First of all, it is noteworthy that freedom of expression is highly upheld in Islam as long as one abides by the Islamic ethics of disagreement and criticism and has enough qualifications and knowledge to do so. However, going beyond the ethics of disagreement to the extent of slandering Muslim scholars and casting doubts on their faith and intention is categorically forbidden in Islam. This ruling extends as well to disparaging other people, without any justifiable cause.

Here, is the Fatwa issued by Dr. Husam al-Din Ibn Musa `Afana, a professor of Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence at Al-Quds University, Palestine, in which he tackles the issue of slandering great scholars in detail: “Actually, showing respect to scholars is an obligation upon every Muslim even with disagreement that one may have with them. This is because scholars are the heirs of Prophets from whom they inherited science and that is why they should be respected.

There are many proofs to cite in this respect. Almighty Allah says, ” Say (unto them, O Muhammad): Are those who know equal with those who know not?” (Az-Zumar: 9). Imam An-Nawawi cited a lot of traditions calling for honorin
g and respecting scholars. [Check An-Nawawi’s Riyad As-Salihin, pp. 187-192].

In spite of all these texts which incite honoring and respecting scholars along with other texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah which forbid insulting and slandering Muslims, they don’t deter people who have nothing to do save picking faults in and insulting scholars in mosques, magazines, and newspapers attempting to distort their image, claiming that they are serving the cause of rulers.

Among the honorable scholars who were and are still being exposed to such attacks is the great Muslim scholar, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. No one can deny his knowledge and great contribution to the course of Daw`ah save the ignorant and the envious. While Sheikh Al-Qaradawi is loved and respected by all Muslims of Islamic manners he is attacked and disrespected by those of base manners.

I am wondering: for whose benefit this attack is launched? How come that they describe him as a hypocrite? Did they come to know what is in his heart? When Usama b. Zayd, may Allah be pleased with both of them, killed a man though he had confessed that there is no god but Allah, claiming that the man had said so out of fear of weapon, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him observed: “Did you tear his heart in order to find out whether it had professed that or not?” (Reported by Muslim)

Allah’s Messenger also said,”I have not been ordered (by Allah) to search the hearts of the people or cut open their bellies.” (Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Now, did such people know what is in the heart of Sheikh Al-Qaradawi? Both Muslim scholars and ordinary people in the East and West place their trust in Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi and he is in no need for the trust of such persons who claim knowledge, for it suffices people to have Sheikh Qaradawi and other great Muslim scholars as a s
ource of information and knowledge, rather than listening to such people of a false claim.

Ibn Mas`ud, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “People will remain good as long as they get knowledge from their great scholars but once they get knowledge from the ignorant and unreliable they will be damaged.” (Reported by Abu Na`eem in al-Hilyah)

Undoubtedly, Muslims do not doubt the opinions and Fatwas of Sheikh al-Qaradawi but they doubt those who attack and slander Sheikh al-Qaradawi, for they have gone beyond the Islamic ethics of dialogue and disagreement to the extent of casting doubts on the scholars’ intentions and belief.

Is this a constructive criticism? Imam Adh-Dhahabi, may Allah have mercy on him, says “The Imams (great Muslim scholars) used to disagree with each other and respond to one another’s criticism, but we do not criticize a scholar on the basis of personal reasons or ignorance.” (Siyar A`lam an-Nubalaa’, vol. 19, p. 342)

My advice is that we should respect all renowned Muslim scholars and hold in esteem their status knowing that the great knowledge of such scholars have earned them the Muslim Ummah’s credibility and recognition.

Imam Ibn `Asaakir, may Allah have mercy on him, addressed a person who disrespected the scholars, “You will never gain any respect unless you respect the Imams.”

To conclude, I will cite the golden words of Ibn `Asaakir who stated: “Dear brother, may Allah guide you and me to what pleases Him and make us among the pious. You should know that the meat of scholars is poisonous (meaning that we should not even dare to touch it) and it is well-known that Allah discloses those who defame them, and He afflicts those who let their tongues indulge in backbiting and slandering them, with the death of their heart. Almighty Allah says: “And let those who conspire to evade orders
beware lest grief or painful punishment befall them.”
(An-Nur: 63)”
It is Allah who defends the believers and guides to the straight path!”

Shedding some light on this issue Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and an Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, adds: “In order to criticize scholars or eminent Imams such as the great scholar Sheikh Al-Qaradawi, you need to have attained the same level of scholarship, piety and competence that he has. This scholar has done excellent contributions to Islam in so many ways and he spares no effort in uplifting the conscience of the Muslim Ummah.

Sheikh Al-Qaradawi has contributed to the cause of Islamic knowledge throughout voluminous books dealing with various aspects of Islam. He is continuing the legacy of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. So let those who are present pass it on to the coming generation.

No scholar, however high in status or knowledge maybe, is free from error or mistake. According to the Arabic saying, every scholar is liable to make mistakes as a very horse is bound to slip and every sword is bound to miss the target.

As Muslims, we believe that only Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was made infallible (being divinely protected from erring). As Imam Malik, may Allah be pleased with him, said: The opinions of every scholar can be accepted or rejected (based on evidences and lack of evidences) except those of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him.

However, no body can attack a scholar unless he himself is convinced of the truth based on thorough study of the sources.

Thus, in light of the above, we should keep away from backbiting or insulting erudite scholars, for they are part and parcel of the heritage of the Muslim Ummah.”