Hujjat al-Islam Imam al-Ghazzali: ‘On The Dangers of Taqlid In Understanding The Qur’an.’

{And follow not that of which you have no knowledge. Verily! The hearing and the sight and the heart of each of you will be questioned [by Allah] –  (Qur’an 17:36)

Reposted from:

Tackling Taqlid:

Some Advice for Students of Knowledge ”

In what follows are some passing points about “taqlid” and its uses and abuses as they play out in the da’wa field. It then draws attention to the remarks from Hujjat al-Islam Imam al-Ghazzali (Allah have mercy on his soul) regarding the dangers of excessive and intolerable adherence to a view without the sensitivity to appreciate alternative understandings. This is indispensable for any sincere and serious student of sacred knowledge to know and reflect on.


  • The reason why the discussion of taqlid is necessary and relevant is that:
  1. Often, Muslims misunderstand taqlid leading some to condemn it.
  2. Often, Muslims adhere stringently to an institution, organization, or School without consideration for a valid and alternative view.
  3. Often, Muslims enclose themselves within adherence to a view without any attempt to analyze or assess the veracity, strength, or validity of that view.
  4. Often, excessive taqlid closes off the space for ijtihad and sound independent endeavors by legal scholars.


  • Firstly, a remark on the meaning of taqlid:

Taqlid is not ‘blind following’, ‘fanatical following’ and neither is it ‘dogmatism’ or ‘servile imitation’ (all erroneous and pejorative English renderings) although it could be made into such things by adherents of different parties and groups who have a hardened attitude. No doubt this is neither acceptable nor is it encouraged and it is a ‘fool’s following’.[1] Taqlid is first and foremost an Islamic notion and has textual evidence for it. This is well-documented in the great books of Usul al-Fiqh (‘Islamic Jurisprudence’) and needs no discussion here.[2] Its basic definition according to the legal scholars is: “acting on the [legal] opinion of another person without it being a binding proof like a layperson following the opinion of a mujtahid[3] or a mujtahid adopting the opinion of someone of his caliber…”[4]

والتقليد شرعاً هو العمل بقول الغير من غير حجة مُلزمة، كأخذ العامي بقول مجتهد، وأخذ المجتهد بقول من هو مثله…

Hence, taqlid in matters of law is permitted (but not in theology) and it is in actual fact following or adhering to qualified legal scholarship.


  • Secondly, a few matters need to be remembered when reflecting on taqlid:

[1] Taqlid should not be the baseline, i.e. the norm or departure point because Islam desires individuals to arrive at understanding through the route of `ilm (‘knowledge’). Allah states: {And follow not that of which you have no knowledge. Verily! The hearing and the sight and the heart of each of you will be questioned [by Allah] – Q. 17:36}.

[2] There is such a reality as the ‘stronger evidence’ (aqwa dalil) regarding a jurist’s legal analyses, i.e. it may be that one jurist, on the whole, has approached closer to the mark than another jurist in h/her hermeneutical endeavor. This is a reality because individuals have differing levels of understanding and individual abilities. It is thus incumbent to adhere to the opinion that is weighed as being stronger;[5]

[3] There is such a reality as one mujtahid having more comprehensive and relevant knowledge of the textual material related to a new issue than another;[6]

[4] One scholar or mujtahid does not and cannot encompass the totality of knowledge on all matters and

[5] There should be no taqlid in any opinion that contradicts what is clearly established from the Islamic legal texts – irrespective of how lofty or grand the scholar is.[7]


  • Imam al-Ghazali in his book On the Etiquettes of Qur’an Recitation lists 10 ‘mental actions’ (a`mal al-batin) regarding the one who approaches the Qur’an. What is of relevance immediately here is the ‘sixth action’ he mentions which is ‘eliminating obstacles to understanding the Qur’an’ (al-takhalli `an mawani` al-fahm) and refers to them as ‘veils of the mind’. He says:

أن يكون مقلدا لمذهب سمعه بالتقليد وجمد عليه وثبت في نفسه التعصب له بمجرد الاتباع للمسموع من غير وصول إليه ببصيرة ومشاهدة فهذا شخص قيده معتقده عن أن يجاوزه فلا يمكنه أن يخطر بباله غير معتقده فصار نظره موقوفا على مسموعه.

“…[the second veil] is that he is a muqallid of his madhhab based on taqlid and on which he has remained unshakable and has established a strong zeal in himself for it by merely following what he has heard without actually arriving at it through deep insight or some mode of direct witnessing. This kind of person has been shackled by his beliefs unable to go beyond it and is unable to even conceive of another belief other than his own. His consideration and view thus becomes limited to what he has heard.”[8]

  • Imam al-Ghazali then concludes in emphatic terms:

وهذا التقليد قد يكون باطلا فيكون مانعا كمن يعتقد في الاستواء على العرشالتمكن و الإسقرار…

This type of taqlid can be false and become an obstacle to the understanding of the meaning of the Qur’an as in for example a person who believes Allah’s ‘istiwa’[9] on the `arsh means His being settled on it physically…”[10]


  • Imam al-Ghazali directly tackles the matter of Qur’anic dogmatism, i.e. a rigid adherence to an exegetical position without finding another view as even conceivable.
  • Imam al-Ghazali attacks the idea of a mind entrapped by theological dogmatism which is not based on any direct endeavor of discovering knowledge but mere adoption of what is heard.
  • Imam al-Ghazali considers dogmatism as a veil to understanding and appreciating the deep and expansive nature of the Qur’anic text.
  • Imam al-Ghazali gives an example from early theological polemics that continued until his time over the nature of divine acts and how some quarters of the scholarly community took Divine acts and ascriptions literally and denounced any other interpretative possibility.
  • Imam al-Ghazali’s advice is extendable as a general remark in all matters of the din, including Law (shari`a).


  • Excessive taqlid can border on bigotry and close-mindedness – this is a destructive and non-constructive form of taqlid.
  • Excessive taqlid actually build’s divisiveness, opposition and belligerence between people which are harmful to unity, diversity, and mutual understanding.
  • Excessive taqlid locks one’s mind away from appreciating the expansiveness of the Qur’an and by extension our Sacred Law.
  • Excessive taqlid can actually stifle ijtihad and new and fresh proposals and legal answers for new and unprecedented problems. This attitude debilitates progression and advancement and also undermines the mandatory requirement of having mujtahids in every age.
  • Excessive taqlid assumes that one’s own authority is in a sense infallible; this is a seriously mistaken view.


  • An appreciative mind will listen to and understand the plurality of interpretive possibilities that exist from the same source, i.e. it will appreciate ikhtilaf where it operates.
  • An appreciative mind will look into and investigate any new legal ruling regarding an unprecedented reality, i.e. it will appreciate ijtihad.
  • A student of knowledge should have an appreciative mind and not an unwarranted dogmatic mind.

And with Allah is all success.


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