Articles on Ijtihad  / Taqleed


Prerequisites  |  Which Mujtahid to follow Who is Wilayul Faqih | What is Taqleed | Who is a Faqih |The Educational SystemUlamaa info |  Why do jurisprudents differ  |   Ahmad al-Ahsa'i on the Sources of Religious Authority, Shaykhi School of Thought in Shi'ism  | Role of Analogical Reasoning in Islamic Jurisprudence

It is wajib (obligatory) for Muslims to study everything which is necessary for the physical and spiritual well being and development of the Muslim community. The waajibaat is known as wajib e kifaii. This means that the obligation is on the community as a whole; but when an individual or a group of people endeavour to devote themselves to the required sciences, then the obligation is lifted from the rest of the community. This applies to all fields of knowledge.

One of the most important sciences where experts are needed is the science of religion - shari’a. It is wajib for a group of people to devote themselves to the science of religion so as to provide guidance for the Muslim community.

The Qur’an exhorts us in this matter: “..Why should not a  group from every section of the believers go forth and become learned in religion; and to warn their people when they return to them, that they may become aware?”   Qur’an - Suratut Tawba - 9:122

Those who take up this noble task are known as the mujtahideen.  They are also known as fuqaha (singular -  faqih).   A mujtahid is one who does ijtihad.

The literal meaning of ijtihad is to strive with one’s total ability and efforts to reach a goal which in this case is to endeavour to deduce the divine laws of shari’a from the reliable sources and proofs.  To reach the stage of Ijtihad therefore is the capacity to give an expert opinion in the matter of religion.

The ijtihad that is forbidden (haram) is that where a mujtahid gives a rule by his own personal  judgement, that is, one based neither on the Qur’an nor on the Sunnah.

The word marja’ literally means one to whom we turn to (do ruju’). He is one who is a point of reference.  

There are many pre-requisites of ijtihad:

i) Learning the Arabic language to the extent that is required. Knowledge of the colloquialism of Arabic and the language of the people to whom the  Qur’an and the sunna was addressed to.

ii)  Commentary (tafseer) of the Qur’an.

iii)   Logic (mantiq). Every branch of learning in which reasoning is used  needs logic (understanding).

iv)  The study of Ahadith.

v) Knowledge of the transmitters of ahadith (rijal), to the extent where one is able to discern the validity of the ahadith.

vi) The study of the principles of fiqh (jurisprudence).

vii)  Thorough research and study of the views of others.

viii)  Review of the verdicts and narrations of the Ahlus Sunnah.

ix) Striving to make use of all of one’s abilities in deducing the rules. 


Once these pre-requisites have been met, then to be able to derive the laws of Shari’a a mujtahid uses the following four sources:

1) The Qur’an :-This is no doubt the first source for the laws and regulations of Islam. Approximately one thirteenth of the Qur’an pertains to laws.

2) The Sunnah : This means the words, actions and assertions of the Ma’sumeen. The study of the narrators is an important part in asserting the validity of the hadith.

3) Ijmaa (Consensus) :-Consensus means the general agreement of the ulema of a particular period on a particular issue. Consensus in it’s own right is not binding, and must be supported by the Sunnah.

However, the Ahlus Sunnah believe that complete agreement of all the Muslims of one period on an issue is a divine revelation and it cannot be wrong.

4)Aql (Reason) :-What is meant here is that sometimes a law of shari’a is determined by the proof of reason.


One of the obvious elements of Islam is that each command (amr) of Shari’a is there to meet the best interests of human beings and each prohibition (nahyi) arises from the necessity of preventing the corruption of the human being.

Thus, because the laws of shari’a are centred on the wisdom of what is best and worst for the human being physically and spiritually, they will correspond to the laws of reasoning.

Therefore, if we suppose that in some case there is no law communicated to us in the Qur’an or in the Sunnah, the wisdom of the other judgements of shari’a will automatically discover the law for the case in question.

e.g. At the time (and place)  of the Prophet (S.A.W.) there was no addiction to drugs like Marijuana, and we have no narrated proofs of it by name in  the Qur’an, Sunnah and consensus. With our reason and knowledge, and on the basis of ‘a form of corruption which is essentially to be avoided’, and because we know that whatever is harmful to human beings and a corruption of them is haram in the view of Shari’a, we realise that Marijuana is forbidden. Here, we have a basic principle to work on. 


