At the beginning of Islam, the number of literates in the whole Mecca was about 17 people (1). In those times, it was even considered as a shame to be able to read or write (2). In the ancient times, people mostly weren’t able to read and literacy was the exclusive privilege of the royal families or rich people. However, in the Arabia, even the royal families couldn’t read or write. Once, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH & HP) wrote a letter to “Bakr ibn Va’il”, a large Arab tribe, and enjoined them to believe in Islam; but when they received the letter, they weren’t even able to read it (3).
In spite of these shameful circumstances, Allah al-mighty sent His most important apostle to the people with only a book as his miracle. The first verses of the Quran, revealed to the Prophet (PUBH & HP), are about reading:
Read in the Name of your Lord who created; (1) created man from a clinging mass. (2) Read, and your Lord is the most generous, (3) who taught by the pen, (4) taught man what he did not know. (5) [96:1-5]
Muslims differentiate between the era before the Messenger (PBUH & HP) and the era after him based on peoples’ knowledge. We call the time before the rise of Islam “The Ignorance era”.
The holy Prophet (PBUH & HP) taught people that knowledge is the criterion that sets them apart . The Holy Quran says:
Say, ‘Are those who know equal to those who do not know?’ Only those who possess intellect take admonition (39:9)
About learning, the Holy Messenger (PBUH) says:
Seek knowledge even if you have to go to China to find it. (4)
Imam Ali (AS) also highlights the Importance of knowledge in his speech with one of his companions:
O Komeil! Knowledge is better than wealth, because knowledge protects you. But for wealth, you have to protect it. Wealth and money get less when you spend them, but by using your knowledge or by teaching it to others you even get more knowledgeable … O Komeil! The ones who love wealth excessively, are like dead people (spiritually) even if they are alive (Physically). However, the spirit of knowledgeable ones will always be alive in the hearts of people even if their bodies are dead. (5)
The Holy Messenger (PBUH & HP) even considered learning as “Vajib” which means that learning is an obligation for every Muslim:
Seeking knowledge is an obligation for every Muslim, men and women (6)
One of the clearest signs that shows the Prophet (PBUH & HP) wanted everybody to be literate and knowledgeable is that he ordered the slaves after the Badr war to teach the children of Medina to read and write and in return, the slaves would be free. (7)
The Holy Quran says:
By the pen and what they write (68:1)
We all know that without writing, we weren’t able to communicate our thoughts and ideas with each other and we couldn’t keep them for future generations. In this regard, the Holy Prophet (PBUH & HP) says:
Keep your knowledge safe.
Some people asked:
How can we do that?
The Prophet (PBUH & HP) replied:
By writing it! (8)
Moreover, Imam Sadiq (AS) said to one of his pupils, Mufazzal ibn Umar:
Write and spread your knowledge among the people and if you were going to die, leave your writings for your children because there will be a chaos in the future and in those times, people will not find any peace except in their books (9)
He also said:
Keep your writings because you will need them in the future (10)
Imam Hassan (AS) would gather his children,his niece and nephews and tell them:
You may be considered as kids now, but it is so likely that you will be the elders of many groups and families in the future. Therefore, it is your duty to seek for knowledge. And if there are some people among you who cannot memorize their knowledge, they must write and put their writings in their houses and keep them safe. (11)
Action and knowledge are inseparable in the Islamic view. If you act without having enough knowledge and data about the work you’re going to do, you will spoil it and your efforts will be in vain. Imam Sadiq (AS) says:
The one who acts without having enough knowledge is like a passenger who goes on the wrong road. So they get farther and farther from their destination as they go faster and faster. (12)
On the other hand, knowledge without acting is also useless. Imam Ali (AS) says:
Knowledge without action is like a tree without fruit or like a bow without its string (13).
