Why Does a Shia Muslim Follow a Scholar?
Concept of TAQLEED
Seeking the consultation of an expert has become a norm and a random measure, which any human would take, if he/she faces a problem that requires external help. A sick person would visit a physician, and someone who needs to repair his/her vehicle would seek the help of a certified mechanic. Therefore, this concept is something that humans have coped with and consider a necessity for life. Islam has given a substantial amount of importance to the concept of asking and consulting the knowledgeable and people of intellect and cognition. The 16th chapter of Quran in the 43rd verse say: “So, ask the people of knowledge if you do not know”. The 39th chapter of Quran in the 9th verse states: “Say, are those who know equal to those who do not know?” Therefore, there are numerous verses in the Quran and traditions and quotes by the Prophet and his holy household that suggest, Shi’a Muslims must always seek the help and guidance of a righteous Imam (leader).
Shi’a Muslims and Muslims in general believe that Islam is a way of life, and their religion has the answers to aspects of life, and therefore, due to the complexity of the literature and Islamic traditions, the necessity of experts in religion and theological subjects presents itself. During the time of the Prophet and his holy household, their presence filled the need for experts, since their absolute knowledge about the Quran and the real teaching of Islam was sufficient for their followers. In addition, Shi’a Muslims from all over the Islamic nation travelled to Medina and Mecca to meet the Imams and seek help for their questions and problems.
As discussed in previous articles, the notion of occultation is one of the mandatory beliefs of Shi’a Islam, which includes believing in the presence of the 12th Imam, who is Imam Al-Mahdi. Imam Al-Mahdi was born in 869, and in 941 his started his major occultation after a 72 years minor occultation. He is believed to be still alive, and present on this planet, and no one knows his real identity, although he lives among people and helps them all, when they seek his help. Therefore, some narrations suggest that when Imam Al-Mahdi returns and everyone finds out about his true identity, they all say: we have seen this man before. However, during the minor occultation, Imam Al-Mahdi communicated with his followers through four ambassadors, and those four ambassadors were chosen by the Imam, based on their piety and modesty. Prior to the beginning of Imam Al-Mahdi’s major occultation, which is still in effect, he wrote a letter to the Shi’a Muslims and announced the will of Allah, which mandated his being in an occultation, for a an unknown period of time, and he shall return at the end of time. Upon his return, Imam Al-Mahdi, shall fill this earth with justice and equality, after it has been filled with tyranny and oppression. However, the Imam orders his followers (Shi’a Muslims) to refer back to the narrators of Traditions (AHADEETH). Imam Al-Mahdi orders his followers to follow the scholars of his nation and seek their help in the issues of religion, and abide by their orders.
Imam Hasan Al-Askari, who is the father of Imam Al-Mahdi, in a long narration presents the characteristics of a scholar that Shi’a Muslims are supposed to follow and embrace. Imam Al-Askari states: “and whomever, from the jurists is maintainer of his soul, protective of his faith, opposing to his inclination, obedient to the orders of his master, therefore, it is for the ordinary people to follow him”. This narration by Imam Al-Askari, shows the necessity of the concept of following a scholars, which is called (TAQLEED) in Arabic.
However, Imam Al-Askari projected the possibility of rouge scholars exposing themselves as righteous individuals and asking random people to follow them. The Prophet of Islam, considers the notion of following a corrupt scholar, as being worse than a physical confrontation, since such an action would hurt physically, but following a corrupt scholar would result in annihilation and intellectual destruction. Therefore, Imam Al-Askari continues on with his tradition and gives the details about the characteristics of a righteous scholars, who is worthy of being followed and has the blessing of Prophet Mohammad and his holy household. Imam Al-Askari says: “and, that would not mean all Shi’a scholars, since the one who adopts the corrupts and undesired teachings of our enemies shall not be honored and followed. Therefore, do not accept anything from them, and they shall have no dignity. The large amount of admixture in our statements and teachings, would make some corrupt scholars to misuse, our words and distort the meanings of them, due to their lack of knowledge. Others, would lie and say what we have not said, so they can gain wealth or position from this world, which shall be their fuel in hell. Their lies and distortions, would expand and expand to an extent where Shi’a Muslims would consider their statements, as part of our legacy and traditions. These types of scholars are worse than the army of Yazid Ibn Muawiya, who killed Imam Hussein and his companions in Karbala”.
Therefore, the Imams of Shi’a Islam have clarified the path for their followers to determine their responsibility and tasks during the times of hardships and calamities. Following a scholar, would make life much easier for a Shi’a Muslim, since he/she does not have to spend years and learn the details and methods to understand the Quran. These righteous scholars and Ayatollahs spend decades in seminaries and religious schools, studying the knowledge of Quran and the traditions of Prophet Mohammad and his holy household. Their studies would include subject and other fields like: Mathematics, science, biology, finance, philosophy, theology, politics and many other fields of knowledge that enable a scholar in comprehending the world in a more clear way.
However, history of Shi’a Islam after the occultation of Imam Al-Mahdi is filled with examples of rogue and corrupt scholars, who led many people astray and away from the religion of Islam. Some scholars used this position as a mean of collecting wealth and prestige among the people, and others used it as a way to seek affiliation with the tyrants and oppressors. Nonetheless, the righteous and pious scholars of Shi’a Islam were always aware and cautious for these types of examples, and had a strict guideline, which they abided by. Therefore, every time they felt there was a need for a clear and public statement to expose a corrupt scholar, they did not hesitate to show their opinion and present the solutions for Shi’a Muslims.
The concept of Taqleed, is considered a logical and rational necessity, which is mandated by intellect and power of sense. Therefore, it cannot be considered as (Blindly following), since its purpose is to ease the responsibility of random people by seeking the help on an expert.