Note to readers: I want to thank everyone who wrote recently and inquired about my health. I had a terrible fall a few weeks ago and had a mild concussion from it. I appreciate the wisdom of wearing a turban more. I am better, and the headaches have subsided – thanks be to Allah.
Unfortunately, it prevented me from writing much. I have been in Medina and am traveling to Turkey for the Rihla program. Please keep me in your prayers. I appreciate it greatly. I want to write soon in a more substantial way, in sha Allah. But for now, I would like to share my thoughts on some unpleasant recent developments and also share some observations from my recent stay in Medina.
I have been troubled by the attacks made on several notable scholars, especially the slanderous material written about my own teacher, Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah. He never pays any attention to them, but I have lived with him and witnessed his piety, decency, virtuous character, and genuine love for the Prophet’s Ummah, and I fear for those people who so lightly attack him, or who attack others, like Shaykh Sa’id Ramadan al-Buti, simply because they disagree with them.
We ought to know that such criticism of learned people is not a good sign. As recorded in al-Hakim’s Mustadrak, the Prophet of God, peace and blessings be upon him, is reported to have said, “When the Muslims begin to loathe scholars and are preoccupied with commerce and its development, obsessing over accumulation of wealth, God will then direct at them four tribulations: loss of productivity, oppressive rulers, corrupt justice systems, and enemies who find them easy prey.”
Islam has been a knowledge-based tradition from the start, with the first word revealed: “Read!” And scholars, more than any others, have carried that tradition forward through the centuries. Inquiring minds should peruse Franz Rosenthal’s Knowledge Triumphant: The Concept of Knowledge in Medieval Islam, a wonderful study on the centrality of knowledge in the Islamic world. When Abu Dawud narrated hadith, it was said, hyperbolically perhaps, that as many as 70,000 inkpots filled the mosque. Men and women from rich families and poor ones vied to be students of knowledge. Books were written in gold ink with stunning calligraphy, and are now displayed in Western museums as great works of art. Scholars filled our community centers, and a love of language, literature, and all things shining – thus Islamic – was the hallmark of our lost Muslim societies.
This is well documented in the travelogues of scholars such as Ibn Jubayr, which is available in English. About Damascus, Ibn Jubayr recounted that the sound of Qur’an recitation was akin to the buzzing of bees in their hives due to the vast numbers of people reciting. Circles of knowledge covered the mosque, and he was surprised to find that even the ordinary folk were listening to high levels of discourse. In other words, people strived to learn and increase their knowledge and understanding, and they looked to the mosques and community centers to quench their thirst.
In today’s mosques, we often hear stories of the righteous that are related in an attempt to inspire people. Imam Malik, however, did not allow storytelling in the Prophet’s mosque; he saw it as an innovation and as antithetical to real knowledge, which is incumbent upon every adult Muslim, male and female, according to the well-known hadith related in Ibn Majah’s collection. Today, however, such a position is often viewed as “elitist,” and scholars are expected “to get down with the common people.” Things have become topsy-turvy. In the past, it was understood that the common people needed to seek knowledge and be elevated – Shaw’s Doolittle had aristocratic pretentions to speak like Higgins, whereas today Higgins is wearing designer torn jeans and speaking in the debased vernacular of Doolittle, pretending to be hoi polloi. Today, the burden is on the scholars to downgrade their discourse so the common people can “get it.” Hence, rap replaces poetry, music replaces the maqams, stories replace study, and ideology replaces creed.