I have been observing the growing trend of the rise of Islamic preachers (I called them the Ustazs) over the last 20 years. The trend is both good and bad. I always hope for the good, but I do fear that it might be for the worse. Why?
My first criticism on the Ustazs is about qualifications. Many of these preaching Ustazs are equipped with barely minimal education, and poor command of the Arabic language, narrow based education on Islamic literatures and scholarly preparations, which renders many, save a few, to be truly qualified as “Scholars of Islam”.
As a comparison, for someone to obtain PhD in say in Finance, he has to be very good in statistics and mathematics (the quantitative requirements), and the various discipline in economics such as micro/macroeconomics, financial economics, corporate finance, asset pricing, etc. Good here is not even enough, you must also be able to deal with the theories, empirical methods and matters, as well as to be able to deal with Scholarly discourse.
Similarly, for a true Islamic scholar, he must profess good command of Arabic language, basic fundamental knowledge in Fiqh and As Shari’ah, Islamic Theology (Al Aqidah), Science of Quran (Ulum Al Quran) and it’s interpretations’ (Tafsir), Science of Hadith (Ulum Al Hadith), Islamic history, Islamic civilization, and so on. He must also be able to produce Scholarly works. Four or five years at Al Azhar, for example, would cover very little. In fact, many went to study, just like many students who went to the study for any degree: just to pass and get a degree (Bachelor or Masters).
We know very well that anyone who possessed basic degree in finance, for example, would just barely have the basic knowledge and skills in finance or economics, to be able to deal with complex day-to-day matters of the economy and financial markets. In fact, many don’t even use and rely on what they learn in the classroom. The rest, they gained it through the work experience.
For a person professing to be an expert in Islam, this is an even worse proposition: they have to deal with, interpret, and make judgments on many matters of religion which by far, are way beyond their knowledge and training, and their scope of experience. The bigger problem is, they can’t simply use their “work” experience to deal with the matters, as it requires continuous learning of Islamic subjects, through the literatures as well as from learned teachers and higher scholars (past and present). If they are weak in the tools (i.e. the basic tools such as Arabic language, methods, etc.), then what can they rely on in their continuous learning?
What I also observed is that many of the so-called “famous” Ustaz, are extremely too busy with lectures (ceramah), programs and activities, that I even wonder when will they have time to do their own reading, studying and so on, to keep on enriching their knowledge? This can observed from the obvious lack of depth in their lectures, where more than 90% of the talk, is about their own “opinion” backed some verses of Al Quran and Hadith here and there.
I would like to bring an example from the recent past, namely of the late Mufti of Kelantan Tuan Guru Haji Muhamad Nor. He only had one session per week of teaching namely on Friday morning from 8 to 9 (one hour). One day, one person asked him why he didn’t make it twice a week; and he suddenly fell into a deafening silence and without saying a word, he stood up and left. He stopped having the session for about 3 months, until some people managed to persuade him to come back and teach. When he came back, he explained that the lectures are about Islamic knowledge, and even one hour a week is already too much, for the teacher and his students! How this is in contrast with many Ustaz today; some of them you have to book them at least 3 months ahead for their lectures!
The danger that I could see is the same as the evangelical movement in the United States; where preachers dominate the scene, taking advantage of the hollowness among people in the quest for religion. Take for example Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell, etc. They took advantage of the general realization of upsurge of Christian faith among the American population, which saw the rise of Television evangelism that had more than 50 million followers. Their lectures and programs are not so much about teaching Christian doctrine and faith, but rather, the “popular” talks which capitalized on the fragilities and frailties of people. But at the bottom of it, is about increasing their own popularity and enriching their organizations (and themselves, in case of Jim Bakker).
Could we see the same trend happening here in Malaysia for these Ustazs? I know that some Ustaz charged even RM3,000 per lecture. Or even at a price of RM500 per lecture, if they have 20 lectures per month, it translates to RM10,000 per month of income. This is not counting anything else that they promote through their programs, such as Umrah package, books, paraphernalia, and even some are selling bottled water, with labels such as Sunnah water! If we count all of these, any popular Ustaz would rake in somewhere around RM30,000 a month; and this is tax free and GST free. So it pays to be popular. To be popular, the Ustaz must say things that make them to be likeable, and make people to be at ease, instead of talking about religion in the “hard way”. We also have TV program called the “Young Dai’ or Ustaz”, Imam Muda, etc..etc. These were exactly the method adopted by the TV evangelist that makes them to be extremely popular in the United States as explained above.
This approach presents a major danger: the closing of the mind of the people from “thinking and contemplating” about God and the true religion; but instead people were being pushed on matters that they must overcome their guilt (sins), and compensate for it by getting involve with the Masjid (organization) in order for them to get their salvation. The ceramah, are the platforms for the Ustaz (preachers), to generate fear among people (for not adhering to Islam as they explained it), and they must overcome it by becoming committed to the Islamic cause (as they explained it). Little, if any, are about understanding God (Allah), the true meaning of Life and Death. Little if any are being taught to think and contemplate about the nature of the Soul and Self, in relation to God (Allah), but rather to follow a certain popular doctrine and edicts that are told.
This is the problem that I see around the Muslims in Malaysia today, and I would say the problem is quite pervasive, and the immediate as well as the long term effects could be quite dangerous, as it may lead to many undesired consequences as what had befallen the US TV evangelist movement, which today, are in tatter.
Lastly, I have to also admit that there are a few Ustaz who are not of these categories; and they are truly humble and careful in their works. To them, I would say: salute, and keep it up!
PLEASE READ THE EXPANSION ON THIS SUBJECT IN NEWER POSTINGS:
“SCHOLARS & ‘ULAMA” https://wanhasni.wordpress.com/2016/06/14/scholars-ulama/
“‘ULAMA CRITERIONS” https://wanhasni.wordpress.com/2016/06/24/ulama-criterions/
“TRADITIONS OF KNOWLEDGE” https://wanhasni.wordpress.com/2016/06/24/traditions-of-knowledge/