Being a Shariah advisor can be a dream career for many; I mean, you are engaged daily in matters of Shariah, learning, teaching and promoting Islamic Finance. You are actively engaged in establishing social and economic welfare. You are part of the seismic shift from Riba to non-Riba. It is a noteworthy endeavour and status. However, this is just one-side of the coin; The ‘bright’ side of the coin. The other side of the coin can be a nightmare. The Shariah advisor is in a position of high risk and high reward. The risks – what I call ‘lows’ – are grave. The rewards – what I call ‘highs’ – are comforting.
The Five Highs of Signing-off
1. Calling towards a values-based system
Being a Shariah advisor means one is promoting the values of Islam. Islam is a values-based system and has a holistic vision for the economy. The economy from an Islamic perspective is one which should work for all; the rich and the poor, the able and unable, the producer and the consumer. A Shariah advisor is privileged in being part of this big jigsaw puzzle to establish an economy premised on wealth preservation, justice, social solidarity and real value creation. The work of a Shariah advisor has real impact in the lives of hundreds of people in the economy.
2. Qur’anic praise
A Shariah advisor calls towards the path of Islam. They ensure practices are aligned with the revelation. The Qur’an praises such efforts as follows:
“Who speaks better than someone who calls people to God, does what is right, and says, ‘I am one of those devoted to God?” [Qur’an 41:33]
“Be a community that calls for what is good, urges what is right, and forbids what is wrong: those who do this are the successful ones.” [Qur’an 3:104]
3. Rewards for those who enter halal transactions because of you
The Shariah advisor is a means of developing Halal and Shariah compliant alternatives for people. Such products save people from the unlawful. It enables people to enter into Halal transactions. As such, Shariah advisors are keys to good and locks for evil. The Prophetic narration states:
“Glad tidings for a slave who Allah has made a key for good and a lock for evil; and woe to a slave who Allah has made a key for evil and a lock for good.” [Ibn Majah]
Further, Shariah advisors can be hopeful in gaining an equivalent reward of all those who enter into Halal and Shariah compliant transactions as a result of their efforts. The Prophetic narrations state:
“Whoever guides (another) to a good deed will get a reward similar to the one who performs it.” [Muslim]
4. A beneficiary of the duas of the Prophet (peace be upon him)
Another heart-warming benefit of being in a Shariah advisory role is that it enables one to spread the teachings of the Prophet (peace be upon him). The Sunnah of the Prophet is the manner in which things ought to be done. It is the most excellent guide and example for us to follow. The Hadith tells us:
“May God brighten the face of a person who hears my words, preserves them and then conveys them to those who had not heard them.” [Musnad Ahmad]
5. A representative of God
Classical scholars have regarded the scholar who answers queries and teaches people on Shariah compliance as a representative of God. Hence, Imam Nawawi described the Mufti as the heir of the Prophets (peace and blessings be upon them), and one who fulfills a communal duty. Ibn al-Qayym considered the scholars who give Fatwa and sign-off on religious matters as ministerial signatories on behalf of the Lord of the world, which is indeed a great status.
The Five Lows of Signing-off
Whilst there are many positive reasons to enjoy a lofty position of a Shariah advisor, the responsibility and accountability is weightier than mountains. There are several warnings for not doing this job properly.
The Prophetic narration warns us from a lack of research and hastiness in signing-off products without understanding the matter at hand. The Prophetic narration states:
“The most reckless of you in issuing fatwas, is verging to enter Hell-Fire.” [al-Darimi]
There is nothing wrong with delaying in order to do further research. Khalid ibn Khirash states:
“I came from Iraq to Imam Malik with forty questions, he did not answer any of them except five. Imam Malik then said, ‘I heard Ibn Hurmuz say, “it is appropriate for a knowledgeable person to teach his students the words ‘I do not know’ until the words become a principle in their hands which they are not afraid to use.”
2. Lack of research
Another low and weighty matter is not doing thorough research. A Shariah advisor must not only focus on the Fiqh-related matters to answer queries, but must also be aware of the necessary legal, tax, accounting, regulatory and economic matters relating to the product which impact the Fiqh, to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the issue at hand.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever gives a fatwa without knowledge, shall bear the sin of those he gave it to”. [Abu Dawud]
Imam Malik once advised: “That which you know, say it and guide others towards it, as for that which you do not know, stay silent regarding it, and beware of becoming an evil following for the people” [Usul al-Ifta wa Adabuhu]
A Shariah advisor is not only responsible to the immediate stakeholders around him, he is more so responsible and accountable to God for the matters he reviews. Hence, working according to global standards is always prudent.
The classical scholars were very conscious of this accountability. Imam Malik remarked: ‘Whoever is asked about a religious matter, before responding he should imagine both Heaven and Hell before him and consider his outcome in the Hereafter. Only then should he respond.” [Tartib al-Madarik]
4. Fame and following
A Shariah advisor should seek to benefit others, and not be concerned with fame and following. It is inevitable that a person who is of benefit to others, will have people flocking to them. However, the heart and mind of a Shariah advisor should be disinterested in the fame, and be more concerned with the responsibilities they have, and ultimately the pleasure of God.
The famous classical scholar Bishr ibn Harith said:
“Whoever wishes that he be asked Shariah-related matters is not worthy of being asked.”
Sufyan ibn Uyaynah – a renowned scholar form the first three generations of Islam – states:
“The most knowledgeable people in issuing a Fatwa are those who remain the most silent in it and the most ignorant in issuing a Fatwa are those who remain the most vocal in it”
Thus, a Shariah advisor should not be concerned with fame. The more severe issue is his matter with God.
Overconfidence can be a double-edged sword. Whilst it has its benefits in certain matters, over-reliance on one’s own understanding and disregarding the views of others altogether can be damaging in Shariah matters.
Imam Malik was once asked a religious question, to which he replied: ‘I do not know.’ It was then said to him: ‘But the issue is a light and easy one.’ At this he became angry, then said: ‘There is nothing about knowledge that is light. Haven’t you heard Allah’s words: We will soon cast upon you a weighty word. [Q.73:6] Knowledge, all of it is weighty; especially what one will be questioned about on the Day of Judgement.” [Usul al-Iftaa]
Five Practical Advices For Shariah Advisors
If those of us who are in this position adhere to the following, then this role will be a blessing and a means of great reward:
- We must continuously ask God for guidance and forgiveness.
- We must never be overconfident and should always do thorough research.
- We must continue learning and studying to ensure we fulfil this trust with excellence.
- We must always consult others and seniors.
- If we are hesitant or our heart is unsure, we must not sign-off immediately. There is no harm in delaying as long as the client or financial institution is made aware of a reasonable timeframe.