness of her discourse. This is found in what Allāh mentions in her [words]:
‘“Indeed kings – when they enter a city, they ruin it and render the honoured of its people humbled.”’
Allah says, in recognition of the truthfulness of her words: ‘And thus do they do.’ A poet once said: ‘Do not dare take an opinion as insignificant if it coincides with a ruling of truth because it was rendered by a despicable one. The value of pearls, which are among the greatest attainments, are not marred by the lowliness of the diver.
Part 10: Answering the Claim: Some of the Ṣaḥābah Blindly Followed Other Ṣaḥābah Due to Their Seniority
Imām Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī al-Shawkānī [d. 1250 AH] said:11
[From among the misconstrued evidence of the muqallidīn and madh`habīn] is what is confirmed by al-Shaʿbī who said: There were six from among the companions who used to issue [Islamic] verdicts: Ibn Masʿūd, ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb, ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib, Zayd ibn Thābit, Ubayy ibn Kaʿb, and Abū Mūsá [al-Ashʿarī] (may Allāh be pleased with all of them). Three of them used to leave their own opinions for the opinions of the other three: ʿAbdullāh [ibn Masʿūd] used to leave his opinion for the opinion of ʿUmar [ibn al-Khaṭṭāb], Abū Musá used to leave his opinion for the opinion of ʿAlī, and Zayd [ibn Thābit] used to leave his own opinion for that of Ubayy.
[In response]: The confirmation of the six mentioned [companions] with one another [in matters of fiqh] is not an innovation, nor is it objectionable. A scholar will agree with another scholar in issues far more than he will disagree. Especially, if they have both achieved the very highest degrees of ijtihād (judicial strife, scholarly prowess). Issues of disagreement among them are very few. In spite of this, the people of knowledge have mentioned that Ibn Masʿūd differed with ʿUmar on approximately one hundred issues, and agreed with him on four. So where, then, is the blind imitation you claim? How could this possibly be used as evidence for the permissibility of blind imitation when such is the confirmation of these six companions for the opinions of each other? For this is only an attempt to conform to their opinions, not blindly imitate one another.
Their way, and the way of the rest of the companions—when the Sunnah was made clear to them—they would never abandon it for the opinion of anyone, whomever they may be. Rather, they held on to [the Sunnah] with their molars, casting their own opinions away behind a wall. So compare this with the gathering of blind imitators that do not count the opinion of the one they imitate as being even remotely close [in importance] to the Book [of Allāh] or the Sunnah. For they never act contrary to it, even if it is confirmed from multiple independent lines of inquiry that which is against it from the Sunnah.
Considering this, even the confirmation of views that occurred amongst the companions were mostly clarifications of the narration [the other companion held], not of their own opinion. Some narrations are known specifically by certain companions while others were prevented from knowing those for a variety of reasons that are known to those who have studied the conditions of the ṣaḥābah [i.e. the scholars of ḥadīth]. As for mere opinions [unsupported by evidence from the Qurʾān or Sunnah], the seniors from among the companions used to warn against such matters, and deter from it.
1. Al-Rasāʾil Al-Fiqhiyyah: 30-31
2. Al-Rasāʾil Al-Fiqhiyyah: 31-32
3. Īqāḍ al-Himam: 92-93
4. Ṣifat Salāt al-Nabī: 36-37
5. Ṣifat al-Ṣalāh: 38-39 6. Ijtihād: independent judgment in a legal or theological question, based on the interpretation and application of the fundamental judiciary principles, as opposed to blind imitation.
7. Ṣifat al-Ṣalāt: 49-50 8. Ṣifāt al-Ṣalāt: 50-51
9. Ṣifat al-Ṣalāh: 41-43
10. Aḍwāʾ al-Bayān 1:8-9 11. Al-Rasāʾil al-Fiqhiyyah: 33, 35