However. Qiyaas (analogy) is forbidden. This is where one deduces a law due to it’s resemblance to another law based on opinion and imagination rather then reason and certitude. Among the ulema of the Ahlus Sunnah, Abu Haneefa considered qiyaas (analogy) to be the fourth source.

Imam Ja’fer As-Sadiq (A.S.) tried to show Abu Haneefa the error of qiyaas - It is reported that in a conversation about the subject, Imam (A.S.) asked him: “What is more important? Salaa or Sawm?”

Abu Haneefa replied: “Salaa!”

Imam said: “Then why do women have to repay their qadha sawm during their monthly periods and not the qadha salaa?”

“What is more najis? Urine or stool?” Imam asked

Abu Haneefa replied: “Stool!”

Imam said: “Then why do you need water to make the area tahir after urine, but in the case of stool paper will suffice?”


Other necessary conditions for being a mujtahid

Imam Ja’fer As-Sadiq (A.S.) is reported to have said:“....If there is anyone among the fuqaha who is in control over his own self, protects his religion, suppresses his evil desires, and is obedient to the commands of his Master (Allah), then the people should follow him.”

A Mujtahid therefore, must also be a free man of legitimate birth who is past the age of puberty, sane, a Shia Ithna asheri and adil (not only just but also one who obeys all the waajibaats and keeps away from the muharramaat). 

“...But as to those amongst the fuqaha, who safeguards his soul, takes care of his deen, opposes his desires, and obeys the commands of his Lord, then it is for the people to do his taqleed..”  Aimma (A.S.)

According to common sense, anyone who has not attained the level of knowledge that will enable him/her to deduce religious laws for him/herself, must turn to a person who has specialised in this field. Just as we voluntarily follow the advice of a doctor when we need medical attention, and firmly believe that the advice will cure our illness and protect us from infection; the same way we follow the guidance of a Mujtahid who knows the laws of shari’a so that he may lead us correctly and save us from an erroneous way. It is this following which is termed taqleed. The follower of a Mujtahid is known as a Muqallid.

Taqleed therefore is not imitation as an animal would do but a conscious decision by an individual to accept the opinions of a learned scholar. It is the mujtahid who takes the responsibility of expressing his opinion and not the followers. 

How does an ordinary believer know which mujtahid he/she should follow?

There are three recognised ways:

i)                    By his/her own personal knowledge and experience (assuming that one is oneself an aalim and able to identify a mujtahid).

ii)                   By the testimony of 2 aadil, knowledgeable persons who are religiously aware (people who are able to know another’s knowledge).

iii)                 By a degree of popularity which leaves no doubt as to a person being a mujtahid. 

Most ulema maintain that we must follow a mujtahid who is ‘A’lam’ - the most learned in deriving the laws of shari’a from the sources discussed. Marhum Ayatullah Syed Abul Qasim Al-Khui (A.R.) and Ayatullah Syed Ali Al-Husayni Seestani both confirm in their risalah that the qualification of being ‘A’lam’ is essential for a mujtahid whose taqleed is to be done.

The ‘A’lam’ may be recognised in any of the 3 ways in which a mujtahid is recognised.

It follows, therefore that to recognise an A’lam mujtahid, one has to be fairly aware of the principles of Fiqh and it’s applications. This is why we are told to depend on Ahlul Khibra - those who are well versed and experienced. Ahlul Khibra is a term used for groups  of  mujtahideen.

Sometimes, it is difficult for the Ulema to distinguish whom among all the mujtahideen is the most learned, and as a result a muqallid may have to choose a Mujtahid from several ones.

Why is there a difference of opinion amongst different mujtahideen on a particular subject?

Firstly, it is important to know that the differences in opinion are never contradictory. i.e. it is impossible to find a mujtahid who will say that one action is wajib and another saying it is haram.

