“My ummah will never agree on error”

It will surprise many to know that the most definitive proof in Islamic law is NOT the Quran, nor is it the Sunnah (the prophetic tradition), it is the consensus (ijma) of the body (or Ummah) of Muslims. Obviously the Ijma must be based on sound Quranic or hadeeth evidence, but where interpretation of these have differed, religious scholars turn to ijma for direction. Although the exact interpretation of what constitutes consensus has varied, this remains a profound statement by our Prophet Muhammad, may God bless him.

In Judaism and Christianity, the faith and law of God has, over time been subservient to political and social expediency. This has been at the judgment of a small educated elite within the religion. Let us assume that these groups (who were typically the most learned and pious of the full body of believers) acted with the best intention and in accordance with the most refined instruments of their faith, to interpret the religion for their Ummah. Despite this and without exception it has been an unmitigated disaster for both religions. Each renovation of the faith has required further ecclesiastical surgery, always unauthored and frequently contradictory. Take for example the recent reversal on the Catholic doctrine of ” limbo” (limbus infantium), i.e that an infant who dies before being baptized is condemned to everlasting hell (one would have to concede that this is less than sporting). If the Catholic priesthood has got this wrong over 2000 years, what else will change next?. One feels that with a little more pulling of the ecclesiastical loose thread of limbo, the whole concept of original sin will unravel.

The central tenet of criticism in the Quran of both the Jews and Christians is precisely that. The second temple period (of Solomon), the first council of Nicea and the second Vatican Council, are all examples in which a small elite changed their religion, not because of a perceived threat to it, but rather a threat to them. The concept of limbo is so central to Catholic doctrine that we can only assume that it was changed freshen up theology to woo “soccer moms” back into the church.

Islam’s answer to this is place the faith in the hearts and minds of the believers directly, without a clergy and to make scholarship based on merit rather than position, i.e. a competitive public religious scholarship. An Alim is known by the quality of his or her opinions and determinations by a public already well versed in aqeedah, and jurisprudence. The principle is simple but profoundly effective. It has preserved orthodoxy over 1,400 years, without a priesthood or rabbinical class. Religion cannot be altered in private, away from an population of believers who are required by Quranic command to be educated, literate and to ponder matters of faith deeply.

Like most things from the antiquity of classical Islam, it has simultaneously been forgotten by modern “educated/progressive/dinner-party acceptable” Muslims whilst being “discovered” by contemporary society. James Surowiecki’s (should be but won’t be) influential book The Wisdom of Crowds describes the impact of this in society, scholarship and economics. Contemporary achievements such as the corpus of peer reviewed scientific literature, Wikipedia, and Linux are all examples of the fruits of the wisdom of large groups. The 21st century’s greatest achievements will flow from this dynamic. The Muslim community throughout antiquity used collective/competative wisdom to understand and preserve the tenets of faith.

A perfect example of this was the very public debate between Abu Hamid Al Ghalzali and Ibn Rushd. Al Ghazali wrote a seminal work on the limits on Aristotelean philosophy in orthodox Islamic theology; Tahafut al-Falasifa (Incoherence of philosophers). Modern Muslim “activists” should note that defense of orthodoxy was not conducted by the elite of Islamic government (indeed the theologically heterodox Mu’tazila position was the violent public policy of a Khilafah), nor was it done through violence or simply by shouting the loudest outside Regent’s Park Mosque, as modern discourse runs in our Ummah, It was left to the Ummah to choose two views on Islam, and it chose correctly. Ghazali’s work marked a defeat for the neo-platonists, not because it was enforced by government, but simply that his was the more correct opinion, with the fewer internal contradictions. The general community, already well versed in their own religion, and each individually accountable to Allah chose which they wished to take to their grave.

Indeed it was such a landmark opinion in defense of the theistic concept of divinity that european christians such as Thomas Aquinas copied it whole.

The insistence on personal knowledge (as well as individual action that flows from it) and its consequent democratization of knowledge in Muslim society, was one of classical Islam’s gift to humanity, a gift that comes straight out of the Quran.

