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Ijtihad (Arabic: اجتهاد‎ ijtihād, [ʔidʒ.tihaːd; lit. Ijtihad_sentence_0

physical or mental effort, expended in a particular activity) is an Islamic legal term referring to independent reasoning or the thorough exertion of a jurist's mental faculty in finding a solution to a legal question. Ijtihad_sentence_1

It is contrasted with taqlid (imitation, conformity to legal precedent). Ijtihad_sentence_2

According to classical Sunni theory, ijtihad requires expertise in the Arabic language, theology, revealed texts, and principles of jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh), and is not employed where authentic and authoritative texts (Qur'an and Hadith) are considered unambiguous with regard to the question, or where there is an existing scholarly consensus (ijma). Ijtihad_sentence_3

Ijtihad is considered to be a religious duty for those qualified to perform it. Ijtihad_sentence_4

An Islamic scholar who is qualified to perform ijtihad is called a mujtahid. Ijtihad_sentence_5

By the beginning of the 10th century, development of Sunni jurisprudence prompted leading Sunni jurists to state that the main legal questions had been addressed and the scope of ijtihad was gradually restricted. Ijtihad_sentence_6

In the modern era, this gave rise to a perception among Western scholars and lay Muslim public that the so-called "gate of ijtihad" was closed at the start of the classical era. Ijtihad_sentence_7

While recent scholarship has disproved this notion, the extent and mechanisms of legal change in the post-formative period remain a subject of debate. Ijtihad_sentence_8

Starting from the 18th century, some Muslim reformers began calling for abandonment of taqlid and emphasis on ijtihad, which they saw as a return to Islamic origins. Ijtihad_sentence_9

Public debates in the Muslim world surrounding ijtihad continue to the present day. Ijtihad_sentence_10

The advocacy of ijtihad has been particularly associated with Islamic modernists and purist Salafi thinkers. Ijtihad_sentence_11

Among contemporary Muslims in the West there have emerged new visions of ijtihad which emphasize substantive moral values over traditional juridical methodology. Ijtihad_sentence_12

Shia jurists did not use the term ijtihad until the 12th century, but they employed a rational mode of legal reasoning from the early period, and its scope was not narrowed as in the Sunni tradition, with the exception of Zaydi jurisprudence. Ijtihad_sentence_13

Etymology and definition Ijtihad_section_0

The word derives from the three-letter Arabic verbal root of ج-ه-د J-H-D (jahada, 'struggle'): the "t" is inserted because the word is a derived stem VIII verb. Ijtihad_sentence_14

In its literal meaning, the word refers to effort, physical or mental, expended in a particular activity. Ijtihad_sentence_15

In its technical sense, ijtihad can be defined as a "process of legal reasoning and hermeneutics through which the jurist-mujtahid derives or rationalizes law on the basis of the Qur'an and the Sunna". Ijtihad_sentence_16

The juristic meaning of ijtihād has several definitions according to scholars of Islamic legal theory. Ijtihad_sentence_17

Some define it as the jurist’s action and activity to reach a solution. Ijtihad_sentence_18

Al-Ghazālī (d. 505/1111) defines it as the “total expenditure of effort made by a jurist for the purpose of obtaining the religious rulings.” Similarly the ijtihād is defined as “the effort made by the mujtahid in seeking knowledge of the aḥkām (rulings) of the sharī‘ah (Islamic canonical law) through interpretation.” Ijtihad_sentence_19

From this point of view that ijtihād essentially consists of an inference (istinbāṭ) that extents to a probability (ẓann). Ijtihad_sentence_20

Thus it excludes the extraction of a ruling from a clear text as well as rulings made without recourse to independent legal reasoning. Ijtihad_sentence_21

A knowledgeable person who gives a ruling on the sharī‘ah, but is not able to exercise their judgement in the inference of the rulings from the sources, is not called a mujtahid but rather a muqallid. Ijtihad_sentence_22

Scriptural basis Ijtihad_section_1

Islamic scholar Asghar Ali Engineer cites a hadith related by a sahabi (companion of the Islamic prophet Muhammad) by the name of Muadh ibn Jabal (also Ma’adh bin Jabal), as the basis for ijtihad. Ijtihad_sentence_23

According to the hadith from Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 24, Muadh was appointed by Muhammad to go to Yemen. Ijtihad_sentence_24

