Bismillahi Al-Rahmani Al-Rahim

Why Knowledge Is Essential For Criticism        

It should be more obvious than the sun itself that knowledge is essential for criticism. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be understood by everyone who wishes to get involved with criticizing earlier scholars, especially dead scholars who have little chance of defending themselves. What's really ironic is when the critic associates himself with a particular mathhab, and then ignores everything that doesn't agree with his hawa (whim, caprice).  This is especially sick when the criticism concerns a sensitive topic and is sure to cause disunity in the umma.

To make matters even worse, the people who take on the task of responding to the criticism all too often assume that the critic speaks for the mathhab he associates himself with, and end up attacking the mathhab along with the critic. In assuming this about the mathhab, they end up neglecting to see what it actually has to say about the issue and so they never find out that their greatest tool in silencing the fool is to expose his scholastic infidelity.  And May Allah grace us all with self-control and wisdom, and make us among those with keen insight.

With this said, I will provide a few examples and show, bi ithnillah, just how easy it is to quell some cases of disunity.

Example #1 -- Taxonomy Of Bid`ah
One major source of disunity is how we talk about new matters, and the carelessness some people have in seeing everything new as a blameworthy innovation when the school they affiliate themselves with acknowledges the category of praiseworthy sunnahs.

The majority of classical scholars look at new things and qualify them with one of five qualifiers: obligatory (bid`ah wajibah / dururah), good (bid`ah masnunah / hasanah), permissible (bid`ah mubahah), disliked (bid`ah makruha), and unlawful (bid`ah madhmumah / bid`a sayi'ah).

Another group of scholars, including part of Ahl Al-Hadith, classify new things into two categories: a good sunna (sunna hasana) and a blameworthy innovation (bid`ah sayi'ah).

The first system takes an approach resembling usul, while the second takes is terminology straight from hadith. The first system is finer, while the second is less so.

Now the problem comes up when followers of each system fail to realize and acknowledge the different taxonomies, and end up fighting about things while it is impossible to get anywhere without first unifying the terminology and taxonomy. In addition, sometimes the adherents on a particular taxonomy do not realize its full extent, and end up classifying everything as a bid`ah and failing to realize that other essential category of sunnah hasanah.

Arguing over which taxonomy is better misses the whole point, and it just leads to more disunity and enmity. Where's that respect for scholarly differences? Where's love for your brother and sister? Where's desire for unity? Or better yet: where is your nafs not to be found?

Just remember: when the only tool you own is a hammer, every problem in the world starts looking like nails.

And Allah knows best.

Example #2 -- Slippery Sufic Phrases
Another example pivots around phrases like "I see Allah in everything" and "I see Allah, and I don't see anything in existence except for Allah".

According to a group of people who claim to be associated with the Hanbalis and the Salaf, these phrases constitute shirk, namely associating Allah with His creation or the concept known as unity of being (wahdat al-wujud).

But a quick flip through a book usul al-fiqh in the Hanbali mathab shows that there is nothing wrong with these phrases, since they fall under the topic of majaz, a concept intrinsic to the Arabic language. Both of these phrases have an explanation that fully conforms to Arabic style.

As for the first phrase, it goes back to Allah Most High being the cause for everything to exist, and so it means: "I see everything, and I used it to point me to Allah." (The technical term for this is al-tajawaz bi-l-`ullah `ala `an al-ma`lul. See Ghayat Al-Saul, p110, or any other basic book of usul.)

As for the second phrase, it goes back seeing Allah's influence which point the observer back to Allah. (The technical term for this is al-tajawaz bi-l-muathir `an al-athr. Ibid., p111.)

So really, the person who claims to be affiliated with the Salaf and the Hanbalis should learn the basics of usul al-fiqh before voicing any criticism on the issue. Of course, if the critic denies majaz itself, that's a whole different issue.

And Allah knows best.

Example #3 -- Denying Tasawwuf
Another example is the claim that Salafis and Wahhabis outright reject tasawwuf.

One problem here is that what they reject is calling the discipline "tasawwuf" instead of "tazkiyyah" or "ihsan" like the Salaf did. But this really is a silly issue for anyone to allow disunity over.

Another problem with this claim is that there are things in tasawwuf that no Muslim rejects. No one rejects what the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), the Companions, their students, and the students of their students (Allah be well pleased with them) did and talked about, and no one rejects the basic content of scholars like Al-Hasn Al-Basri, Sufyan Al-Thauri, Al-Harawi, Junayd, Ibn Al-Jawzi, and Sheikh `Abd Al-Qadir Al-Jaylani.

When it comes to the Wahhabis and Salafis, you can get many of them to add that they respect the founders of the tariqas, but they reject the way the followers of the tariqas have become. But you won't find them outright rejecting the tasawwuf of the Salaf.

To perpetuate the claim that Salafis and Wahhabis universally reject tasawwuf is dishonest.

We all agree on is that tasawwuf of the Salaf, and this is the only thing we can hold all people to. Why is it that we shout out for respecting scholarly differences when we are the minority, yet when we get the upper hand we suddenly forget this principle?

And Allah knows best.