Penjihad's Blog

"To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable"

When Islam is left to the scholars

In every field of study, scholars serve a vital function, they help us understand the problems and how to resolve questions, they help us learn about the subject with help of their deep knowledge and they help lead us to higher levels of understanding.

 

But scholars can be wrong; they often have been and many, still are. There was a time when scholars said the speed of sound was the ultimate barrier; one could not go any faster. Before that, there were teams of scholars who said the Earth was flat, there were scholars who said the Earth was the center around which the universe revolved and it was not so long ago, when scholars said the limits of computing had been reached. The Genocide of the American Indian, the Aborigines of Australia and the White rules in Southern Africa, were all justified as Divine Mandate emanating from the Bible. Jews, Hindus, Shinto, no faith is immune from intolerant, extremist, religious scholars who promote and sanctify violence against “the other”.

 

In Islam too, as in all other faiths, there have been many scholars who insisted that theirs was the only valid point and anyone who disagreed, was not only wrong, but served the devil because he was spreading doubt about Islam.

 

People who raised questions about certain claims made by Islamic scholars have frequently been silenced, either by being told that they may not question a scholar unless they have scholarly credentials themselves or, by being told they were going against God’s law…and that, could bring down the wrath of some over-enthusiastic follower with dire results.

The faithful have been cowed into believing that to question or, to dare to challenge a scholar is tantamount to challenging the Quran and while the punishment of such bold question is (they say) going to be Hellfire in the Hereafter, some fanatical follower will bring the punishment forward to right now. Over the past four decades, the rule of fanatics has grown more and more established across most, if not all, Muslim-majority nations.

 

It is important to note that there are many, many Muslim scholars who are wonderful, kind, gentle folk, who are very open-minded and very learned. These people are humble in spite of their vast knowledge and their grasp of religious matters and they are not the ones under discussion in this article. Far too many of our Muslim scholars study Islam through the words and thought of others, applying little of their own thought into their own learning. As a result, they become experts at repeating the thoughts of others and gain their prestige by claiming to have studied at some particular place or, with a particular teacher. Far too many of our scholars are simply regurgitating machines; they will tell us the rote answer they have learnt during their studies, without critical thinking.

 

Question some of these types of scholars and we can expect to have our faith put in question; “Do you think this scholar was wrong when he said this?”, “Do you think this book is wrong when the writer (a scholar of note) said this?”, “Do you not believe this Hadith (quote from the prophet Mohammed)?”, “Do you not respect Sunnah (action of the prophet Mohammed)?”

Point to the Quran and ask if such a thought is also reflected in the Quran and they will tell us that the Quran is great but its words have been further elaborated by this Hadith and that Sunnah and expanded by these early scholars.

 

A common re-statement of the Quran is in the punishment for adultery; in 24:8-9, the Quran clearly states that the punishment is 100 lashes, but the punishment can be averted if there are not four witnesses and the accused swears she is innocent. Translations of the Quran provided by the King Fahd Publishing House and written by Hilali and Khan (“The Noble Quran”), go into details of how punishment for adultery is death by stoning and then provide different punishments, depending on the marital status of the accused…clearly, not contained in the original Arabic version, but editorialized into the text as if it were.

Al-Fatiha, the very first surah of the Quran is a simple, seven line prayer asking God to keep us on the straight path and help us to not stray into the path of those who have incurred God’s wrath. Again, Hilali & Khan have included language that points to Christians and Jews and other transgressors from whose path we should be protected.

Thankfully, almost all others, who have also translated the Quran, have restricted themselves to the original Arabic only and have stayed away lfrom including their own biases into the Quran.

 

Many South Asian Muslims revere scholars like Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, the author of “Bahishti Zewar” (Heavenly Ornaments). This book is routinely given to young brides to help them become better Muslim women; it deals with practically all aspects on life; how to relate with one’s brother, cousin, uncle, some other known male or, an unknown male. Among some other things it tells readers, is that those who are not Muslim and those who convert out of Islam, must be killed. This, in the face of verses like 107:1-7 and 4:137, in which God says such people will be punished…but in the Afterlife, not on Earth. There are also numerous verses such as 15:9, 3:20, 88:21-22, 42:48 and 5:54, which tell the Prophet Mohammed (and Mankind) that their only job on Earth is to inform people of their mistakes and that only God is the guardian of His faith; that it is not for Mankind to punish those who turn away from Islam’s message.

