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Ijmāʿ (إجماع) is an Arabic term referring to the consensus or agreement of the Muslim community basically on religious issues. Various schools of thought within Islamic jurisprudence may define this consensus to be that of the first generation of Muslims only; or the consensus of the first three generations of Muslims; or the consensus of the jurists and scholars of the Muslim world, or scholarly consensus; or the consensus of all the Muslim world, both scholars and laymen.
The hadith of Muhammad which states that "My ummah will never agree upon an error" is often cited as a proof for the validity of ijmā'. Sunni Muslims regard ijmā' as the third fundamental source of Sharia law, just after the divine revelation of the Qur'an, and the prophetic practice known as Sunnah. While there is differing views over who is considered a part of this consensus, the majority view is split between two possibilities: that religiously binding consensus is the consensus of the entire Muslim community, or that religiously binding consensus is just the consensus of the religiously learned. The names of two kinds of consensus are:
- ijma al-ummah - a whole community consensus.
- ijma al-aimmah - a consensus by religious authorities.
According to Iraqi academic Majid Khadduri, Al-Shafi'i held the view that religiously binding consensus had to include all of the Muslim community in every part of the world, both the religiously learned and the layman. Thus, if even one individual out of millions would hold a differing view, then consensus would not have been reached. In an attempt to define consensus in a form which was more likely to ever occur, Al-Ghazali expanding on al-Shafi'i's definition to define consensus as including all of the Muslim community in regard to religious principles and restricting the meaning to only the religiously learned in regard to finer details.
Abu Hanifa, Ahmad bin Hanbal and Dawud al-Zahiri, on the other hand, considered this consensus to only include the companions of the prophet Muhammad, excluding all generations which followed them, in Medina and elsewhere.
Views within Sunni Islam branched off even further in later generations, with Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi defining even a simple majority view as constituting consensus and Ibn Taymiyyah restricting consensus to the view of the religiously learned only. Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari's position was not entirely clear, as modern scholarship has attributed to him both the view that consensus means a simple majority, and that it means only the consensus of the companions of Muhammad.
Initially, for Shia the authority of the Imams rendered the consensus as irrelevant. With the development of sectarian communities of Imami Shīa Islam, the question of guidance and interpretation between different ulamas became an issue, however the importance of ijmā never reached the level and certainty it had in Sunni Islam. Later, since Safavid and with the establishment of Usuli school at the turn the 19th century the authority of living mujtahid is accepted, however it dies with him. For Shia, the status of ijmā is ambiguous.
The ancient Mu'tazilite sect did not consider consensus to be a valid source of law, primarily due to their rationalist criticism of the first generation of Muslims, whom the Mu'tazila viewed as possessing defective personalities and intellects. Shi'ite theoligans Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid and Sharif al-Murtaza held the Mu'tazilite theoligan Nazzam's book Kitab al-Nakth in which his student Al-Jahiz reports that he denied the validity of consensus for this reason in high esteem. Modern scholarship has suggested that this interest was motivated by the desire of Shi'ite theoligans to impugn the character of the first three leaders of the Rashidun Caliphate, Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman.
- Narrated by al-Tirmidhi (4:2167), ibn Majah (2:1303), Abu Dawood, and others with slightly different wordings.
- Ahmad Hasan, "The Doctrine of Ijma': A Study of the Juridical Principle of Consensus," New Delhi, India: Kitab Bhaban, 2003, pg.81
- Corinna Standke (30 August 2008). Sharia - The Islamic Law. GRIN Verlag. pp. 4–5. ISBN 978-3-640-14967-4. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
- Muhammad Muslehuddin, "Philosophy of Islamic Law and Orientalists," Kazi Publications, 1985, p. 146
- Majid Khadduri, Introduction to Al-Shafi'i's al-Risala, pg.33
- Mansoor Moaddel, Islamic Modernism, Nationalism, and Fundamentalism: Episode and Discourse, pg. 32. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
- Majid Khadduri, Introduction to Al-Shafi'i's al-Risala, pg.38-39
- Muhammad Muslehuddin, "Philosophy of Islamic Law and Orientalists," Kazi Publications, 1985, p. 81
- Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq, "The Doctrine of Ijma: Is there a consensus?," June 2006
- Devin J. Stewart, "Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari's al-Bayan 'an Usul al-Ahkam and the Genre of Usul al-Fiqh in Ninth Century Baghdad," pg. 339. Taken from Abbasid Studies: Occasional Papers of the School of Abbasid Studies, Cambridge, 6-10 January 2002. Edited by James Montgomery. Leuven: Peeters Publishers and the Department of Oriental Studies, 2004.
- Sami Zubaida (8 July 2005). Law And Power In The Islamic World. I.B.Tauris. p. 14. ISBN 978-1-85043-934-9. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
- Devin Stewart, "Muhammad b. Dawud al-Zahiri's Manual of Jurisprudence." Taken from Studies in Islamic Law and Society Volume 15: Studies in Islamic Legal Theory. Edited by Bernard G. Weiss. Pg. 107. Leiden: 2002. Brill Publishers.
- Josef van Ess, Das Kitab al-nakt des Nazzam und seine Rezeption im Kitab al-Futya des Gahiz. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Reprecht, 1971.
- The Doctrine of Ijma': Is there a consensus? by Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq