Knowledge and the morals of knowledgeable people

Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds! May the good end be for the pious! May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon His servant and Messenger, the best of His creation who was entrusted with His Revelation, our Prophet and Imam, Muhammad ibn `Abdullah, his family, Companions, and those who follow in his footsteps until the Day of Resurrection.

We have just heard the recitation of blessed Ayahs (Qur’anic verses) that imply admonitions and lessons. The Ayahs show that Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) creates and chooses whatever He wills. They tell clearly that Allah (Exalted be He) is the All-Knower of His Servants’ conditions, their hidden intentions, and exposed deeds. The Ayahs that have just been recited state that Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) is the Only One to be praised in this world and in the Hereafter, that our turning will be to Him, that He is the Only One Who manages the interests of His Servants day and night, and that all this is a manifestation of Allah’s Mercy (Glorified and Exalted be He).

Verily, we have thus to contemplate the meanings of the Glorious Qur’an. We have to do so in a way that reflects our real desire to attain beneficial knowledge and our true belief in the Qur’an; the True Word of Allah, revealed but not created, and that Allah (Exalted be He) initiated it and it will return to Him. It is of great importance that people of knowledge contemplate this Holy Book, i.e. the Qur’an and to pay their utmost attention to it while intending to know the Will of their Lord (Glorified and Exalted be He) and act upon it as Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) says:

(This is) a Book (the Qur’ân) which We have sent down to you, full of blessings, that they may ponder over its Verses, and that men of understanding may remember. [Surah Sad, 38:29]

and:

Do they not then think deeply in the Qur’ân, or are their hearts locked up (from understanding it)? [Surah Muhammad, 47:24]

People of knowledge have to give their full concern to the Qur’an while feeling Allah’s saying:

Verily, this Qur’ân guides to that which is most just and right [Surah Al-Isra’, 17:9]

and:

Say: “It is for those who believe, a guide and a healing.” [Surah Fussilat, 41:44]

My advice to you before I start my speech is thus to care for the Holy Qur’an by contemplating it, reciting it frequently, and acting upon it for it was revealed to be applied not just to be recited. May Allah grant us all success.

As for my speech today, it is, as has been presented, on: “Knowledge and the morals of knowledgeable people,” I hope it can be briefed.

Indeed, the virtues and merits of knowledge are well known to everyone. The noblest thing that one can ask for and the best thing a seeker can strive to attain is the Knowledge of Shari`ah (Islamic law). Knowledge consists of many branches, but according to Muslim scholars, the meaning of knowledge is the knowledge of the Shari`ah. This is the intended meaning of knowledge in the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger (peace be upon him). In the absolute sense, it is knowledge regarding Allah, His Names and Attributes, knowledge of His rights over His creation, and what He (Glorified and Exalted be He) has legislated for them.

It is the detailed knowledge of the path that leads to Allah; knowledge of the purpose of our creation; and the end which Allah’s Servants will result in, in the Hereafter.

The knowledge of the Shari`ah is the best of sciences worth acquiring because through it Allah is recognized and acknowledged, and by it He is worshiped. One who possesses this knowledge knows what Allah has made lawful and what He has prohibited; what pleases Him and what evokes His anger.

With this knowledge a person knows the end of this life. From amongst the people, are those who will enter Jannah (Paradise), and the rest (which are the majority) will result in a place of disgrace and humiliation. The people of knowledge have cautioned us about this and explained that knowledge is confined to this meaning. Amongst the scholars who indicated this is Al-Qady ibn Abu Al-`Izz, the commentator of `Aqidah Al-Tahawiyyah, at the beginning of his commentary. Others have also referred to it, such as Ibn Al-Qayyim, Shaykh-ul-Islam ibn Taymiyyah, and some other scholars.

It is very clear that the merits and virtues of knowledge vary, depending on the extent of one’s adherence to it. The greatest and most excellent knowledge is that which pertains to Allah, His Names, and His Attributes, and this knowledge is known as `Aqidah (creed). Indeed to Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) belongs the best example, which is the highest description in every aspect of His Essence, Names, Attributes and Actions.

Following this is that which is related to the rights of Allah over His creation and what He has prescribed upon them. Following this is what supports and bonds it in understanding such as knowledge of the principles of Arabic, Islamic terminology, Usul-ul-Fiqh (principles of Islamic jurisprudence),

Hadith Terminology and other sciences which are connected to this knowledge, which assist it in both understanding and precision.

The biography of the Prophet (peace be upon him), Islamic history, biography of the narrators of Hadith and of the scholars of Islam are also part of this knowledge.

