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Taqleed: The Most Knowledgeable Requirement

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Taqleed: The Most Knowledgeable Requirement

Post  vidich132 on 2011-12-16, 8:57 pm

Perhaps the most discussed requirement for choosing a Marji’ is the requirement that the person must choose the most knowledgeable Marji’. Questions that come up include: how do we define knowledge? Who is to say that one Marji’ is more knowledgeable than another Marji’ and who is qualified to rank scholars based on knowledge? All of these are important questions that must be answered. However, the real issue as of late has been the attempt by some people to do away with this requirement. We will discuss these questions and the concerns which follow.

Historical Perspective

The requirement of doing taqleed to the most knowledgeable scholar has been agreed upon by most Shia scholars. In fact, one of our great scholars Alshaheed Althani (died in 1557) said that it is agreed upon by all Shia scholars. Since then, however, some Shia scholars (although very few) have raised some questions about this requirement and we will address those concerns later on. Today, it remains an opinion which almost all Shia scholars agree on and does not stand as a major debate between them even though many people seem to think so.

Actual Rule vs. Apparent Rule

For every question regarding deeds or actions of an individual, there is an actual rule of Allah (SWT). This rule ranges between Haram (forbidden), Makrooh (not recommended), Mubah (permissible), Mustahab (recommended) and Wajib (mandatory). However, now that we live in a time where we do not have direct access to our Imam (A), we cannot be held responsible for the actual rule of Allah since there is no way to access that. With that said, the individual today is only held responsible for following the apparent rule of Allah (SWT). The apparent rule is what appears to be the rule of Allah according to the Quran and what we have from the Hadeeths of AhlulBayt (A). Since our knowledge of the Hadeeths of AhlulBayt (A) is not complete, we are unable to claim that we know the actual rule for every question, but we can always attain the apparent rule based on the evidence that we have. If on the day of judgment, the person comes having adhered to all the apparent rules according to the best way of extracting them (following the most knowledgeable Marji’), Allah (SWT) will excuse any differences that occur between the apparent and the actual rule.

Defining Knowledge

What is meant by the most knowledgeable scholar is: the scholar who has the strongest ability to extract the rules of Allah (SWT) from the sources available (the Holy Quran and the Hadeeths of AhlulBayt (A)). A mujtahid is a scholar who has attained the ability to extract the rules of Allah (SWT) from the proper sources as mentioned above. However, this ability is stronger in some than others due to more knowledge, more practice, more teaching, natural ability and other factors. It should be obvious that knowledge here is used to refer to specific types of knowledge which are used in the extraction and does not include all types of knowledge such as medicine, mathematics, biology and other fields. Nor does it include politics, sociology, psychology and the like. These forms of knowledge do not make a scholar stronger in extracting the rules.

It is important to note that we do not define the most knowledgeable as the one who has memorized the most or studied the most books or taught the most. Although awareness and experience will have an influence on performance, the requirement is directed at the actual ability to extract the correct rule.

How to Measure the Ability

Just as in any other field, the ability is measured by analysis of the work. If someone is evaluating a doctor, lawyer, or an engineer they will evaluate them based on their work product and the steps that they take to come to their conclusions. Their awareness of different doctrines and theories and their ability to utilize these different factors and balance them in order to come to a conclusion.
Continuing the comparison, when one is attempting to evaluate a doctor and the person is not an expert in medicine, it would be logical and wise to consult experts in the field of medicine. Similarly, in order to evaluate a number of Maraji’ for the purposes of finding the most knowledgeable, we seek the opinions of the experts who would be other scholars who have attained the level of mujtahid or close to it. These are called Ahlul Khibra (the experts).
Another important note, not all the experts are on the same level. Perhaps two very knowledgeable and highly respected experts say that scholar A is more knowledgeable than scholar B and three less experienced and less knowledgeable ones say the opposite. It would be logical in this instance to choose quality over quantity.
In order for someone to qualify as a Marji’, there should be no expert questioning whether this person is a mujtahid or not. As we explained above, a mujtahid has the minimum requirements to extract the rules but a Marji’ should be above and beyond that level. The most knowledgeable Marji’ should be the best or strongest at extracting the rules and if that is the case, no one should be questioning his ijtihad.
Some might ask the question, how would these scholars evaluate the ability of another scholar to extract the rules? The answer is that all the Maraji' and major scholars teach in Hawza or write books in which they apply their method of extraction and based on their arguments, methods, awareness and general ability their position in terms of being more knowledgeable is manifested.

