As education becomes available to all and at any time, we seem to be compromising on the etiquettes of learning. Learning has now become content acquisition with no effect on the personality.
Surah al-Kahf contains four stories, each carrying a lesson for us. The story of Prophet Musa AS and Prophet Khidr AS teaches us the etiquettes of learning.
Musa AS is asked who is the most learned among them – he claims that it was himself. Allah SWT does not like Prophet Musa AS ascribing knowledge to himself, for Allah SWT is Al-Aleem (the All-Knowing) and Al-Khabeer (the All-Aware). As part of his training, Musa AS is informed about a man more learned than himself. Musa AS sets out on a journey to meet him.
All good is from Allah SWT
Allah SWT introduces this man as someone whom He had taught knowledge. In this one sentence, Allah SWT teaches us how to attribute all good that we own to none but Him. He discourages self-praise. He does not say: this was a man who was intelligent. Rather, his knowledge was a special favour from Allah SWT.
Value others’ time
We learn the adab of meeting a teacher and introducing ourselves. When Musa AS meets this favoured servant of Allah SWT he does not narrate the hardships of his journey. He knows the value of time. In as few words as possible, he conveys his purpose of meeting and asks if he could accompany the knowledgeable man.
In response, Khidr AS says, “Verily, you will not be able to have patience with me,” (Al-Kahf:67). Right in the beginning, he understands Musa’s aptitude. A teacher must have the right skills to evaluate his students’ potential. Understanding others’ capabilities lowers expectations and saves one from disappointments. It also helps in planning lessons and activities, and assigning the right roles to the right person.
Commit and persevere
Musa AS does not get offended by Khidr’s opinion of him. He respectfully replies, “If Allah wills, you will find me patient, and I will not disobey you in aught,” (Al-Kahf:69).
Sometimes, people quit their studies because they were offended by their teacher’s remarks. In Musa AS, we see perseverance. Despite his teacher’s discouragement, he commits to staying put. He understands he will be thrown challenges that he must stand up to. He could not proceed in life if he lacked perseverance or gave up.
One principle of life is that in order to seek respect, we must first be respectful of others. When Khidr AS remarks Musa AS lacked the required patience, he remains respectful of Khidr’s opinion of him. Getting along helps build relationships and so being able to learn from the other person.
Set rules for learning
Seeing the dedication of his student, Khidr AS sets some rules. He says, “Then, if you follow me ask me not about anything till I myself mention of it to you.” (Al-Kahf:70)
Here is another lesson. If one does not set rules in the beginning then half of the time will be wasted in keeping everyone calm and organised.
In one online class, the teacher had just started the topic when questions started pouring in. The teacher, instead of instructing to keep the questions for the end, started answering them right away. Most questions were repetitive and the teacher kept saying we are going to study this next time. Soon the class time was up and the students were still at the opening paragraph. Many students were disappointed because they had not learnt anything new that day. Others were still complaining.
In another class, the teacher came and immediately turned off the chat box. She took no chances. Ten minutes prior to the end, she opened the forum and asked that the hands be raised if there were any questions. The latter, of course, was a more disciplined situation.
Next, we see that Prophet Musa AS and Prophet Khidr AS do not sit in a formal classroom. They embark on a ship and start their study trip. Learning should not only be confined to the classroom. One can learn at any place, at any moment. In the Qur’an, Allah SWT instructs us to look at His many Signs around us and reflect. We can go out and learn from nature. While commuting, one can read a book, listen to an audio book or a lecture and even learn a new language. Become observant, alert and receptive.
During the journey, Khidr AS does some actions (by the permission of Allah SWT that startle Musa AS. Perturbed by what is happening, Musa AS breaks his commitment to remain patient and speaks up. Instead of rebuking Musa AS, Khidr u says, “Did I not tell you, that you would not be able to have patience with me?” (Al-Kahf:72)
Notice how concise and clear his feedback is. In a few words, he points out that Musa AS is breaking his promise. Musa AS immediately realised his mistake and knew what he was expected to do.
Feedback helps convey what is expected. A teacher must be focused and not go on complaining, tarnishing students’ self-esteem. For feedback to be effective, it should be tangible, transparent, actionable and timely. Look at Khidr AS, he corrects Musa AS right away. Not at the end of the journey. His feedback is transparent. He clearly informs Musa AS where he was failing.
We see the effectiveness of this succinct feedback when Musa u immediately accepts his error and confesses that he had forgotten his promise. This shows the honesty of the student. He does not blame his teacher for doing any wrong but rather admits that he was mistaken.
When Musa AS repeats his mistake, he proposes to Khidr AS to end the journey in case he breaks the decorum one more time. Musa AS is considerate of Khidr’s precious time and role and does not persist on staying with him despite his errors. So when this happens a third time, Khidr AS announces their parting and fulfils his side of the promise. It was now time to reveal the wisdom behind the actions that he undertook. After finishing explaining the reasons, Khidr AS adds, “And I did them not of my own accord,” (Al-Kahf:82). He attributes all the knowledge that he had to Allah SWT alone. This was the lesson that Prophet Musa AS was sent out to learn.
Knowledge has a special status in Islam. Among all the things created for mankind, Prophet Muhammad SAW does not ask Allah SWT for an increase in anything but knowledge (Taha:114). The first word to be revealed was “Read” (Al-’Alaq:1). The first thing to be created was a pen, and there is a surah with this name.
May He Who has created the pen and paper instil the love of beneficial knowledge in our hearts, ameen.
Uzma Awan is a student of Qur’an and loves drawing lessons from it. She also writes on health and nutrition, green living and sustainability. A business graduate by degree, Uzma entered the writing world when she was assigned a corporate communications role.