The classes of Fuqaha

(1.1) It is imperative that a ruling must be sought from a qualified expert in the field for Allah almighty has given them a higher rank through greater knowledge1. The Sahabah (may Allah be pleased with them) would go to those who were greater in knowledge amongst them such as the shaykhayn2and the mukaththirun3. Abd Allah b. Mubarak (may Allah have mercy upon him) says, “This is your din be careful from whom you take it”4. This is the essence of ittiba’ or taqlid which is to trust and act on the verdict of a greater expert not as an authority in themselves rather as the reliable representative of the shariah. It is clear that not all experts are equal and accordingly they hold different ranks with some being superior to others5. Hence, it is vital that one relying on or referencing an expert must know their standing within the classes of fuqaha in terms of capacity 6 lest they give the weak priority over the strong.

(1.2) The classification of the fuqaha can be done according to era, activity or capacity. Era is the time period a person belongs such as if they lived in the khayr al-qurun where Islam was personified. Capacity refers to the ability of the faqih irrespective of their contribution whilst activity refers to the actual contribution. Those with capacity in the early era will naturally have greater scope for contribution as opposed to those in the later era who would often fill any void or build on the existing corpus rather than rebuilding the wheel. Hence, the later era may have fuqaha with capacity of the upper classes such as Allm. Marghinani, Allm. Anwar Shah Kashmiri and the like but their activity in fiqh may be that of a relatively lower class7. Note the shawafi et al. may not make a distinction between ability and activity in classing a faqih as contribution is required in their definition of fiqh as opposed the definition of the ahnaf given by Sadr al-Shariah al-Asghar in al-Tawdih.

Classification by era

(2) In terms of era, Allm. Abd al-Hayy Lacknawi in fawa’id al-bahiyyah categorised the ahnaf into three eras; (1) Salaf, (2) Khalaf and (3) Muta’akhkhirun. The era of the salaf included the ahnaf who were between the time of Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Muhammad b. Hasan Shaybani (d. 189) such as Imams Abu Yusuf, Zufar and Hasan b. Ziyad al-Lu’lui. (2) The era of the khalaf is that of those who came after Imam Muhammad up to Shams al-A’immah al-Hulwani (d. 448). (3) The era of the Muta’akhkhirun was the time after Shams al-A’immah Hulwani to Hafid al-Din Muhammad b. Muhammad Bukhari (d. 693). There is an overlap between the eras due to which some considered those after the era of the salaf as the muta’khkhirun.

Classification by activity

(3.1) In terms of activity, Allamah Ibn Kamal Pasha (may Allah have mercy upon him) categorised the ahnaf into seven stages8. Whilst Allm. Lacknawi9, Allm. Marjani10 et al have criticised his placement of the fuqaha due to most being placed below their capacity, however, the classification itself holds merit. The criticism diminishes if one views the classes as activities or stages. Shaykh al-Islam Mufti Taqi Usmani 11 alludes that belonging to one stages does not negate them from belonging or having capacity to another stage. Indeed, the sahibayn were active in both class 1 and 2.

(3.2) The seven classes are as follows: (1) Mujtahidin fi Shariah, (2) Mujtahidin fi Mazhab, (3) Mujtahidin fi Masa’il, (4) Ashab al-Takhrij, (5) AshabTarjih, (6) Ashab al-Tamyiz and (7) Naqilin.

(3.3) The classes are formed in a manner where the activity of one class builds on the activity of the preceding class leading to a staged workflow with the added benefit of the verification of the preceding corpus. The activity of the first three classes is the discovery of the edicts which is the primary function of the mujtahidin whilst the activity of the following three classes is the review and organisation of the discovered edicts which is the function of the qualified muqallid or hafiz al-mazhab albeit that the task in practice is usually done by the mujtahid in also. The final class in reality is a non-class which refers to those who report any or every edict they find without regard for reliability, validity or accuracy. Ibn Kamal Pasha warns that woe unto those who rely or build upon them.

(3.4) The mujtahidin fi shariah (class 1) derive the primary principles from the shariah and outline the main framework thus forming the mazhab (methodology). The mujtahidin fi mazhab (class 2) using the given framework deduce the core edicts from the normative practices of the prophet (peace be upon him) and the sahabah (may Allah be pleased with them) thus forming the solid foundation or zahir mazhab which is rooted in the primary sources of the shariah. Imam Kafawi considers these two classes as one and calls them the mutaqaddimun. The mujtahidin fi masa’il (class 3) deduce edicts to fill the gaps on issues not addressed in the existing corpus due to it being a novel case or having no precedence. These three classes or stages encompass all the required elements of discovery. There now only remains the need for elaboration, order and distinction. The ashab takhrij (class 4) elaborate on any ambiguity within the existing edicts and suggest possible applications. The ashab tarjih (class 5) give preponderance to one position after analysing contending edicts and elaborations. The ashab tamyiz (class 6) recognising the preponderant views gather and disseminate works which contain only the preponderant positions within the mazhab and avoid obscure, anomalous and weak views.