 

In Mauritania, slavery was abolished only recently and even today, there are scholars who say slavery is a right in Islam and there are still slaves in Mauritania because of the support from such scholars.

In Nigeria, there are scholars who have deemed that all foreign learning is “Haram”…forbidden and they proceed to kill those who are found to be studying “foreign” thought…with their foreign-built weapons!

In Afghanistan, there are scholars who have determined that it is Haram for a woman to outside her home unless accompanied by an unmarriageable male relative. Women who may not have such a “guardian” can die if they get sick because nobody can take them to a doctor and female doctors are hard to find because women are not allowed to study. The contradictions in such lines of thought, leave one dizzy.

Arabian scholars have decreed that women must not drive cars because their uterus might fall out. In Arabia, the restrictions against women is so strong that when a girls boarding school caught fire, the girls were not permitted to leave the premises because they were not dressed modestly enough; all the girls perished in the flames. During Haj, men and women may worship side by side, but women are not permitted to come to perform Haj unless accompanied by an unmarriageable male relative.

 

Many Muslim scholars have decreed that singing and music are Haram, because such things are erotic and would lead to fornication. One has to ask, where does that leave the singing and music and yes, even the dancing, of children who have no concept of erotica? Where does such thinking leave the great performers of sacred music and song which in South Asia, is called Qawwali? What to do with the dervishes and the Sufis who dance to music because they feel connected to God?

 

In Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia, those who are not recognized as Muslim, may not use the term “Allah”. This includes Christians, and even Muslims who don’t qualify as Muslims, because their school of thought is considered false by the majority. Scholars have decreed such practices and have preached that anyone who is not Muslim, must be killed. Even an innocent and universal term like “Allah” has been turned into a trademark and copyright for the intolerant; “Allah”, which is simply Arabic for “The God” (“Al-Lah”), the same God who says in the Quran, the He is the master of the universe and that anyone who prays to Him, the One God, is a Muslim.

 

All of the above practices are established and enforced, because scholars have made such rulings and have impressed such narrow and intolerant thinking into their people. Interestingly enough, the many calls for forgiveness, mercy and generosity that are in the Quran, are ignored when it comes to inflicting punishments on the helpless.

 

It should not take a scholar to recognize wrong, or a genius, to see that God would not wish to spread hate against any of His creation, nor would God want to spread cruelty or Injustice. These are universal values to which we must all subscribe, if we are to survive as Humanity and certainly, no God would require such egregious acts by any of His creation. One does not need to have read the Quran or studied Islam, in order to know that one should love and respect his parents and that a mother is a supremely important person. One should not need to be a scholar to understand that killing a person who has done him no harm, is wrong. We should not have to spend years of learning of Islam, to know that the poor and the weak need to be supported by society or, that we must take care of orphans and treat our neighbors with compassion, justice and generosity. We should be able to differentiate evil from good and know that lying is wrong, without being an Imams or a scholars.

Thus, if someone were to approach me and say we must kill this group or that one because “God wishes it” I should have the right AND the duty to tell him he is wrong and to inform other people that this person is preaching falsehood.

 

Many disagree. They say it takes a lot of work and time, to study Islam to work to the level of understanding required to become a scholar. They say that reading the Quran is not simple, that it has deep meanings which cannot be fully understood except by someone who has devoted his (it is usually a man) life to the study of scripture.

 

If this line of thinking were valid, then nobody but a lawyer would have the right to complain against a law, no matter how outrageous. Nobody but a soldier could decide on a war and nobody but a cook, would be allowed to say whether a certain dish is worth eating or not. But we know that’s not true, so why do we have such high walls built around the holy book that the common Muslim dares not interpret, but listen to scholars with his or her brain shut down?

Are our imams and scholars no different than the witch-doctors of the past who had the sole claim to religion and those who disagreed with them were killed? Certainly that is what so many Muslims do to those who question, back in the Old Country. People accused of “blasphemy”, are often killed before their guilt or innocence is established.

 

This opens another debate; who decides on which scholar to trust or obey? For that matter, who gets to decide whether someone is a scholar in the first place? Most will say theirs is the only scholar who can be trusted because he knows what God means, in His book. Many would insist theirs is the only correct school of thought and theirs is the only way to interpret the Quran. Some go even further; not only are their scholars right about every aspect of Islam and the Quran, but all others who disagree or who follow other scholars are…”Kuffar”…Infidels and therefore, must be killed. The same people who insist we must listen to scholars without question, will not allow anyone other than their own, to be called a scholar.