It is still as effective today as it was 1,400 years ago. For example, when the French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy arrives at the gates of Al Azhar requesting a bespoke religious opinion that Muslim women should partially undress to live in France, a scholar provides one. The vast sisterhood of Muslim women read this opinion and make their own determination (as they are obliged to by Prophetic tradition) and in large part chose to forgo the religious dispensation; judging that their own circumstances are not yet that dire.

So when the West demands a new Islam that is pleasing to it, rather than to its adherents and small enough to fit into a cafe latte, they may very well cajole some Muslim quislings to alter their beliefs, but their influence over the great logo-centrism that is the ummah will be miniscule.

Unlike the other theistic traditions, orthodoxy within Islam lies in the fidelity of the texts over time, the compulsory religious education of the believers, their personal and direct responsibility to God, and the entrusting of religious doctrine to the ummah. Islam will not be rescued by a small group of revolutionaries but rather by a returning to the Quran and Sunnah and the instruments contained within each, that preserve them.

Muslims do not need protect Islam (nor can they) they simply need to learn it and do it.


#1 Baybers on 06.15.06 at 11:56 pm

Aquinas refers to Ghazali’s Maqasid Al-Falasifah 31 times in his Summa Theologiae. Catholics such as George pell (with a small p), appear to have forgotten that their own understanding of God, is based in large part from Aquinas’s commentary of both Ibn Rusd and Al Ghazali.

So I would ask george pell; whose your daddy?

#2 Ari on 06.16.06 at 6:08 am

Thanks for the interesting post, although I’m not sure it quite gets to the heart of the matter. It’s one thing to say that the Ummah decides on questions of theology, but another to understand what reference points the Ummah uses.

The Ummah cannot debate the morality of actions in a vacuum: it needs some body of knowledge as an agreed starting point. Presumably, that body of knowledge is the Q’uran (the more commas, the more politically correct the writer, according to Mark Steyn), which gets us back to the starting point that the Q’uran does carry the major burden of dictating Islamic law and attitudes.

Still, Christianity and Judaism have managed to appreciate their holy texts as stories of parables rather than statement of literal truths, so hopefully in its wisdom the Ummah will do much the same.

#3 Baybers on 06.16.06 at 6:59 pm

Ari, thank you for your reply, you are of course correct. Ijma has to be based on sound Quranic or hadeeth evidence. I thought that I had made that point as my opening gambit, but it would not be the first time that I was less than clear.

Clearly this subject needs more space, and I hope to do it in another place, in greater depth, although the subject matter maybe better served by someone with a university education, rather than me.

As for the move from a literal to an allegorical truth, that is an interesting point. I had cause to spend some time with the emeritus professor of divinities at Cambridge university, and we discussed this point at length. He felt that the move from literal truth was forced on the church, as the text could not sustain such a reading, he also held that the case in Islam was the opposite.

Here at austrolabe, we are all unreconstructed, reactionary, backward looking, fundamentalists, so we have a soft spot for literalism and are naturally wary of even the slightest change. I recall a conversation with a colleague here who was alarmed at the speed of continental drift, and felt uncomfortable living with rapidly changing geography.

#4 thabet on 06.19.06 at 4:20 am

assalamu alaykum

I was just wondering: if there is no agreement on what constitutes ijma (“[a]lthough the exact interpretation of what constitutes consensus has varied”), then whose ijma would we use, and who make that decision?


#5 Baybers on 06.19.06 at 4:44 am

walaeiku Assalam Thabet,

Thank you so much, for your comment.

There is consensus about “Ijma” although there are also other opinions, but that is beyond the scope of this piece and well above my qualification (as a taxi driver). I suggest that you approach the shuiyk for an opinion.

As for how we make a decision on matters. there is a simple formula

1. if something is clearly OK, do it (e.g. running out of a burning building), here any procrastination is from shaytan

2. if something is clearly haram (e.g. entering a strip club), don’t do it.

3. If something is doubtful (e.g. buying a television set), stay away from it.

If you need further counsel, ask a sheikh of suitable academic and personal standing who is local to your are and who you can consult with directly.

