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Taqlid & the falsification of Islamic History

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[21:7]Ask the people of Remembrance if you know not.


Shaykh (Mufti) Mohammed Sajaad (HA)

Taqlid means following the legal opinions of a scholar without gaining knowledge of the detailed evidences for those opinions. A person is compelled to do this as he is not able to encompass the evidences to assert his own view on any particular detailed issue related to the Deen. This reliance upon a group of highly trained individuals is seen in every aspect of human life from when we wish to build an extension to our homes to when we wish to cure ourselves; we unquestioningly defer to the experts. The sick person never tries to diagnose himself, let alone be bold enough to prescribe using his own knowledge, the course of medicine he needs to take. Rather he sits humbly and accepts everything his doctor tells him and prescribes him. It would seem, Islam alone has been singled out as being that one thing that any person not only may exercise his mental abilities (however deficient they are) to determine its detailed teachings, but moreover it is said to be his duty.

It is an undisputed fact that Taqlid existed from the very beginning of Islam, as that is the normative procedure for learning. The Companions and Successors (Tabieen) of other Companions were compelled to do Taqlid of their seniors, those of the Companions and Successors who were not scholars, simply took the Deen from those who were scholars. Their basis for their doing Taqlid, apart from the obvious reason mentioned above, was the evidences that made it an obligation for them. Allah (SWT) said in the Holy Qur’an:

Ask the people of Remembrance if you know not (Sura al-Anbiya:7)

Elsewhere in the Holy Qur’an Allah (SWT) commanded the believers thus:

Obey Allah, the Messenger and those authorities amongst you.

Ibn Abbas (R.A.), Mujahid, and many authorities in Tafsir (Exegesis of the Holy Qur’an) stated “Those authorities amongst you” are the Islamic Jurists, see Tafsir Tabari and Al-Tafsir al-Kabir of Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi.

Amongst the many hadith that prove Taqlid is a hadith recorded in Sunnan Abu Daud, in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Verily the cure to not knowing is asking.”

Taqlid in the age of the Sahabah

There are many examples in the hadith books where we find the Companions of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings upon him) doing Taqlid of other more learned Companions.

1.Abu Ayub al-Ansari (R.A.) was once on his way to Hajj and lost his camels he brought to be sacrificed (and by which a person comes out of Ihram). On the day of sacrifice he came to Umar and asked him what to do? Umar (R.A.) told him to do as those who perform Umrah do (that is to shave or cut their hair), and you will be out of Ihram. Then in the next year do Hajj and make the sacrifice. Note, here neither did Abu Ayub (R.A.) ask for proof nor was it given, a clear example of Taqlid (Muwatta Imam Malik).

2.Once Umar (R.A.) saw Talha (R.A.) wearing a coloured piece of cloth while he was in the state of Ihram (So long as the cloth is not scented such coloured sheets would be permitted for Ihram). Umar (R.A.) asked him the reason for wearing such sheets. Talha (R.A.) replied that the cloth was from a material which had not been scented. Umar (R.A.) said: “You are people who are followed by others. If an unknowing person saw this cloth, he would think Talha wore this cloth in Ihram (thus he would assume scented cloth is permitted). Refrain from using coloured sheets.” (Muwatta)

This shows, that there is nothing essentially wrong with following scholars without evidence, rather it was always one of the ways the masses learnt their Deen as is shown by Umar’s (R.A.) statement.

3.One of the \most obvious examples of Taqlid was that of when the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings upon him) sent Muadh Ibn Jabal (R.A.) to Yemen as a teacher. Whilst in Yemen the people, took exclusively what he taught them as Deen, in old and new issues, which is but Taqlid. For example, he was asked concerning a man who had been survived by daughter and a sister only, how would his inheritance be distributed amongst them. He ruled that they should receive half each and he did this as a Mufti and without mentioning the proof for his view to the people for his opinion. (Sahih al-Bukhari).

4.We also find a clear example of Sahabah doing Taqlid Shakhsi (specific Taqlid). It is narrated in Sahih al-Bukhari from Ikrimah (R.A.) that the people of Medina asked Ibn Abbas (R.A.) concerning a woman who did Tawaf and then experienced her menstrual cycle (i.e. despite having Tawaf al-Wida upon her, is she permitted to return home or should she wait till her period passes?). Ibn Abbas (R.A.) replied: “She may return.” The people said: “We will not accept your opinion over the opinion of Zayd (Ibn Thabit).” (Sahih al-Bukhari).

