Laymen and the scholarly tradition

A major problem the Muslim laity have been subjected to is the way in which the 'scholarly tradition' is abused. How so?

Well past scholars have written A LOT. They've often explicitly changed their opinion, or you can see an evolution in their thinking/arguments. Popular religious personalities pay little attention to this, usually because they haven't read wide enough nor intend to. Now of course, any scholar can't possibly read everything out there on a topic, but if s/he has a sound basis in the Qur'an and hadith, and recognises everything else as either an explanation of the two (fiqh), or a justification of the methods used to derive an explanation of the two (usul), then there's a critical engagement with past scholars that is far more meaningful. It also means that the scholar places where authority is - with God. Past scholars are a heuristic tool - we remain in conversation with thousands of scholars across the centuries to bounce ideas off them and evaluate what they bring to the table.

But this doesn't happen because people are more interested in what Ghazali or Ibn Taymiyyah said than what God and His messenger said. Yes, the laity require someone authoritative to interpret revelation, but placing ultimate authority in medieval scholars raises the same problems: they too need interpreting and contextualising for the laity! So in reality, the laity vest authority in popular religious personalities and who they choose to promote. Accordingly, the scholars that are cited today aren't necessarily those who buttressed mainstream scholarship over a millenium. They have been chosen in the modern period. In our context, the names of Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Qayyim, Ibn Kathir and Ibn Hazm only became as widespread a few decades ago. But what about Ibn Daqiq, al-Mizzi, al-Sakhawi, Ibn Asakir, etc? Yes some know of them, but in no way are they mainstream. Why? Simply because they weren't chosen by contemporary preachers and sects. Your understanding of your religion is not objective - it is shaped by a plethora of forces. And in every age/context there are different forces shaping it. If you get that simple truth it makes you less polemic, far more chilled, and I'd argue much more closer to the Quran - the only holistic source that is infallible ('isma).

Now because we're at an embryonic stage of scholarly formation in the west, there is no benchmark or basic standard of scholarly inquiry, nor are the intelligent laity informed enough to recognise it, so much falls on superficial markers of shar'i learning. Where a higher level emerges or is propagated, it is seldom recognised and either maligned or ignored. it was in this vein that Ibn Hazm put it that scholars who wanted to engage the laity would have sacrifice some of their dignity. As the Mother of Believers Lady A'ishah put it, "How quick people are to find fault with that which they don't know/understand!" (Sahih Muslim) To some extent, in the past there was an understanding: Scholars informed preachers, and preachers simplified for the laity. Today, preachers are deemed scholars but they're little informed, and the laity are worse off as a result.

Most preachers/religious personalities are in a rush to say the next great thing. Social media has only amplified this ingenious proclivity. I can always tell when a preacher/religious personality has come across a quote for the first time using it to draw an entire narrative. But as a result of such myopia, usually, the narrative is either wrong or off-piste. This occurs with the most famous of preachers/religious personalities who are still very clearly in their formation stage (even after decades of 'learning'). Had they sat on the quote for a while and explored the subject further, over time they'd come across something else that would contextualise the initial quote or moderate their take on the matter. But the pursuit of a holistic narrative and understanding is VERY rarely the objective.

A solid grounding in knowledge that a person then wants to 'share' with the universe must start with first principles. Everything is built on something else. They should be able to justify each level/stage of their argument, and show how their argument relates to other subjects in order to bring the shari'ah together as a coherent whole. They should be aware of the biases/influences, and own them. Every shar'i conclusion ought to be an explication of the Quran. If it doesn't go back to the Quran, whether the divine address (khitab) is explicit or implicit, it is baseless and merely fanciful whims uttered in the name of God. The sunnah gives us insight as to what God wants in practice, whilst we mitigate for the variances in culture between 7th C Arabia and 21st C Western English speaking world.

The neurodivergent salaf?

The idea that people of standing, intellect, honour and godly commitment may also be neurodivergent isn’t hard to understand or accept, except amongst those who have no experience. It’s ONLY the insular or those with little exposure to neurodivergence that make assumptions on what it is (and the most negative assumptions at that).

There is no standardised definition of neurodivergence, but it’s basically someone who thinks behaves/differently from the the majority of people. It’s a concept that describes individuality and uniqueness in cognitive functioning. In more recent years it has been used to describe those who think, behave, and learn differently to what is typical in society. Being neurodivergent should not be considered an inherent deficit but simply a difference in processing the world around us. It can be argued that it is the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome, and can be a competitive advantage in the right environment.

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The commoners and the leaders - a medieval tale

For a while I’ve grappled with widespread Islamic narratives feeling like I’m in an alternate reality. For yonks I’ve been trying to understand how people have translated the Quran and the sunnah into something so uninspiring, problematic, irrational, anxiety-inducing, and destructive. But as time has gone on, it’s becoming quite clear.

