Archive for the ‘Sects’ Category

How can I become an Islamic scholar?

Monday, October 28th, 2013

Salam, there is something that I’ve wanted to know but couldn’t really find any defined information on.
1- What is an Islamic Scholar? 2- How does one become an Islamic Scholar? 3- How many years does it take to become one? (how long) 4- What are the necessary college classes/courses and degrees necessary to be qualified as one? (i.e., PhD?) 5-Are there different types of Islamic Scholars(specializations)? If there are, what are they?

Becoming an Islamic Scholar is something that I am really interested in in the near future. I hope this is not a lot, and I hope to hear from you soon. Thanks!

An Islamic scholar is one who can study an Islamic text, determine its credibility and then deduce intent from it. Like any other field of scholarship, this requires acquiring knowledge as well as skills of logical analysis and critical thinking honed by discipline and methodology.

Such scientific approach is crucial for weeding out whimsical opinions! If you have listened to some fatwas (religious edicts) issued by unknown, self-appointed Muslim scholars on satellite TV and YouTube, you know what I’m talking about.

Prior to modern times, Islamic scholars were not many and they all had to learn and be licensed (Ijaaza) by a recognized scholar. This approach carried over to modern times in the form of colleges and universities where Islamic disciplines are formally taught by teachers of high repute and earned licenses. If you want to be a formal Islamic scholar, this is the proper way to go about it. Such study takes about four years in reputable learning institutions such as Al-Azhar and Darul-Uloom universities in Egypt, for instance.

That said, one can attend these places of learning and graduate from them without actually becoming a scholar! Why? Because a student who simply memorized what he or she has been taught and echoes the rulings he or she has learned is a copy, not a scholar. Such a person cannot handle new, controversial or challenging issues. You will notice right away that they do not have what it takes and that they will end up giving their personal opinion, which is often based on their likes and dislikes.

God has honored scholars a number of times in the holy Quran. For instance,
“Verily, those who truly fear God out of all His worshipers are the scholars” (35:28) and
“But if they had referred the matter back to the Messenger or to those of authority among them, then the ones who can deduce from it would have known about it. And if not for the favor of God upon you and His mercy, you would have followed Satan, except for a few.” (4:83)

Thus, true Islamic scholarship can save Muslims from falling prey to Satan. It can also sort out what is religion and what is tradition. So many people mix the two.

Finally, you asked about disciplines and specialties. Disciplines are many. There are disciplines centered on the Quran, such as its language and syntax, its interpretations, how to deduce rulings from it. There are disciplines centered on the Hadeeth, such as authenticating it, knowing the biographies and credibility of its narrators, how to deduce rulings from it, how it and the Sunna explain the Quran, etc. There is also the discipline of Usool-ul-Fiqh, which I personally think is near the top of disciplines, because it teaches the foundations of deduction. It disciplines the mind to be rational, logical and methodical. That way, the many pitfalls that some fall into can be systematically avoided.

There is also the discipline of law (Sharee`a), history, comparative religions and more. You can specialize in any of it. You can study with the aim of becoming a preacher, for instance, or a judge. Your academic advisor can help guide you in this endeavor. Best wishes.

Who are the Ahmadiyya Muslims?

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Can you explain to me who the Ahmadia Muslims are, what they believe that is different from mainstream Sunni Muslims? Thanks.

The Ahmadiyya are a Muslim sect whose followers believe that a man, named Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was a prophet. Islam makes it clear that there will be no prophets or messengers of God after Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. The Quran states, “Muhammad has not been the father of any of your men, but the Messenger of God and the seal of the prophets.” (33:40)

You might wonder how then do the Ahmadiyya justify their belief that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a prophet? They interpret the word “seal” differently. They believe it means “the best” or “the leader”, etc. But all other Muslims understand it as it means in Arabic, i.e., the permanent closure.

The verb is used in the Quran to mean permanent closure and finality in several verses, e.g.,
“God has sealed their hearts and their hearing, and on their eyes is a covering, and for them is a grand torment” (2:7)
“Have you seen him who has taken as his god his [own] desire, and God has sent him astray despite [his] knowledge and has set a seal upon his hearing and his heart and put over his vision a veil? So who will guide him after God? Then will you not be reminded? ” (45:23)

It should be noted that the Ahmadiyya do believe in God and His Messenger, the Quran and the Sunna, and perform all pillars and mandates, and abstain from all prohibitions, etc.

Are doctrinal errors forgiveable?

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Can one hold erroneous views as a Muslim but still be saved as long as the error is due to honest ignorance and not willful sin?

Not only doctrinal errors due to ignorance, but errors due to making the wrong conclusion from your analysis (Ijtihaad). The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “If the judge rules wrong, after analysis, he gets a reward (for his diligence). If he rules right, he gets two rewards.” Reported by Al-Bukhaari, Muslim and Ibn Maajah and narrated by `Amr ibn Al-`Aas and Abu-Hurayra.

