Published in  
October 12, 2020

‘Celebrity Sheikh’ – Has Islamic education become entertainment?

Education or Entertainment?

Recently, a conversation that occurred between a group of practicing brothers and sisters, some of whom are considered students of knowledge, was brought to my attention. The conversation was regarding their earnest desire to attend a talk by a ‘particular’ visiting speaker. Now, in essence, there should be no problem with this as we must choose effectively our sources of receiving the knowledge of our religion, especially in this day and age when everyone has an opinion which amazingly manages to find its way into the palms of our hands, given how much ‘smarter’ our phones have become.

So what is the problem?

The problem is when what we consider to be our pursuit of knowledge and our development actually become a means of ‘entertainment’.

If I were to release to you the actual conversation of the group in question, an understanding would become manifestly apparent that a large drive behind their motivation to attend the event was not the knowledge that would be attained, but sadly the mere attendance of that particular speaker.

Some of them were happy to miss the entire program as long as they caught the talk of a ‘particular speaker’, and mentioned their attending this particular speaker’s presentation ‘live’ – as if it was part of their life’s ‘bucket list’.

Why do I say sadly?

This particular mind-set of idolising respected teachers and speakers to the point of turning them into celebrities is a real one. In fact, I have come to the realisation that this is a growing trend in today’s societies, with many of our brothers and sisters falling into the dangerous trap of becoming ‘fans’ of their favourite speakers and teachers, with very little love and focus on the knowledge delivered and the scholarly inheritance of our beloved Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم

How often have we read or heard the following statements or conversations with regards to an Islamic event?

“Oh, the speaker has such an amazing accent, it melts my heart…”

“I love the way he delivers his reminders. I feel like he’s the only speaker I can listen to…’’

“Oh, he is coming! We must attend the program…”

“How cool would it be to get a picture with him?!”

“Forget about the rest, he is the best…”

And in response to an invite to attend a beneficial lecture or program run by a responsible institute; “The speakers are not charismatic enough….”

These are but a few statements, and I am sure you may have heard many more.

Consider the following scenario:

If someone were to offer you one million gold bricks, would you really be selective as to how you received it? Would you really care about who handed it to you? Would you give up pursuing your gift if you had inadequate information about its whereabouts?

Perhaps the offering was coined whilst you were among a group of people. Would you prefer to stay back and allow someone else to announce their interest before you?

Then, what about the ‘inheritance’ of our beloved Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم which is far more valuable than one million gold bricks?

The issue

If we believe that we love the Messenger of Allāh صلى الله عليه وسلم then surely we would not restrict ourselves to a particular speaker, but rather dash out of our homes at the slightest chance of learning the lessons of our beloved صلى الله عليه وسلم.

If we believe that our Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم is truly our honour; then surely our attachment should be to his صلى الله عليه وسلم teachings and not the ‘preferred speaker’s’.

In an ideal scenario; Islamic courses, conferences and lectures would be over-booked simply at the announcement of the topic, and not due to the chosen speakers, lecturers and teachers. Whereas, today, the opposite is true.

I have sat in countless operational meetings of various organisations related to the running of an Islamic conference. The hottest question on display was about the ‘visiting speakers’ and the need to have those that will attract the masses. “We need to have Sheikh so and so and Sheikh so and so because they are popular,” and “Sharing the inheritance of our Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم is not enough to bring the masses out of their homes, the speakers are more important,” I am told. Unfortunately, our own organisations are forced to tread this path because this is the manifest reality.

That is not to say we cannot have a preference, for having a ‘preference’ is innate to human nature.

Let’s Discuss

1) Seeking knowledge is not entertainment

Our religion is complete and perfect; it constantly emphasises the seeking of knowledge and its many virtues and rewards, and cites the process as an ‘act of worship’ and a ‘means to Jannah’. If only we were to remind ourselves of this, we would take a much more serious approach to seeking knowledge. We would focus on what we are learning and how it would benefit us, rather than the style or method it is being delivered in.

As our beloved Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said:

“Whoever treads the path in search of knowledge, Allāh سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى will make the path to Paradise easy for him.” [Sahih Al Bukhari]

2) For the sake of Allāh ​سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى

Seeking knowledge is an act of worship, especially with regards to matters pertaining to the Dīn. Hence, we must constantly remind ourselves of the importance of purifying our intentions for the sake of Allāh سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَىalone. When seeking knowledge, we must do so with a heart that yearns for the pleasure of Allāh سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى and reward from Him. If we make this a habit and are consistent with it, we will soon discover the sweetness of seeking knowledge for His sake alone, and will not become blinded by this ‘celebrity’ and ‘fan’ culture.

If you intend to be entertained, you will be rewarded for being entertained, but if you attend for Allāh سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى, He will place abundant barakah in your learning and your life as well as your hereafter, InshāAllāh.

ʿUmar رضي الله عنه reported that the Messenger of Allāh صلى الله عليه وسلم said:

“Actions are [judged] according to [one’s] intentions, and everyone will get what was intended. Whoever migrates with an intention for Allāh سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى and His messenger, the migration will be for the sake of Allāh سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى and his Messenger. And whoever emigrates for worldly gain or to marry a woman, then his migration will be for the sake of whatever he migrated for.” [Sahih Al Bukhari]

Thus, we must never let our endeavours be about the ‘hype’ surrounding a speaker or event. Never let your attendance be a result of everyone else’s attendance or because you just had nothing better to do. Do not attend as a fan, but rather attend as a student, in love with what our Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم said, whilst respecting the person who Allāh سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى blessed with learning it and sharing it.

3) Īmān Boost and the Captivating factor

There are some that claim that it is about the ‘Īmān Boost’ that a certain speaker provides. Whereas others say it is the speaker’s ability to captivate and hold the attention of the audience.

