There is a knowledge renaissance taking place amidst us. A proliferation over recent years in the opportunities to learn Islam, particularly in the West, is arguably replacing the tradition of travelling to learn. Media channels, the Internet and academic institutes are widely available to all. Whilst this is welcome and beneficial, given the exhortation of the Prophet (SAW) on every Muslim to seek knowledge (Al Bukhari), there is a pressing need for some soul introspection (muhasabah). Beyond the crash Fiqh courses, illustrious da’wah events and skilled debates, there is something missing. Ask any wannabe student of knowledge how much Quran he or she has memorised. You are likely to encounter a resounding and rather uncomfortable silence, followed by a list of reasons why we cannot find the time to…
How can we ensure that the hasty and compulsive ‘ilmitis’ infecting the masses does not become an end in itself? Surely, knowledge is the means to increasing our ubudiyyah (Surah Dhariyaat 51:56) and ultimately success in the Akirah. This article is the first in a series of reminders on the importance and etiquette of seeking knowledge in Islam. The aim is for us to take heed, purify our intentions, shift our priorities and steer us back on course, insha Allah.
Ayat and ahadith regarding knowledge
“The first thing which Allah (SWT) created was the pen…” (Ahmad). This hadith on belief in Qadr shows the importance of recording knowledge.
The first Qur’anic ayahs to be revealed show how Allah (SWT) elevated man by teaching Adam (AS):“Read! In the Name of your Lord Who has created (all that exists) ..Read!…. Who has taught (the writing) by the pen. He has taught man that which he knew not.” (Iqra 96:5)
Furthermore, we have been blessed with the tools for acquiring knowledge: hearing, sight and reason (Nahl 16:78).
After the Battle of Badr, the prisoners of war taught the Muslims to read and write. The Books of Hadith also dedicate a Chapter to Knowledge. Imam Bukhari said, “Knowledge has priority over preaching and action.” Imam al-Aajurree said: “…worship is not possible without knowledge.” This is why Allah I orders us to seek knowledge prior to the declaration of the shahadah: “So know that there is no God save Allah….”(Muhammad 47:19)
The importance and status of knowledge
In His Book, Allah (SWT) has elevated the status of knowledge and censured ignorance.
Allah (SWT) says,“Whoever is given wisdom and knowledge is blessed with bounties in good abundance”. (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:272)
He (SWT) also states, “Say, ‘Are those who know equal to those who know not?’” (Az Zumar: 39:9, Al Mujadilah 58:11)
Ignorance is no excuse nor will it spare you on the Day of Reckoning (Mulk 67:10). The Prophet (SAW) said: ”Indeed the cure for ignorance is to ask.” (Ahmed) Indeed, one of the Salaf said: “Allah has not been disobeyed with any sin worse than ignorance.”
Exhortation to seek beneficial knowledge
The Prophet (SAW) said the path of Paradise is made easy for the one who seeks knowledge (Muslim).
Ibn Hazm tells us that the noblest knowledge is that which brings you closer to the Creator.
The Prophet (SAW) said, “The world, with all that it contains, is accursed except for the remembrance of Allah, that which pleases Allah, and the religious scholars and seekers of knowledge’’(At-Tirmidi). Ibn Abbas said: “A person who has an understanding of religion (faqih) is more formidable against Satan than a thousand worshippers.”
Pious Predecessors and Knowledge
Muadh ibn Jabal, the foremost scholar on the Day of Judgement, said: “…action is the slave to knowledge and ‘ilm is the Imam of action” (Ibn Abdul Barr).
Fruits of Knowledge
Allah says: “It is only those who have knowledge among His slaves that fear Allah.” (Al Fatir: 35:28)
Scholars have indicated that the fruits of knowledge include humility, prostration and crying, calling oneself to account as Allah says in Surah Isra (17:107-109).
