Differentiating the Scholars of the Religion from Scholars of Evil

Shehu Uthman ibn Fuduye (d. 1817) and Imam Abd al Kareem ibn Muhammed al-Maghali (d. 909H) are both considered as revivers of Islam in West & Central Africa (formerly known as “Bilad as-Sudan”) . In the book “Siraaj ‘l-Ikhwaan” by Shehu Uthman ibn Fuduye (available via siiasi.org), there is a chapter on distinction between righteous and evil scholars which is a useful piece of information for our time.

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Some of the notable points:

  • Two necessary characteristic of a righteous scholar to look out for: Ilm and Taqwa
  • Prohibition of following and asking from those who do not possess Ilm and Taqwa nor from those whose Ilm & Taqwa are unclear and not established.
  • The enormity of evil that can come as a result of an evil scholar. And hence when it is established and clear that a person claiming to be scholar is lacking in Ilm and Taqwa then staying away from him become obligatory and warning against him become obligatory to those whom forbidding evil is obligatory.
  • Characteristics of the reviver of Islam who come in every century is such that in terms of commanding good, forbidding evil, rectifying the affairs of the people, spreading justice amongst them, assisting the truth against falsehood and assisting the oppressed against the oppressors, that they are contrary and unique when compared to remainder of the scholars of the time.
  • And the above characteristics are what makes them Ghareeb (strange), which is a description that has come in the hadith. Their “strangeness” is not because of some unheard doctrine they have come up with nor based on mere rejection of Muslim majority just so that he can appear as being “different”. Nor is it referring to takfiris of our time who do not posses even elementary levels of ilm and taqwa to start with, and yet consider themselves as “Ghuraba” (strangers).
  • Furthermore the reviviers are a remedy for the Ummah and despite opposition they might face during their life, they at the end become successful, recognized and agreed among Muslims as revivers of Islam and fruits of their efforts seen, as opposed to someone who comes with a heterodox doctrine rejected & remaining rejected by Muslims or someone who opposes the Ummah based on ignorance and desires.

           Moreover it is to be noted that “strangers” are individual revivers of Islam and not a separate sect of it own. The characteristic of being “strange” is an explicit characteristic of the Awliya of Allah as mentioned in the hadiths (quoting from Gibril Foud Haddad):

Narrated respectively by Abu Hurayra and Abu Malik al-Ash`ari:

[Abû Hurayra:] The Prophet said: “Truly there are servants, among the servants of Allâh, that are not Prophets but whom the Prophets and martyrs yearn to be like.” Someone asked: “Who are they so that we may love them?” He said: “They are a folk who loved one another with the light of Allâh, without kinship nor affiliation. Their faces are light on pulpits of light. They shall not fear when all people fear, nor shall they grieve when all people grieve.” Then he recited: {The Friends of Allâh! Truly no fear shall there be for them, nor shall they grieve} (10:62).

[Abû Mâlik:] When the Prophet finished his prayer he turned facing the people and said: “O people! Listen to this, understand it, and know it. Allâh has servants who are neither Prophets nor martyrs and whom the Prophets and martyrs yearn to be like, due to their seat and proximity in relation to Allâh.
” One of the Bedouin Arabs who came from among the most isolated of people twisted his hand at the Prophet and said: “O Messenger of Allâh! People from humankind who are neither Prophets nor martyrs and yet the Prophets and the martyrs yearn to be like them due to their seat and proximity in relation to Allâh? Describe them for us!” The face of the Prophet showed delight at the question and he said:
“They are of the strangers from here and there. They frequent this tribe or that without belonging to any of them. They do not have family connections with each other. They love one another for the sake of Allâh. They are of pure intent towards one another. On the Day of Resurrection Allâh shall place for them pedestals of light upon which He shall seat them, and He will turn their faces and clothes into light. On the Day of Resurrection the people will be terrified but not those. They are {the Friends of Allâh upon whom fear comes not, nor do they grieve} (10:62).”

[Narrated from Abû Hurayra by Ibn Hibbân (2:332-334 #573) with a sound chain according to Shaykh Shu`ayb al-Arna’ût, and al-Nasâ’î in al-Sunan al-Kubrâ (6:362 #11153), al-Tabarî in his Tafsîr (11:132), and al-Mundhirî in al-Targhîb (=4:20); from Abû Mâlik al-Ash`arî by Ahmad, al-Tabarânî, and Abû Ya`lâ with a chain of trustworthy narrators [except for Shahr ibn Hawshab who is mostly reliable]; also by al-Baghawî in Sharh al-Sunna (13:50 #3464) and al-Tabarî in his Tafsîr (11:132)]; from Abû al-Dardâ’ by al-Tabarânî with a fair chain according to al-Mundhirî]; and from `Amr ibn `Abasa al-Sulamî with a chain of narrators considered trustworthy, all three gradings according to al-Haythamî (10:276-277, 10:77); from `Umar by Abû Dâwûd with a chain of sound narrators, Abû Nu`aym in the Hilya (1985 ed. 1:5) with a good chain as per al-Arna’ût, and al-Tabarî in his Tafsîr (11:132); from Ibn `Umar by al-Hâkim (4:170-171 sahîh, confirmed by al-Dhahabî); and from Abû Umâma by al-Tabarânî with a good chain according to al-Mundhirî (=4:20) and al-Haytamî (10:277); also by Ibn `Asâkir, Ibn Abî al-Dunyâ in Kitâb al-Ikhwan, Ibn Abî Hâtim, and Ibn Mardûyah.]

As seen here, “strangers” are individuals and not a whole sect or party of people and they are individuals who have reached high spiritual stations and not laymen calling themselves “Ghuraba”. Also notable from this narration is that the “strangers” are distinguished from martyrs.

  • It is obligatory to seek out, rely and support these specific scholars of the religion who have these characteristic from from among the rest of the general righteous ulema.
  • Finally, Shehu Uthman ibn Fuduye (r) mentions elsewhere in this book with respect to duties of a righteous ruler:

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