Legal Imitation of a Mujtahid
By: Hojjat al-Islam Mahdi Hadavi Tehrani
Question: What do the terms “marja’iyyah” and “taqlid” mean?
Marja’iyyah is a legal term that means “the issuance of a legal ruling (fatwa).” Conceptually, it is coupled with the term taqlid (legal imitation) which denotes “the referral of one who holds no specialty in jurisprudence to a specialized jurist to seek his opinion in legal matters.” Keeping in mind that a non-specialist must always refer to a specialist in issues requiring expertise, such legal imitation is indeed logical.
Marja’iyyah literally means “to be a source of reference (ruju’).” In Islamic jurisprudential jargon, it is a legal term that means “the issuance of a legal ruling (fatwa),” since one who issues a legal ruling serves as a source of reference for lay people in legal matters. It is coupled with the term taqlid (legal imitation), in such a way that if one person is a marja’ (one who issues legal rulings), others are considered muqallidin (those who imitate his legal rulings). For this reason, in order to explain the term marja’iyyah, we must begin by explaining the term taqlid.
In Islamic jurisprudence, taqlid is “the referral of one who holds no specialty in jurisprudence to a specialized jurist to seek his opinion in legal matters.” Referring to experts in such a way is a logical course of action. In fact, the strongest argument supporting the legality of taqlid is the conventional wisdom that non-specialists must always refer to specialists in matters concerning their field of specialty. Any textual evidence that can be cited from the Qur`an (such as the verse that says: “Ask the experts if you do not know”) or from the ahadith simply reinforce this logical principle.
A qualified jurisprudent (faqih) therefore is considered a marji’ because of his expertise in deriving legal rulings from the sources of Islamic law.
 Surat al-Nahl (16), Verse 47: