Question: How do we know who ahlul khibra are so that we may ask them about the a’lam mujtahid? How do we reach them since we are far away from religious seminaries? Is there a way that can simplify for us the process of determining whom we should follow in taqlid?
Answer: The ahlul khibra are the mujtahids and those next in line in religious sciences, and they know quite well that one person in a limited group of mujtahids is the a’lam. And they have to consider the following three things to identify that a’lam:
First: His knowledge concerning the methods for providing the authenticity of the hadith, and that involves ‘ilmu ‘r-rijal (the science of narrators of hadith) and ‘ilmu ‘l-hadith (the science of hadith). On this subject, issues like familiarity with the books [of hadith] and the ahadith that have been tampered with; knowledge of causes for fabrication [of ahadith]; variance in the manuscripts and distinguishing the most correct one; and being aware of confusion which sometimes occurs between the text of a hadith and the explanation of the compilers, are of utmost importance.
Second: His ability to understand the meaning of the text by considering the general rules of speech, especially the style used by the Imams of Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) in describing the laws. The science of ‘usûlu ‘l-fiqh (Principles of Jurisprudence), Arabic grammar and literature, as well as familiarity with the views of the Sunni jurists who were contemporaries of the Imams play an important role in the understanding of the hadith texts. Third: Soundness of his view in deriving the rules from the sources.
And the method of getting acquainted with those in whom the status of a’lam is confined to having scholarly discussions with them or to referring to their books or to the transcripts of their lectures on Jurisprudence and the Principles of Jurisprudence.
If a person cannot know the ahlul khibra by himself, he can come to know them through the religious scholars and others whom he trusts. The geographical distance should not be a barrier to establishing communication with them in this era where many fast means of communication are easily available.