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Lesson Ten. Chapter 8. Ijma ’ الإجماع. Introduction. Unlike Quran and Sunnah , ijma does not partake of divine revelation Ijma as a doctrine is basically a “ binding ” rational proof

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Lesson Ten

Chapter 8



Unlike Quran and Sunnah, ijmadoes not partake of divine revelation

Ijma as a doctrine is basically a “binding” rational proof

Conclusive ijma , as defined by the ulama of usool, demands an absolute and universal consensus of the scholars of the ummah

There is no room for اختلاف (disagreement) within the concept of ijma

The gap between the theory and practice of ijma is a striking feature of this doctrine

The notion of universal consensus probably was inspired by tawheed and political unity of the ummah


The Shari'ah has often been considered as `a diversity within unity'. This is true in a general sense, inthat there is unity to the essentials and in the broad outlines of the ahkam. But the same cannot be saidof the detailed rulings of the jurists.

  • To expect universal consensus on ijtihadi matters is totally unrealistic
  • The reason for the gap between the theory and practice is due to the difficulty in the implementation of its theoretical requirements in practice, to eliminate all levels of اختلاف
  • Only the ijma of the companions has been generally upheld due to their status.
definition and value of ijma
Definition and Value of Ijma

الاجماعliterally, means to determine and to agree upon something, or an ‘unanimous agreement’

Ijma is the unanimous agreement of the mujtahidun of any period following the demise of the Prophet (SAW) on any matter

‘any matter’ implies شرعى (juridical), ‘عقلى (intellectual), ‘عرفى(customary) and لغوى (linguistic) matters

حسى matters (perceptible to senses) fall beyond the scope of Ijma

According to the majority opinion, اعتقاديات (dogmatic), fall within the scope of Ijma

Matters of practical type; for example agreement of the companions about political, administrative, governance and the like do not constitute ijma

Ijma’ on a shar’i ruling has a quality of permanence and its validity is not confined by a time limit


The essence of الاجماعlies in the natural growth of ideas, it begins with the personal اجتهاد of a jurist and ends in universal acceptance of a particular opinion over a period of time

الاجماع’ plays a crucial role in the development of Shari’ah. The existing body of fiqh is a product of ijtihad and ijma

الاجماع’ ensures the correct interpretation of the Quran, the faithful understanding of the Sunnah and legitimate use of ijtihad

الاجماع’ removes uncertainty and doubt from an interpretation and makes it infallible

الاجماع’ turns rules of speculative nature into definite and binding ones

الاجماع’ represents an authority in its own right even if its roots in primary sources are lost

the essential requirements of
The Essential Requirements of الاجماع

Plurality of mujtahidun available at the time when the issue is encountered.

According to the majority of ‘ulama, اتفاق (unanimity) of mujtahidunis a prerequisite of ijma, on the basis, that mujtahidun represent the community

The minority opinion attributed to Abu Bakr al-Baqillani and others is that ijma includes the consensus of both laymen and mijtahidun , on the basis, that it is a grace of Allah bestowed on the whole community

The presence of dissenting معارضview excludes the possibility of ijma’


The agreement of the mujtahidun must be demonstrated by their expressed opinion, verbal or in writing such as by giving a fatwa in either of these forms, or it may be actual, when, for example, a judge adjudicates the issue in question;

  • According to the minority opinion, ijma’ may be concluded by a majority (IbnJarir al-Tabari, Abu Bakr al-Razi, one view of Ahmad ibnHanbal and Shah Wali Allah).
  • Ijma must fulfill these three conditions:
    • Mujtahidun must qualify as upright individuals with minimum requirement of admissibility as witness in the courts of justice
    • Constituents of ijma are clear of Bid’ah and heresy
    • Constituents of ijma have required specialized knowledge on the issue

The following conditions are subject to disagreement among the ‘ulama:

    • Only mujtahidun among the Companions qualify
    • Constituents of ijma belong to the family of the Prophet (SAW)
    • Participants of ijma have all passed away
    • Participants should be residents of Medina
    • Ijma does not proceed on a matter on which earlier ‘ulama (as-Salaf) were in disagreement, as held by some Shafi’ees and Ahl al-Hadith. (This is rejected by jumhoor)
  • When ijma’ fulfills its defined requirements, it is binding and not open to naskh
  • According to al-Ghazali, it is enough that agreement should have taken place, even if only for an instant
the proof of ijma
The Proof (حجية الاجماع) of Ijma

The ‘ulama’ as a whole maintained the impression that the textual evidence in support of ijma does not amount to conclusive proof

Al-Ghazali and al-Amidi are of the view that when compared to the Quran, the Sunnah provides stronger argument in favor of ijma

ijma in quran
Ijma in Quran

O ye who believe! obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you. if ye differ In anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if ye do believe In Allah and the Last Day: that is best, and Most suitable for final determination. Al-NIsa, 4:59

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُولِي الْأَمْرِ مِنْكُمْ

According to al-Fakhr al-razi, ,أُولِي الْأَمْرِlends support to the infallibility of ijma as Allah would not command obedience to anyone who is liable to errors.

