Importance of acquiring Islamic Knowledge by Oral Transmission
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيم
We start with the name of Allâh. We praise Allâh and thank Him for the blessings of Islam. We humbly ask Allâh to raise the rank of our Prophet Muḥammad, and his kind Al and Companions and to protect his nation from that which he fears for it. We ask Allâh to grant us the proper intention, the Comprehension, and the reward in the Hereafter. Thereafter:
Knowledge is the gateway to success, as known by many. However, some people understand this statement differently. The Islamic definition and concept of knowledge, and how it is a gateway to success in this world and in the Hereafter, is an ambiguous matter to many people. God willing, we hope to clarify this ambiguity hereinafter.
Know, may Allâh have mercy on you that the high status of knowledge has been clearly established in Islam through explicit texts in the Qur'an and the Hadith as well as in the writings of the scholars of Islam. Allâh said in Surat Al-Mujadalah, Ayah 11:
﴿ يَرْفَعِ الله الذينَ ءامنوا منكم والذينَ أوتوا العلمَ دَرَجاتٍ ﴾
which means: « Allâh raises the ranks of those among you who believe and those who were granted the knowledge. » Also, Allâh said in Surat Az-Zumar, Ayah 9:
﴿ قُلْ هَلْ يَسْتَوي الذينَ يَعْلَمُونَ والذينَ لا يَعْلَمُون ﴾
which means: « Those who know are not the same as those who do not know. » This verse is proof that ignorance is not an excuse for the person and that good intention is not enough to be save.
In Surat Fatir, Ayah 28, Allâh said:
﴿ إنَّما يَخْشَى الله مِنْ عِبادِهِ العلماء ﴾
which means: « The true religious scholars fear Allâh the most. » The Prophet Muḥammad Sallâ lLâhu `alayhi wa sallam, who is the best of the creation, in his Hadith related by At-Tirmidhiyy, said:
« فضلُ العالمِ على العابدِ كفضلى على أدناكم »
which means: « The rank of the scholar compared to that of the worshipper is like my rank to the lowest of you. » The difference in merit between the Prophet Muḥammad Sallâ lLâhou `alayhi wa sallam and the lowest Muslim is extremely great. Likewise is the difference between the true scholar and the true worshipper, i.e., the scholar who satisfied the conditions of being a scholar, and the worshipper who satisfied the conditions and integrals of worshipping.
Imam `Aliyy Ibn Abi Talib, the fourth caliph, said: « Knowledge is better than money, because knowledge protects you whereas you protect money. » Knowledge rules over things, whereas money is ruled over. Money diminishes as you spend it, whereas spending the knowledge by teaching it to others increases your reward.
In Islam, the issue of knowledge is held in high regard. This knowledge is not any knowledge per se, but rather, the knowledge of the Religion of Islam. In Surat Muhammad, Ayah 19, Allâh said:
﴿ فَاعلمْ أنَّهُ لا إلهَ إلا الله ﴾
which means: « O Muhammad, be firm in knowing that no one is God except Allâh. » In the hadith related by Al-Bayhaqiyy, the Messenger of Allâh Muḥammad Sallâ lLâhou `alayhi wa sallam said:
« طلبُ العِلمِ فريضةٌ على كل مسلمٍ »
which means: « Seeking the knowledge of the Religion is obligatory on every Muslim (whether male of female). »
The wording of this Hadîth the term "every" (kull) from which the scholars clearly understood « the Personal Obligatory Knowledge of the Religion » and not all kinds of knowledge. Had every kind of knowledge been obligatory on every male and every female, it would have been a hardship beyond one's ability, and Allâh does not order anyone with what one cannot bear.
Imam Abul-Hasan al-Ash`ariyy said: « The first obligation on the slave is to learn about Allâh, His Messenger, and His Religion. » The Prophet Muḥammad Sallâ lLâhou `alayhi wa sallam, in the Hadîth related by Al-Bukhariyy, said:
« مَنْ يُرِد اللهُ به خَيْرًا يُفَقِّهْهُ في الدِّينِ إِنمَّا العِلْمُ بالتَّعَلُّمِ والْفِقْهُ بالتَّفَقُّهِ »
which means: « Whomever Allâh willed goodness for makes him knowledgeable in the Religion. Certainly the science of the religion is acquired by oral transmission. » It is also understood from this Hadîth that whomever Allâh did not will for him to be knowledgeable enough in the Religion, then Allâh did not will a good status for him.
Hence, it is clear from what has been stated so far, that the knowledge we are referring to is the Religious knowledge of Islam. Moreover, this knowledge of the Religion entails many facets and many subjects among which are the knowledge of Tawhid and the knowledge of the rules of the Religion. The knowledge of Tawhid entails knowing about Allâh and His Messenger, and it is the best of all the knowledge in Islam. The scholars repeatedly emphasized the clear evidence from the Qur'an, Hadith, and scholarly consensus proving the knowledge of Tawhid is ranked the highest among all knowledge. This is so, because it has to do with knowing about Allâh and about His Messenger. This entails knowing what befits Allâh and what is impossible to be among His attributes, and what befits the messengers and what is impossible to be among their attributes. Abu Hanifah said: « Tawhid is the Great knowledge (al-Fiqhul-Akbar). » Imam Ash-Shafi`iyy said: « I mastered the knowledge of Tawhid before mastering the knowledge of the rules of the Religion. »
This knowledge of Tawhid is of two categories. The first category is that which is obligatory on every accountable person (The accountable person is the one who is pubescent, sane, and has heard the Testification of Faith in a language one understands). The accountable person is obligated to know this knowledge ; hence, this category is classified among the Personal Obligatory Knowledge. Examples of this knowledge include the belief in Allâh and the belief in His angels, His books, His Messengers, the Day of Judgment, destiny, and the like. The second category of this knowledge of Tawhid is that which is obligatory for some Muslims to master, but not all Muslims. This obligation is classified as a communal obligation, since if some of the Muslims have that knowledge obtaining it is no longer an obligation on the rest of the community. Examples of this category is for one to learn the proofs of the tenets of belief from the Qur'an, Hadith, and intellect to enable one to refute the claims of the enemies of Islam, like the atheists and the innovators of misguidance. Also, among the communal obligations is that some Muslims must acquire the sciences Muslims need, such as medicine, engineering, agriculture, and the like. Hence, if enough Muslims learn these sciences such that they satisfy the need of the community, it is no longer obligatory on the others.
