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The Knowledge of Islaam that is Obligatory to Acquire

The knowledge of Islaam that is obligatory to acquire

All praise is due to Allaah who elevated the status held by knowledge of Islaam, and raised those who acquire it many ranks over others. May Allaah grant His commendation and protection to His Prophet Muhammad, as well as to all of the Prophet’s family and Companions.

Among the signs that Allaah wants good for a servant of His is that He grants that person knowledge of Islaam. Mu‘aawiyah ibn Abee Sufyaan (may Allaah be pleased with him) narrated that he heard the Prophet (may Allaah mention him with commendation and grant him protection) say, “If Allaah wants good for someone, He grants that person understanding of the religion.”{1}

A Muslim must realize that Allaah (the Almighty and Most Majestic) made certain acts of worship obligatory to perform in order for His servants to draw nearer to Him. Those acts are to be performed in accordance with the directives that Allaah prescribed, not whichever way a person himself wishes. Therefore, a Muslim must acquire knowledge in order to understand how he can fulfil his obligation to correctly worship Allaah (the Almighty and Most Majestic). When an individual learns what is required to ensure the soundness of his beliefs, acts of worship, and dealings with others; and then worships Allaah (the Almighty and Most Majestic) with clear insight, understanding, and knowledge, such a person is certainly among those whom Allaah (the Most Generous) wants good for since Allaah did not leave him in a state of ignorance. No Muslim who comprehends Allaah’s directives should ever allow anything to preoccupy him from acquiring understanding of what he is responsible for as it relates to his religion and hereafter. Otherwise, he would jeopardize all matters of his life, and he would not be excused for his ignorance about how to properly worship Allaah (the Almighty and Most Majestic). This is why it is obligatory for every Muslim to seek knowledge. The Prophet (may Allaah mention him with commendation and grant him protection) said, “Seeking knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim.”{2}

Someone may ask: Knowledge is quite vast and not every single person is able to acquire it all, so how could it be obligatory for every Muslim to seek it?

Such a person should be told: There are various types of knowledge. One type is the knowledge a Muslim is not excused for remaining ignorant about at any time or under any circumstances, so long as he is mature and of sound mind. This knowledge includes: knowledge about Allaah (the Almighty and Most Majestic), His attributes which establish his uniqueness, and how to sincerely devote all worship to Him; knowledge about one’s enemy: Iblees; knowledge about one’s soul which urges him to do wrong; knowledge about how to purify oneself and establish prayers; and knowledge about the foundations upon which Islaam is built. A Muslim is not excused for being ignorant about any of that. If the month of Ramadaan is near, a Muslim must learn how to fast. If Hajj becomes obligatory for him, he must learn how to perform Hajj. If he wishes to participate in Jihaad [struggling in Allaah’s path], he must learn all the pertinent rulings of Jihaad which are obligatory for him to comply with, and he is not excused for participating in Jihaad while lacking such knowledge. In addition, if he engages in trade but does not know which types of earnings are permissible and which are not, it is obligatory for him to learn those things. The same can be said for any obligation he wishes to fulfil or anything permissible he wishes to engage in: he should not embark upon any of those things until he acquires the knowledge which pertains to it. Therefore, it is obligatory for every Muslim to seek knowledge as explained in what preceded, and this also applies to other similar situations whether related to matters of this world or the hereafter. A Muslim must never stop seeking the knowledge that enlightens him about anything he may be ignorant of regarding acts of worship which Allaah (the Almighty and Most Majestic) has made obligatory for him as it relates to himself, his family, his children, and all facets of his life. Seeking knowledge is imperative for him and he must endeavour to go to the scholars of Islaam who have that knowledge, even if it entails tiring himself, spending his wealth, and being separated from his homeland. That is what he must do if there is no other way for him to acquire the knowledge he needs.

Someone may ask: What knowledge of Islaam is a person excused for being ignorant about?

