Al-Ghazali and apostasy charges against Ahmadis: A re-examination of Ijma‘ on the Finality of Prophethood

25th September 2023

Iftekhar Ahmed, Ahmadiyya Archive & Research Centre


In this paper, I explore the question of why the declaration of disbelief (takfir) by non-Ahmadi Muslims against Ahmadis, based on their alleged rejection of the finality of the prophethood of the Messengersa of Allah, is both unjustified and implausible. I elaborate that such a declaration of disbelief can only be applied to those who violate something that is necessarily recognised as part of the religion (al-ma ‘lum min ad-din bi-d-darura). Drawing on a statement by Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 505/1111), an Islamic scholarly authority, I argue that the view that there can be no specification or interpretation of the meaning of khatam an-nabiyyin or la nabiyya ba‘di, etc., is not among the matters necessarily recognised as part of the religion. The sole basis for that view is an alleged consensus (ijma‘). I then proceed to argue that al-Ghazali himself believed throughout his life that the kind of consensus supporting such views is not a definitive (qat‘i) consensus that can justify takfir, but rather a speculative (zanni) consensus, the rejection of which does not warrant takfir. Furthermore, I argue that even assuming al-Ghazali had expressed the opinion that disregarding such a consensus leads to disbelief (kufr), there is a wealth of well-founded opinions from recognised scholars regarding the very nature of consensus, which range from the view that all forms of consensus are purely speculative and therefore insufficient for takfir, or even for declaring someone a sinner, to the view that only the consensus of the Companionsra can be non-speculative (qat‘i) in nature or claim validity on its own. I present evidence that the Promised Messiahas accepted the consensus of the Companionsra as a principle, and then demonstrate that there was no consensus among the Companionsra on the absence of any semantic tension between the term khatam an-nabiyyin and the statement la nabiyya ba‘di. Finally, I undertake a critical reception history analysis of the discussed passage from al-Ghazali’s al-Iqtisad fi l-I‘tiqad and illustrate how scholars manipulated al-Ghazali’s text and unjustly used it against Ahmadis.

Keywords: Ahmadiyya, apostasy, ijma‘, al-Ghazali, takfir, prophethood, khatam an-nabiyyin


In examining why a significant proportion of non-Ahmadi Muslims consider Ahmadi Muslims to be non-Muslims, it becomes apparent that this perception of non-Ahmadis regarding Ahmadis comes down to purported contradictions between the views held by Ahmadis and what is commonly referred to as al-ma‘lum min ad-din bi-d-darura – that is, what is known to be part of the religion by necessity.

Although there is no unanimity on those matters covered by this concept within the Islamic tradition, and different schools and their scholars differ on it, at times markedly, a fundamental aspect that does unanimously fall within this realm is the acceptance of certain nusus (sg. nass), i.e., sacred and authoritative reference texts that are mutawatir, i.e., that have been passed down from generation to generation through several reliable channels and form a continuous and widely accepted tradition.

Imam al-Ghazali, who will be extensively referenced throughout the paper (henceforth: al-Ghazali), said in al-Mustasfa, his main work on legal theory (usul al-fiqh):

فإن قيل وما الذي يكفر به قلنا […] وبالجملة إنكار ما عرف بالتواتر والضرورة من الشريعة.

“If it is said: What renders someone an infidel? We shall say: […] In sum, rejecting that which is known by tawatur and darura as part of shari‘a.” (al-Ghazali. 1993. al-Mustasfa min ‘ilm al-usul. ed. Muhammad ‘Abd as-Salam ‘Abd ash-Shafi. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya. p. 146)

The prevailing view among most non-Ahmadi Muslims today is that Ahmadi Muslims, with their belief, as it is alleged, in a prophet who came after the Prophet Muhammadsa, contradict some of the nusus mutawatira found in both the Quran and the Sunnah, which are said to state explicitly that there could be no prophet after Prophet Muhammadsa.

The most widely cited nass from the Quran is the so-called khatam an-nabiyyin verse, which states:

مَّا كَانَ مُحَمَّدٌ أَبَآ أَحَدٖ مِّن رِّجَالِكُمۡ وَلَٰكِن رَّسُولَ ٱللَّهِ وَخَاتَمَ ٱلنَّبِيِّـۧنَ ۗ وَكَانَ ٱللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيۡءٍ عَلِيمٗا

“Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah, and the Seal of the Prophets and Allah has full knowledge of all things.” (Holy Quran, Ch.33: V.41)

Similarly, the most widely cited nass mutawatir put forward from the Sunnah is the following prophetic statement:

لا نبي بعدي

“There is no prophet after me.” (Sahih al-BukhariSahih Muslim)

For devout Muslims, there is no question that the entire Quran, and thus also the aforementioned verse, is mutawatir; in addition, there is also the dominant view that the above-mentioned prophetic tradition is also mutawatir. Hence, the medieval Maliki-Ash‘ari legal theorist and theologian Abu Bakr al-Baqillani (d. 403/1013) said in his at-Tamhid:

وَقد نقل كَافَّة الْأمة هَذَا القَوْل أَعنِي قَوْله (لَا نَبِي بعدِي) نقلا متواترا لَا يُمكن دَفعه

“And the entire umma has transmitted this statement, I mean his statement, ‘There is no prophet after me’, through a transmission along multiple paths continuously from generation to generation, the rejection of which is not possible.” (al-Baqillani. 1987. Tamhid al-awa‘il wa-talkhis ad-dala’il. ed. ‘Imad ad-Din Ahmad Haydar. Beirut: Mu’assasat al-Kutub al-Thaqafiyya. p. 212)

In short, what Ahmadis are charged with is that they would contradict nusus that are mutawatir, thus contradicting what is al-ma’lum min ad-din bi-d-darura, which would, according to non-Ahmadi Muslims, unquestionably cast them out of the fold of Islam.

The authority of al-Ghazali

In the following discourse, I would like to get to the bottom of this issue, with particular emphasis on and reference to the statements and lines of thought of al-Ghazali, a polymath, born in 450/1058 in Tus, Khurasan, whose profound scholarship included theology, jurisprudence, and mysticism. He was one of the most revered figures of Islamic history and was, for instance, honoured with the title of Imam when he taught at the Nizamiyya College in Baghdad. He “is considered by the Muslim world to be the most influential Islamic philosopher and theologian after the prophet Muhammed[sa]” and is called “probably the most famous scholar in classical Islam” and “the most significant of all representatives of mainstream Sunni theology”. Renowned also as the “Authoritative Proof of Islam” (hujjat al-Islam), al-Ghazali’s theological and philosophical ideas still resonate with Muslims today, and he is widely regarded as one of the most important reformers of the Islamic faith. He left a rich legacy that continues to inspire generations today.

On the topics of heresy and disbelief, al-Ghazali wrote three notable texts, each belonging to a distinct genre. The main aim of the first of these treatises, Fada’ih al-Batiniyya (“Infamies of the Esoterics”), which belongs to the genre of firaq literature, is to criticise the Isma‘ili beliefs, explain their errors and classify them as deviant from Islam. His second work, entitled al-Iqtisad fi l-i‘tiqad (“Moderation in Belief”), is a theological defence of the Sunni faith, focusing on the Ash‘ari school of theology, with the last chapter of this text being of particularly great importance, as it deals with the identification of positions whose adherents may or may not rightly be called followers of disbelief according to him. In his final contribution on the subject of heresy and disbelief, entitled Faysal at-tafriqa bayn al-Islam wa-z-Zandaqa (“The Criterion of Distinction between Islam and Clandestine Unbelief”), he presents, building on the foundations of his earlier works, a systematic method for distinguishing statements that do not warrant the accusation of disbelief against their utterers, and those that do deserve such an accusation.

IMG 20230925 180450 872

Moderation in Belief (al-Iqtisad fil-I’tiqad)

The primary book by al-Ghazali that this paper will refer to in particular is his al-Iqtisad, or more precisely the fourth chapter of the fourth treatise, which is the very last chapter of this book. The title of the chapter is as follows:

في بيان من يجب تكفيره من الفرق

“On explaining which among the sects must be charged with infidelity” (al-Ghazali. 1962. al-Iqtisad fi l-i‘tiqad. ed. Ibrahim Agah Chawbuqchi, Husayn Atay., Ankara: Nur Mutbaasi. p. 246)

At the beginning of the chapter, al-Ghazali presents us with a clear, straightforward definition of unbelief:

والأصل المقطوع به أن كل من كذب محمداً صلى الله عليه وسلم فهو كافر

“And the principle, which is conclusively determined, is that everyone who accuses Muhammadsa of lying (kadhdhaba) is an infidel (kafir)”. (Ibid. p. 248)

In his Faysal the same is presented as follows:

الكفر: هو تكذيب الرسول ﷺ في شيء مما جاء به

“Unbelief (kufr) is to deem anything the Prophetsa brought to be a lie.” (al-Ghazali. 1993. Faysal at-tafriqa bayn al-Islam wa-z-Zandaqa. ed. Mahmud Biju. Damascus: Dar al-Bayruti. p. 25)

In al-Iqtisad, he then goes on to divide those to be charged with disbelief into six different categories. After giving an overview of these six categories, I will undertake a comprehensive examination.

(1) The first category is that of Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, polytheists, etc., and (2) the second category is that of the Brahmins and the materialists or atheists.

About (3) the third category al-Ghazali writes:

الرتبة الثالثة: الذين يصدقون بالصانع والنبوة ويصدقون النبي، ولكن يعتقدون أمورا تخالف نصوص الشرع

“The third rank is those who believe in the Maker and prophethood, and believe the Prophet, but hold beliefs that conflict with the nusus of the sources of law (shar‘).” (al-Ghazali. 1993. al-Iqtisad. ibid. p. 249.)

From his subsequent explanations it becomes clear that he actually only means the philosophers.

The fourth, fifth and sixth categories that follow are the most significant in the context of this paper.

(4) The fourth category is about the Mu‘tazila and the anthropomorphists (mutashabbiha). About these, al-Ghazali says that they engage in an impermissible way of interpretation (ta‘wil). What is interesting here, however, is that he does not declare these two groups to be disbelievers because of this. The reason for including them in this classification, although they are not considered disbelievers, is indeed to issue a warning to the opponents of these two groups. Since, as he says, all those who turn their faces towards Mecca and proclaim the shahada cannot be called infidels at all. In contrast to his attitude towards the philosophers, al-Ghazali at this point shows himself moderate in his judgement of the two groups who, despite their inadmissible interpretation of the texts, continue to be part of the umma. Both the rational interpretation of the Mu‘tazila and the literal interpretation of the texts by the anthropomorphists are recognised and not subjected to the charge of kufr.

al-Ghazali writes:

ودليل المنع من تكفيرهم أن الثابت عندنا بالنص تكفير المكذب للرسول، وهؤلاء ليسوا مكذبين أصلا ولم يثبت لنا أن الخطأ في التأويل موجب للتكفير، فلا بد من دليل عليه، وثبت أن العصمة مستفادة من قول لا إله إلا الله قطعا، فلا يرفع ذلك إلا بقاطع. وهذا القدر كاف في التنبيه على أن إسراف من بالغ في التكفير ليس عن برهان فإن البرهان إما أصل وإما قياس على أصل، والأصل هو التكذيب الصريح ومن ليس بمكذب فليس في معنى الكذب أصلا فبقى تحت عموم العصمة بكلمة الشهادة.

“The proof that imputing infidelity to them is not permissible is that what is definitive, according to us, on the basis of textual evidence, is to charge with infidelity the one who disbelieves the Messenger, and these clearly do not disbelieve. Furthermore, it is not established that an error in interpretation is grounds for the charge of infidelity. Hence a proof for it must be given. On the other hand, it is conclusively established that inviolability is attained by one’s statement that there is no deity but God. Therefore, there must be a conclusive reason to revoke this inviolability. This is sufficient for showing that the unrestraint of someone who exaggerates in imputing infidelity to others is not justified by any demonstration. A demonstration is either a principle or an analogy based on a principle; and the principle here is unequivocally disbelieving the Prophet. He who does not disbelieve is not described as an unbeliever in the first place; hence he remains sheltered by the general inviolability that is conferred by the declaration of faith.” (Ibid. p. 251.)

