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Etiquettes for the Seeker of Sacred Knowledge

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.

On the Way to Attending Study Sessions

If you attend a study-session, behave only like someone who wishes to increase his knowledge and to win greater recompense from God. Do not behave like someone who is content with what he has, who is looking for some fault to criticise or a curious detail to hawk around. This would be the behaviour of vile men who never succeed in their studies.

If you come to it with good intentions, you will always obtain the best results. Otherwise, to stay at home would be less tiring for your body, more worthy of your moral conduct and more salutary for your religious life.

Extract from Al-Akhlâq wa’l-Siyar (Morals and Behaviour) By Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi