What is obligatory upon the one seeking a religious verdict
It is obligatory upon every Muslim to search for the truth in all affairs, religious as well as worldly. It is not permissible for him to follow falsehood if it becomes apparent to him as being so, even if it was from the worldly affairs. From the characteristics of the believers, as Allah says: ‘And those who turn away from evil vain talk, falsehood and all that Allah has forbidden’ (al Mu’ minoon 23:3)
Furthermore, it is necessary for the Muslim who seeks a religious verdict in an issue to ask the one who it is easy for him to ask from the people of knowledge. He should investigate, search diligently and work hard to find the most knowledgeable person in his area. If it so happens that the people differ regarding their methodologies and ideas then it is obligatory upon him to work hard in searching for the person who follows, adheres and continuously seeks the authentic texts and narrations (from the Quran and Sunnah). In addition, no one in specific is to be blindly followed or made ‘taqleed’ of-and this was the methodology of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad and the ‘tabi’oon’ and those who proceeded them. After many of the deviants emerged and differing came about the people never used to seek religious verdicts from the ‘Shia’a, Khawaarij, or the Nawasib’ rather if they were mentioned, they were mentioned as well as their innovations.
From amongst the supplications of the Prophet Muhammad when he got up to pray at night, he would start his prayer with the words: ‘O Allah, Lord of Jibreel, Mikaa’eel, and Isra’feel Originator of the heavens and the earth, knower of the unseen and the seen, you judge between your slaves concerning that wherein they differ. Guide me concerning that wherein they differ of truth by your leave, for you guide whomsoever you will to a straight path.”
It is obligatory upon the one who follows his Messenger to always search for the truth, and there is no truth regarding the religious affairs except that which is from the Quran and the Sunnah of Allah’s Messenger. The truth is not in the opinions of men nor ‘qiyas’ based upon an incorrect foundation, for verily these things are dispraised.
It is obligatory upon the one seeking a religious verdict to:
1) Seek their religious verdict from the people of knowledge who are known by the people for their correct and authentic knowledge, knowledge of the Quran and the Sunnah. Indeed the Quran and Sunnah are what the Prophet left for his nation as he said: ‘I have left for your two things, you will never be misguided after them, the Quran and my Sunnah…’
2) It is not permissible to ask about a particular ‘madth’hab’ or about a statement of a specific scholar or jurist. Sheikhul Islam ibn Taymiyyah said: ‘If a mishap or incident occurs to the Muslim for verily he should seek a religious verdict from the one who he believes will answer him with Allah and His Messenger’s legislation (from the Quran and Sunnah) from any of the ‘madtha’hib’. Furthermore, it is not obligatory upon any of the Muslims to make ‘taqleed’ or blindly follow anyone specifically from the scholars in everything that they say, nor is it obligatory upon any of the Muslims to strictly adhere to or follow a ‘madth’hab’ of a certain person other than the Prophet Muhammad in everything he makes obligatory and informs us about.’
Ibn Taymiyyah also said: ‘As for the questioner seeking religious verdict and making ‘taqleed’ of the ‘mufti’, then the opinion of the four scholars of ‘fiqh’ and the remainder of the people of knowledge is that it is not obligatory nor permissible for him to bind oneself nor adhere to the statement of a specific person in everything he says is obligatory, impermissible or permissible except for the Prophet Muhammad .However there are some of the people of knowledge who say: it is obligatory upon the one seeking religious verdict to make ‘taqleed’ of the most knowledgeable and most pious from amongst the people he can seek his verdict from. However, other scholars say: he should choose between the ‘muftis’.
In addition, if the questioner possesses some kind of discernment, than it has been said that: he should follow the most preponderant of the two verdicts in his view, according to his discernment and distinction, for this takes precedence over unrestricted selection or choice. It has also been said: ‘One does not make ‘ijtihaad’ until he is considered to have the qualifications to make ‘ijtihaad’, and the previous statement is stronger then this. So if one of the sayings of the ‘muftis’ is viewed as being stronger and preponderant by the questioner, either because of the stronger evidences or according to the questioner’s discernment, or because one of the ‘muftis’ is more knowledgeable or pious- than this is no problem for the questioner, even if the verdict is in opposition to the ‘madth’hab’.