According to a commentary attributed to ibnAbbasأُولِي الْأَمْرِrefers to the ulama, other ulama refer أُولِي الْأَمْرِ to be reference to الامراء The zahir of text includes both in their respective sphere


The most frequently quoted ayah in support of ijma is

if anyone contends with the Messenger Even after guidance has been plainly conveyed to him, and follows a path other than that becoming to believers of Faith, we shall leave Him In the path He has chosen, and land Him In Hell,- what an evil refuge! al-Nisa (4:115) وَمَنْ يُشَاقِقِ الرَّسُولَ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُ الْهُدَى وَيَتَّبِعْ غَيْرَ سَبِيلِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ نُوَلِّهِ مَا تَوَلَّى وَنُصْلِهِ جَهَنَّمَ وَسَاءَتْ مَصِيرًا

Commentators observe “the way of the believers” refers to consensus, and departure from that is prohibited. Al-Shafi’i concluded that 4:115 provides clear authority of ijma and following any other way is Haram

According to al-Ghazali the above ayahs and others in the Quran are zawahir and none of them amounts to a clear nass on ijma and above ayah is warning against disobedience to Prophet SAW and hostility against the believers


Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti and al-Shawkani concluded that ‘Following the path other than that of believers” means abandoning Islam and their conclusion is in line with conclusion of al-Ghazali

Al-Shawkani added that occasion of revelation for this ayah relates to apostasy and the ‘other way’ refers to choosing another religion in favor of Islam and it does not warrant for authority of ijma

al-Amidi concluded that this ayah gives zanni (probabilistic) evidence and does not impart positive knowledge. If we assume that ijma is a decisive proof then establishing its authority on speculative proof is not enough

the sunnah on ijma
The Sunnah on Ijma

“My community shall never agree on dalalah(an error)” This is the most frequently quoted Hadith in support of ijma.

‘ضلالة in the Hadeeth does not mean disbelief and heresy, it only means an error or erroneous conduct

“Allah will not let my community agree upon an error”

I beseeched Almighty Allah not to bring my community to the point of agreeing on ضلالة and He granted me this”

“Those who seek the joy of residing in Paradise will follow the community, for Satan can chase an individual but he stands away from two people”

the sunnah on ijma14
The Sunnah on Ijma

“The hand of Allah is with the community and it is not endangered by isolated opposition”

“A group of my ummah shall continue to remain on the right path. They will be the dominant force and will not be harmed by the opposition and opponents”

al-Ghazali pointed out that the first Hadith is not mutawatir and it is not an absolute authority like the Quran, but both al-Ghazali and al Amidi concluded that main content of this Hadith and number of other ahadahadith quoted above convey positive knowledge that the infallibility of the ummah is sustained by their collective weight.

Shi’ahImamiyyah quote last Hadith“A group of my ummah…” in support of their doctrine of ijma of ahl al-bayt.

the sunnah on ijma15
The Sunnah on Ijma

The word أمة or جماعة in ahadith could mean:

The overwhelming majority of Muslims

The scholars of the community

Only the companions

The whole of the Muslim community (This is the view of al-Shafi’i)

the sunnah on ijma16
The Sunnah on Ijma

الاجماع as a doctrine of jurisprudence did not exist in the early period

The jurists could not determine a definite meaning of ummah or jama’ah

The ahadeeth which convey a general meaning should not be restricted to a particular point of view

In conclusion, based upon the rational proof, the consensus of all mujtahidun on a particular ruling is a sure indication that the word of truth has prevailed over their differences; due to the strength of evidence from the nass.

Even in the absence of a nass, ijtihad observes both the letter and spirit of sources that mujtahid has mastered and ijtihad is always founded on sound authority in the first place

the feasibility of ijma
The feasibility of Ijma
  • A number of ‘ulama, including Mu’tazili leader, Ibrahim al-Nazzam and some shi’i‘ulama have held that ijma’ in the way defined by the jumhur of ‘ulama is not feasible.
  • They have listed the following objections:

The difficulties include:

    • The mujtahidun normally are located in distant places and obtaining a positive knowledge of consensus is not feasible
    • Difficulty in distinguishing a mujtahid from non mujtahid with certainty
    • There is no guarantee that mujtahid will not change his given opinion before ijma is reached

IT is mainly due to these reasons al-Shafi’i confines ijma to the obligatory duties alone as he considers that ijma on other matters is not realistic proposition

Due to the feasibility concern, Zahiris, Kharijites and Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal , confine ijma to consensus of the companions alone

Imam Malik confines ijma’ to the people of Madina

Shi’ahImamiyyahrecognize only the agreement of ahl al-bayt


According to a report, Abdullah ibnAhmad ibnHanbal quoted his father,”It is not more than a lie for any man to claim the existence of ijma. Whoever claims ijma is telling a lie”

