The basis of acquiring knowledge is reading and studying. The first revelation of God’s Word to Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), the first command of his Prophethood, began with the command, “Read!” This announced a fundamental principle. Let us revisit these verses in Sura Alaq, the first verses of the Qur’an to be revealed:
(1) Read in and with the Name of your Lord, Who has created–
(2) created man from a clot clinging (to the wall of the womb)!
(3) Read, and your Lord is the All-Munificent,
(4) Who has taught (man) by the pen–
(5) taught man what he did not know! (96:1–5)
The first revelation begins with the command to read the miracle of creation through faith in God and knowledge of Him. Then it refers to the creation of human beings, encouraging con- templation on this miraculous occurrence in the second verse. It continues with another directive to “read,” and refers to “the pen,” “teaching/learning” (between God and people), “knowing” and “knowledge.” It is one of God’s great blessings that man, at first an insignificant being, was given knowledge that elevated hu- mankind to the highest level over all other creatures. Being taught not only knowledge, but also the use of the pen, humankind has thus been entrusted with the duty of spreading this knowledge far and wide, using it for development and progress, and preserving it for future generations. If it were not for the revelation of God and the blessings of abilities that are represented by “the pen” and “the book,” humanity could not have accomplished all the achieve- ments that have been constructed on the accumulated wisdom of centuries.
The basic state of humanity was unenlightened until God blessed us, allowing us to grow in knowledge. At every stage knowledge was given as a blessing and the doors of learning were opened by God. That which people thought they themselves had developed, in truth was given to them by their Creator without their realizing it. For this reason, everyone who has some knowl- edge should recognize the true Source of such blessings, praising and turning to the One Who granted them, and employing them in a manner that is pleasing to God. This will ensure that knowl- edge will never separate a person from God or cause them to for- get Him.
Any “knowledge” that distances a person from their Creator is divorced from its basic purpose. It can never be of benefit to peo- ple or make them happy, for it can produce only evil, depression, or destruction. As such knowledge has deviated from the Source of knowledge it has lost its direction and no longer leads to the Path of God. Therefore, it is crucial that someone who attains knowledge not forget, even for a moment, that the power and au- thority the knowledge has brought can be used for right or for wrong, and all persons will be responsible to the Originator of that knowledge for the way it is used.
“Knowledge is power,” or as the Qur’an says, “…whoever is granted the Wisdom has indeed been granted much good” (Baqara 2:269). In this verse, the word al-hikma—often translated as “the Wisdom”—means “beneficial knowledge.” Knowledge that is bene-
ficial to people will also elevate the status of the person who knows. The Qur’an also says that those who know God cannot be on the same level with those who do not: “Is he who worships God devoutly in the watches of the night prostrating and standing, who fears the Hereafter and hopes for the mercy of his Lord (to be likened to that other)? Say: ‘Are they ever equal, those who know and those who do not know?’ Only the people of discernment will reflect on (the distinction between knowledge and ignorance, and obedience to God and disobedience,) and be mindful” (Zumar 39:9). This last verse makes it clear that knowledge must
be used together with the ability to reason, drawing particular at- tention to the fact that any knowledge based on knowledge of God is true knowledge and beneficial to those who possess it. In fact, knowledge has a potentially destructive power in the hands of those who do not use their reason, merely acting in sheer ignorance of God. Beyond this basic adab of knowledge, let us now examine the further sayings of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be up- on him, on this topic.
