Assalaamu alaykum. I read somewhere that there is Ijmaa’ (consensus among the scholars) on the fist-length beard as being mandatory, and once there is Ijmaa’, nothing can change it after that. However, in the Shaafi'i Fiqh, I read that the strong position regarding the beard is that it is disliked to shave it. So is the Shaafi'i Fiqh going against the Ijmaa’? Is that permissible in Usool-al-Fiqh (principles of Islamic jurisprudence)?
All perfect praise be to Allaah, The Lord of the worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allaah and that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger.
It is not problematic according to most scholars of Islam who consider the authoritativeness of Ijmaa’ that it is not permissible to go against it if it becomes evident to the scholar that Ijmaa’ is confirmed – as detailed in the chapters on Ijmaa’ in the books of Usool al-Fiqh (principles of jurisprudence).
However, the mere narration of a given scholar about Ijmaa’ on a given issue does not necessarily mean that the Ijmaa’ is confirmed regarding that issue; rather, it is Ijmaa’ in the view of this scholar, and other scholars may consider that Ijmaa’ is not confirmed on that issue. Ijmaa’ is evidence, and the scholars may differ in opinion in regard to the Fiqh issues on which Ijmaa’ is reported, in the same manner that they may differ in opinion in regard to the evidence from the Quran, the Sunnah, Qiyaas (analogy), or the statements of the Companions.
This is one of the explanations that clarifies the existence of many issues on which a scholar narrates Ijmaa’ while there are other scholars who hold a different opinion, especially if we know the difficulty of knowing the Ijmaa’ after the time of the Companions, because the scholars were scattered in different countries, and most of the Ijmaa’ that was narrated after the time of the Companions was in the sense that it is not known that there are other scholars who contradicted this view, and not meaning that it is authoritatively asserted that there is no one who contradicted this view.
Regarding the issue that you asked about, then there is no Ijmaa’. As you mentioned, the view of the Shaafi'i School is that it is only disliked to shave the beard and not forbidden. This means that there is no confirmed consensus for them about shaving the beard – let alone taking what is beyond a fist’s length, otherwise they would not have differed (with the consensus).
Rather, one of the great former Imaams who knew the differences of opinions among the scholars and Ijmaa’, Ibn Jareer At-Tabari – who died in 310 A.H. – narrated the difference of opinion in taking from the beard regardless of whether it is limited to the fist’s length or not.
Fath Al-Baari, authored by Ibn Hajar reads, “At-Tabari narrated a difference of opinion about what is taken from the beard, whether or not there is a limit for it, so he reported from a group that the limit is to take what exceeds a fist. It was also narrated from Al-Hasan Al-Basri that one takes from its length and width what is not considered aberrant. The same thing was related from ‘Ataa’. These scholars interpreted the prohibition to mean prohibiting what the non-Arabs used to do in cutting the beard and lightening it.”
However, we do not know of any scholar who explicitly stated Ijmaa’ on the prohibition of taking from what is less than a fist. All what is available is what Ibn Humaam from the Hanafi school of jurisprudence mentioned in Fath Al-Qadeer, as he said, “As regards taking from the beard if it is less than a fist as done by some Moroccans and the effeminate men, then no scholar has permitted this.” [Abridged]
It is not correct to rely on such a statement in asserting that there is an established consensus on the issue; as the scholar who quoted this (Ibn Al-Humaam) is a relative late comer, from the ninth century, as he died in 861 A.H. No one had preceded him by relating a consensus as far as we know, even though the statement is probable in principle. It could be that what he had meant by ‘no scholar has permitted it’ is that no one permitted it in the Hanafi School. So just be mindful of this.
Even if he had meant to actually relate a consensus on the issue, then the mere narration of an Ijmaa’ does not necessarily mean that the Ijmaa’ is confirmed about that issue – as we have already clarified, let alone if the difference of opinion is confirmed by someone who came before him by many centuries and who was much more knowledgeable than him about the statements of the scholars – such as Ibn Jareer .
Since there are scholars who claim the existence of Ijmaa’ and denied the existence of difference of opinion, and on the other hand, there are those who prove the existence of the difference of opinion, the view of those who confirm the existence of difference of opinion comes in priority, because they have more information regarding the same issue.
Ibn Taymiyyah said, “Whoever knows the difference of opinion and confirms it, then he has knowledge and he has confirmation, so his view comes in priority over those who deny it who did not know of it, according to the agreement of the Muslims.”
We conclude by stating that the preponderant opinion on the issue in our view at Islamweb is the opinion of the majority of the scholars, that it is forbidden to completely shave the beard, based on the general indication of the texts commanding to let the beard grow, and that trimming the beard by taking what exceeds the fist is lawful, but not to take from it what is less than a fist, based on the apparent statements of the Companions such as Ibn ‘Umar and Abu Hurayrah . For more benefit, please refer to fatwa 332320.
Allaah knows best.
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