Ijma` in our present age

Q: Can Ijma` (consensus of Scholars) be reached in our present time throughout the Islamic world? With regard to the Fatwas of the Islamic Fiqh Academy that are unanimously agreed upon by all members of the Academy, are they considered a consensus? Is it possible that Ijma` may be concluded in places other than the Islamic Fiqh Academy? Please advise, may Allah reward you.

A: First: Most scholars of Usul-ul-Fiqh (principles of Islamic jurisprudence) agree that Ijma` can be reached by people of power and knowledge in Muslim nations concerning a certain issue and the resulting agreed-upon opinion can be known among them, such as permitting the master to have sexual intercourse with his female slave (Part No. 4; Page No. 10) on the basis of ownership and not allowing the male slave to have sexual intercourse with his female master. They supported this view with evidence from the Qur'an and Sunnah. However, a small number of scholars denied this opinion on the grounds that scholars scattered after the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and lived in distant countries. Therefore, knowing the opinion of everyone of them is impossible. But this opinion was refuted by the fact that Ijma` has occurred, as the case of the first two examples and other examples that are mentioned in the book of Maratib Al-Ijma`.The supporters of Ijma` substantiated their opinion with the Statement of Allah (Exalted be He): And whoever contradicts and opposes the Messenger (Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم) after the right path has been shown clearly to him, and follows other than the believers’ way, We shall keep him in the path he has chosen, and burn him in Hell - what an evil destination! Review other pieces of evidence in pp. 176-192 part 19 and pp. 10-11 part 20 from the book entitled Majmu` Al-Fatwa by Ibn Taymiyyah. Also, see the proofs of those who supported Ijma`, the discussion of these proofs and the answers of the opponents in the third issues regarding Ijma` in the first part of the book entitled Al-'Ihkam by Al-Amidy. The small number of scholars who reject the Ijma` argue that all the scholars of the Muslim nation scattered after the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and went to distant countries and, therefore, knowing the opinion of (Part No. 4; Page No. 11) everyone of them and concluding Ijma` on an equal footing is impossible. Thus, it is related from Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal that he said: "He who maintains the occurrence of Ijma` is a liar." It was answered that this is refuted by the occurrence of Ijma`, such as the first two examples previously mentioned and other evidence cited in the book of Maratib Al-Ijma` by Ibn Hazm with a commentary by Ibn Taymiyyah on the book. Moreover, the supporters of Ijma` said about the former statement of Imam Ahmad that he said this out of fear of Allah and to restrain any rash claims of Ijma` without careful examination and investigation of scholarly views. They also said that the Imam said this concerning those who do not have knowledge or was denying the occurrence of Ijma` after the time of Sahabah (Companions of the Prophet) or after the first three praiseworthy Muslim generations. See pp. 315-316 from the book entitled Muswaddah 'Al-Taymiyah.In the end, the opinion that Ijma` occurred in the era of Sahabah is more correct due to their small number, the proximity of countries before the expansion of the Islamic world, the diligent seeking of knowledge and the limitation of differences, which remained only within narrow circles. Moreover, supposing that Ijma` occurred among scholars in any age after Sahabah, this makes Ijma` a valid evidence and on these grounds can be interpreted the other narration from Imam Ahmad (may Allah be pleased with him) concerning the possibility of Ijma` and knowledge thereof.Second: With regard to the Fatwas of the Islamic Fiqh Academy that are unanimously agreed upon by all its members, they are not regarded as a Shar`y (Islamic legal) Ijma`, as the members of the Academy are not the entire group of authority and knowledge in the Muslim nation. (Part No. 4; Page No. 12) Third: Therefore, it is usually not possible to know the Ijma` of people in authority and knowledge in any of the ages of this nation except the age of Sahabah (may Allah be pleased with them), due to the reasons we mentioned previously. The Shaykh of Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (may Allah be merciful to him) said in his book Al-`Aqidah Al-Wasitiyyah: "The Ijma` that can be precise is that of the Salaf (righteous predecessors), for after their era, differences increased and the Muslim nation became spread throughout the world."May Allah grant us success. May peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family, and Companions.