At every opportunity, the Prophet drew attention to the im- portance of knowledge. One day he said to Abu Dharr, “O Abu Dharr, if you leave your home in the morning to go out to learn a verse of the Qur’an, this holds more blessings for you than per- forming a hundred rakats of supererogatory prayer. And if you leave your home in the morning to go out to acquire knowledge, this holds more benefit for you than performing a thousand rakats
of supererogatory prayer.”1 In another hadith God’s Messenger
said, “When God wills blessings for someone, He makes them knowledgeable in religion.”2
Moreover, keeping knowledge from people, unless one is forced to by circumstances, is not a desirable act. This was made clear by the Prophet, who said, “If someone is asked to share their knowledge but they hide it and do not speak, they will be bridled with a bridle of fire (on the Judgment Day).”3
The Prophet also made it known that spiritual knowledge, which puts a person on the right path and leads to righteousness, is more valuable than the greatest worldly treasures: “By God, it is better for you that God should give guidance to a single person on the right path through you than that you should acquire a whole herd of red camels.”4 At this time, red camels were very precious, and a person who owned such a camel was rich; extremely few people owned an entire herd of red camels. This comparison, therefore, clearly shows the value of knowledge that leads to good, and of leading others to good.
Yazid ibn Balama once asked, “O Messenger of God! I have memorized many of your sayings. But I am afraid that those I memorize later will make me forget those I memorized earlier. Tell me a word that will help me retain all the things I have learned without forgetting the others!” The Prophet replied, “Stay upright before God in what you have learned (and that is enough for you)!”5
One of the most esteemed Companions of the Prophet, Ibn Abbas, gave the following advice: “Tell people one hadith per week. If this does not seem enough, recount two or three. And never cause people to become bored with the Qur’an! When peo- ple are talking amongst themselves, never let me see you walk up and interrupt them to teach them something. When they are speaking, be quiet and listen. If they come to you and ask you to talk, then you should teach them on their request.”6
In addition to choosing the appropriate time, it is also impor- tant when teaching ethical principles or religious knowledge to choose a level that can be understood by one’s audience. Some people try to appear knowledgeable by using a style and manner which is not clear or understandable. This is wrong, as it goes against the proper manners of speaking to people in a way that makes sense to them. No less a person than Ali ibn Abu Talib said, “Tell people things they can understand. Do you want to be re- sponsible for making God and His Messenger misunderstood?”7 He meant that plain and clear speech should be used, especially when speaking of spiritual matters. Ibn Mas’ud also said, “If you say something to a gathering which is above their intellectual ca- pacity, it will certainly lead some of them into mischief.”8
Someone who lives an exemplary life and tries to please God by teaching other people and sharing knowledge is on the Path of God, and God is indeed pleased by such a person. Kathir ibn Qays explains, “I was in the Mosque at Damascus sitting beside Abu al- Darda. A man came and said, ‘O Abu al-Darda, I came from the Prophet’s city of Medina to ask about a hadith that I have heard you are relating.’ Abu al-Darda, in order to find out whether this was really the man’s intention, asked, ‘Could you also have come to do business (trade)?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘I did not come to do any such thing.’ He asked again, ‘So you did not come for any- thing else other than to hear a hadith?’ The man replied, ‘No, I came only because I heard that you know hadith.’ Only when he had established that the man had truly come to win God’s pleasure did Abu al-Darda say, ‘I heard the Prophet of God say, “God will make the path to Heaven easy to anyone who takes to the road looking for knowledge. Angels lower their wings over the seeker of knowledge, being pleased with what he does. All the creatures in the earth and sky, even the fish in the sea, pray for God’s help and forgiveness for those who acquire knowledge. The superiority of the scholar over the worshipper is like the superiority of the moon over the stars (i.e., in brightness). Scholars are the heirs to the Prophets. For the Prophets left neither dinar nor dirham (units of money) but knowledge as their inheritance. Therefore he who acquires knowledge has in fact acquired an abundant portion.”’”9
The following points can be deduced from the hadith:
- Any effort or endeavor that is expended on acquiring knowledge is counted as effort or struggle made on God’s way, and this leads a person to Paradise. To put it simply, the path of knowledge is the path to Heaven; what a beautiful path it is. The angels come to the aid of one who is on this path, and all creation offers prayers for them.
- The difference between the scholar and the follower is like the difference between the moon and stars, for knowledge is a light that illuminates a person’s whole surroundings and the community of the knowledgeable person. It shows the right path to everyone. However, a person who sim- ply follows, even if they perform a great deal of super- erogatory worship, does not benefit others in the same way. Their worship benefits only themselves. Those who choose knowledge, on the other hand, bring blessings down upon themselves and all those around them.
