The Obligatory Taqleed



Taqleed demands absolute submission to the dictates of a Mujtahid. Whereas, only those appointed by God qualify for unconditional submission. Yet the Mujtahids have appropriated this function of the Imams. Moreover, it is impossible for people to identify a person who is all together pious, trustworthy and the most knowledgeable. Even Prophet Moses, when charged with identifying pious men, ended up selecting hypocrites. How can an ordinary Shia be expected to make the right choice in identifying a qualified Mujtahid?

Definition of Taqleed

The word Taqleed is based on the verb qallada. It means to encircle the neck with a band or belt. The term originates from the idea of allowing oneself to be led “by the collar”. In Islamic legal terminology it means to follow a Mujtahid in religious law as he has derived them. The one who performs Taqleed is called a Muqallid.

Submitting to the Mujtahid

Taqleed goes further than mere following or referring to someone. It requires the Muqallid to submit to the fatawas (verdicts) of the Mujtahid without questioning. He must follow without examining the scriptural basis or reasoning of the decisions. He must accept the verdicts without demanding an explanation. And he must not inquire about the processes and techniques used to arrive at them.

A Muqallid has no knowledge of how the Mujtahid has arrived at the fatwa (verdict). Is it based on Qur’an? Or Hadith? Or Aql? Or Ijma? Or a combination of them? Such knowledge is neither expected nor necessary. Nor is it encouraged.

The system is founded on trust of a fallible individual. The Muqallid enters into an informal but binding agreement with the Mujtahid, who now becomes his master in religion. The Muqallid tightens the binding leash of Taqleed around his neck and agrees to be pulled in the direction that his master takes him. It is mandatory for him to live his life in this complying state, obeying the dictates of his master in all religious matters.

A Mujtahid is neither infallible nor divinely appointed. Despite this, the Muqallid submits to him in the same way that one would submit to a divinely appointed Prophet or an Imam.

Qualifications of a Mujtahid

What are the qualifications of a Mujtahid in this factitious system? In this scheme, not every Mujtahid is qualified to lead the people. He must be the most knowledgeable one. At any given time, more than one Mujtahid lays claim to be the most knowledgeable. Thus one needs to differentiate between them to make the right choice.

The Mujtahid must at the same time be completely trustworthy. He should never cover up the truth nor interpret the verses of the Holy Qur’an or the hadith for personal gain. No one would accept a Mujtahid who is less than a hundred percent trustworthy. Or else, a doubt could be cast on any of his fatwa turning him into an uttterly useless guide.

The Mujtahid must have a high level of intelligence. Ijtihad, it is claimed, is an onerous undertaking demanding decades of study at the seminary. Islamic jurisprudence is a complex area and requires mastery of a wide range of difficult subjects. A Mujtahid must apply all his faculties and use all the resources at his disposal to determine the correct ruling. It is evident that this calls for extraordinary intelligence.

A Mujtahid must keep himself engaged in study and research. He must continue to perform Ijtihad on new issues, which is no easy task by any means. He must ensure that he is the most Aalam (the most knowledgeable) lest another overtakes him in his knowledge. As long as he has at least one follower, he must be confident that he is the most Aalam.

Finally the Mujtahid must be pious and have the best deeds. If the Mujtahid, with his level of knowledge and commitment is not the most pious individual then who is?

Selecting a Mujtahid – A Formidable Task

To summarize, suitability for Taqleed requires the Mujtahid to be:

  1. The most knowledgeable among the competing pool of Mujtahids
  2. Completely trustworthy
  3. Pious and righteous
  4. Have superior intelligence
  5. Ability to keep up with new challenges.

Surely no one would choose a Mujtahid who is lacking in any of the above qualities. Is it reasonable to expect a Shia Muqallid to identify such an individual? Are the above attributes quantifiable? Can people be entrusted to make the right choice? Has God ever left the choice of His Prophets and their successors to the whims of the people?

Every attribute in the list is non-quantifiable. God alone knows the hidden aspects of people. No one can be certain about the sincerity of a person except God.
The task of identifying a qualified Mujtahid is several orders more difficult then the one placed before Prophet Moses. Let us see how this Uul-ul-amr Prophet fared when mandated to select 70 pious men from his community.

