By Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi1 | Translated, with slight modifications, by Muslema Purmul
Between Absolutism and Negligence
Linguistic definition: Arabic linguists say that taqlīd is derived from the root word qalāda, which is a necklace that is fastened around the neck. From it comes the taqlīd of a road; it is as though the follower fastens the ruling around the neck of the mujtahid, like a necklace.
Technical definition: Taqlīd is what Imam Ash-Shaukani describes in Sayl Al-Jarrār as acting upon another’s words without evidence.
It is important to note that this excludes acting upon the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, acting upon ijmā’ (consensus), a layperson’s acting upon the fatwa of a mufti, and a judge’s consideration of the testimony of trustworthy witnesses – as their authority has already been established. The sayings of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and ijmā’, for those who recognize it, are both clear sources of authority. A layperson’s acting upon the statement of a mufti has been approved by ijmā’. As for the statements of trustworthy witnesses weighing on a judge’s ruling, its credibility is derived from both the Qur’an and Sunnah – from the command to take testimony – as well as from ijmā’.
Also excluded are the narrations of hadith narrators, as their processes of authentication and legitimacy are already in place. Furthermore, these are not merely the statements of the narrator, but the one narrated about, which is the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
A better definition is found in Ibn Al-Humam‘s Tahrīr (died 861 Hijri): “Taqlīd is acting upon the words of someone not recognized as a source of authority, without evidence.” Al-Qaffāl (died 365 Hijri) suggested, “It is accepting the statement (legal opinion) of someone while not knowing where he got it from.” Sheikh Abu Hāmid Al-Asfarayīni (died 406 Hijri) and Ustadh Abu Mansūr Abdu`l-Qāhir Al-Baghdādi (died 429 Hijri) both stated, “It is the acceptance of a legal opinion from one whose authority is not established, without evidence.”
The Ruling on Taqlīd in Following a Madhhab (Islamic juristic school)
There are three opinions on the issue of taqlīd:
- Requiring taqlīd in following a madhhab
- Prohibiting taqlīd and requiring ijtihād
- Permitting taqlīd for one who has not reached the level of ijtihād
Opinion #1: The Requirement of Taqlīd in Following a Madhhab
The first opinion makes taqlīd a requirement on everyone, whether they are lay-people or accomplished scholars. It prohibits modern scholars from practicing any form or level of ijtihād. Rather, ijtihād is considered banned in theory and obsolete in practice, its doors having been closed in the third or fourth centuries, or even earlier than that.
This opinion essentially makes the taqlīd of one of the four madhāhib a religious requirement on every Muslim. Those who hold this view do not even permit modern scholars to prefer an opinion outside of their followed madhhab. Departing from one of the four popularly known madhāhib to follow other madhāhib or opinions (even if they are from the Sahaba or Tabi’īn) is absolutely unacceptable.
If those who hold this view reject choosing or preferring existing sayings and opinions over others, then they are even stronger in their rejection of independent ijtihād – even if it is only partial ijtihād on some issues. They reject it, regardless of the changing circumstances that life creates, and the ideas and ideologies that people are exposed to. All of this is built upon their conviction that the door of ijtihād is to be blocked.
Some later scholars spoke about the requirement of following one of the four madhāhib. Sheikh As-Sāwy Al-Maliki (died 1241 Hijri) who authored the famous “hashiyah” on Imam al-Dardir’s Ash-Sharh As-Saghīr about jurisprudence, and another “hashiyah” on Tafsīr Al-Jalalayn, said:
“Taqlīd is not allowed except in (following) one of the four madhāhib, even if it agrees with a statement of the Sahaba (companions), an authentic hadith, and/or an ayah of the Qur’an, as one who is outside of the four madhāhib is misguided and misguiding others. Perhaps it would lead one to disbelief, as taking from what is apparent in the Qur’an and Sunnah is from the foundations of disbelief.”
Look at the stringency of this sheikh, who lived at the same time as Ash-Shaukani, and contemplate the disparity between their views. He banned taqlīd except within one the four madhāhib, even if an opinion agreed with a statement of the Sahaba; even worse, if it agreed with the text of an authentic Prophetic hadith; and worse still, even if it agreed with an ayah of the Holy Qur’an!
