Being raised in the Ja’ffari school of thought, I know that we are encouraged to ask questions. I personally believe that no other school of thought has as many question/answer sessions around the world as we do. The reason for this is simple. Our lecturers/speakers/moulanas are allowed to be on the pulpit after they fulfill a certain criteria. A part of that criterion is education in an Islamic seminary of some sort. Mostly, we prefer that the speaker should have gone through formal religious education from the Islamic seminary in Qum, Iran however if the person is much older, then the seminary in Najaf, Iraq. Therefore, we also expect our moulanas to be able to answer all our questions in a language in which we are fluent & comfortable.
Asking questions is extremely important because it clarifies any doubts that may exist and it also informs us about points of view that we may not have thought about previously.
It is considered a sign of humility to admit when one does not know something and therefore is willing to ask a question in public. Raising a question is an important task because it allows us as individuals to direct the attention of the general public to a specific subject or issue.
Thinking about questions, from a scientific perspective, we know that the scientific process starts with a question. In other words, the learning process starts with a question. This is the reason we notice that small children have countless questions ranging from one topic to the next because they are curious about the world around them. As human beings, we are naturally curious about the world we live in and we desire to learn everything we possibly can about it.
Children that grow up to be scientists are the ones that were always encouraged to ask questions and then follow up those questions with research and experimentation. In this process, if they need help they seek the expertise of someone who is a more qualified scientist. The idea is to reach the truth and figure out how things work. In this way, a question can and has led to many groundbreaking discoveries. For example a question like “Where do the colours in the rainbow come from?” may have had the potential to lead to a lot of other discoveries in optics, such as the discovery that there are so many spectrums that humans are unable to see.
On the other hand, we know that science is a tool that we use for our learning. Science tells us how the world works. However, where do we go if we need to know how to use this tool called science? Naturally, we go to those that created science. We go to the Prophet (pbuh) & the Ahlul Bait (as). In short, we go to Islam, the way of life.
Islam will teach us how to use science in an ethical manner. Questions are a tool for learning and it is only Islam that can teach us how to use this tool properly.
We only need to refer to one person for the answer to all our questions. Surely, he (as) is the one who said “Salooni” and we can be sure that he (as) can teach us the etiquette and the manners of asking questions.
Imam Ali (as) said : ‘Ask in order to understand, and do not ask in order to find fault, for surely the ignorant man who wants to learn resembles a man of knowledge, and surely a man of knowledge who wants to be difficult resembles an ignorant man who wants to find fault. ‘
The saying of Amir-ul-Mo’mineen Imam Ali (as) is clear and so we must judge our community up against this standard.
Recently, I was at a youth event at one of the many religious centers that we have in our community. It was suppose to be a discussion circle and a question/answer session all in one sort of deal. People stayed after the majlis so that the youth of our community would have a chance to have their questions answered by a capable English speaking moulana. At the end of it all, the only casualty was time, the time that had been wasted, in my humble opinion. The questions were nothing new or special. It was the same old “are tattoos allowed?” & “can we go trick or treating just for the candy?”
Technically, there is nothing wrong with asking these questions if they are being asked sincerely, however when the aim is to find a loop hole then its nothing more than a waste of time for everyone present. Regardless, of the moulana’s clear response “I will not give you any loop holes”, the questions persisted.
It was not done for the sake of learning, but for the sake of entertainment, just to see what the moulana would say in response.
The adults in the audience sat there silently and allowed the youth to continue with this scheme of questioning. The moulana continued to answer these questions, even though he was not feeling well, since he felt responsible for answering these questions.
It is important to note here that these questions were being raised from the sisters’ side and so no one knew which girl was responsible for which question. All the questions were being asked anonymously.
Sometimes we as people believe that if we are anonymous in front of people, that we are able to do anything and are all of a sudden not responsible for our actions.
Being a young adult, I would also like to put the responsibility of this behaviour on mothers. I have witnessed this in more than one center, in gatherings for & by adults where older women write down their questions for the moulana for the sake of entertainment, not learning.
I see a serious lack of sincerity when it comes to people asking questions from all our respectable moulanas whether they recite in English or Urdu. Due to these useless questions, real questions that concern the community get left out.
This is the information age, its now the year 2011. I believe its time for us as youth to learn how to use the internet as a proper resource & not just for Facebook. If a person has time for Facebook then they certainly have time to visit al-islam.org and get their trick or treating questions answered. We should use our parents as resources, and try to find the answers ourselves first, instead of searching for loop holes.
Some people may consider this article a waste of time however, I have been watching this injustice happen with our moulanas for many years now & I personally can not keep silent anymore. I invite you to do the same. Please try and educate the people around you on what proper questioning is and please make researching your habit.
We must do these things if we want to serve our Imam a.s. right now and in his (a.s.) army in the future insh’Allah.
About the Author: Sarah Zaidi, B.Sc. B.Ed. is a qualified High School Science Teacher from the University of Toronto.