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Celebrity Fan Culture – has Islamic education become entertainment?

Education or Entertainment?

Recently, a conversation that occurred between a group of practicing brothers and sisters, some of whom are considered students of knowledge, was brought to my attention. The conversation was regarding their earnest desire to attend a talk by a ‘particular’ visiting speaker. Now, in essence, there should be no problem with this as we must choose effectively our sources of receiving the knowledge of our religion, especially in this day and age when everyone has an opinion which amazingly manages to find its way into the palms of our hands, given how much ‘smarter’ our phones have become.

So what is the problem?

The problem is when what we consider to be our pursuit of knowledge and our development actually become a means of ‘entertainment’.

If I were to release to you the actual conversation of the group in question, an understanding would become manifestly apparent that a large drive behind their motivation to attend the event was not the knowledge that would be attained, but sadly the mere attendance of that particular speaker.

Some of them were happy to miss the entire program as long as they caught the talk of a ‘particular speaker’, and mentioned their attending this particular speaker’s presentation ‘live’ – as if it was part of their life’s ‘bucket list’.

Why do I say sadly?

This particular mind-set of idolising respected teachers and speakers to the point of turning them into celebrities is a real one. In fact, I have come to the realisation that this is a growing trend in today’s societies, with many of our brothers and sisters falling into the dangerous trap of becoming ‘fans’ of their favourite speakers and teachers, with very little love and focus on the knowledge delivered and the scholarly inheritance of our beloved Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam).

How often have we read or heard the following statements or conversations with regards to an Islamic event?

“Oh, the speaker has such an amazing accent, it melts my heart…”

“I love the way he delivers his reminders. I feel like he’s the only speaker I can listen to…’’

“Oh, he is coming! We must attend the program…”

“How cool would it be to get a picture with him?!”

“Forget about the rest, he is the best…”

And in response to an invite to attend a beneficial lecture or program run by a responsible institute; “The speakers are not charismatic enough….”

These are but a few statements, and I am sure you may have heard many more.

Consider the following scenario:

If someone were to offer you one million gold bricks, would you really be selective as to how you received it? Would you really care about who handed it to you? Would you give up pursuing your gift if you had inadequate information about its whereabouts?

Perhaps the offering was coined whilst you were among a group of people. Would you prefer to stay back and allow someone else to announce their interest before you?

Then, what about the ‘inheritance’ of our beloved Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) which is far more valuable than one million gold bricks?

The issue

If we believe that we love the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) then surely we would not restrict ourselves to a particular speaker, but rather dash out of our homes at the slightest chance of learning the lessons of our beloved (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam).

If we believe that our Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is truly our honour; then surely our attachment should be to his (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) teachings and not the ‘preferred speaker’s’.

In an ideal scenario; Islamic courses, conferences and lectures would be over-booked simply at the announcement of the topic, and not due to the chosen speakers, lecturers and teachers. Whereas, today, the opposite is true.

I have sat in countless operational meetings of various organisations related to the running of an Islamic conference. The hottest question on display was about the ‘visiting speakers’ and the need to have those that will attract the masses. “We need to have Sheikh so and so and Sheikh so and so because they are popular,” and “Sharing the inheritance of our Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is not enough to bring the masses out of their homes, the speakers are more important,” I am told. Unfortunately, our own organisations are forced to tread this path because this is the manifest reality.

That is not to say we cannot have a preference, for having a ‘preference’ is innate to human nature.

Let’s Discuss

1) Seeking knowledge is not entertainment

Our religion is complete and perfect; it constantly emphasises the seeking of knowledge and its many virtues and rewards, and cites the process as an ‘act of worship’ and a ‘means to Jannah’. If only we were to remind ourselves of this, we would take a much more serious approach to seeking knowledge. We would focus on what we are learning and how it would benefit us, rather than the style or method it is being delivered in.

