Islamic Law / Islamic Themes

“Scholarly Differences…Avoiding a Fallacy”

“Scholarly Differences:

The Fallacy of ‘Every khilaf is a valid Ikhtilaf”

_________ ‖ _________

[1] Legal Maxim: ‘There is no condemnation in valid areas of legal Difference’:

لا إنكار في مسائل الاجتهاد

Imam al-Nawawi said:

قال العلماء : لَيْسَ لِلْمُفْتِي وَلا لِلْقَاضِي أَنْ يَعْتَرِض عَلَى مَنْ خَالَفَهُ إِذَا لَمْ يُخَالِف نَصًّا أَوْ إِجْمَاعًا أَوْ قِيَاسًا جَلِيًّا

“The scholars have said: The mufti and the judge cannot object to the one who differs from them so long as he is not going against a text, consensus or clear analogy (qiyasan jaliyan).”[1]

  • Ibn Muflih quotes Imam Ibn Qudamah as saying:

لا ينبغي لأحد أن ينكر على غيره العمل بمذهبه، فإنه لا إنكار على المجتهدات

“It is not correct for anyone to denounce another for following his madhhab because there is no condemnation with regard to issues that are subject to ijtihad.[2]

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said:

 إن مثل هذه المسائل الاجتهادية لا تنكر باليد، وليس لأحد أن يلزم الناس باتباعه فيها، ولكن يتكلم فيها بالحجج العلمية، فمن تبين له صحة أحد القولين: تبعه، ومن قلد أهل القول الآخر فلا إنكار عليه

“All these examples of legal opinions based on ijtihad cannot be denounced using force [s: literally ‘with the hand’] nor can a person force others to follow what he is on but he can discuss with them regarding these issues with evidence and in an intellectual way it be. Whoever thinks that one of the two opinions is correct should follow it and whoever follows the other opinion should not be condemned and denounced by anyone…”[3]

  • Any understanding, therefore, based on a valid ijtihad cannot be condemned such as differences in prayer actions, particulars of legal transactions and other areas of the law.

[2] Fallacy: Not every difference (khilaf) is a valid difference of opinion (ikhtilaf):

However, not every difference of opinion is a valid difference such that a person cannot say that just because a scholar holds a particular understanding that this understanding automatically is a valid one. It cannot be a correct understanding if for example it contradicts: 1] A definitive text (nass qat`i) of the Qur’an and Sunnah and 2] Consensus of the Companions (ijma` al-sahaba). Example: A scholar, A believes that ruling by non-Islamic laws is permitted whereas scholar B believes the contrary. This difference does not automatically entail a valid legal difference simply because there are two different understandings. To reason like this is to commit the ‘khilaf means ikhtilaf’ fallacy – an equivocation of two different realities. Scholar A’s understanding would contradict clear texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah and therefore would be rejected. Hafiz Ibn al-Qayyim makes this point very clear:

وكيف يقول فقيه: لا إنكار في المسائل المختلف فيها، والفقهاء من سائر الطوائف قد صرحوا بنقض حكم الحاكم إذا خالف كتاباً أو سنة وإن كان قد وافق فيه بعض العلماء؟ وأما إذا لم يكن في المسألة سنة ولا إجماع وللاجتهاد فيها مَسَاغ لم تنكر على مَنْ عمل بها مجتهداً أو مقلداً 

“How can a jurist (faqih) say that there is no condemnation with regard to legal issues (al-masa’il) that are disputed, when the jurist of all groups have clearly stated that the ruling of a judge is invalid if it is contrary to the Qur’an or Sunnah, even if some of the scholars happen to agree with it? But if there is no Sunnah or consensus regarding a particular legal issue, then ijtihad is permissible and the one who acts according to this, whether he is a mujtahid or is a muqallid, cannot be condemned…”[4]

Some scholars today want to make every matter an area of difference just because a scholar happens to present an interpretation on a particular matter. They want to not only widen the scope of valid legal difference but also narrow the scope of commanding right and forbidding wrong (amr bi’l-ma`ruf wa’l-nahy `an al-munkar)[5] – especially regarding opinions and interpretations that are either anomalous in law (shadh) or rejected (mardud). Some scholars use – rather misuse – this notion of legal difference in order to suppress any dissent, criticism or refutation from anyone forgetting that no scholar, however esteemed, is beyond the clear commandments of our Lord.[6] Imam al-Shawkani mentioned such dangers:

هذه المقالة –أي لا إنكار في مسائل الخلاف- قد صارت أعظم ذريعة إلى سدّ باب الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر، وهما بالمثابة التي عرفناك، والمنـزلة التي بيّناها لك، وقد وجب بإيجاب الله عز وجل، وبإيجاب رسوله صلى الله عليه وسلم على هذه الأمة، الأمر بما هو معروف من معروفات الشرع، والنهي عما هو منكر من منكراته: ومعيار ذلك الكتاب والسنة، فعلى كل مسلم أن يأمر بما وجده فيهما أو في أحدهما معروفاً، وينهى عما هو فيهما أو في أحدهما منكراً. وإن قال قائل من أهل العلم بما يخالف ذلك، فقوله منكر يجب إنكاره عليه أولاً، ثم على العامل به ثانياً. وهذه الشريعة الشريفة التي أُمِرْنا بالأمر بمعروفها، والنهي عن منكرها، هي هذه الموجودة في الكتاب والسنة 

“This view – that there is no condemnation in matters where there is dispute – has become the greatest means of preventing the enjoining of what is good and the forbidding of what is wrong, which carry an immense reward as you and has a high status as we explained earlier. It has been enjoined and made obligatory upon this ummah by Allah and His Messenger (SAW) to enjoin that which is good according to the Law (al-shar`) and forbid that which is evil according to it, and the measure (mi`yar) of that is the Qur’an and Sunnah. Every Muslim should enjoin that which he finds as good (ma`rufan) in both or either of them and he should forbid that which he finds evil in both or either of them. If any scholar says something that differs from that [s: the Qur’an and Sunnah], then firstly his words are to be rejected and he is to be opposed in that, and secondly, the one who follows his view should also be opposed. This noble Law that has commanded us to enjoin what it considers right and forbid what it considers wrong is found in the Book and the Sunnah…”[7]

  • Our scholars were aware of this danger and we should be too.


[1] al-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim, 1:186.

[2] Ibn Muflih, al-Adab al-Shar`iyya. For more details on ijtihad, refer to “Imam Ibn Arabi_Ijtihad and Taqlid” at

[3] Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Majmu` al-Fatawa, 30:80.

[4] Ibn al-Qayyim, I`lam al-Muwaqqi`in, 3:300.

[5] For which see “Imam al-Haddad_Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong” at

[6] Cf. “Rabbis and Priests as Lords…” at

[7] See Sayl al-Jarar, 4:588.


One thought on ““Scholarly Differences…Avoiding a Fallacy”

  1. Needs to be a little more specific, because today everyone claims that their opinion is based on Quran and Sunnah while the contrary is opposed to Quran and Sunnah. Some groups would claim the opinion of madhabs and the righteous Imams of the past are all opposed to Quran and Sunnah. So there has to be a more refined criteria for what constitutes a valid and invalid difference of opinion.

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