Imitation (Taqleed)

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In the Name of Allah, the Beneficient, the Merciful

Imitation (Taqleed)

Every adherent of the faith cannot be expected to know every exhaustive detail about their religion, nor be able to draw correct inferences from the Word of God (the Holy Qur’an), and the traditions of the Infallibles; therefore, the divinely prescribed course to guide a Muslim on the right path, as well as to protect him from going astray by misgivings from the ill-informed or less-informed, is Imitation (Taqleed).

In the light of following traditions, we can evaluate the profound importance of imitation.

Hazrat Imam Hassan Askari (P.B.U.H.) said: “And as for those amongst the qualified jurists who guards himself, protects his faith, opposes his illegitimate personal desires, and obeys his Lord, then it is necessary for the people to follow him.”

The Imam of the age (P.B.U.H.) said: “And as for those things which will occur (in the future during the Major Occultation), revert towards the narrators of our traditions, as they hold our authority over you all, and we hold God’s authority over them.”

Therefore, according to the above mentioned traditions, it is obligatory for everyone who has not reached the stage to make decisions regarding every detailed point in the laws of Islam, the Qur’an and the traditions, to follow a qualified jurist who fulfils all the relevant conditions. Otherwise, all the acts of worships and all other acts in which Imitation is necessary would be void.

The detailed knowledge and understanding of divine laws, rules and regulations from the Qur’an and traditions, or from religious sources and evidence with proofs and reason is called Ijtihad, and imitating religious laws means acting in accordance with the verdicts of a qualified jurist.

Whoever has reached the stage of Ijtihad has to follow his own decisions; it is not permissible to him to follow anyone else. One who is not a qualified jurist himself, must follow a qualified jurist. Besides Ijtihad and Imitation, one can also act upon precaution (Ihtiyat), but it also almost as difficult as Ijtihad. So there remains the two ways, to be a qualified jurist or be an imitator (muqallid).

Rules Regarding Emulation

Rule No.1: It is necessary for every Muslim to believe in the fundamentals of faith with his own reason or proof and understanding, and one can never rely on other’s views in this matter, i.e. it is not permissible to accept the word of another without having some proof or reason. In matters of religious laws, apart from the ones clearly defined, or ones which are indisputable, a person has three options:

(1) Either be a qualified Mujtahid (jurist) himself, capable of inferring and deducing rules from the religious sources and evidence;

(2) Or if he is not a qualified jurist himself, he should follow one, i.e. he should act according to the verdicts of the qualified jurist without reasoning him;

(3) Or if he is neither a qualified jurist nor a follower, he should act on such precaution (Ihtiyat) which should assure him that he has fulfilled his religious obligation. For example, if some qualified jurists consider an act to be illegal, while other jurists say that it is not, he should not perform that act. Similarly, if some qualified jurists consider an act to be obligatory while other jurists consider it to be recommendable, he should perform it. Therefore, it is obligatory upon those persons who are neither qualified jurists, nor able to act on precaution, to follow a qualified jurist.

Rule No.2: Imitating in religious laws means acting according to the verdict of a qualified jurist. It is necessary for the qualified jurist who is followed to be male, Shi'ah Ithna 'Ashari, adult, sane, of legitimate birth, living and just ('adil). A person is said to be just when he performs all those acts which are obligatory upon him, and refrains from all those things which are forbidden to him. He has belief in God and the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) and he has fear of God in such a way that he is always ready to do good and stay away from evil. And the sign of being just is that one is apparently of a good conduct, so that if inquiries are made about him from the people of his locality, or from his neighbours, or from those persons with whom he lives, they would confirm his good conduct.

And if one knows that the verdicts of the qualified jurists differ with regard to the problems which we face in everyday life, it is necessary that the qualified jurist who is followed be the most learned, who is more capable of understanding the divine laws than any of the contemporary jurists.

Rule No.3: There are three ways of identifying a qualified jurist, and the most learned:

(1) One should be a learned person himself, and he should possess the capacity to identify a qualified jurist or the most learned one.

(2) When two persons, who are learned and just, and possess the capacity to identify a qualified jurist and the most learned one, confirm that a person is a qualified jurist and the most learned (provided that two other learned and just persons do not contradict them). In fact, being a qualified jurist or the most learned can also be established by a statement of only one trusted and reliable person.

(3) When a number of learned persons who possess the capacity to identify a qualified jurist and the most learned one certify that a particular person is a qualified jurist or the most learned one, provided that one is satisfied by their statement.

Rule No.4: If one generally knows that the verdicts of qualified jurists do vary and he is also unable to identify the most learned one, then it is necessary to act on precaution. And if it is not possible to act on precaution, then he should follow the qualified jurist he assumes or supposes to be the most learned. In fact, if he just feels that one is the most learned as compared to the other, he should follow him.

Rule No.5: There are four ways of obtaining the verdicts of a qualified jurist:

(1) When a man hears the verdicts from the qualified jurist himself.

(2) When the verdict of the qualified jurist is quoted by two just persons.

(3) When a man hears the verdict from a person whose statement satisfies him.

(4) By reading the qualified jurist's book of matters of religious laws, provided that one is satisfied about the correctness of the book.

Rule No.6: As long as a person is certain that the verdict of the qualified jurist has not changed, he can act according to what is written in the qualified jurist's book. However, if he suspects that the verdict might have been changed, investigation in that matter is not necessary.

Rule No.7: If the most learned qualified jurist gives a verdict on some matter, his follower cannot act in that matter on the verdict of another qualified jurist. But if he does not give a verdict and expresses a precaution (Ihtiyat) that a man should act in such and such a manner, then the follower may follow another qualified jurist. . For example, if he says that as a precautionary measure, in the first and second unit of the prayer he should read a complete chapter after the chapter of "Al-Hamd", the follower may either act on this precaution, which is called an obligatory precaution (Ihtiyat wajib), or he may act on the verdict of another qualified jurist who it is permissible to follow. Hence, if he (the second qualified jurist) rules that only "chapter Hamd" is enough, he (the person offering prayers) may drop the second chapter. The position will be the same if the most learned qualified jurist expresses terms like Ta'ammul (reflection/hesitation) or Ishkal (problematic).

Rule No.8: If the most learned qualified jurist observes precaution after or before having given a verdict (for example, if he says that if an impure vessel is washed once with Kurr water, it becomes pure, although as precautionary measure, it should be washed three times), his followers can abandon acting according to this precaution. This precaution is called a recommended precaution (Ihtiyat mustahab).

Rule No.9: After the death of a qualified jurist, his follower must imitate another living most learned qualified jurist, even if the living qualified jurist is not as learned or is less learned than the qualified jurist who has died, as it is not allowed to imitate or follow a dead qualified jurist.

Rule No.10: It is obligatory for a follower to learn the matters which are of daily importance.

Rule No.11: If a person faces a problem whose rule is not known to him, it is necessary for him to exercise precaution, or to follow a qualified jurist according to the conditions mentioned above. But if he has a general knowledge about the difference between the verdicts of the most learned jurist and lesser learned jurist and he cannot defer that matter nor act upon precaution, nor can he approach the most learned jurist, then in this situation he is allowed to follow any lesser learned jurist.

Rule No.12: If a person conveys the verdict of a qualified jurist to someone, and then that verdict is changed, it is not necessary for him to inform that person about the change. But if he realises after having related the verdict that he had made an error, he should do his best to rectify the error.

Rule No.13: If a person performs his acts for some time without imitating a qualified jurist, and later follows a qualified jurist, his former actions will be valid only if that qualified jurist declares them to be valid, and otherwise they will be treated as void.