The time for wisdom

Sometimes, no matter how wise you are, there is wisdom in determining to speak only about affairs you are intimately familiar with.

Increasingly, scholarly types are finding themselves in hot water, because they have invested everything in this thing we call “traditional classical Islam”, taking texts for granted as they articulate the well-established ideas of the respected sages of the past. In their own mind’s eye, they are speaking of the metaphysical world, of ancient wisdoms long forgotten, but ordinary people simply look back at them perplexed.

The vast majority — residing over there, downtrodden and without opportunities — look back at these wealthy educated men from over here, and wonder: “How on earth can you speak for me, without walking in my shoes?” And they are right.

How can one who lives a life of comfort and relative freedom appreciate what life is like for one who lives in a police state, their every move shadowed by the secret police? How can one who lives in peace understand the experience of one who has only known war? How can one who has only known ease appreciate the experience of one who has only known constant racism and harassment?

Scholarly types can be forgiven for being out of touch — it is the nature of their work: they bury themselves in books, absorbing ancient texts and interface with the likeminded. But perhaps they cannot be forgiven for travelling the world, speaking before vast audiences, to preach their peculiar wisdom to people so unlike them.

The growing resentment — the growing chasm, the mutual incomprehension — between scholarly types and ordinary folk is palpable. Perhaps the wise need to exhibit a bit more wisdom. If you are from over here, do not speak on behalf of those over there. If you are not of the people, do not speak of we. If you have only known ease, do not preach to those who have only known hardship.

Or perhaps this is unfair. Perhaps it is the duty of scholarly types to speak out, irregardless of the court of public opinion. Perhaps articulating their knowledge is not their privilege, but their responsibility, even if it means preaching to people in glass houses from the top of an ivory tower. Perhaps.

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