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The definition of a scholar

Answered as per Shafi'i Fiqh by Qibla.com

Answered by Shaykh Hamza Karamali, SunniPath Academy Teacher

I understand that it is the obligation of somebody who is not a scholar to ask somebody who is. However, I would like to know what qualifies as a scholar. For example, I recently agreed to be a beneficery of a financial trust. The trust itself seemed doubtful to me in terms of acceptability, but the contract was organised by an ‘Islamic’ solicitors’ firm. I talked to a solicitor of the firm about my doubts, and he said I had nothing to worry about. Is it acceptable to trust them as I would trust a scholar?


In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate

I pray that this message finds you in the protection and care of Allah Most High. May Allah reward you for your question.

As you correctly mention in your question, it is the obligation of non-scholars to refer to scholars when they are faced with a religious question. The affairs of the world are kept in their proper order through specialization. Our lives are too short for us to master everything, so we choose a particular field to specialize in and thereby become part of a social network of dependencies: people will turn to us with questions related to our area of specialization (be it medicine, engineering, religion, or something else) and we will turn to others with questions related to their areas of specialization.

When we ignore the specialized knowledge that others have gained through their years of study and experience and instead “do our own thing”, matters will begin to fall apart. If this is serious enough with matters related to this world (imagine what would happen if someone untrained in civil engineering built a bridge!), it is infinitely more serious with matters related to the next world. Harm suffered in this world is temporary, but the next life lasts forever.

The responsibility of a non-scholar, then, is to seek out specialists to answer his religions questions. Scholars mention that a non-scholar may not merely ask anyone walking down the street: he is obligated to spend some time investigating the person he is asking until he is confident of the scholar’s knowledge and righteousness. (Ibn al-Subki, Jam` al-Jawami`; Ghazali, al-Mustasfa)

In your particular scenario, then, it would not be permissible to participate in contracts  because they have been labelled as “Islamic” by some unknown person. You would have to investigate matters further until you are confident that it has been deemed permissible by a knowledgeable and righteous scholar.

And Allah Most High knows best.


( قال في جمع الجوامع مع شرح المحلي : ( وَيَجُوزُ اسْتِفْتَاءُ مَنْ عُرِفَ بِالْأَهْلِيَّةِ ) لِلْإِفْتَاءِ ( أَوْ ظُنَّ ) أَهْلًا لَهُ ( بِاشْتِهَارِهِ بِالْعِلْمِ وَالْعَدَالَةِ ) هَذَا رَاجِعٌ إلَى الْأَوَّلِ ( وَانْتِصَابِهِ وَالنَّاسُ مُسْتَفْتُونَ ) لَهُ هَذَا رَاجِعٌ إلَى الثَّانِي ( وَلَوْ ) كَانَ مَنْ ذُكِرَ ( قَاضِيًا ) فَإِنَّهُ يَجُوزُ إفْتَاؤُهُ كَغَيْرِهِ ( وَقِيلَ لَا يُفْتِي قَاضٍ فِي الْمُعَامَلَاتِ ) لِلِاسْتِغْنَاءِ بِقَضَائِهِ فِيهَا عَنْ الْإِفْتَاءِ وَعَنْ الْقَاضِي شُرَيْحٍ أَنَا أَقْضِي وَلَا أُفْتِي ( لَا الْمَجْهُولِ ) عِلْمًا أَوْ عَدَالَةً فَلَا يَجُوزُ اسْتِفْتَاؤُهُ ; لِأَنَّ الْأَصْلَ عَدَمُهَا ( وَالْأَصَحُّ وُجُوبُ الْبَحْثِ عَنْ عِلْمِهِ ) بِأَنْ يَسْأَلَ النَّاسُ عَنْهُ , وَقِيلَ يَكْفِي اسْتِفَاضَتُهُ بَيْنَهُمْ ( وَالِاكْتِفَاءُ بِظَاهِرِ الْعَدَالَةِ ) وَقِيلَ لَا بُدَّ مِنْ الْبَحْثِ عَنْهَا ( وَ ) الِاكْتِفَاءِ ( بِخَبَرِ الْوَاحِدِ ) عَنْ عِلْمِهِ وَعَدَالَتِهِ بِنَاءً عَلَى الْبَحْثِ عَنْهُمَا وَقِيلَ لَا بُدَّ مِنْ اثْنَيْنِ (

قال في المستصفى : مَسْأَلَةٌ : لَا يَسْتَفْتِي الْعَامِّيُّ إلَّا مَنْ عَرَفَهُ بِالْعِلْمِ وَالْعَدَالَةِ أَمَّا مَنْ عَرَفَهُ بِالْجَهْلِ فَلَا يَسْأَلُهُ وِفَاقًا , وَإِنْ سَأَلَ مَنْ لَا يَعْرِفُ جَهْلَهُ فَقَدْ قَالَ قَوْمٌ : يَجُوزُ وَلَيْسَ عَلَيْهِ الْبَحْثُ ; وَهَذَا فَاسِدٌ ;  … إلى آخر كلامه


This answer was indexed from Qibla.com, which used to have a repository of Islamic Q&A answered by various scholars. The website is no longer in existence. It has now been transformed into a learning portal with paid Islamic course offering under the brand of Kiflayn.

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