This is one of the prevalent problems of this time and I wanted to make some points. I have been blessed to study the religion for over twelve years, so I have enough experience to tell apart a fake teacher from a real one! The problem is now that there are many teachers who are simply wasting your time. That is if you actually want to study!
That is the core of the issue. Most of you do not want to study primary texts in your religion even though you commanded! However, if you want to study then most of the known/famous teachers are frightfully inadequate! So what do you do? I am going to give you some guidelines here that you can use to see the difference between a real teacher and a fake teacher. The primary text that you should read to see the real teacher from the fake one is the book of knowledge by Imam Al-Ghazali (may Allah be pleased with him), the first book of his masterpiece Ihya Ulum Al-Din/revival of religious sciences.
They have to belong to one of the four schools of fiqh: Maliki, Hanafi, Shafi or Hanbali. In addition, one of the two schools of aquida: Maturdi or Ash’ari.
Now know that many people say they are Hanafi’s but have mixed it up with Shafi fiqh. The problem with this is that they cannot differentiate between the two schools. Therefore, it is taught in a mixed up manner that neither school can be distinguished. Studying with such person will mix you up because they are mixed up!
As for belief then they have to belong to either the Ash’ari or Maturdi schools. These are the valid schools of Ahl Al-Sunnah wa Al-Jammah. If you ask them which school they belong to they should mention one of these two names. Normally Shafis, Malikis are Ash’ari, Hanafi’s are Maturdis and Hanbalis can be Asharis or not. Asharis are the majority but there are some Maturdis too. Many teachers fail to complete basic texts at this level and therefore have no right to teach aqida.
Do not waste your time with anyone who claims to know the Quran and Sunnah outside the above mentioned names. They will be misguided in major ways that you cannot understand currently. The misguided teacher corrupts the student.
Length of study
When you pick a teacher, have a read of his biography. You will be able to tell the amount of time that he studied. This is your first clue. At the same time people fake biographical information, I am not joking. Have they studied for an intense period around six or seven years. Where have they studied and which teachers did they study with? This is an important fact; the teacher should be a strong one. Did they fail at the basic levels and are now trying to fool everyone? Often when people go to study with famous scholars, they are unable to study the basics with them. Therefore, they might go somewhere but they will study with the famous teachers other students. Ideally, the student should study for as long as possible and with many teachers, not just one. You should have heard of those the teacher has studied. The place of study does not mean much because most places are famous without reason. Some institutions in the East are famous but no longer have the great teachers of the past. Just because someone has studied abroad does not mean much and just because someone has studied for ten years with a rubbish teacher, also does not mean much.
The most important point is that the teacher should make it clear in his biography where and what he has studied. Rather than have some misguided humbleness into hiding it. He should also count for any gaps in his study that are longer than a few months. If he is not doing with this then he is lying or worse deceiving. Just because someone has white hair does not mean that he has studied for a long time, he is probably just old! A few people have studied but are not actually there yet, so watch out for that too.
What was studied?
He should make is clear in his biography what books he has studied. Rather than try to pass off a primary text for an advanced one. How much did he study and with who. If someone has studied a certain school for specific period, he cannot claim to be part of another school! Therefore, a Hanafi cannot claim to be a Maliki because he feels like it!
Nor can he sit and say that he is not concerned with differences between Ash’ari and Maturdi schools because they are Ahl Al-Sunnah so he cannot know his aquida properly! Such a person is worse than the Wahabis!
Some scholars, attack those of ‘incorrect beliefs’ this is fairly normal: Wahabis or Shia. But he should not continually mock other groups day and night. Or spend 45 mins of an hour lesson telling you how bad so and so group are. At times clarification is needed but wasting time debating is a sign of misguidance.
Also if he encourages his students to attack others. This is most clear sign that he is not who he claims he is. There are differences of opinion and he should accept someone else’s position as long as there is some source to it, preferably a classical difference of opinion. Many new opinions are just speakers inflating egos.
Disregard for sacred law
He has disregard for sacred knowledge. This is more about your Pir type people who no regard for consensus and go against it. For choosing, a spiritual master click here. Not all Pirs are scholars so they should know their limitations and defer to scholars of the religion. But often they make things up and the students follow their mistake.
Part of this is bad character, swearing and cursing others. They might do so, in rare instances when upset, but if they do this publically then know they are misguiding you. The Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) never swore at people in public. So whose Sunnah are they following?
Too many mistakes
Know each scholar makes mistakes, its part of being human but the real problem is when people make mistakes that are so great that it cannot be possible that they are a teacher. Like disregarding scholarly consensus on a matter. Or making things up from the top of his head. Or even feigning seeing something impossible and so on.
It is possible for everyone to make a mistake but what he or she should do is repent and rectify. Not dig them deeper into the hole of error! We are taking major mistakes and not minor ones like missing out a sentence of a book they are teaching or a mistake in a book and so on.
Taking too long to do simple texts
This is when they take years to do simple things. I mean years to do primer texts, which can be studied in months. This is because they do not know anything and find it difficult themselves.
Some programs are so badly organised that they spend years and do not even touch essential subjects. If he teaches, what he has no authority to teach. However, if it is a big text then except it to take longer than a small text. Do not confuse understanding with trying to speed through a text. Also, some of them make great announcements of studying big texts that they will never be able to complete. Its not ambious its not realistic and a waste of your time chasing pipe dreams.
Just the name
There are those who are known as ‘Sheikh’ who have not studied anything formally. Some do not know how to read Arabic even in indo-bic style. Maybe they did some work for their Pir and then were given this title. Beware of taking any formal knowledge from them. They will be corrupt and they will destroy your religion. However, they might have studied texts that you are not aware. This is an exception to the previous rule. However, in most cases those who are considered knowledgeable but have had no formal education are misguided. First, they should not attribute knowledge to themselves or allow others to do so. If they do then they are increasing their sins by inflating their egos.
There are also Islamic ‘academics’ who are people who may be well meaning but have completed a BA, MA or PHD in Islamic studies. Then they or others that they know will presume they know it all! Sadly, they would have specialised in just one field and not others. Have they studied elsewhere too? Please click here to read seven different types of Sheikh. I am not discounting Muftis or Maulanas either becausemost of them do not deserve this title and are included here.
Desiring the world
They want money all the time and want their students to give them money all the time. The Murids get a pat on the head from the teacher as long as money is flowing from them!
This is not about taking fees for a class because that has to be done. Especially with teachers who have no other means. Fees have to be paid to those teachers because they could not do what they have to.
They want big cars and big houses and want the students to pay for them!
Asking questions is akin to questioning their authority but this is not true. Questions are normally innocent, from those who do not know.
However, there are manners in asking questions and some situations that questions are better not being asked. Some teachers invite questions and others do not. Shunning questions in other words not wanting to answer any questions at any time, is what I mean.
What do I do now?
If you recognise these things in your teacher then it is time to find another teacher. Leave with good manners because it is not good for a teacher to see you leave.
Find another teacher by using the opposite of what has been recorded here. The importance of finding a good teacher means that you protect your religion and do not allow someone unqualified to it. It will cause corruption that you may never recover. Then you will spend your desire to study and would have wasted years of your life.
The sad thing is that there are good teachers out there but they are unknown. Many are much better than those who are known from pillar to post. If you are lucky, there might be one living in your area and you do not even know about!
Importance of knowledge click here