By Shaykh Ismā’īl Ibrāhīm Patel
WHICH COUNTRY, GEOGRAPHY AND RACE HAS THE BEST MUSLIM SCHOLARS? OR IS THIS QUESTION PLAIN WRONG?
No body of Muslim scholars deserves elevation over others along the lines of geography or race. It should be every Muslim’s policy to keep scholars of all racial and geographical orientations on one equal pedestal, and respect each as much as the other. That especially includes scholars one has not studied under – students may feel biased to their teachers but that shouldn’t be the norm.
I personally haven’t studied under the scholarly bodies of North Africa, Turkey, Yemen, Levant, Central Asia – the list goes on – but I’ve made it my aim never to let my feelings dictate to me that they are inferior to the Indians or the Hijazis, under whom I have studied for short periods. (And with Allah is Tawfiq)
Apart from one’s own racial bias, and alma mater bias, there can be two scenarios that can lead to the development a superiority complex for certain scholars:
1. One might feel some scholars are closer to the Sunnah than others.
The reality is that scholars from every geography have faults that others do not possess, so the superiority complex shouldn’t ever apply.
So if one feels Egyptians not having beards is deeply obnoxious, then the Indo-Paks aren’t any better when it comes to consuming/allowing paan. And if one finds the Turks’ indifference to certain dodgy Sufi practices to be objectionable, then the Saudis are not in a better position when it comes to their affairs with the rulers. Generally speaking.
2. One might believe that a group of scholars from a region or sub-region has produced more academic works than scholars from the rest of the world, or has had a greater role in preserving an Islamic science than scholars from the rest of the world.
The truth is scholars face different intellectual challenges where they live, and have always responded accordingly. The preservation of the Sunnah may have been a strong point in Maghrib/Andalus centuries ago but is now the now the focal point for scholars in Najd. And Fiqh discussions were the most sophisticated in Central Asia but that mantle is now assumed by the Sub-Continent scholarship.
Overall, especially for us in this era – the global village – the Ulama are the Ulama, the heirs of the Anbiya. Just like we don’t appoint ourselves as judges by comparing between the prophets and/or their efforts, we shouldn’t contrast between scholars – not even subconsciously.
This message is also directed at laymen – they have no business whatsoever in even having any such opinion, claiming that “*my* scholars from such and such background, ethnicity or geography are superior to the rest of the world’s scholars.” You might be a prawn-guzzling Deobandi or Shimaghi Salafi, but you are in no position my friend to be pronouncing earth-shattering judgements on Sub-Continent or Saudi scholars being superior to Caucasian or Sub-Saharan scholars. You don’t know anything about the latter, their services to Islam and the challenges they face, and thus your arbitrary preferences are invalid and best kept to yourself.
They are all *our scholars* and deserve the same respect we give to those around us. If we really want a true revival of global unity, we need to cease thinking about, and dividing, Muslim scholars along racial lines based on our own whims and biases, all under the false pretenses of superiority.
*Note: This is an opinion piece written by Shaykh Ismā’īl Ibrāhīm Patel, who has extensively studied under traditional Islamic scholars in the UK and Saudi Arabia. He is a researcher and author and has translated the renown Hanafi fiqh manual of Imam al-Quduri. He writes mainly on contemporary fiqh. The views mentioned in this article are solely that of the authors and do not represent those of the blog owner.
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