 

In the Quran God has said (17:36, 49:6, 49:12) we are responsible to using our own brain to help us examine issues. Yet, far too frequently, we unquestioningly take calls to violence by “scholars” to be the final word.

 

In law schools, the students are taught to think deeply when reviewing a law because there can be many different ways to interpret the same law and this is why courts have full case loads; there are two lawyers arguing the merits of the same action, under the same law, but from opposing positions. Surely the Quran has many ways to be interpreted and surely, one may not be condemned for believing certain Quranic edicts mean something different from what certain scholars may wish to promote? Surely people can disagree on the interpretation of the Quran, without being cast out or killed, for disagreeing with the scholars!?

 

Scholars deserve due respect and consideration, but one must never allow respect to smother one’s own voice of conscience; one’s own sense of right and wrong, because there is such a thing as universal truth and universal morality, that is common to all faiths. Personally, I have found that whenever I have questions about a certain interpretation of the Quran and I go back to study the original text. I find the Quran to be much more generous and forgiving than what was said by the scholar.

 

Churchill once said, “War is too important to be left to the Generals”, a re-wording of this statement could be, “Islam is far too important to be left to the Scholars“.

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January 30, 2015 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

9 Comments »

  1. This is an extremely important post that I would like to reproduce on my own website religion-science-peace.org.

    Are there colleges in the USA training imams, or are they always invited in from abroad?

    On the punishment for adultery, the word ‘lashes’ suggests use of a rope or leather whip which can cut the skin, causing blood loss and severe pain. My Quran translation (by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem in the Oxford World Classics series) says “Jalada in Arabic means ‘hit the skin’ with the hand or anything else, and there are reports that people used shoes, clothes etc. Perhaps ‘slaps’ would be a better translation than ‘lashes’. It suggests that the intention of the punishment is more public humiliation than real pain and physical harm.

    Like

    Comment by dgfincham | January 31, 2015 | Reply

    • Thank you for your comments and yes, you may reproduce it anywhere you like, as long as you give it the proper attibution and make no changes without my approval.
      There are a growing number of Islamic scholars who are “local-born” but such a background does not automatically infer a diffreent (better) way of thinking; I have seen many “native-born” scholars who are wonderful thinkers and I have seen some “local-born” ones who I would have trouble with.

      There are different interpretations to the word “lash”. Some scholars say it must be a real whip while others say whatever you use, you may not break the skin.

      Like

      Comment by penjihad | January 31, 2015 | Reply

  2. I slightly disagree Jeff. In your 5th paragraph, you define *SCHOLARS* Vs “scholars” but then it seems like you put the *SCHOLARS* and “scholars” all in the same pool. Shouldn’t the onus be on the average Abdul and average Ayesha to check the credentials of the scholars whose fatwa they are blindly accepting. They would when in need of a doctor or a lawyer or a real estate agent. Indeed, unlike physicists, lawyers or doctors, ANYBODY can be a “scholar” (or a politician for that matter) if they have read a few books and have a gift of gab. For instance, history tells us that Hadhrat Abu Bakr spend 23 some years in the company of the Prophet (pbuh), yet the vast majority of hadiths (i.e. actual sayings of the prophet) in Sahih Bukhari (and all other sahih books) are from a man named Abu Huraira, who barely spent days with the prophet (pbuh), and yet in the eyes of majority his quotes are second only to the ayats of the Quran. Likewise the Bible is the word of God through Jesus (pbuh) through Paul, who never spent a day with Jesus (pbuh). We use common sense and question Paul, but we put our blinders on and never question Abu Huraira’s, even when we know he was misogynist and some of his extremely sexist statements openly contradict the Quran. – e.g I looked in hell and it was full of women. Yeah, Right!

    As you said in the 4th para from the end, Allah demands us to THINK. I feel the problem with us Muslims is extreme prejudice. This is indeed an epidemic. We eagerly hold inter-faith events, but not intra-faith with “other” Muslims. I don’t have the verses with me, but I love where it says in the Quran (and I paraphrase) – ask yourself if YOU are on the right path – , and another place – so you think the next world is right the current world, where you are its master and you decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.