Allah has honored and extolled the people who possess this knowledge and has raised their status high. He made them bear witness to His Oneness with sincere devotion. Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) says:

Allâh bears witness that Lâ ilâha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He), and the angels, and those having knowledge (also give this witness); (He always) maintains His creation in Justice. Lâ ilâha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He), the All-Mighty, the All-Wise. [Surah Aal-`Imran, 3:18]

The people of knowledge bear witness to His Oneness along with the angels. The angels (peace be upon them) and the people of knowledge, affirm Allah’s Oneness with sincere devotion toward Him, that He is the Lord of the worlds, the true deity worthy of worship and that worship of anyone besides Him is Batil (null and void). This affirmation in itself is a sufficient proof to show their high status due to the fact that Allah made them testify to His Oneness and the right for His worship. He (Glorified and Exalted be He) explained clearly that none is equal to them:

Say: “Are those who know equal to those who know not?” It is only men of understanding who will remember (i.e. get a lesson from Allâh’s Signs and Verses). [Surah Al-Zumar, 39:9]

Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) also says:

Shall he then who knows that what has been revealed unto you (O Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم) from your Lord is the truth be like him who is blind? But it is only the men of understanding that pay heed. [Surah Al-Ra`d, 13:19]

Therefore, the people of knowledge and the ignorant are not alike. The person, who knows that what Allah has revealed is the truth, guidance and a way to success, is not equal to one who has been blinded to this way and to this knowledge. There is an immense difference between the knowledgeable and the ignorant. It is the difference between one who knows the truth and obtains insight through its light and acts according to its guidance until he meets his Lord achieving success with nobility, and one who is blind to this way and follows his desires taking the path of Satan.

The two groups are not similar. Allah (Glorified be He) has clearly stated that He raises the ranks of the people of knowledge due to their effect upon the people and the great benefit that people draw from them. Thus, some of the people of knowledge have said, “What is more beneficial than their effect upon the people! What is more harmful than the people’s effect upon them!”

Their beneficial effects direct the people toward righteousness, guide them to the truth, and show them guidance. Allah thanks them and the believers thank them for their meritorious actions. At the head of all the scholars are the prophets (peace be upon them) for they are the guides. Next to the prophets are the Du`ah (callers to Islam) for they are the most knowledgeable and learned of people – after the prophets – with regards to Allah and His Shari`ah. They are the best followers in the messengers’ footsteps and are well acquainted with that which the Messengers were sent with (i.e., the revelation). They are the best to invite people to Islam in the best way, with patience.

Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) says:

Allâh will exalt in degree those of you who believe, and those who have been granted knowledge. [Surah Al-Mujadalah, 58:11]

and:

And that was Our Proof which We gave Ibrâhîm (Abraham) against his people. We raise whom We will in degrees. [Surah Al-An`am, 6:83]

Moreover, Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) explained that the people of knowledge fear Him as He ought to be feared, although all the believers, generally speaking, fear Allah. But the true and complete fear of Allah is present only among the scholars, at the head of them being the Messengers (peace be upon him):

It is only those who have knowledge among His slaves that fear Allâh. [Surah Fatir, 35:28]

That is, complete and perfect fear.

The scholars are those who have the knowledge of Allah, His Names, His Attributes and His Shari`ah (Islamic law), which He sent the Messengers with. Hence, when some people expressed how huge the burden of acquiring Islamic knowledge is to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) by saying:

Indeed I am the one who fears Allah the most amongst you, and the most pious of you…

The scholars are the most fearful of Allah among mankind due to their knowledge of Allah, His Din (religion) of Islam, His Names and His Attributes. They are the most eager among men for the Truth depending on the extent of their knowledge of Allah. Further above them and the most perfect are the Messengers, as they fear Allah the most. There are many Hadiths showing the virtues and merits of knowledge.

To give some examples, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

Whoever follows a path to seek knowledge, Allah will make the path to Jannah (Paradise) easy for them. (Related by Muslim in his Sahih (authentic) Book of Hadith,may Allah be merciful with him).

This shows us the great excellence of the seekers of knowledge. For whoever sets right his intention in seeking knowledge and desires only Allah’s pleasure, is on a road to salvation and happiness. Knowledge should be sought for the right objectives and for its implementation not for the sake of Riya’ (showing-off ), gaining reputation, or for the sake of anything else; rather, a person learns it to be acquainted with his Din, to have insight into what Allah has made incumbent upon them, to strive to bring the people out of darkness and into the light, so they seek knowledge, act upon it and teach others the good objectives that Muslims are ordered to take care of. Every path -whether literally or not- that he takes in search of knowledge is a way to Jannah. The journey from a country to another; and going from a Halaqah (learning circle) to another; and from a Masjid (Mosque) to another for the sole intention of seeking knowledge. These are from the ways of acquiring knowledge, likewise reading and studying Islamic books are also ways of seeking knowledge.

