"On the Definition of a Scholar"

Dr. Abou El Fadl reminds us that Allah in the Qur’an gave us Shariah, a path that we are instructed to follow. There are many people who think that Shariah is something as simple as a group of positivistic laws. However, laws that lead to practices are only half the process, because any practice decreed by law must have a purpose. If one is not following these laws with an understanding of why, how it fits in within the Shariah of Allah, then there is a fundamental breakdown. If it was simply following these laws with no greater purpose, Islam would have been a failed project a long time ago.


Allah gave us the same Shariah that he gave all the prophets, and there is a common theme: Allah's message is a message of liberation and moral progress. It is a moral vision of human dignity, and human liberation.


The Islamic message was an equalizing, liberating message in an abusive social structure. In the Qur’an, Allah tells us to not coexist with injustice, to protest unjust rulers. To do this, to follow this path, is difficult. It requires moral courage and persistence. But every prophet came with a revolutionary message: Fear Allah, don't fear anyone else but Allah, and you are responsible for justice in your society. To speak truth before an unjust ruler; that is the greatest jihad.


In the modern age, one can practice the greatest jihad through social media, print, publications—the modern mechanisms of discourse. But most Muslims instead slump back with moral and ethical lethargy, forgetting what the path of God is about, and instead believing that God’s message is only about ritualistic practice. As a result, a study recently found that by the third generation, Islam, in many cases, is lost in immigrant Muslim families. Because we don't understand what our Shariah is about, we can't offer our children something to get excited about. 


Scholars have the primary responsibility to think and talk about the path of God in a way that presents moral vision and moral leadership. What happens when scholars are moral cowards? The entire ummah becomes exactly like them—they become cowards. 


Among the biggest disasters inflicted upon modern Islam was the Orientalist dogma of the idea of “political Islam.” Today, what is often meant by political Islam is that scholars should not speak up against injustice. But, if a scholar’s position is silence before injustice, then that scholar has lost the very reason for their existence. The main role of a scholar is not to tell you how to do your salat correctly, what are the rules of fasting, how to pay zakat, etc. The main role of a scholar is to be an example for how a human being can establish justice through fearing Allah and no one else; and to practice the greatest jihad, testifying to the truth. 


Dr. Abou El Fadl returns to the example of the video of Hamza Yusuf mocking the Syrian revolution and the weak hadith cited as support--all that was discussed at length in a previous khutbah. He addresses the alarming phenomenon of moral cowardice. After this video was posted, there was an effort to take down the video every time it appeared. However, it was not because Hamza Yusuf changed his ideas, but rather that it was easier to teach the same ideas of quietism, political cowardliness and lack of moral vision behind closed doors. A scholar must be brave, and if you say something, you must know what you are saying and stand to defend it. To say it and then have it be taken down so you can still say it in private is moral cowardice. This is an example of exactly what is wrong with our institutions.


The fate of our Islam is up to us. If we continue teaching only the rituals of Islam, if scholars continue to show moral cowardliness, if we do not raise our children with any moral vision or purpose, or even with the cause of standing up for justice, we will lose future generations of Muslims, and we will have to answer to that before Allah on the Final Day.

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