ON THE POLITICAL CHARACTER OF A GENUINE SCHOLAR OF ISLAM & THAT OF THE EVIL SCHOLAR
by Shaykh Muhammad Shareef bin Farid
One of the profound statements that my teacher, Shaykh Habib Umar, may Allah exalt His word by means of him, said in the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attack: “You will see the emergence of new forms of hypocrisy (nifaaq).” He was not talking about the hypocrisy of the common believer who persists in sin and disobedience to Allah ta`ala. Nor was he speaking of the hypocrisy of a man giving a solemn pledge and promise to a friend and then willfully breaking that pledge; which is transmitted as one of the key signs of the hypocrite. No, the saintly Friend of GOD from Tarim, was talking about another can of fish.
Sayyid Habib Umar was speaking of the hypocrisy which would emerge from the Muslim clerical class who would monetize Islamic knowledge and use it as a pretext for upward mobility with corrupt rulers and merchants. In fact, this destructive trait of the Muslim scholar will be one of the key seventy-two signs of the End of Time.
The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace said:
((سَيَكُوْنُ فِي أَخِرِ الزَّمَانِ عُلَمَاءُ يُرَغِّبُونَ النَّاسَ فِي اِلْأَخِرَةِ وَلَا يَرْغَبُونَ، وَيُزَهِّدُونَ وَلَا يَزْهَدُوْنَ، وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنْ غِشْيَانِ الْأُمَرَاءِ وَلَا يَنْتَهُونَ))
“There will be in the End of Time, scholars, who will inspire people for the Hereafter, but they themselves will not aspire for it; they will encourage the people to be austere, but they themselves will not practive austerity; and they will prohibit humanity from frequenting the rulers, but they will not prohibit themselves from it.”
This prophecy, while alarming, also makes us grateful to Allah, that we are witnessing events and trends around us bearing witness to the prophecies of our Beloved Prophet. Like the righteous Ancestors (salif saalih), we too have witnessed the miracles of the master of the Messengers, may Allah bless him and grant him peace with our own eyes.
In addition, all praises are due to Allah ta`ala, that He has preserved for us the characteristics of the genuine scholar of Islam in the writings of our African Muslim sages. They gave us a picture, in their states, words, deeds and writings of the sublime political character of the learned helpers of Allah’s religion. By means of them, Allah ta`ala exalts His word, preserves His word and disseminate His word throughout creation.
One of the key differences between the genuine scholar (`aalim `aamil) and the evil scholar (`aalim suu) is the former’s disdain for this world and the latter’s excessive love of this world. The immensity of knowledge and its treasures blinds the genuine scholar to the vulgar glimmering of this world’s life. While the evil scholar uses what knowledge he possesses as a conduit for upward mobility into the halls and courts of the rich and powerful of this world’s life.
The genuine scholar, sold this world and its distractions for the immense treasure of knowledge. While the evil scholar monetized the sciences of Islam and rendered the Trust marketable alongside the countless commodities, icons and idols of this world’s life.
The Retainer of the Messenger of Allah, Shaykh Ahmad Bamba said in his Silk al-Jawaahir Fee Akhbaar as-Saraa’ir:
وَمِنْ عَلَامَةِ مَحَبَّتِهَا، أَيْ الدُّنْيَا، حُبُّ الْوِلَايَةِ وَالْقَضَاءِ وَمُخَالِطَةِ الْأُمَراءِ وَالوُزَرَاءِ
“Among the signs of love of this world’s life is love of the government and the judiciary and intermixing and socializing with rulers and government ministers.”
So, from the very beginning we are confronted with an image of one of the traits of the evil scholar (ulama suu); which is his or her love for this world’s life; and their disdain for knowledge, due to their monetizing of the trust which Allah has given them for the purposes of attaining position in the halls of power.
The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace said:
((حُبُّ الدُّنْيَا رَأْسُ كُلِّ خَطِيئَةٍ))
“Love of this world’s life is the head of every error.”
The person dedicated to the preserving of knowledge of Allah’s Book, knowledge of the Sunnan of His Messenger and all the beneficial inward and outward sciences of His religion; are obligated to eradicate from their heart love for this world. The scholar of Islam has taken an oath to trade the life of this world in order to attain knowledge of Allah and His religion; and they have taken an oath to never trade the religion of Allah in order to attain anything from this world’s life.