Two things become abundantly clear from this incident. The first is that the Medinans did Specific Taqlid (Taqlid Shakhsi) of Zayd Ibn Thabit (R.A.), and consequently they would not accept the opinions of another scholar from the Sahabah. Secondly, Ibn Abbas (R.A.) himself never blamed them for following his opinions exclusively.

It would be fair to say that up to the second century, two kinds of Taqlid were common in the Ummah, the non-specific kind (Taqlid ghayr Shakhsi) and specific Taqlid (Taqlid Shakhsi). Most muslims, when wanting to know Islam’s ruling on an issue, would simply go to any scholar in the community who they considered an authority. But examples can be found, such as those mentioned above, where Muslims also did specific Taqlid of a particular Companion or Successor exclusively. Thus we learn from this that there is nothing essentially blameworthy with someone being a Hanafi or Maliki, for there were people who were Masudis (followers of the opinions of Ibn Masud), Muadhis, Abbasis, etc. only they did not go by those names.

One of the factors in the consolidation of Taqlid Shakhsi and the phasing out of the other kind of Taqlid was the emergence of four scholars who gained such recognition for their learning and piety that students and even other scholars flocked around them. All four were blessed with long lives such that they could encompass each and every chapter of legal rulings and importantly were undisputed Mujtahids. A mujtahid is a master scholar who has reached the highest and most difficult level of Ijtihad (Independent juridical reasoning). There are many kinds of lesser scholars; however the one who is permitted to exercise his Ijtihad in elaborating rulings is one who has spent many years acquiring the skills, primary religious sciences and auxiliary sciences enabling him to soundly interpret the Holy Texts and thus deserving of being considered an authority in the important matters of the Deen. Briefly, this entails Deep knowledge of the Arabic language; grammar, semantics and rhetoric.

Intimate knowledge of the Holy Qur’an, its well established Tafsir, verses that are abrogated and the occasions of revelation. Knowledge of the Hadith; having obtained the narrations from their narrators, to also know the state of the chain and its narrators. In this regard it was the view of Imam Ahmad that a person cannot be considered a Mujtahid until he has not memorised three hundred thousand hadith.

The students of these four Imams further elaborated their legal opinions, their principles (the tools of interpretation), and most importantly preserved them and then transmitted the scholar’s school (Madhab) to the next generation. These four scholars were:

  • Imam Abu Hanifa (R.A.) – 80-150 A.H.
  • Imam Malik Ibn Anas (R.A.) – 93-179 A.H.
  • Imam Muhammad Ibn Idris al-Shafi (R.A.) – 150-204 A.H.
  • Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (R.A.) – 164-241 A.H.

If we take a snapshot of the Ummah by the end of the second century, we see Taqlid was of other than the above four sunni scholars and these four Imams. With time, the majority of people ended up doing Taqlid of these four schools. By virtue of them being fully formed, propagated, and codified, more and more scholars received training in these codified school. The Ummah’s convergence upon the acceptance of these four schools was coincidental, and not divinely revealed. Having said this, the mercy that lay in the converging on the four for the Ummah is not hidden, and hence it was seen as divine intervention to ensure the preservation of the Deen, as Allah (SWT) had promised:

Indeed We who have revealed the Remembrance and it is for Us to preserve it (sura Al-Hijr:9)

This is not to say there have only ever been four scholars in the Ummah who had reached the high rank of Ijtihad. There were several others, but their schools did not receive that same kind of attention that these four Imams received, thus it is not actually possible to do Taqlid of them. They may have had a thriving circle of students once, but they, for whatever reason, did not fully document, codify or transmit the school. One may find some of their legal opinions have been persevered, but that is not sufficient to consider that school fit for Taqlid. Just to give one glaring danger inherent in permitting this, leaving aside the fact there are but a handful of their legal opinions that have come down to us, it is not known if that particular opinion was the final opinion of that scholar, or did he change his view in later life. For that would require commentaries written by his students, as well as a strong transmission of all his opinions. This problem is carefully taken care of in the four established schools.

