When is it right for a student of knowledge to say, “This is what appears most correct to me” or “This is what I believe” and when does he deserve to give circles of teaching independently, for many youth hasten to put themselves forward in gatherings (to teach), so what is your advice?
Shaykh Rabīʿ ibn Hādī al-Madkhalī:
My advice to the Salafī youth is that they prepare themselves to strive (hard) in acquiring knowledge and that they learn. However, when they are in a land where there are ignorant people and there are no scholars (present), but there is a student of knowledge and (those people) are in need of the little knowledge he possesses, then I hold that he should offer what he has of knowledge. And we do not make binding the affairs upon the youth who sees the world darkened with deviations, ignorance and shirk such that we say to him, “Do not put yourself forward to teach the people until you have reached the level of Ibn Taymiyyah and Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal. Allah ﷻ, said,
۞ وَقَدْ فَصَّلَ لَكُم مَّا حَرَّمَ عَلَيْكُمْ إِلَّا مَا اضْطُرِرْتُمْ إِلَيْهِ
“Allah has made clear what He has made unlawful to you, except that which you are forced by way of compulsion” (Q 6:119).
Necessity makes permissible what is otherwise prohibited as is said in the legislative principle.
Meaning, when he is amongst the peasantry (in desert regions), observes innovations, abandonment of prayer, and he knows what are innovations and what are the sunnah affairs. Likewise, if some of you know something of knowledge, then he teaches something from the Qurʾān, something of tajwīd, he teaches them the books which he has studied, al-Uṣūl al-Thalāthah (the three principles), Kitāb al-Tawḥīd.
Now, I am not encouraging a student of knowledge to position himself as a scholar, no, (but I am saying that) when he is forced, and there is not a scholar other than him, and he has something of knowledge, then let him offer what he has of knowledge and (at the same time) to never speak in the religion of Allah ﷻ with ignorance. It is not permissible for him except to ascribe to Allah except the truth, He, ﷻ said,
۞ قُلْ إِنَّمَا حَرَّمَ رَبِّيَ الْفَوَاحِشَ مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَمَا بَطَنَ وَالْإِثْمَ وَالْبَغْيَ بِغَيْرِ الْحَقِّ وَأَن تُشْرِكُوا بِاللَّهِ مَا لَمْ يُنَزِّلْ بِهِ سُلْطَانًا وَأَن تَقُولُوا عَلَى اللَّهِ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
“Say: “(But) the things that my Lord has indeed forbidden are great evil (lustful) sins, whether committed openly or secretly, sins (of all kinds), unrighteous oppression, joining partners (in worship) with Allah for which He has given no authority, and saying things about Allah of which you have no knowledge.” (Q 7:33).
So saying things about Allah ﷻ without knowledge is unlawful and is from the greatest of major sins. Rather, it is greater than disbelief in Allah ﷻ because disbelief in Allah, misguidance and innovations all arise from speaking about Allah without knowledge. Hence, it is the vilest of things, and greatest of major sins, irrespective of whether it appears from a scholar or an ignorant person.
Hence, when he sees the people (in need) compelled towards the little knowledge he possesses, then let him speak only within the limits of what he knows and not to transgress his limit. So when he is asked about what he does not know, he says, “Allah knows best”, he says, “I do not know”, for (indeed) the greatest of the scholars and the leading Imāms amongst the Imāms say, “I do not know”, to the extent that one of the major students of (Imām) Mālik said, “If I wished to fill my slate (tablet) with the saying of Mālik, ‘I don’t know‘, I would have done so.” And all of you know that he was asked about forty matters, he responded to four of them and said “I don’t know” about the rest. And in that time, when a man repeated the saying “I don’t know” often, he became great in the eyes of the people. But as for today, if he says “I don’t know” in just one or two matters, they say, “Jāhil (ignoramus)”. Upon these scales (of measure) it is necessary that one abstains and that (even) half or a quarter of the scholars are not led to speak about Allah ﷻ without knowledge on account of the people. But in any case, it is desirable for a scholar to cultivate his students to say “I don’t know” for it is one half of knowledge (to not speak without knowledge).