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The question of emulation

By : bayynat editor

Walking alone in a wood in the middle of the night could be a scary experience. In the same breathe; walking through the roads of life without a guiding light might lead man to the wrong destination.

It is a fact that no one is Omni knowledgeable; thus one needs to resort to a higher authority which would provide him with the answers to all of his questions and inquiries. And since Islam proposes that man is endowed with a certain responsibility in this life, man needs to realize, accept, and embrace it. In order to be able to do so, one needs to emulate a more knowledgeable reference who would provide him with the guidelines of what to do and what not to do.

Emulation, in the religious sense, means resorting to a specific religious authority when it comes to all the matters regarding one’s life. While some argue that the concept of emulation is an innovation, in accordance to the view of the late Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah, emulation is an instinctive attitude practiced by those who do not have enough knowledge about their responsibility in life.

People instinctively search for someone to emulate. He would provide them with justifications for doing something, or leaving it. And since Islam represents a universal and extensive system of law that relates to all sorts of matters and affairs that Muslims are required to abide by, and since many Muslims do not possess the comprehensive knowledge regarding all the rulings of the Islamic law, people need to resort to a religious authority.

In fact, the issue of emulation is historically evident: people used to ask the learnt religious scholars among them about Islamic rulings .In doing this they were following a well established tradition that started with the Muslims asking the Messenger (p.) since he knew all about the Message he brought up. The vast number of verses in the Holy Quran that start with: “They ask you” shows that the Muslims used to ask the Prophet (p.) instinctively about anything they did not understand or that they should know.

The Glorious Quran confirmed this attitude when it complained against those who claimed that they did not know. “Ask the knowledgeable if you know not”. It also called for the necessity of keeping a group of people back at home at the time of war so that they would admonish the others, for what could be considered as a similar reason: “And it does not beseem the believers that they should go forth all together; why should not then a company from every party from among them go forth that they may apply themselves to obtain understanding in religion, and that they may warn their people when they come back to them that they may be cautious?”

After the death of the Prophet the Muslims used to ask the Imams who used to sit down and answer any question whether ideological or legal. In this respect, most of the rulings that make up the traditions we rely upon was based on answering questions, rather than the method of lectures and sermons.

Then the Shiites continued with this tradition, especially that Imam Al-Mahdi (aj ) said: “As for new events, you ought to go back to those who narrate our traditions…”.

The following tradition is used by the Shiites as a proof to the need of emulation: “The ones among the jurists who immune themselves, preserve their religion and do not follow their passions, the people can emulate them.”  

Thus, historical reference explain that the Shiites used to refer to scholars; however, it is not clear whether there was a supreme authority, whether a single person or a counsel that they emulated in a comprehensive manner, since at that time, they did not have the means to be on a constant touch with one person which made it impractical or unrealistic for Shiites to go back to the scholars in all matters.

They used to go back to the religious authorities in their own areas, and some of them, like Sheik at Mufied and Sayyed Al-Murtada, became so famous that they were referred to by Shiites in remote places, but this does not mean they constituted what could amount to a supreme authority, whether in its comprehensiveness, or in its prorogation in time.

Thus we saw that the Shiites in Iran referred to the Iranian scholars, while the Lebanese or Iraqi Shiites went back to their compatriots. Sometimes an extraordinary authority used to emerge, which people used to refer to, but not in an extensive or comprehensive manner.

Therefore, from a historical perspective we could talk about the absence of a supreme religious authority. Nevertheless, emulation did exist, being a natural thing in man's life where the ignorant asks the knowledgeable.

The concept of emulation was not a complicated one that requires the kind of thorough discussions the scholars have embarked on today. People used to refer their clerics in a spontaneous and natural way without distinguishing between the dead and the living, or between the knowledgeable and the most knowledgeable. They used to be satisfied by that the one they referred to was a scholar who has leant jurisprudence so that they can be excused before God.

They might have depended on the views of dead scholars, not on the basis of continuing to emulate the dead only, but also emulating the dead from the beginning.  Traditions suggest that the influence of the Sheik Al-Tousi extended for a long time after his death, and not only on his students but also on the people whose life and thoughts were dominated by this influence.

Thus, emulation was not a problematic issue. People used to practice it in a very simple manner, just like the issue of Niyyat (intention) which was not discussed by the previous scholars.

The issue of Niyyat is not a complicated one. One cannot worship Allah unless he intends to. No one can worship Allah without willing and intending to do so. Moreover, Niyyat is automatically linked to pleasing Allah. But the jurists who came at a later time, used to be too rational in their discussions that they made suppositions of virtual cases, thus complicating issues, which were actually simple.