Maraaji’ are fallible like other humans, not infallible like Imams. How can we just trust their judgement?

If an individual fulfills the qualifications of a Marja’, then he adheres to high standards of piety and knowledge.  They do not form their own opinions. Rather, their fatawa are based on authentic understandings of religious texts. Additionally, the Quran and hadith have talked about the need of experts in religious knowledge and have given permission to follow them. While the Maraaji’ may be fallible, the Imams (a) have trusted them with the responsibility of guiding the Ummah in the absence of the living Imam (a).

Imam Sadiq (a) has said:

They must seek out one of you who narrates our traditions, who is versed in what is permissible and what is forbidden, who is well-acquainted with our laws and ordinances, and accept him as judge and arbiter, for I appoint him as judge over you… (Shaykh at-Tabarsi, al-Ihtijaj, vo. 2, Najaf 1966, p. 263.)

One may argue that these narrations by our 6th Imam (a) are not applicable to us today because the Imam was still directly accessible to the scholars in case they had questions or made mistakes. However, our Imam Mahdi (ajtf), despite being in occultation has also advised his followers to go the the Maraaji’ for guidance:

As far as newly occurring circumstances are concerned, you should turn (for guidance) to the narrators of our hadith, for they are my proof over you just as I am Allah’s proof. (Shaykh at-Tabarsi, al-Ihtijaj, vo. 2, Najaf 1966, p. 283.)

Hence it is evident that the system of Marja’iyya which involves having fallible Maraaji’ lead the Shias has been accepted by the Imams (a) themselves. Therefore, if one trusts the Ahlul Bayt (a) because of their infallibility, one should also trust the Maraaji’.


Rizvi, Sayyid Muhammad. “Shariah: Path of Salvation – Session 6 – Taqleed & Following a      Mujtahid.” Weekly Lecture Series. Weekly Lecture Series, 9 Nov. 2011, Thornhill, Jaffari   Community Centre. 

Rizvi, Sayyid Muhammad. “Taqlid: Meaning and Reality.” Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project,

What exactly is a Fatwa and is it wajib to obey it?

A fatwa (Arabic: فتوى‎; plural fatāwā فتاوى) is a legal opinion on a point of Islamic law that a Mujtahid, a qualified jurist, can give. A Mujtahid derives fatāwā by referring to sources of Islamic law (the Quran, the sunnah, ijma’ (consensus), and ‘aql (the intellect)) and through exercising the methodology of ijtihad (juristic interpretation). 

Fatāwā are considered universally applicable religious laws.

Fatāwā are generally issued in response to a question, whether it be on ritual, social, or political matters. The origin of the fatwa can be traced back to the Quran where Allah (s) instructed the Prophet (s) on how to address questions from the community in the pattern, “And when they ask you concerning… say…” Following the fatwa is obeying God’s laws. Not following the fatwa would be a rejection and disobedience of God’s laws.

In Shia Islam, fatāwā are considered binding, meaning that one must follow the fatāwā issued by the A’lam Mujtahid that they follow. According to Ayatullah Sistani, if a Mujtahid gives a fatwa on some matter, he and his followers cannot obey the fatwa of another Mujtahid. However, if one’s Mujtahid does not give a fatwa on a particular matter, then they may act on the fatwa of another Mujtahid who is permissible to follow.


As-Seestani, A. (2017). Islamic laws: According to the fatwas of His Eminence al-Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani(M. A. Ismail, Trans.). The World Federation of KSIMC.

Tehrani, M. H. (2006). Faith and reason: A compendium of fifty questions and answers related to Islamic theology, jurisprudence and other themes(A., Trans.). Stanmore: Islamic Education Board of the World Federation of KSIMC.

How do our Maraaji’ distribute the khums they collect?

Khums is an Islamic tax that is equal to a fifth or 20% of the value of 7 items1 – most relevant amongst them being surplus income. With regards to the distribution of khums, there are two aspects to consider: 1) the legislative requirement for the distribution based on Allah (s)’s decree and the precedent of the Prophet (s) and the Imams (a) and 2) the translation of the legislature into practice.

 1) What has been legislated as the use of khums?

Khums is proportioned into 2 equal parts: (1) Sehme Imam – the portion for Allah (s), the Messenger and the near relatives of the Messenger and (2) Sehme Sadaat – the portion for the orphan, the needy and the stranded traveler of the descendants of the Prophet (s). 

As the representative of Allah (s) and the Messenger as well as a relative, the Imam of the time, would receive the Sehme Imam.  The Sehme Sadaat would be distributed among the Sadaat, or the descendants of the Prophet (s).