Such a person should be told: It is somewhat crude to ask that question because no discerning individual would find it acceptable for himself to be ignorant of any knowledge that increases his rank with Allaah (the Almighty and Most Majestic) and with people known for the keenness of their insight. Rather, the discerning individual occupies himself with what is obligatory for him: knowing how to properly worship Allaah (the Almighty and Most Majestic) by way of the duties that He prescribed. Then, after acquiring that knowledge, the individual continues to pursue all other knowledge that benefits him.

It may happen that a person finds difficulty in acquiring the knowledge of Islaam he is required to have, but he finds it easy to acquire other types of knowledge such as narrations from people of prior scriptures, narratives about Prophets, and reports about the Khulafaa’ [those who succeeded our Prophet (may Allaah mention him with commendation and grant him protection) in leading the Ummah].

Such a person should be told: That is a manifestation of heedlessness because if you remain ignorant of the knowledge you are required to have and the deeds you are required to perform, you would not be excused for that ignorance. In fact, you would be disobeying Allaah (the Almighty and Most Majestic) by lacking knowledge of what is obligatory for you.

You should also bear in mind that when you take it upon yourself to acquire the knowledge which is obligatory to have for all situations that you currently face, it may well happen later on that you will face matters which you did not yet acquire knowledge of, such as rulings pertaining to marriage, divorce, or settling disputes between people regarding the rights to which they are entitled. Prior to facing those situations and others that are similar, you would be excused for not having knowledge about the rulings pertaining to them. However, once you encounter them, you would no longer be excused for remaining ignorant. This is why a discerning person of eemaan must never stop acquiring knowledge of Islaam for as long as he remains in this world. In addition, when an individual has the resolve to seek the knowledge of Islaam that he is not excused for lacking, and his intention for learning it is sound, it would not be long before Allaah (the Almighty and Most Majestic) guides him to acquire knowledge he would need for situations he has not yet encountered, lest he be unprepared in the event that he does actually encounter them.

The virtue of acquiring knowledge of Islaam

When a person pursues knowledge of Islaam, he should keep in mind the glad tidings which he has been promised since he is pursuing a course due to which Allaah would facilitate for him a path to Jannah. Aboo Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) narrated that Allaah’s Messenger (may Allaah mention him with commendation and grant him protection) said, “If someone pursues a path by which he seeks to acquire knowledge, Allaah would make a path to Jannah easy for him.”{3} This virtue is only granted to the individual whose intention is sound while he seeks knowledge of Islaam.

Someone may ask: What does it mean to have a sound intention while seeking knowledge?

Such a person should be told: [1] Having a sound intention means setting out to acquire the knowledge which removes one’s ignorance about his duty to worship Allaah (the Almighty and Most Majestic), so that he can then worship Allaah (the Most Generous) based on knowledge. Thus, he aims to acquire the knowledge that benefits him in his religious understanding and practice. [2] Having a sound intention also means that whenever one encounters any matter pertaining to this world or the hereafter about which he lacks necessary knowledge, and he wants to protect himself from anything blameworthy, he endeavours to go to the scholars who have that knowledge in order to learn it sincerely for Allaah (the Almighty and Most Majestic), and he does that to safeguard his religion from being tarnished.

When a person pursues any path – whether short or long – to acquire such knowledge, he would be included in the meaning of the aforementioned virtue regarding those who seek knowledge, and he would be assisted in acquiring what he pursues if Allaah wills.

I implore Allaah to grant you His mercy. You must also realize that among those who seek knowledge of Islaam, there are individuals who have enlightened minds, dignified conduct, and sound understanding. In addition, they desire to spread all aspects of the Sunnah of Allaah’s Messenger (may Allaah mention him with commendation and grant him protection), spread the Sunnah of his Companions, eliminate bid‘ah [matters that are invented and then claimed to be part of Islaam], and collect knowledge of Islaam and have an abundance of it. They desire to do those things in order to preserve the teachings of Islaam for the Muslims lest that knowledge be lost. This is the description of the individuals for whom the angels lower their wings due to being pleased with what they are engaged in. Such individuals are among the people who remain in Allaah’s path from the time they set out until they return, among those for whom the angels and even the fish in the ocean pray to be forgiven, and among those who pursue a path that would enable them to be admitted to Jannah. Such individuals are very few but that does not harm them in any way since an immense reward awaits them with Allaah.

