Celebrity Scholars

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Celebrity Follows Knowledge in American Islam



Today, a new set of Muslim scholars have emerged—on the red carpet. They are decorated in traditional pious garb: long flowing gowns and trendsetting scarves. They stride elegantly down the crimson walkway where they are met by follower-fans who eagerly praise and lionize them. In this Hollywood reality, celebrity scholars are exalted for their religious knowledge.

In his account of America’s first Muslim college Scott Korb observes that “celebrity follows knowledge in American Islam.” Korb is surprised by Muslim students’ fervent veneration of their religious teachers. In Islam sacred knowledge demands reverence, a concept best reflected in one’s respectful comportment towards his or her teacher. Here, however, Korb hits on the more peculiar phenomenon of Muslim celebrity culture.

This culture is most prevalent in the social media realm where Muslim scholars maintain carefully crafted public profiles on sites like Facebook and Twitter. These scholars diligently offer 140-character smidgens of religious wisdom. They also post personal anecdotes, self-help advice, and the occasional political grievance. Sometimes, they even share scholarly “selfies,” oblivious to the narcissism inherent in such a practice. Although many of their posts are vague, if not shallow in nature, thousands of followers evince gushing admiration through “likes,” “favorites,” and “retweets.” The lionization of scholars for their down-to-earth religious swag is reminiscent of the devotion of millions of followers to popular personalities like Oprah or the Kardashians. The game is the same. The names are different.

A troubling symptom of this increasing online phenomenon is the perpetuation of an identity politics. “My shaykh is better than your shaykh” is the motto in contemporary American Islam. Many celebrity scholars hail from different popular Islamic institutions like AlMaghrib, Bayyinah, Zaytuna, and SeekersGuidance. Posting in tandem with their institutions, these scholars act as plugs for their specific brand of Islam. Muslims, in turn, identify themselves with one or more of these institutions. They adopt their ideologies and characteristics. A wholly modern form of identity is fashioned characterized by one’s dogmatic attachment to his or her own Muslim camp. Critical thinking and engagement fall out the window as each Muslim camp claims monopoly over the “true” meaning of Islam. We would do well to heed the warning of Shabbir Akhtar, who wisely states that dogmatism in any camp is the common enemy.

In my use of dogmatism, I am not referring to the notion of submitting to authority and the precedent of the past. There is a significant place for this in our tradition. Rather, I am speaking of a “servile conformism,” a specific form of dogmatism that even al-Ghazali criticized during his time, which is anti-intellectual and overtly ideological rather than truth-seeking.

Perhaps one of the biggest threats celebrity scholar culture poses to the Muslim community is a dramatic rise in anti-intellectualism. Scholars peddling a feel-good Islam post short cookie-cutter comments on religious matters (see Fig. 1).

Screen Shot 2014-06-29 at 1.45.08 PM

Instead of reading a book, followers can learn all they need to know about Islam by merely scrolling through a string of instructive “tweets.” In reality, no actual learning takes place. The unique engagement one has with a book invites one into a unique dialogue with the author. It inspires critical thinking skills and sustained learning. This is radically different from reading a brief “tweet” or Facebook post, which are more often than not, simplistic fleeting thoughts. These Islamic sound bites in no way sufficiently explain complex religious issues that scholars of the past discussed over the course of centuries.

Even more unsettling is the fact that social media induces a strange form of complacency within Muslim religiosity. A scholar may request a du’a for a specific occasion, but rather than immediately dropping technology to make supplication, Muslims hasten to “like,” or “favorite” the post. By acknowledging a scholar’s pious comment, Muslims feel they have completed their religious duty for the day (though they’ve failed to make the journey from the computer screen to the prayer mat).

This same culture of complacency characterizes celebrity scholars’ social and political posts. To take a more recent example, the Boko Haram scandal produced no shortage of scholars joining the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Though they were certainly well-intentioned, their posts were ineffective insofar as they merely accumulated a few hundred “likes” and did not in any way galvanize practical action. It seems that Muslim scholars simply wanted to show the world that they too were aware of an issue that everyone else was talking about. In condemning the Boko Haram, they felt they’d made a difference. This is emblematic of a larger online phenomenon wherein everyone shows solidarity for one single issue (one they were probably ignorant of before) and subsequently feels satiated by their noble social activism. Celebrity scholars and follower-fans must challenge the superficial satisfaction gained by the click of a button in both religious and sociopolitical matters. Instead, scholars can use international events to comment on related taboo issues in their own communities.

Diving deeper into the psychology, it would not be absurd to suggest that online followership may lead to toxic levels of self-conceit. In his blog “Muslimology,” Dawud Israel questions the febrile adulation of religious scholars. After Muslim followers heap piles of praise on their shuyukh after a khutba, Dawud wonders, “Who wouldn’t go on an ego trip?” It is no different in the social media world where Muslims engage in unrelenting flattery of their scholars’ posts and pictures. Are scholars immune to inordinate dosages of flattery? It may well be that none of us are. Promotion of the self is not a regrettable byproduct of social media, it is inherent to the institution itself! We seek validation and praise by publicizing our lives, careers, goals, interests, and talents. We all teeter on the brink of hubris. Should scholars be held to a different standard?

