Islamic Law / Usul al-Fiqh


Personal Reasoning (ijtihād) and Imitation (taqlīd)[1]

ﺗﻗﻠﻳﺪ و إجتهاد : النبهاني

By S. Z. Chowdhury

Autumn 2003

Allah addressed (khāt}aba) all peoples with the Message of our Master Muh}ummad (S{AW). He Most High says: (O Mankind! Indeed the Messenger of Allah is [sent] to you all (al-A‘rāf:158)); he also says: (O Mankind! The proof has indeed been sent to you from your Lord (al-Nisā’:174)); He says: (O Mankind! The Messenger has come to you with the Truth from your Lord (al-Nisā’:170)). He (SWT) also addressed all people and the believers with His laws. He Most High says: (O Mankind! Fear your Lord for indeed the tremors of the Last Hour are a mighty thing! (al-H{ajj:1)); He (SWT) said: (O Mankind! Fear your Lord who created you all from one soul (al-Nisā’:1)); He (SWT) said: (O you who believe! Fight those who are close to you from the unbelievers (al-Tawbah:123)); and He said: (O you who believe! Do not approach the Prayer while you are drunk (al-Nisā’:43)). It falls upon anyone who heeds the address to understand it, believe in it and that whoever does believe in it, to understand it and act upon it because it is the Islamic ruling (al-h}ukm al-sharī). Thus, originally it was obligatory upon the Muslim to understand the ruling of Allah by himself (bi-nafsihi) via the speech of the Legislator because the address was directed to everyone in general and not [specifically] directed to the mujtahidīn and the scholars (‘ulamā’), rather to everyone legally responsible before the law (jamī al-mukallafīn).[2] So, it became a duty (fard}) upon the mukallafīn to understand this address [from the Legislator] until they could [satisfactorily] act upon it because actions are not possible without the understanding of it.[3] As a result, deriving the ruling (istinbāt} al-h}ukm) is an obligation upon all the mukallafīn, that is, ‘personal reasoning’ (ijtihād) is a duty upon everyone who is a mukallaf. Hence, it was originally a duty upon the mukallafīn to take the ruling of Allah individually from the speech of the Legislator as he is the one addressed by this speech and it is the ruling of Allah.

            However, the reality of the mukallafīn is that they differ in their [levels] of understanding (al-fahm), perception (al-idrāk) and learning (al-taallum) and vary too with respect to knowledge and ignorance. Therefore, it is extremely difficult upon everyone to derive all the [required] Islamic rulings from the evidences or in other words, it is impossible that everyone become a mujtahid. Whatever the objective, it is to understand the address [of the Legislator] and acting upon it and so understanding the address, i.e. ijtihād, is a duty upon all who are mukallafīn. When it is impossible for all who are mukallafīn to individually understand the address because of their differences in understanding, perception and learning, the obligation of ijtihād becomes one of ‘sufficiency’ (kifāyah), i.e. if some [of the Muslims] establish it, the rest are relived (saqat}a) of the sin. Therefore, it is a duty upon all Muslims for there to be mujtahidūn amongst them who derive the Islamic rulings.

          Thus, the reality of the mukallafīn and the truth of the Islamic ruling is that there exist mujtahidūn and muqallidūn amongst the Muslims. This is so because anyone who directly deduces the ruling from the evidences is a mujtahid and anyone who asks the mujtahid regarding the Islamic ruling related to a particular matter is a ‘muqallid’ regardless of whether the questioner (sā’il) asked the question to know [the ruling], to act according to it, or to know it and teach it to another or to simply know [the ruling]. A person is also a muqallid if he asks an individual who is not a mujtahid [but that person] knows the Islamic ruling anyway or is able to teach it to another and regardless of whether the person who was asked is a scholar (‘aliman) or a layman (‘ammiyyan) they are all considered to be muqallid by another in this particular Islamic ruling until and unless they know its derivations.[4] This is so because the mukallafīn are those who make a claim (mut}ālib) by seeking the ruling not by following a personality. The meaning [then] is because he is a muqallid by adopting the Islamic ruling by way of the individual not because he [blindly] follows the personality because the subject matter is related to the Islamic ruling and not the individual. 

          The difference between a muqallid and a mujtahid is that the mujtahid can derive the Islamic ruling directly from the evidences whereas the muqallid is one who adopts the ruling from one who has derived [the ruling] even if [the muqallid] understands the derivations or not so long as he is convinced (yathiqu) upon this particular ruling.

