Following a Mujtahid

1. It is necessary for a Muslim to believe in the fundamentals of faith on the basis of proof and he cannot follow anyone in this respect i.e. he cannot accept he word of another with regard to the fundamentals without demanding proof. However, in order to act on Islamic code (except in those matters which are considered by all to be indisputable e.g. the obligatory nature of the five daily prayers, fasting during the holy month of Ramadan etc.) a person must adopt one of the following methods:

    i) The man concerned should be a Mujtahid (jurist)1 himself and should know the Articles of Acts on the basis of Ijtihad2 and reason (i.e. he should be a man of such high learning and scholarship that he can solve problems from his study of the Qur’an and Hadith).

    ii) If he is not a jurist himself, he should follow a jurist i.e. he should act according to the judgment (fatwa) of the jurist without demanding proof.

    iii) If he is neither a jurist nor a follower (muqallid) he should act after taking such precaution that he should become sure of his having performed his religious duty. For example, if some jurists consider an act to be unlawful and some others say that it is not unlawful, he should not perform that act and in case some jurists consider an act to be obligatory (wajib) and others consider it to be recommended (mustahab) he should perform it. Hence it is obligatory for those persons who are not jurists and cannot also take precautionary measures (ihtiyat) to follow a jurist.3

2. Following (taqlid) means acting according to the judgment of a jurist. It is necessary that the jurist who is followed is male, Shi’ah Ithna ‘Asha’ari,4 adult, sane, legitimate, alive and just (‘adil). A person is said to be just when he performs all those acts which are obligatory for him and refrains from all those things which are prohibited for him. And the sign of a man’s being just is that he is apparently a good man so that if enquiries are made about him from the people of his locality or from his neighbours or from those persons with whom he associates, they should confirm his goodness. And if it is known that the judgments of the jurists differ with regard to the problems which we face in everyday life, it is necessary that the jurist who is followed should be a’lam (the most learned jurist) who possesses better capacity to understand religious matters as compared with his contemporary jurists.

3. There are three ways of identifying a jurist or the most learned jurist:

i) When a person personally believes that such and such person is a jurist or the most learned jurist. For confirming this he should be a learned person himself and should possess the capacity to identify a jurist or the most learned jurist.

ii) When two persons, who are learned and just and possess the capacity to identify a jurist or the most learned jurist, should certify to a person’s being a jurist or the most learned jurist, provided that two other learned and just persons do not contradict them. And apparently the fact of a person’s being a jurist or the most learned jurist is also proved by the statement of only one person who is reliable.

iii) When many learned persons who possess the capacity to identify a jurist or the most learned jurist should certify to a person’s being jurist or the most learned jurist and when one is satisfied by their statement.

4. If it is not possible to identify the most learned jurist on account of some difference of opinions among the jurists, a person should take precautionary measures and if it is not possible to do so, he should follow that jurist whom he himself considers to be the most learned jurist. In fact even if there is a weak possibility of a person being the most learned jurist and one knows that as compared with him there is no other most learned jurist, one should follow that jurist.

5. There are four ways of obtaining the judgment of a jurist:

i) When a man hears the judgment direct from the jurist himself.

ii) When the judgment of the jurist is quoted by two just persons.

iii) When a man hears the judgment of a jurist from a person whose statement satisfies him.

iv) By reading the judgment of a jurist in a book written by him on various problems (masa’il) provided the reader is satisfied about the authenticity of the book.

6. So long as a person is not satisfied that the judgment of the jurist has been changed, he can act according to what is written in his book. And if there is a possibility that the judgment has been changed, investigation in the matter is not necessary.

7. If the most learned jurist gives a judgment about some matter his follower cannot act in that matter on the judgment of another jurist. However if he does not give a judgment and says that according to precaution (ihtiyat) a man should act in such and such a manner, for example if he says that as a precautionary measure in the first and second Rak’at (unit) of the prayers he should read a complete Chapter (Surah) after the Chapter of ‘Hamd’, the follower may either act on this precaution which is called obligatory precaution (ihtiyat wajib) or he may act on the judgment of another jurist whom it is permissible to follow. Hence if he (the second jurist) considers only Surah Hamd to be enough, he (the person offering the prayers) may drop the second Surah. The position will also be the same if the most learned jurist says that the matter needs deliberation (ta’ammul) or is objectionable (ishkal).

8. If the most learned jurist observes precaution after or before giving a judgment about a matter – for example if he says that if an impure vessel is washed once with Kurr water (about 388 litres) it becomes pure, although as a precautionary measure it should be washed thrice, his follower can abandon acting according to the precaution. This precaution is called recommended precaution (ihtiyat mustahab).

9. If a jurist, who is followed by a person, dies and the follower has committed his judgments to memory, he can act on them as he acted during his lifetime. However, if he had not committed his judgments to memory or has forgotten them, he must refer to a jurist who is alive.

10. If a person commits to memory the judgments of a jurist about some problems and after the death of that jurist he follows a living jurist in that matter according to his duty he cannot act again upon the judgments of the jurist who has passed away.

11. It is obligatory for a follower to learn the judgments about the problems which are usually faced by him.

12. If a person faces a problem about which the orders are not known to him, it is necessary for him to observe precaution or to follow a jurist according to the conditions mentioned above. However, if he is aware of the difference of opinions between the most learned jurist and the jurist, and it is not possible to postpone the matter or to act according to precaution, and it is also not possible to approach the most learned jurist, it is permissible to follow a jurist who is not the most learned jurist.

13. If a person informs another person about the judgment of a jurist and then that judgment is changed, it is not necessary for him to inform that person that the judgment of that jurist has been changed. However, if after informing that person about the judgment he comes to know that he has made some mistake in reporting the judgment, he should rectify that mistake, if possible.

14. If a person performs various acts for some time without following a jurist and later follows a jurist, his former actions will be valid if that jurist declares them to be valid, otherwise they will have to be treated as ‘invalid’.

  • 1. A Mujtahid is a jurist competent enough to deduce precise inferences regarding the commandments from the holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the holy Prophet by the process of Ijtihad.
  • 2. Ijtihad literally means striving and exerting. Technically as a term of jurisprudence it signifies the application by a jurist of all his faculties to the consideration of the authorities of law with a view to find out what in all probability is the law. In other words, Ijtihad means making deductions in matters of law in the cases to which no express text is applicable. (See Baqir Sadr, A Short History of ‘Ilm al-Usul, ISP, 1984)
  • 3. The minimum age limit for mukallaf (adults) bound to perform religious precepts is 15 lunar years for boys and 9 lunar years for girls.
  • 4. A Muslim who believes and follows the twelve successors (Imams) explicitly expressed by the Holy Prophet of Islam through Divine Will.