This article is dedicated to every Muslim man and woman who has struggled in the way of Allah to understand, learn and teach the Sacred knowledge of Islam.
In recent times there has been widespread alienation of the Muslim masses from the Islamic scholars, paralleled with increasing importance given to secular education at the expense of formal Islamic education. While secular education has its merits, the ignorance of the masses towards Islamic education has led to a general decrease in the basic religious knowledge of a layman. As a result the ‘frame of reference’ of these laymen has shifted so that fundamental parameters of Islam are questioned and criticized by this very block of people, in the name of modernism.
This action of expressing a self-created, incorrect version of Islam is not new. The Mu’tazilah misguided the Muslim nation for a hundred years with similar antics. Yet they were defeated by the Islamic Scholars and the movement vanished into thin air. However, times are different now. The shift in previously mentioned frame of reference of the layman, along with rise of Atheism, acceptance of Secularism and the constant requirement for religion to be proven by science (evidentialism) has combined to inculcate a need among the layman to ‘reform’ Islam.
The truth is Islam has always been dynamic because of the practicality of *Ijtihad*. The scholars have worked hard to ensure modern problems are tackled with the aid of our well-preserved classical texts rather than rewriting the classical texts themselves. So if the ‘reform’ is going to be undertaken, if and when needed, then it is going to be an Islamic scholar who does it for the betterment of the Muslim nation and the world; not a layman who, in similar fashion to the Reform movement of the Jews in 18th and 19th century, will give out a version of Islam that is unproven, invalid and incorrect, yet acceptable to the non-muslims of the world. Ironically it is this very ‘acceptance’ that drove out the Muslims from Spain.
Then we must ask ourselves who exactly are these scholars of Islam, what with several ‘scholars’ claiming to be authentic. To understand this, one must understand how Islamic knowledge has reached us. Imagine a German, who does not know English, comes to you. He wishes to communicate with you. What would you do? Either you would learn German, or he learns English. Let us assume you taught him English. He now knows English the way you understand it, simply because you taught it to him. So now he understands English with you as a reference. Whenever he reads an English work, he will keep your reference in mind and try to understand the text he is reading that way. Now we have to ask ourselves, who were the first ones to learn the Qur’an? The Companions of the Prophet. Who taught it to them? The Prophet (PBUH). Hence their point of reference was the Prophet. How do you think the next generation took the Quran? Logically, by reference of the Companions.
This is the basis of the *sanad*, or chain that links us to the original Islamic texts. Every Islamic Scholar who has this *sanad* is authentic and it means his teacher also had a similar *sanad*, and his teacher’s teacher and so on leading back directly to the Prophet (PBUH). Those who do not have this *sanad* cannot call themselves an Islamic scholar. This also underlines the concept of a teacher, for the Companions had the Prophet (PBUH) as a teacher while the Companions were the teachers of the Successor and so on. Self study was never the norm as this leads invariably to incorrect interpretations of Islamic texts which have to be seen in light of how the first three generations of Muslims interpreted them. Sheikh Hamza Yusuf on this topic.
The problem arises when non-scholars try to assert their scholarship. One simply has to ask them what is the proof and validation of their claims? The only possible way for Islamic knowledge to reach us is through narrations, as was just described, then who gave them *their* version of Islam? They gained knowledge through these chain of narrators and now they reject these narrators and teachers? What they have basically done is contradict their own source of knowledge and indeed their own ‘teachings’.
From Sheikh Yusuf Ludhianvi’s Differences in the Ummat and Sirat e Mustaqeem (p.56-p.77) and “Criticism and the right of criticism”
The need to identify authentic scholars and institutions is also found in secular education. This need for standardization has been successfully met by Islamic scholars. Whether it is the Shia or Sunni sect they follow these very principles of scholarship. A standard Sunni institute would require nearly two decades of education (in Arabic) to be fully discharged as a Scholar. This way is not blind following, this is common sense. The way forward is not to antagonize the Scholars but to become a student and learn Islam from them: it is our basic human right.