…A time will come upon men, when their men of understanding (fuqahā) are few but their Qur’ān reciters are many; when the letters of the Qur’ān are guarded carefully but its boundaries are lost, when many ask but few give, when they make the sermon long but the prayer short, and put their desires before their actions.
The statement has been attributed to the companion Abdallah bin Mas’ud. Whilst not a Prophetic statement, its description of times to come is truly insightful (1). Our present age is truly one of peculiarities. That hardly seems a surprise given what we have been foretold about events that would come to pass within the revelation. Amongst the many oddities of the age, we seem to be witnessing the increasing rise in the use of the soundbite. Often it is used with the rubric of motivational quotes, general aphorisms or even catchy one-liners, its prevalence has become quite staggering.
That is not to suggest that the use of any form of soundbite, motivational speech or aphorism has no place whatsoever. Clearly it does, but there is a time and a place for all things. It can become somewhat of a problem when it is overused and marshalled as a substitute to diligent study.
Enter the Circus
Social media has become a notorious medium for this. Many celebrities now find themselves also caught up within this. It seems incredibly strange to witness those brandishing laudable titles like Shaykh, Dr., Mufti and the like, reducing themselves solely to using soundbites. Many, though certainly not all, seem to only want to do this. There was a time when holding such a title meant that you had made some form of contribution to knowledge; primarily, by way of written works.
“All the scholars have said…” which upon closer investigation, almost always means only three individuals from Riyadh, all of which believe that the earth is flat and doesn’t rotate.
“You must follow a madhab (school of thought)…” though how and upon what basis one chooses a school beyond being born in a given geographic region still remains a complete mystery.
And to stave off any form criticism comes the retort – “Who gave you permission to speak? And who are your scholars?” because scholarship is now thought of only being as a clerical matter; if you are not part of the established church, then by default you must be a heretic; the College of Cardinals thus speaks.
‘Words are very, unnecessary…’
The circuit of public lectures also seems to reflect this worrying trend. Aside from many actively preventing any form of questioning taking place at events, the soundbite, aphorism and generic motivational messages appear to have become paramount here as well. Where additional content is being given, this too often appears limited. Either it only relates to individual rituals (like prayer, fasting, pilgrimage), general exhortations, or at times a retreat into the supernatural – with an obsessive fixation upon wizards, sorcery and magic.
And all too often it’s the same individuals that eventually do a public volte face, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, hand-in-glove with tyranny, be that in the West or the East.
By failing to actively raise the consciousness, for example through equipping the public with core fundamental principles shock, bewilderment and surprise soon follows and at times complete silence. To the extent, that the words of the Prophet (peace be upon him) are not even used as a yardstick for judgement anymore:
Listen: have you heard that after me there will be rulers; whoever enters upon them and condones their lies, and supports them in their oppression, then he is not from me and I am not from him. And he shall not drink with me from the Ḥawḍ. And whoever does not enter upon them, nor help them in their oppression, nor condones their lies, then he is from me, and I am from him, and he shall drink with me at the Ḥawḍ. (2)
‘Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…’
Whilst there is almost always collective praise concerning the accolades of previous generations of scholars, there does now seem to be minimal interest in wanting to even try to substantively contribute anything to the present or the future. Whereas previously many had an unyielding spirit of inquiry; a willingness to keep asking the ‘why’ and ‘how’, that seems to have largely dissipated in the modern age. In fact, the opposite often occurs now.
There is very little that is even promoted which encourages objective thought; to actively engage, think and question, not just to parrot or mimic.
Even those that laud themselves as the people of traditionalism and certification are stuck in this quagmire and often this begs the legitimate question: exactly what are you studying that produces a mentality that cannot critically evaluate?
The over the top emphasis upon imitation (Taqleed) has led to the point where we have now almost formally instituted a clergy. To even begin to suggest that this has catastrophic consequences leads to expressions of shock and charges of heresy (3).
Cumulatively this dumbing-down and lack of intellectual rigour in the approach towards Islamic sciences, clearly has benefits to some. For it leaves large swathes of the public without the necessary tools to substantively engage with any of the pressing issues of import within the present age. Is it any wonder that no one seems to want to ask: why it is that every Muslim country has usury (riba’) in its banking/monetary system, despite the explicit prohibition on this set out in the Qur’ān? As Abdallah bin Mas’ud said: ‘…their Qur’ān reciters are many, when the letters of the Qur’ān are guarded carefully but its boundaries are lost…’ (4)
‘To the future, belongs the past…’
Perhaps the tide can be turned against this state of affairs. It is our intention here to try and revive that which has remained dormant and neglected for far too long. With the help and grace of Allah, to equip our readership with the fundamental principles, intellectual tools and critical skills to raise our collective consciousness and awareness. Maybe that could also go some way to helping this nation rebuild itself; to implement and carry the message of Islam, being a hope for humanity amidst the darkness of tyranny that presently encompasses us.
Say: This is my way: I call to Allah, I and those who follow me; being certain, and glory be to Allah, and I am not one of the polytheists [12: 108]
The wording is cited from the Muwaṭṭ’a of Mālik with the isnād: Yaḥya narrated to me from Mālik from Yaḥya bin Sa’eed that Abdallah bin Mas’ud said. Bukhāri has this also in Adab al-Mufrad, with the reported channel being: Abdallah bin Abul’Aswad narrated to us he said Abdal-Wāḥid bin Ziyād narrated to us he said al-Ḥārith bin Ḥaṣeera narrated to us he said Zayd bin Wahb narrated to us, he said I heard Ibn Mas’ud saying.
As per the reported wording from Imām Tirmidhi. He has this in his Sunan with the isnād: Hāroon bin Isḥāq al-Hamdāni narrated to us Muḥammad bin Abdal-Wahhāb narrated to me from Misr from Abu Ḥuṣayn from ash-Sha’bi from A’āṣim al-Adawi from Ka’b bin Ujra. Other collectors cited this authentic (Ṣaḥīḥ) tradition in their respective works, such as: Sunan Nasā’i, Musnad Aḥmad and Mu’jam al-Kabir of Ṭabarāni.