Blogger and Muslim activist Mehdi Amir argues that some Muslim scholars have become so famous that it has gone to their heads.
What I’m about to say, may not be easy to swallow, but my conscience demands that it is said. In a society where scholars have been given the status of infallibility, a status that was not even accorded to the first four caliphs of Islam, what I’m about to say will be considered heresy.
But it must be said. If there is any hope for our community to succeed in reclaiming our greatness, our leaders must be held to account. We live in a society where our scholars have gone from being the teachers of this Ummah, to the celebrities of this Ummah. We have scholars who suffer from a religious superiority complex and allow preferential treatment towards themselves.
Just the way celebrities walk upon red carpets in fame and glory, our scholars do the same; I recently watched a YouTube video of a scholar that left the Global Peace and Unity Event, he walked as slowly as the Queen, waving his hand to all his followers, enjoying the limelight and reaping the benefits of fame.
Just the way celebrities are those important people that you want to take a picture with, because you think it will improve your level of importance, scholars too have become the ultimate symbol of religiosity, if you are seen with a scholar you can be sure that your friends will be shouting “MashAllah”.
Just the way touching a celebrity is like the biggest thing that can ever happen to you in your life, kissing the hands of scholars has become the pathway to ultimate holiness within the Muslim community.
And just the way a celebrity will probably never stop to acknowledge or talk to an average person, scholars make a point of asserting their celebrity status, by walking away whilst someone is speaking to them or completely ignoring their existence.
Example of Hazrat Umar
But how would someone like Hazrat Umar, (may Allah be pleased with him) who was once the leader of a powerful empire, feel about the behavior of our scholars?
An anecdote from his life gives us a pretty good idea. Umar (ra) once saw a man who, in order to show off his asceticism, pretended to be weak, and walked with an affected, feeble and overly slow gait. Umar struck him with a stick and said: “Do not cause our religion to die, for if you do that, then may Allah cause you to die!”
The author of his biography, Muhammad As-Sallaabee, explained what Umar meant: “when people begin to focus on the outward aspects of asceticism, and not on actual piety that is based on sound knowledge, they begin to corrupt the teachings of Islam.”
From this we can see that the behaviour of our scholars, as harmless as it may seem, is detrimental to our religion. But not only is it detrimental to our religion, it is completely contradictory to the teachings of Islam.
Islam asserts the equality of all human beings and rejects the arrogance that is found in the celebrity culture of today. Islam has an extreme distaste for ego, fame and self-glory.
Hazrat Umar understood this, and this is why, despite being the leader of the Muslim Ummah, he lived just like his people, he ate with them, he wore the same clothes as them, and he even slept on the same floor as them.
That is not all, when Hazrat Umar came to know of an abandoned mother who had nothing to feed her children with, he purchased a sack of flour and some cooking fat, asked his companion Aslam to load it on to his shoulders, and set off to give it to her.
Aslam stopped the Amir and asked to carry his sack for him. Now, as the Amir of the Muslim Ummah, Umar could have easily agreed to this offer, but Umar understood this to be a breach of his leadership position. He understood that to benefit from a position that was entrusted to him by his people, was a grave sin.
Instead, Umar shouted, “May you have no mother! Will you carry the burden of my sins for me on the Day of Resurrection?” Umar never forgot that he came from Allah Almighty, and to him he would eventually return. He was the leader of one of the most powerful empires in the world, but he never once behaved in an arrogant and self-righteous manner.
And the status of our scholars today is nothing compared to the status that Hazrat Umar possessed; yet our scholars are guilty of allowing preferential treatment towards themselves, whilst Hazrat Umar never allowed himself to be treated differently to any other human being.
In fact, when Hazrat Umar was on his way to meet the King of Jerusalem, he was wearing his usual overly patched robe, and when Abu Ubaidah saw this, he expressed his fear. He feared that the people of the village would not treat the Caliph with honour because of how he was dressed.
At hearing this, Hazrat Umar remarked: “Oh Abu Ubaidah, we were the most humiliated people on earth and Allah gave us honour through Islam. If we ever seek honour through anything else, Allah will humiliate us again.”
And indeed we were humiliated, and we are still being humiliated. It’s time we reflect on our state as an Ummah and acknowledge that we have failed to hold our leaders to account. And it’s time our leaders accept that they were put into positions of power, not to behave as the celebrities of this Ummah, but to nurture and guide this Ummah back to the greatness it once pioneered.