The Shia Ithna-Asheri sect, may the Almighty raise its status, is distinguished by keeping the door of Ijtihad open as centuries and generations pass by. Its righteous scholars, may Allah be pleased with them, followed this principle; by Ijtihad they do not mean the expansion of the legislative rulings in order to suit an age and the progress of time, nor do they wish to please the public masses, the rulers, the men of power or other people of influence or anyone else.
Rather, Ijtihad according to them means exerting the efforts to seek knowledge of the Sharia rulings from its original sources and to safeguard it as a trust about which Allah Almighty will ask the Mujtahid when the latter stands before Him on Judgment Day: "The Day when no friend can avail his friend in anything, and they can receive no help” (Qur'an, 44:41) and when "… the wrong-doers will have neither protector nor helper” (Qur'an, 42:8).
This sect has also been distinguished for Taqlid which means: referring of the general masses of people who are not familiar with the rulings of the Sharia with regard to their actions – in their worships and dealings with other people, etc. – to the Mujtahid who is entrusted with the Sharia law, one who is not neglectful in researching and examining, by following the ruler, pleasing the public masses, desiring to be distinguished for inventing something new, lightening burdens and make things easy, or for any other gain and any purpose, material or immaterial.
All this is done due to fear of Allah Almighty, fear of the magnitude and the severity of His penalty. For this reason, you find the followers of this sect holding their scholars in general, and those whom they emulate in particular, with great respect, veneration, awe and regard.
This sect has the right to raise its head high and feel proud of safeguarding the laws of Allah Almighty, having due interest in deriving it from the original sources of Sharia, and for standing strongly in doing so, as it defies the storms of time and the darkness of seditions, though the period is long and the dilemma is severe.
All of this is credited to its sincere scholars who do not fear for the sake of Allah, the Most High, the blame of any blamer, and to their believing followers who do not learn their religion except from those who are trusted in their religion and god-fearing, rejecting others who cannot bear the weight of the trust and of piety, those who do not care in which valley they tread and who have placed themselves in blameworthy positions.
Before their eyes in this regard are the teachings of the guiding Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (blessings of Allah be with them) which totally agree with the judgment of a sound reason, the Glorious Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny).
In this regard, a great deal has been reported by the Ahl al-Bayt (peace be upon them). In a revered tradition narrated from Imam al-Sadiq (peace be upon him), he held the Jews contemptible on account of blindly emulating their scholars, and then said:
"And so are our people, if they know their scholars to be open transgressors and excessive fanatics, and passionate for the world and for the forbidden things in it. If anyone emulates such people, he will be like the Jews whom Allah Almighty condemned for emulating their corrupt scholars.
"As for the Islamic jurist who safeguards himself, protects his religion, opposing his illicit desires, is obedient to the command of his Lord, the masses may emulate him; and no one is like that, except some of the Shia Islamic jurists, not all of them. One who perpetrates indecent and sinful acts, just as the scholars of the general Muslim community commits them, then do not accept from them anything from us [the Ahl al-Bayt], and do not accept their respect.”[i]
The believers – may Allah Almighty guide their steps to what is right, be they scholars or followers [of these scholars] - must get to know how great the responsibility on their shoulders is, how heavy the trust which Allah Almighty placed on them; and let the first and last concern of any scholar be getting to know the truth, safeguarding it and arrive at the Islamic rulings from its original sources. He must make it clear, so he may thus fulfill his Islamic responsibility without concerning himself about the number of followers and supporters, or desire for prominence, nor anything else from among the vanishing temptations of the life of this world and the invitations of Satan which lead to perdition.
He must keep before his eyes this verse of the Almighty: “Were he [the Messenger] to invent any sayings in Our name, We would certainly seize him by his right hand, and We would certainly then cut off the artery of his heart: Nor could any of you withhold him (from Our Wrath)” (Qur'an, 69:44-47).
Also, let the followers’ concern be to get out of the heavy responsibility of the Sharia law by obtaining them from the scholars who act upon their knowledge, those who are men of piety, godliness, integrity, sincerity and honesty, those whom accusations cannot reach due to their being distant from doubts and places of accusations, with the perfection of verification and deliberation. Thus, they will be sure they will come out of the responsibility duly, and they will be excused when they stand before Allah Almighty on a Day when none of their secrets remains hidden.
