The People of the Sunnah’s Stance on the Scholar When He Errs is that He is Excused. Thus, He is Not Hereticated, Nor is He Boycotted
Infallibility is not for anyone after Allah’s messenger, so no scholar is safe from errors. I Whoever errs should not be followed in his error, and that error should not be taken as a means to disgrace him and caution against him. Rather, his few errors should be forgiven because of the many [things he is] correct [in]. Whoever was from these scholars who have passed, then one should benefit from his knowledge with the wariness of following him in the error, supplicating for him and asking [Allah to have] mercy upon him. And whoever was alive, whether he was a scholar or a student of knowledge, he is to be informed of his error with gentleness, lenience, and love for his well-being from the error and his return to [what is] correct.
Imams al-Baihaqî, an-Nawawî, and Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalânî are from the scholars who have passed while having defectiveness in the issues of creed and the scholars and the students of knowledge cannot do without their knowledge—nay, surely their writings are from the important references for those who busy themselves with knowledge.
So as for Imam Aḥmad bin Ḥusain, Abū Bakr al-Baihaqî, then surely, in as-Siyar (18/163 and what is after it), regarding him, adh-Dhahabî said, “He is the ḥafiḍḥ, the ‘allâmah, the credible, the jurist, Shaikh of Islam.” He said, “It was blessed for him in his knowledge and he composed beneficial works.” He said, “He withdrew within his village devoting himself with compiling and writing. So he worked on as-Sunan al-Kabîr in ten volumes and no one has similar to it.” He mentioned he had many other books and his book as-Sunan al-Kubrâ was printed in ten large volumes. He conveyed words from Ḥâfiḍḥ ‘Abdil-Ghâfir bin Ismâ’îl [who] said regarding him, “His writings come close to a thousand volumes, of which no one had preceded him to. He combined between the knowledge of Ḥadîth, jurisprudence, the clarifying of the defects of Ḥadîth, and the aspect of the combining between the ḥadîths.” adh-Dhahabî also said, “So the works of al-Baihaqî are of great worth, ample in benefits. Few were those who mastered their works like Imâm Abî Bakr, so it is necessary for the scholar to give attention to these, especially his Sunan al-Kubrâ.”
As for Imam Yaḥyâ bin Sharaf an-Nawawî, then in Tadhkirah al-Ḥuffâḍḥ (4/359), regarding him, adh-Dhahabî had said, “The imam, the ḥâfiḍḥ, the unique, the exemplar, Shaikh of Islam, the star of the Patrons … author of beneficial works.” He said, Along with what he was upon of the battle with his soul, the implementation of the intricacies of piety52 and control, the filtering of the soul from flaws and erasing it from its inclinations, he was a memorizer of the Ḥadîth, its sciences, its men, its authentic and its defective; [he was] at the head in knowledge of the [body of] opinion.
In al-Bidâyah wan-Nihâyah (17/540), Ibn Kathîr said, Then he took great care in composing and he gathered many things. From them is what he completed and from them is what he did not complete. From what he completed were Sharḥ Muslim, ar-Rawdah, al-Minhâj, ar-Riyâḍ, al-Adhkâr, at-Tibyân, Taḥrîr at-Tanbîh and its authentication, Tahdhîb al-Asmâ’ wal-Lughât, Ṭabaqât al-Fuqahâ’ , and other than that. From what he did not complete—and if completed, it would not have an equal in its matter—is al-Muhaddhab’s explanation, which he called al-Majmū’ . He reached until the book of usury in it and excelled in it, mastered and caused benefit, and he criticised accurately. He edited the jurisprudence of the [Shâfi’î body of] opinion and other [bodies of opinion] in it. He edited the Ḥadîth according to what is befitting, the rare [words], the language, and important things only found in it … I do not know better than it regarding the books of jurisprudence.
With this vastness and mastery in writings, he was not from those who lived long, for the period of his life was forty-five years; he was born 631H and died 676H.
As for Ḥâfiḍḥ Aḥmad bin ‘Alî bin Ḥajar al-‘Asqalânî, then he is the imam famous for his many writings. The most important of them is Fat·ḥ al-Bârî Sharḥ Ṣaḥîḥ al-Bukhârî, which is a great reference work for the scholars. [Also] from them are al-Iṣâbah, Tahdhîb at-Tahdhîb and his Taqrîb, Lisân al-Mîzân, Ta’jîl al-Manfa’ah, Bulūgh al-Marâm, and others.