Before leaving he was asked how he would judge when the occasion of deciding a case arose. Ijtihad_sentence_25

History Ijtihad_section_2

Formative period Ijtihad_section_3

During the early period, ijtihad referred to the exercise of one's discretionary opinion (ra'y) on the basis of the knowledge of the precedent (‘ilm). Ijtihad_sentence_26

Jurists used ra'y to help reach legal rulings, in cases where the Qur'an and Sunna did not provide clear direction for certain decisions. Ijtihad_sentence_27

It was the duty of the educated jurists to come to a ruling that would be in the best interest of the Muslim community and promote the public good. Ijtihad_sentence_28

As religious law continued to develop over time, ra'y became insufficient in making sure that fair legal rulings were being derived in keeping with both the Qur'an and Sunna. Ijtihad_sentence_29

However, during this time, the meaning and process of ijtihad became more clearly constructed. Ijtihad_sentence_30

Ijtihad was “limited to a systematic method of interpreting the law on the basis of authoritative texts, the Quran and Sunna,” and the rulings could be “extended to a new problem as long as the precedent and the new situation shared the same clause.” Ijtihad_sentence_31

As the practice of ijtihad transformed over time, it became religious duty of a mujtahid to conduct legal rulings for the Muslim society. Ijtihad_sentence_32

Mujtahid is defined as a Muslim scholar that has met certain requirements including a strong knowledge of the Qur'an, Sunna, and Arabic, as well as a deep understanding of legal theory and the precedent; all of which allows them to be considered fully qualified to practice ijtihad. Ijtihad_sentence_33

Classical era Ijtihad_section_4

Around the beginning of the 10th century, most Sunni jurists argued that all major matters of religious law had been settled, allowing for taqlid (تقليد), "the established legal precedents and traditions," to take priority over ijtihād (اجتهاد). Ijtihad_sentence_34

This move away from the practice of ijtihād was made by the Hanafī and Malikī law schools, and the majority of Shafīʿis, but not by Hanbalīs or a number of prominent Shafīʿi jurists who believed that "true consensus" (ijmāʿ اجماع), apart from that of Muhammad's Companions, did not exist" and that "the constant continuous existence of mujtahids (مجتهد) was a theological requirement." Ijtihad_sentence_35

After the 11th century, Sunni legal theory developed systems for ranking jurists according to their qualifications for ijtihad. Ijtihad_sentence_36

One such ranking placed the founders of maddhabs, who were credited with being "absolute mujtahids" (mujtahid muṭlaq) capable of methodological innovation, at the top, and jurists capable only of taqlīd at the bottom, with mujtahids and those who combined ijtihād and taqlīd given the middle ranks. Ijtihad_sentence_37

In the 11th century, jurists required a mufti (jurisconsult) to be a mujtahid; by the middle of the 13th century, however, most scholars considered a muqallid (practitioner of taqlīd) to be qualified for the role. Ijtihad_sentence_38

During that era some jurists began to ponder whether practitioners of ijtihad continued to exist and the phrase "closing of the gate of ijtihād" (إغلاق باب الاجتهاد iġlāq bāb al-ijtihād) appeared after the 16th century. Ijtihad_sentence_39

The settling of Sunni law and increasing prominence of taqlid has at one point led most Western scholars to believe that the "gate of ijtihad" was in fact effectively closed around 900 C.E. Ijtihad_sentence_40

In a 1964 monograph, which exercised considerable influence on later scholars, Joseph Schacht wrote that "a consensus gradually established itself to the effect that from that time onwards no one could be deemed to have the necessary qualifications for independent reasoning in religious law, and that all future activity would have to be confined to the explanation, application, and, at the most, interpretation of the doctrine as it had been laid down once and for all." Ijtihad_sentence_41

While more recent research has disproved the notion that the practice of ijtihad was abandoned in the 10th century — or even later — the extent of legal change during this period and its mechanisms remain a subject of scholarly debate. Ijtihad_sentence_42

Shia Muslims recognized “human reasoning and intellect as a legal source that supplements the Quran and other revealed texts,” thus continuing to acknowledge the importance of ijtihad. Ijtihad_sentence_43

Modern era Ijtihad_section_5

During the turn of the 16th to 17th century, Sunni Muslim reformers began to criticize taqlid, and promoted greater use of ijtihad in legal matters. Ijtihad_sentence_44

