Verification on Switching from one Madhhab to another Madhhab
Al-Sha„rani said in al-Mizan:
The great scholars of every age did not denounce one who switched from one madhhab to another madhhab except because of what comes to the minds of the assumption that [he] is villifying that Imam whose madhhab he left and nothing else, as proven by their approval of the one that switched to [remain] on the madhhab to which he switched.
Imam Ibn „Abd al-Barr (Allah have mercy on him) would say: "It has not reached us from any of the Imams that he would tell his companions to stick to a specific madhhab, not believing in the correctness of other than it. Rather, what has been transmitted from them is their approval of people acting on each other‟s fatwa because all of them are on guidance from their Lord."
He would also say: "It has not reached us in an authentic or weak hadith that Allah‟s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) commanded any of the ummah to stick to a specific madhhab, not accepting other than it, and this is because every mujtahid is correct."
Al-„Iraqi transmitted consensus from the Sahabah (Allah be pleased with them) that those who sought fatwa from Abu Bakr and „Umar (Allah be pleased with him) and imitated them, after that they may ask others from the Sahabah and act on [what they say] without condemnation. The „ulama have agreed that one who accepts Islam may do taqlid of whomsoever he wishes from the „ulama without proof. Whoever claims to reject these two issues of consensus, he must give proof.
Imam al-Zannati from the Maliki imams would say: "It is permissible to do taqlid of every one of the scholars of the madhhabs in legal cases, and similarly it is permissible to switch from one madhhab to another madhhab but with three conditions:
"First, that he does not combine between them in such a way that conflicts with consensus like one who marries without dowry [which is allowed in the Shafi„i madhhab], nor a guardian [which is allowed in the Hanafi madhhab], nor witnesses [which is allowed in the Maliki madhhab], because such a scenario will not be allowed by anyone.
"Second, that he believes in the excellence of the one he imitates by means of his reports reaching him.
"Third, he does not do taqlid while falling into misguidance in his religion like imitating [the Imams] in concessions without their conditions."
Then, al-Sha„rani narrated from al-Suyuti the names of those who switched from one madhhab to another without condemnation from the „ulama of their times.
Al-Suyuti said: "We have observed our „ulama and they did not strongly condemn one who was Maliki and then he practiced [the Shari„ah] as a Hanafi or Shafi„i, and then he changed after that to a Hanbali, and they only expressed condemnation of one who switches because of the possibility of him playing with the madhhabs."
The author of Jami„ al-Fatawa from the Hanafis said: "It is permissible for the Hanafi to switch to the madhhab of al-Shafi„i and vice versa but in toto. As for [switching madhhabs] in a particular issue, it is not permissible, like if blood came out from the body of a Hanafi and it flowed, it is not permissible for him to pray before he performs wudu‟ adhering to the madhhab of al-Shafi„i in this issue; and if he prays, his prayer is invalid. Some of them said it is not permissible for the layperson to switch from one madhhab to another madhhab, whether Hanafi or Shafi„i."
In a separate fatwa of al-Suyuti, he encouraged the belief that all the Imams of the Muslims are on right guidance from their Lord, although they vary in knowledge and excellence. It is not permissible for any to show [such] preference which will lead to diminishment of other than his Imam, which is analogous to what has been transmitted about [the prohibition of] giving preference to the Prophets (upon them be peace), especially if that leads to argumentation and degrading their honour. Disagreement in peripheral [issues] occurred amongst the Sahabah and they are the best of the ummah. It has not reached us that any of them disputed another who took an opinion contrary to his opinion, nor was he hostile to him, nor did he attribute error to him or a deficient understanding. It is narrated in a hadith, "The disagreement of my ummah is a mercy."
I saw in the handwriting of Shaykh Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (Allah have mercy on him) when he was asked about switching from one madhhab to another, the text of which is:
"My opinion is that the one switching may have [one of] three conditions:
"First, the motivating factor to switch is a worldly matter, and a [worldly] need compelling him to [seek] the enjoyment that is associated with it, like acquiring a job or a position or closeness to kings and the leaders of the world. The ruling of this is the ruling of the emigrant of Umm Qays210 if he is a layperson; and if he is a jurist in his madhhab and wishes to switch for a worldly objective which is from the blameworthy desires of his soul, then his matter is worse, and may reach to the level of prohibition due to playing with the rules of Shari„ah merely due to a worldly reason.
"Second, that he switches for a religious purpose, like he is a jurist in his madhhab [from those qualified to give preference (ahl al-tarjih)] and he only switches due to another madhhab being preferred according to him for what he believes of its clearer evidences and its stronger discernment – for this [person], switching is obligatory or permissible as said by al-Rafi„i; or he is devoid of understanding and he was occupied with his madhhab but nothing came of him therein and he found another madhhab easier whereby he hoped to acquire its understanding quickly – for this [person], switching is definitely obligatory and it is forbidden to hesitate because gaining understanding for such a person according to the madhhab of an Imam from the four Imams is better than remaining on ignorance.
"Third, that he switches neither for a religious reason nor a worldly reason in that he is free from both intentions. This is permissible for the layperson. As for the jurist, it is disliked or prohibited for him, because he acquired understanding of that first madhhab and will require another period of time to acquire therein understanding of the second madhhab, so that will busy him from the obligation of acting on what he learned before that, and he may die before acquiring his objective from the other madhhab, so it is better for such a person to avoid this."
We have mentioned previously the obligation of believing in the preference of the opinion of one‟s Imam over others for as long as he has not reached the level of perfection [i.e. ijtihad]. This was stated by Imam al-Haramayn, Ibn al-Sam„ani, al-Ghazali, Ilkiya al-Harrasi and others. They said to their students, "It is necessary for you to do taqlid of your Imam, al-Shafi„i, and you have no excuse before Allah to turn away from it." There is no speciality in this for Imam al-Shafi„i for all who are free from partiality. Rather, it is necessary for every muqallid from the muqallids of the Imams to believe this about his Imam for as long as he has not reached the level of perfection.
[These „ulama said this to their students] because these students of theirs were „ulama but they had not reached the level of ijtihad such that they can prefer one madhhab over another madhhab. It has preceded that such a person is not allowed to switch [madhhabs].
As for what al-Suyuti mentioned, of the permissibility of this for the layman when it is not for a religious or a worldly objective, it is a condition, the premise of which is not found in this age except rarely, and [according to a juristic principle,] the rare is like the absent, because commonly the one who switches from one madhhab to another madhhab from the laypeople, he only switches for a worldly purpose or self-desire due to what is [found] in the other madhhabs of concessions in some issues which the one switching is afflicted with. This is a cause for abandoning taqlid altogether. It has preceded that pleasure-seeking through the rules [of Shari„ah] is forbidden by plain texts and consensus.
So, the apparent [view] is the opinion of specific taqlid being obligatory in this age and the absolute prohibition of switching [madhhabs] whether one is a layman or a jurist. If he is a mujtahid or close to a mujtahid, he may do this. How is it permissible for one to claim for himself this position in this age, when Ibn Jarir al-Tabari had claimed it and this was not accepted from him and al-Suyuti claimed it and this was not accepted from him? The one who does not know the condition of his time is an ignoramus. Allah (Exalted is He) knows best, and He is the Guide to the Straight Way.
Fawa‟id fi „Ulum al-Fiqh, pp. 288-95