Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Taking Our Knowledge From Those Who Know

There is probably no other body of literature in Islam that conjures up so many feelings than Hadith literature. Most Muslims are content to believe the Qur’an is the unchanging, literal word of God but quoting Hadith in some circles may get you into trouble. It has certainly become very unpopular among the reform movements with such groups as the “Qur’an Only” Muslims who advocate its entire removal. Some merely quote the sayings and actions of the Prophet (saws) when it conforms to their agenda and then scrap everything else. Because there is a major lack of traditionally trained scholars living with the vicinity of most masajid, Muslims are often times left to fend for themselves when it comes to learning the basics of Islam. This problem is made worse by the lack of education for Muslim converts whom have to rely on a few choice texts from the local bookstore or dawah organization. Because of this dire situation, some Muslims have decided to appoint themselves as a mujtahid, interpreting everything to the whim of their nafs. I have found myself in some depressing situations where Muslims gladly admit their disdain for hadith and some who were quite content to not learn fuhsa Arabic saying that the English intrepretation is enough. Despite these gross violations, they have no qualms in telling you what Islam is and what Islam isn’t. What hubris, indeed!

As Living Tradition has stated before, Western Muslims live in an iconoclastic culture. Authority is meant to be ridiculed and anyone who desires to follow time-honored traditions of the past is ridiculed along with it. So it follows that some Muslims are not willing to be guided by the scholar who studied under the ones who have a direct link to the Prophet (saws) through the chains of isnad. We are already taught to question such authority. Questioning religious authority is one of the hallmarks of Western civilization from the Protestant Reformation to the current debate on the validity of gay marriage. This wouldn’t be a problem if our men and women of learning were corrupt and hypocritical but what about the Muslim who passed up a lucrative career in order to learn this deen and teach it to others.

Alas, in some parts of the Muslim world, those trained in religious studies are on the bottom of the totem pole when compared to doctors and engineers. Our scholars are constantly ridiculed by some Muslims as those who are stuck in some time warp who hand out strange fatwas and have no real understanding of modern society. But what puzzles me is that the same Muslims who wouldn’t give our ulema the time of day would take as gospel truth Western academics’ writings about Islam. Is it no wonder that MWU.com can criticize the men and women of Sunnipath and Zaytuna but puts on a pedestal those who do not even confirm “la ilaha il Allah, Muhammadan Rasul Allah?” Why is the Muslim who has a degree in Islamic studies from an American university better than the Muslim who studied under the shayukh? I like the works of Karen Armstrong and John Esposito and I respect what they are doing for Muslims for the sake of inter-religious peace. But Muslims are commanded by Allah (swt) to take their knowledge from those who confirm the above shahada. For us, Islam is not a academic field, it is a way of life. Only those who love Allah (swt) and serve as teachers and guides for His pleasure alone are the ones worthy of our attention.

We need a good dose of humble pie and realize that the quest for knowledge is a constant tranforming journey. Islam is not mastered in the halls of Secular University, USA. It is cultivated through awareness of God, the purfication of our intentions and the stoning of that idol known as the Self. It means that unless you have mastered Qur’anic Arabic, hadith, fiqh, tasawuuf and all the other displines of Islam, it would smart to rely on those who have. I am not asking that we turn off our brains and place our scholars on a pedestal where they are far removed from critcism and inquiry. On the contrary, a learned Muslim would respect the curiosity and challenges of his/her students. I only ask that all Muslims, those raised as such and converts, make a serious effort to understand Islam. Our education must go beyond once a week halaqas and skimming the books of Barnes and Noble. We must start with the blessings and guidance of Allah (swt), the knowledge of the scholars and the sincerity of our intentions so that we can progress towards a better life in the dunya and eternal happiness in the akhirah.


Blogger ابدلرحیم said...

ABSOLUTLEY CORRECT!! You are so right and it definatley gives me a lot to think about. The observation that this is an iconoclastic society, originally built by men and women of the Protestant Reformation and then protestants againts the mainstream Protestants, it really makes you think, so awesome job! Totally right, we need to respect the ulemma, the traditional institutions for islamic learning and above all the Quran and ahadith.

1:39 AM  
Blogger izzymo said...

Salaam Chris,
We are finally getting a traditional Islamic organization. Subhna'allah, I can't wait. But I just don't understand why the traditional alim is looked down on but Dr. So and So of XYZ University gets more respect? I swear there is this guy who teaches a class on Islam at Tulane University (New Orleans) and he openly admits that he is not a believing Muslim. God help us.

3:35 PM  

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