They claimed that instead of looking solely to previous generations for practices developed by religious scholars, there should be an established doctrine and rule of behavior through the interpretation of original foundational texts of Islam—the Qur'an and Sunna. Ijtihad_sentence_45

Islamic modernism Ijtihad_section_6

Main article: Islamic modernism Ijtihad_sentence_46

Starting in the middle of the 19th century, Islamic modernists such as Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan, Jamal al-din Al-Afghani, and Muhammad Abduh emerged seeking to revitalize Islam by re-establish and reform Islamic law and its interpretations to accommodate Islam with modern society. Ijtihad_sentence_47

They emphasized the use of ijtihad, but in contrast to its original use, they sought to "apply contemporary intellectual methods" such as academic or scientific thought "to the task of reforming Islam". Ijtihad_sentence_48

Al-Afghani proposed the new use of ijtihad that he believed would enable Muslims to think critically and apply their own individual interpretations of the innovations of modernity in the context of Islam. Ijtihad_sentence_49

One modernist argument for applying ijtihad to sharia law is that while "the principles and values underlying Sharia (i.e. usul al-fiqh)" are unalterable, human interpretation of sharia is not. Ijtihad_sentence_50

Another, (made by Asghar Ali Engineer of India), is that the adaat (customs and traditions) of Arabs were used in the development of the sharia, and form an important part of it. Ijtihad_sentence_51

They are very much not divine or immutable, and have no more legal justification to be part of the sharia than the adaat of Muslims living beyond the home of the original Muslim in the Arab Hejaz. Ijtihad_sentence_52

The Ijtihad_sentence_53

In Indonesia, following considerable debate among the ulema, Indonesian adaat "become part of Sharia as applicable in that country". Ijtihad_sentence_54

This use of ijtihad to apply adaat applies to mu’amalat (socio-economic matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance), rather than Ibadah fiqh (ritual salat, sawm, zakat, etc.). Ijtihad_sentence_55

Asghar Ali Engineer argues that while the Arab adaat the Quran was revealed in was "highly patriarchal" and still informs what is understood as sharia, the "transcendental Quranic vision" is for "absolutely equal rights" between genders and should guide ijtihad of sharia. Ijtihad_sentence_56

Islamism and Salafism Ijtihad_section_7

Contemporary Salafis are major proponents of ijtihad. Ijtihad_sentence_57

They criticize taqlid and believe ijtihad makes modern Islam more authentic and will guide Muslims back to the Golden Age of early Islam. Ijtihad_sentence_58

Salafis assert that reliance on taqlid has led to Islam's decline. Ijtihad_sentence_59

The Muslim Brotherhood traces its founding philosophies to al-Afghani's ijtihad. Ijtihad_sentence_60

The Muslim Brotherhood holds that the practice of ijtihad will strengthen the faith of believers by compelling them to better familiarize themselves with the Quran and come to their own conclusions about its teachings. Ijtihad_sentence_61

But as a political group the Muslim Brotherhood faces a major paradox between ijtihad as a religious matter and as a political one. Ijtihad_sentence_62

Ijtihad weakens political unity and promotes pluralism, (which is also why many oppressive regimes reject ijtihad's legitimacy). Ijtihad_sentence_63

The Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini envisioned a prominent role for ijtihad in his political theory of "guardianship of the jurist" (vilāyat-e faqīh). Ijtihad_sentence_64

Osama Bin Laden supported ijtihad. Ijtihad_sentence_65

He criticized the Saudi regime for disallowing the "free believer" and imposing harsh restrictions on successful practice of Islam. Ijtihad_sentence_66

Thus, Bin Laden believed his striving for the implementation of ijtihad was his "duty" (takleef). Ijtihad_sentence_67

Qualifications of a mujtahid Ijtihad_section_8

"Mujtahid" redirects here. Ijtihad_sentence_68

For the Twitter activist, see Mujtahidd (activist). Ijtihad_sentence_69

A mujtahid (Arabic: مُجْتَهِد‎, "") is an individual who is qualified to exercise ijtihad in the evaluation of Islamic law. Ijtihad_sentence_70

The female equivalent is a mujtahida. Ijtihad_sentence_71

In general mujtahids must have an extensive knowledge of Arabic, the Qur'an, the Sunnah, and legal theory (Usul al-fiqh). Ijtihad_sentence_72