From the contemporaries is the shaikh, the ‘allâmah, the traditionist62 Muḥammad Nâṣir ad-Dîn al-Albânî. I do not know of a counterpart for him in this era with regards to meticulousness in Ḥadîth and vastness of familiarity in it. He was not safe from falling in matters considered by many to be errors from him, like his concern with the issue of the ḥijâb and the stipulating that veiling the woman’s face is not an obligation, but a desirable [act]. If what he said was true, then it surely is from the truth whose concealment is necessary, because of some of the women who desire unveiling depending on it. Like that is his statement, “Surely, placing the [two] hands on the chest after the bowing is a misguiding heresy,” in the book, Ṣifah aṣ-Ṣalâh an-Nabî , while it is a disputed issue. Like that is what he mentioned in Silsilah aḍ-Ḍa’îfah (no. 2355), namely that the lack of taking from what exceeds the fistful of the beard is from the incidental heresies. And like that is his forbidding circular gold for women. And with my disapproval of his statement in these issues, I surely cannot do without—and I see that others cannot do without—his books and the benefit from them. How excellent is the statement of Imam Mâlik?, “Everything is taken or rejected from one’s statements, except the companion of this grave,” and he pointed to the grave of the Prophet r.
These are transmissions from a group from the People of Knowledge in stipulation and elucidation of forgiving the scholar’s error with regard to the many [things he is] correct [in]: Sa’îd bin al-Musayyib (d.93H) said, “It is not from a scholar, nor a distinguished [person], nor a virtuous [person], except he has a fault. Whoever’s virtue was more than his deficiency, however, his deficiency goes away because of his virtue just as whoever’s deficiency overwhelmed him, his virtue goes away.” Others said, “The scholar is not safe from error. So whoever scarcely erred and was often correct, then he is a scholar, while whoever was scarcely correct and often erred, then he is an ignorant [person].”
‘Abdullah bin al-Mubârak (d.181H) said, “If the man’s merits outweighed his drawbacks, do not mention the drawbacks. And if the drawbacks outweighed the merits, do not mention the merits.”
Imâm Aḥmad (d.241H) said, “The likes of Is·ḥâq (i.e., Ibn Râhawaih) have not crossed the bridge from Khurasân even though he differed with us in things, for surely, the people do not cease to differ with one another.”
Abū Ḥâtim bin Ḥibbân (d.354H) said, credible [person] narrates of the narrations and leaving what is sure he is mistaken in, so long as that is not excessive from him such that it outweighs [what he is] correct [in]. For if it was like that, at that time, the leaving is deserved.
Shaikh of Islam Ibn Taimiyyah (d.728H) said, From what should be recognized is that the groups associated to [those] followed in the fundamentals of the religion and [theological] rhetoric are of [varying] degrees. From them are [those] who have opposed the Sunnah in great fundamentals, and from them are [those] who have certainly opposed the Sunnah in intricate matters.
Whoever might have refuted others from the groups that are further away from the Sunnah than he is, then he is praised with regards to what he refuted of the falsehood and said of the truth. He might, however, have extended beyond justice in his refutation in where he denied some of the truth and spoke some falsehood. So he might have refuted a large heresy with a heresy of lesser significance than it and refuted a falsehood with a falsehood of lesser significance than it. This is the condition of most of the People of [Theological] Rhetoric associated with the Sunnah and Congregation.
If the likes these did not make what they innovated a saying by which they divide the congregation of Muslims, making allies and enemies according to it, it would be from a type of mistake; and Allah I forgives the believers for their mistakes in the likes of that. Because of this, many of the predecessors and the imams of the [Muslim] nation fell into the likes of this; they had statements they made due to independent judgement, [which] opposed what was established in the Book and the Sunnah.
Contrary to [those] who ally with the one who agrees with them and make enemies of their opposers; they cause division among the congregation of Muslims; they excommunicate and declare their opposers sinners, but not those who agree with them in the issues of opinions and independent judgements; they make it lawful to fight their opposers, but not those who agree with them, for these [people] are from the people of division and differings.
And he said, Many of the mujtahids from the Predecessors and the later generations have said and done what is a heresy while they did not know it was a heresy either because of weak ḥadîths they assumed were authentic, because of verses from which they understood what was not intended from them, or because of an opinion they held while texts did not reach them regarding the issue. If the man was godly to his Lord as much as he was able, he is entered into His saying, (Our Lord, Do not take us to account if we forget or fall into error) (2:286); and in the Ṣaḥîḥ, is that Allah said, “I have done [that].”
