Posted by: Dawud Israel | November 5, 2007

Social Class and Muslim Leadership

Have you noticed the difference in behavior of those Imam, Shaykhs and community leaders who come from a lower social class compared to that of those who come from an upper social class?

I think most people understand what I mean. This crosses over into education. People who come from a upper social class and are well-educated are going to be more adept with dealing with all sorts of people and situations than someone who comes from a lower class. Lower class here referring to a broken family, difficult childhood and a life of struggle. Rasulullah SAAWS was from the upper crust of his society and he knew how to deal with every single type of person probably because he came from a different background than the other elite of his society–he was an orphan.

Most of the Muslim leaders of today come from a lower class. They grow up struggling and then they found Islam. Naturally, they did what is logical and devoted their life to Islam. But they still retain their previous experiences which may be negative. They are a part of who they are. And perhaps this is for the best. But if you take someone like Yasir Qadhi who went to university and studied chemical engineering and then studied Islam or Hamza Yusuf who went to an Ivy League school, came to Islam, studied the deen and went to Nursing school and learned Chinese medicine and compare them to Imams who used to be street thugs before they came to Islam–you see a very big difference. Every Muslim knows them to be among the ‘intellectual’ type, someone people are more likely to call true scholars.

Shaykh Yasir Qadhi among other Muslim leaders have voiced their concern that Muslims should go study Islam at a young age similar to how many Muslims are encouraged to go become doctors and engineers so that we have Western Ulama (Muslim scholarship). One thing that I dislike is that if you want more Hamza Yusuf’s than it might be a good idea to give them formal schooling–send them to university and get them educated so they can support themselves and then let them study the deen or allow them to study the deen at the same time. So that their field of expertise doesn’t just lie in Islam but also in other areas. They say Imam Shafi was a physician and knew herbal medicine and yet he was still an Imam.

The brothers that I have seen go study the deen from North America are those brothers who could not study. They could not complete high school even. And perhaps this was because they do come from broken families and a difficult upbringing. But on the other end do you want lazy Ulama? My father tells me that he had seen Shaykhs in Saudi Arabia driving around in a Mercedes-Benz while there are poor people sitting around on the street.

Do we want upper class ulama or lower class ulama? Do we want ulama who can not just quote the Quran and Hadith but also can quote the words of all sorts of individuals to show how powerful the truth is, that it is even found where you would least expect it? Do we want Ulama who have experience and understanding of difficult areas (dealing with orphans, crime, drug abuse, etc) or ulama who only know how to function in the masjid?

Its good to think that we need to have Ulama but we should plan it strategically for the maximum benefit, Insha Allah!

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdik ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk. Ameen.


  1. I don’t really think it’s a question of upper class ulama or lower class, although I understand you had to make some sort of distinction to separate the two.

    At times it is those people who came from broken families or not the best family relationships, difficult childhood, struggled who have better capabilities of understanding people. I don’t think this makes them less apt in thier role as ulama, in fact I think this ability to further understand people strengthens them.

    However, I think it does all come down to education. If you take a person from the upper class that had a great family etc. but lacks education or lacks devotion in his or her education, it won’t make a difference where they came from, a high class social setting or a low one. I do think it would be a good idea to gain Islamic knowledge at an earlier age, that doesn’t mean you have to choose one over the other. Both are attainable. Some go to university and then go to study deen, so why not do the opposite?

  2. I agree, it is education but one of the the biggest factor that judges how likely you are to get educated is social class. You will always have people who climb the ladder and try to get more educated, while others won’t.

    I think there is a maturity and civility that can only be learned from books and an atmosphere of learning. But again education=upper class–if you are educated you are going to be instantly in the upper or middle crust of society.

    Now the thing to really note is the reason that hundreds came to Islam in the past and converted was because we WERE the upper class–people wanted to be like us because we were the Elite. And that may sound bad, but if it encouraged them to come to Islam and the generations that would come after there really isn’t anything wrong.

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