The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace also said:
((مَنْ أَرَادَ النَّجَاةَ مِنَ الْمَعْصِيَةِ فَلَا يُخَالِطُ أَهْلَهَا))
“Whoever desires redemption from disobedience, then he should not intermix with the people of this world.”
Just as it is obligatory for the scholars and carriers of the sacred law to avoid the people of heretical innovation and the people of unfounded opinions; it is likewise obligatory for them to avoid intermixing with rulers and governors. This is because of what is in it of the corruption of the knowledge the scholar and his religion.
The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace also said:
((سَيَكُوْنُ بَعْدِي سَلَاطِيْنٌ، الْفِتَنُ عَلَى أَبْوَابِهِمْ كَمَبَارِكِ الْإِبِلِ، لَا يُعْطُونَ أَحَدًا شَيْئًا إِلَّا أَخَذُواْ مِنْ دِيْنِهِ مِثْلَهُ))
“There will exist rulers after me. Tribulation will be at their doors like the resting place of a camel. These rulers will not grant anyone anything except that its like in religion will be seized from that person.”
Here the Messenger of Allah, is basically saying that any Muslim scholar who frequents the doors of the rulers, is appointed by them, or is deployed by them; will have his knowledge seized from him equivalent to what he was given or appointed to by the corrupt ruler.
A more cogent prophetic pronouncement which places an impregnable barrier between the evil scholar and the genuine scholar is what our Beloved Prophet said as warning to all who take the oath to be bearers of the sciences of the Book, the Sunna and the consensus of this immense religion of Islam.
He, upon him be the most abundant blessings and most perfect peace said:
“The scholars are the trustees of the Messengers as long as they do not intermix with the rulers and use their knowledge as a pretext for entering into worldly affairs. For when they intermix with the rulers and use their knowledge as a pretext for entering into worldly affairs, then they would have acted treacherously towards the Messengers. You should then stay clear of them.”
The command from the Prophet to avoid and stay clear of the evil scholar, is conditioned by you recognizing the traits which they are tarnished with. It is their propensity to use their knowledge, (which is a Prophetic trust) as a resource to attain prestige, upward social mobility and all the trappings of power and fame.
This is unambiguous reprimand for the scholars, jurists and Imams in this era who find themselves ‘advising’ corrupt, tyrannical and unjust governments and their leaders. It is just as immoral for psychiatrist to advise governments how to conduct torture; as it is for Muslim clerics or jurists to advise non-Muslim governments on how and when to invade Muslim nations or to bring about regime change. Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syrian or immediate examples where Muslim jurists and clerics clamored at the gates of the US State Department, falling over one another in order to provide ‘advice’ to overthrow these Muslims governments.
On the contrary, the Muslims scholar, jurists and cleric is supposed to avoid the gates of unjust rulers. But especially non Muslim rulers. The scholar, because they are inheritors of the mission of the Prophets, they are supposed to have a somewhat adversarial relationship with the government, through their commanding of good and forbidding of evil.
One of our great Africa Muslim scholars, Shaykh Ahmadu Baba relates to us the story of his own father and the extent that this learned jurist went in avoiding the rulers and being harsh towards them. He said about him:
“My father, Ahmad ibn Ahmad ibn Umar ibn Muhammad Aqit, was the son of a learned jurist, the son of a learned jurist. He was an accomplished and intelligent scholar who had mastered many sciences. He was a traditionist, possessed a generous share in the sciences of the foundation of the law, rhetoric and eloquence. He possessed a gentle heart and exalted rank that earned him the respect of the notables of the kingdom. He was sufficient as a benefit to his people by his rank and standing. His intercession was never turned away or refused. He treated the rulers and their officials very roughly and they in turn showed him the utmost of humility. The rulers used to visit him in his home. Once when he became ill in the town of Kaghu, during one of his frequent journeys, the great sultan, Askiya Dawud would come to him at night and watch over him until he became well again.”
Here Shaykh Ahmadu Baba tells us that his father treated government officials, the rulers and leaders roughly and avoided their company. It was the rulers who sought him out for unwavering advice, even though he always went out of his way to demonstrate his disdain for the people of power and riches.
This is a testimony to our ancient African rulers, who rather than summoning the scholars to their gates to deploy, appoint or employ them to rubber stamp their despotism; they would descend from their seat of authority in order to visit the right acting scholars.
