Al-ʾIjmāʿ (Arabic: الإجماع , consensus) refers to an unanimous agreement among scholars and religious figures regarding a religious ruling. In Sunni tradition, Ijma' is extremely important and is regarded as one of the sources for deriving shari'a law (Islamic law). In political matters, Sunnis deem the Ijma' of elite (Ijma' ahl al-hill wa l-'aqd) as a proof for legitimacy of the first caliph's rule.
However according to Imamiyya (Shi'a), Ijma' does not hold independent authority on its own right; rather, it is only legitimate as a manifestation of the infallible Imams' opinion. Some establish its legitimacy in the framework of the principle of lutf and some lay it on the basis of surmise. There are various types of Ijma' and the most important of which are: Ijma' al-manqul (reported Ijma'), muhassal (acquired Ijma') and murakkab (twofold Ijma').
Lexicology and Terminology
- The consensus among Muslim jurists (faqihs) on a particular ruling
- The consensus of elite (Ijma' ahl al-hill wa l-'aqd) on a particular ruling
- The consensus among the umma (nation) of the Prophet Muhammad (s) on a particular ruling
Ijma' is regarded as one of the Four Sources for deriving shari'a law and has been thoroughly discussed in a particular section of the principles of jurisprudence ('Ilm al-Usul) as a subdivision of the chapter of "proofs and evidences". Sunnis hold it as one the three or four independent sources for deriving shari'a law and because of such importance in their view, they are called "Ahl al-Sunna wa l-Jama'a" (the people of sunna and congregation).
However Shi'a jurists do not regard Ijma' as an independent source in the same level as the Holy Qur'an and the Prophetic sunna, rather it is only reliable on the account of its signification of the infallible Imam's opinion.
How does Ijma' signify the opinion of the Imam (a)
Several basis for the representation of Imam's opinion through Ijma' have been propounded:
1. The Ijma' of Lutf (benign), according to the principle of lutf, the Divine attentive benign toward creation necessitates providing means of guidance and protection from falling astray. Based on this, if the scholars of the whole Islamic nation unanimously agree on a wrong ruling, it is obligatory upon the infallible Imam (a) to inform them about their mistake even if it is only possible by creating an opposite opinion through one of the scholars. In this sense, the consensus of all scholars on a particular ruling without any opposition, is a sign of its correctness. This explanation of Ijma' is referred to as the "Ijma' of lutf" and its foundations were set out by al-Shaykh al-Tusi.
2. The Ijma' al-Hissi (intuitive) or al-Dukhuli (inclusion) what is meant by the word intuitive here is the state where the presence of Imam's opinion among the opinion of scholars, becomes certain. This is possible in three ways:
- When some of the scholars within the body of Ijma', visit the the Imam and narrate his opinion under the title of Ijma'.
- When faqihs (scholars) reach an agreement over a particular ruling at the presence of the Imam and he validates their opinion.
- The Ijma' of faqihs on a religious ruling is in such a way that the presence of the infallible Imam among them become known; although he is not recognizable among them. This kind of Ijma' is named "Ijma' al-dukhuli" (inclusion), al-Sayyid al-Murtada accepts this expression.
3. The Ijma' al-Hadsi (the surmised consensus): Since scholars have different opinions in many rulings, their consensus on a certain ruling shows that their opinion is based on the opinion of the Imam. As the knowledge about such agreement is acquired through hads (surmise), such Ijma' is called "Ijma' al-hadsi". Most of Ijma's which were claimed by later scholars are of this type; contrary to those reported by early scholars that are mostly Ijma' al-Hissi.
4. Taqriri Ijma' : refers to an agreement which was formed during the time of Imam's presence and Imam being aware of such agreement, did not show any disapproval.
Types of Ijma'
- Al-Muḥaṣṣal (Acquired): the state when a scholar, after searching the opinions of other scholars from the past to present day in their books and sayings, finds out that they anonymously agree on a certain ruling.
- Al-Manqūl (reported): when a scholar does not search the opinions of other scholars himself, rather he relies on the report of another scholar about the existence of a consensus among jurists on a certain ruling.
- Al-Basīṭ (simple): refers to the general type of Ijma' as a consensus among scholars on a ruling e.g. the feces of Haram animal is najis. Most of Ijma's in fiqh are form this type.
