Hence, it is proper to conduct oneself on either ‘absolute taqleed or ‘taqleed of an individual’.
May Allah shower mercy on the latter day jurists who understood the needs of their times. They saw wisdom in allowing only Shaksi or Individual Taqleed. People should not change allegiance to the imams.
To know their reasoning, we must first realise that slavery to one’s own desires is a misguidance that might lead one to disbelief. This is why the Qur’an has frequently emphasised that one must not overindulge in personal desires.
There is a kind of it in which although man realises it to be evil yet he succumbs to the longing of his self and commits sin. This kind is a great crime, but it is not serious because there is always a possibility that man will repent and seek forgiveness for his sins.
There is another kind in which man becomes a slave to his desires to such an extent that he does not distinguish between the lawful and the unlawful. He plays with Shari’ah. Obviously, it is a very serious kind, dangerous and ruinous and it is necessary to keep away from every deed that may take man on the route of such desires.
The scholars realized that men became less reliable, day by day, and they were less careful and less righteous. If they were allowed to observe ‘absolute taqleed’ then they would indulge in evil desires knowingly or unconsciously. For instance, a man bleeds in winter and he knows that his ablution is rendered invalid according to Imam Abu Hanifah, but it is not void according to Imam Shafi’ee. So he finds it convenient to make taqleed of the latter imam and offers salah without making ablution. Later on, he touches a woman. According to Imam Shafi’ee his ablution is void but is retained according to Imam Abu Hanifah, so he switches allegiance to Imam Abu Hanifah and again offers salah without ablution. So, he adopts the saying of whichever imam he finds convenient for him. In other words, the commands of Shari’ah will become a plaything for him. This is surely unlawful and all Muslims agree on it. Allamah Ibn Taymiyah wrote:
“Imam Ahmad and others have explained that no one has a right to declare something as forbidden to pursue his desires and then allowed when he finds that more suitable. Thus, as a neighbour he may claim right of pre-emption according to the Hanafi school, but when his neighbour claims it from him he may reject it on the plea of the Shafa’i school of thought. Or, he may claim inheritance of his dead brother when his paternal grandfather is alive as a co-sharer with him, but when he is the paternal grandfather and his grandson dies leaving a brother, he denies him a co-share in inheritance Such conduct is unlawful.” (al-Fatawa al-Kubra v2 p237)
He wrote elsewhere:
“Such people follow an imam who holds that marriage is void, but later they switch over to one who regards it to be proper. Such conduct is unlawful unanimously in the eyes of the ummah.”
Then again he wrote after a few lines:
“Its example is that when a person is himself in want of it, he opts for preemption. But, if he is the buyer, he is against preemption. This is unlawful conduct. Similarly, when marriage is contracted, a man considers the guardianship of a sinner correct, but when divorce is effected he considers that same guardianship invalid so that he may not be guilty of having performed wrong. This conduct is unlawful. Again, if someone says that he had not known of a school of thought which he now joins then too his word is not accepted because it might lead others to play with religion to measure lawful and unlawful on his desires.” (al-Fatawa al-Kubra v2 p285-86)
This is a great wrong and Allamah Ibn Taymiyah did not subscribe to taqleed of individual, yet he confirms that it is unlawful to switch over sympathies.
In the times of the Sahabah and tabi’een people were very God-fearing and righteous. So there was not apprehension in absolute taqleed that people would succumb to their base desires and turn to one or other rnujtahid now and then. Hence, there was no distate in absolute taqleed in those days.
When later jurists found that people were becoming unreliable, they gave the verdict that only taqleed of an individual was allowed. This was not a command of Shari’ah but an edict for administrative reasons. Allamah Nawavi said about it:
“The reason taqleed of an individual has been made binding is that if man was allowed to follow whichever school of thought he liked then he would seek ease in every school of thought and act according to his desires. People will get authority over the lawful and unlawful, the permitted and forbidden. The restrictions of the Shari’ah will be removed finally. In earlier days, the schools of thought were not arranged completely and well-known. (Now that they are compiled and known) it is essential for everyone to select one of them and follow it specifically. (al-Majmoo’ Sharah al-Muhazzib v1 p91)
Thousands of mujtahids have come since the days of the Sahabah, and there certainly are somethings that are easy with some and, being human, some errors have crept in and it is with all that one or two things that are against general consensus. So, if absolute laqleed is allowed, people would choose the easiest and Shari’ah commands would become meaningless. For example,
Imam Shafi’ee permits playing chess.
Abdullah ibn Ja’far allowed singing and flute. (Ithafab-Sadatul Mutqeen v6 p458-459)
Qasim ibn Muhammad allowed pictures without shadows. (Nawawi, Sharah Muslim v2 p199)
A’mash held that fasting commenced from sunrise, not dawn. (Rooh al-Ma’ani v2 p67)
Ata ibn Abu Ribah held that if Eid fell on Friday then both the salah of Friday and Zuhr are waived and there is no salah, till Asr. (Tahzeeb al-Asma wal-Lughat, Nawawi v1 p334)
Dawood Zahiri and Ibn Hazam have ruled that one who intends to marry a wornan may see her in the nude. (Tuhfah al-Ahwazi v2 p170)
And Ibn Sahnun and others are said to have allowed anal intercourse. (Talkhees ul-Jeer v3 p186-187)
These are a few examples that came to mind suddenly. Actually, there are many such sayings in books of fiqh and Hadith.