A seeker of knowledge is concerned with all these paths that lead to knowledge. He seeks it, desiring the pleasure of His Lord (Glorified and Exalted be He). He wants to seek Allah’s pleasure and the Hereafter; he wants to understand and reflect upon His Din; he wants to know what Allah has made incumbent upon him and what He has prohibited him from; he wants to know his Lord with deep insight, then act accordingly; he wants to rescue people; he wants to be amongst the callers striving for the Truth; and he wants to guide people to Allah through knowledge. So wherever he turns he is in great excellence while having these good intentions – even his sleep is a path to Jannah – if he sleeps in order to strengthen himself to seek knowledge, or to study or memorize, then his sleep is regarded as worship, contrary to a person who has an evil intention, for he is in great danger. It was authentically reported that the Messenger (peace be upon him) said:

Whoever acquires (religious) knowledge, which is (normally) acquired to gain the Pleasure of Allah, (for the sole reason) to secure worldly comforts will not even smell the fragrance of Jannah on the Day of Resurrection (i.e., will not enter Paradise). (Related by Abu Dawud, may Allah be merciful with him, with a good Sanad (chain of narrators)).

This is a great threat for a person who has an evil intention. It is reported that the Messenger (peace be upon him) said:

Whoever acquires knowledge in order to compete with the scholars or dispute with the ignorant or attract the attention of people to him will enter Hellfire.

Knowledge is acquired by studying, then implementing it for Allah’s sake because He has ordered it and made it a means by which the Truth is manifested. It is reported in a Sahih Hadith:

Three types of people will be admitted to the Hellfire first. Amongst them: The one who seeks knowledge or recites Qur’an not for the sake of Allah, but in order for it to be said: He is a scholar or he is a good reciter of the Qur’an.

There is neither might nor power except with Allah!

O Servant of Allah! Dear seeker of knowledge! You must be sincere in your worship, intending it solely for Allah. You must be keen in seeking knowledge with perseverance, then act upon that which knowledge necessitates, since what is required is to act upon, not that you become a scholar or achieve a high class degree. Indeed the main purpose of seeking knowledge is that you act accordingly, guide people to do good, consequently becoming the successors to the Messengers (peace be upon them) in calling people to the Truth. It is authentically reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

If Allah wants to do good to a person, He makes them comprehend Din (religion). (Agreed upon by Imams Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

This shows the merits of knowledge. Among the signs of goodness, happiness, and success, are that if Allah wants to do good to His Servant He makes him understand the Din so that he can distinguish Truth from falsehood, and guidance from deviation, in order to recognize his Lord by His Names, Attributes and His great rights, so that he knows the recompense of the Awliya’ (pious people) and the enemies of Allah.

The reward of the Awliya’ is Jannah, near to their Lord, looking at His Face in the Abode of Honor (Jannah).

On the other hand, the destination of the enemies of Allah is in a place of torture, punishment, humiliation screened from seeing Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He).

Thus, we come to know the excellence of knowledge and that it is the best and most noble thing for anyone who seeks knowledge with a good intention. Through knowledge, a person comes to know the best and greatest obligation which is to worship Allah alone with sincere devotion. This knowledge makes him aware of what Allah has made incumbent upon His Servants, which is a great obligation. There is no happiness nor salvation for a Servant of Allah except through Him, then through knowing, holding fast, and firmly adhering to these obligations.

The scholars who disseminate knowledge are the chosen people and the best of people on earth. At the head of them are the Messengers and the Prophets (peace be upon them). They are the prime example to be followed, the foundation of Da`wah (calling to Islam), knowledge and excellence. After them are the people of knowledge at different levels: the person who is most knowledgeable with regards to Allah, His Names, His Attributes and most perfect in his deeds and Da`wah, is the closest of people to the Messengers with respect to their status and position in Jannah. The people of knowledge are the leaders of this world; they are its light; they have been preferred above everyone else, they direct people to the way of happiness, they guide them to the means of salvation, they lead them to that which pleases Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) and to His Mercy and keeps them far from that which evokes His Anger and Punishment.

