My Shaykh Vs. Your Shaykh

Truth must be told, that we as Muslims tend to at times act in ways that blatantly contradict the teachings of Islam as put forth in the Quran and Sunnah. If you go through YouTube or message boards across the Internet, you will not have a hard time finding Muslims attacking each other over their differences in opinions. Sadly, you will also not find it very difficult to find young Muslims who have not spent in the big picture much time getting educated in the Tradition, with such audacity and shamelessness, attacking scholars from the past and present, because they hold different opinions than the scholars they hold in high regard. It seems to be the case that if you like Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, then you must attack Imam Al Ghazali. If you prefer Shaykh Ibn Uthaymeen, then to you Shaykh Al Qaradawi must have a large “X” in red ink on him. If you listen to Shaykh Bilal Philips, then you automatically must avoid Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. It’s as if the scholars must be put in a boxing ring or an octagon to fight each other, and one of them MUST come out on top. While they’re fighting, the supporters of one must have their signs with big letters showing their support for “their” Shaykh, while chanting for the destruction of the “enemy of Islam” that’s in the opposite corner.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t just end with how I just described it. There are also the lies that are perpetuated about each scholar on the tongues of the crowd in opposition. Statements are usually taken out of context so a point can be made about the deviance of this scholar or the ignorance of the other. I remember having heard and read statements attributed to Shaykh Bin Bazz and Shaykh Ibn Uthaymeen, which were used to show the “ridiculous nature of their thought process”. I went and searched for the audio recording of the lectures where these statements were made, and NOT to my surprise, how these statements were taken out of context and perpetuated was completely antithetical to what these scholars were saying. On the other hand, there are the outright lies being promoted about Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf that are set up in a way to make them come across to the regular Muslim as “Sufi” and “deviant”. Again, being that in this case I didn’t search for any audio recording and I actually have sat with them face to face, what is being spread about them wasn’t even something taken out of context, but it was rather a straight up and flat out LIE.

In Islam, it’s forbidden to gamble. But if I were to use it metaphorically here, I’m betting that if any of the people that spread falsities about any of the scholars, past or present, are asked to provide their evidence, or at least their source, they will say that they heard it from someone. OK! Let’s go to that someone. Where did they get their information about the so-called “deviance” of such and such scholar? The response will typically be that they heard it from someone else. Fine! Where did that someone else get their information from? Most likely, if you go far enough, you’ll find that they got it from some message board, or some YouTube clip, where it’s someone claiming that a particular scholar says so and so, and therefore be warned and don’t listen to them or read their writings for they will lead you astray. Again, no “direct” evidence will be provided. All of it is just hearsay that is being spread around as “truth”.

You know what’s interesting? The Prophet peace be upon him said:

كفى بالمرء كذبا أن يحدث بكل ما سمع

It’s enough for a person to lie to tell everything they hear

This means that all these people spreading what they “heard” can officially be considered LIERS according to Islamic Law, which means their witness can never be accepted and if they happen to be students of Sacred Knowledge, anything they transmit from the Tradition can’t be accepted either because they’re not trustworthy individuals.

I’ve had several conversations with many Muslims in the past few months where at times a name of a Muslim scholar will be dropped and all of a sudden faces change. Reason for that is because of something the person heard about this prominent figure where they should be warned about him. Before your mind goes too far, I’m not singling out a particular person here. For example, some Muslims have a problem with Imam Ibn Taymiyyah for certain opinions they heard he had through someone telling it to them. On the other hand, other Muslims will have a problem with Imam Al Ghazali because of what they heard about him through someone else. Nowadays, we have Muslims having a major problem with scholars like Shaykh Bin Bayyah and Shaykh Al Qaradawi, while others have a major problem with scholars like Shaykh Ibn Uthaymeen and Shaykh Bin Bazz and Shaykh Al Albani. All of this is typically because they were basically instructed and told that they should have a problem with these scholars, and unfortunately without much consideration they just went ahead and followed the instructions.

