Blind Confidence in a Scholar

There is a common view amongst Muslims according to which the basis of religious understanding and practice is confidence in individuals. What it means is that if you have confidence in your scholar, you follow him. Even those who think that they are following no scholar, they too, according to this view, are actually following someone. Consider this typical line of argument coming from such a school of thought:

“If you say that one should not say sunnah prayers while the jama’at of fard prayers is going on, you are holding that opinion on the basis of a hadith on whose authority you are confident. Essentially, you accept the research of Imam Bukhari or Imam Muslim who declared the hadith in question as authentic and those who were involved in transmitting it as reliable people. We don’t act upon this hadith and instead believe that saying sunnah prayers, especially that of fajar prayer, while fard jama’at is going on is religiously fine because we have confidence in the religious knowledge and piety of our scholars who have given the latter ruling and who, we believe, were more reliable because of their better knowledge and piety.”

We all begin our journey of learning religion, as indeed all other disciplines, on the confidence of what is already understood, believed, and practiced in our society by our elders. However, there comes a time when we realize, at least on some occasions, that some of the things we had learnt weren’t quite correct. It is in such cases that we must change our earlier opinions. Thus, the problem is not with following the elders or having confidence in what they have understood; we have no choice but to do so at an early stage of our learning curve. The real problem arises when we are faced with a view that is superior to the one that we have learnt from our elders or espoused scholars. It is on such occasions that we must change our earlier opinion or else we will be guilty of ignoring the truth, which, of course, is a big crime.

For example, take this case of saying sunnah when the jama’at of fard prayers is going on. Because I know that it is mentioned in authentic books of hadith that the prophet, alaihissalaam, had clearly declared that there was no other prayer allowed in the masjid when the jama’at of fard is going on, I will not pray sunnah, whether of fajar or any other prayer, at the time when jama’at of fard prayers is going on and would also use my influence to convince others that they too should follow the prophet, alaihissalaam, whose religious guidance is clearly available with us in this matter. I will do so because I know that it is religiously necessary to follow the messenger of God in religious matters. Indeed my confidence that this report is reliable is based on the authority and competence of Imam Muslim in whose book I have read it. However, I am still not blindly following him; instead, I am following the prophet, because I am determined that as soon as I will be given an argument claiming that the reported statement of the prophet has reached us through a suspect source, I will set aside my confidence in the Imam and try to find out, as best as I can, whether the criticism on the reported hadith was convincing or not. Why would I continue to follow a hadith if I get a strong indication that it was not a reliable one and the alleged quotation may not have originated from the prophet? And why would I not follow the hadith if I don’t have convincing evidence that it is unreliable? My concern would be to know the truth and not to follow this person or that mindlessly.

I therefore believe that the point raised by this line of argumentation is not convincing. Having confidence in a person’s ability for one to learn from him is one thing and having such blind confidence in him that one doesn’t allow oneself the opportunity to look at any other possible understanding is quite another. While the former is natural and everyone is bound to follow it at the early stage of one’s learning career, the latter approach is misleading. In case if an individual blindly follows someone because he realizes that comparing religious arguments of different scholars confuses him, he will have to prove to the Almighty that he was actually suffering from that disability. However, in case an individual has adopted it as a regular strategy on religious matters without any justification, it is obvious then that his religious practice is not inspired by the spirit of knowing the truth. Instead, he is guilty of being unwilling to know the truth and of being inflexible and arrogant. The prophet, alaihissalam, is reported to have said that the arrogant is not going to enter the paradise. While clarifying arrogance, he said that two things constitute it: “Looking down upon other humans as inferiors and refusing to acknowledge the truth.” As believers, we are expected to be fair in all situations. The Qur’an urges us to be fair thus: “O you who have attained faith! Be ever steadfast in upholding justice, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against your own selves or your parents or kinsfolk.” (4:135) How can we be fair in forming a religious opinion if we are not even listening to the religious points of view other than those we think belong to our religious group? May Allah Almighty save us all from arrogance, and may He enable us to see the truth as truth and give us the ability to follow it and may he enable us to see the untruth as untruth and give us the ability to stay away from it. Amen.