Another exaggeration is to consider one who is outside the four madhāhib (even if only in a specific case) as “misguided and misguiding others,” and that this may potentially lead to disbelief! All of this is rash and does not follow what the investigative scholars have agreed upon.
The opinion that taqlīd was required was adopted by religious schools and universities in later centuries. The salaf (first generation) from the scholars of these universities passed it down to the khalaf, who began to instill in their students, “One who makes taqlīd of an ʿālim meets Allah sālim (securely)!”
I remember learning this in Azhar’s religious high school in a class on the science of Tawhīd. In my required reading from the Jawharah of Al-Qarni and its explanation by Al-Bājuri, the author states:
“…And Malik and the rest of the Imams / Like Abu`l-Qasim, guiders of the Ummah, (said) Taqlīd is required of the learned man – one of them, / As the people relate in terms (they) understand.”
Abu`l-Qasim here refers to the great sufi, Al-Junaid ibn Muhammad (died 297 Hijri), may Allah have mercy on him. It implies that it is incumbent upon every Muslim to follow an imam from the imams of the four Islamic juristic schools.
Imam Malik is specifically mentioned because the author is Maliki. He suggests that an imam of jurisprudence is to be followed in the same manner that sufi imams are followed on issues of tarbiyah (self-development). Such was the legacy of Junaid with the scholars – the integrity of his tarīqah (method), the soundness of his direction, and his remoteness from extremism and innovation.
Some scholars also mandated the following of a well-known imam in ‘aqīdah (creed), such as Abu`l-Hasan Al-Ashʿari (died 334 Hijri) or Abu`l-Mansur Al-Maturīdi.
The most prevalent tradition amongst our knowledgeable brethren in the Maghrib (Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania) and the graduates of Zaytuna, Qayrawiyyin, and other institutes is to follow the Ashʿari madhhab in creed, the Maliki madhhab in jurisprudence, and the madhab or Sufi Path of Junaid in conduct. May Allah be pleased with them all.
To summarize, the integrals and potential pitfalls of this opinion include:
- Requiring taqlīd on all people, even the people of knowledge.
- Requiring taqlīd of only the Imams of the four madhāhib, and prohibiting the adoption of any legal ruling outside of these madhāhib.
- Requiring taqlīd of only ONE of these four imams. Thus, not allowing mobility from one of these four madhāhib to another one of these four, even if only in a few matters where the weakness of the madhhab’s position is apparent.
- Calling for blocking the door of ijtihād, and standing up against any call for ijtihād, even if only partial.
- Viewing one’s own madhhab as better than the others, and succumbing to an ethnocentric mind frame.
Many scholars have responded to this outlook on taqlīd, including ibn Abdu`l-Barr, Ibn Hazm, Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn Al-Qayyim, As-San’āni, Ash-Shaukani, Al-Dahlawi, and others.
Opinion#2: The Prohibition of Taqlīd and the Requirement of Ijtihād
The second opinion is the exact opposite of the first: prohibiting taqlīd and requiring ijtihād for all people. Those who hold this position obligate every Muslim to take their legal rulings directly from the Qur’an and Sunnah. They fiercely reject the following of the four madhāhib, and even attack those that propagate that view vehemently. Perhaps some of them are excessive in their attack of taqlīd since they bash the madhāhib themselves, and some even extend their slander to the founders of the madhāhib as well.
Historically, the most powerful proponent of this view, from what we know, was the famous Thāhiri jurist, Abu Muhammad ibn Hazm. He authored many books, including Al-Ihkam fi Usūl Al-Ahkām on the foundational principles of jurisprudence, Al-Muhalla on comparative jurisprudence, and Al-Fasl fi`l-Milal wa`n-Nihal on the history of religions and sects, and others.
A great scholar from later times, Imam Ash-Shaukani, helped promote this understanding in many of his books, including Irshad Al-Fuhūl, As-Sayl Al-Jarār, and in his risalah, Al-Qawl Al-Mufīd fi`l-Ijtihād wat-Taqlīd. He emphatically rejected taqlīd, although less fiercely than Ibn Hazm.
In our times, a group from the people of hadith champion this perspective, with Sheikh Muhammad Nāsiruddin Al-Albāni and his followers at the forefront.
