Many Muslims today expect that Islamic education should be a community service. It should be offered at the cheapest possible price and the teacher is expected to be paid little to nothing for their work. Their reward is in the akhirah, after all. If they are sincere, then they should not be expecting any material benefit from their work.
Not only is this hypocritical, cruel, selfish and downright petty, this attitude is characteristic of a trend that has partly defined the decline of Islamic civilization.
Yes it’s hypocritical. The same people who often are not willing to pay for teachers, classes and books in the Islamic sciences are also usually paying thousands of dollars for textbooks & degrees at University. You might fool yourself with an economical argument like ‘my degree pays for itself because it helps me get a job’ etc but what it really reveals is how little you value Islamic knowledge. Islamic knowledge pays for your ākhirah. It’s worth infinitely more than secular education.
Yes it’s cruel. Qualified teachers and scholars need to put a lot of time into prep, teaching and research. These people work hard, and they deserve to be compensated for it. I know too many seekers of knowledge who are intelligent, hard working and have been studying for more than a decade, but are not able to dedicate time to community or students because they have to work a regular full-time job. It’s to the point that senior seekers of knowledge often remind the new ones not to depend on their knowledge as a form of livelihood. Why? Because it’s either a dark path of bad intentions if you have to sell your sincerity and what is right for a higher wage, or slaving away in underpaid masjid Imam or teaching positions where you are expected to work for peanuts. Still don’t want to pay for teachers and courses? Don’t expect the teachers to have time for you either.
This also affects the books and translations that some seekers of knowledge and budding scholars are producing for their fellow Muslims. I can understand if you’re willing to cut corners for $200 academic books and journals from Oxford or Routledge where the academic authors are working salaried academic jobs anyways. But you don’t want to pay a meagre $30 to an independent, full-time translator or author who spent months or years working on it? That’s not cheap, that’s a lack of care and mercy for your fellow Muslim, let alone adab for someone senior to you in religion.
Yes it’s selfish. You might think I’m saying this because I’m a seeker of knowledge and teacher myself. I also charge for teaching the Islamic sciences. So did I just write this to justify myself charging money for teaching?
No. I’m actually saying this from my own experience of paying for the vast majority of my Islamic education. I paid most of my teachers. Sometimes I paid more than they asked. Sometimes they asked me for an advance because of some family issue and I complied. This was not only to gain leverage and win more personal time with the teacher, which was a very advantageous side effect to be honest. I knew my teachers had families and wanted to be financially independent and comfortable just like anyone else. If you don’t have the decency to think about others like that, especially righteous people dedicating their lives to Islamic knowledge, then you need to check yourself.
Yes it’s petty. Okay so some Muslim speakers charge exorbitant fees for speaking engagements. Does that mean that the majority of seekers of knowledge and scholars should suffer? In fact the reason why these speakers can charge so much is because there is demand. You’re willing to pay a couple of thousand dollars for a one hour lecture or a khutbah but not willing to pay for full courses or living wages for proper teachers? This a symptom of the same disease, a lack of understanding of the value of proper Islamic knowledge. People complain about these speakers but then they still pay them and bring them in. Why? Because they’re more looking out for the prestige and popularity of their institution or masjid. You’re willing to pay an hour for a feel-good celebrity da’wah lecture but not a ‘boring’ class with a little-known teacher that requires you to put in work? Seriously?
Lastly, it’s important to recognize how this trend characterized the decline of quality and quantity of intellectuals and scholarship in the Islamic sciences.
In early Islamic history (right from the time of the Companions themselves) you see plenty of examples of people being paid to teach Qur’an and then eventually Hadith. Governors and rulers would establish stipends & open universities so that scholars had relatively decent salaries and stability, which left them free to pursue travel for studying, research & teaching. There were plenty of private endowment contracts supporting teachers and scholars too.
Although these stipends or wages were not always glamorous – and became even less so over the centuries – they showed that Muslims and their societies understood the value of Islamic knowledge to some extent. The understood that students and teachers needed some sort of financial freedom to perform their necessary function in society.
Not only this, but study of the Islamic sciences and scholarship was also a gateway into the bureaucracy. In early Ottoman History the viziers were often graduates from twenty-year long seminary programs. Judges were senior scholars in their level of Islamic study and knowledge.
With the advent of secularism and colonialism in the Muslim world, these support systems were dismantled either by colonial powers or secular ‘Muslims’ themselves. The path to the bureaucracy transformed from an education in the Islamic sciences to one in the European languages or schools. Wages for teachers and scholars in the Islamic sciences had already been dwindling for centuries. But now the systems by which these scholars would be employed or supported were almost completely taken apart.
As the earning potential and social prestige of being a student and teacher in the Islamic sciences has gone from decline to inadequacy. Not only do students and scholars struggle to get by – they have families like anyone else – but there has been a decline in the quality of Islamic research & scholarship. Most Muslims today who study get into it because of their sincerity, but we are in need of more than sincerity these days. We need intelligent scholars working hard at intensive research projects. We need brains and funding.
Is it any surprise that academics from Western universities have been responsible for some of the best scholarship in the Islamic sciences that Muslims have seen in centuries? It’s not just the updated research methodology, it’s the funding, endowments and generosity of people. Where Muslims fail to support their intellectuals, Allah will maintain His religion without them.
This has also affected the production and printing of literature. Western universities have accumulated tons of our manuscripts. Yes it was partly due to Orientalist looting Muslim lands, but it was also because libraries were falling into disrepair because of a lack of funding and care. Sometimes these books were being sold to Orientalist collectors because of how impoverished the seminary or library was.
By now I’ve read more than a few books detailing this history. And when I see Muslims being cheap with regards to Islamic knowledge it makes me angrier than usual because its the same mentality in a new manifestation. In recent history – despite their political motivations – what has made countries like KSA and Turkey so influential not just politically but in the dissemination of Islamic knowledge is the amount of money they have put into students, teachers and scholars of the Islamic sciences. But in the West or where government support doesn’t exist, the student must be willing to take on the responsibility of paying for their education if they want to have a rich & quality education with qualified Islamic scholarship. Stop complaining about it.
If you refuse except to have free – or cheap – Islamic education and are willing to pirate PDFs of Islamic books by struggling authors that are decently priced – then you are a continuation of the problem that has been plaguing the Muslim world for centuries. If you want to continue doing it, then at least have the decency and honesty to admit that you don’t value Islamic knowledge and scholarship to the level you claim to. If you are sincere but you want to bargain and be cheap about it, then save it for Walmart or the local bazaar.