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Was the Gate of Ijtihad Closed?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 January 2009

Wael B. Hallaq
Department of Near Eastern StudiesUniversity of Washington


As conceived by classical Muslim jurists, ijtihād is the exertion of mental energy in the search for a legal opinion to the extent that the faculties of the jurist become incapable of further effort. In other words, ijtihad is the maximum effort expended by the jurist to master and apply the principles and rules of uṣūl alfiqh (legal theory) for the purpose of discovering God's law.1 The activity of ijtihad is assumed by many a modern scholar to have ceased about the end of the third/ninth century, with the consent of the Muslim jurists themselves. This process, known as ‘closing the gate of ijtihad’ (in Arabic: ‘insidād bāb al-ijtihād’), was described by Joseph Schacht as follows:

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1984

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Author's note: I wish to thank Professors Farhat Ziadeh and Nicholas Heer for their valuable comments on the manuscript.

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73 ibid., p. 275; this idea is reiterated throughout the book. See, e.g., pp. 271, 282, 283 passim.

74 ibid., p. 300. Although the last phrase reads: “watakādu hādhihi al-ṣūratu tuwāfqu hādha lizamānin wa⊂ahlihi,” the last three words ought to be read as “hādha al-zamāna wa⊃ahlahu.”

75 ibid., p. 309.

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136 Ibn, ⊂Abd al-Shakur, Sharḥ, II, 399400.Google Scholar

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144 These misunderstandings can further be illustrated by an anecdote that took place at the time of Ibn ⊂Abd al-Salam. When the latter claimed the right of ijtihad for himself, the Sultan Musa b. Ayyub wrote to him: “If you claim to be a mujtahid you must prove it (in a convincing manner) that befits such a serious claim, in order that you become a head of a fifth school.” Ibn ⊂Abd al-Salam replied: “As to what has been mentioned about ijtihad and the fifth school, (I say that) the usul of religion are not subject to differences (meaning that there is no place for a fifth school) … Differences are only in (matters of) furu⊂.” See Subki, , Ṭabaqāt, V, 93, 95.Google Scholar

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147 Subki, , Ṭabaqť, V, 120.Google Scholar

148 ibid., I, 106. It must be noted that a mujaddid had to qualify as a mujtahid.

149 Ibn, Kathir, al-Bidāya wal-Nihāya, 14 vols. (Cairo, 1932), XIII, 250;Google ScholarIbn, al-Amir, Taqrīr, III, 340;Google ScholarSubki, , Ṭabaqāt, V. 18;Google ScholarAli, S. Rizwan, Izz al-Din al-Sulami (Islamabad, 1978?), p. 22;Google ScholarIbn, ⊂Abd al-Shakur, Sharh, 11, 399;Google ScholarSuyyuti, , Ḥusn al-Muḥāḍara fī Akhbār Miṣr wal-Qāhira, 2 vols. (Cairo, 1904), 1, 141147.Google Scholar

150 Cited in Shawkani, , lrshād, pp. 235236.Google Scholar

151 Cited in Zarqa, , “Dawr al-ljtihād wa-Majāl al-Tashrī⊂ fī al-Islām,” International Islamic Colloquium Papers (London, 1960), p. 107.Google Scholar

152 See n. 154 below.

153 See, e.g., ⊂Abd, Allah al-Samhudi, al-⊂Iqd al-Farīd fī Aḥkām al-Taqlþd (MS) Princeton, Garrett Collection, Yahuda Section 5183, fols. 177a, 177b;Google ScholarIbn, al-Amir, Taqrīr, III, 340;Google ScholarShawkani, , Irshād, pp. 235236.Google Scholar

