“We Only Follow the Qur’an & Sunnah.” Really?
In an earlier post (it can be read here), I discussed how the words of the Four Imams (Abu Hanifah, Malik, al-Shafi‘i and Ahmad bin Hanbal) concerning taqlid (incorrectly translated as “blind following”) continue to be misunderstood and misused by many groups and individuals today.
In this post, I wish to tie-up some loose ends on the subject of taqlid – “the following of qualified scholarship” – by addressing some common objections raised about the matter. It is advisable to read the previous posting on the subject, if it has not already been read, for it lays down certain cornerstones for us. Scholars state, man lam yutqin al-usul hurima’l-wusul – “Whoever lacks a firm grasp of the foundations, will be barred from arriving [at the goal].”
1. The objection most frequently heard against the permissibility of taqlid is: “We only follow the Qur’an and the Sunnah!” What is commonly implied by such a statement is: (i) that each Muslim has a duty to go directly to the root sources and derive their own fatwas and religious rulings, or (ii) that every Muslim must “weigh-up” the proofs and “select” the strongest scholarly view on the issue. Aside for highly seasoned jurists or fuqaha, permitting this to the religiously unqualified is nothing short of a wicked and woeful innovation. Explaining Ibn Hazm’s (d.456H/1064CE) words, ‘I follow the truth, make ijtihad, and do not limit myself to a [single] madhhab,’ Imam al-Dhahabi (d.748H/1348CE) wrote:
‘Yes! Whoever reaches the level of ijtihad, and a number of scholars testify to it, taqlid is not allowed to him. Much like how a novice jurist, or a layman who has memorised the Qur’an or most of it, is not permitted to attempt ijtihad at all. How could he make ijtihad? What could he possible say? On what can he base his opinion? How can he fly and he has yet to grow wings? The third type is a highly skilled, intelligent, discerning jurist who – having committed to memory a primer in fiqh, and on juristic maxims and legal theory; mastered grammar; memorised the Book of God and busied himself with its exegesis (tafsir); and possesses a sharp, analytical intellect – has now reached a rank of restricted ijtihad and is thus qualified to investigate the scholarly proofs. So whenever the truth becomes apparent to him in any given issue, or the proofs well established, and it has been acted upon by one of the great Imams like Abu Hanifah, for instance, or Malik, al-Thawri, al-Awza‘i, al-Shafi‘i, Abu ‘Ubayd, Ahmad or Ishaq, he should follow [what he sees as] the truth; without chasing concessions, but instead by being scrupulous. Taqlid is not allowed to him in the issue after the proofs have been established to him.’1
Now compare this with the da’wah that obligates (or at least, encourages) those who have nothing of the above depicted skill-set to “investigate” and weigh-up proofs! A mournful case of ducklings that can barely wade into water, convinced they can swan gracefully across the lake of legal rulings. Inna li’Llahi wa inna ilayhi raji‘un!
2. A second objection runs as follows: If taqlid is “accepting the ruling of a scholar, but without knowing the proof for it,” then when a layman learns a proof in an issue, he is no longer a muqallid (one who is doing taqlid). To this confusion, Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (d.728H/1328CE) wrote:
‘As for someone who knows the opinion of one scholar; along with his proofs, but not that of the other scholar or his proof, he is still from the generality of the muqallids. He is certainly not of those scholars who can evaluate and weigh-up [proofs].’2
This is a highly important point that is very often misunderstood. The great majority of jurists maintain that if a person is aware of a basic proof (dalil) for any given matter, but is unaware of the complete proofs, he is still classed as a muqallid (some calling him a muqallid muttabi‘ – a muqallid nonetheless). This complete knowledge entails three aspects: knowing the relevant proof-texts; knowing how rulings actually arise from them; and knowing how to resolve textual conflicts (ta‘arud al-adillah). Hence the muqallid includes: (i) a layman who does not know any proofs; and (ii) a layman who knows some proofs, but in an incomplete manner, and (iii) a student of fiqh ‘who has gained some learning of a law school and has studied a few of the manuals of the later scholars … yet despite this, is deficient in examining the proofs and evaluating the views of the jurists. Such a person is also required to perform taqlid.’3
3. Another popular anti-taqlid objection bases itself upon the verse: When it is said to them: “Follow what God has sent down,” they retort: “We will follow what we found our forefathers following.” What! Even though their forefathers understood nothing, nor where they rightly-guided. [2:170] It is claimed that since God condemned blind-following of one’s forefathers, this is proof that taqlid of the scholars is also forbidden. Al-Qurtubi (d.671H/1273CE) rebutted this erroneous thinking centuries ago, saying:
‘One group have linked this verse to the condemnation of taqlid, since God censured the unbelievers for following their forefathers in their falsehood and emulate them in their disbelief and disobedience: which is true in terms of falsehood. But as for taqlid in the truth, then this is one of the foundational principles of the religion, and one of the safeguards that the unlearned Muslims who are unable to examine detailed issues can take shelter in.’4
Ibn Taymiyyah wrote: ‘One who [totally] turns away from following the Book and the Sunnah, and from obeying God and His Messenger – turning instead to his customs; or that of his forefathers or community – is from the people of ignorance; deserving to be under the threat of divine chastisement … As for one who is unable to ascertain the ruling of God or His Messenger, and so follows in the issue a scholar; knowing of no other view preferable than his one, he is to be praised and rewarded; not rebuked or punished.’5
In conclusion: The matter of taqlid and ijtihad is straightforward enough, a summary of which is given in this passage from Ibn Taymiyyah: ‘What the great majority of the ummah hold is that ijtihad is permitted, in general; and taqlid is permitted, in general. Ijtihad is not obligated on everyone while taqlid forbidden, nor is taqlid obligated on everyone and ijtihad forbidden. Rather, ijtihad is legislated for whoever possesses the qualification, while taqlid is legislated for those incapable of ijtihad.’6
A final point to press home. If the above type of taqlid is sanctioned by religion – not only that, but jurists have reached a consensus (ijma‘) on its lawfulness; how then can it then be spoken of in derogatory terms (i.e. taqlid is “blind-following”)? Rather, piety demands that this type of taqlid be spoken of in praiseworthy terms and be depicted for what it truly is: “Following qualified scholarship in the detailed rulings (furu‘) of the religion.” After all, following qualified fatwas and rulings, without being burdened with knowing the juristic reasoning behind them, is something one gets rewarded for by God. The muqallid is praised for taking recourse to taqlid, never censured! Indeed, abandoning such misrepresentations of taqlid, and the doors of religious anarchy this has flung open, is seriously long overdue.
1. Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 18:191-92.
2. Majmu‘ al-Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 35:233.
3. Ibn Mu‘ammar, Risalah fi’l-Ijtihad wa’l-Taqlid (Jeddah: Dar al-Andalus, 2000), 43-46.
4. Al-Jami‘ li Ahkam al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1996), 2:142.
5. Majmu‘ al-Fatawa, 20:225.
6. ibid., 20:203-4.