Peace be upon you together with the mercy and blessings of Allah. There has been much talk among those who give Islamic lectures on whether the disagreement is a mercy for this ummah and whether scholars’ and jurists’ difference of opinions is a mercy for the nation of Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). The question is: How can this be true while Islam always calls for unity and for the rejection of disagreements? Besides, natural disposition tells us that disagreements are not always praiseworthy or useful. What is the correct position concerning this issue in terms of the Shari`ah, the religion, any fatwas and the truth? May Allah guide us and you to the straight path and make us and you from among His righteous servants. All praise is due to the Lord of all the worlds.
In the name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Mercy-giving. And upon you be peace and the mercy and blessings of Allah. This is a significant issue. The issue of disagreement among the ummah and it being a mercy is mentioned in an unauthentic hadith reported by al-Bayhaqy with a broken chain of narrators on the authority of Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Anything you have been given of the Book of Allah, you have to act on it. There is no excuse for any of you to neglect it. If there is no relevant ruling in the Book of Allah, then consider my unambiguous Sunnah. If there is no unambiguous Sunnah on my part, then consider what my companions have said. My companions are like stars in the sky, whichever one you follow you will be guided. Disagreement among my companions is a mercy for you.” Al-Albany cited this report in his al-Da`ifah (59) and called it spurious. Ibn al-Hajib also mentioned this report with a different wording that reads, “Disagreement among my ummah is a mercy.” Moreover, al-Mulla Ali al-Qaray said: Al-Suyuty said, “This was reported by Nasr al-Maqdisy in al-Hujjah, al-Bayhaqy in al-Risalah without a chain of narrators, al-Qady Husayn, Imam al-Haramayn, and others. Perhaps it was reported in some of the books of the scholars of hadith that have not reached us yet.” Al-Suytuy also reported on the authority of `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Azeez that he said, “I would not be pleased if the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) did not differ about any opinion; because if they did not differ, there would be no licensee.” Also al-Khateeb reported that Haron al-Rasheed said to Malik ibn Anas, “O Abu Abdullah! Let us write this book – i.e. al-Muwatta’ – and force people to adopt it and distribute it across the Islamic world to force people to adopt it.” He said, “O commander of the believer! Scholars’ difference of opinions is a mercy from Almighty Allah for this nation. Each one follows what has been proved authentic in his view, each of them is guided, and each of them has intended to please Almighty Allah.”
Thus, these words indicate that the hadith that reads, “Disagreement among the ummah is a mercy” is not authentic, but there are indications that the issue has a basis, as in the words of `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Azeez and Malik (may Allah have mercy with him). This means that the commendable disagreement is that which is due to acceptable reasons, such as that due to different indications of words or the rationale of texts. Such a difference of opinion is called by Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy with him) the justifiable difference of opinion between the people of the truth. Thus, there is no harm in this kind of disagreement. Each Muslim should ponder on the wise advice written by one scholar to his son, saying, “Know the difference of opinions and you will become broadminded.”
Hence, knowing the scholar’s difference of opinions and the reasons for these differences, which result from the different indications of words and the rationale of the texts, makes one know why ijtihad differs. Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy with him) said, “If there is nothing in the Sunnah concerning the issue nor a consensus of opinion concerning it and ijtihad is justifiable, no blame should be directed to the one who acts according to this ijtiahd, whether he is a mujtahid or an imitator.” Al-`Izz ibn `Abd al-Salam said, “Whoever does something whose prohibition is controversial, believing in its lawfulness, should not be repudiated unless the opinion that makes it lawful is very weak.”
Thus, difference of opinions in this case is considered as providing broad outlines for people concerning secondary issues. So whoever acts according to one of the scholars’ opinions in this case will be right, insha’Allah. Even if he is mistaken, he will be pardoned. He who practices ijtihad and reaches the correct ruling will have two rewards, and he who practices ijtihad and makes a mistake will have one reward, as mentioned in the hadith reported by al-Bukhary (7352) and Muslim (1716) on the authority of `Amr ibn al-`Ass (may Allah have mercy with him). In this case, any difference of opinion should not be rejected.
This is the disagreement that represents mercy because it provides a broad outline for solving the issues and problems of the ummah and helps people to live with one another without having unjustifiable rancor or malice. As for the forbidden disagreement, it is the one mentioned in the Quranic verse, “ِِِAnd do not quarrel [among yourselves] or else you will become fainthearted and your strength depart.” [8:46] This disagreement leads to harboring hatred and turning back on one another. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) prohibited this and said, “Do not harbor rancor, turn your backs on one another or deceive one another in any sale, and be brothers, O servants of Allah!” [Reported by al-Bukhary (6066) and Muslim (2563) on the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah have mercy wth him)]
The disagreement that leads to harboring rancor and turning back on one another is the disagreement over major creedal issues, a matter that, according to the contemporary expression, goes beyond the red lines. It goes beyond the acceptable disagreement, resulting in disputes, fights, and disunity when facing the enemy. This disagreement is blameworthy. Hence, there is the commendable disagreement that is considered a healthy sign. This is the disagreement whose reasons are known and its good results for the ummah have become clear as it has provided easiness. And there is the blameworthy disagreement whose bad effects on the ummah have also become evident. Therefore, a scholar has to be insightful and be able to distinguish the kinds of disagreements that are tolerable and those kinds of disagreements that lead to destroying the unity of the ummah and lead to rancor and turning one’s back on one another, which the Shari`ah has forbidden. I hope that the questioner has understood this. Almighty Allah knows best.