8 thoughts on “Blind Confidence in a Scholar

  1. Affan

    Quite right. One will not be judged by the Almighty on the basis of whether he followed a particular religious group or not. Instead, what counts most is his own sincerity towards seeking the truth which naturally forces one to look out for better opinions about a matter, supported by arguments that are more sound. And if one is to follow a particular school and completely discard other’s opinion, how will he be able to choose the better one?

  2. Najam Mahmud

    We need to pursue the truth and we should therefore keep an open mind and not get overly emotional that just because some one we know or like has stated a view it always has to be correct. As a Muslim, it is my firm belief that Allah expects us to strive to learn and understand his religion and in the course of doing this we must relentlessly ensure that what we follow is indeed the religion of Allah and not someone’s personal view or interpretation.

    Many practices/views can get passed on generation after generation but that in itself is not enough to decide something as right or wrong. We must ensure that whatever we practice is verified so that we strictly follow what Allah and his beloved messenger (PBUH) prescribed and taught us, nothing more and nothing less.

  3. Saher Asad

    Sir, I personally agree with you. In fact, the truth is that most of the current scholars are themselves promoting this idea of following them. Not only that they are also extremely aware of how strong a role they play in shaping the young minds of our society. In my life, I had seen someone become mentally disturbed after being under the influence of one the most highly reputed scholars of our time. The scholar started to teach Islam with the first lecture on “the treatment of man in grave” and then scaring the students as if God was extremely mean. After seeing that, I as a person was extremely disappointed and I developed a very negative image of all the religious scholars. However, after 18 years of struggle I have finally now changed my opinion. Definitely, there are scholars who are honestly guiding people on the right path. However, I feel that it is very important to teach people to actually open their minds and think before they believe in anything. In my opinion the best scholar is the one who tells me about all the possible opinions (highlighting the one according to him being the best) that exist and then gives me the freedom to choose.

  4. Adnan

    Very well said, and a very logical analysis to a complex topic. Scholars are a source of reaching the true message of Islam i.e Quran and teachings of prophet PBUH. If we have confidence in a source, e.g. a scholar, that means that we have confidence that the source will lead us to Quran & teachings of prophet PBUH, thus we actually are following Quran & prophet PBUH and not the scholars who are a just source for doing so.

    As long as we keep scholars’ status as a “means” and keep the “end” as following Quran & Prophet’s message, we are perhaps on right path. But when we change the scholars’ status to an “end” i.e we follow scholar for the sake of following him and not the Quran & Prophet, then and only are we sinners.

  5. Afshan

    Sir, All that’s been said is logical, I believe so. But it is very hard to do that with the mental conditioning you have received as a child. There are so many conflicting opinions that an ignorant person like me finds it very difficult to distinguish right from wrong. It is very difficult for someone like me who is ignorant of the Arabic language to try to interpret God’s word. We have to rely on someone else’s interpretation. I understand you do not disapprove of that, but your point is not to follow someone blindly. But then most of us are doing that. In the absence of knowledge, we have no choice. Certainly some things appear blatantly wrong, but is that because we’ve been brought up in a certain manner, or because some of us have a rebellious tendency, or because they are wrong per se. Who will decide that?

    [Dr. Khalid's response to this comment.]

  6. Rizwan Aziez

    The very test of the people around the prophet was to scrap the already held false beliefs in the favour of truth when it had arrived. Had they not have the ability to question the existing set of beliefs and practices, they could never embrace Islam. So is every single muslim under a test of looking for truth and adopting it. Some of them trusted their elders and never ventured to raise a question with the devastating consequences of deprivation from the eternal blessings Islam.

    Yes we must be extremeky flexible and always ready to adopt the truth as soon as it becomes clear to us. I believe that how Allah likes a true Momin to behave.

  7. Akeel Faiz

    Allah swt sees our intention and if our intention is positive then we should not have any problem. We should always open doors of our heart and listen everyone and think about it carefully what he said. Every one of us knows that we will be answerable to Allah, that is why we should be open-minded and listen everyone before taking any decision. Allah swt sees our heart and our heart should be pure.

  8. Tariq Mahmood

    Our Dear Dr. Khalid Zaheer, I am already convinced with your method of solving issues, as you get the rules from Quran and sunnah. It is very good and the most plausible approach. I like this. God, actually wanted to free people from some social, cultural and political evils. This way He promises us the maximum comfort. But unfortunately, we we close our minds to some specific idias. This is really a grim situation of our society. We must listen all and make our own ideas.

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