#Taqleed is the principle of relying on experts for advice in Islamic Law, what are the options?


This article is based on the series of Lectures given by Sheikh Shomali Titled “Authority in Islam”, in the Masters Course at Middlesex University.


This video gives a good overview of the situation : 


There are many times when as individuals we do not know what the truth on an Islamic law topic is. At that point when we do not know something, what are our options? This article will examine the options from the perspective of reason and from that of the revealed texts.

The first thing to understand on the issue of Taqleed is the areas which are covered, and which are not. In almost every book of Fiqh published by Maraja’a there is a introduction section which explains the duties of a believer in terms of understanding the religion. This takes the form that they must learn the rulings that cover their life, either in the form of taqleed of the most knowledgeable or becoming a scholar themselves. This does not cover belief, this only covers practical laws. In the matter of belief, there can be no taqleed. One has to learn and choose what to believe. 


The issue of Knowledge

It is well known that as laypeople we can not know everything about Islamic Law (fiqh). Additionally, some people think they know something, when in fact their certainty is based on false principles and naivety. 

From Al Kafi we have:

H 103, Ch. 11, h9 Ali ibn Ibrahim has narrated from Muhammad ibn ‘Isa from Yunus from Dawud ibn Farqad from one he narrated from ibn Shubruma (a judge in al-Kufa during the rule of al-Mansur) who has said the following:  “I never heard anything like a statement I heard from Imam abu ‘Abd Allah, recipient of divine supreme covenant, and it almost pierced my heart. The Imam, recipient of divine supreme covenant, said, ‘My father narrated from my great-great-greatgreat grandfather, the Holy Prophet, recipient of divine supreme covenant, who said, “Those who act on the basis of analogy will face their destruction and lead others to their destruction. Those who give fatwas (legal opinions) without knowing the abrogating and the abrogated (texts of the law), the clear text and that which requires interpretation, they will face destruction and lead others to their destruction.’” 

H 95, Ch. 11, h1 Muhammad ibn Yahya has narrated from Ahmad and  ‘Abd Allah (both) sons of Muhammad ibn ‘Isa from Ali ibn al-Hakam from Sayf ibn ‘Umayra from Mufaddal ibn Yazid who has said the following: “Once, (Imam) abu ‘Abd Allah, recipient of divine supreme covenant, said to me, ‘I like to warn you about two forms of behavior that lead a man to destruction. I prohibit you from dealing with Allah on the basis of falsehood and from giving fatwa (a legal opinion) to people without knowledge.’”

H 96, Ch. 11, h2 Ali ibn Ibrahim has narrated from Muhammad ibn ‘Isa ibn ‘Ubayd from Yunus ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman from ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Hajjaj who has said the following: “Imam abu ‘Abd Allah, recipient of divine supreme covenant, once said to me, ‘Beware of two forms of behavior. It is such behaviors that have led many people to their destruction. Beware of giving fatwa to people on the basis of your own opinion and of following a religion without knowledge.’” 


So we have some people who know they do not know, and others who think they know, but in reality, they do not. 

So what should those two groups do?


The Options

Either a person can :

1. Try to learn about all the different texts (Quran and hadith) and analyse everything my self, and then make my own mind up.
2. Do precaution (ihtiyat) (in most cases avoid doing anything).
3. Refer to the most knowledgeable scholar/expert.

If we go down the list, the first option is not really practical. Most people can not even speak Arabic, let alone have the time to read all the necessary resources to reach the truth. Its just not possible to become an expert every time you do not know something.

Taking the “safe” option, is possible. It would mean that at every doubtful situation, you would just not get involved. So for example, if a person came across an animal and they were not sure if it was halal, they just would not eat it. Or if a person did not know if a gathering was halal or not, they would just not go. The reality of such a lifestyle would be that you would essentially sentence yourself to life at home. 

The last option is the most used in reality for laypeople on all matters. For example, when a person is sick, they refer to a medical expert. When a person has a legal problem, they refer to a lawyer. This is a well known, well practiced principle, but is it an established principle in religion?