Imam adh-Dhahabî (d.748H) said, Then surely, if what the formidable [scholar] from the imams of knowledge is correct in was numerous, his pursuit of the truth was known, his knowledge was vast, his intelligence was apparent, and his righteousness, his piety and his adherence were recognized, his mistakes are forgiven for him. Yes, we do not declare him astray, throw him away and forget his merits! Nor do we imitate him in his heresy and error; we hope for repentance from that for him.
He also said, If we were to rise against an imam, hereticate him and boycott him, whenever he erred in his independent judgement in one of the issues with an error [that is] forgiven for him, certainly, no one with us would be safe—not Ibn Naṣr, not Ibn Mandah, not [those] who are greater than them. Allah is the people’s guide to the truth and He is the most merciful of the merciful. So we seek refuge with Allah from desire and crudeness.
And he also said, If [it were] that we were to ruin and hereticate everyone who erred in his independent judgement—despite validity of his faith and his aspiring to follow the truth—certainly, few [are those] from the imams who would be safe with us. May Allah have mercy upon the people by His grace and His kindness.
‘Abdul-Malik—i.e., Ibn Abî Sulaimân—was from the best of the People of Kūfah and their ḥâfiḍḥs. The general rule for whoever memorises and narrates from his memory is that he makes mistakes. It is not from justice to leave the Ḥadîth of a credible shaikh whose integrity is sound because of mistakes he makes in his narration. If we were to traverse this path, it would certainly necessitate us leaving the Ḥadîth of az-Zuhrî, Ibn Juraij, ath-Thawrî, and Shu’bah, because they were from the people of memorization and precision. They used to narrate from their memory and they were not infallible such that they did not make mistakes in their narrations.
Rather, the precaution and the foremost in the likes of this is acceptance of what the He also said, “We love the Sunnah and its people. And we love the scholar according to what he has of adherence and praiseworthy characteristics. We do not love what he heresies with palatable interpretation. Certainly, the consideration is with the abundance of merits.”
Ibn al-Qayyim (d.751) said, Recognition of the virtue and the abilities of Islam’s imams, their rights and their ranks, and that their virtue, their knowledge and their sincerity for Allah and His messenger, does not obligate acceptance of everything they say. Whatever occurred in their verdicts from the issues in which what the Messenger came with was hidden from them, then they spoke with the extent of their knowledge, while the truth was in opposition to it, does not obligate the throwing away of their statements in totality, diminishing them and defaming them. For these two unjust extremes opposed the intent. The intent of the path is between them both, so we do not sin, nor are we infallible, until he said, and whoever has knowledge in the law and the reality knows with certainty that the honourable man who has a righteous past and good effects in Islam; and he is a position in relation to Islam and its people; there might be the lapse and the slip from him for which he is excused—rather, [he is] rewarded due to his independent judgement. Thus it is not permissible that he be followed in it, nor is it permissible that his position, his leadership and his status be voided from the Muslims’ hearts.
Ibn Rajab al-Ḥanbalî (d.795H) said, “Allah refuses infallibility for a book other than His Book, and the fair [person] is [the one] who forgives the few mistakes of a person because of the many [things he is] correct [in].”
 I.e., al-Minhâj Sharḥ Muslim bin al-Ḥajjâj.
 I.e., Rawḍah aṭ-Ṭâlibîn
 I.e., Daqâ’iq al-Minhâj.
 I.e., Riyâḍ aṣ-Ṣâliḥîn.
 I.e., Taḥrîr Alfâḍḥ at-Tanbîh aw Lughah al-Fiqh.
 I.e., al-Iṣâbah fî Tamayyuz aṣ-Ṣaḥâbah.
 I.e., Taqrîb at-Tahdhîb.
 I.e., Ta’jîl al-Manfa’ah bi Zawâ’id Rijâl al-A’immah al-Arba’ah.
 Jâmi’ Bayân al-‘Ilm wa Faḍlih by Ibn ‘Abdil-Barr, (2/48).
 Siyar A’lâm an-Nubalâ’ by adh-Dhahabî, (8/352, 1st ed.).
 ath-Thiqât, (7/97-98).
 Majmū’ al-Fatâwâ, (19/191-192
 Siyar A’lâm an-Nubalâ’ , (5/271).
 I’lâm al-Muwaqqi’în, (3/295).
 al-Qawâ’id, pg. 3.