The following is a translated essay extracted from Allamah Zafar Ahmad al-Uthmani’s Qawaid fi Ulum al-Hadith, part of the general introduction to I’la al-Sunan. (A 20 volume compendium of the Hadith proofs for the Hanafi Madhab. For some information regarding this magnificent work see here)
Allamah Zafar Ahmad al-Uthmani’s Comprehensive Reply to the Objectors of Taqlid
It is known from the practice of Umar that he would, when anyone narrated to him [something] that he did not recognise from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace), say to him: “Do you have with you one who will corroborate you? If not I will punish you.” Al-Dhahabi said: “In this is evidence that when a report is narrated by two trustworthy narrators, it is stronger and weightier than what one [narrator] is alone in [narrating]. In this is encouragement of multiplying the paths of hadith, in order that it rises from the degree of uncertainty to the degree of certainty, since one [narrator] may have forgotten or erred, and that is nearly impossible for two trustworthy [narrators] that none opposes.” (Tadhkirat al-Huffaz 1:6)
I say: Hence, there is no reason therefore to say that Abu Hanifah performed Qiyas excessively in his madhhab only because he was present at a time before the codification of hadith, and had he lived till [the period when] the hadiths of the Shariah were codified, and after the huffaz travelled to collect them from the cities and borders, and he obtained them, he would have accepted them and abandoned every analogy he made, because we say: Had the Imam obtained them, he would not accept from them except what was widespread in the time of the four caliphs, and all that was widespread of hadith in their time, none of it escaped him, as he had encompassed the knowledge of Hijaz and Medina and the Iraqis, proven by the great number of his teachers, and his being the most learned of people in his time by the testimony of the Imams* as was previously mentioned; and all exceptions are anomalous (shadhdh) or from that which is not obligatory to act upon.
If we conceded that some hadiths which must be acted upon in the Shari„ah were hidden to him, we say: Muhammad, Abu Yusuf, Zufar ibn al-Hudhayl, Ibn al-Mubarak, al-Hasan ibn Ziyad and others of his companions lived until the time hadith was codified; and then al-Tahawi, al-Karkhi, al-Hakim the author of al-Kafi, Abd al-Baqi ibn Qani, al-Mustaghfiri, Ibn al-Sharqi, al-Zaylai and others from the huffaz of the Hanafis and the critics of hadith from them came later after there had been complete scrutiny of prophetic hadith; and they comprehended its authentic and its weak [reports], and its well-known and its singular [reports].
Hence, every analogy from the analogies of Abu Hanifah which he held in opposition to hadith, his companions like Muhammad, Abu Yusuf, Zufar and al-Hasan left it, and they disagreed with their teacher in half of his madhhab, and the madhhab of the Hanafis is the sum of the opinions of the Imam, and these disciples of his. Then the hadith-scholars of the Hanafis after them gave preference in some issues to the opinion of al-Shafi’i, and in some of them to the opinion of Malik, and in some of them to the opinion of Ahmad, and they issued fatwa according to what was preponderant according to them based on the evidence; and all of this is the madhhab of Abu Hanifah, due to it being consistent with his method and his principles on which he premised his madhhab, from which is his preference of [scriptural] text even if weak over analogy. So there does not remain, and all praise is to Allah, in our madhhab an opinion contrary to hadith except we have with us another hadith supporting us, and that which we apparently oppose, it has with us an interpretation which we do not oppose; and all the Imams and their companions would do likewise. No one can claim to act on all hadiths in their entirety, and all only act on some of them and leave some of them, either because it is weak according to them or contrary to the text [of the Qur’an] or well-known or mass-transmitted report, or due to it being anomalous or defective or abrogated or interpreted according to a meaning most people have not comprehended, and the like of this.