Al Asfahaani said in his commentary of the Quran: ‘The duty of the one who is ignorant of the Quran and the Sunnah is that if there occurs a mishap, accident or new issue in which he doesn’t know the answer, he must resort to and take refuge in a scholar of the Quran and Sunnah, and ask him about Allah and His Messenger’s decision or judgment in the issue. So if the scholar informs him with Allah and His Messenger’s judgment regarding the issue, then the questioner should act upon it, adhering completely to the Quran and the Sunnah. Trusting the scholar of the Quran and Sunnah completely in what he informed him, even if the questioner does not know the meaning or significance of the proofs and evidences, so he does not become a ‘muqallid’ with this amount of knowledge. Don’t you see that if it becomes apparent to the questioner that what the scholar told him is in opposition to the Quran and the Sunnah, that he would immediately return back to the Quran and Sunnah and not become bigoted towards the one who informed him.
In opposition to the ‘muqallid’, for verily he does not ask about Allah and His Messenger’s decision or judgment. For indeed the ‘muqallid’ asks about the ‘madth’hab’ of his Imam, and if it became apparent to him that the ‘madth’hab’ of his Imam is in opposition to the Quran and Sunnah he would not return back to the Quran and Sunnah. And the ‘mutabi’ is the one who asks about Allah and His Messenger’s decision and judgement, and he doesn’t ask about the opinions of others nor their ‘madth’hab’. If there occurred another mishap or accident in which he didn’t know the ruling regarding it, it is not compulsory upon him to ask the first scholar who he asked previously. Rather he may ask any scholar that he meets, and it is not obligatory upon him to be devoted to the first opinion, whereas he does not listen to any other opinion other than the first scholar’s opinion. In which he aids and advocates the first opinion to the point where if he knows that the text from the Quran and the Sunnah is in opposition to the opinion which he was given, then he disregards it and abandons it. This is the difference between ‘taqleed’ which the later generations were adhering to and between ‘al iti’baa’a ‘which the righteous predecessors were upon.’
It is also obligatory upon the layman seeking religious verdicts to work hard and search diligently to find a scholar of the Quran and the Sunnah, just as it is obligatory upon him to search for lawful provisions while knowing that there are some provisions which are earned by the way of prohibited means. This is what Ibn Hazm affirmed, as he said: ‘If someone says: ‘What does the layman do if there occurs a mishap, accident or issue in which he doesn’t know what to do? Ibn Hazm said: The answer -‘with Allah is all success-Verily we have completely clarified Allah’s prohibition of ‘taqleed’, and Allah did not specify this for the layman nor for the scholar, nor did Allah distinguish or make distinction between the two. Indeed, Allah’s speech is directed towards all people, so ‘taqleed’ is prohibited upon the slave imported from his country, prohibited for the layman, prohibited for the virgin in her quarters, prohibited for the shepherd between the mountains, just as it is prohibited for the wise, knowledgeable scholar, there is no difference.
‘Ijtihaad’ in seeking Allah and His Messenger’s judgment and decision in everything which concerns a person regarding his religion is obligatory upon all people just as it is obligatory upon the wise, knowledgeable scholar and there is no difference. So whoever makes ‘taqleed’ from amongst the people has verily disobeyed Allah and has sinned. However the manner, method and type of ‘ijtihaad’ differs amongst the people. It is not obligatory upon the person except to the extent of his ability, because of Allah’s statement: ‘Allah does not burden a person beyond his ability…’ (al Baqarah 2:286) And Allah says: ‘So keep your duty to Allah and fear Him as much as you can…’ (at Taghabun 64:16)
Complete fear of Allah is acting upon everything Allah made obligatory in the religion. In addition, Allah did not command us with anything from the religion except that which we have the ability to do so. Indeed, Allah does not hold us responsible for the things which we do not have the ability to do. This is clearcut, decisive evidence proving that it is only obligatory upon people to search for the answers, rulings, judgments, and decisions concerning the mishaps, accidents or new issues according to his ability. So everyone has their share of ‘ijtihaad’, and personal ability and faculty.
The ‘ijtihaad’ of the layman , if he asked a scholar about the affairs of his religion and asked the scholar should ask: ‘This is what Allah and His Messenger decreed?, if the scholar replies: ‘Yes’, than his statement is taken, and it is not obligatory upon him to search for more than this. But if the scholar says: ‘no’, or says: ‘this is my statement’, or says to him: ‘this is Imam Malik’s statement or Ibnul Qasim, Abu Haneefah, Abu Yusuf, ash Shafi’ee, Ahmed, Dawud, or named someone from the companions or tabi’een, or someone inferior to the Prophet Muhammad or reprimanded him or remained silent about it, then it is prohibited upon the questioner to take the ‘muftis’ religious verdict. It is also compulsory upon the questioner to ask another scholar and seek the answer to the issue wherever he finds a scholar. End of quote from Ibn Hazm.
