FROM THE BEGINNING Islam honored knowledge and the search for it.
O you who believe! When you are told in [your] gatherings [that grow crowded]: Make room [for one another]! Then make room [with a spirit of patient fellowship]. Allah will make room for you [in Paradise]. Moreover, when it is said: Rise! [for the Prayer and other good acts], then rise. Allah shall raise [in station] those who [sincerely] believe [and comply] among you; and [raise greatly] in rank those who have [sought and] been given knowledge. For Allah is all-aware of all that you do. [Sûrat Al-Mujâdilah, 58:11]
Seeking Knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim. [Another narration adds “and Muslimah.”] (Graded ḍâʿîf by Nawwawî, but of correct meaning; and ḥasan by Al-Mizzi)
We must continue this legacy. In this five-part series we discuss the individual’s duty, the correct method for seeking out religious knowledge, the ethics of the seeker, and what every Muslim should know about his Dîn.
(1) The Individual Duty and Incentive to Seek Out Religious Knowledge
Allah created us and gave us sustenance, but also guidance. He said:
Very truly, We created man in [a life of] travail. Does he think that no one shall ever overpower him? He says [in boast]: I have expended vast wealth! Does he think that no one has seen him? Have We not made for him two eyes, and a tongue, and two lips, and guided him to the two highways [of right and wrong]? [Sûrat Al-Balad, 90:4-10]
After providing us with a capacity to contemplate, think, and differentiate between things, Allah instructed us to know Him, to know His prophets, and to know His Dîn, that is, His Religion, Islam. He said:
Know well, then, that there is no God but the [One] God. So [steadfastly] seek [much] forgiveness for your sin, and for [that of] the believing men and the believing women. For Allah knows well, [O people,] your [wakeful] movement to and fro [as you make your way in the world]; and [He knows well] your abiding [in private, at leisure and rest]. [Sûrat Muhammad, 47:19]
This verse shows the importance of knowledge and the virtues that Allah has given to it. It also shows that knowledge precedes deeds, since Allah instructed His Prophet ﷺ to know that He is the One —and the only One!— worthy of worship. After this, He commands him to ask forgiveness for himself, his family, and for his Ummah. Were Muslims truly to realize the importance Islam places on knowledge and the virtues it accords knowledge [and by extension the knowledgeable], without doubt they would strive eagerly to learn this religion and teach it to others. That means: They would understand that they were to begin by their own learning, and then teach what they had learned to their families, and then their neighbors and their community, followed by their societies.
Once Muʿâwiyyah ibn Abî Sufyân gave a sermon in which he said:
I heard Allah’s Messenger ﷺ saying: If Allah wishes for a person good, He makes him deeply knowledgeable in the Religion [of Islam]. (Bukhâri and Muslim)
The reason for this particular blessing is that knowledge is the foundation for all good. It forms the basis for actions that are grounded in the commandments of Allah and the instructions of the Prophet ﷺ. Hence, every Muslim must cultivate in himself a desire to seek knowledge. Allah instructed His Prophet ﷺ —and thus all Muslims— to ask Allah to increase him in knowledge. He said:
And say: My Lord! Increase me in knowledge. [Sûrat Ṭâ Hâ, 20:114]
Though, initially, all Muslims are equal in the sight of Allah, those who believe, who have taqwa (fear of Allah and righteousness), and who have been granted knowledge and act upon it, they move up to the higher ranks. Allah says about those who have taqwa:
O humankind! Indeed, We have created [all of] you from a [single] male and female. Moreover, We have made you peoples and tribes, so that you may [come to] know one another. And, indeed, the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the most God-fearing of you. Indeed, Allah is all-knowing, all-aware. [Sûrat Al-Ḥujurât, 49:13]
Again, Allah says about those who believe, who have acquired knowledge:
Allah shall raise [in station] those who [sincerely] believe [and comply] among you; and [raise greatly] in rank those who have [sought and] been given knowledge. [Sûrat Al-Mujâdilah, 58:11]
The servant of Allah whom He has granted knowledge has greater and subtler recognition for the value of what Allah has created, than do others. This is because the knowledgeable and godly servant is more intimately acquainted with Allah’s attributes and qualities. Consequently, he wholeheartedly witnesses that his Creator is the only one worthy of worship, and then submits himself to Him humbly.
This, in turn, generates in his heart a fear, which comes close to a full appreciation and love of his Lord. Allah bears witness to this quality and this sense of awakened appreciation in his knowledgeable servants, and He directly links it to their wholehearted belief in His Oneness, the high love for justice in which this results, and the sincere awe of Him that inspires in them a cautious fear for His absolute power and approval.