As for those who condemn taqlid, it is not possible for them to act on hadith according to their principle at all, because acting on it is not possible except by imitating some of the ulama in that “this hadith is sahih,” and “this is da’if,” and “this is obligatory to act upon,” and “this is not obligatory to act upon, but it is permissible or desirable or impermissible to adopt,” and this, as you see, is all taqlid in rulings, since a hadith being obligatory to adopt or vice versa, or impermissible to adopt or vice versa, is definitely from the rulings. This is why the jurists mentioned the discussion of the Sunnah, its acceptance and its rejection, its adoption and its abandonment, and the rulings of the narrators in [the books of] jurisprudence and its principles, due it being from the subject of laws. These people reject taqlid, Qiyas and ijtihad completely in rulings, so why do they do taqlid of the hadith-scholars in this? And why do they make their opinion and their ijtihad in authenticating hadiths and weakening them a proof?**
And we have already explained many times that the authenticity and weakness of a hadith, and the trustworthiness and weakness of a narrator, all depend on the taste of a hadith-scholar, his opinion and his judgement. This is why ijtihad developed amongst them in this; thus, one weakens a hadith and another authenticates it, and one weakens a man and another declares him trustworthy. This is nothing besides differences in opinion. So understand, and do not haste in rejecting a reliable Imam to whose eminence the ummah have bowed, and whose greatness and excellence the imams have recognised. Allah has charge of your guidance.
Ibn al-Qayyim said in I'lam al-Muwaqqi'in (2:247) in answer to the proofs of the muqallids: “Your statement that the companions of Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) conquered lands, and the people were new to Islam, and they would issue them fatwas and did not say to them you must seek knowledge of the truth of this fatwa from the evidence, its answer is that they did not issue fatwas to them using their opinions, and they only transmitted to them what their Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, did or commanded, so what they issued fatwa upon is the ruling and is the proof, and they said to them: “This is the teaching of our Prophet to us, and it is our teaching to you,” and this, what they informed them of, was proof itself, and that is the ruling, since the speech of Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is the ruling and is the proof of the ruling and likewise the Qur’an, and the people at that time would be eager to know what their Prophet said or did or commanded, and the Sahabah only conveyed this to them.”
I say: the unpleasantness and bitter arbitrariness in this absolute [statement] is not hidden, and were we to concede this, it entails that the statements and fatwas of the Sahabah were all hadiths traced [to the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace)] due to your saying that “what they issued fatwa upon is the ruling and is the proof,” so there is no blame on the Hanafis when they adopt in an issue the opinion of Ibn Mas’ud and his fatwa and they leave a hadith traced [to the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace)] due to your admission that the fatwa of a Sahabi is the ruling and is the proof; and when two hadiths contradict, a preference is acted upon, so if Qiyas gives preference or something else gives preference, making the opinion of a Sahabi equal to the report traced [to the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace)], then it should be permissible according to you to accept the opinion of a Sahabi, and it is not permissible for you to condemn one who does this. So, understand, assemblies of those who denounce taqlid!
Furthermore, since the Sahabah (Allah be pleased with them) would not issue fatwa to people based on their opinions, and they would only convey to them what their Prophet said, did or commanded, who told you that the Tabi’in would issue fatwa to people based on their opinions? Why is a similar claim not possible for their fatwas as well, that they would only convey to them what the Sahabah said, did and commanded and likewise, the successors of the Tabi’in, that they only conveyed to their companions what the Tabi’in said, did and commanded, and so on?
If you say: “Then why is it that their fatwas conflict with hadiths the hadith-scholars narrated?” We say: “Then why is it that the fatwas of the Sahabah conflict with hadiths traced [to the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace)] which these [scholars] also narrate?” And none will deny this except one who argues with falsehood and turns a blind eye to the truth. Hence, whatever is your answer is our answer.
According to me, although this statement of Ibn al-Qayyim is not accurate in absolute terms, due to proofs established contrary to it and that the Sahabah would issue fatwas in some issues using their judgement and people did not ask them for evidence which is the very essence of taqlid, however, it is accurate with respect to the majority [of their fatwas], since the majority of the statements and fatwas of the Sahabah was by way of transmission from the statement of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) or his practice or his command. Since this is so, it is permissible for a mujtahid to give preference to the fatwa of a Sahabi over a clear [report] traced [to the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace)] sometimes when it is likely according to him that the fatwa of the Sahabi was based on transmission not opinion.
[Having said] this, I do not intend by this speech to refute Ibn al-Qayyim (Allah have mercy on him) – Allah forbid! – for he is greater than one like us criticising him, for by Allah that we became the dust on his shoes will elevate our rank; rather, I only wished by it to refute those who use his answers as proof to condemn taqlid, so their eyes are opened and they reflect on how useful the speech of their leader is. And Allah is sought for help.
