I have been in hard worship for 30 years, but I didnt find anything more difficult than being practical about ones knowledge.
Hazrat Abu Yazid Bustami
Etiquettes for the Seeker of Sacred Knowledge and the Snare of Shaytan
Shaykh Nazim Mangera, sunniforum.com
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.
Today’s message is to the students, whether in school, college or university. You are in a tough situation, but thank Allah that you have parents who can buy you the things you need for school. Everything is given to you so you can learn and graduate and get a job and teach your children the way you were taught. Renew your intentions that you are studying for the sake of Allah. Allah says time and time again how important knowledge is in Islam. So concentrate seriously to succeed. Even when you come out of your house you should have the intention that you are going to gain knowledge. So that if you die before reaching school, you have died for the sake of Allah. There are hadiths that say when you go to school with the intention to learn for the sake of Allah, Allah will make the path easy for you and the angels will be with you.
Don’t listen to those who want you to fail. Look at them during the exams, they will either be cheating or staring at the page. Don’t be like those who go to school everyday but don’t learn anything. Even when cheating, a person is writing blindly without understanding anything. They haven’t gained a thing! The Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him) said, whoever has cheated is not from us. Imagine that! Work hard! Don’t just study for the sake of it; I want you to be from the top students!
Respect your teachers. It is seen as “cool” to be rude to your teachers. But the Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him) said those who disrespect those who teach us are not from us. We have to respect those who are passing knowledge onto us. They are giving you knowledge, so you have to respect them, not be rude to them , or make them go crazy. Imagine if you became a teacher after that? Would you like to someone to do that to you? Respect people so they can respect you.
You have to respect your school. Don’t vandalise it, why do you not keep the school in good condition for those who will come after you? Imagine if someone came to your house and started writing things on your table, would you like that? So don’t do the same at school. The Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him) said, don’t damage things or harm people.
Go to school early. If you are late as a student, when you get a job what will you do? You have to respect appointments. Prepare your things the night before. Be organised. Don’t throw everything on your mother. When you come home from school, put your bag in your study area. Be organised, so that you can find everything. When you take off your clothes, hang your clothes in the wardrobe. Don’t leave everything to your mother. Be organised so that you can be an organised person. Organisation means you won’t waste your time looking for things.
Don’t rely on your private tutor. Concentrate with your teacher at school. Don’t be quick to say to your father that you want a private tutor because you don’t concentrate at school. If you depended on yourself and concentrated at school, you won’t need to spend unnecessary money on a private tutor! Then you will get used to being lazy, because you need someone to teach you.
Try to be presentable. Brush your hair, brush your teeth, cut your nails. Keep your clothes neat and clean. The Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him) said, Allah loves beauty.
Make sure your speech is respectable. When you wake up, greet your mother nicely, kiss her hand. Then go to your father and greet him. You should have an Islamic personality. Help with the house chores, so you can be a positive person at home, even if you have a maid! So you can help your mother and be an active person at home.
Try to be an active student. Join groups at university or school. Join the Muslim association, poetry club or the sports club. Have interests and hobbies and develop them. Don’t be inactive, as this is not from Islam at all! Create awareness about current affairs in the school newspaper or magazine.
Choose your friends carefully. You will be going to their houses when you want to study together and they will be coming to your house. So if they have good manners, they will respect your house and the people in it, they will be decent because they have good manners, and so will you. So look at your friends and be careful that they are not of the wrong type. A good friend will want you to succeed and not do anything that will harm you. He won’t encourage you to smoke or drink or go out with girls. Give these guys advice to help them to do good and guide them to be better people. Allah will make you a person that will enlighten others if you have the right intention.
May Allah help our dear students and protect them from evil, ameen.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
If you are a student, then you should observe the praiseworthy rules of a student’s dealing with a learned man. These rules are:
- to greet the learned man first
- to speak little in his presence
- not to speak much so long as his teacher does not ask him anything
- not to ask him questions before receiving his permission
- not to say, by the way of objection to his words, “So-and-so said contrary to what you have said.”
- not to argue against his opinion in such a way as to show that he knows the truth than his teacher
- not to argue against his companions in his meetings
- not to look around but to sit with downcast eyes, quietly and courteously as if he were engaged in ritual prayer
- not to speak to him much when he is tired
- to stand up in order to show respect for him when he stands
- not to follow him speaking and questioning and asking him questions along the street until reaches home
- not to imagine evil of him in regard to those of his actions which appear abominable. The teacher knows better concerning his secret affairs
- 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