Sunni Islam and Shia Islam, due to their divergent beliefs regarding the persistence of divine authority, have different views on ijtihad and the qualifications required to achieve mujtahid. Ijtihad_sentence_73

In order to clarify how ijtihad differs in Sunni and Shia Islam it is necessary to explore the historical development of this position in both branches. Ijtihad_sentence_74

Sunni Ijtihad_section_9

In the years immediately following Mohammed's death, Sunni Muslims practiced ijtihad because they saw it as an acceptable form of the continuation of sacred instruction. Ijtihad_sentence_75

Sunni Muslims, therefore, began to practice ijtihad primarily through the use of personal opinion, or ra'y. Ijtihad_sentence_76

As Muslims turned to the Quran and Sunnah to solve their legal issues, they began to recognize that these divine proponents did not deal adequately with certain topics of law. Ijtihad_sentence_77

Therefore, Sunni Muslims began to find other ways and sources for ijtihad such as ra'y, which allowed for personal judgment of Islamic law. Ijtihad_sentence_78

Sunni Muslims justified this practice of ra'y with a particular hadith, which cites Muhammad's approval of forming an individual sound legal opinion if the Qur'an and Sunnah contain no explicit text regarding that particular issue. Ijtihad_sentence_79

Therefore, during the first two and a half centuries of Islam there were no restrictions placed on scholars interested in practicing ijtihad. Ijtihad_sentence_80

Beginning in the 9th century, jurists began to make more restrictions on who could practice ijtihad and the kinds of qualifications necessary. Ijtihad_sentence_81

Therefore, the practice of ijtihad became limited to a qualified scholar and jurist otherwise known as a mujtahid. Ijtihad_sentence_82

Abu'l-Husayn al-Basri provides the earliest and most expansive outline for the qualifications of a mujtahid, they include: Ijtihad_sentence_83


  • Enough knowledge of Arabic so that the scholar can read and understand both the Qur'an and the Sunnah.Ijtihad_item_0_0
  • Extensive comprehensive knowledge of the Qur'an and the Sunnah. More specifically, the scholar must have a full understanding of the Qur'an's legal contents. In regards to the Sunnah the scholar must understand the specific texts that refer to law and also the incidence of abrogation in the Sunnah.Ijtihad_item_0_1
  • Must be able to confirm the consensus (Ijma) of the Companions, the Successors, and the leading Imams and mujtahideen of the past, in order to prevent making decisions that disregard these honored decisions made in the past.Ijtihad_item_0_2
  • Should be able to fully understand the objectives of the sharia and be dedicated to the protection of the Five Principles of Islam, which are life, religion, intellect, lineage, and property.Ijtihad_item_0_3
  • Be able to distinguish strength and weakness in reasoning, or in other words exercise logic.Ijtihad_item_0_4
  • Must be sincere and a good person.Ijtihad_item_0_5

From the declaration of these requirements of mujtahid onwards, legal scholars adopted these characteristics as being standard for anyone looking to practice ijtihad. Ijtihad_sentence_84

In order for the reasoning of these mujtahids to be accepted as law multiple mujtahids had to reach ijma. Ijtihad_sentence_85

This allowed for mujtahids to openly discuss their particular views and reach a conclusion together. Ijtihad_sentence_86

The interaction required by ijma allowed for mujtahids to circulate ideas and eventually merge to create particular Islamic schools of law (madhhabs). Ijtihad_sentence_87

This consolidation of mujtahids into particular madhhabs prompted these groups to create their own distinct authoritative rules. Ijtihad_sentence_88

These laws reduced issues of legal uncertainty that had been present when multiple mujtahids were working together with one another. Ijtihad_sentence_89

However, with this introduction of common laws for each madhhab, legal scholars began to dismiss the practice of independent ijtihad and instead maintained the title of mujtahid only for the founders of the four main schools of Islamic law (Hanafiyya, Malikiyya, Shafiyya, Hanbaliyya). Ijtihad_sentence_90

Therefore, from the 12th century onwards jurists could occupy the position of a mujtahid or access ijtihad in only two cases, when distinguishing between the manifest and the obscure views of their particular schools or when they served as "imitators" of mujtahids, expressing the views of the more qualified mujtahids before them. Ijtihad_sentence_91

Therefore, the practice of ijtihad was restricted in favor of taqlid. Ijtihad_sentence_92

Shia Ijtihad_section_10

Shia Muslims understand the process of ijtihad as being the independent effort used to arrive at the rulings of sharia. Ijtihad_sentence_93

