AhlulBayt News Agency

source : ABNA24

27 August 2023

4:18:14 PM

First Statement;

Enlightening public opinion on 'International Centre for Collective Ijtihad' in Britain

However, the ijtihad dubbed by the ICCI as ‘individual ijtihad’ — which has been the established and mainstream process of jurisprudential derivation amongst Muslims throughout the ages — is considered by them to be a complex and difficult practice, especially in our current era. As such, they state: "The advances of the modern era often raise complex questions about the appropriate religious stance to take in order to adequately address new and emerging issues in human life."

In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful


First Statement to Enlighten Public Opinion Regarding

The International Centre for Collective Ijtihad in Britain

Allah, the Almighty, says in His Noble Book:

قُلْ أَرَأَيْتُمْ مَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ مِنْ رِزْقٍ فَجَعَلْتُمْ مِنْهُ حَرَامًا وَحَلَالًا قُلْ آللَّهُ أَذِنَ لَكُمْ ۖ أَمْ عَلَى اللَّهِ تَفْتَرُونَ

"Say, ‘Have you regarded what Allah has sent down for you of [His] provision, whereupon you have made some of it unlawful and some lawful?’ Say, ‘Did Allah give you the sanction to do so, or do you fabricate a lie against Allah?" [10:59]


I was recently informed of the establishment of a Shiʿa Centre in Britain engaged in jurisprudential and shar`i matters. It calls itself "The International Centre for Collective Ijtihad", abbreviated as ICCI. According to its website, this centre began operating publically online in 2017.

According to the Centre’s website, its founders believe: "The collective model of ijtihad believes that the conclusions reached by a group of mujtahids after consulting subject experts provide a more accurate understanding of the laws Allah (swt) has intended."

However, the ijtihad dubbed by the ICCI as ‘individual ijtihad’ — which has been the established and mainstream process of jurisprudential derivation amongst Muslims throughout the ages — is considered by them to be a complex and difficult practice, especially in our current era. As such, they state: "The advances of the modern era often raise complex questions about the appropriate religious stance to take in order to adequately address new and emerging issues in human life."

Based on this, the proponents of this argument have concluded that it is impossible for contemporary mujtahids to achieve an accurate understanding of complex issues individually, and thus, it is impossible to issue correct fatwas without the presence of what is termed by them as “collective ijtihad." They state: "With continuous developments in areas like medicine, economics, and technology, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the individual mujtahid alone to gain an accurate understanding of diverse subjects and derive the related Sharia rulings."

Based on this standpoint, the centre in question has taken upon itself the task of "rescuing Islamic jurisprudence" from the challenges the ICCI believes it faces. Therefore, this centre has not limited itself to simply studying contemporary issues, but has decided to review the entire body of Islamic jurisprudence prevalent in our Islamic seminaries in order to re-examine and reformulate it according to the principles of its proposed “collective ijtihad”. The centre's website also states: "ICCI not only explores new questions, but also reconsiders issues that were previously conclusively addressed in traditional jurisprudence but continue to pose significant challenges for Muslim societies." (See: collectiveijtihad.org)

Perhaps by ‘significant challenges’ they mean fatwas that they perceive to be difficult and problematic within the context of contemporary life, especially for Muslims living in Western countries. The centre has issued its jurisprudential opinion on various topics, including keeping dogs at home, shaking hands with non-mahrams from the opposite gender, performing recommended prayers in English, requiring the consent of both spouses for sexual intimacy within marriage, women's right to divorce, and other similar issues.

In defining its project, the centre has attempted to avoid the accusation that it ‘issues fatwas,’ arguing instead that what it publishes are mere academic studies and nothing more. It states: "ICCI conclusions are published as advisory recommendations, accompanied by in-depth justifications for how they are derived. This enables readers to gain a comprehensive understanding of the process behind each advisory recommendation, so they can make an informed decision to accept or reject it." (See: collectiveijtihad.org)

The opinion of the esteemed jurist, His Eminence Ayatullah Shaykh Mohsen Araki (may Allah protect him) on the workings of this centre and the doubts surrounding it — penned as an answer to a formal written inquiry — has been met with an explanatory statement issued by this centre wherein it attempts to defend itself through contradictory and non-academic justifications. The contents of these justifications do not go beyond what I have already quoted from the aforementioned website.

