Expertise and Intellectual Freedom

As Islamic awakening continues to unfold throughout the globe, we have come to a better understanding of the direction and the final goal of it. As the leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Khamenei has stated, “This final goal cannot be anything less than creating a brilliant Islamic civilization”. Keeping this in mind allows us to examine practical steps which would let us advance towards the genuine progress. On one hand, we need to ensure that authentic experts assume the leading positions in their respective fields. On the other hand, the leadership of these experts should nurture intellectual freedom of members of the society so that it can progress and reach its potential as a whole.
When we talk about experts, there seems to be a lot of misconceptions which lead to failure in identifying the right source of advice and guidance. Just like in the field of Islamic studies, in any other area of knowledge merely having training and a certification does not make one qualify as an expert. Common misuse of the term coupled with an absurd, thoughtless cult of training credentials in the modern society has taken our attention away from those who truly deserve leading positions in their fields. Vigilance, learning and contemplation on the qualities of genuine experts is as important as the idea of following them. We know that for someone to be called an aalim and to be considered a credible source of Islamic advice, he has to posses characteristics of insight and taqwa aside of training in a recognized religious institution. Likewise, similar qualities need to be sought for from a person whose advice we chose to follow in any other field. For instance, insight and in-depth understanding cannot be born from years of passively receiving instructions and completing required and pre-assigned set of tasks. It comes from interest and passion in the subject, continuous research and sincere aspiration to gain knowledge in the field and not the worldly benefits that may accompany this knowledge or approval of the general community. In fact, this very sincerity and love of knowledge will many a time result in a non-conventional stance, because conventional views are often designed and supported to fit the agenda of corrupt leadership. Therefore a layperson seeking guidance of experts should be aware of the difference of views in every field and be ready to examine them, rather than blindly submitting to directives of any certified specialist.
It has to be also understood that modern training and certification system in many academic fields does not fit the Islamic vision. We have heard of moral corruption being a concern in Western educational institutions. However, we should also be aware that Western education system is also practically corrupt and should not be used as a template for Islamic universities and schools. The goal of Western education is to produce work force to keep moving forward the production and consumption cycle and students in such schools are being trained to qualify for a job within the corrupt system. Since Islam represents an entirely different set of values, it is time for our thinkers and experts to gather their efforts and design a relevant education system. We want to encourage thinking, discussion and intellectually vibrant environment, reward active learning beyond mandatory program, allow individuals to explore their unique abilities and talents to see what they have to suggest to the society, rather than shaping them according to a pre-set template. The first Islamic golden age was brought about by scholars whose interest and search for knowledge was not limited by a particular field or pattern, and we shouldn’t restrain the talents of our youth either.
Meanwhile, the idea of identifying and following experts and bringing up new generation suitable for guiding Islamic society towards progress does not imply abandoning one’s personal responsibility of seeking knowledge, limiting intellectual freedom of humans and diminishing the value of human thought. On the contrary, the very purpose of guidance in Islam is to help humans to uncover hidden treasures and abilities withing themselves and direct them towards the true path and towards nearness to Allah. Unlike the society of consumerism, where the goal of a human is to take his place in the production-consumption cycle and thoughtlessly do his job to keep the oppressive machine moving,
Islam, through the Holy Quran, and traditions of prophet Muhammad (Saw) and his Pure Household (as) repeatedly emphasizes the importance of thinking, contemplation, discussion, intellectual involvement and responsibility or a human in all spheres of life. Advice and knowledge of experts in not to be put in place of personal thought process, awareness and decision making. Rather, both components must take their rightful place to facilitate human development and transformation of the society.
Awaiting for our Imam (af) and preparing grounds for his return implies, among other things, that every Muslim specialist and certified graduate should aspire to become a true, independent expert who stands on the side of truth regardless of worldly implications and be able to identify and counteract all instances of historic and modern corruption in his field. It also suggests a need to design a system to bring up and educate our youth in line with Islamic values and principles of active learning and intellectual freedom. And finally it demands the increase of general awareness and thoughtful decision- making in all spheres of life.
Written by Anna Oleinik
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