Monday, April 6, 2009

The Taqleed of the lay person

In the context of Taqleed a "lay person" is defined as one who knows little
regarding the Arabic language, and about Islam in general - even though they may be
intelligent in other fields of knowledge. Proficiency to read Arabic titles concerning the
Qur'an and Sunnah but devoid of any formal Islamic studies with a qualified instructor
would also place a person within the ambit of laity. In addition, students who have taken
formal courses in Islamic sciences but have failed to develop acumen would also fall
within this classification. The above mentioned are under an obligation to practice
Taqleed. They must follow a specific Imam and Mujtahid because they simply do not
have the ability to refer to the Qur'an and Sunnah directly nor can they differentiate
between what is apparently contradictory and give scholarly preference to one opinion
over the other. Shaykh Khatib of Baghdad wrote:

"As for those who should apply Taqleed it is the lay person who does not know
the methods of extracting Islamic rules. It is permissible for such a person to follow one
specific Imam and act upon his Fatwas. This is so because he does not possess the tools
for Ijtihad so his duty is to follow, just as a blind person must follow someone who is able
to see for determining the direction of the Qiblah." 

The Muqallid (follower) on this level cannot get caught up in discussions of
proofs to see which Imam's view is stronger. His duty is merely to appoint one Mujtahid
and follow his opinions in all matters. This is because he is not academically capable of
making judgments of that kind. So much so that even if this person finds a Hadith which
apparently contradicts the opinion of his appointed Imam, he should not resort to
following the Hadith, but rather adhere to his Imam's opinion. He should assume that he
has not understood the meaning or context of the Hadith appropriately or he should have
no doubt that his Imam has a stronger proof than the Hadith in question, which he may
not be aware of.

This might seem to be a ludicrous proposition, explaining away the Hadith and act
upon the opinion of his Imam. The truth is that at this level of Taqleed no other
alternative exists. Freedom to practice upon any Hadith one sees, completely regardless of
the fact that Ahadith literature is spread over several hundred thousand Ahadith contained
in over more than three hundred compilations, would lead to a distortion of the Shari'ah
and result in chaos and confusion, because understanding how to extract rules from the
Qur'an and Sunnah is so vast an enterprise that even if one spent a lifetime endeavoring to
achieve this, it would not be possible to claim expertise. Many times, an apparent
meaning is understood from a certain Hadith but after careful examination of the
principles of the Qur'an and Sunnah, and other equally authentic Ahadith a totally
different meaning emerges. Acting upon the apparent meaning of a Hadith will give
rise to as many differing interpretations of a Hadith as there are intellects. I myself have
witnessed many people who have studied the Qur'an and Sunnah and (without the aid of a
scholar or a school) have made outrageous conclusions which are far removed from the
truth. A friend very keen to study books on Hadith believed adamantly that although he
was a follower of Imam Abu Hanifa, he would not hesitate to leave his school of thought
if he found any Hadith, which contradicted it. Based on this belief, he informed someone,
in my presence, that a person's wudu or ablution is not broken unless one actually hears
wind passing or smells it. I understood immediately from where this misconception arose.
It is true that such a Hadith exists in Tirmidhi. The full Hadith narrated by Imam Tirmidhi

"Abu Hurairah RA narrated that the Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa sallam said: "Wudu does
not break unless there is a sound or smell."
Imam Tirmidhi then narrated another Hadith, which is very similar to the one above:

"If anyone of you is sitting in the mosque and feels air between his buttocks, he should not
leave unless he hears a sound or smells something."

My friend assumed that wudu did not break, according to this narration, unless
there was evidence of a sound or a smell. The truth is quite far from it. All the scholars
unanimously agree that this Hadith concerns only those people who are habitually
suspicious of their wudu breaking 'without a valid reason. The Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa
sallam informed that they would need more than their suspicions to confirm the invalidity
of their wudu. This is elucidated in other narrations such as the one in Abu Dawood:
"If anyone of you are in the mosque and feels some movement in his buttocks and then
starts to doubt whether he has broken his wudu or not, should not leave unless he smells
an odour or hears a sound."

Abu Dawood himself has further narrated from Abdullah ibn Zubair RA that the
Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa sallam explained this to person who was continuously suspicious
of his wudu. Only a person who is qualified and an expert in Hadith can reach this
conclusion. Acting upon reading one Hadith from one book would only lead to
misconceptions and errors such as the one committed by the person in question. What is
alarming is that he had been acting upon the apparent meaning of the Hadith for a long
time. He did not know how many prayers he had offered without wudu.
Likewise, if the concession to leave an Imam's opinion for the sake of a Hadith is
granted, the following Hadith narrated in Tirmidhi would appear to go against the
collective (Jumhoor) Fatawa of the Imams.