The adversaries of those who follow this viewpoint have named them “Al-Lā Madhhabbiyīn” or those with no madhhab, because they reject adopting any madhhab – neither for the scholar nor for the layman Muslim. These adversaries have responded with a plethora of articles and books. Examples include the great Turkish scholar Sheikh Muhammad Zāhid Al-Kawthari’s article, “Al-Lā Madhhabiyyah Qentara illa al-Lā Dīniyyah,” and those by the great Hamawi scholar, Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hāmid, as well as Dr. Muhammad Sa’īd Ramadan Al-Buti’s book, Al-Lā Madhhabiyyah Akhtar Bid’ah Tahaddat Ash-Shari`ah Al-Islamiyyah.
Once again, we can summarize the integrals and pitfalls of this other extreme to include:
- The prohibition of taqlīd on everyone, even the laypeople who do not have access to the tools of ijtihād.
- The plethora of claims by young people (who have become superficial and rough) that they have reached the level of mujtahidīn.
- The audacity of young people to dismiss great scholars and mujtahidīn from previous eras.
- The disdain for the Ummah’s juristic schools, despite the immense amount of beneficial knowledge they contain.
- The transgression of some followers in bashing the madhāhib and their Imams.
- The growth of the tendency towards literalism amongst them, to the point that some have named them “The Neo-Thāhiriyyah.”
- The occupation of the Ummah in arguments over minor disagreements in jurisprudence, which has led to much infighting.
- The denunciation of those opposed to their calls, suggesting that they alone are properly following the Qur’an and Sunnah.
Imam Ash-Shaukani and Taqlīd
Imam Muhammad ibn Ali Al-Shaukani (died 1250 Hijri) was a towering leader of revival and ijtihād in the thirteenth century Hijri, as is apparent from his books on ijtihād. For instance, in his As-Sayl Al-Jarrār, which explains the text of Al-Azhār (a foundational text on the Zaydi or Hāduwi jurisprudence), he treads a path of independent ijtihād; he uses the Qur’an and Sunnah, and expresses his own legal opinions, which lie outside the four or eight madhāhib of his time. Another example is his famous Nayl Al-Awtār, where he explains the book Muntaqa`l-Akhbār min Ahadīth Sayyid Al-Akhbār by Ibn Taymiyyah. This book has become a significant resource on modern jurisprudence for both Sunni and non-Sunni schools. Another example is his book, Al-Darārī al-Muḍiyyah, (an explanation of Al-Durar al-Bahiyyah) in which he summarized the independence of his jurisprudence.
In fact, Imam al-Shaukani intensely opposed taqlīd and called for ijtihād in more than one of his books:
- His famous book on the foundational principles of jurisprudence, Irshad al-Fuhūl.
- His risalah, Al-Qawl al-Mufīd fī Adillati`l-ijtihad wa`l-Taqlīd.
- His book Adab al-Tālib wa Muntaha`l-Arab.
- His extensive work, al-Sayl al-Jarrār.
Al-Shaukani also offers alternate interpretations for what proponents of taqlīd use as the basis of their arguments (i.e. ayāt from the Qur’an, such as: “So ask the people of knowledge if you do not know” (Qur’an, 16:43), and statements of the Messenger ﷺ such as, “Do they not ask if they do not know? The cure for confusion is to inquire”). Al-Shaukani clarifies that these do not entail taqlīd of a specific person in every issue, but rather asking whoever is accessible from the people of knowledge, as was the practice at the time of the Prophet ﷺ and his companions.
Al-Shaukani benefits from the writings of Ibn al-Qayyim – which rejected taqlīd - and also those of Imam Ibn Abdu`l-Barr, Ibn Hazm, and others before him. He also rejects the notion that the door of ijtihād was closed, considering it to be a blameworthy innovation. He explains that the blessing of Allah is vast, and cannot be limited to a specific era, or monopolized by a specific group of people. Rather, it is open to all those whom Allah has gifted with the capability.
Al-Shaukani called for ijtihād and practiced absolute and independent ijtihād. He did not adhere to any of the known madhāhib, neither in foundational principles of jurisprudence nor in the actual jurisprudence – even though he had originally started out as a Zaydi. He even developed his own foundational principles, which he explains in his Irshād al-Fuhūl ila Tahqīq al-Haqq min ‘Ilm al-Usūl.
