A friend once asked me, “How do I differentiate between a truly knowledgeable scholar, and a fake one?” His question came amidst a long conversation in which we were discussing the reasons that make some people follow radical extreme religious movements.
My answer was simple, I said, “The way to distinguish between them is easier than you think, those who try to occupy your mind with their opinions, and create from you a duplicated copy of themselves are false scholars; while those who try to liberate your mind and urge you to learn, think, and criticize according to logical disciplines are the ones from whom you should seek council and knowledge.”
Religious extremism has taken its role among people from all faiths throughout the history of mankind. When I ponder over the history of those movements, think about this phenomena of extremism, and try to reach the base upon which it stands, I usually reach the aforementioned short answer. All fanatic, and extreme movements —religious and even political— are based upon occupying the minds of their followers with certain ideas, and planting inside them a totally biased, but carefully designed, method of thinking. To my amazement when I first realized it: even though the religions of those movements may differ, their thinking method is almost the same, and their followers suffer from the same symptoms, among them are the following easily recognized ones:
- Lack of critical thinking.
- Inability to accept matters of common sense.
- Complete absence of conscience. What’s right or wrong could only be determined by the leader to whom they must pay homage and follow blindly.
- Pathological suspiciousness. They have ZERO trust in those who do not belong to their groups.
- Total refusal to stand on common grounds with the other. You either become one of their followers, or you are considered an enemy.
- Deceitful and cunning. One of their biggest amusements is to double cross the other, and claim that it’s for the sake of “GOD.”
- Lying. They tell lies exactly like they breath. According to their analogy, lying is a way to defend “GOD’s” glory.
- Schizophrenic personality. They usually live a double life, trying to convince people that they are one thing, while actually, they are another.
- Inclination towards achieving their goals through oppression, and violence.
The previous symptoms, are the ones I usually notice on those extreme figures. As for their leaders and religious authorities, and as a person who lives in the middle east, I was able to notice three main traits which they all share, namely:
- Obvious ‘Faked Modesty.’
- Rare true interaction with their followers.
- Vague contradicting speeches.
According to Islam, all of the previous is hypocrisy, not faith. Faith is built upon solid evidence, knowledge, and reason. I sure do hope that the next few lines would reach as many young Muslims as possible, may Allah save them from the wide spread nets of false scholars.
The Qur’anic revelations began with the word “READ.” The only time in which the Qur’anic verses order Muslims to ask Allah for increase in anything, is in “KNOWLEDGE.” Allah says that His wrath shall be cast upon those who do not use their “REASON.” Hence, truth seeking, and acquiring knowledge, form the foundation of Islam. Prophet Muhammad P.B.U.H. said: “One knowledgeable Muslim is stronger in facing Satan’s seductions than 1000 worshipers.”
Never take everything you hear from your sheikhs or read in religious books as if it were the absolute truth, or correct opinion. Always have a critical mind, teach yourself how to think logically and criticize whatever you hear or read before you adopt a single idea from it. The prophet said, “Don’t any of you ever be a Flunky.” He always taught his companions that they should have analytical thinking. It was from the numerous examples of his teachings that “Analogy,” became one of the main sources of legislation in Islam. Know that Islam actually orders you to practice your own interpretative judgement, and decide whether what the person speaking says is wrong or right. If anyone tells you something that is against the natural disposition of pious people, you should immediately doubt its correctness, even if it were your own parents or sheikhs who are speaking. This was a common practice among the companions. Even when the prophet himself would order them to do something that apparently collides with the sound nature of pious persons, they would stop him and ask about the meaning of what he said.
One famous example is the one reported by Anas: “The prophet P.B.U.H. said, ‘Be at the aid of your brother whether he is oppressive or he is oppressed.’ The companions said: ‘O prophet! It is all right to be at his aid if he is oppressed, but how should we be at his aid if he is oppressive?’ The Prophet then said: ‘By preventing him from oppressing others.’ ” [Recorded by Bukhari].
Hence, to be a good Muslim, you have to stand against fanatics and extremists with true grit, and stop them from hurting others. Don’t be deceived by their seemingly religious speeches, and utilization of Qur’anic verses. They usually quote those verses out of context to justify their twisted understanding. True Jihad, is to fight against those extremists and stop them from hurting others. About those fake scholars and their methods, Allah says in the Qur’an:
“There are some men whose views on the affairs of this life may please you. They even call on Allah to witness whatever is in their hearts, yet they are the most contentious of quarrelers. When [one of them] turns away, he sets out to spread corruption in the land, destroying crops and cattle. But Allah does not love corruption. When he is told, ‘Have fear of Allah,’ he is seized by pride which drives him to [more] wrongdoing…” [The Qur’an (2:204-206)].
This is why Prophet Muhammad taught that every Muslim should place his heart as the judge on any preachment or counsel he receives before accepting it. He said:
“That which is good, is what makes your soul be at peace, and that which is evil, is what weaves within your soul and welters inside your chest. Seek the counsel of your heart even if [the knowledgeable ones] give you their advisory opinions.” [Recorded by Ahmad].
This is a big issue, and including all my ideas and thoughts about it in one short post is impossible, but I think that what I’ve stated so far is enough to make the reader think, and use the magnificent divine gift of common sense before adopting anything he hears or reads.
Written by: Ehab Shawky