Awesome Speakers or Humble Scholars?

Awesome Speakers or Humble Scholars?

When it comes to service in religious matters, such as delivering Islamic lectures and reciting at the mourning gatherings of Imam Hussain, it is not befitting from a moral and spiritual perspective for a scholar to demand a huge compensation, because ultimately, it is his obligation to provide spiritual nourishment to the community. Also, doing so certainly takes away from the dignity of the scholar and goes against the etiquette of a respected Aalim. A scholar is benefited from and taken as a spiritual guide not just because the amount of knowledge he carries, but equally importantly because of the way he carries himself in his behavior and the self-respect which he invites towards himself based on his apparent actions and lifestyle.

Is it appropriate for speakers to have a set rate for delivering lectures?It has recently been a topic of discussion in our communities regarding the permissibility of scholars and speakers getting paid for their services of delivering Islamic lectures and speeches, especially when it comes to the gatherings of mourning for Imam Hussain (peace be upon him). The majority of us agrees that it is natural and normal to present a sum of money or a gift as a hadiya to compensate for the speaker’s time and effort in contributing to a gathering. In fact, it is almost rare that Shaikhs and Maulanas are invited to a center or mosque without earning or receiving something as a token of appreciation and honor for their presence. However, there is difference in opinion as to whether speakers should play an active role in demanding a specific amount of compensation before lecturing, and whether it is proper to ask for a significant earning for service done in the name of Islam.

There are those who find no harm in the idea that speakers should get paid according to their qualification and contribution; hence, the more knowledge and inspiration a scholar can give, the more pay they get. Some support the idea that a written contract should be signed beforehand as Islam generally recommends a signed contract to protect the rights of any two parties involved.

It must be noted, however, that there is a distinct difference between an orator who is offered certain compensation by the hosting center and humbly accepts it regardless of its amount, versus one who takes offers from the highest bidders for his responsibility of spreading the religion of Islam and rejects an invitation based on the material or financial aspect. Unfortunately, some orators nowadays even require exclusive travel methods and other “perks” before they agree to convey the message of Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them). Logically and morally speaking, this is not acceptable, and goes against the message of immaterialism and humility which our speakers should be promoting.

Sadly, we see a trend these days that out-of-town speakers are rewarded with much greater compensation and treated like superstars when invited, while some of our respected resident scholars who work so hard year-round to provide the proper spiritual guidance to their community and have served their own town for years do not earn the proper compensation and reward that they rightfully deserve. Rather, some are treated in a poor manner and with complete lack of respect. Sometimes we take our resident scholar for granted, and with time, we forget his rights upon us. This unfair treatment does not befit a group of believers who follow the direction of Imam Zainul Abideen (peace be upon him), who emphasizes in his Treatise on Rights:

“The right of the one who trains you (sa’is) through knowledge is magnifying him, respecting his sessions, listening well to him, and attending to him with devotion. You should not raise your voice toward him. You should never answer anyone who asks him about something, in order that he may be the one who answers. You should not speak to anyone in his session nor speak ill of anyone with him. If anyone ever speaks ill of him in your presence, you should defend him. You should conceal his faults and make manifest his virtues. You should not sit with him in enmity or show hostility toward him in friendship. If you do all of this, God’s angels will give witness for you that you went straight to him and learned his knowledge for God’s sake, not for the sake of the people.”

However, with respect to visiting speakers and scholars demanding a particular amount of compensation, there is no rule in Islam which states that it is forbidden for a person to charge an exorbitant amount of money for a service. But when it comes to service in religious matters, such as delivering Islamic lectures and reciting at the mourning gatherings of Imam Hussain, it is not befitting from a moral and spiritual perspective for a scholar to demand a huge compensation, because ultimately, it is his obligation to provide spiritual nourishment to the community. Also, doing so certainly takes away from the dignity of the scholar and goes against the etiquette of a respected Aalim. A scholar is benefited from and taken as a spiritual guide not just because the amount of knowledge he carries, but equally importantly because of the way he carries himself in his behavior and the self-respect which he invites towards himself based on his apparent actions and lifestyle.