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London for study

(In comment to: "London remains best city in the world to study in new rankings")

Besides one post-grad degree, my entire western education was received in London. In fact, a significant part of my shar'i learning also took place in London, and it was mainly in London where all my thoughts/ideas/learning came together and matured. I would say that it was only the lack of shar'i tutors back in the day that compelled me to spend time studying in the Middle East. Were such tutors here now (which I believe are growingly), I wouldn't have had a reason to travel. Some people say it's 'easier' to study abroad where they're mainly referring to cost of study and living, and lack of distraction. I would respond:

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Men, wives and mothers

One of the identifiable causes of marital problems that are brought before me is the lack of independence many couples find with regards to in-laws. Either in-laws are persistent in trying to get involved in the workings of a spousal relationship, or spouses aren’t left to get on and live their lives autonomously. The parents of spouses can often present as a huge impediment to the growth and maturation of a spousal relationship: people need to fight, argue, make up (and make love); find common ground, learn to accept certain traits and seek to change other ones. There is no such thing as the perfect partner, but partners are meant to mould themselves and one another in an ongoing process of finding the best format for their relationship, and the types of people they want to live and grow with. God says about spouses “They are as garments to you as you are to them” (2:187) and like garments, even though they fit from the beginning, they can be slightly tight in some places or the material a bit itchy. But after they’re worn in, they become the most comfortable (and preferable) clothes in the wardrobe.

Life is about negotiating with parents, kids, friends, associates, colleagues. To assume everybody must change except you is the height of arrogance and narcissism. Real men seek to be purified (see 9:108), and you're only cleansed when you get dirty. Thus the real man is one that acknowledges that blame probably falls in his camp most of the time and seeks rectification. It is a highly blameworthy quality to always put the blame at other people's doorstep - problem solvers seek to resolve an issue, not run away from it and claim it has little to do with them.

In some ethno-cultures there is the assumption that offspring remain eternal slaves to their parents. Not only is the idea absurd it doesn’t reflect anything in the sharī’ah. Many confuse the idea of God exhorting people to be benign towards their parents “and lower your wing in humility towards them in kindness” (17:24) as somehow suggestive that the parents have the right to ‘everything’. Exhorting one party to be good doesn’t mean the other party suddenly has unfettered rights and access - that is simply illogical reasoning. God telling me to be good to a beggar doesn’t mean that the beggar suddenly has the right to my bank account and to take over my home. It’s simply a one-way exhortation in the interest of specific needs of the beggar. As a man, and obviously I speak from the male prerogative, to find yourself between your mother and your wife is not a ‘difficult’ position - it’s one that shouldn’t even exist. A mother should know the parameters of motherhood, and a wife the parameters of a spouse - and the two do not cross over, ever. If the respective parties are unaware of this or do not understand, it is the job of the man to (tactfully) cultivate each party so that they become aware. Running away from this task is not the ‘manliness’ that such people claim.

Furthermore, there is NO manliness (nor
religiosity) in putting your wife down or making her miserable at the behest of
your mother (or both parents), in fact it comes across as quite cowardly. And
then in this ostensible state of cowardice to expect your wife to respect you
or you ‘manliness’ is a bit of a joke - you haven’t exactly given her a reason
to. It is no surprise how often I hear women telling me that they find it
difficult to respect their husbands out of questioning his manliness. One might
retort, “Well maybe there’s something wrong with her…” No, very simply, it
should be beyond question
. If you want to be the ‘King of the Castle’ or
‘Leader of the Faithful’ in your homes, then perhaps learning to act
independently and in the interests of those under your charge would be a good
place to start, whilst of course, maintaining a good relationship with mumsy.

Some men insist on acting like 10 year old ‘mummy’s boy’ and then ridiculously use their invented version of religion to legitimise their immaturity or lack of backbone. God exhorts to strength, confidence, aptitude and discernment. Those who demonstrate the aforementioned do not have mothers who treat them as boys; their mothers simply wouldn’t think to and intuitively know that it’d be out of order. To be fair, some males cannot be blamed (I’m differentiating here between men and males): their entire lives are controlled by overbearing parents where they’re not empowered to form the basic skill sets needed to make decisions - let alone good ones, or take care of themselves, let alone others. As a result, they lack maturity, incisiveness, discernment and the interpersonal skills required to navigate the complexities of life and negotiate favourable outcomes. (This also explains a lot about our political and religious ‘leadership’). The kind of absurd things grown adults offer as excuses in arbitration or when seeking advice from me is bewildering.