Classification by capacity

(4.1) In terms of capacity, the ahnaf may be categorised in accordance with the classes forwarded by Allm. Ibn Kamal Pasha above in terms of what is the highest stage they are able to contribute irrespective if they actually did contribute. Similarly, we may use the five main classes suggested by Imam Nawawi for the shawafi’12 which are (1) Mujtahid Mutlaq Mustaqil, (2) Mujtahid Mutlaq Muntasib, (3) Mujtahid Muqayyad Muntasib, (4) Hafid al-Mazhab al-Qadir ‘ala al-Taqrir was Tahrir (ashabtarjih), and (5) Hafid al-Mazhab Ghayr al-Qadir ‘ala al-Taqrir was Tahrir.

(4.2) All fuqaha in any class at the minimum must meet the requirements of a reliable narrator13 namely Islam, ‘Aql, Adalat and Dabt. It is worth noting that in terms of competence there is no difference between a Mufti and a Qadi except that a Mufti informs and a Qadi enforces14. However, as opposed to a Qadi, the Mufti maybe a slave, woman, blind or mute so long as they can communicate their judgement clearly15.

(4.3.1) [Grade 1: the independent legist] The Mujtahid Mutlaq Mustaqil (class 1) and Mujatahid Mutlaq Muntasib (class 2) are equal in ability except that the latter conform to the principle of the former due to objective agreement, however, they may disagree on edicts. Some consider the two classes as one as the mujtahid mustaqil in practice acquiesce to their predecessors also. Imam Abu Hanifa complied with the framework of Hadrats Ali and Ibn Mas’ud (may Allah almighty be pleased with them) who were the basis of fiqh in Iraq. Imam Malik complied with the frameworks of Hadrats Abdullah b. Umar and Zayd b. Thabit (may Allah almighty be pleased with them) via the fuqahahsab’a in Madina. Imam Shafi’i complied generally with the codes of Hadrat Abd Allah b. Abbas (may Allah almighty be pleased with them) via Muslim b. Khalid in Makkah 16.

(4.3.2) The criteria for a mujtahid mutalaq is that they possess fiqh al-nafs which is the innate knowledge of deducing fiqh from the primary sources of the shariah. This includes knowledge of the Quran with meaning, the sunnah including the atharof the sahabah with their references (isnad); both on areas pertaining to rulings17. They must know if there is ijma on an issue and so they must be aware of the differences and agreements of the ulama. As such, according to Imam Nawawi and others18, they must know the core edicts (ummahat al-masa’il) available now in the mutun and this is correct; Allm. Ibn Salah disagrees19. They must be aware of historic factors such as nasikh, mansukh and context as well as local factors such as the urf (custom) of a place and time. They must possess knowledge of hermeneutics which are now firmly established in usul al-fiqh and accordingly they must be proficient in Arabic language and linguistics20. Along with the stated skills and knowledge they must also be experienced in the field and acquired their knowledge through the company of the qualified rather than books alone. Allm. Ibn Nujaym clarifies that on the ancillary criteria that the mujtahid need not be a full expert rather proficiency to fulfil their duty will suffice; one does not need to be a poet or philosopher to be a mujtahid. Furthermore, knowledge of arithmetic, enough to solve inheritance and other relevant edicts, is also a requisite21. Tayaqquz (readily being able to access knowledge) is stated as a requirement. Allm. Nawawi and Allm. Ibn Nujaym clarify that access to edicts need not be present in their mind immediately rather they should be able to determine it in a short period. Allm. Shami22 concurs in principle but states that in our time it is a requirement that it be immediately accessible.

(4.3.3) The mutaqqaddimun (Stages 1 and 2) or salaf (Era 1) have a larger percentage of mujtahid al-mutlaq than those who came in the later era. Imam Ghazali alludes to the possible cause to this in his statement that ‘in our time we acquire knowledge through the exercise of fiqh[but] this was not found in the time of the sahabah’. They and the generation following generally had a more natural disposition towards and immersion to Islam which was more readily apparent and available to the learner than the later era. Imam Abu Hanifah along with his affiliate Imams Abu Yusuf and Muhammad b. Hasan Shaybani firmly belong in this category. Similarly, Imam Malik with his affiliates Imams Ibn Qasim and Asbagh as well as Imam Shafi’i with his affiliates Imams Muzani and Rabi’ b. Sulayman firmly belong to this category23. Imams Ahmad b. Hanbal, Sufyan Thawri and Awza’i also firmly belong in this category (may Allah almighty have mercy upon them all).

(4.4.1)[Grade 2: the dependant legists] The mujtahid muqayyad (class 3) based on Imam Nawawi’s description encompasses Allm. Ibn Kamal Pasha’s classes 3 and 4 namely mujtahid fi al-masa’il (ashab al-wujuh) and ashab al-takhrij. As a fuzzy set it is easier to classify according to ability without controversy due to a limited faqih rarely sharing the same set of limitations and independence. Such as Imam Tahawi, some have classified him as ashab al-takhrij whilst others as mujtahid fi al-mazahib24. However, due to their function there is a strong case for making a distinction within the grade with two classes. One may view this class as that of the specialists who have the requisite qualifications to do ijtihad in a particular area such as inheritance and hajj but they lack some of the qualification of ijtihad in other areas.

