Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Popping the Questions

I knew it was time to find another mosque one Ramadan season when I got chewed out for asking a few questions.

For weeks the mosque's resident scholar-in-training had been reiterating the importance of sighting the moon to mark the beginning of the month, even suggesting we take our kids hiking to search for it. As that time approached, however, mosque officials announced the first day of the holy month before we even got a chance to look for the new crescent.

When I emailed the lecturer for an explanation, he not only failed to give me a satisfactory reply but also instructed me not to query him again!

God, on the other hand, encourages us to be inquisitive and ask questions of religious scholars (ulema in Arabic) to gain a deeper understanding of our religion in our journey to nearness to Him. Ulema must listen to our questions respectfully and answer them logically and rationally (and with composure, forbearance and openness) to prove the truthfulness of Islam, as scholars say themselves. Indeed, God's religion is one of logic, based on argument and proof.

"Then ask those who know about that which you do not know." (Quran 16:43)

And Prophet Muhammad (S) said: "Knowledge is a locked closet whose key is the question."

Both Fatima (one of the four perfect women) and her husband Ali demonstrated the importance of Q&A and set the example for ulema of all times. Ali used to say: "Ask me before you lose me!"

A woman who asked Fatima ten questions one after another about prayers stopped and apologized for inconveniencing the daughter of the Prophet (S).

Fatima's response: "Ask me what you do not know...I have been hired by God to get wages which if the space between the earth and the sky is filled with pearls [the wages] would still be more than that for each question I may answer you."

Scholars who provide illumination and true guidance--unadulterated by materialism, desires, tradition or public pressure--are invaluable and considered "the inheritors of the prophets."

"The virtue of a scholar to a worshipper is similar to the virtue of a moon when it is full to the rest of the stars," according to Muhammad (S).

True ulema exhibit three attributes: 1) sufficient knowledge, 2) piety (act on their knowledge) and 3) insight (correct understanding of the concepts of religion), according to scholar Abbas Ayleya.

"I don't believe in being naive when it comes to ulema," says scholar Usama Abdul-Ghani. " I don't believe in following  just anybody."

Not only do the pious scholars provide guidance regarding individual obligations but they also actively lead people to fulfill social and political duties to God, most notably fighting injustice. They never support oppressors nor remain silent regarding their atrocities.

"The religious scholars of Egypt should fulfill their historic role in the uprising of the people of Egypt," Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, advised the ulema, particularly those at Al-Azhar University, earlier this year.

While I cherish my right to ask questions (I'm a journalist after all!), I can also be a crank when the tables get turned. I'm almost afraid to ask: Does the must-answer-all-questions rule also apply to mothers with little ones that have inquiring minds that want to know and know...?


Anonymous said...

its a very critical topic to ask questions or even talk about, but i am glad you dared to ask!

Anonymous said...

In this age of awesome deception (age of Dajjal) Powerful religious representatives from every religion will become leading examples of hypocrisy while the wise voices of justice and understanding will be ignored or silenced.

faith786 said...

I can totally relate to that. Someone once told me that so long as I have the right intention and I am respectful, I should be able to ask questions.

I like a lot of your posts!

Salina Khan said...

Thank you, readers! I wanted to add that I feel we also have a responsibility and that is to know enough of the basics of Islam (by reading primary sources such as Quran, agreed upon hadith and history while using our intellect) so we can recognize a true scholar from a false one. There is a tendency to gravitate to "scholars" who are popular, entertaining at the podium or willing to say what we want to hear. It has been said that we need to be aware of the trials of "the corrupt scholar and the ignorant worshipper."

Samira said...

Salaam! A great post Salina! Unfortunately in this day and age, good, humble ulema are hard to find. And as a people, we are becoming more and more arrogant and selfish - so kind of a vicious cycle!

I like the last part about being a mom - sometimes when the tables are turned, it does make a lightbulb go off, no? :) I am a journalist, too, and I have had quite a few humbling experiences with my 3-year-old :)

Great writing, keep it up!

Salina Khan said...

WA, Samira! Thank you for your kind words...wait til your three-year-old turns about 5 :)
Glad to know you are a journalist as well...please do send me your writing through contactme.

Sarosh said...


Jazaki- Allah Khair for covering another interesting topic in your blogpost.

If one scholar does not meet with our standards, we have other choices. Then again we should always fallback on the Quran and the Sunnah since there is hardly any topic that the two dont cover.

Also some scholars are knowledgeable but may not have the skills to relate well or get the message across to others.

Maybe the scholar was having a bad day (his wife had a fight:) and being human totally acted against the principles and virtues of a great scholar. Allahu Aalam!

May Allah reward your work!
Again JAK!