Unlike other fields, there is no room for business when it comes to religious guidance, especially if business will be driving that guidance. In addition, it is better if a scholar is not lured by huge amounts of compensation so that his word is not subjected to being influenced by those who offer him the bigger bucks. Otherwise, if the speaker does not enjoy a high level of piety, the financial temptation may cause him to sacrifice the word of truth for the sake of maintaining the material benefits, God forbid!

When Ayatollah Nasir Makarem Shirazi was asked whether it is permissible to demand monetary compensation in return for mentioning the merits and the tragedies of the Ahlul Bayt, he answered: “There is no legal (shar’i) program with specifying a set monetary compensation; however, such an action is not becoming of the status of the ones who speak about the Ahlul Bayt, peace be upon them all, as such individuals must be the manifestation of God-consciousness.” (Fiqh of Azadari)

The real question to ask is: Are we really looking to gain our knowledge and spiritual nourishment from awesome speakers or humble scholars? Nowadays, there are many speakers who take on the podium and are able to deliver eloquent and awesome speeches. Many are able to gather and transfer knowledge that they heard from CDs, online lectures, and books. However, it is not sufficient for any person who has knowledge to climb the pulpit of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) if he does not fulfill the criteria of practicing that knowledge and bearing wisdom and insight which accompanies that knowledge. We as seekers of knowledge and students of Islam should listen and learn from those righteous and pious scholars who have the proper education, good morals, and have applied the teachings of Islam in their lives. Only then can we be assured that we are not blindly following those who are not worthy to be followed or are not the best out there, even if they are Sayyids, even if they wear turbans on their heads, and even if their speeches sounds amazing.

