SHAFAQNA – Many people wonder why it is that the mujtahids differ in their religious opinions, or fatwas, when the bases of their ijtihad are the same. Firstly, it should be said that any differences in the fatwas is hardly ever such as to be contradictory; it is almost impossible to find a case of one mujtahid saying some action is wajib and another saying it is haram.
Take, for instance, the case of salatu ‘l-jum`ah, the Friday prayer. All the Shi’ah `ulama’ are of the opinion that in the time of the presence of the Imam this salat is obligatory on Fridays, because it is the Imam, or his representative, who has the right to call the people to Friday prayer; but they differ as to what is the correct course of action when the Imam is in Occultation.
This difference of opinion does not, however, create any practical problem for the community. The late Ayatullah as-Sayyid Muhsin al-Hakim (d. 1970) was one of the opinion that salatu ‘l-jum`ah is not obligatory during the Occultation of the Imam, but it does not matter if someone performs it supposing that it is expected (of him), provided that he also prays the noon prayer (salatu ‘z-zuhr). Ayatullah as-Sayyid Abu ‘l-Qasim al-Khu’i says that “one can choose between performing salatu ‘z-zuhr or salatu ‘l-jum`ah, but once the latter is established with all its conditions (fulfilled), it is precautionarily obligatory to participate in it.”
Ayatullah as-Sayyid Ruhullah al-Khumayni says that “one can choose between performing salatu ‘z-zuhr or salatu ‘l-jum`ah, but if one chooses the latter it is advisable (mustahab) to precautionarily perform salatu ‘z-zuhr also.”8
Although there are these differences in the opinions of these mujtahids, there is no clash that would, for example, prevent the follower (muqallid) of one of them participating in salatu ‘l-jum`ah if it were established.
Secondly, it should be observed that the existence of differences in scientific opinions is not to be taken as a sign of a substantial defect in the quest for knowledge and a reason for abandoning it altogether; it is, rather, a sign that knowledge moves in progressive steps towards perfection. Differences of opinions are to be found in all sciences, not just in fiqh.
There may, for example, be more than one opinion about the therapy for a particular patient’s disease, and all of these opinions may be superseded later on by the development of new methods of dealing with that disease.
Thus these observations can be seen to be relevant not only to differences between the opinions of contemporary scientists but also to historical differences, and all these differences should be regarded as signs of the dynamism within a science and stages to be passed in its route to perfection.
It should be remembered that the mujtahid formulates his opinions after pushing his research and study as far as he can; that is all that is expected of him, for he is neither inerrant nor an `alim bi ‘l-ghayb (knower of the unseen). The muqallid is enjoined to follow his opinions.
So, even if the mujtahid’s fatwa is not actually in agreement with Allah’s real command, neither he will be punished on the Day of Judgement for having issued the fatwa, nor will his muqallid for having acted according to it, for both will have done what was commanded of them and what was humanly possible for them to do.