2) How is the distribution of khums done in practice?

Distribution of Sehme Sadaat is easy to comprehend. Money is given to the orphans, needy and stranded travelers from amongst the Sayyids. These individuals are always changing on a yearly basis based on their circumstances. The Sehme Imam is the portion that is always meant for the use of the Imam of the time. He would use it for the betterment of the community. Once in a letter the 8th Imam (a) wrote with regards to khums, “…And the khums is a help to us in [promotion of] our religion, [upliftment of] our family, and our followers”. As such, the Imams would use the khums they receive for this purpose.

Today, during the time of ghaybah, the Imam (a) is not there to collect his part. So, who is responsible for the collection of Sehme Imam and what is done with it done during the time of occultation of our Imam (a)?

Since the Maraaji’ represent the Imam, the duty of collection and the allocation of the Sehme Imam goes to them. Note that the appointment of a deputy to represent the Imam – amongst their duties being to collect and distribute khums on the instruction of the Imam – was a practice established by the 6th Imam (a), that was continued by the other Imams all the way to the era of ghaybat sugra. Although the Maraaji’ are not appointed by the twelfth Imam (a) nor are they instructed on the distribution of khums by the Imam (a), they try their best to distribute khums in a way that the Imam (a) would be pleased with. The Maraaji’ have two key qualities which qualify them to be responsible for our khums: (1) knowledge of religion – to decide how to allocate the khums money in the right way, and (2) Taqwa and trustworthiness.

Today the Maraaji’ use the Sehme Imam portion of khums for the following causes: propagating religion, providing financial aid to the poor and needy Shia (ex. Those afflicted with a natural disaster), providing expenditure of religious establishments such as schools or mosques, and providing expenses of the religious scholars. It is through khums that our Maraaji’ can be financially independent and not have to rely on other organizations who could then have some form of control over them. Although we know that the Maraaji’ are adil (just), when the Maraaji’ are financially independent, no one can claim that their statements or fatwa are unjustly influenced by an organization or government.

In the aforementioned letter of the 8th Imam (a), he writes, Do not deprive yourselves of our prayers as long as you can because paying [the khums] is the key to sustenance, the forgiveness for your sins

1 The 7 items that are taxable by khums are: surplus of income, legitimate wealth mixed with illegitimate wealth, mines and minerals, precious stones obtained by diving into the sea, buried treasure, the land sold to a dhimmi kafir and the spoils of war.


Rizvi, M. (2012, September 24). Khums, An Islamic Tax. Retrieved from

Additional Reading:

Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project. (2013, November 12). A Shi’ite Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Al-Seestani, A. (2013, January 24). Taqlid: Following a Mujtahid. Retrieved from mujtahid

Shirazi, N., & Subhani, J. (n.d.). Philosophy of Islamic Laws(A. Rizvi, Trans.). Islamic Seminary Publications.

How is a Marja’ different from the scholars we have in the community?

A Marja’ is a learned individual who takes on the responsibility of deriving Islamic laws while the living Imam (a) is in occultation, thereby taking on the role of leading the Muslim community in the Imam’s (a) absence. This is a very heavy responsibility for one to take. To reach this position takes a lot of time and dedication and requires many years of study.

One of the main things that differentiates the scholars in our community from the Maraaji’ is the depth in which Maraaji’ have studied the Islamic sciences. Islamic guidance is entirely based in the Quran and credible hadith of the Ahlul Bayt (a). Hence, for Maraaji’ to be able to derive Islamic laws, they must be experts on the holy texts and very well-versed in many sciences. They go through the stages of learning Islamic sciences, teaching, producing research, and deriving edicts based on their research. It is an intensive process that requires a lot of time and effort.

While scholars in the community may have knowledge, they do not have the same level of expertise the Maraaji’ have. For this reason, vast majority of scholars in the community themselves do taqlid of a Marja’ and are often students of Maraaji’ as well; some might be exercising ihtiyat in their own personal matters.

Given these differences, Maraaji’ are guides for the larger Shia community while other scholars focus their attention on smaller communities and groups. Community members may look to local scholars for guidance and advice, but all Shias, including scholars in the community, look up to the Maraaji’ for guidance in the absence of the living Imam (a).


Rizvi, Sayyid Muhammad. “How the Imams (as) Prepared Shias for Taqlid.” Majlis for 1st Dhul Qa’dah 1440. Majlis for 1st Dhul Qa’dah 1440, 4 July 2019, Brampton, Masumeen Islamic Centre.

