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Who is a Scholar (Ulama)?

Distrust of Scholars

To avert confusion on this matter, the intent of this thread is to clarify the definition of a scholar (in contradistinction to others), as well as the adab necessary toward them and from them. Simplified. Summarized. 

Who is an Islamic scholar?

An Islamic Scholar has

a. mastered & practiced the knowledge & deeds obligatory on a Muslim
b. upheld the limits of the sacred law & tenants of tasawwuf
c. teaching competence in all Islamic disciplines
d. made an advanced contribution in the area of their disciplinary focus. 

Which aren’t sufficient qualifications to be an Islamic scholar?

a. a madrasa certificate, university degree, or ijāza
b. fard ‘ayn studies appended to a higher secular degree
c. an advanced contribution in an Islamic discipline without the other requisite conditions 

In previous centuries, even the above criteria wouldn’t be enough to qualify for scholarship.

Standards have declined in relation to the heights of past Islamic scholarship, but the idea that secular education necessarily exceeds religious scholarship is a colonialist fallacy. 

The umma still bears some of the most brilliant minds in the world. Additionally, you’ll not find a group of people more upright than them, more strong upon the truth, more sincere in their love of God, and more sacrificial in their service. These are the men and woman of God. 

They deserve utmost respect, inwardly and outwardly, in their presence and absence. They deserve our love and gratitude, our devoted study efforts, our deference and loyalty. As they are true prophetic inheritors, adab with them is a branch of adab with Rasūlullāh ﷺ himself. 

They’re scholars & saints. Harboring ill opinion of them is akin to breathing a toxin. Speaking ill of them is akin to drinking poison. Challenging them is spiritual suicide. They are the deceased & living representatives of Rasūlullāh ﷺ, dedicating their lives to his mission. 

Muslims must approach all matters from their asl or default principle. The above is what scholarship should be and is, thus the default is adab with them (in accordance to the proper definition) and any departure from the asl is an exception to the rule and requires evidence. 

Are there many exceptions?

Not really. Most such cases weren’t scholars to begin with. The problem is often in laxity of attribution and disrespect of the Islamic tradition, itself. Thus, there really is no justification to exhibit bad adab with scholars. Beware of excuses. 

In terms of laxity of attribution, we definitely have a problem. The term ‘religious figure’ may be a more accurate designation for most of the students of knowledge or religious teachers prevalent in the West today. This doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve respect, though. 

What it means is that the Muslim laity should have a better understanding of scholarship, where it’s to be sought, the spectrum of capabilities of student-teachers, and the placing of religious authority only where it is due. This much is the scope of the laymen’s scrutiny. 

Irresponsibility in placement of religious authority is usually a dual affair. False claimants to scholarship aside, if a layman is circumspect in ascertaining the proper sources of sacred knowledge, they’d be prudent to exercise caution and would be accountable for that much. 

As such, one who hasn’t even undergone such a process, while flaunting generalized mistrust of ‘scholars’ is severely fooled. Search and you’ll find. Be sincere and you’ll see. Allah will put in front of yours eyes what is imbedded in your heart. So, be keen on your intention. 

There are two categories of rights that every Muslim has upon scholars – all the general rights of a Muslim, and the specific rights related to pure religious conveyance for the sake of Allah alone. If (even) a real scholar breaches these rights, there would be valid grievance 

If, however, a scholar has not committed any of the above, then the asl of adab remains.

Exceptions don’t make the rule. Desires don’t make the rule. Bias doesn’t make the rule. Ignorance doesn’t make the rule. Revelation makes the rule

Any instances in which I censure particular traits, attitudes, or forms of misguidance is to distinguish that from true scholarship and to fulfill my role in pure conveyance. Sacred knowledge entails responsibility.

Once again, as I often repeat – principles, not people. 

Such instances aren’t an excuse to exhibit bad adab, though, nor to generalize mistrust of scholars, give the ego the upper hand, or absolve of individual responsibility to seek out legitimate avenues of knowledge. It’s to restore beauty and integrity to it’s rightful bearers. 

You may not always understand what a scholar does or says. That’s isn’t reason to doubt or to assume you know better. We didn’t learn that way. We accorded our shuyūkh the highest that a human being can accord another. In our hearts, they stand tall on pulpits of light. 

I reiterate – scholarly silence is a response. Scholars are principally selective. There may be (and often are) in excess of 5 dimensions that non-scholars aren’t aware of. This behavior may be strange to many because they haven’t observed real scholars. We have. Alhamdulillāh 

It’s also critical to understand that, as sacred knowledge isn’t just information, nor is its conveyance mere content, but rather a tarbiya-directed endeavor. This we have also learned from our blessed shuyūkh. Erudite teaching is much more sophisticated than mere posting. 

Lastly, I’d like to make it clear that scholarly thought-processes and erudite responses have a specific style and form that is distinct from academia. The vast majority of (even) students of knowledge don’t know this. Academics may often not understand scholarly responses. 

I end by sending a special prayer for my Shuyūkh, from whom I learned every good thing. Alhamdulillāh.

May Allah’s peace & blessings be upon Rasūlullāh, his pure progeny & folk, his gleaming companions, illuminated inheritors and all his loyal followers until the Last Day. 

Source: A thread by @imanbadawai

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