- Scholars are the heirs to the Prophets; the only thing the Prophets left as an inheritance was knowledge. When schol- ars choose the path of learning and the pursuit of knowl- edge, they win the honor of inheriting the legacy of the Prophets. One of the Prophet’s Companions, Abu Hurayra, was almost always at the Prophet’s side. He would listen to all the Prophet’s teachings, carefully memorizing his say- ings. One day in Medina, he spoke aloud to the people milling about on the street: “The Prophet’s inheritance is being divided up; why are you wasting time here? Go and claim your share!” The people said, “Where is it being dis- tributed?” Abu Hurayra said, “In the mosque.” So they ran to the mosque. But soon they turned around and came back, and Abu Hurayra asked, “What’s happened?” They said, “We went to the mosque, but we did not see anything like what you said being distributed.” So he asked, “Was there no one in the mosque?” They answered, “Yes, we saw
some people; some of them were praying salat, some were
reading the Qur’an, and some were talking about the per- missible and the prohibited.” Hearing this, Abu Hurayra told them, “Shame on you. That was the Prophet’s inheritance.”10
The Qur’an mentions the adab of sitting in the gatherings where a scholar or spiritual guide is teaching to increase one’s faith and knowledge:
O you who believe! When you are told, “Make room in the assemblies (for one another and for new comers),” do make room. God will make room for you (in His grace and Paradise). And when you are told, “Rise up (and leave the assembly),” then do rise up. God will raise (in degree) those of you who truly believe (and act accordingly), and in degrees those who have been granted the knowledge (especially of religious matters). Surely God is fully aware of all that you do. (Mujadila 58:11)
When knowledge, which leads one to greater piety and a bet- ter religious life, and allows others to benefit, is added to faith, God will exalt its owner by many ranks. God commanded the Prophet, “(O Muhammad,) Say, ‘O my Lord, increase me in knowl- edge!’” (TaHa 20:114).
In full submission to this Divine order, the Prophet prayed, “O God, make the knowledge You have taught me benefit me, and continue to teach me knowledge that will benefit me. Increase me in knowledge. God be praised at all times.”11 This prayer in which Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, asks God to make his knowledge beneficial to him is also complement- ed by another prayer in which he sought refuge in God from knowledge that would not prove beneficial.
Why do humans learn? Why should knowledgeable people be so highly regarded above all others? The answer to these questions can be found in the Qur’an: “Of all His servants, only those possessed
of true knowledge stand in awe of God…” (Fatir 35:28). So it can be
said that one reason for this is that scholars make it possible for others to know God better and to better understand the message of the Prophets of God.
God’s Messenger taught that it was worthwhile to envy two things. One of these is when someone takes the possessions God has bestowed on them and spends them in the way of God. The other is when someone blessed with knowledge and wisdom becomes a teacher and shares that wisdom with others.12 This means that when one acquires knowledge, one should then teach it to others; it is not wrong to “envy” (desire to be like) a person who does this.
The Prophet said the following regarding studying, literacy, education, making our knowledge a source of good for others, and educating others: “It is incumbent upon all Muslims to acquire knowledge.”13 As we can see, studying and learning are of critical importance in Islam. These hadith confirm the Prophet’s teaching,
“Knowledge and wisdom are the common property of every be- liever; wherever they are found, they should be acquired.”14
The technology we have today is without a doubt the product of knowledge. It is easy to understand, looking from the perspec- tive of the heights of knowledge, from the science and technology that have been achieved in the modern world, why Islam empha- sizes knowledge and education so strongly. Is it possible to ignore its importance when we are surrounded by all the useful fruits and products of intellectual inquiry? Certainly we must listen well to the teachings of Islam on this matter and show greater concern for educating the next generation if we are to solve some of the cur- rent harmful trends. Instead of leaving them material possessions, we should spend our money to make sure they receive opportuni- ties to become truly “rich” in knowledge. Ali ibn Abu Talib said, “Someone who has money will have to protect it, whereas a person who has knowledge will be protected by it. Knowledge is a king; possessions are captives. And when possessions are spent they di- minish, while knowledge increases when shared.”15 Highlighting the excellence of knowledge Prophet Muhammad, peace and bless- ings be upon him, said, “Be of those who teach or those who learn, those who listen, or those who love knowledge. If you are not in at least one of these groups, you are headed for destruction.”16
The adab of learning applies not only to those who are teach- ing and learning religious studies but all types of useful knowl- edge. Here we give some details for our younger brothers and sis- ters who are students, regarding the adab of learning to add to what has been quoted above:
- If at first you don’t succeed do not lose heart.
