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A faqih is an expert in Islamic Law, and, as such, the word Faqih can literally be generally translated as Jurist.
The definition of Fiqh and its relation to the Faqih
To understand the Faqih, one must have a base understanding of Fiqh..
Fiqh linguistically means "understanding". As a technical term it is defined as "Knowledge of legislative rulings, pertaining to the actions of man, as derived from their detailed evidences."
"Legislative rulings..." here excluded rulings that are purely theoretical in nature, such as those found in the science of Usul Al Fiqh, as well as those theological in nature, generally discussed in the books of Aqidah or Kalam.
" ...as derived from their detailed evidences." here connotes two things:
- 1- that there is a method of derivation; and,
- 2- that the source for such derivation are the various evidences considered valid Islamically.
Methods of Derivation and Evidences derived from
Methods of derivation are laid out in the books of Usul Al Fiqh, and those evidences which are deemed valid for deriving rulings from are many in number; Four of them are agreed upon by the vast Majority of Jurists, they are:
These four types of evidence are seen as acceptable by the vast majority of Jurists from both the schools of Sunni Jurists (the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i, and Hanbali and sometimes the Zahiriyah), as well as Shi'a Jurists.
Questionable Evidence among various schools of Fiqh
Issues such as the edicts of the Twelve Imams holding the same weight as the Quran and Sunnah, are largely seen as debatable and at times unacceptable by Sunni Jurists, while at the same time the acceptance of statements by some of the Sahabah or companions of the Prophet Muhammad are held as questionable by Shia Jurists.
Jurists of the Ibadi school, which is neither Shi'a nor Sunni, deem their own collection of traditions (in the form of Hadith they themselves have collected) to be evidence as well; however, these traditions are largely seen as either apocryphal or redundant by proponents of the previous two schools.
Conditions for being a "Faqih"
The Faqih is one who has fulfilled the conditions for Ijtihad either in their entirety or in piecemeal.
The Faqih who fulfills all conditions of Ijtihad is sometimes referred to as a Mujtahid Mutlaq or Unrestricted Jurist-Scholar, while he who has not reached that level generally will master of the methodology (Usul) used by one or more of the prominent madhhab and then able to apply this methodology to arrive at the traditional legal rulings of his/her respective madhhab.
One who is still below the level of Mujtahid Mutlaq will generally be referred to as Mujtahid Muqayyad or a Restricted Jurist-Scholar, passing rulings according to the confines of his particular madhhab, or particular area of specialization. This is according to the view that Ijtihad or the ability of legal deduction can be achieved in specified areas, and does not require a holistic grasp of the Shariah and its entailing Laws and legal theory.
Thus those working in occupations which entail knowledge of Fiqh, such as the Judges, Lawyers, and Court Scribes are expected to have knowledge of Fiqh, either advanced or rudimentary respectively.
In the Sunni point of view it is generally held that there are either no (or very few) Jurists or Fuqaha that have reached the level of Mujtahid Mutlaq in our day and age. In the Shia Ithna Asheri view, each of their Maraja have reached this level.