An extract from Yahya Emerick's article The Confusion of the Scholars:
So where does the stupidness come in? There are several areas to look at and the first is on the issue of who is a "Scholar" or "Shaykh?" Allah is very harsh against the Jews and the Christians for considering their priests and rabbis as people who could make religious judgments without consulting Allah's revelations. The priests made the eating of pork allowed for Christians, with no authority from Allah or from Prophet Jesus, while the rabbis made laws such as a woman could not be in the house during her period and that milk and meat could not be eaten together. In this respect, the people "worshipped" their leaders besides Allah.
Sadly, this is exactly what Muslims have done for the last thousand years. In the early days of Islam, no one went around with ostentatious titles, as if they were somehow set apart from the rest of the people. Everyone was usually addressed as brother or sister. No one earned overly glorified titles, either, just because they studied with a Sahabi. The only real special term that I have ever come across which was frequently used by the Prophet to describe others is 'Alim (learned person). And this term was never used in the sense of a "priest" or Holy man. It was just that: a person who is learned.
In Madina, everyone was "learned" to one extent or another. The trader knew how to practice Islam, the housewife knew how to practice Islam and the traveler knew it too. If someone needed to ask a question about Islam that they didn't know, they would go to a friend or neighbor. For really detailed questions, they might consult someone who was known to be a teacher. But they wouldn't fawn all over the teacher nor would the teacher dress or act in such a way as to set him or herself apart from the rest of the believers.
Centuries passed and a funny thing happened. The Islamic world spread in so many different directions and millions of people were becoming Muslims. The common knowledge of Islam was not so common anymore. If a Muslim teacher went to any area where Islamic knowledge was scarce, suddenly, everyone was wanting to be around him. The teacher became special. (Think of Sufi-style Shaykh worship for example.) Fast forward many more centuries. There are millions of Muslims, but few know much about Islam. Teachers have become "holy" men and have such titles as "Shaykh" or "Maulana". They are a special class, or caste, of people who are sought after and revered by people who want to see their "god" in the flesh because the concept of an unseen Creator is too intellectual for most. (Hence, Muslim "Saints!")
So what of the world today? Any person who learns a few dozen ahadith and one or two ajza is calling himself a scholar and making pronouncements about Islam to his flock who knows little. I have met people who knew little about Islam calling themselves Imam, or Shaykh or whatever. Who made them Imam? Who promoted them to the role of a guardian of the Deen? Was it their ignorant followers? Was it by virtue of the fact that they attended some madrasa in another culture? Is it because they're rich? Who knows? All I know is that a real scholar doesn't call himself by a title. He doesn't need it. A real knower of Islam realizes he knows so little and is humble. A title makes him feel uncomfortable. That is a real Muslim leader. But what we have mostly is a clergy class. (Think of that hadith about the Day of Judgment where the pretentious scholar is thrown in Hell.)
And what do the self-appointed scholars say? The stupidity is amazing! These are all actual Fatwas One scholar will say that chewing gum does not break the fast. Another says that using a fork is haram. A third says that eating McDonald's meat is okay while a fourth says of it, no way. One scholar says human cloning is halal, while another says it's haram. One local scholar in New York says the Sunnah is not important and that most ahadith are fabricated. One in Egypt says that wife-beating is okay if the wife doesn't make an effort to look pretty while another says that mortgages are allowed under duress. (Have you ever heard the Fatwa that living in America is haram? It's there.) Each one of these scholars backs up their arguments with Qur'an and hadith, in a usually twisted way, and then says anyone who does otherwise is a kafir.