Why is it required?

As we have explained in our article on the requirement of doing taqleed, the idea behind taqleed is based on reason and the verses and the hadeeths are merely support for it. Since the idea is based on reason, the requirements should also be based on reason unless there is a Hadeeth or verse directly instructing us a specific requirement. If there was a correct Hadeeth that said “no one should be referred to for questions of Fiqh if they are younger than 40 years old”, then that would be a requirement for a Marji’ even if taqleed itself is a concept based on reason. There is no correct Hadeeth nor verse which explicitly instruct us on the requirement of the most knowledgeable; therefore, we will have to rely on reason.
Since the concept of taqleed is established in order to ensure that the person follows the apparent rules of Allah as defined above, the method by which these rules are acquired becomes the most important factor. Thus, it would only be reasonable that the person would try to follow the person who is using the best method to acquire these rules. If two people are able to extract the rules but one of them is better at the function of extracting the rules, it would be illogical to follow the lesser person.
An example of this is if you have a son who is sick and you are not an expert on medicine. You must seek help from someone who is an expert on medicine (this is why we have to do taqleed). However, if you find two doctors and they are both experts in medicine and they differ on their opinions for what your son should do, then the logical thing to do is to try to figure out which one of them has the better ability to extract and apply the rulings of medicine from the studies they have made. To conclude that (assuming the doctors were not at the same level), choosing either doctor would have been fine goes against wisdom and logical reasoning.
In this analogy, if after the person does his research, he followed the most knowledgeable doctor he would be seen to have made the rational decision. Even if the lesser doctor turns out to have been correct, no one would be able to question the decision he made because he tried his best. Similarly, if the person follows the fatwas of the most knowledgeable Marji’ and it turns out to be different than the actual rule on the matter, the person would still be excused by Allah (SWT). Conversely, if the person follows the less knowledgeable Marji’ and the fatwa turns out to be different than the actual rule, Allah (SWT) will question the person on why they did not follow the most knowledgeable Marji’ and the person will have no excuse.

Objections and Answers

Even though AhlulBayt knew that the scholars have different rules, they told us to follow the scholars without saying follow the most knowledgable: It is true that the verses such as (ask the people of thikr) are general and do not specify the most knowledgeable. However, it would be illogical to think that these statements are ordering us to follow contradictory opinions or fatwas; therefore, these statements can only be applicable in the position where the scholars agree on the same fatwa. The response to this is: it is very rare that the scholars would agree on the same fatwa. However, we must notice that these Hadeeths and verses at the times of the AhlulBayt (A) referred to the scholars who learned directly from them. These scholars were more like messengers than they were mujtahads. The differences of today’s scholars come from differences in ijtihad because one scholar may believe a Hadeeth is authentic and another scholar is not sure about it. Such problems were not present at the times of AhlulBayt (A) because people can just go and verify it with the Imam. Therefore, assuming that when they differ in fatwa we can pick any one of them is baseless because the situations are completely different.
There is difficulty in assessing the most knowledgeable. As we mentioned in the historical introduction, this rule has been in place and agreed upon by the vast majority of Shia scholars throughout the times. It has been applied by the followers of AhlulBayt (A) all these years and that is proof that it is not difficult in principle. With today’s technology and the incredible amount of resources, it becomes less difficult to share information and seek the opinions of the experts. Even if some difficulty is present, it is on an individual basis and is not enough to eliminate the rule altogether. Some Maraji’ have said that this requirement is waived with the inability to assess the most knowledgeable but this only takes effect after a considerable amount of effort has been made by the individual.
If we must do taqleed to the most knowledgeable, then we should do taqleed to the Imams (A) not to Maraji’. This is answered by the Hadeeths in our previous articles which instruct the Shia to seek fatwas from the students of the Imams (A) when they are unable to ask the Imam themselves.

Why Can’t I Do Taqleed to More than One?

Due to their indecision in choosing a Marji’ or just out of personal preference, some people pick a fatwa from this Marji’ and a fatwa from that Marji’ depending on what fatwas they like. This “window-shopping” like practice goes counter to the submission to Allah’s will and rules. Each person must pick one Marji’ as the most knowledgeable and practicing any fatwa that goes counter to the most knowledgeable Marji’ is a direct violation of the rules of Allah (SWT). This should be clear because the Marji’s rule in this instance is your best reference to what Allah (SWT) wants from you which you should not oppose.