As our beloved Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:

“Whoever treads the path in search of knowledge, Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) will make the path to Paradise easy for him.”[1]

2) For the sake of Allāh ​(subḥānahu wa taʿālā)

Seeking knowledge is an act of worship, especially with regards to matters pertaining to the Dīn. Hence, we must constantly remind ourselves of the importance of purifying our intentions for the sake of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) alone. When seeking knowledge, we must do so with a heart that yearns for the pleasure of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and reward from Him. If we make this a habit and are consistent with it, we will soon discover the sweetness of seeking knowledge for His sake alone, and will not become blinded by this ‘celebrity’ and ‘fan’ culture.

If you intend to be entertained, you will be rewarded for being entertained, but if you attend for Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā), He will place abundant barakah in your learning and your life as well as your hereafter, InshāAllāh.

ʿUmar (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) reported that the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:

“Actions are [judged] according to [one’s] intentions, and everyone will get what was intended. Whoever migrates with an intention for Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and His messenger, the migration will be for the sake of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and his Messenger. And whoever emigrates for worldly gain or to marry a woman, then his migration will be for the sake of whatever he migrated for.”[2]

Thus, we must never let our endeavours be about the ‘hype’ surrounding a speaker or event. Never let your attendance be a result of everyone else’s attendance or because you just had nothing better to do. Do not attend as a fan, but rather attend as a student, in love with what our Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said, whilst respecting the person who Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) blessed with learning it and sharing it.

3) Īmān Boost and the Captivating factor

There are some that claim that it is about the ‘Īmān Boost’ that a certain speaker provides. Whereas others say it is the speaker’s ability to captivate and hold the attention of the audience.

While this may be true and is understandably not a negative thing, as some speakers have been truly blessed with the gift to instil hope and fear in the hearts of believers, it is nevertheless crucial that we remain on the middle ground and do not take this ‘preference’ to the extreme. For example, some may stick to listening to one or two speakers only and rule out all other speakers, and some may attend events for the sake of the humorous nature of the speaker and their ability to make a crowd dissolve into laughter.

These cases, in my view, are problematic for the following reasons;

Firstly​, because the developer of our Īmān should be revelation, be it in the form of the Qur’ān or the Sunnah of our Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). The words of the speakers housing the revealed lessons should be the catalyst of our change and development and not the speakers themselves. The message shared by the speaker should remain and stick with us long after the speaker departs. In addition to this, attaching the concept of our development upon a person is neither sustainable nor healthy for our Īmān, as it is revelation that will remain, whilst every soul shall taste death.

Secondly​, the inheritance of our Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is worth it. Surely, we should be able to exercise more patience than we are ordinarily capable of displaying and be willing to adjust our preferences when it comes to gaining something that matters so much to us. Thus, we should be more than willing to listen to a knowledgeable speaker, regardless of their being less attractive or charismatic. Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) has set mighty rewards for seeking knowledge because of the nobility of the act and the effort and patience required when doing so.

We must face the truth, if seeking knowledge was as easy as being entertained, everyone would be knowledgeable. Hence, we really need to stop considering our journey of seeking knowledge as something similar to a journey to a fast food outlet where everything has to be how we want it to be, when we want it to be, and served with a smile.

4) Evidence:

This next point is one that sends shivers down my spine and should send shivers down yours too. Always remember and ponder over the fact that the lectures that you listen to, the events that you attend, the knowledge that you gain, will either be evidence for you​ or against you ​when you stand in front of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) on the Day of Judgment. None of us would like to be witnessed against on the ultimate day of justice, especially by that which we thought would benefit us and be our protection. May Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) protect us all.

5) Injustice:

The reality is that there are far more knowledgeable teachers and lecturers than the ‘famous’ ones. If we restrict the avenues of acquisition of this knowledge and this noble inheritance then we are only doing a disservice to ourselves.

Some of my fondest memories whilst studying in Riyadh, K.S.A, was when my esteemed teachers at university, who were not necessarily ‘famous’, would direct us to those who they acknowledged as more knowledgeable than them and were furthermore unknown. May Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) preserve them all. They truly hoped for us to become better informed and desired for our journey of seeking knowledge to be a more robust one.