Here, I would like to highlight several key points so as to enlighten public opinion about this issue, while being as concise as possible:

First: The term ‘collective ijtihad’ represents an ambiguous concept lacking any clear parameters; amongst those who have spoken, written, or advocated for it. Also there is no consensus on its definition, or the limits and restrictions that apply to its scope or jurisdiction. The idea first emerged among a group of contemporary scholars and writers from the Ahl al-Sunnah, namely Abdul-Wahhab Khallaf (1956), Ali Hasaballah (1978), Tawfiq Al-Shawi (2009), and others. This idea was also embraced by some Shiʿa advocates of reform and modernization, as well as those interested in various jurisprudential conferences and councils that exist around the Islamic world. Nevertheless, this concept demands several clarifications and critical observations, which I will address in a forthcoming statement, Insha’Allah. In that statement, the concept of ‘collective ijtihad’ and its various interpretations will be explored and defined independently, and its many deficiencies and flaws will be highlighted; flaws that render it empty of legitimacy and probative value. Anyhow, the form of collective ijtihad chosen by the ICCI — as outlined in its explanatory statement — involves a gathering of individuals described as ‘scholars capable of deriving shar`i guidance through the process of ijtihad alongside scholars in various fields of Islamic studies and advisors from different fields.’ I do not know who these so-called ‘mujtahid scholars’ affiliated with this centre are. Is it one person or more? Has their ijtihad been proven? What evidence supports their claim to ijtihad? Assuming there is one mujtahid among them, what role do the others play; those divided into two groups: specialists in Islamic sciences, and specialists in other fields? Can these so-called specialists in Islamic sciences alter the fatwa of a mujtahid by claiming that they understand something — through their knowledge and research —, which the mujtahid in question could not fathom? On the other hand, are they even allowed to contest his fatwa even though they themselves confess to not being mujtahids, let alone put his fatwa up to a vote and ultimately accept what the majority decides?! Fundamentally speaking, can ijtihad, jurisprudential derivation [istinbat] and the issuance of a fatwa be conducted through majority opinion?!

Similarly, what is the exact function of the so-called scientific experts and specialists in other, non-religious fields? Is it merely to clarify ambiguous conventional [urfi] or technical matters that require specialized explanation; for instance, clarifying for the jurist the exact nature of medicinal alcohol, or determining whether a particular kind of fish has scales or not, etc.? Or do they intervene in the core derivational process itself, for instance, by objecting to a mujtahid's interpretation of what constitutes a moon-sighting — as mentioned in the noble hadith — and asserting instead that it must include the moon’s astronomical appearance or sighting achieved via optical aids? And, if they do partake in such interference, can their objections cause the mujtahid to change his opinion, or submit, for instance, to a majority vote?! On the other hand, if we assume that the issuance a fatwa is the sole purview of the mujtahid at this centre, then what meaning remains for this so-called “collective ijtihad”?! Is it really something greater than individual ijtihad aided by the input of some advisors? These questions and criticisms — as well as many others — add to the ambiguity and haphazardness of this project, while also raising doubts and uncertainties about the scholarly and academic soundness of its foundations. Therefore, it is necessary for those overseeing the ICCI to avoid such vagueness and generalities. Instead, they must explain the functions and purposes of their centre in a manner that is clearer and more certain than what they have already stated, and thereby avoid creating confusion amongst the members of their community. 

Second: The concept of “collective ijtihad” has been discussed within Sunni circles since the 1950s, and Shiite jurists have been familiar with its different interpretations and forms for decades. Is it not self-evident that if this idea was truly admissible, based on valid religious evidence, and enjoyed jurisprudential probity [hujjiyyah], the highest religious authorities of the Shiʿa [maraji’] would have adopted and implemented it within their grand seminaries? Furthermore, they would also have instructed and motivated their most senior and skilled students to support, propagate, and write books and research articles about it, while adhering to it as a ‘redeemer’ and ‘saviour’ for us in in this day and age?! Keeping this in mind, has even a single “marja’’ ever endorsed this venture as a permissible method of jurisprudential derivation that exonerates the emulators [muqallidin] of their religious responsibility; or has anyone of them ever deemed it an effective, let alone necessary, approach and procedure for mujtahids to follow? Certainly, the value of consultation and seeking advice, before a jurist issues his fatwa, cannot be denied. However, this is completely different from the notion of ‘collective ijtihad!’ 

