Taqlid is an Islamic jurisprudential term which means to follow a mujtahid (an Islamic scholar who is competent in understanding the religion) in practical rulings of the religion. Taqild is not permissible in usul al-din (principle of the religion) and one must accept them by research, study and inquiry. However, in Islamic rulings (Ahkam) one can be either mujtahid or act according to ihtiyat (caution) or follow an expert in Islamic jurisprudence – who is called mujtahid al-jami’ al-shara’it (qualified mujtahid) or marja’ al-taqlid. This term is also used by other meanings in jurisprudential texts.
Lexicological and Terminological Meaning
Taqlid is Arabic word literally meaning putting something along with another thing or a person, submission to do something or to follow.
Terminologically, it means to follow a mujtahid’s fatwas about the practical ruling of Islam i.e. acting according to the jurisprudential opinion and deduction of a qualified mujtahid in furu’ al-din (ancillaries of the religion) such as salat and hajj.
The term “taqlid” is also used in other meanings. One of which is “taqlid al-hady” in hajj which means marking a camel, cow, or sheep (by putting a rope or belt or … around its neck) which was prepared for sacrificing in hajj al-qiran. According to majority of faqihs (jurists) this action is wajib al-takhyiri (optionally incumbent duty).
In Shi’a, taqlid started from the time of the Infallible Imams (AS). They referred their followers to the narrators of hadiths or their close companions such as Zurara b. A’yan, Yunus b. ‘Abd al-Rahman, Aban b. Taghlib, Zakariyya b. Adam, Muhammad b. Muslim, and Abu Basir. Sometimes, Imams (AS) encouraged their companions to go to mosques and public places for guiding people, answering their questions and issuing fatwas. Difficulty of having access to Imam, because of the long distance between the cities and lack of proper facilities for traveling, taqiyya in most of the cases, and causing difficulties for Imams resulted in emergence of taqlid in their time. On that time, deducing religious rulings from the sources were not difficult for Imams’ companions as they were close to the time of the Prophet (AS) and the method of deduction was not complicated.
During the minor occultation, the need to taqlid arose more. Therefore, Imam al-Mahdi (AS), in his famous tawqi’, introduced narrators of hadiths (faqihs) with certain qualifications as references for Shi’a.
The topic of taqlid continued to exist among Shi’a during major occultation as well; although there were some disagreement between Usulis and Akhbaris in its conditions and rules.