Shaykh Ahmad Bamba relates this tradition in his Silk al-Jawaahir:
((إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحَبُّ الْأُمَرَاءَ إِذَا خَلَطُواْ الْعُلَمَاءَ لِأَنَّ ذَلِكَ يُرَغِّبُهُمْ فِي اَلْأَخِرَةِ، وَيَمْقَتُ الْعُلَمَاءَ إِذَا خَلَطُواْ الْأُمَرَاءَ لِأَنَّ ذَلِكَ يُرَغِّبُهُمْ فِي الدُّنْيَا))
“Indeed Allah loves the leader who goes and intermixes with the scholars, because that kind of behavior inspires the ruler to seek after the Hereafter. But, Allah detest the scholar when he goes to intermix with the rulers, because that behavior inspires the scholar to chase of this world’s life.”
Thus, the scholar who dotes over the rulers and the people of power and responds whenever they summon him, has belittled knowledge and the religious sciences and has placed this sacred Trust in other than its rightful place. The scholars actually designate such a “scholar” as being ignorant because in spite of the fact of their preoccupation with the sciences that illuminate the heart and provide the inner-self with clear vision; the learning of the evil scholar is obscured and buried under the darkness of their lust for this world’s life. Their ambitions have made them ignorant to the light they had gathered.
It has been related by Sam`an on the authority of Anas that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace said:
“Greed and avariciousness takes away wisdom from the hearts of the scholars.” This results in them not being able to arrive at clear and decisive legal judgements. One of the key traits of the evil scholar who frequents the corridors of power and fame; is that they are forced to constantly apologize for errors in their judgment for working with unjust rulers. They always have to justify their actions and explain why they humiliated and demeaned sacred knowledge by rubber stamping the tyranny of the rulers.
The reality, is that the genuine scholar does not frequent the gates of power and prestige due to the respect and honor they have for sacred knowledge. It is for this reason that Imam Malik said to the Caliph Haruun ar-Rashid, who summoned him to bring the al-Muwatta so that he and his government could listen to its transmission:
إِنَّ الْعِلْمَ يُزَارُ وَلَا يَزُورُ، وَلَا تَكُن يَا أَمِيْرَ الْمُؤْمِنِيْنَ أَوَّل مَنْ يَّضَعُ الْعَلْمَ، فَيَضَعَكَ اللَّهُ
“Indeed knowledge is come to, it does not go to. O leader of the believers, do not be the first to humiliate knowledge; or Allah will humiliate you.”
Examine, dear reader, how the Imam of Dar’l-Hijra equates scholars answering the summons of rulers, even for a good reason; to humiliating and dishonoring the knowledge .
Each time the scholar engages the unjust ruler, they lose a portion of the beneficial sciences that they learned. Thus, the scholar loses his very status as a scholar in the eyes of Allah, by his frequenting the courts of rulers.
This was further corroborated by the Companion, Abdallah ibn Mas`ud who said:
يَدْخُلُ الرَّجُلُ عَلَى السُّلْطَانِ وَمَعَهُ دِيْنُهُ، فَيَخْرُجُ وَمَا مَعَهُ شَيْءٌ
“A man enters upon a ruler and with him is his religion; but then he leaves him without anything.” This is the impact that rulers have upon the common Muslim. The impact that they have on the scholars of the Umma of Muhammad is more devastating because their knowledge is forfeited. This was a mutual fear which all people of learning had when it came to preserving and acting upon their knowledge. The first principle was to avoid unjust rulers.
Imam al-Fudayl, reiterated this when he said: “We used to learn about the importance of avoiding rulers, just like we used to learn a chapter from the Qur’an.” This means that it was common practice or covenant which the people of learning took with Allah, to avoid the courts and doors of rulers. It was this condition (shart) that distinguished them from the evil scholars.
Imam at-Thawri said: “When you witness the Muslim intellectual (qaraa’) keeping close to the rulers, then realize with a certainty that he is a thief (liss).” What is it that he stole if it is not the wealth of knowledge which he then cheapened by melting it down, and transmuting it, like an alchemist, into gold, silver, commodities, social security and rank?
Because the evil scholar does not benefit from his knowledge, the scholars do not count him among their assembly; even when he sits among them and wears their attire. They are called ‘intellectuals’ (qaraa’ – those that can read) as an indication of their tendency to quote the books that they read; but fail to act upon.