Thus the four schools became to represent de facto Sunni Islam. Anyone who wished to seriously study Islamic law, as a beginner, was compelled, by virtue of the schools’ undisputed academic prowess and chapter by chapter preservation, to align themselves with one of them.

It is for this reason that we have another inexplicable fact that non-Muqallids (those who deny Taqlid and consider it unlawful) try to avoid. That is the fact that the vast majority of sunni scholastic geniuses followed one of the four schools. For example ,the following is just a selection of unquestionable authorities in our Deen who were known to have adhered to one Madhab from the four:

  • Imam Abu Isa al-Tirmidhi (Shafi)
  • Imam Abu Jafar al-Tahawi (Hanafi)
  • Imam Fakr al-Din al-Razi (Shafi)
  • Imam Ibn abd al-Bar (Maliki)
  • Imam Abu Zakariyya al-Nawawi (Shafi)
  • Imam Abu Bakr Jassas (Hanafi)
  • Imam Ibn al-Hummam (Hanafi)
  • Imam Abu Ishaq al-Shatibi (Maliki)
  • Imam Ibn Hajr al-Asqalani (Shafi)
  • Imam Abu al-Abbas al-Qurtubi (Maliki)
  • Imam Badr al-Din al-Ayni (Hanafi)
  • Imam Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (Shafi)

Certainly, there is a difference in the way the scholar follows (does Taqlid) of a school and how others do it. A true well-grounded scholar in the Islamic sciences can also and did look at the evidences and if he believed that other than what the school teaches was the true position then he would leave the school on that issue. For the masses however, this is beyond their capabilities usually and nor is it required of each believer to become an Alim or Mujtahid as that would have demanded for everyone to leave devotion to other important academic areas such as medicine, engineering etc, seeking a livelihood, but our merciful divine Shariah inherently does not demand of us things that are impossible, as Allah (SWT) says:

Allah does not burden a person with more than he can bear (sura Al-Baqara:286)

Hence their duty is to simply follow true scholars as ordered in the verse in Sura Al-Anbiya.

It is interesting to note that even though the likes of the scholars mentioned above did have a level of ijtihad, in their views they themselves did not feel themselves able to dispense with Taqlid of one of the four Imams they followed. The hadith collection Al-Jami’ of Imam Tirmidhi is a testament to this. If a person, acquainted with the shafi school, goes through this book he will see that the hadith are brought in support of this school, as is plain to see from the chapter headings and Imam Tirmidhi’s commentary.

In the second century there was a kind of consensus of the scholars that it was the interest of the Deen that for the layman, Taqlid be only done of the four schools. Having said this, a person was not restricted in who he asked for legal opinions from the four codified schools. This kind of non-specific Taqlid is known as “Taqlid ghayr Shaksi.” Because of the general greater religiosity in those first generations a person would, even though he was not restricted by the scholars in whose Taqlid he did, seek out the most pious scholar and even if he ever gained more than one opinion, he would incline to side of precaution in the opinion he chose, and the threat of following desires was little.

Taqlid ghayr Shakhsi to Taqlid Shakhsi

The further we get away in time from the best of generations, in particular after the second century, as impiety and following desires become more common, the scholars become more unequivocal of the obligatoriness of following only one school for every Muslim. The historical facts make this abundantly clear and anyone who contends otherwise is frankly out of touch with the reality. He is neither aware of the countless illustrious jurists who have stated this view, he seems oblivious of the state of the people of that time let alone his own time. Thus the fact is that by the end of the second century, and also the end of the best of generations, there was shift in the attitude of the masses and personal desires started becoming prominent in the opinions being followed. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) himself had forewarned of this when he said, “then falsehood (kadhib) would become widespread.” It was then the scholars unanimously agreed, that no longer will people be able to have the option to hand pick opinions, rather they must follow one school only whichever that maybe from the four. Imam Shah Waliullah, states:

After the second century adherence to specific schools appeared amongst the Muslims…. And this was the obligation at that time see Al-Insaf fi Bayan Asbab al-Ikhtilaf, p.70.

Shaikh Wahbah al-Zuhaili in Al-Fiqh al-Islami wa adillatuh, vol.1 p.94, however has stated that the position of the majority of scholars was that only Taqlid of any scholar is wajib (Taqlid ghayr Shakhsi), and only a few scholars held Taqlid to be wajib of a specific school (Taqlid Shakhsi).