Whilst it is commendable that more of us are taking steps to learn about the deen, we must be mindful that knowledge is but the means to getting closer to Allah azzawajaal in order to obtain success in Akirah. The seat of knowledge in Islam is the heart not the mind. Therefore true knowledge is obtained when it increases Taqwa. It is not how much we know, but how much we benefit from what we have learned that counts.
Hypocrisy and Riyaa
Allah warns us against hypocrisy (As- Saff 61: 2-3). The Prophet (SAW) told us we will be asked what we did with the knowledge we learned (At-Tirmidhi) and those who sought fame in their pursuit of knowledge will be amongst the first to be dragged into the Hellfire (Muslim).
Shaytaan will never cease in his efforts to outwit us. In our quest for knowledge, we must guard against the lure of seeking status whether through a title (‘student of knowledge’) or obtaining a qualification. The more we learn, the more accountable we become so we must be vigilant and ward off any suggestions of riyaa.
Take Heed and Stem the Tide
It is time to take heed and stem the tide of ‘ilmitis’ which is flowing both ways. On the one hand, teaching deen has become a business with London alone having over 20 places all competing to package courses to wannabe students of ilm. On the other hand, we must not be hasty in signing up for every course that comes our way. We must re-examine our own quest for knowledge.
As with any discipline, everything must be done gradually. Knowledge must be sought in stages, beginning with establishing the basics. A building without firm foundations will topple. In order to do this, we must first recognise our limitations, we cannot all be scholars. Even in Jihad, there is a group that is left behind to instruct in matters of deen (At Tawbah 9:122). The priority is for us to focus on acquiring knowledge which is fard ‘ayn. Moreover, embarking in pursuit of knowledge is a lifelong activity not a weekend intensive. Furthermore, the more you learn, the more you realise how little you know. This aspect distinguishes us from Allah azzawjaal, who is Al Alim, the All Knowing, whose knowledge encompasses everything and is limitless.
Purify our Intentions, Duas and Mohasbah As Sufyaan Ath-Thawree told us, we must keep renewing and purifying our intentions and make du’a. The Prophet (SAW) taught us to say: “O Allah, benefit me from that which You taught me, and teach me that which will benefit me, and increase me in knowledge.” (Ibn Majah) Every time we set out to learn, we must examine our motives, research what knowledge options are open to us, perform Istikara and make duas to Allah azzawajaal to assist us at every stage. At the same time, we must constantly review and reflect on ourselves (mohasbah) to ensure that the more we are learn, the more we are striving to increase in our ‘Ubudiyyah to Allah azzawajaal. Shift Priorities. Once we are clearer about our intentions and aims for seeking knowledge, we should observe the requisite etiquettes of seeking knowledge. Take any biography of any illustrious scholar and you will realise they began with memorising the Qur’an, the sciences of Qur’an, learning manners (a third of knowledge) and the Arabic language before proceeding to Fiqh and Hadith.
Against this backdrop, I think there is a pressing need for us to shift our priorities from attending endless courses to memorising Qur’an and learning Arabic proficiently. How many of us, after years of practising the deen, are still reciting Juz ‘Amma in our salat? It seems that beyond Tajweed intensives, there is insufficient attention and motivation given to commit the Qur’an to memory before embarking on any programme of study. There are no places in the UK for women to memorise Qur’an. There are Darul Ulooms for children and Hifdh classes in schools but for adults, there is only the masjid and the odd institute. However, few masjids are equipped with trained hadfidhas to teach women. If we can begin with learning Qur’an and Arabic, our quest for knowledge will be so much richer. By attaching our hearts to the Qur’an, understanding it, contemplating it (Ad Dhariat 51:55) and applying it, we will adorn our characters with beautiful manners and begin to taste the barakah of our knowledge quest. More significantly, we will awaken our hearts to our raison d’etre and strive to attain Ihsan in our Ibadaat.
Knowledge consists of many branches, but according to the scholars of Islam: “What is meant by knowledge in the absolute sense is Islamic knowledge.”