Allah states as much in two profound verses that the tongues of Muslims, moved by adoration and belief, will not cease reciting until the Day of Judgment:
Allah [Himself] bears witness that, indeed, there is no God but Him—as do the angels, and those with knowledge—[that He is the One] upholding justice. There is no God but Him, the Overpowering, the All-Wise. [Sûrat Âl ʿImrân, 3:18]
Yet none is awakened [to the wonders of creation] and truly fears Allah among His servants but those filled with knowledge [of the word and the way of Allah]. Indeed, Allah is overpowering, all forgiving. [Sûrat Fâ ṭir, 35:28]
Thus the Messenger of Allah ﷺ gave glad tidings to anyone who undertakes the task of seeking knowledge. Abû Hurayrah relates that the Prophet ﷺ said:
Allah will ease a way to Paradise for the one who embarks on the path of seeking knowledge. (Muslim)
If the Prophet ﷺ had uttered no other statement on the importance of knowledge but this one, it would have been enough for Muslims. Yet, the Prophet ﷺ did and said much more than this in regard to Muslims pursuing knowledge of the Religion: Here are eight such encouragements and exhortations of the Prophet ﷺ about the Muslim questing after religious knowledge.
- The Prophet ﷺ used to urge his Companions to seek knowledge. Ibn Masʿûd relates that the Prophet ﷺ said: Only two are worthy of being envied: One upon whom Allah bestows riches and grants him the power to spend it in a righteous cause; and one whom Allah endows with a wisdom by which he judges and by which he teaches. (Bukhâri and Muslim)
- He used to laud the Companions whenever they made a right judgment or correctly answered a question. Once the Prophet ﷺ asked the Companion ʿUbay ibn Kaʿb: “Do you know which verse in the Book of Allah is the greatest?” ʿUbay answered by reciting Âyat Al-Kursi (the Verse of the Throne, i.e., verse 255 of Sûrat Al-Baqarah: Allah! There is no God but Him, the All-Living, the Self-Subsisting [All-Sustaining One]. Slumber does not overtake Him, nor does sleep. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. Who is it that shall intercede with Him, except by His permission? He knows what lies before them and what lies behind them. And they do not comprehend anything of His knowledge —except that which He wills. His Seat [of Divinity] encompasses the heavens and the earth, and preserving them does not fatigue Him. For He is the Ever-Exalted, the Magnificent. Upon hearing this, the Prophet ﷺ said to him: Well done! Well done! Indeed, you are a learned man, O Abû Al-Mundhir!
- The Prophet ﷺ would ask Allah to grant his Companions the correct knowledge and understanding of His religion. Ibn ʿAbbâs narrates: Once the Prophet ﷺ hugged me and said: O Allah! Bestow on him [that is, Ibn ʿAbbâs] the knowledge of the Book (the Quran). (Bukhâri)
- He enjoined all of his Companions, and thus every Muslim who possesses some knowledge —even as little as one verse— to disseminate whatever they know to others. He said: Convey [what you learn from me], though it be but a single verse. (Bukhâri)
- He made special duʿa’ for those who learn his a ḥadîth and transmit them to others. Zayd ibn Thâbit narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said: May Allah brighten the face of the person who hears what I say, retains it, then conveys it to others; for sometimes the recipient of a word may have a better grasp of its meaning than the one who conveys it to him. (A ḥmad and Tirmidhî)
- The Prophet ﷺ assured all those who disseminate his teachings that they will get the same reward of any Muslim who acts upon that knowledge. Abû Hurayrah relates that the Prophet ﷺ said: One who calls another to righteousness will have a reward equal to the reward of the one who follows him with no diminishment in the reward of either of them. (Muslim)
- The Prophet ﷺ showed us the noble status of the learned ones from among Muslims. On the authority of Abû Umâmah, the Prophet ﷺ said: The rank of the learned is as far above the rank of an ordinary worshipper as I am above the least [worshipful] Muslim among you. The Prophet ﷺ then added: Allah, His angels, and all those in the heavens and in earth, even the ants in their holes and the fishes in water, pray for Allah’s blessings upon those who instruct people in beneficent knowledge. (Tirmidhi)
- Better still, the Prophet ﷺ declared that the ʿulamâ’ [the learned in religion] are his heirs. Abû Al-Dardâ’ g said that he heard the Prophet ﷺ saying: The ʿulamâ’ are the heirs of Allah’s prophets, and the prophets do not leave a legacy of dirham and dinar (acreage and dollar). Rather, they leave behind only knowledge. Thus he who is possessed of knowledge is, indeed, possessed of a great fortune. (Abû Dâwûd and Tirmidhî)
We take notice of these merits of learning and prophetic glad tidings to the learned, and the heart of the believer is provoked to ask: “Need I hear more to awaken my desire to acquire knowledge?” Behold the divine promise for attaining religious knowledge, O Muslim:
- It eases one’s way to Paradise
- It makes one an heir to our Prophet ﷺ
- It accords one a lofty rank of high and noble status with Allah
- It is a blessing for one from Allah
- It calls forth prayers in one’s behalf from the dwellers of heaven and earth
- It makes one’s face shine out with beauty on the Day of Judgment, a Day when the countenances of others shall be cast down and dimmed in darkness
Shall we not, then, make our intention now, anew, to embark on the road to Paradise? Shall we not begin our quest for knowledge of our Religion today, immediately?
To be continued, inshâ’Allah, in Part 2