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Arsalan Rizvi

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20 Comments

  1. Qamber Jafri
    March 01, 01:41
    Couldn't have said better . MAy Imam Hussain( a.s.) bless the author for a frank and open discussion.<br />Personally every Alim needs to be justly compensated for his or her time and effort but " demanding" a set amount and asking for first class travel etc etc just is demeaning to the institute of azadari.
  2. Heather
    March 01, 02:54
    As always, an excellent and informative piece! I agree, these days, some speakers treat it as a "business" rather than doing it solely for the purpose of Allah (swt) and the Ahlul Bayt (as). You're such an amazing writer; I think it's your turn to write a book now inshallah! :)
  3. Mokhtar
    March 01, 04:45
    Good article with valid points.<br /><br />But we must also not forget that they have a family and require finance for their requirements. Dont we pay universities and professors loads of money for MATERIAL education. Why not pay for the teachings of AhlulBayt and Quran which is being imparted by these scholars.When we can negotiate our salaries on legitimate basis why can't scholars benefiting the community with their knowledge? It is the responsibility of the scholar and us to strike a balance.
  4. Abbas m
    March 01, 05:33
    Salam some comments to consider:-<br />Good oratory /eloquent speaker is important to attract/ retain audience interest & attention .Prophets had good oratory<br /><br />Gathering knowledge /info from cd etc is perfectly alright for reciters as well....all lectures cant/need not be original<br /><br />One problem is that there is no criteria for speaking from mimbar ,reciters with no knowledge/formal madressa/howza training are invited ONLY for audience who give no message and instead promote wrong beliefs<br /><br />Sayyids and those who have turbans(indicating knowledge) generaly deserve more respect.<br /><br />We need not literally 'follow' every reciter . humble scholars who can also deliver are not available eaisly everywhere ..and in fiqh we 'follow' only Alam marja
  5. ALI ALI
    March 01, 11:38
    salaamun alaykum, well articulated. though the points are same as what has been said earlier in discussion groups. it seems that the writer as decided to change is pen name.<br /><br />in any case, a point which a speaker need to keep is: "What I can give to the community, instead of what I can take from them."
  6. Abbas123
    March 01, 23:56
    so instead we should have second rate scholars who dont continue to educate themselves and take whatever we give them? Lets look at this rationally instead of worrying about your wallet. Supply and demand dictates the value of what a speaker can charge. Im willing to pay more for a good speaker. Im willing to pay zero for a mediocre one. The speaker earns a wagw for a maximu of 30 to 50 days per year and endures the hardship of travel as well as postponing their own family, why shouldnt he be paid for that. Those of you saying its an exhorbitant amount are willing to blow 100 dollars on sports match but belive we have the right to a zero dollar scholar. Instead, these complainers should drop a dollar in the general fund and watch what a difference it makes. Mediocre scholars mean mediocre uninspired followers who dont go to mosque. Which do you want?
    • muslim
      March 02, 15:27
      Salaamun Alaikum,<br />We shouldn't have a problem with giving money to ulama who visit, but rather the problem here is with the speakers themselves who often are demanding and asking for things like a 5 start hotel, etc. I've heard this myself. If a speaker is coming to speak out his love for Allah (swt) and Ahlul bayt (alayhim-ossalam) then he would naturally not be caring so much about how much money he gets and where he sleeps. Yes the inviter will try to give him a decent amount, but honestly the speaker shouldn't have a problem with having little money as hediyah; if they are, this indicates the intention is not as pure as it should be. Plus, not everyone can afford to give a huge sum of money and a 5-star hotel to speakers.<br />Wassalam
  7. muslim
    March 02, 15:18
    Salaamun Alaikum,<br />Alhamdulillah that this was finally brought up. Another very important thing is WHO you invite; nowadays, often people (esp. youth) are into invinting speakers who are not scholars and who have not gone and studied at the hawzah. These are just speakers, and not teachers, while an aalim is both. It can be dangerous sometimes to invite people who are just speakers (a nd not scholars) because they may give a wrong piece of information. Especially if the speaker has Q&A sessions, which often when someone asks a question, the speaker may not know the answer but STILL tries to give an answer which is very very dangerous because the answer is given out of ignorance and people can't be fed wrong ideas.<br />It's very important that the speaker have gone to hawzah and not be just "self-taught". There's only so much you can learn by yourself, and often those who teach themselves may misunderstand what they learn or misrepresent it. And there are some topics which you need to have a teacher in them if you want to get anywhere correctly....such as erfan.<br /> Wassalam
  8. muslim
    March 02, 15:22
    Oh I forgot to mention; i think the reason the youth like inviting these "self-taught, non-hawzah" speakers is because some of them speak very well, but again the problem arises that they don't always know enough especially when it comes to answering questions. And instead of saying "I don't know" as an answer to one who asks a question they don't know, they often try to answer. If we don't know something, it's much safer to say "I don't know" than give a possibly-wrong answer/assumption. I remember reading about Allamah Tabatabai (ra) that when he didn't know the answer to something, he would just simply say "I don't know".
  9. Abbas m
    March 02, 18:48
