Introduction: Basic Principles and Definitions
In Shī‘ite jurisprudence (fiqh), taqlīd is obligatory upon every sane individual who has reached the age of maturity. Taqlīd means:
. . . acting according to the verdicts of a mujtahid. It is necessary that the mujtahid who is followed be male, adult, sane, Twelve-Imam Shia, of legitimate birth, living and just . . . And in case it is known—albeit generally—that there is a difference in the verdicts of mujtahidin on issues that commonly arise, it is necessary that the mujtahid a person follows be the most learned (‘alam), that is, the one who is more capable in understanding the law of Allah than all the other contemporary mujtahidin.
A mujtahid is a person who has attained the level of ijtihād, qualifying him to be a point of reference in Islamic law. Ijtihâd is the process of deducing Islamic laws and principles from the authentic sources and applying them to various aspects of life.
At present, the diversity of mujtahidīn regarded as being ‘the most learned’ by various ahl al-khibrah (‘the experts’, discussed later in this article) is evidence of the fact that there is no consensus among the ahl al-khibrah as to who the most learned is. As a result, it is sometimes thought that it is impossible to identify the most learned in this day and age and that therefore, tab‘īď (‘partial taqlīd’, also discussed later) is the appropriate course of action. However, there are a number of stages specified in Shī‘ite jurisprudence that a mukallaf—that is, the person obligated to observe the precepts of Islamic law—must traverse in order to exhaust all possibility of identifying the most learned before he is legally allowed to resort to tab‘īď as a final solution.
Identifying the Most learned
The ways to identify a mujtahid and the most learned are clearly stated in Shī‘ite jurisprudence:
There are three ways by which a mujtahid and the most learned can be identified:
First, a person attains certainty himself; for example, he is a scholar and has the ability to identify a mujtahid and the most learned.
Second, two learned and just people who have the ability to distinguish the most learned mujtahid confirm that a person is a mujtahid or the most learned, with the condition that two other learned and just people do not contradict them; in fact, being a mujtahid or the most learned is also established by one person from among the ahl al-khibrah who is trusted by the person.
Third, a person derives satisfaction by rational means as to someone being a mujtahid or the most learned; for example, a number of learned people who have the ability to distinguish a mujtahid and the most learned and from whom satisfaction is derived, confirm that a person is a mujtahid or the most learned.
The Ahl al-Khibrah
The ahl al-khibrah mentioned above are:
. . . the mujtahidīn and those close to them in learning, who are conversant with the level of those considered to be the most learned, in the most important matters that are taken into consideration in [determining the most learned].
In order to identify the most competent person in any particular field, the normal and logical procedure is to refer to qualified people in that field. Similarly, in the issue of identifying the most learned mujtahid, it is necessary for the vast majority of people to refer to the ahl al-khibrah:
In order to determine the most learned, it is obligatory [upon a mukallaf who can not identify the most learned himself] to refer to the reliable (thiqah) among those who are ahl al-khibrah and have the ability of deducing the laws and are conversant—albeit generally—with the level of those considered to be the most learned, in matters influential in [determining the most learned]. [Moreover,] it is not permissible to refer to a person who has no expertise in this matter.
Since most people are generally unaware of the ahl al-khibrah, their duty is to consult reliable regionally based scholars who are constantly in contact with the Islamic seminaries and by this way come to know the opinion of the ahl al-khibrah:
It is possible to know [the ahl al-khibrah and their opinions] through the religious scholars and others who are reliable in their personality and understanding [and] who are in contact with the religious seminaries and with the scholars spread out in other countries.
Difference of Opinion Among the Ahl al-Khibrah
If the ahl al-khibrah differ in their opinion as to which particular mujtahid is the most learned, a mukallaf has to act according to the opinion of the more competent ahl al-khibrah:
If the ahl al-khibrah differ in determining the most learned, [then] it is necessary to accept the statement of those among them who are more expert and competent, as is the norm in other cases where there is a difference of opinion amongst experts.
Put in another way, “. . . if there is a contradiction [in the opinions of the ahl al-khibrah], the statement of those among them who are more expert is to be accepted.”
Equality in Learning Among Mujtahidin
In case at this stage two or more mujtahidin are regarded as being equally more learned than the others, or it can not be established which mujtahid is the most learned, the next step is to follow the mujtahid who is more cautious (awra‘) in the giving of verdicts:
If the two mujtahidin are equal in learning, or it can not be established that one of them is more learned than the other, then [in this case,] if it is established that one of them is more cautious than the other—that is, [he is] more accurate and careful in the giving of verdicts—[then] it is obligatory to follow him.
The Issue of Tab‘īď
If after having traversed all the aforementioned steps a mukallaf reaches the conclusion that two or more mujtahidin equally share the characteristics of ‘the most learned’ and none of them is more cautious in the giving of verdicts, then in this situation, the mukallaf can either choose to follow one mujtahid in particular, or to follow more than one mujtahid in different issues. In Islamic jurisprudence, this is known as tab‘īď (partial taqlīd).
An important point to note however is that partial taqlīd is limited to cases where there is no ‘accountable summary knowledge’ (‘ilm al-ijmâlī al-munajjiz):
If [the issue of one of the mujtahidin being more cautious than the other] is not established either, [then] the mukallaf has the choice to conform his actions with the rulings of any of the two, and it is not necessary for him to observe precaution between the views of the two except in those issues that are accompanied by summary knowledge of compulsory laws and the like, such as when one of them gives the ruling that shortening prayers (qaşr) is obligatory and the other [gives the ruling that] complete prayers (itmām) is obligatory; [in such a case,] it is obligatory on [the mukallaf] to act according to both of them; or [for example,] when one of them rules that a certain transaction is correct and the other [rules] that it is incorrect, the mukallaf knows that it is prohibited to utilise one of the two exchanged commodities and so in this case, he must act in precaution (iĥtiyāť).
