by Dr. Ildus Rafikov

The act of expending efforts to achieve a goal in the best manner is referred to in Islamic literature as Ijtihad. This word is formed from the three-letter root word ja-ha-da or ja-hu-da, where the former means to expend effort while the latter denotes the same but with added hardship. Such exertion of efforts can take various forms, such as speech or studying, writing or research, action or struggle. Ijtihad also denotes creativity or the ability to use God-given blessings, such as perception, rationality, or thinking and memory, to come to the best solution at a given time and place.
Scholars have defined Ijtihad in many various ways. Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah (d.751 A.H.) stated that Ijtihad is “what the heart decides after a lengthy contemplation in pursuit of the correct opinion” (Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah, I’lām al-Muwaqqiīn ‘an Rabb Al- ‘Ālamīn, vol. 1, p. 66). Al-Jassas (d.370 A.H.) identified ijtihad with a legal analogy (qiyas), an opinion, and a jurisprudential deduction (Abū al-Ḥusayn al-Baṣrī, Sharḥ al-Umad, vol.1,p.373). Al-Ghazali (d.505 A.H.) defined this term as “over-exerting oneself in search of the knowledge of Shari’ah rulings. The complete ijtihad is when one overexerts oneself in the search to the extent that he feels incapacitated to go beyond that search” (Al-Ghazālī,Abū ‘ Ḥāmid, al-Mustaṣfā Min ‘Ilm al-Uṣūl, vol. 2, ed. Muḥammad ‘AbdAl-Salam ‘Abd al-Shāfī, ed.(Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘llmiyyah, 1413H), p. 350). Fakhr Al-Din Al-Razi (d.606 A.H.) referred to ijtihad as “expending one’s ability to study what will not result in blame after expending in it the ability” (Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Maḥṣūl Min ‘Ilm al- Uṣūl, vol.6, p.6).
The Qur’an does not contain this exact term (ijtihad, ijtahada, yajtahidu) but it has other derivatives of the word jahada (jahadak, tujahiduna, jahidhum), including jihad. In all these cases the word may refer denote one of the following: (1) exertion of effort; (2) expenditure of wealth; (3) armed conflict; or (4) act of calling others to embrace the message of truth (Said Shabbar, Ijtihad, and Renewal, p.2). In the hadith literature, this word is used to denote exertion in the process of forming a legal opinion. In the famous hadith, which accounts the story of the Prophet sending off Mu’adh bin Jabal to Yemen to serve as a judge, the sahabi said that if he does not find a ruling in the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Prophet, then he would exert himself in forming his own opinion (ajtahidu ra’iy).
Consequently, on the one hand, ijtihad gave rise to the discipline of usul al-fiqh (methodology of deriving legal interpretations from various primary and secondary sources), and on the other, scholars of other disciplines expended efforts to come up with new theories and applications. This was possible due to the practice of shura (consultation), ijma’ (consensus), or collective ijtihad among scholars. Thus ijtihad is a broad term that can encompass individual as well as collective efforts in arriving at certain important conclusions or decisions in various areas of human life.

For more information on current debates on ijtihad, refer to the following literature: 

  1. Said Shabbar, Ijtihad, and Renewal, IIIT, 2017.
  2. Jamal Ahmed Badi, Creative Thinking in Islam: Concepts and Issues, IIIT, 2017.
  3. Taha Jabir Al-Alwani, Ijtihad, IIIT, 1993. 
  4. Mohammad Hashim Kamali, Moderation in Fatwa and Ijtihad: Juristic and Historical Perspectives, ICR Journal, IAIS Malaysia, Vol. 7, Issue 3.
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