How can the ordinary Muslim know who the scholars are?
How do we know if someone is a scholar and how do we distinguish between what level a scholar is i.e. Mufti or not so we can put him at his level and not be unjust. What is the correct position towards Sheikh Ibn Baz, Ibn Uthaymeen and Al-Albani without doing ghuloo with regards to them.?
Praise be to Allah
We do not agree with the view of some of the scholars of usool al-fiqh who say that the one who is not specialised in Islamic sciences will not be able to make the effort to find out and select the scholars who are qualified to engage in ijtihaad, and distinguish them from others, especially when nowadays we are living in a time when knowledge and education have become widespread by the grace of Allah, may He be glorified, as many people now possess means that help to direct their thoughts and enables them to make choices.
Here we may point out some signs and indications that will help one in this regard. They are:
The sign of the scholar and faqeeh who is qualified to issue fatwas is that he is able to use as evidence the verses of the Qur’an and the hadiths of the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him), distinguishing what is sound from what is not, what abrogates and what is abrogated, what is specific in meaning and what is general in meaning, and who understands the meaning and the context of revelation. That is because the true scholar is the one who gives precedence to the Holy Qur’an in his list of priorities, because it is the source of knowledge and fiqh, and is the basis of sharee‘ah and rulings.
Another sign of the scholars is that they are very religiously committed and have a good attitude, and they are also keen to follow the example of the righteous of the early generations, namely the Sahaabah and Taabi‘een, and the leading scholars. So in general they do not drift away from their path, and every fatwa or word that they utter they attribute to one of the earlier leading scholars such as Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, Sufyaan, al-Awzaa‘i, Abu Haneefah, Maalik, ash-Shaafa‘i, Ahmad, al-Ghazaali, al-‘Izz ibn ‘Abd as-Salaam, an-Nawawi, Ibn Taymiyah, Ibn al-Qayyim, Ibn Katheer, Ibn Hajar and other scholars of Islam concerning whose prominence in knowledge, devotion and sincerity the Muslims do not differ.
But if you find anyone nowadays who does not refer to these scholars or show any pride in them, and does not follow their general methodology in understanding the Islamic texts, then you should realise that he is not one of those who follow (the earlier generations) in truth; rather he is one of those who drifted away from their path and chose innovation.
What is referred to here is following the proper methodology in seeking knowledge, not blind imitation in every matter, major or minor, for the words of anyone may be accepted or rejected, except the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him).
One of the most prominent signs of the true scholar and sincere mufti, which we tell people about, is that they do not attribute themselves to a small group and they do not call themselves by a name or claim to follow something that is not part of the ummah; rather they attribute themselves to this ummah and regard themselves as part of it, past and present, throughout the entire history of Islam. As for the one who claims to belong to some specific group with specific beliefs, such as the Bareilawis, Deobandis, Qadianis and so on, or who distinguishes himself from the main body of Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l-Jamaa‘ah, with some newly-invented name or some special way of worshipping, this is usually a sign of innovation and drifting away from the path of the Sunnah. If the belief he holds is the belief of the Muslims of Ahl as-Sunnah, then why does he need to describe himself as being something other than them, or call himself by a name other than the name that Allah gave to them? Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, says (interpretation of the meaning):
“And strive hard in Allah’s Cause as you ought to strive (with sincerity and with all your efforts that His Name should be superior). He has chosen you (to convey His Message of Islamic Monotheism to mankind by inviting them to His religion, Islam), and has not laid upon you in religion any hardship, it is the religion of your father Ibrahim (Abraham) (Islamic Monotheism). It is He (Allah) Who has named you Muslims both before and in this (the Quran), that the Messenger (Muhammad (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him)) may be a witness over you and you be witnesses over mankind! So perform AsSalat (Iqamat-as-Salat), give Zakat and hold fast to Allah (i.e. have confidence in Allah, and depend upon Him in all your affairs) He is your Maula (Patron, Lord, etc.), what an Excellent Maula (Patron, Lord, etc.) and what an Excellent Helper!”
However, for one to attribute himself to some da‘wah activities with the aim of working together as a group to achieve some practical goals, that is not what we mean here and there is no reservation concerning that. Similarly, attributing oneself to one of the four madhhabs is not what we are referring to here. Rather what we mean is attributing oneself to a set of beliefs of some group that has adopted some specific beliefs that are not part of the beliefs of Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l-Jamaa‘ah, and they unite on that basis and regard people as friends or enemies accordingly.
There is nothing wrong with taking academic certification into account, and taking it into consideration, especially postgraduate certification in a particular specialty from a prominent university that is recognised throughout the Muslim world in that specialty. In fact it is often important – when asking about a specific problem or issue that needs research and examination – to ask about who has specialised in this issue in his postgraduate studies, and written a Masters or PhD thesis on it. Such research is often well done, because of the care and attention of the universities concerned, the supervision of specialist professors and the fact that the writer was subjected to debate and discussion concerning everything he wrote in it.
