The noble Shaykh Ṣāliḥ al-Fawzān (ḥafiẓahullāh) explains that Allāh has elevated the rank of those scholars who strive upon the correct path. Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿāla) gives examples of the virtue of the one who possesses knowledge in His Noble Book,
Say: "Are those who know equal to those who know not?" It is only men of understanding who will remember.
[Sūrah al-Zumar 39: 9]
يَرۡفَعِ ٱللَّهُ ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ مِنكُمۡ وَٱلَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ ٱلۡعِلۡمَ دَرَجَـٰتٍ۬ۚ
Allāh will exalt in degree those of you who believe, and those who have been granted knowledge
[Sūrah al-Mujādilah 58: 10]
This is further exemplified in the many authentic narrations from the Sunnah, such as the ḥadīth reported by Abū al-Dardāʾ (raḍi Allāhu ʿʿʿanhu) who said: I heard the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) say:
“Whoever follows a path to seek knowledge, Allāh will show him the way to Paradise. The angels lower their wings being pleased with the one who seeks knowledge. Whoever is in the heavens and on earth, even the fish in the sea, ask for forgiveness for the scholar. The superiority of the scholar over the worshipper is like that of the moon over all other heavenly bodies. The scholars are the heirs of the Prophets, for the Prophets did not leave behind Dinars and Dirhams, but they left behind knowledge; and whoever receives it, receives an abundance of good fortune.” (Aḥmad, Abū Dāwūd, Al-Tirmidhī, Ibn Mājah)
Many are the texts which illustrate the importance and virtues of seeking knowledge and honouring and taking knowledge from trustworthy people of knowledge, that serve both as an encouragement to learn and safe guard one’s dīn. Allāh has commanded the believers to equip themselves with beneficial knowledge before action. The great Imām al-Bukhārī dedicated an entire chapter to this very aṣl, entitled, ‘Chapter: Knowledge Before Speech and Action’, he further supports this with proof from the Qurʾān in Sūrah Muḥammad,
فَٱعۡلَمۡ أَنَّهُ ۥ لَآ إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا ٱللَّهُ وَٱسۡتَغۡفِرۡ لِذَنۢبِكَ وَلِلۡمُؤۡمِنِينَ وَٱلۡمُؤۡمِنَـٰتِۗ
‘So know that none has the right to be worshipped but Allāh), and ask forgiveness for your sin, and also for (the sin of) believing men and believing women.’
[Sūrah Muḥammad 47: 19]
Shaykh Ṣāliḥ al Fawzān (ḥafiẓahullāh) expounds upon this stating that it is forbidden to speak about the religion without knowledge, since Allāh has made equal in degree those who speak without knowledge with those who associate partners with Him in worship.
قُلۡ إِنَّمَا حَرَّمَ رَبِّىَ ٱلۡفَوَٲحِشَ مَا ظَهَرَ مِنۡہَا وَمَا بَطَنَ وَٱلۡإِثۡمَ وَٱلۡبَغۡىَ بِغَيۡرِ ٱلۡحَقِّ وَأَن تُشۡرِكُواْ بِٱللَّهِ مَا لَمۡ يُنَزِّلۡ بِهِۦ سُلۡطَـٰنً۬ا وَأَن تَقُولُواْ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ مَا لَا تَعۡلَمُونَ
“Say (O Muḥammad): "(But) the things that my Lord has indeed forbidden are Al-Fawāhish (great evil sins, every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse,) whether committed openly or secretly, sins (of all kinds), unrighteous oppression, joining partners (in worship) with Allāh for which He has given no authority, and saying things about Allāh of which you have no knowledge."
[Sūrah al-A’rāf, 7: 33]
And, He the Most High has commanded those who do not know to ask the ʿUlamāʾ,
فَسۡـَٔلُوٓاْ أَهۡلَ ٱلذِّكۡرِ إِن كُنتُمۡ لَا تَعۡلَمُونَ
‘So ask of those who know, if you know not.’
[Sūrah al-Naḥl, 16: 43]
Learning knowledge falls into two categories, firstly, that which is wājib (obligatory) upon every Muslim; none is excused if this type of knowledge is abandoned; and it comprises learning all of that which makes one's religion straight and upright, from amongst them, the rulings pertaining to ʿAqīdah, Ṭahārah, al-Ṣalāh, Zakāh, Sawm and Ḥajj. The Muslim should seek to acquire knowledge about tawḥīd, to learn to pray as the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) prayed so that he is able to perform his obligations in the most correct way, and it is something which is fard al-ʿayn (individual obligation) upon every individual to learn. The second type of knowledge is that which is additional like the rulings pertaining to Sharīʿah (legislation); issues regarding transactions, testimonials, laws of inheritance, marriage, crimes, and judging between the people; this falls into the category of fard al-kifāyah (communal obligation). If a group of Muslims learn this second type of knowledge, then the rest of the Muslims will be exempt. However, if they all leave it off and choose not to learn it, then all of them together will be considered as sinners. To preoccupy oneself with this type of knowledge which is not obligatory upon everyone is better than preoccupying oneself with optional prayers and fasting.
O servant of Allāh! Knowledge can only be obtained from the true trustworthy scholars, not just anyone who is eloquent in speech and narrates a few ḥadīth. How many have gone astray due to the abandonment of Ahl al-ʿIlm, due to arrogance and ignorance, believing that taking from books alone will suffice. Rather books are in need of explanation by the Scholars1 in order that the lay person is able to distinguish between that which is authentic and that which is weak, and that which has been abrogated.
The scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets, because they come in the place of the Prophets in teaching the people the religion and conveying and disseminating the affairs of the religion to the people. It is an obligation upon the people to learn from them and accept the guidelines of the scholars in their teaching. Unfortunately it is with great sorrow that we witness today many people, especially from amongst the youth,forsake the ‘Ulema and stay away from the trustworthy Scholars of the Sunnah, repelling the people from them and speaking against them, and instead they learn due to ignorance that which has nothing to do with knowledge of the religion and possess no understanding. This may be due to their acquiring knowledge from people not known for their trustworthiness in their belief and not know to be from those Scholars that have a firm foothold in the religion, and there is a possibility that these unknown and untrustworthy people from whom they are taking knowledge from are misguided and teach them misguidance and innovation, and in this is a great danger upon the individual and upon the society.
We can see evidence of this today present in the ever-increasing misguided off-shoots of the Khawārij2 like ISIS, Al-Qa'ida, Al-Shabāb and Boko Harām, the majority of which is made up of foolish youth, young in age, foolish in their aspirations and far away from the Sunnah and religion of Allāh.
As Ibn Sīrīn (raḥimahullāh) most aptly stated, ‘This knowledge is Dīn, so look to whom you take your religion.’