Followers must not follow a particular individual based on haste, or deception by decorative speech, or if he agrees with their own whims and desires, for the One Who is monitoring is Allah Almighty Who knows what the hearts conceal, what is there in the chests and in the consciences; nothing, not even the weight of an atom, stays hidden from His knowledge be it in the earth or in the heavens.
People may stand puzzled, due to certain confusions and eventualities, before so many calls and trends, but this does not mean that one becomes neglectful of his duty and fall short of fulfilling his obligation.
No matter how confused the issues may be, and when seditions are ablaze, Allah, Great are His bounties, does not allow His proof to be lost, nor does He hide the teachings of His creed – due to His favor and mercy, God willing – from anyone who tries to find them, who exerts an effort to reach them: "And those who strive in Our (cause)! We will certainly guide them to Our paths, for truly Allah is with those who do what is right” (Qur'an, 29:69); "The conclusive argument is with Allah: Had it been His will, He could indeed have guided you all” (Qur'an, 6:149).
We hope we have thus performed a portion of our duty in advising our believing brethren and reminding them of their own duties: "…remind (others of your message), for (such) remembrance benefits the believers” (Qur'an, 51:55). Surely my success comes from Allah; on Him have I relied, to Him I shall return; He suffices us and what a great Helper He is! Praise to Allah as He deserves to be praised; blessings with the best of His creation, Muhammad and his Pure Progeny.
Q1. When did Taqlid start? In whose time did it start? Who is the Marja for the Shi’as during the Greater Occultation?
A: Taqlid means the referral of one who does not know to another who is knowledgeable in his field of expertise, and this is an instinctive matter not limited by time. It may have existed even during the period of the Imams (peace be upon them) when the Shi'ite masses referred to the best narrators [of traditions] and the most trusted of them in order to learn and understand the Islamic rulings from them.
Q2. Who are the Ahlul-Khibra?
A: The Ahlul-Khibra are those high level students of religious sciences who study religious sciences who are familiar with the scholastic levels of Islamic jurists as a result of their acquaintance with their statements and scientific opinions, by being their students, or by exchanging information with them, or from familiarity with their books, and the like, with their ability to make a comparison among the Islamic jurists, distinguish their degrees of knowledge and prefer one over another.
Q3. Sometimes the Ahlul-Khibra differ among themselves about determining who the most learned Mujtahid is; so, some of them may recommend emulating one Mujtahid while others recommend emulating another; therefore, what are people supposed to do in such a case?
A: If the question is meant to inquire about the individual's personal stance for everyone, so he may perform his religious duty and thus fulfill his responsibility, the treatises of practical Islamic laws have covered this subject sufficiently.
Our opinion is that when the required conditions of both opposing sides from the Ahlul-Khibra are met, this requires both testimonies to be dropped from being authoritative i.e. not considered anymore, and the issue becomes that of an uncertainty in determining the most knowledgeable among the group of scholars who fulfill the conditions of being emulated.It is then, when all the rest of conditions needed for emulation are met in all of them – the most important ones being the intensity of Adalah and the strength of piety – if it’s possible for the individual to act on precaution, by acting upon the most precautious of the two edicts when they differ, then he must do so, in order to maintain his conformity with the [actual] Sharia ruling.
If this is difficult for him and causes awkwardness, the mercy of Allah Almighty for the believers and the easiness of the true Sharia both result in the Holy Lawgiver not requiring us to practice precaution - which is the required primary course of action in the case of uncertainty of numerous arguments – and accept the emulation of one side taking into consideration the closest amongst the sides to the reality. Thus, this requires preferring the one most probable in being the most knowledgeable. If the probabilities in the sides are equal, the preference should be, then, given to the one most pious, as he would be the most trusted in deriving the Sharia laws when there is no evidence that others are more knowledgeable than him. Without the presence of this preference, the individual has the choice in selecting one of the possible candidates and follow him.
The individual is urged in all of this to verify and ascertain carefully, even if this is done by seeking help from the people of righteousness and knowledge in order to clarify vision as much as possible. Man is a telling witness against himself while Allah Almighty does not over-burden anyone over his capacity; He is the most Merciful.
And if the question is intended to inquire about one's opinion vis-à-vis this difference – in viewing and dealing with it – our view is that it isquite natural as the concept of the most knowledgeable is one of the issues that require efforts to reach a conclusionabout which viewpoints differ and opinions vary. It must be treated with objectivity and openness while maintaining mutual respect, after all sides are concerned with the truth while the sides are in the process of acting upon their trusted obligation and fulfilling their responsibility (in determining the Marja). One is not supposed to force others to accept his own convictions.
