Taqlid: Following a Mujtahid

on Friday, August 23, 2013

Imam Ghazali has defined Taqlid as the acceptance of saying of another person without proof. In technical terms, Taqlid means acceptance of the rulings on issues by a particular Mujtahid. A Mujtahid or a jurist is one who has sufficient knowledge of the Qur’an and the Sunnah; who is just, sane, of legitimate birth; and who can decide issues that might arise in the Muslim community by his own judgment, using analogical reasoning as a key tool provided that his judgment neither goes beyond the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah nor contradicts them.

Another problem arises here which must be addressed; Taqlid cannot be practiced with regards to the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah itself. In Shariah terms, these two are Hujjah (arguments, proof). One therefore does not accept them without proof; they are the proof in their own nature. Hence one can only be a muqallid (one who practices Taqlid) of jurists in matters the direct context of which is away from both the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

The term Taqlid, according to the encyclopedia of Islam by Gordon Newby, is defined in the following words: “Often interpreted polemically as “blind” adherence to the precedents of a master or school (madhhab), it means the unchallenging acceptance of past patterns of behavior.”

In Islamic law, as opposed to the western system of democracy, it is not every Tom, Dick and Harry who gets to decide the course of the ‘Ummah. The reason is apparent: most of the people are not well versed in Arabic literature and Islamic jurisprudence, and cannot distinguish between what they support and what favors the larger national interest. The whole concept of defining the law and deciding according to it thus falls back to the Mujtahid, who is not chosen arbitrarily, but according to a fixed criterion. Some requirements to be met before choosing a Mujtahid are:

He must be a Muslim

He must have sufficient knowledge of Arabic language and literature

He must know the rules of Islamic jurisprudence

He must be aware of the situations on which an ‘Ijma (consensus) among scholars has been reached.

As far as Taqlid is concerned, the Holy Qur’an says:

‘O’ You who believe! Follow Allah and follow the Messenger and those of authority amongst you.’ (4; 59)

Most of the exegetes have declared “those of authority amongst you” refers to religious scholars as well as political leaders whose decisions remain within the confines of Islam.

Another verse reads: ‘So ask the people of remembrance, if you do not know.’ (16; 43)

This means that there always will be a section of the community which will not know. They must then, ask the people who are well versed in religious laws and can solve their predicament.

Taqlid is thus not an individual issue: it is an issue which concerns the entire Muslim community. Muslims are required to know the basic Masa’il (lit. problems in everyday observance of Islam) which they might face. For instance, parents are required in Islam to teach their children the method of praying at the age of seven. The method also includes a concise exposition of the Masa’il, like whether it’s Mukruh (lit. disliked) to stare elsewhere in the state of standing upright other than the floor, or not. Once however, a Muslim enters practical life, he is required to follow the rulings of a particular Mujtahid only after he has affirmed that the latter fulfils the criteria for a jurist, and is not a sham with surface knowledge of jurisprudence.

Once a Muslim testifies his adherence to a particular school, or a Mujtahid, it is generally not permissible for him to follow another jurist whose knowledge of Deen (lit. religion and its practical applications) is lesser. If the follower of a particular jurist receives a fatwa (lit. a definitive legal pronouncement given in response to a question about an Islamic legal practice) concerning a particular issue e.g. whether it is permissible to use a hair brush made up of boar’s bristles or not, then he cannot follow the fatwa of any other jurist concerning the same issue. If however, the jurist he follows does not issue a fatwa, but only precautions him against using such a hairbrush, he can follow a more definite opinion or fatwa by any other jurist.

The teachings of a Mujtahid remain alive even after his death. In some cases however, the living Mujtahid turns out to be more learned. In such a case, it is well nigh incumbent to turn to the teachings of the living Mujtahid. In such a case, a person cannot follow the fatwas of the dead Mujtahid. He must follow only the fatwa of the living Mujtahid.

Ijtihad, as it is, cannot contradict the Qur’an and Hadith. It is reported that the founders of the legal schools of thought like Imam Sha’fi and Imam Hanbal ordered that their fatwa on any issue be waived aside in favor of any contradictory statement that may appear in a Sahih Hadith. Thus, statements of Imam Sha’fi concerning the distribution of one-fifth of Khums to those near of kin to the Holy Prophet have been waived aside by Prof. Shibli Num’ani in favor of caliph ‘Umar’s practice, which he proves to be in conformity to the teachings of the Holy Prophet (Al-Faruq, The Life of ‘Umar The Great, English edition, pp. 432-436)

Another idea, that of Talfiq i.e. mixing the rulings of various Mujtahids has been disregarded by scholars such as Imam Jalaluddin Suyuti and has no practical import.

It is essential that a Muslim follows the teachings of a Mujtahid in matters which concern his life. If he does not do so, he should follow precaution e.g. if two scholars differ on whether an act is haram (disallowed) or not, he should not perform it. Furthermore, if a person follows a Mujtahid late in life, then his previous actions will be considered valid only if his Mujtahid approves of them; otherwise they will be void.

Imam Ghazali said that it was necessary for the Muslim to follow a recognized madhhab (any of the four schools of thought namely Hanafi, Hanbali, Sha’fi, Maliki) in order to avert the lethal danger of misinterpreting the revealed sources (whilst being respectful of the other schools).

Abdul Hakim Murad in his book asserts the importance of Taqlid by making the assumption: ‘If someone’s child is ill, does he consult a doctor or try finding a cure in the medical books himself? The same is the case with religion. We would look pretty fools trying to be our own muftis, simply after reading a few books and making a few assumptions. In this case, like the former, we must leave it to the doctors of religion to solve our problems for us.’

Thus, Taqlid in religious matters is essential for every Muslim. Taqlid not only reduces the chances of being misguided, but also greatly reduces the number of sects. The basic source of all legal knowledge is the Qur’an, which is unchanging. It only takes a moment of realization to recognize that all madhhabs are essentially subservient to the Qur’an, and none is contradictory to it. That alone, calls for collective social and political unity, which will help us achieve our ultimate goal: success in this world and in the hereafter.

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