Question: When, how are some positions stronger or more valid than others?
Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
Thank you for your important question.
Generally speaking, positions in Islamic law, theology or tafsir, can roughly be categorized into five categories:
3. Plausible and valid
4. Plausible but weak
When we say that one position or opinion is correct, and the other is incorrect, it is because it goes against unquestionable evidence (dalil qati), such as a verse of the Qur’an that only accepts one possible linguistic interpretation, and that is not abrogated by consensus.
If the position does not contravene unquestionable evidence (dalil qati), then it is deemed plausible.
Thereafter, we look at the scholarly tradition, and we try to see what the Four Schools, what the scholars of creed, or tafsir, or any other Islamic discipline, have adopted as their respective “final words.” Their conclusions will be deemed strong, and the other positions, though still plausible, will be deemed weak.
Some weak positions are so weak, odd, and unfounded in the principles of each Islamic discipline that they are deemed maverick (shadh).
To give an example, a plausible and strong possibility is that if one touches a woman’s skin, it breaks one’s wudu. This is the position that the Shafi’is have relied upon. (al Umm, Shafi’i; Minhaj al Talibin, Nawawi) It is also a strong position to say that it does not. (al Hidaya, Al Marghinani) Thus both are strong and valid positions.
By contrast, an example of a weak position is that even touching your mother or daughter breaks your wudu. It is not the relied position in the Shafi’i school, but it is a position, and it is plausible. (al Majmu, Nawawi) Such a position would normally be ignored but is not off the charts to want a better word.
An example of a maverick position is that one may perform the rite of Standing at Arafa on any boulder from the geographical site of Arafa, even if that boulder was moved to a different country. Although it is in principle plausible, it is not the relied upon the position of any school of thought and is not in keeping with the normal principles of Islamic law. Therefore, such a position is maverick and should just be ignored. (Mukhtasar al Fawaid al Makkiyya, Saqqaf)
This is a rough sketch of how to navigate different positions in the Islamic tradition, and each discipline will have its own system of editing out weak or weird opinions.
For more information, see:
Sharh Uqud Rasm al Mufti, Ibn Abidin
The Prolegomena, Ibn Khaldoun (English)
Al Milal wa al Nihal, Shahrastani
Al Ijma, Ibn al Mundhir
Al Insaf, Ibn al Anbari
I pray this helps.
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years, he has developed a masterful ability to craft lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language.