Permissible Taqleed

This last form is the one that is usually discussed by scholars who had differed on its interpretation. This is also the form of raqleed that is of concern to us here in the West. Further classification and discussion is necessary. One aspect of taqleed that needs clarification concerns the subjects on which one can or cannot have taqleed:

  1. All scholars have agreed that no taqleed can be accepted in matters of belief in Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, or aqeedah, e.g., doctrines such as Allah is One, with certain attributes and qualities, Muhammad sallallahu alayhe wassalam is His Prophet, and the Day of Resurrection. Only correct and true knowledge, or Ilm, is accepted in such matters. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,

“When it is said to them, ‘Follow what Allah has revealed,’ they say, ‘No, we follow what our forefathers left for us.’ What! Even if their fathers do not understand and were not guided?” [Surah al-Baqarah, 2.170]

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, in this ayah as well as others, told us to think and reflect in order to arrive at belief, and condemned those who built their belief on conjecture, and supposition. It is this type of prohibited taqleed that led the sons of Israel to worship the calf, and the mushriks of Quraish to worship their idols. It is still the reason why many people today worship saints and others. Every Muslim has to be aware that this type of taqleed is dangerous and destructive for the whole ummah.

  1. Another area of consensus among scholars is the fact that certain matters of our deen have to be known to each and every Muslim, and no taqleed of any kind will be accepted from him regarding them. This is what is usually defined as al-maaloom bi dharoorah or the Essential or Necessary Knowledge. This category includes knowledge about everything that is obligatory, such as salah and how to do it in the correct way. Siyaam (Fasting during the month of Ramadhan), Hajj, the necessity of being just and fair in all kinds of dealings, the prohibition of killing, fornication, stealing, and the marrying of close relatives, etc. Knowledge of such things is mandatory, and no one is excused on account of being ignorant or unaware of them. Ibn Abdul Barr said, “This is what is meant by the saying of Allah’s Messenger sallallahu alayhe wassalam as reported by Muslim, ‘Seeking knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim, male or female.’” (Jameaa Bayan-ul-Ilm, vol. 1, p. 11).
    It is very important for all of us in America to be aware of these two points and make sure that we understand them correctly, for they must be based on knowledge (ilm). There is no scope, in this context, for fatwa or taqleed. This point is particularly important in teaching Islam to new Muslims, whose number, praise be to Allah, is increasing every day.
  2. The permissible taqleed is restricted to the ruling of Allah in matters of seeking branches, such as details of acts of worship, worldly dealings, and character and behavior. This taqleed may lead the muqalled either to ilm (Knowledge) or dhann (Supposition). But before continuing any further, it should emphasized that the rest of the discussion is restricted, both to this category of taqleed, and to those who are considered to be common Muslims. Scholars have three opinions regarding this point:

The Rulings on Taqleed

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The first and second opinions are combined in one for the purpose of this article. They are opposite to each other, one forbidding any form of taqleed (Ibn Hazm) and the other forbidding any form of ijtihad. Thus, taqleed is haram according to the former, and ijtihad is haram according to the latter. Both of these opinions are misguided.

The third opinion represents that of the majority of scholars throughout history. It takes a position that is not just a midpoint between the two opposing views, but in addition is the right and true understanding of the ruling of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and the Sunnah of the Prophet sallallahu alayhe wassalam. This opinion makes it obligatory to perform ijtihad for those who are capable of it, and makes it obligatory to be a muqalled for those who do not possess the necessary tools to perform ijtihad or even understand the explanation of the mujtahid. In between these two categories, this opinion finds a new type of taqleed that we have not mentioned before. This type was given the name ittibaa, or a following (of an opinion) knowingly.

Ittibaa means to ask a mujtahid for a fatwa about some matter, trying first to make sure that the person he is asking is able―both in character and knowledge―to help him, and being keen to ask about the evidence for the given opinion to be sure that he is getting the correct answer. It should be obvious, therefore, that this procedure is something that is not for everyone, because ittibaa requires that one have some knowledge and understanding in deen to ensure such a following of the fatwa or ijtihad. Ibn al-Qayyum said in A’laam al-Muwaaqueen, “As for those who are capable of putting some effort into following Allah’s order, but could not understand some parts, so that they followed others who are more knowledgeable, we say they did the right thing and should be commended for such action.” Al-Shawkanee said, “If some one does not know how to check the authenticity of a hadeeth, but can derive a ruling from it, then he is a muqalled with regard to establishing the validity of the hadeeth, and a mujtahid in arriving at the ruling based on it.”

