Taken from Words of Guidance
“Perhaps the biggest challenge in learning Islam correctly today is the scarcity of traditional ‘ulema. In this meaning, Bukhari relates the sahih or ‘rigorously authenticated’ hadith that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,
‘Truly, Allah does not remove Sacred Knowledge by taking it out of servants, but rather by taking back the souls of Islamic scholars [in death], until, when He has not left a single scholar, the people take the ignorant as leaders, who are asked for and who give Islamic legal opinion without knowledge, misguided and misguiding’ (Bukhari, 1.36: 100. S).
The process described by the hadith is not yet completed, but has certainly begun, and in our times, the lack of traditional scholars—whether in Islamic law, in hadith, in tafsir or ‘Qur’anic exegesis’—has given rise to an understanding of the religion that is far from scholarly, and sometimes far from the truth. For example, in the course of our own studies in Islamic law, our first impression from Orientalist and Muslim-reformer literature was that the Imams of the madhhabs or ‘schools of jurisprudence’ had brought a set of rules from completely outside the Islamic tradition and somehow imposed them upon the Muslims. But when we sat with traditional scholars in the Middle East and asked them about the details, we came away with a different point of view, having been taught something about the bases for deriving the law from the Qur’an and sunna.”