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Why Did The Imams Differ?

Sheikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah

category: Knowledge


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This article was taken from the beginning of Shaikh ul-Islam's (r) treatise "Raf'-ul-Malaam 'an-il-A'immat-il-A'laam" (Removing the Harms from the Noble Imaams). In this treatise, the Shaikh (ra) discusses the reasons why the famous and righteous Imaams, that are followed by the masses of Muslims, differed in some issues and contradicted the established ahaadeeth of the Messenger of Allaah (s) in some cases. He lists over ten reasons in the introduction of this treatise. However this article only contains the first one. However, it is the most important one, as stated by Ibn Taimiyyah (ra). And it is for this reason, as the Shaikh says, that many of the Imaam's opinions, that contradict the Sunnah, can be explained and acknowledged. Thus, there is no deficiency on the part of our scholars. Rather, they were rewarded in their correctness as well as in their errors. May Allaah have mercy on them. The notes were taken from Zuhair Ash-Shaaweesh's comments and footnotes to this treatise, unless otherwise specified.

All praise is due to Allaah for His countless blessings. I bear witness that none has the right to be worshipped except Allaah, He stands alone and with no partners, whether on His earth or in His heavens. And I bear witness that Muhammad (s) is His slave, Messenger and the last of His prophets. May Allaah send His eternal peace and continuous blessings upon him, his family and his companions until the Day when we shall all meet Him.

To proceed:

It is binding upon the Muslims, after declaring loyalty to Allaah and his Messenger (s), to declare loyalty to the believers as is stated by the Qur'aan. This especially includes the scholars, for they are the inheritors of the prophets. And they are the ones whom Allaah has given the status of bearing the similitude of stars, throughwhich guidance is achieved in times of darkness, on land and on sea. The Muslims of this nation have agreed upon their guidance and their knowledge.

Before the advent of our Prophet (s), the scholars of every nation were the worst of its people. But this is not the case with the Muslims, for indeed their scholars are the best from among them. They are the delegated successors of the Messenger r in regards to his nation and they are the ones who revive what has been caused to die from his (s) Sunnah. It is through them that the Qur'aan is established and through it, they are established. Through them the Qur'aan is articulated and through it, they are articulated.

It must be known that there is not one scholar, who is accepted widely and willfully by the ummah, that purposely intends to oppose the Messenger of Allaah (s) in any aspect of his (ra) Sunnah, whether small or large. For indeed, they all agree on the obligation of following the Messenger r upon a firm and certain understanding. They also agree that one can accept or reject the statement of any individual from mankind, except that of the Messenger of Allaah (s). [1]

Therefore when it is found that an opinion, held by one of them, contradicts an authentic hadeeth, there is no doubt that excuses must be made for him, in explanation to his abandoning of it. These excuses can be divided into three categories:

  1. The lack of his believing that the Prophet (s) said it
  2. The lack of his believing that particular issue was affected by that statement
  3. His belief that that ruling was abrogated

These three categories can be subdivided into numerous reasons:

The First Reason: The Hadith Did Not Reach Him

Anyone that does not have a hadeeth reach him is not responsible for being knowledgeable about its obligation. Thus, if a hadeeth was not conveyed to him, and he formulated an opinion for that issue based on either the apparentness of an obligating ayah, another hadeeth, the necessity of Qiyaas or the need for Istishaab [2], then sometimes he may be in agreement with that hadeeth and at other times he may contradict it.

For the most part, it is due to this reason that many of the statements of the Salaf have gone in contradiction to the reports mentioned in some ahaadeeth. For certainly, it is not possible for anyone in this ummah to completely grasp (all) of the hadeeth of the Messenger of Allaah (s).

The Prophet (s) would narrate hadeeth, issue religious verdicts, pass judgements or conduct other matters, and whosoever was present there would hear him or see him. These people would then convey that (information) to other groups or to just some individuals whom they would reach. So knowledge of that affair would end up with whomsoever Allaah willed, from the scholars among the Sahaabah, the Taabi'een and those who came after them.

Then in another gathering, he s would again narrate hadeeth, issue religious verdicts, pass judgements or conduct other matters. And some of the people that were absent from the first gathering would witness it. They would then convey it to whomsoever they were able to convey it to. So these individuals would possess some knowledge that those people did not and those people would possess some knowledge that these individuals did not. And verily, the scholars among the Sahaabah and those after them were only distinguished from one another due to who possessed more knowledge or who bore its excellence. As for whether one single person can encompass all of the hadeeth of the Messenger of Allaah (s), then this claim is impossible.

An example of this is seen in the rightly guided khaleefahs, who were the most knowledgeable of the ummah concerning the affairs of the Messenger of Allaah (s), his Sunnah and his states of being. This is especially so with Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq (r) who never separated from the Prophet (s), whether he (s) was present or on a journey. Rather, he was with him the majority of the time, even to the point that he used to spend nights talking to him about the affairs of the Muslims. This goes the same for 'Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab (r), for the Prophet (s) would say many times: "Abu Bakr, 'Umar and I entered" and "Abu Bakr, 'Umar and I left"

In spite of this, when Abu Bakr (r) was asked on the inheritance of the grandmother, he (r) said: "There is nothing for you in the Book of Allaah nor have I learned of anything from the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allaah (s) that is for you. However, I will ask the people." So he asked them and Al Mugheerah Ibn Shu'bah (r) and Muhammad Ibn Maslamah (r) stood up and testified "that the Prophet has given her a sixth (of the inheritance)." [3] This aspect of the Sunnah was conveyed to 'Imraan Ibn Husain (r), also.

These three individuals were not equal to Abu Bakr nor to any of the other (four rightly guided) khaleefahs in terms of knowledge. However, they were specifically characterized with knowledge of this Sunnah of which its acting upon has been agreed on by the ummah.

Likewise, 'Umar (r) did not know the Sunnah for asking permission to enter a household, until he was informed of it by Abu Moosaa Al-Asha'aree (r), who called on the Ansaar as witnesses. [5] This was even though 'Umar (r) possessed more knowledge than the one who told him of this aspect of the Sunnah.

Also, 'Umar (r) did not know that a woman was supposed to inherit from her (deceased) husband's blood money, but instead he held the opinion that the blood money belonged to the 'Aaqilah [6]. This was until Ad-Dahhaak Ibn Sufyaan Al-Kulaabee, who was a leader of some Bedouin Arabs (Al-Bawaadee) for the Messenger of Allaah (s), wrote to him and informed him that: "The Messenger of Allaah (s) gave the wife of Ashyam Ad-Dabaabee, inheritance from the blood money of her (deceased) husband." [7] So he abandoned his opinion in favor of that (hadeeth) and said: "Had we not heard of this, we would have ruled in opposition to it."

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