The Holy Quran also says:
The example of those who were charged with the Torah (Old Testament), then failed to carry it, is that of a donkey carrying books. Evil is the example of the people who deny Allah’s signs, and Allah does not guide the wrongdoing lot. (62:5)
- Fotooh al-Boldan, Pg.473
- Al-She’r va ash-Sho’ara, Pg.334
- As-Sahih fi sirah an-Nabi al-A’zam, Vol.1, Pg.49
- Vasa’il al-Shia, Vol.18, Pg.14, number 20 & 23
- Nahj al-Balaghah, Utterance no.147
- Kafi, vol.1, pg.3
- At-Tabaghat al-Kubra, vol.2, pg.22
- Bihar al-Anvar, vol.2, pg.151
- Kafi, vol.1, pg.52
- Kafi, vol.1, pg.52
- Kanz al-Ummal, vol.1, pg.752
- Tohaf al-Uqul, pg.362
- Mizan al-Hikmah, vol.4, pg.2841
Faith in the religion of Islam is based on rational thinking. Quranic teachings always encourage people to achieve faith through reasoning and do not consider mere devotional cognition as adequate. Hence one should accept the Islamic axioms (Monotheism (Tawhid), Prophethood (Nubuwwah), and Afterlife (Ma’ad)) logically.
The above-mentioned Islamic axioms are constant, immutable, and limited, whereas new events and issues of each time are changeable and infinite. Consequently, there needs to be some Islamic scholars or experts who know the Islamic teachings in general and are aware of the contingent issues of the time and their solutions in particular, which makes them responsible for inference of new laws from basic principles of Islam (Ijtihad) in accordance with the needs of changing times and the requirements of new phenomena of human civilization .
On the other hand, the Integration of different people to Islam with their particular way of thinking, living with leaders of various religions, the religious discussions between them and the Muslims, and the appearance of Islamic philosophy would always arise doubts and uncertainties. So it necessitated research on the principles of Islam and justifying them especially after the time of the last Prophet (PBUH) and the Imams.
Muslim scholars have always proved that the Islamic teachings are dynamic, compatible with the passage of time, and capable of fulfilling the requirements of each age, generation, and civilization; this would, in consequence, develop the Islamic society and lead it through the path of evolution and perfection in many parts of the world, especially in the first centuries.
The literal meaning of Ijtihad is to do one's utmost while striving and making effort to reach a goal which in this case is to endeavor to deduce the divine laws of Islam from the reliable sources and proofs, i.e. the Holy Quran, the historical tradition (Sunnah) [i], consensus (Ijma`) [ii], and reason (`Aql).
The term Mujtahid (the religious expert), derived from Ijtihad, refers to a person who endeavors in the way of Allah to derive laws and decrees regarding the religious fundamentals through all kinds of hardships and difficulties.
Ijtihad, which is of great importance in the religion of Islam, guarantees its persistence. Muslims have always been urged to study Islamic science and everything else which is necessary for the development and well-being of their society.
However, it is not compulsory (Wajib) for every single Muslim to become a religious expert (Mujtahid) due to its difficulty and some people’s inability to comprehend and derive Islamic laws all by themselves. It means that the obligation is on the community as a whole and so when a group of people devote themselves to the science of religion to guide the Muslims, then the obligation is lifted from the rest of the society .
Quran says: “why should not there go forth a group from each of their sections to become learned in religion, and to warn their people when they return to them, so that they may beware?” (9:122)
It is noteworthy that even though it is a sufficiency duty, every single person in the Islamic community can learn the science of religion and do Ijtihad individually. Therefore this science is not associated with a particular class of the society; rather, it only depends on acquiring the necessary knowledge and intellectual skills. So if a Muslim is not capable of attaining such level of knowledge that would enable him/her to deduce religious laws for himself/herself, it is compulsory for them to refer to an expert who has specialized in this field, i.e., Mujtahid.
A fully qualified religious expert (Mujtahid), who is supposed to study and deduce the practical laws of Islam according to the time requirements, needs to have specific features, the most significant of which are:
Being able to fully understand the Holy Quran and the other religious sources to discover practical laws from their origins.
