The term 'ulama' (plural for alim) is an Islamic term, which literally means 'the men of knowledge’. The literal meaning itself is already too obvious, so there is no need to ask who they are unless the person asking does not know what knowledge is. If that is the case, what he should be asking then is: what is knowledge? A person who does not know what knowledge is will not be able to tell the difference between a scholar and a pretender. He might be deceived by the external appearance of someone who claims to be a scholar, while knowledge in reality is the attribute of the soul.
According to the Qur'an and the Prophetic Tradition, the ulama are the heirs of the Prophet, and they are the truly fearful of God among His servants. Being the heirs of the Prophets, they inherit the teachings of the Prophets, preserve those teachings, and convey them to the rest of mankind. In every generation they are the ones who protect the prophetic knowledge, from alteration, corruption and false interpretations. Without them, true Islam would have been non-existent.
Knowing their true contribution to the religion of Islam, it would be a gross injustice to undermine, let alone to deny altogether the place and the role of the ulama in the Muslim community. By ‘injustice’ we mean a state of being where things are not placed in their proper places. The Qur'anic term for injustice is 'darkness' (zulm), because in the dark one cannot see things, and if one were asked to put a thing in its proper place while he is in the dark, he would not be able to do it. Injustice is a state of the soul, caused by the ignorance of the right and proper place of things. But there is something that is worse than ignorance; it is a state called ‘confusion’, which is caused by an error in knowledge.
Ignorance, by which we mean the absence of knowledge, is relatively easier to remedy and that is by imparting knowledge. A confused person, however, is more difficult to deal with, because he is not simply ignorant. He does know some truths, yet what he thinks he knows is in reality a mixture of truth and falsehood, and it is a condition that he either does not realize, or, worse, refuses to admit. A person who is in this state of mind, is prone to making all sorts of erroneous judgements. Just Imagine when the society in general is eiher ignorant or confused, how would it be possible for them to recognize the true ulama from the false ones, and not to be deceived by the impostor?
Yes, there are, indeed, false ulama, just as there are false prophets. The false ulama, are by definition not the men of knowledge, so they are not real ulama. So, when people who are actually not ulama are being placed in the position of ulama, a great injustice has been done, and it means something must have really gone wrong with the society so that have allowed it to happen. It means the society has become ignorant or confused of the right and proper place resulting in wrong people being appointed to lead them in intellectual matters.
The false ulama would not be able to lead the society to the right path because they themselves do not belong to the path. Instead they prefer the path of worldliness, where power, wealth and dominion are the ultimate aim. How could such a person be trusted and relied upon? Trusting and following their advice would only perpetuate more injustice and corruption. This is the predicament of the Muslim society today, and they will remain in that condition as long as they do not realize and admit its true cause. The longer they take to wake up and realize their true problem the bigger the damage they would have to sustain and the deeper the problem would become.
The emergence of the false ulama is indicative of a profound intellectual crisis, so the remedy should also be intellectual by nature. But it would not be easy because the great majority of the Muslims today including the learned among them have not truly recognized the cause of the problem and its devastating effects. If they do not think that all this while they have been misguided by the false ulama, they would not bother to remove them. If they do, they would have responded enthusiastically to the call to reeducating themselves, because that is the only way ignorance and confusion could be eliminated and with that the false ulama.
The true ulama will not simply appear from nowhere and begin to demand the return of their rightful place. That is not how it would happen. They will only take their place and play their role when the society begin to recognize and acknowledge them. It means the society must faciliate their emergence of true ulama, and that would be possible only when true knowledge becomes widesread and ignorance and confusion are no longer rampant. That is the natural order of affair. Guidance does not simply come to those who are not worthy of it. The true ulama are the bearers of divine guidance, which is what we mean by true knowledge, also known as wisdom and light. Their presence means the presence of Divine mercy on mankind, and their absence means the absence of it. Unless we prove that we deserve them they would not be there for us. Md. Asham B. Ahmad. The STAR Home News Opinion IKIM Views 31 Mar 2015