Scholarly Difference of Opinion Is Due to Scholars’ Different Understandings of Sharee‘ah Texts
Fatwa No: 428932

Question

Assalam u alaikum.I am slightly confused on the matter of difference of opinion amongst scholars. Why is it that most of the times whenever there is difference of opinion,one group often labels doing that act as biddah ?e.g wiping face after dua is deemed permissible by one group but innovation by the other.Also wiping neck in wudu is deemed permissible by one group but biddah by the other.This has recently stressed me a lot as even if I want to follow what has been deemed permissible by one group ,the word Biddah coined by the other group stops me from doing that .Would really appreciate your guidance on this matter.

Answer

All perfect praise be to Allah, The Lord of the Worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah, and that Muhammad  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) is His slave and Messenger.

It is well-known that the scholarly difference of opinion regarding many issues has been present since past times. Among its reasons are the scholars’ different understandings of the Sharee‘ah texts, or that some of them acquired knowledge of evidence that they held to be authentic but such evidence did not reach the other scholars or was not considered authentic by them. Some earlier and contemporary scholars use the term Bid‘ah (religious innovation) in reference to the opposing scholarly views that they believe to be outweighed. However, this did not drive them to accuse one another of committing religious innovations blindly.

In the present time, in which the term Bid‘ah denotes a specific meaning according to the terminology of scholars, it is not appropriate to use it in reference to the opposing opinions on Fiqhi issues that are open for Ijtihaad (scholarly independent reasoning) and on which scholars held different opinions that are supportable by evidence, especially with the widespread of the phenomenon of throwing accusations of religious innovation regarding all opposing opinions without following any Sharee‘ah guidelines in this regard. Many people, even some seekers of knowledge, fail to make a distinction between judging an act as Bid‘ah and judging its doer to be an innovator in religion. They mistakenly think that the two labels are inseparable. When some seekers of knowledge abruptly left the congregational prayer when the Imam recited the supplication of completing the recitation of the entire Quran at Al-Masjid Al-Haraam, considering it to be an act of Bid‘ah, Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him answered them by saying that he would complete the prayer with the Imam until the end, and if he supplicated, he would say Ameen and raise his hands during the supplication. When he was asked why is that act not considered Bid‘ah, he replied, seeking an excuse for those who believe in the validity of such supplication, saying: “They hold this scholarly view based on an inauthentic Hadeeth that reads, ‘With each recitation of the whole Quran, there is an answered supplication.’ Were we to judge every issue on which scholars held different opinions as Bid‘ah, many of the Fiqhi issues would be classified as Bid‘ah!” [End of quote from Thamaraat At-Tadween]

He  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him also said: “This is an important point that I wish to point out for the seekers of knowledge. If the jurists hold different opinions on some act, some believing it to be an act of Sunnah and others believing that it is not Sunnah, this does not necessarily entail that those who believe that it is not Sunnah should label those holding the opposing opinion as innovators in religion! They cannot label them as such, because were we to label the ones holding the opposing view in these matters as innovators in religion, this would necessarily require labeling all the jurists as innovators in religion as well with respect to the matters in which there is a scholarly difference of opinion. This is because when someone accuses me of committing a religious innovation and I accuse him of the same, this necessitates that all the jurists who held different views regarding the matters in which there is a scholarly difference of opinion were innovators in religion as well, which is illogical! When the scholars  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  them held different opinions on matters that are not related to ‘Aqeedah (creed) and are not clearly labeled as Bid‘ah, and rather differed in their understandings of the relevant texts, we believe that the matter is tolerable, and one should not accuse the other of committing religious innovations.” [End of quote, from Al-Liqaa’ Ash-Shahri]

He  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him also said: “Some people think that the scholarly difference of opinion among the jurists  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  them entails that those holding the opposing opinion, which is thought to be contrary to the (indication of the) relevant text, are labeled as innovators in religion. However, were we to follow this approach, all the jurists would be labeled as innovators in religion, except with respect to the matters on which there is a scholarly consensus of opinion. This is because you would say to me: ‘You hold an opposing opinion, and therefore you are an innovator in religion,’ and I would say the same about you, and thus all the jurists would be labeled as innovators in religion, except with regard to the matters in which there is a consensus of opinion among them, and no one has ever held such a view, and no one will. These issues are open for Ijtihaad; some scholars believe them to be obligatory, and others believe otherwise; should we label those holding the opposing opinion as innovators in religion? For example, the one who holds that eating camel meat does not invalidate ablution and prays after eating it (without renewing the ablution), should we label him as an innovator in religion? No, we should not! Similarly, the one who does not run his wet fingers through his beard during ablution, we do not label him as an innovator in religion! With regard to such matters, a person should know the Sharee‘ah guidelines for the scholarly difference of opinion on them…” [End of quote from Sharh Zaad Al-Mustaqni’]

Wiping the face with the hands after the supplication is one of the matters that accommodate various views. Some scholars held that it is recommended in light of the supportive reports narrated to this effect, and others held that it is disliked because of the inauthenticity of the Ahaadeeth reported in this regard. Ibn ‘Uthaymeen  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him said: “It is better not to wipe (the face with both hands after supplication), but we must not express our disapproval to those who do it relying on the fact that the Ahaadeeth reported to this effect were classified as Hasan (sound) by some scholars, because this matter falls under the category of the matters in which there is a scholarly difference of opinion.” [End of quote from Sharh Zaad Al-Mustaqni’]

The same is true for wiping the neck during ablution. Although we do not believe that it is a prescribed act, some jurists believed in its validity based on the reported narration stating that one of the acts of the Sunnah in ablution is washing what exceeds the limits of the body part that is obligatory to be washed in ablution, relying on an inauthentic Hadeeth narrated by Ahmad and Abu Daawood regarding the description of the Prophet’s ablution, stating that he, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, used to “wipe his head until he reached the uppermost part of his nape and the corresponding frontal part of the neck.” Therefore, this matter is one of the matters in which there is a scholarly difference of opinion, and whoever follows any of the relevant scholarly views should not be accused of misguidance or innovation in religion.

Allah Knows best.

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