Taqlid- A Tradition of Righteousness
Taqlid is a powerful and divisive word for Muslims. Even its very definition is a point of contention between practicing Muslims of all types. For its opponents it is often translated as “Blind Following”, by its proponents it is translated as “Following qualified scholarship”.
I have a problem with the common definitions. Taqlid is not “blind” in any way, and neither is it limited to “qualified scholarship” in an Islamically legal sense.
Rather, Taqlid is the fulfillment of the Quran’s commandment of following the righteous.
Surat Yasin : 21 “Follow those who ask of you no fee, and who are rightly guided.” (tran: Pickthall)
This is the power of Taqlid, which is represented in this holy verse as simply “follow”. It relates the masses to the righteous, and within this is the true secret of a Muslim’s success in this world and in the hereafter. It is clear from this verse and others that the rightly guided are those who believe and work in righteousness and call us to do the same.
For me, Taqlid is far more than a tool to debate details of authority within Islamic Law, it is the pragmatic way of Islam to push Muslims towards righteousness.
But what does this vague term ‘righteousness’ mean? In direct contradiction to certain neo-cons who believe Islam is evil, we see that righteousness is clearly defined in Islam. Specifically in the Quran:
Surat al-Baqarah: “It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces Towards east or West; but it is righteousness- to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the Allah-fearing. ” (tran: Yusuf Ali)
Looking at this verse alone, we find that Allah tells us that righteousness is to believe in the principles of faith and be honest, patient, charitable and otherwise be good people. People of manners. In this regard we have been told that the best example is the Holy Prophet (ØµÙ„ÙŠ Ø§Ù„Ù„Ù‡ Ø¹Ù„ÙŠÙ‡ Ùˆ Ø³Ù„Ù…).
It is clear that the ‘belief’ aspect of this verse is absolutely important and has implications on the intentions (niyyat) of all those actions which follow. So let us be careful and not say that Islam is mere humanism, whose ethics stem solely from the enhancement of mankind’s well-being in this world.
While Islam is not limited to worldly humanism, the Quran is emphasizing a goal towards righteousness in this world, which translates to what is universally understood as ‘good’ by most people (Atheists, Christians and Jews alike). Islam also holds that a recognition of this good is also something which is innate in all of mankind since birth.
It is also clear that mankind is very easily capable of forgetting righteousness and manners. As our worldly pursuits begin to precede our spiritual pursuits we began to calculate various compromises and give various excuses as to why it is best for this or that to happen. On a global scale this represents itself as our politics turn to protectionism and our economies into greed-factories. Our armies become death bringers and our souls are lost in the process.
Is reading and studying the answer to this? No. We return to the verse in Surat Yasin, where it is made clear that we must follow the righteous.
Taqlid is the key which unlocks all the doors of Islam’s inner beauty as well as outer sucess, including all the references in Islam to the ego (nafs).
Muslims on the path of Taqlid are simply following the righteous in their manners as they themselves have learned from other righteous ones, who have learned from other righteous ones until we reach the most righteous: The Prophet (ØµÙ„ÙŠ Ø§Ù„Ù„Ù‡ Ø¹Ù„ÙŠÙ‡ Ùˆ Ø³Ù„Ù…).
This was the approach of Islam in the past, traditional Islam. The best Caliphs were those who were righteous in themselves, not those who fell into some legal framework. In examining their lives we see that they followed the saints themselves and gave respect and took council from them.
The opposite of Taqlid is the approach taken by the Ahl ul Hadith (People of Hadith), otherwise known as Salafi’s or Wahabi’s. Their influence has been far and the printing press has been their friend indeed. Wrapped in source texts they seek every answer in between marks on paper, not realizing the heaviness of those texts and the burden they bear.
Hadith were an attempt at capturing the Amal (Manners) of the Prophet (ØµÙ„ÙŠ Ø§Ù„Ù„Ù‡ Ø¹Ù„ÙŠÙ‡ Ùˆ Ø³Ù„Ù…) in a supplementary way for future generations. They were not meant to replace those who the Prophet (ØµÙ„ÙŠ Ø§Ù„Ù„Ù‡ Ø¹Ù„ÙŠÙ‡ Ùˆ Ø³Ù„Ù…) himself described as his inheritors and those who the Quran praises. Reading Hadith to achieve those manners is possible for pieces here and there, but at the same time it is quite like parents communicating to their child only through one way text messages. Such an approach is insufficient to handle the needs of transmitting the fundamental expressions of our faith (including ritual prayer) much less raising a well rounded person.
