The Principle of Ijtihad in Islam
Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahhari
The kind of taqlid that is forbidden by the
Let us now turn to taqlid. It is [as was said before] of two kinds: licit and illicit [in terms of the shari`a]. There is a kind of taqlid which is the blind following of one’s surroundings and of habit, which is, of course, forbidden, and it is this which is condemned in the Qur’an when those who say:
Behold, we found our forefathers agreed on what to believe – and verily, it is but in their footsteps that we follow. (42:23)
are condemned. We have said that taqlid is of two kinds: licit and illicit. What we meant by illicit taqlid is not confined solely to the kind of taqlid which is the blind imitation of one’s surroundings, of habit, of one’s parents or ancestors, but we wanted also to say that taqlid between those who do not have [the necessary] knowledge (al-jahil) and those who do (al`alim), the consultation of the faqih by the ordinary person, is of two kinds: licit and illicit.
We occasionally hear these days from some people who are looking for a marja` altaqlid, that they are looking to find someone to whom they can give unqualified allegiance. We want to say that the taqlid which Islam has commanded is not “unqualified allegiance”; it is the opening, and keeping open, of one’s eyes, of awareness. If taqlid takes on an aspect of devotion, thousands of evil affects will come about.
Now there is a wellknown and detailed hadith on this subject which I shall quote for you:
Whichever of the fuqaha can protect his self , who can preserve his religion, who fights his desires and is obedient to the commands of his Master, should be followed by the people in taqlid.
This is one of the textual proofs for taqlid and ijtihad. The Shaykh alAnsari said about this hadith that the signs of truth are evident in it.
It is an appendage to the following verse from the Qur’an:
And there are among them unlettered people who have no real knowledge of the divine Book, only wishful beliefs, and they depend on nothing but conjecture.(2:78)
This verse comes in condemnation of the ignorant and illiterate Jews who followed, and practiced taqlid of, their religious scholars and leaders, and it comes after some verses which mention the unattractive behaviour of the Jewish religious scholars. It points out that a group of them were such ignorant and illiterate people that they knew nothing of the divine Book except a string of imaginary beliefs [about it] and such things as they wished to believe, and that they had gone after surmise and illusion.
The hadith of the sixth Imam concerning the kind of taqlid which is illicit
The following hadith is connected to the previous verse. Someone said to the Imam alSadiq that the ordinary, illiterate Jews had no other alternative but to take in everything they heard from their religious scholars and to follow them. If there is any blame, it should be directed towards the Jewish scholars themselves. Why should the Qur’an censure helpless ordinary people who knew nothing and were only following their scholars? What difference is there between the common Jew and the common Muslim? If taqlid by ordinary people and their following of the learned is forbidden, we Muslims, who follow our scholars, this person reasoned, must also be the objects of reprehension and censure. If the former should not have accepted what their scholars said, then the latter should not accept what their scholars say.
The Imam said:
In one respect there is a difference between the ordinary Jew and the Jewish scholars, and the ordinary Muslim and the Muslim scholars, and in another respect there is a similarity. In so far as there is a similarity, God has commanded the ordinary Muslim also not to practice that kind of taqlid of scholars, but in so far as there is a difference, He has not.
The person who had asked the Imam then said: O son of the Messenger of Allah, please explain what you mean.
Then Imam said:
The ordinary Jews could see from their scholars and the way that they behaved that they were quite clearly lying: they did not refrain from accepting bribes, they changed the laws and the rulings of the courts in exchange for favours. They knew that they displayed partiality to certain individuals. They indulged their personal likes and dislikes, they would give one man’s right to someone else. .. On account of natural, common sense, which God has created in everyone, we all know that we must not accept the speech of people who behave in such a way as this; we must not accept the word of God and the prophets from the tongues of such people as this.
What the Imam meant here was that noone can say that the ordinary Jewish people did not know that they should not act in accordance with what had been said by those of their scholars who acted contrary to the divine commands of their religion. This is not something that someone might not know. Knowledge of this kind is put by God into every person’s nature, and everyone’s reason acknowledges it. In the terminology of logic, it is a ‘inborn’ proposition; its proof is contained within itself. According to the dictate of every intellect, one must not pay any attention to the utterance of someone whose philosophy of life is purity and the rejection of the human passions but who pursues what his desires tell him to. Then the Imam continued:
It is the same thing for our people: they too, if they understand or see with their own eyes that there is behaviour contrary to the shari`a on the part of their scholars, strong prejudices, a scramble after the ephemera of this world, preference for their own supporters however irreligious they may be, and judgement against their opponents even when they deserve verdicts in their favour, if they perceive such behaviour among them and then follow them, they are just the same as the Jewish people and should be reprimanded and censured.