The jumhur of ‘ulama claim that ijma is possible and has occurred in the past

The agreement of the Companions (ijma) consisted of the agreement of the learned among them who were present at the time of the issue, and the ruling was a collective decision of the shurah

After the companions, no collective ijma is known to have taken place on any juridical matter


Shaykh al-Khudari addressed some of the issues regarding ijma’ and observed: “At the time of first two caliphs number of mujtahidun were relatively small and could be easily identified. After that period, ijma became difficult as mujtahid companions began to reside in distant places and matters were further complicated due to political controversies and dissension that became prevalent. Ijma’ in this period was feasible in principle but did not take place.”

the basis sanad of ijma
The Basis (Sanad) of Ijma
  • The sanad of ijma is the shari evidence used by mujtahidun as a basis of consensus
  • According to the majority of ‘ulama, ijma’ needs to have a sanad
  • There is disagreement among the ‘ulama on whether ijma can be based on qiyas or maslahah

1. First view

    • Qiyas is subject to variety of doubts
    • The ‘ulama do not agree on the authority of Qiyas as a proof
    • Companions did not have a consensus on anything unless there was a proof from Quran or Sunnah

2. Second view

    • Ijma can be based on qiyas of all varieties as qiyas is an analogy to nass

3. Third view

    • If illah (effective cause) of qiyas is clearly stated in nass it can be used for ijma. When illah is hidden qiyas cannot be used as basis for ijma
    • Abu Zahrah considers third opinion about qiyas to be sound opinion as instances could be quoted for ijma based on qiyas. For an example, father is entitled to guardianship over the person and property of his minor child. By ijma this right is also established for grandfather based on qiyas between father and grandfather
  • Examples of ijma based on maslah are:
  • The collection of the Quran in a single volume
  • The second adhan on Friday
  • The decision to not distribute land in Iraq among the conquerors
  • When subsequent generations of ‘ulama refer to ijma, it is generally assumed that ijma is based on a nass without referring to evidence after ascertaining the existence of ijma, otherwise ijma cannot be a proof on its own right
the transmission of ijma
The Transmission of Ijma

Ijma is divided into two types from the perspective of the reliability of the transmission:


منقول (transmitted)


This is direct participation of a mujtahid in the consensus without any transmitters


This is established through reports which may be ahad or mutawatir


Al-Ghazali points out that ahad report of ijma is not a sufficient proof as ijma is a decisive proof and ahad reports makes it speculative evidence

al-Amidi explains that number of Shafi’i, Hanafi and Hanbaliulema validate ahad report of ijma to be a valid proof

Another group of Hanafi and Shafi’iulema do not consider ahad report of ijma to be a valid proof

All ulema agree that even when the text (matan) is definitive, ahad report makes it speculative proof

With the exception of ijma of companions, no other ijma is known to be mutawatir

reform proposals
Reform proposals

Modern critics consider that according to the classical definition of ijma, it fails to relate to the search for solutions to the problems of community in these times

Shah Wali Allah Dihlawi (d. 1176/1762) tried to bring ijma closer to reality by bringing ‘relativity’ in the concept of ijma

He states that ijma means consensus of limited number of mujtahidun and ijma was never meant to be a universal agreement as it is plainly impossible to achieve

Universal agreement neither happened in the past nor could it conceivably happen in the future

Ijma is consensus of ulema and men of authority in different towns and localities and it can be held anywhere and any time

Ijma of companions in Makkah and Medina was a relative ijma not a universal agreement

Ahadith used as proof for ijma are meant for political unity of ummah and integrity of the Shariah, they did not envisage ijma


Reform proposals

The late Shaykh of al-Azhar, MuhmudShaltut, observes that ijma is either absence of disagreement or consensus of majority, classical definition if ijma is a theoretical proposition that is never expressed in reality

Shaltut is not opposed to the idea of institutionalization of ijma provided that it does not violate the freedom of opinion. He also observed that realization of maslahah through consensus is the objective of ijma and maslahah is bound to vary according to circumstances of time and place. Due to change in circumstances, ulema should be able to review previous ijma and if only way to realize the maslahah is new ijma, this will nullify and replace previous ijma and will constitute a binding authority

Badran proposes ijmato be consensus of ulu al-amr or of ummah, on a ruling that is not found in the textual sources and may be founded on ra’y, for the sake of maslahah. Such an ijma may be concluded on the face of opposition without consensus of ulu al-amr. In support of his view, he refers to election of Abu Bakr despite the opposition of Ali and return of Caliph Umar from his trip to Syria when he heard of the spread of cholera



  • Under classical definitions, ijma and ijtihad , were subjected to conditions that virtually consigned them to realm of utopia
  • Unreality of these formations is reflected in modern times in the experience of Muslim nations, such as introduction of some reforms in marriage and divorce areas through novel interpretation of Quran. These reforms may rightly be regarded as cases of ijtihad, but none of these reforms make any mention of ijtihad and ijma, reflecting a sad reality
  • Classical defections might have served the purpose of discouraging excessive diversity which was felt to threaten the very existence and integrity of shariah