Answered by Saraji Umm Zaid
Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim Alhamdulillahir Rabi'yal 'alamin wa salatu wa salamu 'ala rasul'illah Sayiduna Muhammad wa 'ala ahlihi wa sahbihi wa salaam
Several years ago, I wrote an article for Q-News on internet slander, and in the course of researching it, asked Shaykh Faraz Rabbani how our beloved scholars feel when they are attacked and slandered online. His response, which has always stuck with me, is that the shayukh only care about how Allah thinks of them. Subhan'Allah. Many of you have been honored to sit in the presence of our shayukh and teachers, and witnessed their humility, their kindness, and, most importantly, their constant dhikr of Allah ta'ala. Islam has traditionally stressed seeking knowledge with the shayukh. Not just for what they can tell you is contained or meant by the words in a book, but because you learn just as much by observing their mannerisms. Our beloved Messenger, sallalahu aleyhi wa salaam, said that he was sent to perfect character. Our scholars are his inheritors, and we have many examples and narrations throughout history until today of our shayukh and teachers, men and women, striving to observe the highest etiquette and to model it for their students.
The scholars of this diyn, the men and women who have put their lives into studying it, so that they might pass the knowledge on to others, deserve a certain amount of respect from the rest of us. Not because they are worth more as human beings, but because they have done something, sacrificed of their time, perhaps sacrificed a more financially lucrative way of life, in order to serve the Ummah and the rest of humanity. This doesn't mean you're going to get along with every scholar, or that your personality will mesh with his, it's just simple adab. Your parents are due a certain amount of adab, as are your fellow Muslims, as well, regardless of gender or status.
Those of us born and raised in the West have been inculcated in a culture that encourages a certain degree of iconoclasm. A popular sticker commands us to "Question Authority." There are some in the Ummah who believe it is their God-given right to question everything a scholar teaches, even if, or especially if, the questioning is done in vulgarity, poor taste, or with a certain degree of hostility. They say that the followers of Traditional Islam don't want us to question anything, but to blindly follow the teachers and accept what we are spoon fed, and they say that this gives them the right to say whatever they want, however they want, about those teachers, as well as their students.
Does the seeking of sacred knowledge in a traditional setting demand blind following on the part of the student? It does not. It does demand, however, that we enter into the student-teacher setting with love and respect, just out of regard for our mutual status as Muslims. Questioning and asking for clarification, in this atmosphere, is far from "wrong," it is encouraged. The great scholar and companion Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) was asked how he attained unto so much knowledge and he said, “By a questioning tongue and an ever-sharp mind.”
It is an oft-repeated proverb that we owe our brother and sister Muslim seventy excuses for bad behavior. Whatever you think you see or hear him or her doing, you give them an excuse. And then another, and then another. You inquire about the matter quietly, in private, so that they are not humiliated or slandered. You allow for the possibility that you did not see or hear what you thought you saw or heard, because you allow for the possibility that you are not as perfect or intelligent as your nafs wants you to believe you are. You allow for the possibility that shayukh and teachers make mistakes, misspeak, have bad days, and get angry just like any other human being does. We all know that when we make mistakes or say things that are misunderstood, we don't want to be humiliated in public for it. How can you expect the consideration of seventy excuses to be given to you if you don't extend it to others first?
There was an article released on an internet site recently that slandered several scholars and a group of students, singling out one particular sheikh. These men and women may not know and may not care what was said about them in ignorance, but those of us who know and love them do. It's in our human nature to want to protect the ones we love, and to defend them when their honor or person is threatened.
The damage that has been done to their reputations, especially that one individual, may never be undone. By Allah, I know the scholar who was singled out. I know him as nothing less and nothing more than a pious, friendly, open minded individual, who makes friends across political, ethnic, and "madhab / no madhab" lines, who loves children and is able to make special connections with them, who wasn't afraid to marry a strong, intelligent woman, and who loves to cook and sing for his students. He travels thousands of miles every year just to teach a little of all that he has learned, so that others might turn around and teach their husbands, wives, and children. He makes a special effort to teach the knowledge of the Qur'an and the art of reciting it. Although English is not his first language, we see him striving to make sure we understand the finest points of detail. He teaches with humor and patience. I have never seen him treat or talk to a woman with anything less than utmost respect and honor. I was awed when I saw him weather a tragedy that would crush many of us with dignity and strength of 'iman, seemingly more concerned for others than he was for himself. Mash'Allah, it is an uplifting experience to be near someone who has that much nur al 'iman -- the Light of Faith -- in their face. Wallahi, he lights up a room when he walks into it. Mash'Allah, may Allah protect him and preserve him.
Slander, backbiting, and tale bearing are all serious matters about which Allah subhannahu wa ta'ala has given grave warnings.
"Those who slander such of the Believers as give themselves freely to (deeds of) charity, as well as those who give according to their means, -- and throw ridicule on them -- Allah will throw back their ridicule on them: and they shall have a grievous chastisement." (Surat al Taubah, 79)
The Messenger of Allah (sallalahu aleyhi wa salaam) also had very strong words for those who engage in this talk. For example:
"The most prevalent kind of usury [riba] is going to lengths in talking unjustly against a Muslim's honor." (Abu Dawud)
"O community of people who believed by their tongue, while belief has not entered their hearts: Do not backbite Muslims, and do not search for their faults, for if anyone searches for their faults, Allah will search for his fault, and if Allah searches for the fault of anyone, He disgraces him in his house." (Abu Dawud)
Our reputations are sacrosanct in Islam. Unfortunately, it is so easy to wag the tongue, and many of us do not understand the damage that can be done with one sentence, one conversation, one article, until it's too late. May Allah ta'ala forgive us all for the damage we have caused, inadvertently or otherwise.
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The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, "Knowledge is only through study." While some knowledge can be gained from reading or casually listening to lectures, the best means to gain knowledge is through finding a qualified teacher and then setting up a systematic program of learning. Picking up a book or reading an article and trying to figure things out on our own is no substitute for learning from someone who has a direct link to our living tradition.
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