THE Arabic word ‘aalim’, which means one who possesses knowledge, is often used, particularly in the subcontinent, for only those who profess to have studied at some madressah. There is a proliferation of mostly men and a few women who may have learned the Quran and books of ahadith and are deemed capable of preaching their version of religion and offering fatwas (decrees) on any issue.
However, the scholarly credentials of many of these people could be questioned. Thus, the real ulema who may be truly learned in Islamic sciences tend to be hidden from the public eye.
Seeking knowledge and developing an understanding through rational thought is an oft-repeated theme in the Quran and ahadith. The basic characteristics of scholarship have remained unchanged over centuries. It requires a deeply inquiring mind; the capacity and patience to read extensively and deliberate upon varying and even opposing hypotheses and theories and then formulate views that can be argued rationally and with evidence.