The existence of differences of opinions (not difference in principles) is not a sign of a defect in the quest of knowledge; it is rather a sign of progression in knowledge towards perfection.

Differences of opinion are found in all sciences, not just in fiqh.

Who is a Waliyul Faqih?

A waliyul faqih is one who is a guardian of the fuqaha. He* is not only learned in the science of religion as the other fuqaha; but also one who establishes social justice amongst people. He is accepted by Ahlul Khibra as the waliyul faqih. 

*As suggested by some Ulema, this authority may be a composition of mujtahideen (a central authoritative body)  if needed.

What is the difference between marja’ taqleed and waliyul faqih?   By Ayatullah Ruhullah Al-Musawi  Khumayni (A.R.) 

i)    Besides having the knowledge of shari’a, justice and ijtihad, he must have a full grasp of politics of religion, sufficient courage and qualities of management for leadership and must be aware of the social and political issues of the day.

ii)   When the waliyul faqih issues an order (amr) according to the best interests of the Umma, that order becomes wajib on everyone - even those who follow another marja’ e taqleed.

e.g. When Mirza Muhammad Hasan Shirazi was the waliyul faqih, he issued an order likening the use of tobacco to fighting against Imam e Zamana (A.S.). This was in the best interests of the Muslim Umma for in 1891 the British wished to manipulate the economy of Iran through the tobacco industry to colonise Iran as they did to India. Everyone, including the other mujtahideen followed this order and defeated the British plan.

iii)   The position of marja’ taqleed can be occupied by several mujtahideen at the same time but there can only be one central authority for wilayatul faqih, otherwise the result would be disunity and discord in the Umma.  Click here for More Info on Wali e Faqih

What is Taqleed? ( )
Taqleed means to comply with or subscribe to the edicts of a jurist regarding practical affairs of religion. These practical affairs are collectively referred to as 'Furu-e-Deen' or fundamentals of religion.

Necessity of Taqleed in Islamic practical laws
Taqleed becomes necessary largely due to the average Muslim's inability to comprehend and derive Islamic laws all by himself. Given man's hectic lifestyle, it would take a better part of his lifetime to study the Quran and traditions in order to formulate these laws and statutes. Taqleed, therefore, affords the Muslim a more viable and logical option. However, one thing that must be borne in mind is that this compliance with (the jurist) is for practical tenets (Furu-e-Deen) only and not for one's beliefs.

Taqleed maybe broadly classified under four heads viz.:
(i) The unlearned following another unlearned.
(ii) The learned following the unlearned.
(iii) The learned following another learned.
(iv) The unlearned following a learned.

The latter, i.e. the unlearned conforming with the learned alone appeals to man's rationale. Taqleed, as is observed from our lives, is not restricted to Islamic practical laws alone. We visit doctors and comply with their advice and prescriptions. We consult lawyers and conform to their recommendations and strategies. It is inherent in man's nature to resort to experts in fields wherein he lacks expertise. And practical matters of the faith are no different. We therefore comply with an expert in the field of practical religious affairs too. This expert, or to be more precise, jurist, directs us in religious fundamentals by issuing edicts and decrees. He is referred to as a 'Mujtahid' and his edicts and decrees are collectively called as 'Ahkaam'.

A Muslim is therefore faced with two options. He could either endeavour to become a jurisprudent (Mujtahid) or alternatively, he could subscribe to a Mujtahid's verdicts. A person who undertakes to be a Mujtahid must however, excel in certain branches of knowledge before he finally goes on to become a Mujtahid. The aspirant for this position should have considerable command over Arabic grammar and literature, theology, logic, exegesis, the knowledge of narrators, traditions, etc.. Most of us (at some time or the other) have chanced upon the book compiled by a Mujtahid. This book commonly referred to as 'Tauzeehul Masail', is a compilation of the Mujtahid's verdicts and decrees. These verdicts are termed as 'Fatwa'. The 'Tauzihul Masail' is a comprehensive compendium that guises years of painstaking research and toil. Clearly then, becoming a Mujtahid is a no mean achievement.