On a flight to San Francisco I ran into Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, arguably one of the most influential Muslim scholars in the West. In a classy black suit and round horn-rimmed glasses, he addressed the flight attendant with an air of gravitas. Resisting the pestilent urge to pull out my phone and Snapchat him, I asked for his thoughts on Muslim celebrity scholar culture. Yusuf had an overall pessimistic outlook on social media. “People tell me to get a Twitter,” he said, “but you know I won’t do it.” While skeptical of the intellectually nullifying reality of social media including the concept of blogging, Yusuf took a conciliatory tone. He conceded that at least Muslims were following religious scholars instead of frivolous famous personalities. “It’s human nature,” he admitted, “to follow who you love.”

It’s true. We love our Muslims scholars so much so that we jump at the first chance to follow their lives; and they indubitably mean well in their efforts to reach and relate to a tech-savvy generation. But we must question the psychological and sociological impact of this culture on our collective Muslim ethos. Out of this very human and sincere love, celebrity scholars and follower-fans must ask themselves these hard-hitting questions.

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  • About the autor
    Safia Latif

    Safia Latif is interested in Islam in America. She is pursuing her M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

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    • Tamim Hossain

      The question of celebrity status as a religious teacher is a very important one – and I agree wholeheartedly with you welcome ideas about making sure we continually check ourselves and our scholars with regards to this slippery slope.

      However, much of this is, quite ironically, reminiscent of the same “cookie-cutter” mentality you claim to indict celebrity scholars of.

      This follows quite a predictable pattern emerging amongst many Muslim bloggers and writers. ‘The current status quo of Muslim “scholars,”‘ the story goes, ‘has lost the plot because of x, y, and z’ with x, y, and z being any of your standard critiques of contemporary Muslim preachers and social media – they encourage it’s use too liberally among their followers, they encourage a celebrity cult-like status with all their followers and likers, they promote a certain ideology over another, they water down complex religious discourse into overly mainstream or cliche terms etc. etc.

      Something that puzzled me was the inclusion of Shaykh Hamza Yusuf as some sort of counterpoint to your misguided, social media laden speaker – completely ignoring that fact that Hamza Yusuf has several official pages with hundreds of thousands of adoring followers and likers on several social media platforms. If you look under several of the pictures posted on his pages, I can guarantee you will find comments like “mashAllah so beautiful!” or “look at all the noor on his face.” As much as he doesn’t like social media, he and his da’wah are supported heavily by it’s reach.

      What you’ve effectively done is taken the interaction between the Muslim figures and their social media denizens and blamed all of the issues that generally stem from social media on the Muslim figures.

      You mention many of the negative aspects that emerge among more ardent followers, such us undue adoration for shallow posts and a group mentality with regards to Islamic ideology. This is, however, a criticism of the Muslim population online in general (and frankly the prevailing culture of millennial in general), and it is completely unfair to put the blame for such aspects simply on the shoulders of Muslim scholars. I would argue that they seethe benefits of social media to outweigh these general negative aspects that aren’t, as you somehow try to paint, singular to the phenomena of Muslim social media celebrities.

      You do not mention the immense benefit social media is as a tool of disseminating the Islamic world view. As Hamza Yusuf said, if people were not following and liking these religious figures, they would likely be replaced by other celebrities who probably don’t share this world view.

      You’re main criticism that actually directly applies to the “celebrity scholars” seems to be that they are shallow with their religious advice, using cookie cutter pieces of advice. My response would be, so what? If such advise gives people solace, hope, is adherent of the Qur’an and Sunnah and encourages them to change for the better, I could care less if the shaykh uses that actual chart you posted to formulate it.

      I personally am a fan of a more intellectual approach to Islam – history, philosophy, the works of the great Muslim scholars and the complex metaphors they used to express the beauty of Islam. In our current context, that makes me no better than the average Muslim who is mightily impressed by the less intricate posts of contemporary Muslim “celebrities.”

      One of the true issues of our time is that if something isn’t “deep enough” or “intellectually rigorous” enough, we tend to belittle it and consider ourselves above such “mediocrity.” I challenge this. Islam was sent as a clear message, and will remain so till the end of time. While I may enjoy the abstract approach taken by certain scholars and theologians, it is foolish of me to believe that this is a better approach than the more straightforward approach to Islam we see today. If this is not what the masses of the people rpeact or are attracted to, why force it upon them despite the example of our Prophet PBUH who never needed any philosophic formulations to convey his noble message.

      Sorry for such a long response, but I feel strongly about this issue. Again, I do not disagree that a degree of skepticism and critical thinking is necessary with regards to Muslim “celebrities” and social media. Certainly, you have raised some vital points in that regard.

      • Rin

        I definitely agree that we see a lot of criticisms that scholars or Muslims are not “intellectually rigorous enough.” It is unfair and frankly unrealistic, given that everything that crosses one’s lips can’t always be Rumi poetry or a provocative challenge.

        • Safia Latif

          Thank Rin. I don’t think anyone is saying scholars should only utter “Rumi poetry or a provocative challenge.” That’s an extreme that your pitting against another extreme: the shallow, and vague social media posts that I challenge in my article. I think you might have missed the point of my critique. I’d ask you to read the comment I left for Tamim.