- Al-Murakkab (complex): refers to a two-fold agreement in which the third opinion is automatically excluded. Simply put, when the scholars of an era agree on two or more opinions with respect to a certain ruling, tacitly they agree on the exclusion of other opinions; like the time when a group of scholars regard a certain act as forbidden and some other deem the same act as merely disliked, combination of these opinions, excludes the state of obligation or recommendation of that act. Such an Ijma' that is acquired with combination of different opinions is referred to as Ijma' al-Murakkab (complex). Now if a scholar introduces another opinion to this two-fold Ijma', it will be said that he has broken the two-fold Ijma' and created a third opinion. Permissibility or impermissibility of making such a break in a combined Ijma' depends on the authoritative basis of such Ijma'. This Ijma' and its authority are discussed in the Chapter of Evidences and Proofs, in 'Ilm al-usul (the principles of jurisprudence).
- Al-Taʿabbudī (external obedience): where the base and origin of Ijma' are not available anymore. This is the famous Ijma' which is relied upon in jurisprudence when there is no other clear evidence at hand.
- Al-Madrakī (with known origins): is a type of Ijma' whose origins are currently available in other jurisprudential sources i.e. Qur'an and Prophetic narrations. As the base of such agreement is available to scholars today, they can assess its origins and the process of its derivation in a better and clearer way.
- Al-ʿAmalī (practical): practical agreement among Muslim scholars over an usul issue or a sīra (lifestyle). This kind of Ijma' is only functional in the principles of jurisprudence (usul) or jurisprudential formulas, which are relied upon in the process of inferring shari'a law, not the shari'a law itself.
- Al-Qawlī (verbal): the unison of the jurists' fatwas on a particular issue.
- Al-Fiʿlī: the practical agreement among Muslims which is referred to as al-sira al-mutasharri'a (the lifestyle of the religious).
- Categorical (al-Qat'i): denotes the Ijma' that has reached the level of absolute certainty and is not acquired based on assumptions and conjectures.
- Unconditional (al-Mutlaq): when the subject of Ijma' has been ruled upon generally. For example it is said that the ihram in hajj must take place inside Mecca according to unconditional Ijma'; this means there is no additional condition within the subject of Ijma' and further conditions are matters of different opinions among jurists.
Evidentiality and Authority
- General Ijma': although it is regarded as one of the four main sources for deriving shari'a law, Ijma' does not hold authoritative merits in its own right, according to Shi'a usul al-fiqh (principles of jurisprudence). What is authoritative, is the opinion of the Imam which is represented in the Ijma'. Therefore, counting Ijma' as one of the sources of jurisprudence, along the holy Qur'an and hadith (narration), is merely nominal and formal in Shi'a perspective. On the contrary, Sunnis deem Ijma' as independently authoritative and count it among Sunni jurisprudential evidences, even if it goes against the infallible Imam.
- Complex Ijma': this type of Ijma' has two forms:
- Both groups clearly reject the third opinion. As an instance, the ruling of a particular action is either recommendation or obligation, in addition to this, they both agree that it is neither disliked nor forbidden. In such a case, the agreement over the exclusion of the third or fourth opinion, shouldn't be broken according to all definitions of Ijma'.
- Neither of the two groups explicitly reject the third opinion, however the exclusion of the third opinion is its tacit implication. For example, the belief in the obligation of an action, postulates its permissibility; since it is logically impossible for something to be both obligatory and forbidden in the same time. In this case and based on the principle of lutf (benign), which indicates the presence of the infallible Imam, the Ijma' is authoritative and must be observed. However based on other bases of Ijma' in Shi'a fiqh (jurisprudence), this form of Complex Ijma' does not hold any authority and the third opinion can be introduced.
- Ijma' with known origins: this type of Ijma' does not have any authority. Since the authority of Ijma' is merely based on its representation of the Imam's opinion and in Ijma' al- Madraki the origins of Ijma', i.e. the related narrations, are available, any jurist can directly refer to those origins himself and after evaluating their reliability, issue his own fatwa based on them, or disregard them.
- Aquired Ijma': this Ijma' is only evidential for the one acquiring it and with one condition: they should have reached consensus on the basis that are legitimate according to him.
- Reported Ijma': this type of Ijma' is only reliable when reported through mutawatir (frequent) accounts; that is several jurists must have acquired it and reported it. In cases where it is only acquired by few jurists or has been reported through single report, its authority is questionable. in its general use, the reported Ijma' indicates one which has been reported by only one reporter.
- Muṣtafawī, al-Taḥqīq, vol. 2, p. 107.
- Ghazālī, al-Muṣtasfā, p. 173.
- Muẓaffar, Uṣūl al-fiqh, vol. 2, p. 81.
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