Ambiguous authority

Unfortunately we have developed a habit of validating claims not on the basis of what is said, but on the grounds of who said it. And when the person saying it is a scholar held in high esteem, we cannot then hear constructive criticism of what they said. So we rejoice in the refutation of our enemies, apparently secure in the knowledge that our venerated teacher knows best.

We do not ask questions. We do not challenge. We do not say, “Yes, but…” For we know that doing so will be taken as an outrageous slight, worthy only of contemptuous invective and scorn. We are unprepared to face uncomfortable realities; to see the truth laid bare before us. In truth, we cannot, don’t want to or dare not acknowledge it.

But the learned are well aware of what we choose to deny or ignore: that those fatwas we now decry are there in our books of fiqh, and that they have been practised by the cruel and ruthless before us. Our respected scholar knows this. So too many a student of knowledge. Likewise the enemies we condemn. I think we know it too.

Yet as we listen to our revered scholar, we’ll simply nod our heads and applaud. We will defer to their knowledge and wisdom, convincing ourselves that we are just ignorant fools. We will celebrate their latest refutation, eulogizing their stunning literary rout. Our uncomfortable questions will soon be forgotten, pushed to the back of our minds once more.

For at the end of the day it is not what was said that matters, but who said it. The acclaimed and erudite scholar has spoken. So rejoice in your ambiguous authority.

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