154 Consider the following mujtahids: Subki maintained that the Muslim community had agreed that Ibn Daqiq al-⊂Id was a mujtahid as well as a mujaddid. Ibn, Daqiqwas a mujtahid mutlaq with complete knowledge of legal sciences” (Ṭabaqāt, VI, 2, 3, 6).Google Scholar Ibn alRif⊂a, like Subki, professed that an ijma⊂ had been reached concerning “Ibn Daqiq al-⊂ld and Ibn ⊂Abd al-Salam who reached the rank of ijtihad” (see Siddiqi, , Iqtiṣāa, fol. 99a). Ya⊂muri described Ibn Daqiq as follows: “He was excellent in deriving rulings from the Sunna and the Quran”Google Scholar (Subki, , Ṭabaqāt, VI, 23;Google ScholarSuyuti, , Ḥusn, 1, 143).Google Scholar Dhahabi and Ibn Nubata considered al-Qadi al-Zamalkani a mujtahid: For Dhahabi, Zamalkani was one of the remaining mujtahids and for Ibn Nubata he was a “mujtahid on whose opinion doubt must not be cast” (Subki, , Ṭabaqāt), V, 251, 252;Google ScholarSuyuti, , Ḥusn, I, 145).Google Scholar Subki maintained that Razi was chosen by his successors as the mujtahid and the mujaddid of the sixth/twelfth century (Ṭabaqāt, 1, 106).Google Scholar Abu Shama was acclaimed as a mujtahid within the Shafi⊂i school (Subki, , Ṭabaqāt, V, 61;Google ScholarIbn, Kathir, Bidāya, XIII, 250).Google Scholar Ibn ⊂Abd al-Salam openly declared himself a mujtahid within the Shafi⊂i school and his claim for the position did not provoke disavowal (Subki, , Ṭabaqār, V, 93, 95;Google Scholar see also n. 144 above). Although belonging to the Hanbali school, Ibn Taymiyya did not comply entirely with the Hanbali doctrine: He considered himself a mujtahid fi al-madhhab. In many legal cases (about twenty are known to us) Ibn Tayrniyya has diverged from the doctrines of the four eponyms including Ibn, Hanbal. See his al-Fagāwa al-Kubrā, 5 vols. (Cairo, 1966), III, 9596.Google Scholar See also Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam, s.v. “Ibn Taymiyya,” by Cheneb, M.; Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, I⊂lām al-Muwaqqi⊂in ⊂an Rabb al-⊂ālamīn, 4 vols. (Cairo, 1969), II, 231.Google ScholarCf., Laoust, “L'influence d'Ibn Taymiyya,” pp. 17, 20. Taqi al-Din al-Subki, the father of Taj al-Din (the Ṭabaqāt's author),Google Scholar was universally recognized as a mujtahid. For Taj al-Din he was “the best of mujtahids.” In fact, Taj al-Din enumerates dozens of cases in which his father completely diverged from Shafi⊂i or rulings he had chosen to follow although they were disfavored in the Shafi⊂i school (see his Ṭabaqāt, VI. 113, 147, 182196).Google Scholar Safadi and Suyuti also thought of Taqi al-Din al-Subki as a unique mujtahid (see Suyuti, , Ḥusn, 1, 145146;Google Scholar idem., al-Taḥadduth bi Ni⊂mat Allāh, ed. Sartain, E. [Cambridge, 1975,] p. 205).Google Scholar Taj al-Din al-Subki himself is supposed to have said: “Now, I am the mujtahid of the universe; I say this and I need not justify what I say.” A century and a half later, Suyuti maintained that the statement of Subki was never contested (Siddiqi, , Iqtiṣād, fol. 99b;Google ScholarSuyuti, , Ḥusn, 1, 150).Google Scholar

155 Sartain, , Jalāl al-Din, 1, 63.Google Scholar

156 Suyuti, , Taḥadduth, p. 205.Google Scholar

157 The ranks of mujtahids and the confusion about them misled even modern scholars. See, e.g., Snouck, Hurgronje, Selected Works, ed. Bousquet, G. and Schacht, J. (Leiden, 1957), p. 282, who thought that Suyuti claimed for himself the highest degree of ijtihad, thus challenging the schools' eponyms.Google Scholar

