When A Scholar Errs

When A Scholar Errs

Shaykh ‘Ubayd Al-Jaabiree¹ 

Question: Noble Shaykh, if a scholar from the major scholars errs is it permissible for one of the youth to refute his error or does a scholar like him refute him? Because, some of the youth embark upon refuting the verdicts of some of the scholars which, the fatwaa at times legislatively prohibited, but the scholar may give a verdict for it giving consideration to a necessity or due to a wisdom that he sees; may Allaah bless you, give us a ruling, may you be rewarded.

Answer: That which you have asked about is looked at from two perspectives, just as the one who that erroneous statement emanated from is looked at from two perspectives as well; thus Ahlus-Sunnah looks at the opposition and at the opposer.

The opposition is none other than one of two cases:

  • The First Case: It is an opposition wherein ijtihaad is not proper, whether that be in the Usool of the religion or its subsidiary branches; because the text of the Qur’aan and the Sunnah are connected to it or the Imaams have united upon it; or it bears the ruling of ijmaa’ while the opposer does not have text to support his view.
  • The Second Case: The Opposition occurred in a matter wherein ijtihaad is befitting or a matter wherein the text are flexible.               

The first category; i.e. the one wherein ijtihaad is not befitting, differing therein is not proper; it is never proper. So the error is refuted upon the one who said it, whoever he may be.

Moreover, the opposer is none other than one of two men:

  • He is a man of the Sunnah. The people know him for uprightness upon it and defense of it and its people, just as they know him for sincerely advising the Ummah. This one, his mistakes are not to be followed up and his honor is to be preserved while his error is to be refuted. We observe etiquettes with him and preserve his honor and we do not censure him like we censure the deviant innovator. That is out of consideration for that which Allaah has blessed him with from previous virtue and eminence in status and leadership in the religion. So we consider all of this. If you look at many of the Imaams who are upon the Sunnah, the people attest for them in their life as well as after their death; they had mistakes, and their foot slipped. So their contemporaries refuted them and they did so while preserving their nobility and safeguarding their honor; without making the speech long upon them with scathing statements.
  • Or this opposer is an opposer in that wherein there is no room for ijtihaad and his opposition is intentional, out of arrogance, and divergence from the truth and being driven by desires. This person has no honor with Ahlus-Sunnah. They refute him for his statement and they censure him. They describe him with innovation and misguidance and they warn against him. They declare the statement to be erroneous; unless there is a corruption which is greater than the hoped for benefit is perceived. In that case, they suffice with refuting his mistake and they beware of him within themselves.

This is the case if that deviant innovator is in the land and his people are the people of influence and sway, and preponderant strength is in his favor, and their might is strong, like if he were the Mufti of that land, or a minister from the ministers; such as the Minister of Endowments, or the Minister of Justice, or those who are close (to the ruler) in the government or the scholars whom they trust within the government, while we are weak. Then, we do not describe him with anything from that. We say: This is an error. Shaykh so and so erred in such and such. And we do not accept it from him. What is given consideration is the evidence. The evidence is with us in opposition to him.

It is obligatory that the refutation be knowledge based, predicated upon the Book and the Sunnah in accordance with the understanding of the Salaf As-Saalih; far removed insults and scathing statements which make the listener disgusted and flee from them and abstain from the truth that we have with us, due to what they hear from phrases in other than their proper place which are not suitable for students of knowledge. 

Indeed the refutation which is predicated upon the Book and the Sunnah with the understanding of the righteous predecessors, and makes the truth evident and rebuts falsehood, the just minded accepts it and does not argue regarding it, even if they love that opposer; and this is from experience, may Allaah bless you, so understand it.

The second type of opposition is in a matter wherein ijtihaad is befitting. You are to clarify your statement in accordance to that which is stronger to you, and do not censure the other view; nor are you to warn against him. You do not describe him as being a deviant innovator or astray. However, you say, that which is correct according to us is such and such.

For example, the sequence in Wudu’; the majority of the scholars hold that it is obligatory. From them is Imaam Ahmad and his companions, may Allaah have mercy upon all of them; while the Hanafees and those who are in agreement with them, may Allaah have mercy upon them, hold that it is not obligatory. Without using rude speech, we say that the correct view is with us; and the most correct of the two statements is that it is obligatory.

Another example is the one who abandons the prayer. The majority of the scholars hold that he is a Faasiq (evil-doer); he is to be sought to repent. If he repents, then good, and if not then he is killed as a prescribed punishment. His ruling is the ruling of other than him from the evil-doers. He is washed, shrouded, prayed over, and supplicated for. He is buried within the graveyard of the Muslims and the Muslims from his family members inherit from him. From the Jumhoor who hold this view are: Az-Zuhree, Maalik, Ash-Shaafi’ee, and it is one of the narrations from Ahmad.

The second narration from Imaam Ahmad, and upon this view are the verifying Imaams, from them Shaykh ‘Abdul-‘Azeez, the Imaam, the Atharee, the Mujtahid, may Allaah have mercy upon him; Shaykh Muhammad ibn Uthaymeen, the Imaam and Jurist, the verifier, the man of precision, the Mujtahid, may Allaah have mercy upon him; (they are) of the view that he is a disbeliever who is asked to repent. If he repents, good, and if not then he is killed as an apostate. Based upon this, he is not washed, he is not shrouded, he is not prayed over, not supplicated for; the Muslims from his family members do not inherit from him. His wealth is Fay’ (booty taken without fighting); the ruler uses it in the general benefit of the Muslims.

So if you look into the affair of these groups from the Imaams, may Allaah’s Mercy be upon them, you will not find that those who hold him to be a Faasiq describing those who hold him to be a Kaafir as being Khawaarij. Likewise, you don’t find those who hold him to be a Kaafir describing those who hold him to be a Faasiq as being Murji’ah. Why? Because all have strong evidence which he returns to regarding this principle which he hold.

It remains that I should say: This noble scholar who has made a mistake in a matter wherein you deem that the stronger opinion (is not with him), I hold that he should be advised and his error should be clarified to him. If he does not accept it then refer it to scholars greater than yourselves and greater than him. They will advise him and clarify (the issue) to him and the Sunnah will make him return, if Allaah the Exalted wills.

This is the Imaam Al-Albaanee, may Allaah have mercy upon him, he held that the face of the woman is not ‘Awrah and it is permissible for her to uncover it. Shaykh ‘Abdul-‘Azeez, may Allaah have mercy upon him, and Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Uthaymeen, may Allaah have mercy upon him, and Shaykh Muhammad ibn Ibraheem, may Allaah have mercy upon him, all held the opposing view. However, they did not censure him. The people of knowledge refute Shaykh Naasir, may Allaah have mercy upon him, without censuring him and without rebuking him, and without transgressing.

Likewise, he, may Allaah have mercy upon him, held the view of prohibition of gold rings (for women); and those who I mentioned from our scholars and other than them did not censure him. They say: Shaykh Naasir is mistaken in this; and that which is correct is such and such.  Thus, may Allaah bless you, the people of knowledge show respect for one another. I have clarified to you before the scale which you know from the speech of our Imaams and our scholars regarding the opposition and the opposer. So comprehend that, for the affair is not on one level.


Translated by: Aboo Ruqayyah Raha ibn Donald Batts


[1] Taken from the Book: Al-Hadd Al-Faasil (Fatwaa Number 1)