Ailment of Taqlid and Intellectual Stagnation in Islam
The last few centuries bear witness to a sharp decline in the individual as well as the collective affairs of the Muslims. All over the globe, they seem to have lost their identity. They appear to be dispossessed of the real spirit of Islam, and have been stripped of the position of esteem they once held in the comity of nations. Though they have with them the last and final word of the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, yet it no longer plays a vibrant role in their lives.
One very significant reason for this sorry state of affairs is the intellectual stagnation, which generally exists about religion. Two root causes of this intellectual decadence and backwardness are apparent to every keen eye:
1. The ailment of Taqlid (blind following), both at the level of the religious scholars as well as at that of the masses.
2. A complete disregard of the role of human intellect in matters of religion.
An elaboration of these two points, which are actually the two sides of the same coin, follows:
Our religious institutes all over the Ummah, which produce religious scholars, are actually the source of this Taqlid syndrome. Here, a student from the very first day is labeled as an orthodox follower of a particular sect. His destiny seems to be carved out beforehand as a devout denouncer of every other sect and an ardent acclaimer of his own. He is made to believe that only his brand of beliefs is in direct conformity with the Qur’an and Sunnah. He is brainwashed with the notion that only his sect has been divinely blessed with the true version of Islam. An inference attributed to a highly revered scholar of his sect stands supreme until the Day of Judgment. That it can be challenged by explicit reasoning derived from the Qur’an and Sunnah cannot be dared thought of. On the contrary, it becomes part of his faith that such a scholar cannot falter.
It is this superhuman veneration that has actually given rise to the menace of religious sectarianism. Differences in opinion have often developed into severe conflicts. An atmosphere charged with lightning and resounding with thunder prevails amongst the religious circles. Every now and then, a new episode of defamation erupts form our mosques, which are unfortunately being used for these malignant offensives. The intense disregard the various sects have for one another has led them to violate all norms of decency. Even unethical tactics are employed to safeguard their own views and interests. Like nations at war, they continue their crusades against each other — while, very close to them, the forces of evil mock at them and continue to flourish.
With this concept of Taqlid prevailing among the religious scholars, the common man also has been led to associate himself with the scholars of a particular sect. Instead of weighing the opinions of various scholars and accepting the one which is the most convincing to their intellect they blindly follow an imam’s directive however much they may be convinced against it. The greatest ill effect of this approach is that following religion becomes a mechanical process; it does not flow out from one’s heart and does not bring about a change in one’s character and behavior. Since using one’s intellect in understanding religion has long been done away with, the Qur’an is read but not understood. Its greatest utility was providing guidance to mankind; now it is mainly used for reciting for the dead.
If the above mentioned thesis is correct, then there is a need to bring about an intellectual awakening in the Muslims. The most effective way to do this perhaps is to produce highly competent scholars of Islam who are able to directly access and interpret the sources of Islam and thus are able to break the shackles of Taqlid. They should be groomed in a manner that they can face the challenge of the modern era.
Until and unless efforts are made to produce such scholars, there is a very little chance that the Ummah can come out of its current state of deterioration.