Taqlid in the Qur’an and Ahadith

SHAFAQNA – The Qur’an instructs Muslims to seek guidance from people of learning in matters about which they lack knowledge:

“Question the people of remembrance if you do not know.” (21:7)

It is an obligation in Islamic law to study everything which is necessary for the spiritual and material development and well-being of an Islamic community, but it is an obligation which is known as wajib kifa’i.

In the present instance, for example, an Islamic society has need of experts in the medical sciences, in physics and chemistry, engineering, education, and so forth, and as long as there is a lack of knowledge in these areas it is an obligation on the community as a whole to acquire it, which means that a group of Muslims should devote themselves to research so as to benefit the Islamic people as a whole.

Similarly, an Islamic society without experts in the shari’ah cannot properly consider itself Islamic, so it is an obligation for a group of persons from this society to devote themselves to the study of the religious sciences, so as to provide divine guidance for all Muslims. This is the meaning contained in the verse of the Qur’an which states:

“But why should not a party from every section of them (the believers) go forth to become learned in the religion, and to warn their people when they return to them, that they may beware?” (9:122)

It is clear that the Imams used to be pleased if any of their companions taught religion or gave legal rulings (fatwa) to others. There are a number of documented cases of Shi’ahs who lived far from Medina asking the Imam of the time to appoint someone in their locality to adjudicate between them in religious problems. Zakariyyah ibn Adam al-Qummi and Yunus bin `Abdu r-Rahman, for example, were named by Imam `Ali ar-Rida’ to solve disputes in their own districts.

In a famous hadith, `Umar ibn Hanzalah asked Imam Ja`far as-Sadiq, peace be upon him, about the legality of two Shi’ahs seeking a verdict from an illegitimate ruler in a dispute over a debt or a legacy. The Imam’s answer was that it was absolutely forbidden to do so.

Then Ibn Hanzalah asked what the two should do, and the Imam 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.”

In another tradition from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq, this time narrated by Imam Hasan al-`Askari, peace be upon them, he says, “…but 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.”

A third hadith is from the Present Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, peace be upon him, who said in a reply to Ishaq ibn Ya’qub: “As far as newly occurring circumstances are concerned, you should turn (for guidance) to the narrators of our ahadith, for they are my proof over you just as I am Allah’s proof.”

We can understand two things from these verses of the Qur’an and the ahadith of the Imams:

1) there must always be a group of fuqaha’ in every Muslim society;

2) those who are not qualified as fuqaha’ or mujtahids, must follow one, and that to go against his instruction in religious matters is tantamount to polytheism., must follow one, and that to go against his instruction in religious matters is tantamount to polytheism.

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