Sīstānī, `Alī al-Ḥusaynī. Simplified Islamic Laws: for Youth and Young Adults. Translated by Saleem Bhimji, Imam Ali Foundation, 1999.

Taqleed (Following a Marja’ or scholar) – Your Questions Answered. AhlulBayt TV, 2013.          

Do other Muslims have the concept of Marja’iyya? How are their systems similar or different from the Shia Ithna-Asheri way?

The school of Marja’iyyah was established to deduce laws of Shariah from authentic sources. It establishes the principle of jurisprudence and derives laws of practical obligations from sources such as the Quran and Hadith. In the lifetime of the Prophet (s) there was no need for Marja’iyyah as the Prophet (s) would solve issues and answer questions. After the death of the Prophet (s) and the expansion of Islamic territories, the need arose for answers to new questions that came up. For the Shias the need was not so strong as they had the guidance of the infallible Imams. The Imams, especially Imam al-Baqir (a) and Imam al-Sadiq (a) played an important role in the formation of jurisprudential laws. Some of their companions wrote books on it and the practice continued until the ghaybah (occultation) of Imam al-Mahdi (a). That was when Marja’iyyah was formally established to deal with the needs of the community.

The Sunni scholars needed to deduce the laws themselves as they did not follow the guidance of the Ahlul Bayt (a).  The first scholar to write a book on laws – al-Rislaah – was Muhammad al-Shafi’i who died in 204 AH. Sunni Muslims give the right of deriving jurisprudential rules to four Muslim theologians and jurists who lived in the first three centuries of Islam. These four jurists are:

Imam Abu Hanifa of Kufa
Imam Malik bin Anas of Medinah
Imam Muhammad al-Shafi’i of Madinah
Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal of Baghdad

These  jurists tried to systemize the Islamic law into a comprehensive rational system which covered all possible legal situations. The four schools of Sunni Islamic law are named after their founders and are called the Hanafiyya, the Malikiyya, the Shafiyya, and the Hanbaliyya schools of religious law.

To cope with new questions that come up from time to time, Sunni Muslims ask specialists in the field of Islamic law to give their decisions using the traditional tools of legal science. Such a decision is called a fatwa and the religious scholar who gives this decision is called a mufti.


The Four Schools of Law in Islam [Web log post]. (n.d.). Retrieved from islam.html

Usul al-Fiqh [Web log post]. (n.d.). Retrieved from

How do we deal with having family members who do taqlid of (i.e. follow) different Maraaji’ in one household (i.e. between spouses, parent/child. etc.)?

When individuals do taqlid of different Maraaji’ in one home it can sometimes bring about differences in how certain things are practiced. A seemingly big difference amongst those is the celebration of holidays. However, to assuage the concerns family members may have when a member of the family chooses to follow a different Marja’, one must understand that choosing a Marja’ isn’t a competition or a place where you must “align” yourself with your family. The responsibility of choosing who to do taqlid of is an individual one and should not be chosen based on “who your family follows” (see: “How is a Marja’ chosen?”).

The rulings of the Maraaji’ should not be seen as one being better than the other, and if one does something different (in accordance with the fiqh rulings outlined by their Marja’) it does not mean they are acting incorrectly. The Maraaji’ are knowledgeable scholars who follow a variety of sciences to discern their laws and it is done only after extensive studying and reliance on Quran and hadith. It is possible however that different Maraaji’ will ascertain slightly different rulings on a subject based on how they approach the subject.

Given the details of how a Marja’ is chosen and that there is no competition or superiority of rulings, the concerns in a family must then be met with understanding and acceptance that each person has taken on the responsibility to follow a Marja’ they feel is most knowledgeable and should not be questioned because Eid does not fall on the same day for them. Rather, family members should be accommodating and support one another in their taqlid. There would have to be some compromises made but it is an expression of the respect of individual choice within families.

Is it possible to make a wrong choice when it comes to choosing a Marja’ you intend to follow?

Taqlid is a well-established and merited practice in our religion. It is through the guidance of a Marja’ that we are taught the rulings and expectations of Allah upon us. However, there is confusion when it comes to deciding on a Marja’ due to the many possible choices of a Marja’. Is it possible to make the wrong choice when choosing the Marja’ you intend to follow?

In the simplest way possible, the answer is that one cannot make a mistake in choosing their Marja’, so long as they choose one who has been qualified as being a Marja’ by his peers. As long as the criteria for a Marja’ is met, one cannot go wrong. Given that one of these criteria is that the Marja’ is to be the most knowledgeable of all mujtahids, the idea of choice raises a concern. If we are to follow the most knowledgeable, should there not be only be one individual recognized as a Marja’ at a time (i.e. no choice)?