It may be good to mention an example which we lived through: The late Ayatollah Shaikh Muhammed Tahir Shaikh Radi, (may Allah sanctify his soul), was convinced in the equality between the two great Marjas: Sayyid Mohsin al-Hakim and Shaikh Muhammed Rida Aal-Yasin (may Allah sanctify their souls) so his opinion was that the individual can choose any one of them, and he had a group of people in Khuzestan seeking his guidance in determining the Marja for them as he was one of the Ahlul-Khibra. He told them of his conviction, so they chose Sayyid Mohsin al-Hakim (may Allah sanctify his soul) and observed taqlid of him, whereas his own family chose Shaikh Aal-Yasin whom they emulated. His relationship with his group in Khuzestan and with both great Marjas as well as with their respective groups stayed at its best while they knew his opinion.
Before that, Sayyid Mohin al-Hakim (may Allah sanctify his soul) used to refer people to emulate the late Mirza Naeeni (may Allah sanctify his soul) while his older brother, Ayatollah Sayyid Mahmoud al-Hakim (may Allah sanctify his soul), was referring people to emulate the late great Marja, Shaikh Ali son of Shaikh Baqir al-Jawahiri (may Allah sanctify their souls), each according to his own personal conviction without this affecting their warm relationship. The likes of these examples are many with regard to the conduct of the people of righteousness and piety.
Q4. What are the ways for identifying who the most knowledgeable person is, knowing that the Ahlul-Khibra are lower than him? Is it sufficient to use the teaching manner, the way of explaining, and the giving of speedy answers to identify him or are there other means by which we can identify and choose him?
A: These matters are not criteria for identifying the most knowledgeable. The criteria is the individual being the best in comprehending the religious texts that are used as a source to derive the verdicts, the most capable and competent of all in combining what these lead to through the conventional method, the strongest in the rules of the principles of jurisprudence. This is an issue realized by the Ahlul-Khibra when they are in contact with the parties from which the most knowledgeable is expected to be and look at their scientific researches.
Q5. Is it sufficient, in practicing Taqlid, to take the treatise of practical Islamic laws from the Mujtahid and to be committed to its contents without applying it in conduct and action?
A: Taqlid means referring to the Mujtahid and acting upon his edicts, even though it may be with regard to a single issue; and it is not sufficient to acquire a copy of his treatise of practical Islamic laws.
Q6: Does knowledge of the conditions of Muslims and their problems in various countries, including what they must do about their reality and the current events, have any role in identifying who the most knowledgeable person is, such that it is a factor in preferring a particular Mutjahid over others, or does this have nothing to do with that?
A: This has nothing to do with the attribute of being the most knowledgeable that is required in the Marja. What this attribute means isthat he is the most knowledgeable in deriving the Sharia laws in its general form. As for those laws pertaining to individual incidences that vary with the differences of times and places, which change according to new eventualities, the person observing Taqlid can derive their rulings after determining the subject-matter in general and applying the relevant laws which he obtains from his Marja, or by referring to him in such circumstances after explaining the particular situation and defining it for him.
Q7: Is fame by itself evidence in determining the most knowledgeable authority, even if it does not necessitate knowledge or satisfaction about it, or will it be evidence only if it entails knowledge or satisfaction?
A: What is meant by fame [in this regard] is fame among the Ahlul-Khibra while their reporting relies on acquaintance with the condition of the Marja and of other possible candidates for Taqlid by way of knowing their scientific findings and methods of derivation, and reaching a conclusion of favoring one Mujtahid without any notable disagreement amongst them, even if those who favor him were great in number to cause confidence that those who disagree were mistaken because of they are small in number. Such fame necessitates confidence or knowledge of who the most knowledgeable Marja is. Fame is used only as a way to determine the Marja when the witnesses who testify in the favor of one Mujtahid do not possess the attribute of Adalah, or there is an opposing opinion from a witness. Otherwise, the testimony of two witnesses with Adalah is sufficient.
If fame is not based on what we have stated, then it is disregarded, such as fame among the general public that is based on the opinion of a small number of people, or if it is among the Ahlul-Khibra but it is based on something else other than what we have stated above, even this is because they did not give enough attention to examining the conditions of the others candidates, or due to the reliance of the Ahlul-Khibra on what others say without examining the condition of the other candidates by themselves, or for other reasons.
