End of Ulema!

7 08 2007

As part of my studies of Usul al-Din (Islamic sciences) at an Islamic university in Arabia, I am required to submit a dissertation consisting study of a principle of jurisprudence. I decided to look at the historical perspective and modern applicability of ‘Ijma’ (consensus) and its various forms. I thought this particular topic to be straightforward since I had quiet extensively engaged in discussions comprising such topics. Unfortunately for me though, it wasn’t going to be as easy as I had anticipated. I was informed by my tutor that I am not qualified to give legal opinions on Islam and therefore must rely upon opinions of those qualified (‘Ulema).

The problem is, for most contemporary ‘Ulema with legal authority (Ijaza) have failed to produce any original thinking. When faced with new issues or those concerning modernity they attentively rely upon juristic opinions of classical scholars from their respective madhab (school of thought). As I embarked upon my project, to my utter dismay, I found that detailed original works by contemporary scholars on Islamic Jurisprudence concerning the current modernity discourse were inaccessible, obsolete or even non-existent. My exciting research became tedious, I was now having to go through volumes of classical manuals of ‘Usul in Arabic to add value to my proposed theories. I am talking about manuals written hundreds of years ago and some over a thousand!

The Muslims today are not short of ‘Ulema (scholars). Despite hundreds and thousands of them being around us, Muslims are still having to refer to classical scholars. Imam al-Ghazali, ibn Taymiyah, ibn al-Qayyim, ibn Hazm, Shatibi, at-Tabari, Ibn Kathir to name but a few. So what are the contemporary ‘Ulema doing? Producing fatwas which are copy/paste from a classical manual of fiqh, mostly without considering the social impact, nature of civilisation, environment and reality which have entirely changed since. What is keeping the shops of these so called ‘Ulema running is the Muslims who do not seek the necessary knowledge concerning their actions, despite it being Fard ‘Ayn (individual obligation). Apart from that, the role and contributions of these ‘Ulema in lives of Muslims and revival of Islam is almost next to nothing. Most of these ‘ulema today are in the pockets of various despotic governments, receive funds to keep the masses intellectually contained and actively interpret Islam to push non-Islamic agendas. Those who are not part of this agenda.. is most likely due to the fact that they are too stupid and can be used to deliver same sermon every week at the mosque. Some of these act like arrogant thugs, they simply demand people to hear and obey and give bayah (oath of allegiance) to them. In turn, they use these innocent Muslims for their own causes and make them do unislamic things like hadrah (dancing/whirling) and to remain in state of ecstasy (fatalism), because these Muslims don’t know better. I can no longer trust any of the these so called ‘Ulema, everything they say or do must be taken with pinch of salt.

I now feel more than ever before, how important it is for young Muslims to learn Islamic sciences, learn Arabic and learn what is required to do what most ‘Ulema do today. If Muslims can become Doctors, Engineers, Psychologists, Physicists, Analysts… they can very well learn the skills required to extract a ruling from classical manuals of fiqh and eventually be able to perform Ijtihad. Only this will result in true revival of Islam and Muslims, when each Muslim is clear about the ideology they have embraced and how to live their lives according to it… without having to rely on someone else to explain.

Rant over!

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27 responses

7 08 2007
Hekmaa

It is true that we must learn the new way of interpreting the science of the old, however there is a lot of the essences that must not change. The difficulty is, as always at the point where does the new interpretation stop? That is the responsibility in which most scholars today will not allow ijtihad.

Now the question one has to ask is, how much of our life today. requires the advancements of rulings beyond the level of evolution achieved by the likes of Imam Al Ghazzali and Imam Ibn Taymiyah.

According to my view, today we do not require any evolution in the classical Islamic text or the ahkam that has been presented in them. Simply because the depth in those explanation is very much applicable to today. However what I do see necessary is re assertion of the classic text in the language of today. That would clear up a lot of the misconceptions people hold with regards to issues.

7 08 2007
Sumera

I think if they did indeed emphasise people to acquire the necessary skills in order to do ijtihad then that’d cause issues such as those Hekmaa pointed out. And I agree with his last point of having these classical texts available in languages other than Arabic.

7 08 2007
Tia

Hekmaa, many thanks for visiting here.