He did, however, oppose the use of independent legal reasoning and opinion (ra’y) in jurisprudence, and also rejected the legal school of ra’y in its entirety. Instead, he insisted on a complete dependence on revelation, stating that the religion is not formulated by the opinions of imams, but rather by the narrations of the Seal of the religion, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. He believed that a layperson who is not qualified to perform ijtihād ought to ask scholars to qualify their positions from the Qur’an and Sunnah, and not base it on their opinions.
I agree with Shaukani in some aspects and disagree with him on others. I am with him in:
- His call to the scholars for independent ijtihād.
- His rejection of those who impose taqlīd on everyone in the Ummah.
- His opposition of those who require that one be limited to a single madhhab on every issue.
- His rejection of those who strictly follow a specific madhhab, even on issues where the weakness of their madhhab’s sources is made clear to them.
- His rejection of the idea that the doors of ijtihād were closed after the second or third century after Hijri.
- His encouragement of the Ummah to follow the Qur’an and Sunnah, over the opinion of men.
However, I take issue with his prohibition of taqlīd on the masses and his prohibition of following a madhhab. I do not see anything that prevents people from following an Imam and adhering to his madhhab, like the madhhab of Abu Hanifa, Malik, al-Shafi`i, Ahmad, Zayd, al-Hadi, Ja`far, Jabir and others. This is allowed but not required, according to the Shari`ah. The preferred position is that a lay-person does not keep a madhhab. Rather, his madhhab is the madhhab of the one he asks from among the scholars. As such, he is allowed to go from his madhhab to another, and he may ask whomever he wants from the scholars on whatever issues concern him. He may even leave his madhhab, in some cases, and follow another if he believes that the other madhhab has stronger proofs.
I also differ with Imam al-Shaukani in his opposition to the use of independent legal reasoning and opinion (ra’y) in jurisprudence as being something that is against the Shari`ah. The truth is that there is no jurisprudence without ra’y. Blameworthy ra’y is that which goes against clear texts. However, ra’y on topics where there is no textual basis, and ra’y used to better understand the texts according to their foundational principles and in light of the greater objectives of Shari`ah, is indispensable. There must be ra’y in areas that can be overlooked due to specific legal flexibilities, or in areas that lack definitive texts that clearly require adherence. This occurs through:
- Qiyās (a process of analogical reasoning) using scriptural texts, or
- Istihsān (a process of legal preference) to side-step clear but weak qiyās for stronger but more hidden qiyās, or
- Istislāh (seeking the greater benefit) to act on public interest, with its legal conditions, or
- ‘Urf (custom) in its allotted space, or
- Sadd al-Tharā’iʿ (blocking the means to evil) or
- Istishāb (presumption of continuity), etc.
All of these involve the use of ra’y. Can the jurist really be above using it? For that matter, is the jurisprudence of the likes of `Umar, Uthman, Ali, Ibn Mas`ud, Zaid, Ibn Abbas, and others, free from it?
Is it even possible to understand the texts correctly without ra’y? Did not the companions of the Prophet ﷺ use their ra’y when they prayed `Asr on their way to Bani Quraytha? They were more right than those who delayed their prayer until they arrived at their destination, but after the time of prayer had passed, as suggested by Ibn Taymiyyah.
Are the greater objectives of the Shari`ah not an example of the use of ra’y in understanding Qur’anic and Prophetic texts?
Is not ‘Umar’s moratorium on the punishment for stealing during the famine an example of ra’y? Is not his decision to transfer the liability of blood money from the tribe to the state an example of ra’y? Is not his decision against the distribution of specific conquered lands of Iraq to the Muslim army an example of ra’y? Is not his prohibition on marrying ‘women of the book’ for fear of its impact on Muslim women, an example of ra’y? Is not his decision to combine full brothers with half-brothers (from the mother’s side) in inheritance law – even after having ruled otherwise – an example of ra’y?2
Is not `Uthman’s position that divorce is not binding if uttered while the husband is experiencing a near-death illness an example of ra’y?3 Is it not related that Abu Bakr and other companions said, “I give legal edicts with my ra’y, for if it is correct it is from of Allah, and if it is wrong, then Allah, the Glorified is free of any blame”?