158 Sartain, , Jalāl al-Din, 1, 64, 65.Google Scholar

159 Cited in Goldziher, , “On al-Suyuti,” Muslim World, 68, 2 (04 1978), 98.Google Scholar

160 On this see Suyuti, , Taḥadduth, pp. 193, 203;Google ScholarSartain, , Jalāl al-Dīn, 1, 61;Google ScholarGoldziher, , “On al-Suyuti,” p. 98.Google Scholar

161 Sartain, , Jalāl al-Din, 1, 61;Google ScholarGoldziher, , “On al-Suyuti,” pp. 9899.Google Scholar

162 See the chapter that he devoted to the discussion of this issue in Taḥadduth, pp. 215–227.

163 Ibn, Kathir, Nihāya, 1, 30.Google Scholar Cf. another version of this hadith in Goldziher, , “On al-Suyuti,” p. 81;Google ScholarSubki, , Ṭabaqāt, 1, 104.Google Scholar

164 Subki, , Ṭabaqāt, I, 104;Google ScholarGoldziher, , “On al-Suyuti,” p. 81.Google Scholar

165 Subki, , Ṭabaqāt, 1, 105;Google ScholarGoldziher, , “On al-Suyuti,” p. 82.Google Scholar Ibn ⊂Asakir, however, preferred Ash⊂ari; see Khuli, A., al-Mujaddidūn fī al-Islām, 2 vols. (Cairo, 1965), 1, 13.Google Scholar

166 Subki, , Ṭabaqār, 1, 105;Google ScholarSuyuti, , Taḥadduth, p. 221.Google Scholar

167 According to the sources that Goldziher used, the Hanbali al-Muqaddisi (d. 600/1203) and the Shafi⊂i Nawawi (d. 676/1277) were designated; see Goldziher, , “On al-Suyuti,” pp. 8384.Google Scholar However, from the Shafi⊂i viewpoint, Subki chose Razi, favoring him over Rafi⊂i (see Subki, , Ṭabaqāt, I, 106).Google Scholar

168 Subki, , Ṭabaqāt, I, 106;Google Scholar VI, 3; Suyuti, , Taḥadduth, p. 220.Google Scholar

169 Suyuti, , Taḥadduth, Pp. 207, 225;Google ScholarGoldziher, , “On al-Suyuti,” p. 84.Google Scholar

170 Shawkani, , Irshād, p. 236;Google ScholarGoldziher, , “On al-Suyuti,” p. 82.Google Scholar

172 Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., s.v. “Ahmad al-Sirhindi,” by Sh. Inayatullah.

173 Khuli, , al-Mujaddidūn, p. 1. For further details on mujaddids see pp. 1229.Google Scholar

174 Up to the fifth/eleventh century mujaddids were only Shafi⊂is (see Subki, , Ṭabaqāt, 1, 104106;Google ScholarGoldziher, , “On al-Suyuti,” pp. 8283).Google Scholar The only uncertain exception was Ash⊂ari who was claimed by Shafi⊂is as well as Hanafis (see Qarashi, , Jawāhir, II, 544545). From the sixth/twelfth century onward Shafi⊂i mujaddids remained the majority; the Hanbalis produced a few mujaddids and, as far as I know, there were no Hanafi or Maliki candidates for tajdid.Google Scholar

174 The fifth/eleventh century tabaqat works seem to have been the earliest works that Subki could find as sources for his biographical dictionary; see his Ṭabaqāt, I, 114.Google Scholar See also Hafsi's, I. bibliographical essay “Recherches sur le genre ‘Tabaqat’ dans la littÉrature Arabe,” Arabica, 23, 3 (1976), 812, 1718, 24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

175 Laoust, , “La pÉdagogie d'al-Gazali,” p. 77.Google Scholar

176 Kazem, Beg, “Notice sur la marche,” pp. 181192, 204 ff.;Google ScholarIbn, Taymiyya, Musawwada, pp. 547548.Google Scholar

