Category Archives: ‘Ilmiyyah

Etiquettes for the Seeker of Sacred Knowledge

Etiquettes for the Seeker of Sacred Knowledge and the Snare of Shaytan
Shaykh Nazim Mangera,

For a long time I have wanted to discuss some etiquettes about reading Islamic literature and listening to speeches delivered by scholars. We should read and listen with the intention of benefiting from their writings and their speeches. Whatever our intention is, that is what we will get from it. If we read and listen with the intention of increasing our knowledge and trying to act upon it, Insha Allah that is what we will gain. If we read and listen with the intention of criticizing and taking out mistakes and finding faults, then we will find mistakes and faults and that is the only thing we will get from it. It’s very easy to criticize destructively and it is often said that it’s easier to haul down than to build.

Scholars elaborate this by citing the following example: Two types of animals are set free in a garden; one is a bird and the other is a swine. The bird will look for clean and pure sustenance, whereas the swine will look for filth and dirt. Whatever intention they have, they will get. So the bird enters the garden and finds clean and pure sustenance and the swine/pig enters the garden and searches for filth and garbage and dirt and finds it because no garden is filth free. They both got what they wanted.

Another point the scholars make is that we should read and listen with the desire and urge to increase our knowledge and act upon it and propagate it to others. If we have no desire to increase but rather we think we know everything, then we will hardly benefit from their writings and speeches and eventually we will only be harming ourselves.

The following example is cited:
If an empty glass is put under a tap, and the mouth of the glass is facing down, then it does not matter how fast the water is coming out, the glass will never get full for obvious reasons. But if that same glass is facing the correct way and the mouth of the glass is facing up, then it does not matter if the force of the water is low, but a time will come that the glass will be full of water.

If we have the intention of benefiting, then we will benefit tremendously. And if we have the intention of finding faults and mistakes, then we will find them. For sure, there will be times when there will be grammatical mistakes in the writings. There will be mistakes of wrong word usage. But is that a good reason to get happy over the mistake? That is nothing but the Shaytan’s method of preventing you from benefiting from a scholar’s advice. Being happy over a person’s mistake is either a sign of pride or jealousy- two of the most devastating sins of the soul. If we get happy at a mistake of another, it is a sign of a spiritual sickness. There will be times when your writings will be better than a scholar’s writings; there will be times when you will speak better than the scholar. But that gives us no reason to be put off by the scholar’s advice.

There could be many reasons why your writings or your method of speaking could be better than a scholar’s writing. One reason is usually in the Madrassah’s run by Asian scholars, very little attention is paid to the English language. The majority of our lectures were either in Urdu or Arabic. That trend is slowly changing though. Another reason could be that the scholar does not spend much time in English speaking countries. Now when the scholar will speak, there might be a stutter or an accent or the pace will be slow. But that should never be a reason to ignore the scholar’s advice. It is the content of the speech which really matters. Just because a person is an eloquent speaker does not mean that the content of the speech is correct as well. Being eloquent is one thing, and being correct is a completely different matter.

Another point I wish to clarify is that after reading an article or listening to a speech, some things might not be clear to us or go against our prior view on the matter. In this case, in a polite manner, ask the scholar that this is what I understood from your speech but I thought it was supposed to be like this. Am I correct in my understanding or not? I’m sure the scholar will not mind if we have any questions on the topic. Never hesitate to ask questions because two types of people never increase in their knowledge: A proud person and a shy person.

Also, if we think that the scholar has made a mistake somewhere, then bring up the point with the scholar in a polite manner and discuss it. We all are prone to mistakes. Only Allah is free of all blemishes and faults.

