The following is the translation of some passages from the book Hujjat-Allâhi ’ala ’l-’âlamîn by Yûsuf an-Nabhânî [d. Beirut, 1350 A.H. (1932)]
“Not everybody can draw ahkâm (rules, conclusions) from the Qur’ân al-kerîm. Since even the mujtahid imâms would not be able to draw all the rules from the Qur’ân al-kerîm, Rasûlullah (sall-Allâhu ta’âlâ ’alaihi wa sallam) explained the rules in the Qur’ân al-kerîm in his hadîths. As the Qur’ân al-kerîm was explained by him only, so the hadîths could be understood and explained by as-Sahâbat al-kirâm and the mujtahid imâms only. In order that they could understand them, Allâhu ta’âlâ endowed upon His mujtahid imâms scientific and religious knowledge, strong comprehension, keen sight, superfluous mind, and many more virtues. Ahead of all these virtues was taqwâ. Next came the Divine Light in their hearts. With the help of these virtues, our mujtahid imâms understood what Allâhu ta’âlâ and Rasûlullah meant in their words, and, as for those they could not understand, they showed [solutions for] them through qiyâs. Each of the four a’immat al-madhâhib informed that he did not speak out of his own opinion and said to his disciples, ‘If you find a sahîh hadîth, leave my word aside and follow Rasûlullah’s hadîth!’ Whom our a’immat al-madhâhib told this were profound scholars who were mujtahids like them. These scholars were the mujtahids of tarjîh (ability to distinguish between) who knew the documentation of the four madhhabs. They studied the documents and the transmitters of the hadîth on which the madhhab imâm had based his ijtihâd and those of the newly encountered sahîh hadîth, and examined which was said later and many other conditions, and thus understood which was to be preferred (tarjîh). Or, the mujtahid imâm [the imâm al-madhhab] decided about a problem (mas’ala) through qiyâs because he did not know the hadîth which would document [or solve] it, and his disciples, finding that hadîth, decided differently. Yet, while employing such an ijtihâd, the disciples did not go beyond the rules of the imâm. Those mujtahid muftîs who succeeded them gave fatwâ in this manner, too. As it is understood from all that has been written here, those Muslims who have been following the four a’immat al-madhhâhib, and the mujtahids who were educated in their madhhabs, have been following the rules of Allâhu ta’âlâ and His Messenger. These mujtahids understood the rules in the Qur’ân al-kerîm and the Hadîth ash-sherîf, which nobody else could understand, and conveyed what they understood. Muslims have been living up to what mujtahids understood and communicated from the Nass, that is, the Book and the Sunna. For, Allâhu ta’âlâ declares in the 43rd âyat kerîma of sûrat an-Nakhl, “If you do not know, ask those who know.”
“Only upon the Umma of His Beloved Prophet (sall-Allâhu ta’âlâ ’alaihi wa sallam) did Allâhu ta’âlâ bestow the fortune that the a’immat al-madhâhib would perform ijtihâd and establish their madhhabs, and that all Muslims would come together in these madhhabs. Allâhu ta’âlâ, on the one hand, created the imâms of i’tiqâd and prevented heretics, zindîqs, mulhids and Satanic people from defiling the knowledge of i’tiqâd, and, on the other, protected His religion from being defiled by creating the imâms of madhhabs. Since this blessing did not exist in Christianity and Judaism, their religions were defiled and were turned into playthings.
“By consensus of the Islamic scholars, there came no deep scholar capable of employing ijtihâd after the four hundred years following Rasûlullah’s (sall-Allâhu ta’âlâ ’alaihi wa sallam) death. A person who says that it is necessary to employ ijtihâd now must be mad or unaware of the religion. When the great scholar Jalâl ad-dîn as-Suyûtî ’Abd ar-Rahmân [rahimah-Allâhu ta’âlâ, d. Egypt, 911 A.H. (1505)] said he had reached the grade of ijtihâd, other contemporary scholars asked him about a question to which two different answers had been given and inquired of him to tell which answer was more dependable. He could not answer them. He said he was too busy to spare any time for it. However, what he was asked to do was to employ ijtihâd on a fatwâ, which was the lowest degree of ijtihâd. Seeing that such a deep scholar as as-Suyûtî evaded employing ijtihâd on a fatwâ, what should we call those who force people to employ absolute (mutlaq) ijtihâd, if we should not call them mad or spiritually ignorant? Al-Imâm al-Ghazâlî (rahimah-Allâhu ta’âlâ) reported in his book Ihyâ’ ’Ulûm ad-Dîn that there was no mujtahid in his time.