Q8: If the interests of Islam require emulating someone else other than the most knowledgeable Marja, is it permissible to observe his Taqlid? In determining the afore-mentioned interest, should one refer to the Mujtahid or is it subjective and thus left to the concerned individual?
A: The interests of Islam are the most important concerns of every sincere believer. He has to apply his efforts to exert himself in their regard, for one who is not concerned about the affairs of Muslims is not one of them. Undoubtedly, the interests of Islam are achieved only when the most suitable, the most learned and the most knowledgeable individual is selected for Taqlid because he is the most apt and capable of satisfying and achieving them.
Thus did Allah, the most Exalted One, the most Great, create mankind to select the best in all of his affairs. He does not stop from applying this principle except when there are irrational motivations such as an illicit desire, anger, complexities, past legacies or other such emotional impulses which sound reason does not endorse and are rejected by the straightforward nature. And by that Allah Almighty has established the argument against His servants, as He did establish it with regard to all natural issues.
But the areas where the best is needed, when such areas are many, and if there is an authority for them all, and he is the most suitable person in all of them, he should be referred to with regard to all of these matters. This is what the Shi'ites believe of the Greatest Prophet (peace be upon him) and the guiding Imams from among his Progeny (peace be upon them), for they are the most knowledgeable and the most suitable in everything, be it relevant to matters of life or of creed. They are the most knowledgeable in the religious laws when there is a need to know the religious positions and act upon them. They are also the most knowledgeable of administering the Muslims’ worldly affairs, the most capable of doing all of this.
But if the most knowledgeable person in all affairs is not found, one should refer to the most knowledgeable in each respective area of expertise; and there is no sense in referring in some areas to somebody who is the most suitable and the most knowledgeable in other areas and abandoning the most learned in the areas in question. Nobody should refer with regard to medical matters to one who is most knowledgeable in engineering or administration while discarding the most knowledgeable medical doctor if their opinions differ, and the same applies to other fields.
Thereupon, with regard to the original question, there is no way, in observing Taqlid in legislative rulings and in becoming familiar with them - in order to act upon them and fulfill the responsibility towards them - to abandon the most knowledgeable in them while referring to someone else who merely is the most suitable for administering the Muslims' affairs.
This is especially so since the administration of the Muslims' affairs is permissible only if it was established on religious bases, as it is based on knowing the religious laws, so that they are the source upon which the actions should depend, and in its light does the successful Islamic movement continue. There is no sense in sacrificing the legislative rulings, which form the foundation, and obtaining them from other than the most learned, in mere consideration of the position of the most suitable person for administration or for anything else in this matter, especially due to the importance of the legislative rulings, the greatness of their holiness, and the weight of the responsibility of implementing them.
Furthermore, the obligation of following the most knowledgeable rather than following anyone else is due to the authority of the most learned scholar’s opinion and the lack of authority of others’ opinions. This is similar to the authority given to the testimony of men in witnessing the new moon or in divorce, whereas the testimony of women in these matters is not accepted, There is no sense in forfeiting or compromising it for the sake of taking the Muslims' interest into consideration.
One of the greatest responsibilities of the Muslims, the most sacred and the most obligatory of them, is safeguarding Islam's rulings and lofty teachings, fulfilling the trust in their regard, observing their sanctity and the holiness of Allah Almighty Who legislated them. We plead to Him, Praise belongs to Him, for our own selves and for all Muslims to grant us success in doing so; surely He is the most Merciful of those who show mercy, the Master of the believers; He suffices us and how great He is to rely on!
Q9: This phrase occurs in matters relevant to Taqlid: "When the opinions of The Ahlul-Khibra vary, their testimonies are disregarded.” What should one do when it is not possible for him to follow precaution and when it is also not possible to reach a determination - through proof in accordance with religious laws - of who the most knowledgeable is?
A: One should choose who is more likely to be the most knowledgeable, and when such likelihood is one and the same, the most God-fearing is chosen, and when determining that is not possible, one can choose any one of them when acting upon precaution is impossible or is very difficult, as is the case in most instances. This has been explained further in the answer to Question 3.
