Sunday, December 24, 2017

5 reasons future asatizahs need to start saying “I don’t know”

Once during my diploma years, when I was a passenger in a ‘prebet’ (it’s a term for an unofficial taxi, and no, not Grab or Uber) the driver asked me a fiqh question which demands some explanation on its ruling. I don’t remember what the question was about but I’m pretty sure there isn’t really a fatwa for his question nor is there a black and white answer to it. So in my perspective, I feel it is absolutely reasonable for my initial response to be “I don’t know”.

To my surprise he was surprised with my answer. He told me “mana boleh tak tahu, awak nak jadi ustazah ni!’ So I tried explaining to him why I’m not qualified to answer that question. He then continued to lecture me on how I should’ve known because it is my responsibility to answer such questions from muslims like him. I tried to defend myself further by giving him an analogy. I told him you don’t see an ophthalmologist when you get a heart attack, you go see a cardiologist for that, the same rule applies for Islamic knowledge. (But in reality him asking me that question would be more suitable to a parable of asking a nurse to perform an emergency C-section)

There’s a few issues we can extract from this incident, but I’d like to talk about the phrase “I don’t know” and how I as a future ustazah relates to it and how other future asatizahs should too. I do agree with the prebet driver to a certain extent but let’s not talk about that just yet. I feel it is important for future asatizahs to use the phrase “I don’t know” more often and here are the reasons why

1.       Enable the muslim ummah to distinguish different fields of Islamic studies

For the majority of the muslim ummah, if you’re an ustaz or ustazah (or a future ustaz or ustazah or just simply look like the stereotypical ustaz or ustazah) you automatically become a reference for fiqhi questions. Regardless whether your background is in hadith, comparative religion or even mathematics. If people regard you as ‘alim’ then anything that come out from your mouth must be right, right?

Wrong. Future asatizahs need to start answering fiqhi questions with ‘I don’t know’, explain your field of study, and then tell the questionor ; “let me ask my colleagues and lecturers for reliable resources in order to answer your question”. If we do this, only then the muslim ummah realize that Islamic studies is an extensive network of knowledge and getting to what’s haram and what’s not is not as simple as they previously think it is.

2.        To prevent fatwas and muftis from being underestimated

I realized there is a strong connection between the prebet incident and how Pokemon Go players used to curse and stated how they ‘strongly disagree’ with SS Prof. Dato Dr Zulkifli al-Bakri on his fatwa for playing Pokemon Go. When we who don’t know, answer questions we are not qualified to answer; those who are actually qualified to answer fiqhi questions are deemed unqualified to answer and so their fatwas are ridiculed and scorn off.

People don’t know who is the expert here and one of the reasons for that is because we students of Islamic studies are too shy to say we don’t know and pretend that we do. Most people don’t know the difference between a 19 year old studying for a diploma in Islamic studies and a mufti. Because to them, both these two people could answer their question. So a mufti and a future ustazah is at par with each other in their eyes. What they didn’t realize is the 19-year-old future ustaz or ustazah learnt less than 100 pages from less than 50 arabic books and couldn’t understand most of it without referring to an arabic dictionary or a translation of the book or without the guidance of their lecturers, while on the other hand the mufti had authored hundreds of books and journals and read thousands of pages of hundreds or thousands of books and taught hundreds and thousands of people if not millions!

3.        Prevents people from interpreting the Quran and Sunnah without knowledge

Replying “I don’t know” establishes to the questioner that matters pertaining our faith and acts of worship is not something you can freely assume without referring to sound knowledge. Islam emphasizes academic integrity and al-Quran and Sunnah is proof of that. Islam gave birth to an academic culture in an era where there was not. Today’s reality of the muslim ummah juxtapose what it started. Many muslims treat al-Quran and Sunnah as if it was some short fictional work that can be interpreted freely without academic principles.

The muslim ummah have a right to know just how structured and thorough the foundations of various fields of Islamic studies that muslim scholars from the past have laid down. If the muslim ummah are introduced to this, perhaps there would be a decrement in the amount of people interpreting and establishing a new fatwa for just by reading a copy of Quran translation.

4.        To instill the importance of seeking Islamic knowledge

Or to at least introduce themselves to its depth and at least they know that it is not as shallow and narrow as they used to think it is. Saying “I don’t know” denotes that even the person they think knows it all doesn’t know; thus signifying the extensiveness of Islamic knowledge. For the majority of muslims, they feel like islam only comprises of the things their parents used to teach them when they were little and nothing more than that. Now I’m not saying that they should learn islam in depth and go and do a PhD on it, because not everybody is meant to go on that path and not everybody is supposed to. However, very few muslim realize how vast Allah’s knowledge is until they start to learn them.

Giving a straight yes or no answer instead of explaining how you don’t know and that you need to refer to several people and sources for their question shows how important your pursuit in Islamic studies is, highlights the profoundness of Islamic studies and shows how inadequate it is to understand a religion one is embracing by simple yes or no questions. This then, eventually instills the importance of seeking Islamic knowledge.

5.        Because we don’t know and we should work on that

Saying “I don’t know” will always be some sort of a slap in the face. It will make us reflect on our responsibility as a student of knowledge. Even if we are not studying syariah or fiqh, as someone who is studying Islam, we should always seek and perfect our Islamic knowledge be it inside or outside of the classroom. Saying “I don’t know” doesn’t mean that you stop right there, it means that you will start to learn more. Saying “I don’t know” shows how insufficient your knowledge is and the need to learn for more.

Please be noted though, that answering “I don’t know” does not apply when answering questions in exams.

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