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Follow ulama or follow the Quran? – Drawing the line

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
With the ‘ism’ of Allah the Most Gracious the Most Merciful

**This is not an attack against the ulama, but simply to explain the relationship between ulama and the Quran, in the light of the Quran itself. We respect them like any other human being.**

Ulama (singular: ‘aalim) are the people who are scholars specialized in Islamic studies. They are the most respected people in the contemporary Islamic world, revered by the Muslims, and trusted by the Muslims. Some of them are so respected that they became so popular and got so rich just by giving talks and selling books.

However, we should always remind ourselves, what are we suppose to follow actually, Ulama or the Quran? From who should our absolute guidance be from, ulama or Quran? Allah said:

اتَّبِعُوا مَا أُنْزِلَ إِلَيْكُمْ مِنْ رَبِّكُمْ وَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا مِنْ دُونِهِ أَوْلِيَاءَ ۗ قَلِيلًا مَا تَذَكَّرُونَ
Follow what has been sent down to you from your Lord and do not follow guardians besides Him, how little do you mind.
(Quran, Al-A’raaf, 7:3)

أَفَغَيْرَ اللَّهِ أَبْتَغِي حَكَمًا وَهُوَ الَّذِي أَنْزَلَ إِلَيْكُمُ الْكِتَابَ مُفَصَّلًا ۚ وَالَّذِينَ آتَيْنَاهُمُ الْكِتَابَ يَعْلَمُونَ أَنَّهُ مُنَزَّلٌ مِنْ رَبِّكَ بِالْحَقِّ ۖ فَلَا تَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْمُمْتَرِينَ
Then is it other than Allah I should seek as judge while it is He who has sent down to you the Book explained in detail?” And those to whom We [previously] gave the Scripture know that it is sent down from your Lord in truth, so never be among the doubters.
(Quran, Al-An’aam, 6:114)

We must always put in mind that we should follow the Quran. We can follow ulama, in fact we should, but only as long as the ulama follows the Quran. This is because the Quran is the one that gives guidance, not ulama.

…شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِي أُنْزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ هُدًى لِلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَاتٍ مِنَ الْهُدَىٰ وَالْفُرْقَانِ
The month of Ramadhan is that in which the Quran was revealed, a guidance to men and clear proofs of the guidance and the distinction
(Quran, Al-Baqarah, 2:185)

It is clear as sun, from the verse above, the Quran is what guides us (huda) , and explains the guidance (bayyinat min al-huda), and also distinguishes between what is right and what is wrong (furqan).

What happens when we blindly follow ulama?

taking religious scholars and monks as lords besides Allah: Lessons from christians and jews

Recommended: Taking religious scholars and monks as lords besides Allah

The Children of Israel used to be the chosen people of God, where God once exalted them above other nations. They were the ones who, with the will of Allah, escaped the tyrannical rule of Pharaoh, defeated Jalut (Goliath) and claimed the Holy Land which Allah promised for them.

But after some time, they began to disobey their Lord. Their rabbis created a new book called Talmud which contains the supposed words of their prophets and teachings of their rabbis. The rabbis claimed that to understand the Torah, they need to have the Talmud. As a result, the children of Israel ended up following the Talmud instead of following the Torah. They are in fact, following their own ‘ulama’.

Besides, the followers of Jesus too suffered the same fate. They were originally Muslims who viewed Jesus as nothing more than a Messenger. But after his death, the authorities among them began to introduce teachings that Jesus never taught. Paul led the followers of Jesus astray. The church introduced the doctrine of Trinity and finally misled the followers of Jesus to worship him. They are in fact, following their own ‘ulama’.

اتَّخَذُوا أَحْبَارَهُمْ وَرُهْبَانَهُمْ أَرْبَابًا مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ وَالْمَسِيحَ ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ وَمَا أُمِرُوا إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوا إِلَٰهًا وَاحِدًا ۖ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ ۚ سُبْحَانَهُ عَمَّا يُشْرِكُونَ
They have taken their doctors of law and their monks for lords besides Allah, and (also) the Messiah son of Maryam and they were enjoined that they should serve one Allah only, there is no god but He; far from His glory be what they set up (with Him).
(Quran, Al-Tawbah, 9:31)

If the ulama of the Jews and Christians can lead them away from God, then it is not impossible the ulama of the Muslims can lead Muslims astray. Allah had given us the warning that such a thing might happen.

Can we say that verse 9:31 above are only referring to Jews and Christians?Some people say it doesn’t apply to the Muslims because that verse refers to the Jews and Christians. Well, aren’t we suppose to learn from their mistakes? If not, then why would God put that verse? For fun?

Today, we can see the ulama have made the so-called Islamic banking halal when it is no better than conventional banking. Why is Islamic banking not Islamic?

I’m not saying that the ulama have planned a conspiracy to misguide the Muslims, but in the end, by what standards should we judge the truth of something? It must be the Quran.

