The Chapter on Knowledge

Ahadith from a forthcoming book, ‘Miftaah-ul-Ma`ani,’ by Syed Iqbal Zaheer

People often ask, especially those who failed in life, or met with a calamitous disappointment: “What is the purpose behind our creation?” By asking the question, they wish to vent their anger on God, saying, implicitly, that they would have been better off, had they not been created. So, their own role forgotten, they want to lay the blame on their Lord blaming Him, acknowledging His role. But, if they are having a good time, those times are not attributed to God. Being grateful to Him is so hard upon them that they choose to deny Him altogether. They blurt out, “I am an atheist.”

If to a physicist, search of what he calls as ‘the ultimate truth,’ is, as he claims, the raison deter, then why shouldn’t knowing God be the truth of all truths?

Allah (swt) has, accordingly, said: “We have not created the Jinn and mankind but that they should worship Me (Dhariyyat, 56),”

One of the earliest commentators of the Qur’an, Mujahid, has said, with reference to Allah’s words: “We have not created the Jinn and Mankind but that they should worship Me,” explained as meaning: ‘… but that they should know Me.”

Acquiring knowledge is not a matter of choice for this Ummah; something they may or may not attempt. It is their religious duty, applying themselves to it until it becomes deep rooted in every one of them, and then spread out, until it is spread over the globe, throughout in to populations of every region. This Ummah is as much obliged to do this as were the followers of previous prophets were obliged; even more, since there were prophets after their prophets, while this Ummah’s prophet was the final. Allah (swt) said about the previous nations: “And (recall) when Allah took pledge from those who were given the Book (to the effect that), ‘You shall make it known to the people and not conceal it.’” (Surah 3: Ayah 187)

By not taking up the studies at all, the Ummah would be, in effect, concealing the knowledge – of Allah (swt), of Islam, and of its ways in life – that must be made to reach all and sundry.

Hasan al-Busri (d. 110 H) clarified the nature of this responsibility very well. Although he had scores of students who learnt from him, he realized that the missing thousands, who didn’t seem to pay enough attention to gaining knowledge, were his and other scholars’ responsibility. He remarked: “We entered, but in distress, came out, but did not experience increase except in distress. ‘O Allah! To You we complain of the sleazy ways that we had been talking about. If we respond to them, they understand nothing; if we remain quiet, we leave them impotent.’ By God, were it not for the pledge that Allah has taken from scholars regarding their knowledge, we would not have informed them of anything whatsoever.”

The Prophet had warned: “Whoever was asked about a piece of knowledge, but concealed it, shall come on Judgment-Day bridled with a bridle of fire.” (A Sahih report from Ibn Majah and others)

Abu Hurayrah used to say: “If not for two verses in the Qur’an, I would not narrate to you anything. Allah says, ‘Verily, those who conceal what We have sent down of the clear proofs and guidance – after We have proclaimed them in the Scriptures – it is such who are accursed of Allah and accursed of all those who curse. Except those who repent, make amends, and bring to light, it is such to whom I turn (in mercy). And I am Oft‑turning, Most Merciful.’” (2: 159, 160)

It is the hallmark of this Ummah, a huge responsibility, shirking which, it will face humiliation in this world and the Next. Imam Malik used to say, “It has reached me that the scholars will be questioned on the Day of Standing as the prophets would be questioned about delivery of their messages.”

That Allah (swt) did not encourage His Prophet to vie for anything, except for more knowledge, is enough to guess its sublimity. He instructed the Prophet to supplicate in words: “Say, my Lord. Grant me increase in knowledge.” (20; 114)

The Qur’an asks us: “Ask: Are equal those who know and those who do not know.” (39: 9)

It was in agreement with the scheme of things that having pointed to the importance of knowledge, Allah promised higher status to those who were given knowledge. He said:  “Allah raises the ranks of those who believe and of those who were given knowledge.” (68; 11)

Even past Prophets knew of the virtues and blessings of knowledge. Da’ud and Sulayman are examples. Allah said: “Surely, We gave Da’ud and Sulayman knowledge. (In acknowledgment) the two said: ‘Praises to Allah who gave us preference over many of his believing slaves.’” (27: 15)

In fact, a Muslim cannot ignore to know his religion. Knowledge comes before practice, or even acceptance.

