Principle No.2: Respecting the Scholars.
Indeed, from the lofty principles of Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama’ah is to respect and follow both the scholars of the past and scholars of the present. Regarding the nobility of the scholars it suffices the reader to know the verse where Allah said:
“Allah raises those who believe among you. Those who possess knowledge in levels.” [Qur’an: 58:11]
And the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) has said:
“Verily the virtue of the scholar over the worshiper is similar to the virtue of the moon over the rest of the stars.” [Abu Dawood and Tirmidhi]
Likewise, regarding this principle Imam As Sa’di elaborated on it saying the following:
“The greatest of rights to be bestowed upon individuals after the Messenger are the rights of the scholars who are an intermediary between the Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم) and his Ummah in relaying (Allah’s) religion, and clarifying his legislation. Those who if it weren’t for them the people would have been similar to animals. Their rights upon the Ummah (nation) is greater than the rights of one’s parents because they have nurtured the souls of the servants with beneficial knowledge and correct understanding…” (Nurul Basair Wa Albaab: 64)
Additionally, the sign of the people of deviance is that they speak ill of Ahlus Sunnah, the head of them being the scholars of this religion. Abu Haatim Ar Raazi said:
“The sign of the people of innovation is that they speak ill of the people of narrations.”
Furthermore, Imam At Tahawi said in his famous treatise on ‘Aqeedah:
“And the scholars of the Salaf who preceded and those after them from the Tabi’een are people of good and (from those who) hold firm to the narrations, and the people of understanding and research. They are not to be mentioned except with good and whoever mentions them with evil then he is not upon the correct path.”
Hence, one of the means to gauge one’s adherence to the Sunnah is to look at his stance toward the scholars who are known to adhere to the Prophetic Sunnah and the narrations of the Sahabah.
Bearing in mind this established Sunni principle, it is incumbent to realize that although Ahlus Sunnah hold the scholars in such high esteem, our respect for them and their statements should never lead us to transgress beyond the limits of the Islamic legislation. Allah has said in his noble book regarding the Jews and Christians :
“They have taken their scholars and worshippers as Gods with Allah and ‘Isa the son of Mary and they were not ordered except with worshipping one God…” [Quran: 9:31]
This is because they made lawful the unlawful and vice-versa based upon the statements of their leaders and scholars. They therefore made their leaders the criterion for truth and falsehood rather than evidences and established principles.
As aforementioned, Ahlus Sunnah love, respect and follow the scholars. However, the criterion according to Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama’ah are the evidences and established principles. The statements of the scholars are then weighed according to these evidences and principles and are accepted and rejected accordingly. Ali Ibn Abee Taalib said to Al Haarith Ibn Hawt:
“Verily the truth is not known by the men, know the truth then you would know its men.” [Talbees Iblees: 77]
Likewise, Ibn Rajab Al Hanbali said:
“Verily the truth is not known by the men but rather men are known by the truth.”
Shaikh Rabee’ wrote to Faalih Al Harbi regarding the issue of Taqleed:
“And you know that the Imams of Islam have forbidden the people to blind-follow them and that there are those who say that it is unlawful to take my statement until you know where I took it from.
Imam Ash Shafi’ee said: “If my statement opposes the statement of the Messenger of Allah throw my statement against the wall.”
And Imam Ahmad said: “Don’t blind-follow me or Malik or Awza’ee but rather take where they took from.“
And our scholars from the Imams of Ahlus Sunnah have established the known principle which is ascribed to Malik: “Everyone’s statement is either accepted or rejected except the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم).” [Naseehah Akhawiyah: Pg. 21] *
Hence, even if a scholar is a specialist in his field it this doesn’t exempt his statements from being examined according to evidences and principles. Rather, the proficiency and scholarship of an individual in a particular field becomes widespread because of their strict adherence to the principles and not in-spite of it. And even if the scholar is most famous in a particular field it doesn’t necessitate that he is free from error. Imam Al Mu’alimi said:
“And the Imams of Hadeeth are known who have deep knowledge of the science and are aware (of the reasons for Jarh Wa Ta’deel) take the utmost precautions from making mistakes however they are at different levels in this. And whichever effort a Haakim (a Hadeeth master) makes in being cautions it may not reach to the extent that all his judgments go according to the same reality.” [Tankeel: 1/55]
This is why Islam was and will continue to be the religion of truth. In this noble religion the scholars and likewise individuals who are held in high esteem are those who have adhered to evidences and principles. Unlike other religions which are based upon Taqleed, desires and whim this religion requires accountability, submission and adherence to that which has been revealed from Allah to his noble Messenger Muhammad.
The prominence of a scholar in his field therefore doesn’t necessitate that principles and evidences are forsaken for the sake. Nor does weighing the statements of the scholar necessitate vilifying the scholar and the methodology of the Salaf. Rather, by following the evidences and principles, one follows the scholars, respects their methodology and truly adheres to their statements. The scholars, past and present have forbade others from blind-following them and have stated that evidences and principles are the point of return.
Furthermore, although studying a science consists of knowing and mentioning the specialists in that field none of the scholars of these different Islamic sciences have ever placed personalities above principles. When one delves into the scholarly works regarding the science of Hadeeth, and other sciences, one would realize that the scholars who have authored those books placed knowledge based principles as the criterion for the acceptance or rejection of statements and actions irregardless of the status of their teachers.
To be continued…
* Abu Hakeem Bilal Davies insinuated on his website that using the statements of the Imams of Fiqh regarding Taqleed is inappropriate for Jarh Wa Ta’deel. He said in his post, Doubts around the Da’wah (Part 2) :
Then they will use, in order to slight the statements of the Ulamā, statements of the Imaams that where mentioned in relation to affairs of rulings of the shariah, connected to actions, dealings and ijtihād.
Such as the statement of Abu Hanīfah:
“It is not permissible to take from my statements unless you know where I took”
Or the statement of Imām Ash shāfi’i “If you find my statement going against the book or the Sunnah throw my statements against the wall”
These individuals regularly use statements and principles out of place or to oppose specific issues of methodology. it is well known that a principle in fiqh may not necessarily be a principle in aqidah and vice versa.
This is although Shaikh Rabee’ himself used the same statements, which Abu Hakeem deemed to be inappropriate, to clarify the errors of Faalih regarding Jarh Wa Ta’deel!
Secondly, and most importantly, returning to textual evidences and scholarly principles is the methodology of Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama’ah in every science including Jarh Wa Ta’deel. Even the acceptance or rejection of the statements of the Imams of Hadeeth regarding narrators are governed by principles laid out in books such as Al Jarh Wa Ta’deel by ِAbdur Rahman Ibn Abee Haatim Ar Raazi, Ar Raf’ Wat Takmeel by Imam Al Luknaawi, Dhawabit Jarh Wa Ta’deel written by ‘Amr Ibn ‘Abdul Lateef and the introduction of At Tankeel by Imam Al Mu’alimi.
May Allah bless our Imams of the past and present for preserving this religion, its evidences and principles.