The Imam of our local mosque said once in his Friday sermon that Allah Almighty has rest the responsibility of saving His religion on the religious scholars after the ending of chain of Prophethood. I would like to check the veracity of this claim through your good knowledge. Where is it written that it is the responsibility of the religious scholars? As far as I think, it is the responsibility of all the Muslims. Will you please put some light on this matter.
However, before this, I would also like to know who is a religious scholar or what makes someone a religious scholar? Can a person who has learnt the Quran by heart without knowing its meaning and message, studied some books on Hadith and Sunnah of Holy Prophet, started leading the prayers and delivering Friday sermons, in other words say a typical present-day Imam, be termed as religious scholar? What is basically the criteria for qualifying as a religious scholar?
Also, we hear so many times that on a certain matter some religious scholar has issued the decree? What is the significance of such a decree? Is it binding upon the Muslims to follow it? And who has given them the authority to issue it? I mean, as far as my little knowledge is, there is no place for clergy in Islam. Every Muslim has the right to explore the message of Almighty contained in Holy Quran on his own, think over it and take guidance from it as well as Sunnah of Holy Prophet. One just cannot be directed and forced to act according to some other’s interpretation of that message. Nor one can impose ones understanding of the matter on others – be that person even a well-learned scholar. So, in my view there should not be any decree issued by anyone. What is your point of view on the subject? Kindly correct me if I am wrong.
If I am right by ‘saving religion’ you mean interpreting the religious decrees and inviting other to follow these. The Holy Qur’an has clearly indicated that it is the duty of religious scholars to acquire religious knowledge and then to invite others to the message. It says:
It was not possible for the entire population to set out for this purpose. Why did it not happen that some people from among them would travel to acquire religious knowledge and (after coming back to their people) warn them so that they might save themselves? (Al-Taubah 9:122)
All the people of the world can not delve on doing a single job. Almighty has bestowed different people with different caliber and circumstances. Every one plays his role in his particular sphere of ability and interest. Although it is mandatory for every one to get the basic knowledge of religion and to act upon it according to the best of his abilities, yet every one cannot earn the position of being an expert in the field of religion. The religious scholars in fact are the specialists of the field of religion, since they devote their lives in acquiring sound religious knowledge and, then, on imparting it.
However it does not mean that an individual has not been given any responsibility in this regard1. Every one is granted the inherent knowledge of good and evil and he also acquires knowledge of religion to some extent. Therefore he is liable to invite people in his surrounding to whatever he understands to be right and to prevent them from doing what he understands to be evil. While fulfilling this duty, he should also use his moral and legal authority on those upon whom he has any such authority. A number of verses of the Holy Book provide guidance in this regard. It says:
Believers; men and women are friends to each other. They exhort each other on good and stop from evil. (Al-Taubah 9: 71)
Oh you, who believe, save yourselves and your households from the fire. (Al-Tehreem 66: 6)
The Holy Prophet is reported to have said:
Beware, each one of you is a shepherd and is responsible about his flock. (Muslim, Narrative No: 1829)
As regards the qualification of religious scholars, there is no such definite degree or specific knowledge by which we could determine that such and such person can claim to be a religious scholar. Besides having sound intellectual abilities a religious scholar needs to be equipped with thorough knowledge of the sources of Islam. He should be well acquainted with the works of the previous scholars in the discipline. However, there still cannot be drawn a line between a truly religious scholar and the one who is not. It is the acceptance and the acknowledgment of the masses and the other learned ones, which establishes the stature of a particular scholar.
All we are required is to use intellect and weigh the reasoning provided by these scholars they give in support of their conclusions and follow the ones that we understand to be most sound. The divine law cannot be in contradiction to the human intellect, basic moral values and human nature. These are the abilities commonly bestowed to every human being. Therefore we need to consider the opinion held by the scholars and judge them on the above criteria. Thus, after having the various views analyzed we could come to a conclusion and follow that. Now still if the view we hold is erroneous we will not be held accountable as all we are required to do is to follow what we have honestly understood to be right.
You have rightly stated that a certain individual no way is qualified to issue a decree in religious matter. He can only express his understanding and interpretation of certain directives mentioned in the religious sources. He has to present the arguments, which support his understanding. Now we can examine his arguments and settle on the genuineness of his view. No religious scholar can claim to be absolutely correct in all of his views.
I hope this helps.
Tariq Mahmood Hashmi
December 4, 2002