What does mukallit-imitator mean in the Islamic terminology? Can you explain?

Some people despise the learned that conform to mujtahids-the performers of ijtihad, which is the act of deducing secondary judgments from the Quran and Hadiths-the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) - by calling them imitators, and try to weaken the regard the Muslims show toward these people. And this is just so big mistake and injustice.

Firstly, it is not reasonable to discard and deny imitation altogether, because it is just human to imitate. It has good sides as well as bad ones. Imitation can be forbidden in one context, in another required, and in some other permissible.

The critics of imitation are thus opposing to specialization in a field. However, it is a requirement that a doctor conforms to an engineer in math, and an engineer to a doctor in medicine.

On the other hand, the Sharia (Islamic Law) is not composed only of fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence). It also embraces faith and morals. If imitation is forbidden, then it must also be so in these fields. According to this view, all the works and books on faith must be discarded from libraries and done away with.

Likewise, all the books instructing taming of the body and betterment of morals must be put aside. It would not be necessary to read Ihya by Ghazali, Masnavi by Mavlana, or Gülistan by Sadi; everyone would take the morals of Islam directly from the verses and hadiths, and try to shape their spiritual conditions accordingly. And this would be the biggest obstacle against betterment and ascent.

We can see imitation from six different perspectives:

1- The imitation of their pagan fathers by the ones who ascribe partners to Allah (mushriks). This imitation is forbidden and a kind of blasphemy; as is stated in the verse:

When said unto them: come to what Allah has revealed (the Holy Quran), and to the Prophet, (they say): (The way) upon which we found our fathers is enough for us!

Some sectless mistake these verses and liken the imitation of Imams by the Muslims to the imitation of mushriks of their fathers. This comparison is a bad mistake.

I want to ask these sectless: Did their ancestors for centuries live without adhering to a sect? If their ancestors adhered to the four sects and imitated them, what will become of them then?

Moreover, as the one calling a Muslim disbeliever is himself disbeliever, what will become of those who reduce all the Muslims who adhere to a sect to the position of the disbelievers recounted in the holy verse?

All Believers show affection toward the imams of sects. But as this affection is for the sake of Allah and His acceptance, it is a proof of affection toward Allah, neither a sin nor a claim of partnership to Allah (Shirk). This affection is not of the kind the Christians show toward Jesus Christ, the pagans toward idols, so this verse cannot be taken in that way.

2-The imitation of Muslims of the dangerous and harmful customs of foreigners, leaving their good customs and traditions unconsciously. This exposes our personal and social lives to danger. As is known, it cannot be guessed where an unconscious community will go. To head to a gloomy destination blindly will of course lead the personal and social lives to destruction. The youth having no idea will lose their national and spiritual being.

Bediüzzaman clarifies this issue with these words:

O sons of this land! Do not try to imitate Europeans! How can you reasonably trust in and follow the vice and invalid, worthless thought of Europe after the boundless tyranny and enmity it has shown you? No! No! You who imitate them in dissoluteness, you are not following them, but unconsciously joining their ranks and putting to death both yourselves and your brothers. Know that the more you follow them in immorality the more you lie in claiming to be patriots! Because your following them in this way is to hold your nation in contempt, to hold the nation up to ridicule!

In everything, exaggeration and over-simplification are dangerous. While Europe has aspects worth appreciating, it has also aspects deserving disgust and rage. They have also such sides as immorality, deviation, and atheism and the reflective and learned people of Europe loathe these sides. Therefore, it is not right and reasonable to imitate the Europe, which causes disgust and pangs of conscience for the West, too. Because the imitation of Europe, which has deviated from the right religion, has been deep in immorality and deviation, has been a slave to bodily desires, has been for so long away from respect and conscience, is both an obstacle to our worldly betterment and a cause of destruction of our national entity and honor.

However, it is a definite requirement to benefit from the art, knowledge, and sciences of Europe and to imitate them in these respects.

3-The imitation of the people who, though incapable in Islamic sciences, deliver fatwa (issuing judgments on Islamic law), which is the opinion of a capable religious person upon an issue, with their desires, and without basing their opinions on sound proofs. This kind of imitation is very dangerous and can lead people to deviation.

4-The belief of ordinary Muslims who believe in Allah, His oneness, the Hereafter and other principles of faith without basing their faith upon proofs and evidence. Though this kind of faith is also accepted, it is always open to dangers, because faith has degrees from atom to the sun. For example, candle is a kind of light, but finally it gives out with time passing. A light bulb is also a kind of light, but finally it may leave us in darkness when the fuse is blown. The reflected faith is like the sun, and it does not give out with giving light. Man can raise his faith from imitation to reflection by regarding and reflecting upon the purposes and meanings in the creation of the Purposeful Creator.
5-The imitation of the learned and mujtahids by the public in the issues of details about which there is no open judgment in the Koran or hadiths. As everyone cannot be mujtahid, this imitation is required, is a blessing and reasonable to the mind.

6-The imitation of the mujtahids by the learned who are not capable of ijtihad like Fahraddin-i Razi, Sayyid Sharif Jurjanl, Ibni Kamal, AbuSuud, and Molla Hüsrev. The reason why these great knowledgeable people who are expert in their fields adhered to the four great imams is that they acknowledged them as authority and master in the field of ijtihad. Now, shall we take it as a mistake that these innumerable knowledgeable people imitated mujtahids on grounds of respect of specialty, and criticize them?

However, each one of the knowledgeable that came after the mujtahids has been a means of salvation and a guide of bliss. They spread the judgments of this religion both to the West and East, annulled the possible dangers of the deviant with their books, and secured the continuation of this religion until the doomsday. All the Muslims acknowledge their efforts and favors. It is impossible not to praise the services of these noble people. Moreover, many conscientious people of knowledge not committed to Islam have benefited from their knowledge and praised them. Hence, this is an honor and blessing for us.

It is unjust to look down on the knowledgeable by calling them imitator.

As well as being a religious obligation, it is also reasonable to praise the learned that performed service to their religion. Though they are not of the degree of mujtahids, their services spread all over the community of Islam.

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