The prominent scholar of Qur’an, Nouman Ali Khan, has issued a statement clarifying his recent comments about the importance of learning aqeedah, which some considered controversial resulting in a stir on social media.
The following status was posted on Nouman Ali Khan’s Facebook yesterday night:
“I’ve decided to write this post because a few close friends forwarded me comments being made about a clip of mine taken from a program I conducted recently teaching the core concepts of Surah Yasin. It seems a number of people (whose sincerity I wouldn’t question nor do I have the right to) are concerned that I’m poking fun at the learning of the classical science of Aqeedah and some of the most famous classical scholarly manuals that deal with the monumental subject. This post will be longer than my usual writings and for that I apologize in advance.
First and foremost, Allah, His Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم and His Deen are infinitely more worthy that I stand up for them and defend them as opposed to me defending myself. If the intention behind defending oneself is to preserve dignity or reputation, my belief, as is the belief of all Muslims, is that dignity was granted to us because of this religion and when we pursue any other means to attain it, we will fail. Having said that I am compelled to explain what motivates this writing. Allah says وعسى أن تكرهوا شيئا وهو خير لكم والله يعلم وأنتم لا تعلمون. “It may well be that you all despise something and it is better for you while it is Allah, He knows and you! You don’t know!” I think in this frenzy of comments and outrage there is an opportunity to share something of value about this beautiful religion and I will try to do so to the best of my ability with clarity and sincerity. I’d also like to comment right from the get go that I was taught from an early age to uphold the dignity of all human beings especially Muslims. I don’t go around reading comments being made about me but for any who are outraged at me or may have made disparaging or judgmental remarks, they are still my family in faith and I wish them well and pray for them as I would for myself and my own family. That isn’t something special. This is just what Muslims are supposed to do.
Now, on to the subject at hand…
Part 1: My Attitude Towards the Subject of Aqeedah and the Hadith:
I have tremendous respect for the entire corpus of our scholarly tradition including the science of Aqeedah codified by great human beings of the past, may Allah grant His forgiveness and loving mercy to all of them. For those of you to whom my comments were perceived as offensive to that tradition, I apologize for coming across as insensitive and dismissive. I have studied some of the books I’m accused of making fun of with some of my own teachers and mentors (which I will get to a bit later). Historically, it is that legacy that prevented great philosophical confusion from ransacking the ummah and kept us holding on to the core teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah in a manner that was true to the sacred text.
Secondly, often times the word Qur’aniyyoon is thrown my way. This guy always talks about the Qur’an, never about hadith. Though I’ve talked about this before, I will here again. I have regard for the subject of Hadith that is hard to put into words and appreciate that to be a muhaddith is to engage in some of the most rigorous, laborious and life consuming scholarship of any of the other Islamic sciences. In my early years learning about Islam, I would learn from brothers more knowledgeable than myself who were not hadith scholars and they would quote a hadith from Sahih Al Bukhari or Muslim or Sunnan Al-Tirmidhi. It was years later that I went through some of the same ahadith with an actual muhaddith only to discover that the context and scholarly understanding of the very same texts was so different than what a shallow translation yielded. This happened on multiple occasions. If ones understanding of the Qur’an can be problematic if not keeping in mind the historical context of revelation, and that is the word of Allah, that would certainly have to be of paramount importance when it comes to the hadith tradition. There’s far more to consider than whether or not a hadith is authentic. When did our blessed messenger say it? Who did he say it to? How was it acted upon? Are there other ahadith that complement its understanding? How did the early generations discuss this hadith? How did the fuqaha discuss this hadith? Did scholars of the past deal with potential misconceptions that may arise from this hadith if not properly understood in its rich language and context? These are a lot of questions and I for one do not suppose about myself that I can confidently comment on them without having learned them directly from a scholar of the subject. I’d rather not quote a hadith than to quote it with a partial understanding. I do cite the ahadith that I’ve had the honor of learning with certain muhadditheen for which I am eternally grateful. I also happen to have an ijazah in Al-Nawawi (may Allah show him loving mercy)’s collection of forty ahadith. Incidentally, I conducted a program a year ago called ‘Honoring the Messenger’ and part of it was to illustrate how it is impossible to believe in the book of Allah without believing in the Sunnah of His beloved Messenger SAW. So yeah, I believe in our sacred Hadith tradition and the flawless Sunnah of our messenger SAW but I’m unwilling to be reckless in citing it.