“If a non-mujtahid Muslim learns a sahîh hadîth and thereupon begins to feel uneasy about doing something in the manner taught by the îmâm of his madhhab because the manner taught by the imâm of his madhhab disagrees with the hadîth, he has to search and find within the four madhhabs another mujtahid whose ijtihad was based on that hadîth and do that thing in accordance with the madhhab that that mujtahid belonged to. Great scholar al-Imâm Yahyâ an-Nawawî [rahimah-Allâhu ta’âlâ, d. Damascus, 676 A.H. (1277)] explained this in detail in his Rawdat at-tâlibîn. For, it is not permissible for those who have not reached the grade of ijtihâd to draw rules from the Nass, that is, the Book and the Sunna. Now some ignorant people claim that they have reached the grade of absolute ijtihâd, that they can draw rules from the Nass and that they no longer need to follow one of the four madhhabs, and they abandon the madhhab they have followed for years. They attempt to refute the madhhabs with their unsound thoughts. They make such ignorant, stupid statements as, ‘We will not follow the opinion of a religious man who was as ignorant as we are.’ Deluded by Satan and provoked by the nafs, they claim superiority. They cannot realize that by saying so they reveal not their superiority but their stupidity and ignominy. Among these, we see also those ignorant heretics who say and write that everybody should read and derive rules from tafsîr books and [the Sahîh of] al-Bukhârî. O my Muslim brother! Completely avoid making friends with such idiots or supposing that they are religious men! Hold fast to the madhhab of your imâm! You are free to choose whichever you like of the four madhhabs. But it is not permissible to collect the facilities (rukhsas) of the madhhabs, that is, to unify the madhhabs, which is called ‘talfîq’.
“A Muslim who can read and understand hadîths well should learn the hadîths that are his madhhab’s documents, then do the actions praised and shun those prohibited by the hadîths and learn the greatness and value of the Islamic religion, the perfection of Rasûlullah’s (sall-Allâhu ta’âlâ ’alaihi wa sallam) and Allâhu ta’âlâ’s Names and Attributes, Rasûlullâh’s life, his virtues and miracles, the order of this world and the next, of the Resurrection, of the Judgement and Paradise and Hell, angels, genies, ancient ummas, prophets and their books, the superiorities peculiar to Rasûlullah and to the Qur’ân al-kerîm, the lives of his ’Âl (immediate relatives) and those of his Companions, the harbingers of the Last Day and many more items of information pertaining to this world and the next. All the information pertaining to this world and the next has been accumulated in Rasûlullah’s hadîths.
