This is the first note in my series about interpretations of Islam.
We cannot attempt to interpret religious texts unless we have a perfectly solid background about the material and have studied contemporary as well as previous interpretations of what is in front of us. But as an ordinary person, I must use my brain when reading something. I have to ask myself, "I wonder what this means." And then once I find what others have said about it, should it really be wrong of me to say, "Wait, where did he get this from?"? I think not. And then I may have to spend decades trying to understand that. Well, instead of trying to figure out what a long-dead Muslim icon meant by something, why can’t we suggest our own understanding? We shouldn’t enforce it, since we don’t like it when others do that to us, but we should be allowed to suggest it -- provided we have enough reasoning, evidence, and knowledge.
That aside, we need to understand who should be considered a scholar. All these scholars we have today, how educated are they about Islam? Who were their teachers, and what are their sources? How do they earn their reputation? I honestly think that all a Muslim has to do in order to be accepted as a scholar by other Muslims is 1) be a man, 2) have a beard, 3) memorize the Quran and preferably some ahadith, 3) use as many Arabic terms and phrases (even if his Arabic accent is totally South Asian, and it is obvious that he doesn’t know even the basics of tajweed) in his lectures and sermons as possible, and 4) be as conservative, especially when it comes to the behavior of women, as possible.
Of course this is wrong – in that these should NOT be the criteria of a scholar. The gender should not matter, whether or not the scholar has memorized the Quran should not matter, whether she/he uses Arabic phrases in daily language should not matter, etc. But then, how many women scholars exist today, or have ever existed in Muslim history? It does not mean women CAN'T be scholars, but it's still important to note, and it says a lot about scholarship in Islam *in practice.* What are the differing opinions of present or past scholars on issues that relate to women? Who lies in the majority, and with whom does today's ordinary Muslim "agree"? If I gave you a list of female Muslim scholars of the 21st century, I guarantee that majority of the Muslims that I know will not accept at least 95% of those women as scholars because of what they think, or were taught, Islam is.
According to my understanding on scholarship, one should not be accepted as a scholar unless one has earned a PhD in the field, or related fields, that one wants to be seen as a scholar in. I say this because when a person is getting a PhD, she studies and studies and studies, the past and the present and all that in between. She studies not just one perspective but many of what have ever existed (related to her field, that is). (Of course, there will always be those PhD holders who have absolutely no common sense or who seem to be less smarter than the most average person we might know, but they still went through much study to finally receive (not "earn”) this title.) In the recent past, when someone wanted to be a doctor, all he had to do was read Ibni Sina's manual on medicine, and, lo, he was a doctor. But things have changed now; medicine has evolved, as has technology, and we cannot do that anymore. We have to go to medical school and then study beyond that, depending on our specialization. Similarly, we cannot just study Islam today and claim we are scholars, or take advantage of the fact that some people consider us scholars. The sources we use to support our views and teachings are also critical to our calling ourselves scholars. Scholarship today should not come as easy as it did back in the day. It should be a result of one's hard years of studying until one receives a PhD in it. And, no, our disagreeing with someone does not deny him/her the status of a scholar. Believe it or not, there exist people today who have received PhDs in Islamic Studies and utter the most inhumane things against non-Muslims and the most debasing comments about women! One such PhD-holder has been Al-Sadiq Abdal Rahman al-Ghiryani.
I guess that calls for my own re-evaluation of my whole thought on scholarship, eh. I don't know what defines a scholar after all.