We’re so prone to deferring all questions or concerns about the interpretation or implementation of Islam in our lives to the scholars that we’re actively stifling any intellectual or meaningful engagement in the process. It’s as if we’ve been indoctrinated to believe that questioning the ‘elders’ is tantamount to disbelief!
But in all this to-ing and fro-ing between the questioners and the followers of the scholars, we fail to ask what qualifies one as a scholar to begin with. We assume that in the present day if someone completes the mandatory 5-7 year course at an Islamic institute to earn the title of Sheikh, or Aalim, or Maulana, it automatically makes them a scholar and because they studied the Hadith in a formal and rigorous setting, under informed instruction, they’re automatically empowered to make fatwas and decide who is being a heretic or a kaafir, and who is a sincere Muslim on the path of the righteous.
Unfortunately my personal experiences with men and women of such ilk has proven otherwise. I’m often reminded of the words of another admired scholar that says, “of what use is it to acquire more knowledge if we don’t practise on the knowledge we have?” Another point I’m constantly reminded of, and the irony of this is that this reminder is a result of the very same people that blindly quote what the ‘scholars’ proclaim, is that every single Hadith, without fail, has never once made mention of any sahabi via a title like the ones that we have endowed on our own scholars! Not once have I seen a hadith narrated by Mufti so-and-so, or Sheikh so-and-so, yet these were the stars of the Ummah by which we can accept guidance! So are our scholars suddenly more meritorious than the illustrious companions of our beloved Nabi (SAW) that we have to refer to them by titles? Obviously not.
Coupled with this is the fact that our scholars have gotten it wrong several times…’several’ being a substantial understatement. We’re so busy trying to prove whose version of Islam is more correct that we forget the simple principles that made Muslims great on this earth when they followed the principles and not the rituals! We have great scholars recognised by their peers and other blind followers as being great scholars who write great big kitaabs and produce other magnificent literature and content to educate the Awwaam (the masses) while they still believe that preventing women from going to the masjid is acceptable, and that the moon and star is not a significant bid’ah that needs to be dealt with decisively.
These are the same scholars that I’m supposed to trust blindly when they first issued fatwa after fatwa that TV was haraam, and then established and/or supported Islamic TV channels, and also issued fatwas that suicide bombings are acceptable, yet cannot show a single shred of evidence that suicide under any circumstances is permissible in Islam, let alone the indiscriminate killing of women, children, the elderly and unarmed civilians under the guise that they may take up arms against the Muslims at some point in the future, and other whimsical excuses!
We have a clergy that lacks back bone. One of the signs of the hour is that the Ulama will be despised, and the usual assumption is that this will be because of a lack of understanding or humility amongst the Awwaam! I believe it’s because the Ulama will lose credibility because of their double standards and ignorance in defining fatwas due to their ignorance of present day realities, let alone their contempt for western technology.
It amazes me to see how many times we are so ready to reminisce about the great days of the past when Muslims contributed so magnificently to science, medicine, technology and almost every field of engineering and other intellectual pursuits, yet we don’t question the overwhelming ignorance and impotence of the Ummah in all these fields today. Exceptions exist, but that’s all the Ummah has offered in recent decades/centuries. Exceptions! Muslims were the leaders in all these fields as the norm, not the exception. But then we became arrogant and turned Islam into a cult rather than a way of life. We created hierarchies that prevent an ordinary Muslim from standing close to the Imam around the Haram in Makkah because those places are reserved for royalty or those close to them! (I have experienced this first hand!) We’ve created clerical structures that are not dissimilar to the structures of the grossly misguided Catholic Church and we revel in the order and pomp and splendour that exists in these structures.
I’m constantly reminded of the Hadith that encourages us to share our knowledge even if it is only a single verse, yet if scholars today are to be believed, then you’d be obliged to check with them before you quote anything or provide any advice unless of course such advice or quotes are in fact a re-quote of their words. The Ulama are disconnected from the Ummah, and the Ummah is disconnected from the Ulama. We’re in a sad state, yet we persist in excessive debates and interpretations of matters that are simple and straight forward. Matters that don’t affect the Iman of a person, but in fact, are only compromised by the intention of the believer, the sincerity of which can only be determined by Allah alone.
Nonetheless, there is never a shortage of Ulama ready to proclaim who is kafir and who is not. I shudder at the thought of making such a statement even with people I know well, and whose outward appearance is blatantly un-Islamic, because again, I’m reminded of the hadith that teaches us that if one person claims that another is a kafir, then one of them is. We’ve lost our way. That is why people are turning to Islam in droves, not because we’re setting a great example, but because Allah is raising a nation to protect His deen like He promised He would.
Islam is NOT a cult. It is not about ritualistic ideals and blind faith! And it certainly is not about an elite group of self-proclaimed scholars who rarely demonstrate the principles of Islam in their lives, other than what is obvious in their physical appearance. Many sincere believers who are knowledgeable and well-read on many aspects of Islam have been demonised and ostracised because they didn’t subscribe to this cult-ish version of Islam, yet those individuals have demonstrated a greater commitment to the true values of Islam than the scholars that compete for attention on a daily basis.
The day our Ulama have the courage to openly condemn the spineless acts of suicide bombings, the unfathomable atrocities of killing innocent women and children, the disgusting embellishment of the houses of Allah with those pagan symbols of the moon and star, and so many other blatantly haraam issues, that is the day that they may enjoy the respect and loyalty of the Awwaam.
For the record, as I stated previously, I despise this term ‘Awwaam’, but I use it to remind myself of the condescension with which the Ulama refer to those people that are not part of their circles or their structures. I doubt very much that Rasulullah (SAW) ever used such a condescending or derogatory term on even the most unkempt of Bedouin that may have approached him for advice.