Etiquettes of seeking ‘ilm

Source: Madrassah Al Zahra Publication – Al ‘Ilmun Nafi’

Before one sets out to seek knowledge we must bear in mind there are etiquettes for seeking knowledge. Only when one attains knowledge according to them, will the knowledge gained be beneficial. If we have no respect for the knowledge that we gain, that knowledge will merely remain information. Knowledge can only be beneficial for us if we gain it according to the following guidelines:

  1. Be patient – To gain ‘ilm is not easy and a lot of hard effort and sacrifice is required. For this reason it is very important that one remains patient.
  2. Pure intention – Before the commencement of an act one must ensure that an analysis of one’s intention is undertaken. The conclusion of this analysis should be that one is performing this action to gain the pleasure of Allah Almighty and not for show. If the latter is the case, then one needs to rectify one’s intention in order to gain beneficial knowledge.
  3. Act upon the knowledge one gains – It is important that one acts upon what they know; only then is the knowledge that one has attained beneficial. By not acting upon what one knows, disrespect is being shown to the knowledge that has been obtained.
  4. Bear in mind Allah سبحانه و تعالى is Watching – It is important that one keeps this in mind at all times as only then will one think twice before commiting a wrong deed. By continuously remebering Allah سبحانه و تعالى, a person will always make Du’aa and obtain closeness to Allah سبحانه و تعالى. Insha’Allah, any difficulties in attaining ‘ilm will then be removed.
  5. Utilise Time to the Best of One’s Ability – Knowledge does not come with ease. Therefore, it is vital that one uses their time well. When given the oppurtunity to obtain knowledge, one should not reject it as one does not know when they shall taste death. One must understand the struggle our pious Predecessors went through to gain ‘ilm and so one must not take for granted that which is so easily accessible today.
  6. To be very cautious – When beginning to attain knowledge one should not spend too much time argueing with others on topics and getting ones self confused. Rather one should spend maximum amount of time trying to fully undestand individual topics in order to become fully competent in these topics.
  7. To be precise and certain – It is good to memorise certain things. Before committing anything to memory one should ensure what is being learnt is correct by clarifying with ones teacher. Then one should memorise and go over what has been taught to ensure nothing is forgotton.
  8. Studying a variety of books – When one is confident in quite a few fields then one should study a variety of books on one topic to increase ones knowledge in a variety of ways on that particular topic.
  9. Good company – Pious company and friends should be kept so that one can attain their good qualites. It is also good to keep company with those who have a great zeal for knowledge instead of those who do not. This is so that one can never be put off wanting to learn more. The ‘Ulama state, that in order to gain good habits and to acquire beneficial knowledge, it is vital to stay in the presence of good and pious people. If one is not able to be in the company of the pious, then one should read the books written by these pious people.
  10. Respect and have good conduct with the teacher – One should ensure that respect is always shown towards the teacher. One cannot gain all knowledge from books without the guidance of a good teacher.

Etiquettes of Students

If you are a student, then you should observe the praiseworthy rules of a student’s dealing with a learned man. These rules are:

  1. to greet the learned man first
  2. to speak little in his presence
  3. not to speak much so long as his teacher does not ask him anything
  4. not to ask him questions before receiving his permission
  5. not to say, by the way of objection to his words, “So-and-so said contrary to what you have said.”
  6. not to argue against his opinion in such a way as to show that he knows the truth than his teacher
  7. not to argue against his companions in his meetings
  8. not to look around but to sit with downcast eyes, quietly and courteously as if he were engaged in ritual prayer
  9. not to speak to him much when he is tired
  10. to stand up in order to show respect for him when he stands
  11. not to follow him speaking and questioning and asking him questions along the street until reaches home
  12. not to imagine evil of him in regard to those of his actions which appear abominable. The teacher knows better concerning his secret affairs
  13. When some actions of the teacher appear abominable, the student should recollect the complaint made by the prophet Moses to Al-Khidr (may peace be on them both):
    “Have you made a hole in the boat to drown the people in it? You have indeed, done a strange thing”(Qur�an 18:71)
    In fact Prophet Moses was wrong in his complaint, which he made relying upon the outward appearance (of what al- Khidr did).

From The beginning of Guidance (bidayat al-hidaya) p. 77 from Imam Ghazali translated by Mashhad Al-Allaf