Third: The office-bearers of the ICCI have attempted to distance themselves from being labelled ‘a centre that issues fatwas’ by justifying their activities as mere ‘studies’ or ‘directive recommendations.’ However, they seem to have overlooked the contradiction in their own statements, since the result of ‘ijtihad’ — whether individual or collective — or any process described as ‘deriving jurisprudential rulings’ is nothing other than a ‘fatwa.’ This is because any religious law [al-hukm al-shar`i] can either be the immutable commandments of Allah (swt) inscribed upon the Preserved Tablet [al-Lawh al-Mahfuz], which the infallibles (a) know with total certainty and in all its details. Alternatively, it can be a ruling derived by a fully qualified jurist and mujtahid who does not have access to the infallibles  (a); and only in the second of these two cases, the ruling in question is called a fatwa. This has been the definition consistently held by Muslim jurists, both in the past and in the present era. For instance, among Sunni jurists, al-Qarafi al-Maliki (684 A.H.) defined a fatwa as follows: "A report from Allah the Almighty regarding obligation or permissibility." (Al-Furuq, 4:53) Al-Mardawi al- Hanbali (885 A.H.) stated: "The mufti [one who issues a fatwa] is someone who expresses the shar`i ruling and promulgates it without obligation.” (Al-Insaf, 11:186) Among the jurists of the Imami school of thought, al-Naraqi (1209 A.H.) defined it as: “Making known the divine ruling of a specific matter." (Tajrid al-Usul: 72), and Mirza al-Qummi (1231 A.H.) said: "The intended definition of fatwa is making known the divine ruling of a given matter.” (al-Qawanin, 4: 525). Among contemporary jurists, Sayyid al-Khoei (1413 A.H.) stated: "With his fatwa, the mufti informs about the immutable and general divine rulings pertaining to a given topic.” (Al-Mustanad, 1: 296)

However, it seems that the people at the ICCI have mistakenly imagined that the word ‘fatwa’ exclusively applies only to verdicts issued by the highest religious authorities [maraji`] and not to rulings expressed by other jurists or mujtahids!

Fourth: A cursory review of the fatwas issued by the ICCI on various jurisprudential issues and matters is sufficient to cast doubt and suspicion upon the motives behind the establishment of this centre, as well as upon the methodology and techniques employed by them in reaching such conclusions. For example, the so-called ‘mujtahids’ affiliated to the ICCI have concluded that according to the Qur’anic verse: “They will say, ‘[They are] five, their dog is the sixth of them,’” (Surah al-Kahf: 22) “the dog was considered part of the family”. Thus, with the exception of feral, stray, and rabid dogs, all dogs are essentially pure (Tahir); and therefore, it is permissible to keep them as pets! (See: collectiveijtihad.org) In deriving such a conclusion, they have cited feeble and weak pieces of evidence that jurists have repeatedly addressed and refuted since the time of Shaykh Tusi (460  A.H.) to the present day. (See: al-Tahdhib, vol. 1, p. 226, hadith no. 649) This includes an authentic [sahih] narration that appears to support the ritual purity of dogs (Wasa'il al-Shi’ah, Book of As’ar, b. 2, hadith no. 6) but is clearly contradicted by numerous other narrations that strongly indicate their impurity. (Wasa'il al-Shi’ah, Book of Impurities, vol. 70, hadith no. 1) The principles governing the reconciliation of apparently conflicting pieces of jurisprudential evidences [jam` bayn al-adillah] within Usul al-Fiqh necessitate the interpretation of such proofs in a manner that does not contradict other evidence. As Grand Ayatullah Sayyid al-Khoei states, “The requirement of academically admissible methodology and the linguistic laws governing generalization [itlaq] and qualification [taqyid] dictate that the authentic narration be interpreted as assuming that the water being discussed is abundant to the extent of being kurr. This represents valid evidential reconciliation [jam` al-dalali], and has nothing whatsoever to do with arbitrary reconciliation [jam` al-tabarru`i].”

