Responses To Doubts Raised Against Taqleed


The Following of Forefathers is Condemned in the Qur’an

The Qur’an has categorically condemned the following of ancestors and forefathers: “And when it is said to them: “Follow that which Allah has revealed”, they reply: “No, rather we will follow what we have found our fathers upon.” (This they say) Even though their fathers do not understand, nor are they guided.” (Surah Al-Baqarah : 170)

This verse outlines of the basic understanding of the religion. The polytheists did not accept the principle values of Tauheed (the Oneness of Allah): Prophethood and the concept of the Hereafter, and used the argument that their forefathers did not believe in these values. The concept of Taqleed does not entail following Imams or Mujtahids in such fundamental issues and truths as beliefs because these are not subject to Ijtihad. That is why this is made categorically clear in all classical literature. For example. Shaykh Amir Badshah Bukhari wrote in his commentary on Tahreerul Usool:

“The chapter on the areas where asking for a Fatwa is valid are issues and rules which are non-conclusive and which are not related to beliefs. This is because certitude is required for issues relating to aqeeda [beliefs] according to the sound opinion. Taqleed will be disallowed in such issues and it is necessary to acquire such truths through correct understanding.”[Taiseerul Tahreer, by Amir Badshah Al Hanafi : vol. 4, page 243]

The Taqleed, which is condemned in the above-cited verse, has also been categorically denied by the Imams. Shaykh Khatib Al Baghdadi has used the very same to prove this point in his book Usool Aqaid [Al-Faqih wal Mutafaqqih by Khatib vol. 2, page 66]. Allah has given two reasons why the Taqleed of forefathers is condemned. Rejecting the revealed words and commandments of God and announcing to follow their fathers regardless of the truth of the message. The second is that their forefathers were bereft of understanding and guidance. The Taqleed under discussion does not fall into these two forms of misguidance. None who expounds the doctrine of Taqleed shuns Allah and His Messenger and then follows an Imam in their place. In fact, they deem their Imam to be an interpreter of the Quran and Sunnah.

Likewise, none – not even those who denounce Taqleed – can claim or say that the Imams under question were devoid of basic understanding. All testify to the scholarship of these Imams. Thus, equating the Taqleed of these Imams with the Taqleed of non-believers is not only incorrect but also unjust.

The Condemnation of Taqleed of Savants and Sages

“They (the People of the Book) adapted their savants (priests) and hermits (sages) as lords as equals besides Allah.” (Surah Al-Taubah: 31)

Taqleed of a scholar or Mujtahid is not equated as accepting his opinion as law or legislation. No Imam is regarded as lawmaker. They are merely regarded as interpreters of the law. To confer the status of an independent lawmaker upon an Imam who has to be followed irrespective of his interpretation is of course tantamount to shirk. Opinions are followed upon the basis of being interpretations of the law.

Ibn Taymiyah writes: “It is incumbent upon people to follow Allah and His Messenger. These “People of Authority” the following of whom has been decreed by Allah, are to be followed subject to their following Allah and His Messenger and not as independent sources of guidance”[Fatawa of Ibn Taymiyah: vol.2 page 461]

Shaykh Ibn Taymiyah has differentiated between following an independent source of guidance and following someone subject to and constrained upon divine guidance. On another occasion. Ibn Taymiyah states:

“…So following Allah and His Messenger deeming Halal what Allah and His Messenger have made halal and deeming haram what Allah and His Messenger have made haram and enforcing whatever Allah and His Messenger have made mandatory is incumbent on both humans and jinns, in private and public. Certain rules and laws are not easily recognised or understood except by the scholar, for this reason recourse to the knowledgeable in rules and laws established by Allah and His Messenger is recommended. Imams of the Muslim nation are in fact means and avenues and proofs (serving as bridges) between the Muslim community and the Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa sallam . They convey his statements and they explain it’s meaning – according to their Ijtihad and capabilities. It is possible that Allah has given a certain scholar superior knowledge and understanding than another.”[Ibid : page 239]

Advocates of Taqleed claim nothing more than this. In summary Taqleed advocates:

There is no Taqleed in the fundamental beliefs of Islam.

There is no Taqleed in issues, which are obvious, and which have been transmitted to the degree that that they have become almost undoubted.

There is no Taqleed in those issues of the Quran and Sunnah which are conclusive and are not contradictory.

Taqleed is made in those issues where there are different and perhaps contradictory statements on the same issue in the Qur’an and Sunnah and where instead of relying on one’s own judgement, the opinion of an expert scholar is trusted and adhered to. The Mujtahid is not infallible and therefore his opinions are subject to correction. If an expert scholar finds a sound Hadith to which there are no contradictions, then he must forsake the opinion of his Imam and follow the Hadith. So if this method is tantamount to Shirk, then what act on earth is protected from this sort of Shirk?

