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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRXeR7df9NI