Bismillah ar rahman ar raheem, alhamdulillahi rabil alameen, wa salatu wa salam ala nabiyyina Muhammad, wa ala alahi wa ashabihi ajmaeen, wa b’ad:
We find many speakers rising amongst the ranks of the people discussing issues of the religion that they may or may not be ready for, to the extent that the value of a person is not held in what he says, but how he says it. Basically, his knowledge is not the point of benefit or value, but the way he speaks. This goes against the pure Islamic teachings, as Allah mentions the people who have the most awareness of him are the scholars [of the religion], and that they are the ones who we are commanded to turn to in times of trials and tribulations and our questions, and they are the ones who are praised in the Quran and in many ahadith of the Prophetic Sunnah -salalahu alaihi wa salam-.
The reality is that knowledge is acquired, while speaking is a gift, and the Prophet salalahu alaihi wa salam described it (i.e. speaking) as a type of magic, and unfortunately we have seen its effect, to the point that some people have fallen into another warning from him -salalahu alaiihi wa salam-, about taking the ignorant as their leaders, be it in their masjid, concerning their religious affairs, giving fatwa, or other than that.
The question then arises: who are the people of knowledge and how do I connect myself to them?
As for who they are, then there are books written about the characteristics of the scholar and his etiquettes, but these books help us recognize a scholar, not proclaim scholarship for an individual. In essence, the scholars are recognized by scholars. The same way a person, when he is ill, asks his friends for a good doctor, they will direct him to who they feel is most knowledgeable concerning medicine. When this individual reaches that recommended doctor, he will in turn direct him to a specialist. Why? Because a professional in a field knows his peers, so how much more a person who has dealt with other teachers and educators in Islam?
Is there a set curriculum an individual has to go to, in order to ascertain scholarship? Not necessarily, but scholarship is usually attained in two ways, after tawfeeq from Allah:
1. Academically, by going through a curriculum focused in different Islamic sciences, focusing on a particular science, be it Fiqh, Hadeeth, Aqeedah or other than that. This is done under the tutelage of existing scholars.
2. Apprenticeship, in which an individual accompanies a scholar for a long period of time taking most of the sciences from that particular scholar.
Essentially, a scholar can only be produced by a scholar, whether he learned by method one or method two.
In our time, the first method is what is most prevalent, and a combination of the two also take place (which is the best), but in times before the establishment of universities and learning institutions most scholars became such via the second method.
This is not so strange, as in previous generations, and even in some parts of the world today, including certain fields in the West, apprenticeship has and still takes place. Before universities, if a man wanted to become a blacksmith, he would go to a blacksmith and be his apprentice and learn the trade from him, similar to medicine, masons, carpenters, and other than them. So why is it so backwards if it’s done concerning Islamic sciences?
Similarly, just as a scholar is known by other scholars, these scholars also know the students of knowledge, who in turn know other students of knowledge. So if an individual claiming to be a student comes to your community, there is no harm in asking for his credentials and his recommendations either from his teachers and/or peers, just as you would in any other science, actually, this is even more important than that because this is about your religion!!
Concerning connecting yourself with these individuals, be they scholars or students, then it is upon the Muslim to keep righteous company, as the Messenger of Allah salalalhu alaihi wa salam said a person is on the religion of his close friend, so what better friend to make except from the scholars and their students?! As for how it’s done, then we have to realize they are humans just as we are, so you will find some easier to approach than others, but Allah has given them the tawfeeq of learning and preserving His religion, so it is upon us, no matter how friendly we are, to respect and honor them and to keep boundaries concerning them, similar to our relationships with our parents, granted the boundaries are different but still there. So it not upon us to venerate them to the point of perfection, or pure innocence, but at the same time we do not bring them down to our levels, as Ahlus Sunnah, we keep our affairs on the middle path, and Allah knows best.
Abu Sahl Farhan ibn Irfan Siddiqi
Makkah al Mukarramah