But that does not mean that everyone who has a degree in sharee‘ah from any university has reached the right level of knowledge that qualifies him to issue fatwas concerning religious issues. That is not what we are referring to here. We have seen very many people who have such degrees but they are not well versed in knowledge or in fiqh, and they are not qualified to issue fatwas, because they fell short and did not persist in acquiring more knowledge.
Rather what is meant is that this sign may be regarded as secondary evidence, after verifying that he has a degree, or as corroborative evidence that may be added to other signs.
One of the most important signs that we advise people to pay attention to is that this mufti or scholar should be someone who became famous for his sincerity and knowledge among the academic elite and specialised circles, not only among ordinary people. Rather scholars and specialists should testify to his understanding and skill, and they should acknowledge that he is well versed and his views are well-founded. Here we will quote as evidence what the scholars of hadith have said about ways of proving that a narrator is of good character. Ibn al-Salaah said: His sound character may be proven when two other scholars state that he is of good character, or because it is widely known. If a person is widely known to be of good character among the scholars of hadith or other scholars, and he was widely praised for his trustworthiness and honesty, there is no need for a statement from specific people testifying to his good character. This is the correct view according to the madhhab of ash-Shaafa‘i (may Allah have mercy on him), and it is the principle that is adopted in the field of usool al-fiqh.
End quote from Muqaddimat Ibn as-Salaah (p. 105)
Being famous for knowledge in academic circles is a sufficient sign to make one turn to that scholar and ask him about issues that are not clear in one’s mind.
But all that we have mentioned above is no more than signs that come under the heading of indicators; they are not means of being certain. Certainty is only possible for those who are specialists in the same field of knowledge.
Ibn as-Salaah (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
The ordinary person (who follows a scholar) must definitely research matters in order to know whether the one he is asking is qualified to issue fatwas, if he does not have previous knowledge of that. It is not permissible for him to ask for fatwas anyone who claims to have knowledge, even if he is involved in teaching or preaching, or any other position of knowledge, just because he claims to have knowledge.
It is permissible for him to ask for a fatwa from one who is widely known among the people to be qualified to issue fatwas.
According to some later scholars, his being famous for issuing fatwas, when it is widely known, does not give certainty concerning him unless there is some tangible evidence. Being widely known among ordinary people is not something reliable, because it could be based on confusion and pretence.
It is also permissible to ask a person who one has been told is qualified, but one should not be content nowadays to ask someone just because he gives fatwas or is known to deal in that, but is not known to be qualified to do so. See: Adab al-Mufti wa’l-Mustafti (p. 158). Also quoted by an-Nawawi in al-Majmoo‘ (1/54) and Ibn Taymiyah in al-Mustadrak ‘ala Majmoo‘ al-Fataawa (2/259) for more information, please see fatwa no. 145071
With regard to Shaykh Ibn Baaz, Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymaan and Shaykh al-Albaani (may Allah have mercy on him), they are very famous and well known among the scholars and those who specialise in Islamic knowledge, and they are among the best examples that explain the signs discussed above. They combined all the characteristics of knowledge, goodness and virtue, by Allah’s leave, and many people attested to that. On our website there are several answers speaking of them, among which is fatwa no. 113687.
Among the most important reference books which give detailed biographies of them, and highlight the praise of the scholars for them and their high status in the current era are the following books:
- Imam al-‘Asr by Naasir az-Zahraani
- Ash-Shaykh Ibn Baaz by Maani‘ al-Juhani
- Al-Injaaz fi Seerat al-Imam ‘Abd al-‘Azeez ibn Baaz by ‘Abd ar-Rahmaan ar-Rahmah
- Al-Jaami‘ li Hiyaat al-‘Allaamah Muhammad ibn Saalih al-‘Uthaymeen by Waleed al-Hasan
- Ibn ‘Uthaymeen al-Imam az-Zaahid by Naasir az-Zahraani
- Hayaat al-Albaani wa Athaaruhu wa Thana’ al-‘Ulama’ ‘alayhi by Muhammad Ibraaheem ash-Shaybaani
And Allah knows best.
A common person should follow a sheikh who he feels assured towards. This sheikh should be known for his knowledge and righteousness. I know that sheikh Al-Albany is a great scholar of hadeeth (which no one can deny) and my heart is assured towards his approach in fiqh; because he cares about following the sunnah accurately, but it seems that many people do not follow his opinions in fiqh, why? Does he have grave mistakes in terms of fiqh? Can I depend on his as my reference in fiqh?.
Praise be to Allah.
Firstly:Allaah has created people of different levels in terms of understanding, and He has raised some above others with regard to knowledge and faith. Real life bears witness to that. Hence people are of varying degrees with regard to ijtihaad and taqleed.
