Below is a response that I received on a post I wrote previously regarding my views on how people perceive the scholars. I mostly agree with this response that was provided, but I think it indicates that I need to clarify my views a little further, Insha-Allah.
Firstly, I do not deride the scholars as a blanket statement, nor do I suggest that we should discard their advice in favour of opinions that appeal to our preferences without having sound knowledge of the issue at hand. My real issue is actually with society and how they perceive the scholars, and then with the scholars who play into such ignorance for their own prestige. Too many people regard scholars as infallible when there’s mountains of evidence regarding the mistakes made by scholars especially when applying, or attempting to apply Islamic principles to present-day challenges. Often they miss the principle and focus on the ritual, and then also they do so selectively.
I disagree with the allocation of titles in the acquisition of Islamic knowledge because it allows people to hide behind titles when they do not wish to be questioned. And it causes laymen to seek out titles rather than recognise worthy advisors based on their actions. In short, it sets the wrong precedents.
The criteria for defining who a scholar is, or what constitutes a scholar is another point of contention, since I am not aware of this having been provided as a guideline in the Sunnah. If I’m mistaken, please correct me. But as many may have seen a post on Tumblr recently that has been getting a fair number of reblogs, it says that education doesn’t imply wisdom. The same is true for these ‘scholars’. Just because someone studied under a specific sheikh doesn’t automatically imply that they have the maturity or presence of mind to interpret or apply their knowledge correctly. It simply means that they have knowledge of the content of hadith and Qur’an. A student that acquires the title of ‘Sheikh’ at an early age, with hardly any significant life experiences, is hardly likely to have the maturity to relate their knowledge to actual life experiences in their efforts to guide others.
The allocation of titles itself to various degrees of ‘scholars’ also doesn’t appear to be supported by the Sunnah. So how can we apply these levels and credentials with such certainty that we make it seem as if it is authoritative? As I mentioned in previous posts, I personally know of individuals that didn’t undergo a formal study of Hadith and Qur’an, yet through personal endeavours and life experiences, they have acquired a wisdom about the practical application of Islam, completely in line with the Sunnah, that most scholars in the locality don’t have. Yet their opinions are often dismissed simply because they don’t hold the title of Sheikh, or Aalim, or something that was supposed to be endowed on them by some man-made institute that formalised the acquisition of Islamic knowledge. This is the biggest downfall of the current approach to defining who is or who isn’t a scholar.
It also encourages individual intellectual laziness in acquiring Islamic knowledge because it automatically engenders the mentality that if you don’t have time to formally study the Islamic sources through a recognised institution or a ‘qualified’ sheikh, then you should just follow and not seek to inform yourself either, unless you do so based on the opinions of others only. And then also, if you have a question about something a scholar says, you’re not allowed to question them unless you hold a recognisable title from one of the recognised institutions. This creates elitism in a circle that supposed to be the most humble of the Ummah. It’s a flawed approach that will always lead to contention within the Ummah.
You can read the full response I received below…
Hello, I don’t know a lot but I wish to present an answer from my point on view to your questions about sheikhs. Please don’t judge my opinion too harshly as I don’t know a lot myself but find it difficult to resist the temptation of giving my own perspective. I hope I don’t say anything wrong
As I take it the companions of the prophet (pbh) are not referred to as sheikh etc because the sheikhs hold the companions of the prophet (pbh) in higher esteem than themselves. The prophet (pbh)did say something along the lines of the best of people are of my generation, then the best are the generations after that etc (sorry for not providing references , I don’t have time to answer but I know I’ll be thinking about it all night if I don’t). Therefore the sheikhs we have today they are looking back to the companions of the prophet (pbh) as examples and by examining texts and information past down their job is just to try and figure out what the prophet (pbh) and sahaba actually did and said and they try to make a correlation between different texts to find any contradictions so that we can imitate those that came before us to the best of our ability.
The word of the Quran we believe to be 100% unaltered because it is protected by Allah (swt). However, other information past down about the life of the prophet (pbh) or the sahaba may not be so therefore we have people who dedicate their lives to figure out what’s true and what’s not to make sure we don’t follow bidah.
Scholars themselves say they don’t always get it 100% right and there is discrepancy between scholars so it’s generally a good idea to follow what the majority of the scholars believe or if you feel strongly against what the majority of scholars believe then hopefully there is no sin on you for following the lesser accepted belief. Plus it’s perhaps best to listen to a few scholars so you can understand the situation from a range of views.
Also Muslims should act as a unified body if we all started interpreting small hadiths from the sunnah in our own way without referring to someone who knows more and without looking at other hadiths (which people may not have time to do) we may all end up doing and following different things. Wouldn’t it be ideal if everyone before making a decision went and examined multiple texts? However, due to the demanding lives of some people they do not have time to do such things in reference to every matter in their life therefore, they refer back to someone they hold in high esteem.
Plus sheikhs also list their sources so it’s the source or the names of the people that this information has passed through e.g. al-bukhari that provide weight to what they are saying so it is important to question the sheikhs, where they got their knowledge from and also what made them come to this conclusion and how they have applied a specific text to a modern day problem.
As for the question as to the question “who decides when you’re a scholar?”. Well, I have started watching Peace tv recently and before they bring a sheikh gives a speech they list the name of the people the sheikhs have been taught by e.g. al- Bukhari, where they have been taught, what they do i.e. a marriage counsellor, the courses they have done, the universities they have studied in. Therefore, I guess someone wanting to become a respected sheikh needs to have sound views and have acquired knowledge by different means so that respected people have faith in you, your views and your intentions.
Also, they are not perfect they tell us hadiths such as the worst vessel the son of Adam can fill is his own stomach but we can see that some of them are actually fat. Yet they don’t deny that its important to control your eating their job is just to convey the message and they will be rewarded for this. They are like teacher’s for example, your teacher will teach you nuclear physics but they may not have carried out the experiment themselves yet you still generally believe them until you find a more trustworthy source contradicting them.
Lastly is al bukhari, I can’t find it with such short time however, it says something along the lines of the Allah (SWT) will not directly take knowledge away from you after giving it to you rather he will take it away from the later generations after the death of those with knowledge die so that people with little knowledge start philosophising and they lead themselves and others astray (please do find this source out for yourself).
Therefore, I think that when someone who hasn’t studied Islam alot starts thinking that they know better that those who have studied they might become guilty of this. However, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with passing on a hadith if you can verify the source.
May Allah bless you