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Ijtihad (Arabic) is the term used to designate innovations in Islam  and Sha'aria (Muslim law). The word comes from "struggle" - the same root as "Jihad." The "t" is added because it is a reflexive grammatical construction.

Ijtihad in Sunni Islam is arrived at by independent interpretation of existing law (the Quran and the Sunnah).  The opposite of Ijtihad is generally held to be Taqlid - imitation or emulation. A person who is qualified by extensive training to devise Ijtihad is called a Mujtahid.

Ijtihad was extremely necessary as the new Muslim religion met very changed conditions of society during its rapid expansion from the Arabian peninsula, and caliphs were generally known for their innovation. However by the eleventh or twelfth century, following the Asharite commentator Al-Ghazali, most Sunni authorities had declared that the "doors of Ijtihad are closed." Minority views continued to discuss and support Ijtihad, but in fact there was little innovation. Al-Ghazali was against Ijtihad, which he believed led to errors and excesses, but it is not clear whether his dictum that the doors of Ijtihad are closed was prescribing what ought to be the case, or in reality describing the actual case. The closure of the doors of Ijtihad is often blamed for stagnation of Muslim societies, but this argument can be turned on its head: the end of innovation may have been due to the stagnation. In European societies that were in ferment, religious objections never sufficed for long to stop the progress of science or changes in government. Religion adapted itself to society. 

The argument that stagnation was due to closure of Ijtihad also ignores the fact that the Ottoman Empire arose more than a century after "closure of the doors of Ijtihad" and flourished for several centuries thereafter, for a time remaining well in advance of Europe in innovative government and military organization. It also ignores the circumstance that many of the most reactionary prohibitions of conservative Islam were not really part of Sharia law. Some were rooted in pre-Muslim tribal customs. Nothing in the Sharia encouraged corruption or put secular rulers above the law. The worst aspects of repression of women, such as female circumcision, were rooted in tribal customs that pre-dated Islam. Other repressive laws, such as the prohibition on printing, were necessarily due to a reactionary sort of "Ijtihad." There were no printing presses in the time of Muhammad. The prohibition against them had to be based on an interpretation. In the same way, nothing in the New Testament forbade translating the Bible, but the Catholic church objected on "religious" grounds. Likewise there was nothing in the New or Old Testament that would necessarily support "divine right" of kings, but religious authority was used to bolster monarchies and stymie democracy. In more recent times, there have been repeated movements to rekindle Ijtihad in Sunni Islam.

Ijtihad in Shia Islam

Some sources assert with great assurance that there is no Ijtihad in Shia Islam, while others assert that there has always been Ijtihad in Shia Islam, or that it was revived by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Shia Islam believes that Ijtihad is extraction of the true meaning of Sha'aria law, rather than innovation, and in that sense there has always been Ijtihad in Shi'a Islam, though the latitude of interpretation allowed may have varied.

A Shia Islamic scholar explains the differences in approach thus:

Two Different Conceptions of Ijtihad

 The term ijtihad as used in the writings of scholars of different Islamic sects conveys two different meanings, each of which gives rise to different viewpoints regarding the sources of Shar'i ahkam. In the first conception ijtihad means derivation of Shar`i hukm through personal judgement and ray for an issue for which the mujtahid does not find any express text in the Quran or the Sunnah. Such a meaning of ijtihad is found in the writings of `Abd al‑Wahhab al‑Khallaf and most of Sunni fuqaha' also subscribe to this view.

 Ijtihad in this sense is. considered by most of Sunni scholars as an independent source parallel to the Quran, the Sunnah, ijma` and `aql, and is acknowledged as one of the bases for determining the ahkam.

 It means that in the same manner as a mujtahid relies on sources like the Quran, the Sunnah, `aql and ijma` for deriving ahkam, he can also rely on ray and subjective opinion by taking recourse to instruments of presumption (like qiyas, istihsan, masalih mursalah, istislah, madhhab al‑Sahabi, fath al‑dhara'i`, sadd al‑dhara'i`, etc.) for issues on which there is no express text in the Quran and the Sunnah.

 In the second conception ijtihad means deduction of the fari ahkam from the reliable sources (the Quran, the Sunnah, ijma` and `aql). Ijtihad in this sense occurs in the writings of Ahmad Mustafa al‑Zarqa', the author of al‑Madkhal al‑fiqhi al‑`amm, and Shi'i fuqaha' have sub­scribed to this view long since. According to this conception, the activity of the mujtahid involves deduction of the laws of the Shari'ah for emergent issues and new phenomena of life by employing general principles and rules. Thereby the mujtahid refers new secondary issues to the general principles and applies the general laws to their particular instances in external reality, thus obtaining the ahkam governing them. According to this conception, ijtihad is not counted as an independent source of law parallel to the Quran and the Sunnah, but merely as a means for deriving and determining the ahkam from the sources. (Source: Jannati, Muhammad Ibrahim, Ijtihad: Its Meaning, Sources, Beginnings and the Practice of Ra'y, al Tawhid Islamic Journal, Vol. 5 No. 2 &3, Vol. 6, No. 1, Vol. 7, No. 3 Qum - The Islamic Republic of Iran )  


Ami Isseroff  

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The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

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