Taqleed to the Ulamah

By Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad

Many people today confuse and misunderstand the topic of taqleed (imitating). Some, knowingly or unknowingly, have even gone as far as denying and condemning all forms of taqleed.

It ought to be understood that we, as Muslims, follow the haq (truth), not men. And the haq is not restricted to one particular individual. But we are able to identify who is on the haq when people carry it and implement it.

The scholars are those who desire to teach and explain the hukm shar’ie (divine rules), and the Messenger Muhammad (SAW) ordered us to follow them, not the juhalaa’ (ignoramuses).

However, there are some jaahil (ignorant) individuals today who claim all forms of taqleed are haraam, even though the ‘ulamaa of the Salaf have said that whoever denies taqleed is: jaahil (ignorant), zindeeq (a heretic) or a person of bid’ah (innovation).

Some of these ignorant individuals have a lot of zeal for jihaad, but this over enthusiasm has made them ignorant of the ahkaam (divine rules) and the importance of seeking knowledge. Furthermore, they wrongly assume that the only people who have knowledge are the mujaahideen. This is a very dangerous idea, and it implies the mujaahideen are infallible.

We do not refer to a mujaahid unless he is an ‘aalim. If an ignorant person goes to the battlefield he does not consequentially become an ‘aalim. If we refer to a mujaahid (for the Deen) it is because he is an ‘aalim, not because he is a mujaahid.

There are some who say the people of thughoor (jihaad) know better; but this is not the case for all of those who are fighting. It is only for the ‘ulamaa among them.

Nowadays people want to marginalize, restrict and put down the real ‘ulamaa and those who expose the tawaagheet, deviant sects and who support the mujaahideen.

The harsh reality is that most ‘ulamaa today are behind bars. ‘Ulamaa such as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, Sheikh Omar Abdur-Rahmaan, Sheikh ‘Ali bin Khudayr, Sheikh Naasir al-Fahd, Sheikh Humood al-Khaalidi, as well as the likes of Sheikh Abu Hamzah, Sheikh Faisal and Sheikh Abu Qataadah. Some have been deported and others are under house arrest. This is what the Kuffaar and the enemies of Islam are doing to the ‘ulamaa, but unfortunately nowadays we find young people who are new to the Deen attacking the ‘ulamaa under the guise of defending the Deen. Where is the teaching of Rasoolullah (SAW)?

Al-Imaam al-Khateeb al-Baghdaadi reported from Ishaaq bin ‘Abdillaah that the closest people to the level of prophethood are the people of knowledge and jihaad. The people of ‘ilm will guide the people to what the Messengers came with, and the people of jihaad will struggle and fight for what they brought.

So who is going to tell the people what the Prophets brought? It is the ‘ulamaa. And the mujaahideen are going to fight for it. There is a world of difference between the two, and one should bear in mind that not everyone in jihaad is ‘aalim or faqeeh – some may be jaahil or even faajir (sinners).

Despite these facts, there are some ignorant youths who learn a few slogans and terms, such as taqleed, Ahl us-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah, Salaf and so forth, and claim all forms of taqleed are forbidden, even to the ‘ulamaa. They are displeased with certain issues and think they are right when they are completely wrong. And they accuse those who follow someone they dislike of blind following.

The status of ‘ulamaa

The ‘ulamaa have a great position in Islam, and Allah testifies they are people who possess ‘ilm and fear Him. Allah (SWT) says:

“Allah bears witness that Laa ilaaha illaa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He), and the angels, and those having knowledge (also give this witness)…” (EMQ Aal ‘Imraan, 3:18)

“…It is only the ‘ulamaa among His slaves that fear Allah.” (EMQ al-Faatir, 35:28)

“…Allah will exalt in degree those of you who believe, and those who have been granted knowledge. And Allah is Well-Acquainted with what you do.” (EMQ al-Mujaadalah, 58:11)

The ‘ulamaa are those who safeguard the Deen and the Sharee’ah, and they are like the Anbiyaa’ (Prophets). They are the ones who convey the Deen after them, and they carry a great amaanah (trust).

Taqleed

Sheikh al-Albaani (d. 1420 AH) said – and I quote him for those who claim to follow him:

“As for me, I do not reject taqleed, rather I affirm it and make it obligatory. And if anybody disagrees with me that is up to him. We may benefit from disagreement in this matter. I believe that taqleed cannot be avoided by anyone, whether by the Kibaar al-A’immah (prominent Imaams), as well as the ‘ulamaa, let alone the Taalib ul-‘Ilm (seeker of knowledge), or for greater reason the general masses.”

What Sheikh al-Albaani said was based on the sayings of the classical scholars. And the underlining fact is that not all forms of imitation (taqleed) are haraam. In fact, it is impossible to go without it, and nobody can avoid it, including the ‘ulamaa, not to mention the Taalib ul-‘Ilm. There is a difference between imitating a Kaafir, jaahil or belly dancer, and imitating an ‘aalim.

When some ‘ulamaa spoke about imitation (taqleed) being haraam, they were speaking in regards to individuals who clearly contradict the Qur’aan and Sunnah, yet people still (blindly) follow them.

Al-Imaam ash-Shaatibi (d. 790 AH) said:

“There is no doubt that if the ‘aammi (layman) refuses a fatwa of a mufti without any Sharee’ah reason, whether by following his hawaa (desire) or not, that is indeed going against the decree of Allah, when He said: ‘Ask the people of dhikr (knowledge) if you know not.’”