Part 2: The Pulpit and The Street
I found Islam in New York City in the nineties. When I decided to fix my life according to the mandates of Islam, I needed someone to teach me the religion. If you know anything about NYC, you know that depending on which masjid you set foot into, you’re going to be shown a very different picture of Islam. I went to a masjid where the Imam told me not to worry about learning the meanings of the Qur’an because that is only for scholars. I should concern myself with the five pillars and following the scholars (by which he meant himself and the individuals he would approve of from his particular line of thought). This by the way is not an isolated incident. I have met countless Muslims from the indian sub continent who are told that they should not attempt to understand the meanings of the Qur’an because they will get confused and they should leave that to the scholars. Just learn some dhikr and if you have a question, ask the scholar. He’s already got the perfect understanding so you wouldn’t have to do any heavy lifting.
Being a restless soul, that didn’t sit well for too long. I ended up in yet another circle, where the entire focus was to debate the truth of Islam with non-Muslims, then to another group where your spirituality was pegged to your personal relationship with a spiritual mentor without whom you wouldn’t be able to become a better Muslim and better yet, you might only be saved through this relationship. I met some brothers at a restaurant once. I remember it like it was yesterday. They saw me and recognized me as a Muslim and so they started talking to me. They told me that if my aqeedah isn’t correct that I’m fuel for the hellfire. I was worried. I asked them what they thought of all the people I had previously learned from by name. And for each of them they had the same answer. ‘He’s a good brother but his aqeedah is flawed and he’s calling people to the hellfire’. Now I was really worried. I joined their circle and was in it for more than a year. I learned to ask the first and most important question before asking anything else not only of scholars or khateebs or da’ees but also of fellow muslims. What’s his aqeedah? I even asked my dad once. What’s your aqeedah? He said, beta (which means son) we’re sunni. I didn’t respond but in my heart I said to myself, that’s what they all say. I actually believed that my family believed in what will lead them to the hellfire because they didn’t have the right aqeedah. Then came the problem of ‘how do you tell if someone has the right aqeedah or not’? For all practical purposes, I was indoctrinated into thinking that when it comes to this issue, there is no such thing as benefit of the doubt. You have to assume that anyone and everyone is corrupted in their aqeedah and you have to listen to what they say with extreme caution waiting to hear something that could prove that AH HAH! they are deviant in their aqeedah. Bear in mind this became more about fishing for what might be creatively interpreted as a problem of aqeedah than an actual problem of aqeedah. We have to be cautious, and if there is even a millionth chance that this person might mean something problematic, not only do I have to never listen to anything he ever has to say, but also warn others to stay away from him. For a short while in those two years, my only mission was to save the ummah from deviants in aqeedah. I was good at it too. Somebody could quote a book and I’d say, this person has read this book and is influenced by the ideas of the author whose aqeedah is unknown, therefore he is on the deviant list. The list was updated regularly.
What happened as a result was a spiritual void that I’ve never felt before in my life. I wasn’t close to Allah. I knew how to argue His names and attributes and debate whether He was above or everywhere but I didn’t feel His love, His guidance, His mercy and His constant company. Allah just became a subject of debate. I became accustomed to mocking Muslims who didn’t see Islam the right way that I saw it. I developed hatred for those who taught anything about Islam in ways that didn’t align with my authentic and flawless understanding. The people that I had love for were reducing by the day and by the way, some of the guys in the authentic aqeedah circle had disagreements with each other and started calling each other deviant too. That was ultra-confusing because now I didn’t know which side to pick. They both quoted the same scholars from abroad who of course wrote in Arabic so I had no way of looking at the information myself except through the lens of translation. We studied aqeedah manuals most of the time. Sometimes we studied certain ayaat of the Qur’an but we only studied them to reinforce that we are on the right aqeedah and how this ayah and that hadith were evidence against such and such group. Qur’an and Sunnah were ammunition for us.