Why not Have a Committee?

Although the pros and cons of having a committee issue religious fatwas requires more discussion, we mention it here because of the relevance to the topic. If 10 Maraji’ were on a committee and 6 voted one way on an issue and 4 voted the other way, one of these Maraji’ is the most knowledgeable (assuming different levels) and his fatwa should be followed by the people because it is the only excusable action in front of Allah (SWT). The fact that 6 or 4 other Maraji’ disagreed has no bearing on that and because of this, the concept is flawed. In addition, there are no explicit Hadeeths or verses nor logical inferences indicating that the majority’s opinion is correct with regards to questions of Fiqh.

A Practical Note

The requirement of knowledgability is beyond questioning because of its strong basis in logic and the vast agreement between the Shia scholars through the years. However, since most of us live far away from the Maraji’ and the Hawzas, we should seek the guidance of the respected scholars around us. These scholars should be messengers to us and relate to us the opinions of the experts (ahlul khibra) so that we are able to make a decision on taqleed based on knowledge and not be blinded by country of origin, family name, popularity, political position, convenience, social activities and news stories. None of these ensure the acceptance of our deeds nor bring us closer to Allah (SWT). However, taking the effort to pick the correct Marji’ is critical to ensuring the acceptance of one’s deeds.

What Should We Do?

If you are not yet doing taqleed to a specific Marji', you must do so in order to clear your responsibility in front of Allah (SWT). If Allah asks you why you did any certain action a certain way, you must be able to point to a religiously valid evidence. Since most of us are unable to do this because we have not reached the level of Ijtihad, we must pick someone to follow.
If you are already doing taqleed, make sure you chose your Marji' for the correct reasons. The only proper criteria to picking a Marji', after satisfying the religious requirements, is knowledgeability. Some popular but improper reasons include:

Easier Fatwas: Picking a Marji' because he has a fatwa which you like is similar to picking a religion because their practices are easier. It is counter to the idea of doing things for the sake of Allah (SWT).
Following Parents/Friends: Following anyone else in picking a Marji' is improper unless you have faith in that they picked the most knowledgeable Marji'. Sometimes we are not able to do the research necessary and we should rely on others, but only after confirming that they are using the correct method.
Active vs. Passive: These labels have been popular lately. People are picking their Marji' based on the level of activity they see from the Marji'. If someone is the most knowledgeable scholar, they should know their responsibilities and when they should be active or passive. It is not our place to question their moves or judge them based on what we see. Just as the Imams were passive in some situations and active in others, the Marji' is better able to judge when it's time for him to be passive or active.
Political, Geographical or Social Affiliation: These factors have no bearing whatsoever on religious understanding. To claim that I will only do taqleed to a Maji' from this country or this family or following this particular political doctrine requires a proof that this matters in front of Allah (SWT). We have no evidence tying the position of Marji' with any of these factors.

If you are doing taqleed to someone who is not qualified to be a Marji, you must switch to someone who is qualified. If you do taqleed to a Marji' and after research you discover there is someone else more knowledgeable and they have different Fatwas, you must switch your taqleed to the more knowledgeable one. This is the opinion of most of our great Ulama past and present including all the top Maraji' alive today. Even if your Marji’ does not say this, you are still responsible to do so because the responsibility is based on pure reason as explained above.


In order to ensure adherence to the rules of Allah (SWT) in the best way possible, we must try to find the scholar most able to extract the rules of Allah (SWT). This requirement is often referred to as taqleed of the most knowledgeable scholar and it is agreed upon by the vast majority of Shia scholars throughout the time. The question is based on logic and therefore it is evidence on everyone and it does not depend on your own Marji’.


The ideas in this article have been based on the following books:

Almustamsak Ala Alurwa Alwuthqa, The Faqeeh of his time Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Mohsin Alhakeem
Altanqeeh Fi Sharh Alurwa Alwuthqa – The Faqeeh of his time Grand Ayatollah, Sayyid Abualqassim Alkhoei
Alusool Alaamah Lil Fiqh Almoqaran, Sayyid Mohammad Taqi Alhakeem.


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