“The leaving of a school of thought is the first step to the ego,” is what my teacher said a few weeks ago as we were finishing up a class. He was pretty adamant about his stance in that the schools of thought have been like guideposts. Streets that the eager student and laymen would traverse when wanting to connect to the Quran and the legal side of the life of the Prophet Muhammad (God’s peace and blessings upon him).
In this particular class he got a bit fired up when discussing how important it is to stick to one school of thought (Madhhab). He mentioned that when one begins to go between two, or worse, all four of the recognized schools of jurisprudence that a person oftentimes is actually following their own inclinations and not specifically what is specifically required of them from God. One can see the harms of this today when just about everyone seems to be giving themselves a legal ruling when very few have actually studied. This in turn causes the general public to become confused due to the sheer amount of varying opinions afloat. Not to mention a sense of frustration due to there being little to no foundation to go back to in an effort to understand where this opinion came from.
One might argue that the confusion had by the general public is due to mass ignorance, and I would generally agree. Through my eyes it seems we have substituted a foundational path of learning with something far more complex and dismembered. For example, I would venture to say that most of my peers want for two things, knowledge of what God requires from them and knowledge of who God is. The traditional schools of thought almost always connected these two and gave them to the student in a palatable fashion. A student might begin studying a book of law which was simple enough for most adolescents to grasp, as it only covered the major opinion of the school (i.e. that which is agreed upon). Simultaneously they would read through a book on theology which also explained who God is. This would be done in a simple manner for the student to understand and act upon. This trajectory would continue until the student reached a level of proficiency and mastery. In essence, when upon this path the community would have a base level of religious literacy and mass confusion would be lessened.
However, in our times this system has all but vanished. Most people get their Islamic education online via youtube and other social media. Others may attend a weekend seminar but that too leaves immense holes in one’s knowledge. The problem with this is that there is very little structure, the internet in and of itself has conditioned us to have access to everything, even though we are aware that humankind needs to learn in stages. The majority of people I know that are well-rounded did not attain their Islamic knowledge solely from Youtube or weekend seminars, instead they found teachers that would personally teach them or they began attending classes at their local masjid. This also does something amazing for the student, it humbles them. It teaches the student that they can’t get everything in a day or even a year, that true growth takes a lifetime. It takes falling and standing back up, and that sometimes you will learn the answer before you learn why it is the answer. This is quite the opposite of how we seek knowledge today, we want it all now. We study for a semester, take an exam and months later are unable to recall anything from the previous class. While that may be sufficient in attaining a degree, it is not sufficient in inculcating consciousness of the Divine in our everyday lives. Sticking to a school can be grueling, and you may at times feel restricted, but within that restriction there is rapid growth that is blessed by the Divine.
When one decides that they can create their own path to understanding God and His word, they have decided that they are ready to answer for every act of worship that they did in this life. This isn’t to say that one cannot pick up the Quran and the Sunnah and begin to asses the obligations and exemptions therein. However, as Muslims we are blessed with a book that has been preserved in its revealed language, we have historical context to the revelations of certain verses, we have context to certain actions and statements of the Prophet Muhammad (God’s peace and blessings upon him), and we have an entire science surrounding our belief in God. If one has gone through these various sciences, studied them, understood them, become certified in them and then wishes to pass rulings for themselves and others, so be it. But when one has yet to delve into any of it but then dismisses it all as “backwards”, then they have done exactly what the shaykh said earlier by taking a step towards their ego. And a person who is ruled by their ego will not enter paradise.