Imam al-Shafiee had a very interesting point that provides evidence for the permissibility of both taqleed and ittibaa. In al-Risalah, his most famous book, al-Shafiee argued that the fatwa of the Companions radiallahu ta’laa anhum is not part of the Qur’an or Sunnah (except that of the four guided Caliphs), and yet anyone would follow such an opinion if he did not find it in the Qur’an or Sunnah. This is something the Tabieen (those who saw, the Companions but not the Prophet) did quite often, and Muslims throughout history have appreciated such a good job for the great benefits it offered them. This following―by all Muslims after the Tabieen―of the Companions is what was defined as ittibaa and, simply put, it is a type of taqleed.

The Procedure for Seeking a Fatwa (Istiftaa)

Taqleed is permissible only with regard to the branches, and many of today’s Muslims need to do just that. But a minority of them can perform ittibaa, which is the default and recommended way because it resembles the best, most correct, and natural way of living Islam. To perform ittibaa, one must put energy and effort into acquiring knowledge and learning the deen, something all Muslims are obligated to do as much as they can anyway. Especially in the West, where mujtahids are not readily available, by seeking knowledge, a Muslim would be doing the best for himself and for his deen. Those who are capable of ijtihad must perform it, but we must bear in mind that many rules and conditions, especially for giving fatwa and sitting for judgment have to be observed to achieve it in the easiest and correct way.

What Should One do if One is in Need of a Fatwa?

One must seek referral from people one trusts to recommend scholars who truly know and adhere to the Qur’an and Sunnah and are known to have fulfilled the conditions for ijtihad. After receiving the answer, they should then make every effort to understand their evidence, and, if possible, they should inquire whether their conclusion of the opinion (fatwa) was a direct derivation, or whether it was one of many possibilities. Once they feel comfortable in their heart about the process (regardless of whether the Fatwa is what was desired or not), then they must act according to it. If one gets different answers for the same problem from more than one scholar, they should follow the one given to them by the scholar they trust the most in their heart. (Summarized from Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Fatawa, vol. 20, p. 209; vol. 28, p. 388)

Opinions at the Extremes

Through only a very limited number of scholars have opted out owing the extreme opinions regarding the permissibility or legality of taqleed, it is important that we review them because we can still find traces of them in our communities in the West.

After reading the evidence that clearly shows how the Qur’an and Sunnah permit taqleed in certain situations, one finds it difficult to except such extreme opinions, one forbidding ijtihad, to other forbidding taqleed.

One Extreme: Ijtihad is Haraam

This opinion states that anything a Muslim needs to apply in his life from the orders of Allah, has been revealed. Hence, there is no need for any kind of Ijtihad after the establishment of the four schools of fiqh, since they had already interpreted every-thing for us. All one has to do―whether scholar or illiterate―is simply choose a particular school of thought and live according to it. Al-Shawkani has said that there is not a single argument of those who hold such a view that merits discussion. The worst thing any Ummah can do to itself is to deliberately throw away its intellect and its ability to reason. Unfortunately, this is not something out of the past. Some contemporaries have even written books defending such views.

The Muslim communities in the West have suffered much because many people think they can only worship Allah according to their Madhhab. They consider themselves to be muqalled of only one Madhhab, and cannot accept any other. Wherever we find those who consider taqleed to be Waajib, we will see all kinds of abuses and unnecessary divisions among Muslims. However, arguing against choosing taqleed as a way of living Islam should not be construed as implying that everyone is free to perform ijtihad. Only qualified Muslims should perform the making of an ijtihad.

The Other Extreme: Taqleed is Haraam

At the other end, Ibn Hazm, who viewed taqleed as haram, summarized his  opinion  in  Al-Ihkaam, “Taqleed is haram for everyone, even for the slave, the common person, the unwed-girl [meaning one of young age], and the shepherd in the mountains, just as it is for the learned scholar.” (vol. 2, p. 862) The reason behind such a view from this intelligent scholar is his Dhahiri methodology and the bad examples that were provided, in his time, by the muqalleds of the Madhhabs (the nonsensical fights in the mosques and the division of the Muslim community). But it really does not matter how many good reasons be might have held. If they opposed the Qur’an and Sunnah, they would then have no weight in supporting his argument. This has been elaborated on throughout this article.

History has shown that, however empty an idea may be, some people, somewhere, who may find it suitable for their needs, will eagerly embrace it. Today, some Muslims find this opinion of Ibn Hazm to be a means of curing the ailments of the ummah. They freely exercise ijtihad in every way they like. When one looks at some opinions, they have adopted from Ibn Hazm, especially his views about music, and some other opinions that they would never adopt, such as his views on walaa wa baraa, one gets a clue as to what their true objectives are. The main reason why these Muslims like the opinions of Ibn Hazm is that it gives anyone the right to say, suggest, or do anything that may suit himself, based on his right to perform ijtihad.

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