So, if Absolute taqleed is allowed and everyone is permitted to do as he likes and choose a ruling that suits him then he would collect such sayings and prepare a religion with the help of his Nafs (self) and the Shaytan (devil). This is not allowed by anyone. Mu’mar has said:
“If anyone listens to songs, opts for the ruling of some Madinans about anal intercourse, of some Makkans about mut’ah and sarf, or some Kufians about drugs then he will be the worst of Allah’s slaves.” (Talkhees al-Jeer v3 p187)
If taqleed of an individual is not made compulsory, man can choose what his desires prompt quite unconsciously.
Allamah Abdur Rauf Munadi has discussed this question exhaustively. He cites Ibn ul-Humam as saying:
“Most certainly, these restrictions aim at preventing people from seeking convenience and ease (on the prompt of base desires).” (Fayd al-Qadeer v1 p211)
Allamah Abu Ishaq Shatbi Maaliki has given examples of many events in his work al-Mawafiqat. By selecting convenience in different schools of thought instead of observing the Qur’an and sunnah, people found their base desires being satisfied. He cites Allamah Mazari, a scholar of the Maaliki school, who refused to issue an edict on any ill-known saying:
“I cannot encourage people to act on the ill-known (among the) sayings of Imam Maalik and his friends, for, taqwa is on the decline. There is little done to protect piety. Desires have multiplied and claimants to knowledge are aplenty who are quick to issue rulings. If they are allowed to oppose the Maaliki school then instead of reformation, corruption will rise. People will disrespect religion…” (al-Muwafiqat v4 p146-147)
Allamah Shatbi then comments:
“Allamah Mazari agrees with the impact and rejects to rule on any ill-known saying of the Maaliki school… taqwa and honesty have been scarce even among those engaged in learning and propagating…, if we are lax, every school of thought will be uprooted.” (al-Muwafiqat v4 146-147)
Ibn Khuldun wrote:
“The followers of the four imams spread over every city and those of other imams became extinct. The door of differences was shut because, for one, terminology of the sciences became complex making it difficult to attain the status of ijtihad. The second reason was the apprehension that the unworthy might practice ijtihad who are unreliable. So, the ulama withdrew from ijtihad and directed the people to taqleed of the four imams, and disallowed them from continuously changing the imams because that would make religion a plaything.” (Muqaddamah Ibn Khuldun p448)
In short, there was honesty and sincerity in the times of the Sahabah and the tabi’een. They were safe from base desires overtaking them in Shari’ah injunctions. So taqleed of both kinds was practiced in their times. Later when there was great apprehension, taqleed was restricted to the individual kind. If that was not done, there would have been an unimaginable turmoil in matters of Shari’ah. Shah Waliullah states:
“Know that people were not accustomed in the first and second centuries to follow any one specified mazhab After the second century, a mujtahid was specified and followed. There might have been very few people then who did not follow a specific rnujtahid’s rnazhab. That was wajib then.” (Al-Insaaf fi bayanSabab ikhtilaf p57-59)
Some people wonder how that which was not necessary for the Sahabah became necessary for later day people. So, he answered this question too.
“It is actually necessary that there should be people in the ummah who explain the laws of Shari’ah with reasoning, If there are many ways to discharge that wajib then one of them should be chosen. But if there is only one way to do that then it is necessary to gain that method. For example, our predessors did not write the Ahadith, but it is wajib to write them down in our times, because there is no other way to circulate Hadith. Similarly, our predecessors did not occupy themselves in learning grammar because that was their mother tongue, but it is wajib in our times to learn Arabic because we are very far from the earlier Arabs. There are many other examples (of something becoming wajib with changing times) and we must imagine the specification of an imam on this, for it can be wajib sometimes and not at other times.”
He went on to write:
“Thus if an ignorant person is in India or any place (like Central Asia) where there is no Shafi’ee, Maaliki or Hanbali and none of their literature, then for him only the taqleed of Imam Abu Hanifah is wajib and he is forbidden to forsake his school of thought, for, he will then become free to cast off restriction. This is different when he is in the Harmayn (Makkah or Madinah) where he may follow any one of the four schools of thought.” (al-Insaaf p69-71)
He said further:
“Binding oneself to the mazhab of the mujtahid is a secret with which Allah has inspired and made them unanimous on it knowingly or unconsciously.” (al-Insaaf p63)
Shah Waliullah also said:
“Surely the ummah is agreed on the legality of following the four schools of thought. The wisdom is that is not unknown, particularly in these times when strength has weakened, base desires have made home in the hearts and everyone proclaims his opinion arrogantly.” (Hujjatullah al-Balighah v1 p754)