Rights of Scholars in Islam
In the name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the One Who gives Mercy. Peace be upon you. The mischievous practice of defamation has gone widespread among the youth. There is no scholar or student of knowledge but that they have disparaged and discredited him, though they claim to follow the approach of salafiyyah (adherence to the scholarly methodology of early pious Muslims). How can we deal with these pretenders who are disguised in the cloak of the salafiyyah and wrongly attribute themselves to it? Is there any comprehensive definition of salafiyyah? What is your opinion with regard to the approach of making a balance judgment?
All praise is due to Allah Alone. Peace and blessings be upon the Messenger of Allah. And upon you be the peace, along with the mercy and blessings, of Allah.
The question has several aspects. Thus, it will be more suitable to talk about them one by one:
The first aspect is about defaming scholars. This is undeniably impermissible. Scholars, particularly practicing ones, are the best among the believers. Almighty Allah said “Those who malign the believing men and the believing women [by charging them] with [any wrongdoing] that they have not earned, all of these truly bear the burden of [committing both a grave] calumny and a clear sin.” [33:58]. They are believers and thus it is not permissible to hurt them or slander them. Such defamation is not appropriate; especially when it is done by young persons with little knowledge and a weak understanding. So, they should not defame scholars or monitor their words and acts until they reach such a level of knowledge and insight that allow them to distinguish the good from the evil, the sheep from the goat, and right from wrong. The way to deal with these people is to educate them and ask them to study fiqh and to learn. If man does not equip himself with fiqh, he will wander blindly.
Thus, I advise all our brothers and youth to seek knowledge, because there is no alternative to knowledge. When you learn, you will know the truth. Ali, the commander of the believer, (may Allah have mercy with him) said “Know men through the truth but never know the truth through men.” This is what he said when a man said to him, “Do you believe that Talha and Al-Zubayr were wrong?” To which he also replied, “You are a man who is confused.”
Ignorance is the reason. One needs to learn the Quran, the Sunnah, scholarly difference of opinions, controversial issues, and issues that have gained consensus. Then he becomes insightful and becomes able to distinguish the truth from a lie, or realize that all opinions are acceptable. Many of the differences of opinions among scholars are praiseworthy, as the erudite scholar Ibn al-Qayyim said. Difference of opinions is one of the laws of life. We need to be broad minded. We should teach them fiqh and the reasons of scholars’ difference of opinions, hoping that they become insightful and cure their ignorance and, at sometimes, extremism.
The second aspect is related to Salafiyyah. Salafiyyah is a term that denotes referring to the salaf. Of course, as far as I know, there is no comprehensive and agreed upon definition. We, rather, can say that salafiyyah is an ideology or a school of thought and creed that adopts adherence to the methodology of the salaf with regard to negating any allegorical interpretation of the divine Attributes, sticking to the texts of the Quran and the Sunnah, and avoiding innovative religious practices. These are approximately the broad lines of salafiyyah, without delving into such details that may lead to controversial issues.
Thus, a salafi person avoids innovative religious practices, denying the classification of innovative religious practices into good and bad forms. He rather deems all innovative religious practices as bad. This school also rejects any allegorical interpretation with regard to the divine Attributes found in the texts of the Quran and the Sunnah. It disallows discussing them and deals with them as they are (without delving into them), as reported from Imam Ahmad (may Allah have mercy with him). But there is a variance inside the school between those who strictly stick to the apparent meanings and those who adopt a less strict attitude. These, in general, are the broad lines.
The third aspect is about making balanced judgments, which has its origin in the Book of Allah. Almighty Allah says “They ask you about intoxicants and gambling. Say: In both of them there is a great sin and some benefit for people. Yet their sin is greater than their benefit.” [2:219] This is a basis for balancing between any benefits and harms, sins and profits. On this basis, scholars have established how to balance between different harms, telling us to take the lesser of two evils, the lesser of two harms, the lesser of two prohibitions, or the lesser of two undesirable acts.
Ibn Taymiyyah said, “If there is no other way, the lesser of two undesirable acts or the lesser of two evils should be given precedence.” Ibn al-Qayyim gave a lengthy discussion on this point and so did al-Shatibi in al-Muwafaqat. Scholars do not differ over this rule, though they may differ over its finer details and examples of it. Therefore, the presence of benefits and harms in a situation is inevitable. There is nothing in this life but it has benefits and also harms. Al-Shatibi said “There is no benefit in this world that is totally harmless.” He means people’s customs and transactions. There is also no harm that is totally profitless. However, consideration is given to the preponderating aspect, be it the benefit or the harm, the sin or the profit, as indicated by the noble verse. Thus, making balanced judgments is valuable and no jurist can have a subtle understanding of fiqh unless he knows that there are different levels for prohibited matters.
These are the words of al-Shatibi (may Allah have mercy with him). There are also different levels for obligations. Some obligations can be neglected for some benefit. Some prohibitions can be neglected for another benefit. There are many examples of this, such as abstaining from rebelling against rulers, even if they are unjust and wrongdoers. This is the position of ahl al-Sunnah (those who adhere to the Sunnah) (may Allah have mercy with them). Why is this so? It is so because this will lead to harmful consequences. We cannot take into consideration any benefit if its harm could be more preponderant. There is what is called the negligible benefits, which should not be taken into consideration.
Benefits are either considerable or negligible; and such consideration of benefits differs. There are three different suitable attributes considered in the shari`ah text; the effective suitable attributes, the appropriate suitable attributes, and the unrestricted suitable attributes, which the shari`ah attests neither to its suitability to be considered nor to its negligibility.These are the balancing criteria with regard to what are called the suitable attributes, which are based on the consideration of any benefits; namely, the ruling that is when it is built on the attribute a benefit of the same kind of the benefits that the lawgiver cares for their achievement ensues or a harm of the same kinds of the harms that the lawgiver cares for their avoidance ensues.
This is a lengthy discussion for which one needs to review the books of the scholars of usul al-fiqh (the principles of Islamic jurisprudence) along with the chapter we wrote on the unrestricted public interest. Allah knows best.