What Is the Definition and Categories of a Mujtahid?

Answered by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick


In the Shafi‘i School, what is the definition of a Mujtahid, and what are the various categories?


In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate.

May Allah alleviate our difficulties and guide us to what pleases Him. Amin.

A mujtahid is an Islamic scholar who has achieved the highest level of expertise in interpreting Sacred Law. The mujtahid is qualified to derive legal rulings from the primary sources: the Quran, the Sunna, and other sources of Islamic jurisprudence. [Hitu, al-Wajiz Fi ‘Usul al-Tashri‘ al-Islami;  Murad, Understanding the Four Madhhabs]

There are several categories or ranks of Mujtahid. An unrestricted Mujtahid derives his views directly from primary sources without relying on the opinions of others or secondary sources. The restricted or Muqayyad Mujtahid derives his opinions from primary and secondary sources. The Mujtahid within a School uses the foundations or framework of an extant School of Thought and builds upon it, and Allah knows best. [Ibid.]

Qualifications of a Mujtahid

A mujtahid must have the following qualifications:

  • Mastery of the Arabic language to minimize the possibility of misinterpreting Revelation on purely linguistic grounds;
  • Profound knowledge of the Quran and Sunna and the circumstances surrounding the revelation of each verse and hadith, together with full knowledge of the Quranic and hadith commentaries and control of all the interpretative techniques discussed above;
  • Knowledge of the specialized disciplines of hadith, such as the assessment of narrators and the matn (text);
  • Knowledge of the views of the Companions, Followers, and the great imams, and the positions and reasoning expounded in the textbooks of fiqh, combined with the knowledge of cases where a consensus (ijma‘) has been reached;
  • Knowledge of the science of juridical analogy (qiyas), its types and conditions;
  • Knowledge of one’s society and public interest (maslaha);
  • Knowing the general objectives (maqasid) of the Shari‘a;
  • High degree of intelligence and personal piety combined with the Islamic virtues of compassion, courtesy, and modesty. [Ibid.]

Types of Mujtahid

A scholar who has fulfilled these conditions can be considered a mujtahid fi al-shar‘ (an independent scholar in Sacred Law) and is not obliged, or even permitted, to follow an existing authoritative madhhab. Some Imams were saying this when they forbade their great disciples from imitating them uncritically. But for the much greater number of scholars whose expertise has not reached such dizzying heights, it may be possible to become a mujtahid fi al-madhhab, a scholar who remains broadly convinced of the doctrines of his school but is qualified to differ from received opinion within it.

There have been several examples of such men, for instance, Imam al-Nawawi (Allah have mercy on him) among the Shafi‘is, Qadi Ibn ‘Abd Al-Barr among the Malikis, Ibn ‘Abidin among the Hanafis, and Ibn Qudama among the Hanbalis. All of these scholars considered themselves followers of the fundamental interpretative principles of their Schools but are on record as having exercised their own gifts of scholarship and judgment in reaching many new verdicts within them. [Ibid.]

I pray this is of benefit and that Allah guides us all.
[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar Shaykh Taha Karaan.

Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.

He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.

Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and has completed his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.