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Who Can Be Called A “Shaykh”?

Calling the common person “Shaykh” – Explained by
Shaykh Uthaymeen
Questioner:
Is it correct to apply the term ‘Shaykh’ to everyone
from amongst the people? Especially since this term
has become widely used, so we hope for some clarity
in this.
Shaykh Uthaymeen:
The term ‘Shaykh’ in the Arabic language is not used
except upon the kabeer (elder), either due to their
being elder in age, or senior due to the level of
knowledge they possess, or due to his wealth, and
what is similar to this; and it is not applied to the
sagheer (little one, i.e.: little in age, knowledge, etc.)
But as you have stated, it has become widespread
now such that the ignorant person or the one who
doesn’t know anything is referred to as ‘Shaykh’; and
this in my view is not befitting.
Because if you applied to this person the term
‘Shaykh’ and his is ignorant and doesn’t know, the
people will be deceived by him. And they will think he
has some knowledge with him, and they will consult
him for fatwas (Islamic rulings) and other than that,
and a great harm will result because of this.
And many of the people—we ask Allah to guide us and
to guide them—they don’t mind to give a fatwa if they
are asked, even if they answer without knowledge.
Because he thinks that if he says, “I don’t know” this
will decrease his status. But in reality if the person
says about that which he does not know, “I don’t
know”, then that is the completeness of his status.
But the souls are accustomed to want to impress
others, except those whom Allah the Mighty and
Majestic protects from this. So what I see is that the
term ‘Shaykh’ is not applied except to those that
deserve it, either by his age, or by his nobility, or due
to sovereignty over his people, or because of his
knowledge.
And in a like fashion some of the people apply the
term ‘Imam’ to the common scholars, even if this
scholar is from the blind followers: they say he is an
‘Imam’. And this also is not befitting; it’s befitting
that the term ‘Imam’ should not be applied except on
the one, who deserves to be an ‘Imam’, and he has
followers, and his statements are held in high regard
amongst the Muslims.
And finally, you gave the salaams as did the brother
before you when you wanted to ask a question, and
this is not from the Sunnah. Because the Companions,
may Allah be pleased with them, when they wanted to
present a question to the Messenger of Allah peace
and blessings are upon him, they would not give him
the salaams except for the one who was arriving at
the sitting; this is the one who would give the
salaams.
Translated by Rasheed ibn Estes Barbee

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