The term Ijtihād means to derive and deduce religious opinion about
some matter that is not mentioned in the sources of Islam, keeping in view
the spirit and overall framework of Islam. In other words, the area of
Ijtihād is the area in which Islam is silent and one must use one’s common
sense, intellect and experience to arrive at an opinion that should be in
conformity with the spirit of Islam. For example, matters like test-tube
babies, organ donation and cloning are some of the recent developments in
science and one needs to know whether they are permitted by religion or not.
It is in such matters that need for Ijtihād arises.
The term Ijtihād is not a Qur’ānic term. As a matter of fact, it has
originated from a conversation that is reported in Hādīth books to have
taken place between the Prophet (sws) and one of his companions Mu‘ādh Ibn
Jabal (rta) at the time when the latter was being sent by him to govern the
territory of Yemen:
[The Prophet asked:] ‘How will you judge the cases [that come to you]?’ He
replied: ‘I will judge according to the Book of Allah’. ‘But if you do not
get anything there, what will you do?’, the Prophet (sws) asked. He said: ‘I
will refer to the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws)’. ‘But if you do not get it
even there, what will you do?’, the Prophet (sws) asked again. He replied:
‘I will exercise my judgement.’ Hearing this the Prophet (sws) patted Mu‘ādh
(rta) on the shoulder and said: ‘Praise be to Allah who has guided the
Messenger of His Messenger to what pleases His Messenger’. (Nisā’ī: No.
The Arabic for the words : ‘I will exercise my judgement’ are ajtahidu rāī
from which the term Ijtihād is derived.