As mentioned earlier, Taqleed, is not permitted in the principles of religion, i.e. Divine Unity and Justice, Prophethood, Imamate and the Resurrection. These five tenets of Islam are collectively known as ÅÍe ¾ÌuA. or the principles of religion. These shall be explained in detail under the title, 'Roots of Religion.' A Muslim is expected to subscribe to these beliefs not by referring to a Mujtahid, but by applying his faculties of reasoning and intellect. Through his rationale and deduction alone he should testify to the belief in one God, His Prophets, the Imams (a.s.) and the Day of Judgement.

We shall now learn about different aspects of the Mujtahid in a little more detail viz. his fatwas, the criteria and conditions necessary for the Mujtahid, his fields of study, etc. This will provide the reader with some invaluable insight as to who is a Mujtahid.

Who is a Mujtahid?
Regarding the term 'Mujtahid', it finds its origin in the word 'Ijtahada' which means to strive, to endeavour or to struggle. A Mujtahid is one who endeavours in the way of Allah to derive laws and decrees regarding the religious fundamentals. He endures all kinds of hardships and difficulties so as to be able to pronounce the Fatwa (verdict) in the light of Quran, traditions of the infallibles (a.s.) and the principles of jurisprudence. History bears witness to the fact that our Imams (a.s.) have encouraged such individuals who aspire to become Mujtahid.

Criteria for a Mujtahid

  1. Unarguably, the most crucial criterion for a Mujtahid is knowledge. This knowledge must be comprehensive, ranging over different fields. A Mujtahid is expected to master the following sciences :
    • Arabic - so that he can comprehend the meaning of Quran and traditions of Holy Prophet (SAWS) and Holy Imams (a.s.) in order to infer and pronounce the fatwas.
    • Exegesis of Quran - so that he can perceive the commands of Allah.
    • To comprehend the traditions with respect to its context and condition which enables him to discern between bona fide and fabricated traditions.
    • He should be well versed with Logic and Theology as the principles of jurisprudence (Usool-e-Fiqh) are based on them.
    • He should know branches of Mathematics like algebra, geometry, etc. so that he is able to determine the truth in matters of inheritance, qiblah, zakat etc..
    • He should possess the knowledge of the judgments of previous jurists so that he is aware of all the precedents.
    • He must be able to reply all the reasonable queries of the people.

    In additions to above, there are some other prerequisites that a Mujtahid has to fulfill:

  2. He should be an adult (i.e. more than 15 years of age).
  3. He should be sane.
  4. He should be a male.
  5. He should not be illegitimate.
  6. He should be just (i.e. should refrain from sins, big and small in the open).
  7. He should be alive.
  8. He should be a Shia Ithna Ashari.

Apart from the above, he must possess certain other traits such as patience, piety, forbearance. etc.. However as mentioned above, the most important feature of an aspiring Mujtahid is knowledge. And as per the principles of jurisprudence as well as traditions, Taqleed should be done of the most knowledgeable (Aalam) of the Mujtahedeen. This gives us some insight about the importance Islam attaches to knowledge.

What is a Fatwa (religious verdict)?
When a Mujtahid, after much endeavor and struggle, finally comes to a conclusion on a predicament, he issues a decree termed as a 'Fatwa'. This decree is necessarily based on the four basic parameters i.e. Quran, Traditions, (earlier) edicts of Mujtahideen and the intellect. The Fatwa will be deemed as authentic, only and only if it is in accordance with the above mentioned four basic criteria. Thus any Fatwa that is in contravention of the Quran, traditions, previous verdicts and the intellect will not pass muster and will be rejected. This derivation of religious verdicts is not as easy as it is made out to be by some people. It is the culmination of dedicated, painstaking research.