The question you have raised is an interesting one. It is amazing that likes of Imam Ghazali formulated theories in such manner that they can very well be applied today. This, however, may not be sufficient if we were to consider how the reality of the world has changed. These principles were codified and ruling formulated during the hay day of Islam, when Islam existed as a progressive political-economic state. The scholars were able to simplify the world into three categories, dar al Islam, dar al kufr and dar al-harb. Furthermore, it was unimaginable at the time that Muslims could be living without dar al Islam, in lands of the disbelievers or Muslims divided into petty nation states run by kings, dictators, agents etc. The challenges faced by Muslims today are relatively different to those faced by Muslims at the time of Imam Ghazali. Muslims are now considering ‘interest free banking’ in a system which entirely runs on interest. Young Muslims face real lack of guidance in terms of how to respond to atrocities against Muslims abroad, hence they are resorting to violence and hatred. Muslims now find themselves without a dar al Islam and the Islamic Shariah implemented in its entirety, does this mean they can now adopt democracy or participate in a liberal secular Capitalistic system as MPs or should they become isolationists? These are just a few of many which the classical manuals do not remotely address since such reality did not exist. In my opinion, all of this requires a fresh perspective by those who possess tools required for ijtihad together with expertise in relevant area such as politics, economy, baking, international relations etc.

I agree, it would be important if these manuals were available in other languages, and most of them are being translated in English but that won’t necessarily solve the problem. In my opinion, what is more important for Muslims is to learn Arabic in order to learn and understand Islamics laws. Since Islamic law deals with all aspects of life; social and individual, economic and cultural, and since the Qur’an and Sunnah constitute the foundation of Islamic civilisation, any serious study of Islam should include the study of Arabic. The Arabic which is meant here is the classical Arabic along with its structure. The study of colloquial Arabic of a certain dialect or vernacular is without value in this regard.

Therefore, in my opinion, Arabic is essential requirement in study of Islamic law, ‘Usul ul Fiqh and Hukm Shari’ (the body of laws). Muslim scholars mastered Arabic, its syntax, semantics, vocabulary, grammar, various modes of usage, and rhetoric as a prerequisite for Ijtihad. And since Arabic is the language of Islam, Islam and its rules can only truly be understood in Arabic.

7 08 2007
Tia

Sumera: I see your point, there are a few classical books now available in English like Hedaya, risalah of Imam Shafi’ and whole of bunch of Ibn Taymiyah’s works. If we are able to extract answers to our questions from these books (which we can) than why do we need scholars? we don’t, do we? ๐Ÿ™‚

7 08 2007
Sumera

Im not sure why, but I seem to feel uneasy at the prospect of scholars becoming obsolete if we ourselves can be mini-ulema. Possibly because of the potential to abuse it?

7 08 2007
Tia

Sumera, the potential to abuse is still there, many Ulema today abuse the rules which mostly goes unnoticed since people lack their knowledge. The manner of discussion between ordinary Muslims today will be raised to a higher standard if they were equipped with necessary knowledge, they would be able to debate Islamic rules from their origins and the principles rather than ‘this is haram because my shaykh says so’ and ‘my shaykh is better than your shaykh’ kind of unproductive discussions.

7 08 2007
Sumera

That may be the case, and its quite apparent that the Ulema of today do abuse rules and/or give half baked rulings on todays issues that arent even remotely realistic, but I dont think just because people will be equipped to do this extraction themselves will there be agreement or consensus on any given issue. I dont believe these problems we have currently amongst Muslims or in Muslim countries will be eradicated, since somewhere along the lines it will turn into a spat depending on which classical book one referred to, who authored it and how its “questionable” e.g. you have some people who have an issue with Imam Ghazali’s brush with sufism and will consciously look for his writings on issues pre and post sufi experience. And then theres Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Kathir etc Its never ending.

And the my shaykh says this, yours does this is quite pathetic – but then again they do have these shaykhs to blame things on if everything goes belly up! How convenient I must say. It removes any perception of accountability so long as they have someone to feed off from and do nothing on their own part.

I do see your point of educating yourself, and honing these skills and its commendable and advisable to do that, but we can’t just ignore these Ulema and their dire state since not everyone is able to or in the position that perhaps we are to do such studies/self-learning. Im thinking of those who are illiterate, they only have the word of these Ulema to go on. How awful is that.