JZK & Wasalaam

#6 Amir on 06.19.06 at 11:45 pm

as-salaam alaikum,

It is said that there is ijma on an issue when all the mujtahideen (scholars who are qualified to engage in itjihad or independent juristic reasoning) of an era agree on the issue. As for who decides who are the mujtahideen of an era, then, as Imam Dhahabi wrote in Siyar a’lam an-Nubala, such scholars are like the khalifah in that everyone (in this case, the other scholars) point to him and affirm he is a scholar. Scholarship in Islam is, to some extent, like scholarship in a secular Western sense: only people with PhDs can ‘accept’ a candidate PhD student and award him a doctorate. Likewise, only other scholars can make someone else a scholar. And Allah knows best.


#7 dezhen on 06.21.06 at 9:23 pm

But also remember that there are varying levels of Ijma, from those where all mujtahids agree on something in real time, to when it is only tacit and projected backwards (“no dissenting opinions are known”) etc. Even moreso claiming something from looking back through books alone… They have different levels of applicability and useability as a binding source of law…

#8 Rasheed Moore on 06.26.06 at 8:29 am

Salaamu Alaikum,

Brother Thabet brought up an interesting and vaild question, I know it is beyond the scope of this blog but it is also interesting to note that Ibn Hazm (in Usul ul-Ahkaam), ash-Shawkwaani (in Irshaad ul-Fuhul), and ‘Abd ul-Wahhab Khallaaf (in Usul ul-Fiqh), expressed that it is not possible to justify Ijmaa’ for other than the most obvious matters in Islaam.

#9 Baybers on 06.26.06 at 7:58 pm

Waleikum Assalam, Rasheed,

I have taken some time and read over your superb blog, and I am delighted to find another point of light.

as to your question, its well beyond my ability to answer. I would however make some observations.

Before posting this article I asked a sheikh to check it (Sheikh Tawfeeq Chaudry at Al Khauter, the sister group to Al Magrib). Indeed it was his lecture, part of which included the observation that Ijma is the most definitive proof that on can bring to bear on any question of fiqh, that was the inspiration for the essay.

My point in this article was subtly different, and that was that since the time of the first 4 caliphas, orthodoxy in Islam has never been enforced, in fact in some instances such as the one I quoted, heterodox ideas about the very nature of Allah have been pushed at the point of a sword. Each time however the Ummah has chosen the correct path, and it is this consensus that I seek to appreciate.

Allah (SWT) placed his deen in the hands of his faithful directly, and he has preserved it, by making it open to all and democratizing knowledge in the process. This has preserved the ummah on correct deen but also revolutionized humankind’s relationship with knowledge.

In the last 100 years there has been a movement amongst Muslims that holds that a small “purified” elite within the religion are the only ones capable of rescuing the Ummah. Given the history that I have just documented, I find this proposition to be absurd, and without any basis in our history.

So the consensus that I have discussed includes the Ijma used in fiqh, but also includes the consensus on every other facet of deen from aqeedah, to liturgy to dress etc..

#10 Baybers on 06.30.06 at 1:49 am


#11 Opinion: “My Ummah Will Never Agree On Error” — Bukan Islam Liberal Archive on 07.17.06 at 5:00 am

[...] Baybers (Austrolabe) [...]

#12 Replyer on 07.30.06 at 9:10 pm

Assalaam Alaikum

Here’s some quotes about ijma that I have:

“You have to follow the Congregation for verily Allah will not make the largest group of Muhammad’s Community agree on error.” Ibn Abi Shayba relates it with a sound chain.

“Allah’s hand is over the group, follow the largest mass, for verily whoever dissents from them departs to hell.” Narrated by al-Hakim and al-Tabari from Ibn `Abbas, and al-Lalika’i in al-Sunna and al-Hakim also narrated it from Ibn `Umar.

“Allah’s hand is over the group, follow the largest mass, for verily whoever dissents from them departs to hell.” Narrated by al-Hakim and al-Tabari from Ibn `Abbas, and al-Lalika’i in al-Sunna and al-Hakim also narrated it from Ibn `Umar.

“Verily Allah will not make Muhammad’s Community agree on error.” al-Hakim narrated it in the Mustadrak (1:116, 177) with a sound (sahih) chain.

“Verily Allah will not make my Community agree on error” Tirmidhi with a fair (hasan) chain.

