Allah Most High chose the Muslims to be the ummah of mission (risalah), of exemplary good (khayriyah), of the golden mean (wasatiyah), and of witnessing to humanity (shahadah). Along with these responsibilities came the capacity for renewal, for ijtihad, and for correctly interpreting the Shari'ah. As a result, there is a certain inseparable mutuality between the ummah's roles as a median community cum civilizational witness for humanity and its other role as a moral and ethical exemplar, and between its capability for ijtihad and effecting reform. In order to facilitate these roles, Allah endowed the Qur'an and the Sunnah with the necessary flexibility in every aspect of Islam: its belief system, its methodology, its Shari'ah, and its organization.
Thus it was only natural for the early generations of Muslims, both on an individual and a community level, to offer a unique picture to the world: the complete liberation of the human mind from all forms of mental slavery and idolatry. Further protection against Wing from this exalted position was the provision made for avoiding mistakes, deviations, and misinterpretations: only those statements which could be proven by acceptable evidence or supported by valid testimony were to be believed. A look at the ijtihad exercised by the Sahabah, whether they were learned qurra' or common people, will suffice to illustrate the amazing transformation which Islam was able to achieve.
Why do we not see this situation today? What has happened to the penetrating and enlightened mind inspired by Islam, the one which freed our ancestors from their idols and the obstacles blocking their progress? How did such a mind return to its former prison and fetters, robbed of any chance to renew and reform the ummah through ijtihad? In a word, the answer is taqlid, an illness which entered the Muslim mind and then fed on it until it returned to its prison.
This paper is a study of taqlid, one designed to reveal why it has overtaken the ummah.