7 08 2007
brnaeem

AA- Tia,

Nice post…you’ve given a good analysis of the problem, but I sorta disagree with your conclusion.

“If Muslims can become Doctors, Engineers, Psychologists, Physicists, Analystsโ€ฆ they can very well learn the skills required to extract a ruling from classical manuals of fiqh and eventually be able to perform Ijtihad.”

So basically, they should become Ulema! Just as Muslims learn the skills to become Doctors and Engineers, Muslims who learn the skills to extract rulings from the direct textual sources become….Ulema. No?

Not sure what you’re proposing….

WA-
Naeem

7 08 2007
Tia

Sumera, the idea of difference of opinion (ikhtilaf) in Islam is not necessarily the cause of disunity amongst Muslims. It can be used similarly to the idea of political pluralism in the west, where the emphasis is on the correct implementation of Islam. The Problem occurs when there are only a few opinions and people have to rely on these, whereas anything new is considered outlandish or ‘modernist’ opinion, when it may just be a sincere and honest effort to re-address an issue. for example the segregated wedding issue at your blog.

brnaeem, what I am proposing is that instead of taqleed, Muslims should equip themselves with tools to access classical manuals of fiqh (which most Ulema nowdays do). This is quiet different to becoming an Aalim (Ulemaa), as ulema are able to do a bit more than just taqleed, ideally that is. This will also get rid of the whole institutionalised Ulema business, which it was never meant to be like. There is no concept of ulema in Islam as it exists today with over-weight men who sit in an office issuing fatwas, getting paid by government bodies and treated like royalties! It is essential to get rid of these by taking away their value.

7 08 2007
Sumera

Yes, but then do we not get into a higgedly piggedly about what “correct implementation” of Islam is ? There are issues when referring back to the Quran, with re-interpretation upon re-interpretation being done, going back and delving into root meanings of words and phrases etc and still there is confusion and rifts amongst Muslims (for example verse 4:34 being the most infamous one) so to not imagine this to be the case with books and sources that are authored by humans and is impossible.

I think we’ve all begun to ignore the rants of “progressive” or “moderate” Muslims by now :p

7 08 2007
Sumera

“I think we’ve begun to ignore the rants of those who slap everyone with the label of “progressive” or “moderate” Muslims by now” – incomplete comment!

7 08 2007
Advocate

Please see: http://www.islam21c.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=70738&Itemid=45 its an article on the subject matter of ijmaa’ by our reknowned Shaykh Haytam Jawwad al Haddad (hafih’allah).

7 08 2007
Tia

Sumera, I do tend to slap people with those labels or used to.. I have been behaving lately (old habits die hard) :p

Though, I think there is a fine line between renewal (islah or tajdeed) and reformation. I wouldn’t dare step the line as much as I like to call for free intellectual trangression, it has to be within the laws.. I suppose.

re: 4:34, I think its crucial to any discussion regarding Qur’an that Quran was revealed in Arabic and it must be understood in the same manner as Arabic speech. The problem is that most poeple don’t have the necessary command of classical Arabic to be able to re-study the root words and apply them to modern context instead of solely relying upon Tafsir of Ibn Kathir or Qurtubi. This goes back to my rant about scholars not producing new works such as tafseer (interpretation of Quran) to address the current reality. It is not impossible. There are a few that exist such as the one by Mawdudi and Syed Qutb from the absolete. I am sure if more scholars put thier heads together they can use their favourite ‘Ijma concept to collectively produce a new one. Since it would be a collective effort any chance of misguidance occuring would be eliminated.. thats if they can stop bickering amongst themselves and decide to do some service to the ummah.

Advocate, Jazakallahu khair for the good link ๐Ÿ™‚

8 08 2007
Hasmita

Tia, I can see where you are going with this but mostly its flying over my head. Like Sumera, I feel a little uncomfortable with the idea of ‘no scholars’ becuase there has to be someone to fall back on, like safety net. But I knnow you are going to say, ‘go become a scholar’, but we all can’t become so knowledgeable just like that.

On top of all that, you cant deny that scholars have a role to play in all this and much of what you, I and others are able to discuss here and there is result of what we have been taught by scholars, in one way or the other.

