Those who call others to the straight path of Islam should be role models in every aspect. They should practice what they preach, and stick to steadfastness and nobility. In addition, they should consider the nobility of the job they are doing. Allah Almighty says, (And who is better in speech than him who prayeth unto his Lord and doeth right, and saith: Lo! I am of those who surrender (unto Him)) (Fussilat 41:33).
In this regard, the late Grand Sheikh of Al-AzharSheikh Jad Al-Haqq `Ali Jad Al-Haqq, in his book Bayan Linnas Min Al-Azhar Ash-Shareef, stated the following: Muslims, in general, are required to act upon the teachings they know about, and in the case of da`is, this requirement perfects their roles in guiding people to the right path. In other words, if da`isare adhering to what they preach, their preaching will be far more effective. There are two important points to be dealt with here: The first has to do with the da`i, i.e., “Are the da`is who do not stick to what they preach exempted from the obligation of calling others to the right path?” The second point has to do with the audience, i.e., “Is it permissible for them to refuse to listen to da`is who do not practice what they preach?”
Concerning the first question, the majority of scholars are of the opinion that it is not conditional for da`is to be upright in order to carry out their task of calling people to the right path. Da`is have two duties: to call people to the right path and to act upon their knowledge, and both duties do not correlate to one another. This is because all humans are fallible.
As it is permissible for the person who is addicted to alcohol to strive in Allah’s cause to prevent aggression against Islam, it is similarly permissible for wrong-doers who are knowledgeable in religion to impart their knowledge to people and call them to the right path, though they are still required to act upon what they preach.
Some people told Al-Hasan Al-Basri (an eminent knowledgeable scholar), “So-and-so is knowledgeable, yet he refrains from preaching to people on the pretext that he is afraid not to act upon what he preaches.” Al-Hassan replied, “Who among us is perfect? Satan would be so much pleased to find (all knowledgeable) Muslims having such an attitude that no one would enjoin the right and forbid the wrong.”
With regard to the second question, the audience should seek religious knowledge and learn the teachings they are ignorant of. This duty does not correlate with preachers’ duty of having to act upon what they preach. Muslims are required to know what benefits them anyway, even from the disbelievers. At the same time, they are to advise their preachers to stick to the right path and avoid the wrong. This is because enjoining the right is a joint moral responsibility among all Muslims.
As brothers in faith, Muslims are to advise one another because no one is perfect. The whole community should be a cooperating unit in exchanging services and benefiting one another. It is true that Almighty Allah has reproached the Jews by saying, (Do ye enjoin right conduct on the people, and forget (to practice it) yourselves] (Al-Baqarah 2:44). And Allah Almighty also addressed the believers saying, (O ye who believe! why say ye that which ye do not? It is most hateful in the sight of Allah that ye say that which ye do not) (As-Saff 61:2-3). But these verses do not indicate that Almighty Allah prevents them from enjoining the right (because they do not act upon it); rather, Allah Most High admonishes them here and urges them to comply with the teachings of their religion both in words and in deeds.
Moreover, Muslims are to get knowledge and truth even from the disbelievers. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said, “Truth is the goal that the believer is to seek; and hence, he is to get it wherever he finds it.” Another wording of this hadith goes “Attain truth whatever is the source thereof” (At-Tirmidhi,Muftah Dar As-Sa`adah, vol. 1, p. 74).
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported also to have said in an authentic hadith, “The truest word spoken by an Arab (before the advent of Islam) in poetry is this verse of Labid: ‘Behold! Apart from Allah everything is vain'” (Muslim).
There are some corrupt people who try to cast doubts about the religious scholars in the common people’s minds on the pretext of the untenable reasoning that some of those scholars do not act upon the (religious) knowledge they impart to others, and hence, they are unworthy to be trusted or listened to, even though they are versed and of vast knowledge. However, those corrupt people seek earnestly to acquire different kinds of secular knowledge and sciences, not only from misguided Muslims, but also from disbelievers and atheists. They, moreover, speak in praise of those secular scholars in different celebrations; as they make use of their knowledge, regardless of their religion or behavior. Why do they not take similar attitudes from the religious scholars?
We appreciate that the majority of Muslims respect religious scholars and hope that they set good examples in applying what they preach. On the other hand, we refuse the attitude of the corrupt people who want to undermine the role of religious scholars.
I think there is a serious conspiracy on part of those corrupt people to create a wide gap between the youth and the religious scholars so that the latter do not enlighten the former on the truth and thus change the distorted beliefs and manners the corrupt people seek to inculcate in young people’s minds.
Much of the criticism those corrupt people may direct to religious scholars center on the latter’s not abiding by an act (or some acts) of the Sunnah; not on their committing a clear sinful act, for instance. They magnify the mistakes of religious scholars out of their ignorance of the rulings of Shari`ah, and, at the same time, out of their ill will towards the religious scholars.
It seems that they want to misguide people and dominate them with their corrupt beliefs. Is it not contradictory to criticize some religious scholars for not sticking to the right path, while they deviate away therefrom? Are they infallible to criticize the natural fallibility of the religious scholars? They are, in fact, in manifest error.