Scholars are the heirs of the Prophets; Imams of the people after the prophets; they guide and direct the people to Allah and teach them His Din; and they have noble manners and praiseworthy attributes. They are the scholars of the Truth; scholars of guidance and successors to the prophets; they fear Allah much and are constantly observing their actions, and pay great importance to what He orders and forbids. These are their great characteristics because they have trodden the path of the prophets, followed their way in calling to Allah, with deep insight, in warning people against the means that cause His Anger, and in striving toward the good sayings or actions and abandoning the evil sayings or actions which they are aware of. Next to the prophets, they are the example and the model to be imitated in their great characteristics, praiseworthy attributes, and excellent deeds. They teach others and act accordingly and guide their students to the noblest manners and to the right path.

As previously mentioned the knowledge of Shari`ah is the knowledge of the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger (peace be upon him) and all that facilitates its understanding. It is obligatory upon the people of knowledge to adhere to this great principle, call people to it, and direct their students to it. Their objective should always be the knowledge legislated by Allah and His Messenger and acting accordingly, directing and guiding people to it. Divisions and disputes are not permissible, nor to invite people to join a group or party or to take the opinion of someone. Rather, it is obligatory that the Da`wah is to be to Allah and His Messenger; to the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger; and not to the ideology or call of someone; nor to a certain person’s group or the opinion of another. It is obligatory upon Muslims to follow the same way and have one goal – and that is to adhere to the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger (peace be upon him).

As for the differences of opinions between the people of knowledge with regard to the Four Madh-habs (jurisprudential schools), i.e. Hanafy, Maliky, Shafi`y, and Hanbaly, it is obligatory to adopt the opinion which is the closest to what Allah and His Messenger legislated in the Qur’an or the Hadith or to that which the principles of Shari`ah acknowledge.

This is the way of the Imams as it was the way of the Sahabah (Companions of the Prophet, may Allah be pleased with them and please them) who were the Imams after the Messenger (peace be upon him). They were the most knowledgeable people with regard to Allah. They were the best, the most knowledgeable, and well-mannered among people.

They held different opinions with regard to some issues, but still their Da`wah and their way was the same; calling to the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of the Messenger (peace be upon him). Likewise, the Tabi`un (Followers, the generation after the Companions of the Prophet) and their successors, such as Imam Malik, Abu Hanifah, Al-Shafi`y, Ahmad, and other guiding Imams such as Al-Awza`y, Al-Thawry, Ibn `Uyaynah, Ishaq ibn Rahwayh, etc. Their Da`wah was the same: calling to the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger (peace be upon him), they forbade their students from imitating them by saying, “Resort to the main legal sources upon which we depend,” i.e., the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

Whoever is ignorant of the Truth, they have to ask the people of knowledge who are recognized with virtue, sound belief, and good reputation. They have to respect the scholars, acknowledge their superiority and ask Allah to grant them success and great reward as they have preceded them in great blessing. They (may Allah be merciful with them) guided, and clarified the way. The Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the prominent scholars who followed them have preceded with their knowledge and Da`wah to Allah. Everyone has to realize their status and merit and overlook their mistakes, take them as an example in seeking knowledge and in calling to Allah, giving priority to the sayings of Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) over those of others, being patient upon this, and running toward righteous actions. Every Muslim has to follow the Companions and their followers in all these aspects and overlook their mistakes. However, it is not permissible to cling stubbornly and fanatically to one of them. Nor to say that someone is absolutely correct. Rather, a person has to believe that everyone at times errs and at times hits the right. What is correct is that which is in conformity to the sayings of Allah, His Messenger (peace be upon him), and Ijma` (consensus of scholars). If the scholars hold different opinions, it is compulsory to refer to Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him). Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) says:

(And) if you differ in anything amongst yourselves, refer it to Allâh and His Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) [Surah Al-Nisa’, 4:59]

and:

And in whatsoever you differ, the decision thereof is with Allâh (He is the ruling Judge). [Surah Al-Shura, 42:10]

This is what both early and recent scholars have stated.

It is not permissible to cling fanatically to the opinion of a certain person, likewise it is forbidden to stubbornly attach oneself to one group or party. These are all from the recent mistakes which many people commit.

It is essential that the goal of the Muslims is one and that is to follow the Qur’an and Sunnah in all instances: in adversity and prosperity, at times of hardship and ease, and when travelling or not. When the people of knowledge hold different opinions, then a person has to adopt the view which is rightly proven without being prejudiced against anyone.

As for common people, they have to ask people of knowledge and follow among them the closest to truth and uprightness. They have to ask their scholars about Allah’s Din, then the latter are to teach them and guide them to the truth according to Qur’an, Sunnah, and Ijma`.

A scholar is distinguished by his perseverance, his Taqwa (fearing Allah as He should be feared), and striving to what Allah has made obligatory and keeping away from what Allah and His Messenger have forbidden.