(5) The fifth category of those who are to be charged with unbelief are those who do not practise any of the above heresies but deny facts and reports that are mutawatir.

(6) The importance of the sixth category to the present paper warrants its detailed reproduction. Therefore, I shall present a verbatim transcription of its main part, which is as follows:

الرتبة السادسة: أن لا يصرح بالتكذيب ولا يكذب أيضاً أمراً معلوماً على القطع بالتواتر من أصول الدين ولكن منكر ما علم صحته إلا الاجماع، فأما التواتر فلا يشهد له كالنظام مثلاً، إذ أنكر كون الاجماع حجة قاطعة في أصله. وقال: ليس يدل على استحالة الخطأ على أهل الاجماع دليل عقلي قطعي ولا شرعي متواتر لا يحتمل التأويل، فكلما تستشهد به من الأخبار والآيات له تأويل بزعمه، وهو في قوله خارق لإجماع التابعين؛ فإنا نعلم إجماعهم على أن ما أجمع عليه الصحابة حق مقطوع به لا يمكن خلافه فقد أنكر الإجماع وخرق الإجماع

وهذا في محل الاجتهاد، ولي فيه نظر، إذ الاشكالات كثيرة في وجه كون الاجماع حجة فيكاد يكون ذلك الممهد للعذر ولكن لو فتح هذا الباب انجر إلى أمور شنيعة وهو أن قائلاً لو قال: يجوز أن يبعث رسول بعد نبينا محمد صلى الله عليه وسلم، فيبعد التوقف في تكفيره ومستند استحالة ذلك عند البحث تستمد من الاجماع لا محالة فإن العقل لا يحيله وما نقل فيه من قوله: لا نبي بعدي ومن قوله تعالى: خاتم النبيين فلا يعجز هذا القائل عن تأويله فيقول: خاتم النبيين أراد به أولي العزم من الرسل، فإن قالوا النبيين عام، فلا يبعد تخصيص العام. وقوله لا نبي بعدي لم يرد به الرسول، وفرق بين النبي والرسول والنبي أعلى رتبة من الرسول إلى غير ذلك من أنواع الهذيان.

فهذا وأمثاله لا يمكن أن ندعي استحالته من حيث مجرد اللفظ فإنا في تأويل ظواهر التشبيه قضينا باحتمالات أبعد من هذه ولم يكن ذلك مبطلاً للنصوص، ولكن الرد على هذا القائل أن الأمة فهمت بالإجماع من هذا اللفظ ومن قرائن أحواله أنه أفهم عدم نبي بعده أبداً وعدم رسول الله أبداً وأنه ليس فيه تأويل ولا تخصيص فمنكر هذا لا يكون إلا منكر الإجماع، وعند هذا يتفرع مسائل متقاربة مشتبكة يفتقر كل واحد منها إلى نظر، والمجتهد في جميع ذلك يحكم بموجب ظنه يقيناً وإثباتاً

“The sixth rank is someone who does not affirm unbelief nor does he disbelieve one of the principles of religion that is conclusively known through widely transmitted reports, but he denies something whose correctness is known through pure consensus and only through consensus. He does not even affirm what is widely transmitted [about consensus]. For instance, an-Nazzam denied that consensus, on its own, is a decisive argument. He said that there is no conclusive rational proof or widely transmitted proof for the impossibility of error on the part of people who reach consensus that cannot be interpreted non-literally. According to him, all the reports and Quranic verses that are presented as proof are subject to non-literal interpretation. In saying this, he has broken away from the consensus of the followers of the Prophet’s companions. For we know that they have agreed that the consensus of the Prophet’s companions is an established truth that cannot be opposed. Thus, he has denied [the validity of] consensus and broken away from the consensus.

“This is a matter of independent opinion, on which I have my own theoretical reflection. There are many difficult issues regarding whether consensus is a decisive argument. This fact could be the beginning of a rationale [for rejecting the principle of consensus]. However, if this door is opened, it would lead to repugnant matters. Someone might say that it is possible for a messenger to be sent after our Prophet, Muhammad (may God bless him and grant him peace); and he would avert a charge of infidelity. The evidence for the impossibility of this, upon reflection, derives inevitably from consensus; for reason does not deem it impossible. As for the Prophet’s reported statement “There will be no prophet after me” and the saying of the Exalted, “and the seal of the prophets”, that person is not unable to interpret them non-literally. He might say “‘the seal of the prophets’ is intended to designate the messengers of steadfast determination, for God’s saying ‘the prophets’ is a general term, and it is not unlikely to delimit what is general; and the Prophet’s statement ‘there will be no prophet after me’ is not intended to refer to a messenger, for there is a difference between a prophet and a messenger — a prophet has a higher degree than a messenger,” and the rest of such sort of babble.

“This and similar interpretations cannot be claimed to be impossible merely on the basis of the text, for we, in interpreting apparent anthropomorphic attributions, affirmed possibilities that reach farther than these interpretations, yet this did not nullify the texts. However, the correct response to this person is that the consensus of the Muslim community is to understand from this statement and his other affairs that he implied that there would never be a prophet after him, nor would there be a messenger, and that there is no room for interpretation or for specification. The one who denies this, therefore, only denies this consensus. At this point several interwoven and related issues spring up, each one of which needs theoretical reflection. The speculations of the one who engages in independent opinion regarding these matters are judged affirmatively or negatively.” (Ibid. pp. 253ff)

IMG 20230925 180458 649

Now, there are some key aspects here, some of which also need to be illuminated in recourse to the other categories listed above.

al-Ghazali begins by saying that in this sixth category, he will talk about those who do not reject or deny what is known of the religion through qat‘ (i.e., darura) and tawatur. He then goes on to explain that someone who says that it is possible for a prophet or messenger to be sent after the Prophet Muhammadsa falls into this category, and for such a one, he says, it is possible to avert a charge of infidelity.

It is made very clear by al-Ghazali that the view that no prophet can appear after the Prophet is based solely on the legal source of consensus (ijma‘) and not on tawatur, which would have meant that it belonged to al-ma‘lum min ad-din bi-d-darura, but according to al-Ghazali it definitely does not. He explains:

فمنكر هذا لا يكون إلا منكر الإجماع

“The one who denies this, therefore, only denies the consensus.” (Ibid. p. 255.)

In this sentence, a construction with a complex negative particle has been employed. As regards its semantics, it was established by the ancient Arab grammarians that it is used to express what was called uslub al-hasr (‘restriction’) or uslub al-istithna’ (‘exception’). According to these grammarians, the construction in question is used to express two notions at once: the notion of negation and the notion of restriction. More explicitly speaking, in this kind of construction a certain property is negated with respect to some set of entities and restricted to one of these entities. In this nominal sentence at hand, the property of denying this doctrine is posited as not being tantamount to the denial of a certain potential set of entities, such as the denial of tawatur or darura, etc., and is restricted to being tantamount to the denial of only one of these entities, namely the denial of consensus.

To put it in simple terms: By discussing the rejection of mass-transmitted views and texts, and declaring someone an infidel for this reason, in an earlier category, the fifth category to be exact, and now subsuming the view of the possibility of the appearance of a prophet after the Seal of the Prophetssa under the category of the rejection of ijma‘, al-Ghazali makes it clear that in his opinion this view is not a rejection of what we know as al-ma‘lum min ad-din bi-d-darura, but merely a rejection of a position arrived at solely by consensus.

Other scholars have also reached the same conclusion regarding the understanding of this passage from al-Ghazali. For instance, the famous Maliki scholar Ibn ‘Arafa (d. 803/1401), a Tunisian scholar of Quranic exegesis, theology and jurisprudence, states:

فقوله هذا دليل على أن ختمه للنبيين إنما ثبت عنده بالإجماع

“And this saying of his [of al-Ghazali] is a proof that his [the Prophet’ssa] sealing of the prophets, in his [al-Ghazali’s] view, is only established through consensus.” (Ibn ‘Arafa. 2008. Tafsir Ibn ‘Arafa. ed. Jalal al-Asyuti. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya. Vol. 3. p. 301)

Takfir of the violator of consensus

The question that now arises is whether a person can be considered an unbelieving non-Muslim simply because they contradict a consensus. I argue that, according to al-Ghazali, this is not the case. To substantiate this point, we need only first refer to a relevant passage from the fifth category, the one just preceding the category under discussion. al-Ghazali states:

ولسنا نكفره بمخالفه الإجماع، فإن لنا نظرا في تكفير النظام المنكر لأصل الإجماع، لأن الشبه كثيرة في كون الإجماع حجة قاطعة

“We also do not charge someone with infidelity if he opposes what has been agreed upon. We have an opinion regarding imputing infidelity to an-Nazzam, who rejected the principle of consensus. For there are many doubts about whether consensus is a decisive argument.” (al-Ghazali. 1993. al-Iqtisad. ibid. p. 253.)

Explaining al-Ghazali’s views on consensus as expressed in al-Iqtisad, Alladin M. Yaqub, Professor of Philosophy at Lehigh University, who translated al-Iqtisad into English and also added many insightful annotations, states in one of the footnotes:

“It seems that al-Ghazali is of the opinion that the charge of infidelity that was leveled against al-Nazzam by some Islamic jurists is unjustified. He says below that al-Nazzam’s view is a matter of independent opinion (ijtihad), since there are many difficulties that surround the issue of the conclusiveness of consensus as a religious argument. Al-Ghazali seems to affirm the conclusiveness of consensus on pragmatic grounds, for denying the principle of consensus ‘opens the door to many repugnant views.’” (Alladin M. Yaqub (trans.). 2013. Al-Ghazali’s Moderation in Belief. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 248)

In the same way, Jaber Zaeid Eid Al-Smiry, Professor of Creed (‘aqida) at the Faculty of Theology (usul ad-din) of the Islamic University of Gaza, in his paper al-Fikr at-takfiri fi nazar Abi Hamid al-Ghazali (505 AH): Bayanan wa-tahlilan (“Takfiri Thought in the View of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 505 AH): Elaboration and Analysis”), concluded the following after listing these six categories of al-Ghazali:

إلا أن المتأمل في الرتبتين الرابعة والسادسة لا يرى فيها ضابطاً واضحاً في التكفير ولهذا نجد الغزالي يجعل منهما ضابطين في التفسيق والتبديع وهي أقل رتبة من التكفير، وتجده يحكم على المعتزلة وكثير من الفرق بالتبديع وليس له ضابطاً إلا ما ذكره فـي المرتبـة الرابعة والسادسة، وبرهان ذلك قول الغزالي: (وكيف ما كان فلا ينبغي أن يكفر كل فريق خصمه بأن يراه غالطاً في البرهان، نعم يجوز أن يسميه ضالاً أو مبتدعاً). ولھذا يمكن القول بعزل ھاتين الرتبتين من مراتب التكفير، وضمهما إلى مراتب التفسيق والتضليل، وقد يتضح ذلك من قول الغزالي: (ولذلك ترقينا من التخطئة المجردة التي نطلقها ونقتصر عليها في الفروع … إلى التضليل والتفسيق والتبديع ولكن لا تنتهي إلى التكفير).