      • Safia Latif

        Thank you Tamim for your comment. I share some of the same sentiments, however, I feel much of your critiques are misplaced. Of course Muslim scholars cannot feasibly discuss recondite religious concepts with all of their followers. Scholars must render such religious information palatable to the laity as in the sciences. I am not claiming that intellectualism is above piety in Islam. Rather, my critique is aimed at the rise of anti-intellectualism born out of this very unique and modern social institution. Beyond the cookie-cutter phrases and feel-good platitudes, there isn’t much rigorous behind-the-door scholarship occurring. You only need to look at our dearth of an extant philosophical tradition or a thriving legal system which in the past remained open and fluid. Indeed, the shariah was once an “autonomous, infinite commentary.” I write:

        “The unique engagement one has with a book invites one into a unique dialogue with the author. It inspires critical thinking skills and sustained learning. This is radically different from reading a brief “tweet” or Facebook post, which are more often than not, simplistic fleeting thoughts.”

        This isn’t anything new. Others have discussed this decline in knowledge thanks to a fast-paced high-tech infotainment world: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/03/09/richard-hofstadter-and-america-s-new-wave-of-anti-intellectualism.html

        Reading has become a golden hallmark of the past, replaced by blogs, YouTube, and other social media sites. Abdul Nasir Jangda responded to my article saying, “YouTube views have completely replaced scholarship & idolization of scholars often occurs and begins on YouTube.” Again, this is a peculiar phenomenon that must be addressed by our leaders. There is no doubt that social media possesses many benefits and I do not claim otherwise, however, it also poses just as many, if not more, problems and pitfalls.

        Throughout my article, I place the burden of challenging celebrity culture on scholars and followers. If you read my article, I never lay blame solely on our scholars.

        Yes, I am aware that Sh Hamza has fan pages run by administration. My intention in including Sh Hamza’s comments was to offer an insider (celebrity scholar) opinion on the matter, NOT to posit him as the ideal model in regard to social media practice. Dispensing with social media altogether (as Sh Hamza does) is not necessarily an answer to these issues. It’s interesting to see how people have read this passage to mean Sh Hamza is the best scholar in comparison to others. Reading objectively and more so with an open mind, is no easy feat. The take home point from Sh Hamza is that following and loving your scholar is human nature and not essentially a bad thing. How this following and adoration of scholars has altered over the course of modern history, however, is worth questioning.

        • Rin

          The issues you’re raising don’t have anything to do with social media though. Ijtihad has been in its grave a long while, and scholars have been adulated as celebrities since before the social media boom. Any excuse for people not to think for themselves. (And it’s encouraged by our tradition, where choosing between “schools,” which are themselves narrow, nearly clone-like interpretations in the first place, is seen as cherry-picking by some.) What you’re dancing around -and ironically, what social media combats- is a loss of critical thinking. I think that’s improving though. As I said in another comment, Youtube, blogs,Twitter, and other media have been used effectively to criticize and share challenging material. What’s really shocking is you dismiss even blogs, which are now widely known as alternative media, news aggregators, and online journalism, not to mention outlets for marginalized voices that will never be heard on your TV or in a journal. (I’m assuming you value those more. I don’t know why, considering that investigative journalism is rare now and unethical reporting is common.)

          • Safia Latif

            Rin I’d suggest rereading my article and comment.

            The way scholars were “adulated as celebrities before” is very different from modern celebrity culture largely prevalent within social media. I discuss this in addition to other alarming trends spawned by celebrity scholar culture: dogmatism, anti-intellectualism, complacency in piety and sociopolitical issues, and vanity.

            I never dismiss blogs. In fact, I do not even address the topic of blogs. I merely quote Sh Hamza’s personal preference in regard to blogging. As I said in my comment, social media has many benefits. No one is denying its function as a catalyst to social change.

        • Tamim Hossain

          Thank you for taking the time to read these comments and actually responding. This is admirable mashAllah.

          Your point about Sh Hamza not necessarily being a counter point to your initial premise is a good one. I was certainly incorrect in that regard.

          However, I still have some contentions with your position on intellectualism and the effect of social media. From what I understand (and I could be incorrect), you posit that social media only exacerbates an anti intellectual trend (is there actually such a trend in Muslim scholarship, however? Another discussion for another time :)) within scholarship in the Muslim ummah. I would disagree on several levels, but also make a concession to your original point. First, I would say that there seems to be a confusion between “celebrity Muslims” who are famous on social media and “celebrity Muslim scholars” who are similarly popular online. Both are presented similarly on social media, but the celebrity Muslim scholars often pair this with significant intellectual output. An example of this, I would argue, includes Shaykh Hamza.

          On the other hand, those who are not offering real scholarly contributions are, in my view, not to be considered “scholars” in the first place, if we are to rely on the true meaning of the word. Relying on them for scholarly output is somewhat futile considering that they aren’t scholars.

          Here we come to my concession, which is that perhaps one central issue with Muslim figures on social media is that many individuals who simply aren’t qualified to be termed true scholars are heralded as such (often against their own wishes). However, I would again return to the point that this is still an issue that generally exists with social media (think of all the so called health experts with millions of followers who have no right to be giving medical advice).