The ways to identify the most learned mujtahid have been clearly laid down in Shī‘ite jurisprudence by the jurists (fuqahâ’). They believe that identifying the most learned is perfectly viable, otherwise they would not rule it as a necessary condition for taqlīd as that would entail holding the mukallaf responsible for something beyond his capacity, which is neither legally (shar‘an) nor rationally (‘aqlan) correct. Therefore, in the words of Ayatullah Sīstânī, “. . . although determining the most learned mujtahid involves some difficulties, it is not proper to regard it as a serious problem,” especially, one might add, in this age of rapid communication. Moreover, a mukallaf can only practice tab‘īď once he has exhausted all the possible ways of identifying the most learned and has still not arrived at a reasonable conclusion; even then, the door of tab‘īď is only open in those cases where there is no accountable summary knowledge.
Appendix: Rulings of Other Leading Jurists
The following are the rulings of other leading jurists regarding the duty of the mukallaf when there is a difference of opinion among the ahl al-khibrah as to who the most learned mujtahid is:
Ayatullahs Bahjat, Lankarānī, Şāfī, Waĥīd and Zanjānī:
It is obligatory to follow the mujtahid who the mukallaf gives a possibility of being the most learned.
Ayatullahs Khāmeneī, Makārim and Nūrī:
Based on obligatory precaution, the mukallaf should follow the mujtahid who he gives a possibility of being the most learned.
The mukallaf should accept the opinion of those among the ahl al-khibrah who are more competent. Otherwise, it is obligatory to follow the mujtahid who the mukallaf gives a possibility of being the most learned.
- Al-Sīstānī, ‘Alī al-Ĥusaynī. Al-Fiqh li al-Mughtaribīn, compiled by ‘Abd al-Hādī Muĥammad Taqī al-Ĥakīm, 2nd ed. Qum: Ayatullah Sīstānī’s Qum Office, 1419H.
- ———. Al-Masā’il al-Muntakhabah, 12th ed. Qum: Ayatullah Sīstānī’s Qum Office, 1426H.
- ———. Tawďīĥ al-Masâ’il. 22nd ed. Qum: Ayatullah Sīstānī’s Qum Office, 1423H.
- Al-Yazdī, Muĥammad Kāżim. Al-‘Urwah al-Wuthqā’, with the footnotes of Ayatullah Sīstānī. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Qum: Ayatullah Sīstānī’s Qum Office, 1425H.
- Banī Hāshimī Khomaynī, Muĥammad Ĥasan (compiler). Tawďīĥ al-Masâ’il e Marâji‘. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Qum: Daftar e Intishārāt e Islāmī, 1999.
- Ĥusaynī, Mujtabā. Risālah e Dānishjūyī, 1st ed. Qum: Daftar e Nashr e Ma‘ārif, 2005.
 For the purposes of this article, mujtahidīn will be used as the plural form of mujtahid (author’s note).
 Al-Sīstânī, Tawďīĥ al-Masâ’il, 6, ruling no. 2.
 Al-Sīstânī, Tawďīĥ al-Masâ’il, 6, ruling no. 3.
 Al-Sīstânī, Al-Fiqh li al-Mughtaribīn, 68, ruling no. 30.
 Al-Sīstânī, Al-Masā’il al-Muntakhabah, 10, ruling no. 17.
 Al-Sīstânī, Al-Fiqh li al-Mughtaribīn, 67, ruling no. 29.
 Here also, the mukallaf will have to refer to the ahl al-khibrah—or if this is not possible, to the reliable regionally based scholars who are constantly in contact with the Islamic seminaries—in order to determine the more competent among them.
 Al-Sīstânī, Al-Fiqh li al-Mughtaribīn, 69, ruling no. 31.
 Al-Yazdī, MuÎammad Kāżim, Al-‘Urwah al-Wuthqā’, with the footnotes of Ayatullah Sīstānī, 1:14, footnote no. 22.
 In order to do this, the same people mentioned in footnote no. 7 would need to be consulted.
 Al-Sīstânī, Al-Masā’il al-Muntakhabah, 9, ruling no. 14.
 ‘Summary knowledge’ (‘ilm al-ijmâlī) is a concept referred to in the Islamic science known as ‘The Principles of Jurisprudence’ (uşūl al-fiqh) and can be explained further by elaborating upon the example cited above. Suppose you are in a situation where you are certain that praying (şalâh) is obligatory on you but you do not know exactly whether your duty is to shorten the prayers (qaşr) or to complete them (itmâm). This state of knowledge in relation to a particular duty, accompanied by doubt as to the exact nature of the duty, is known as ‘summary knowledge’. In this example, the summary knowledge is 'accountable' (munajjiz), meaning that the mukallaf would have to observe both the possibilities—in this case, performing the shortened and complete forms of the prayer—in order to be certain that he has performed his duty.
 Al-Sīstânī, Al-Masā’il al-Muntakhabah, 10, ruling no. 14.
 In fact, other leading jurists take a more straight forward approach than the one discussed in this article (see Appendix), which confirms this conclusion all the more.
 Al-Sīstânī, Al-Fiqh li al-Mughtaribīn, 67, ruling no. 29.
 Ĥusaynī, Risālah e Dānishjūyī, 48, question no. 10, apart from the ruling of Ayatullah Zanjānī, which is taken from Tawďīĥ al-Masâ’il e Marâji‘, 20.
 Ĥusaynī, Risālah e Dānishjūyī, 48, question no. 10.
 Ĥusaynī, Risālah e Dānishjūyī, 48, question no. 10.
WF IEB Qum Office reserach team: Sh Muhammad Ali Ismail