Darul Uloom Abu Bakr

Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Darul Uloom Abu Bakr is an Islamic institute of education established by Mufti Siraj Desai. The Darul Uloom serves as a base for coordinating various Islamic activities in Port Elizabeth and the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.

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Role of the Ulema PDF Print E-mail
The ulema are arguably the most influential group in any Muslim community, and have always been the focus of attention in Islamic matters. The term ‘ulema is an Arabic word that is plural for ‘aalim, meaning one who possesses knowledge. This is a term generally used for one who has undertaken an in-depth study of Quran and Hadith, and has explored the sources of knowledge in Shariah.
The ‘ulema are arguably the most influential group in any Muslim community, and have always been the focus of attention in Islamic matters. Regardless of the diverse relationship the Ummah has with these ‘heirs of the Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, ‘ulema continuously hold centre stage in Muslim communities when it comes to religious affairs.

There is no denying the fact that a Muslim society comprises of two distinct segments: the ‘ulema and the laymen. It is imperative that we understand the role of ‘ulema. Those who criticize and condemn the ‘ulema, generally do so out of ignorance regarding the function of ‘ulema. Once we place the function of ‘ulema in true perspective, the laymen will find it easy to understand ‘ulema, identify with them, and most importantly, benefit from them.

In order to fully comprehend the function and purpose of ‘ulema in this world, one needs to look at the qualifications that they spent several years acquiring. The skill an aalim possesses is the ilm of knowledge of Shariah. Shariah is the combined name of Quran and Sunnah. An aalim is one qualified in the various sciences of Islam such as tafseer, hadith, fiqh, aqaa-id and so forth. Knowledge of Deen is, therefore, the forte of the ‘ulema and the basis for their position in society. There is nothing beyond this. Our Rasool and Master r informed us of this reality, when he said: “Verily the Ulema are the Heirs of the Prophets; and the Prophets did not leave a legacy of gold and silver; instead they left behind ilm (knowledge). Therefore, whoever acquires that legacy has indeed achieved a great share (of Deen).” (Narrated by Abu Dawood, Tirmizhi, Ahmed, and Ibn Hibbaan. This hadith is saheeh)

From the above it is evident that the ‘ulema have been designated to fulfil and perpetuate the duty of the Prophets. Being heirs to the Prophets, they are mandated with the same task that Allah Ta’ala had entrusted to His Messengers. It therefore, follows that the ‘ulema of this Ummat have inherited the heritage of Nabi Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), and are thus divinely appointed to continue the work he had fulfilled in his lifetime. To understand what the function of Our Noble Messenger was we turn to verse 165 of Surah Aala-Imraan. It states: “Allah has indeed favoured the believers  by sending a Rasool from among themselves; he recites to them Allah’s verses; he purifies them; and teaches them the Book and Wisdom. And surely, before that they were in manifest falsehood.”

This verse outlines three important tasks of Allah’s Messenger, viz: tilaawat (recitation of the Quran), tazkiyah (spiritual purification), and ta’leem (teaching Quran and Sunnah). The term hikmah in this verse has been interpreted as Sunnah by all Scholars of Tafseer. The above three functions that the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) executed par excellence devolved upon the ‘Ulema of the Ummat after his demise, and they too, fulfilled these tasks in a most admirable and excellent manner, as history testifies. It were the efforts of the ‘Ulema in this field that saw the Religion of Islam being consolidated, its teachings and knowledge refined, and above all, its spread to the lengths and breadth of the known world.


The period immediately after the demise of Allah’s Messenger was the most crucial in Islamic history. Allah Ta’ala created the Sahaaba, and then the ‘Ulema after them to hold the Deen on Course. The legacy of the Messenger of Allah (alayhis-salaam) thus inherited by the ‘Ulema of the Ummat was therefore, nothing beyond the refined and specialist knowledge of Deen.

Rasoolullah sallallahu alaihi wa sallam also said: I have not received revelation instructing me to be among the traders…. (Kanzul-Ummal) In another hadith he said: “You know more about your worldly matters (than me). I have been sent only as a teacher.”

The Messenger of Allah, therefore, was not sent to further worldly pursuits or scientific goals, nor was his purpose to acquire political sovereignty and territorial gains. His sole and single objective was the spiritual reformation of mankind through the spread of Islam. In the course of this mission he had to fulfil multiple, secondary roles, such as the role of a statesman, a leader, a warrior, a negotiator, etc. But all these positions were secondary and consequential of the primary objective, which was propagating Islam and rehabilitating the failing character of mankind.

This is precisely the role of the ‘ulema today. Scholars of Deen are there for the spiritual and Deeni benefit of the Ummah. Theirs is not to function as leaders in politics, social welfare, scientific reforms etc. There is no denying the fact that several worldly functions are essential for the survival of the Umnmah today, and Muslims will need to interact with modern-day society, but these functions shall not be fulfilled by ‘Ulema. Instead, there should be mutual co-operation between ‘Uema and rest of the community. The two groups should compliment each other. The ‘Ulema will serve as guides for all these worldly activities on the basis of Quran and Sunnah, while the rest of the community will act on this guidance to execute the various tasks as required. In this manner the Ummat will prosper and the “Ulema will be filling the role designated for them.

The above system has also been proven successful throughout history. Since the time of the Sahaaba the Muslim ummat enjoyed the benefit of a dedicated group of ’Ulema whose function was solely to guide and teach the Ummah in fields such as politics, warfare, and other social needs. Throughout the corridor of Islamic history we had the ‘Ulema functioning separately and independently in the sphere of religious education, whilst other worldly projects were pursued and cultivated by the political leadership of the Ummah. During the post-Sahaaba era, political positions were held by non-Ulema while the great Imams were left to research and expound the teachings of Shariah. The  Kings and Rulers of the day would seek counsel from the ‘Ulema of their times in the administrative and religious affairs of the country.

Today, too, it must be realised that the ‘Ulema cannot be expected to hold down worldly positions along with religious and spiritual responsibilities.  The Muslim community at large must be prepared to get involved in social and welfare work, and if need be, in the field of politics and government. However all these activities must be fulfilled within the parameters of Shariah, and this is only possible with guidance from ‘Ulema. Unfortunately today, laymen are loathe to take this guidance from the Ulema, and even if they do, are not prepared to submit to religious advice. We seriously need to rethink our strategy and develop realization of the role of ‘Ulema within our society.

It is patently clear from the above that laymen, no matter how learned in worldly sciences are just not qualified to assume the role of ‘Ulema. Unfortunately, the are some today who do not subscribe to this philosophy. Some Muslims believe their secular degrees and scientific accomplishments qualify them to pass comments on religious matters, whereas plain and common reasoning militates against such a concept.

In short, the Ummah will regain its dynamism and become a force to be reckoned with if they realize the role and function of the ‘Ulema and co-operate to achieve the important goals in life.

May Allah Ta’ala give us the understanding of this reality, aameen
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