“However, upon careful examination of the fourth and sixth ranks, one does not find a clear criterion for the accusation of disbelief (takfir) in them. Therefore, we find that al-Ghazali designates them as criteria for the accusation of grave sins (tafsiq) and innovation (tabdi‘), which are lower in rank than takfir. We see him passing judgments of tabdi‘ on the Mu‘tazilis and many other sects, but he does not have a specific criterion for them except what he mentioned in the fourth and sixth ranks. The evidence for this is al-Ghazali’s statement: ‘However, regardless of the case, it is not appropriate to declare every opposing group as disbelievers just because they have a flawed argument (burhan). Yes, it is permissible to label them as astray (dall) or innovators (mubtadi‘).’ [Faysal at-tafriqa] Hence, it can be said that these two ranks are excluded from the ranks of takfir and included in the ranks of tafsiq and the accusation of misguidance (tadlil). This becomes evident from al-Ghazali’s statement: ‘Therefore, we have progressed from mere accusation of error (takhti’a), which we acknowledge and confine to subsidiary matters […] to tadliltafsiq, and tabdi‘. However, we do not go as far as takfir.’ [Fada’ih al-Batiniyya]” (Jaber al-Smiry. al-Fikr at-takfiri fi nazar Abi Hamid al-Ghazali (505 AH): Bayanan wa-tahlilan. In: An-Najah University Journal for Research – B (Humanities). 2006. 20 (2). p. 381)

Also commenting on precisely the sixth point from al-Ghazali’s al-Iqitsad discussed here, the contemporary Pakistani Sunni tafsir and hadith scholar Ghulam Rasul Sa‘idi (d. 2016) writes in his Quran commentary Tibyan al-Qur’an:

ہر چند کہ امام غزالی کے نزدیک سیدنا محمد ﷺ کے بعد کسی اور نبی کا آنا کبھی بھی ممکن نہیں ہے اور اس آیت میں تاویل کرنا اور اسی طرح اس حدیث میں تخصیص کرنا ان کے نزدیک باطل اور ہذیان ہے۔ لیکن اس کو کافر قرار دینے میں ان کو تامل ہے وہ کہتے ہیں کہ اس کی تکفیر اجماع کی بناء پر ہوگی اور اجماع ان کے نزدیک حجت قطعی نہیں ہے اور جب تک اجماع کو ساتھ نہ ملایا جائے صرف خاتم النبیین کے لفظ سے یہ ثابت نہیں ہوتا کہ آپ کے بعد اور کوئی نبی نہیں آسکتا‘ ہاں اس پر تمام امت کا اجماع ہے لیکن ان کے نزدیک اجماع حجت قطعی نہیں ہے کہ اس کے منکر کو کافر قرار دیا جائے۔

“Although Imam al-Ghazali believes that no other Prophet can ever come after Prophet Muhammadsa and he considers the interpretation (ta’wil) of this verse and the qualification (takhsis) of this hadith to be invalid and misleading, he hesitates to call him a disbeliever. He says that consensus is needed to call him a disbeliever, but in his opinion consensus is not definitive proof (hujjat-i qat‘i) and unless consensus is taken into account it cannot be proved from the term khatam an-nabiyyin alone that no other prophet can come after him. Yes, there is consensus among the entire umma on this, but according to him, consensus alone is not a hujjat-i qat‘i, in order that its denier could be called a disbeliever.” (Ghulam Rasul Sa‘idi. 2004. Tibyan al-Qur’an. Lahore: Farid Book Stall. Vol. 9. p. 473)

He continues:

امام غزالی کی ظاہر عبارت پر بہر حال یہ اعتراض ہوتا ہے کہ ان کو انکار ختم نبوت کو کفر قرار دینے میں تامل ہے وہ کہتے ہیں کہ اسکا کفر ہونا اجماع سے ثابت ہوگا اور اجماع ان کے نزدیک حجت قطعیہ نہیں ہے۔

“Against the literal statement of Imam al-Ghazali, there is by all means the objection that he hesitates to consider the denial of the sealing of prophethood as disbelief. He argues that its being disbelief will be proved by consensus, and consensus is not considered by him as definitive proof (hujjat-i qat‘iyya).” (Ibid. p. 474)

Then he goes on to say:

وہ یہ کہتے ہیں کہ اجماع امت سے صرف نظر کرکے صرف خاتم النبیین کے لفظ سے اس کے منکر کا کفر ثابت نہیں ہوگا اور اجماع ان کے نزدیک قطعی حجت نہیں ہے

“He [al-Ghazali] says that setting aside the consensus of the umma, the words of khatam an-nabiyyin alone do not prove the disbelief of its denier, and consensus is not a definitive proof (qat‘i hujjat) for him.” (Ibid.)

Some hold the position that al-Ghazali reflects views in al-Iqtisad that he later abandoned, however, as a matter of fact, he never repudiated the work and even referred the reader to it in his briefer account of the creed in his major work Ihya’ ‘ulum ad-din.

al-Ghazali’s views on the rejection of ijma‘

From his earliest to his latest works, al-Ghazali adopts a consistent stance regarding one important aspect concerning the status of a person who rejects an opinion derived solely from ijma‘: At no point does he accuse such a person of kufr.

Already in al-Mankhul min ta‘liqat al-usul, one of his earliest books, composed and published somewhere between circa 471/1078 and 473/1080, he states:

فإن قيل: فهل تكفرون خارق الإجماع؟ قلنا: لا، لأن النزاع قد كثر في أصل الإجماع لأهل الإسلام والفقهاء إذا أطلقوا التكفير لخارق الإجماع، أرادوا به إجماعًا يستند إلى أصل مقطوع به من نص أو خبر متواتر.

“If it is asked, ‘Do you declare the one who disagrees with the consensus to be a disbeliever?’ We say, ‘No,’ because the very basis of consensus is subject to much debate and different opinions among the people of Islam and the jurists. When they pronounce someone as a disbeliever for challenging the consensus, they mean a consensus that is based on an unequivocal textual evidence (nass) or a widely transmitted report (khabr mutawatir).” (al-Ghazali. 1998. al-Mankhul min ta‘liqat al-usul. ed. Muhammad Hasan Hitu. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr al-Mu‘asir. p. 406)

Then, this view was also stated by him in his Fada’ih al-Batiniyya, which I mentioned previously. al-Ghazali most probably began writing this work in 487/1094 and completed it about a year later. He writes:

فلم يبن لنا أن خارق الإجماع كافر بل الخلاف قائم بين المسلمين في أن الحجة هل تقوم بمجرد الإجماع وقد ذهب النظام وطائفته إلى إنكار الإجماع وأنه لا تقوم به حجة أصلا فمن التبس عليه هذا الأمر لم نكفره بسببه واقتصرنا على تخطئته وتضليله

“For us, it is not apparent that the one who opposes consensus is a disbeliever. Rather, there is disagreement among Muslims as to whether authoritative proof (hujja) is established on the basis of consensus alone. an-Nazzam and his group have gone so far as to deny the validity of consensus and claim that it is not a proof at all. So, if anyone finds this matter doubtful, we do not declare them a disbeliever because of it. We confine ourselves to stating that they are in error (takhti’a) and have gone astray (tadlil).” (al-Ghazali. 1964. Fada’ih al-Batiniyya wa-Fada’il al-Mustazhiriyya. ed. ‘Abd ar-Rahman Badawi. Hawally, Cairo: ad-Dar al-Qawmiyya li-t-Tiba‘a wa-n-Nashr. p. 148)

In another work I also mentioned previously, Faysal at-tafriqa, which he wrote somewhere between 499/1106 and 504/1110, al-Ghazali writes:

نعم لو أنكر ما ثبت بأخبار الآحاد، فلا يلزمه به الكفر. ولو أنكر ما ثبت بالإجماع، فهذا فيه نظر؛ لأن معرفة كون الإجماع حجة قاطعة، فيه غموض يعرفه المحصلون لعلم أصول الفقه. وأنكر النظام كون الإجماع حجة أصلاً، فصار كون الإجماع حجة مختلفاً فيه. فهذا حكم الفروع. وأما الأصول الثلاثة، وكل ما لم يحتمل التأويل في نفسه، وتواتر نقله، ولم يتصور أن يقوم برهان على خلافه، فمخالفته تكذيب محض.

“To be sure, were a person to deny the truth of an isolated report (khabar ahadi), there would be no duty to brand him an unbeliever. Were he to deny that upon which there was unanimous consensus (ijma‘), his case would be unclear. For knowledge of whether or not consensus is itself a definitive proof is fraught with ambiguities the likes of which only those who have mastered the discipline of legal theory (usul al-fiqh) can bring into relief. Indeed, an-Nazzam denied the status of consensus as a valid proof altogether. Thus, the status of consensus as a valid proof is itself disputed (mukhtalaf fih). This, then, is the ruling regarding secondary issues. As for the three fundamental principles [i.e., Allah, the Prophetsa, and the Last Day) and those texts that are not in and of themselves open to figurative interpretation (ta’wil) and have been transmitted via diffuse congruence (tawatara naqluhu) and for which one cannot conceive of any logical proofs (burhan) that would contradict their content, to contradict these is to say that they constitute lies (takdhib), pure and simple”. (al-Ghazali. 1993. Faysal. ibid. pp. 63f)

IMG 20230925 180501 910

He goes on to distinguish between those who disagree with the consensus due to their lack of evidence, and the mukadhdhib:

وقد صنف أبو بكر الفارسي، رحمه الله، كتاباً في مسائل الإجماع، وأُنكر عليه كثير منه، وخولف في بعض تلك المسائل. فإذن من خالف الإجماع، ولم يثبت عنده بعد فهو جاهل مخطئ، وليس بمكذب، فلا يمكن تكفيره.

“Indeed, Abu Bakr al-Farisirh, composed a book purportedly cataloguing the issues concerning which there was consensus, and he was severely criticised for many of the claims he made. In fact, regarding some issues, he was even contradicted. Therefore, one who contradicts the consensus when it has not yet been established in his view is ignorant and in error, but he is not one who charges [the Prophetsa] with lying, so it is impossible to tax him with unbelief.” (Ibid. p. 72.)

The Hanbali scholar Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328), in his Dar at-ta‘arud, refers to al-Ghazali’s Faysal and comments on his position:

وذلك في كتابه الذي سماه التفرقة بين الإسلام والزندقة، وذلك أنه عدد فيه أصناف التأويلات، وقطع فيه على أن المتأول ليس بكافر وإن خرق الإجماع في التأويل

“And that is in his book, which he entitled [Faysal] at-tafriqa bayn al-Islam wa-z-zandaqa, in which he enumerated the types of interpretations, and in which he stated that the interpreter is definitively not an unbeliever, even if he breaks the consensus concerning an interpretation.” (Ibn Taymiyya. 1991. Dar ta‘arud al-‘aql wa-n-naql. ed. Muhammad Rashad Salim. Riyadh: Jami‘at al-Imam Muhammad b. Sa‘ud al-Islamiyya. Vol. 6. p. 225)

The Maliki jurist and Aristotelian philosopher Ibn Rushd (d. 595/1198) also commented on al-Ghazali’s stance regarding the one who violates consensus:

قال أبو حامد وأبو المعالي وغيرهما من أئمة النظر إنه لا يقطع بكفر من خرق الإجماع في التأويل

“Abu Hamid [al-Ghazali] and Abu l-Ma‘ali [al-Juwayni] and other authoritative thinkers claimed that nobody can be accused of unbelief who breaks the consensus concerning an interpretation”. (Ibn Rushd. 1972. Fasl al-maqal fi-ma bayna l-hikma wa-sh-shari‘a mina l-ittisal. ed. Muhammad ‘Imara. Cairo: Dar al-Ma‘arif. p. 34f)

A few paragraphs later he explicitly refers to al-Ghazali’s Faysal and says:

قلنا: الظاهر من قوله في ذلك أنه ليس تكفيره إياهما في ذلك قطعاً، إذ قد صرح في كتاب التفرقة أن التكفير بخرق الإجماع فيه احتمال.

“Now, we say: It seems however that [al-Ghazali’s] charge of unbelief must not be understood in an absolute way, since in the book [Faysal] at-tafriqa he himself explains how the charge of unbelief for the breach of the community’s consent is only conceivable.” (Ibid. p. 37.)

Iysa Bello, Professor of Islamic Law at the Dept. of Common and Islamic Law, Osun State University in Osogbo, Nigeria, in his book The Medieval Islamic Controversy Between Philosophy and Orthodoxy and Frank Griffel, the Louis M. Rabinowitz Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University, in his book Apostasie und Toleranz im Islam argue that Ibn Rushd misunderstood al-Ghazali’s work, especially his position in Faysal. In their view, the last passage from Faysal quoted above indicates that someone who violates a consensus that has not yet reached him cannot be declared an unbeliever. However, they contend that it can be inferred in reverse that, in al-Ghazali’s view, someone who violates a consensus that has already reached him could be declared an unbeliever.