This claim however not only conflicts with the patent need of the Deen and Ummah that lye in making Taqlid Shakhsi Wajib, it is also not corroborated by the facts, the most incontrovertible of which is the great number of jurists who stated this very view as we will be recorded below. On the other hand, Shaikh Wahbah supported his view by citing only two or three authors, which it is hard to see how constitute a majority?

To be sure the claim is an error, the argument presented by Shaikh Wahbah, that underlies this view, we see is also clearly flawed. The reasoning he gives for why specific Taqlid (Taqlid Shakhsi) cannot be wajib, in his own words is:

Allah only obligated following the scholars without specification of one and not another, He said: “Ask the people of Remembrance if you do not know” (Sura Anbiya:7) (Op.Cit).

The reality however is that in this verse Allah (SWT) made generic Taqlid obligatory or Taqlid in general (Jins of Taqlid or Mutlaq Taqlid). Now Taqlid in this general sense has under it two, call them, constituents or kinds or sub-categories (Anwa’ or Afrad):

  • Taqlid ghayr Shakhsi (non-specific Taqlid of any scholar)
  • Taqlid Shakhsi (specific Taqlid of a particular scholar)

Thus it becomes apparent that Taqlid itself is an obligation (wajib), with all the kinds of Taqlid that come under it logically taking that ruling, as they are but kinds of the same thing. Though indeed there is a choice, in acting upon the Deen, which of the two kinds one practices.

Just as if a mother ordered her son to buy her “fruit,” under this general term (Mutlaq) would come many kinds of fruits, for example apple, orange, pear etc. It would be true to say that the obligation applied to all these fruits, that there is a choice in which fruit he chooses is another issue. What matters is that he chooses any fruit, and whichever fruit the son chooses he’ll have fulfilled his duty. But what cannot be said is that to buy apples on the one hand is obligatory, but as for oranges, that is just permissible (and to say unlawful is just absurd). To take another example, this time from the Deen, if someone broke an oath he would have to give the atonement (Kafaarah). The atonement for breaking an oath is Fard (Obligatory), however under this generic/general term or Mutlaq are three constituents/kinds (afrad): (1) Feeding the poor, (2) Clothing the poor, (3) Freeing a slave. Each one will take the ruling of the atonement, namely Fard, and what is Mubah or permissible is the choosing one any one of these three.

Thus the upshot of this discussion is that the verse in Sura Anbiya actually made both kinds of Taqlid wajib, and by an individual doing either one of the two, he would have fulfilled the obligation upon him. It was for this reason we find examples of both kinds of Taqlid being practised by the first generations as recorded above. As for why the scholars prohibited the option of Taqlid Ghayr Shakhsi, it was due to a change in the condition of the people, the juristic basis for which we will speak more on later.

The Majority of Ulema on Taqlid Shakhsi

In this section of the essay my primary concern was to bring such quotes from undisputed experts of the Deen showing Taqlid Shakhsi as an obligation had become the common view amongst scholars throughout most of Islamic History. Having said this, I have also taken the opportunity to add some other quotations, not specifically on Taqlid Shakhsi, in order to refute two other views being promoted today, which though marginal, their fallacy and heretical nature require exposing. The first view is that Taqlid, whatever kind it is, is unlawful and that rather it is the duty of every Muslim to derive for himself all the detailed rulings from the Holy Qur’an and Sunna. This view is held by groups known as the “Ahle-hadith” or “Salafis.” One of the reasons, they succeed in getting people to believe such baseless and outlandish claims is they falsely give the impression this is also the view of most of the great Islamic scholars in the past. The actual position of the classical scholars of Islam, as proven by the quotes below, however is very different to this. Furthermore, it is quite startling that a scholar who they themselves rely upon greatly, namely the late Shaikh Salih bin Uthaymin, has stated unequivocally the non-scholar must do Taqlid of the scholars in his Al-Usul min ‘ilm al-Usul. In his recorded lectures of the same text he says that for the average Muslim to try to delve into the Holy Qur’an and Sunna in order to deduct rulings is like a person who has not learnt swimming to swim in a sea. It will only lead to his destruction. His is the final quote in the selection.

