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In response to requests by several people and as a defence for taqleed, the ShiaChat team have written the following article, which explains the background and the reasons for taqleed. Feedback is welcome, which should be sent through a PM.

The necessity of Taqleed

Firstly, what does 'Taqleed' mean? Translated into imitation, it essentially means the following in actions of another person. In the Shia Imamiyah school, this relates to the following of a 'mujtahid' by a 'non-mujtahid' in Islamic rulings (Sharia' law) and matters relating to 'Furu' Al-Deen'.

A Mujtahid is an expert in Islamic Jurisprudence (Fiqh) who has been verified as having the ability to derive laws and rulings from the two sources of Islam; the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Ahlulbayt (as). A non-mujtahid is then obviously someone who does not have this ability. Ijtihad is a completely scientific process and cannot be compared to 'qiyas'. It has its sciences and only the most erudite of scholars are able to achieve this status.

Indeed, the roots of Ijtihad can be traced to the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet pbuh . In the chapter of 'The Prophets', this verse states: "…ask the people of remembrance if you do not know" (21:7). Clearly this is asking people who have no knowledge on certain matters, to refer to people that do, whom essentially are the experts. This is the natural way of things, to seek knowledge from those who have it. Even the Prophets were instructed to do so, as the case with Musa (S) when he was told to seek wisdom from Al-Khidhr.

We then need to identify these experts and the Qur'an has done this again, in 'The Family of Imran', 'The Originator' and 'The Pleading One':

Allah bears witness that there is no god but He, and (so do) the angels and those possessed of knowledge (3:18)

…those of His servants only who are possessed of knowledge fear Allah (35:28)

Allah will exalt those of you who believe, and those who are given knowledge, in high degrees (58:11)

Clearly then, Allah (SWT) has placed emphasis that those with knowledge are given a special status. Then the Exalted has instructed that those knowledgeable ones are to be followed, as is the natural thing to do:

O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those vested with authority from among you (4:59)

Authority cannot come without knowledge; the leaders should always be the most knowledgeable of the people, for they are best equipped to lead the people. Having knowledge is a pre-requisite for leadership, for with it difficulties are overcome, as Amir Al-Muimineen (S) has explained:

Knowledge is power; whoever finds it overcomes by it and whoever does not find it is overcome

Following the knowledgeable applies equally in political and religious matters, regardless of the state of affairs in that region, for the erudite are the closest to Allah (SWT):

He it is Who has revealed the Book to you; some of its verses are decisive, they are the basis of the Book, and others are allegorical; then as for those in whose hearts there is perversity they follow the part of it which is allegorical, seeking to mislead and seeking to give it (their own) interpretation, but none knows its interpretation except Allah, and those who are firmly rooted in knowledge say: We believe in it, it is all from our Lord; and none do mind except those having understanding (3:7)

Why should not a company from every group of them go forth to gain profound understanding in religion and to warn their people when they return to them, so that they may beware (9:122)

The first verse gives the reason why you cannot choose to deduce rulings yourself (or to use qiyas) if you do not have the necessarily knowledge. This verse also admonishes those who follow their own opinions, even though they lack knowledge:

And follow not that of which you have no knowledge in (17:36)

The word used for those who would gain understanding in verse 9:122 is 'liyataffaqahu' which means 'to become fuqaha'. This is exactly what the mujtahids are, Fuqaha. The Prophet pbuh also showed that the fuqaha are to be followed, as these examples show:

After the conquest of Makkah, the Prophet (saws) decided to return to Madinah, so he designated a governor, who was a young man called 'Atab Ibn Usayd. He set him a fixed salary and the governor addressed the people: "The Prophet has fixed my salary and in view of this, I do not stand in need of any gift or assistance from you" (Seerat Rasulallah, Ibn Hisham, vol 2, p 500)

