Islamic Practical Laws: Taqleed

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What is Taqleed?
Taqleed means to comply with or subscribe to the edicts of a jurist regarding practical affairs of religion. These practical affairs are collectively referred to as ‘Furu-e-Deen’ or fundamentals of religion.

Necessity of Taqleed in Islamic practical laws
Taqleed becomes necessary largely due to the average Muslim’s inability to comprehend and derive Islamic laws all by himself. Given man’s hectic lifestyle, it would take a better part of his lifetime to study the Quran and traditions in order to formulate these laws and statutes. Taqleed, therefore, affords the Muslim a more viable and logical option. However, one thing that must be borne in mind is that this compliance with (the jurist) is for practical tenets (Furu-e-Deen) only and not for one’s beliefs.

Taqleed maybe broadly classified under four heads viz.:
(i) The unlearned following another unlearned.
(ii) The learned following the unlearned.
(iii) The learned following another learned.
(iv) The unlearned following a learned.

The latter, i.e. the unlearned conforming with the learned alone appeals to man’s rationale. Taqleed, as is observed from our lives, is not restricted to Islamic practical laws alone. We visit doctors and comply with their advice and prescriptions. We consult lawyers and conform to their recommendations and strategies. It is inherent in man’s nature to resort to experts in fields wherein he lacks expertise. And practical matters of the faith are no different. We therefore comply with an expert in the field of practical religious affairs too. This expert, or to be more precise, jurist, directs us in religious fundamentals by issuing edicts and decrees. He is referred to as a ‘Mujtahid’ and his edicts and decrees are collectively called as ‘Ahkaam’.

A Muslim is therefore faced with two options. He could either endeavour to become a jurisprudent (Mujtahid) or alternatively, he could subscribe to a Mujtahid’s verdicts. A person who undertakes to be a Mujtahid must however, excel in certain branches of knowledge before he finally goes on to become a Mujtahid. The aspirant for this position should have considerable command over Arabic grammar and literature, theology, logic, exegesis, the knowledge of narrators, traditions, etc.. Most of us (at some time or the other) have chanced upon the book compiled by a Mujtahid. This book commonly referred to as ‘Tauzeehul Masail’, is a compilation of the Mujtahid’s verdicts and decrees. These verdicts are termed as ‘Fatwa’. The ‘Tauzihul Masail’ is a comprehensive compendium that guises years of painstaking research and toil. Clearly then, becoming a Mujtahid is a no mean achievement.

As mentioned earlier, Taqleed, is not permitted in the principles of religion, i.e. Divine Unity and Justice, Prophethood, Imamate and the Resurrection. These five tenets of Islam are collectively known as ÅÍe ¾ÌuA. or the principles of religion. These shall be explained in detail under the title, ‘Roots of Religion.’ A Muslim is expected to subscribe to these beliefs not by referring to a Mujtahid, but by applying his faculties of reasoning and intellect. Through his rationale and deduction alone he should testify to the belief in one God, His Prophets, the Imams (a.s.) and the Day of Judgement.

We shall now learn about different aspects of the Mujtahid in a little more detail viz. his fatwas, the criteria and conditions necessary for the Mujtahid, his fields of study, etc. This will provide the reader with some invaluable insight as to who is a Mujtahid.

Who is a Mujtahid?
Regarding the term ‘Mujtahid’, it finds its origin in the word ‘Ijtahada’ which means to strive, to endeavour or to struggle. A Mujtahid is one who endeavours in the way of Allah to derive laws and decrees regarding the religious fundamentals. He endures all kinds of hardships and difficulties so as to be able to pronounce the Fatwa (verdict) in the light of Quran, traditions of the infallibles (a.s.) and the principles of jurisprudence. History bears witness to the fact that our Imams (a.s.) have encouraged such individuals who aspire to become Mujtahid.

Criteria for a Mujtahid

  1. Unarguably, the most crucial criterion for a Mujtahid is knowledge. This knowledge must be comprehensive, ranging over different fields. A Mujtahid is expected to master the following sciences :
    • Arabic – so that he can comprehend the meaning of Quran and traditions of Holy Prophet (SAWS) and Holy Imams (a.s.) in order to infer and pronounce the fatwas.
    • Exegesis of Quran – so that he can perceive the commands of Allah.
    • To comprehend the traditions with respect to its context and condition which enables him to discern between bona fide and fabricated traditions.
    • He should be well versed with Logic and Theology as the principles of jurisprudence (Usool-e-Fiqh) are based on them.
    • He should know branches of Mathematics like algebra, geometry, etc. so that he is able to determine the truth in matters of inheritance, qiblah, zakat etc..
    • He should possess the knowledge of the judgments of previous jurists so that he is aware of all the precedents.
    • He must be able to reply all the reasonable queries of the people.

    In additions to above, there are some other prerequisites that a Mujtahid has to fulfill:

  2. He should be an adult (i.e. more than 15 years of age).
  3. He should be sane.
  4. He should be a male.
  5. He should not be illegitimate.
  6. He should be just (i.e. should refrain from sins, big and small in the open).
  7. He should be alive.
  8. He should be a Shia Ithna Ashari.

Apart from the above, he must possess certain other traits such as patience, piety, forbearance. etc.. However as mentioned above, the most important feature of an aspiring Mujtahid is knowledge. And as per the principles of jurisprudence as well as traditions, Taqleed should be done of the most knowledgeable (Aalam) of the Mujtahedeen. This gives us some insight about the importance Islam attaches to knowledge.

What is a Fatwa (religious verdict)?
When a Mujtahid, after much endeavor and struggle, finally comes to a conclusion on a predicament, he issues a decree termed as a ‘Fatwa’. This decree is necessarily based on the four basic parameters i.e. Quran, Traditions, (earlier) edicts of Mujtahideen and the intellect. The Fatwa will be deemed as authentic, only and only if it is in accordance with the above mentioned four basic criteria. Thus any Fatwa that is in contravention of the Quran, traditions, previous verdicts and the intellect will not pass muster and will be rejected. This derivation of religious verdicts is not as easy as it is made out to be by some people. It is the culmination of dedicated, painstaking research.

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