Guiding Principles in Choosing a Fatwa

Islam, the preferred religion of Allah has been sent down to guide every aspect of a believer’s life.

How we worship Allah, how our character should be, how we deal with our parents, children, and relatives–the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) taught us everything.

However, life changes and evolves with time. Life of one generation differs from that of other generation. For example, we now experience the luxury of many electronic gadgets, which our grandparents could not even imagine.

Although life changes and new elements and issues come into picture, it does not mean that Islam cease to be the guiding principle of our life. Since the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) is the last Messenger of Allah, the sharia of Islam is the last sharia.  That is why the sharia of Islam will remain the guide of believers’ lives until the establishment of the Hour.

That is why in Islam, we have the room for ijtihad (scholarly research). If clear legislation about a new issue is not available from the Quran and the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), the scholars of Islam perform ijtihad based on the Quran and the Sunnah and issue a legal decision.

If many scholars perform ijtihad on an identical issue, it is natural that all of them will not arrive at the same conclusion.

This happened even with the companions of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). After his (ﷺ) death, the companions arrived at different conclusions despite performing ijtihad on a similar issue.

“Taking picture of any living creature is haram.”

“No brother, Shaykh X has said that there is nothing wrong with taking pictures of living creatures.”

“But brother, that is allowed only when there is a necessity.”

Since there are many issues where our scholars have different viewpoints and issued different fatwas, such debate about fiqh difference is very common among Muslims.

But the question is: How do you choose an opinion to follow when different opinions exist about an issue?

Today inshallah, I will share two hadiths of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) which may be used as guiding principles for choosing a fatwa regarding an issue where our scholars have different opinions:

Hadith 1

al-Nu’maan ibn Basheer (رضى الله عنه) narrated the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) saying, “That which is halaal is clear and that which is haraam is clear, and between the two of them are ambiguous (mutashabihat) matters about which many people do not know. Thus he who avoids ambiguous matters clears himself in regard to his religion and his honor, but he who falls into ambiguous matters (eventually) falls into that which is haraam, like the shepherd who pastures around a sanctuary, all but grazing therein. Truly every king has a sanctuary, and truly Allah’s sanctuary is His prohibitions. Truly in the body there is a morsel of flesh, which, if it be whole, all the body is whole, and which, if it is diseased, all of (the body) is diseased. Truly, it is the heart.” [Related by al-Bukhaari and Muslim]

In this hadith, the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) clearly acknowledged that there will always be doubtful matters. Had Allah wanted, He could have made everything black and white. But out of His wisdom, He chose to keep a grey area between the halal and the haram to test the sincerity of his slaves. Therefore, when it comes to choosing a fatwa about doubtful matters, we have to consider the following factors:

  • Is it possible for us to leave aside the doubtful matter altogether? If it is possible to leave it altogether, then that is the most honorable thing for us. For example, suppose there is a cheese product which is doubtful. You may be very fond of this cheese, but unfortunately, the scholars are divided about the lawfulness of this product. What could be your solution? You may ask yourself, “Will my life stop moving forward if I leave this doubtful product?” Remember the sacrifice of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). Fire would not be lit in his house for months. He and Aisha (رضى الله عنه) would survive only on dates and water. Despite having only dates, life went on for the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). Your life will also go on without this doubtful product. At the same time, your religion will be protected and you will reduce the probability of falling into the grey area, falling into which will eventually lead you into the haram.

Therefore, if we can avoid doubtful things altogether, that is the best solution. Because at the end of the day, satisfying our nafs does not worth risking our deen. It is always better to be safe than to be sorry in akhirah.

If we cannot leave aside the doubtful matter altogether, then we have no other option but to look at the opinion of scholars. However, even when we are searching for scholarly opinions, we have to consider many factors:

  • Intention: Do you want to find the truth or do you just want to hear an opinion that simply suits your desire?
  • Have you done the background check of the scholar you are taking opinion of? Does he have the qualification to do ijtihad? Do other scholars hold him in high esteem? Does he follow the Quran and the Sunnah and the methodology of the righteous predecessors of the first three generations?
  • Have you read the viewpoints of other scholars regarding the same issue and tried to understand it from different perspectives before choosing an opinion?

Intention is the most important factor. Often because of weakness in faith, we become agitated when we hear that a scholar has ruled out a certain thing as haram. Why do we get agitated? Because more often than not, we consciously or sub-consciously look for a fatwa that suits our desire. And when our intention is corrupt, we naturally do not do the necessary research (like background check of a scholar giving fatwa, his methodology, viewpoints of other scholars) that we are supposed to do before choosing our fatwa.

Hadith 2

Al-Nawwas bin Sam’an (رضى الله عنه), reported that the Prophet (ﷺ), said: “Righteousness is good character, and sin is that which wavers in your heart and which you do not want people to know about.” [Muslim]

According to Wabisah bin Ma’bad (رضى الله عنه), who said: I came to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), and he said: “You have come to ask about righteousness?” “Yes,” I answered. He said: “Consult your heart. Righteousness is that about which the soul feels tranquil and the heart feels tranquil, and sin is what creates restlessness in the soul and moves to and fro in the breast, even though people give you their opinion (in your favour) and continue to do so.

[A good hadith transmitted from the Musnads of the two Imams, Ahmad bin Hanbal and Al-Darimi]

This hadith tells us that if our intention is sincere, we will know if we have chosen the correct opinion. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) advised us to consult our hearts. If we are sincere with Allah, our hearts will be sound. If our heart is sound, it will never remain in a state of tranquility if we are following an incorrect opinion and disobeying Allah.

In conlcusion, we should remember that a fatwa will not be our shield if intention is corrupt and heart is not sound. Allah knows if we are looking for the truth or if we are looking for a fatwa to satisfy our desire. He knows what our hearts conceal. On the Day of Judgment, Allah will look into our hearts and expose what they concealed. Lest Allah proves us as hypocrites on the Day of Judgment, we should use the two hadiths mentioned above as our guidelines before we choose any fatwa and use it as our defense. Because we may deceive ourselves, but we cannot deceive Allah. Allah said in the Quran:

They [think to] deceive Allah and those who believe, but they deceive not except themselves and perceive [it] not. [The Noble Quran, 2:9]

Indeed, the hypocrites [think to] deceive Allah , but He is deceiving them. [The Noble Quran 4:142]

Allah knows the treachery of the eyes, and all that the breasts conceal. [The Noble Quran 40:19]

An excellent lecture pertinent to this topic by Shaykh Abu Mussab Wajdi Akkari:

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