    What I have always found is that people who have the most knowledge are the most humble. Its like the more you know, the more you realize how little you know. On the contrary the less you know, the less you realize how little you know, which explains the abundance of “scholars” .

    I would have ended your essay with “Islam is far to important and should be left to *SCHOLARS* . That can only happen if masses *think* ….but don’t hold your breath my friend.

    Nice article.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Tehseen Abidi | January 31, 2015 | Reply

    • Absolutely agree, Tehseen. There is a massive influx, particularly in the West and East Asia of these scholar mill graduates. Al Azhar, once a reputable Islamic scholarship school, is guilty of this same practice. To keep up with the numbers of “scholars” going through the KSA one and three month “Scholar” programs, Al Azhar has followed suit in granting this honorable status to anyone wanting it.
      Today, the program at Al Azhar is a one month class offered to any male who holds a BA or BS degree. 😀 MashAllah, now we are flooded in America with these interesting “scholars” who have admitted more than once to using Islam Q & A to answer all of their unfortunate community victims.
      We have passed into a time wherein the seminaries are discounted in favor of the drive thru Sheikhs who can rapidly fill a demand for leaders around the world. When we don’t bother to even educate ourselves as to what constitutes a scholar in the first place, there is little hope that we can expect the average Ummah to critically think about anything they hear.
      At the end of the day, the belief that so and so who has spent a few hours on the internet suddenly qualifies as legitimate scholars is rampant. In the case of America, where I live, I have met only a slight few who had the remotest ideas of what qualifies as a scholar. Having a YouTube channel, perhaps a website, or even a highly followed masjid has blinded many into believe these folks who parade about as scholars are legitimate.
      As for the suggestion that even some lawyers are not reputable, I argue that TRUE Islamic scholarship requires MASSIVE vetting, and I would like to challenge the author to show the case of a VETTED scholar having these insane and ludicrous ideas poisoning Islam. So VERY few of those who attend seminary are able to pass the vetting process. Sadly, that means we legitimately have a scarce few scholars on the earth today.
      “The ink of the scholar is greater than the blood of the martyr”.

      Like

      Comment by oumaytaam | February 1, 2015 | Reply

      • I am simply saying we need to exercise our brains and thinking processes a little and when someone, scholar or not, says something insane, we should dare to question it or, to challenge it.

        “Vetted scholar” is a fine description, but many will line up to show many “Vetted scholars” who say completey intolerant and insane things while hiding behind their “scholarship”. The Question arises, vetted by whom? Which vetting authority is legitimate and which is not? There is no shortage of Arabian vetted scholars who I wouldn’t trust on Islam at all, in spite of their voluminous study…note that I did not say, in spite of their extensive study.

        Like

        Comment by penjihad | February 1, 2015

  3. actually let me clarify my statement. Yes, throughout your article you are challenging the average Abdul and average Ayesha to question their scholars fatwas if it goes against common sense. What I am saying is that they should question their scholar’s credentials before even raising them to that caliber. The position of authority should be earned.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Tehseen Abidi | January 31, 2015 | Reply

    • Thank you for your thoughts. Personally, i am less concerned with the degrees and studies of a certain “scholar” and more concerned about what they say. I am suggesting that we respect anyone who professes love for his or her faith and seems to have studied it sufficiently to make declarative statements. However, when they say things that are nonsense, such as the mandate to have a man grow his beard to a certain length or, have his trouser-legs above the ankle, we should not embrace the statement. There are also “scholars” who, in spite of their having studied at respectable Islamic schools, make idiotic statements in which they accuse others of not being Muslims or, of being Heretics. Suchh “Scholars” should be dismissed out of hand as being non-thinkers and bigots.

      This is just as true for doctors and lawyers. I have had the experience of meeting lawyers who I would not trust to fight a traffic ticket and I have met doctors who I would not trust with a dead dog.

      Like

      Comment by penjihad | January 31, 2015 | Reply

  4. Well said. Thanks for stating a very logical and convincing case for the subject.

    Like

    Comment by Qaseem Khan | January 31, 2015 | Reply

  5. “Off topic” here?
    Tariq Ramadan about “Jihad”: “Path to Justice: “The Real Meaning of Jihad” http://tariqramadan.com/english/2015/02/09/path-to-justice-the-real-meaning-of-jihad-31-01-2015/

    Like

    Comment by Herman | March 19, 2015 | Reply


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