However, the wives of these
men sometimes are no better, they complain about their husbands yet either act
like their husband's mother (by being overbearing, babying him, emotionally
blackmailing him, or undermining him at every turn) or raise their children in
the same way - mollycoddling and infantilising their own growing kids. At the
point of marriage, their sons are literally transferred from one set of cradled
arms (the mother) to another (the wife’s). Not only is it embarrassing, it’s
quite nauseating. If this bizarre cycle is to be broken then we must consider the
in raising our children - both sons and daughters: It is
sometimes in the child’s interests to have their lives ‘controlled by adults,
in complicated, age-dependent and sphere-of-discretion-dependent ways. What
children should be free to decide for themselves will depend on their
emotional, physical, and intellectual maturity. Nobody thinks that very young
children should be deciding for themselves what to eat, where to cross the
road, and the like. But as children get older, the kind of authority over them
that is justified changes. *One learns autonomy in large part by practicing
it*, so the duty to help children develop the capacity for autonomy implies
careful judgments about when children are ready to start making their own
choices, and gradually increasing their discretion over their own lives.’
(Brighouse and Swift, Family Values: The Ethics of Parent-Child
, p.26)

As a parent, some of my proudest moments are not when my children simply do as I say, but when they intelligently disagree and posit a robust and compelling response. I once said to one of my children who sought a chocolate biscuit for payment, “Will you only tidy up because of some promise of a reward?” He said, “Why not, dad?” I said: “Isn’t God’s reward enough?” He replied, “That’s exactly what I expected - for God to reward me through you!” Cue silent dad, which doesn’t happen often!

Muslims will only rise to the challenge when they cultivate intelligent, autonomous, rational, godly and civilised beings, ready to take on the world on their own, able to take care of themselves and others, and think creatively. Raise problem-solvers, not adults who cower from confrontation or throw hissy-fits when things do not go their way. Not only does it inevitably cause misery rather than happy and resilient people, it’s certainly not the way of the believers.

What I’ve learnt from Twitter engagements

There's a lot said about Muslim Twitter (MT) being toxic, but I think it extends to most corners of Twitter. Let's be frank, there are trolls and delinquents everywhere. I've been on Twitter approximately two years now and when I joined, I didn't even know there was such as thing as MT. But soon after I was cautioned to its nature, and like most things I engage with for the first time I looked at it primarily as a learning experience.

So, here are some brief reflections:

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So you want to be a scholar? Things to consider

Traditionally, Arabic books published on this topic tend to be titled talab
(Seeking knowledge) or kitab al-ilm (book of knowledge), and
focus on some sort of general curriculum reflecting the legal (fiqh) and
theological (i’tiqād) inclinations of the author. I don't think it necessary to
reproduce that here. Instead, I offer some considerations (by way of questions)
that aren't so often discussed.

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Are Arabs the best scholars, just because they’re Arabs?

6 min read

I rail against paternalistic Eastern (Arab and Asian) superiority and the infantilization of Muslim westerners. To be clear, this isn’t to negate the obvious fact that there are scholars in the Middle East nor that we cannot benefit from the good it has to offer (like anywhere else), but I'm briefly addressing an ongoing presumption amongst many Muslims in the west that eastern is better merely because it is eastern. This is in some part built on a fetishization of the Middle East and particularly by those who don’t have any actual experience of what education there is like. For many, it is a mystic land in which scholars attend mosque circles in all their regalia and scholarly glory, ruminating deeply on the Quran, hadith, fiqh, usūl, aqīdah, kalām, etc. Yet this depiction couldn’t be further from the truth.

There is nothing intrinsic to Arabness that elevates the Middle East's ability to engage in Islamic scholarship at a higher level. In fact, Islamic history attests to the fact that Islamic intellectual development, in all shar’ī realms was mostly the domain of non-Arabs. Ibn Khaldun famously wrote:

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10 points for leaders on engaging with the opposite sex

Those in religious training seldom receive adequate training/counselling in how to operate in the religious realm and overcome challenges in engaging with the opposite sex. The issue of spiritual abuse in confessional spaces is a real one, and obviously it's not exclusive to Muslims. There is a lot of discussion on this topic and it's about finding a balance that allows a scholar to fully benefit the opposite sex, but with safeguarding measures in mind. Often, these safeguards are often thought about in the superficial sense (niqab, partitions, etc) and merely address symptoms, which is why it remains a problem.

The following are 10 points of consideration for those in the field, although it’d be good for all of us to think about them. This post is gleaned from scriptural sentiments, personal experiences (of mine and others), and the insights of Muslim women - the other side. Of course, the starting point is God consciousness, and much is said/written on the subject. So assuming this to have been covered, here as some other brief points to consider:

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