As it is not in our capacity to discover laws concerning physics and logics unless we are well acquainted with - the same idea can be said concerning Ijtihad and formulating Islamic laws.In order to be Faqih, one should be able to discover secondary legal laws from their original sources including the Holy Qur'an and the pure Prophetic tradition and other sources. In other words the Faqih is a person who has the greatest expertise in deriving the rulings of the Shari'ah from the sources. He should be familiar with Arabic language to an extant that he understands the Qur'an and the sunnah both linguistically and legally and which fits the spirit of revelation and the Message. He should be absolutely well-acquainted with the Holy Qur'an and its sciences to an extent which enables him to understand and discover legal laws and judgements. He should be well-versed with  the Prophetic tradition to the extent he should distinguish true and satisfactory hadiths trough studying them and their chain of transmitters in addition to his understanding of the sunnah and its circumstances and having the ability to discover laws which go with the Qur'anic concepts. Among the qualities necessary for a Faqih is  his being acquainted with what other scholars discover in the studies and sciences which help in organizing and comprehending the jurisprudential thought and deepening the procedure  of Ijtihad (exercising of independent judgements) like the science of principles of jurisprudence, dogmatic theology, logics, philosophy, jurisprudence...etc.

Thus,  the experts (fuqaha') of Shari'ah today upon whom Muslims depend for laws as did those before them are the most excellent example in science, comprehension, and legislation. Another important qualification which should be found in the Faqih (mujtahid) is faithfulness, loyalty, honesty, integrity, objectivity because he is the seeker of the truth and the one who is responsible before the Almighty Allah concerning his judgements, and legal rulings. He should also be well known (distinguished)  for intelligence, literary taste, an accurate comprehension manners and ability of discovering and extraction in order to practise his responsibility (post) successfully and precisely. Consequently, Ijtihad and its distinguished experts and scholars are those who spend all their efforts and abilities sincerely in order to supply instinctive knowledge of Ijtihad and the skill of discovering the laws. In addition to this, Islamic law lays down that a mujtahid should be a free man and of legitimate birth who is past the age of puberty, and is sane, and just besides possessing other moral and legal qualities, such as piety and abstention from all that the Shari'ah forbids and fulfillment of all its obligation.  However, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish whom among all the mujtahids is the most learned and as a result more than one mujtahid may be followed in taqlid at one time (though not, of course, by the same person), as is the case at present, but any such multiplicity does not result in any practical disagreement on legal matters among the followers of the school of Ahlul-Bait.



A theology student has three levels to go through to become an mujtahid or a faqih. These are as follows:

I.          Introductory Level (muqaddamat)

This level of theological education concentrates an Arabic grammar, syntax, rhetorics etc., as well as some literature and logic. Theological seminaries mostly teach general books in this level. The reason for the emphasis on Arabic is that the Quran and all the important Islamic books and the ahadith are in Arabic. It would normally take seven years to complete this stage. The following books are taught in this level in the order of priority:

Jami’ul-Muqaddamat is in 14 small volumes, in Farsi and Arabic. Arabic grammar, syntax, logic, method of reading and exercises in conjugation are taught. The objective of the course is to teach introductory Arabic syntax to the student and to prepare him for learning the subsequent courses. Books recently used for this course are The New Arabic, and simple Grammar.

Siuti explains Arabic syntax. The new book used for this course is Al-Qava’id ul-Assassi (Basic Principles).

Mughani completes the grammar and syntax courses and teaches the student Arabic grammar in relation to literature. Tahzib is the new book used for the course.

Hashieh teaches the student basic logic. The new book used in the field is Al-Mantiq (The Logic).

Mutaval, or a summary of it, teaches rhetorics and speech. The objective of the course is to familiarise the student with the art of speech and rhetoric and to enable him to understand the Quran and more difficult texts. The new books used for the course are Balaghat (Eloquence) or Javahir ul-Balagha (Essence of Eloquence).

 II.         Inetermediate Level (sat’h)

Sat’h means superficies, and is referred to reading directly from the books and learning from them. When a theology student completes the requirements of the introductory stage, he is promoted to the intermediate level. Here, he is taught Islamic theology and principles which he learns to reason out. It normally takes eight years to complete the intermediate level. Only the larger and more important theological seminaries run the intermediate course.

The following books are taught in this level in order of priority:

Ma’alem ul-Usool teaches the student basic theology in a reasoned manner.

