Ulama vs Laymen Dichotomy!

13th November 2014

Asslamo Allaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuh,

In Islam, the Ulama enjoy a (well deserved) special status worthy of respect, admiration and emulation, Masha’Allah. It is critical for Islam to be preserved in the future generations for us to continue to honour (and look upto) our Ulama which will motivate people to continue to send their children to institutes of Islamic knowledge to drink from the fountain of knowledge.

Each year thousands get motivated by listening to the Qur’aan of the Huffadh during Taraweeh and send their little ones to memorise the book of Allah (SWT); a rich tradition which is to continue until the day of judgement and may Allah (SWT) give us and our generations the ability to partake from this blessed tradition (Ameen).

However, the modus operandi of gaining knowledge in our times has somewhat changed from the times of Sayyidina Rasul-ulllah (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam). Some of the greatest amongst Sahabah (RA) were the ones who had spent time in the blessed company of Sayyidina Rasul-ulllah (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) alongside their regular day-to-day pursuits of working and other jobs i.e. they had not committed themselves (fully) to acquisition of knowledge. In our times (traditionally) one is required to dedicate himself (or herself) to a Darul-uloom setting for a number of years in order to be considered from amongst the Ulama; I admire this fortunate blessing of Allah (SWT) something which I am (still) deprived of due to my sins.

But a dangerous dichotomy (schism) has become (prominently) apparent in our times where everybody else who has not been through the traditional (Darul-uloom) route is considered to be laymen (best impression) and an IDIOT (worst); you can actually read and hear people addressing “Non-Ulama” as IDIOTS, STUPID, IGNORAMOUS and so on.

A young Bangladeshi brother (PhD student) who has spent a year in Egypt learning Arabic (reads, writes and speaks fluently) in addition to having Ijazah in multiple books of Hanafi & Shaf’ae Madhabs had a debate with a young “Maulana” in the parking lot of a Mosque a few years. This young “Maulana” is a graduate of a British Darul-uloom and decided to give a public dressing down to the young Brother when Academically speaking the “Maulana” is deficient in not only Arabic but also reading and was also dead wrong on his interpretation of the Shaf’ae Madhab. The young Bangladeshi brother was then told that Deen should be taken from “Ulama” and not STUPID LAYMEN who have never spent anytime acquiring knowledge under the feet of the Ulama. The Brother didn’t respond (at all) and the (Mosque) laymen cheered while “Maulana” laid down the law; I visited Maulana sometime later and showed him the statement of Imam Nawawi (RA) and the opinion of Shaf’ae Madhab and requested him not to speak about an issue which he hasn’t studied in the Darul-uloom.

For some reason Maulana listened to me (a humble laymen) and agreed.

Reality in life is that many Muslims (men and women) who have never been to a Darul-uloom do have excellent grasp of many (Islamic) subjects and if they don’t they do have the ability to grasp it (when discussed with and taught).

Respect of Ulama is of paramount importance but disrespect (or dismissing of) everybody (else) stems from pride and arrogance. The same derision is also applied to those who take Alim (part-time) classes and courses! A good friend of mine is extremely critical of these part-time (Alim classes); when I ask him about the standards of those who have studies 10 years in a traditional Darul-uloom and their standards he is equally dismayed at the Academic standards.  A Doctor while studying in a contemporary medical university puts hard work and long hours to graduate and (many are) intellectually capable of grasping Islamic sciences or at least capable of understanding the evidence (and Adillah) behind Masa’il of Fiqh. Many students of secular universities are sharp, insightful and intelligent enough and capable of grasping Islamic sciences or at least capable of understanding the evidence (and Adillah) behind Masa’il of Fiqh.

Allah (SWT) has created intelligence and grants it to whom He (SWT) wills; those who have never had an opportunity can (and do) surpass those who have sat at the feet of Ulama.

Don’t dismiss the rest as “IDIOTS” because throughout the history of Islam there has never been this false division.

Shaykh Salman Nadwi (HA) sheds some light on the issue beautifully in his talk to the Ulama (in London).

Jazakallahu Khayran

P.S: The article NEITHER disrespects Ulama NOR calls for “Non-Ulama” to be accepted as “Ulama” and for them to be given authority to start issuing Fatwaas or to be taken as Islamic authorities; please read carefully before commenting.

posted by Muadh_Khan on 13th November 2014 - 8 comments


fishman wrote on 13 Nov 2014

Awesome article which has touched on a subject that has impacted me, sad to say, on numerous occasions. Over the years, this has built a high level of disassociation with them from my prospective to the point I would not let my children anywhere near them never mind been taught.

A student, is most likely to inherit the attributes of their teacher! As parents (we have a duty) to protect our children to best of our ability and I would encourage all parents, to research all/any of the Ulamah that teach your children.

