Scholar by Self Study
What is the ruling concerning a person who has read some ordinary books of Urdu and Persian, used in preliminary classes, and who has not attended any Islamic school nor obtained certificates from scholars: yet he claims that he is a mufti and translates verses of the Qur’ān and ĥadīth and makes it known to the public that he is a scholar (maulvi).
a) Is it allowed to accept the ruling or fatwa or saying of such a person?
b) Should one act upon his instruction/fatwa or not?
c) What is the ruling about another person who does not accept the aforementioned person’s ruling and instructions.
Certificate [or authorization] is inconsequential. Many a certificate holder is simply clueless and they are not even eligible to be the students of some [knowledgeable] folk who do not have any certificates. The most important thing is to have knowledge. The skill in issuing rulings is not perfected by mere book-learning. Unless one spends a lengthy time as an intern under an experienced doctor, one does not become a proficient doctor.2
It has been observed of associates of expert muftis, who have not attended formal classes nor have completed any course, yet by virtue of being in the service of scholars and having spent time researching topics,3 are far superior to many certificate holders who have completed [formal] courses; rather, such people are even superior to many teachers and nominal muftis.
[However,]regarding the aforementioned person: If he is himself indeed knowledgeable, either by self-study or is knowledgeable on account of being in the company of excellent scholars and has plenty of knowledge; and whatever he says is mostly correct [upon corroboration] and is right oftener than he is wrong, then there is no problem in this [speaking on matters of knowledge or accepting his opinion].
However, if he does not have knowledge by either self-study or company of scholars, but still merely looks up books of Urdu and Persian and narrates legal rulings; and translates Qur’ān and ĥadīth by himself,4 then such a practice is an enormity,5 and a big sin. It is not permissible to act upon such a person’s legal edicts [fatwa] nor is it permissible to listen to his sermons explaining Qur’ān and ĥadīth.
It is mentioned in the ĥadīth that RasūlAllāh şallAllāhu álayhi wa sallam has said: One who is audacious or reckless in issuing legal edicts is fearless about hellfire.
And he has also said şallAllāhu álayhi wa sallam: One who explains the Qur’ān according to his own understanding, is in the wrong, even if he has uttered the correct opinion [by coincidence or chance].
We seek Allāh’s refuge; and Allāh táālā knows best.
1. Query from Qazi Tola, Kohna City, 17-Dhu’l Qa’adah-1322
2. Doctor in the translation is used to mean both : a physician (contemporary) and a scholar (archaic). That is, similar to an internship, one has to spend time in the supervision of an expert mufti to become a mufti.
4. ‘by himself’ means to translate with a dictionary and explain as the meaning occurs to him; as opposed to someone who uses the tafsīr and sharĥ of senior and widely-accepted authorities and reliable opinions in his translation/explanation.