It is difficult to presume who the most learned is given that today we have been blessed with so many great Maraaji’.  That being said, there is a prescribed method to identifying a suitable Marja’ from amongst the mujtahids. This includes identifying the most learned of the mujtahids. 

The criteria by which a Marja’ is chosen can be found here.

Although we find no consensus across the widespread Shia community on a single Marja’, there is a consensus on a select few Maraaji’ who qualify for the position of Marja’. That being said, generally there is one Marja’ who is followed by majority of the Shia world. In the past it was individuals such as Ayatullah Mohsin al-Hakim and Ayatullah Khoei. In the present day it is Ayatullah Sistani.

Choosing from the few Maraaji’ who qualify for the position of Marja’ allows one to fulfill religious obligation with the certainty that one is making a good choice. Perhaps, choosing the Marja’ of choice in one’s immediate community, as identified by learned people within the community may be an easier way of learning the specific rulings of one’s Marja’.

This raises a secondary question surrounding the slightly differing fatawa from different mara’ji. Is it problematic to have Maraaji’ with differing opinions? The answer is no—like in any science, fiqh yields experts with slightly differing opinions. It is important to consider that the fatawa of different Maraaji’ cannot be said to be contradictory. That is to say, one Marja’ will not deem one action wajib while the other says that it is haram. Moreover, complying with these differences should not cause undue hardship on the community (Rizvi).

Each Marja’ decides upon fatawa and rulings to the best of their knowledge and research. Thus, there is no fault on them, and subsequently their followers, if their rulings are incorrect (Rizvi). So choose a Marja’, learn his rulings, follow them and God-willing we will be of the guided.


Rasheed, Ali, and Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi. “Selection of the Marja’-e-Taqleed.” Aalim Network, Al-, Oct. 1997,

Rizvi, Sayyid Muhammad. “Taqlid: Meaning and Reality.”,, 

Additional Reading

As-Seestani, A. (2017). Islamic laws: According to the fatwas of His Eminence al-Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani(M. A. Ismail, Trans.). The World Federation of KSIMC.

How is a Marja’ chosen and what are the current Shia leadership options?

Within this question, two points must be discussed: i) how a muqallid (one who does taqlid) chooses which Marja’ to follow and ii) how the Maraaji’ themselves attain that position.

i) What are some circumstances through which one can choose a Marja’ to follow?

A) When a person is certain that a particular person is a mujtahid, or the most learned one. For this, he should be a learned person himself in the field of Islamic jurisprudence, and should possess the capacity to identify a Mujtahid or an A’lam (most learned).

B) When two persons, who are learned and just and possess the capacity to identify a Mujtahid or the A’lam, confirm that a person is a Mujtahid or an A’lam, provided that two other learned and just persons do not contradict them. In fact, being a Mujtahid or an A’lam can also be established by a statement of only one trusted and reliable person.

C) When a number of learned persons who possess the capacity to identify a Mujtahid or an A’lam, certify that a particular person is a Mujtahid or an A’lam, provided that one is satisfied by their statement.

ii) The characteristics of a Marja’ must include being: 

  • Male
  • Shia Ithna Ash’ari
  • Adult
  • Sane
  • Of legitimate birth
  • Living 
  • Just (adil) (A person is said to be just when he performs all those acts which are obligatory upon him, and refrains from all those things which are forbidden to him. And the sign of being just is that one is apparently of a good character, so that if enquiries are made about him from the people of his locality, or from his neighbors, or from those persons with whom he lives, they would confirm his good conduct.)

Currently the most learned Mara’ji of our time include:

  • Ayatullah Sayyid ‘Ali Sistani (Iraq)
  • Ayatullah Shaykh Wahid Khurasani (Iran)
  • Ayatullah Sayyid ‘Ali Khamane’i (Iran)
  • Ayatullah Shaykh Fazil Lankarani (Iran) = deceased
  • Ayatullah Shaykh Jawad Tabrizi (Iran) = deceased
  • Ayatullah Shaykh Nasir Makarim Shirazi (Iran)



Al-Seestani, A. (2013, January 24). Taqlid: Following a Mujtahid. Retrieved from

Rizvi, M., & Rasheed, A. (1997, October 27). Retrieved from

Is Marja’iyya relevant and necessary in current Western society?

