Note: Whenever the term ’obligatory precaution’ is used, this means that the mentioned ruling is precautionary, and this means that one has a choice between abiding by it and referring to another mujtahid , who fulfils the necessary conditions which will be mentioned below, provided that he is the most learned from the rest of the mujtahids.
Taqlid: Referring by the duty-bound person (mukallaf), in what he does not know of the laws of the Sharia, to a mujtahid who knows them, and acting according to his edicts.
Ijtihad: This is the research in order to extract the laws from the reliable religious and rational sources. This is something that is not easy except for a few people, since they have specialized in the matters of religious jurisprudence (fiqh).Such specialists are called mujtahids.
Ruling 4: It has been mentioned above that it is obligatory upon every Muslim to carry out the acts known as the branches of religion and all the laws of the Islamic religion which Allah has commanded, so that Allah is pleased with him and enters him into Paradise after his death. However there is a problem which faces us here: The Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny), to whom Allah conveyed the laws of the Islamic religion, died more than 1,400 years ago, so how can we know and therefore obey the laws of the religion if neither the Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) nor the Imams (peace be upon him) are present with us?
In order to solve this problem we say: There are religious scholars who study the religious sciences and the sources of Islamic legislation, i.e. the Quran, the sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the narrations of the Infallibles (peace be upon them) for many years, and specialize in them until they are able to derive the laws of the Sharia. These people are called mujtahids.
Reaching this level of knowledge and understanding requires a lot of time and effort, which most believers cannot give; therefore, they are left with two options:
(1) Acting on precaution: This means that one adheres to the edicts of all of the mujtahids in a manner that he will be sure that he has become free of liability before Allah. For example, if some say that a particular act is permissible, and some say that it is not permissible, then the duty-bound person will refrain from it to ensure that he does not commit anything forbidden. However, this is rather difficult for many.
(2) Emulation (taqlid): This means acting according to the edicts of a mujtahid, who fulfils all the conditions (as will be mentioned below), in matters that one faces in his life. This is the logical path to take in any matter or field, as is common amongst people, when they refer to the experts in issues that requires remedying; for example, people refer to doctors when they require medical advice and treatment. The mujtahids are the specialists in the Sharia laws, and therefore they are referred to in order for the lay believers to know what their duties are.
Ruling 5: Two important criteria must be present in the mujtahid who is emulated:
(1) That he should hold a high level of adalah, i.e. that he is obedient to Allah and is committed to the laws of the religion; and that if he commits sins on a rare occasion, he hastens to repent.
(2) That he is more knowledgeable than all the other mujtahids.
There are other conditions also which are necessary for the mujtahids to possess: legitimacy of birth, being male – both according to obligatory precaution –, sanity, and belief in the twelve Imams (peace be upon them).
Ruling 6: The most knowledgeable mujtahid is ascertained by either one having sure knowledge of it himself directly, or on relying on high-level religious students who are familiar with the scholastic levels of the mujtahids as a result of his acquaintance with their opinions, by way of being their students or reading their treatises and books, and the like, as a result of which he can make a comparison between the mujtahids and distinguish between their degrees of scholarship and prefer one over the others.
Ruling 7: If one is emulating a mujtahid who then dies, he should continue following his edicts until somebody amongst the living mujtahids is ascertained to be clearly more knowledgeable than him.
Ruling 8: The hakim shar’i, who will be referred to in this treatise many times, is the mujtahid who fulfils the above-mentioned conditions. He is the Islamic judge to whom disputes may be referred to in issues that have Sharia-related rulings. When he rules on a matter, his judgment cannot be refused.