While this may be true and is understandably not a negative thing, as some speakers have been truly blessed with the gift to instil hope and fear in the hearts of believers, it is nevertheless crucial that we remain on the middle ground and do not take this ‘preference’ to the extreme. For example, some may stick to listening to one or two speakers only and rule out all other speakers, and some may attend events for the sake of the humorous nature of the speaker and their ability to make a crowd dissolve into laughter.

These cases, in my view, are problematic for the following reasons;

Firstly​, because the developer of our Īmān should be revelation, be it in the form of the Qur’ān or the Sunnah of our Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. The words of the speakers housing the revealed lessons should be the catalyst of our change and development and not the speakers themselves. The message shared by the speaker should remain and stick with us long after the speaker departs. In addition to this, attaching the concept of our development upon a person is neither sustainable nor healthy for our Īmān, as it is revelation that will remain, whilst every soul shall taste death.

Secondly​, the inheritance of our Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم is worth it. Surely, we should be able to exercise more patience than we are ordinarily capable of displaying and be willing to adjust our preferences when it comes to gaining something that matters so much to us. Thus, we should be more than willing to listen to a knowledgeable speaker, regardless of their being less attractive or charismatic. Allāh سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى has set mighty rewards for seeking knowledge because of the nobility of the act and the effort and patience required when doing so.

We must face the truth, if seeking knowledge was as easy as being entertained, everyone would be knowledgeable. Hence, we really need to stop considering our journey of seeking knowledge as something similar to a journey to a fast food outlet where everything has to be how we want it to be, when we want it to be, and served with a smile.

4) Evidence:

This next point is one that sends shivers down my spine and should send shivers down yours too. Always remember and ponder over the fact that the lectures that you listen to, the events that you attend, the knowledge that you gain, will either be evidence for you​ or against you ​when you stand in front of Allāh سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى on the Day of Judgment. None of us would like to be witnessed against on the ultimate day of justice, especially by that which we thought would benefit us and be our protection. May Allāh سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى protect us all.

5) Injustice:

The reality is that there are far more knowledgeable teachers and lecturers than the ‘famous’ ones. If we restrict the avenues of acquisition of this knowledge and this noble inheritance then we are only doing a disservice to ourselves.

Some of my fondest memories whilst studying in Riyadh, K.S.A, was when my esteemed teachers at university, who were not necessarily ‘famous’, would direct us to those who they acknowledged as more knowledgeable than them and were furthermore unknown. May Allāh سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى preserve them all. They truly hoped for us to become better informed and desired for our journey of seeking knowledge to be a more robust one.

6) The ends do not justify the means:

In order for an act of worship to be accepted by Allāhسُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى two conditions must be met. Firstly, that act must solely be performed for the sake of Allāh سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى, and secondly the manner of the act must be in accordance to the mandates set by Allāh سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى and the teachings of our Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم. We cannot worship Allāh سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى how​ we want ​to​, but must worship Him سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى how ​He wants​to ​be worshipped. Thus, purity and beautiful intentions must remain constant, as well as being mindful of the morals, manners and etiquettes set by the Lawgiverسُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى throughout the entire process of seeking knowledge.

Hence, understand that the eventual gaining of an ‘Īmān Boost’ at the end of an event through a wholly incorrect process (not lowering one’s gaze, being charmed by the speaker in a counter­productive way, over­praising them, etc.), does not validate the process or justify it. We must ensure that we have proper manners when seeking knowledge, including lowering one’s gaze, asking questions when necessary, and staying clear of free­-mixing.

May Allāh سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى correct our affairs. Amīn.

My dear brothers and sisters, the thoughts I have penned in this article are not meant to cause grievance to anyone, but rather are intended with sincere love, for the sake of Allāh سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى. I have not stated anything here with a stereotypical mentality and know that much of what has been stated may not apply to many a reader, InshāAllāh.

When the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم visited Al Baqīʿ (a burial ­ground in Madīnah next to the Prophet’s mosque) before his death, he told his companions: “I wish I could see my brothers.” They replied: “Are we not your brothers?” The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “No, you are my companions; my brothers are those who did not see me and yet follow me and believe in me. I will wait for them at Al Hawdh (the place where the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم will give the chosen ones a handful of water to sip from his noble hands, from which their thirst will be quenched and they will never feel thirsty again, and this will be before entering Paradise).

Dear readers, I leave you with these concluding words; know that a group from this Ummah will be turned away from the Hawdh of our Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم. Let us make sure that we are not from that group.

Dear brothers and sisters, understand that seeking knowledge is a serious matter. It is a matter of the success of this life and the next. I realise that attachment to certain speakers occurs as a result of remembering how their impact remained long after their words were spoken, however, remember how our Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم affected us positively long before anyone else ever did.

Dear seekers, respect your teachers, but do not idolise them. Entrance into Paradise will not be because of that ‘selfie’ you managed to take with a speaker or the picture you snapped which proved you attended an Islamic event. Allāh سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى has angels documenting our affairs, and before that Allāh سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى is the All­-Knowledgeable and the Universal Witness. Entrance into Jannah is for the one who puts their knowledge sincerely into practice, believing in one God.

Our situation will not change for the better unless and until we return upon that which changed our earlier generations. The day the Islamic programs and events of all of our reputable teachers and speakers will be over­-booked​, because of our desire to be near the teachings of our Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم as they are the closest things we have with him, is the day I believe our situation will truly change for the better.

K​nowledge is only beneficial when we put it into practice. We have been blessed to learn much Alḥamdulillāh, even from our favourite speakers. I believe that if we truly put the lessons taught into practice there would be no need for this article.

I truly love you all for the sake of Allāh سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى.


Originally posted by our brothers at Islam21c

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