Scholars Are Kings in Islam
Islam does not allow kingship. Islam was sent into this world by God Almighty to free humanity from the curse, cruelty, tyranny and wretchedness of kingship.
Husain, son of Ali and Fatimah, and grandson of Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, gave his life in the Battlefield of Karbala in modern Iraq, over 1300 years ago, to keep Muslims free from falling prey to the curse of hereditary kingship, as the rest of the world had.
And to give the non-Muslim world an opportunity to move toward a more participatory and more democratic way of life.
So, it is not that Muslims learned democracy — and modernity — from others. It was in fact Islam that taught the world democracy and modernity. And it took the world hundreds of very painful years to catch up.
People of Iraq with Muslim names and credentials, and drunk with this new wine of forbidden alien hereditary monarchy, killed him and much of his family in the most cruel and humiliating manner and mutilated his blessed remains. Some would say, the benighted land of Iraq is paying for that true crime against humanity to this day.
That is because in Islam every man is a king and every woman a queen. In their daily lives, they are all guided by their own conscience and they all submit to the laws of God on earth.
And they also submit to the laws enacted and enforced by governments they themselves choose and put in place, in whatever culture, climate, land or society they may be, and irrespective of whether or not Muslims in that land or society are in a majority or minority.
So, also there is no priesthood or “clericism” in Islam, just as there is also no professional “Imamship,” even though those who lead prayers, in a mosque or outside, will continue to be referred to as Imam.
Islam came into this world to free human beings — both Muslim and non-Muslim — from the clutches and tyranny of priesthood in all forms and facets and in all cultures and places.
Just the way every Muslim man and woman is politically and socially autonomous and self-empowered and self-driven, so also every man and woman is required by Islam to be educated and to become a scholar of sorts.
Islam without education is like a wedding without a bride or a bridegroom.
Some Muslims take refuge in worship — Ibaadat — from scholarship and education: what Islam calls ‘Ilm.
But the difference between an educated person (‘Aalim) and a person devoted to worship (‘Aabid) is like the difference between the least of Muslims and Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, himself.
And this is actually a Hadith that came out of the blessed mouth of the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam.
And the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, said he came into this world to educate the world.
“I am sent as a teacher,” he said!
Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam!
But in Islam, education also means purity of character and nobility of conduct. The Qur’an calls it Tazkiyah: purification.
This is one of the most amazing contributions Islam made to human society and civilization: coupling scholarship with character!
Combining Ta’leem with Tazkiyah!
So, a scholar in Islam must be possessed not only of knowledge, he or she must also be the owner of the most impeccable character. In Islam, one without the other is quite dysfunctional and could even be disastrous.
So, Islam encourages and empowers every man and woman to acquire knowledge; to go to the most distant lands, if they have to, in the pursuit of knowledge; and ask around and inquire of those who already have been given knowledge, so they too will be better educated and better informed.
And do you see the expression I slipped in there: “given” knowledge? That is right! That is how it works in Islam. Knowledge in Islam is a gift from God Almighty and it is given only to those God Almighty pleases.
As Imam Shafi’ee quotes his Shaikh, Wakee’, as saying:
Fa-Annal Hifza Fadlun Min Ilaahin,
Wa Fadlullahi Laa Yu’taa Li-‘Aasee!
So, throughout Muslim history of the past 1400-plus years, Muslim men and women have set out to acquire knowledge. And mostly they did that with the noblest and purest of motives: to please God Almighty.
They did not do it keeping in mind professional or personal gain of some kind, such as to become an “Imam” in a mosque; or to become a judge or an administrator in the government of the day.
In fact, most of them ran from government office and patronage, and some of them even underwent great personal suffering and torture for refusing government — official — patronage.
So, these individuals acquired knowledge for the sake of Allah, and armed themselves with the best character and conduct, and came to be crowned the uncrowned kings of the Muslim world in every age and place.
The people knew who they were and turned to them for help and guidance — and for their knowledge and Fatwas or Opinions and Views — in droves.
And the world — the People, a free People — conferred upon many of them the titles of Imam.
Imam Abu Hanifah, Imam Malik, Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim, Imam Ibn Taimiyah, Imam Ibn Qayyim and others come to mind.
These real scholars of Islam ruled the hearts and minds of the people — in their lifetime and after their death. And continue to do so today after hundreds of years to their death.
In the system of Islam that does not allow kingship, they became uncrowned kings — and remain so to this day, after hundreds of years.