In reality, even opponents of Taqleed engage in a form of following, after all even they were not born Mujtahids. Many opponents are not scholars in any sense of the word and even those who are scholars do not have the academic command over every issue. Antagonists of Taqleed – who are non-scholars – will follow the answers offered by scholars. Hence, there are several compilations of Fatwas where no immediate commitment is made to present proofs, and even where there exists some dialogue on proofs, how can a lay person determine right from wrong? Thus even the opponents of Taqleed end up being Muqallids (followers). As for those who are scholars, they remain under the obligation to examine all the resources on the Qur’an and Sunnah before reaching a decision in an issue. In reality, however, not even scholars examine each issue a new rather they too are obliged to resort to the books of fiqh of the early scholars. The only difference is that instead of reading hooks from the Hanbali, Shaf’iee schools of thought they prefer to refer to Ibn Taymiyah, Ibn Qayyim, Ibn Hazm and Qadi Shaukani.

Thus, they consider the opinions of these scholars as being sound and just, and consequently follow them. If antagonists of Taqleed do have the opportunity to research and comb through all of their resources on the Qur’an and Sunnah on an issue, they are
left with no alternative except to follow. This is because as they try to establish the authenticity of a certain Hadith they have to rely upon the opinions of the scholars who screened the narrators of Hadith (Jarh wa Ta’deel). No alternative exists except to
determine whether one narrator was weak as opposed to another except by what the Ulama declared earlier. In other words, deciding that a particular Hadith is weak one has to resort to Ulama of ‘Jarh wa Ta’deel ‘ who deemed the narrators of the Hadith weak.

This is Taqleed with regards to the opinion of that particular scholar on Hadith. The books, which screen the narrators of Hadith, do not offer reasons for their judgments: they merely state individuals who had weak memories [or other flaws] and others who had good memories. Furthermore, where there are two Hadith which are quite sound as far as the chain of narrators go, upon what basis is preference given to one over the other. The only basis, which usually governs the acceptance of one Hadith over another, is the opinion of a certain scholar, who has deemed the less preferred Hadith as suspect to another interpretation. Relying upon the expert opinion of a scholar to make their own judgments regarding Ahadith, ironically, is allowed in this circumstance. The truth is that following the opinion of experts is part and parcel of every day life. If we were to condemn this very normal and mundane activity, life would be become impossible.

The Hadith of ‘Adi Ibn Hatim RA

The following Hadith reported from ‘Adi Ibn Hatim is also used to refute the arguments for Taqleed. ‘Adi Ibn Hatim RA said that he came to the Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa sallam wearing a gold cross around his neck. The Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa sallam said:

” O ‘Adi ! Throw away this idol from yourself.” Then the Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa sallam recited the verse: “They took their savants and sages as Lords besides Allah.” He said: “It was not that they worshipped these people, but rather whatever they made permissible for them, they believed it to be permissible and whatever they forbade, they believed to be unlawful. ” (Tirmidhi)

As emphasised previously, this Hadith has no relation to the issue of following an Imam. The differences are exactly as highlighted previously. The People of the Book regarded their priests and monks as lawmakers. They hold the pope as a legislator and
claim him to be infallible. This is confirmed by the Encyclopedia Britannica:

“Thus, since the Pope holds the highest authority in beliefs and doctrines, his authority is supreme and he himself is infallible. This status [of infallibility] is held by the archdioceses collectively. The pope has the same power to legislate and to judge, as do
the collective archdioceses. Thus, the pope reserves the right to legislate” [Encyclopedia Britannica: vol. 8, pages 222/3 (printed 1950)]

Those who follow the Imams and Mujtahids have never associated this kind of authority, legislative power and infallibility to their scholars. Thus, there is absolutely no comparison between the authority priests wielded over their parishioners and that which Muslim scholars wield in disputed issues of Islamic law.

The Statement of Abdullah ibn Mas’ood RA

The following statement of Abdullah ibn Mas’ood RA is utilised as an objection against Taqleed:

“No one should follow the religion of another such that if he believes, he believes and if he disbelieves, he disbelieves.”

The question is who actually condones this sort of Taqleed? The text condemns Taqleed in beliefs and articles of faith. No scholar supports Taqleed in beliefs and articles of faith, as elucidated earlier. As far as following the predecessors in legal issues.
Abdullah ibn Mas’ood RA has said:

“Whoever wishes to follow should follow the footsteps of those who have passed away. This is because living people are not immune from corruption [and change for the worse]. They [those who are worthy of following] are the Companions of the Prophet
sallalahu alaihi wa sallam . They were the best of this community…So acknowledge their merit: follow their footsteps and hold fast – as much as possible – to their guidance and character for they were upon guidance.” [Mishkatul Masabeeh: page 32]

The Statements of Mujtahid Imams themselves

Contentions that the Imams themselves have prohibited the following of their opinions until they have discovered the proofs and that if their opinions conflict with any Hadith, they should smite their opinions against the wall and practice the Hadith, are of course true. However to do justice to such statements, one would have to conclude that they are not addressed to people who do not possess the faculty of Ijtihad. Rather, they were appealing to those scholars who were capable of Ijtihad. Shah Waliyyullah of Delhi has summarised such statements thus:

“These statements can be assessed against those who have some ability to exercise Ijtihad – albeit in one single issue; or against those who have conclusively determined that the Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa sallam ordered this and prohibited that [and the issue is not abrogated]. This may be achieved by researching the corpus of the Hadith, the statements of those scholars who opposed and supported [the view in question] or this may be acquired by realising that many expert scholars have opposed the view in question which in itself can only be supported by analogy or deduction. If such is the case, then there is no reason to go against the Hadith of the Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa sallam .” [Hujjatul Baligah: vol. 1, page 155]

This meaning is clear. The Mujtahid Imams did not claim that Taqleed was not valid. Their own lives were filled with incidents and occasions where lay people came to them with hundreds of questions to which they answered without volunteering any proofs. Taqleed’s permissibility was never questioned during the era of the Mujtahids. If such a practice were held to be invalid the Imams would never have allowed themselves to become its tools. Several statements from the Imams categorically state Taqleed to be necessary for the non-Mujtahid. The following are a few examples:

“When the Mufti is such that he is a Mujtahid, then the lay person must follow him, even if the Mufti has erred in his judgement. This is how Hasan has narrated from Imam Abu Hanifa; Ibn Rustum from Muhammed and Bashir ibn Waleed from Abu Yusuf.”[Kifayah: the commentary of Hidayah in the chapter fasting]

Imam Abu Yusuf continues:

“The lay person must follow the jurists since he is not capable of understanding the Hadith independently”. [Abu Yusuf cited previously from Hidayah: vol. 1, page 226]

Ibn Taymiyah reported that Imam Ahmed Ibn Hanbal used to:

“Instruct the lay person to ask Ishaaq, Abu Obaid, Abu Thaur and Abu Mus’ab. However, he used to prohibit his own Companions like Abu Dawood. Uthman ibn Sa’eed, Ibrahim al-Harbi, Abu Bakr al-Athrum, Abu Zar’ah, Abu Hatim and Muslim (among others) to follow anyone. He would say to them: “You must follow the sources of the Qur’an and Sunnah.”[Fatawa ibn Taymiyah: vol. 2, page 240]

This statement by Ibn Taymiyah makes it very clear that Taqleed was unsuitable only for those scholars/students who themselves were jurists and had the potential to become like their teachers in making decisions directly from the Qur’an and Sunnah. As
for those who did not possess the requisite qualifications, they are strongly implored to follow a Mujtahid and practice Taqleed. In fact, Taqleed for the non-scholar was so overwhelmingly accepted amongst the scholars that only the Mu’tazilah disagreed with the idea. Shaykh Saifuddin Aamodi wrote:

“The lay person and the scholar who does not possess the ability to exercise Ijtihad – although they may possess some reliable skills in certain issues – must follow the opinion of a Mujtahid according to experts in principles and foundations (Usool). Some
Mu’tazilah of Baghdad have differed on this issue and have prohibited Taqleed even for these people.” [Ihkaamul Ahkaam, by Aamodi: vol. 4, page 197 also in Mustasfa of Al-Ghazali: vol. 2, page 124]

Shaykh Khatib of Baghdad wrote:

“It has been narrated from certain Mu’tazilah that it is not permissible for a lay person to follow the opinion of a scholar until he knows the reasoning behind his opinion. This is wrong because the lay person has no recourse to understanding the reasoning until he has studied for several years; has actually participated in the discussions with jurists and other scholars; has developed an understanding for analogy and realised what is correct and what is not. For a lay person to go through all this is subjecting him to carry a burden which is beyond his capabilities and that is not incumbent upon him.”[Al-Faqith wal Mutafaqqih, by Khatib: vol 2, page 69]

There has been a difference of opinion – among the Mujtahids – as to whether a person who is capable of Ijtihad can follow another’s opinion. Khatib of Baghdad has narrated Abu Sufyan as saying that indeed he may do so and Imam Muhammed as saying that he may follow the opinion of someone who is more knowledgeable than he. [Ibid] Shaykh Ibn Taymiyah has also narrated this opinion from Imam Muhammed. Imam Shaf’iee and Imam Ahmed both say that this not allowed at all. [Fatawa Ibn Taymiyah: vol. 2, page 24.] Maulana Abdul Hai of Lucknow has recorded (while introducing Shamsul Aimah Halawani) Imam Imam Abu Hanifa’s opinion:

“It has been narrated from Imam Abu Hanifa that it is permissible for a Mujtahid to follow someone who is more knowledgeable than himself.” [Al-Ta’leeqaat Siniyaah, page 96]

The details of this debate can be found in the books of Islamic principles of jurisprudence such as al-Mustasfa of Al-Ghazali and Fawatihur Rahamut. In brief, other than a handful of Mu’tazilah scholars, no one has disagreed that a lay person should practice Taqleed.

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