The contents of this part are based upon the principle that ijtihaad in most of its forms is still possible in our time. For those who do not follow this opinion, this post is still largely applicable as it is expected that a full scholar would be able to partially or almost completely fulfill the conditions mentioned in one respect or another.
The Scholar as we will discuss here is the Muslim who is able to give a legal fiqh verdict of a worldly issue as being permissible or forbidden. This is what most people expect when they hear of an “Islamic Scholar”—someone who is able to analyze the reality of a questioner and the time and place in which they live and deduce legal advice or make a ruling or decision on an issue from the texts of fiqh.
Keeping these presumptions in mind, the conditions by which one becomes a Scholar have been mentioned in almost every text in the science of usool-ul-Fiqh since the times of the early scholars, and although they differed often in the wording and the details, they were almost unanimous in the core understandings and categorizations of these conditions. They are as follows:
1) A mastery of the Arabic language, which consists of the science of Arabic grammar and syntax (nahw), the science of the morphological states of Arabic words (sarf), the science of rhetoric, prose and expression (balagha), and thorough experience with Arabic literature, both pre-Islamic and around the first century of Islam (adab). An individual who interprets a verse in the Qur’an or a hadith without an understanding of Arabic risks committing a major sin, even if he interprets it correctly.
2) A mastery of usool-ul-fiqh and the understanding of which literary, deductive, inductive and intellectual devices to give precedence to in different circumstances. Also included in this is the mastery of the underlying principles of Islamic Law (al-qawaa’id ul-fiqhiyyah).
3) A mastery of transmitted evidence. This is comprised of having understood, studied and memorized the Qur’an in its entirety and most of the transmitted sunnah (although it was differed upon as to whether memorization of these was as important or not). With regards to the sunnah, being able to sift through narrators and narrations and determine weakness, strength, hidden defects, or additions is also a condition.
4) What has often been described in very different ways as: the mastered ability to do fiqh. This requires an individual of not just perception, intellect, understanding and fulfillment of the previous conditions, but also having studied one of the four schools of fiqh in Islam. The issue is not about the need to stick to a particular madhhab, but rather there is no doubt that one who has not pored over books of fiqh will find him or herself lacking in the ability to think like a scholar, much less be one.
5) An understanding of the reality of the Muslims. Being a Scholar is not just about having mastery in the sciences of Islam, but it is also about understanding the world and its complexities. Legal verdicts and decisions have to take into account not just the texts, but also the cultural, social, psychological, scientific and situational parameters of the issue being addressed. In a world where information is easily exchanged over vast distances and realities, this has become a rapidly accepted condition of being a Scholar.
Studies of this magnitude continue for the lifetime of a Scholar, and the initial foundations can take anywhere from 10 to 20 years pf study with teachers, after which numerous years of self study are often required before the Scholar is ready to tackle problems in the real world. One of the ways to distinguish such a scholar is his ability to generate new Scholars in addition to Muslim Activists.
It should be noted that a Scholar comes in a variety of competencies according to the level of mastery. Those who are still in the process of becoming one are called “students of knowledge,” while those who are able to give a legal verdict are of different levels and strengths. It is also possible for a Scholar to be an activist at the same time, and they may be much more effective in their activism than the average Muslim Activist.
Note: What is not from the conditions of being a scholar in Islam:
– a B.A., M.A. or Ph.D. in Islamic Studies
– study with a certain group of scholars in a certain region of the world.
– a preference for certain opinions in theology or law over others.
– being male, of a certain ethnicity, older in age, dressing a certain way, having a long beard, wearing a turban or shemagh or thobe or bisht
– fame or the title of Ustadh, Shaykh, Mufti, or Allaamah before the name
– of the Prophet’s ﷺ family