So when a person asks the ‘ulamaa he should ask for the hukm, as this is what Allah has commanded. If he seeks hukm all he is required to know is what is allowed and what isn’t; and if he desires to know the evidence for the hukm he needs to become a student of knowledge.

Types of taqleed

There is a form of taqleed that is inevitable, no one can avoid it – not even the ‘ualamaa, and this is what has been narrated by Sheikh ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (RH). But there is another form of taqleed which is forbidden, and that is of someone who contradicts the Sharee’ah.

If you follow someone you trust for your Deen and believe to be an ‘aalim, that is not blind following. Blind following is when a person tells you to do something haraam and you do it.

To accept what another scholar (e.g. muhaddith) said about a hadeeth is taqleed. The science of ‘Ilm ur-Rijaal (science of narrators) involves taqleed.

Sheikh al-Albaani rightly said that the ‘ulamaa of the Salaf never denied taqleed, rather they obliged it. But they forbade taqleed to someone who contradicts the Sharee’ah.

Taqleed is commonly defined as accepting the sayings of a person – whose saying is not evidence by itself – without knowing his evidence. But there are a number of exceptions to this definition. First of all, this excludes the Messenger Muhammad (SAW) because whatever he uttered was wahy (revelation). Secondly, the ijmaa’ (consensus) of the Sahaabah and ‘ulamaa is also excluded, even if one doesn’t know the evidence for the ijmaa’. The other exception is to the ‘aalim, because the ‘aalim knows the evidence himself. Taqleed of the ‘ulamaa is acceptable because it is a form of ittibaa’. Islam forbids taqleed to one who contradicts the Sharee’ah while one does not know their evidence.

Knowledge of isnaad (the chain of narrators) and the evidences is for the student of knowledge. If every person required all the evidences to a particular hukm the answer would take days to finish. For example, if one wanted to know the hukm of drinking ginger beer and all the evidences for the ruling, the scholar would need to provide all the verses related to the ruling, the circumstance of revelation, where the verse was revealed, the explanation of the Sahaabah and Salaf and so forth. This is usually all calculated by the ‘aalim before he gives an answer.

Taqleed is permissible for the muqallid muttabi’ (average follower). In fact, it is better for him to make taqleed than follow his hawaa.

Even the learned one in our midst will need to follow the sayings of Ahl ul-‘Ilm. The mujtahid mas’alah could be a mujtahid (jurist) in one particular topic, but make taqleed in others. Imaam at-Tabari (d. 310 AH) was from Ahl ul-‘Ilm, yet he would imitate the sayings of Imaam Ahmad. At-Tabari said:

“I do not have anything (i.e. evidences) except from him (Imaam Ahmad), in whose saying is sufficiency and cure.”

Furthermore, the ‘ulamaa of hadeeth used to make taqleed to whatever Ibn Ma’een said, or what Imaam at-Tirmidhi said (about narrators or hadeeth). They would imitate them and say “this is confirmed by Ibn Ma’een, al-Bukhaari, and so forth.” And nobody opposed this.

So the one who forbids taqleed is jaahil (ignorant), and Sheikh ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (RH) said that the one who says taqleed is forbidden is one of two: a jaahil, who repeats what the people say, or a person of hawaa (desire). In his book, Raf’ul-Malaam ‘anil A’immatil A’laam, Sheikh ul-Islam said:

“Indeed the purposes of knowledge are vast. And we cannot comprehend and attain all of what is inside the ‘ulaamaa (i.e. the knowledge and evidences). And the ‘aalim may show us his evidence (proof) or he may not. And even if he did show it, it may reach us or it may not. And even if it did reach us we may understand the position of his evidence, or we may not, without to know if the evidence was sound (authentic) or not.”

For the jaahil, a particular hukm (given by an ‘aalim) may appear to him as a contradiction because he is ignorant of other evidences and rulings. If one asks a scholar for a ruling he (the scholar) is obliged to give the hukm, but if the questioner wants to know the evidence he needs to become a student of Sharee’ah.

Al-Imaam Ahmad bin Hanbal (RH) said:

“And whoever claims that he does not observe taqleed, or that he does not make taqleed in his Deen to anyone, he is a faasiq (sinner) in the eyes of Allah and His Messenger (SAW). Indeed, all he desires by that is to abolish the Athar (sayings of the Salaf); nullify the ‘ilm and the Sunnah; and be alone with his personal opinions, kalaam (speech), bid’ah (innovation) and difference.” (Tabaqaat ul-Hanaabilah, Volume 1, Page 31)

Conclusion

So in summary, the Salaf never said all forms of taqleed are haraam, and whoever claims he does not make taqleed in his Deen to anyone is a faasiq, jaahil and a man of bid’ah.

There are three categories of people one can imitate:

  1. The Messenger Muhammad (SAW), and there can be no doubt about this.
  2. The Sahaabah (including Ahl ul-Bait). Their sayings are hujjah (binding), and they are the ones who transmitted and recorded the hadeeth of the Messenger (SAW).
  3. The (trustworthy) ‘ulamaa.

When the ‘ulamaa spoke of taqleed being haraam they were not referring to taqleed to ‘ulamaa, rather they meant taqleed to juhalaa’ (ignorant individuals) – those who tell people to do haraam or leave their duties and the people blindly follow them.

There are some who treat every mujaahid as an ‘aalim, and this trait is common among ignorant youth. They fail to understand that someone in jihaad will never become an ‘aalim unless he studies with them.

Furthermore, one should understand that there is a great difference between studying (the Sharee’ah and evidences) and asking for hukm.

These are simple principles in Islam that have been, unfortunately, misunderstood today by ignorant youths.

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