Mu'adh Ibn Jabal states that when the Prophet (saws) sent him to Yemen, he asked: "On what will you rely for resolving the differences?" To this he replied: "On the Book of Allah, the Qur'an." The Prophet said: "What if nothing specific is found in the Book of Allah?" He replied: "On the basis of the judgements of the Prophet of Allah, for I have observed your judgements in different matters and I have committed them to memory. If there presents a matter which is similar to one in which you have given judgement, I shall make use of it and give judgement accordingly". The Prophet again asked: "What course will you adopt when a problem crops up about which there is nothing specific in the Book of Allah or in my judgements?" He replied: "In such cases I shall resort to ijtihad and give a decision on the basis of the Holy Qur'an and your traditions with equity and justice". The Prophet then said: "Thanked be Allah that He has enabled His Prophet to choose for the administration of justice a person whose actions are commensurate with His Will". (Tabaqat Ibn Sa'ad, vol 2, p 347)

From the above example, it is to be noted that where a clear legal law has been given in the Qur'an or by the Prophet pbuh , then no-one has the right to give his ijtihad on it:

And whatever the Messenger gives you accept it, and whatever he forbids you, abstain (from) (59:7)

The same applies to matters of the Fundamental Principles of Religion (Usul Al-Deen), for they are matters in belief and you must research these yourself, rather than blindly follow someone in them. This has been highlighted in several verses, among which are:

And when it is said to them, come to what Allah has revealed and to the Messenger, they say: That on which we found our fathers is sufficient for us. What! Even though their fathers knew nothing and did not follow the right way (5:104)

When he said to his father and his people: What are these images, to which you are devoted? They said: We found our fathers worshipping them. He said: Indeed you and your fathers have been in manifest error (21:52-54)

The Imams further encouraged the role of the fuqaha and the mujtahids, even during their Imamate:

Narrates Al-Askari, from his grandfather Al-Sadiq, peace be upon them both: "if there is anyone among the fuqaha who is in control over his own self, protects his religion, suppresses his evil desires and is obedient to the commands of his Master, then the people should follow him" (Al-Ihtijaj, Al-Tabrasi, vol 2, p 263)

Concerning the four great fuqaha: Abul Hasan Zurarah Ibn A'yan, Abu Ja'far Muhammad Ibn Muslim, Abu Basir Layth Ibn Al-Bakhtari and Abul Qasim Barid Ibn Mu'awiyah, who were among his students, Imam Al-Sadiq (S) said: "they are the trustees of Allah for the administration of the permissible and forbidden in religion" (The Development of Shi'i Islamic Jurisprudence on Death and Dying from the Fourth/Tenth to the Eighth/Fourteenth Centuries, Hasnain Kassamali)

When Umar Ibn Hanzalah asked Al-Sadiq (S) who the Shia should refer to when they dispute, He replied: "They must seek out one of you who narrates our traditions, who is versed in what is permissible and what is forbidden, who is well-acquainted with our laws and ordinances, and accept him as judge and arbiter, for I appoint him as judge over you. If the ruling which he based on our laws is rejected, this rejection will be tantamount to ignoring the order of Allah and rejecting us is the same as rejecting Allah, and this is the same as polytheism" (Furu' Al-Kafi, Al-Kulayni, vol 7, p 412)

Imam Al-Ridha (S) approved Zakariyyah Ibn Adem Al-Qummi and Yunus Ibn Abd Al-Rahman, as judges for the people in their regions. (Al-'Amili, Wasail Al-Shia, vol 18, pp 106 – 107)

The eleventh Imam (S) said: "It is obligatory for the populace to follow the jurist who refrains from committing wrong, mentions his faith, opposes carnal desire and obeys Allah's command" (Al-'Amili, Wasail Al-Shia, vol 18, pp 94 – 95)

As for following the fuqaha during the occultation of the 12th Imam (AF), there are many hadiths pertaining to these instructions, among which are:

The tenth Imam, Ali Al-Hadi (S) said: "After the occultation of your Qa'im a group of the 'ulemah will call upon people to believe in al-Qa'im's imamah and defend his religion by using proofs sent by Allah, so that they might save the weak minded faithful from either the deceptions of Shaitan or the deceptions of those opposed to Ali" (Al-Ihtijaj, Al-Tabrasi, vol 2, p 260)

In reply to a question Ishaq Ibn Yaq'ub had sent to the Imam (AF) via the second deputy: "As far as newly occurring circumstances are concerned, you should turn (for guidance) to the narrators of our hadiths, for they are my proof over you just as I am Allah's proof over them" (Al-Ihtijaj, Al-Tabrasi, vol 2, p 260, Al-'Amili, Wasail Al-Shia, vol 18, p 101, Bihar Al-Anwar, Al-Majlisi vol 53, p 181)