As part of a longer hadith, Imam Reza (asws) said:

.. even when High Ranked Prophets (as), i.e., Musa (as) and Isa (as) selected people, they could not select pious people, and hypocrites were among their (as) selection. Imam (asws) said: Look, Prophet Musa (as), who has (the title of) Kalimullah (the one who spoke with Allah), when he (as) selected seventy pious people (from his nation) for the al-Miqat (a fixed term), surely, he (as) had not an element of doubt in their Iman and sincerity, but all turned out to be hypocrites. That is why Allah (azwj) says: And Musa chose out of his people seventy men for Our appointment (7:155) but these hypocrites said instead: we will not believe in you until we see Allah manifestly (2:55), as a result: so the lightning overtook them on account of their injustice.(4:153). [Reference: Kamal-ud-din, 2-461-43, Bab-e-zikr Min Shahid al Qaim, Hayat Al Qulub, Volume 3 By Baqir Al-Majlisi]

Prophet Moses had a much simpler task at hand and he failed. He had to search for men with a single quality – piety. And from among his own community. From among people he lived and interacted with. Not only did he fail to identify pious men, but instead ended up choosing hypocrites!. How treacherous this undertaking is!

An ordinary Shia, on the other hand, is challenged to identify a pious Mujtahid with whom he has had no personal experience, from among men who are remote, and purely through word of mouth! Over and above, he must search for an individual with many qualities – piety, knowledge, intelligence, and sincerity among others. And these qualities must exist in the person to the fullest extent. Would God impose such a tall order on us?

False message spread from the pulpit

To deceive people, a false message is being spread from the pulpit without any proof from the Qur’an or hadith. Let me quote the Urdu phrases used in the lectures in the Indo-Pak communities. (I am forced to quote the Urdu due to difficulty in translating them):

  • Imam ki Taqleed nahi hoti” (translation: there is no such thing as Taqleed of an Imam.)
  • Imam ki Ita’at hoti hai” (translation: only obedience is required of the Imam, implying Taqleed of him is not required)
  • Taqleed to sirf Mujtahid ki hoti hai” (translation: Taqleed is exclusively reserved for the Mujtahids)

If Taqleed means blind emulation, why is it not applicable for the Imams? As we will see in the hadith literature, both Taqleed and Itaa’at are exclusively the right of the Imam. All our deeds will be rejected if both of these are not observed at all times.

Sermon of Ghadir – Taqleed of Imam Ali

We have been ordered to do Taqleed of the Infallibles. The first proof is in the sermon of Ghadir. In this sermon, the Holy Prophet makes the Taqleed of Amir-ul-Momineen obligatory:

The Holy Prophet (saww) said in his (saww) Sermon of Ghadir: ‘And he is my brother Ali (asws) Ibn Abi Talib and he (asws) is among you of the same status as I (saww) am, so do his (asws) Taqleed in your religion and obey him (asws) in all your affairs.’

Sheikh Tabrisi in his famous book Ihtijaj-al-Tabrisi has recorded the complete sermon along with the chain of narrators. Refer to the link and you will be convinced of the authenticity of his work.

Next time you hear a speaker spreading lies about Taqleed, counter him with the above hadith.

One Becomes Mushriq without referring to the Masomeen (asws)

It obligatory to refer every matter to the Masumeen else one becomes a Mushriq.

Abu Abdullah (as) said: The affairs of the people are on recognizing us (as) and referring to us (as) and accepting us (as). And if they were to observe fast and pray and bear witness that there is no god but Allah (awt), and if they have it in their hearts that they will not refer to us (as), then they will be among the ‘Mushriqeen’ (polytheists). [Reference: Wasail ul Shia H. 33221]

People have been ordered three things recognizing the Imams (as), submitting to them (as) and referring to them (as) in everything that they differ in. [Reference: Wasail ul Shia H. 33216]

Absolute obedience is only for the Masumeen

The Mujtahids have made Taqleed obligatory on the people. They proclaim without providing proof: “None of your deeds will be accepted without Taqleed (of a fallible Mujtahid) and if you die in that state all your acts of worship are doubtful”. Following is a quote from the website of Agha Sistani:

Therefore, it is obligatory upon those persons who are neither Mujtahids, nor able to act on precautionary measures (Ihtiyat), to follow a Mujtahid. [Reference Islamic Laws – Sistani]

Now compare the above with the words of Imam Ali who said:

How can Allah make obligatory upon His servants, obedience to someone who is veiled from the mysteries of the heavens and the earth. [Reference: Bihar Ul Anwaar Vol 25 Ch 4 Hadith Tariq, pg. 172]

Does a Mujtahid have access to the mysteries of the heavens and the earth? Who else besides the Infallibles are implied in the above hadith?


An act, depending on who it is performed for, can be honorable or deplorable. Take Sajdah (prostration) for example. Prostrating to Allah is an honorable act that elevates the status of a human being. On the other hand, prostrating to somebody else is a despicable act which degrades the invdividual.

The same is true for Taqleed. God loves the believer who performs Taqleed of the Masumeen. Complete submission (Taslim) to the authority and dictates of the Imams is counted as a great virtue. It is the characteristic by which a true believer is recognized and through which his heart is purified. But, submitting to a fallible individual, who is not appointed by God, is abominable. It devalues the believer and draws him towards polytheism and idol worhip.