          In fact, I think this is a reason that scholars should be actively engaging in social media – it acts as a deterrent for those who might overextend their reach, people who should restrict themselves to dawah rather than trying to deliver religious edicts.

          • Safia Latif

            Yes there is an anti-intellectual tenor in Muslim scholarship. The heyday of Muslim scholarship (9th-14th centuries) saw the production of voluminous works of legal and doctrinal commentaries.This is in stark contrast to the scarcity of Muslim literary output today!

            An anti-intellectual trend might have begun with the advent of technology whereby traditional methods of learning were replaced by more efficient modes, e.g. keyboards over paper and pen. In turn, we developed a chronic reliance on technology for acquiring information. Rather than reading a 300 page book, a quick search on the internet suffices! This results in a superficial short-term knowledge. Social media is merely another facet of this technological age that greatly contributes to a decline in intellectualism. Again, others have pointed this out long before me.

            I agree that nonscholars and scholars have become conflated, especially on social media. Part of the problem is with the arrival of informally trained da’iya who gain following online and subsequently rise to the status of scholar. As a Muslim community, we first have to decide who qualifies as a religious scholar?The lines have become blurred.

            I use the term “scholar” in my article loosely to also incorporate da’iya who share scholarly status. I disagree, however, that authentic religious scholars should be more active on social media so as to distinguish themselves from nonscholars. Perhaps a better alternative is to still be present in the online realm but in a sophisticated scholarly manner. Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad’s method is worth mentioning: He does not run a Twitter or FB page but still engages the online community by writing profound and meaningful articles on a range of religious topics.

            Knowledge has a top-down effect. Our scholars set the precedent, and we learn from them. Not the way other way around.

    • ASA


      This has less to do with Celebrity Scholarship and more to do with social media.

      I think the question to be asked if, if a person is pumping out quality work as an Islamic scholar or leader, and the social media is a small 1% of total time spent, is it really an issue?

      If a scholar is teaching, speaking, studying, leading task forces, building community bonds, researching issues, and working in the civil and social spaces of his or her mosque or org – and spends a minute or two tweeting or updating FB – why is that an issue? What is the net harm?

      The article is less a criticism of scholars and more a criticism of social media in general. That should be the focus of the discussion. The author *seems* to be disagreeing with things that are parts of all social media. You cannot hold scholars to a different realm of existence than the rest of us.

      Scholars also have friends, hangouts, chill sessions, and take photos with buddies. The rest of the world is allowed to FB/Tweet this but somehow, having an ijazah in Hadith means you are forbidden to do this? They also have reflections on the world, tough times starting their cars in the cold, and feel sadness about the news. We can all post about those but they are forbidden to?

      The author makes solid points about groupism, ego trips, and cultish cultures, and those are all valid criticisms of certain American Islamic behaviors. However, the social media critiques seem to be a little too broad.

      I feel this article represents *precisely* what it complains about – idolizing scholars to the point that their behavior should somehow be radically different than every other human being.

      • Basira

        I agree. I think it’s an important argument the writer makes, but there were inherent flaws throughout. Pointing at the scholars wont solve the problem, we have to get at the heart of the matter.

        • Safia Latif

          Thanks Basira. Can you tell me what you think “the heart of the matter” is?

          • Basira

            I recently read a message that a youth sent to a da’ee on his tumblr which read something along the lines of, “When I grow up, I want to be the female version of you. Famous.” to which the da’ee replied that he wasn’t “famous,” advised the girl to do things for the sake of Allah, and wished her the best for her future. Another youth posted a picture of herself with this same da’ee on Facebook and the caption read along the lines of, “I met [da’ee], so I guess that means I’m cool now.”

            I think the problem is that somehow, society in general teaches that in order to be successful, you have to be “famous.” Muslim youths are not excluded from learning this, obviously. The trend I see going around is that people are focused on being great, not doing great things. It’s the celebrity culture in general, the love for attention, things like that. I don’t think the “scholars” (in quotation marks because du’aat, youth mentors, YouTube-famous Muslims are included in this, I feel) should take the blame for that.
            People look up to them, sometimes for the wrong reasons, but it’s not fair to suggest that those who call to Allah perpetuate this celebrity culture by their activity on social media. Some people are naturally more social than others.

            The problem is the disease of riyaa’ and kibr. “Scholars” may very well have it too, sure, but that is for Allah to judge. The problem is not the attachment that people have to these scholars. It’s natural to be attached to a mentor who has changed your life in some form, whom you learn from constantly.

            You know, I used to wonder about the hadtih regarding riyaa’ (showing off) being more conspicuous than a crawling ant. I thought, riyaa’ can be very obvious to others sometimes. And then I realized the hadith was referring to one’s own perception of their own riyaa’.
            [This brief article offers an overview and solutions: http://www.kalamullah.com/hearts05.html%5D

            I don’t think this social problem should be separated from the essential teachings of our deen. The problem lies in the self. May Allah rectify our intentions and our scholars. Good job on pointing out a problem though, insha’Allah it gives many a wake up call. It’s not easy to have controversial writing out there. All the best, Safia.

