Responsibility of Muslim Scholars In Society

To elaborate on the role of the Muslim scholars in contemporary times, one first needs to be clear about what role Islam sets for the Muslim scholars. This will provide us the proper criteria for examining the course of action adopted by the scholars in our times. The following Quranic verse gives us appropriate guidance with regard to the role of the Muslim scholars: It is not right that all the believers should go out [in times of war] all together. Islam differentiates between the arena of activity of scholars and political leaders. Their respective arenas have been kept separate and distinct. Muslims had their historical glory in political power. On the other hand, the secret of their religious glory was hidden in scientific knowledge. This was a time when the potential had been realised for the Muslim ulema to establish the truth of their religion based on accepted human knowledge. These very western powers had brought about the culmination of the revolution in human thought that began with the Prophet of Islam and his companions. From the Quran, we know that in ancient times there was no freedom of religious thought (THE QURAN 85: 4-8), there was no freedom of action (THE QURAN 96: 9-10), and there was no freedom of expression (THE QURAN 72: 19). The Quran also tells us that the very purpose of our existence in this world is that God wants to put us to a ‘test’. An imperative condition for this ‘test’ is the freedom of man.

In ancient times, man was deprived of such freedom because in those times, religious power or religion belonged to those who had political power. At the time of war, one section of the ummah was given the responsibility under such conditions, of being active in the field of consolidation of the state, while another section was charged with the responsibility of looking after the department of knowledge, to which they were to devote themselves entirely. For a section of the believers to remain behind to focus on matters of knowledge was not in any way a restriction on them. In fact, this indicates the power of knowledge, for engaging in jihad through knowledge is more important than doing so through arms. This principle does not indicate any opposition between religion and politics, but, rather, a division of the arenas of activity among the believers. This division is fully in accordance with the shariah. In Islam, the religion for men and women is the same. Men and women are identical in terms of being addressees of the faith. However, their arenas of activity have been separated. Women are charged with the responsibility of nurturing future generations, while maintaining and providing for their families is the responsibility of the men. In the same manner, even among men there are differences in terms of their respective arenas of activity. One such difference, that Islam makes is between the arena of activity of scholars, on one hand, and political leaders, on the other. Their respective arenas have been kept separate and distinct. Scholars have the responsibility of being guides and teachers of the people so that the latter do not go astray. As far as practical politics are concerned, those who engage in this field must possess the necessary skills. Not everyone can shoulder this responsibility. It was on the basis of the recognition of this difference among people in terms of their capabilities that the Prophet (PBUH) indicated to the Ummah that after him they should appoint Abu Bakr as their leader; while on the other hand, he advised Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, Abu Hurairah and Hasan ibn Thabit never to accept any political position. Due to their in-born qualities, some people are more suitable for occupying official posts than others. According to Islam, the political field should be given over to those who possess the requisite political skills and capabilities, while others should engage in various other fields that are also necessary for the community. Accordingly, while politicians are charged with the task of administering and organizing the people, scholars have the responsibility of providing the people with the knowledge that they need. This distinction between the activity of politicians and scholars is made clearer in the Hadith.

The Hadith texts record numerous traditions that refer to the deterioration in governance in later times, exhorting people that even if they see that their rulers have gone astray they must not challenge them. Even in such circumstances, these traditions suggest, they must not brand the rulers as ‘oppressors’ or revolt against them. This clearly indicates that the believers must respect the division between the ‘men of politics’ and the ‘men of knowledge’ even in such extreme conditions. This also suggests that it is not only in ordinary circumstances that the ulema of the ummah must fulfill their responsibility as teachers of the people. Rather, they must continue to play this constructive role even when they see that the rulers have fallen prey to corruption. No matter how degenerate the system of governance may appear to have become, the ulema must not deviate from the work that they have been entrusted with. In the section on leadership and justice in the Mishkat al-Masabih it is reported that the Prophet said: Your leadership will be a reflection of you [the people]. From this Hadith, we learn about two distinct things: on one hand, the mentality of people, their likes and dislikes, and so on, and, on the other hand, leadership over people. The political structure and the nature of the leadership of a particular society, this Hadith teaches us, is indelibly shaped by the former. Politicians are charged with the task of administering and organizing the people, scholars have the responsibility of providing the people with the knowledge that they need. The ulema are charged with the responsibility of helping to shape people’s consciousness and guide them on the right path, leaving the task of governing people to politicians. A healthy society must observe this distinction of tasks and responsibilities. Violating this distinction is bound to lead to great disruption.

