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August 17, 2017

Ijtihad in Islam – Importance in Modern Times

In early Islam ijtihad (definition, meaning and explanation of Ijtihad), along with terms such as al-ra_y, qiyas, and zann referred to sound and balanced personal reasoning. By the third century of Islam, however, prophetic traditions replaced these terms as the primary indicators of the law after the Quran. The term qiyas remained operative but was severely curtailed by jurists of all schools. Ijtihad, however, was universally embraced by all jurists and theologians, including those who, in all other matters, held strongly opposing views. This was perhaps due to ijtihad’s authority residing  in a prophetic tradition, but more likely it was because the actual definition of the term varied from jurist to jurist. Al- Shafi_i, for instance, when asked, replied that ijtihad and qiyas are two names for the same process. Ibn Hazm, in contrast, denounced qiyas but not ijtihad: The former, he maintained, referred to baseless speculation, and the latter, to the individual’s attempts at unraveling the truth by textual corroboration.

All nonetheless used ijtihad to refer to no more than the search for the legal norm (hukm) in Islam’s corpus sancta without much regard for context. In contrast, postcolonial Islamic thinkers used ijtihad as shorthand for intellectual and social reform, and as a break from taqlid or blind imitation of past legal rulings. The Indian poet/ philosopher, Muhammad Iqbal, for instance, saw ijtihad as the catalyst for Islam’s intellectual resurgence, whereas the grand mufti of Egypt, Muhammad _Abduh, considered it a break from traditional scholarship, and Maududi as the key to establishing an Islamic political order. The relationship between taqlid and ijtihad during this period became less juridical and more symbolic: The former now referred to the general deterioration of everything Islamic and the latter to its reformation. In general, ijtihad served to validate the reformist’s efforts to subordinate the sacred texts to the exigencies of a modern context.
While ijtihad was warmly received, no methodology for reasoning by ijtihad was established, as was the case with qiyas, for instance. Jurists spoke of the four essential constituents of qiyas, and its various forms, but in the case of ijtihad, spoke only of the qualifications of the mujtahids who do ijtihad, and of their rankings within particular schools of law. More importantly, they spoke of the closing of the doors of ijtihad. The Crusades, the rise of regional dynasties subsequent to the collapse of the Abbasid empire, and the Mongol invasions
were seen as threats to Islamic intellectualism in general. Coupled with this, attacks by rationalists and philosophers on Muslim orthodox thinking convinced jurists that any further ijtihad posed a great danger to orthodoxy itself. The doors of ijtihad were thus closed in the fourth Islamic century, and alon g period of taqlid followed. Recent scholarship has challenged this view based on evidence that mujtahids existed well into the sixteenth century, and that several prominent premodern scholars denied the closure of the doors of ijtihad.

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