AwaitingtheOne said...

Salaam Alaikum,

Great piece and a good question. I was actually thinking about writing something along these lines as well.

A valid question was asked and it should have been answered correctly. There might have been a possibility of the moon showing up at a different place along the same horizon of the city that you live. But, that in no means justify the way a scholar acts. Unfortunately, with first hand knowledge about these So-Called scholars we as a community fail to do our research before even hiring them. For example:

- Who has the scholar studied under
- What books did he study
- Or is he one of those scholars who went for a year or two and just put the amama on

We have become Modernized Muslims and love the cool accent and good-looking Sheikhs.The generation of the scholars who grew up here are exploiting this opportunity similar to what is going on in other religion. Example: Joel Osteen

Ask any true scholar and they will answer, the most important characteristic of a scholar is his Ikhlaq and he is the most humble person in his community. If one fails to show these signs. We might have to knock on the doors of EC or the donors regarding some change. But hey they were ones who hired them in the first place.

Tough break. Either become a large donor to the center or just move to another one. Unfortunately, it has come to that. Remember us in your duas in the holy month.


Salina Khan said...

Salam, Sarosh,
Thank you for your comments! You know, I am willing to give excuses for imperfect manners (don't think he was married, by the way :) ) but what really bothers me is the contradictions and cover ups of the truth. If a scholar knows moonsighting is the way to determine Ramadan, he should do it, regardless of what all the other mosques in the area are doing.
There have been times when I went up to the learned in the community to ask why they are teaching some events in history one way when the reality of it is completely different. I have been told we can't tell people the truth or else they may falter in their beliefs! God is perfect and so is His is us who need to understand it and teach it correctly.
Those scholars who are unable or unwilling to understand Islam and apply it correctly are called "like donkeys carrying valuable books" in the Quran. Those are God's words, not mine :)
The scholar I referred to was still youngish. May Allah guide him and us all, insha Allah.

Salina Khan said...

Salam, Brother Ali,
You made many good points. With the Internet and Information Age, we literally have all sorts of information at our fingertips. I hope as people gain knowledge and understanding of their religion, awareness and appreciation of true scholarship will grow and feed on itself, insha Allah.

Hooma said...

And the moon controversy continues!!! (btw Salina, I do know that the main point behind this blog was not about the moon but rather it was about educating oneself and inquiring as to what the basis of one's opinion is). I dont think this controversy will be resolved during any of our lifetimes (which is sad because with the number of issues our Ummah has, this should not be at the top of our list of priorities).

Aside from that -- I do have a couple of points that I would like to emphasize -- (1) this scholar in training at your masjid is just plain rude; the whole point of having a resident scholar is that he can answer the questions of community members and enable them to perfect themselves and both Muslims and human beings - perhaps someone should remind him as to what the purpose and objectives of his job are. (2) He might not really have an answer for you which is why he is getting defensive. (Just an observation I have made about people over time). (3) This brings me to my next point, if you are a scholar, dont go about making statements if you are not able to back them up with solid verifiable fact or sources that support your statements. Misleading people and disseminating incorrect knowledge to people who are relying on you for information and guidance is a terrible thing. (This is disfavored both in Islam and just plain unethical).

Finally, the fourth and most important point I would like to make in regards to your post is something that I learned when I took an Islamic law course in law school - some of the most revered and pre-eminent scholars of Islam (such as Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik, Shafi etc.) were so terrified of incorrect information being disseminated among Muslims, that one scholar in particular, (I cant recall his name at the moment) asked that students not write down what he said during his lectures because he feared incorrect information being spread throughout members of the Ummah. Thus, the fact your masjid's imam made a statement and then is not willing to discuss it with you is not in keeping of standard bearers of Islamic scholars (and if he uses them as a role model - as he rightfully should - then an attitude adjustment is in order).
Finally in regards to questions - anyone with a shred of common sense -- and who has some basic knowledge of how Islamic teachings evolved and were disseminated -- will tell you that when it came to some of the foremost Islamic scholars that Islam has seen - DISCUSSION and QUESTIONS were the hallmarks of learning. Debate in classes held by Islamic scholars during Islam's golden period were described as "robust." How else are we to learn Islam, its principles, teachings and values if we do not know the fundamentals behind it. Questions in the forms of scenarios were frequent and paramount in people's learning and understanding.

Also, just a side note -- when I read the title of this blog, "Popping the Question" I thought this blog was going to be about marriage. Lol.

Salina Khan said...

Salam, Hooma,
Haha..I think a lot of other people did as's funny how marriage-related topics always seem to be most popular.
Thank you for sharing your perspective, esp as a lawyer. I know you must love to ask questions as well :)