Q10: In case of acting upon precaution [rather than following a particular Mujtahid], should one restrict himself to only the edicts of living Mujtahids to obtain the religious position, or is it permissible to refer also to the edicts of deceased Mujtahids?
A: He has the option to confine himself to the edicts of living Mujtahids in most issues of concern. Yes, if one used to observe Taqlid of a living person according to the Sharia-based criterion, and if that person whom he used to emulate died, he has to consider his edicts when observing precaution. But if he comes to know that one or more living Mujtahids are more knowledgeable than the deceased, the edicts of the latter should no longer be observed, but the individual must restrict his following to living Mujtahids.
Q11: What are the principles which one should observe when he acts upon precautions? Are there areas where Taqlid or Ijtihad are obligatory rather than precaution? Is it permissible in one single issue to sometimes take to precaution and to sometimes observe Taqlid?
A: Precaution here means to act on the possible religious obligation that originates from considering the edicts of the Mujtahids who are equal in the likelihood of being the most knowledgeable. A layman always has the choice to either adopt this option or observe Taqlid: He has the option to act, with regard to one particular issue, sometimes by taking to precaution, and some other times by observing Taqlid.
Q12: When it is not easy to find out who the most knowledgeable Mujtahid is, should one act on precaution, probability or assumption, or should he choose between edicts while he does not emulate the Mujtahid who permits his followers to choose; that is, he is still in the stage of looking for the Marja whom he should follow?
A: Regarding this issue, he has to refer to all Mujtahids and act upon the most precautionary measure. When observing precaution is difficult or impossible, he may choose one of them in the way previously explained in Question 3 and Question 9.
Q13: If an issue of religious law is raised, one in which the layman does not know his Marja religious opinion, should he investigate and find out the latter's opinion by asking his agents, including making an expensive telephone call? Or should he simply act upon the edict of one whose opinion he can easily obtain?
A: He may refer to a Mujtahid whose opinion he can find out, and he does not have to investigate and find out the opinion of his own Mujtahid, unless he knows that the latter's opinion differs from that of the Mujtahid whose opinion it is easy for the inquirer to find out about.
Likewise, if he happens to be afflicted with more than one issue, and if he knows that the opinion of the Mujtahid whom he emulates differs from that of the one whose edicts is easy for him to find out regarding some of these issues, it is not permissible for him in that case to refer to the one whose edict is easy for him to obtain.
Q14: Is it permissible to observe Taqlid in the fundamentals of the religion or sect, such as the belief in the justice of God, and of imamate (leadership of the Imam) – whether it is by appointment, consultation or anything else – and other principles? If you indicate a reason [in your answer] in this regard, it will be much appreciated.
A: What is established through evidences relevant to the permissibility of Taqlid is that doing so is permissible in the practical rulings [which are commonly known as the branches of the religion]. As regarding other belief-related matters, these are of two types:
(1) Matters that must be believed in, such as Imamate. What is obligatory is that the said belief must be submitted to; if referring to someone else results in conviction, it is sufficient. The basic point is that the person is not excused if a mistake takes place in arriving at a belief due to his shortcomings in reaching it. But if such following does not lead to conviction, due to the possibility of the referred person making an error, it will not be sufficient because the obligation of believing in such fundamentals is not met here.
(2) Things in which one is not obligated to believe, but he must not believe in them unless he know them to be true. This is so due to the fact that everyone is responsible for whatever he says, and one must not say anything without knowledge, such as about the reckoning in the grave, the questioning by the angels Munkir and Nakir, etc. If knowledge is obtained because of what someone else says, it is permissible to believe it. If certain knowledge is not acquired, it is not permissible to confirm or deny it – after what we have already indicated about the restriction of the permission to observe Taqlid in practical rulings only – rather, one should refer knowledge of it to Allah Almighty.
Q15: What is meant by “Adalah” according to the viewpoint of Your Eminence, and is there a difference between the Adalah of the Marja in Taqlid, and that of the imam of congregational prayers?
A: Yes, there is a difference between the Adalah which is required in the Marja and the Adalah which is required in the imam of prayers. As for the Marja, the requirement is that he should be at a high degree of God-fearing which ordinarily prevents him from falling into committing prohibited deeds; and if he does fall into committing a sin, though rarely, he is quick to repent. As regarding the imam of the congregation, it is sufficient if he avoids committing major sins, and he does not commit minor sins while insisting on them and taking them lightly.
[i]Ibid., Vol. 18, p. 94.