Now, despite the fact that all the recognized Islamic schools of thought — both Sunni and Shiʿah, apart from the Maliki school — have never deemed dogs as ritually pure, the so-called ‘mujtahids’ of this centre, based on their ‘collective ijtihad’ and aided by so-called ‘experts in Islamic and contemporary sciences’, have claimed to have uncovered a reality that has eluded Muslim jurists throughout history; namely, ‘consider dogs as part of the family’ and ‘the essential purity of dogs, apart from those that are feral, stray, and rabid!’ Fortunately, any beginner in the field of Islamic jurisprudence and Sharia studies can easily discern the shallowness of the academic level of these feeble arguments, and can clearly see how their authors have struggled — tiresomely, yet in futility — to prove their intended point, while not hesitating in the least from twisting the evidence to match their preferred opinions. Likewise, a similar pattern can be observed in other anomalous and peculiar fatwas issued by this centre using the aforementioned approach. This includes their assertion that: "If shaking hands is part of the social custom of a particular place and is considered as being respectful and not lustful then it is permissible for a Muslim to shake hands with the opposite gender." (See: collectiveijtihad.org) Again, the evidence cited for this ruling is deeply and astonishingly flawed.

Fifth: When a group of people issue a collective fatwa originating from a committee thought to include at least one ‘mujtahid’ and a number of non-mujtahids, and the mechanisms used to arrive at this fatwa does not correspond to the necessary technical requirements enshrined within the Islamic sciences of jurisprudence and jurisprudential derivation — especially Usul al-Fiqh — and the contents of this fatwa openly contradicts the most rudimentary and self-evident fundaments of jurisprudence (such as the ritual impurity of dogs), then is this not a clear case of “issuing fatwas contrary to Allah’s divinely revealed law”? Does Allah (swt) not strictly prohibit such an action, where He says: “Those who do not judge by what Allah has sent down — it is they who are the transgressors (Fasiq)." (Surah al-Ma’idah: 47) Therefore, if such behaviour constitutes an automatic disqualification from ‘moral juristic competency’ [‘adalah], then how can the proponents of this approach be allowed to take on the mantle of religious leadership within society and provide jurisprudential guidance to people? In fact, given this state of affairs, what valid justification remains to even allow such individuals to lead congregational prayers?! 

Sixth: How do all Muslim denominations define the term bid`ah or ‘forbidden legislation’? Is it not defined as ‘introducing something into religion that is not part of it?’ Shaykh al-A`zam Murtadha al-Ansari (1281 A.H.) said: "According to all four sources of jurisprudential proof, it is forbidden to act upon conjecture and to base religious obedience upon mere speculation without taking into account the immutable stance of the Divine Legislator." (Fara’id al-Usul, vol. 1, p. 346) In a noble narration from Imam Ali (a), it is stated, “Indeed, two people are among the most hated of all creation for Allah, the Almighty and Exalted: [the first is] a person whom Allah has left to his own devices, so he strays from the right path, loves to articulate heretical innovations, and devotes himself to fasting and ritual prayer; thus, he is a [deceptive] ordeal for anyone who is tested through him, [and he is] lost with respect to the guidance possessed by those before him, [and is] a source of misguidance for all those who follow him during his life and after his death, [and he is a] carrier [burdened by] the sins of others [whom he led astray] while [also being a] hostage to his own mistakes; and [the second of the two is] a person who has accumulated ignorance from among ignorant people, and sets a course towards the darkness of tribulation, and whom the riffraff call a scholar.” (al-Kafi, vol. 1, p. 54-55) This narration warns us against falling into the traps of heretical innovations [bid`ah] and seditious tribulations [fitnah], even if they appears through individuals known for their fasting and ritual prayer, and considered scholars by common people. Similarly, the Commander of the Faithful (a) is narrated to have said, “O people! The beginnings of seditious tribulations are [worldly] desires that are followed and laws that are innovated in contradiction to the book of Allah, whereupon some people follow others [by obeying these worldly desires and accepting these innovations]. If indeed falsehood were to manifest itself in its pure form, it would not remain hidden to the wise, and if truth were to manifest itself in its pure form, there would no longer remain any disagreement, but [instead] a handful is taken from this and a handful from that, and they are mixed together, so that they come forth as one.” (Ibid.) Due to this very reason, the Infallibles (a) have ordained it obligatory upon their learned and scholarly followers to stand firmly against and resist all manifestations of heterodoxies and heretical innovations [bid`ah]. The well-known prophetic narration states, “Whenever heterodox innovations [bid`ah] appear within my nation, the scholar must reveal his knowledge. Whoever does not do so; upon him is the curse of Allah.” (Ibid.) Likewise, the Messenger of Allah (s) is reported to have said, “Whenever you see proponents of [malicious] skepticism and heterodox innovation after me, [you must] openly express your dissociation from them... and speak out against them, rebuke them, and expose them; so that they no longer covetously aspire to spread corruption within Islam, and so that people may become wary of them and not learn from their heretical innovations.” (al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 375)

