Why Do the Imams Differ?


If all the Imams deduced the laws directly from the Qur’an and Hadith, how is it possible for them to differ on various aspects?


In order to understand the reality of these differences, we will have to go back in history right up to the time of the Sahaba (r).

Once Rasulullah (s) had just returned from a battle when he ordered the Sahaba (r) to immediately proceed to the place of Banu Quraizah — a clan who lived on the outskirts of Madina al-Munawwarah. The purpose was to lay a siege upon them for having broken the pact that they had made with the Muslims. In order to impress the urgency of the matter upon the Sahaba (r), Rasulullah (s) said to them: “None of you should perform your Salat al-`Asr except in Banu Quraizah.” While the Sahaba (r) were still en-route, the time of `Asr arrived. Some Sahaba (r) felt that they should perform their `Asr immediately. They regarded the instruction of Rasulullah (s) as actually being a command to proceed very swiftly to their destination. It did not imply that the `Asr salat could not be performed en-route. They thus performed their salat there. Another group of Sahaba (r) viewed the instruction literally. They therefore continued and only performed their `Asr salat after having reached Banu Quraizah. Later when Rasulullah (s) was informed about this, he did not rebuke either group. [Sahih Bukhari]

Thus we find that the difference arose from a point of interpretation. However, this difference of interpretation is only entertained when it comes from a person who has in-depth knowledge of Deen and has attained a mastery in the Qur’an and Hadith and the other related aspects. At times a difference of opinion occurs due to the different narrations that are found with regards to a particular aspect. One Imam gives preference to one narration on the basis of various criteria while the other Imam, in the light of his knowledge, prefers the other narration. This is basically the manner in which these differences occur. However, just as Rasulullah (s) did not rebuke either of the two groups in the incident mentioned above, similarly since the Imams have attained the status of a mujtahid (one who is capable of deriving the laws directly from the Qur’an and Hadith), they will not be blame worthy even if they have erred. Rasulullah (s) is reported to have said: “When a hakim (ruler) passes judgment, and after having exerted his utmost effort he arrives at the correct solution, he gets a double reward. And if he errs after having exerted his utmost ability, he gets one reward.” (Sahih Bukhari, vol. 2 pg. 1092). Ibn al-Munzir (ra) while commenting on this hadith writes that a ruler will only get this reward if he has thorough knowledge and in the light of his knowledge he passed judgment. (see footnotes of Sahih Bukhari; ibid). The four Imams had the ability and necessary knowledge to practice ijtihad. Thus they fall under the ambit of this hadith.

Shaykh Muhammad Ilyas Faisal
Madinat al-Munawwara

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