“To ensure correct decision in the progress of Ijtihad and prevent the non-qualified from exercising it, the `Ulama have prescribed certain conditions. Let us examine them in the context of the present time.
1. Piety (At-Taqwa) has been considered the most basic condition for a mujtahid (one who is qualified for Ijtihad). Since Ijtihad is a sacred duty and religious responsibility, qualities like honesty, integrity and piety must be found in a person who exercises Ijtihad. But piety is a matter of the heart, as once the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Piety is here.” One cannot measure the piety of another except by knowing that a person is apparently regular in performing the obligations of Shari`ah: he avoids sins, and does not get involved in temptation that tarnishes his reputation.
2. Knowledge of the spirit and objectives of Shari`ah: It is also important in making a decision and forming an opinion to understand the spirit of Shari`ah, and have the knowledge of its objectives. This can be achieved by a thorough study of the rules and injunctions of the Shari`ah and analysis of it. It is easy now to know more as a number of studies have appeared on the subject. After the survey of Islamic injunctions some of the leading scholars have classified the objectives of Shari`ah into five categories: protection of religion, protection of reason, protection of life, protection of property and protection of progeny.
No doubt, the list is very comprehensive, but, as Ibn Taymiyah says, the objectives are not confined to these only. Anything Islamically desirable becomes an objective of the Shari`ah. Promotion of the spirit of Ijtihad may also be included in the list of Shari`ah objectives, or it may be put under the objective of protection of reason, as only then Islam can properly respond to the changes and challenges faced in any period.
3. Knowledge of the Qur’an and the Sunnah: The Qur’an and the Sunnah are the basic sources of Islam. Therefore no Ijtihad can be conceived without having their knowledge. There are five hundred verses of the Qur’an which consist of different rules (Ahkam). In the opinion of some scholars, they must be known to a mujtahid. But it is better that the inference of rules is not limited to those verses only. A mujtahid must have a general perception of the whole Qur’an.
As far as hadiths are concerned, their number is in the thousands and various authentic collections have been prepared. A mujtahid must have studied at least one of them thoroughly. He should be aware of different collections, their authors, their characteristics, styles and categorization. He should be able to consult them on the issue he is dealing with.
At present, it has become very easy to go through all verses, hadiths and opinions of earlier scholars on a topic as rules and principles have been formulated and indexes have been prepared to facilitate their consultation.
Principles of jurisprudence are tools for deriving rules (Ahkam) from the Qur’an and Sunnah, and the jurisprudence is the sum total of such rules. The knowledge of these two is always helpful with respect to inference of rules from the Qur’an and Sunnah. The principles of jurisprudence are easily accessible as they are available in a well-organized form. We also have the fiqh of every school of jurisprudence available with their evidence and arguments. Now it is possible to decide the most relevant and suitable opinion through an unbiased comparative study of different rules.
A mujtahid should have the knowledge of nasikh and mansukh (abrogating and abrogated), i.e., which one out of two contradictory and opposite texts is later in revelation. This might have occurred due to change of a rule, replacement, withdrawal or omission. It is not necessary to remember all such texts. But one must enquire the text related to the concerned issue. Past scholars have done a lot of work about an-Nasikh, and have listed all such verses and hadiths. Now it is not difficult to find it out anytime.
The consensus of the Ulama or the experts of Shari`ah is in its own right a Shari`ah source based on Ijtihad (by inference). There are differences in opinions in its details. On this topic too, various reference works are available. One can easily refer to them.
Along with the knowledge of the Qur’an and Sunnah, Ijma`, Naskh, opinions of the companions of the Prophet and followers, and principles of jurisprudence, one has to acquire sufficient knowledge of every aspect of the issue about which Ijtihad is required. It has become more important especially in this age as the development in the field of science, economy, politics and society in general has created complex problems that can only be understood by experts. One may not be an expert in every field. To fulfill this condition, a mujtahid must take the help of the specialist of the concerned field and get the problem fully explained.
Over and above all the aforementioned requirements, one must possess a natural skill of Ijtihad — sharp intellect and penetrating insight – to analyze and infer the rule. This instinct is not particular to any age. However the methodology of research and tools of investigation developed in the modern age may help enhance this quality.
Last but not least is skill in the Arabic language. The reason is clear. Original sources of Shari`ah are in Arabic. Any Ijtihad without the working knowledge of Arabic cannot enjoy authenticity and confidence. It may not receive the approval of others. This is so because a very small portion of the tools of knowledge required for Ijtihad is available in translation form. Moreover, very often the translation cannot fully convey the letter and sprit of the text.
At present we find very advanced and scientific institutions teaching this official language of Islam. New techniques have been developed to impart maximum knowledge in a minimum period. In fact, hardly any original work can be done on Islam without the knowledge of Arabic. One who is an aspirant to Ijtihad must begin with this.
Ijtihad should be encouraged and scholars should be trained for it. Those who have instinct for it must acquire the tools necessary for it.”