That is why Ijtihaad is important and should have never been put on hold. Erroneous views cannot last long when Ijtihaad is encouraged and practiced.

Please explain Ijtihaad in detail.

Ijtihaad means analysis. It’s an Arabic word that means exerting an effort. That is, doing what is necessary regarding an issue for the purpose of arriving at a conclusion that hopefully pleases God.

What is necessary? It’s all of the following:

  • Collecting all of the relevant verses and authentic hadeeths that address the issue directly or indirectly. Many fatwas, unfortunately, pick evidence.
  • Learning what the scholars said about the issue and what conclusions they reached. Most fatwas, unfortunately, stop here. Stopping here is not Ijtihaad but Taqleed.
  • Determining if those conclusions are appropriate. If they are based on relevant, authentic evidence, followed proper reasoning based on Usool-ul-Fiqh (Foundations of Deduction), and have not neglected other relevant evidence, then those conclusions may be adopted.
  • Otherwise, further analysis is necessary. All evidence is examined and rules of deduction are applied to it to reach a conclusion.

The conclusion reached may or may not be enforceable. It depends on the certainty of evidence and robustness of reasoning. If the evidence is certain in its occurrence (قطعي الورود), such as a verse or a ubiquitous hadeeth (Mutawaatir), and the meaning of it is certain (قطعي الدلالة), then the conclusion is certain and therefore enforceable. An example is the prohibition of eating pork.

If the evidence is certain in its occurrence but its meaning is not certain (ظني الدلالة), then the conclusion, after robust reasoning, will remain a probability. An example of that is what part of a woman’s face is to be covered.

If the evidence is uncertain in its occurrence (ظني الورود), such as hadeeths narrated by a few (Aahaad), then the conclusion will remain a probability, even if the meaning is certain. An example of that is stoning.

If you read the classic literature, you’d find so much of the conclusions made do not follow the above recipe. Many fatwas have set the bar much lower than the above. Many conclusions are based on weak or even fabricated hadeeths. Many conclusions are based on a wrong understanding which lead to wrong assumptions, e.g., abrogation. Many fatwas declare their conclusions mandating or forbidding even when the evidence is uncertain or the reasoning is flawed. In fact, much of what was written was no more than opinion.

It is good that all the venerable scholars have warned their followers from following them blindly! Abu-Haneefa said, “If you learn of a hadeeth that says differently from what I said, the hadeeth is my ruling!” Maalik said, “Everyone’s talk may be taken or left, except the dweller of this grave”, pointing to the tomb of the Prophet, peace be upon him. Ash-Shaafi`i yelled at a man who was about to write down his fatwa, “Don’t. I may change my opinion by tonight!” Ibn Hanbal said, “Never say there is consensus about a matter; say instead, ‘I do not know of dissenting opinions.'” Some scholars said on their death beds that they wished their books be burned!

Indeed, classic literature is filled with conflicting reports in many rulings from the same scholar. It is also chock full of dissenting opinions. Ibn Hazm wrote a book hoping to show all issues in which there was consensus, but ended up showing that not one of nearly a thousand issues he listed, not one escaped a dissenting opinion.

Attitude toward such phenomenon has typically been one of two extremes. One extreme was to blindly follow one school of thought (Mazhhab) and stick with it. Another extreme chose to discard all scholarship of the past. Both approaches are wrong. We have a huge database of conclusions, methodologies, reasonings and evidence. We should take advantage of it and use it instead of reinventing the wheel, but we also should not take a shortcut and choose the lazy approach of mindless following.

How many sects of Islam are there ?

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

I read a hadeeth (quote from the prophet, peace be upon him), that there will be 72 sects of Islam. Another version says 73. Please clarify. How many sects of Islam there are?

All those numbers are examples for illustration purposes only. They do not mean the exact count. The Arabs used numbers to indicate multiplicity rather than count. The hadeeth simply tells us that followers of all three religions will divide themselves up into many sects, the Christians more than the Jews and the Muslims more than the Christians, but that in each religion, only one is saved: the one that adhered faithfully to the message delivered to them by their prophet.

What are Sunni, Shia, Wahabi and Sufism?

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007

Sunnis are the people who accepted Abu-Bakr as the legitimate first caliph after the Prophet’s death and the Shia are those who did not and wanted Ali instead. There are other differences but that’s how it started.

Sufism is a deeply spiritual practice that is sort of like transcendental meditation. It’s not a sect.

Wahabism is not a sect either. It is a reform movement started by Muhammad bin Abdul-Wahab in Saudi Arabia that aimed at ridding Muslims of supersitions and the practice of intercession and returning them to the way of the early Muslims  (Salaf). Followers of the movement may have added to it or may define it differently but that’s how it started.