      • Amin

        There is a difference between fan pages and personal accounts. The former (which most scholars choose to have) perpetuate the problems listed in the article because it implies celebrity status. Those same posts you mention hold a different meaning when you know the world is watching as opposed to select friends you accepted.

        This article is a criticism of both the laymen and the learned – we created the wave sure, but they’re riding it.

      • Safia Latif

        Thanks for the comment. No one is certain of the amount of time Muslim scholars spend on social media. Maybe its 1% or maybe it’s 25%, that’s not the point. My analysis of celebrity scholar culture is not meant to devalue Muslim scholars’ efforts.

        Rather, I highlight specific problems arising from this online celebrity culture: dogmatism, anti-intellectualism, complacency in piety and sociopolitical issues, and vanity. The onus of addressing such problems falls squarely on both celebrity scholar and follower-fan.

        Muslim scholars are not infallible but they should be held to a different standard than the average layperson since what they say and do is oftentimes taken for granted and emulated. Their high religious knowledge and public engagement puts them on a different level. Should scholars be forbidden from posting “scholarly selfies”? I’m not sure. But we must question their complicity in a culture designed to promote the self.

        • Jekyll

          Gotta agree there. I lose respect for any Islamic scholar I see on online blogging about his wonderful kids and trip to Malaysia, etc…

    • AZ

      You forgot to mention that in Fig. 1 under Current Events, Political: many times it is due to wanting to be accepted or the like in the West or that they get some pressure from the FBI. Solidarity comments: You can only make du’a for the oppressed because of the Ta’if incident but forgetting other incidents where the Prophet made du’a against the oppressed and that in all these cases, there is no prohibition or blame to make du’a against the oppressed much less if one does so that they are against the teachings of the Prophet (s).

      And you forgot to mention that you cannot criticize the celebrity scholars. The scholars of the past and those who uphold their tradition always welcomed constructive criticism and even ego filtered criticism of a person and they would say that perhaps the person is right and the like. Celebrity scholars like to decide what counts as criticism (and most of the time all criticism is silenced by them and then their follower-fans jump in).

    • NihalK1

      This article places blame for the emergence of this culture on scholars as opposed to the followers. Institutions and clergy are basically being called out, but then why is Shaykh Hamza Yusuf being painted as the protagonist out of every “celebrity” Imam? Bias much?

      It is not a black and white situation as the article seems to make it out to be.

      • Safia Latif

        My article hardly paints the situation as black and white. Please read the comment I left below:

        Throughout my article, I place the burden of challenging celebrity culture on scholars and followers. If you read my article, I never lay blame solely on our scholars.

        Yes, I am aware that Sh Hamza has fan pages run by administration. My intention in including Sh Hamza’s comments was to offer an insider (celebrity scholar) opinion on the matter, NOT to posit him as the ideal model in regard to social media practice. Dispensing with social media altogether (as Sh Hamza does) is not necessarily an answer to these issues. It’s interesting to see how people have read this passage to mean Sh Hamza is the best scholar in comparison to others. Reading with an open mind and more so objectively, is no easy feat. The take home point from Sh Hamza is that following and loving your scholar is human nature and not essentially a bad thing. How this following and adoration of scholars has altered over the course of modern history, however, is worth questioning.

    • Umm Essa

      AssalamAlaikum Safia,

      Good article indeed!!!

      I am based in Dubai and recently attended a great Islamic Convention, with religious scholars, daaes and orators across the globe.

      One particular scholar (I would not mention his name and he is one of my favorites too and may Allah preserve him) had such a large female following that once he was on stage girls started hooting and clapping. My sister sitting next to me whispered, ” are we in a Justin Bieber concert ???” . Girls love listening to him but is someone really following what he is addressing??

      The point is that there is nothing wrong with the scholar. His work, his dedication and his ideas – May Allah add barakah to everything good he does. What seems odd was the loss of respect for such great scholars, islamic teachers and daaees. They are available in masjids when visited, they can connect very well to youth and family issues and they give very logical solutions to everyday problems that the ummah faces on regular basis. I was speechless what I saw at the convention. Whistles, hoots and claps. Should they be put down and given a rockstar status. Moreover, it even creates a fitnah for them, they are human beings afterall !!!

    • Rin

      I think the *article* is a little shallow. Social media is whatever you make of it. If you’re only experiencing shallow conversations, that’s reflective of you. Journalists and activists for justice are Tweeting and blogging conversations ignored by a mainstream media controlled by certain parties (majorities). It’s a little curious that you’re echoing those corporations’ panicked reaction to online journalism, etc. It’s a little 2002. Paritcularly when blogging and social media has provided a voice for unheard Muslim women, among others. They are engaging the “serious” material you want, so follow them. Meanwhile, don’t be surprised. Our scholars have been upholding the status quo for decades, and that’s what people want. If they really wanted to challenge people, they’d discuss whopping problems with gender roles, for example, or racism, as Dawud Walid does. Is it any surprise that this media highlights the shallowness of some of our scholars, their obsolescence? That’s what this article should be about. I don’t mean the scholars that post about their lives because there’s nothing wrong with that. These are people, not symbols.