I respectfully disagree with this view for the following reasons. First, from the earliest works to the latest works, a very clear strand can be discerned in al-Ghazali’s view on not declaring the violator of consensus an infidel. The statement in the Faysal is anything but explicit, the suggested implication of which is not supposed to emerge except by the laborious route of an argumentum e contrario. al-Ghazali should have been very explicit, indeed he must have been. I have cited numerous works and quotations, and now a discussion based on one of al-Ghazali’s other works should serve as the nail in the coffin, making it clear that this matter is at least anything but clear or unambiguous. In his masterpiece of the usul al-fiqh genre named al-Mustasfa, which he wrote shortly after completing the Faysal, he again had the opportunity to be clear and explicit if he wanted to. Instead, he calls the principle of consensus:

أصل عظيم يلزم فيه التضليل والتبديع لمن أخطأ في نفيه وإثباته

“[A] great fundamental principle that necessitates the accusation of leading astray (tadlil) and the accusation of innovation (tabdi‘) against the one who has erred in negating and affirming it”. (al-Ghazali. 1993. al-Mustasfa. ibid. p. 139)

So, yes, tadlil and tabdi‘, fair enough, but no mention of takfir.

Afterwards, when he discusses the realms of shar‘ia that are open for reasoning (nazariyyat), he divides them into two subsections: those based on speculative proofs (zanniyyat) and those based on definitive proofs (qat‘iyyat). He then further divides the qat‘iyyat into three parts: the theological realm (kalamiyya), the foundations of the law (usuliyya), and the norms of the applied law (fiqhiyya).

In his discussion on the doctrines of the theological realm, which he calls “entirely rational” (‘aqliyya mahda), such as faith in Allah, His messengers, His angels, etc., he does not even mention or discuss consensus at all, rather he holds that there is only one correct solution to every disputed question, and about the one who does not come upon it, he does not say that he becomes an unbeliever (kafir), but that he becomes a sinner (athim).

When he discusses the problems of usul al-fiqh, he mentions, that consensus has to be recognised as an authoritative proof (hujja). Then, after enumerating different categories of ijma‘ and other sources of law, such as qiyas and khabar al-wahid, he says:

فإن هذه مسائل أدلتها قطعية والمخالف فيها آثم مخطئ

“The proofs for these norms [of this realm] are cogent (qat‘iyya), and he who violates them is a mistaken sinner (athim mukhti’).”

Again, he accuses the violator – of consensus, among other things – not of unbelief, but of sin and error.

Lastly, when discussing the third realm, he says:

فإن أنكر ما علم ضرورة من مقصود الشارع – كإنكار تحريم الخمر والسرقة ووجوب الصلاة والصوم – فهو كافر؛ لأن هذا الإنكار لا يصدر إلا عن مكذب بالشرع، وإن علم قطعا بطريق النظر لا بالضرورة – ككون الإجماع حجة وكون القياس وخبر الواحد حجة وكذلك الفقهيات المعلومة بالإجماع فهي قطعية – فمنكرها ليس بكافر، لكنه آثم مخطئ.

“If [the jurist] denies the purpose of what is necessarily known [and accepted] of the purpose (maqsud) of the sacred law, such as denying the prohibition of wine or of theft, or the obligatory character of praying and fasting, then he is an unbeliever (kafir). Such a denial is brought forward only by someone who attributes lies to the shari‘a. However, if he [denies the norms] that are not known by necessity but by examination through speculative reasoning (nazar), such as consensus being a cogent argument (hujja), much as qiyas and khabar al-wahid, and also [if he denies] those fiqh norms that are known through consensus, because they too are categorical and indisputable (qat‘iyya), he is not an unbeliever, but he is a mistaken sinner (athim mukhti’).“ (Ibid. p. 348.)

From what al-Ghazali says in al-Iqitsad and Faysal, Ahmad Snobar, Assistant Professor of Hadith at the Istanbul 29 Mayıs University, in his paper entitled Fawda at-tafkir fi Baghdad fi l-qarn al-khamis al-Hijri, wa-mawqif al-Imam al-Ghazali minha (“The Chaos of Takfir in Fifth-Century Hijri Baghdad and the Perspective of Imam al-Ghazali”), extracts rules of prudence in the matter of takfir. According to him, the fifth rule, based on al-Ghazali, is as follows:

القاعدة الخامسة: لا تكفير لمن يخالف الإجماع:

نص الغزالي على أن مجرد مخالفة الإجماع ليس من المكفرات، […].

“Fifth Principle: No Tafkir of Those who Contradict Consensus

“al-Ghazali stated that merely contradicting the consensus does not warrant takfir. […]” (Ahmad Snobar. Fawda at-tafkir fi Baghdad fi l-qarn al-khamis al-Hijri, wa-mawqif al-Imam al-Ghazali minha. In: Jordan Journal of Islamic Studies. 2015. 11 (2). p. 84)

After citing the quotation from al-Ghazali’s al-Mankhul, mentioned a few paragraphs earlier, in his work Takwin al-malaka al-fiqhiyya, Muhammad ‘Uthman Tahir Shubayr, Professor and former department head of Jurisprudence (fiqh) and Legal Theory (usul) at several Shari‘a faculties such as the Qatar University and University of Sharjah, explains:

والتحقيق في المسألة – كما يظهر من كلام الغزالي – أن اتفاق العلماء على تكفير خارق الإجماع يتعلق بالمجمع عليه إذا كان معلومًا من الدين بالضرورة (أي بالبداهة) فهو كافر، كمن أنكر وجوب الصلاة والزكاة وحرمة الزنا وغير ذلك، وأما إذا أنكر المجمع عليه مما لم يكن معلومًا من الدين بالضرورة، وهو يسمى بالإجماع الظني، فلا يكفر ولا يفسق؛ لأن العلماء مختلفون في حجية هذا النوع من الإجماع، كما اختلفوا في وقوعه.

“And the fact of the matter in question – as is evident from the words of al-Ghazali – is that the agreement of the scholars to declare someone a disbeliever on the basis of denial of the consensus refers to agreed-upon things that are known from religion by necessity (i.e., by self-evidence). In such cases, the person is considered an infidel, like someone who denies the duty of prayer, almsgiving, the prohibition of adultery and other similar things. However, if someone denies a matter which is not known from religion by necessity, which is called speculative consensus, he is considered neither an unbeliever nor a sinner. This is because scholars differ in the validity of this kind of consensus, just as they differ in its occurrence.” (Muhammad ‘Uthman Shubayr. 1999. Takwin al-malaka al-fiqhiyya. Doha: Wizarat al-Awqaf wa-sh-Shu’un al-Islamiyya. pp. 109f)

With al-Ghazali’s remarks in the last cited quote from Faysal and this statement by Dr. Shubayr, it is clear that al-Ghazali is among the scholars who distinguish between the definitive consensus that is paralleled by tawatur or darura and the speculative consensus that is not paralleled by it. (More on this under the relevant section below.)

However, as we have seen in al-Iqtisad, al-Ghazali already ticks off the point of tawatur in his fifth category and clearly states in the sixth category, which then also deals with those who consider a prophet after the Seal of the Prophetssa possible:

أن لا يصرح بالتكذيب ولا يكذب أيضاً أمراً معلوماً على القطع بالتواتر من أصول الدين ولكن منكر ما علم صحته إلا الاجماع

“[S]omeone who does not affirm unbelief nor does he disbelieve one of the principles of religion that is conclusively known through widely transmitted reports, but he denies something whose correctness is known through pure consensus and only through consensus”. (al-Ghazali. 1993. al-Iqtisad. ibid. p. 253)

al-Juwayni: No takfir of consensus violator

As stated before, Ibn Rushd also mentioned that al-Juwayni (d. 478/1085), the mentor of al-Ghazali, was also of the opinion that the violator of consensus is not to be accused of disbelief. In his work al-Burhan fi usul al-fiqh, for example, he said:

فشا في لسان الفقهاء أن خارق الإجماع يكفر وهذا باطل قطعا فإن من ينكر أصل الإجماع لا يكفر والقول في التكفير والتبرؤ ليس بالهين ولنا فيه مجموع فليتأمله طالبه. نعم من اعترف بالإجماع وأقر بصدق المجمعين في النقل ثم أنكر ما أجمعوا عليه كان هذا التكذيب آيلا إلى الشارع ﷺ ومن كذب الشارع كفر. والقول الضابط فيه: أن من أنكر طريقا في ثبوت الشرع لم يكفر ومن اعترف بكون الشيء من الشرع ثم أنكره كان منكرا للشرع وإنكار جزئه كإنكار كله.

“It has become widespread on the tongues of jurists that the denier of consensus is an unbeliever. This is blatantly false, as the one who denies the consensus as a source (asl al-ijma‘) does not become an infidel. Calling someone a disbeliever and excommunicating them is not a trivial thing, and we have a comprehensive perspective on it that the seeker of knowledge should ponder upon. Yes, it is true that anyone who acknowledges consensus and affirms the sincerity of the establishers of consensus in transmission, but then denies what they unanimously agreed upon, this denial tends towards contradicting the teachings of the Legislatorsa. And whoever denies the teachings of the Legislator has committed disbelief. The correct position regarding this matter is that whoever denies a means of establishing the validity of shari‘a does not become an unbeliever. However, the one who acknowledges that something is part of divine law and then denies it, is considered to be rejecting the divine law. And denying a part of it is akin to denying the whole.” (al-Juwayni. 1997. al-Burhan fi usul al-fiqh. ed. Salah b. Muhammad b. ‘Uwayda. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya. Vol. 1. p. 280.)

According to al-Juwayni, refusal to accept a method of deriving rules of shari‘a is not kufr. Therefore, a person who does not accept the principle of ijma‘ as a valid source of rules is not a kafir, only a person who accepts the principle of ijma‘ and also accepts the truthfulness of the transmitters of it and then also recognises that a certain ruling is based on ijma‘ and afterwards refuses to accept it can be declared as committing kufr.

Strangely, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Bukhari (730/1329), a Hanafi jurist and commentator of al-Bazdawi (d. 493/1100), holds the exact opposite opinion in Kashf al-asrar. He says:

يحكم بكفر من أنكر أصل الإجماع بأن قال: ليس الإجماع بحجة أما من أنكر تحقق الإجماع في حكم بأن قال: لم يثبت فيه إجماع وأنكر الإجماع الذي اختلف فيه فلا.

“One is deemed to be an unbeliever for denying the validity of consensus by saying, ‘Consensus is not a valid argument.’ However, for someone who denies the actual occurrence of consensus in a ruling by saying, ‘Consensus has not been proven in this case,’ and denies the disputed consensus, there is no disbelief.” (Kashf as-asrar)

No “consensus” on consensus

The most astonishing realisation for me about consensus as a source of Islamic law is that there is not even the remotest consensus on what constitutes consensus.

To get an impression of the fundamental nature of the wide-ranging disagreements regarding ijma‘, consider the following statement by the Egyptian scholar and former Grand Shaykh of al-Azhar, Mahmud Shaltut (d. 1963), in one of his treatises on it:

إني لا أكاد أعرف شيئاً اشتهر بين الناس أنه أصل من أصول التشريع في الإسلام، ثم تناولته الآراء واختلفت فيه المذاهب من جميع جهاته كهذا الأصل الذي يسمونه (الإجماع). فقد اختلفوا في حقيقته: […]. واختلف الذين قالوا بالجميع: […]. واختلف الذين قالوا بإمكانه وتصور وقوعه: […]. واختلف الذين قالوا بإمكان معرفته والاطلاع عليه: […]. واختلف الذين قالوا إنه حجة شرعية: […]. وكما اختلفوا في حقيقته وفي حجيته اختلفوا فيما يكون فيه من أحكام: […]. ولعل اختلاف العلماء في الإجماع على هذا النحو يفسر لنا ظاهرة منتشرة في كتب القوم وهي حكاية الإجماع في كثير من المسائل التي ثبت أنها محل خلاف بين العلماء، وذلك من جهة أن كل من حكي الإجماع في مسألة هي محل خلاف قد بنى حكايته على ما يفهمه هو أو يفهمه إمامه أو الطائفة التي ينتمي إليها في معنى الإجماع وما يكفي لتحققه.