"Ibn Abbas RA narrated that the Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa sallam combined the
afternoon prayer (Zuhr) with the late afternoon prayer (Asr) and the evening prayer
(Maghrib) with the night prayer ('lsha) in Madinah even though there was no rain or fear
present. Ibn Abbas RA was asked to explain this action and said that the Prophet sallalahu
alaihi wa sallam did not wish any burden to fall on his community."

The initial impressions one gains from this Hadith is the permissibility to combine
Zuhr with Asr and Maghrib with Isha even without being a traveler, in fear or excessive
rain. All the scholars, including the people who claim to follow Hadith literally, see the
Hadith as meaning an apparent combining of the prayers in question. The Prophet sallalahu
alaihi wa sallam offered Zuhr when it was almost time for Asr and then Maghrib when it
was almost time for 'Isha. This interpretation would be in line with all other principles and
proofs from the Qur'an and Sunnah, whereas the first and apparent meaning would not.
These are two examples from many, where a person who is not qualified can very easily
mislead himself and others into interpreting texts incorrectly. For this reason Scholars
have declared that a non-scholar who is not capable of understanding Hadith should learn
from a person who has expertise in the field. The Taqleed of an Imam or Mujtahid is
made when there is an apparent contradiction in the Qur'an and Sunnah. If there is a
difference of opinion between Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Shaf'iee, proofs exist for both
sides. In instances where there exist discordant proofs for two sides, the person who
cannot judge which one of the two scholars, argument is stronger should follow a specific
Imam and Mujtahid.

If one adopts Imam Abu Hanifa to be as one's Imam and finds a Hadith which
apparently supports Imam Shaf'iee opinion, he should not leave Imam Abu Hanifa's
opinion because there must be a stronger reason (according to the Hanafi view) for Imam
Abu Hanifa (or Mujtahids within the Hanafi school) to leave the Hadith. None can
conclude that the Hanafi view is against the Hadith. This is all the more apparent in a
scenario where the follower does not have the academic qualifications to judge which
proof is stronger, even if this follower finds a Hadith which contradicts his Imam, he
should not forsake his Imam's opinion but rather assume that he has not understood the
meaning of the Hadith in its appropriate context. The principle of this approach is very
simple. A person who is in need of legal advice goes to a reputable lawyer and attorney.

He does not resort to researching the books of law independently. If he approaches a legal
expert whose reputation is flawless and about whom he knows that he would not mislead
him - and finds that there is an apparent contradiction in the law and what he is advising,
he should still listen to the attorney and act upon his advice. He should still give his
attorney the benefit of the doubt and assume that the law may be interpreted in a way,
which is different to his own understanding. This approach is necessary (and accepted) because everyone knows that understanding the law requires tremendous expertise and
acumen. This expertise is all the more necessary where the law is deduced from the
Qur'an and the Sunnah and extrapolated to the full corpus of the Shari'ah, which covers
the whole ambit of human existence. Scholars have indicated that the lay person should
not resort to understanding the Quran and Sunnah directly, but rather consult scholars and
jurists. This has been promoted to the extent that if a lay person is given a Fatwa which
turns out to be wrong, the liability will be with the one who gave the Fatwa and not on the
one who sought and applied it, but if a lay person decides to consult the texts himself and
assumes an incorrect interpretation and acts upon it, he will not be freed from blame for
his mistake since it was not his responsibility to search for an answer independently.
For example, cupping while fasting does not invalidate a person's fast. If a lay
person asks a Mufti if cupping breaks his fast and the Mufti, for whatever reason, replies
in the affirmative, then the burden of the lay person eating and drinking for the remainder
of the day will fall on the Mufti and not on the lay person. The author of Al-Hidayah, a
renowned book on Hanafi law, said that the lay person would have to make up the fast but
there will be no additional penalty on him. The author of Hidayah explained this by
saying that the Fatwa is a legal proof for the lay person, but if this same lay person read in
Abu Dawood and Tirmidhi that the Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa sallam passed by a person
who was cupping his blood while fasting and said:
"Both the one cupping the one cupped have invalidated their fast." 98
He decided that his fast had broken and started to eat and drink, then according to Imam
Abu Yusuf, he would have to make up the fast and be responsible for the penalty of
fasting sixty days consecutively. Abu Yusuf explained: "The lay person must follow the
scholar and the jurist since he is not able to reach a correct conclusion by reading the

To summarise, the first level of Taqleed is for the lay person who should follow
the opinion of his Imam.

book of the legal status of following a madhab by mufti taqi usmani.

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