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:
- We are told to seek guidance on matters we don’t know; Question the people of remembrance if you do not know.” (21:7)
- 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)
- 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