(4.4.2) The criteria for the mujtahid muqayyad is that they must know the usul, evidences, corpus of fiqh and ijma as stated for the mujtahid mutlaq. However, they may lack an ancillary criterion such as language or hadith evaluation due to which they may not overstep the mujtahid mutlaq and as such they must rely on the existing conclusions. If they have expertise in a topic unaffected by their limitation they may exercise ijtihad where the mujtahid mutlaq has not commented thus they will be classed amujtahid fi al-masa’il. However, if they possess no such expertise but match the general criteria stated above, they will be classed asashab takhrij where they may not exercise ijtihad rather clarify and extend the positions of the mujtahidin; effectively a muqallid.

(4.5.1) [Grade 3: recorders] The hafid mazhab describes those who are able to preserve the mazhab. They possess most of the criteria of the grades above but lack some of the primary criteria for ijtihad such as the ability to utilise usul for discovery. As such they are unable to deduce edicts or extend it. They possess fiqh al-nafs which in this case is described by Imam al-Haramayn25 as ‘knowing the corpus of fiqh deduced and extended by the mujtahids of their respective mazhabs as well as the clarifications forwarded by the ashab takhrij. They possess the ability to evaluate the concluded edicts within the mazhab along with differing views.

(4.5.2) This grade has two classes; ashab tarjih (class 5) and ashab tamyiz (class 6). The first (class 5) is able to follow up evaluation with preponderance26 whilst the latter is incapable of giving preponderance, however, once it is given they recognise its merit and are able to distinguish the strong from the weak.

(4.5.3) The verdict of this grade is considered representative of the mujtahidin, hence, it will be deemed authoritative in terms of practice within the mazhab.

(4.6.1) [Grade 4: Lay] Those who do not meet the criteria stated above. They are unable to distinguish between strong from weak. This grade relies on edicts without any appreciation of or consideration for reliability, validity or accuracy. This grade is unqualified and may not be relied upon.


Muhammad Saifur Rahman Nawhami
18 Dhul Qa'dah 1435
13 August 2014



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  • 1. Surah Mujadalah: 11.
  • 2. Abu Bakr and Umar b. Khattab (may Allah almighty be pleased with them both)
  • 3. The mukaththirun are sahabah who conveyed a large number of edicts. They comprise of Abd Allah b. Mas’ud, Abd Allah b. Abbas, Abd Allah b. Umar, Aysha, and Zayd b. Thabit (may Allah be pleased with them all)
  • 4. Muqaddimah Sahih Muslim
  • 5. Surah Yusuf: 73
  • 6. Ibn Kamal Pasha in Shami, Muhammad Amin Ibn Abidin. Rasm
  • 7. Note that the ahnaf only require capacity even if no contribution is not made to be categorised in the upper classes as opposed to the shawafi who require both. Hence, the statement of Allm. Ibn Salah Shahrazuri (may Allah have mercy upon him) that the doors to ijtihad is closed. The ahnaf may argue that Mujtahidin may exist but scope of exercising their ijtihad is limited to novel cases and within the confines of the pre-existing corpuses which through successive generations have been found to be reliable and valid.
  • 8. Some have stated it to be five but that is not necessarily conflict with seven as explained by Allm. Lacknawi in Umdat al-Ri’ayah. Allm. Marjani (Nazurat al-Haq, p.54) has heavily criticised the All albeit less of was on the class.
  • 9. See Umdat al-Ri’ayat
  • 10. See Nazurat al-Haq. p. 58
  • 11. Usul al-Ifta
  • 12. Cf. Sharh Muhazzab
  • 13. See Nur al-Anwar for a detailed description along with Nukhbat al-Fikr. Bahr al-Ra’iq.p. 442 v. 6
  • 14. See Sharh UqudRasm al-Mufti and Fath al-Qadir. Bahr al-Ra’iq p. 446 v. 6
  • 15. Muqaddimah Sharh al-Muhazzab li Nawawi (p. 5) and Radd al-Mukhtar
  • 16. Kawthari, Zahid. Husn al-Taqadi, p. 24
  • 17. Bahr al-Raiq p. 445
  • 18. See Muqaddimah Sharh Muhaazzab p. 6. This is the view of Allm. Asfara’ini and Allm. Abu Mansur al-Baghdadi.
  • 19. Allm. Ibn Salah does not declare fiqh a criteria as fiqhis the conclusion of ijtihad, hence, declaring a pre-requisite may lead to circular argument.
  • 20. See Bahr al-Ra’iq p. 455 and Muqaddimah Sharh Muhazzab p. 5
  • 21. Muqaddimah Sharh Muhazzab
  • 22. Radd al-Mukhtar
  • 23. Usul Ifta
  • 24. See Usul Ifta p. 102. Mufti Taqi Usmani opts to classify him as a Mujtahid fi al-Mazhab
  • 25. Muqaddimah Sharh Muhazzab
  • 26. al-Qadir ‘ala al-Taqrirwa al-Tahrir

Nawhami, Muhammad Saifur Rahman. (2014). The classes of Fuqaha. Islamic Studies Bulletin (DIBAJ), Number 4. Available at