What Is Ijtihad – Literally and Terminologically

Subject: Law
Pages: 2
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There is a common misconception that Islamic law is monolithic and immutable, which is not true since ijtihad serves as an example of an ever-evolving legal process in Muslim states. Ijtihad is defined as individual independent reasoning. It is essentially an act of original interpretation of the issues not precisely covered in the Qur’an, ijma, and Hadith. An accordingly qualified Muslim jurist had a right to exercise independent thinking by means of individual judgment and analogical reasoning. Over time, Muslim legal schools transformed ijtihad and structured it into levels: mujtahid (absolutely free to exercise original thinking) and muqallid (following authoritative jurists and scholarly consensus). Taqlid serves as an opposite process to ijtihad and implies full conformity to precedent and religious tradition.

The two primary sources of Islamic law are the Qur’an and the Sunna. The combination of these two sources resulted in the emergence of Islamic legislation. The Qur’an is considered the most sacred and invaluable scripture in Islam. It contains verses related to human belief, social structure, and governance. Muslim believers are required to conform to the legal rulings established in the Qur’an. The second primary source of Islamic law is Sunna, which is formulated as a set of narratives and sayings of Prophet Mohammad. It comprises of various legal rulings and provisions that must be followed by all believers. It is important to acknowledge that some (if not most) of the legal rulings are not subject to ijtihad. They are clear and definitive enough not to be open to different interpretations from jurists. On the other hand, there are certain rulings in both the Qur’an and the Sunna that require additional independent reasoning for their successful application. Therefore, contrary to the popular opinion of the West, Islamic law is amendable to changes and alternations.