Blogger's Reply:
WS...Not everyone who has never been to a Darul-uloom is an "idiot" that's for sure.
london786 wrote on 13 Nov 2014
Muadh you have hit the nail on the head. The issue is as follows. Firstly who is a scholar? This needs to be clarified? Is it the hafiz saab who barely knows behisti zewar? Is it the scholar who relies on his urdu or English translation of fiqh works and not understanding Arabic (forget speaking). The other issue is that of the laymen. I was speaking to a shaykh who said that in the arab world duroos are very common and a layman within a matter of years can become proficient if he attends some duroos and studies properly as the shaykhs in the arab world instead of doing lectures mostly go through a book cover to cover. Finish one and start another. Laymen can even then take exams and get a certificate to become a scholar and these so-called laymen maybe more learned than the average alim due to their enthusiasm. With regards to part time madrasahs interestingly you may note that actually part time madrasahs seem to produce graduates who are many times well versed than their counterparts who study full time. This maybe due to the fact that part-time madrasahs currently seem to attract more enthusiastic, more educated and older students. As an example ebrahim college where students study darse e nizami part time send their students for the final year to major madrasahs. In most cases the part time ebrahim college student is far superior to his counterparts in the final year. The other issue is being dismissive to laymen or insisting that if laymen become learned they will become salafi. One big sufi shaykh stopped his mureed maulana from teaching Arabic to some friends as there is a chance they could become salafi. Some dismissive inquisitive laymen as wanabe researchers etc. All in all I concur with your article. Also let us not forget that most ulema who became ulema also studied other sciences, had normal jobs etc. Credit needs to be given to pir zulfiqar’s khulafah who seem to have revived this tradition. These are some confused thoughts.
Blogger's Reply:
Yes there is definite fear that learning Arabic will make people Salafi
True Life wrote on 13 Nov 2014
I agree with the gist of the article, but just want to highlight some of my own "laymenish" points on the topic:

1. A clear distinction between Ulema and non-Ulema is crucial for the preservation of our Deen in it's utmost pure nature. The nasty results of smudging this clear line is front of us.

2. Seeking knowledge is open to (and to some extent per Hadith obligatory upon) each and every Muslim. Wether by means of enrolling in a full time institution or taking part-time classes, wether in a systematic or quite "chaotic" manner, every person can Allah willing excel in acquiring knowledge. But it should be clear that one common prerequisite is to acquire it by the feet of Ulema. Internet and Books alone are not sufficient and there are many sayings of Salaf on this.

3. Lastly, I remember that Shaykh Riyadhul Haq (HA) mentioned that he does not call the listeners of his open Bukhari Durus "Talibul 'Ilm" in the real sense. So, the Shaykh definitely made, even if arguably, a clear distinction in the levels of engagement in learning.

Just my humble two cents.
Blogger's Reply:
Agree with levels of distinctions and they are natural and should be there. The issue being discussed here is clear demarcation between Darul-uloom Graduate vs everybody else (as laymen) or an ignoramus (because this is in fact what is claimed). A "Non Darul-uloom Graduate" can in fact acquire knowledge under the guidance of Ulama (absolutely agree as this being a prerequisite) and actually be pretty clued up!
Concerned wrote on 13 Nov 2014
Assalamu Alaikum

"The issue being discussed here is clear demarcation between Darul-uloom Graduate vs everybody else (as laymen) or an ignoramus (because this is in fact what is claimed)."

I agree 100%. I can list examples of this from personal experience. Darul Uloom graduates would speak to 'laymen' about sports, politics, business etc, but when it comes to discussing matters related to Islam, they remain quiet and leave the conversation. Such discussions are only reserved for the graduates to speak about in urdu among themselves.I also notice those conversations also include speaking about the other graduates who they have differences with, bordering on backbiting. And honestly speaking, I am skeptical of putting every single Darul Uloom graduate on a pedestal and putting full trust in them to automatically be able to provide the best opinion or decision on matters, and to take their opinions and decisions as 'gospel'. This is from my experiences. I am not attacking the the Ulama, but I have a problem with how our communities place every graduate on a pedestal and making them out to be perfect. Everyone makes mistakes and one should be willing to learn and correct where necessary. The other problem is that while one graduate may agree with a laymen that his colleague has erred in a matter, he would never approach his colleague to discuss the issues rather he would choose to stay quiet.
realutionist wrote on 14 Nov 2014
The Dar ul Uloom system is relatively new (only 150 yrs approx. if we assume Deoband was the first). Traditionally, students would study different subjects and books with various teachers independently and gain the Ijazats this way, so for Dar ul Uloom graduates to presume one may only become Alim by sitting a course at a Dar ul Uloom is erroneous from a number of perspectives. In fact, in Arab lands, this is still a used as a method of attaining Ijazats.
taalibah wrote on 14 Nov 2014
Interesting article, having knowledge is one thing, but Taqwa and understanding is a different ball game, unfortunately the truth is not all people of knowledge have taqwa or the understanding behind knowledge gained.

Respect of ulama is different, to respect of each other's views,and opinions, we never stop learning from each other regardless of our titles and status's in life.
AiMeCee wrote on 14 Nov 2014
Jazâkumullah for this much needed, and greatly written article.
The comments are also great.
May Allah increases our 'ilm, and gives us a benefic 'ilm and forgives our mistakes.
slave of Allah wrote on 15 Nov 2014
mashAllah very good article. as the Quran says the true ulema are those who fear Allah. I know personally ulemah who may not have spent as many years as others in institutes but are definetly amongst the most pious individuals iv met. also london786 mentioned something important which is who is a scholar? i know many deobanis ( im not picking on them only but being one myself i interact with them more) are so quick to dismiss renowned scholars as jaahil because they dont have approval of a hazrat. iv heard likes of imam anwar al awlaki (ra) abu qadtadah (ha) shaykh haitham (ha) ridiculed for thier opinions becuase it was different to a uk darul uloom
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