Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
17 January 2017
The often lazy display in understanding the
complexity of the Muslim situation can be found today in the Indian media,
particularly television. Whether there is a discussion on education, health,
politics or gender, we find that the Muslim is represented by some Alim, who
pontificates on every given issue as if they are experts of all that is going
on within the Muslim society. One is flabbergasted to hear some Maulvis giving
his views in areas where the person has no expertise. But the more important
point perhaps is why does the electronic media think that the Ulema represent
Indian Muslims? Is it just their ignorance or is there some deep structure in
their unconscious which makes them believe that Muslims can best be represented
through the Ulema?
It is not just the media which gives them
such importance, but even average Muslims themselves hold them in high regard.
In matters especially concerning those of religion, their views are taken
seriously and even adhered to by scores of Muslims. Some Muslims even regard
them as leaders of the community and thus they are listened to carefully in
matters of politics and a certain kind of leadership role is expected from
them. Even if such Muslims are in a minority, it is generally observed that
when a Maulana speaks up on some issue, everyone listens in rapt attention and
there is hardly any questioning of the position taken by that particular Alim.
As part of myth making, the Ulema would let
us believe that they were important since the beginning of Islam. But things
were not always this good for the Ulema. Indeed in the early years of Islam,
they hardly existed as a class. The ‘golden age’ of Islam tells us that there
was always a tension between the Ulema and the philosophers. The latter did not
take them seriously and at times publicly lambasted them for their limited
understanding of how the world works. To make matters worse, there were poets
whose favourite pastime was ridiculing the Ulema for the incoherence of their
thoughts. Moreover, philosophers were Aalim in their own right: no one could
accuse Ibn Sina or IbnRushd for not knowing religion. Indeed, in their own
worlds there was hardly a distinction between the pursuit of religious and
material knowledge. They excelled in both and looked down on the Ulema who were
pre-occupied with the other world without understanding how the present world
worked and manifested the glory of Allah. And then of course there were the
Sufis, having mass following, who championed the cause of batini (inner)
khilafah and lampooned the Ulema for their limited understanding of religion,
often accusing them of inventing newer interpretations of Islam for the benefit
of the King.
Despite such a healthy scepticism against
the Ulema, how is it that today they have come to occupy the imagination of the
Muslims and others? In the Indian context, part of the answer lies in the
movement for protecting the Khilafat which was launched in 1919. For the
Congress, it was an attempt to bring Muslims closer to the organization on an
emotive issue. But this was perhaps for the first time, that the Ulema had an
organization of their own: the Khilafat Conference. History tells us that this
Conference hardly achieved anything: the issue itself was lost when the Turkish
people revolted and abolished the caliphate itself. But the Ulema had tasted
something different: it was no longer the issue of the caliphate but the
discovery that Islam could be used to mobilize Muslims. And there has been no
looking back since. With the passage of time, this consciousness among the Ulema
has only grown.
Today most of them do not operate
individually as was the traditional arrangement of power. But they are part of
some organization and derive their strength by being part of that collective.
Almost all maslaks have their own organization and there are deep doctrinal
differences between them but they get united as a class whenever a need arises.
The recent bonhomie between the Bareilvis and Deobandis is a recent example.
The issue at hand is not a rational argument for or against triple Talaq. The
issue at the core is: who gets to interpret and define what Islam is? The Ulema
as a class are unwilling to let go of their power to define and represent Islam
despite causing pain and humiliation to millions of Muslim women.
One is often left wondering whether the
current politics of the Ulema resembles the workings of a de facto church,
something which has no sanction in Islam historically or even theologically.
Alam is a NewAgeIslam.com columnist
Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic
Muslim News, Arab
World News, South
Asia News, Indian
Muslim News, World
Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic
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in America, Muslim
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Women and Feminism
The ulema—religion-operatives and pseudo authorities
on everything have not acquired importance without the consent of the majority average
followers, who mainly became Muslims by sunn sunn kar musulman huey (sunnis
?). “…but even average Muslims themselves hold them in high
regard. In matters especially concerning those of religion,…” as you rightly
say. It is they who in the first place have placed them on the religious pedestal
and handed them “importance” on the plate. Who would look such a gift horse in
To all, Islam is supposed to be a religion therefore it must have a
priesthood class, the guides.
Actual case to illustrate this. In a so called
enlightened Urdu speaking group at a dinner party there were five people who were all named
‘Daaktar Saab’. Some PhDs and some medicos. The topic turned to whether or not
Kangaroo meat is halal, allowed to eat?
After lengthy, passionate and fruitless discussion
it was finally agreed—“must obtain a fatwa from a mufti or maulaanaa”! Not once
was any reference made to Quran; let alone question the titles of mufti and
So yes, it has become a CHURCH!!
There is no reason to “wonder”. The Ulema ARE the clergy, clever
operatives and traders (2-79) of the CHURCHES.
It is the followers who are the dumb sheep to even call them
Ulema; not knowing who are the people with knowledge-I’lm and are the Ulema-scholars
referred to in Quran:-
35:27,28- ……those of His obedient servants, the Ulema, who
possess KNOWLEDGE (of workings of the Universal phenomena) humble before God
(fearing wrong doing). Surely God is mighty and forgiving.