As for someone whose intention behind seeking knowledge of Islaam is to attain worldly gains, how could he ever be entitled to the reward for seeking knowledge which was previously mentioned?

Allaah is the One whose assistance we seek. The trial faced by those who seek knowledge of Islaam is certainly a difficult one, and it is very rare to find individuals who seek it for Allaah (the Almighty and Most Majestic).

Moreover, the conduct of any given individual among either of those two groups serves as an indicator of whether his pursuit of knowledge is genuinely for Allaah (the Almighty and Most Majestic) or whether his pursuit is corrupt.

In addition, what has been mentioned alludes to the fact that one who seeks knowledge of Islaam should only attend the lessons and gatherings of those who benefit him: those from whom he acquires understanding, knowledge, and sound conduct. It follows that one should avoid the lessons and gatherings of those who do not fit the aforementioned description, and ensure that they do not harm his religion.

The humility to observed by those who seek or impart knowledge

I implore Allaah to grant you His mercy. You must realize that humility is the quality to which those who seek knowledge or impart it should constantly adhere in order to bring about optimal benefit.

As it relates to one who seeks knowledge of Islaam, he should not be too proud to learn from anyone regardless of how young or old, or from someone with a lower rank than himself. He should graciously accept the truth, be grateful to Allaah (the Almighty and Most Majestic) for the knowledge He bestowed upon him, and then express his gratitude to the people who imparted knowledge to him. Observing humility also includes not being too proud to ask about what he does not know. There are two traits which obstruct many people from being humble enough to ask scholars of Islaam about what they lack knowledge of when it comes to matters that are obligatory for them to know and do. Those two traits are being ashamed and being proud. It was narrated that Mujaahid (may Allaah have mercy upon him) said, “A person will not attain knowledge if he is too ashamed or too proud to seek it.”{4} When a person seeking knowledge of Islaam is humble towards its scholars, they will have love for him and they will readily impart their knowledge to him. However, when he is arrogant, so proud that he thinks he is better than them, and demonstrates to them that he does not need them, they will detest him and dislike imparting knowledge to him.

As it relates to one who imparts knowledge of Islaam to people, his humility entails remaining grateful to Allaah, being humble towards Allaah, recognizing that Allaah granted him a special quality of goodness and made him one of the inheritors of the Prophets, and realizing that many people are in need of the knowledge he has. Therefore, he must be humble when dealing with those who learn from him, be gentle with them, simplify for them any matter he fears may be difficult for them to understand, and not look down upon them. When an individual does these things, Allaah would elevate him, and Allaah would also make such a person beloved to His servants.

‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab (may Allaah be pleased with him) stated, “You must acquire knowledge and, to do that, you must learn tranquility and forbearance. You yourselves should be humble towards those from whom you seek knowledge, and those to whom you impart knowledge should also be humble towards you. Do not be people who have knowledge but are arrogant because, in that case, the knowledge you have will fail to stand up to your ignorance.”{5}

When one contemplates what has been narrated about the virtues held by knowledge of Islaam, he would not give anything priority over seeking it besides necessities and unavoidable responsibilities, and he would persevere through any difficulty he may experience while seeking knowledge of Islaam. However, this would only be done by someone who cares about his religion, fears for it more than he fears for his life and property, and has sharp mind and insight. The most valuable thing a person of eemaan possesses is his religion since it goes with him wherever he goes, and he does not leave it behind at home or entrust it to other people. I implore Allaah to grant you His mercy. You must also realize that both us and you are in a time of many trials which are coming from numerous directions and an individual needs to have knowledge about how to protect himself from all the trials he encounters. Otherwise, he will perish.

What types of knowledge should be given priority when learning?

Someone may ask: You encouraged us to acquire knowledge of Islaam and warned us against remaining ignorant, so what types of knowledge should we give priority when learning if we want to rid ourselves of ignorance?

