Is Taqlid reasonable in a Time of Widespread Education?

SHAFAQNA – It is not always reasonable to follow others and to hold uncritical faith in their opinions. We can distinguish four possible forms that imitation could take:

a) that of an ignorant person by an ignorant person,

b) that of a learned person by a more learned person,

c) that of an ignorant person by a learned person,

d) that of a learned person by a less learned person.

It is quite clear that the first three forms of imitation are unreasonable and can serve no purpose. However, the fourth kind is obviously not only reasonable, but also necessary and a matter of common sense; in our everyday life we follow and imitate others in many things; we like to feel that we are taking the advice of experts in matters outside our own knowledge.

Someone who wishes to build a house explains the basic idea of what he wants to his builder and then submits to his advice as to how he should go about the actual construction; the invalid follows the treatment advised by his doctor; a litigant consults a lawyer when drawing up his case for presentation in court.

The examples are abundant; in most cases the advice is taken voluntarily, but sometimes the citizen in a country may be required by law to seek expert advice and act upon it, before, for example, he is allowed to take some particularly dangerous drug.

The clearest example is obviously in case of a legal dispute between two parties, where they are required to take their grievances before a judge and abide by his decision if they cannot settle their dispute amicably.

The practice of taqlid is an example of the same kind: the person who is not an expert in jurisprudence is legally required to follow the instructions of the expert, i.e., the mujtahid. And in this case the requirement is an obligation which must be observed, for it is an essential part of the divine law.

It should be observed that taqlid pertains only to the realm of the shari’ah; there can be no taqlid in the matters of belief (usulu ‘d-din). A Muslim must hold his belief in the fundamentals of his religion after attaining conviction of their truth through examination and reflection. The Qur’an very clearly condemns those who follow others blindly in matters of belief:

And when it is said to them, “Come now to what Allah has sent down, and the Messenger,” they say, “Enough for us is what we found our fathers doing”. What, even if their fathers had knowledge of naught and were not rightly-guided? (5:104)

This strong condemnation of the idol-worshippers is repeated elsewhere:

And when it is said to them, “Follow what Allah has sent down,” they say, “No, but we will follow such things as we found our fathers doing.” (2:170 and 31:20)

This does not mean that one must necessarily hold belief contrary to those of one’s forefathers; what the Qur’an is saying is that one should not follow them blindly, i.e., without considering the validity of one’s reasons for holding them. The Islamic attitude towards fundamental belief is that one may consider the views and opinions of others, but that one should only accept that which is reasonable to believe:

So give thou (O Muhammad!) good tidings to My servants who give ear to the word and follow the fairest of it. Those are they whom Allah has guided; those are men possessed of minds. (39:17)

To summarize, it may be said that the only approach to Islam is by accepting its tenets in such a way as one is entirely convinced of their validity, and this can only come about if one examines them carefully and conscientiously.

Once one has come to accept these tenets it follows as a necessary consequence that one must adhere to the shari’ah, either by following a mujtahid in taqlid, or by undertaking the acquisition of learning and piety to such a degree that one becomes a mujtahid oneself.

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