In The Name of Allaah, The Most Merciful, The Bestower of Mercy
[One] must seek understanding of Allaah’s Book and the [authentic] Sunnah of Allaah’s Messenger [sallal-laahu-alayhi-wasallam] – based on the understanding of the Messenger [sallal-laahu-alayhi-wasallam] and the understanding of the pious predecessors – the Sahaabah and those who followed them exactly in faith. These affairs must be acquired, for whoever opposes anything of it [i.e. then persists upon error after clarification], he will be misguided and stray away [from the right path]. What a beautiful a statement of Ibn Taymiyyah I have read and was transmitted by Ibnul Qayyim! [Shaikhul Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah (rahimahullaah) said]: “Whoever opposes the proofs [i.e. the sound unambiguous proofs] will be misguided from the [right path], and there is no proof except that which the Messenger brought [i.e. the Book and the authentic Sunnah].
Our proof is the Qur’aan and the [authentic] Sunnah, and whoever is deprived of it- in any affair- will be misled [from what is correct]. This is a true statement and it is what the Messenger [sallal-laahu-alayhi-wasallam] and the Sahaabah [radiyallaahu-anhum] have stated and followed aforetime whilst seeking understanding of the religion. A proof – in any affair related to the religion – is [to be based on]: ‘’Allaah said and Allaah’s Messenger said.’’ At present, there are affairs whose proofs reach a thousand in number, but you do not find them in the reference books of the people of misguidance. They have been misguided from the right path and deprived of numerous proofs!
The Ahnaaf [i.e. the Hanifees] state in their definitions related to Fiqh that it is of two types: The Fiqh al kabeer Wal Akbar. Fiqh al kabeer – according to them – is the Fiqh related to the Sharee’ah rulings and the subsidiary issues of the religion, and what is similar to that. This is a great affair! However, what is greater than it and must be acquired – and the people will not rejoice [with happiness] except by way of it – is the understanding of Tawheed and Eemaan. This is the greater Fiqh – Meaning: We seek understanding in our religion and understand the two types of Fiqh – the Fiqh Al-kabeer and the Fiqh Al-Akbar. The Fiqh Al-Akbar is the understanding of Tawheed and Eemaan, and the Fiqh Al-kabeer is the Fiqh by way of which we can distinguish between Halaal and Haraam, truth and falsehood. We derive it from the book of Allaah, the sunnah of the Messenger [sallal-laahu-alayhi-wasallam] and the understanding of our pious predecessors. We utilise their understanding to aid us [in our] understanding as well as what they left behind for us in the Arabic language, Usoolul Fiqh, Usoolul Hadeeth, the science by way of which Ahaadeeth are declared authentication or weak. All these affairs must be acquired by the students of knowledge and they cannot do without it.
The person who studies Fiqh and does not give importance to the proofs- does not distinguish between what is authentic and weak – will fall into very big mistakes, for he might worship Allaah based on a weak or fabricated hadeeth. Therefore, he must distinguish between authentic and weak hadeeth. Ahmad Ibn Ishaaq [rahimahullaah] – an Imaam of Fiqh and Hadeeth- said: ‘’The one who does not distinguish between authentic and weak hadeeth is not a scholar.’’ And why is that [the case]? Because he might worship Allaah, declare something halaal or haraam based on weak or fabricated Ahaadeeth, so he harms himself and the people. Whoever is deprived of proofs will be misled from the right path and this is a principle cited in every affair related to the religion. Therefore, it is obligated on you to acquire understanding of the religion based on the path of the pious predecessors.
When a Sahaabi [i.e. anyone amongst the companions of the Prophet] was asked a question, he would answer with an Aayah and a hadeeth, and never said, “My opinion [or view] is such and such.’’ He would never exit the text of the Sharee’ah in his answer, except if no evidence reaches him; then [in that case], he would strive to reach a verdict as that textual proof was with someone else [i.e. another person]; because this person did memorise something and that one memorised something else, and that third person missed something. So, he fears Allaah and strives to reach a verdict based on what his ability allows him and the text available to him, and then says: ‘’Allaah says and the Messenger says.’’ If he does not have [enough] proof, he strives to reach a verdict and says: ‘’This is my view. If I’m correct, it is from Allaah; but if I’m mistaken, it is from myself and Shaytaan.’’ This is what Ibn Mas’ood [radiyallaahu-anhu] and other than him used to say.
Whenever AbuBakr [radiyallaahu-anhu] was compelled due to a need [for some evidence] and he did not have a textual proof from Allaah [i.e. from the Qur’aan] or [based on] what the Messenger [sallal laahu alayhi wasallam] said regarding such and such affair, -and likewise Umar [radiyallaahu-anhu] used to do the same- he asked someone younger than him and finds a hadeeth related to the affair from someone younger than him amongst the Sahaabah, and from the latter companions, such as Al-Mugheerah Ibn Shu’bah [radiyallaahu-anhu].
The entire life of a person is spent in seeking knowledge – from the cradle to the grave. He does not feel proud to acquire truth from a young or older person, and he never rejects truth – whether it is stated by a Muslim or Unbeliever. His soul seeks after the truth, so if he finds a text from the Book of Allaah and the [authentic] Sunnah of the Messenger [sallal-laahu-alayhi-wasallam], then all praises and thanks be to Allaah; but if he does not have it and finds it with someone else, he accepts it. Ibn Hazm [rahimahullaah] said: It maybe that a person did memorise an Aayah and a hadeeth, then something occurs, but he forgets the Aayah and the hadeeth and is reminded by someone else. It is not possible for a person to establish or accomplish his religious and worldly affairs except by way of co-operating upon righteousness and piety. He does not become proud when something occurs whilst he has no proof or cannot recall a text he did memorise, or has forgotten, or does not have a statement from the Sahaabah and the Taabi’een, [rather] he asks someone else and does become haughty.
Source: Marhaban Yaa Taalibal Ilm’ pages 245-247. Slightly paraphrased