8 08 2007
confusedaboutlife

asalam alaykum sis wonderful , this is exactly what has been on my mind I realy want 2 go and study islam ignornce is driving me crazy and I have heard things like woman cant give ijtihad ? if I COULD type for u exactly the arabic hadeeth I would ( something to do with their aqil is not complete ) I dont trust scholars I feel they give an opinion based on ‘their ‘ logic and often I find it is unfair on woman ..erg very confused ! any books you care 2 recomend for me to read ? greatly appreciated

8 08 2007
Tia

Hasmita, point taken. I should have added that there are some good scholars too, if there weren’t there would be immense clamity. jzk ๐Ÿ™‚

Confusedaboutlife: Wa alaikum as salam dear sis, don’t let anyone tell you that women can’t do Ijtihad. Of course they can, Men and Women are exactly the same in the eyes of Allah Ta’ala distinguished only by their tqwah. Also, who was one of the first Mujtahid and a Muhadith who the Sahabah used to goto seek opinions? It was Sayeda Aesha Siddiqa (ra), indeed she was a Mujtahid followed by a long list of women scholars.

I would recommend, ‘Bidayatul Mujtahid’ in two vols by Imam Ibn Rushd al-Andalusi (Averros). it is now available in English and the translation is very good too. ๐Ÿ™‚

8 08 2007
Sonia

i’m curious as to the reference to ‘Arabia’ – which country are you actually studying in? Saudi Arabia? or a few different ones across the Middle East? Interesting usage – Arabia, strikes me as being rather like the colonial way of referring to Malaysia as ‘Malaya’ still ( no offense to you of course – i’m just asking and just curious)

8 08 2007
Sonia

Anyway, you’ve certainly got a good point about individuals learning Arabic and studying subjects without which effectively consign them to the position of a layperson.

Knowledge is power! i always thought that hadith ‘seek knowledge even if it be in china’ was brilliant – i found some website recently laughing how so many ‘mugs’ fall for that one and that it was one of these hadiths that are probably misreported. ( anyone any idea on that?)

8 08 2007
Sumera

Thats the thing though Tia, if we are able to read into, apply and decide whats correct and whats not, then whats to prevent things going that one step further into things going into a complete overhaul? Its quite an eerie thought.

I suppose we need to be made aware of the boundaries and work within them instead of pushing them out til effectively there are no boundaries left.

I hadn’t heard that women couldnt do ijtihad. So thats a new one. If people really believe women are deficient in intellect then its quite a shame since they’ve been taking on board tainted information from Aisha (ra) and the Prophet (saw)’s wives (!) Some people really know how to abuse and misrepresent information to such a degree, its become an art in itself!

Yep, heard the same thing about that hadith Sonia. Supposedly fabricated.

Anyway Tia, how do you propose one goes about acquring these skills? Where should one start from? (you can tell im relatively clueless about this!)

8 08 2007
confusedaboutlife

sumera ! ur so right ..yeh know how angry I became when I realized this ..i FOUND THIS out from some yemeni sister who studied in yemen I dont know her personaly through another sister but shes not allowed the title ulema ..she can study the same knowldge but not allowed the title ulema but offcourse a man can have that title erg it makes me so angry how these muslim men are proper taking the ….i wnt swear lol
sumera check out some other stuff suadis say that woman dont need 2 do becuase shes a woman i think u will find yourself flabbagasted .

8 08 2007
Sumera

confusedaboutlife – I’ve heard just about every anti-woman rant there possibly is, and I take most of it with great big pail full of salt.

8 08 2007
Tia

Sonia, yea it is Saudi Arabia. I consider it political incorrect to refer to it as Saudi Arabia, hence I call it Arabia. To cut story short, it is one of the only countries which is actually named after a family (aal-Saud). This was due to their alliances with the colonialists against the Ottomans through T.E Lawrence, W.Shakespear and Sir Percy Cox who literally divided the Arab lands in three and handed them over to the various sons of Sharif Hussain. Its a different topic altogether but I thought since you were curious I’d explain why i refuse to call it Saudi Arabia.. because it doesn’t belong to the Saudi family. ๐Ÿ™‚

I have also read that particular hadith is fabricated, nonetheless there are countless ahadeeth about seeking knowledge, it being obligatory and in the Qur’an, Allah (swt) puts the people of knowledge in the same category as Prophets and Angels.