I say in clarification of Ibn Hazm’s final statement: If the scholar answers the questioner with his personal opinion or the opinion of others and says to him: I do not know Allah and His Messenger’s judgment in this issue and this is the ‘ijtihaad’ of our scholars. If the scholar gives his religious verdict in accordance to what he sees to be the preponderant statement of one of the scholars of ‘fiqh’ and closest to the Quran and Sunnah while not restricting or limiting himself to a particular ‘madth’hab’ in the religious verdicts he conveys in these situations, then it is obligatory upon the layman to take this verdict if the issue is a state of emergency or one which needs an immediate answer. Likewise, if the issue is not a state of emergency and does not call for an immediate answer then he should be patient and search for another scholar who perhaps may have knowledge of the Quran and the Sunnah, and Allah knows best.
Furthermore, Ibn Hazm’s statement regarding ‘not accepting the statement of a companion’-is correct if he intended by this meaning, being contrary to the texts from the Quran and the Sunnah. However if he intended by this: not accepting the statements of the companions with the absence of texts from the Quran and the Sunnah, than this statement is not accepted from him. Verily this is because all of the ‘fiqh’ scholars have agreed upon the fact that statements of the companions are accepted if they do not oppose statements of other companions. If one finds the statements are in opposition, then the ‘mufti’ chooses the statement he wills and he doesn’t exceed the statements of the companions.
Abul Waleed al Bajee Sulayman ibn Khalaf said: ‘It is obligatory upon the layman to ask about the one he wants to seek a religious verdict from. If the layman is informed about the one he wants to ask as being a pious scholar then he can take the scholar’s verdict. Similarly, it is not permissible for the layman to ask someone who is not known to be from the scholars who gives religious verdicts.’
An Nawawi said in ‘Faslu Adaabil Mustafee’: ‘It is absolutely obligatory upon the layman to search for that which will give him knowledge of the qualifications of the one which he wants to seek religious verdict from. If he does not know the scholars qualifications than it is not permissible for him to seek a religious verdict from one who ascribes himself to knowledge, or is a teacher or reads to the people, or other than these from the positions of the scholars solely because of his affiliation or position. For this reason it is permissible for him to seek religious verdict from the one who is well known for being qualified to give religious verdicts.’
However, we do not find within both of the previous statements declaration of the required tools which give one sufficient qualifications as we find within the statements of Ibn Hazm and Ibn Taymiyyah. As for the question in a world in which ‘taqleed’ and bigotry have become widespread, while there are people who study, search for and try to know and ascertain the religious verdicts from the Quran and the Sunnah, then it is obligatory to ask the scholar of the Quran and Sunnah, as Imam Ahmed mentioned.
 Saheeh Muslim 1/534, Book of the Travellers prayer, chapter: Supplication in the night prayer, #771 from the hadeeth of Aishia
 Al Haakim mentioned it in his Mustadrak, Book of Knowledge, Chapter: The Prophet’s sermon in the farewell Hajj, #324, in this chain of narration is Salih ibn Musa at Talhee who is ‘da’eef’ (weak), however there are many other chains of narration, and the hadeeth itself is Saheeh. Imam Malik also men<oned it in his Mu’wa’ta, in the Book of Qadr #3, also Ibn Abdul Barr mentioned it in Jami’ Bayaan al Ilm wa Fadlihi with other wordings #1389, 1866, and 2299, see Silsilah Ahadeeh Saheehah #1761 and al Mishkaat #186, also Saheeh al Jami’ as Sageer 3/39, #2934
 Majmoo’ Fatawaa ibn Taymiyyah 20/209
 Majmoo’ Fatawaa ibn Taymiyyah 33/168
 Taken from ‘Eeqathu Himam U’lil Ab’saar pg.40-41
 al Ihkaam fee Usool il Ahkaam pg. 862 , also see the statement of Ibnus Salah similar to this statement in his ‘Kitab al Fatwaa’ well known as ‘Adaabul Mufti wal MustaRee’, pg.280
 (TN) He is Abul Waleed Sulaymaan ibn Khalaf ibn Ayuub ibn Warith at Tajeebee al Bajee, the Spaniard, Maliki jurist. He was born in 403 hijri and he died in 474 hijri.
 Ahkaamul Fusool Ahkaamul Usool’ pg. 729, by al Bajee Abee Waleed al Malikee, verification of the book done by Abdul Majeed Turkey, Darul Garb, Beruit 1407
 al Majmoo’ 1/54