Q: Can you please present to me the proofs from the Qur’an and Hadith commanding us to follow one of the four Imaams of fiqh?
I believe that we are all followers of Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam). Hence Allah Ta’ala obligated us to follow our beloved Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam). Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) has said in his Mubarak Hadith: “I leave behind two things; the Qur’an and my Sunnah. As long as you hold firm to these two; you will never go astray.”
From this Hadith, we understand that in solving our Deeni matters, we should directly refer to the Qur’aan and Hadith. Just as Ulama of the past made ijtihaad, why can’t people who have knowledge of Arabic and have studied deen also make ijtihaad today and find solutions in modern day problems through referring directly to the Qur’aan and Hadith? I do understand that if one is non-conversant in the Arabic language and thus unable to extract Shar‘i laws from the Qur’aan and Hadith, then he should refer to an Aalim of Deen. Why do people insist that every person should follow one of the four mazhabs of Fiqh?
A: Allah Ta’ala commands us in the Holy Qur’an to refer our Deeni matters to people of knowledge. Allah Ta’ala says:
From this verse we conclude that each person is not obligated to refer directly to the Qur’an and Hadith. Rather, he is commanded to refer the matter to a specialist. Furthermore, “consulting a specialist in the field” is not confined to Deeni matters. Instead it is a common principle adhered to in worldly matters as well. A patient, who has to undergo a major heart operation refers to the most qualified and recognised heart surgeon around. Similarly, the victim who has to appear in court on account of alleged treason or suspected murder employs the services of a professional advocate to defend his case. Each of the above (the patient and the victim) understands the seriousness of the situation and the fatal consequences that follow. Thus they hand over the matter to the most capable person. Similarly, we need to understand that in matters of Deen we ought to follow those who will correctly guide us to the straight path.
Allah Ta’ala says:
From this verse we understand that in matters of deen we are obligated to follow the one who will correctly guide us to Allah. If one takes an incapable person as his guide and thus incorrectly practises upon the laws of Shari’ah, will such a person ever be absolved of his obligation in the court of Allah Ta’ala? Definitely not. Rather he will be worthy of punishment for adopting the incorrect procedure in searching for the truth. Let us illustrate this point through few examples from the mubaarak life of Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) and his illustrious Sahaabah (Radiyallahu Anhum).Some of these Ahaadith are:
1. Ali (Radiyallahu Anhu) reports that Nabi (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) had dispatched an army and he appointed an ameer over them. During the course of the journey, the ameer became angry with the army. So, he lit a fire and instructed the Sahaabah to enter it. In substantiation, he quoted the Hadith of Nabi (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) that the ameer of the army must be obeyed. Some were contemplating over entering the fire whilst the others refused. When they reported the matter to Nabi (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam), he addressed those who were contemplating entering into the fire: “Had you leaped into the fire, you would have remained in it till the Day of Qiyaamah.” He further said to those who refused to enter the fire: “There is no obedience to the creation when it involves the disobedience of Allah. Obedience is only in good actions.” 
2. Imam Sha’bi reports that Hazrat Adi ibn Hatim (Radiyallahu Anhu) related to me that when the following Aayah was revealed:
I took two pieces of threads (one thread was black and the other white). I then placed both the treads beneath my pillow. I stared at the threads for a long time expecting to see the white thread becoming more clear and visible from the black thread so that I may then abstain from eating. However, the entire night passed and in the morning I came to Nabi (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) and I had expressed what I had understood from the verse and what I had done during the night. Nabi (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) smiled and remarked if the meaning of the verse is as you have understood, then your pillow is indeed very wide. For indeed the white and black threads implied in the verse refers to the brightness of the day and the darkness of the night. 
3. Jaabir (Radiyallahu Anhu) reports that they were once on a journey when a person amongst them was struck by a rock and suffered severe head injuries. He then experienced a wet-dream (thus requiring ghusl). So he asked some of his companions if there was any concession for performing tayammum. They replied: “There is no concession for you since water is available.” Thus, this sahaabi took a bath and passed away (as a result of making ghusl). When they returned and Nabi (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) was informed of this, he said: “They killed him, may Allah kill them. Why couldn’t they enquire from those who were knowledgeable when they did not know? The cure of an ailing person (an ignorant person) is to ask. It was sufficient for him to only perform tayammum and bandage his wound. He could have then rubbed his moist hand over it and wash the rest of his body.” 