So it is clear that unquestioning allegiance and shutting one’s eyes to the truth is not the kind of taqlid which is encouraged or permitted by the shari`a. Licit taqlid means having one’s eyes open and being observant and alert; otherwise it is accepting responsibility for, and being an accomplice to, an illicit act.
Regarding the popular belief that the `ulama cannot be tainted by immorality
Some people imagine that the effect of sin on individuals is not of only one kind: that sin has an effect on ordinary people which annuls their piety and right behaviour, but that it has no effect on the `ulama’ who have some kind of immunity. It is like the difference between a little water and a lot which, if it is more than one kurr , cannot be tainted by any unclean thing. Now, in fact, Islam does not consider anyone to be untaintable, not even the Prophet. For why then should God have said:
[O Prophet] say: ‘I also, if I commit a sin, fear punishment on the Great Day.’?
Why should He have said:
If any kind of attributing godhood to other than Allah (shirk) enters your actions, your work will be spoilt?
All this is to show that there is no kind of partiality or discrimination, there is no immunity from sin for anyone.
The story of Moses and God’s righteous servants, which is in the Qur’an, is a wonderful story. One moral which can be drawn from it is that the follower should surrender to the one he is following up to the point where basic principles and the law are not contravened. If it is seen that the leader does something against these principles, one must not remain silent. It is true that the fact that in the story the things which the servant of God does are not, in his view, against these basic principles, since he sees a wider horizon and can see into the heart of the matter; they were, rather, his very duty and responsibility. But the question here is why Moses was not patient, and why he gave vent to his criticisms, despite the fact that he had promised [the servant of God] and himself that he would not make any objection? Why, then, did he protest and criticise? The defect in Moses’ actions was not his protesting and criticising, but the fact that he was not aware of the undivulged aspect of the matter, the inward and secret side of the events. Of course, if he had been aware of the hidden reasons for what happened, he would not have objected, and he would have wanted to discover the secret of the affair; but as long as his actions were, from his own point of view, against basic principles and the divine Law, his faith would not allow him to remain silent. There are those who have said that if the actions of that servant of God were to be repeated on the Day of the Resurrection, Moses would still object to them and criticise them, unless, by that time, he were to become aware of the hidden reasons behind them. Moses said to the servant of God:
“Shall I follow you so that you may teach me, of what you have been taught, right judgement.”
“Assuredly you will not be able to bear with me patiently.”
Then he explained the reason very clearly:
“And how should you bear patiently what you have never encompassed in your knowledge?”
“Yet you will find me, if Allah will, patient, and I shall not rebel against you in anything.”
Moses did not say that he would be patient whether he discovered the secret of the matter or not. He merely said that he hoped he would have that patience. Of course, this patience did exist within Moses as long as he understood the reason for things.
Then the servant of God wanted to have something more definite from him; that, even if he did not discover the reason for what had happened, he would remain silent and not protest until the time came for him to explain.
“Then, if you follow me, do not question me on anything until I myself introduce the mention of it to you.” (117:6670)
Here, the verse does not say if Moses accepted; it only says that after this they both set out together and continued till the end of the story which we all know.
At any rate, I wanted to show that the ignorant person’s taqlid of the learned should not be blind allegiance. The unlawful kind of taqlid between one who is ignorant and one who has knowledge is that kind in which unquestioning obedience exists, which takes some such form as: “an ignorant person cannot quarrel with a learned person; we don’t understand, perhaps the duties imposed by the shari`a necessitate its being like this.”
I have mentioned this story as evidence and corroboration for what was in the hadith of the Imam alSadiq.
34. Protecting the nafs, the soul, the greater, moral jihad, as opposed to the lesser jihad of protecting Islam against the external enemy.
35. One kurr of water is approximately 377 litres. In religious law if an amount less than this comes into contact with a religiously impure thing, the water too becomes impure, whereas above this amount the purity is not endangered.