Ask those who Know
Amongst the most misquoted verses in the Quran are 16:43 and 21:7. These verses are often quoted partially and used to justify blind following of the clergy, like so: “ask those who have knowledge if you do not know.” This partial and interpolated quote is usually taught to the laity by the clergy and their preachers or “students of knowledge” and even via the “Islamic movement”.
However, reading the verse in full even in the traditional translations [where the actual meanings may get lost and interpolated by the translators] the Quranic message speaks for itself.
AND [even] before thy time, [O Muhammad,] We never sent [as Our apostles] any but [mortal] men, whom We inspired: and if you have not [yet] realized this, ask the followers of [earlier] revelation," [16:43, Asad]
For [even] before thy time, [O Muhammad,] We never sent [as Our apostles] any but [mortal] men, whom We inspired - hence, [tell the deniers of the truth,] “If you do not know this, ask the followers of earlier revelation” and neither did We endow them with bodies that could dispense with food nor were they immortal. [21:7-8, Asad]
See another common translation:
And We sent not before you (O Muhammad) but men to whom We inspired, so ask the people of the Reminder (Scriptures - the Taurat (Torah), the Injeel (Gospel)) if you do not know. [21:7, Muhsin Khan & Muhammad al-Hilali].
Wama arsalna qablaka illa rijalan noohee ilayhim fais-aloo ahla alththikri in kuntum la taAAlamoona
Even though it is admitted by all, that the Arabic phrase, ahla alththikr (literally: people (of) the Reminder) refers to People of the Previous Scripture as is clear from the context. The ‘traditionalist’ clergy and their sectarian preachers interpolate it as “ask those who have knowledge if you do not know.” That is ask the clergy [rather, ask their particular sectarian clergy from their particular denomination].
It can been understood from these verses that:
The Prophets and Messengers that are inspired by God, are only mortals with human limitation. This was or is an assurance from God that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) too is a human, Prophet/Messenger of God like others before him. Furthermore, it highlights the need and importance of verifying information.
There is absolutely no endorsement from these verses to ask and follow the clergy (as claimed by many Muslims or are lead to believe); rather, what is required is that the believer to be sincere and to continuously strive to understand God’s signs or messages [Arabic: ayaat] (10:24), (54:17). Having said that there is no disagreement in asking the clergy, scholars or ministers of religion as long as God’s message has the final ultimate authority in the matter (25:1). Unfortunately, this is not usually the methodology amongst [followers of] denominations.
And Allah Knows best.