In the above events we notice that all the persons involved were the Sahaabah of Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) (the first recipients of the Qur’an). Undoubtedly, they were conversant in the Arabic language and referred to the Qur’an. Furthermore they were more knowledgeable than anyone of us present today. How was it that Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) disapproved of what they had done and in certain cases (as witnessed above) he even reproached them severely?
However, there seems to be an outward inconsistency between these above mentioned incidents and similar incidents where Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) approved the actions of certain Sahaabah, though they erred in their judgement. Consider the incident of Bani Quraizah:
On the occasion of Khandaq, Nabi (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) dispatched the Sahaabah to go to Bani Quraizah. Nabi (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam’s) explicit command to this group of Sahaabah was that they should perform their Asr Salaah at Bani Quraizah. The Sahaba were en-route when the time of Asr was about to expire. A difference of opinion occurred between the Sahaabah with regards to the performance of the Asr Salaah. One group felt that the Asr Salaah should not be delayed rather it should be performed en-route prior to the time expiring. They understood the instruction of Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) “none of you should perform his salaah except in Bani Quraizah” to mean that hasten so that you may reach Bani Quraizah at the time of Asr. Hence the Asr Salaah should not be made Qadha. On the other hand the second group of Sahaabah held the opinion that the Asr Salaah should be performed at Bani Quraizah even though the Salaah is made Qadaa as this was complying with the explicit command of Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam). When Nabi (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) was later informed of the difference between the Sahaabah, he approved the actions of both groups.
The answer to this inconsistency is that there were mujtahideen amongst the two groups of Sahaabah. Further, it is permissible for a mujtahid to employ his ijtihaad in reaching a conclusion. This answer can be understood from the Hadith of Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam):
عن أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم إذا حكم الحاكم فاجتهد فأصاب فله أجران وإذا حكم فأخطأ فله أجر واحد – ترمذي 1/247
Hadhrat Abu Hurairah (Radiyallahu Anhu) has mentioned that Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) said: “When a haakim (Mujtahid) issues a correct verdict using his discretion he shall receive two rewards and if he errs he shall receive one reward.”
From this Hadith we learn that the right of making ijtihaad is reserved for a mujtahid. Other than a mujtahid, any person who interferes in the matters of Deen and reaches an erroneous conclusion will be sinful on account of taking the law into his own hands. But on the other hand, if a person refers the matter to a mujtahid (one possessing the highest levels of understanding and capability) and he errs in his judgment, both will be absolved in the court of Allah Ta’ala based on the above Hadith. So we conclude that this Hadith and the Hadith of Bani Quraizah are with reference to a mujtahid, not an ordinary muqallid. At this juncture the question that arises is that ‘who will then qualify as a mujtahid’? Before explaining who is a mujtahid, it is imperative for us to comprehend the different levels and classes of people in regard to potentials and capabilities so that we will understand the exalted position of a mujtahid in Shari’ah.
There are basically three classes of people in Deen in regard to the knowledge of Deen.
The first class of people are those who posses very little knowledge of Shari’ah. (e.g. Apas in the maktabs or Huffaaz who have memorised the Qur’an without studying its meaning). This category’s obligation is to impart what they have learnt of the basic fundamentals of Deen. Nabi (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) has said:
بلغوا عني ولو آية
Convey from me even if it be one aayah.
Since this class of believers have not acquired sufficient Deeni knowledge to guide others in all branches of Deen, it is impermissible for them to issue fatwas and verdicts of Shari’ah. Furthermore, since the knowledge of Deen which they are imparting is confined and restricted, there is no possibility of any addition from their side. Thus there is no fear of any change or distortion coming to Deen. However, in the more intricate matters of Shari’ah they should refer to those above them who are more qualified.
