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Islamology and the Making of Fake Islam, Part 3: The Untrained

God does not take knowledge from people, but rather takes scholars so that people will only find the unlearned and untrained and take them as leaders. When these are asked for guidance, they dispense it without knowledge and are therefore misguided and lead others to misguidance.
Prophet Muhammad (Bukhari & Muslim)

Of all the types of Islamologists that I will cover in this series, this type is perhaps the most numerous, making their damage the greatest and most threatening. The danger of the untrained person is not in the lack of training and study. In fact, many of them have undergone a degree of training. The danger, rather, is that their training is not complete and comprehensive. They know a little about a little, and since they were touched by the experience of learning, even if incomplete, they mistake this feeling with a notion that they can handle most things thrown their way. Specialists in the Islamic sciences are few, especially in the English-speaking world, and it is easy for these untrained Islamologists to parade themselves as the real McCoy and be taken by the general population as experts (this is essentially a lengthy restating of the hadith quoted above).

The feeling of learning something and experiencing enlightenment can be highly intoxicating. After all, none other than Aristotle wrote in his Poetics, “to be learning something is the greatest of pleasures not only to the philosophers, but also to the rest of mankind.” This same sentiment is echoed in the famous statement of Imam al-Junayd of Baghdad (d. 297/910) who said, “if kings knew the knowledge and enlightenment we had, they would fight us for it.” Of course, Imam Junayd’s statement means something entirely different than the feeling of the untrained Islamologist. The point, however, is that knowledge comes with intoxication and is in need of proper guidance. All Islamic disciplines have levels of approach: beginning-intermediate-advanced, through which students must journey in order to be licensed to teach, speak, and write on these subjects. The untrained are united in the fact that they simply did not do this and therefore are left with the feeling of intoxication; drunk on the rush of endorphins without being able to properly use this to their benefit or the benefit of others. This type of Islamologist is similar to previous ones because their understanding of Islam is reductive and simple, this will become clear shortly.

Where do they come from?

The untrained Islamologist unfortunately comes from every and any group and at any time. They could be the fanatic Shia who is oblivious of the nearly 100 years of Sunni-Shia reconciliation currently ongoing, or the suburbanite who attends a onetime weekend Maghrib Institute program becoming indoctrinated in neo-Wahhabi thought and doing takfir of their parents and local community, or a Sufi poser who attends a mawlid celebration by a leading Sufi dā‘ī (public preacher) and now wants to force the public celebration of a particular version of the mawlid at each mosque they attend, or even the students of the western academic Islamologists (perhaps the worst kind of creature known to man) who is asked by their local Sunday school to teach young adults “Islam” only to slowly march these poor young souls outside of Islam altogether by way of their doubt-based-Islam. These are not simply abstract examples, but real ones I have come across and had the displeasure of interacting with.

I am sure these types of untrained Islamologists have existed at every time in the past, but their impact was limited. Today untrained Islamologists are aided by technology to broadcast their fake Islam to a wide audience. We celebrate technology as it liberates us from the chokehold of so many “middlemen” and gatekeepers that destroy and deplete our precious resources. In category after category this has been a godsend. Yet, in the category of education it doesn’t always work. While technology allows us to circumvent the academy, not necessarily a bad thing as oftentimes the academy is the source of problems (see Islamologist part 1), in the case of classical Islamic studies, the circumventing of the academy poses a great danger. It reduces all thought claims within Islam to their lower common denominator allowing them all to compete on seemingly equal grounds. The fact remains, however, that there is a correct Islam and an incorrect Islam. These thought claims are not equal by any means, and by circumventing the traditional route of beginner-intermediate-advanced-license, they lose the ability to hone their skills and knowledge base.

How you can tell someone is an untrained Islamologist

The overarching character trait of the untrained Islamologist is that they do not know how they know what they claim to know. They cannot produce a simple epistemological tree to the notions they propagate and therefore are nothing more than a bad imitation of someone/something else. Mind you that this is true whether what they call to is bad, like neo-Wahhabis and extremists, or good, like the poser Sufi. The fact remains that they are imitating someone else; copying someone else’s arguments; promoting someone else’s platform and thought paradigm.

Imitation on its own is not necessarily bad. Art seeks to imitate certain ideals and communicate them to a wide audience. The difference here is that the untrained Islamologist is unaware of what they are doing and therefore they do not have a discerning mind (something I write about in my Core Principles). Rather, they have a lazy mind and are easily taken with overstatements, exclusivism, and fanaticism for their cause.

Another aspect of the untrained Islamologist is that they tend to judge things by their exterior and focus intensely on that. The Wahhabi/Salafi and the poser Sufi are united in this trait. The reduction of their claims is to impose a specific exterior on their prey. The only real difference is that one is actually from the Sunna (the poser Sufi) and the other is a form of neo-kharijism. Yet, they are reductive and dangerous, nonetheless.

The damage they create

By listening to untrained Islamologists and taking them as leaders, a community puts itself in great jeopardy. Their ignorance is compounded and spreads, like an infection or virus, from person to person. Their half-baked ideas become the new common denominator dragging the level of discourse lower and lower to the point where Muslims start arguing and debating actual fundamentals and established truths of Islam. This is why Muslims today can be found debating essentials like the veracity of the hadith literature itself, legal consensus (ijmā’), the infallibility of the Prophet (God bless him and give him peace), etc.

Like the previous two types of Islamologists I discuss, the greatest damage of the untrained is that they create a fake Islam; a partial copy that is so distorted the original can hardly be observed. They are pawns in someone else’s game and despite the truth claims they bring forth, their lack of true understanding of the origins of these claims makes their hold on them emotional, not rational; feeling based, not scholarly and academic. They do not know if/how these positions can change with time, place, circumstance, and people and therefore present an ossified Islam that will eventually be seen by the majority as a fossil of the past, nothing that can actually inspire faith, beauty, and art.

The solution? Simply take Islam from those who know and can show you how and why they know!