3. Sincerity towards Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) and piety
Through the blessing of their sincerity, they attained a great deal of beneficial knowledge within a short period of time. Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) says: “So fear Allah, and Allah teaches you.” (Qur'an, Surah Al-Baqarah, 2: 282).
All the factors outlined above formed a strong basis that resulted in deep and solid understanding on the part of the Companions of the Prophet (Peace be upon him). After mentioning their unique understanding, which resulted from their hearing from the Prophet (Peace be upon him) their listening to the narrations of one another and their knowledge of Arabic in the most perfect manner, Ibn al-Qayyim said:
"If we compare our understanding to theirs, there is no doubt that they were more sincere at heart, had deeper knowledge, were more straightforward and were more likely to understand the text more correctly than we can do, because Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) blessed them with smarter minds, more eloquence, deeper knowledge, a more straightforward approach to the text, proper and quick understanding, little or no impact from other influences, good intentions and fear of the Lord. The Arabic language came naturally to them, and the correct meanings and concepts were instilled in their hearts and minds. They had no need to examine the chains of narration and background of the narrators to see if there were any faults in the hadith or to assess the quality of the narrators or to examine the fundamentals of the branches of knowledge and the different views of the experts on the principles of Islamic law. They had no need of all of that. For them there were only two steps to follow:
(i) Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) said such and such, and His Messenger (Peace be upon him) said such and such.
(ii) What it means is such and such.
They were the most capable of people to go through these two steps easily, and they were the most qualified because all of their energy, knowledge and quality was focused on these two things only. In comparison, the energies and focus of the later scholars were scattered. Studying the Arabic language and matters connected to it took up a great deal of their intellectual efforts. Understanding the fundamentals of different branches of knowledge took up further efforts, and knowledge of the chains of narration and the backgrounds of the narrators took up even more, as did their focus on examining the books of the shaykhs from whom they were learning, of whom there were many, and what they meant (in their books and in what they said), and so on. When they reached the point, after all this effort, of seeking to understand the texts with hearts and minds that were exhausted from examining everything that came before they were in a position to examine the text, and after they had expended their energy in studying things other than the text, then they would understand the text and what it meant with whatever was left of their energy."
Thus it becomes clear that the Companions of the Prophet (Peace be uon him) had deeper knowledge and understanding on the basis of what Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) granted them of the means to understand and learn. Therefore they had more knowledge of the aims and goals of Sharia than anyone else, because one of the most important means of achieving the aims of Sharia is knowledge of the Qur'an and Sunnah and the ways of deriving rulings from them. Undoubtedly this was available to the Companions in the most perfect manner.
Ash-Shatibi said: "The early generation (as-Salaf) was the most knowledgeable about the meanings of the Qur'an."
Concerning the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them), he said: "They are the example to follow with regard to the way in which Sharia and its aims and goals are to be understood. However, the scholars differed as to whether the view of the Companion may be regarded as evidence, and there are five well-known views. Before we mention these views, we will highlight the following points:
1. All are agreed that the view of a Companion with regard to issues that are subject to ijtihad is not binding on other Companions, whether the Companion was a ruler or a judge or one who gave fatwas.
2. If the Companion voiced an opinion, and the others agreed with him, it is not subject to debate because there is consensus in that case.
3. If he voiced an opinion and it became widespread, and no one opposed it, then this is regarded as silent consensus.
4. They agreed that the opinion of a Companion is not binding if another Companion disagreed with him.
5. They agreed that if the opinion of a Companion is based on the Qur'an or Sunnah or consensus, then it is binding in that case because of what he referred to.
6. They agreed that if the Companion recanted his view, it is no longer binding.
The point of dispute is where the Companion voiced an opinion concerning an issue that is subject to ijtihad, and we do not know of anyone who disagreed or agreed, or whether it became widespread or not, or whether he differed with someone else concerning this matter or not.
The scholars differed concerning that, and there are a number of opinions:
1. The first opinion is that it is binding. This is the view of Malik and of ash-Shafa'i in his old madh-hab; it is also the view of Ahmad according to one report narrated from him. It is the view of most of the scholars and jurists among the Hanafis; Ibn 'Aqeel among the Hanbalis; al-'Ala’i and al-Khateeb al-Baghdadi among the Shafa'is. It was the view favoured by Ibn al-Qayyim in I'lam al-Muwaqqi'een, ash-Shatibi in al-Muwaffaqat, and Ibn Taymiyah.
2. The second opinion is that it is not binding. This is the view of ash-Shafa’i, according to one of his two opinions, and it is favoured by al-Amidi, ar-Razi, al-Ghazali and Ahmad, according to one report.
3. The third opinion is that it is binding if it is a matter in which there is no room for personal opinion only, and this is the view of a number of Hanafis.
4. The fourth opinion is that only the views of Abu Bakr and 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with them) are binding, but no others.
5. The fifth opinion is that only the views of the four Rightly Guided Caliphs - Abu Bakr, 'Umar, 'Uthman and 'Ali (may Allah be pleased with them) - are biding, but no others.
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