The second class of people is those who have pursued Deeni knowledge in Madrasahs and universities under qualified expert scholars. This class of people after qualifying as Ulama’, are in the position to issue Islamic verdicts. It should be borne in mind that this class of people though far senior than the first class, however their capabilities and potentials are limited and are far lower than the potential of the third class. The most that can be said about this class is that they have acquired the ability to access the meanings of the Qur’an and Hadith and convey to the Ummat the message of both (Qur’an and Hadith). This is applicable to the Ulama’ of this era. As for the Ulama of the past, there were people amongst them who possessed great treasures of knowledge e.g. Imam Tahawi, Hafiz Ibn Hajar Asqalani, Allamah Nawawi etc. However, despite them having such vast knowledge, when it came to extracting the hidden meanings of the aayaat and Ahaadith they admitted their incapability and saw the need of following the A’immah-e-mujtahideen. Nabi (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) said:
رب حامل فقه إلى من هو أفقه منه
There are many who disseminate fiqh to those more learned than them,
رب حامل فقه دون فقيه
There are many who possess the knowledge of fiqh though they do not have the expertise in fiqh.
From these Ahaadith we understand that a person possessing a lot of fiqh does not necessarily mean that he will be able to access the hidden meanings contained therein. Hence when it comes to the aspect of extracting laws and deducing masaa’il or finding amicable solutions for newly developed situations of contemporary issues, they are incapable of this great mammoth task and are highly dependent upon the knowledge of the third class.
The third class of people is that of the Mujtahideen. Their level of intelligence and understanding allowed them to deduce and source out numerous masaa’il directly from the Qur’an and Hadith. To give us a glimpse of the calibre of the third class, the statement of Imaam Ahmad bin Hambal (Rahmatullahi Alayh) is quite sufficient.
A man once asked Imaam Ahmad: “If a person memorises 100 000 Ahaadeeth, can he qualify as a faqeeh (jurist)?” He replied: “No.” The person asked: “What about 200 000?” The Imaam once again replied: “No.” Again the man said: “Then 300 000?” The imaam replied in the negative once more. The man said: “And 400 000?” This time he shook his palm, indicating that probably now he may be a faqih, fit enough to pass a fatwa on his own accord.
We thus conclude that the right to directly deduce and extract masaa’il from the Qur’an and Hadith is reserved and exclusive for the Mujtahideen. As for those lower than them in knowledge and understanding, and the laymen, it is incumbent that they follow the deductions of these Mujtahideen.
 صحيح البخاري : 2 / 1077 : عن علي أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم بعث جيشا و أمّر عليهم رجلا فأوقد نارا فقال ادخلوها فأرادوا أن يدخلوها فقال آخرون إنما فررنا منها فذكروا للنبي (صلى الله عليه وسلم) فقال للذين أرادوا أن يدخلوها لو دخلوها لم يزالوا فيها إلى يوم القيامة و قال للآخرين لا طاعة في معصية الله إنما الطاعة في المعروف.
 تفسير ابن كثير – سورة بقرة – 1/237: وقال الإمام أحمد حدثنا هشيم أخبرنا حصين عن الشعبي أخبرني عدي بن حاتم قال لما نزلت هذه الآية وكلوا واشربوا حتى يتبين لكم الخيط الأبيض من الخيط الأسود عمدت إلى عقالين أحدهما أسود والآخر أبيض قال فجعلتهما تحت وسادتي قال فجعلت أنظر إليهما فلا تبين لي الأسود من الأبيض، ولا الأبيض من الأسود، فلما أصبحت غدوت على رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فأخبرته بالذي صنعت فقال إن وسادك إذا لعريض إنما ذلك بياض النهار وسواد الليل.
 سنن أبي داود : ص 321 : عن عدي بن حاتم قال لما نزلت هذه الآية : “حَتّٰی یَتَبَیَّنَ لَكُمُ الْخَیۡطُ الۡاَبْیَضُ مِنَ الْخَیۡطِ الۡاَسْوَدِ” قال أخذت عقالا أبيض و عقالا أسود فوضعتهما تحت وسادتي فنظرت فلم أتبين فذكرت ذلك لرسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فقال إن وسادتك إذا لطويل عريض إنما هو الليل و النهار.
 مشكاة المصابيح : ص 54 : و عن جابر قال خرجنا في سفر فأصاب رجلا منا حجر فشحه في رأسه فاحتلم فسأل أصحابه هل تجدون لي رخصة في التيمم قالوا ما نجد لك رخصة و أنت تقدر على الماء فاغتسل فمات فلما قدمنا على النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم أُخبر بذلك قال قتلوه قتلهم الله ألا سألوا إذا لم يعلموا فإنما شفاء العي السوال إنما كان يكفيه أن يتيمم و يعصب على جرحه خرقة ثم يمسح عليها و يغسل سائر جسده . رواه أبو داود