So, we have learned three things: The knowledgeable fuqaha are to be followed, they can give Ijtihad in relevant matters and taqleed is necessary in the time of occultation. The evidence has shown that Ijtihad is an established practice and the erudite and pious fuqaha are to be followed whenever and wherever they maybe. Below are some of the qualities a Mujtahid must have in order for him to become a Marja' and for people to follow him:

A Male (women can become mujtahids, but not maraji')

Shia Imami

Adult (baligh)


Of legitimate birth


Also, one cannot follow a Mujtahid who died before the person initially observed his taqleed. However, most of the fuqaha agree that if you follow a Marji' and he dies, you can still follow his rulings, but new issues must be referred to a living Marja'. Also, the majority of the fuqaha believe that the most knowledgeable of the mujtahids must be followed. One can also choose to not do direct taqleed but instead act on Ihtiyat (precaution). Basically, he has to view all the mujtahids rulings on a matter and act on the most precautious of them. For more information on the rulings of taqleed, refer to the relevant book of rulings for each marja'.

Taqleed is no different then other natural processes whereby you refer to the experts. Take the example of going to a doctor for a medical reason. You will go to him because you are the patient (muqallid) and you do not have the necessary information and ability to treat yourself (non-mujtahid) so you seek the doctor's advice (taqleed) because he is the expert (mujtahid). However, when there are differences between the doctors, you will seek the most knowledgeable or seek a second opinion. This is a good thing, because differences may mean easier or cheaper or simpler treatments. So, you wouldn’t risk your health by not referring to a doctor, so why would you risk your deeds and your religion by not referring to a mujtahid?

It is by the Grace of Allah that today we have many maraji' in different countries who have published their rulings in many languages and which are available through a variety of means. We also have scholars available to us who can answer our questions and guide us to the right rulings and learned brothers and sisters who can refer us to these resources. Make use of these for there is no excuse for ignorance, especially in religion.

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In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Praise to the Lord of the Worlds and peace and blessings be upon the Seal of the Prophets and the Master of the Messengers, Abi Al-Qasem Muhammad (SAWS) and upon his Holy Purified Ahlulbayt (as).

Building on our previous discourse on ijtihad and taqleed, we now move on to a few of the finer details of taqleed. Having consulted the rulings of the contemporary maraji' on taqleed, you will see that, in most cases, following the most knowledgeable marja' is an obligation. The question is 'Is this an absolutely necessity for taqleed?' It is prudent to say that this issue is one of dispute among the scholars and the debates over it are still ongoing.

Firstly, we see that this issue is not discussed nor does it have any mention in the works of the first generation of fuqaha such as Shaykh Tusi, Shaykh Mufeed and Sayyid Al-Murtadha and their like. This issue only begins to be discussed by the later generation of fuqaha such as Allamah Hilli and Muhaqiq Hilli, Allah's mercy be on them all. It is fair to say however that most of the fuqaha who have studied this issue have concluded that following the most knowledgeable is obligatory.

Of those who say that following the most knowledgeable is obligatory, even among them there exist disputes. Three distinct groups have been marked out in this category, the first of which say that following the most knowledgeable is obligatory in the absolute, meaning in all matters requiring taqleed. This means, apart from the most knowledgeable mujtahid, you cannot refer to another mujtahid in any issue at all. Sayyid Yazdi is among this group.

The second group say it is necessary to follow the most knowledgeable with the knowledge that there exists an apparent difference in the rulings between the mujtahids (known as 'ilm ijmali bil mukhalafa). This means you know that there exists a difference in the rulings between the mujtahids, but you are not certain which rulings they are. This group say that if you do not have any information of there being differences in the rulings between the fuqaha, then you may follow any one of them. However, if you come to know that there are differences in the rulings between the mujtahids regardless of knowing exactly which ones, then you must follow the most knowledgeable one and it is not permissible to follow one apart from him. Sayyid Khoei and Sayyid Seestani are among this group.

