On Dealing with Self-Proclaimed Scholars

Answered by Sayyidi Habib Umar bin Hafiz (may Allah protect him and benefit us by him)

We find some people in the West claiming to be shaykhs who can guide people and help them reach Allah. However, they have never studied any of the Islamic sciences at the hands of scholars but rather they have read books on their own. When we try to give them sincere advice they reject it. How should we deal with people like this?

These are people who have betrayed the trust of this religion. One of the greatest causes of a bad ending is for someone to claim a spiritual station or a state that he has not attained. We should have sympathy for these people. We should give them sincere advice if they are ready to listen. If not, we should pray for them. We should also advise those who are searching for a shaykh that they choose someone who has received knowledge through a true chain of connection (sanad).

One of the calamities which have befallen the Ummah is for people to claim knowledge that they do not possess, whether it be outer knowledge of the Sacred Law or the ability to offer spiritual guidance. This is extremely harmful to the person making this claim and if it leads to him harming someone else then he will bear a sin similar to the sin of that person. If he is able to take true knowledge and does not do so, he will be accountable, but if he is unaware of his ignorance those who have led him astray will be accountable. The Prophet said about the end of time that when the true scholars die, people will take ignorant people as their leaders. When they are asked, these ignorant people make judgements not based on knowledge, so they go astray and lead others astray.

This should not be confused with the duty of giving sincere advice in affairs of the religion which are clear. This is praiseworthy and everyone should work together in doing this.