Why Scholars Differ

Why Scholars Differ

This was the first course I delivered in this country. I delivered it 2001, in this very place.

It is now 2019 and I am repeating this same course, which is as relevant today as it was then, if not more.

I used to deliver this course over three months at shariah college, so here I am going to condense it and give you an overview.

Why do we need to know why scholars differ?

Why Scholars Differ

This is an important topic. Usually we have questions regarding how we pray, and every year, as soon as Ramadan approaches, moon-sighting and moon-fighting begins. Why do we have these differences?

Differences in Legal Rulings

The talk will cover on the differences in legal rulings (fiqh) in the four Sunni schools of thought and what are the reasons behind the differences?

This talk will not cover differences in aqeedah, which is a big topic in itself.

Part 1: What is shariah and what is fiqh and their characteristics?

Part 2: The origin of the four schools of thought.

Is it possible to have one opinion? Is it even healthy to have one opinion? Can we abolish differences and unify the ummah under one way of understanding? You can judge. I will not dictate to you what to understand.

Renewing the Deen

The Prophet (peace be on him) in the hadith said:

Allah Almighty will send for this ummah in the beginning of every century the one who will renew the deen for this ummah. (Sunan abi Dawood)

Allah the Almighty sends in the beginning of every century for this ummah somebody to renew the matters deen for them (Bayhaqi)

We have some discussion on the definition of century, and there are some differences, (some say 20, others say 30), but the majority agree that a century is a 100 years. It may not be precisely 100 years, but it signifies a long time-frame, after which Allah Almighty will send somebody, which might be a group of people, or different individuals in different places to rejuvenate the deen. We have seen this happen throughout history, from the first century onwards.


The Prophet (peace be on him) said:

The best generation is my generation, then those who come after them, then those who come after them. (Bukhari)

This is an authentic narration and testimony that the best people from the ummah are from the first three generations. So it is not a coincidence that the first three schools of thought and the four imams came in the first three generations.


KEYPOINT: We need to understand that the acceptance that Allah Almighty has given to these schools. Of course we are not saying that they are infallible or masum, (as no one other than the prophets are infallible and have ‘isma), as all humans make mistakes. However overall, these three generations was when we had the establishment of the vast majority of our heritage.

We do not wish to live in the past, but in order to move to the future, we need to understand our heritage.

What is Shariah?

Ever since Bin Laden came onto the scene, shariah has become a familiar word! Yet no one quite knows exactly what shariah is.

The technical definition of shariah

Shariah is comprised of two parts: action and theory.


Within action we have the inward and outward actions.

The inward is ihsan, which is explained in the famous hadith Jibril. 

Narrated by Abu Huraira:

One day while the Prophet (peace be on him) was sitting in the company of some people, (The angel) Gabriel came and asked, ‘What is faith?’ Allah’s Messenger (peace be on him) replied, ‘Faith is to believe in Allah, His angels, (the) meeting with Him, His Apostles, and to believe in Resurrection.’ Then he further asked, ‘What is Islam?’ Allah’s Messenger (peace be on him) replied, ‘To worship Allah Alone and none else, to offer prayers perfectly to pay the compulsory charity (Zakat) and to observe fasts during the month of Ramadan.’ Then he further asked, ‘What is Ihsan (perfection)?’ Allah’s Messenger (peace be on him) replied, ‘To worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you cannot achieve this state of devotion then you must consider that He is looking at you.’ (Bukhari)

The outward is the practical issues which are regulated by fiqh.


The theory is the aqeedah (creed) and imaan (faith).

The linguistic definition is shariah is from the root sh-ra-aa, a source of water.

One of the meanings is Qur’an and Sunnah.

Fiqh is the human understanding of shariah. This is where mistakes can happen. And where time can dictate that we need to adapt and accommodate new issues.

We need to understand and distinguish between what is fallible and what is fallible.  We should not treat what is infallible as fallible and vice versa. So when we talk about the renewal of the deen, it is not a like a soup, which you put in all the ingredients and blend them together. Instead we have some components you can change and some which you can’t.

There are flexible issues and stable issues. The fixed issues are the foundations and the main principles, for example the inheritance system, which cannot be changed. On the other hand, we now have new things like cryptocurrencies. Do we have the rulings to accommodate the new beast? Yes we do. The flexible issues are where we can have ijtihad.






The definition of fiqh comes from the root fa-qa-ha which means deep understanding. Allah Almighty says in the Qur’an so many times, eg la alahum yafaqhoon, ‘they do not understand’. It is about using your intellect.

Whoever Allah wishes good for, He gives deep understanding of the religion (Bukhari)

The person is a faqhi and the plural is fuqaha