      • Jekyll

        Gender Roles?! Sure, let’s start anew…(don’t forget to include LGTBIQXSYZ folks in too)

    • Yousef Yaqoub

      What was all that about?
      The article is outdated. There been loads of articles about how bad social media is and its users.
      The only thing that will attract people reading this lame article is the catch phrase ” celebrity scholar”

      • Safia Latif

        Thanks for your comment. But can you elaborate on your criticism?

    • nightstormr

      What was the point of this article?
      They are human beings first and in that respect they use social media. Most people who follow these scholars seek knowledge from books too. The reminders from these scholars are beneficial and less polluting to the mind and infact quite intellectually stimulating. For the youth it is better than following Hollywood celebrity. Although the selfie, like requests are quite pretentious and I agree that some scholars have experienced unrelenting ego from the following, the social media interaction bring greater good which defeats the purpose of your article.

      • Safia Latif

        I never deny these scholars’ humanity. I share your same contention in my article that following religious scholars is better than following “frivolous famous personalities.”

    • Abdullah Olaniyan

      Assalamu alaykum,

      I don’t think this article is very fair on the whole, because, although I initially agreed with some points, the author made assumptions that have infringed on the shariah rights of the scholars she has written about:

      1. It appears the article is calling the intention of the ‘scholar’ into question. What is the basis for this. Let me quickly summarize a very defining event during the lifetime of our Prophet. Usaamah bin Zayd (the beloved son of the Prophet’s beloved adopted son Zayd) lead a ghazwa, and faced a soldier from the enemy who had constantly killed Muslim soldiers. Whenever this soldier was confronted and at the point of death at the hands of a Muslim, he would recite the shahada and be left alone. He did this thrice (or more?). At last, Usaamah killed him. When this was narrated to the Prophet, his response till this day amazes me – “did you kill him even after declaring the shahada”. This the Prophet defending the intention of a disbeliever that had constantly defaulted on his claim of shahada. What about the Muslims, why call their intention to question. This is a neglect of their right, isn’t it? Lets be fair.

      2. As other commenters have stated, other issues raised are related to the nature of the medium. As far as I know, these ‘scholars’ have not made a claim that messages on these media suffice for the knowledge needs of the ‘followers’. However, if we’re being realistic, we live a fast paced live where we’re always on the go, what harm is a byte sized message that gives a quick perspective at a troubling time, for example?

      3. At the end of the day, everybody has to take responsibility for himself. And just as we constantly audit what we eat, our living conditions, it is imperative to also constantly monitor who we take knowledge from. This is our responsibility to ourselves, for no matter the medium, he scholar will only be held responsible for what he disseminated. The onus for understanding and using the message is still with the ‘follower’.

    • guest

      And you are equally guilty of celebrity journalism, does that lessen your message?

      • Safia Latif

        Celebrity journalism? Am I well-known published journalist? You may have missed the point of my article.

        My critique is directed at the content and nature of celebrity scholars’ posts, not whether it lessens their public image.

        • Jekyll

          It’s all about the Image. We have become self worshiping idolaters.

    • Ali Qazi

      GREAT ARTICLE!!! I have been noticing this trend for the past few years myself… Please also look into the phenomenal rise of the Islamo-Industrial complex and the huge amounts of money being minted by the ‘Islamic’ concerts and conventions. Another aspect to look into is the manufacture of Islamic sounding words in English for the consumers who believe in American exceptionalism even when it comes to Islam!

    • Umm Sakeena

      lol, you are the same Safia Latif that works at Zaytuna College, and you don’t see a problem with highlighting Sh. Hamza Yusuf as the prime example of the Anti-Celebrity scholar! If you just look at the types of people who share this article on-line, you can tell they are all coming from one indoctrinated camp and are themselves the victims of dogmatic attachment the author so passionately insists they are not. You are completely bias, wither you admit it or not, and your highlighting of AlMaghrib Institute scholars firstly as some of the self-centred celebrity scholars only shows which side of the spectrum you are on.

      You’re right, our scholars are to be held to different standards than us laymen/laywomen, and that also includes showing respect to them and not taking every opportunity to highlight potential flaws and mistakes. Why is it everybody thinks they are now members of the scholars watch-dog committee, that is tasked with ensuring the people of knowledge are being kept in check? By the tone of your article, you are definitely American, and most likely from the west coast (Probably California) where that loosey-goosey sufi progressive islam is flourishing and thus adherence to the Qur’an, Sunnah and understanding of the Scholars has taken a back seat.

      They (The Scholars) are people who have taken the time to learn the deen of Allah, and this knowledge is the only thing that will save us from the fire, and they are the inheritors of the prophets, thus it is our duty to love them, respect them and not belittle their efforts in whatever form that may take. You speak about dogmatism and anti-intellectualism, but I’m pretty sure mocking the people of knowledge is a social trend amongst every no-name muslim blogger out there, it might even be trending on twitter (haven’t checked though) and I must say it is pretty brave for a Jahil to speak about anything to do with intellectualism when we have’t done the basics of memorizing the Qur’an and learning the arkan of salah, wudu, zakat etc.

