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Recognizing the different
levels of scholarship:
Identifying the differences between the well-
grounded scholars, students of knowledge,
and various levels of the learned is a means
of protection for the youth1.
Certainly, from the issues that often result in differing, quarreling,
and dissention amongst the salafī youth is their inability to identify
the various levels and respective stations of the scholars. These
individuals are similarly hindered by their inability to recognize
who should be referred to concerning issues for which there exists
genuine differences in opinion.

So whenever there is differing in a particular issue, you witness the


strangest thing in the abandonment of the major scholars who are
well-grounded in knowledge and their belittlement and
degradation in favor of those who have not reached the same level
of scholarship nor have they established themselves firmly in the
pursuit of knowledge. Preference is then given to those who do not
share the same station as the major scholars in understanding
intellectual issues and matters pertaining to the pure salafī
methodology.
If only they had referred back to the major scholars and returned to
them, carefully considering their statements, then perhaps the
discord, quarreling, back & forth, and general aversion could have
been avoided on every level.
In light of this, it is imperative that the students of knowledge
realize that those who are most deserving of being given preference
in teaching the people vary in terms of their station and this
variance between them brings to light an extremely important issue
that is very serious. This issue is that preference should be given to

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The following work has been translated from an original article written by Sh. Aḥmad Bāzmūl.
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the most knowledgeable, those who possess the most taqwá, and
those who display the most caution ( waraʿ).
So it should be known that not every individual that assumes a
prominent role in teaching or speaking to the people should be
considered a scholar since these people are upon different levels.

 From them is the station of those from amongst the scholars


who have reached a level in their ijtihād where they can be
considered mujtahid muṭlaq. These individuals are the people
of religious verdicts ( fatwá) and those who should be referred
to in times of crisis.
 From them is the station of those from amongst the scholars
who have reached a level in their ijtihād where they can be
considered mujtahid juzʾī.
 From them is the station of those students of knowledge who
have not reached a level where they should be considered
scholars.
 From them is the station of the layman who has studied some
level of knowledge and subsequently began to involve
himself in the affairs of daʿwah and giving khuṭbahs and
admonitions.
 From them is the station of those people from whom
knowledge should never be taken.
It is essential that you know these levels of scholarship and are able to
differentiate between them just as it is essential that you know that
not every individual who is promoted by the people is qualified to
issue religious verdicts ( fatāwá).
The benefit of being able to distinguish between the different levels of
the scholars is the ability to recognize where each issue should be
referred and from whom from amongst the people of knowledge
each matter should be directed.

Al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī said (in his book Al-Faqīh wal-Mutafaqqih volume


2 page 376): “If the people of a particular region desire to seek a
religious verdict ( fatwá) concerning a crisis that has befallen them,
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then it is upon them to forward their question to those whom they
trust in terms of their religion and those who are considered without
a doubt the most knowledgeable individuals and best representatives
of exemplary behavior. These are the people who should be sought
and the type of individuals that should be approached for counsel.
This is because not everyone who claims knowledge is a worthy
possessor of it, nor should everyone who ascribes to it (i.e.
knowledge) be considered from its people (i.e. the people of
knowledge).”

Ibn ʿAbdul-Barr said (in his book Jāmiʿ Bayān al-ʿIlm wa Faẓluhu ):
“Certainly the scholars are the people of the texts ( al-Athar); those
who understand them and vary amongst themselves in terms of their
proficiency, distinction, and understanding.”

Al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī cites Imām ash-Shāfiʿī (in his book Al-Faqīh wal-
Mutafaqqih volume 2 page 330) who said: “It is not permissible for an
individual to issue religious verdicts ( fatwá) in the religion of Allah
unless this person is knowledgeable concerning the Book of Allah; its
abrogating verses and abrogated verses, its clearer verses and more
ambiguous verses, how it should be interpreted and how it was
revealed, which verses are Makkan and which verses are Madanī and
what is intended by them and concerning what were they revealed.
Then in addition to this, an individual must maintain a broad and
insightful understanding of the ḥadīth of the Messenger of Allah ( )
and which of them are abrogating and which of them are abrogated.
This person should possess knowledge of ḥadīth that is similar to his
knowledge of the Qurʾān just as he must possess extensive
knowledge of the Arabic language and poetry to the extent that it
may support his general body of knowledge. This individual should
be objective and impartial and a person who does not talk a lot. This
individual should witness and oversee the differing of the people in
his locality. This individual should also display a certain level of
genius and if his condition is like what has been mentioned, then let
him speak and issue religious verdicts ( fatāwá) regarding the ḥalāl and
ḥarām. Otherwise, this person may speak in matters of knowledge but
he should refrain from issuing verdicts ( fatāwá).”
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Sufyān ath-Thawrī is quoted in the book Al-Muḥaddith al-Fāṣil bayna ar-


