The foundation of Usulism rests on Ijtihad and therefore on Taqleed (of the mujtahid). Over the centuries, the Usuli clerics have built an enormous power base on this foundation, even founding a political state. As a result, the majority of the twelver shias today are Usulis and all of them invariably follow some mujtahid or the other. Every risalah (book of practical laws) of a mujtahid begins with a chapter on Taqleed detailing dozens of rulings on how the layman should come under the authority of a mujtahid.

In this article, by Taqleed we mean the Taqleed of a fallible mujtahid. When a mujtahid gains a substantial following he qualifies to the title of “marja” – meaning the one to turn towards to (for religious rulings). He really is still a mujtahid the only difference being that he now has muqallids who are emulating (doing his Taqleed) him.

Salvation of a momin in Usulism is only through Taqleed (unlesss he is a mujtahid himself). A matter of this paramount importance surely demands considerable amount of hadith otherwise Ahlulbayt (as) have (God forbid!) failed in their duty to leave us with clear instructions in this matter.

Is this system built on hadith and thus on the teachings of Ahlulbayt (as)? If so where are all the hadith that define the complex rules that comprise it? How many hadith, if any, are there on this topic? And do they spell out the details in the same way that the mujtahid’s risalah (book of practical laws) spells it out in the first chapter? Without hadith this entire system risks being an innovation (biddat).

Suprisingly no muqallid has ever asked his/her marja for proof of Taqleed from hadith. If you practice Taqleed, we challenge you to ask your marja for hadith that support this system.

Unfortunately there are no hadith on Taqleed (of a fallible mujtahid) in our four canonical collections – the kutub-e-araba (four books). Ironically, one of the collections is titled Man la yahdharul faqih – meaning “For the one who has no access to a faqih” and thus obviates the need for Taqleed in the first place!

Since the marja is not usually accessible and is not interested in providing hadith (because there are none on this issue and even the one that exists is not considered as “authentic” from his point of view) what do the followers do? They turn to the lower ranked clerics who are the popular speakers at their local centers. These lower ranked clerics usually quote the following hadith from Imam Askari (as):

فأما من كان من الفقهاء صائنا لنفسه ، حافظا لدينه ، مخالفا على هواه ، مطيعا لامر مولاه ، فللعوام أن يقلدوه

Imam Al Askari (a.s.) as part of a longer hadith said: Whoever of the fuqaha that safeguards his nafs (self), is protective of his religion (deen), opposes his temptations (hawa), is obedient to his Maula’s commands (amr), then the common people (awaam) can do his Taqleed (yuqalliduhu).

[Shaykh at-Tabarsi, al-Ihtijaj, vo. 2; Tafseer Imam Al Askari]

Let us analyze carefully this small fragment of a long solitary hadith in all its aspects to see if there is any scope for it to be a bedrock for Taqleed and thus Usulism.

1. Not found in the canonical collections (kutub-e-araba)

This hadith is not found in any of our four major canonical collections: the kutub-e-araba. These are our most comprehensive collections (sourced from 400+ books that were compiled during the times of the Imams) collectively comprising of a whopping 44,344 hadith.

2. Hadith fragment

This hadith is a short fragment extracted from a much longer one where the rabbis (jewish priests) are being condemned and where the main theme is not even Taqleed. You can find the entire hadith here – Hadith on Taqleed by Imam Askari.

3. Mujtahids use rational arguments

This hadith is not used by mujtahids to prove Taqleed. The mujtahids prove Taqleed not through hadith but through a “rational” argument which is briefly summarized as: An ignorant person (jaahil) should emulate a knowledgeable (aalim). You can read the details of this rational argument here: Dialogue on Taqleed. Note that there is no mention of any hadith.

4. Mujtahids consider this hadith “weak”

This hadith, in the ijtihad of the mujtahids (and in fact the entire tafseer of Imam Askari) is considered “weak” and incapable of having probative force (hujjiya). It is also a khabar-al-wahid (i.e. it is not a mutawatir established hadith). Therefore, they will themselves never present it as proof. However, like we earlier mentioned the lower level clerics are eager to quote it, when in fact no Usuli cleric has a right to quote it as it violates the very ijtihad of his mujtahid..

5. Hadith uses the term fuqaha

In this hadith, Imam (asws) has used the word “fuqaha” and not “mujtahid”. Please refer to our article: Who are the Fuqaha? It proves that the mujtahids do not fit the definition of a fuqaha, since they don’t narrate hadith.

6. Obedient to Imam

According to this hadith, the person whose Taqleed is allowed, must be obedient to his Maula’s commands (i.e. hadith). Now, without having any knowledge of hadith, how can the muqallid check and confirm whether his mujtahid is indeed obedient to the commands of Imam? The mujtahid in reality disobeys the commands of the Imams (as) freely. To verify this you would have to read the hadith first.

7. Opposes his nafs

This hadith also lays down an important criteria for this person (whose Taqleed is permissibile). This person must oppose his nafs. What does it mean to oppose the nafs? This has been explained in hadith (future topic insha Allah). It means to not introduce your own opinions (desires) in religion, which the mujtahids do all the time through their practice of Ijtihad.

8. No first hand experience with the Mujtahid

To be certain if this person (marja) is protective of his religion and opposes his nafs, the muqallid must have a direct one-on-one living experience with him. He must have dealt with him and observed him in close proximity. Otherwise, he has no certainty of these qualities. Most muqallids have no first hand experience of living in the same society as that of their marja, have no experience interacting with him on a daily basis and having observed him in close quarters.

9. Why no Taqleed in usul-e-deen

If this hadith justifies Taqleed, then why is there no Taqleed in usul-e-deen? This hadith does not define the scope of Taqleed and therefore should provide blanket permission for Taqleed in both usul and furu.

10. No mention of Ijtihad

This hadith does not mention the most important criteria for Taqleed – which is Ijtihad. It does not even mention the word “mujtahid”. Taqleed in Usulism is to be done of a mujtahid who must spend decades first to master pre-requisite subjects like mantiq (logic), kalam (theology), usul-e-fiqh (principles of fiqh), ilm-al-rijal (biography of narrators), falsafa (philosophy), etc. The Imam fails to mention any of these subjects and instead mentions qualities like piety, self-control, and obedience.

How can this hadith be understood?

Since, this hadith of Imam Askari (as) can not be used to justify the Usuli system of Taqleed and Ijtihad, the question is how should we then understand it?

One way this hadith can be understood is as follows. If we meet a believer who has a strong knowledge of hadith and we develop a direct relationship or friendship with him (i.e. we have had the opportunity to observe him at close quarters on multiple occasions). We have verified and double checked that his statements are backed by hadith. He does not say anything from his own opinion and willingly quotes the hadith when asked for proof. He is completely subservient to the hadith (i.e. the commands of the Master). Now let’s say we observe him doing wudhu in a certain way, then we can emulate him knowing and being certain that his way of performing wudhu is in accordance with hadith. If we were to ask him about any action of wudhu we are confident that he would readily quote the hadith and guide us to the words of the Imams (as).

An alternative reading of this hadith could also be that one must emulate these fuqaha (those who have knowledge of hadith and who narrate them) in the exact same qualities that they are being praised for. Just like them, we must also safeguard our religion, oppose our nafs and be obedient to our Master.