Dismissing specific claims of consensus on the grounds that “Consensus is a weak argument”

Someone recently asked me to review a piece where a contemporary figure dismisses one of Imam al-Nawawi’s opinions simply because the Imam’s argument includes mention of consensus, and that consensus is a weak argument.

Dismissing a claim of a consensus that has been reported by several scholars who are recognized authorities of transmitted knowledge, along with evidence for their claims and defenses against its critics, in this manner is similar to folks who dismiss any hadith from al-Bukhari’s Sahih that they personally find problematic on the grounds that al-Bukhari might have let through a few hadiths that don’t meet his conditions and to folks who reject any hadith at all on the grounds that its authenticity is not absolutely certain.

And even if one did dismiss the claim of consensus, one is still left with the evidence that backs it and discussions related to the evidence.

If consensus is a weak argument, dismissing a specific claim of consensus along with its backing is just lame.

And the dismissal is absurd when it becomes apparent that the critic combines his dismissal with various sloppinesses, like (a) misquoting the text, (b) ignoring Imam al-Nawawi’s nuanced and detailed coverage of the issue, (c) ignoring the various defenses of the claim to consensus, and (d) using all of the above to construct a strawman to have a second author “correct” to Imam al-Nawawi with more something in line with the critic’s own desired ruling – while in reality, the second author’s opinion doesn’t match the critic’s.

Indeed, what the second scholar did do was mention Imam al-Nawawi’s opinion. He then mentioned several other opinions, sometimes nameless, several using the active voice (“qāl” not “qīl“), and without ever indicating that Imam al-Nawawi’s opinion was wrong. The critic selected a quoted opinion that happens to match his own and presented it as the second author’s preference. What the critic misses is that the second author did not endorse that opinion. Indeed, it seems that the second author’s conclusion is very close (if not identical) to Imam al-Nawawi’s opinion.

But why bother with pain-staking, scholarly accuracy when one knows audiences are already addicted to the far-easier cherry-picking charismatic clowning?

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