I have long been afflicted with an intellectual inferiority complex, which has often meant that when judging an idea or argument, I defer to the wisdom of my learned friends. If my companions judged that a particular theologian had a brilliant mind, who was I to differ? If friends applauded the contributions of a certain scholar, who was I proffer an alternate view?

In more recent times, however, the opinions of others have become less satisfying. Friends of mine laud a famous sophist, championing his views and sharing his writing at every opportunity. And yet whenever I hear him speak on the radio or TV, I find myself wondering what all the fuss is about. There seems nothing extraordinary about this man or his arguments. But perhaps it is just the medium or a language barrier; or perhaps it all just too deep and profound for my simplistic mind to grasp, still the desert bedouin.

Not long ago I found myself in a small gathering, amongst devotees of a well-known sheikh. We sat in a circle on the floor to attentively lend an ear to the noble one. At first I was enthusiastic, straining to hear his hushed tones. Now and then I would cast my eyes over my companions, who I would find nodding their heads in agreement, uttering “subhanallah” in response to his sentiments and generally fawning over his words. Their reverence made me feel bad, because I was growing agitated, for it was dawning on me that there was nothing there. Beyond the veneer of veneration, there was no substance to anything he was saying. The mumbled lecture was just numbingly repetitive, trite and oh-so boring.

It was part of an awakening for me. The realisation that you cannot rely on others to believe for you. That you cannot just blindly defer to the wisdom of others to interpret sentiments on your behalf. I am not saying, “Stuff experts.” I will always ask those who know, when I do not know. But to sit in adoration of a speaker disseminating empty words, devoid of all meaning, simply because I have been told he is a sage or a saint or the genius of our age? No, I will not follow such a guide. Listen with your ears and heart.