    A god letter to sponsors and reciters is here http://www.duas.org/lettertors.HTM<br /><br />In our enthusiasm to have the 'right' speakers we must not forget these points:-<br />1)Unity of the community is important & we should try to avoid creating conflicts <br />2)Our Majalis are miracles where young/ old, rich/ poor intelligent & not so ..ALL listen & benefit ! We must encourage attendance even if we believe that the 'standards' is not upto our expectation.
  10. seeker
    March 02, 19:40
    Salam 'Alaykum,<br />There are some logical issues that are being overlooked that are quite significant. First of all, unless one is on a board of the mosques or head of a youth organization doing the inviting and the paying of speakers, one would not be privy (firsthand) to the dollar amount in question and therefore one's comments would be in the category of gossip, here-say, and even perhaps fitna. Secondly and subsequently, if one was privy to the dollar amount, one would be betraying confidentiality of one's position to be discussing and criticizing said amount publicly. Thirdly, based on the critique that non-Howza trained speakers may misguide people, one has effectively eliminated the author of this article as a valid source of critique on this or any other Islamic related issue. Finally, one would do well to appreciate the individuals outside of the elite class of alims who have done more (while simultaneously being abused by some amongst whom they seek to serve) for the sake of Islam and the ummah in the West, than most of this elite class.
    • Ahmad
      March 02, 21:34
      I think the scope of this discussion is about allowing people to speak on the mimbar of Imam Husain, and here selectivity is very important. However, selectivity does not apply for devout believers who share their opinion or do personal research because they only represent themselves, and hence you can take it or you can leave it.
    • muslim
      March 03, 03:33
      Wa alaikum salam,<br />About your third point, the problem isn't so much with non-aalim speakers. If a non-aalim speaker comes and speaks, that's fine as sure as he is sure that EVERY thing he says is correct according to Islam. Same would apply to an aalim too (assuming that the aalim were to be giving wrong-info). I think the punchline on the third point is just make sure that you bring a speaker who is speaking about something appropriate for the situation and as well does not give ANY wrong information.<br />Wassalam
    • Abu Fatima
      April 16, 23:09
      [quote name="seeker"]Salam 'Alaykum,<br /> First of all, unless one is on a board of the mosques or head of a youth organization doing the inviting and the paying of speakers, one would not be privy (firsthand) to the dollar amount in question and therefore one's comments would be in the category of gossip, here-say, and even perhaps fitna. Secondly and subsequently, if one was privy to the dollar amount, one would be betraying confidentiality of one's position to be discussing and criticizing said amount publicly. .[/quote]<br /><br />Speaking from one who has much experience in the field of ascending the Mimbar to speak in Muharram and also one who has been on the Executive of my local community (and am currently on the EC), and one who knows (atleast Canadian) tax laws, you will know that every non-profit charity is obligated by Canadian law (and perhaps US and European as well) to disclose all income/expenses for the year. When they have the breakdown and show you that in Muharram they spend x amount of dollars - this can be understood to be airfare and the 'hadiyah' (cash gift) - one can 'understand' from that how much was paid for the airfare/accommodation and how much went to the speaker.<br /><br />In any case, no one is debating whether or not they should be paid, the question is: is it morally sound to demand large sums per majlis - what is large is a difficult definition to offer - is $1,000.00 per night for a US/Canadian Shia community "too much" or not?!?
  11. To be honest, while we can sit here and entertain this debate, we all know that when we speak of the West, what we are talking about in regards to speakers are foremost, English speakers. For those living in predominantly English societies, the number of qualified, articulate and powerful speakers is fewer than in Arabic or Farsi. Add to the fact that some English speakers are not articulate, the programs may suffer. Our Holy Prophet and our Imams were all eloquent and the fact is, is that our alims should be the same. <br /><br />There is also the idea of indoctrination versus critical analysis, and I prefer the latter which is often lacking in English programs which makes that field all the smaller to select from. I know of a great speaker in English, but bc of demand, he mostly lectures in Urdu. So here, there is an obvious demand in which English listeners are left outside the masjid sipping chai. No thanks, we'll go elsewhere bc we have to. Don't get me started on the number of masjids in the States that are non-English only, especially in cities where there is only one Shia masjid. Need I even mention our da'wah materials?<br /><br />As such, while no one here would defend "outrageous demands," why is it a point of contention unless the elders that felt offended made it so? Instead, once again, the youth is left outside wondering what's going on versus learning about Islam. People can clap for this topic, but it does little to address what is really happening to our ummah and the real problems that the youth are especially facing in the West. <br /><br />Simpy put: this is much ado about nothing. If you don't like the price, don't pay it and get someone else. Lastly, let me further add that the only reason that this came to the forefront this Muharam was precisely because one masjid felt "outdone" by another. If I was to repeat the slander said in this case, we would all hang our heads in shame. We, as Shia, have so much work to do, beginning with ourselves.

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