“I can hardly think of anything that has become commonplace among people as a fundamental principle of Islamic legislation, and then opinions have befallen it and different schools of thought have differed about it from all sides, like this principle called consensus. They differed in its reality: […]. And those who said it includes everyone differed: […]. And those who said it is possible and its occurrence is imaginable differed: […]. And those who said it is possible to know it and ascertain it differed: […]. And those who said it is a legal proof differed: […]. And just as they differed in its reality and its proof, they differed in the rulings it contains: […]. Perhaps the scholars’ differing views on consensus in this way explains the widespread phenomenon in their books, which is the narration of consensus on many issues that have been proven to be subject to disagreement among scholars. This is because everyone who narrated consensus on an issue that is subject to disagreement has based their narration on what they understand or what their Imam or sect they belong to understand about the meaning of consensus and what is sufficient to confirm it.” (Mahmud Shaltut. al-Ijma‘ wa-thubut al-‘aqida. In: ar-Risala. 1943. 11 (519). p. 464)

Shaltut effectively invalidates the traditional concept of ijma‘ by demonstrating its impracticability and inherent illogicality. In stating that there has been a distinct lack of ijma‘ on the subject of ijma‘ in all its aspects, he is virtually rewording what the Promised Messiahas already stated half a century before him:

اب اس تمام تقریر سے ظاہر ہے کہ علماء کا اس اجماع کی تعریف پر بھی اجماع نہیں اور انکار اور تسلیم کے دونوں دروازے کھلے ہوئے ہیں

“Now it is evident from this entire discourse that the scholars do not even have a consensus on the definition of consensus, and [thus] both the doors of denial and acceptance are open.” (Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. al-Haqq Mubahatha Ludhiyana. In: Id. 2021. Ruhani Khaza’in. Farnham: Islam International Publications. Vol. 4. p. 118)

No consensus at all

The Mu‘tazili Kalam scholar and philosopher an-Nazzam (d. 221/836) wrote an entire book entitled Kitab an-Nakth to address the single issue of consensus. He held that no kind of consensus would be at work anywhere at all, not even in the generation of the Prophet’ssa Companionsra. Rather, in his opinion, the Companionsra and their successor generation had constantly argued with each other in every kind of matter.  (Ibn Abi al-Hadid. 1959-1964. Sharh Nahj al-balagha. ed. Muhammad Abu al-Fadl Ibrahim. Cairo: Dar Ihya’ al-Kutub al-‘Arabiyya. Vol. 6. p. 129)

Similarly, the Imami Shi‘ia also do not recognise ijma‘ as an independent source of Islamic law. (Muhammad Rida al-Muzaffar. 2012. Usul al-fiqh. ed. Rahmat Allah ar-Rahmati al-Araki. 7th ed. Qum: Mu’assasat al-Nashr al-Islami. Vol. 3. pp. 103ff)

So, if the an-Nazzam and the Shi‘is are not considered non-Muslims because of the fact that they consider consensus to be null and void altogether, then, to be consistent, those who allegedly reject a consensus cannot be called non-Muslims either.

Consensus as mere speculation

In the Sunni tradition, there were scholars who held that ijma‘ as a source of Islamic teachings as a whole was speculative (zanni).

The Ash‘ari-Shafi‘i polymath Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi (d. 606/1209), a truly universal scholar, said in al-Mahsul, his magnum opus of legal methodology that constituted the authoritative reference work of this genre for centuries to come:

قلنا عندنا أن هذه المسألة ظنية ولا نسلم انعقاد الإجماع عن أنها ليست ظنية […] قلنا نحن لا نقول بتكفير مخالف الإجماع ولا بتفسيقه ولا نقطع أيضا به وكيف وهو عندنا ظني

“We say that this matter [consensus] is speculative (zanniyya) in our opinion, and we do not acknowledge that there is any [kind of] consensus that is not speculative. […] We say that we do not declare someone who opposes consensus to be a disbeliever (takfir), nor do we declare him to be a sinner (tafsiq), and we also do not pass a decisive verdict on it, and how could we, since it is speculative (zanni) in our opinion.” (ar-Razi. 1997. al-Mahsul fi ‘ilm usul al-fiqh. ed. Taha Jabir Fayyad al-‘Alwani. Beirut: Mu’assasat ar-Risala. Vol. 4. p. 64)

He continues:

جاحد الحكم المجمع عليه لا يكفر، خلاف لبعض الفقهاء لنا. إن أدلة أصل الإجماع ليست مفيدة للعلم فما تفرع عليها أولى أن لا يفيد العلم بل غايته الظن ومنكر المظنون لا يكفر بالإجماع. وايضا فبتقدير أن يكون أصل كون الإجماع حجة معلوما لا مظنونا لكن العلم به غير داخل في ماهية الاسلام وإلا لكان من الواجب على الرسول ﷺ أن لا يحكم بإسلام أحد حتى يعرفه أن الإجماع حجة. ولما لم يفعل ذلك بل لم يذكر هذه المسألة صريحا طول عمره ﷺ علمنا أن العلم به ليس داخلا في ماهية الإسلام وإذا لم يكن العلم بأصل الإجماع معتبرافي الإسلام وجب أن لا يكون العلم بتفاريعه داخلا فيه.

“The violator of a universally agreed-upon ruling is not considered a disbeliever, contrary to some of our jurists’ opinions. The evidence for the foundation of consensus does not provide certainty. What branches from it is most likely to be speculative rather than providing certainty. The one who denies something speculative does not become a disbeliever by consensus. And even on the assumption that the foundation on which consensus is considered a valid argument is known with certainty and not merely surmised, knowledge of this fact is nevertheless not essential to the essence of Islam; otherwise, it would have been the duty of the Prophetsa not to judge anyone as a Muslim until he knew that consensus was an argument. Since he did not do so and did not specifically mention this issue during his life, we understand that knowledge of it is not essential to the essence of Islam. Therefore, if knowledge about the foundation of consensus is not considered essential in Islam, then knowledge about its branches should not be considered essential either.” (Ibid. pp. 409f)

In the same vein, Thaer b. Ali al-Hallak, Professor of Religions (adyan) and Creeds (‘aqa’id) at Damascus University, explains the following in a very detailed treatise on the subject of takfir entitled Dawabit at-takfir fi l-fikr al-Islami: bayna n-nazariyya wa-t-tatbiq (“Principles of Takfir in Islamic Thought: Between Theory and Application”):

إن إنكار الحكم المجمع عليه، لا ينافي ماهية الإيمان والإسلام، لأنه إذا كان الإيمان عبارة عن تصديق الرسول – صلى الله عليه وسلم – فيما علم مجيئه به بالضرورة؛ فيكون الكفر عبارة عن عدم تصديقه في ذلك، وأصل الإجماع ليس مما علم مجيئه به ضرورة، وإلا لارتفع الخلاف فيه، ولما لم يكن كذلك كان منكره ليس كافراً، كما كان الرسول – صلى الله عليه وسلم – يحكم بصحة إسلام المتلفظ بكلمتي الشهادة من غير أن يعرف منه أن الإجماع حجة، فكيف يكفر منكره!؟

“Denying the agreed-upon ruling does not negate the essence of faith (iman) and Islam, because if faith is about accepting the Messengersa as true in what he is known to have brought by necessity, then disbelief is about not accepting him as true in that. The principle of consensus is not something that he is known to have brought by necessity, otherwise, there would be no disagreement about it. Since this is not the case, one who denies it is not a disbeliever, just as the Messengersa used to rule that the Islam of those who uttered the two testimonies of faith was valid without knowing from them that consensus is an argument. So how can one who denies it be considered a disbeliever?!” (Thaer al-Hallak. Dawabit at-takfir fi l-fikr al-Islami: bayna n-nazariyya wa-t-tatbiq. In: Damascus University Journal for Economic and Legal Sciences. 2012. 28 (1). p. 451)

The enigma of consensus

The Yemeni scholar and mujtahid ash-Shawkani (d. 1250/1834) questions the conceptual possibility of consensus (fi nafsihi), presenting various arguments and counterarguments before he concludes:

على تقدير تسليم إمكانه في نفسه منع إمكان العلم به […] فإذا العلم باتفاق الأمة لا يحصل إلا بعد معرفة كل واحد منهم، وذلك متعذر قطعا […] وأيضا: قد يحمل بعض من يعتبر في الإجماع على الموافقة، وعدم الظهور بالخلاف التقية والخوف على نفسه

“Assuming that it [consensus] is possible in itself, it would still be impossible to know it […] For if by knowledge we mean the agreement of the community, then this does not obtain without knowing each member [of this community], which is certainly impossible. […] Besides, some of those who count in consensus may be compelled to feign agreement and avoid revealing disagreement out of dissimulation or fear for oneself.” (ash-Shawkani. 1999. Irshad al-fuhul ila tahqiq al-haqq min ‘ilm al-usul. ed. Ahmad ‘Izzu ‘Inaya. Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi. Vol. 1. p. 195f)

He then contends:

ومن ادعى أنه يتمكن الناقل للإجماع من معرفة كل من يعتبر فيه من علماء الدنيا، فقد أسرف في الدعوى وجازف في القول لما قدمنا من تعذر ذلك تعذرا ظاهرا واضحا. ورحم الله الإمام أحمد بن حنبل فإنه قال: من ادعى وجود الإجماع فهو كاذب.

“And whoever claims that a reporter of consensus is capable to know all the scholars of the world who are considered therein, has exaggerated in his claim and has been reckless in his statement, due to the impossibility which we have set forth and which is clearly evident. May Allah have mercy on al-Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal, for he said: ‘Whoever claims the existence of consensus is a liar.’” (Ibid. p. 196)

In his Quran commentary, ash-Shawkani notes regarding consensus:

ولا حجة في ذلك عندي

“And there is no conclusive evidence (hujja) in that, in my opinion.” (ash-Shawkani. 1998. Fath al-qadir. Damascus: Dar Ibn Kathir. Vol. 1. p. 594.)

JumhurTakfir only against violator of ijma‘ qat‘i

The prevailing view among Sunni scholars of Islamic legal theory was that the accusation of disbelief was only permissible when someone violated a definitive consensus (ijma‘ qat‘i). Conversely, it was generally held that those who violate a speculative consensus (ijma‘ zanni) should never be accused of disbelief. As mentioned earlier, some scholars held that the concept of consensus as a whole was speculative. Nonetheless, the majority of scholars outlined a specific parameter of the definitive consensus.

Sayf ad-Din al-Amidi (d. 631/1233) explains:

حكم الإجماع إما أن يكون داخلا في مفهوم اسم الإسلام كالعبادات الخمس، ووجوب اعتقاد التوحيد والرسالة، أو لا يكون كذلك […]، فإن كان الأول فجاحده كافر لمزايلة حقيقة الإسلام له وإن كان الثاني فلا

“The ruling of consensus is either included in the concept of the name of Islam, such as the five acts of worship, and the obligation to believe in monotheism and the messengerhood, or it is not, […]. If it is the first case, then the one who violates it is a disbeliever because it contradicts the essence of Islam, and in the second case, he is not [a disbeliever].” (Sayf ad-Din al-Amidi. 1981. al-Ihkam fi usul al-ahkam. ed. ‘Abd ar-Razzaq ‘Afifi. Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami. Vol. 1. p. 282)

‘Adud ad-Din al-Iji (d. 756/1355) states:

قال: (مسألة: إنكار حكم الإجماع القطعى ثالثها المختار أن نحو العبادات الخمس يكفر).

أقول: إنكار حكم الإجماع الظنى ليس بكفر إجماعا، وأما القطعى ففيه مذاهب أحدها: كفر، ثانيها: ليس بكفر، ثالثها: وهو المختار أن نحو العبادات الخمس مما علم بالضرورة من الدين يوجب الكفر اتفاقا، وإنما الخلاف فى غيره والحق أنه لا يكفر

“He [Ibn al-Hajib (d. 646/1249)] said: ‘Issue: Denying the ruling of definitive consensus, the third of which is chosen, that anything like [denying the obligation of] the five acts of worship constitutes disbelief.’