      And who is to say that nobody ever benefited from a tweet, perhaps you haven’t but maybe your just following the wrong people. Any glimpse into the lives of the righteous is something we should flock towards, and any mistakes in over praising them should be attributed to the students and not the teachers, and to do otherwise is to belittle the station that Allah has given them amongst the people. In fact I find a lot of the people who spend time criticizing the “famous scholars” amongst us, suffer from jealously and envy themselves which is an evil disease that we cannot deny exists.

      I think another major flaw of this new-age muslim social media pool, is that it also gives a platform for the unqualified, Islamically uneducated, ignorant masses to also have their voices heard, which is something we definitely need much less of. You are my sister in Islam, and I love you for the sake of Allah but I think the reason why you will find so many people disagreeing with your stance on this article is not because we are all under some magical celebrity shaykh spell, but because your underlying assumption shows blatant disrespect for the best amongst us, and when you help people to distance themselves from the scholars you are basically helping them to distance themselves from Allah.

      And nobody is claiming that they are infallible or unchallengeable, but they should be advised firstly and fairly in private, and secondly by their peers or people who also posses knowledge and can adequately address any sensitive situation with care and hikma. Lastly I hope you have had the same long winded conversation with yourself, and wondered if you are even treading in the same ocean as these people. Allah will not ask you about anyone but yourself, so quit looking for faults in others and offer your sincere advice to the person in your mirror first and foremost, and Allah knows best!

      • Safia Latif

        Umm Sakeena, I find your comments vitriolic. Though you claim to “love me for the sake of Allah,” you make gross and spiteful assumptions about my intentions, character, and background. You assume I am “completely bias” whether I admit it or not, American, Californian, a “loosey-goosey sufi progressive” (which many Muslims would find extremely offensive). You call me a “Jahil,” “ignorant” and “Islamically uneducated” and assume I “haven’t done the basics of memorizing the Qur’an and learning the arkan of salah, wudu, zakat.” You also suggest that I am “envious” and “jealous” of the scholars.

        Your tone is hateful and precludes any constructive discussion. Anyone who actually read my article can see that I am not singling out any one institution. The order of my list irrelevant. And I have to say that most of the scholars who have been sharing, and responding to my article positively are from AlMaghrib Institute. Just to name a few scholars who responded positively: Omar Suleiman, Omar Osman, Dr. Yasir Qadhi, Navaid Aziz, Abdul Nasir Jangda, and more. Unfortunately, not one of these scholars are from the “loosey-goosey sufi progressive” camp you seem to detest and consider outside the pale of Islam.

        Much to your dismay, most people aren’t disagreeing with my stance. The negative feedback here is the minority. This article has generated a healthy discourse among scholars, followers, and others which alhamdulilah was my primary intention. It goes without saying that this article is not meant to smear our religious scholars or devalue their tireless efforts. I write a thought-provoking analysis, not an ad hominem attack. I raise questions for both scholar and follower. The peculiarity of the modern world necessitates we have this type of discussion.

        My involvement with Zaytuna should give more credence to my analysis since I openly critique their institution and scholars. As for mentioning Sh Hamza, I will post the comment I’ve written for others below:

        Yes, I am aware that Sh Hamza has fan pages run by administration. My intention in including Sh Hamza’s comments was to offer an insider (celebrity scholar) opinion on the matter, NOT to posit him as the ideal model in regard to social media practice. Dispensing with social media altogether (as Sh Hamza does) is not necessarily an answer to these issues. It’s interesting to see how people have read this passage to mean Sh Hamza is the best scholar in comparison to others. Reading with an open mind and more so objectively, is no easy feat. The take home point from Sh Hamza is that following and loving your scholar is human nature and not essentially a bad thing. How this following and adoration of scholars has altered over the course of modern history, however, is worth questioning.

        • Jekyll

          SHY is better than the rest! but your article lacks foresight. It’s not just scholars; in this day of mass social garbage, anybody , anywhere can post their opinions and deem them acceptable because they had this many likes on youtube, facebook etc etc.

          Liberal degenerates also got their voices out like this, especially when the liberal establishment goes out of the way to give them attention and limelight, i.e. the red carpet treatment. Good example is the rise of the homosexual Muslim (I always wondered why fornicators, adulterers, drinkers, smokers and habitual cheats like the rest of us never get that much attention), allowing themselves to give credence where they have naught.

          I understand your disposition, but your part of the problem as well. Your not a journalist, nor an investigative reporter, but here you are trying to throw stones while writing with a glass pen. We are all “superstars”, because we all have “friends” , and we can tweet 140 characters to represent “our” arbitrarily and nonsensical ideas.

          We all live in a “Me” world, where it is what I want, what I need, my desires, my ideas, etc. Of course there is hardly anybody who after two weeks of dying will even be remembered at all! Sorry our Facebook friends are not coming to funeral. To phrase Dr. Winters, within a decade, it will be like we never existed, as is the case for 99% of humanity’s existence.

          So bottom we are all superstars. Literacy is overrated now, since any idiot can do hastags, or blog a post, or write self-adulating piece of work like you did and like I am doing in this comment.

