Scholars

Some people may read my frequent ramblings about the affairs of our community and conclude that I am anti-scholar — that I reject their guidance and leadership — but that is not the case.

I have not become a disciple of Michael Gove, imbibing his peculiar wisdom that the common people have had enough of experts. Instead I acknowledge that we all  need scholars of every kind, be they masters in religion, history, engineering or any other field. I shall always defer to those who know best, over and in place of my own ignorance. I neither hate scholars nor disrespect their knowledge. On the contrary, I stand in deference to their great learning and reverentially acknowledge their great intellectual insight.

Nevertheless, scholars are but people like you and I, with all the same foibles and character flaws as the rest of us. They are not super-humans or giants, cut off from the human experience. They have their highs and lows, problems and crises, ups and downs.

They may have spent years drinking from the fount of knowledge, patiently working away while others of us opted for the easy life, but nevertheless they are men and women like us: made of the same stuff and still effected by the world around them. A scholar is made extraordinary by their learning, but that learning does not change their substance: they are still just men and women.

So while I reject the characterisation of my position as being anti-scholar, I readily admit that I am highly critical of the culture of adulation which surrounds them.

I despise the devoted followings that verge on personality worship: behaviour which surpasses ordinary regard and respect for knowledge and our elders. I take issue with the excessive praise lauded on these religious guides, and the blindness towards their humanity. It is right to make excuses for people and think the best of them, but too many treat their teachers and guides as if they could never possibly err, sin or make mistakes.

The People of the Book, before us, were censured for setting up their own scholars and guides as lords, by preferring their opinions to those revealed to them: “They have taken their scholars and monks as lords besides Allah…”[1. Qur’an 9:31] Such a warning ought to at least give us pause.

But instead we heap praise on these religious men, far beyond their due. Even with regards to the Prophet, peace be upon him, the Qur’an repeatedly emphasises that he is but a Messenger and a man like other men. If the Qur’an speaks of our blessed Prophet in that manner, should we not pause to reconsider our relationship with our scholars and guides. They may well be great men, but let us not grant them approbation beyond their station. Take what is good from them, but do not turn them into creatures they are not.

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