Islam demands that we adorn ourselves with the Divine attributes and manifest qualities of mercy, affection and kindness in our interaction with people, writes EMERITUS PROFESSOR SULEMAN DANGOR.
THE Muslim community is witness to abusive language in the social, print and electronic media on virtually a daily basis. The tragedy is that the majority of those guilty of abusive language are ulama who consider themselves to be inheritors of the prophets and, ironically, continue to remind us to respect them.
In the past, despite strong criticism (justified or unjustified) of non-ulama by the ulama fraternity, it never descended into abusive language. The differences today are:
(a) condescending and insulting words, profanities, derogatory and demeaning language are bandied about without restraint;
(b) the main targets of the abuse are fellow ulama who are perceived as ignorant, misguided, driven by self-interest, hypocritical, compromising etc. and
(c) individuals (including ulama) are maligned and brandied as kaafir, munaafiq, mushrik etc. in particular by the Majlisul Ulama, headed by Moulana Ahmad Sadeq Desai, of Port Elizabeth.
There are several outcomes of this intolerant and disrespectful approach. Followers of these self-righteous ulama who consider themselves to be ulama-e-haqq (such as the Wifaqul Ulama) lose respect for all those, including ulama who are branded as ulama-e-su. As a matter of fact, Mufti A K Hoosen has even compiled a list of ulama behind whom salaah is not valid.
Given the above, several shuyukh/ ulama have pleaded for tolerance and respect for differences of opinion. Among them are the late Shaikh Siraj Hendricks, and more recently, Moulana Khalilur Rahman Sajjad Nomani and Moulana Abbas Ali, both of whom visited the country recently.
My article on ‘Etiquette of differences of opinion’, which was based on an interview I had with Shaikh Siraj Hendricks on Channel Islam International was published in an earlier edition of Muslim Views. However, I thought it relevant to cite one passage from that article.
‘The tradition of ikhtilaaf continued in later generations. Scholars discussed issues rationally and not emotionally. Despite massive differences of opinion among them at times, they showed extreme tolerance of other opinions and respect for those who disagreed with them. They did not resort to verbal abuse, mocking, insults, etc. which demonstrate a lack of adab. Shaikh Siraj said that he came across many scholars who were very knowledgeable but lacked basic adab.’
In this article, I will focus on a talk given by Moulana Abbas Ali – currently based in Australia – after his recent visit to South Africa.
He began by expressing the pain he experienced on learning about the attitudes of the leadership of the darul ulums, tabligh jama’ah and the khanqas. He finds it extremely difficult these days in dealing with those who are narrow and petty-minded. He has become so disillusioned at what he discovered in South Africa that he is no longer willing to be associated with the darul ulums, tabligh jama’ah and khanqas which, according to him, have become ‘political institutions’.
Islam demands that we adorn ourselves with the Divine attributes and manifest qualities of mercy, affection and kindness in our interaction with people in general. However, these can only be manifested by those who are humble and not by those who are arrogant, those who act like gods and demi-gods and believe they can never be wrong.
South African Muslims have become so divided into groups and cells that some claim that only theirs is the correct one and the rest are destined for hell, and insist on everyone joining their group and no other. The intolerance, hatred and malice displayed by some of the ulama he came across are astounding. Instead of demonstrating love, mercy and forgiveness, they label people as apostates, deviant etc.
The Prophet (SAW) was never vulgar or obscene and did not throw people out of Islam. The self-righteous ulama whose conduct reflects pride and egotism are not only dividing people but also creating doubt and confusion. True ulama are humble, have love for everyone in their hearts, are compassionate and propagate peace.
While the tabligh jama’ah is close to his heart, he found that their dawah has become routine and lacks spirit. The ijtimas have become festivals, and the major concern is about the number of attendees. Whereas the focus of the khanqah should be on tazkiyyah (purification of the soul), his visit has raised questions in his mind. He also noted that the mureeds (disciples) do not respect anyone else outside their circle.
The squabbling between ‘elders’ (ulama) are driving people to rely on Google, which can prove to be disastrous because they could easily be misled. People should identify credible ulama and take their guidance from them.
This article was edited on March 25, 2023 at 11:30 to correct an error where it referred to Shaikh Seraj Desai instead of Shaikh Seraj Hendricks.