In a derisive prophetic tradition where the Prophet actually uses this prerogative “qaraa” (intellectual) to describe the fate of the evil scholar who frequents the gates of rulers:
“In Hell there is a prison from which even the Hell itself seeks refuge from seventy rimes a day. Allah has prepared it for the intellectuals (quraa) who frequently visit the rulers.” This prophetic tradition is so chilling, that only a narcissist full of his own self-importance would think that he is an exception to this Divine Threat; that somehow his veracity and charisma is so profound that his frequenting the halls of power and being deployed by them is an exception.
This is the height of arrogance, conceit and narcissism on the part of the scholar, because he/she sees themselves above the edicts of the sharia; and ventures boldly into that dubious area that the Prophet warned every Muslim to avoid. The above prophetic tradition was transmitted in order to frighten the student of knowledge, the bearers of knowledge and purveyors of knowledge from falling into the one trap which snares every heedless scholar.
Our most famous narrators of the Prophetic traditions made it covenant with Allah not to frequent the gates of Muslim rulers, let alone corrupt non-Muslim rulers. It has been related that once the ruler of the kingdom of Bukhara in Europe summoned Imam Muhammad la-Bukhari to come to his court with his Saheeh collection so that he and his officials can listen to its transmission.
The famous traditionist, known as the Amir’l-Mu’mineen of the prophetic traditions responded:
أَنِّي لَا أَذِلُّ الْعِلْمَ وَلَا أَتَى أَبْوَابَ السَّلَاطِيْنِ، فَإِن كَانَتْ لَكَ حَاجَةٌ إِلَى شَيْءٍ مِّنْهُ، فَلْتَحْضُرْنِي فِي مَسْجِدِي أَوْ فِي دَارِي
“I will never be little knowledge; nor will I ever go to the gates of the rulers. But, if you have some need of anything from me, then come to my mosque or to my home.” Examine, dear reader the disdain that our great scholars showed towards people of power and the rulers; and the immense respect that showed to the sacred sciences that they had attained.
Imam al-Bukhari saw scholars who frequent the gates of the rulers as humiliating and demeaning the sacred knowledge that they possessed. If this is the view that our great sages had towards scholars who visited the courts and palaces of Muslim rulers, what would be their view of those Muslim intellectuals today who frequent, advise and are deployed by hostile non-Muslim rulers?! We seek refuge with Allah ta`ala from knowledge that has no benefit!
Shaykh Ahmad Bamba, rahimahu Allah said in his Silk al-Jawaahir:
“The scholar who enters upon the ruler is naturally susceptible to disobedience; either by his actions, by his silence or by his words. His susceptibility to disobedience in his actions is his entering into an abode that was more than likely usurped without permission from another; his showing humility to an oppressive ruler; his kissing and kowtowing to him; and sitting among his entourage.
His susceptibility to disobedience by his silence is his being silent from the evils that he witnesses from the unjust ruler; and his listening to obscenities, lies, slander and disinformation and he being unable to do anything about it. Whoever knows of corruption in a place and he knows that he cannot do anything to change it; then it is not lawful for them to be present there.
His susceptibility to disobedience by his words is his making supplication for the unjust ruler; his praising them; his acceptance of his lies; and his displaying to the unjust ruler love and cheerfulness.”
Finally, Shehu Uthman laid out clear advice for those interested in pursuing the path of knowledge and its transmission in his Iqtibaas al-`Ilm where he said:
“Realize O brother eager to acquire knowledge upon whom it is clear in his soul the truthfulness of his desire and excessive thirsting after it - if you intend by seeking knowledge: competition with others; boastfulness and pride; seeking preference over one's colleagues; turning the faces of people towards you; or gathering the rubble of this worlds life - then you have helped in the destruction of your deen, destroyed your nafs, and bartered your Hereafter for your worldly life. Thus your bargain has become profitless and your trade has become unproductive. Everything which you have learned will only assist you in your disobedience and it will be a partner with you in your destruction.
It is like your selling a sword to a highway robber to rob you with. For whatever or whoever helps you in disobedience, even by a single word, has become a partner with you in the crime.
However, if your intention and aim in seeking after knowledge is concerning that which is between you and Allah ta`ala by learning knowledge and being guided, without mere showing-off; then rejoice for the Angels have spread out their wings for you when you go out and the dwellers of the sea seek forgiveness of you when you proceed.”
We ask Allah to make us among those for whom the Angels extend their wings and the creatures of the sea seek forgiveness for.