Muslim Misunderstood Geniuses
By Faisal Amjad

And why Muslims misunderstanding them are worse off for it

Published in: Science
Date: 22 / 03 / 22

I’ve just heard about the recent issue between Shaykh Hasan Ali and Shaykh Imran Hosein.

This is nothing really surprising, to be honest.

One of the things the Ummah has had from day one is ikhtilaf and differences of opinion. Nothing wrong with that at all. No need to get our knickers in a twist about it.

Anyone who pioneers a new field or puts together a groundbreaking piece of research is automatically sticking their neck out and making themselves a target for criticism. That comes with the territory. Because there’s very little in the way of precedent so what is needed is real, deep original intellectual thought. That is too hard, too painstaking, too risky and beyond the calibre of most people hence why the Ummah is in its current malaise and lagging far, far behind the rest of the world.

And a key reason why many who become scholars and imams today adopt a safety-first mindset, and do not dare to even think about veering away from the party line – is the fear of being ostracised and cast out. If the first thing you learn at the Darul Uloom or Madrasa is how everything is perfect the way it is, and nothing can be bettered, are you ever going to even attempt to develop anything original? You just become mere defenders of the Deen, instead of actually adding real value and impact – which is what Islam was always about. What happens if this becomes the overall culture (as it has) is that you stop growing. And if you’re not growing, you’re dying. This is the same holier-than-thou attitude that made the Muslims reject the printing press and steepened the decline from a once-lofty position.

In the world of business and entrepreneurship, you are often disrupting the status quo. You are challenging normal conventions with your own unproven hypothesis and as such, you can often fail and be wrong. But when you’re right, you’re heralded a genius, a pioneer, a leader. Our fiercely capitalist society today champions entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, so naturally Western culture for all of its moral negatives, definitely has the positive byproduct of progress and innovation as a result of this.

The Islamic world however, tragically instead of championing insightful scholarship, chooses to chastise them, label them deviant and throws the baby out with the bathwater. Not everyone is right about everything. Every one has their own expertise – and it is the beauty of our Islamic tradition that we should be open minded and be willing to learn from everyone. Even if the Sheikh is wrong (and he very well might be) – it doesn’t tarnish the rest of the work. We can (and should) still learn from one another. I’ve made it a core principle to never only take opinions from only one scholar or school of thought – holistic understanding is important.

Often, these original thinkers are misunderstood geniuses, ahead of their time and not appreciated until they’ve long gone. That is the price to pay for progress, for actually having the drive, ambition and mission wanting to develop and push the envelope of Islamic thought instead of resting on the laurels of only following what has come before.

Ironically, this is in keeping with the very instruction in the Quran – to keep pondering, thinking, reflecting on the Book – because the Quran has been sent, so it can explain ALL things. And how even if the oceans were ink, nothing would exhaust the words of Allah, in terms of what we can learn from the Book.

Many of the scholars of the Golden age were considered heretics for their views. Yet they changed the world. In more recent times, Allama Iqbal faced intense criticism for some of his radical opinions. Malcolm X had nothing but criticism. Israr Ahmed is another one who has faced huge criticism in his life. But their legacy is not in question. This is not just exclusive to Islam. Tesla died penniless and rejected. Socrates was executed for ‘corrupting the youth’. Leonardo da Vinci, Beethoven, Van Gogh. Many of the greatest thinkers, artists, scientists of the past were not accepted by the mainstream until long after their death as their ideas matured and the rest of the world caught up.

The field of Islamic eschatology is forward looking. And therefore it is practically impossible to get everything right.

What sets Shaykh Imran apart from most is that he is a seasoned scholar not just in Islam but also a scholar of economics and geopolitics. He tends to focus on the macro, the strategic big picture. He is able to connect the dots and see patterns and common threads where most do not. That is the byproduct of being a master in many fields. This is the power of polymathy – and it is no coincidence that Islam was formidable and in our golden age, at a time where polymathy was common. It is because solutions and innovations happen at the intersection of different subjects, cross-industry and by fusing ideas together. Too much of our scholarship today is obsessed with only the micro – the fiqh of x, the sunnah of y etc. I am not belittling the detail but we need balance by studying both ends of the spectrum.

There’s a famous saying – ’there’s a method to the madness.’ It definitely applies here. Not everything is as it seems. What also sets him apart from most others is that he has a very clear and trusted methodology that he follows which allows him to understand and interpret the world through the lens of the Quran. This is the same methodology that has given him deep insights and baseerah into the modern world and has provided an as yet unmatched explanation into the current world and the times we are in. When you have a method, a formula that has served you well for over 60 years, naturally you will be loyal to it. Otherwise it’s not a methodology if you chop and change. If you don’t understand the methodology, and HOW the conclusions have been drawn, then you cannot carte blanche rule anything out. It just means there may be knowledge he is aware of that you yet don’t know. Think about the story of Musa (AS) and Khidr (AS).

The problem sometimes is when we judge, we judge out of context and do not try and understand why and how he has come to that conclusion. Because that kind of process takes time – and we simply don’t have it. So we look at the one statement – and because we’re not familiar with the entire body of work, it sounds loony or even blasphemous. So we put together the mandatory refutation video ‘warning’ the ummah and ‘exposing’ him. But it’s like taking one ayat out of the Quran without the context of the others – you can manipulate it to mean whatever you want. We also have the massive problem of credentialism affecting the Ummah – we reject truth sometimes because of the route it has come from or because of who is saying it.

This is not to say Shaykh Imran is infallible. Of course not – in fact, he is the first to say he might be wrong, and warns his students to never ever accept his opinion without them doing their own due diligence and being convinced of it. He has also corrected himself publicly on numerous occasions on previously held beliefs which he no longer subscribes to. And he might be majorly wrong here. Fair enough. I also respect Shaykh Hasan Ali enough to know this initial reaction may be out of shock, I’ve followed a lot of his work and even invited him to speak at a conference I was holding back in the day. I know he is focusing purely on one or two specific points. Understood.

And of course a caveat is extremely important here – this is not a blanket statement to say all innovative thought is good and that we should allow corrupt ideas to creep in and dilute the deen. Absolutely not. The critical point is to ensure that we remain true to the essence and spirit of the Quran. Sheikh Imran’s methodology has as its fundamental rule that it must not contradict with the Quran as the Quran is the furqan (criterion) under which all else is judged.

One final comment after reading many of the comments is I am disappointed in our adab and ability to disagree with respect. Play the ball, don’t play the man. This is not just some random armchair tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist talking about illuminati. This is someone who gave up his lucrative career as a diplomat to become an Islamic scholar, travels the world extensively teaching and is also a prolific author of over 20 books. No matter what you believe, that kind of output, service and dedication to the cause commands respect. Many people are commenting on his age and how he is too old now etc. This is ridiculous – did Shaykh Hamza Yusuf stop learning from Sh Murabit al-Hajj because he was now ‘past it’? Subhan’allah.

May Allah give us the insight and intellect to understand the truth and be of the wise, and to maximise our benefit from our scholars while we are blessed to still have them. Ameen.

Faisal Amjad

About the author

A lifelong learner, avid reader and passionate writer, I am the founder of KNOW and a serial entrepreneur.
I am a huge believer in personal development and am also the co-founder of Muslim CEO.

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