- Classes should be entered with a mind that is prepared and willing.
- Listen to a teacher with your spiritual ears.
- When you don’t understand something, always ask.
- Try to make friends with successful students and get tips from them.
- Always plan and organize your time.
- Always try to be the best.
- Don’t go on to something else until you have understood what you are working on.
- If what you are studying is practically applicable, learn it through application.
- Do not maintain ties with people who discourage you from learning or dislike your studying.
- Be respectful and humble towards your teachers.
Ali ibn Abu Talib said, “I would be the slave of anyone who teaches me one letter.” This saying expresses the great respect that is due to teachers. Throughout Islamic history, educational institutions have always remained free of association with governmental or political institutions, avoiding partiality in political debates, and thereby pro- tecting the dignity of knowledge, even when scholars were threat- ened with the worst kind of persecution. Teachers did not discrimi- nate between students according to race, class, or socioeconomic background, and tried their best to help all develop into good citi- zens. The Ottoman rulers did not deviate from this tradition and maintained respect for teachers. There is a famous story about Sultan Selim I, the ninth Ottoman sultan, and his teacher Ibn Kemal. When they were returning from victory at the Battle of Mercidabik in 1516 the teacher was traveling in front of the Sultan, and his horse splashed mud on the Sultan’s robes. The Sultan smiled and, saying that the mud was an ornament to his robes, ordered that they be saved—unwashed—and used to cover his coffin.
PROPER ATTITUDE TOWARDS SCHOLARS
Traditionally, out of respect, we avoid calling our parents by their first names; this kind of respect is also due to scholars as well.
Adab demands such respect to scholars, because it is they who are the heirs to the Prophets. Children should learn from our example to honor and esteem scholars, never to act in an improper or un- seemly manner in their presence, and to speak softly when they are in the room. At all times, scholars should be treated with courtesy and politeness.
Yahya ibn Muadh spoke of the value of scholars thus: “Scholars are more merciful to the family of believers than mothers and fa- thers are to their children.” When he was asked why he said this, he answered, “Mothers and fathers save their children from the physi- cal fire in this world, but scholars save them from the eternal fire in the Hereafter.”17 This is one of the reasons why scholars deserve re- spect from us.
A Prophetic saying, related by Ubada ibn al-Samit, states, “One who does not respect their elders, one who does not show sympa- thy and compassion for children, and one who does not know the value of scholars is not of us.”18 In another hadith the Prophet said, “A person who acquires knowledge merely so that they will be praised in front of scholars, or to argue with the ignorant, or to win the admiration of people is bound for Hell.”19
As for the proper behavior for children toward scholars, Ibn Abbas related an experience he had as a child with one of the Companions: “When God’s Messenger passed away, I asked a man from the Ansar, ‘Come, I want to go and learn from the Companions of the Prophet because there are many here now.’ The man replied, ‘I am surprised at you, Ibn Abbas! Do you imagine that anyone will be in need of you (i.e. your knowledge) while the Companions of God’s Messenger are still among us?’ Then he left. I went to the Companions alone and asked them some questions. When I learned that a particular hadith had been related by someone, I would go to that person’s house. If he were sleeping, I would use my cloak as a pillow and lie down in front of his door to wait; the wind would blow dust over me (while waiting there in patience). The man would come out and he would see me, usually addressing me, ‘O cousin of the Prophet! What is wrong, why are you lying here? If you had sent word to me, I would have come to you!’ (And in return) I would answer, ‘No, it is more appropriate that I come to you.’ I would then ask this Companion about the hadith. Later, one day when I was sur- rounded by people (and teaching them what I had learned), that same man from the Ansar came and saw that I was being asked questions. He said, ‘This youth is more intelligent than I.’”20
The following example is another good example of the prop- er behavior of the children of the Companions towards the schol- ars: Said ibn al-Musayyab used to pray two rakats of prayer and then sit down. The children of the Companions would gather around him, but no one would say anything or ask any questions until after he had recited a hadith for them. Then they would ask him questions.21
Hasan al-Basri likewise warned his son to practice adab with scholars, reminding him, “My child! When you sit with scholars, listen more than you speak. Just as you have learned to speak well, now learn to listen well. Until the scholar stops speaking—no mat- ter how long he may speak—do not interrupt him!”