6) The ends do not justify the means:

In order for an act of worship to be accepted by Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) two conditions must be met. Firstly, that act must solely be performed for the sake of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā), and secondly the manner of the act must be in accordance to the mandates set by Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and the teachings of our Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). We cannot worship Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) how​ we want ​to​, but must worship Him (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) how ​He wants​to ​be worshipped. Thus, purity and beautiful intentions must remain constant, as well as being mindful of the morals, manners and etiquettes set by the Lawgiver (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) throughout the entire process of seeking knowledge.

Hence, understand that the eventual gaining of an ‘Īmān Boost’ at the end of an event through a wholly incorrect process (not lowering one’s gaze, being charmed by the speaker in a counter­productive way, over­praising them, etc.), does not validate the process or justify it. We must ensure that we have proper manners when seeking knowledge, including lowering one’s gaze, asking questions when necessary, and staying clear of free­-mixing.

May Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) correct our affairs. Amīn.

My dear brothers and sisters, the thoughts I have penned in this article are not meant to cause grievance to anyone, but rather are intended with sincere love, for the sake of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). I have not stated anything here with a stereotypical mentality and know that much of what has been stated may not apply to many a reader, InshāAllāh.

When the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) visited Al Baqīʿ (a burial ­ground in Madīnah next to the Prophet’s mosque) before his death, he told his companions: “I wish I could see my brothers.” They replied: “Are we not your brothers?” The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said: “No, you are my companions; my brothers are those who did not see me and yet follow me and believe in me. I will wait for them at Al Hawdh (the place where the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) will give the chosen ones a handful of water to sip from his noble hands, from which their thirst will be quenched and they will never feel thirsty again, and this will be before entering Paradise).

Dear readers, I leave you with these concluding words; know that a group from this Ummah will be turned away from the Hawdh of our Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). Let us make sure we are not from that group.

Dear brothers and sisters, understand that seeking knowledge is a serious matter. It is a matter of the success of this life and the next. I realise that attachment to certain speakers occurs as a result of remembering how their impact remained long after their words were spoken, however, remember how our Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) affected us positively long before anyone else ever did.

Dear seekers, respect your teachers, but do not idolise them. Entrance into Paradise will not be because of that ‘selfie’ you managed to take with a speaker or the picture you snapped which proved you attended an Islamic event. Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) has angels documenting our affairs, and before that Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) is the All­-Knowledgeable and the Universal Witness. Entrance into Jannah is for the one who puts their knowledge sincerely into practice, believing in one God.

Our situation will not change for the better unless and until we return upon that which changed our earlier generations. The day the Islamic programs and events of all of our reputable teachers and speakers will be over­-booked​, because of our desire to be near the teachings of our Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam)­ as they are the closest things we have with him, is the day I believe our situation will truly change for the better.

K​nowledge is only beneficial when we put it into practice. We have been blessed to learn much Alḥamdulillāh, even from our favourite speakers. I believe that if we truly put the lessons taught into practice there would be no need for this article.

I truly love you all for the sake of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā).

 

Source: www.islam21c.com

Notes:

[1] Bukhārī

[2] Bukhārī and Muslim

About Shaykh Sajid Umar

Sheikh Sajid Ahmed Umar initially pursued a degree in IT, graduating with a first class result. He went on to successfully open an IT business. Alongside his contemporary studies, Sheikh Sajid completed the memorization of the Qur'an at the age of 18. Subsequently, he turned his attention towards Islamic Studies. He completed a 3-year University Diploma in Arabic language and Islamic Sciences at Imaam Muhammed bin Saud Islamic University, he later attained a Bachelors degree in Sharī'ah and thereafter a Masters degree in Judiciary (Qadha), with a first class honours, from the Higher Institute for Judiciary Studies (Ma'had al-'āli li'l-Qa'dhā). He trained as a judge and successfully completed a thesis on the topic of Liquidity Management using the famous Repurchase Agreement (REPO) contract, as well as its rulings and permitted alternatives. He is now pursuing his PhD in the Higher Institute of Judiciary at Al-Imam University. Sheikh Sajid has played an integral part in Islamic academic development worldwide he has authored several articles and dissertations in both Arabic and English pertaining to the Islamic Sciences; lectures at Knowledge International University; is Director of Islamic Development for Mercy Mission World; lectures at AlKauthar Institute and is Chief Islamic Editor for a magazine among various other commendable endeavours.