          Adopting the opinion of any old person[5] in his capacity as [simply] having an opinion, or a person in his capacity as a learned individual or a thinker or any old philosopher, is not considered Islamic adoption (al-taqlīd al-shariyy) but it is only taking from other than what is Islamic and this is not permitted in the sharī‘ah. It is unthinkable that a Muslim do such an act because Allah (SWT) has commanded us to take from the Messenger Muh}ummad (S{AW) and not anyone else. Allah Most High says: (And whatever the Messenger gives to you, take it and whatever he forbids you, leave it (al-H{ashr:7)).[6]

          The prohibition from taking an opinion from a person from amongst the people can be found. So, in the h}adīth is the saying: “It is that Allah does not remove the knowledge while at the same time bestowing it upon you; but he removes [the knowledge] by seizing the scholars and so the people remain in ignorance and [when] asked about a legal ruling, thy decide upon one with their subjective opinion [thus] going astray and leading others astray.” In other words, they issue a legal verdict with their subjective opinion that they have whereas the derived opinion is not considered a subjective opinion, it is rather, the Islamic ruling. As for what is deemed to be a mere opinion (ra’yan), it is that subjective opinion a person has and it is designated by the Prophet (S{AW) as a reprehensible act of innovation (bidah). Thus, there is an authentic (s}ah}ih}) h}adīth that the Prophet (S{AW) said: “The best of the speech is the Book of Allah and the best of the guidance is the guidance of Muh}ummad (S{AW). And all the reprehensible matters are newly inaugurated [and every newly inaugurated matter is a pernicious innovation] and every pernicious innovation [bidah] is misguidance.[7] The ‘newly inaugurated matters’ are all deemed to be reprehensible acts of innovation and [this means] whatever stands at variance with the Qur’ān, Sunnah and consensus (ijmā‘) from the rulings whether it is an act or a saying. As for what is not of the rulings whether they are deeds or things, they do not fall under the scope of the word ‘bid‘ah.’ Also, the meaning is not to do with an opinion that is blameworthy or prohibited, but rather it is to do with what pertains to the adoption of a ruling for an action or a matter from the opinion of the people and it is obligatory that [the ruling] is taken from the sharī‘ah evidences accordingly and not taken from anywhere else. Furthermore, taqlīd that is permitted in the sharī‘ah is for one who is not able to derive the Islamic ruling for a particular issue (mas’alah) and [for one who] asks a scholar for a ruling in this particular issue so that he may act upon it and adopt it, in other words, the proper Islamic follower (muqallidan sharan) is he who is ignorant of the Islamic ruling and asks another who does know it so that he may act upon it and adopt it.         

And Allah knows best.
blessings upon our beloved master Muhammad, his family and companions.


[1] Translated from al-Shakhs}iyyah al-Islāmiyyah (‘The Islamic Personality’) by the venerable Jurist (faqīh), one of the mujtahid of his age and profound thinker Taqī al-Dīn Muh}ummad b. Ibrāhīm Must}afā al-Nabhānī grandson of the famous Qādī, S{ūfī and Mujaddid Shaykh Ismā‘īl Yūsuf al-Nabhānī 3 vols. 4th edn. Beirut 1994, vol.1, pp.92-93. Cf. the chapter ‘H{ukm Shar‘ī’ in his Niz}ām al-Islām, 6th Arabic edn. Beirut 1422 AH, pp.75-77 & Samīh} ‘Āt}if al-Zayn, Us}ūl al-Fiqh al-Muyassar: al-Muqaddamah li-Mawsūah al-Ah}kām al-Shariyyah fī ’l-Kitāb wa ’l-Sunnah, Dār al-Kutub al-Lubnānī,Beirut 1990, pp.185-190.

[2] The ‘mukallaf’ is defined as: al-mukhāt}ab bi-ah}kām al-shariyyah al-mulzam bi-tanfīdhihā (that person who is addressed [by the Law Giver] with the required rulings for its implementation), Mujam al-Lughah al-Fuqahā’, ed. by Dr. Muh}ummad Rawwās al-Qal‘ajī, Dār al-Nafā’is,Beirut 1997, p.426.

[3] That is, prior to knowledge of the h}ukm (Islamic ruling) of an action, one may not undertake that particular action.

[4] Tāj al-Dīn ‘Abd al-Wahhāb b. ‘Alī al-Subkī defines ‘taqlīd’ as: akhdh al-qawl min ghayri marifah dalīlihi (the acceptance of a statement without knowing its evidences), Jam al-Jawāmi‘, ed. by ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Khalīl Ibrāhīm, Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut 2001, p.121.

[5] Literally, ‘fulān min al-nās’, i.e. ‘any old Jones from the people.’ 

[6] See also sūrah al-Nisā’:58-59; Muh}ummad b. Idrīs al-Shāfi‘ī, al-Risālah, ed. Muh}ummad Sayyid Kīlānī, 2nd edn. Mus}t}afā al-Bābī al-H{alabī, Cairo 1983, pp.43-45 & Abū Ish}āq Ibrāhīm al-Shātibī, al-Muwāfaqāt fī Us}ūl al-Ah}kām, ed. by Muh}ummad H{asanayn Makhlūf, Mat}ba‘ah al-Salafiyyah,Cairo 1341 AH, vol.4, p.7.

[7] al-Nabhani quotes the h}adīth in abbreviated form so the addition in square brackets are mine. For an account of the notion of bidah, see Adillah Ahl al-Sunnah wa ’l-Jamāah or al-Radd alā ’l-Muh}kam al-Manī alā Munkirāt wa Shubuhāt fī Tahajjamah alā ’l-Sayyid Muh}ummad Alawī al-Mālikī by Yūsuf al-Sayyid Hāshim al-Rifā‘ī, 2nd edn. Mat}ba‘ah al-Sa‘ādah,Cairo 1985.


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