Being equitable and trustworthy
Being capable of refraining from sins
Being able to keep away from earthly desires
It is also important to bear in mind that the religious experts (Mujtahids) do not ever issue a decree (Fatwa) unless they have found adequate and reliable proofs and evidence in the Quran, historical tradition (Sunnah), reason, and consensus; which is when they inform the people of God’s commandments.
Taqlid in Islam literally means "to follow or imitate someone" in the realm of religious do’s and don’ts or the religious laws one must obey. In Islamic terminology, it means to comply with the edicts of a religious expert (Mujtahid) regarding practical affairs of religion. Broadly speaking, imitation is classified into four different categories among people:
An unlearned following another unlearned
A learned following an unlearned
A learned following another learned
An unlearned following a learned
Quran, however, mentions two of the above; “an unlearned following another unlearned,” which is strictly prohibited:
“For when they are told, "Come unto that which God has bestowed from on high, and unto the Apostle" - they answer, "Enough for us is that which we found our forefathers believing in and doing." Why, even though their forefathers knew nothing, and were devoid of all guidance?” (5:104)
And that of “an unlearned following a learned” (the focus of this article):
“Ask the People of the Book if you do not know” (21:7)
In Islamic thinking, the latter is the only acceptable kind of Taqlid in Islam that appeals to man's rationale. According to common sense, we follow the guidance of a religious expert (Mujtahid) who knows the laws of religion, just as we voluntarily conform to the advice of a doctor when we need medical attention, or in the same way, we consult lawyers and comply with their recommendations. It is inherent in man's nature to resort to experts in fields wherein he lacks expertise.
Practical matters of faith are no different. We, therefore, comply with an expert in the field of practical religious affairs too . In this kind of Taqlid in Islam, which is permitted in Islam, two important elements are involved; firstly, the imitator (Muqallid) must completely trust and have confidence in the religious expert (Mujtahid). Secondly, imitation (Taqlid) must fulfill the imitator’s (Muqallid) demands and lead him/her to perfection. Clearly, this does not make sense in the other forms of imitation (Taqlid) but the last one.
In short, the religious concepts and teachings of Islam fit into two main parts; the axioms and the practical commandments (practical principles). As for the Islamic axioms, i.e., Monotheism (Tawhid), Prophethood (Nubuwwah), and Afterlife (Ma’ad), no one is allowed to imitate; instead, each person is supposed to investigate and accept them individually since they are regarded as the main entrance to the religion of Islam.
But about Practical principles, which are obligatory practical commandments, Muslims are encouraged to investigate and find them out as individuals if they are able to do so; obviously, they are not allowed to imitate anyone. If they are not capable, though, they have to follow religious experts (Mujtahid) who have become specialized in Islamic science fully and deeply.
It is learned in this article that the cases in which Taqlid in Islam or imitation is allowed, are very limited in Islam. In fact, it is possible for every single Muslim to step on the path of investigation to attain knowledge and awareness about the truth and commandments of Islam themselves.
[i]. the primary source of law taken from the sayings, actions, and approvals of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
[ii]. acceptance of a matter by a specified group of Muslim scholars
I’tikaf is an Islamic religious practice that Muslims perform during Ramadan. I’tikaf means to stay in a mosque for a period of time while you are fasting. On these days, Muslims stay in mosques and leave everything they have in the world for just a few days to spend their time praying and worshipping Allah. This religious practice is highly recommended by the holy Prophet (PBUH & HP) and the Shiite Imams.
