Taqlid means for someone who doesn’t have the required expertise in a field that calls for expertise, to go to an expert in that field for help. The most important reason behind the need for taqlid in religious issues is the same simple and comprehendible reason why inexperienced individuals in any field go to the experts for help. Of course, Islamic tradition and Quranic verses have also paid attention to this matter e.g. “If you don’t know (something), ask those who know.”
All of the reasons mentioned in our traditions and in the Quran on the necessity of taqlid somehow have to do with this simple fact which has been accepted by all (that the inexperienced have to go to the experts).
Therefore, the maraje’ (s. marja’) are experts in fiqh who are able to obtain Islam’s practical laws from its true resources and as a result, it is necessary for others to go to them regarding religious issues.
Islam has many rulings and laws pertaining to man’s different needs (materialistic and spiritual, individual and social, political and economical, etc.). These rulings have been gathered and compiled into various collections and volumes, making up “Fiqh”. In reality, fiqh is the true way of being Allah’s servant, the correct and humane method of social relationships, the peak of all systems of living that administer different aspects of everyday life, and as Imam Khomeini puts it, fiqh is the true and complete guideline for the administration of the individual and society, from the cradle to the grave.
Because of the very high importance of fiqh and Islamic practical rulings, the imams, the great guardians of Islam, have urged their followers to learn fiqh and have scolded those who have been careless and lazy regarding such an important matter.
Imam Baqir (a.s.) states: “If a Shia youth is brought to me who doesn’t know fiqh, I will discipline him!” In Islam, there are wajibs (obligatory acts) and harams (forbidden acts) that the All-Wise Lord has legislated for man’s prosperity in this world and the next and if one doesn’t act according to these Islamic laws, not only will he not prosper, but he also won’t be immune to chastisement in the hereafter. In order for one to get acquainted with one’s practical laws, many prerequisites are necessary, such as: the correct understanding of quranic verses and hadiths, being able to distinguish between authentic and fake hadiths, how to combine and gather hadiths, and tens of other subjects that will take years and years of hard work and effort to learn and master. In such a condition, one who is mukallaf (has reached the age in which he/she is responsible for his/her doings and must observe Islamic laws) must choose one of three things:
1) Go after the abovementioned prerequisites and obtain all of them and as a result, reach the high level of ijtihad (Islamic jurisprudence).
2) Go after and learn all of the different scholars’ viewpoints on each issue that comes up and act in a way that all viewpoints are observed regarding each issue in order to be sure that he has fulfilled his duty no matter what it is. Acting in such a manner is called ihtiyat (being cautious).
3) Go to one who has spent his life in thoroughly obtaining the required fields needed for becoming an expert in Islamic laws and rulings.
Without a doubt, if one goes after the first option and achieves it, he will be able to do without the other two, but till reaching ijtihad, he has no other choice but to choose one of the other two.
The second option calls for sufficient awareness of the existing viewpoints on various issues and information on the different methods of ihtiyat. In many cases, ihtiyat causes disorder in one’s everyday life and can get very hard and back breaking.
Inevitably, taqlid is the only option that suits the laity best, in addition to the fact that it might be the only way for the laity. These three methods don’t exclusively belong to fiqh, they are the case in all fields. For example, if an engineer gets sick, he has three ways for getting better; he has to either become a doctor himself, or see what doctors say about his symptoms and act in a way that he won’t regret in the future, or go to an expert (doctor).
The first way won’t get him better soon, and the second is extremely exhausting and won’t let him continue his own major (engineering). Therefore, he has no other choice other than to get help from an expert and follow what he says.
By going to an expert, not only will prevent future regret and scolding by those around him, but he will also most probably get better. Same goes with the mukallaf; if he goes to the experts in fiqh, not only will he free himself of the regret and chastisement of the hereafter, but he will also benefit in this world from the good results of applying Islamic practical laws in his life.
So taqlid means for an unexperienced person in a certain field to go to an expert in that field. The most important reason behind why the laity has to go to religious experts or marjas regarding religious matters is the same simple and understandable reason why all people go to the experts in all fields.
Of course, there is also Quranic and traditional evidence on taqlid being wajib. For instance, the Quran says: “Ask those who know if you don’t know (something).”
Our traditions say: “Concerning the events and issues that come up (that you don’t know the ruling of), refer to the narrators of our hadiths, for they are my (Imam Zaman (a.s.)) hujjahs (hujjah is a person who represents another, what the hujjah says is considered what the person who has appointed him has said, therefore disobeying the hujjah is considered the disobedience of his appointer.) upon you and I am Allah’s hujjah upon you.
Muhaqqiq-al-Karaki (A great Shia scholar) says that all Shias agree that the adel (one who doesn’t commit sins), trustworthy, and qualified mujtahids (one that meets all of the requirements needed for being able to issue fatwas) are the imams’ representatives on their behalf during their occultation, and that they act for the imams in anything that acting for has to do with.
Of course one should note that all of the evidence in Islam on the necessity of taqlid is somehow only emphasizing on the same simple reason why we must refer to experts in any field, nothing more.
Conclusion: The maraje’ (s. marja’) are fiqh experts who are able to derive Islamic practical laws from its resources, and as a result, those who aren’t fiqh experts need to refer to them concerning such matters.
For more information, see Index:
1- Marja’iyyah and Taqlid, question 276.
2- Wilayat Faqih and taqlid, question 272.
3- Reasons behind Wilayat Faqih, question 235