    • oncomments

      If your scholar doesn’t have a day job, he is speaking out of context. Scholars and imams at the time of prophet had day jobs and their religious knowledge / learning was out of love and passion. They were not concerned with job security and thus focused on managing their image and ratings. Please check your’s and your shaykh’s intentions.

    • Ahmad Badr

      I think the crux of the issue is the purpose these scholarly accounts exist for, which seems to be the premise of the article. They are not meant to be platforms for scholarly discourse (as the article implies), rather, they are meant for inspiration through basic islamic values. Very few of these accounts actually delve into fiqh debates and discussions, and when they do, you’ll notice an immediate “drop” in the amount of likes and shares (highlighting that the reason followers follow these accounts isn’t for deep knowledge). As a result, there’s really not that much room for “my shiekh vs yours” arguments, because most of the information shared is agreed upon basic islamic values.

      “Critical thinking and engagement fall out the window as each Muslim camp claims monopoly over the “true” meaning of Islam.” is a gross exaggeration.
      Institutions, which at the end of the day thrive from the amount of people that attend their courses, leverage the “popularity” of these scholars accounts to market for their events. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve yet to see an institution that is directly competitive, saying “come to my institute and not that one”. Furthermore, every single class i’ve attended at these multiple institutes has highlight the IMPORTANCE of critical thinking and advocated against blind following.

      I agree wholeheartedly with this statement, “A scholar may request a du’a for a specific occasion, but rather than immediately dropping technology to make supplication, Muslims hasten to “like,” or “favorite” the post”, however I think some of the arguments presented throughout are based on the flawed aforementioned premise.

      Good discussion topic though!

    • Selma Salih Al Maria

      I so detest the so called ‘American Islam’, Islam cannot be divided as people see it fit. Its’ message is same to all people and everywhere but the undertone of your article is that American Islam somehow differs from what is practiced in ‘true Muslim’ countries as if there is such a thing.

    • Abu Milk Sheikh

      Imam Adh-Dhahabi records Imam Al-Awza’i (rahimahumallah) as saying:

      “We used to joke and laugh, then when we became looked at as role models I
      was afraid that even smiling would not be suitable for us.”

      [Siyar A’lam Al-Nubala]

    • curious reader

      Salam. I have a question, and maybe you could even write an article about this since you have experience in the matter. How would someone deal with online cyber bullying and harassment, especially when it is done to them by another Muslim? I know someone that used to, before her epic transformation, severely harass several girls from her own community by making defamatory web pages and false posts (claiming people were loose with morals and had abortions and other disgusting allegations). She did this not only once, but several times over the course of YEARS, even while she was in college becoming a “better” person, and only stopped after legal action was threatened. She never told anyone about what she did, but apparently apologized through some facebook messages but never directly. How should one deal with these kind of evil actions? Is it safe to trust this person again? I heard about this story from a dear friend who has had this happen to her several times from jealous or mentally unstable females- but one in particular- that she considered to be friends or acquaintances. I became curious, did some googling, and surprise I came across this page! So interesting. Sadly, I am sure this is happening to many Muslim females online. I think that if someone apologizes, they should be forgiven; but, what if you had forgiven them once and then they continued that kind of harassing behavior years later? Can we ever trust them? Should one constantly be on guard and recite the surahs recommended for protection against nazr? Do people really change, and if they do, should we accept their new persona and completely disregard the previous actions? I struggle with this issue, as I am naturally a very forgiving person but I cannot imagine how I would feel if I was treated like that repeatedly by someone. But at the same time, I would want a clean heart and soul and would not want to hold any hate or animosity against someone. If this person has now changed and is a religious and pious person, should we just accept her for who she is now? Are you obligated to interact with this person in the future? Jazakh for your answer in advance!

    • curious reader


      to which I add..perhaps the apology from the wrongdoer can do more harm than good if it is not fully sincere and does not acknowledge the entirety of the actions. Maybe the apology is better left unsaid? Any thoughts from anyone? Should the victim pray for the well being and spiritual improvement of the one who slandered her? I think so, but what are some tips to help someone fully forgive the evil actions of the other person, especially when those actions had long term affects on the victim?

    • Raffay Zariff

      Asalam-alaikum Safia,

      Thank you for writing the article and bringing to attention one of my personal observations. If we observe the intellectual and practical activities of population at the time of Prophet Muhammed (SAWS),it is apparent that they were involved in three major activities.

      1. They ” learned” from our beloved Prophet and his Sahaba
      2. They ” followed” our beloved Prophet
      3. They ” Invited others” to Islam

      The social media usage today, actually allows use to do all of the above activities – follow and invite others. Unfortunately, as your article highlights, there is a contrary effect of what ” learning” , ” following” and ” Invitation” was in the past and in this present.

      I believe our scholars should use social media, not to create self-images, but to simply announce events, and to reach out to everyone for the purpose of inviting and assembling them in a practical place, where learning, following and inviting others to Islam becomes a practical action, rather than simply a like or re-tweet.

      Thank you for writing this article, however I would like to present one critique and this is in all fairness to the fact that none of us are perfect. Your tone does sound a bit harsh towards the scholars, rather than the usage of social media, emotionally driven individuals, may not be able to read between the lines. Great job, but tone down a little.