When it comes to North America, if you’re a so-called Salafi, and by that I mean you attribute yourself to the way of the Salaf even though you’re violating many of their principles, you’re supposed to have a problem with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. On the other hand, if you’re a so-called Sufi, and by that I mean you’re being labeled as such by some people because you attend events where Shaykh Hamza Yusuf speaks and teaches, you’re supposed to have a problem with Shaykh Bilal Philips. In all of these cases, the anti-this Shaykh or that Shaykh attitude is more often than not based on having heard something from someone about the Shaykh saying this or that. Well, here is a small little reminder I tell myself before I tell it to others. God says in the Quran:

يا أيها الذين آمنوا إن جاءكم فاسق بنبأ فتبينوا – سورة الحجرات 6

O’ you who believe, if a profligate comes to you with a news then confirm it – Surah Al Hujurat 6

What’s interesting about the above verse is that the word na’ba’ (نبأ) in Arabic is only used when the news being told is in fact true as far as the deliverer believes it to be. Yet in the verse God is describing the one bringing forth this news, which is used to cause a problem (you can refer to the exegesis of Imam Al Qurtubi to get the full story behind the revelation of this verse), to be a profligate and a liar.

OK then, with that in mind, I make it a consistent practice to first ask the question: did you get this information directly from the scholar in question, or did you just hear it from someone else? Because I personally have lost count of how many times I’ve heard Muslims say something about a particular scholar or public figure, and I found it to be a complete LIE. If it’s a scholar from the past, I go and get the full text where the particular statement in question was taken from and I read it in context. Sure enough, he was saying something other than what this profligate was claiming about him. If it’s a contemporary scholar, I try to get to them directly if it’s really important, or I’ll try to get a full recording to hear everything that was said by them. Again, it turns out to be them saying something other than what this profligate is trying to say they said.

We live in an age when the narration of the Prophet peace be upon him mentions that:

يحدث المرء الكذب فيبلغ الآفاق

A person will tell a lie and it will reach the horizons

All one needs to spread a lie about anyone is to literally get online and within seconds it will reach the opposite side of the globe. It just seems that many haven’t really paid attention to that. Worse yet, they themselves will participate in spreading the lie by taking it and re-telling it without realizing what they’re actually doing, which can only be a result of extreme heedlessness over their actions.

It’s very hypocritical of us Muslims to speak of how some individuals take things out of context and don’t understand what is meant by a particular narration in the Tradition, and that they should be asking and inquiring before issuing judgments on us, when at the same time that’s exactly what we do with each other.

But let’s say that it happened to be true that a particular scholar or public figure had a maverick opinion that deviated from the majority, or just was equally valid but different from what you learned. So what? According to the Sunni position, no one after the Prophet peace be upon him is infallible, which means that absolutely everyone will be bound to falling into some mistakes. The learned will obviously make fewer mistakes than the ignorant, but they will still make them. Imam Ibn Taymiyyah had certain positions which went against the consensus of the scholars and were rejected. Does that mean that as a scholar he should be disregarded? That’s an extreme position that is unbefitting for the community of the Prophet peace be upon him. We have people that treat scholars in two extreme ways; they’re either infallible and what they say is the ultimate truth and they don’t make mistakes, or they’re completely deviant and they’re the cause for the problems of the Muslims nowadays.

How arrogant can one be?

Some have taken it upon themselves to judge major scholars like Imam Ibn Taymiyyah and Imam Al Ghazali, when in fact these “judges” don’t qualify to lead the prayer in congregation, let alone speak on the status of these scholars. On the other hand, some have elevated some scholars to levels unbefitting for them, and I truly believe that if these scholars were to come nowadays, they would beat those people elevating them to this infallibility status with a stick. Muslims wonder why the state of the Ummah is the way it is – this is why. It’s the lack of respect to some scholars and fanatical attachment to particular scholars to the point of discounting and disregarding everyone else. Just because you like Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, that doesn’t give you the right to insult Imam Al Ghazali, and the opposite is equally true.