“I say: Denying the authority of speculative consensus is not disbelief according to consensus, and as for [denying] the definitive [consensus], there are different opinions. The first of them is: [it is] disbelief, the second of them is: it is not disbelief, the third of them is, and this is the chosen view: matters like the five acts of worship, which are known to be from the religion by necessity, obligate disbelief according to unanimity [if denied]. The difference of opinion lies in [denying] matters other than these, and the truth is that [denying] such [other matters] does not constitute disbelief.” (‘Adud ad-Din al-Iji. 2004. Sharh Mukhtasar al-Muntaha al-usuli. ed. Muhammad Hasan Muhammad Hasan Isma’il. Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya. Vol. 2. p. 374)

The following two statements are very instructive in understanding the nexus between the concept of the definitive consensus and the concepts of tawatur or al-ma‘lum min ad-din bi-d-darura in the context of takfir within the Sunni majority perspective.

Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id (d. 702/1302) elaborates:

فالمسائل الإجماعية: تارة يصحبها التواتر بالنقل عن صاحب الشرع، كوجوب الصلاة مثلا، وتارة لا يصحبها التواتر، فالقسم الأول: يكفر جاحده، لمخالفته المتواتر، لا لمخالفته الإجماع. والقسم الثاني: لا يكفر

“Thus, the matters of consensus are sometimes accompanied by mass transmission (at-tawatur bi-n-naql) of the lawgiver, such as the obligation of prayer, and sometimes they are not accompanied by a mass transmission. Thus, in the first case, their denier is charged with disbelief because of his violation of what has been transmitted by mass transmission, not because of his violation of consensus, and in the second case he is not charged with disbelief.” (Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id. 1987. Ihkam al-ahkam: sharh ‘Umdat al-ahkam. ed. Ahmad Muhammad Shakir. Beirut: ‘Alam al-Kutub. Vol. 2. pp. 217f)

Safi ad-Din al-Hindi (d. 715/1315) argues:

جاحد الحكم المجمع عليه من حيث أنه مجمع عليه بإجماع قطعي لا يكفر عند الجماهير خلافا لبعض الفقهاء. وإنما قيدنا بقولنا «من حيث أنه مجمع عليه» لأن من أنكر وجوب الصلوات الخمس وما يجري مجراها يكفر وهو مجمع عليه، لكن لا لأنه مجمع عليه، بل لأنه معلوم بالضرورة أنه من دين محمد ﷺ وإنما قيدنا الإجماع بالقطع؛ لأن جاحد حكم الإجماع الظني لا يكفر وفاقا.

“The denier of a universally agreed-upon ruling, in terms of it being unanimously agreed upon with a definitive consensus, is not charged with disbelief according to the absolute majority, contrary to the opinion of some jurists. However, we specifically mentioned “in terms of it being universally agreed-upon”, because whoever denies the obligation of the five daily prayers and everything that is comparable to it is charged with disbelief, and this is universally agreed-upon. However, the reason they are charged with disbelief is not because it is universally agreed-upon, but rather because it is known to be part of the religion of Muhammadsaby necessity. We have confined ourselves only to the definitive consensus because one who denies a speculative consensus is not charged with disbelief according to unanimity.” (Safi ad-Din al-Hindi. 1996. Nihayat al-wusul fi dirayat al-usul. ed. Salih b. Sulayman al-Yusuf; Sa‘d b. Salim as-Suwayyih. Mecca: al-Maktaba at-Tijariyya. Vol. 2. p. 2679)

The Sunni majority opinion, shared by al-Ghazali, can be summarised as such:

A person can only be accused of unbelief if they contradict a definitive consensus, but not if they merely contradict a speculative consensus. The definitive consensus refers to one on a matter that is mutawatir or from al-ma‘lum min ad-din bi-d-darura. The act of declaring takfir due to the violation of this matter is not based on the definitive consensus itself, but solely on the fact that the matter is mutawatir or al-ma‘lum min ad-din bi-daraura.

Therefore, it is evident that the subject under discussion, as previously mentioned, falls into the category of matters on which al-Ghazali asserts consensus, but they do not fall under the domain of tawatur or darura. Consequently, passing a verdict of disbelief based on this matter is unwarranted.

Hanafis: Only rejection of ijma‘ of Sahabara leads to takfir

al-Bazdawi (d. 493/1100), one of the leading Hanafi scholars of legal theory (usul al-fiqh), elaborates on the Hanafi position in this matter in his Kanz al-wusul:

هذا على مراتب فإجماع الصحابة مثل الآية والخبر المتواتر وإجماع من بعدهم بمنزلة المشهور من الحديث، وإذا صار الإجماع مجتهدا في السلف كان كالصحيح من الآحاد.

“This [i.e., consensus] has different levels: The consensus of the Companionsra is as strong as the Quran or a report attested by multiple chains of transmission (khabar mutawatir), and the consensus of those after the Companionsra is of the same level of reliability as a well-known hadith report (hadith mashhur), and a consensus that comes into being after dispute among the predecessors (salaf) is comparable to an authentic hadith report attested through a solitary chain of transmission.” (al-Bazdawi. 1980. Kanz al-wusul ila ma‘rifat al-usul. Karachi: Mir Muhammad Kutub Khana. p. 247)

Thus, according to the Hanafi definition, only the rejection of the ijma‘ of the Companionsra has the potential to render someone a disbeliever. Rejection of the other two types of ijma‘ does not lead to disbelief.

Did the Promised Messiahas reject ijma‘?

After reading this discourse, one should not fall prey to the misconception that the Promised Messiahas rejected consensus as a source of Islamic law, far from it. Rather, he believed that the consensus of the Prophet’ssa Companionsra was binding. There are numerous statements on this matter by him:

میرے نزدیک اجماع کا لفظ اس حالت پر صادق آسکتا ہے کہ جب صحابہ میں سے مشاہیر صحابہ ایک اپنی رائے کو شائع کریں اور دوسرے باوجود سننے اس رائے کے مخالفت ظاہر نہ فرماویں تو یہی اجماع ہے۔

“In my opinion, the word ‘consensus’ (ijma‘) can be applied on the condition that if prominent Companions from among the Companions express their opinion and the others do not oppose that opinion even though they have heard it, then this is ijma‘.” (Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. al-Haqq Mubahatha Ludhiyana. In: Id. 2021. Ruhani Khaza’in. Farnham: Islam International Publications. Vol. 4. p. 43)

صحابہ کا اجماع حجّت ہے جو کبھی ضلالت پر نہیں ہوتا۔

“The consensus of the Companions is an authoritative proof that is never on misguidance.” (Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Tiryaq al-Qulub. In: Ibid. Vol. 15. p. 421)

الإجماع قد كان إلى زمن الصحابة

“[C]onsensus existed until the time of the Companionsra”. (Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Lujjat an-nur. In: Ibid. Vol. 16. p. 315)

لا يدخل في جماعتنا إلا الذي […] ويعمل بكل ما ثبت من السنة والقرآن وإجماع الصحابة الكرام. ومن ترك هذه الثلاثة فقد ترك نفسه في النار، وكان مآله التباب والدمار.

“None shall enter our community except those who […] practice everything that is established from the Sunna, the Quran, and the consensus of the noble Companionsra. Whoever abandons these three has left himself in the Fire, and his destiny shall be perdition and destruction.” (Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Mawahib ar-Rahman. In: Ibid. Vol. 19. p. 315.)

صحابہ کا اجماع وہ چیز ہے جس سے انکار نہیں ہو سکتا۔

“The consensus of the Companions in that matter that cannot be denied.” (Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Barahin-i Ahmadiyya. Pt. 5. In: Ibid. Vol. 21. p. 376)

شرعی حجت صرف اجماع صحابہؓ ہے۔

“The valid argument per the law of the Shari‘a is only the ijma’ of the Companionsra.” (Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Barahin-i Ahmadiyya. Pt. 5. In: Ibid. p. 410)

اجماع صحابہؓ ہی تک ہے

“‘[C]onsensus’ can only be limited to the Companionsra”. (Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. 2019. Malfuzat. Engl. trans. Farnham: Islam International Publications. Vol. 2. p. 158)

Sunni scholars and ijma’ as-sahaba

The view of the Promised Messiahas that only the consensus of the Companionsra is an authoritative proof is not some innovation that he introduced, but there are numerous precedents in the history of Islamic scholarship, and specifically Sunni scholarship, for advocating this very view.

For example, the renowned hadith scholar Ibn Hibban (d. 354/965) was of the opinion that consensus was confined to the generation of the Companionsra. In his famous Sahih hadith collection, he said:

والإجماع عندنا إجماع الصحابة الذين شهدوا هبوط الوحي والتنزيل وأعيذوا من التحريف والتبديل حتى حفظ الله بهم الدين على المسلمين وصانه عن ثلم القادحين.

“And consensus according to us is the consensus of the Companions who witnessed the descent of revelation and the sending down [of the Quran], and took precaution against distortion and alteration, until Allah preserved the religion through them for the Muslims and guarded it against the attacks of the detractors.” (Ibn Hibban. 2012. Sahih Ibn Hibban. ed. Muhammad ‘Ali Sunmaz; Khalis Ay Damir. Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm. Vol. 2. p. 10)

The view that one finds attributed to the Zahiris and that Ibn Ḥazm (d. 456/1064) identifies as the view of Dawud az-Zahiri (d. 270/884), the founder of the Zahiri school of law, and many of his fellows and followers, like himself, is that only the consensus of the Companionsra is valid. Ibn Hazm said:

قال أبو سليمان وكثير من أصحابنا: لا إجماع إلا إجماع الصحابة رضي الله عنهم

“Abu Sulayman [Dawud az-Zahiri] and many of our fellows [from the Zahiri school] said: ‘There is no consensus except the consensus of the Companionsra.’” (Ibn Hazm. 1983. al-Ihkam fi usul al-ahkam. ed. Ahmad Muhammad Shakir; Ihsan ‘Abbas. Beirut: Dar al-Afaq al-Jadida. Vol. 4. p. 147)

And he also said:

لا يجوز لأحد القطع على صحة إجماع أهل عصر ما بعد الصحابة رضي الله عنهم على ما لم يجمع عليه الصحابة بل يكون من قطع بذلك كاذباً بلا شك لأن الأعصار بعد الصحابة رضي الله عنهم من التابعين فمن بعدهم لا يمكن ضبط أقوال جميعهم ولا حصرها لأنهم ملئوا الدنيا ولله الحمد

“It is not permissible for anyone to claim the validity of a consensus of the people from the time after the Companionsra, about [a matter on] which the Companionsra themselves had no consensus. Anyone who claims otherwise is undoubtedly a liar, for the generations that came after the Companions, from the tabi‘un and those who followed them, it is impossible to document and enumerate the statements of all of them, for they filled the world, praise be to Allah.” (Ibn Hazm. 1985. an-Nubdha al-kafiya fi ahkam usul ad-din. ed. Muhammad Ahmad ‘Abd al-‘Aziz. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya. p. 23.)

al-Juwayni, al-Ghazali’s mentor, was among those whose reservations on the possibility of the operation of ijma‘ in his own time nearly amounted to a denial of the doctrine:

ومن ظن أن تصور الإجماع وقوعا في زماننا في آحاد المسائل المظنونة مع انتفاء الدواعي الجامعة هين فليس على بصيرة من أمره. نعم معظم مسائل الإجماع جرى من صحب رسول الله ﷺ وهم مجتمعون أو متقاربون.

“Whoever thinks that the occurrence of consensus on some speculative question of law is easily conceivable in our time despite the absence of unifying motives does not know what he is talking about. The fact is that most of the questions on which there is a consensus go back to the Companionsra of the Messengersa of Allah, when they were united and close together.” (al-Juwayni. 1997. al-Burhan. ibid. p. 261.)

Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi declared on the subject of the ijma‘ of the Companionsra:

والإنصاف: أنه لا طريق لنا إلى معرفة حصول الإجماع إلا في زمان الصحابة؛ حيث كان المؤمنون قليلين: يمكن معرفتهم بأسرهم على التفصيل.

