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Does the Qur’an Praise or Prohibit Taqlid and Imitation?

Taqlid is among topics about which, one cannot give a general rule, but rather its goodness and badness differs due to conditions. It is sometimes admirable and rationality approves it; and sometimes reprehensible and no one can defend it.

Today, human progress, expansion of knowledge, different issues and existence of new needs in the society requires existence of experts in every field of science who spends his life on it and with the vastness of knowledge and shortness of one’s life, there is no chance for a person to become expert in all sciences; thus, no one can be found who reaches the competence of ijtihad and reasoning in all sciences, uses his knowledge in all of them and does not need to follow another in any science.

The important issue here is the opening of the way for all people to learn. In other words, the gate of knowledge is open to anyone and everyone can acquire it through making efforts; however, many people fail to acquire expert knowledge in different fields due to different reasons, and they suffice to some information about them. For them, the way of following experts is open and it is emphasized by reason and religion as well. Taqlid and following is in fact for those who cannot reach expertise in a field. Although, they have not acquired true knowledge in that field, they will have a share of the truthby following the experts in that field.

The Glorious Qur’an clearly explains this view and emphasizes on it. The Qur’an neither rejects Taqlid totally, nor approves itcompletely; but ratherin appropriate situations, it gives orders from which some points can be understood.

First, we review the verses mentioned in disapproval of Taqlid, so that we can have a general outlook at the cases in which Taqlid is disapproved. Generally, the Taqlid at the time of the noble Prophet (a) was in idol-worshipping followed as a tradition from the past among Arabs and Ignorant Arabs followed it. Therefore, they were rebellious against the truth and did not submit to the word of the Prophet (a). The Qur’an firmly stands against this blind Taqlid in principles such as theology, and says, “When they are told, ‘Come to what Allah has sent down and [come] to the Apostle,’ they say, ‘Sufficient for us is what we have found our fathers following.’ What, even if their fathers did not know anything and were not guided?!” (5:104)[1] “They said, ‘Have you come to us to turn us away from what we found our fathers following, so that supremacy may be yours in the land? We will not believe in the two of you.’” (10:78)[2] and “They said, ‘We found our fathers worshipping them.’ * He said, ‘Certainly you and your fathers have been in manifest error.’” (12:53-54)[3]

These verses show that one cannot imitate others in principles of religion. However, Taqlid is different from acquiring knowledge from another and these verses have no conflict with this fact that we learn principles of religion from others and benefit from the reasoning. Disapproved Taqlid here is carried out without reason or knowledge and merely because others say so.

There are other verses too which have criticized this type of Taqlid and consider those who practice it ignorant.

Beside this type of Taqlid, another type of Taqlid is rejected in the Glorious Qur’an, “When they commit an indecency, they say, ‘We found our fathers practicing it, and Allah has enjoined it upon us.’ Say, ‘Indeed Allah does not enjoin indecencies. Do you attribute to Allah what you do not know?’” (7:28)[4]

This verse criticizes Taqlid of people of the past in ideological issues as well as imitating others in indecent actions. From the meaning of the verse, it can be learned that in an issue in contradiction with intellect, Taqlid cannot be practiced, but rather, one needs to follow his intellect. Therefore, Taqlid cannot be practiced in religious and ideological principles.Even the intellect should be followedin secondary principles acquired by it. Thus, Taqlid of indecent actions is not justifiable.

These are the arguments for the first rule from the Qur’an in criticism of Taqlid. But, in some other verses, the Qur’an has some statements, from which following the experts is learned as an approved practice:

“We did not send [any apostles] before you except as men to whom We revealed. Ask the People of the Reminder if you do not know.” (16:43)[5]

Although this verse is about a certain case, it issues a general rule, i.e. the necessity of solving a problem by referring to experts and scholars. This verse clearly says that experts should be followed, except in cases in which following is disapproved such as those mentioned above.

There is another verse which suggests following too:

“And they will say, ‘Had we listened or applied reason, we would not have been among inmates of the Blaze.’” (67:10)[6]

In this verse, the reason for becoming inmates of the hell is considered to be lack of two issues: intellect, i.e. reasoning and thinking; and listening which is not just hearing, because it would definitely not be the means of rescuing from the hell, but rather it means listening and accepting which is following as discussed here.

As a conclusion, the rulesgiven by the Glorious Qur’an and intellect about following are similar; and they have considered not imitating necessary in some cases and disapproved and criticized in other cases; and the Qur’an has not issued a general rule about it invariably without considering the case.

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References

[1] «وَ إِذَا قِیلَ لهَمْ تَعَالَوْاْ إِلىَ‏ مَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ وَ إِلىَ الرَّسُولِ قَالُواْ حَسْبُنَا مَا وَجَدْنَا عَلَیْهِ ءَابَاءَنَا  أَ وَ لَوْ کاَنَ ءَابَاؤُهُمْ لَا یَعْلَمُونَ شَیْا وَ لَا یهَتَدُون».

[2] قَالُوا أَجِئْتَنَا لِتَلْفِتَنَا عَمَّا وَجَدْنَا عَلَيْهِ آبَاءَنَا وَتَكُونَ لَكُمَا الْكِبْرِيَاءُ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَمَا نَحْنُ لَكُمَا بِمُؤْمِنِينَ

[3] قَالُوا وَجَدْنَا آبَاءَنَا لَهَا عَابِدِينَ

[4] «وَ إِذَا فَعَلُواْ فَاحِشَةً قَالُواْ وَجَدْنَا عَلَیهْا ءَابَاءَنَا وَ اللَّهُ أَمَرَنَا بهِا  قُلْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا یَأْمُرُ بِالْفَحْشَاءِ أَ تَقُولُونَ عَلىَ اللَّهِ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ».

[5] «وَ ما أَرْسَلْنا مِنْ قَبْلِکَ إِلاَّ رِجالاً نُوحی‏ إِلَیْهِمْ فَسْئَلُوا أَهْلَ الذِّکْرِ إِنْ کُنْتُمْ لا تَعْلَمُونَ».

[6] «وَ قالُوا لَوْ کُنَّا نَسْمَعُ أَوْ نَعْقِلُ ما کُنَّا فی‏ أَصْحابِ السَّعیرِ»

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