We have a very clear example of taqleed of an individual when in the times of Sayyidina Uthman ibn Affan, the Qur’an was being collected. According to Ibn Jarir, Sayyidina Uthman abolished six of the seven readings of the Quran, retaining only the Quraysh dialect. He had all the copies in other readings burnt down. From the Prophet’s period to the times of the first two Khalifahs, it was allowed to everyone to recite the Qur’an in one of the seven dialects, but Sayyidina Uthman realised that with change of times, there was possibility of mischief cropping up if the seven readings were retained. Ibn Hajr writes about it:.
“In the same way, the ummah were instructed to protect the Quran, and to recite it. They were allowed to choose one of the seven ways of reciting. Then the same ummah made it binding on themselves that they would retain only one recital, and recite according to that, and forego the remaining six recitals.” (Tafseer Ibn Jarir v1 p19)
Ibn Jarir answered any possible objection by clarifying that the ummah were merely given choice of the seven readings which were not fard or wajib. Later they found wisdom in abolishing six of those readings.
“That which those people did was wajib on them. Whatever they did was for the good of Islam and the followers of Islam. Hence, it was better for them to do this than to keep Islam and its people open to harm (by retaining all the seven recitals).” (Tafseer Ibn Jarir v1 p22)
There is also the point of view, forwarded by Imarn Maalik, Ibn Qutaybah, Abul Fadl Razi and Ibn al-Juzrj, and others. It is that, “Sayyidina Uthman did not eliminate the six recitals. Rather all seven readings prevail to this day. However, he did determine a style of writing for the Qur’an.” (Fath al-Bari v9 p25-26)
If we adopt this point of view, which most scholars have, even then this is an example of ‘taqleed of an individual’, for before that the Qur’an could be written down in any script. In fact, even the sequence of surah differed in different copies. It was proper to write the Qur’an in that way and arrangement. However, keeping the good of the ummah before him, Sayyidina Uthman withdrew this choice and wrote down the Qur’an on an uniform script and sequence and made that binding on everyone to follow. He put the other copies on fire.
Whichever way we look at the action of Sayyidina Uthman as gathering the ummah on one reading, or one style of writing and sequence, this is a clear case of taqleed.
The same situation was faced in the case of taqleed because it was not wajib in the times of the Sahabah and tabi’een to follow one imam. However, circumstances of later days outlined in the foregoing lines compelled the ulama to make it obligatory to observe ‘taqleed of an individual’, ‘Absolute taqleed’ was abolished. So, this action is not bid’ah, for, we have the example of Sayyidina Uthman that if the ummah had multiple choice for an affair, they could select one of them to save themselves from mischief. This is all there is to taqleed Shaksi (individual taqleed).