The new book used for the purpose is a summary of Ma’alem.

Qavanin, authored by Mirza-e Qummi, teaches theology in more depth. The new book used is Usul ul-Fiqh.

Lum’ah, by Shahid Thani, teaches the foundations of canonical theology (ijtihad).

Makasib, authored by Sheikh Murtadha Ansari, teaches canonical problems and profound answers to them and aims at getting the student to master the rules of Islamic theology and its application.

Rasa’il teaches rational reasons of theology and aims at getting the student to master the rational reasons of theology.

Kefayat ul-Usool, authored by Mulla Mohammad Kazem Khurassani, teaches theology and its principles as well as its problems, and establishes full mastery of theology and its problems. Theology students may also take selective courses at this level, in the following order of priority:

Manzuma teaches a series of basic philosophy lessons and is a prerequisite for theology students who plan to read philosophy. The length of this course together with isharat is three years.

Isharat teaches  philosophy and gnosticism.

Bidayat ul-Hakama teaches a summary of philosophical titles and topics in one year.

Nahayat ul-Hakama teaches philosophical topics in the intermediate level in two years.

Assfar is a descriptive course of philosophical topics at the advanced level, taught in three years.

Sharh-e Tajrid teaches natural sciences and divinities as viewed by orators and aims to teach the theology student the arguments in two years.

Maqamat-e Hariri and Maqamat-e Hamedani familiarise theology students with Arabic literature. Each would take two and a half years but Mu’alaqat-e Sab’a may also be read together with one of them.

 III.       Advanced Level (kharij)

Having mastered the lower courses and understood the narrations and hadiths, the theology student enters the advanced level with the permission of his teachers and upon sitting some kind of examination.

This level, in fact, is the stage of research for a theology student, leading him ultimately to become an Islamic jurisprudent or theologian. (marja’ taqlid) themselves.

On this level, the teacher discusses the opinions of the important Islamic canonists and those of his own and allows his students to enter debates with him. This stage of theological education may go on for as long as needed for the theology student to acquire the power of interpreting theological issues , and form his own opinion and judgement about them.

Nevertheless the students may leave from theological seminaries at any stage they wish. Only a smaller number continue their theological education to become scholars and a larger number drop out after completing one or two stages. No certificates of graduation are issued by the seminaries. However, when a theology student becomes a scholar, his teacher or teachers issue a certificate at his request which authorises him to use his own judgement concerning theological issues. Ijtihad) means the power to refer to the four sources of reason, the Quran, Tradition, Concensus and Wisdom, and interpret the theological issues on their basis.


As explained before, topics of study in theological seminaries consist of Arabic literature, principles of theology, theology and rational sciences which include logic, arguments and philosophy. The first three are more in demand than the last in which works by Islamic philosophers such as Mulla Sadra and Mulla Haadi Sabzevari are taught.

In the advanced level, other courses are also taught. These include: 

Rijal, which is a research into biographies of hadith tellers.

Diraya, which discusses the documents on the basis of which hadiths are told, and the course through which a document is traced back to the original text.

History of Islam, Ethics, Interpretations, astronomy are other courses taught. Moreover, studies of sociology, psychology, English or other foreign languages have become more common in the past few years.

 Characteristics of Theological Education

Education in theological seminaries has certain characteristics which distinguish it from modern education. The most important of those is that neither the period of education, nor the manner of graduation is pre-planned and compulsory. The theology student chooses his own teacher ever since he begins his theological education and continues to study with the same teacher as long as he himself deems fit.

Moreover, in the absence of a system of issuing graduation certificates, theology students are free to take their courses at their own pace. The same freedom is apparent in teaching. A theology student who has been studying for a few years, has the right to enter debates with his teacher and take fault with his statements. To prepare for lessons, theology students usually consult various theology books and go through the opinions of theological authorities.  Upon receiving a lesson, they debate the lessons among themselves in order to master essence of the lessons. This method of studying helps theology students to develop in debating and discussions. They gain more skills by preaching to the public, usually to earn an  income.

More at intensive process of study & teaching in the howza