For weeks the mosque's resident scholar-in-training had been reiterating the importance of sighting the moon to mark the beginning of the month, even suggesting we take our kids hiking to search for it. As that time approached, however, mosque officials announced the first day of the holy month before we even got a chance to look for the new crescent.
When I emailed the lecturer for an explanation, he not only failed to give me a satisfactory reply but also instructed me not to query him again!
God, on the other hand, encourages us to be inquisitive and ask questions of religious scholars (ulema in Arabic) to gain a deeper understanding of our religion in our journey to nearness to Him. Ulema must listen to our questions respectfully and answer them logically and rationally (and with composure, forbearance and openness) to prove the truthfulness of Islam, as scholars say themselves. Indeed, God's religion is one of logic, based on argument and proof.
"Then ask those who know about that which you do not know." (Quran 16:43)
And Prophet Muhammad (S) said: "Knowledge is a locked closet whose key is the question."
Both Fatima (one of the four perfect women) and her husband Ali demonstrated the importance of Q&A and set the example for ulema of all times. Ali used to say: "Ask me before you lose me!"
A woman who asked Fatima ten questions one after another about prayers stopped and apologized for inconveniencing the daughter of the Prophet (S).
Fatima's response: "Ask me what you do not know...I have been hired by God to get wages which if the space between the earth and the sky is filled with pearls [the wages] would still be more than that for each question I may answer you."
Scholars who provide illumination and true guidance--unadulterated by materialism, desires, tradition or public pressure--are invaluable and considered "the inheritors of the prophets."
"The virtue of a scholar to a worshipper is similar to the virtue of a moon when it is full to the rest of the stars," according to Muhammad (S).
True ulema exhibit three attributes: 1) sufficient knowledge, 2) piety (act on their knowledge) and 3) insight (correct understanding of the concepts of religion), according to scholar Abbas Ayleya.
"I don't believe in being naive when it comes to ulema," says scholar Usama Abdul-Ghani. " I don't believe in following just anybody."
Not only do the pious scholars provide guidance regarding individual obligations but they also actively lead people to fulfill social and political duties to God, most notably fighting injustice. They never support oppressors nor remain silent regarding their atrocities.
"The religious scholars of Egypt should fulfill their historic role in the uprising of the people of Egypt," Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, advised the ulema, particularly those at Al-Azhar University, earlier this year.
While I cherish my right to ask questions (I'm a journalist after all!), I can also be a crank when the tables get turned. I'm almost afraid to ask: Does the must-answer-all-questions rule also apply to mothers with little ones that have inquiring minds that want to know and know...?