Shaykh Saalih al-Fawzaan (may Allaah preserve him) said:
People fall into four categories:
The first category is those who are able to made ijtihad in absolute terms, by referring directly to the Qur’aan and Sunnah and deriving rulings from them, and they do not follow any other scholars (taqleed).
This is the highest status, but this only applies to the one who fulfils the known conditions of ijtihaad, by having knowledge of the Book of Allaah and the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), and by having knowledge of Arabic in which the Qur’aan was revealed, and by having knowledge of al-muhkam and al-mutashaabih (clear, unambiguous texts and ambiguous texts), al-naasikh wa’l-mansookh (texts which abrogate others and texts which are abrogated), al-mutlaq wa’l-muqayyad (texts with absolute meanings and texts with limited meanings), al-khaas wa’l-‘aam (texts with specific meanings and texts with general meanings). He should also have knowledge of how to derive rulings, meaning that he should be qualified. Such a person may engage in ijtihaad. This category includes people like the four imams – Abu Haneefah, Maalik, al-Shaafa’i and Ahmad – as well as Sufyaan al-Thawri and al-Awzaa’i. To these people Allaah gave the ability to engage in ijtihaad.
The second category is those who cannot engage in ijtihaad in absolute terms, but they are able to weigh up the opinions of scholars and determine which is more correct, because of their knowledge of which opinions are based on evidence and which are not.
Such a person must follow that for which there is evidence, and shun that which goes against the evidence. This action is called tarjeeh (weighing up what is more correct) and is also known as al-ijtihaad al-madhhabi (ijtihaad based on the study of different views).
The third category is those who cannot engage in tarjeeh. Such a person is regarded as one of the muqallideen (those who follow other scholars), but if he knows that some opinion has no supporting evidence then he does not follow it. But so long as he does not know and it is not clear to him that it is contrary to the evidence, there is nothing wrong with him imitating and following the opinions of the trustworthy scholars.
The fourth category is the one who is unable to do any of the above; neither ijtihaad in an absolute sense nor weighing what is more correct nor following a specific madhhab, such as the ordinary Muslim, for example.
Such a person has to ask the people of knowledge, as Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “So ask of those who know the Scripture, if you know not” [al-Nahl 16:43]. So he should ask the one who be believes is most trustworthy and the scholar in whom he has the greatest confidence, of those whose knowledge and actions he trusts, and follow his fatwa.
These are the categories of people with regard to this issue.
What a person should do is know what level he is at, and he should not put himself in a higher position than he deserves. Indeed, the matter is more serious than that. He should fear Allaah, because it is the matter of halaal and haraam, of Paradise and Hell, so he should not indulge in matters that he does not have the knowledge and skill to deal with. End quote.
I’aanah al-Mustafeed bi Sharh Kitaab al-Tawheed.
We do not know anything of Shaykh al-Albaani (may Allaah have mercy on him) except that he was one of the prominent scholars the field of ijtihaad and fatwas. He is one of the imams of our era in this regard. His books, tapes and halaqahs bear witness to that. The imams of fatwas and ijtihaad praise his knowledge and refer to him, and quote his words as evidence. The one who says that he was a muhaddith but not a faqeeh is mistaken. Rather he was an experienced faqeeh who adhered to the rules and guidelines of knowledge. It is not known that he had his own principles on which he based his understanding of Islam, rather he followed the same path as the imams of knowledge among the righteous salaf, and his knowledge of hadeeth qualified him to base his determination of which view is more correct on the ahaadeeth which he believed to be saheeh (sound).
The scholars of the Standing Committee for Issuing Fatwas said of Shaykh al-Albaani:
This man is well known to us for his knowledge and virtue, his veneration of and service to the Sunnah and his support of Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jamaa’ah in warning against fanaticism and blind following. His books are very useful, but like any other scholar, he is not infallible; he makes mistakes and gets things right, but we hope that in matters where he got it right he will have two rewards, and in matters where he got it wrong he will have the reward of ijtihaad, as it is proven that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “When the judge issues a ruling, if he strives to work it out (ajtahada) and gets it right, he will have two rewards, and if he issues a ruling and strives to work it out but gets it wrong, he will have one reward.” Agreed upon. End quote.
Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Azeez ibn Baaz, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Razzaaq ‘Afeefi, Shaykh ‘Abd-Allaah ibn Ghadyaan, Shaykh ‘Abd-Allaah ibn Qa’ood.
Fataawa al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah (12/324, 325)
They testified that he (may Allaah have mercy on him) was one of the scholars, and that he was one of the mujtahideen. Everyone who is fair minded knows that Shaykh al-Albaani (may Allaah have mercy on him) was well versed in fiqh and ijtihaad, and we can see evidence for that in three things:
1.The testimony of the scholars to that effect. This has been compiled in the book Hayaat al-Albaani by Shaykh Muhammad ibn Ibraaheem al-Shaybaani (may Allaah guide him).
