The Incoherence of the Theologians
They state that his[Al-Hajjaj, famous governor’s] father was a schoolteacher. At the present time, teaching is a craft and serves to make a living. It is a far cry from the pride of group feeling. Teachers are weak, indigent and rootless. Many weak professional men and artisans who work for a living aspire to positions for which they are not fit but which they believe to be within their reach. They are misled by their desires, a rope which often slips from their hands and precipitates them into the abyss of ruinous perdition. They do not realize that what they desire is impossible for men like them to attain. They do not realize that they are professional men and artisans who work for a living. And they do not know that at the beginning of Islam and under the (Umayyad and Abbasid) dynasties, teaching was something different. Scholarship, in general, was not a craft in that period. Scholarship consisted of transmitting statements that people had heard the Lawgiver (Muhammad) make. It was the teaching of religious matters that were not known, by way of oral transmission. Persons of noble descent and people who share in the group feeling and directed the affairs of Islam were the ones who taught the Book of God and the Law of the Prophet, (and they did so) as one transmits traditions, not as one giving professional instruction. The Quran was their Scripture, revealed to the Prophet in their midst. It constituted their guidance, and Islam was their religion, and for it they fought and died. It distinguished them from the other nations and ennobled them. They wished to teach it and make it understandable to the Muslims. They were not deterred by censure coming from pride, nor were they restrained by criticism coming from arrogance. This is attested by the fact that the Prophet sent the most important of the men around him with his embassies to the Arabs, in order to teach them the norms of Islam and the religious laws he brought. He sent his ten companions and others after them on this mission.
Then, Islam became firmly established and securely rooted. Far-off nations accepted Islam at the hands of the Muslims. With the passing of time, the situation of Islam changed. Many new laws were evolved from the (basic) texts as the result of numerous and unending developments. A fixed norm was required to keep (the process) free from error. Scholarship thus came to be a habit. For its acquisition, study was required. Thus, scholarship developed into a craft and profession.
The men who controlled the group feeling now occupied themselves with directing the affairs of royal governmental authority. The cultivation of scholarship was entrusted to others. Thus, scholarship became a profession that served to make a living. Men who lived in luxury and were in control of the government were too proud to do any teaching. Teaching came to be an occupation restricted to weak individuals. As a result, its practitioners came to be despised by the men who controlled the group feeling and the government.
Now, Yusuf, the father of Al-Hajjaj, was one of the lords and nobles of the Thaqif, well known for their share in the Arab group feeling and for their rivalry with the nobility of the Quraysh. Al-Hajjaj’s teaching of the Quran was not the same as the teaching of the Quran is at this time, namely, a profession that serves to make a living. His teaching was the kind practiced at the beginning of Islam, and as we have just described.
- Ibn Khaldun, Al Muqadimah
Centuries ago, the traditional ulema, led by Al-Ghazali defeated the philosophers. They gained such ascendancy that the books of the philosophers were banned and they were persecuted and unfortunately so too was any doctrine that did not match these now traditional theologians. Logical and scientific thought was itself brought to question when cause-and-effect was denied by Al-Ghazali, who stated that a piece of cotton burning was not caused by the cotton but by Allah. These “traditional theologians” then went on to separate “religious” and “secular” knowledge as noted by Mahathir Muhamad and bring to an end ijtihad and replace it with taqlid – blind following of these traditional gents. Logic thus was not needed and the teaching of logic and geometry, so integral to logic and to scientific thought, became scarce.
Al-Ghazali and his followers then opened a new vestige – mysticism instead. This mysticism originally started just like other reform groups in the Muslim Ummah to revive what was seen as a very materialistic world, now became a major factor in the definition of religiosity. As we earlier noted, describing the connection of this mysticism with anti-intellectualism, Ibn Khaldun notes:
“The Sufis are very much concerned with achieving this great joy through having the soul achieve that kind of perception. They attempt to kill the bodily powers and perceptions through exercise, and even the thinking power of the brain. In this way, the soul is to achieve the perception that comes to it from its own essence, when all the disturbances and hindrances caused by the body are removed. (The Sufis) thus achieve inexpressible joy and pleasure.”
“The arguments and proofs belong in the category of corporeal perceptions, because they are produced by the powers of the brain, which are imagination, thinking, and memory. The first thing we are concerned with when we want to attain this kind of perception is to kill all these powers of the brain, because they object to such (perception) and work against it.”
