Is it Necessary to Follow an Imaam?

Can I not Refer Directly to the Hadeeth?

In this belated era, one often hears questions about the need to follow an imaam or a mazhab. The ear-catching slogan of “DIRECTLY” following the Quraan and hadith is heard more frequently.The answer to such questions and the reality behind these slogans is highlighted by the following eye-opening incident, which has been reported by Imaam Ahmad bin Hambal and Imaam Tahaawi (rahimahumallah)

Once ‘Urwah bin Zubair (rahimahullah) addressed ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbaas (radhiyallahu ‘anhuma) thus:

أضللت الناس يا ابن عباس !

“You have led the people astray O ibnu ‘Abbaas!”

When ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbaas (radhiyallahu ‘anhuma) enquired about the reason, ‘Urwa (rahimahullah) mentioned a ruling pertaining to the laws of hajj which ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbaas (radhiyallahu ‘anhuma) had issued contrary to the ruling of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar (radhiyallahu ‘anhuma). ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbaas (radhiyallahu ‘anhuma) replied: “This is the exact reason why you have been led astray. I am narrating from Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) and you are opposing it with the view of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar (radhiyallahu ‘anhuma).”

‘Urwah (rahimahullah) said to Ibnu ‘Abbaas (radhiyallahu ‘anhuma):

إن أبا بكر وعمر رضي الله عنهما كانا أعلم برسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم منك

“Indeed Abu Bakr and ‘Umar (radhiyallahu ‘anhuma) were more knowledgeable about the sunnah of Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) than you.” (Musnad Ahmad, vol. 4, pg. 132, # 2277, Sharhu Ma‘aanil Aathaar, vol. 1, pg. 423).

In a narration of Tabraani the same incident has been recorded with a slight difference. According to this version, when ‘Urwah (rahimahullah) objected, Ibnu ‘Abbaas (radhiyallahu ‘anhuma) said to him: “Woe be to you! Do you give preference to Abu Bakr and ‘Umar (radhiyallahu ‘anhuma) over the book of Allaah and the sunnah of Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam).” Upon this ‘Urwah (rahimahullah) replied: “They were more knowledgeable about the Book of Allah and the sunnah of Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) than you and I.”

Ibnu Abi Mulaykah, the narrator of this incident comments: “Ibnu ‘Abbaas (radhiyallahu ‘anhuma) did not have any answer for this.” (Al-Mu’jamul Awsat, vol. 1, pg. 42, No. 21).

The answer of ‘Urwah (rahimahullah) is exactly the answer to those who raise objections such as: What is the need to follow an imaam? Is it better to follow Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) or to follow Abu Haneefah, Maalik, Shaafi‘ee and Ahmad bin Hambal (rahimahumullah)?

In reply to these objections Shaikh Muhammad ‘Awwaamah writes: “We say to them: We are not pleased to have you as a substitute for these imaams, as they were more knowledgeable about Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) than you.” In fact, when we say “more knowledgeable” we do not mean to draw a comparison, because there is absolutely no comparison between you and them in knowledge. And it is our ardent desire to cling onto the way of Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) that drives us to follow their understanding of the pure sunnah.” (Atharul Hadithish Shareef, pg. 101).

The crux of these answers is that one does not follow an Imaam in OPPOSITION  to the Quraan and sunnah. Instead, the following of an Imaam is based purely on the intention to follow the Quraan and sunnah, and they were far more knowledgeable of the Quraan and sunnah than anyone in this era.

Answer through an Example

Another simple answer to these types of questions could easily be understood from a common day to day situation. Take the example of a close relative who requires a triple bypass or needs to undergo a major operation. Will an unqualified relative ever dare to research the procedure of that operation and carry it out by himself? The answer is obvious. Rather, he will employ the services of the greatest expert in that field. Why? Since the well being of our dear one means much to us. If our deen is beloved to us, then this should be our attitude with regards to the matters of deen as well.