The second view is less heretical and dangerous for at least it acknowledges the sacred Deen cannot be left in the hands of absolute infants in terms of Islamic learning. The holders of this view say it is permitted to follow any scholar, even if he be from other than the four schools. But of course the main intent behind the following texts is to show that the view of the vast majority of the Scholars of Ahl al-Sunna, was and is that Taqlid Shakhsi in particular is wajib. The scholars we mention are such authorities in the Sacred Knowledge of the Deen, that it is not unreasonable to assume that this ruling, that Taqlid shakhsi is obligatory, was also the view of their many eminent teachers, students and the whole school they belonged to.

Imam Ibn al-Hummam, author of many unique works in Jurisprudence and Doctrine records the view of the Hanafi scholars on Taqlid of a single Mujtahid in the commentary of Hidayah Fath al-Qadir:

(As for the layman) it is obligatory for him (Al-wajib alayh) to do Taqlid of a single Mujtahid….The jurists have stated that the one who switches from one Madhab to another by his Ijtihad and evidence is sinful deserving of being punished. Thus one who does so without Ijtihad and evidence is even more deserving. (vol.6 p.360)

Imam Nawawi writes in Al-Majmu’ Sharh Al-Muhadhdhab:

The second view is it is obligatory (yalzimuhu) for him to follow one particular school, and that was the definitive position according to Imam Abul-Hassan (the father of Imam al-Haramayn Al-Juwayni). And this applies to everyone who has not reached the rank of Ijtihad of the jurists and scholars of other disciplines. The reasoning for this ruling is that if it was permitted to follow any school one wished it would lead to hand-picking the dispensations of the schools, following one’s desires. He would be choosing between Halal and Haram, and obligatory and permissible. Ultimately that would lead to relinquishing oneself from the burden of responsibility. This is not the same as during the first generations, for the schools that were sufficient in terms of their rulings for newer issues, were neither codified or did they became popular. Thus on this basis it is obligatory for a person to strive in choosing a Madhab which alone he follows. (Vol.1 p.93)

Imam Sharani, an undisputed authority in the Shafi school writes in Al-Mizan al-Kubra:

You (O student) have no excuse left for not doing Taqlid of any Madhab you wish from the schools of the four Imams, for they are all paths to Heaven.... (p.55 vol.1)

Shaikh Salih al-Sunusi writes in Fath al-‘Alee al-Malik fil-Fatwa ‘ala Madhab al-Imam Malik:

As for the scholar who has not reached the level of Ijtihad and the non-scholar, they must do Taqlid of the Mujtahid….And the most correct view is that it is obligatory (wajib) to adhere to a particular school from the four schools… (Section on Usul al-Fiqh p.40-41)

In Tuhfa al-Muhtaj fi Sharh al-Minhaj, Shaikh al-Islam Ahmad Ibn Hajr al-Haytami writes:

The claim the layman has no Madhab is proscribed, rather it is necessary (yalzamuhu) for him to do Taqlid of a recognised school. (As for the claim: scholars did not obligate following one school), that was before the codification of the schools and their establishment. (Vol.12 p.491-Kitab al-Zakah)

In the famous 12 volume Maliki compendium of Fataawa, Al-Mi’yar al-Mu’rib an Fataawa ahl al-Ifriqiyya wa al-Andalus wa al-Maghrib, Imam Ahmad al-Wanshirisi records the Fatwa on Taqlid:

It is not permitted (laa yajoozu) for the follower of a scholar to choose the most pleasing to him of the schools and one that agrees the most with him. It is his duty to do Taqlid of the Imam whose school he believes to be right in comparison to the other schools. (vol.11 p.163-164)

The great authority in Usul Imam Aamidi writes in Al-Ihkam fi Usul al-Ahkam:

The layman and anyone who is not capable of Ijtihad, even if he has acquired mastery of some of the disciplines (Ulum) related to Ijtihad, is obligated (yalzimuh) with following the positions of the Mujtahid Imams and taking his juristic opinions and this is the view of the experts from the scholars of the principles (Al-Muhaqqiqin minnal-Usulyyin). It was the Mutazila of Baghdad who prohibited that except if the soundness of his Ijtihad becomes clear to him. (vol.4 p.278)

Imam Zahid al-Kawthari, Hanafi jurist and senior juridical advisor to the last Shaikh al-Islam of the Ottoman Empire, wrote in a impassioned article against the growing modern trend of non-Madhabism, entitled Al-Laa Madhabiyya Qantara al-Laa Deeniyya (“Non-Madhabism is a bridge to Non-religion”):