Following the death of the Prophet and once they had determined the Imam as absent, ijtihad evolved into a practice of applying careful reason in order to uncover the knowledge of what Imams would have done in particular legal situations. Ijtihad_sentence_94

The decisions the Imams would have made were explored through the application of the Qur'an, Sunnah, ijma and 'aql (reason). Ijtihad_sentence_95

It was not until the end of the eighteenth century that the title of mujtahid became associated with the term faqih or one who is an expert in jurisprudence. Ijtihad_sentence_96

From this point on religious courts began to increase in number and the ulama were transformed by Shia Islamic authorities into the new producer of ijtihad. Ijtihad_sentence_97

In order to produce perceptive mujtahids that could fulfill this important role, principles of Shia jurisprudence were developed to provide a foundation for scholarly deduction of Islamic law. Ijtihad_sentence_98

and his successors developed the school of Shia law, dividing the legal decisions into four categories of certainty (qat), valid conjecture (zann), doubt (shakk), and erroneous conjecture (wahm). Ijtihad_sentence_99

These rules allowed mujtahids to issue adjudications on any subject, that could be derived through this process of ijtihad, demonstrating their great responsibility to the Shia community Furthermore, according to Shia Islamic Jurisprudence a believer of Islam is either a Mujtahid (one that expresses their own legal reasoning), or a Muqallid (one performing Taqlid of a Mujtahid) and a Muhtat (one who acts with precaution). Ijtihad_sentence_100

Most Shia Muslims qualify as Muqallid, and therefore are very dependent on the rulings of the Mujtahids. Ijtihad_sentence_101

Therefore, the Mujtahids must be well prepared to perform ijtihad, as the community of Muqallid are dependent on their rulings. Ijtihad_sentence_102

Not only did Shia Muslims require: Ijtihad_sentence_103


  • Knowledge of the texts of the Qur'an and SunnahIjtihad_item_1_6
  • Justice in matters of public and personal lifeIjtihad_item_1_7
  • Utmost pietyIjtihad_item_1_8
  • Understanding of the cases where Shia mujtahids reached consensusIjtihad_item_1_9
  • Ability to exercise competence and authorityIjtihad_item_1_10

However, these scholars also depended on further training that could be received in religious centers called Hawza. Ijtihad_sentence_104

At these centers they are taught the important subjects and technical knowledge a mujtahid need be proficient in such as: Ijtihad_sentence_105


  • Arabic grammar and literatureIjtihad_item_2_11
  • LogicIjtihad_item_2_12
  • Extensive knowledge of the Qur'anic sciences and HadithIjtihad_item_2_13
  • Science of narratorsIjtihad_item_2_14
  • Principle of JurisprudenceIjtihad_item_2_15
  • Comparative JurisprudenceIjtihad_item_2_16

Therefore, Shia mujtahids remain revered throughout the Shia Islamic world. Ijtihad_sentence_106

The relationship between the mujtahids and muqallids continues to address and solve the contemporary legal issues. Ijtihad_sentence_107

Participating in ijtihad, however, has been cautioned by scholars for those not properly educated in interpretation of the Qu'ran. Ijtihad_sentence_108

This is narrated by Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin, the great grandson of Muhammad, when he cautioned Aban ibn abi-Ayyash, a fellow companion, saying, "Oh brother from 'Abd Qays, if the issue becomes clear to you, then accept it. Ijtihad_sentence_109

Otherwise remain silent and defer to Allah because your interpretation from the truth will be as far from the Earth as the sky." Ijtihad_sentence_110

Female mujtahids Ijtihad_section_11

A woman can be a mujtahid and there are dozens who have attained the rank in the modern history of Iran (for instance, Amina Bint al-Majlisi in the Safavid era, Bibi Khanum in the Qajar era, Lady Amin in the Pahlavi era, and Zohreh Sefati during the time of the Islamic Republic). Ijtihad_sentence_111

There are diverging opinions as to whether a female mujtahid can be a marjaʻ or not. Ijtihad_sentence_112

Zohreh Sefati and some male jurists believe a female mujtahida can become a marja‘, —in other words, they believe that believers perform taqlid (emulation) of a female mujtahid— but many male jurists believe a marjaʻ must be male. Ijtihad_sentence_113

See also Ijtihad_section_12


Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ijtihad.