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Ijtihad


Ijtihad (Arabic: اجتهاد‎‎ ijtihād, lit. effort, physical or mental, expended in a particular activity) is an Islamic legal term referring to independent reasoning or the thorough exertion of a jurist's mental faculty in finding a solution to a legal question. It is contrasted with taqlid (imitation, conformity to legal precedent). According to classical Sunni theory, ijtihad requires expertise in the Arabic language, theology, revealed texts, and principles of jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh), and is not employed where authentic and authoritative texts (Qur'an and ahadith) are considered unambiguous with regard to the question, or where there is an existing scholarly consensus (ijma). Ijtihad is considered to be a religious duty for those qualified to perform it. An Islamic scholar who is qualified to perform ijtihad is called a mujtahid.

By the beginning of the 10th century, development of Sunni jurisprudence prompted leading Sunni jurists to state that the main legal questions had been addressed and the scope of ijtihad was gradually restricted. In the modern era, this gave rise to a perception among Western scholars and lay Muslim public that the so-called "gate of ijtihad" was closed at the start of the classical era. While recent scholarship has disproved this notion, the extent and mechanisms of legal change in the post-formative period remain a subject of debate.

Starting from the 18th century, some Muslim reformers began calling for abandonment of taqlid and emphasis on ijtihad, which they saw as a return to Islamic origins. Public debates in the Muslim world surrounding ijtihad continue to the present day. The advocacy of ijtihad has been particularly associated with Islamic modernists and purist Salafi thinkers. Among contemporary Muslims in the West there have emerged new visions of ijtihad which emphasize substantive moral values over traditional juridical methodology.



  • Enough knowledge of Arabic so that the scholar can read and understand both the Qur'an and the Sunnah.
  • Extensive comprehensive knowledge of the Qur'an and the Sunnah. More specifically, the scholar must have a full understanding of the Qur'an's legal contents. In regards to the Sunnah the scholar must understand the specific texts that refer to law and also the incidence of abrogation in the Sunnah.
  • Must be able to confirm the consensus (Ijma) of the Companions, the Successors, and the leading Imams and mujtahideen of the past, in order to prevent making decisions that disregard these honored decisions made in the past.
  • Should be able to fully understand the objectives of the sharia and be dedicated to the protection of the Five Principles of Islam, which are life, religion, intellect, lineage, and property.
  • Be able to distinguish strength and weakness in reasoning, or in other words exercise logic.
  • Must be sincere and a good person.
  • Knowledge of the texts of the Qur'an and Sunnah
  • Justice in matters of public and personal life
  • Utmost piety
  • Understanding of the cases where Shi'i mujtahids reached consensus
  • Ability to exercise competence and authority
  • Arabic grammar and literature
  • Logic
  • Extensive knowledge of the Qur'anic sciences and Hadith
  • Science of narrators
  • Principle of Jurisprudence
  • Comparative Jurisprudence
  • Wael Hallaq: "Was the Gate of Ijtihad Closed?", International Journal of Middle East Studies, 16, 1 (1984), 3–41.
  • Glassé, Cyril, The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd Edition, Stacey International, London (1991)
  • Goldziher, Ignaz (translated by A And R Hamori), Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law, Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey (1981)
  • Kamali, Mohammad Hashim Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, Islamic Text Society, Cambridge (1991) .
  • Carlos Martínez, "Limiting the Power of Religion from Within: Probabilism and Ishtihad," in Religion and Its Other: Secular and Sacral Concepts and Practices in Interaction. Edited by Heike Bock, Jörg Feuchter, and Michi Knecht (Frankfurt/M., Campus Verlag, 2008).
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