‘Those who are given the highest ranks are those who have acquired knowledge and use it in the service of people. True knowledge comes from iman and taqwa (piety through awareness of God’s power) and those who have both are the best individuals.’ (Ismail, M. (2018, July))

These were words spoken by Dr. Mohamedali Shomali as he explained the importance of the concept of Marja’iyya in today’s society. He explained the idea that the worth and value of an individual is determined by their knowledge, but this knowledge isn’t merely measured by a collection of PhD’s and accreditations from universities. Rather, true knowledge is that which brings a human being closer to his purpose – towards God. This is knowledge that the Marja’ possesses after a lifetime of strictly studying a variety of sciences. It has the capacity to bring the Muslim ummah closer to a divine purpose.

A community must be led in religion by individuals who possess both knowledge and taqwa. To be guided by individuals who are lacking in these would be detrimental to the religious and spiritual welfare of those communities.

A common concern that is raised by individuals in Western communities is that the Maraaji’ are out of touch or unable to understand concerns that are raised by Muslims in today’s world. It is important to remember that these Maraaji’ adhere to the highest standards of Islamic piety and knowledge. These qualities have been identified as necessary prerequisites of this position by the Imams. Imam al-Sadiq (a) states;  If there is anyone among the fuqaha’ who is in control over his own self, protects his religion, suppresses his evil desires and is obedient to the commands of his Master, then the people should follow him. (Shaykh at-Tabarsi, al-Ihtijaj, vo. 2, Najaf 1966, p. 263.)

Without the guidance of these individuals who are aware of the pure and authentic teachings of Islam, it would be easy for communities to dilute their beliefs and deviate from the straight path as taught by the Quran and the Ahlul Bayt (a). These teachings cannot change due to changes of modernity. There can be communication with the Mujtahids, as happens presently, where they can tell us how to practically follow the teachings in our times. The Mujtahids also have representatives in various parts of the world who liaise with them on behalf of their communities. As believers we need to enhance our levels of obedience and submission to Allah, through His laws. The fatwas of the Mujtahids help us to do that.


Ismail, M. (2018, July). Marja’iyya… Is it relevant today? – islam today magazine UK. Retrieved from’iyya-is-it-relevant-today

(July 2010) The Dawn is Near. Mumbai, India: Association of Imam Mahdi

Where did the concept of Marja’iyya originate?

The concept of Marja’iyya in Islam is one that begins with a brief understanding of philosophy and history, after which, the fiqh can be better understood. Allah is the creator of all – man and universe. Therefore, only He can determine the laws and rights that man is intended to follow. Allah sent Prophets and Imams as teachers and the proclaimers of the laws of Allah and his regulations. The Prophets and Imams do not devise laws by themselves.

Within the understanding of the Shia school of thought, the infallible Imams are the successors of the Prophet and act as the preservers and interpreters of Islam and its laws (as dictated by Allah). After the death of the Prophet (s), from the time of the first Imam, Imam Ali (a), until the death of the eleventh Imam, Imam Hasan al-`Askari (a), the Shia received guidance directly from the Imams.

During the lesser occultation of the twelfth Imam, he himself successively appointed four representatives who acted as the link between the Imam and the Shias. However, when the greater occultation took place, the Shia were obliged to observe taqlid in their religious affairs. 

The word taqlid literally means “to follow (someone)” or “to imitate,” and in Islamic terminology it means to follow a Mujtahid or Marja’—an expert in Islamic jurisprudence—in religious laws and commandments as he has derived them. It is an obligation as it is necessary for believers to follow Divine laws. Because they cannot determine the laws for themselves and are not experts on it, they have to follow those who are experts. These experts have studied Islamic Jurisprudence in depth and are qualified to form laws derived from it.

It must be noted however, that taqlid must only be observed in matters of Islamic law and cannot be followed in matters of the fundamentals of religion. Matters of belief must only be attained through conviction of truth through examination and reflection, they cannot be followed blindly.

Within Qur’an and ahadith, the concept of Marja’iyya can be understood from the following:

  1. We are told to seek guidance on matters we don’t know; Question the people of remembrance if you do not know.” (21:7)
  2. The necessity of religious experts; But why should not a party from every section of them (the believers) go forth to become learned in the religion, and to warn their people when they return to them, that they may beware? (9:122)
  3. It is an obligation for people in society to devote themselves to the study of religious sciences in order to be able to provide guidance for all Muslims. And the hadith from the Twelfth Imam in a reply to Ishaq ibn Ya’qub states: As far as newly occurring circumstances are concerned, you should turn (for guidance) to the narrators of our ahadith, for they are my proof over you just as I am Allah’s proof. (Shaykh at-Tabarsi, al-Ihtijaj, vo. 2, Najaf 1966, p.283)


Rizvi, S. M. (2019, September 05). Taqlid: Meaning and Reality. Retrieved from