It is to be noted firstly that the differences between Muslim scholars are minor. It stems from the fact that they differ in understanding and interpretation of the Shar`i (legal) text. Each Imam understands the text or the daleel (legal proof or evidence) according to his knowledge and gives it an interpretation that copes with his ijtihad (juristic reasoning), a thing for which the Imam is well-qualified. In the meantime, while practicing ijtihad and deducing his opinions and forming his views according to his understanding of the text, the Imam never denies the views of other people. Imam Ash-Shafi`i is reported to have said: “My opinion is right and liable to be wrong. The opinions of others are mistaken and liable to be right.”
Here, it is notable also that the difference in these minor issues among the four Imams and among other scholars does not render any of them outside the domain of Islam or render him subject to blame in the least. The incident of the Battle of Banu Quraizah witnessed a difference of opinion. When they were returning to Madinah after the battle of the Trench, the Companions heard the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, saying: “Let not any of you perform `Asr except in Banu Quraizah.” Some Companions understood the words to be a direct command to refrain from praying `Asr before reaching the dwellings of Bani Quraizah. Others understood it to be a command to hasten and reach the dwellings of Banu Quraizah as soon as possible. The former refrained from praying `Asr till they reached Banu Quraizah while the latter performed `Asr before getting there. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, did not rebuke either of the parties.
Such an incident denotes that the matter was flexible and each party acted according to its understanding. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, rebuked neither party, signifying that a person who exerts efforts and reaches a decision that is based on legal texts is not to be rebuked for his understanding.
Another important point is that the difference between scholars in such minor issues is really a sign of Allah’s mercy and His great bounty on people, since this facilitates matters for people and gives them a wide range of choices. In Surat Hud, we read: “And if thy Lord had willed, He verily would have made mankind one nation, yet they cease not differing. Save him on whom thy Lord hath mercy; and for that He did create them.” (Hud: 118-119)
Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi states the following: “The difference of Imams stems from the fact that the rulings of Islam are derived from religious texts. Naturally, people differ in their understanding of the texts; while some adhere to the letter of the text, others give priority to the significance and the wisdom lying behind the words.
Among the main reasons of difference also is the fact that people are different in their inclinations. While some people hold a hard-line position and are strict in their way of thinking, others advocate easiness, without transgressing the limits, and stand for leniency. While Ibn `Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, used to be strict, Ibn `Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, adopted easiness in some of his juristic opinions and each of them had his own understanding.”
Shedding more light on the issue, we would like to cite for you the following from The Ethics of Disagreement in Islam by the prominent Muslim scholar Dr. Taha Jabir Al-`Alawani, president of the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences and president of the Fiqh Council of North America: “Allah Almighty has ordained differences between human beings in their mental capabilities, their languages, the color of their skin, and their perceptions and thoughts. All this naturally gives rise to a multiplicity and variety of opinions and judgments. If our languages, the colour of our skins, and our outer appearances are signs of Allah’s creative power and wisdom; and if our minds, our mental capabilities, and the products of these minds are also signs of Allah and an indication of His consummate power; and if the populating of the universe, the beauty of being alive, and being able to live are also indications of Allah’s power, then we can justifiably say that none of this exquisite beauty and variety among human beings would have been possible if they had been created equal in every respect. Every created being indeed has its own unique characteristics.
The differences which occurred among our forebears in early Muslim history, and which continue to be with us are part of this natural manifestation of variety. Provided that differences do not exceed their limits, and provided they remain within the standard norms of ethics and proper behaviour, this is a phenomenon that could prove to be positive and extremely beneficial.”