Did the Noble Messenger ﷺ not accept Mu`adh’s response when he sent him to Yemen? When he ﷺ asked, “By what will you judge?”, Mu`adh responded that he would judge by the Book of Allah, then by the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah. If the answer was not to be found in the Book or the Sunnah, he said, “I will make ijtihād by my ra’y.”
Did the companions not differ on some rulings because of the differences in their ra’y and understanding?
Opinion #3: The Allowance of Taqlīd for One Who Has Not Reached the Level of Ijtihād
The third opinion does not impose taqlīd on its adherents, as with the first opinion, nor does it prohibit it, as with the second opinion. Instead, it allows taqlīd for some and prohibits it on others. Imam Hasan al-Banna discusses this in one of his “20 Principles of Understanding”:
“Every Muslim who has not reached the level of understanding the arguments of legal deduction and jurisprudence is encouraged to follow the works of the great Imams of Islamic jurisprudence. While following an Imam, one should try to understand the argument of the Imam. Once the credibility of the Imam is established, one should accept any of this Imam’s guidance, equipped with proper arguments. With that, a Muslim is advised to exert the necessary efforts to acquire such a level of understanding for arguments of legal deduction and jurisprudence.”
Thus, he did not make taqlīd or following a madhhab mandatory, and he did not make it prohibited. Rather, he allowed it, but not for everyone. It is legally sanctioned for “every Muslim who has not reached the level of understanding the arguments of legal deduction” – that is – for the lay person and the like who are not qualified to derive rulings from the Qur’an and Sunnah, or to know ijmā’, qiyās, and the other methodologies which build upon these foundational ones, such as istislāh, ‘urf, istishāb, and the Shari`ah of those before us.
Following vs. Blindly Imitating
In his wisdom, Ustadh al-Banna prefers the word ittibā` (to follow) over taqlīd (to blindly imitate) in his principle, stating Muslims are ‘to follow (yattabi`u) one of the great imams of Islamic jurisprudence.’ The Qur’an too, uses the word ittibā` in contexts that make it praiseworthy and legally acceptable.
This is seen in the statement of Ibrahim: “Oh my father, indeed there has come to me of the knowledge what has not come to you, so follow me; I will guide you to an even path” (Qur’an, 19:43). This ayah invites one to follow the ones who are knowledgeable in areas that one does not know.
We also see in the story of Musa (as) and the famous righteous servant of Allah, Khidr: “Then they found one of Our servants whom We blessed with mercy, and taught from Our knowledge. Moses said to him, “Can I follow you that you may teach me some of the knowledge and guidance bestowed upon you?” (Qur’an, 18:65-66).
Musa (as) asks to be permitted to follow Khidhr (“ittibā`ih”) so he may learn from the knowledge that Allah, the Exalted, had given him. This shows that following the knowledgeable, in certain cases, is not blameworthy.
Imam Abu ‘Umar ibn Abdu`l-Barr said: “The purpose of knowledge is clarity – to grasp the known as it truly is. For when something is made clear to someone, he has come to know it. The scholars say that the one who makes taqlīd has no knowledge, and they do not differ in that.”
Abu Abdullah bin Khuwayz Mindad al-Basri al-Maliki said, “The meaning of taqlīd is to turn to a statement that is not substantiated with proofs. Ittibā` implies that the statement is grounded in legal justification. Ittibā` is sanctioned in the religion, while taqlīd is not.”
TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: While this is just an English rendering of some issues regarding the subject of taqlid and tamadhub, it is in no way an exhaustive or complete discussion of the subject. For more information on this topic, please refer to Sh. Qaradawi’s work, Kayfa Nata`mal Ma`a’l-Turath (How We Deal with the Tradition) in which these pages represent only a small section.
- from Kayfa Nata`amal Ma`a’t-Turāth wa`l-Tamadhub wa`l-Ikhtilāf (pgs. 62-73) ↩
- This is referring to a specific situation of Islamic Inheritance Law (al-mas’alah al-himariyyah). ↩
- This is referred to as Talāq al-Fārr (Divorce of Escape), for one is trying to escape the possibility of having his wife inherit from him. ↩