From Novice to Mujtahid

Musa Furber

The great Ḥan­balī schol­ar Imam Muwaf­faq al-Dīn Ibn Qudāmah al-Maqdisī (541–620 AH/1146–1223 CE) devel­oped a pro­gram to take stu­dents from the very begin­ning of their stud­ies to the very end: from hav­ing zero spe­cial­ized knowl­edge in fiqh to being a muj­tahid. His pro­gram con­sist­ed of a series of books, mov­ing the stu­dent toward the grand goal in stages.

The first book is Al-ʿUm­dah, a basic man­u­al of fiqh for begin­ners. It cov­ers the basic rul­ings that every Ḥan­balī needs, pre­sent­ing only to pre­dom­i­nant opin­ion for each issue and with­out men­tion­ing any vari­ance. While Ibn Qudāmah did not con­cen­trate on evi­dence, he did tend to begin each sec­tion with a hadith that the stu­dent could then use to fig­ure out many of the unmen­tioned branch issues.

The sec­ond book is Al-Muqniʿ, which added to the above by men­tion­ing the dif­fer­ent opin­ions for a giv­en issue with­out inform­ing the stu­dent which is the pre­dom­i­nant opin­ion, and by adding some addi­tion­al branch issues.

The third book is Al-Kāfī, which intro­duces evi­dences for the posi­tions in the mad­hhab.

The fourth book is Rawḍat al-Nāẓir, a book on the fun­da­men­tals of jurispru­dence [uṣūl al-fiqh]. It is a con­densed ver­sion of Imam al-Ghazālī’s Al-Mus­taṣfā that cham­pi­ons and argues Ḥan­balī views (instead of Imam al-Ghazālī’s Shāfi‘ī views).

The fifth and final book is Al-Mugh­nī, which builds on the pre­vi­ous works by adding opin­ions from the oth­er mad­habs from the Com­pan­ions and ear­ly Imams (may Allah be well pleased with them) whether still fol­lowed or extinct, the opin­ions with­in the mad­hhab with a par­tic­u­lar empha­sis on what is trans­mit­ted from the Imam, the evi­dence for all of these var­i­ous posi­tions, and then a defense of the pre­dom­i­nant posi­tion in Ibn Qudāmah’s opin­ion. The book is also full of minute branch issues.

So, that was the pro­gram that Ibn Qudāmah set down. And here it is again, with rough trans­la­tions for the books: Al-‘Umdah (“the sup­port”) that pro­vides a novice stu­dent with a sol­id foun­da­tion for per­son­al prac­tice and future study; Al-Muqni‘ (“the con­vin­cer”) that gives begin­ning stu­dents a taste for vari­ance with­in the school and gives them puz­zles to pon­der; Al-Kāfī (“the suf­fi­cien­cy”) that adds more issues and evi­dence, enabling more advanced stu­dents to under­stand the under­ly­ing evi­dence and argu­ments for vari­ance with­in the school – per­haps even able to do ijti­hād with­in the school; and Al-Mugh­nī (“the freer from depen­den­cy”) that expands the pre­vi­ous book’s cov­er­age to oth­er schools – per­haps enabling the super-advanced stu­dent to engage in even broad­er forms of ijti­hād.

Although it’s fun to step off the path and explore the wilder­ness on our own. Peo­ple on a jour­ney tend to get there faster if they stick to what has already been estab­lished, and veer off only when needs must. Plus, extend­ing what is already there is eas­i­er than try­ing to do every­thing your­self from scratch. Now look back to the image at the top of this post.