“When what we have written here is understood, it will become apparent how ignorant are those who say that those rules of Islam which were not derived from hadîths are useless. Among the innumerous items of information given in hadîths, those hadîths teaching ’ibâdât and mu’âmalât are very few. According to some scholars, there are about five hundred; [including the repetitive ones, there are no more than three thousand]. It is not presumable that any one of the four a’immat al-madhâhib might not have heard one sahîh hadîth among so few hadîths. Each sahîh hadîth was used as a document by at least one of the four a’immat al-madhâhib. A Muslim who sees that a certain affair in his own madhhab is unsuitable with a sahîh hadîth should do the affair by following another madhhab which based its ijtihâd on that hadîth. Perhaps the imâm of his own madhhab also heard of the hadîth, yet, following another hadîth which he understood was more sahîh or was [said by the Prophet] later in date and annulled the former, or, for some other reasons known to mujtahids, he did not take the former hadîth as a document. It is good for a Muslim who understands that the former hadîth is sahîh to give up his own madhhab’s ijtihâd which is not suitable with the hadîth and to follow the hadîth, yet, in this case he has to follow another madhhab which used that hadîth in its ijtihâd for the matter in question. For, the îmâm of that second madhhab, knowing those documents of the rules (ahkâm) which he did not know, found out that there was nothing to deter acting upon that hadîth. Nevertheless, it is as well permissible for him to carry out that affair in accordance with his own madhhab, for it is doubtless that the imâm of his own madhhab relied upon a sound document in his ijtihâd. Islam deems it excusable for a muqallid not to know that document. For, none of the imâms of the four madhhabs overflowed the Book and the Sunna in ijtihâd. Their madhhabs are the explanations of the Book and the Sunna. They explained the meanings and rules in the Book and the Sunna for Muslims. They explained them in a way that Muslims can understand them, and wrote them in books. This work of the a’immat al-madhâhib (rahimahum-Allâhu ta’âlâ) was such a tremendous service to Islam that human power would not have sufficed for doing it if Allâhu ta’âlâ had not helped them. [Existence of] these madhhabs is one of the most perfect evidences of the fact that Rasûlullah (sall-Allâhu ta’âlâ ’alaihi wa sallam) is the True Prophet and Islam is the True Religion.
“The difference in the ijtihâds of our a’immat al-madhâhib were only in matters pertaining to furû’ ad-dîn, that is, in matters of fiqh. There was no disagreement among them in respect to usûl ad-dîn, that is, in the knowledge of i’tiqâd or îmân. Nor did they differ from one another in those teachings of furû’ which are known to be essential in the religion and which were taken from those hadîths whose documents were reported by tawatûr. They differed only in some aspects of knowledge concerning furû’ ad-dîn. This arose from the difference in their understanding the soundness of the documents of these matters. And this little difference among them is [Allâhu ta’âlâ’s] compassion over the umma; it is permissible (jâ’iz) for Muslims to follow any madhhab they like and find easy. Rasûlullah (sall-Allâhu ta’âlâ ’alaihi wa sallam) foretold this difference as glad tidings, and it has happened as he foretold.
“It is not permissible to employ ijtihâd in the knowledge of i’tiqâd, that is, in the facts to be believed. It gives way to deviation and heresy. It is a grave sin. There is only one correct path in matters pertaining to i’tiqâd: ahl as-Sunnat wa ’l-Jamâ’a. The difference which was declared to be [Allâhu ta’âlâ’s] compassion in the hadîth ash-sherîfwas the difference in furû’ or ahkâm.
“In a matter on which the judgements of the four madhhabs differ from one another, only one of the judgements is correct. Those who do this correct way will be given two thawâbs, and those who act according to one of the incorrect judgements will be given one thawâb. That the madhhabs are compassion shows the fact that it is permissible to give up one madhhab and follow another. But it is not permissible to follow any madhhab –other than the four– that belongs to Ahl as-Sunna, nor even as-Sahâbat al-kirâm, since their madhhabs were not put into written form and have been forgotten. There is now no possibility for following any madhhab other than the known four. Imâm Abû Bakr Ahmad ar-Râzî [rahimah-Allâhu ta’âlâ, d. 370 A.H. (980)], too, reported that it had been declared unanimously by the ’ulamâ’ of Islam that it was not permissible to follow [directly] as-Sahâbat al-kirâm. I recommend that those who want to understand well the superiority of the madhhabs, of mujtahids, especially of the four a’immat al-madhhâhib, the fact that their madhhabs did not go beyond the Book and the Sunna and that the rules which they conveyed through ijmâ’ and qiyâs were not their own opinions but were taken from the Book and the Sunna, should read the books Al-mîzân al-kubrâ and Al-mîzân al-Khidriyya by Imâm ’Abd al-Wahhâb ash-Sha’rânî (rahimah-Allâhu ta’âlâ).”