“In fairness, there is no way for us to know of the existence of a consensus, except during the time of the Companionsra, when the believers were few and could all be known specifically.” (ar-Razi. 1997. al-Mahsul. ibid. Vol. 4. p. 34)

The Shafi‘i scholar Shams ad-Din al-Isfahani (d. 688/1289), who wrote a commentary to ar-Razi’s al-Mahsul, also restricted the contingency of consensus to the Companionsra:

الحق تعذر الإطلاع على الإجماع إلا إجماع الصحابة حيث كان المجمعون – وهم العلماء منهم – في قلة، وأما الآن، وبعد ِإنتشار الإسلام وكثرة العلماء فلا مطمع للعلم به.

“The truth is that it is impossible to know of consensus except in the case of the consensus of the Companionsra, where the establishers of consensus – and they were the scholars among them – were few. Now, however, after the spread of Islam and the increase of scholars, there is no prospect of knowing it.” (Badr ad-Din Muhammad az-Zarkashi. 1994. al-Bahr al-muhit fi usul al-fiqh. Cairo: Dar al-Kutubi. Vol. 6. p. 383)

The medieval Hanbali scholar Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328) takes Ahmad b. Hanbal’s (d. 241/855) statement, “Whoever claims consensus is a liar” (man idda‘a al-ijma‘ fa-huwa kadhib), at face value. He sees in it a condemnation of the claim of ijma‘ after the generation of the Companionsra (or perhapts the tabi‘un). Ibn Taymiyya thus comes close to the Zahiri position that would restrict the working of ijma‘ to the first generation of Muslims. (Ibn Taymiyya. 1964. al-Musawwada fi usul al-fiqh. ed. Muhammad Muhyi d-Din ‘Abd al-Hamid. Cairo: Matba‘at al-Madani. p. 316.)

Was there a consensus that no Prophet could appear after Prophet Muhammadsa?

No, there was no such consensus, neither in the time of the Companionssa nor afterwards.

Ibn Abi Shayba, for instance, even dedicated a separate chapter to this fact in his work al-Musannaf, which reads:

من كره أنه يقول: لا نبي بعد النبي

“Those who disliked saying, ‘There is no Prophet after the Prophetsa’” (Ibn Abi Shayba. 2015. al-Musannaf. ed. Sa‘d b. Nasir b. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Abu Habib ash-Shathri. Riyadh: Dar Kunuz Ishbiliya li-n-Nashr wa-t-Tawzi‘. Vol. 14. p. 521)

Therein we find the authentic statement of ‘A’ishara in which she puts the two main sources, which are also exclusively listed by al-Ghazali in his discussion in the sixth category of the fourth chapter of the fourth treatise of his al-Iqitsad, into a relationship of mutual tension and says:

قولوا: خاتم النبيين ولا تقولوا: لا نبي بعده

“Say: ‘The Seal of the Prophets’! And do not say: ‘There is no prophet after him!’” (Ibid.)

In the same chapter we find another tradition by al-Mughirara b. Shu‘ba. (Some have labelled it weak, which on closer examination is a misjudgement, but cannot be addressed here):

حدثنا أبو أسامة عن مجالد قال: أخبرنا عامر قال: قال رجل عند المغيرة بن شعبة: صلى الله على محمد خاتم الأنبياء، لا نبي بعده، قال المغيرة: حسبك إذا قلت: خاتم الأنبياء، فإنا كنا نحدث أن عيسى خارج، فإن هو خرج فقد كان قبله وبعده.

“Abu Usama narrated from Mujalid, who said: ‘Amir informed us and said: A man said in the presence of al-Mughirara b. Shu‘ba: ‘May Allah bless Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets, after whom there is no Prophet.’ al-Mughirara replied, ‘Suffice it to say, ‘the Seal of the Prophets’, for we have been told that Jesusas will appear, so when he appears, he would be [a prophet] before him and after him [i.e., Muhammadsa].” (Ibid.)

Incidentally, it is quite interesting to note that al-Mughirara did not use the word descent (nuzul) here, but the word appearance or emergence (khuruj).

Moreover, there are other clear indications in subsequent generations that there was no consensus that no messenger or prophet could come after the Messengersa of Allah.

For example, the Tunisian exegete al-Basili (d. 830/1425) says in his Nukat wa-tanbihat fi tafsir al-Qur’an al-majid:

وحكى القاضي أبو الوليد الباجي في تأليف له في أصول الدين – سماه ”التلخيص“ – عن جماعة من المبتدعة تجويز بعثة رسول بعده – صلى الله عليه وسلم –؛ وسمى هذه الطائفة الخويزمندادية.

“And al-Qadi Abu l-Walid al-Baji [d. 474/1081], in a work on the fundamentals of religion that he named at-Talkhis, reported on a group of innovators who claimed the possibility of a messenger being raised after himsa. This group was known as al-Khuwayzmindadiyya.” (al-Basili. 2008. Nukat wa-tanbihat fi tafsir al-Qur’an al-majid. ed. Muhammad at-Tabarani. Rabat: Wizarat al-Awqaf wa-sh-Shu’un al-Islamiyya. Vol. 2. p. 418f.)

According to al-Basili, al-Baji did not refer to this group as infidels or apostates, but as innovators (mubtadi‘a). Abu ‘Abd Allah (also Abu Bakr) Muhammad b. Ahmad (b. ‘Ali) b. Ishaq al-Basri al-Maliki, known as Ibn Khawaz Mandad and Ibn Khuwayz Mindad (d. c. 390/1000), was an Iraqi Maliki jurist. He is frequently cited in later Maliki works and Ibn Farhun (d. 799/1396) names him as a disciple of the famous al-Abhari (d. 375/985). It is reasonable to conclude that the group mentioned in this quotation not only derived its name from him but that even this belief might possibly be traced back to his teachings.

Can there be a new consensus in the present age?

For those who say a new consensus has been formed, for example, that Ahmadi Muslims are non-Muslims and outside the fold of Islam, then this statement by the Yemeni scholar Muhammad b. Isma‘il as-San‘ani (d. 1182/1768), better known as Ibn al-Amir as-San‘ani, should suffice:

وعلى ما نحققه فالإجماع وقوعه محال. فإن الأمة المحمدية قد ملأت الآفاق، وصارت في كل أرض وتحت كل نجم، فعلماؤها المحققون لا ينحصرون، ولا يتم لأحد معرفة أحوالهم، فمن ادعى الإجماع بعد انتشار الدين وكثرة علماء المسلمين فإنها دعوى كاذبة

“Our certain opinion, however, is that the occurrence of ijma‘ is impossible, since the umma of Muhammadsa has filled the horizons, and is now in every territory and under every star; therefore, its [the community’s] established scholars are innumerable, and it is not feasible that anyone would be able to know their whereabouts. So, one who claims that there is consensus after the expansion of the religion [of Islam], and despite the profusion of the Muslim scholars, would be making a false claim.” (Ibn al-Amir as-San‘ani. 2003. Tathir al-I‘tiqad ‘an adran al-ilhad. ed. ‘Abd al-Muhsin b. Hamad al-‘Abbad al-Badr. Riyadh: Dar al-Mughni li-n-Nashr wa-t-Tawzi‘. p. 80)

Do Ahmadis do the alleged ta’wil and takhsis concerning the finality of prophethood?

An important subject that al-Ghazali discussed in Faysal is the limits of interpretation. While a full rendering would be inappropriate here, in summary, he says that when it comes to a matter that is of the primary matters of religion (usul al-‘aqa’id), anyone who deviates from the literal meaning of a text and instead proposes a figurative meaning without fulfilling the requirement of providing logical proof (burhan) of the impossibility of the literal meaning becomes an infidel. He goes into great detail about this rule, which he calls the law of interpretation (qanun at-ta’wil), but what is particularly relevant to what we are looking at are those limits of interpretation that turn one into an unbeliever. He says, for example:

فاسمع الآن قانون التأويل، فقد علمت اتفاق الفرق على هذه الدرجات الخمس، في التأويل، وأن شيئاً من ذلك ليس من حيز التكذيب. واتفقوا أيضاً على أن جواز ذلك موقوف على قيام البرهان على استحالة الظاهر.

“Hear now the rule of interpretation: You learned that with regard to interpretation (ta’wil) the different groups [of Islam] agree upon these five levels of being, and that none of these levels falls within the scope of ‘deeming a statement to be a lie’. They also agree that allowing [a reading that deviates from the literal meaning] depends on the production of a demonstration (burhan) that the literal meaning (az-zahir) is impossible.” (al-Ghazali. 1993. Faysal. ibid. p. 47)

The question that arises is whether or not there is such an impossibility of literal interpretation in the verse that declares the Prophetsa to be the last of the Prophets (khatim an-nabiyyin). And quite undoubtedly it becomes clear that indeed there is. For, if the Messengersa of Allah is the last of the Prophets in the literal sense, then Jesusas cannot appear after him as a prophet. This contradiction between the Prophetsa being the last of the prophets and the appearance of Jesusas after him was well-known to the scholars of Islam very early on, which is why various scholars presented different interpretations to resolve this contradiction.

For example, the Mu‘tazili exegete az-Zamakhshari (d. 538/1144), whose exegesis enjoyed utmost acclaim among Sunnis of all bearings and eras, wrote:

 فإن قلت: كيف كان آخر الأنبياء وعيسى ينزل في آخر الزمان؟ قلت: معنى كونه آخر الأنبياء أنه لا ينبأ أحد بعده، وعيسى ممن نبئ قبله، وحين ينزل ينزل عاملا على شريعة محمد، مصليا إلى قبلته، كأنه بعض أمّته.

“If you say, ‘How can he be the last of the prophets when Jesusas will descend at the end of time?’ I answer, ‘The meaning of his being the last of the prophets is that no one will be appointed as prophet after him, whereas Jesusas was among those who were appointed as prophet before him. When Jesusas descends, he will follow the shari‘a of Muhammadsa and perform the prayers towards his Qibla as if he were one of his umma.’” (az-Zamakhshari. 1986. al-Kashshaf ‘an haqa’id ghawamid at-Tanzil. Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi. Vol. 3. pp. 544f.)

Here az-Zamakhshari, like countless other scholars who have commented on this verse in the context of the Second Coming of Jesusas, has clearly engaged in an interpretation, i.e., ta’wil. The assumed questioner asks a legitimate question, pointing out a genuine contradiction in the literal understanding of the texts, which az-Zamakhshari then resolves by employing ta’wil.

Now, if az-Zamakhshari is indeed engaging in ta’wil here, then those who say that the Prophetsa was the last of the law-bearing (tashri‘i) and independent (mustaqill) prophets are also engaging in nothing more than ta’wil. However, if one were to assume that az-Zamakhshari is not engaging in ta’wil here, then the logical conclusion must be that those who qualify the sealing of the prophethood in the above-mentioned manner are not engaging in ta’wil either.

al-Basili (d. 830/1427) points out an important aspect that he discerns from al-Ghazali’s al-Iqtisad:

وأما الغزالي فقال في الاقتصاد أن خاتم من الألفاظ المحتملة للتأويل.

“And as for al-Ghazali, he said in al-Iqtisad that the term khatam is among the words that are open to interpretation.” (al-Basili. 2008. Nukat wa-tanbihat fi tafsir al-Qur’an al-majid. ed. Muhammad at-Tabarani. Rabat: Wizarat al-Awqaf wa-sh-Shu’un al-Islamiyya. Vol. 2. p. 415)

In Kashf al-Asrar, the most widely acclaimed commentary to al-Bazdawi’s (d. 493/1100) Kanz al-Wusul, the Hanafi jurist ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Bukhari (d. 730/1329) makes a crucial point under this rubric:

والتأويل مانع من الإكفار كتأويل أهل الأهواء النصوص القاطعة

“Interpretation is a preventive (mani‘) to accusing someone of disbelief (ikfar), such as the interpretation of definitive texts by the adherents of heterodoxies (ahl al-ahwa’).” (‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Bukhari. 1974. Kashf al-asrar ‘an Usul Fakhr al-Islam al-Bazdawi. Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi. Vol. 3. p. 262)

As mentioned earlier, Ibn Taymiyya gathered from al-Ghazali’s Faysal that he rejected takfir of someone who employs ta’wil, even if there is an ijma‘ about it.

