A Response to Those Who Criticise Scholars Who Receive Government Wages

Imām Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī al-Shawkānī

A discussion concerning government employed scholars receiving income for their occupation. What is the reply to those who claim that this is from the forbidden affairs?
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Imām Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī al-Shawkānī [d. 1255 AH] said [concerning government employed scholars receiving income for their occupation]:

What could reasonably prevent them from taking what they are deserving of from payment? Has this sharīʿah become so narrow that there should be nothing set aside for the likes of them? Or has the legislator obligated upon them that they travel incalculable distances, spend their entire days and nights [in the pursuit of knowledge] without compensation of any kind? This pure sharīʿah is above such a legislation, or that it should make such a thing obligatory on a servant of Allāh. Rather, this sharīʿah has shed light on the compulsory nature of paying workers, and has encouraged this to the utmost degree, and cautioned from stinginess in the affairs of the employed.

Then, what is the difference between these [scholars] and those who seek gainful employment for the tilling of land, or the erection of buildings, or the digging of rivers and the likes of these [necessary occupations] that are above enumeration? Thus, how could anyone object to these government trustees taking what they deserve in return for the sweat on their brows, their abandonment of their homes, their travelling long distances, to arrive finally in an unknown, inhospitable, and rough land. They use the money they have earned to live, and they spend most of their time [busy with knowledge]. How then would it be fair for an individual who ascribes himself to dīn to denigrate their honour, and invade their privacy [with unfounded criticism]. They say: [these scholars] used to be poor, now they have become wealthy. While they know that anyone else who has worked as rigorously as them, or has exerted themselves even a fraction of what they put in from those who are widely found in the market, sitting in their shops have earned exponentially more than them. Despite the fact that they have not endured the same rigours as them, neither is their strife remotely comparable [to these scholars].

So what is actually obligatory on the governmental messengers to these scholars who have gained a distinction in knowledge, its propagation, and busying themselves with it? For the vast majority of those who could be described thus have gained prominence. Allah has allowed them to couple between the sciences of ijtihād. They have become leaders in the knowledge of the Book [of Allāh] and the Sunnah to where it is rare to find someone who could match their level, much less resemble them. [They have taken on the mantle] of the trustees of this sharīʿah who accompanied the ones who came before us, most of whom lived amongst the general populace. It was rare to find among them those who knew random, assorted issues from among those issues of judicial debate. Despite this, those [scholars] earned exponentially more than these ones. They used to take payment for the work they put in, much more than these scholars partake in.

This is something that is well-known to every fair, just, person. Considering this, no other contemporary scholar has ever written them to this effect, nor have their colleagues.

So woe to me, why should these poor [scholars] be singled out, to the point where their attachment to the knowledge of this sharīʿah has become objectionable?

Imām al-Shawkānī [d. 1255 AH]

They were not satisfied even with this, until they brought to light their previous conditions of destitution and need which Allāh has saved them from in return for their copious exertion, and abundant exhaustion.

So, if the distinction they have earned for which they have become from among the noblest of scholars, the most outstanding of its men, has now turned to where they are considered despicable, contemptible, deserving of nought but criticism; then this matter is truly unto Allāh the Most High, the Greatest.

Source: Al-Rasāʾil al-Fiqhiyyah: 22-23
Translated by: Riyāḍ al-Kanadī

Published: October 5, 2022
Edited: October 4, 2022

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