There is no successful Muslim scholar who hasn't been labelled a heretic or deviant by their contemporaries. Imam Ghazzali criticized Ibn Sina, Ibn Taymiyyah criticized Imam Ghazzali, Ibn Taymiyyah was accused of kufr for holding on to anthropomorphism and imprisoned... and the cycle goes on.
For us they are all great scholars in their own ways.
This is inevitable in organized religion that has an orthodoxy. There will always be people who will accuse others of standing out of line. With Islam its gets even trickier because Islam is a dynamic religion that is applicable till the Last Day. Thus it contains guidance about events that would happen till the End. (16:89) Thus new meanings will emerge out of the Quran as time moves forward. Those people who insist that only classical opinions hold weight and everything after the first three generations must be rejected, imply that the Quran is finite, which is absolutely wrong. The Quran is an infinite ocean which wasn't exhausted by earlier scholarship. To come up with a novel interpretation is not misguidance, it affirms the infinite nature of the Book of Allah. What we need to check is whether this novel interpretation agrees with the Quran as a whole or it doesn't. If it does then they are right. If it doesn't they are wrong. Because the Quran has no contradictions, and one part confirms the other parts.
What made classical scholarship great is what was considered 'novel' in their time. What made Imam Abu Hanifa great is that he pioneered and formalized the study of Fiqh and made extensive use of independent reasoning. This was a novelty.
(Btw when I say 'new meanings' I'm not talking about legal rulings. What was haram in the 7th century is still haram.)
Allah Most High has given us a perfect criteria to judge who is rightly guided and who is not. The Quran ! When in doubt we need to check two things:
1. See if in their opinions/interpretations, the scholar in question considers the Quran to be the Absolute truth. If yes, then they are correct, if not, then they are mistaken.
2. Check whether the scholar's methodology and opinions agree with the Book of Allah. If they do, they are right even if popular scholars accuse them.
The Quran is the Furqan (The Criterion). The Quran sits in judgement over EVERYTHING.
Allah says,"...If you (Muslims) dispute over anything, refer it to Allāh and the Messenger, if you should believe in Allāh and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in result. (4:59)
Character Assassination of Scholars
There has never been a pious and popular Muslim man/woman who hasn't been slandered and character assassinated by enemies. Character assassination is an age old technique to smear and discredit someone. Maryam (as), Yusuf (as) and Aisha (ra) were falsely accused.
The Quran gives us a perfect solution in this regard as well.
You heard someone being accused of immorality.
Allah says "could you produce 4 witnesses? If you couldn't then you are liars in the sight of Allah." (Surah Noor)
This is the way Muslims deal with serious issues like slander.
Producing four witnesses to prove the immoral action is a must. If you cant do that then in ALLAH'S SIGHT YOU ARE THE SINNER.
Allah calls such people 'Fasiqeen'. And their testimony can never be taken from now on.
What was the basis of the great slander against our Mother Aisha (ra)? She was travelling when she dropped her necklace. She got off the camel to look for it and the caravan moved on without her. She didn't know the way so she stayed at that spot. A young Sahabi came and stopped when he saw her alone. He didn't even cast a glance at her and he brought her back. When the Munafiqeen saw them entering Medina together, they cooked up the slanderous allegation. This was one of the most difficult period for both the Prophet (saw) and Aisha (ra).
Aisha (ra) reports that she would cry for days and nights together praying to Allah for help. And then came the verses where Allah reprimands all believers in these words:
"Indeed, those who came up with that ˹outrageous˺ slander are a group of you. Do not think this is bad for you. Rather, it is good for you. They will be punished, each according to their share of the sin. As for their mastermind, he will suffer a tremendous punishment. If only the believing men and women had thought well of one another, when you heard this ˹rumour˺, and said, “This is clearly ˹an outrageous˺ slander!”
Why did they not produce four witnesses? Now, since they have failed to produce witnesses, they are ˹truly˺ liars in the sight of Allah. Had it not been for Allah’s grace and mercy upon you in this world and the Hereafter, you would have certainly been touched with a tremendous punishment for what you plunged into."
(Surah Nur: 11-24)
Notice how Allah says "If only the believing men and women had thought well of ONE ANOTHER", meaning the one that you are accusing of immorality is ONE OF YOU. This is a fellow Muslim. Why couldn't you assume good of him/her? Why didn't you produce four witnesses for your accusation? Why didn't you have a good opinion of a fellow Muslim? Why did you assume the worst?
Think and reflect. May Allah save us from accusing and slandering any innocent person ever.
May Allah give us the tawfeeq to always take the Quran as our Criterion for everything. Ameen