I would say to such a person: I encourage you to do the following: [1] You must learn the Qur’aan as well as its correct reading and pronunciation. If Allaah makes it easy for you to complete that according to one of the modes narrated from any of the seven renowned scholars, then praise Allaah, be grateful to Him, and remain constant in reviewing what you learned. [2] Then, you must occupy yourself with learning what Allaah (the Almighty and Most Majestic) sent down in His Book regarding what is permissible, what is impermissible, and the directives He prescribed. [3] Then, you must learn the rulings pertaining to inheritance, and that is something which those who learn the Qur’aan should not be ignorant about. [4] Then, you must learn the various aspects of the Sunnah which explain to Allaah’s servants the meanings of His Book. One cannot know how to fulfil the obligations Allaah prescribed without knowing what has been narrated from the Prophet (may Allaah mention him with commendation and grant him protection). One must also learn what has been narrated from the Companions (may Allaah be pleased with them). In addition, one must study the fiqh that explains to him what those narrations mean, attend the lessons taught by the scholars of fiqh, and acquire from them the knowledge which is obligatory for him to have.

One’s objective throughout acquiring knowledge of Islaam must be ridding himself of ignorance, and using that knowledge in order to correctly worship Allaah (the Almighty and Most Majestic) by way of the duties that He prescribed. When that is a person’s purpose behind seeking knowledge of Islaam, Allaah (the Almighty and Most Majestic) would allow the person himself to benefit, enable him to benefit others, grant him guidance, allow the little knowledge which he has to grow, and allow much goodness to come about from his knowledge.

Someone may ask: I have learned to read the Qur’aan but I do not have in it me to write knowledge of Islaam and I have not accustomed myself to writing hadeeth, so what do you advise me?

I would say to such a person: You must attend the lessons taught by the scholars of Islaam who benefit you in your religion, and you must remain keen to acquire the knowledge which is necessary for you to have. In addition, you must avoid being among those who tire themselves to memorize the Qur’aan but remain unconcerned about their lack of compliance with its teachings. You must diligently strive to personify the conduct of those who bear the Qur’aan: those whom Allaah (the Almighty and Most Majestic) enables to benefit from their reading of the Qur’aan, and whose dignified conduct sets them apart from how others conduct themselves. Furthermore, you must seek assistance from Allaah (the Most Generous) to accomplish all of that. When a person acts in accordance with the knowledge he already has, he will be guided to acquire knowledge that he does not yet have. When a person recognizes the benefit of any knowledge, he would make it a point to attain more of it. When a person tastes the sweetness of any knowledge, he would endure whatever bitterness may be faced along any of the paths to acquiring it. When a person’s mind is clear, he would enjoy the sweetness of knowledge and he would be averse to anyone who preoccupies him. When a person places his full trust in Allaah, he would be blessed with tremendous assistance from Allaah (the Most Exalted) and his Guardian Lord would fulfil his needs.

May Allaah grant His commendation and protection to His Prophet Muhammad, as well as to all of the Prophet’s family and Companions.

Endnotes:

{1} Collected by al-Bukhaaree (71) and Muslim (1037).

{2} This hadeeth was narrated via many routes, the most well-known being from Anas ibn Maalik. However, all the routes contain some form of weakness. As-Suyootee graded the hadeeth as hasan after taking all of its routes into consideration, and he did so in a short work which he devoted to citing and examining all the routes of this hadeeth.

{3} Collected by Muslim (2699) and Ahmad (7428). A longer version of the hadeeth was narrated by Abud-Dardaa’ and collected by Aboo Daawood (3641) and ibn Maajah (239).

{4} Collected by al-Bukhaaree with an incomplete chain of narration in the Chapter about knowledge, Section: being ashamed when seeking knowledge.

{5} Collected by al-Bayhaqee in Shu‘ab al-Eemaan (1789), al-Khateeb in al-Jaami‘ (41), and Wakee‘ in az-Zuhd (275).

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