Taqlid- A Tradition of Righteousness

October 14, 2006  |  Traditional Islam

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.

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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:

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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 (صلي الله عليه و سلم).

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.

Hence, Taqlid.

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 (صلي الله عليه و سلم).

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 (صلي الله عليه و سلم) in a supplementary way for future generations. They were not meant to replace those who the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) 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 (صلي الله عليه Ùˆ سلم) 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.”
[wikipedia]

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 (صلي الله عليه Ùˆ سلم) to today.

The Ahl ul Sunnat (People of the Example of the Prophet صلي الله عليه و سلم or Sunni Muslims need to remember that Sunnat is living today in the inheritors of the Prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم ), 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.

 


10 Comments


  1. Salam, you’re blog looks pretty good, mashallah. You’re writing is pretty good, too; helps me understand where you’re coming from better, and perhaps where you are trying to get to. I look forward to more.

  2. Walaikumassalam!

    Thank you for the kind words and for stopping by :)

  3. BismillahirRahmanirRahim

    Selam Aleykum,

    Mash’Allah Well Done! Waiting for Videos :)

  4. Salaam, I really liked this post. Thanks.

    Also, thanks for including me in your blog-roll.

    However, I am not a non-Muslim, ilhamd l’Allah . . . :)

    Keep up the great work!

    salaam

  5. wassalaam,

    Thank you for stopping by!

    I was a bit confused by the website since it seemed to have multiple authors so I put it in that category, I will move it ;)

  6. oh, yes – that’s a very good point!

    Many of my contributors are non-muslim – so, yes it’s not appropriate to put it under Muslim, either.

    Why not keep it universal – since we’re all figting for the same cause?

    Peace and Justice.

    Thanks!

  7. Islam is inherently evil?
    .. the most righteous: The Prophet ?

    Is this a joke?

    Have you people actually read the hadiths about the life of this man you consider to be the most righteous?

    In case you missed the hundreds of verses in Tabari, Bukhari, Muslim, other hadiths, as well as in the eariest biographies, these accounts clearly state that Mohammed was a man that murdered, tortured, plundered, raped, and enslaved. Oh yes, he beat his young wife also. Every word here is backed up by verses from the hadiths.

    Perhaps this explains current events and the violence we see in Islam.

    Why can’t Muslims be honest? Why don’t they read their own sacred writings?

    Do you want references for these actions? How about direct links to Islamic sites with the hadiths online?

    Want to start with a talk about what happened at a village named Banu Mustaliq as per this reference…
    http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/muslim/019.smt.html#019.4321

    That’s all for now.

    John Kactuz

  8. It is not through your understandings of hadith that we arrive to the conclusion that the Prophet (Sallalahu’alaihewassalam) was the most righteous but through the teachings of the current living righteous ones themselves.

    The avoidance of direct interpretations and references of hadith is the very point of this post which you missed. This is inherently anti-traditional and this is what is used by both Islam haters as well as terrorists to promote hate filled agendas.

    by the way, the hadith are not collected in ‘verses’.

  9. If I might add a point:
    Even a cursory reading the Old Testament will yield innumerable deaths and conquests at the hands of God’s chosen Prophets and Messengers, peace upon all of them.
    It was the reality of that time and place and if God chose these men to deliver His message to mankind, then surely our judgment on the matter is irrelevant, if not worse.

  10. brother kactuz, the link you have provided relates some hadiths in which the polytheists were killed during night-raids. You mustnt interpret these hadiths as promoting violence and killings. The polytheists of the Prophet’s time tortured him and his followers, threw feces at him while he prayed and filth while he walked the streets. those who were weak, poor, or slave and Muslim were publicly tortured. The Prophet never killed or hurt an innocent soul. At Banu Mustaliq, instead of keeping the catpives, the Prophet was thinking of how to save the tribe from an ignoble fate. By marrying Juwayriyya, the Banu Mustaliq would be able to enter Islam with honor, and with the humiliation of their recent defeat removed, so that it would no longer be felt necessary by them to embark on a war of vengeance that would have continued until one of the two parties had been annihilated. Despite the Muslim victory and the justified war captives, the Prophet released the entire Banu Mustaliq in order to form allegiance and peace.

    I hope this shed some light on the true nature of Islam. We are all brothers and sisters and must never hate one another or put down other people’s faith. “To you be your religion, and to me mine” – Quran, 109:6. God bless

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