In life, the question of people’s character is more important than that of the government that rules over them. In Islam’s early period, a group among the Companions of the Prophet (PBUH) engaged in physical jihad, while another group, including, for instance, Abdullah ibn Abbas, Abdullah ibn Masud and Abdullah ibn Umar, devoted themselves to the fields of scholarship and inviting people to Islam. No matter how degenerate the system of governance may appear to have become, the ulema must not deviate from the work that they have been entrusted with. Among the two generations that followed the Companions of the Prophet (PBUH), this same division of sphere of activity was observed. Some of these early Muslims specialized in the scholarly field, including Quranic commentary, Hadith, fiqh and related disciplines. This pattern continued for around a thousand years. Those who specialized in the field of scholarship, as Quranic reciters, Hadith scholars, fuqaha, ulema, Islamic missionaries, Sufis, teachers and so on, focused on their own particular sphere of activity. This division of work gave rise to a glorious history of scholarship and communicating the message of God, a precious legacy of the ummah. Had all the Muslims in this period devoted themselves to armed jihad, it would certainly have created an enormous vacuum in the history of Islam. It is worth to mention here that Aurangzeb a great Muslim scholar and the other ulema of his times were probably unaware of not only the intellectual and scientific developments that were taking place in Europe at that time but also of the progress that had been made in this regard in the centuries of Muslim rule in Spain, spanning from the early eighth century to the late fifteenth century.

Long before Aurangzeb was born, in the second century C.E., a rudimentary form of printing had been invented in China, which was later further refined in Europe before Aurangzeb’s time. Aurangzeb is hailed by some for making copies of the Quran with his own hand, but he was not aware that before him, in 1455, Gutenberg had printed the first copy of the Bible in the printing press that he had invented, thereby taking the Christian missionary enterprise from the age of handicrafts to that of the machine. Had Aurangzeb known of this development, he could have set up printing presses in India to print the Quran, rather than having to make copies of the Quran by hand. When the Muslim Sultanate collapsed in Spain, many Spanish Muslim scholars and scientists left for other lands. At that time, a powerful Muslim Caliphate ruled over Turkey. Some Muslim scientists, fleeing Spain, headed to Turkey, but they received no support in the royal court there. Not long after the demise of Muslim power in Spain, the Mughals established their empire in India. But the powerful Mughal Emperors never thought of inviting at least some of the great Spanish Muslim scientists to India to carry on their intellectual work. This sort of work required governmental patronage. And so, when the scientists of the erstwhile Muslim Spain received no support from, or opportunities in the Muslim world, they shifted to Western Europe instead, where they received the patronage of non-Muslim rulers. This was one reason that the work that had begun in Muslim Spain reached its climax not in the Muslim world, but, rather, in non-Muslim Europe. The ulema are charged with the responsibility of helping to shape people’s consciousness and guide them on the right path, leaving the task of governing people to politicians. Early Islamic history is witness to the fact that the Ulema has always been acting as counsellors to the political rulers and have never initiated any sort of political revolt against them.

It is concluded that there is no doubt that the scholars play a vital role in society. They are the heirs of the Prophet’s knowledge, and they should act upon that knowledge, taking the Prophet, Sallallaahu ʻAlayhi Wa Salaam, as their role mode and doing what he used to do for the Muslim society. Their duties include the following: First: keenness to teach people their religion and nurture their faith, morality and Islamic etiquette. Second: giving a good example for people to follow by means of abidance by the commands of Allaah and avoiding His prohibitions. Third: they should treat people with modesty and humbleness and strive to help them with their needs to the best of their abilities. Ibn ʻUmar (R.A) narrated that the Prophet, sallallaahu ʻalayhi wa sallam, said, “The dearest person to Allaah is the one who is the most beneficial to people. The dearest deed to Allah is bringing happiness to a Muslim, dispelling a grief from him, settling his debt, or feeding him while he is hungry. It is dearer to me to support my Muslim brother in satisfying a need than to make iʻtikaaf (seclusion for the purpose of worship) in this mosque (meaning the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah) for a month…” [At-Tabraani] Fourth, enjoining good and forbidding evil and eliminating grudges and discord against fellow Muslims from people’s hearts, because the scholars are leaders and it is unbecoming of a true leader to harbor grudges against others. Fifth: striving in tending to the needs of fellow Muslims, visiting the sick, making peace between the disputing parties, and similar acts of goodness and kindness. Verily, the Prophet, sallallaahu ʻalayhi wa sallam, is the best role model for all Muslims in this world, and especially for the scholars. May Allah guide us all to follow Quran and Sunnah … Aameen!

(The author an Associate Professor at S K University of Agriculture Sciences & Technology-SKUAST Srinagar writes on Islamic topics exclusively for “Kashmir Horizon”. Views are his own)

(The author a teacher at S K University of Agriculture Sciences & Technology-SKUAST Srinagar writes on Islamic topics exclusively for “Kashmir Horizon”. His views are personal)

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