Those who call the masses to throwing away adhering to a madhab from the Madhabs of the followed Imams, whose lives we briefly mentioned in what has passed, will be of two groups; those who consider that all the derived opinions of the Mujtahid are right, such that it is permitted for the layman to follow any opinion of any Mujtahid, not restricting himself to the opinions of a single Mujtahid whom he selects to be followed, such thinking belongs to the Mutazila. The (second group) are the Sufis who consider the Mujtahids to be all right in the sense that they seek out the hardest opinions from their positions without confining themselves to following one Mujtahid. (Published in Maqalaat al-Kawthari, p.224-225)

Imam Al-Jalaal Shams al-Din al-Muhalli writes in the commentary of the Shafi text Jam’ al-Jawami,’:

And the soundest position (wal-Asahh) is that it is obligatory (yajibu) for the non-scholar/layman and other than him of those who have not reached the rank of Ijtihad, adherence of one particular school from the Madhabs of the Mujtahid Imams (iltizam Madhab Muayyan min madaahib al-Mujtahideen) that he beliefs to be preferable to another school or equal to it. (Kitab al-Ijtihad, p.93)

Imam Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, the Faqih of the 19th Century, writes in Fataawa Rashidyya:

When the corruption that comes from non-specific Taqlid is obvious, and no one will deny this provided he is fair, then when specific Taqlid is termed obligatory for other than itself (Wajib li-ghayrihi), and non-specific Taqld is termed unlawful, this will not be by mere opinion, rather it is by the command of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), for he commanded that removing corruption is an obligation upon every individual. (p.205)

Imam Abd al-Hay al-Lakhnawi writes in his Majmuat al-Fataawa, after mentioning the various views of the scholars on Taqlid:

On this subject the soundest view is that the laypeople will be prevented from such (choosing) of different opinions, especially the people of this time, for whom there is no cure but the following of a particular Madhab. If these people were allowed to choose between their Madhab and another, it would give rise to great tribulations. (vol.3 p.195)

Imam Rajab al-Hanbali writes in his book: “Refutation of anyone who follows other than the four schools”:

…that is the Mujtahid, assuming his existence, his duty (Farduhu) is to follow what becomes apparent to him of the Truth. As for the non-Mujtahid his duty is Taqlid (p.6)

In the well known Maliki text Maraqi al-Saud, it is stated:

(Taqlid) is necessary (yalzimu) for other than the one who has achieved the rank of absolute ijtihad. Even if he is limited (mujtahid) who is unable (to perform absolute Ijtihad). (Point 957, p.39) He writes further on: “Every school from the schools of the (four) Mujtahids is a means that reaches one to Paradise.”

In one of the most authoritative juristic commentaries of the Holy Qur’an, Al-Jami’ li-ahkam al-Qar’an, by the scholar Imam Qurtubi, commenting on verse 7 in Sura Anbiya, he writes:

The scholars did not disagree that it is obligatory for the non-scholars (al-‘Aamah) to do Taqlid of their scholars and they are meant in the verse: Ask the people of Remembrance if you do not know. And the scholars by consensus (Ajma’oo) stated it is necessary (laa budda) for he who is unable to see to do Taqlid of someone else who will tell him of the direction of the Qiblah, if it becomes difficult for him. Similarly, one who does no possess knowledge or insight of what the Deen teaches, then it is necessary (laa budda) for him to do Taqlid of that scholar who does. (p.181 vol.11)

The internationally renowned scholar Mufti Taqi Uthmani writes in his commentary on the Book: Al-Misbah fi Rasm al-Mufti wa Manaahij al-Ifta:

The sound view, and upon which are the majority of the scholars, is that it is obligatory (Yajibu) for all those who have not reached the rank of Ijtihad to adhere to a particular school from the four well known, codified and definitively transmitted schools. This is in order to regulate a person’s actions and control his worldly dealings in a way that protects from confusion, errors and fulfils the compelling need. (vol.1, pp 251-252)

Shaikh Salih bin al-Uthaymin writes in his book Al-Usul min ‘ilm al-Usul in the chapter on Taqlid:

Taqlid takes place in two places; the first is that the person doing Taqlid be a layman, incapable of discerning the ruling by himself, so his duty (Farduhu) is to do Taqlid due to the statement of Allah (SWT):

“Ask the people of Remembrance if you know not (Sura al-Nahl:43). (p.68)

Shaikh al-Uthaymin also outlines in the chapter preceding this one what is needed for a person to be fit to deduce rulings from the Sacred texts, in other words the Pre-requisites of Ijtihad. He records six conditions, the first of which is the condition of encompassing all the verses and ahadith on the subject. This would, at the very first hurdle, lose most of us who have not learnt, let alone mastered, the Arabic language. Translations can never convey the linguistic intricacies, rhetorical devices and semantic nuances of the original Arabic, and furthermore a vast number of the hadith have yet to be translated into English.

Juristic basis for Taqlid Shaksi alone being obligatory

It is important to elaborate in detail what led to the change in ruling from permissibility to asking any of the scholars of the four schools to following one school from the four exclusively? As already stated both kinds of Taqlid (non-specific of the four and specific) were obligatory for the layman. However the option was open to him of following one school, as some did, and if he was not particularly discerning as the average lay person is, he simply asked any scholar he considered to be a reliable scholar regardless of his school. The first kind of Taqlid however produced a danger which with the passing of time became more and more real. Namely, people would “shop” for opinions. They would ask different scholars and often would follow a scholar merely due to ease in that view and it according with his whim. The early blessed generations were largely saved from this. In fact all Muslim scholars by consensus consider it absolutely for forbidden for a person to want to do something and then look for justification through texts and opinions of the scholars. The Holy Qur’an itself condemns those who act in this way when it says:

Have you seen he who takes his desire as his god. (Al-Jaathiyah:23)

The great jurist of the Hanafi school, Imam Ibn Aabideen records the following eye-opening incident that shows us the gravity of this problem. There was a student of Imam Abu Hanifa who once approached the Ashab al-Hadith (those who clam to only follow hadith), for the hand of his daughter in marriage. The father in law to be refused, and said he would only marry her to him if he started raising his hands (raf’ al-yadayn) in Salah, reciting behind the Imam and pronouncing the Ameen loudly. The student agreed and consequently was wed to his wife. When the hanafi jurist Abu Bakr al-Jawzajani was informed of this he replied: “As for the nikah it is sound, but I fear that he (the student) may have left the Deen because he left what he believed to be the truth for his personal desire.”

Imam Shatibi amongst other jurists has explained the danger in leaving Fiqh unregulated further, saying; ultimately the very purpose of the Shariah which is Takleef, or charging people with duties and responsibilities and taking them away from merely following their desires, with all the corruption and harm this brings, would become defunct as lay people sought refuge in the weak opinions of inferior scholars or from within the other three schools.

Thus to prevent the doors of irreligion from opening the scholars concurred that it was now obligatory to follow one school whichever that be from those that had been thoroughly debated by the geniuses of the Ummah, documented and transmitted. There is no doubt that such lofty credentials belonged exclusively to the four schools.

It was only due to the dangers mentioned earlier that lay in allowing Taqlid ghar Shakhsi (non-specific Taqlid) that the scholars declared it unlawful. What was the legal evidence or basis by which they effectively declared something unlawful which was clearly permissible previously?

The jurists appreciate well that rulings change with time and there are many examples in the Shariah where something at one time was permitted, is made unlawful and vice versa in consideration of other greater principles of the Deen. Selling arms in an Islamic State is something permitted, however jurists declared selling arms unlawful at a time of civil war, as killing the life of a believer is from the gravest of sins whichever side he may be on. Another example is, the action of Uthman (R.A.) in standardising the recitation of the Holy Qur’an. The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings upon him, prayed to Allah (SWT) for the Holy Qur’an to be revealed in seven independent dialects of the Arabs, so that it would be easy for them to recite. During the life of the Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) the various Arabs would recite it according to one of these dialects. Soon after the death of the Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) Islam had spread across to persia, asia and africa. With the spread of Islam also meant the new Muslims of these non-Arab lands would be learning and reciting the Book of Allah. It was at this time, during the Khilafah of the Khalif Uthman, that the existence of several dialects became a cause for confusion for these new Muslims. What had initially been for the purpose of facilitation and ease was becoming, in this new context, a means of difficulty and confusion. Thus Uthman (R.A.) declared the writing down, reciting and instruction of six dialects of the Holy Qur’an as unlawful and this was done in the presence of companions who concurred with him. Hence what was once permitted was made unlawful.