Moreover, whoever contemplates on our previous words and studies our book I’la al-Sunan, he knows, if Allah Almighty wills, that we are not from the muqallids Ibn al-Qayyim condemned, rather we only do taqlid of our Imam, Abu Hanifah, and his disciples, due to our knowledge that they were the most pursuant of people of the Qur‟an and Sunnah, and that they had principles in hadith just as the hadith-scholars have principles in hadith, so there is no blame on us if we oppose them in accepting some hadiths and acting upon them and not acting upon other [hadiths], because the basis of the principles of both groups is ijtihad, and there is no tenacity in different ijtihads.
Our scholars would sometimes leave the opinions of their Imam for the opinions of his disciples when it conflicted with the texts, and examples of this are many in the various madhhabs, which all who have analysed them will know, and sometimes they would issue fatwa according the opinion of Imams, from whom is the equal of our Imam or equals of his disciples, when they saw the strength of proof was with them, and the like of this. We are not, with praise to Allah, rigid in [following] the opinion of the founder of the madhhab by mere favouritism; rather we do taqlid of him upon insight, us and those who follow us. Glory be to Allah, we are not from the idolaters.
It is not possible Ibn al-Qayyim deviated from such taqlid, since it is necessary for everyone, rather there is no safety in religion without it. This is what Ibn al-Qayyim called “adherence” (mutaba’ah) and “obedience to the command.” Hence, the words are different while the meaning is the same.
Our expressions are many and your beauty is one
And all are pointing to that [same] beauty
And one who leaves this taqlid, and denounces adherence to the Salaf, and considers himself a mujtahid or hadith-scholar and realises in himself that he is able to derive laws and answers to questions from the Qur’an and hadith in this time, then he has removed the noose of Islam from his neck or has almost removed [it], for I swear by Allah, we have not seen a group missing religion as an arrow misses its target except this group that denies taqlid of the Salaf, condemning its adherents. One of our leaders spoke the truth when he said after a long experience that, “Abandoning taqlid is the very basis of apostasy and heresy with respect to the common people.” I say: With respect to the ulama also, for [a scholar that is] scrupulous, pious, and fearful of Allah, loving of Him and His Messenger, and expending his full effort to seek the truth from the ulama is like red sulphur today: it is not found except rarely. And most of them, when they abandon taqlid, they begin to follow concessions and follow the passions of their souls, and adopt their desires as their gods, and most of them don’t abandon taqlid except to argue with the muqallids, and create corruption amongst the Muslims, and make the common people heretics and apostates, for it is known that leaving taqlid with respect to them is the very basis of apostasy and heresy.
Qawa’id fi ‘Ulum al-Hadith, pp. 454-463
* As an example of one of numerous authoritative testimonies from his contemporaries: Makki ibn Ibrahim al-Tamimi (126 – 215 H), a famous hadith master from the Salaf and a teacher of al-Bukhari who included his narrations in his Sahih, said with respect to Imam Abu Hanifah: “He was the most learned of the people of his time.”
**Footnote from Allamah Zafar Ahmad al-Uthmani:
By this the statement of those who say that Allah Almighty made the report of a truthful person a proof, and the testimony of a righteous person a proof, and the one following proof is not a muqallid, is refuted, because authenticating hadith and weakening it is not purely from the category of reporting, rather its pivot is on the judgement of the hadith-scholar and his opinion. Ibn Abi Hatim transmitted in the book al-‘Ilal (1:10) with his chain to Ibn Mahdi, he said: “Knowledge of hadith is inspiration.” Ibn Numayr said: “He spoke the truth. If you said to him: From where did you postulate [a particular opinion on hadith]? He would have no answer.” And he transmitted with his chain to Ahmad ibn Salih, he said: “Knowledge of hadith is equivalent to knowledge of gold and brass, since the precious metal is only known by its experts, and the one knowledgeable in this will not have any proof when he is asked: How did you postulate that this is good quality or bad quality?” He [Ibn Abi Hatim] said: “I heard my father say: Knowledge of hadith is like a bezel the price of which is a hundred dinar, and another with the same colour the price of which is ten dirham.” I [Allamah Zafar Ahmad al-Uthmani] say: Just as the hadith-scholars know the chains of the hadiths and their wordings, similarly the jurists know their meanings and they are more aware of them than the hadith-scholars, so it is not permissible for a hadith-scholar to dispute the jurist in the meanings, just as it is not permissible for him to dispute a hadith-scholar in the chain and the text of the hadith, unless they combine jurisprudence and hadith like the four Imams and their companions that are followed in Islam.
Taken from al-Din al-Qayyim found here.