There is a narration that says that Prophet ﷺ is reported to have said:
إن مثل العلماء في الأرض كمثل النجوم
Indeed the example of the scholars in earth is like that of the starsMusnad Ahmed
Even though there is some kalaam 1 on the authenticity of this specific narration but the scholars said that the ayaat from the Qurʾān are shaahid for this.
The stars serve 3 purposes and so do the scholars:
وَبِٱلنَّجْمِ هُمْ يَهْتَدُونَ
And by the stars they are guided.Surah an-Nahl 16:16
Through these ulema, we take guidance and understand the Qurʾān and aḥādīth upon the understanding of as-salaf as-saalih (righteous predecessors). Those ulema give us the correct understanding of sharai’ terms, maqaasid of shariya, ayaat, aḥādīth and aqwaal of the scholars from the past.
إِنَّا زَيَّنَّا ٱلسَّمَآءَ ٱلدُّنْيَا بِزِينَةٍ ٱلْكَوَاكِبِ
Indeed, We have adorned the nearest heaven with an adornment of starsSurah as-Saaffaat 37:6
These scholars are our adornment in every step of our lives. Those who kept themselves away from the scholars (of al-haqq), they deviated and many died upon misguidance and deviatio while they thought they were upon haqq.
وَلَقَدْ زَيَّنَّا ٱلسَّمَآءَ ٱلدُّنْيَا بِمَصَٰبِيحَ وَجَعَلْنَٰهَا رُجُومًا لِّلشَّيَٰطِينِ
And We have certainly beautified the nearest heaven with stars and have made [from] them what is thrown at the devilsSurah al-Mulk 67:5
The first people to recognize the fitna when it rises are the scholars. Because they look at it from the eyes of various aspects, from Qurʾān, aḥādīth, history etc. They take charge of averting shayaateen (from ins and jinn) who do incorrect interpretations of the ayaat and aḥādīth and clarify the matter to us.
With that said, even though the scholars are inheritors of the Prophet ﷺ, we do not stick to one scholar and blindly follow him, for anyone (except for the Prophet ﷺ) can fall in to a mistake, and other scholars of the same caliber and level correct each other.
May Allāh protect our ulema and keep them steadfast, for their death is a big loss.
Prophet ﷺ said
إن الله لا يقبض العلم انتزاعًا ينتزعه من العباد، ولكن يقبض العلم بقبض العلماء حتى إذا لم يُبْقِ عالمًا اتَّخذ الناس رؤوسًا جهالاً، فسُئِلوا فأفتوا بغير علم؛ فضلوا وأضلوا
Verily, Allāh does not take away knowledge by snatching it from the (heart of) people, but He takes it away by taking away (the lives of) the scholars till none of the scholars stays alive. Then the people will take ignorant ones as their leaders, who, when asked to deliver religious verdicts, will issue them without knowledge, the result being that they will go astray and will lead others astray.Sahih al-Bukhari 100, Sahih Muslim 2673a
Lastly, I would like to add here that do not lend your ears to anyone who claims to be a scholar or a preacher (even if he seem humble and hate to be called a scholar). Not everyone who can speak Arabic or recite Qurʾān or quote an ayah or a ḥadīth is a scholar or worthy speaking about Islam. We have to be extra vigilant who we take our knowledge from. This goes in line with the famous statement of Ibn Sireen
إن هذا العلم دين، فانظروا عمن تأخذون دينكم
Indeed, this knowledge is religion, beware who you take your religion from
- رواه أنس بن مالك ، نقله الهيثمي في مجمع الزوائد وحكم عنه بأنه : فيه رشدين بن سعد واختلف في الاحتجاج به ، وأبو حفص صاحب أنس مجهول ↩