By Jerrmein Abu Shahba
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – It has recently been a topic of discussion in our communities regarding the permissibility of scholars and speakers getting paid for their services of delivering Islamic lectures and speeches, especially when it comes to the gatherings of mourning for Imam Hussain (peace be upon him). The majority of us agrees that it is natural and normal to present a sum of money or a gift as a hadiya to compensate for the speaker's time and effort in contributing to a gathering. In fact, it is almost rare that Shaikhs and Maulanas are invited to a center or mosque without earning or receiving something as a token of appreciation and honor for their presence. However, there is difference in opinion as to whether speakers should play an active role in demanding a specific amount of compensation before lecturing, and whether it is proper to ask for a significant earning for service done in the name of Islam.
There are those who find no harm in the idea that speakers should get paid according to their qualification and contribution; hence, the more knowledge and inspiration a scholar can give, the more pay they get. Some support the idea that a written contract should be signed beforehand as Islam generally recommends a signed contract to protect the rights of any two parties involved.
It must be noted, however, that there is a distinct difference between an orator who is offered certain compensation by the hosting center and humbly accepts it regardless of its amount, versus one who takes offers from the highest bidders for his responsibility of spreading the religion of Islam and rejects an invitation based on the material or financial aspect. Unfortunately, some orators nowadays even require exclusive travel methods and other "perks" before they agree to convey the message of Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them). Logically and morally speaking, this is not acceptable, and goes against the message of immaterialism and humility which our speakers should be promoting.
Sadly, we see a trend these days that out-of-town speakers are rewarded with much greater compensation and treated like superstars when invited, while some of our respected resident scholars who work so hard year-round to provide the proper spiritual guidance to their community and have served their own town for years do not earn the proper compensation and reward that they rightfully deserve. Rather, some are treated in a poor manner and with complete lack of respect. Sometimes we take our resident scholar for granted, and with time, we forget his rights upon us. This unfair treatment does not befit a group of believers who follow the direction of Imam Zainul Abideen (peace be upon him), who emphasizes in his Treatise on Rights:
"The right of the one who trains you (sa'is) through knowledge is magnifying him, respecting his sessions, listening well to him, and attending to him with devotion. You should not raise your voice toward him. You should never answer anyone who asks him about something, in order that he may be the one who answers. You should not speak to anyone in his session nor speak ill of anyone with him. If anyone ever speaks ill of him in your presence, you should defend him. You should conceal his faults and make manifest his virtues. You should not sit with him in enmity or show hostility toward him in friendship. If you do all of this, God's angels will give witness for you that you went straight to him and learned his knowledge for God's sake, not for the sake of the people."
However, with respect to visiting speakers and scholars demanding a particular amount of compensation, there is no rule in Islam which states that it is forbidden for a person to charge an exorbitant amount of money for a service. But when it comes to service in religious matters, such as delivering Islamic lectures and reciting at the mourning gatherings of Imam Hussain, it is not befitting from a moral and spiritual perspective for a scholar to demand a huge compensation, because ultimately, it is his obligation to provide spiritual nourishment to the community. Also, doing so certainly takes away from the dignity of the scholar and goes against the etiquette of a respected Aalim. A scholar is benefited from and taken as a spiritual guide not just because the amount of knowledge he carries, but equally importantly because of the way he carries himself in his behavior and the self-respect which he invites towards himself based on his apparent actions and lifestyle.
Unlike other fields, there is no room for business when it comes to religious guidance, especially if business will be driving that guidance. In addition, it is better if a scholar is not lured by huge amounts of compensation so that his word is not subjected to being influenced by those who offer him the bigger bucks. Otherwise, if the speaker does not enjoy a high level of piety, the financial temptation may cause him to sacrifice the word of truth for the sake of maintaining the material benefits, God forbid!
When Ayatollah Nasir Makarem Shirazi was asked whether it is permissible to demand monetary compensation in return for mentioning the merits and the tragedies of the Ahlul Bayt, he answered: "There is no legal (shar'i) program with specifying a set monetary compensation; however, such an action is not becoming of the status of the ones who speak about the Ahlul Bayt, peace be upon them all, as such individuals must be the manifestation of God-consciousness." (Fiqh of Azadari)
The real question to ask is: Are we really looking to gain our knowledge and spiritual nourishment from awesome speakers or humble scholars? Nowadays, there are many speakers who take on the podium and are able to deliver eloquent and awesome speeches. Many are able to gather and transfer knowledge that they heard from CDs, online lectures, and books. However, it is not sufficient for any person who has knowledge to climb the pulpit of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) if he does not fulfill the criteria of practicing that knowledge and bearing wisdom and insight which accompanies that knowledge. We as seekers of knowledge and students of Islam should listen and learn from those righteous and pious scholars who have the proper education, good morals, and have applied the teachings of Islam in their lives. Only then can we be assured that we are not blindly following those who are not worthy to be followed or are not the best out there, even if they are Sayyids, even if they wear turbans on their heads, and even if their speeches sounds amazing.