Sheikh Walîd b. Ibrâhîm al-`Ajâjî, professor al-Imâm University in Riyadh
The answer to this question is contingent on whether or not we consider possession of an upright character to be a legal precondition for a person to act in the capacity of a muftî. For our purposes, a muftî is someone who is qualified to issue Islamic legal rulings to the public.
Upright character, for matters pertaining to legal competence, has been defined by many scholars, including Abû al-`Abbâs b. Surayj, as follows: “To be a person who is free, Muslim, adult, and sane, who does not commit major sins, does not persist in committing minor sins, and does not generally behave contrary to the prevailing norms of social etiquette.”
Some scholars make a distinction between a mujtahid – a person qualified to engage in independent juristic reasoning – and a muftî with respect to this condition. They do not see possession of an upright character to be a precondition for a person to be a mujtahid. They are not implying by this that a muftî does not have to be a mujtahid as well. What it means is that a mufti has to be both a qualified mujtahid and a person of upright character.
A person of bad character who is a mujtahid by virtue of his knowledge will not be able to act in the capacity of a muftî and issue legal rulings to others. However, he will be liable to act upon his own Islamic legal knowledge with respect to his personal religious practice and not follow the opinion of some other scholar. The legal rulings arrived at by a mujtahid, if he is a person of bad character, will not be applicable to others. The reason for this is simply that he cannot be trusted in what he says, and the office of muftî is a position of public trust.
Some jurists have gone so far to claim that this precondition for a mufti is a matter of juristic consensus (ijmâ`). However, this claim is disputable.
Personally, I favor the view of Ibn al-Qayyim on this matter, which takes into consideration the need to realize the public welfare. He says that the rulings issued by a muftî of bad moral character are not to be accepted by others. Likewise, no one should go to him to seek a ruling from him. Such a muftî has the right to act upon his own legal rulings in his personal religious practice, but he has no duty to provide rulings for others.
However, Ibn al-Qayyim goes on to say that it is permissible for a person to seek a legal ruling from such a muftî – provided that the muftî does not make public his sinful behavior – at certain times under certain circumstances, in consideration of one’s ability and what options are available.
He writes the following:
As long as he is not public in his sinful conduct or calling towards his innovation, then his legal verdicts take the same ruling as his capacity to lead the prayers or offer testimony in a court of law. This ruling varies from time to time, from place to place, and in consideration of the ability or inability (to find an alternative). The duty itself must be considered and the reality of the situation must also be considered. A scholar of Islamic Law is one who brings about the fulfillment of the duty within the context of practical reality and carries out the duty to the extent of his ability. He is not someone who strikes up enmity between duty and practical reality.
Therefore, every era has its rulings that apply to it. People are more like others of their own generation than they are like their forefathers. If bad moral character becomes the norm, then if we were to forbid a person of bad character from leading the prayers, offering testimony, giving judicial verdicts, issuing legal rulings, and acting as a legal guardian, then all legal rulings would be rendered inoperative, the orderly dispensation of the world’s affairs would become corrupted, and the rights of most people would fail to be honored. In any event, it is necessary to consider what best secures the general welfare when there is ability to seek other available options. When the matter is one of absolute necessity and a preponderance of falsehood, then all that remains is to persevere in patience and to voice our objections in a small way.
And Allah knows best.
Source: Islam Today