Warning from the Quran

Furthermore, Allah had given us clear warnings to not blindly follow the scholars or anyone:

إِذْ تَبَرَّأَ الَّذِينَ اتُّبِعُوا مِنَ الَّذِينَ اتَّبَعُوا وَرَأَوُا الْعَذَابَ وَتَقَطَّعَتْ بِهِمُ الْأَسْبَابُ
When those who have been followed disassociate themselves from those who followed [them], and they [all] see the punishment, and cut off from them are the ties [of relationship],

وَقَالَ الَّذِينَ اتَّبَعُوا لَوْ أَنَّ لَنَا كَرَّةً فَنَتَبَرَّأَ مِنْهُمْ كَمَا تَبَرَّءُوا مِنَّا ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ يُرِيهِمُ اللَّهُ أَعْمَالَهُمْ حَسَرَاتٍ عَلَيْهِمْ ۖ وَمَا هُمْ بِخَارِجِينَ مِنَ النَّارِ
Those who followed will say, “If only we had another turn [at worldly life] so we could disassociate ourselves from them as they have disassociated themselves from us.” Thus will Allah show them their deeds as regrets upon them. And they are never to emerge from the Fire.

(Quran, Al-Baqarah, 2:166 & 167)

Notice the “Thus will Allah show them their deeds as regrets upon them”. All of their deeds they did on Earth are wasted because they have been following the wrong people!

The Quran doesn’t bring any message that when you hold on to ulama, you’ll be safe. That’s not how Islam works. Islam always tell us to think, reason, ponder the verses of the Quran, and do not doubt the verses of the Quran which Allah has sent down in truth:

وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمُ اتَّبِعُوا مَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ قَالُوا بَلْ نَتَّبِعُ مَا أَلْفَيْنَا عَلَيْهِ آبَاءَنَا ۗ أَوَلَوْ كَانَ آبَاؤُهُمْ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ شَيْئًا وَلَا يَهْتَدُونَ
And when it is said to them, Follow what Allah has sent down, they say: Nay! we follow what we found our fathers upon. What! and though their fathers had no sense at all, nor did they follow the right way.
(Quran, Al-Baqarah, 2:170)

إِنَّ شَرَّ الدَّوَابِّ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ الصُّمُّ الْبُكْمُ الَّذِينَ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ
Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use reason.
(Quran, Al-Anfaal, 8:22)

وَلَا تَقْفُ مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ ۚ إِنَّ السَّمْعَ وَالْبَصَرَ وَالْفُؤَادَ كُلُّ أُولَٰئِكَ كَانَ عَنْهُ مَسْئُولًا
And follow not that of which you have not the knowledge; surely the hearing and the sight and the heart, all of these, shall be questioned about that.
(Quran, Al-Israa’, 17:36)

وَاللَّهُ أَخْرَجَكُمْ مِنْ بُطُونِ أُمَّهَاتِكُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ شَيْئًا وَجَعَلَ لَكُمُ السَّمْعَ وَالْأَبْصَارَ وَالْأَفْئِدَةَ ۙ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
And Allah has brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers– you did not know anything– and He gave you hearing and sight and hearts that you may give thanks.
(Quran, Al-Nahl, 16:78)

وَمَا كَانَ لِنَفْسٍ أَنْ تُؤْمِنَ إِلَّا بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ ۚ وَيَجْعَلُ الرِّجْسَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ
And it is not for a soul to believe except by permission of Allah, and He will place defilement upon those who will not use reason.
(Quran, Yunus, 10:100)

أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ أَمْ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبٍ أَقْفَالُهَا
Then do they not ponder/reflect the Quran or are there locks upon their hearts?
(Quran, Muhammad, 47:24)

وَلَقَدْ يَسَّرْنَا الْقُرْآنَ لِلذِّكْرِ فَهَلْ مِنْ مُدَّكِرٍ
And certainly We have made the Quran easy for remembrance, but is there anyone who will mind?
(Quran, Repeated 4 times exactly the same in Al-Qamar, 54:17,22,32,40)

In the end, what should be our guidance is the Quran.

“You cannot understand the Quran without the ulama’, you’ll misinterpret it!”

Yes, that’s true. You can misinterpret the Quran. I’m not asking you to leave your ulama. They do help us a lot in interpreting the Quran. But remember our guidance comes from the Quran, not ulama. If we just want to resort to ulama for everything and follow them like sheep, we will end up like the Christians and Jews.

And you also have to ask yourself, why do you depend too much on the ulama? Are we trying to run away from the responsibilty of studying the Quran, when studying the Quran is a fardh ‘ain (compulsory for every individual) for all muslims who have eyes, ears and hearts?

Didn’t Allah made the Quran easy for studying, so why we do we say we can’t understand the Quran? Do we doubt the God’s words when He said:

وَلَقَدْ يَسَّرْنَا الْقُرْآنَ لِلذِّكْرِ فَهَلْ مِنْ مُدَّكِرٍ
And certainly We have made the Quran easy for remembrance, but is there anyone who will mind?
(Quran, Repeated 4 times exactly the same in Al-Qamar, 54:17,22,32,40)

Although we can’t fully grasp full knowledge of the Quran (the ulama will never too) Allah still ordered us in the Quran to read His words, and to ponder (tadabbur) and give thought to it.

أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ أَمْ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبٍ أَقْفَالُهَا
Then do they not ponder/reflect the Quran or are there locks upon their hearts?
(Quran, Muhammad, 47:24)

If you are still feel afraid of reading the Quran, or you don’t trust that the Quran can give you ultimate guidance, Allah said:

كِتَابٌ أُنْزِلَ إِلَيْكَ فَلَا يَكُنْ فِي صَدْرِكَ حَرَجٌ مِنْهُ لِتُنْذِرَ بِهِ وَذِكْرَىٰ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ
[This is] a Book revealed to you, [O Muhammad] – so let there not be in your breast distress therefrom – that you may warn thereby and as a reminder to the believers.
(Quran, Al-A’raaf, 7:2)

ذَٰلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لَا رَيْبَ ۛ فِيهِ ۛ هُدًى لِلْمُتَّقِينَ
This Book, there is no doubt in it, is a guidance to those who fear Allah
(Quran, Al-Baqarah, 2:2)

Allah gives guidance to whom He wills, and He lets astray whom He wills. Who are the people Allah wills to have His guidance?

يَمُنُّونَ عَلَيْكَ أَنْ أَسْلَمُوا ۖ قُلْ لَا تَمُنُّوا عَلَيَّ إِسْلَامَكُمْ ۖ بَلِ اللَّهُ يَمُنُّ عَلَيْكُمْ أَنْ هَدَاكُمْ لِلْإِيمَانِ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ صَادِقِينَ 
They consider it a favor to you that they have accepted Islam. Say, “Do not consider your Islam a favor to me. Rather, Allah has conferred favor upon you that He has guided you to the faith, if you should be truthful (shodiqeen).
(Quran, Al-Hujuraat, 49:17)

In the verse above, it is clear Allah guides the ‘shodiqeen’ (the truthful ones). As long as we are truthful to ourselves, and we have a pure heart and mind, and eager to understand the word of God, in sya Allah, He will guide you.

To what extend is taqleed okay?

Of course, at some point, we don’t have choice but to taqleed (blind following) when our knowledge is not enough, making us incompetent to come to a decision or even understanding. Until we have acquired the right knowledge, we might have to taqleed.

But what if, after researching the Quran, our understanding contradicts the view of the ulama? Are we suppose to immediately claim that our view is better than them? Sometimes, we make poor judgement because we don’t consider the view of others. That’s why it’s always best to ask the people who know first. Ethics are of upmost importance.

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِنْ قَبْلِكَ إِلَّا رِجَالًا نُوحِي إِلَيْهِمْ ۚ فَاسْأَلُوا أَهْلَ الذِّكْرِ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
And We did not send before you any but men to whom We sent revelation– so ask the followers of the Reminder if you do not know
(Quran, Al-Nahl, 16:43)

Ask for evidence too, and seek other’s views too. If it still contradicts with your view, then discuss or debate:

…وَلَا تُجَادِلُوا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ إِلَّا بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا مِنْهُمْ
 And do not dispute with the followers of the Book except only by best manner, except those of them who act unjustly,…
(Quran, Al-Ankabuut, 29:46)

Always remember to keep an open mind, and that you’re researching for the sake of Allah, not your own ego.

Finally, if it still contradicts your view, and you believe you’ve been truthful to yourself and others, and your views are backed up by the Quran, then you should know better about whose words are most truthful: the ulama’ or the Quran?


It is not wrong to follow the ulama, in fact we need them because they aid us in our understanding the Quran. But the problem arises when we revere the ulama so much that we abandoned the Quran.

The Quran is the light, hope and guidance, “That is the book that has no doubt in it, a guidance for the ones who fear Allah” (2:2). If we want to get the guidance from the Quran, then we should be a student of the Quran. That is the very first step that every Muslim should take- iqra!

If anyone goes against the word of Allah, then that person shouldn’t be followed no matter how high is his knowledge or his status and wealth.

And Allah knows best. That’s why we must not only ask for guidance, but also make effort to find it.

وَأَنْزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ مُصَدِّقًا لِمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَمُهَيْمِنًا عَلَيْهِ ۖ فَاحْكُمْ بَيْنَهُمْ بِمَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ ۖ وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءَهُمْ عَمَّا جَاءَكَ مِنَ الْحَقِّ ۚ لِكُلٍّ جَعَلْنَا مِنْكُمْ شِرْعَةً وَمِنْهَاجًا ۚ وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ لَجَعَلَكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَلَٰكِنْ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ فِي مَا آتَاكُمْ ۖ فَاسْتَبِقُوا الْخَيْرَاتِ ۚ إِلَى اللَّهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ جَمِيعًا فَيُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِمَا كُنْتُمْ فِيهِ تَخْتَلِفُونَ
And We have revealed to you the Book with the truth, verifying what is before it of the Book and a guardian over it, therefore judge between them by what Allah has revealed, and do not follow their whimsical desires (to turn away) from the truth that has come to you; for every one of you did We appoint a law (syariah) and a way (minhaaja), and if Allah had pleased He would have made you (all) a single people, but that He might try you in what He gave you, therefore strive with one another to hasten to virtuous deeds; to Allah is your return, of all (of you), so He will let you know that in which you differed;

(Quran, Al-Maaidah, 5:48)

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