Then a friend of mine, whom I loved because he was totally not into this whole religious debate scene, took me to this program where my first Qur’an teacher was doing a rapid translation and explanation of the entire Qur’an in Urdu. I’ll be honest, I first sat in to check for aqeedah mistakes. But the first night, as he just talked about the word of Allah, I couldn’t help my tears from rolling down my eyes. The ayaat and their explanation was doing something to me that no halaqah, no debate, no study had ever done. I genuinely desired seeking forgiveness that night. That was different because the nights before that one I was more concerned with whom else should be seeking forgiveness. As the nights of the series in Ramadan continued, I experienced a never before felt love for the Qur’an, for the messenger, for Allah. I didn’t want to learn anything else anymore. I wanted this. This is not like any other book. Nothing else has ever made me think like this, feel like this. My journey into the Qur’an began with Dr. Abdus Samie and his brilliant little Arabic class. I started memorizing more and more of the Qur’an. I started losing interest in the deviations of others and started noticing the deviations in myself.
My comments may have been disparaging to some of you and for that I apologize. But the way our beautiful scholarly tradition is being abused to pass blatant judgment against other fellow Muslims who are each in their own unique struggle spiritually, intellectually and emotionally is just unfair and cruel. Our faith is no different from the faith of Adam AS or Ibrahim AS or the Messenger of Allah SAW. The Qur’an is the best and most primary source to understand who God is because He speaks for Himself in it. When I meet young hot headed Muslims who are ready to quote a aqeedah text and defend it but haven’t had the time to memorize or recite or learn the meanings of even few surahs, I find that to be an abandonment of our salaf.
In the Musnad of Ahamd RA and Sahih Muslim, the messenger SAW says
إن الله يرفع بهذا الكتاب أقواماً ويضع به آخرين
Certainly Allah, He elevates because of this book entire nations and puts other down because of it. So when our beloved SAW says that this book will the cause of the rise of nations, which ayaat is he SAW referring to? The ones that we find useful in refuting each other? The ones that fortify our positions against others? This book is above our agendas. It is above our comfort zones. This book reign supreme and nothing will ever be a bigger priority than it. وكلمة الله هي العليا. The word of Allah, it is the Highest. It is not just another subject in Islamic studies. It is the central beam that holds this entire religion and its people together. If I spent my entire life emphasizing that it is the ultimate priority of the Muslims, it won’t be nearly enough. The Sunnah of our messenger is best described by our mother RA, كان خلقه القرآن. It is to be viewed as the Qur’an brought into practical application. It is thus not a separate entity or different subject matter but really a necessary and fundamental manifestation of the book of Allah from words to actions. When average Muslims, (not specialized students or scholars) are being taught that their first priorities need to be elsewhere, I will disagree till my dying breath. This word was powerful enough to guide the lost souls of Quraish and turn them into the greatest generation history has ever seen. It was powerful enough to guide jinns passing by just as they heard some of its miraculous ayaat. It is still powerful enough to guide any human being, Muslim or non through this age of fitnah. We are at its service and it is not at ours. Its surahs dictate what is priority. We do not impose our priorities on it. We don’t get to decide which ayaat are more important than others. Which surahs are more important than others. That is for Allah and His messenger SAW. So much of the ummah today has no idea what the word of Allah is. This Qur’an is passed to us through the sweat, blood and tears of generations before us starting with our beloved himself SAW. It isn’t cheap. People before us paid with blood so we can recite it, ponder upon it, seek guidance from it and live by it today. How is it not my top priority? Everything I will learn about islam, I will learn in the shade of Allah’s word. For that, I am not sorry.”