The power hold of the professional and now “traditional” theologians that started from the time the political leadership of the Khalifa stopped being both the religious and the political head, now reached its final form. They have gone so far as to make laws in the garb of Islam that state that speaking against them designates the offender as “fasiq” and this was a law practiced even by the Uthman Empire, where anyone who spoke against the “ulema” where designated “fasiq” (rebellious) and his testimony in court would not be valid for the rest of his life.
However, before going forward let us consider defining more clearly the people we are describing, who I have used many different and perhaps confusing terms for throughout the book. Some terms I have used are “ulema”, “mullahs”, professional theologians, traditional theologians, traditional scholars, etc.
Some characteristics of this group that I have been describing are as follows:
1. They study religion in exclusion of “secular” knowledge, typically in madrassas.
2. They consider themselves “professionals” similar to doctors or engineers and make a living out of their “profession”.
3. They typically teach in masjids and madrassas and hold “traditional” positions of authority including being the Imam of the masjid, the teacher of students at masjids and madrassas, involved in zakat collection and distribution, employ in religious festivities and events such as birth of a child, marriage.
This group is being seen as a special interest group that has clearly identifiable vested interests and collective power in key institutions of Islam. They have in essence usurped the religious function of the leader of the people, which in the times of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Righteous Caliphs were not separated from the political and social leadership of the community. Their iron grip on Islam has been firm and complete and remains only peripherally challenged by the Secularists who do not challenge them in their domain but try to negate their domain.
Now, when I begin this kind of conversation, I am of course labeled Salafi or Wahabi, if not Kharijite or something worse. However, I want to note that even the Salafis have this same professional ulema and the exact same cartel-like structure. We have discussed earlier how we can free the legal system from the grip of these brothers. But to truly understand this great internal enemy and evil upon the Muslim Ummah we must see what kind of other impacts they have had.
Once upon a time, our education was the best education in the world and Europeans would come to Cordoba and other Muslim citadels to study. Cambridge and Oxford universities modeled themselves on Muslim universities. Under the power and supervision of our theologians, Muslim education has been stripped of all its vitality and, as we noted in the chapter on Education, has created a major handicap for our civilization.
Another impact is that of waqf (Muslim non-profits). The educational institutions that we are so proud of in our past, were run by waqf funds and these were the main vehicles for such institutions, and not government subsidies and financing. These waqf funds ran everything from schools, universities, masjids, hospitals and many great public amenities. Now, the big question is, why did these waqf funds flourish in these olden times and why are they today, despite every effort, completely inefficient and useless? I stumbled upon the answer inadvertently while studying at the International Islamic University Malaysia. Discussing funding with a department head, the uncharacteristically frank professor informed me that they (the university) was struggling to get non-ulema and business-competent men to get hold of the waqf fund of the university.
It transpires that men who have been fed on cotton burning is by Allah and not by the cotton catching fire and similar logics, with brains damaged from mindless memorization and no practical or “secular” knowledge incorporated in them, pursuit of living through making Islam as a “profession”, such men are men of ivory towers and have no clue about business or the practical world outside. They are marvelously incompetent and running waqfs and yet are the main power brokers and committee-men. If you want to know where a big chunk of Malaysia’ waqf money has been “invested”, it is in properties in or near Kuala Lumpur being used as parking lots. I then went about investigating this trend to the best of my ability and I realize that this is a global Muslim phenomenon. Can somebody please shoot these people? If we look at the scale and the length of the damage done to us, it is mindboggling; centuries of starving our institutions and destroying their vitality and dynamism – the damage in incalculable.
The memorization and primitive education methods and the focus directly or indirectly of killing the intellect and spirit of students so as to create a non-trouble-making zombie that confirms to the status quo has also stamped itself into our culture. If Malek Bennabi wondered how and why our children are unable to live in a world of ideas, if Imran Khan wonders why Pakistani and Afghan young children are willing to blow themselves up and kill fellow Muslims, we need not look further for the cause; A zombie can be programed for any simple purpose except to think effectively which would impinge on its docility and obedience.
Here is what Ibn Khaldun has to note about how the human spirit is tamed and made docile by domination of the spirit:
“If the domination is kind and just and the people under it are not oppressed by its laws and restrictions, they are guided by the courage or cowardice that they possess in themselves. They are satisfied with the absence of any restraining power. Self-reliance eventually becomes a quality natural to them. They would not know anything else. If, however, the domination with its laws is one of brutal force and intimidation, it breaks their fortitude and deprives them of their power of resistance as a result of their inertness that develops in the souls of the oppressed, as we shall explain.
“When laws are (enforced) by means of punishment, they completely destroy fortitude, because the use of punishment against someone who cannot defend himself generates in that person a feeling of humiliation that, no doubt, must break his fortitude.