2.His well-written books of fiqh, some of which are unprecedented and without equal. It is sufficient for us to mention as an example his book Ahkaam al-Janaa’iz (the rulings on funerals), which is very well-written and is indicative of his profound understanding of the Sunnah, and is supported by his understanding of the fiqhi principles that were followed by the salaf or early generations of the ummah. We may also add to that Aadaab al-Zafaaf (wedding etiquette) and Tamaam al-Minnah fi’l-Ta’leeq ‘ala Kitaab Fiqh al-Sunnah (a commentary on Fiqh al-Sunnah).
3.His tapes which are widely available worldwide, of which one thousand are in circulation; those which have not yet been produced contain 5000 hours of audio material. All of these tapes are recordings of just some of his halaqahs, so how about if all of his halaqahs had been recorded!?
Finally we should point out some important matters:
1.Shaykh al-Albaani (may Allaah have mercy on him) was a human being, who got things right and made mistakes. No one should believe that his words are infallible. We have not found anyone who claims this explicitly, but we find many who believe it implicitly.
2.It is not permissible for any follower of Shaykh al-Albaani to continue to follow the shaykh’s view if it becomes clear to him that the opinion of another scholar of virtue is stronger; rather he must follow the truth wherever it is and whoever it is with. Shaykh Muhammad ibn Saalih ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allaah have mercy on him) was asked:
What is your advice to a beginner seeker of knowledge? Should he follow one of the imams of the madhhabs, or should he not?
Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “So ask the people of the Reminder if you do not know” [al-Anbiya’ 21:7]. If this is a new student who does not know how to weigh up the evidence, then he has no choice but to follow a scholar, whether he follows a former imam who is now deceased or a contemporary imam – one of the scholars who is still alive – and asks him, which is better. But if it becomes clear to him that this opinion is contrary to a saheeh hadeeth, he must follow the saheeh hadeeth. End quote.
Al-‘Ilm p. 115
3.Shaykh al-Albaani (may Allaah have mercy on him) did not introduce anything new into Islamic rulings and he often stated that he did not say anything that had not been said before. So the one who criticizes the Shaykh by saying that he came up with odd views and fatwas should fear Allaah and those who are fanatically devoted to the Shaykh should also fear Allaah.
4.It is not in accordance with the methodology of Shaykh al-Albaani (may Allaah have mercy on him) – or of any of the imams –to look at the verse and hadeeth and then derive from it whatever rulings one wants! Rather the Shaykh (may Allaah have mercy on him) often complained about those who did that. He said: We were suffering from blind following (taqleed) and now we are suffering from a free-for-all! And he stated that blind following of the earlier scholars is far better than this free-for-all; rather for the ordinary Muslim, following a scholar is obligatory and this free-for-all is haraam.
5.The one who follows the Shaykh (may Allaah have mercy on him) has to realize that the Shaykh himself criticized blind following and enjoined seeking knowledge; he called on people to learn and said that the Muslim should follow the evidence from the Qur’aan and Sunnah. If the Shaykh (may Allaah have mercy on him) told people not to follow Abu Haneefah, Maalik, al-Shaafa’i and Ahmad blindly, he was more emphatic in telling them not to follow him blindly.
6.The ordinary Muslim who agrees to follow Shaykh al-Albaani (may Allaah have mercy on him), or any other scholar of the past or present, should not issue fatwas or argue with others. If the those who follow a Shaykh or scholar adhered to this, the ummah would be spared many of the bad things that we hear of here and there.
7.The one in whom Allaah instils love of knowledge and the ability to weigh up the evidence and to know which is more likely to be correct is not permitted to be a blind follower of Shaykh al-Albaani or anyone else.
Shaykh Muhammad ibn Saalih al-‘Uthaymeen (may Allaah have mercy on him) said:
The one who has no knowledge and no ability to engage in ijtihaad must ask the scholars, because Allaah says: “So ask the people of the Reminder if you do not know” [al-Anbiya’ 21:7].Allaah does not enjoin us to ask them except for the purpose of following their opinions. This is taqleed (following). But with regard to taqleed what is forbidden is adhering to a specific madhhab by following it in all cases and believing that this is the way to Allaah, so one follows it even if it goes against the evidence.
But the one who has the ability to work things out (ijtihaad), such as the seeker of knowledge who has an abundant share of knowledge may engage in ijtihaad on the basis of the evidence, and follow the one who he thinks is correct, or is most likely to be correct.
As for the ordinary Muslim and the beginner seeker of knowledge, they should strive to follow the one who they think is closer to the truth, because of his abundant knowledge, strong religious commitment and piety. End quote.
Al-‘Ilm, p. 205
And Allaah is the Source of strength.