I’tikaf is one of the most important Islamic ways of worshipping Allah that the Holy Prophet (PBUH & HP) himself had done every year at a mosque. In this regard, Imam Sadiq (AS) said:
The holy Prophet (PBUH & HP) would stay in the mosque during the last ten days of Ramadan and people would set up a tent made of fur and put it in the mosque for him. The holy Prophet (PBUH & HP) would prepare himself for I’tikaf and he wouldn’t use his bed during those times. (1)
The holy Prophet (PBUH & HP) even couldn’t stand missing I’tikaf even for one year. Imam Sadiq (AS) said:
The Badr Battle was in Ramadan and due to this fact, the Messenger (PBUH & HP) couldn’t perform I’tikaf that year. Therefore, the next year, the holy Prophet (PBUH & HP) stayed in the mosque for twenty days: ten days for the contemporary year and ten days in exchange for the previous year. (2)
About the reward that Allah gives us in return, the Holy Prophet (PBUH & HP) said:
I’tikaf on Ramadan is equal to making Hajj and Umrah (another kind of pilgrimage to Mecca) twice. (3)
The one who performs I’tikaf is called Mu’takif. Regarding the things that Mu’takifs should do while staying in mosques, Imam Ali (AS) said:
Mu’takifs should be thinking about Allah and reciting the holy Quran and praying all the time in the mosque. [Mu’takifs] must not talk about worldly issues, say poems, buy and sell things, participate in funerals, visit ill people, stay with a woman in private (to avoid sexual desires), say rude words or argue with others and the more they avoid talking with people, the better it would be for them. (4)
Performing I’tikaf is not wajib but it is mustahabb. It means that it is not a mandatory act but doing it is thoroughly recommended (mustahabb).
You can perform I’tikaf every time it is possible for you and for the mosque you want to stay in, although there are times that are recommended by Shiite religious scholars.
Al-Shahid Al-Thani, one of the greatest Shiite scholars claimed: “[I’tikaf] is mustahabb and so recommended, especially in the last ten days of Ramadan because the Prophet (PBUH & HP) had done so”. (5)
In this regard, Imam Sadiq (AS) mentioned:
The Messenger performed I’tikaf in the first ten days of Ramadan. The next year, he did it in the second ten days and at last, he did it in the third ten days of Ramadan and after that he did so every year. (6)
Note: you cannot perform I’tikaf during the days that fasting is forbidden such as Eid al-Adha or Eid al-Fitr.
Performing I’tikaf in four mosques, namely Masjid al-Haram (Mecca), Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (Medina), Masjid Al-Kufah (Iraq), and the mosque of Basrah (Iraq), is highly recommended but you can perform it in every main mosque of your city. Of note that you cannot perform I’tikaf in every mosque but it should be the main mosque of the city where most people gather. (7)
If you want to perform I’tikaf correctly, you must fast during your stay in the mosque. Without fasting, your I’tikaf cannot be accepted.
It is mandatory to stay in the mosque for at least three days, and obviously, you can stay longer if you like, but some scholars believe that you must stay for the third day as well if you stay two days longer. For instance, if you stay five days, you will have to stay on the sixth day, as well; and if you stay eight days, you will have to be there on the ninth day, too. (8)
You cannot leave the mosque during I’tikaf, and if you do, your I’tikaf will not be accepted. Although, in critical situations like testifying in court for another Muslim or finding necessary food and supplies, you can leave the mosque and come back as soon as possible.
Acts listed below are Haram and forbidden during I’tikaf:
The original purpose of I’tikaf is that we get closer to Allah by talking to him and praying. During I’tikaf, we must concentrate on our bond with Allah in a way that nothing can distract us. Due to this fact, the things mentioned above are forbidden during I’tikaf as they may make us forget about Allah and focus on our material life. During this short ceremony, it’s time to forget about this world and think about Allah instead.
- Vasa’il ash-Shia, Sheikh Hurr al-Ameli, vol.10, pg.533
- Al-Kafi, Sheikh al-Koleini, vol.4, pg.175
- Vasa’il ash-Shia, Sheikh Hurr al-Ameli, vol.10, pg.534
- Bihar al-Anvar, Allamah al-Majlesi, vol.94, pg.130
- Ar-Rozah al-Bahiiah, Ash-Shahid ath-Thani, vol.1, pg.156
- Vasa’il ash-Shia, Sheikh Hurr al-Ameli, vol.10, pg.534
- Urvah al-Vuthqah, Tabataba’I al-Yazdi, vol.3, pg.672
- Urvah al-Vuthqah, Tabataba’I al-Yazdi, vol.3, pg.671