How should the common man act when faced with multiple opinions of scholars?
By Imam Hajjatu-l-Islam (the Proof of Islam) Abu Hamid al-Ghazali
If there is no other Mufti in that city, it is obligatory for the common man (`ammi) to turn towards that lone Mufti. If there are many, then he can ask whosoever he likes, as it is not necessary for him to seek the most knowledgeable amongst them. This was the practice in the time of Sahaba, when common folk would ask companions of every rank and they did not restrict themselves to just Abu Bakr, `Umar or other Caliphs.
Some scholars have said that it is compulsory to turn towards the most knowledgeable amongst them. If there are equals, then one can choose whomsoever they like. But this opinion is against the unanimity of the Sahaba because in their times, issuing fatwas was not restricted to the companions of higher ranks (fadil).
Rather, it is only obligatory [for the common man] to ask those whom he knows to be knowledgeable, trustworthy and judicious (`ilm wal-`adala).
Yes, if two scholars differ in a particular matter he must return to them once more and say: “the rulings of you both are contradictory; and both of you are equal in my eyes”. If both of them allow him to choose whatsoever he likes, he does likewise. If both of them agree on a more cautious answer, or on that which is more helpful, he obeys them.
But if they insist on the difference and there is no other way except to choose one of the two, he must defer the matter since neither of them is better than the other. The Imams are like the stars: he shall find guidance no matter whom he follows (wal-a’imma kal-nujum: fa-bi- ayyihim iqtada ihtada)
If he [the commoner] thinks that one of them is more knowledgeable and of a higher stature than the other, he must ask the judge (qadi) of that city to choose for him. It is possible for even the lower (mafdul) ones to be among the people of ijtihad even if he is alone or if there are others with him [in his opinion.] Also, the degree of superiority [in knowledge] amongst them doesn’t matter.
In my opinion, one should follow the most superior amongst them. If one thinks that Imam Shafi`i (May Allah have mercy upon him) is the most knowledgeable, and that his madhhab is most likely to be the correct one, he should not follow other madhhab that contradicts [Shafi`i] just out of desire.
Nor should the commoner begin to collect the best rulings [according to his own self] of different madhhabs and make it an extensive choice. If he does so, this kind of choosing is akin to the Mufti who gives precedence to one proof over another (tarjih) when two of them seemingly contradict, and he follows the one which is a stronger proof in his estimation (fi zannih)
It is a similar thing here. Though we say that every mujtahid is correct, the possibility of error exists because of overlooking a certain proof (dalilun qati); or having issued a ruling even before the matter has been completely investigated or giving precedence to the wrong proof.
This is the reality of the matter, and we believe that Allah has a secret in turning people towards their [mujtahid’s] opinions until there shall not be the [opinions of] the careless and those who follow their own desires; the libertarians who seek unrestrained freedom like that of animals, who are unreigned and turn people hither and thither.
It is therefore better to follow the restrained opinions and established principles [by the mujtahids] than to follow the choosing of those who are carefree and careless like little children and animals.
However, if we are forced to choose between the opinions of two muftis who are equal or two proofs that are equally sound, it becomes a necessity [to choose].
CREDITS: Translated by Sidi Abu Hasan and released by www.marifah.net 1428AH