12 comments

  1. Muslim Sister

    Salam Sheikh, what an eye opener! I am definitely guilty of this and feel so sad that I have lost so many rewards by choosing to turn a blind eye to some seminars. I see my motivation has been all wrong.

    Your article has been making the rounds and much discussion has erupted on many groups because of it. I suppose if we made the ‘celebrity’ the teachings of the Messenger as you say we would be in a better way. I like the balance you are calling us to and I see I was upon my extreme. From now on I will not only stalk my favourite sheikhs and famous ones, but also try and develop myself from the knowledgeable not so famous ones that carry the knowledge of my beloved Messenger. Got it sheikh! Please ask Allah to forgive me sheikh and better me. This would mean a lot to me. I am one of your stalkers and am guilty of having attended your talks without even realizing my reasons having been all wrong. Jazakallah for opening my eyes ;(

  2. While the article has some good reminders to ensure intentions are clean, the author has not considered many factors.

    1. The title seems to lay blame on the Shaykh.

    2. **Inappropriate comment- edited out**

    3. **Inappropriate- edited out**

    4. Countless peoples lives have changed or been very positively affected by some of these popular Shaykhs.

    5. The type of people being drawn to the popular Shaykhs lectures are mostly from categories that do not normally attend religious gatherings. So lets acknowledge that they have tapped into new territory and have a strong impact on them.

    6. The excitement to see a specific Shaykh is not totaly wrong. Mostly the Shaykh would have been a part of the daily life of the individual and the very rare opportunity to meet with him or see him in person would create an excitement in any human being.

    7. Most of the very popular Shaykhs are very humble and have worked very hard in serving the Ummah over a long period of time. These include Shaykh Yusuf Estes, Shaykh Dr Zakir Naik, Shaykh Bilal Philips, Shaykh Mufti Menk, Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan etc.

    8. I know of some of these who go out of their way to publicly mention that they are merely human beings and not to be idolised. They openly say about themselves that the Message is more important than the messenger.

    9. It is not wrong to love a certain approach of speaking and dislike another. This is normal. Some speakers method of speech chases away people from the Deen.

    10. To some, it may seem the Celebrity Shaykh article is written to make people feel guilty for not attending talks of the less popular. A question the author should ask himself is why and how did the Shaykh become so loved by the people? Surely it is through his hard work and the acceptance of Allah and his method of dealing with matters.

    11. We are taught that being loved by people is also a sign of acceptance.

    12. The excitement created over the presence of a religious figure or Shaykh rather than a pop or movie star shows a positive awakening in the Ummah.

    13. Let’s not look at the Shaykh issue from the perspective of a very religious person alone. Consider the masses too, who are not always deep into the Deen. This excitement is actually a positive step in their lives and shows how much they love a specific person for his reaching out to them more than others.

    14. It does not mean that if one wants to learn from a specific Shaykh that his intention is wrong. The author himself prefers some scholars over others.

    15. If we do not like the harsh style or self conceited manner of a specific Shaykh, it is not wrong to walk out of their lecture. Some Shaykhs make us feel we are all going to hellfire and he will be saved. Some make us lose hope. Why should I listen to such people no matter how knowledgeable they may be?

    16. **inappropriate- edited out**

    17. There was a time when a religious talk would not be attended by a small group of religious people. Today we should thank Allah that we see large crowds attracted to the talks of Shaykhs. A single talk not only CAN but HAS changed countless lives including my own.

    18. To present Islam in a way that people want to listen to it is mastered by very few Shaykhs. Don’t discourage people from feeling affiliated to such a type of message, approach or Shaykh. They may become totally despondent and not attend future talks.

    19. Entertainment or education? We all know that in todays society, to get the masses to listen to a good message we cannot be boring. There may need to be some form of entertainment. There are definitely limits to this but we cannot say there should be no entertainment at all. Our children may not show any interest in what they term dry learning.

    20. Author says “There are much more knowledgeable Shaykhs than the famous ones” but acceptance is from Allah. Many are not able to convey that knowledge effectively and then blame those who can or admonish people who are learning from those who are brilliant teachers.