Rāwī wal-Wāʿī by Ar-Rāmahurmazī to have said: “Take the ḥalāl and
ḥarām from those who are well-known for their knowledge and
whoever’s condition is not like this, then take from al-mashyakhah 1.”
Ibn ʿAbdul-Barr said (in his book Jāmiʿ Bayān al -ʿIlm wa Faẓluhu )
reported that Imām Mālik said: “A man informed me that he entered
upon Rabīʿah and then said: ‘What makes you weep’ since his crying
brought fear to his heart. He then said (to Rabīʿah): ‘Did a calamity
befall you?’ Rabīʿah responded to this saying: ‘No, but rather
individuals who possess no knowledge in the religion have been
sought for religious verdicts ( fatāwá); and this is a grave matter which
has become noticeable in Islam.’”

Shaykh Ṣāliḥ al-Fawzān mentions (in an abridgement of a longer


answer 2): “The scholars who should be followed and taken as an
example are those individuals who possess knowledge of Allah the
Glorified and Exalted and thoroughly studied the Book of Allah and
the Sunnah of His Messenger ( ). They are distinguished by their
beneficial knowledge and similarly characterized by their righteous
actions. And every scholar who is not known to have a history of
error or deviation in their thinking should be benefited from.”
So it is not permissible that people take knowledge from the ignorant
even if they possess something in terms of their knowledge.
Similarly, it is not permissible to take knowledge from individuals
who have deviated in their ʿaqīdah by way of shirk or negation (of
Allah’s attributes or the like) just as it is not permissible to take
knowledge from innovators even if some people refer to them as
scholars.

1
The mashyakhāt are books which contain the mention of scholars whom the author or writer of
the book has either met, taken from, or received an ijāzah (permission to narrate) from even if the
author’s name is not found in these scholars chains of narrations mentioned in the books other
compilers of ḥadīth. This book is also called a fihras or a thabt. Muʿjam Muṣṭalaḥ al-Ḥadīth wa Laṭāʾif
al-Asānīd By Muḥammad Ḍayāʾ ar-Raḥmān al-ʿAẓamī.
2
Al-Munṭaqá min fatāwá faḍīlah ash-Shaykh Ṣāliḥ ibn Fawzān ibn ʿAbdullah al-Fawzān; volume 1 page
319.
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So their categories are three:


 The people of knowledge and righteous actions.
 The people of knowledge without actions.
 The people of actions without knowledge.

Certainly, Allah the Exalted has mentioned these three categories of


people towards the end of Sūrah al-Fātiḥah. Allah the Mighty and
Majestic then commands us to seek to be from amongst those who are
guided to the path of the first category of people (the people of
knowledge and righteous actions) and He further commands us to
avoid the paths of the other two types of people.
He says:

‫ﭽﭐﭧ ﭐﭨ ﭐﭩ ﭐﭪ ﭐﭫ ﭐﭬ ﭐﭭ ﭐﭮ ﭐﭯ ﭐﭰ ﭐﭱ ﭐﭲﭐ‬
‫ﭳ ﭐﭴ ﭐﭼ‬
“Guide us to the straight path - The path of those upon whom You have
bestowed (your) favor; not those who have earned [Your] anger or those who
are astray.” [Sūrah al-Fātiḥah 1:67]

So Allah has made the first category of people; those who will receive
His favor. And Allah has made the second category of people those
who have earned His anger and the third category of people those
who are misguided and astray. The second and third categories of
people mentioned here represent the deviant sects of today even
though they may ascribe to Islam.
And may the prayers of peace and blessings of Allah be upon our
Prophet Muḥammad, his family and companions.

Your beloved brother,

Aḥmad Bāzmūl

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