Sumera, where to start? i think you are onto a good start.

confusedaboutlife: oh sis ignore the Saudis, they are just one big pile of mess. I should know.

11 08 2007
Hekmaa

Mashallah very good discussion.

There is absolutely no issue with allowing and encouraging the scholars to apply the Islamic classical rules to modern situations. Like you mentioned the example of halal banking in a system that the dust of riba sits on everything. There are many others, especially with business and mu’aamalat. However this does not require the current Ullama to make new ijtihad, but rather we need proper scholars. The answers are all in the old text. The current scholars need to know how to apply it.

For example the concepts of Physics today, those that were developed by Newton are being used today, and no one is complaining that they are old, simply because the people know how to apply it. Our scholars do not understand the world around them, they are not deeply involved in the science, business, social aspects of society to be able to experience the issue first hand and then apply the old knowledge.

They are sitting in their mosques, offices, universities and madaaris waiting for questions, how will they ever be able to address our questions if they dont know the background it is coming from. How will he be able to comment on stock markets if he doesnt know the stock market, and how will we explain it to them in a few paragraphs?

In the old, our Ullama were involved in society, religion was not their paying job, their paying job was watch making, textiles, geography, exploration, language etc and their muhaba was deen. Therefore they knew what they were talking about when current issues were brought to them. Today all such worldly information is second hand to our scholars.

Our scholars need to expand the faculties of their mind that allows them to apply the rules of deen from different aspects. One great example, Prophet Ayyub Promised Allah that when he is well he will lash his wife 100 lashes for trying to take him off his atham. So Allah gave him health and his wife returned, and now he was facing a dilemma. Allah then revealed the verse that he can take 100 grass leaves and hit her with it once. Subhanallah it shows the wisdom of application, and where do our scholars stand in that regard today?

The knowledge does not need ijtihad, it needs scholars who know how to apply it.

11 08 2007
Tia

Hekmaa, I actually agree with what you have said. Perhaps I am using the term Ijtihad in a very broad sense. My main issue, as you also highlighted is their inability to study the reality (tahqeeq al-Manat) upon which a new Ijtihad or extension of old Ijtihad is being applied. Scholar is someone who lives with the people, trades with them, socialises with them as an ordinary person just like a doctor or engineer and they need to have mastery over social and other sciences.

The problem is, how will this come about?

12 08 2007
Hekmaa

It already has, the scholars the young ones, alhamdulillah many of them have either studied a science then gone to study deen, or have left half way gone to study deen then returned to complete the studies. So there is a change happening, though slow

Something that is really worrying me, the point that is worrying me is the wave effect of change. We had in the early 19th century Muslim lands like Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Morocco etc Westernise and Move away from Islam. They all did, and moved away from Islam, now Islam is being revived there. Now the Khalleej is moving away from Islam, Arabia in General, including Saudi. 80% of the people dont know their deen it is just motions. That is our worry now.

12 08 2007
Tia

Hekmaa, I really do hope your observations of the change occurring are sound. Also, your point is quiet an interesting one, something I haven’t given much thought and there isn’t a recurring pattern. Could it be that Muslims only look to understanding Islam when faced with real problems and after exhausting all secular means?

14 08 2007
Hekmaa

To my understanding and what has come to us from our Ustads and Akaabireen, this seems to be the cycle, as is the case now in arabia( i keep writing saudi arabia, then delete is because i know you dont like it) to move on, what happens, the sunnah of Allah is He does not like oppression and He does not allow it to take root. So whenever a people are oppressed and even if it is under the name of Islam by so called Islamic states such as Arabia. Allah will remove it and change it with a people different to that which occupies it now. This has been the case in a lot of the countries, people have for one reason or another been driven towards secular, and foreign practices. The few have held on to Islam, and Allah has proven to the major that walked around to the other side, how wrong they were, so they all start coming back with more conviction to practice as better Muslims.

I mean look at turkey now, the reality of what is going on their with the rise of Islam is unbelievable, they have been trying all sorts to stop it, and the current pro islamic government, but they cant, the people actually voted them back in power.

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