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Muslims’ Abuse of Islamic Culture
Desecration of a Time-Honored Title Called Imam
Time was when “Imam” was perhaps the second most honored title among Muslims, next only to Amirul Mu’mineen. But that no longer is the case. Nowadays, Muslims cannot wait to throw that time-honored title on anyone anywhere just for the asking.
And there is no scarcity among Muslims of those who would all too readily yield to its lure, no matter how unreal their credentials for coming anywhere within light years of deserving it. If, in the process, that desecrates something as noble as the title “Imam,” so be it.
That is what happens to nations and peoples who lose their sense of history, identity and culture. After that, they generally end up as little clumps of straw on the flood of time and circumstance, no use to anyone – themselves or others.
Ghuthaa’ ka-ghuthaa issail, as the noble Hadith puts it.
Legends of Learning
This perhaps the most glorious of all honorific titles of its kind in Islamic history – Imam – was once conferred voluntarily, and by near consensus, by Muslim people on such distinguished supermen of Islamic learning and human history as Imam Abu Hanifah, Imam Ahamad ibn Hambal, Imam Bukhari and Imam Ghazzali.
Generally speaking, among the qualifications required for this highest level of social and intellectual Islamic exaltation was scholarly excellence that towered over everyone else’s and service to Islam in terms of its vindication, defense and promotion that left all others humbled.
Imams of Yore:
Profiles in Scholarship, Service and Courage
From an intellectual point of view, men who were recipients of this honor throughout Muslim history were prodigious and prolific scholars and writers. Many of them filled the world with their voluminous and weighty writing on practically every conceivable topic of importance to Muslims – and the world.
To get a comparative perspective, you can call them, if you want, the Aristotles and Einsteins of Islamic and other available knowledge of their time – except better and much greater in some ways.
And they were human geniuses beyond dispute. It was said about Imam Abu Hanifah that if he set his mind to it, he could prove that the pillars and columns in your house were made out of gold.
His teachings filled and swayed the world and continue to do so after 1000 years.
Books of Imam Ghazzali and Imam Suyooti fill libraries to this day. One can only wonder how they managed to do all that writing, in addition to everything else that they did, on such a wide range of subjects, in a limited lifespan, using no more than an inkwell and a reed pen that they continually needed to dip in ink.
Instruments of their writing and scholarship were primitive at best, and slower than the slowest snail on God’s earth, when compared to our newest electronic technologies of knowledge production and use. And yet the avalanche of their writing and scholarly output swept the world in all directions.
Socially and culturally speaking, they changed the Muslim Ummah and changed the world of Allah in which they were born, often for all times to come.
As a result, when Muslims of their time, and of subsequent generations, conferred upon them the title of Imam, they deserved it as fully as anyone ever deserved a title. What is more, they brought honor and luster to that title.
Thereafter, Muslims throughout history treated this title – Imam – with greatest respect.
Muslims of Pre-Partition India
Muslims of pre-partition (pre-1947) India mostly used Moulavi, Moulana, Aalim, Mufti or even Allaamah to refer to their Islamic scholars. When they used the expression Imam for someone appointed to lead Jama’at Namaaz in mosques, they carefully qualified it by saying Paysh Imam.
Some others elsewhere used whatever else they could lay their hands on: Mallam and what not.
The Arabs generally contented themselves with more neutral expressions such as Shaikh. Or they simply described the man’s excellence and stature using other appropriate words.
But they all scrupulously left the time-honored title of Imam alone.
Remember, Muslims invented the science of Jarh & Ta’dil, the principles of source criticism and evaluation.