Can We Follow Different Schools of Thought in Separate Issues?

Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch 

Question

What is the proof (dalil) that someone can follow one school of thought for one religious issue (mas’ala) and another school on another issue?

Not that I want to do this myself—because I know this to be true on account of the many ‘ulama I have heard it from, but I just want ‘ayn al-yaqīn (full certainty) of it.

Answer

In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate

Acting Upon Knowledge

It is an obligation upon every Muslim to follow authorized religious scholarship in all that they do in order to fulfill the obligation of obeying Allah Most High and His Messenger (may Allah bless him and give him peace). To this point, Allah Most High says, “Ask the people of knowledge, if you know not.” [Quran, 16:43]

Following One Specific Scholar/School

Now, although there is clear and manifest benefit in doing so and through it, much harm is avoided, the majority of scholars do not deem the following of any one specific scholar or school of thought an obligation on each Muslim.

However, even though doing so is not an obligation per se, it is highly encouraged in order for one’s religious practice to be upon clear understanding, to prevent confusion, and to prevent contradictory practices in one’s worships or religious dealings.

All of this is in order to achieve the following principle: for one’s religious duty to be fulfilled with certainty. [Shurunbulali, Imdad al-Fattah]

Separate Schools, Separate Issues

As for following one school of thought in one religious issue (mas’ala) and another in another issue, the scholars have allowed this (especially when there is legitimate need), despite it not being ideal, with the following two conditions:

  1. that it not be done repeatedly merely following one’s whims or desires (tatabbu‘ al-rukhas)
  2. that it not be done in a manner that leads to the contradictory combining of rulings (talfiq).
    [Ibn ‘Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar]

Note that this second condition only applies if the two issues are connected legally, like that of purification and prayer. If they are separate, like prayer and fasting, there is no fear of contradiction. [Ibid.]

Examples

A follower of the Hanafi school performs the ablution (wudu). Afterward, he has a nose bleed, touches the skin of his wife, and begins performing the prayer. This person, within one issue, followed the opinions of two separate scholars: Imam Abu Hanifa (who says that touching the spouse does not invalidate the wudu) and Imam al-Shafi‘i (who says that blood does not invalidate the wudu). [Ibid.]

By doing so, his prayer is not valid according to either Imam.

According to the Hanafi school, his wudu was invalidated by the nose bleed – therefore, the prayer does not count. According to the Shafi‘i school, his wudu is invalidated by the touching of his spouse – therefore, his prayer doesn’t count. This is talfiq or contradictory combining of rulings. [Ibid.]

Exceptions

There are some exceptions to the above rule, however, they relate to past actions and the removal of undue difficulty in the religion caused by large amounts of makeup prayers. [Ibid.]

Summary

The religious obligation is to base one’s actions on knowledge taken from an authorized scholar. Thus, since the time of the Companions (Allah be pleased with them), they consulted, either the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) or each other. In some cases, one companion may consult one scholar of the companions and in another issue another scholar.

After the codification of the schools of thought which facilitated the preservation and transfer of knowledge, scholars encouraged the general public of Muslims to follow one of these four schools of thought. However, there are extenuating circumstances in which one may fall into great religious or worldly difficulty by sticking to their school. For this reason, the opinions of other schools are, for this person, great mercy.

However, taken out of its proper place, the idea of taking from another school can open the door to many harms: the unrestrained following of desires which is the antithesis of the Sacred Law itself, and the un-guided picking and choosing of issues without knowledge and clarity.

The schools of thought and the proper usage of the differing opinions are central to the upholding of the higher aims of the Sacred Law. At the pinnacle of these aims is the attainment of the Divine good pleasure by sincerely striving to carry out His will on the Earth by obeying Him and His commands. Acting upon ignorance goes against obedience and the misuse of the variant opinions goes against sincerity.

Hope this helps
Allah knows best
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a teacher of Arabic, Islamic law, and spirituality. After accepting Islam in 2008, he then completed four years at the Darul Uloom seminary in New York where he studied Arabic and the traditional sciences. He then traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he stayed for three years studying in Dar Al-Mustafa under some of the greatest scholars of our time, including Habib Umar Bin Hafiz, Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf, and Shaykh Umar al-Khatib. In Tarim, Shaykh Yusuf completed the memorization of the Qur’an and studied beliefs, legal methodology, hadith methodology, Qur’anic exegesis, Islamic history, and a number of texts on spirituality. He joined the SeekersGuidance faculty in the summer of 2019.

Arabic References:

ثُمَّ قَالَ بَعْدَ ذِكْرِ فُرُوعٍ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْمَذْهَبِ صَرِيحَةٍ بِالْجَوَازِ وَكَلَامٍ طَوِيلٍ: فَتَحَصَّلَ مِمَّا ذَكَرْنَاهُ أَنَّهُ لَيْسَ عَلَى الْإِنْسَانِ الْتِزَامُ مَذْهَبٍ مُعَيَّنٍ، وَأَنَّهُ يَجُوزُ لَهُ الْعَمَلُ بِمَا يُخَالِفُ مَا عَمِلَهُ عَلَى مَذْهَبِهِ مُقَلِّدًا فِيهِ غَيْرَ إمَامِهِ مُسْتَجْمِعًا شُرُوطَهُ وَيَعْمَلُ بِأَمْرَيْنِ مُتَضَادَّيْنِ فِي حَادِثَتَيْنِ لَا تَعَلُّقَ لِوَاحِدَةٍ مِنْهُمَا بِالْأُخْرَى، وَلَيْسَ لَهُ إبْطَالُ عَيْنِ مَا فَعَلَهُ بِتَقْلِيدِ إمَامٍ آخَرَ؛ لِأَنَّ إمْضَاءَ الْفِعْلِ كَإِمْضَاءِ الْقَاضِي لَا يُنْقَضُ. وَقَالَ أَيْضًا: إنَّ لَهُ التَّقْلِيدَ بَعْدَ الْعَمَلِ كَمَا إذَا صَلَّى ظَانًّا صِحَّتَهَا عَلَى مَذْهَبِهِ ثُمَّ تَبَيَّنَ بُطْلَانُهَا فِي مَذْهَبِهِ وَصِحَّتُهَا عَلَى مَذْهَبِ غَيْرِهِ فَلَهُ تَقْلِيدُهُ، وَيَجْتَزِي بِتِلْكَ الصَّلَاةِ عَلَى مَا قَالَ فِي الْبَزَّازِيَّةِ: إنَّهُ رُوِيَ عَنْ أَبِي يُوسُفَ أَنَّهُ صَلَّى الْجُمُعَةَ مُغْتَسِلًا مِنْ الْحَمَّامِ ثُمَّ أُخْبِرَ بِفَأْرَةٍ مَيِّتَةٍ فِي بِئْرِ الْحَمَّامِ فَقَالَ نَأْخُذُ بِقَوْلِ إخْوَانِنَا مِنْ أَهْلِ الْمَدِينَةِ «إذَا بَلَغَ الْمَاءُ قُلَّتَيْنِ لَمْ يَحْمِلْ خَبَثًا» . اهـ.