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Taqleed (Arabic: تقليد) is usually translated as emulation or imitation and refers to following the verdict of a jurist without demanding an explanation of the processes through which they arrived to it. In the Usuli school of Shi'ite jurisprudence, taqleed is considered to be an obligation on any lay person that they "emulate" a religious scholar by following his legal rulings. Akhbaris and the Kirmani School of Shaykhis reject the concept, and hold it to be a heretical innovation.



Linguistically, taqleed is related to the word qaladah (قلادة), which refers to a type of garland or necklace. The word taqleed itself refers metaphorically to placing the responsibility of one's actions on somebody else. One relinquishes the burden of attempting to deduce all of one's religious obligations on one's own, and leaves that responsibility to the scholar one chooses to follow. Such a scholar is referred to as a marja at-taqlid (Arabic: مرجع التقليد), meaning a "source of taqlid'."

Based on this definition, the Shi'ites obedience to an Imam is not, strictly speaking, an act of taqleed. This is because, in Shi'ite belief, the word of the Imam is itself proof, and there is no question of error. Taqleed to a religious scholar, on the other hand, involves an act of trust between the person doing taqleed, the muqallid (Arabic: مقلّد) and the scholar being followed. The assumption is that if the scholarly intentionally errs, he takes that burden upon himself on the Day of Judgement. Those who followed him and did not realize what he was doing will be exempt from punishment.

Rational Evidences

The primary rational evidence is based on a principle known as "the obligation of deterring possible harm" (قاعدة وجوب دفع الضرر المحتمل). The argument is that a person has religious obligations; if they are not qualified to determine those religious obligations, then natural reason indicates that they should follow a person of expertise. The classic example given is of a sick person who goes to a doctor. This doctrine assumes a belief in natural reason, something that is accepted by Usuli scholars, though not by Akhbari or many Shaykhi scholars.

Another aspect of the rational argument is based upon another source of religious law, called "the way of rational people" (سيرة العقلاء). This principle is not based on a belief in the efficacy of natural reason in religious law. Rather, "the way of rational people" indicates something that rational people simply do. The fact that many people do something is not, in and of itself, a source of Islamic law. However, if it is known that rational people normally do a thing, and that this thing is a universal practice amongst all people, and there is nothing within the Qur'an or the statements of the Prophet or Imams prohibiting people from doing it, then this implies a tacit approval on the part of the lawgiver. It is argued by Usuli scholars that there is no prohibition from the Prophet or Imams on following a religious scholar, and so the religious law of Islam approves of this practice. Since there is no other way for a layperson to determine their religious obligations on their own, then the principle of "deterring possible harm" takes over. The only way for them to deter possible harm in the hereafter is for them to follow an approved source, which is a religious scholar. Shaykh Abd al-Hadi Fadli writes:

العامي عندما يثبت لديه ان هذا الفقيه العالم بالاحكام الشرعية قد توفرت فيه الشروط التي تصحح الرجوع اليه واخذ الاحكام الشرعية منه، وان فتواه حجة تنجز التكليف في حقه، اي تجعله جاهزاللامتثال، وتعطيه المجال للاعتذار امام اللّه تعالى عند عدم اصابة الفتوى للواقع المطلوب، فانه يرجع اليه وبتاثير من هذه المشروعية التي آمن به

The lay person, when it is proved to him that a particular scholar knows the religious laws and has fulfilled all the conditions that make it correct to make references to him, and knows that this scholar's legal ruling has binding legal value and should be acted upon, and knows that he will have an excuse before Allah the exalted if that fatwa is incorrect, will certainly go to such a scholar and act upon this law that he trusts.[1]

Religious Evidences

The primary religious evidence offered by Usuli scholars is the following statement by Imam Jafar al-Sadiq, narrated by Imam Hasan al-Askari:

. . .فأما من كان من الفقهاء صائنا لنفسه ، حافظا لدينه ، مخالفا على هواه ، مطيعا لامر مولاه ، فللعوام أن يقلدوه. . .
. . .However, if there is somebody from the fuqaha who guards himself, protects his religion, opposing his desires, and obeys the command of his Master, then the people may do taqleed of him. . .[2]

Further evidence is offered by Usuli scholars, as they present a number of documented cases of Shi'as who lived far from Medina asking the Imam of their time to appoint someone in their locality to adjudicate between them in religious problems.[3] More so, the scholars use the following statement given by Imam al-Mahdi to Ishaq ibn Ya'qub in one of his letters as further proof:

وأما الحوادث الواقعة فارجعوا فيها إلى رواة حديثنا ، فانهم حجتي عليكم ، وأنا حجة الله
As far as newly occurring circumstances are concerned, you should turn (for guidance) to the narrators of our ahadith, for they are my proof over you just as I am Allah's proof.[4]


  1. تاريخ التقليد الشرعي, by عبد الهادي الفضلي
  2. باب عدم جواز تقليد غير المعصوم فيما يقول برأيه ، وفيما لا يعمل فيه بنص عنهم, Wasa'il ash-Shi'a by Shaykh Hurr al-Aamali; vol. 27, pg 131, #33401
  3. Taqlid: Meaning and Reality by Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi
  4. باب وجوب الرجوع في القضاء والفتوى إلى رواة الحديث من الشيعة ، فيما رووه عن الائمة من أحكام الشريعة ، لا فيما يقولونه برأيهم, Wasa'il ash-Shi'a by Shaykh Hurr al-Aamali; vol. 27, pg 140, #33424
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