Safety in Following the Righteous
December 24, 2007 § 15 Comments
In mosques all around the world, those of authority and leadership function as a reminder to the faithful by addressing the community on pertinent issues of faith and fealty concerning one’s shahadat, the testament that there is no god but that One who created the Heavens, Earth and all creatures big and small and that Maulana Muhammad is His Messenger. They also remind us of the subsequent duties of the religion, that support the shahadat. This makes those of authority and leadership in Islamic society quite key feature of the religion, especially since there is no priesthood in Islam.
So I find it peculiar that a person of authority and leadership would give a Friday sermon generally criticizing the traditional role of the elders among the Islamic community, a role which was established by the Prophet Muhammad (may Peace and Blessings be upon him). Why would a local leader, who is in effect leaning on the doctrine of taqlid, for his sermon’s acceptance, preach against taqlid and suggest that ‘Muslims should reject shaykhs, read and study, then form independent conclusions’ of fiqh, Islamic jurisprudence? Taqlid, is the acceptance of religious advice from a higher authority other than one’s self without asking for technical proofs and is the fulfillment of Qur’anic commandment to follow the righteous,
“Follow those who ask of you no fee, and who are rightly guided.” (36:021, trans: Pickthall)
But how do we determine what righteousness is and furthermore who is righteous? Perhaps returning to the Noble Qur’an, the source that instructed us to follow the “rightly guided” may explain to us how to recognize the “rightly guided”. For example, in suratul baqarah it says,
“It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces Towards east or West; but it is righteousness- to believe in Allah (SWT) and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the Allah (SWT)-fearing.” (tran: Yusuf Ali)
The above are not the inherent qualities of young men, in fact the above verse describes more accurately someone of a mature position within the community, an elder. Which implies to me that a community leader preaching against Muslims following shaykhs, an element hard-wired into the infrastructure of the religion, is somewhat self-defeating isn’t it? It seems to me that rather than criticizing the general role of shaykhs, those of authority and leadership would find a more reasonable position attacking the individuals themselves and perhaps discuss the points which they disapprove. However, that is just too risky and may over expose their critique, spoiling an agenda.
The word shaykh in the Arabic language literally means elder or mature man of wisdom which is used not only by Muslims but Arab Christians as well. In the Qur’an the word shaykh, or a variant, is used in reference to elderly men of a “venerable” status. (A.Yusuf Ali) For example, in suratul Hud verse 72 the word shaykh is attributed to the Prophet Abraham (a.s.), also in suratul Yusuf verse 78 the Prophet Joseph’s (a.s.) brothers likewise refer to their father the Prophet Jacob (a.s.) as a shaykh and when the Prophet Moses (a.s.) reached the Midyan’s water in suratul Qasas verse 23, the two women referred to their father, the Prophet Shuaib (a.s.) as a shaykh.
The Holy Prophet Muhammad (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) was the first shaykh of Islam. Traditionally, the Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) gave the sermon and led the congregational prayer on Fridays. But today, the imam is known to lead the prayers; and the sermon is usually given by a shaykh: a scholar, an elder or recognized person of wisdom.
If someone does both he is in fact following the tradition of the Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him), but not only is he following the noble tradition of the first shaykh of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad (may Peace and Blessings be upon him), but by making the Friday sermon one is either accepting the role of a shaykh or permissibly acting as a representative of such authority. So why would a person making the Friday sermon, accepting the role of shaykh or at least one’s representative, give a sermon against following shaykhs?
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