The third group say that if you know which rulings differ exactly (known as 'ilm tashkhisi bil mukhalafa), then you must follow the most knowledgeable. An example: one person knows that in the issue of those whose work involves travelling, Sayyid Khomeini rules that the prayer must be prayed in full and Sayyid Khoei rules that it must be prayed shortened. Here the most knowledgeable must be identified and followed, you cannot choose which one to follow. In this instance, you came to know the rulings in which there were differences. But if you only knew the opinion of Sayyid Khoei in this matter and did not know that of Sayyid Khomeini, then you can follow Sayyid Khoei's ruling even though you may regard Sayyid Khomeini as the most knowledgeable. In this way, most will people will not be obligated to follow the most knowledgeable, since most are not aware of the opinions of more than one marja' on a particular issue. Among this group are Sayyid Khomeini and Sayyid Khamenei.

Now, what should the common person (non-mujtahid) do seeing such a difference? Is there an obligation to follow the most knowledgeable? Clearly following the most knowledgeable is valid in all cases, whereas following one whom is not the most knowledgeable is doubtful, since there are some who do not allow it. The rule of doubt says that one must attain certainty rather than attain doubt. In this case we must be certain that following one apart from the most knowledgeable is valid in the absolute, which we cannot be, i.e. we cannot attain the 'hujjiyah'. So, one must refer to the most knowledgeable and if he permits following one apart from the most knowledgeable, only then will it be permissible to do so.

Why is this issue so important? Well, if you come across two rulings that conflict, it is obvious that following the most knowledgeable in the matter is the priority, since you cannot follow a knowledgeable over the most knowledgeable. It is appreciated however that identifying the most knowledgeable mujtahid is a hard task, but the guidelines set out in the rulings should suffice.

Another issue to be addressed is that of following the dead mujtahid. This issue is not mentioned in the books of Shaykh Tusi, Shaykh Saduq and Shaykh Mufeed. It is only from the time of Allamah Hilli and onwards that it was discussed. Again, there are different opinions on this matter, and we shall present them all. The first is following the dead mujtahid is permissible in the absolute (in all rulings). Al-Muhaqiq Al-Qummi and the Akhbari and Sunni scholars are among this group. The second is that following the dead mujtahid is impermissible, either as a new muqallid or as a previous muqallid. Among this group is Sayyid Shahroudi. The third is permissibility of following a dead mujtahid as a previous muqallid but impermissibility as a new muqallid. This is what the majority of the contemporary fuqaha say. The fourth is impermissibility of following the dead mujtahid in the presence of a living one. Among this group are Allamah Hilli and Muqaddis Ardabili. But if there wasn't a living mujtahid, it would still be necessary to do taqleed by any means and so following the dead mujtahid would be permissible. The fifth is permissibility of following the dead mujtahid as a new muqallid on the condition that the faqih gives a fatwa in line with all the riwayat. This means that the mujtahid issues rulings in accordance with all the hadiths and does not differ at all with any of the sayings of the Imam (as). Among this group is Al-Fadhil Al-Tuli. Practically, this is almost impossible for the common person to follow, since they must know all the hadiths of the Imams (as).

Having understood this information, two issues come to mind. The first is 'Why do the Akhbaris allow following a dead mujtahid in all issues?' This has to do with their understanding of taqleed, since they consider following the fuqaha as a consequence of them being narrators of hadith and not as them being the experts. The problem with this is when a narration is not found on a matter, you would have to build on prohibition. An example would be Tea, since its drinking is not found among hadiths, the Akhbaris would abstain from it and declare it impermissible out of precaution. This is the flaw with the Akhbari school, its following the fuqaha as them being narrators of hadith rather than mujtahids means practically anyone who knows of a few hadiths and narrates them with an isnad to people becomes a faqih who can be followed, and this is something unacceptable to all schools.

Returning to the issue of following the dead mujtahid, what should the common person do? The same rule as previous applies, you must follow the most knowledgeable living mujtahid since it is permissible in all cases and following the dead mujtahid is doubtful, because some mujtahids do not allow it. If the living mujtahid allows following the dead mujtahid, only then will it have attained 'hujjiyah'. Thus, you must refer to the most knowledgeable living mujtahid in all cases.

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