“Verily Allah will not make my Community — or Muhammad’s Community — agree on error, and Allah’s hand is with the largest Congregation.” Tirmidhi said: “And the meaning of “jama`a” according to the people of knowledge is: the people of jurisprudence, learning, and hadith. Tirmidhi (gharib) #2256, Cairo ed. `Aridat al-ahwadhi (11:9)

“Whoever among you wants to be in the middle of Paradise, let him cling to the Congregation.”Tirmidhi related it and said it is sound (sahih).

“My Community shall never agree upon misguidance, therefore, if you see divergences, you must follow the greater mass or larger group.”Ibn Majah (2:1303 #3950) Ahmad narrates it mawquf through three sound chains to Abu Umama al-Bahili and Ibn Abi Awfa. Bayhaqi in al-Madkhal narrates something similar from Ibn `Abbas.

“My Community shall not agree upon misguidance. Therefore, you must stay with the Congregation, and Allah’s hand is over the Congregation.”Tabarani narrated it with two chains from Ibn `Umar, one of which is sound (sahih). See Haythami, Majma` al-zawa’id, chapter on the obligation to stay with the Congregation.

“Verily Allah has protected my Community from agreeing upon error.” Ibn Abi `Asim narrated it in the Sunna and Albani declared it hasan in his Silsila sahiha (3:319).

The Holy Prophet Muhammad (sallal laahu alaihi wasallam) said: “There was disagreement amongst Jews and they split into 72 groups. In exactly the same way, there will be disagreement and divisions in my Ummah. It will split into 73 groups. Apart from one of those groups, all the remaining 72 will be thrown into Hell.” When asked which group will be on the right path, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sallal laahu alaihi wasallam) replied: “The group on the right path, which will enter Paradise, will be the group which follows my Sunnah and that of my Sahaba and this will be the largest group of Muslims.” (Tirmidi, Imam Ahmad, Abu Daud, Mishkat)

The Holy Prophet Muhammad (sallal laahu alaihi wasallam) said: “Allah will never allow my Ummah to unite upon misguidance and incorrect beliefs. Allah’s mercy, blessings and protection are with the largest group of Muslims. And he who deviates from this largest group of Muslims will be thrown into Hell.” (Tirmidi)

“Whoever leaves the Community or separates himself from it by the length of a span, dies the death of the Jahiliyya (period of ignorance prior to Islam)” Muslim (Imara #55) through Ibn `Abbas. Muslim relates it with slight variations through three more chains. Ibn Abi Shayba also relates it in his Musannaf.

Shaytan is a wolf like the wolf that preys on sheep, taking the isolated and the stray among them; therefore, avoid factionalism and keep to the Congregation and the collective and the masjid.”Ahmad relates it through Mu`adh and through Abu Dharr, the two chains being respectively fair [hasan] and sound [sahih] according to Haythami in Majma` al-zawa’id.

People used to ask the Prophet about the good and I used to ask him about the evil… I said: “O Messenger of Allah, describe them to us [the callers at the door of the fire]. He said: They are of our complexion and they speak our very language.” I said: “What do you order me to do if that day reaches me?” He said: “You must keep to the Congregation of Muslims and to their leader.” Bukhari and Muslim on the authority of Hudhayfa ibn al-Yaman.

“Allah’s hand is over the group.” Tirmidhi (hasan).

al-Munawi said: “Allah’s hand is over the group means His protection and preservation for them, signifying that the collectivity of the people of Islam are in Allah’s fold, so be also in Allah’s shelter, in the midst of them, and do not separate yourselves from them. Whoever diverges from the overwhelming majority concerning what is lawful and unlawful and on which the Community does not differ has slipped off the path of guidance and this will lead him to hell.”

“Allah’s hand is over the group, and whoever dissents from them departs to hell.” Tirmidhi (gharib) from Ibn `Umar, al-Hakim both from Ibn `Umar and Ibn `Abbas, and Ibn Jarir from Ibn `Umar.

“That which the Muslims consider good, Allah considers good.” Ahmad in the Musnad (#3599) relates it from the words of Ibn Mas`ud (mawquf) with a sound chain.

Source: http://www.islam.com/reply.asp.....;mn=746804

#13 Baybers on 07.31.06 at 3:24 am

Jazak Ullah kharun brother for your efforts,

may Allah give from that which is greater


#14 Baybers on 10.04.06 at 1:52 am

bits seem to be falling off his DIY religion


next week there will be a free set of steak knives for everyone in the front pew

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