    21. The author says some people say regarding a Shaykh

    a) “amazing accent, it melts my heart…” It is human nature to be attracted to the way a person speaks. We are taught to speak clearly in an audible fashion. There is nothing wrong in loving a specific accent. Some speakers or accents are such that we cannot understand what is being said. No matter how knowledgeable such a person may be, he cannot expect the masses to sit and learn from him.

    b) “I love the way he delivers his reminders. I feel like he’s the only speaker I can listen to…’’ There is nothing wrong with this statement. Those Shaykhs who don’t have an effective way of delivering remidners should learn from such comments rather than try to silence those making honest innocent remarks. Being harsh or dry or not knowing how to engage the masses would chase them away.

    c) “Oh, he is coming! We must attend the program…” There is nothing wrong with this too. A Shaykh whose material is available on radios and TVs free of charge and who by the help of Allah has changed the lives of so many people, whose method is so engaging, who is so humble and real is finally coming to our town. What is wrong in being very excited to attend his talk. He is a part of my daily life for years and now I want to attend his talk.

    d) “How cool would it be to get a picture with him?!” Although its not necessary to have a photo with a Shaykh but again, to capture the moment I met my mentor, the Shaykh described above in (c) is something worthwhile, memorable, motivating and will be shown to my grandchildren if I could.

    e) “Forget about the rest, he is the best…” This shows that something the Shaykh is doing is worth learning from. Why are people across the globe saying this about him? Surely hundreds of thousands cannot be wrong in their assessment that this Shaykh is “the best” in the way he delivers.

    22. While we encourage the masses to listen to others too we cannot lay the blame on them for the method or style of the less effective Shaykh or his harsh or self conceited style.

    23. I overheard one young man say
    “Maybe the Shaykh has 50% less knowledge but his method of engagement will teach me 100% more than someone who has double the knowledge but is not able to engage me to listen to him.”

    I can go on and on by I will pause here.

  3. Islamic education has become a business, but don’t worry soon this business will be brought to book. I wonder if the mullahs and there madras and institutes pay tax because they are ripping of the Muslim community.

  4. My Niqab My Pride

    Assalam O A’laikum!
    much needed article Respected Sir, ‘Jazak ALLAH Khair’!

  5. ‎اسلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركا ته
    Jazaka’allah khairun for this article. I needed to read this – i feel at time i do exactly what you stated. Insha’allah i will change my ways.

    Fi Amanillah

  6. Mohammed Iqbal

    The phenomenon of making a celebrity of a Islamic Scholars or Shaikhs in not uncommon.
    Eg. A certain group among our Sunni Bretheren they almost worship their “Pirs” /”Shaikhs”.
    To the point they do anything that Pir/Shaikh says (right or wrong).

    This was the reason why: we do not have a picture/ photograph of our Rasul(SAW) or his companions or their companions. The danger of “Shaikh Worship” is known and well known through out the centuries of Islamic tradition, where focus is diverted to the personality instead of the teaching or knowledge being passed on by the Shaikh.
    Jazakallahokhairan for the article Shaikh Sajid Umar.This article needs to be repeated and be made a reminder to all.

  7. Assalamu alaikum dear Ustadh
    Jazakallah khair for the words of wisdom.
    As you rightly pointed out seeking knowledge is a serious matter and unless one practices what one knows, it can be an evidence against the person on the Day we stand in front of our Rabb.

    I think we have two serious matters at hand in our time that need to be rectified.
    First is that we think that we can gain knowledge from preachers. However, preachers’ main aim is to only create mood while serious knowledge can only be gained from teachers and not preachers.
    Second is the dichotomy that teaching religious knowledge has become a lucrative career as well as a lucrative business just like Haj and Umrah has nowadays turned into a holiday business.

    Both issues have existed within the Ummah from very early times. However , history bears witness that Allah only accepts sincerity and serious effort.

    The remedy I think is to focus on the root of the problem. To my mind the root cause is that our Imaan on an individual level is weak.

  8. What an article. Masha Allah. More like this please.
    I was feeling the exact same thing since a while now.
    Alhamdulillah for highlighting this new craze and fitna.

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