The Sword of Truth, Scholars & the Status Quo

November 19, 2012

Published on Facebook

by Imam Na'eem Abdullah

“These scholars were, of course, literates in an otherwise preliterate society; and this gave them the status and power of an elite. They functioned in such roles as court astrologers, religious teachers scribes, Islamic rainmakers, military advisors, and physicians. Their literacy was seen as evidence of superior magic, and the local rulers valued their presence at court for the prestige it brought. The scholars seem to have acquiesced quite readily in this comfortable situation. Only occasionally did one of them have enough courage to protest the mixing of Islam with paganism. While the careers of such activist were sometimes spectacular, their tangible achievements were few; although occasionally, as in the case of al-Maghili, their writings did become important sources of ideas for future generations. But usually they were content to follow a life of scholarship and to study the books brought in across the Sahara from North Africa and Egypt. Then they themselves began to write. Soon they produced a corpus of local Islamic literature written in classical Arabic – the liturgical and legal language of the Islamic religion – from which it is clear that by the first half of the seventeenth century the small Islamic communities were fully at home in the intellectual world of Islam, and therefore not so far removed from the ideas and attitudes of the late medieval and Renaissance European Christendom. But, of course, in Hausaland, as in Europe at an equivalent stage of intellectual development, such scholarship was the preserve of a tiny minority and its impact on the lives of ordinary people was slight.”


            The quote mentioned above if that of Mervyn Hiskett, taken from his book The Sword of Truth: The Life and Times of the Shehu Usuman dan Fodio. This is merely a small section of his introduction where he attempts to paint a picture of what life was like when the Shehu or Shaykh ‘Uthman ibn Fudi stepped onto the scene.


            As I reread this book, I am reminded of how similar his time is to ours and all of those past generations which were on the verge of reform (tajdeed). What strikes me most in this quote is the complicity of the bulk of the scholars. There job was/is not to revive al-Islam, but merely to maintain the status quo. Some may argue that the scholars referred to above were giving sanction to clear shirk (paganism and idolatry) while those contemporary to us are not doing that. Many would beg to differ.


            All one has to do is examine the works of many of our contemporary scholars. Their speeches and writings are tailor-made to justify and give Islamic credence to whatever the social engineers deem to be acceptable – right, wrong or indifferent.


            Just examine the discourse! Many of them are trying to promote the acceptability and tolerance of homosexuality among Muslims and redefine or completely negate apostasy. In other words, you can do or say anything and no one has the right to declare that act or statement as a nullification of your Islam.


            We have also witnessed the acceptability and practice of all of the pagan holidays and the neglect of the Muslim celebrations. The complicit scholars of our time have done this by utilizing the false paradigm of the secularists who divide the world into ‘religious’ and ‘non-religious’. Once they have given the pagan holiday the false hukm (legal ruling) of being ‘non-religious’, they follow that up by saying that the practice is not pagan and therefore permissible to indulge.


            Our ‘Ulama (scholars) have never thought that way (at least not until the colonial period). The Muslim doesn’t understand what ‘non-religious’ means. Everything is for the sake of Allah, including earning wealth and having sexual intercourse. The believer expects a reward from Allah on top of/and more important than the gratification he or she experiences during and after sex. Is sex a ‘non-religious’ act?


In closing, I recommend this book to all who can find it. When you compare what the author says about the Shehu to the writings and accomplishments of the Shehu himself; you will find that he was a stranger (in the sense of the hadith) who cared about the everyday person and his movement infected and affected them to the point that they changed the status quo.