In The Name of Allaah, The Most Merciful, The Bestower of Mercy.
Allaah [The Exalted] said:
وَمَآ أَرۡسَلۡنَا مِن قَبۡلِكَ إِلَّا رِجَالاً۬ نُّوحِىٓ إِلَيۡہِمۡۚ فَسۡـَٔلُوٓاْ أَهۡلَ ٱلذِّكۡرِ إِن كُنتُمۡ لَا تَعۡلَمُونَ
بِٱلۡبَيِّنَـٰتِ وَٱلزُّبُرِۗ وَأَنزَلۡنَآ إِلَيۡكَ ٱلذِّڪۡرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيۡہِمۡ وَلَعَلَّهُمۡ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
And We sent not (as Our Messengers) before you (O Muhammad) any but men, whom We inspired; so ask of those who know the Scripture if you know not. With clear signs and Books (We sent the Messengers). And We have also sent down unto you (O Muhammad) the reminder, that you may explain clearly to men what is sent down to them, and that they may give thought.
Allaah [The Exalted] said to His Prophet [peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him]:
[وَمَآ أَرۡسَلۡنَا مِن قَبۡلِكَ إِلَّا رِجَالاً۬ نُّوحِىٓ إِلَيۡہِمۡۚ – And We sent not (as Our Messengers) before you (O Muhammad) any but men, whom We inspired] – Meaning, you are not a new thing amongst the Messengers and We did not send before you angels; rather we sent mature men and not women; [نُّوحِىٓ إِلَيۡہِمۡۚ – whom We inspired], Meaning, the laws and rulings which are Allaah’s Favour and Benevolence to the servants without them bringing anything from themselves.
[فَسۡـَٔلُوٓاْ أَهۡلَ ٱلذِّكۡرِ – so ask of those who know the Scripture]- Meaning, the (rightly guided learned) people who received the previous scriptures, [إِن كُنتُمۡ لَا تَعۡلَمُونَ – if you know not]- Meaning, ask the people of knowledge, those to whom the clear signs and Book was sent, so they knew and understood it, because all of them definitely affirmed that indeed Allaah did not send except men who were inspired amongst the people of the towns.
In the general context of this Aayah, there is praise for the people of knowledge and that the loftiest aspect of it is to possess knowledge of the Book sent down by Allaah, for indeed Allaah commanded the one who does not know to return to them in all affairs. And in this Aayah, there is commendation and praise for the people of knowledge because Allaah commanded the people to ask them and by way of that the ignorant person is removed from liability. Therefore, this shows that Allaah entrusted His revelation to the people of knowledge and that they are commanded to purify their souls and to have perfect characteristics.
The most virtuous of the people of the reminder are the people of this great Qur’aan, because indeed they are the people of the reminder in reality and they are more worthy of being given this name than others. And due to this Allaah said: [وَأَنزَلۡنَآ إِلَيۡكَ ٱلذِّڪۡرَ – And We have also sent down unto you (O Muhammad) the reminder]- Meaning, the Qur’aan in which there is reminder and that which the servants need in affairs of their religion and worldly life.
[لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيۡہِمۡ – that you may explain clearly to men what is sent down to them] – Meaning, this includes explanation of its words and meanings, [وَلَعَلَّهُمۡ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ – and that they may give thought] – Meaning, ponder upon it, extract from its treasures and sciences. [Ref 1]
The True Leaders In Religious Affairs
Allaah [The Mighty and Majestic] said:
إِنَّ إِبْرَاهِيمَ كَانَ أُمَّةً قَانِتًا لِّلَّهِ حَنِيفًا وَلَمْ يَكُ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ
Verily, Ibraaheem was an Ummah [leader], Qaanitan [obedient], Haneefan [one who worshipped Allaah alone], and he was not one of the Mushrikeen [polytheists and those who associate partners with Allah in worship]. [Surah An-Nahl. Aayah 120]
Ibraaheem [alayhis salaam] is the Imaam of the Hunafaa [i.e. Leader of the people of Tawheed- those who single out Allaah in worship] and this is why Allaah said to him:
[إِنِّي جَاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِمَامًا – Verily, I am going to make you a leader (Prophet) of humankind]. [Surah Al-Baqarah. Aayah 124].
Shaikh Abdur Razzaaq al-Badr [hafidhahullaah] said:
It is a customary habit of the people that they do attach themselves to the great personalities, especially those whom they hold in high esteem. Therefore, if a person utilise as proof that the one he follows is an Imaam [An Upright Leader], then there is no Imaam [for humankind] greater than Prophet Ibraaheem [i.e. after Prophet Muhammad], and Allaah [The Mighty and Majestic] stated about Prophet Ibraaheem:
[وَمَن يَرْغَبُ عَن مِّلَّةِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ إِلَّا مَن سَفِهَ نَفْسَهُ – And who turns away from the religion of Ibraaheem (i.e. Islamic Monotheism) except him who befools himself?] [Surah Al-Baqarah. Aayah 130]
If a person addresses someone else with the statement, ‘My Shaikh’ in connection to a Soofee Tareeqah [i.e. a Soofee Path] or in connection to affairs of misguidance in the name of following someone he considers an Imaam [Upright Leader], then indeed Prophet Ibraaheem is the Imaam of the people who worship Allaah alone [i.e. the greatest Imaam of Tawheed and perfect example after Prophet Muhammad]. If a person utilises this as his proof [i.e. that the one he follows is an Imaam], then examine the Aqeedah [Islamic Creed] of this person whom he gives the status of Imaam and judge it based on the Qur’aan to establish whether he is from the people of Tawheed. If a person seeks to use the station of Imaam as proof, then indeed this should be the proof [i.e. examine the Aqeedah of the one given the status of Imaam and judge it based on the Qur’aan and the authentic Sunnah to establish whether he is a person upon Tawheed]. Also, Allaah [The Mighty and Majestic] said about the Prophet [sallal laahu alayhi wasallam]:
لَّقَدۡ كَانَ لَكُمۡ فِى رَسُولِ ٱللَّهِ أُسۡوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ۬ لِّمَن كَانَ يَرۡجُواْ ٱللَّهَ وَٱلۡيَوۡمَ ٱلۡأَخِرَ وَذَكَرَ ٱللَّهَ كَثِيرً۬ا
Indeed in the Messenger of Allah (Muhammad) you have a good example to follow for him who hopes in (the Meeting with) Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah much. [Surah Al-Ahzaab. Aayah 21] [Ref 2]
Three Types of Scholars
Ibn Abee Shaybah [rahimahullaah] reported in Al-Musannaf and Abu Nu’aym [rahimahullaah] in Al-Hilya [5/12] with an authentic chain from Abu Muslim Al-Khawlaani [rahimahullaah], who said, “The scholars are three types: a man who lives with his knowledge and the people live with it alongside him, and a man who lives with his knowledge and none else lives with it alongside him. As for the third man, the people live with his knowledge and it destroys him”.
Shaikh Abdullaah Al-Bukhaari [hafidhahullaah] said,
“The intent behind this speech: Indeed the first [man] knows, acts and teaches. As for the second, he knows and acts, but does not teach. As for the third, he knows and teaches, but does not act! We ask Allaah for steadfastness and well-being”. [Ref 3]
[Ref 1: An Excerpt from Tafseer As-Sadi. Slightly paraphrased]
[Ref 2: An Excerpt from ‘Sharh Kitaab At-Tawheed’. Lesson 1- By Shaikh Abdur Razzaaq Al-Badr (hafidhahullaah). Slightly paraphrased]
[Ref 3: المقالات الشرعية– pages: 23-24]