Never before has it been possible to access so much of information with such ease. Daily, new books grace the shelves of libraries and living rooms. More magazines, periodicals and pamphlets are being published than ever before. Furthermore, literally at the press of a button, thousands of books on tafseer, hadith, fiqh, Islamic history and almost every other topic can be accessed. On-line courses and innumerable websites, all in the name of Islam, are at one’s fingertips. Indeed there is a huge explosion of information which is bombarding us from every direction. The major challenge is how to handle this “information explosion”?
The most critical issue in this regard is WHO is giving out the information? This itself will also determine another critical aspect: How authentic is the information? Though we generally take these issues very lightly, especially in this age of the “information explosion,” yet it could very well be a matter of life and death – the death of one’s Imaan. Hence ibn Sireen (rahimahullah), who was among the greatest Taabi’een (companions of the Sahaaba radhiyallahu ‘anhum), firmly stated: “This knowledge is deen. Therefore beware of who you take your deen from?” (Shamail-e-Tirmizi).
The above statement has two fundamental lessons. The first lesson is that one must have a teacher who one learns deen from. It is therefore extremely tragic that, due to the advancement in technology, many people’s teacher has become the internet or computer programs. Imagine a person with a severe heart condition referring to the internet for treatment. He stumbles upon an advert marketing a product which promises a miraculous cure for his ailment. If the ailing person decides to take this unknown product from an unknown person for his heart condition, what will any sane person think of him? More crucial than treating the physical heart is the health of the spiritual heart. Therefore, can just any website, online course, blog, or just any book or person be OK to learn deen from??? Is the fancy label in the form of catchy slogans, glossy titles and a captivating style of writing a good enough basis to rely on the “product”? Such a careless attitude carries an extremely severe risk of a spiritual heart attack!!!
Furthermore, nobody’s knowledge is reliable in any field if it is not acquired from an expert teacher in that field. Any person who claims to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer due to having studied all the material on the subject from books and on the internet, will surely be shunned by every intelligent person. He will also be legally prevented from practicing in that field. This is simply due to him not having learnt his field from a recognized teacher, who himself learnt similarly from an expert, all the way to the top. Having a teacher is therefore essential.
The second lesson in the statement of ibn Sireen (rahimahullah) was to choose a teacher carefully, ensuring that he is reliable in deen. Taking just anyone as a teacher is very dangerous. Often the basis for taking deen from someone is merely the person’s oratory skills, or his apparent expertise in Islamic sciences or his proficiency in the Arabic language. This alone is not sufficient, especially when Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) has warned of such scholars who will have “knowledgeable tongues but hearts of wolves”. In another narration he cautioned against scholars who are “people with tongues sweeter than honey but hearts more bitter than aloe (which is very bitter).” Oratory skills alone is therefore no basis for such a critical choice. History bears testimony that over the centuries many “scholars” with completely corrupt beliefs have swayed thousands of people with their oratory or flowery writings and their apparent expertise in Islamic sciences. While many simple people followed such deviated “scholars” and organisations, a great number of those who were carried away by the outward sophistication of an organisation or the apparent “intellect” of a so-called scholar were the wealthy and educated class. Consider one example. The deviation and corruption in the beliefs of the false prophet and the founder of the Qadiani movement, Ghulam Ahmed Qadiani, are easily understood by even ordinary lay men when it is explained to them in the light of the Quraan and sunnah. Yet, many of his followers up to this day are highly educated. They were caught up by what appeared to be excellent “scholarship” but in reality they were entrapped into rejecting some of the most fundamental beliefs of a Muslim. Similarly, many people were led astray after having read some Shia literature. Yet others fell into complete confusion after being misled into believing that if one follows one of the four Imaams of fiqh (Imaam Abu Hanifa, Imaam Shafi, etc.) one will be following something other than the true deen. Hence they abandoned following the true Imaams and mujtahids (jurists) who were masters and experts in the knowledge of the Quraan and sunnah. In place of the Imaams of fiqh, they then began following the interpretations of modern day “scholars” whose knowledge of deen is but a mere fraction of the knowledge of the great Imaams.
Thus it has always been fundamentally important to first check WHO or WHERE one learns deen from. The information explosion has increased this importance by a million times. If one listens to or reads just anything and everything without having thorough knowledge of the Quraan and sunnah, one will not be able to discern what is correct or what is not. Therefore the best route is to refrain from referring to any unknown sources. Once Sayyiduna ‘Umar (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) requested permission from Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) to read the Torah and benefit from its wisdom. Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) strongly forbade him from doing so, despite the fact that the Quraan has itself declared the Torah as guidance. The reason for the prohibition was that the Torah was greatly interpolated and distorted by the Jews. Furthermore the Quraan was still not entirely revealed and deen was not yet completed. Hence due to this situation even somebody of the calibre of Sayyiduna ‘Umar (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) may not have been able to immediately discern what was authentic and unchanged and what was the distortion of the Jews. This incident clearly highlights the key aspect which is the ability to DISCERN what conforms to the word and spirit of deen and what does not. This is not possible without thorough knowledge. Therefore, the only resort is to turn to someone WHO is reliable.
This begs the crucial question: How does one determine WHO is reliable? A few guidelines gleaned from the Quraan and sunnah are:
The person must be knowledgeable
He must be a pious person. This refers to one who fulfills all the obligations of deen, adheres to the sunnah and who is not a flagrant sinner.
The people who associate with him generally progress in deen and become more conscious of adopting the sunnah in their lives.
He should be a person who is blessed with sharhus sadr (an enlightened heart). The signs of sharhus sadr that have been explained in the hadith are: He is disinclined from the world, his heart is focused towards the Hereafter and he prepares for death.
The great Muhaddith Ibrahim Nakha’ee states: “When people would come to learn Deen from someone, they would look at his character, his salaah and his general condition.”
A common sense approach is to determine what the learned and pious think of the person. This will be a good indication of whether one is making a sound choice. The situation is similar to that of a person seeking a good doctor to treat a complicated illness. He will generally check two things: What is the success rate of that doctor and what do other doctors have to say about him. The same approach must be adopted to a much greater extent to find the right guide in deen. With each passing day, more and more information will continue to explode from every source and media. Let us firmly stick to someone WHO is reliable so that the wrong information does not explode our deen!