The Principle of Ijtihad in Islam
Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahhari
How the faqih’s outlook on the world affects the
legal opinions he issues
The work of a faqih and mujtahid is the deduction and derivation of the precepts [of the shari`a]; but his knowledge and understanding of all things, in other words, his worldview, has a great influence on the decisions he makes. The faqih must have all the information on matters upon which he is going to issue a fatwa. If we imagine a faqih who is always sitting in the corner of his house or his madrasa, and compare him with a faqih who is conversant with the currents of life, both of them refer back to the valid proofs of the shari`a, but each one of them will derive his legal rulings in a particular way, using a particular method.
Let me give an example. Suppose that someone who grew up in Tehran, or in a big town like Tehran, where running water is in plentiful supply and there are reservoirs and tanks and gutters, becomes a faqih and wishes to issue a fatwa concerning the precepts about what is pure and what is impure. When he refers to the hadiths on purity and impurity, such a person will, owing to his own previous experience, make a deduction in a way which will be extremely circumspect and will necessitate the avoidance of many things. But the same person, once he has been to the House of God [the Ka`aba] and seen the conditions of purity and impurity and the lack of water in that place, will find himself changing his outlook regarding the subject of purity and impurity. After such a journey, if he consults the hadiths on this matter, he will see them in a different light.
If someone compares the fatwas of the fuqaha’ with each other, and then pays attention to the individual circumstances and each of these scholars’ ways of thinking about living problems, he will see how the mental environment of a faqih and the information he has concerning the outside world influence his legal rulings in such a way that the legal rulings of an Arab faqih have an Arabic flavour, those of an Iranian have an Iranian flavour, and those of a countrydweller have a rustic flavour as opposed to the urban feel of those of a citydweller.
This religion is the final religion; it is not exclusive to a particular time or place; it is relevant to all times and places. It is a religion which came to establish order and progress in the life of man, so how could a faqih who is uninformed of the natural arrangement and movement of things and who does not believe in a progression towards perfection in life, deduce the high and truly progressive laws of this upright (hanif) religion in a way which is in perfect accordance with the truth? For this religion came to give order to this natural arrangement, movement and development, and it guarantees its guidance.
The understanding of necessities
At the present time, we have some cases in our fiqh where our fuqaha’ have given a definite ruling on the requirement of something only because they have seen the necessity and importance of the matter. In other words, since there is no transmitted evidence from the verses of the Qur’an or from hadith which is explicit and sufficient, and since there is also no valid consensus in the matter, they have used the fourth basic principle of derivation, i.e., the principle of independent reasoning (`aql). In this kind of instance, the fuqaha’ become certain that the command of God in such andsuch a case is suchandsuch, because of the importance of the matter and their knowledge of the spirit of Islam which leaves no important matter in abeyance. For example, in the case of the legal ruling given by the fuqaha’ concerning the guardianship (wilaya) of the ruler and the subsidiary problems connected with it, if the importance of this matter had not been realised, no legal rulings would have been issued. The fuqaha’ have only issued them to the extent which they understand to be necessary. Other instances similar to this can be found where the reason that a legal ruling has not been given is the fact that the importance and necessity of the matter has not been fully realised.