Just as the adab of teaching and learning applies to students of all kinds of knowledge, not only religious knowledge, all teachers, no matter what their subject, should practice adab in their duties. The following are some guidelines for teachers:
- A teacher should be up to date on the latest information and developments in their field and always come to class well prepared.
- A teacher should explain the topic at a level the students will understand, thus not destroying their motivation by making them feel it is too difficult.
- A teacher should live an exemplary life which inspires re- spect in terms of their behavior, words, lifestyle, and mor- als. “Respect cannot be forced, it can only be given.” Teachers who constantly scold their students, demand re- spect from them, and try to force it instead of inspiring it are not only the least beloved teachers, they are also the least effective.
- A teacher should always strive to love teaching and to com- municate their knowledge in the best way possible.
- A teacher should approach students with the same compas- sion as a parent, not indulging hard workers, or belittling or putting down lazy students.
- Students’ faults should not be pointed out and listed in front of their friends in order to humiliate them; teaching requires tolerance and a forgiving nature.
- When necessary, a teacher should listen to students to share their problems, give them support, and assist them. At the same time, they should be careful not to become so famil- iar and casual with the students that they lower the digni- ty of the pursuit of knowledge.
- Grades should not be held over students’ heads as a threat and a teacher must be impartial in assigning grades.
- Teachers must avoid accepting expensive gifts, lavish dinner parties, or other such offers made by the families of stu- dents to safeguard the honor and integrity of their office.
Clear, concise rules are required for a child’s moral education, character and values to develop properly and to ensure academic success. If this foundation is laid both at home and in the student– teacher relationship, the classroom environment becomes more en- joyable and positive. For this reason the most essential rules will be listed here:
- Honesty: This is one of the most basic and critical corner- stones of communal life at any level. Lying, cheating, copying the work of others, stealing, or using things with- out permission must not be tolerated at school; indeed, they are unacceptable in every segment of society.
- Courtesy: This is the outer expression of basic respect for oneself and others. Therefore, students must be held re- sponsible for their choice of words or the tone of their voice. The same polite behavior and courtesy that they owe to their elders they also owe to their peers; that is, students need to be courteous to one another.
- Social relationships: Students need to be taught to avoid insulting or using vulgar terms of address or styles of com- munication with one another. They must not forget that it is bad behavior to belittle, ridicule, or taunt other stu- dents, or to form cliques. Students should be admonished and warned about such behavior on a regular basis so they will take it seriously, thus learning to be careful about how they joke or tease others.
- Personal care: This is an important mark of a person with excellent character. Children must learn to pay attention to personal cleanliness and bathe daily. As they grow, physical cleanliness becomes more and more important, and they should be aware of this. Hygiene is the most ef- fective way to stay healthy and avoid contagious illnesses (which are often rife in school environments). So students should remember to wash their hands with soap before and after meals and before and after using the restroom.
Gulcu, Dr. Musa Kazim. “Good Character” Tughra Books Press. February 2009.
- November 13, 2013
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