Seeking knowledge then, is not a leisure activity for the elite. Islamic faith and practice are very different from any other system. This system has to be learnt. One and all must have the basic knowledge before the very first step of practice. That is the reason why the Prophet (saws) said: “Seeking knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim.” (Sahih, Ibn Majah).

It is knowledge that leads one to a deeper, profounder understanding of the Lord’s words. Said Allah: “These are parables that We strike, that none reason out except the scholars.” (29: 43)

In turn it leads to a truer appreciation of Allah’s powers – appreciation of a Power that alone will remain after the destruction of this world. He said, “Surely, it is the scholars who truly fear Allah.” (36: 28)

After piety, which is the only measure of man in this world, and can only be achieved through knowledge, is very well expounded by the Prophet. Abu Hurayra (ra) reported that the Prophet was asked by some people: “Who is the most honored of men?” He answered, “The most pious of them.” They said, “This is not what we are asking you about.” He said, “Then the most honored of men was the Prophet, son of a Prophet, son of a Prophet and Allah’s Khalil.” He meant Yusuf, who was a son of Ya`qub, sa on of Is-haq, a son of Ibrahim, Allah’s peace on them all. They said, “It is not about him we ask.” He asked, “Perhaps you are asking about the Arab tribes. If so, then the best of you in pre-Islamic times are best of you in Islam, if they gain knowledge and understanding.”

It is strikingly strange then that at a time when Popes and Friars, Emperors and ambassadors did not know how to sign their names, when the Arab world considered dependence on written material as a flaw in memory and a sign of poor intellectuality, when they respected that alone which came from memory, and, when weird men and feared witch-doctors alone were supposed to be masters in the witch-art of letters, Prophet Muhammad said, “Whoever took a path in search of knowledge, will have Allah make the path of Paradise easy for him. Surely, the angels spread their wings (under the feet), in approval of the knowledge-seeker. All that are there in the heaven and earth seek forgiveness of the knowledge-seeker – including fishes in water. Surely, a scholar’s superiority over a devotee is like that of the moon over the entire constellations of stars. Indeed, scholars are the inheritors of prophets, who leave behind neither Dinar nor Dirham; they leave behind knowledge. So, whoever took it, took a vast fortune.” (Sahih, Ibn Majah).

Religious learning makes the difference between humans and rocks. The Prophet struck a beautiful simile. He said, “The example of what Allah has sent me with of guidance and knowledge is like a heavy rain that struck a land, of which there was a wholesome patch which accepted the water. It threw out vegetation and bushes. Of it there was a hard land. It stored the water: people benefited from it. They drank, watered their cattle, and irrigated thereby. It also fell on another patch of land. It was stony and barren which would not hold any water, nor threw out any grass.

Such is the example of him who scored knowledge in Allah’s religion and that which Allah has sent me with, it benefited him: he knew and he taught. And the example of him who never raised his head to it, and did not accept the guidance that I have been sent with.”

The Prophet added his own supplication in most lovely words for those who would hear, preserve and disseminate his words. He said: “May Allah keep afresh the face of a man who heard something from us and then kept them in memory for, sometimes a career of knowledge is himself not proficient, and sometimes a career of knowledge (narrates to) someone who is more proficient than him.”

He informed us that mere search of knowledge brings sustenance. Anas b. Malik narrated that during the time of the Prophet there were two brothers. One of them used to attend the Prophet’s assembly (to pick up ahadith) while the other was an artisan. The artisan complained to the Prophet about his brother’s (non-productivity). He said, “Perhaps you are fed because of him.”

A man of knowledge lives the life of several people if he leads people to good. The Prophet said, “Whoever led to something good will have the reward of the one who did it.”

Other reports clarify that given such reward would not be at the cost of the doer.

Even as in this life, knowledge serves a man after his death too. Said the Prophet, “With a man’s death his deeds are cut off from him except three: A running charity, or knowledge that is profited from, or a righteous progeny that supplicates for him.”

(To be continued)