Commenting on the Quranic statement in Ch.16: V.107 “but such as open their breasts to disbelief” (wa-lakin ma sharaha bi-l-kufri sadran), the Yemeni theologian and legal theorist Ibn al-Wazir (d. 840/1436) says:

يؤيد أن المتأولين غير كفار لأن صدورهم لم تنشرح بالكفر قطعا أو ظنا أو تجويزا أو احتمالا. وقد يشهد لهم بذلك كلام أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام وهو الصادق المصدوق في المشهور عنه حيث سئل عن كفر الخوارج فقال من الكفر فروا فكذلك جميع أهل التأويل من أهل الملة وإن وقعوا في أفحش البدع والجهل

“This supports the notion that those who engage in interpretation are not disbelievers, because their breasts have never been opened to disbelief, either definitively, speculatively, possibly, or potentially. There is evidence in their favour in the words of the Commanderas of the Faithful [‘Ali b. Abi Talibra], the truthful and trustworthy one, who is well-known to have been questioned about the disbelief of the Khawarij, and he said, “They fled from disbelief.” Likewise, all the people of interpretation, from the people of the community, can be testified for in this regard, even if they have fallen into the worst of innovations and ignorance.” (Ibn al-Wazir. 1987. Ithar al-haqq ‘ala al-khalq fi radd al-khilafat ila al-madhhab al-haqq min usul al-tawhid. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya. p. 395)

Criticism of al-Ghazali

In the aftermath of his work al-Iqtisad, al-Ghazali was vigorously opposed by various scholars for raising this very issue about the sealing of prophethood, and, unlike other scholars who claimed this was a case of nass or nass sarih, i.e., an unambiguous text, for having claimed that it was indeed an ambiguous text.

The Maliki Andalusian scholar Ibn ‘Atiyya (d. 546/1151), for instance, says in his influential Quranic exegesis al-Muharrar al-wajiz, commenting on the khatam an-nabiyyin verse:

وما ذكره القاضي ابن الطيب في كتابه المسمى بالهداية من تجويز الاحتمال في ألفاظ هذه الآية ضعيف، وما ذكره الغزالي في هذه الآية وهذا المعنى في كتابه الذي سماه بالاقتصاد إلحاد عندي وتطرق خبيث إلى تشويش عقيدة المسلمين في ختم محمد ﷺ النبوءة، فالحذر الحذر منه والله الهادي برحمته

“And what al-Qadi [Abu Bakr] Ibn at-Tayyib [al-Baqillani (d. 403/1013)] mentioned in his book titled al-Hidaya about the possibility (tajwiz) of alternative meanings (ihtimal) in the words of this verse is weak, and what al-Ghazali mentions about this verse and meaning in his book called al-Iqtisad is, in my opinion, godlessness (ilhad). It is a malicious attempt to disturb the faith of Muslims in the sealing of the prophethood by Muhammadsa. So be cautious, be cautious of it, and may Allah be the Guide with His mercy.” (Ibn ‘Atiyya. 2001. al-Muharrar al-wajiz fi tafsir al-Kitab al-‘Aziz. ed. ‘Abd as-Salam ‘Abd ash-Shafi Muhammad. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya. Vol. 4. p. 388.)

Many other exegetes quote or refer to this exact passage by Ibn ‘Atiyya later on, e.g., al-Qurtubi (671/1273), Abu Hayyan (745/1344), Ibn ‘Arafa (803/1401), al-Ubbi (d. 827/1424), etc.

To better understand Ibn ‘Atiyya’s somewhat unclear statement about al-Baqillani, we can turn to the explanations provided by Ibn ‘Arafa and al-Basili, which are quite helpful. When it comes to the category that al-Baqillani assigns this verse to, both Ibn ‘Arafa and al-Basili use the term zahir. The term zahir means that in a specific context, an expression has a clear and obvious meaning that the listener immediately grasps, even though other interpretations are also possible. Now, regarding the category that al-Baqillani believes this verse does not belong to, Ibn ‘Arafa uses the term sarih, and al-Basili uses the term nass. These terms, nass and sarih (or even nass sarih), describe an expression that allows for only one definitive meaning and does not admit of any secondary or figurative interpretations.

According to al-Baqillani and al-Ghazali, this verse and this hadith are thus ambiguous, and therefore the word khatam, as mentioned in the previously cited statement of al-Basili, is open to interpretation.

Consequently, if al-Ghazali had meant something other than what has been detailed in this treatise, as some anti-Ahmadi scholars put forth, and even put words in al-Ghazali’s mouth that he never uttered, he would never have been so vehemently denounced and accused of godlessness.

Tahrif: Distortion and misattribution of al-Ghazali’s words

Let us now move on to an episode that is particularly perfidious. This passage of the sixth category of the fourth chapter of the fourth treatise of al-Ghazali’s al-Iqtisad has been and continues to be invoked by non-Ahmadi scholars against the positions of Ahmadi Muslims.

However, as far as has been elaborated, there is nothing in this passage that can actually be used against what Ahmadi Muslims believe. How then could this passage be used against Ahmadi Muslims? Unfortunately, the answer is: By altering and falsifying it.

A number of modern-day staunch anti-Ahmadi scholars from South Asia, such as Ahmad Riza Khan (d. 1921), the founder of the Barelvi movement, in an epistle of April 1908 entitled al-Mubin khatm an-nabiyyin, Anwar Shah Kashmiri (d. 1933), in his work Ikfar al-mulhidin fi darudiyyat ad-din, which he completed in 1924, his disciple Mufti Muhammad Shafi‘ (d. 1976), in his work Khatm-i nubuwwat, also first published in 1924, or Abu l-A’la Maududi (d. 1979), in his book Qadiani mas’ala, published in 1953, quote this passage allegedly verbatim from al-Iqtisad, and astonishingly some editions of these works even give references to page numbers and editions of al-Iqtisad. However, all of them produce the following words:

إن الأمة فهمت من هذا اللفظ ومن قرائن أحواله ﷺ أنه أفهم عدم نبي بعده أبدا، وعدم رسول بعده أبدا، وأنه ليس فيه تأويل ولا تخصيص. [ومن أوله بتخصيص النبيين بأولي العزم من الرسل ونحو هذا فكلامه من أنواع الهذيان لا يمنع الحكم بتكفيره؛ لأنه مكذب لهذا النص الذي أجمعت الأمة على أنه غير مؤول ولا مخصوص].

“The umma has understood from this statement and hissa other affairs that he implied that there would never be a prophet after him, nor would there be a messenger, and that there is no room for interpretation (ta’wil) or for specification (takhsis). [And whoever interprets it as specifying the prophets with the messengers of steadfast determination and the like, his speech is of the types of babble, and it does not prevent him from being considered a disbeliever (takfir) because he is a denier (mukadhdhib) of this text (nass) about which the umma has unanimously agreed that it is not subject to any interpretation or specification.]”

The part in square brackets is nowhere to be found in any edition or manuscript of al-Iqtisad, rather it is a patchwork, where fragments have been thrown together to create a distorted and reframed misinterpretation.

The question that comes to mind is whether these so-called scholars invented these words themselves and whether what they have done is tahrif, as Qadi Muhammad Nadhir Lyallpuri claims in some of his works?

The answer is yes and no, for these words are indeed to be found, only not by al-Ghazali, but by a scholar named al-Biqa‘i (d. 885/1480) who spelt out these words in his tafsir work Nazm ad-durar fi tanasub al-ayat wa-s-suwar. After having produced this alleged quotation, he goes on to write:

هذا كلامه في كتاب الاقتصاد، نقلته منه بغير واسطة ولا تقليد، فإياك أن تصغي إلى من نقل عنه غير هذا، فإنه تحريف يحاشي حجة الإسلام عنه

وكم من عائب قولا صحيحا … وآفته من الفهم السقيم

“This is his [al-Ghazali’s] statement in the book al-Iqtisad, which I have quoted directly from him without any mediation or embellishment. Beware of listening to anyone who quotes him differently, for that is a distortion (tahrif) that [al-Ghazali] the authoritative proof of Islam is far removed from.

“How often do they find fault with correct speech; the only problem is but feeble understanding.” (al-Biqa‘i. 1984. Nazm ad-durar fi tanasub al-ayat wa-s-suwar. Cairo: Dar al-Kitab al-Islami. Vol. 15. p. 367)

However, we can be sure that these are not the words of al-Ghazali. If we look at the 1962 critical edition of al-Iqtisad, we will find that it is based on some very old manuscripts, all variants of which are clearly shown page by page in the footnotes.

In addition to other manuscripts that are contemporary to or later than al-Biqa‘i, a large number of manuscripts on which the critical edition is based pre-date al-Biqa‘i:

• A manuscript from the holdings of the Faculty of Language, History and Geography at Ankara University, copied by al-Mubarak b. Muhammad al-Jazari, dates from 563/1168.

• Another manuscript from the holdings of the Hagia Sophia Library, copied by al-Mahdi al-Ja‘far b. al-Ja‘far, dates from 570/1175.

• Another manuscript from the holdings of the Süleymaniye Library, copied by ‘Ali b. Abi Bakr al-Qurashi, dates from 809/1406.

• Then there is a so-called archetypal manuscript (an-nuskha al-umm), which was written down in 517/1123, only a decade after the death of al-Ghazali.

It can therefore be said with absolute certainty that al-Biqa‘i either corrupted this text himself, or had a corrupted manuscript before him, or mistook a summary or gloss for the original.

And a few centuries later, al-Khatib ash-Shirbini (d. 977/1570), in his exegetical work al-Siraj al-munir fi l-i‘ana ‘ala ma‘rifat ba‘d ma‘ani kalam Rabbina al-Hakim al-Khabir, quoted this passage from al-Biqa‘i, while clearly referencing him by name. It was from this very text of al-Khatib ah-Shirbini, which he had copied from al-Biqa‘i, that all the above-mentioned South Asian scholars then copied it.

Something that points to this fact is a clear idiosyncrasy. al-Biqa‘i wrote:

أجمع الأمة

That he actually wrote this expression in this way is made clear by the fact that in one of his other works, namely Tahdim al-arkan fi Laysa fi l-imkan abda‘ mimma kan, he himself repeats and quotes verbatim the wording of this passage of his with reference to his exegetical work Nazm ad-durar.

In contrast, al-Khatib ash-Shirbini transformed this expression into:

أجمعت الأمة

in his quotation. All of the above scholars quote this expression in the way al-Khatib ash-Shirbini wrote it down in his as-Siraj al-munir.

Regardless, all these so-called scholars can at least be accused of intellectual dishonesty due to this false attribution and lack of proper citation. When quoting from a secondary source, and in this case even from a tertiary source, it is imperative to give a proper citation. Moreover, it is puzzling that despite the availability of printed editions of al-Iqtisad as early as the first decade of the twentieth century, the original source was disregarded. This indicates either a careless mode of operation or a conscious decision on the part of the scholars who, well aware of their actions, might have preferred the forged version since the original could not help them achieve their intended goal.


In this study, I have tried to show convincingly that the declaration of takfir against Ahmadi Muslims is untenable according to the principles of Islamic legal theory (usul al-fiqh). Imam al-Ghazali and most Sunni scholars agree that only the denial of a definitive consensus (ijma‘ qat‘i), not a speculative consensus (ijma‘ zanni), can possibly justify takfir. However, the view that forbids specification (takhsis) or interpretation (ta’wil) of the sources regarding the finality of the prophethood does not constitute a definitive consensus, as it lacks support from tawatur or darura.

Ahmadi Muslims affirm the incomparable status of the Prophet Muhammadsa as khatam an-nabiyyin, coherently interpreting relevant source texts in a manner that does not warrant takfir according to Sunni jurisprudence.

Unfortunately, opponents have distorted al-Ghazali’s statements to falsely assert his authority against Ahmadis, even though his actual principles clearly show that this takfir is unfounded. Thus, the Ahmadis’ belief is well within the bounds of Islam.

This study seeks to dispel misconceptions about the identity of Ahmadi Muslims that arise from the misapplication of takfir and to highlight the crucial need for a nuanced engagement with Islamic legal theory when it comes to navigating sensitive theological differences. Ultimately, by upholding the legitimacy of Ahmadi as Muslims, this study aims to promote the Quranic ideal of unity among Muslims.


Leave a Reply