“When laws are (intended to serve the purpose of) education and instruction and are applied from childhood on, they have to some degree the same effect, because people then grow up in fear and docility and consequently do not rely on their own fortitude. ..
“Furthermore, those who rely on laws and are dominated by them from the very beginning of their education and instruction in the crafts, sciences, and religious matters, are thereby deprived of much of their own fortitude. They can scarcely defend themselves at all against hostile acts. This is the case with students, whose occupation it is to study and to learn from teachers and religious leaders and who constantly apply themselves to instruction and education in very dignified gatherings. This situation and the fact that it destroys the power of resistance and fortitude must be understood.
“It is no argument that the men around Muhammad observed the religious laws, and yet did not experience any diminution of their fortitude, but possessed the greatest possible fortitude. When the Muslims got their religion from Muhammad, the restraining influence came from themselves, as a result of the encouragement and discouragement he gave them in the Quran.
“It was not a result of technical instruction or scientific education. They laws were the laws and percepts of the religion that they received orally and which their firmly rooted belief in the truth of the articles of faith caused them to observe. Their fortitude remained unabated, and it was not corded by education or authority. Umar said, “Those who are not (disciplined) by the religious law are not educated by God.” Umar’s desire was that everyone should have his restraining influence in himself. His certainty was that Muhammad knew best what is good for mankind.
“Clearly, then, governmental and educational laws destroy fortitude, because their restraining influence is something that comes from outside. The religious laws, on the other hand, do not destroy fortitude, because their restraining influence is something inherent.”
- Al Muqadimah
This very excessive strictness and forced acceptance of a long list of facts, rules and regulations without any opportunity to argue or think creates that very same docility and intellectual death that is observable in children studying in madrassas. Their greatness and potential is stripped of them bare before they ever had the chance to grow into the lions they were meant to be.
Islam has to be lived, it cannot be parroted. Yet, if you listen to any of these theologians in masjids giving sermons, prayers, talks, or recitation of the Quran, you see no conviction in their voice. You see instead a parody of Islam; words that should sound like mountains barely make it to a mole hill, emotions that are supposed to flow naturally, sounds like being rehearsed by a failed Broadway actor. Nothing matches, not the words, the voice, the facial expression, the body language, it is all out of tune.
One “great” sheikh from Al-Azhar tells us a story of another great of the same institution who studied “adab” of yet another great Azharite for 8 years and only studied the deen 3 years. He is said that if he could, he would have in hindsight, he would have also studied adab those three years. This actually makes sense because the speeches and lectures that are the bread and butter of their “craft” and what people are supposed to be impressed with, do not come from personal experience of the real world and thus they have to artificially put up a drama. Having seen a good number of these acts I am convinced that this is so. The reader is advised to carefully study Azharite “scholars” with this aspect in mind.
The fact of the matter is that Islam is truth, revelation, knowledge (deen) from Allah to guide us in understanding and correctly interacting with the world around us (dunya). Now, to master our deen we need to have mastery of the revelation AND mastery of the world around us. Secondly, we need to have practical experience and hand-on-practice of applying the deen to the dunya. The problem is that neither the ivory tower “ulema” understand the dunya around them, nor the modern Muslim scientists, engineers and other professionals have the understanding of the deen. One has the deen, other has the dunya, and both are unable to thus make sense of the deen to understand the dunya. Nor do either have the proper experience in practice of the application. Nor are either parties trained to have the manners to discuss issues in a civilized manner.
This is also because these “scholars” of either category do not have real knowledge. Their knowledge in their own fields is often defective. There is a very important reason for this and one that Ibn Khaldun explains perfectly thus:
The easiest method of acquiring the scientific habit is through acquiring the ability to express oneself clearly in discussing and disputing scientific problems. This is what clarifies their import and makes them understandable. Some students spend most of their lives attending scholarly sessions. Still, one finds them silent. They do not talk and do not discuss matters. More than is necessary, they are concerned with memorizing. Thus, they do not obtain much of a habit in the practice of science and scientific instruction. Some of them think that they have obtained (the habit). But when they enter into a discussion or disputation, or do some teaching, their scientific habit is found to be defective. The only reason for their deficiency is (lack of) instruction, together with the break in the tradition of scientific instruction (that affects them). Apart from that, their memorized knowledge may be more extensive than that of other scholars, because they are so much concerned with memorizing. They think that scientific habit is identical with memorized knowledge. But that is not so.
- Al Muqadimah
As you can see, the culture of memorization has bred a host or problems that even go to the heart of nipping at the bud the kind and quality of people we need to solve the problem in the first place.
Fake Plastic Trees