What is Ijtihad?
Ijtihad is the concept of making personal judgment on the various issues of life which is independent of any school of jurisprudence or the making of a choice or a decision that is not based on any teachings of Islam, but still captures the overall essence of this religion. It is said that when there are incidents in life where nobody can find reference to Islam, then one can practice ijtihad using basic common sense, experience, and knowledge of Islamic teachings.
The concept of ijtihad is commonly associated with the school of jurisprudence from Shi’a Muslims. To be a valid concept and for it to be acceptable, it must be rooted in the holy book of Qur’an and the “hadith”. It is also a requirement that no teaching or record specifically points to the incident in question. In the Islam society, a person who is qualified to interpret Islamic law is called a “mujtahid”.
For the Shia society, becoming a mujtahid starts early in school. Students are required to learn the basics of philosophy, Arabic literature, hadith, fiqh, kalam, and tafsir. After mastering these basic teachings, students can then proceed to more advanced learning through “sat’h” textbooks and “kharij” research. Being a Shia mujtahid also requires maturity of thought and practice, strong faith, of legitimate brith, with high intelligence, and with a sense of justice. In the Shia society, women may also become mujtahid themselves but it must be noted that no other woman can imitate her in terms of her own rulings and decisions.
The Sunni Muslims also have their own qualifications for their mujtahid, which is the only person allowed to interpret Islamic law. They also require intelligence of the Qur’an and the “sunnah” and they must have judgment that other people can depend on. They should also be able to identify the consensus in any problem and they should consider what is good for the public.
In modern times, there are many situations wherein ijtihad is needed to make sound judgment based on the overall concept of Islam and rooted on the book of Qur’an. Modern science concerns like cloning and organ donation are among the many ideas that are not reflected on any Islamic doctrine and require modern interpretation through ijtihad.