learnlead-300x199I know of a number of people who led a generation of practicing young men and women in the 90s, without having studied Shari'ah formally anywhere or with anyone properly. Due to this they failed to appreciate the nuances in the Islamic Law, and polarized the community with their rigid stance on views that were subject to scholarly difference at best, or utterly absurd at worse. They burnt many bridges, broke up families, turned relatives and best of friends against each other, for a decade or more.

Once they saw a new generation of preachers with some background in academia introducing a more nuanced approach, which challenged their dichotomy and threatened their leadership, they lost grip of the core values that had defined their purpose for a significant portion of their lives. This triggered a radical transformation in them, and as they were going through this transformation, a number of loyal well-wishers tried to engage with them politely, but to no avail. Their response – if there was one – was cold, and often contained sentiments like,

'You were still young when I was teaching this book or that... You used to be my student... You are merely a product of my efforts... I, me, mine...'

It was clear. For them it was a leadership and ego crisis. They were, and had been leaders, for more than a decade, and could not get themselves to accept that others have left them far behind. Their insecurity prevented them from opening any channel of communication with the 'new young shaykhs', except in a capacity of, 'you still have much to learn from me, son'. Finally, they reversed polarity and sharply drifted towards liberalism – literally the other end of the extremism spectrum. At least two of them have now come out of the closest and declared their new found faith, secularism, taking their faithful flock with them.

And the cycle continues. Often I see people who have absolutely no formal education in Islam, reading a few books here and there, and perhaps learning some Arabic, becoming leaders of a small group of people, by merely sharing with them the little they have picked up. Once they get a taste of public appreciation and praise 'JazakAllahu Khayran brother! MashaAllah you have a lot of knowledge!' they find it a serious blow to their ego if someone, out of good will, humbly suggests, 'dear brother, you should formally study the topic before writing anything on it.'

Had they studied and learned before dishing out their half-baked ideas to the public, only to be blown into smithereens by someone who knows slightly better, they would not have subjected themselves to such humiliation, and ruin the lives of so many of their followers who had blindly put their trust in them.

And hence, Umar b. al-Khattab's advice:

Learn before you become leaders...