By: Dr. Badr Al Hasan Al Qasimy
Representative to the President of the Islamic Fiqh Academy in India, and Member of the Consultative Branch of the Center for Research in Contemporary Fiqh at the Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud University in Riyad, Saudi Arabia.
The paper begins with a discussion on how the most important element within the purview of Islamic Law in order to cope with change in human life and societies is ijtihad. It goes on to point out its Quranic foundation, especially in verses 59 and 83 of Surah al-nisaa, and as discussed by classical scholars. It elaborates the idea that 'group Ijtihad', whilst not eliminating the need for individual ijtihad and its traditional roles, has nonetheless become a necessity in light of the complexity of current social, political, and economic issues. It proceeds to examine previous instantiations of 'group ijtihad' in the practices of the first generations of Muslims from the Companions to the great Imams. It moves on to the contemporary discussion regarding its need as illustrated by important contemporary scholars and jurists like Mustafa Zarqa' and Wahba Zuhaily, where it is pointed out that individual jurists are unable to comprehend the many specializations needed in order to tackle prominent issues of today.
The discussion then moves toward the fundamental methodology of ijthihad. The focus begins with the fundamental principles of Islamic Jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh), the great maxims of Islamic jurisprudence (al-qawaid al fiqhiyah), moving on to the objectives and purposes of Islamic law (al-maqasid), and finally to the concept of maslaha and its grounding in what the sources of Islamic law define as being fundamental human interests and needs. After, it explains that group ijtihad is mainly an expression of consultation taking place among scholars, that culminates in a decision or suggestion that could be either unanimous or a majority opinion. It provides more detailed examples of instances of consultation In the practice of the first generations, and moves towards a comparison between the concepts of 'group ijtihad' and of ijma' as found in the work of classical scholars. It mentions that in the work of Ali Hasb Allah, group ijtihad is binding to the extent that it resembles and portrays ijma', and uses this as a preamble to the discussion of the extent to which ifta' and qada' are binding, especially as illustrated in the work of al-qaraafy. This leads on to the discussion of the extent to which group ijtihad should be considered binding in its contemporary instantiations.
A special problem that is highlighted, is the extent to which the 'decisions' or 'suggestions' arrived at by certain organizations performing group ijtihad might be binding to other organizations of similar clout and prestige amongst the many contemporary 'fiqh academies' and assemblies of experts in Islamic jurisprudence; like in the boards of prominent financial institutions and the like.
Nearing its end, the paper explains how group ijtihad is an adequate response to the rise of various phenomena that appear to undermine the fundamental function of ijtihad. These are, the precariousness of the situation of the individual jurist when attempting to tackle problems of enormous scope and detail, as well as the current crisis of jurisprudential authority plaguing the Muslim world with its abundance of 'unreasonable' voices claiming to represent the Islamic worldview. It argues that it is clearly the way forward, in terms of facing the exponential multiplication of issues facing Muslim communities due to the exponential growth in societies present in the contemporary globalized world.
The paper concludes with the observation that the extent to which the decisions or suggestions reached by current organizations practicing group ijtihad should not be considered binding (laysa mulziman). This is mainly because the level of coordination between the many organizations practicing it is very low, which provides enormous space and opportunity for discrepancy and contradiction. This, in the eyes of the common people in Muslim societies, militates against the consideration of them being binding.