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- Islam.org, Oct. 1997, www.al-islam.org/organizations/AalimNetwork/msg00464.html.
Rizvi, Sayyid Muhammad. “Taqlid: Meaning and Reality.” Al-Islam.org, Al-Islam.org, www.al- islam.org/articles/taqlid-meaning-and-reality-sayyid-muhammad-rizvi#fref_830a812b_8.
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.