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Literal meaning of Ijtihad

Ijtihad', according to the lexicographers, is derived from `juhd', which means employment of effort or endeavour in performing a cer­tain activity.

Ibn Manzur al‑Misri says: Jahd and juhd mean power and strength. He adds that it is said that whereas jahd means hardship and difficulty, juhd gives the sense of power and strength.

Ahmad al‑Qayyumi wiites: Juhd in the usage of the people of the Hijaz and jahd in the non‑Hijazi usage means exerting one's strength and power, and it has been said that juhd means strength and jahd means toil and strain(1).

Ibn Abi Dhar'ah, quoting al‑Mawardi, states that the literal mean­ing of ijtihad is to undertake effort and endeavour in accomplishing something that requires strain and difficulty, and to this is related jihad al‑nafs(the struggle against the carnal self) which involves labour and toil for winning the desired objective and goal.

Isma'il al‑Jawharil (2) and other lexicographers have also defined the word ijtihad in similar terms. Thus we come to the conclusion that in the light of the definitions given by the lexicographers; ijtihad means employment of effort and endeavour to one's utmost capacity, and it does not make any difference whether it is derived from juhd or jahd, as effort and endeavour are not without strain and toil and accompany each other.

On the basis of this definition, the statements of the two Usuli scholars, Shaykh Hasan al-Amali al‑Jiba'i (3) and Akhund al‑­Khurasani, (4)and others about this term, that the literal meaning of   is undergoing difficulty and hardship for accomplishing some­thing, appear to be incomplete and controvertible.

Two Different Conceptions of Ijtihad

The term ijtihad as used in the writings of scholars of different Islamic sects conveys two different meanings, each of which gives rise to different viewpoints regarding the sources of Shar'i ahkam. In the first conception ijtihad means derivation of Shar'i hukm (law) through personal judgment and ra'y for an issue for which the mujtahid does not find any express text in the Qur'an or the Sunnah. Such a meaning of ijtihad is found in the writings of 'Abd al‑Wahhab al‑Khallaf and most of Sunni fuqaha' also subscribe to this view.

Ijtihad in this sense is. considered by most of Sunni scholars as an independent source parallel to the Qur'an and the Sunnah; and is acknowledged as one of the bases for determining the ahkam.

It means that in the same manner as a mujtahid relies on sources like the Qur'an, the Sunnah, 'aql and ijma' for deriving ahkam, he can also rely on ra'y and subjective opinion by taking recourse to instruments of presumption for issues on which there is no express text in the Qur'an and the Sunnah.

In the second conception ijtihad means deduction of the far'i ahkam from the reliable sources (the Qur'an, the Sunnah, ijma' and 'aql). Ijtihad in this sense occurs in the writings of Ahmad Mustafa al‑Zarqa', the author of al‑Madkhal al‑fiqhi al‑'amm, and Shi'i fuqaha(experts in fiqh) have sub­scribed to this view long since. According to this conception, the activity of the mujtahid involves deduction of the laws of the Shari'a for emergent issues and new phenomena of life by employing general principles and rules. Thereby the mujtahid refers new secondary issues to the general principles and applies the general laws to their particular instances in external reality, thus obtaining the ahkam governing them. According to this conception, ijtihad is not counted as an independent source of law parallel to the Qur'an and the Sunnah, but merely as a means for deriving and determining the ahkam from the sources.

Ijtihad from the Shi'i view point is not a kind of legislation or something based solely on human thought, subjective judgment, or provincial social, economic, cultural or political perceptions. Ijtihad is also not a kind of taqlid in the sense of a passive acceptance of ahkam, in whose determination the mujtahid has no role. Ijtihad in Shi'i view means intellectual effort based on the recognition of certain canonical sources and juristic principles and aimed at understanding and dis­covering the laws of God.

1- Al Misbah al‑munir, vol. 1, p. 144

2- Sihah al‑lughah, vol.1, p. 457

3- Ma'alim al‑ usul, p. 232

4- Kifayat al‑'usul, vol. 2, p. 42

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