The Prophet peace be upon him said:

الحكمة ضالة المومن أنى وجدها فهي له

Wisdom is the lost property of the believer; wherever they find it it’s theirs

This narration means that even if an Atheist says something wise, as a Muslim I can take it and apply it, and that’s someone who might have 98% of what they say be rejected, but that other 2%, if it’s good, as a Muslim I have a right to it, and I will take it. What about our scholars? These are people who had 98% of what they said be good. Unfortunately, because we like to personalize everything, and we “enjoy” character assassinations, if a scholar held unorthodox views in 2% of what they said, we’re more than willing to throw that and the 98% of good out to the ocean, and follow that with spitting at it.

It’s getting really annoying when I hear someone always talk about the maverick positions of Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, or those of Imam Al Ghazali, etc. If you took a little bit of time to look at how the scholars dealt with each other’s maverick opinions, it was always in beautiful discourse that sought excuses for each other by saying things like: may be the Shaykh missed this, or may be the Shaykh meant this other thing. They acted upon the narration of the Prophet peace be upon him:

التمس العذر لأخيك ولو سبعين مرة

Seek the excuse for your brother/sister even if it’s for 70 times

But nowadays, it’s NOT even scholars that are doing the criticism. It’s Muslims that are not educated in the Tradition, fanatical in their views, emotional in their attachment to particular scholars, arrogant in their attitudes, and unmannered in their discourse who seem to feel that they for some reason have the authority to even speak, let alone judge scholars and teachers that spent 20 to 70 years of their lives dedicated to studying the Tradition.

I think it’s time for these people to wake up and smell the qahwa!

Not everyone will have similar inclinations, and that’s the Divine wisdom in having different types of scholars. God made some people have more of a soft spot in their heart for Imam Ibn Taymiyyah’s character, while for others it was Imam Al Ghazali’s. It’s the nature of the world to have these difference, and Islam is big enough to envelop both types of scholars as well as others.

It’s upon the lay Muslims to understand that and to just realize that all these scholars have served Islam more than they have and to show them the respect they deserve, and to stop labeling them with negative labels to demean their legacy by calling this one a so-called “Sufi” as a way to say they had problematic issues in their theology, and that one a “deviant” as a means of insult because they held some unorthodox position in a certain issue. God says in the Quran:

ولا تنابزوا بالالقاب بيس الاسم الفسوق بعد الايمان – الحجرات 11

And do not call each other with negative names, becoming a profligate is a bad name after faith – Surah Al Hujurat 11

4 thoughts on “My Shaykh Vs. Your Shaykh

  1. Masha’Allah nice article. This is turning out to be a rather prolific blog masha’Allah, addressing some important issues for Western Muslims.

    Bipartizan attitudes are really damaging our communities, some more than others. It really is a spiritual/psychological problem of kibr, may Allah protect us! People think that by default, if one loves shaykh X, one must therefore hate shaykh Y. May Allah make our hearts big enough to accommodate love for all our scholars. Maybe then we could benefit more from them.

    I have actually seen this attitude prevent people from benefiting from certain scholars when they had the chance. ‘He’s a Sufi!’ ‘He’s a Wahabi!’ Subhanallah the Salaf took benefit from where they found it. Al-Shafi’i took certain ulum from people with whom he had deep theological differences. As you rightly quoted, ‘Wisdom is the lost property of the believer; wherever they find it it’s theirs.’

    • Jazak Allah khair for the compliment bro. Please pray for me to continue my work with a pure intention and for it to bring benefit to others.

      Please share it to spread it around.

  2. Assalaamu Alaikum,
    This is such an important issue!! As a convert sooo often I have felt the pressure to ascribe myself to a certain scholar- as if by not doing so I’m not a “true” muslim… Or that I won’t relinquish my “newbie” status until I do- because if I knew anything at all I would have picked a certain scholar by now… And so, I guess there have been times when I have been the type of person you have talked about in this blog…

    I remember reading a facebook post where there were different muslims arguing back and forth over deepak chopra- whether or not it is permissible to read his books. I did read a couple over the summer.. And there are things I really liked and took to heart and have used in my life, and other ideas that I felt went completely against everything I believed…. But I feel that that doesn’t mean that you cannot take what information is good- use it, and dismiss the others… So I liked what all you said in your blog…

  3. Pingback: My Shaykh Vs. Your Shaykh

Comments are closed.