Undoubtedly, these are the divine commands and teachings that compelled His Eminence Ayatullah Araki (may Allah protect him) to stand up and confront this new form of heterodox innovation [bid`ah] and seditious tribulation [fitnah]. Indeed, if this phenomenon is not firmly opposed now, it will spread in society, becoming difficult to contain and stop.

Seventh: His Eminence Ayatullah Araki did not accuse all members affiliated with this centre of working for foreign powers, executing their intelligence agendas, or engaging in espionage. In fact, he explicitly used the word ‘some’ in order to render his intended meaning crystal clear; however, those who purposefully refuse to see the obvious will understandably not acknowledge this. The word ‘some’ indicates that — according to the information he has received — there indeed exist certain individuals who are implicated in such activities, while others are not. However, this does not mean that intelligence and espionage agencies have played no role in the establishment of this centre; a centre that actively interferes in matters related to religious rulings [fatwas] and ultimately contradicts the highest religious authorities [maraji`] of our time, while also casting doubt upon the adequacy of their ijtihad by dubbing it ‘individual ijtihad’ and deeming it incapable of solving ‘major challenges.’ Nor are these intelligence and espionage agencies in any way absolved of exercising control over all such sensitive activities as well as guiding their course and direction, albeit remotely and via well-placed proxies and accomplices.

In any case, I express my deep gratitude to the insightful, conscientious, and reform-oriented scholars who fear neither censure nor rebuke in the path of fulfilling their duty towards Allah (swt); these are the righteous scholars who are firmly dedicated to safeguarding Allah’s religion, its jurisprudence and its divine law, and who tirelessly defend its sanctity against every negligent, manipulative, or heedless individual swayed left and right by the winds of temptation and tribulation. I also call upon all the representatives of the high religious authorities [maraji`], as well as other active Islamic and academic centres and institutions in Britain and elsewhere, to put an end to this blatant perversion and manipulation of people’s minds, and advise those running this centre to focus on their research and academic activities in a sound and proper manner without encroaching upon a domain unrelated to their field of expertise. As Imam Sajjad (a) is narrated to have said, “Among the signs of a person's good belief in Islam is to leave what does not concern him." (Qurb al-Isnad, vol. 1, p.67) 

Insha’Allah, I am committed to releasing a second expositional statement addressing this so-called ‘collective ijtihad’ project, along with an adequate academic critique. With that, I seek forgiveness from Allah (swt) for myself and all of you; and indeed our final proclamation is that all praise belongs exclusively to Allah (swt), the Lord of all worlds; and may Allah’s peace, mercy, and blessings be upon you all.


M. H. Wasity,

Director of the Imamah and Wilayah

Centre for Research and Education,

Qom al-Muqaddasah,

7 Ṣafar, 1445 A.H.,

24 August, 2023