Despite the profound depth of knowledge of the RightlyGuided Caliphs, they used to consult and be consulted by their learned companions when confronted with critical issues. Out of the body of fatawa which were made collectively emerged the ijma (consensus) in the first Islamic era. When consulted, some companions refrained from making any comment, and others simply used to say that they did not know. Utbah ibn Muslim reported that he was once Ibn Umar's companion for a period of thirty-four months. During that time, Ibn Umar was asked about various important issues and he often replied that he did not know. Ibn Abu Layla related the following about the companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, most of whom were from among the Ansar and were his contemporaries:
When one of them was consulted on a certain issue, he would refer the questioner to another, who in turn would refer him to another and so on until the questioner finally returns to the first person whom he had approached first. They wished to be spared the reporting of a hadith or giving a fatwa in answer to a question.
It was the rule rather than the exception for them to reply that they did not know when they were uncertain. Al Imam Malik, for instance, was exceptionally cautious and used to say. "If a person is asked about a certain issue, he should think of Jannah (Paradise) and of Jahannam (hell) and of his own salvation in the hereafter before he replies Ibn al Qasim also heard Malik saying: "I have been investigating a particular issue for more than ten years, but I have not made up my mind about it yet."