Similarly, when the jurists saw, with the variety of opinions existent in the community and the threat of following desires and irreligion, they made Taqlid of only the four schools obligatory. Then as moral uprightness became less and less amongst the masses and the tendency to follow one’s desires in legal opinions increased, the ruling was given that Taqlid of only one school is permitted for the layman. This ruling was given on the basis of preventing the evil of following desires from coming into being, technically termed “Blocking the means” and in order to preserve the obligation of the duties and responsibilities believers have been charged with.

Some may bring a criticism here that, other jurists do not accept the juristic principle of blocking the means. The truth however is that all jurists have acknowledged this principle, even if they have done so using other names for it. Imam Shatibi in his Muwafaqat, vol. 4 p.66 quotes Imam Qarafi as saying that there is Ijma (Mujma’ alayh) of the scholars on its acceptance. Imam Abu Zahra, in his Usul al-Fiqh, p.253, has confirmed it to be the view of all four schools. The reason for its general acceptance is that it is in reality a law based on common sense of looking to the end result of an action. If something is evil or unlawful then it is nonsensical to think there is nothing wrong with the presence of those things that directly lead to that evil. In fact, we see it in action in our daily lives, in every aspect of life. If we prevent our children from going out alone, though they may not understand this, it is not because stepping outside is in itself forbidden, rather it is due to the threat of being abducted etc. It is logical and obvious that things that lead to an unlawful also be forbidden.

Man-made laws are incapable of acknowledging this truth such that even though studies prove pornography leads to rape and other sexual offences, they do not even make a feeble attempt to curb it. The Divine law of Allah Almighty and Wise could never be so deficient and for which reason we see that many of the laws of the Islamic State are based upon it.

Another juristic principle similar to the “blocking the mean” principle, is the principle of “Acquiring of the means” by which an obligation can only be fulfilled. Usul books speak of this as Muqadimat al-wajib wajib or maa laa yutimmu al-wajib illa bihi fa huwa wajib. In this case some act needs to come into existence due to the command of Allah (SWT), however to achieve that act sometimes another thing maybe required, thus in order to fulfil the order the other thing will also become obligatory even when it has not been explicitly commanded by the Lawgiver.

An example of the latter principle (of acquiring the means) is the order in the Holy Qur’an to give Zakah. Now it is obvious a person will only be able to carry out this command properly, if he has the detailed knowledge of Zakah rules, what is Nisab, on what things must Zakah be given, what makes a person illegible to give Zakah and so on. Thus, though there is no text specifically making study of the rules of Zakah wajib, based on this juristic principle, it would be said that it is wajib for a Muslim to learn the fiqh of Zakah and even to attend a Zakah course teaching such a course, being held at a particular Institute in his locality.

Thus the unlawful consequence of people following their desires, a thing forbidden clearly in the Holy Qur’an, establishes the unlawfulness of unrestricted Taqlid or Taqlid ghayr shakhsi. Similarly, the obligation to preserve the Shariah from distortion and corruption, establishes the obligation of adherence to Taqlid Shakhsi. Furthermore, one will note, whereas in the case of other issues, their rulings are established by one of either of these two usuli principles, the necessity of Taqlid Shakshi is established by both principles.

There are other issues related to this topic deserving discussion, but are beyond the scope of the article, such as what are the conditions under which a Madhab is left and answering the evidences usually quoted against Taqlid. For these and other topics works that can be consulted are: Jawahir al-Fiqh by Mufti Muhammad Shafi, vol.1; Qawaid fi Ulum al-Fiqh by Shaikh Habib Ahmad al-Kairawani (punlished as an introduction to Imam Zafar Ahmad Uthmani’s Iila al-Sunnan); Al-Kalam al-Mufid fi Ithbat al-Taqlid by Maulana Muhammad Sarfraz Khan Safdar; The legal Status of following a Madhab by Mufti Taqi Uthmani; Al-Laa Madhabiyya Akhtar Bida’h tuhaddi al-Shariat al-Islamiyya by Shaikh Ramadan al-Buti.

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24 Ramadan 14

24 September 2008

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