A chat among scholars

Dear Readers,

I came across this ‘chat’ on youtube. It is an obviously an old recording. But it was delightful to me and I thought to share it. Why? because it is a chat between two of the greatest scholars of Islam, in the English language, today. Both these men (Allah ihfidhuma = Allah preserve them both) have had a great impact on my life. They are extremely well schooled in the classical or traditional Muslim scholarly tradition and both individuals who converted to Islam in the 70s (independent of each other).

A few words on the Muslim scholarly tradition. There is a well known hadith from the beloved Muhammed (peace be upon him). He is reported to have said

“Scholars are the inheritors of the prophets.” [Related byTirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, Ibn Maja, Ahmad, Ibn Hibban, and others] Ibn al-Mulaqqin, Zayla`i, Ibn Hajar, and others seemed it sound (hasan) or rigorously authentic (sahih)]

Please see here for a nice commentary on this hadith by another one of my beloved teachers, Sheikh Faraz Rabbani. Gems from there are

A sure sign of having this knowledge & inheritance is that one upholds excellence of character, as the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “The weightiest thing on the Scales on the Day of Judgment is good character.” [Abu Dawud] And he said, “The believers most perfect in faith are those best in character, and the best of you are those best to their spouses.” [Tirmidhi]

The best of good character is restraint and forbearance (hilm), for the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Forbearance (hilm) is the best of character.” The most beautiful of character and conduct was the character and conduct of the Beloved Messenger of Allah (peace & blessings be upon him & his folk).

True inheritors of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) reflect some of this excellence and beauty in their character and conduct. This character emanates from making Allah one’s true concern; being conscious of Allah; and true love for Allah.

What Islam uniquely brought (as per my limited knowledge) in the field of religious scholarly tradition is the ‘sanad’ system. Loosely translated as ‘chain’, the sanad is the living link between generations. In this system, knowledge is transmitted teacher to student, teacher to student and so on and on all the way up to the first teacher, the prophet of God, Muhammed (peace be upon him). For the westerner, the easiest way to understand it is the apprentice system. In the apprentice system, traditions are handed down generation to generation, without change and the knowledge is most authentic because the training of the student is not only in theory but in practice. In the context of an apprenticeship in ‘religious knowledge’, the student often lives with the teacher (or sheikh) and imbibes characteristics, mannerisms, ways of life that no book can hold. Students do not ‘graduate’ after a few years of study, nay, rather they are moulded over decades until they finally take their place as a full-fledged scholar. Usually this place is cemented upon the consensus of the populace. Being a trainee in scientific academia, I see so many parallels between that system and my own training. For example, how many a PhD student comes out of the long doctoral ‘apprenticeship’ imbibing their advisor’s method of thinking, writing, or  methodology of deducing arguments! Anyone who has been through this track will know what I mean.

So then an authentic scholar does have a sanad all the way to the prophet, peace be upon him. And so they really are inheritors of the prophets. The greatest catastrophe (as I’ve said often before, sorry for the repetition) upon the Muslim nation nowadays is the widespread dearth of such scholars. Worse, even the Muslim population is no longer able to distinguish a real scholar from a weak one or a poorly trained one, even from an imposter (and oh don’t we have plenty of those!). Once the population is unable to hold the scholarship to a high standard, then that results in poorer scholarship which leads to a more dummed-down population. It is a spiral downward.

This catastrophe is a result of the colonial period it is true, but still no point looking back and blaming others, it is time for us to revive authentic knowledge in our nation. Only so that we Muslims are aware of what happened, we should know, that there were scholars assassinated en masse in places like Turkey during the colonial era (targeted assasinations also took place in Iraq as recently as the American occupation of that country, not just of religious scholars but also of the secular academia – but this leads to another topic). There was also a systematic denigration of religious education in the minds of the common man by the colonial powers in the countries they ruled. I once listened to a well-researched talk on this from a visiting doctoral student from the USA. And indeed, I then could put two and two together and understand the poor estimation my own grandfather (Allah rest his soul) used to view the Ulema (=Muslim scholars) with. At the same time, their caliber was so poor that they were known for many lapses in good character and no honest person could admire them.  An example of that downward spiral.  That period was truly a colonization of the mind, for the remains of it still exist and many Muslims of today from those countries still reject religious scholarship. May God grant our hearts and minds are opened from this imperial domination and grant us sound scholars, as well as protect us from the sin of imposing such injustice upon another, no matter even if in our own home!

So here are two luminaries, both ‘signs’ of Allah :). An American convert from California and an English convert, who both independently journeyed, sought and found, and lived with authentic Muslim scholars and learned copiously as well as obtained license (=ijaza) to transmit Muslim scholarly works and who are now back in their respective homelands doing a great deal of good in spreading sound knowledge. My Muslim readers will know them well, for my non-Muslim readers – they are Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson (who has founded the first Islamic seminary in the USA – at UC Berkeley) and Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad or Tim Winter who is a professor of Islamic Studies at Cambridge University and is building a truly unique mosque/community center there. Apart from their very high caliber of Islamic scholarship, they are both masters of the English language, and as such are rare gems indeed.

Albeit their amazing stories, there conversation is more enjoyable. I felt this was a treat, so I hope you enjoy it too. I do believe one of the greatest lawful pleasures of life in this world is the gaining of sound beneficial knowledge (no matter the field) and being among the erudite. May God grant the latter pleasure in the hereafter as well!

BTW the Arabic word for discovery ‘kashf’ has a root that is shared by the word ‘ecstasy’! Indeed a true discovery is true ecstasy. I leave you then, to hopefully, experience some of that here.

May Allah preserve and increase them both and to you all the same!

Peace be with you all



2 thoughts on “A chat among scholars

  1. Pingback: ‘Fathima Knight in shining armour’! | JoyManifest's Blog

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