With the widespread existence of information the problem that faces us today is being able to have the ability to distinguish between that which is correct information from that which is not and when one is not able to do so, then knowing to whom to refer back to, in order to achieve this. General information is not the same as applied knowledge and skills as the latter two are more specific and tailored to individuals and communities and will likewise be particular to specific places (i.e. different parts of the world) and even for different periods in time (i.e. periods in the past where previous generations may not be similar to the current generation).
When an individual may want to know regarding co-wife surrogacy IVF (in-vitro fertilisation) or abortion then one will want to know firstly the Islamic legislative (Shari’a) perspective upon this, so to whom would you refer them too? Would you answer from yourself would you be able to give them applied knowledge to their situation? No doubt it would be to the religious scholars that are acknowledged and recognised for their knowledge and no doubt if you had a choice of several scholars you would refer to the scholar who was most recognised for that particular type of knowledge (fiqh) if possible.
Any scholarly ruling will depend upon the complexity of the issue involved and the scholar may quote evidences so that correct following (mutaba’ah) of the text can be achieved. However if the issue is complicated and involves the detailed understanding of a variety of Islamic sciences then the scholar will not mention the evidences, as it will not be understood by the common person, nor even some of the students of knowledge. As such blind following (taqleed) will be necessary but on the condition that the scholar is from the true scholars (rabaaniyoon) and that the individual has no doubt from another true scholar. As for the student of knowledge then he can transmit the knowledge and understanding that he has taken from the scholars and even the common person can call to matters that are clear-cut, such as ordering his family to pray & fast and this is all from the angle of ‘Commanding the Good & Forbidding the Evil’.
Worldly Skilled Professions
However the worldly skilled professions are different, because understanding the evidence of observation and experience is complex and difficult to put in to context. The one who is not acquainted with the principles of that profession will not be able to fully appreciate them until they themselves have hands-on practical experience. If it is an issue of academia, unless one is already acquainted with the speciality, it would take years before one could understand these difficult areas of contention. So telling people to investigate and research such issues is a bit ludicrous and will take many years to have the skills to investigate and research. So in this case one is to seek out the most skilled in that field, whether Muslim (who is given precedence) or non-Muslim.
This applies to many walks of life, be that the study of nutrition, health, medicine, engineering, aviation, tour guides through the Himalayan mountains etc. Telling everyday people to investigate or research the individual nutrition issues or health issues or aviation issues or tour paths and climbing techniques is setting them up to do the impossible and to overburden themselves and ultimately increase their confusionand put them to harm. This is why in Islam many academic and skilled fields are a collective obligation (fard kifayah) such that if some of the community undertakes them then the burden is released upon the rest. Those who undertake such burdens spend years and sometimes decades learning detailed knowledge and skills. If one is a student or practitioner of that field then I agree it is upon them to investigate the issues related to that field, but as for calling every person to do this, then who are the religious scholars who precede with such an advice. It is impossible for an individual to learn every single science and every single one of the worldly skills hence calling the people to investigate and research everything themselves is ludicrous and it opposes the Prophetic Sunnah as we will go onto demonstrate. Advocating every one to investigate is essentially changing the ruling of a collective obligation (fard kifayah) to that of an individual obligation (fard ayain). So again we question where are the scholars that proceed upon such an advice.
Tibb – Health Practitioners
For our discussion, the above likewise applies to the skilled medical practitioner, that whenever one has an option then to seek out the most proficient and skilled is dictated by the sound intellect. To continue with the example of IVF or abortion, after knowing its permissibility in the Shari’a then you would refer to the qualified health professionals who are recognised in that field for both general advice as well as specific tailored advice for that individual patient, i.e. you would go to an obstetrician. If you went to another health practitioner (e.g. cardiologist or dietician) who does not have expertise in that field then it would be ludicrous opposing the sound intellect. When the specialist gives tailored health advice then it may oppose some general health principles and this is why it is necessary that one refers to an individual who is the most recognised with the knowledge and competency in that field providing one has access to them.
This principle is likewise established from the Prophetic methodology as demonstrated in the Prophetic narration that Imam Maalik collected from Zayd ibn Aslam:
A man, in the time of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ was wounded, and the blood became congested. The man summoned two men from Banoo Anmaar, who examined him. He declared then that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ asked these two: “Which of you is the more skilled as a physician?” To which they asked: ‘Is there then some value in medicine, O Messenger of Allah?’ He replied: “The One Who sent down illness also sent down medicine.”
So here the two skilled doctors were not asked how they were going to treat and upon what evidence was such treatment based, how strong was this evidence, what was the evidence that the opinion of one doctor were better than the other etc. Rather what was sought was the most skilled having the most expertise this is our methodology and advocating everyone to investigate opposes the correct methodology. There was no research or investigation except about skills which in todays terms would be about accreditation and recognition by other accredited bodies or specialists. Also it is worth noting that worldly medicine was utilised despite the presence of the Prophetic medicine and active revelation being present indicating doing so is from the Prophetic Sunnah.
The Scholar Ibnul Qayim rahimullah after mentioning the above narration in Tibb an-Nabawiy goes on to explain;
This narration shows that it is necessary, concerning every science and craft, to seek the help of the person most skillful in it; the most skillful person will be the one most likely to find the best solution. Thus the person seeking to obtain a legal pronouncement (fatwa) has the obligation to seek assistance concerning what has been revealed about it from the most learned of all the learned people, for the most learned is closer to the correct answer than the less learned. Likewise, if anyone is not sure of the true direction of the qibla (kaaba in Mecca), he will follow the most learned person he can find, for this is the way Allah created His servants. Thus too, one who travels by land or sea will find tranquility for his soul and confidence only in the most skillful and best informed of any two guides, and to this one he will betake himself and on him he will rely. In this the sharee‘ah, human nature and reason are all agreed.
To clarify further, one may wish to have blood cupping (hijamah) done which in general Islamic principles is good and from the Prophetic Medicine but in the situation that a woman is pregnant then to whom would you refer here for advice. No doubt it would be the trained competent doctor and even the scholars point you in the same direction, as I have witnessed personally from one of them doing so. The Islamic ruling here may change from that which is recommended (mustahab) to any of the five jurisprudence (fiqh) rulings, depending upon the health state of this pregnant-woman. The foundation for this change in ruling is based upon the doctor’s advice whose expertise this involves, giving advice with what he knows or making analogical deduction (dunyawee-ijtihaad) from the principles relating to health and applying it to that individual.
Advocating everyone to investigate themselves is a call for everyone to become half-doctors, one who only has partial knowledge or training but deems himself like the real doctor in giving health advice but in reality will be less likely to arrive at the correct advice and may cause harm to the mother or to the foetus such that it is born with defects as a result of inappropriate and dangerous health advice. Even if this half doctor did arrive at the truth then his dunyawee-ijtihaad is not an acceptable one as he was not a valid medical practitioner in the first place, knowing the principles of health management in the presence of health professionals that deal with health and disease management on a regular basis and whose competency has been attested too.
We have discussed the widespread acceptance of modern medicine despite those that try to malign it and likewise, as per this article, those who are calling for everyday people to investigate for themselves.
In reality it is a call for people to cover themselves in confusion. Why? … Because their is no structured approach, no teacher…and they are left to the likes of the media and internet search engines to be their teachers … i.e. the knowledge is not learned from its correct route, building principle upon other principles.