177 Ibn, ⊂Abidin, Hashiyat Radd al-Muhgar, 8 vols. (Cairo, 1966), I, 77;Google Scholar idem, Rasāil, 1, 1113;Google ScholarSuhrawardy, M., “The Waqf of Moveables” Asiatic Society of Bangal, 7 n.s. (1911), pp. 330331;Google ScholarLaknawi, , Fawā⊂id, pp. 8990.Google Scholar

178 Kazem, Beg, “Notice sur la marche,” pp. 206214.Google Scholar

179 Nawawi, , Majmū⊂, 1, 7374;Google ScholarIbn, Taymiyya, Musawwada, p. 549.Google Scholar

180 Ibn, ⊂Abidin, Ḥāshiya, 1, 77.Google Scholar

181 Ibn, ⊂Abidin, Rasā⊃il, I, 11.Google Scholar

182 Suhrawardy, , “The Waqf,” pp. 330331.Google Scholar

183 Ibn, ⊂Abidin, Rasā⊂il, I, 12.Google Scholar

184 This attitude seems to have started at an earlier period. When dealing with the four law schools as they have become established by the eighth/fourteenth century, the Maliki scholar Ibn Khaldun (d. 808/1405) observed that the complexity of the schools' legal doctrines had prevented people from attaining ijtihad and for this reason scholars made it an obligation for all Muslims to follow the established schools through the writings of renowned jurists. “Jurisprudence,” Ibn Khaldun argues, “means this and nothing else. The person who would claim ijtihad nowadays would be frustrated and have no adherents” (Al-Muqaddima, p. 448 [Rosenthal's trans. III, 8–9). Undoubtedly, Ibn Khaldun had independent mujtahids in mind, because it was well known to him, as much as it was well known to all jurists, that a limited mujtahid or a mujtahid within the school, cannot have followers. From the general usages of ijtihad in the Muqaddima, it seems to me that, for Ibn Khaldun, ijtihad exclusively meant the kind of major legal activity undertaken during the first three centuries of Islam. Consider what he has to say elsewhere in his Muqaddima: “The school doctrine of each eponym became, among his adherents, a scholarly discipline in its own right. They were no longer in a position to apply ijtihad and qiyas. Therefore, they had to make reference to the established principles (al-uṣūl al-muqarrara) of their eponyms, in order to be able to solve (new) problems according to (old) similar ones and disentangle them when they got confused (tanẓīru al-masā⊂ili fil-⊂ilḥaqi Watafrīquhā ⊂inda al-ishtibāhi). A firmly rooted faculty (of knowledge) was required to enable a person to undertake such (analogy) and disentanglement and to apply the school doctrine of his particular eponym to those (processes) according to the best of his ability. This (practice) of faculty is (what is meant) at this time by the science of jurisprudence” (Al-Muqaddima, p. 449).Google Scholar The sentence “tanẓīru al-masā⊂ili … ishtibāhi” was translated by Rosenthal as “to analyze problems in their context and disentangle them when they got confused” (see III, 13). For Ibn Khaldun, therefore, ijtihad is the legal activity that leads to the construction of a new school which will eventually attract adherents. Although the processes of unraveling doctrinal problems and applying analogy to new cases within a school are considered part of the Sunni ijtihad methodology, Ibn Khaldun does not see them as related to ijtihad. For him qiyas and ijtihad are much more than these processes. But whether he accepts the Sunni usulist terminology or not, this is nonetheless a limited form of ijtihad. One may find it striking that Ibn Khaldun insists on the inability of jurists to practice ijtihad at a time when he is familiar with the reputation and career of contemporary mujtahids such as Subki and Bulqini (d. 805/1403), both universally acknowledged as mujtahids fi al-madhhab. See al-Muqaddima, p. 449 (Rosenthal's trans., 111, 12);Google Scholar for Subki and Bulqini see Subki, , Ṭabaqāt, VI, 146216;Google ScholarSuyuti, , Ḥusn, I, 168 f.;Google ScholarGoldziher, , “On al-Suyuti,” p. 84. It is then clear that Ibn Khaldun's conception of this question is an excellent example of the general attitude of muqallids towards the issue of the existence of mujtahids. He knew that the eponyms and their equals were extinct; he also knew that the machine of legal interpretation was constantly at work, but he was still puzzled as to how to square these facts with the ever-growing idea of the extinction of mujtahids. It was, therefore, suitable as well as convenient for him to say that contemporary scholars were incapable of ijtihad, implying the extinction of mujtahids, and that the activity of jurists of his time had nothing to do with ijtihad, despite the fact that it entailed the use of analogy and types of legal interpretation.Google Scholar