These are the characteristics of a scholar, whether they are teachers, judges, Du`ah (callers to Islam), etc. They have to be examples and models in righteousness; act upon their knowledge; fear Allah wherever they may be; and guide people to goodness. Scholars have to be good examples for their students, family members, neighbors and others who know him. This is because people take scholars along with their sayings and actions – which are in accordance with the Din of Allah – as an example.

Knowledge seekers warn against leniency in regard to Allah’s Obligations. Seekers of knowledge have to beware of being careless of what Allah has made obligatory and from falling into things that Allah has forbidden – for others will imitate them. Likewise seekers of knowledge have to not be neglectful of the Sunnah and to have not to commit Makruh (reprehensible) things. It is important that they care for reviving the Sunnah, even though a particular act may not be compulsory, in order to encourage the people to follow it, and that they be examples for them. Seekers of knowledge have to stay away from the prohibited things and the doubtful matters so that people do not imitate them.

Seekers of knowledge are of great significance whereas the people of knowledge are the select amongst the creation. Upon them are obligations and responsibilities over and above everyone else. The Messenger (peace be upon him) said:

Every one of you is a guardian and is responsible for their charges.

People of knowledge are guardians and guides. They have to show concern for society as it is their charge. It is obligatory on them to carry out such responsibility and fulfill the rights of Allah in this regard. They have to guide people to the way of salvation and warn them against ways of destruction. They have to implant in people’s hearts the love for Allah and His Messenger, being firm on following His Din, yearn for Jannah and His Mercy, and avoid Hellfire for it is an evil abode. Verily, it is obligatory to warn against Hellfire and Scholars and seekers of knowledge are more entitled to such an obligation. They strive to please Allah, refrain from disobeying Him, and call upon Him. They do not exceed the boundaries, but take the middle way. They abstain from those things, which Allah forbids and dislikes, so that Muslims may imitate them and be influenced by them wherever they are. I ask Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) by His Most Beautiful Names and Supreme Attributes to guide us all to all that pleases Him, to purify our hearts and actions, to make us rightly guided, righteous, and from amongst the reformers. I ask Him to make His Din victorious, and to make His Word prevail. I ask Him to grant success to Muslim leaders, to guide their retinue, and to bless them to rule by Allah’s Shar` (Law) and discard every thing that contradicts it.

As for other sciences, they have their own significance and importance, like mining, agriculture, farming, and other beneficial industries. It is a collective obligation to learn some of these industries depending upon the requirements of Muslims. Rulers have to order and help people learn what they need for their welfare, and to prepare them against their enemies. The actions of the Servant of Allah will be regarded as `Ibadah (worship) whenever their intention is good. If they do an action without an intention, then it is permissible. I mean the different kinds of permissible industries, i.e., mining, agriculture, farming, etc.

All of these sciences are required, along with good intentions; which render them kinds of `Ibadah. Sometimes looking after the foregoing sciences/industries may be regarded as collective obligation if necessity dictates. It is compulsory on the rulers to appoint the necessary people to learn such knowledge. The importance of doing so depends upon the situation, which differs according to intention and necessity.

As for acquiring knowledge of Shari`ah, this is obligatory. Since Allah created Jinn and mankind to worship and fear Him, this is only to be achieved through Islamic knowledge, i.e. knowledge of Qur’an and Sunnah; as mentioned above.

It is a duty of seekers of knowledge to understand and study Din, to learn and reflect upon what Allah prescribes, to know the `Aqidah (creed) of the Salafiyyah (those following the way of the righteous predecessors) which the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), his Companions, and their followers adopted in righteousness. Such `Aqidah is to believe in Allah, His Messengers, His Names and His Attributes in a manner that suits Allah’s Majesty without Tahrif (distortion of the meaning), Ta`til (denial of Allah’s Attributes), Takyif (questioning Allah’s Attributes), or Tamthil (likening Allah’s Attributes to those of His Creation).

This was the approach and the way of the people of knowledge, as it was the approach of the Messengers (peace be upon them), their Companions, and their successors who followed them in righteousness.

I ask Allah to grant you success; to guide them to all that pleases him; and to make you return to your countries while attaining highest degrees of success, piety, knowledge, and Iman (Faith/belief). May Allah make you reasons for guiding people, and setting aright Muslims’ conditions. Verily, Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) is capable of doing all things. May peace and blessings be upon Servant and Messenger our Prophet Muhammad, his family, Companions, and all those who follow them in righteousness.

[Fataawaa Ibn Baaz, 23/296-313]

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