Today’s Muslims are, for the most part, like such children. Disconnected from the true means to finding the Prophet’s (ØµÙ„ÙŠ Ø§Ù„Ù„Ù‡ Ø¹Ù„ÙŠÙ‡ Ùˆ Ø³Ù„Ù…) example they delude themselves by believing the truth is somewhere between the lines of text. It is this preoccupation with the legal source texts which gives us ‘scholars’ who use falsified textual interpretations to justify what is anti-righteous, whether it is clerics who support gaining and threatening the use of nuclear weapons or madman bombing innocents. For those preoccupied with the text, the world becomes binary: allowed or disallowed, permissible or not. There is no room for a living, growing understanding of righteousness which is necessary as the world encounters new evils and situations.
The reason that we find that the Muslim leaders of our past were so tolerant and malleable was because they worked through the filter of Taqlid and hence it was not source texts which were given priority but righteousness itself.
Babur Shah’s (d. 1530, founder of the Mughal Dynasty of India) will to his son Humayun Shah
“My son take note of the following: Do not harbour religious prejudice in your heart. You should dispense justice while taking note of the people’s religious sensitivities, and rites. Avoid slaughtering cows in order that you could gain a place in the heart of natives. This will take you nearer to the people.
Do not demolish or damage places of worship of any faith and dispense full justice to all to ensure peace in the country. Islam can better be preached by the sword of love and affection, rather than the sword of tyranny and persecution. Avoid the differences between the shias and sunnis. Look at the various characteristics of your people just as characteristics of various seasons.”
Could today’s Muslims have come to tolerant conclusions such as this?
It is with Taqlid that Muslim’s advanced and carried Islam with strength, compassion, tolerance, mercy, and a rich developing tradition from the time of the Prophet (ØµÙ„ÙŠ Ø§Ù„Ù„Ù‡ Ø¹Ù„ÙŠÙ‡ Ùˆ Ø³Ù„Ù…) to today.
The Ahl ul Sunnat (People of the Example of the Prophet ØµÙ„ÙŠ Ø§Ù„Ù„Ù‡ Ø¹Ù„ÙŠÙ‡ Ùˆ Ø³Ù„Ù… or Sunni Muslims need to remember that Sunnat is living today in the inheritors of the Prophet (ØµÙ„ÙŠ Ø§Ù„Ù„Ù‡ Ø¹Ù„ÙŠÙ‡ Ùˆ Ø³Ù„Ù… ), the Awliya (Friends of God), those who have dedicated their lives to Him. It is not dead in the index of dusty books or electrified within search engines.
The main purpose for every Muslim needs to be to find the righteous and be with them. This is where one’s intelligence comes into play, and this is what opens up Islam to a marketplace of ideas. Taqlid isn’t “Blind”. Come to your own determination on who is on the right path, using your intellect and asking Allah for support. But once you have used your intellect and found a righteous one, someone who is learned in the tradition of other righteous ones, someone who “asks you no fee” (as the holy verse orders), then hold tightly to them. Use the tools which Allah has provided you, intellect and judgement (which some are so keen on using against source texts) to apply instead towards this direction.
Taqlid represents the true fight of the nafs (ego). Who is superior, your ego or that holy, righteous one? Allah has put degrees and stations on earth and everyone has rights over each other: parents over children, employers over employees, governments over their citizens. This is a natural order.
But what happens when the one who needs to obey abandons his or her duty? This is the state of Muslims today, most of whom have rebelled in every way, taking their own ego’s as their guides. In such cases we find Muslims taking themselves greater than the Islamic rulers of yesterday, who carried far greater burdens and reached high worldly stations but are still historically recorded as putting their ego’s aside for the Awliya.
When you realize you need to submit yourself in Taqlid to the righteous, for no other gain except peace for your soul, that is when you have won the first battle against your ego.