185 ⊂Abd, al-Rahman al-Jabarti, ⊂Ajā⊃ib al-āthār fi al-Tarājim wal-Akhbār 7 vols. (Cairo, 19581967), III, 4142.Google Scholar

186 ibid., 1, 186, 218–219; II, 28.

187 ibid., III, 65–103, especially p. 65.

188 ibid., III, 88. On isiinbāṭ see Ibn, ⊂AbidinRasā⊂il, I, 31.Google Scholar

189 Jabarti, , ⊂Aj⊃amacr;ib III, 67.Google Scholar

190 See Shawkani, , al-Qawl al-Mufīd fī Adillat al-Ijtihād wal-Taqlīd (Cairo, 1974),Google Scholar passim; Muhammad, b. Isma⊂il al-San⊂ani, Irshād al-Nuqqād ilā Taysīr al-Ijtihād (Beirut, 1970),Google Scholar passim; Shah, Wali Allah, ⊂lqd al-jīd (Cairo, 1965),Google Scholar passim; Jalbani, G. H., Life of Shah Waliyullah (Delhi, 1980), pp. 5657;Google ScholarIbn, ⊂Abidin, Rasāil, 1, 28.Google Scholar

191 Chelebi, , Balance, p. 129;Google ScholarMandaville, J. E., “Usurious Piety: The Cash of Waqf Controversy in the Ottoman Empire,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 10(1979), 295304.Google Scholar

192 Husayn, b. Iskandar al-Rumi, Risāla fī al-Dukhān (MS) Princeton, Garrett Collection, Yahuda Section 3854, fols. 2b-5a;Google ScholarMuhammad, b. Mustafa al-Khadimi, Risāla fī al-Qahwa wal-Dukhān (MS) Princeton, Garrett Collection, Yahuda Section 3225, fols. 48b-49a.Google Scholar On these subjects see Chelebi, , Balance, Chapters II, III, V, VII, XII, XX; Mandaville, “Usurious Piety.”Google Scholar

193 The Balance of Truth.

194 Schacht, J., “Early Doctrines on Waqf,” in MÉlange Fuad Köprülü (Istanbul, 1953), 443.Google Scholar

195 Mandaville, , “Usurious Piety,” pp. 299304; Suhrawardy, “The Waqf,” 388 ff.Google Scholar

196 See, e.g.. the argument of Bali Effendi in Mandaville, , “Usurious Piety,” pp. 301303;Google ScholarChelebi, , Balance, p. 129.Google Scholar

197 Chelebi, , Balance, p. 129.Google Scholar

198 See, e.g., the arguments concerning the legality of hashish in Rosenthal, F., The Herb: Hashish versus Medieval Muslim Society (Leiden, 1971), pp. 105130.Google Scholar

199 See, e.g., Ibn, ⊂Abidin, Rasā⊃il, 1, 28;Google ScholarIbn, ⊂Abd al-Shakur, Sharḥ, II, 399;Google ScholarSan⊂ani, , Irshād, pp. 2, 1112;Google ScholarSamhudi, , al-⊂Iqd al-Farīd, fol. 177b;Google ScholarKhadimi, , al-Qahwa, fol. 48b.Google Scholar

200 Shawkani, , al-Qawl, p. 7.Google Scholar

201 ibid., pp. 21–24, 31.

202 Shawkani, , al-Badr, I, 2.Google Scholar

203 Shawkani, , lrshād, p. 236;Google Scholar idem, al-Badr, 1, 3.Google Scholar

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