The Parallel between Islamic Scholarship and Medical Discipline

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There are individuals, men and women, in the Ummah who spent (literally) decades of their lives intensely immersed in knowledge seeking to understand Islam the best that they can. They are those who are qualified to say things about Islam that you and I are not.

Not everyone is on the same level. I don’t mean that one is better than the other in the Sight of Allah – that title is up for grabs by anyone. However, there are those who are qualified to do certain jobs that you and I are not.

The medical model is a good analogy to understanding how Islamic scholarship works. Not everyone in medicine can diagnose and/or prescribe medicine. Nurses and pharmacists can’t diagnose and prescribe medicine. They are not qualified for that purpose.

For those who are qualified, their diagnosis and prescription qualifications are limited to their respective specializations. For example, a general doctor can handle everyday illnesses like a fever and a cold. But when it comes to more complex illnesses, the doctor refers the patient to specialists.

Sometimes, crossing disciplines occur. For example, a medical doctor might need to consult a psychologist for a specific issue. 

A medical professional can’t do anything and everything under the banner of medicine just because he/she earns the title. A medical professional operates within the scope of his/her specialization. We understand this principle very well in medicine. We generally know who to seek in medicine for specific purposes.

Islamic scholarship operates on the same principle. Just because a person is knowledgeable in Islam, that doesn’t mean he/she is a scholar. Even if the person is a scholar, that doesn’t mean he/she is able to analyze every religious texts in every way possible with mastery.

There are specialists within Islamic scholarship. To list down a few examples: a muhaddith specializes in hadith, a mufassir specializes in Quranic exegesis, and a faqih specializes in fiqh.

Just as we have general doctors who can handle general medical issues, we have scholars who can handle general everyday Islamic issues. We might call them Imam, Shaykh, Chaplain, Ustadh, etc. They don’t necessarily specialize. When they can’t handle an issue, they have to refer to the specialists.

Note: Often times, these titles do not reflect what they do specifically. They do not come with specific job descriptions. Watch “Nomenclature” by Usama Canon to know more. 

Sometimes, we have to cross discipline. If a faqih wants to give a ruling regarding euthanasia, for example, the faqih must consult a doctor about it before he/she can derive a ruling from the scriptures.

The point is this: we seek specific people for specific purposes. Not everyone can do everything.

The medical discipline deals with physical health, while Islamic scholarship deals (primarily) with spiritual health. Seek specific medicine from the right people. Otherwise, it will do more harm than good to our health.