The first category of the knowledge of Tawhid, the personal obligation, has two subdivisions. The first subdivision entails knowing correctly about Allâh and His Messenger and believing in it beyond doubt. If one does not know and believe this, one will not be a Muslim, and one who dies as such will not escape the everlasting tortures of Hellfire. However, having satisfied this and having uttered the Testification of Faith at least once in one's lifetime, but failing to obtain other essentials of belief and to fulfill other obligations, such as fasting and praying and the like, one becomes a sinful Muslim, provided one does not deny the obligation of fasting, praying, and the like (Note: Denying these commonly known obligations renders the person non-Muslim).
The second subdivision entails learning the thirteen attributes of the Self of Allâh which are obligatory on every accountable person to know, and learning the attributes of the prophets and believing in what they taught regarding the angels of Allâh, the Books of Allâh, the Messenger of Allâh, the Day of Judgment, destiny, whether good or evil - Paradise, and the like.
As to the rules of the Religion, part of this knowledge is a personal obligation. The Muslim who is accountable is obligated to learn the matters of Purification (Taharah), the rules of prayers, the rules of fasting, and the rules of other obligations that apply to him, including Zakah, Pilgrimage, dealings, sins of the body, and the like.
Learning the Obligatory Knowledge of the Religion makes one able to discriminate between what is lawful (halal) and what is unlawful (haram), what is valid and what is invalid, what is acceptable and what is rejected, in addition to what is classified under the Religion as good or bad. The scholars of Islam have spoken explicitly about these criteria. In the chapter entitled « Knowledge Before Saying or Committing Action. » Imam Al-Bukhariyy stated: « If one acquires the Obligatory knowledge of the Religion, one acquires the ability to differentiate between what is lawful and what is unlawful, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, and what is good and what is evil. »
Allâh said in the Qur'an in Surat at-TaHrîm, Ayah 6:
﴿ يا أيُّها الذينَ ءامنوا قُوا أنفُسَكُمْ وَأَهْلِيكُمْ نَارًا وَقُودُهَا النَّاسُ والحِجَارَةُ ﴾
which means: « O believers, protect yourselves and your families from Hellfire which is fueled by people and stones. » It has been reported for the exegesis of this verse that the preservation of the punishment of hell takes place by learning the science of religion and applying it. Imam `Atâ' Ibn Abî RabâH who was among the followers of the Companions, interpreted that verse of the Qur'an. He said: « One protects himself and his family from the tortures of Hellfire by learning how to pray, fast, sell, buy, marry, and divorce. » And the best of the sciences of religion is the science of tawhid (At-tawHid: the science of belief in the oneness of God) because it concerns the knowledge of Allāh and the knowledge of His Messenger.
Allâh said in Surat adh-Dhariyat, Ayah 56:
﴿ وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الجِنَّ والإنسَ إلا لِيَعْبُدُونِ ﴾
which means: « I created the jinn and humans to order them with worship. » We have been created to be ordered to worship Allâh. Worshipping Allâh requires knowledge. For one to have a valid worship, first one must have the correct belief in Allâh. Imam Al-Ghazaliyy said: « The worship is only valid after knowing correctly about Allâh. » Hence, if one learns that knowledge of the Religion, one will know how to perform the worship ; one will know what is lawful and what is unlawful and what is acceptable and what is not. By implementing this knowledge accordingly, one earns the reward on the Day of Judgment. This knowledge is not limited to particular groups of people. All people are in need of this knowledge to carry out their tasks in compliance with the rules of Allâh. This includes parents, teachers, carpenters, doctors, engineers, and others.
Acquiring this knowledge is very important and entails certain essential criteria. Among the criteria for acquiring the knowledge is to be sincere to Allâh in one's endeavor. To acquire the knowledge for the sake of showing off or to be recognized by people as knowledgeable or for other worldly interests renders one sinful and a loser. The one who truly wants to acquire the knowledge needs to do that in sincerity to Allâh as it is evident in the following Hadith of the Prophet Muḥammad Sallâ lLâhou `alayhi wa sallam that was related by Al-Hâkim:
« الرجلُ يبتغِى الأجرَ والذكرَ ما لهُ ؟ قال رسولُ الله: لا شىء لهُ (ثلاثا). ثم قال: إن الله لا يقبلُ من العملِ إلا ما كان خالصًا له وابتُغِى به وجهُهُ »
which means: « Once a man came to the Prophet Muḥammad Sallâ lLâhou `alayhi wa sallam and asked him about the one who does a deed hoping for reward from Allâh and hoping to be recognized by the people. The Prophet Muḥammad Sallâ lLâhou `alayhi wa sallam replied, One does not have any reward for that doing. » The question was posed three times, and three times the Prophet Muḥammad Sallâ lLâhou `alayhi wa sallam gave the same answer. Then the Prophet Muḥammad Sallâ lLâhou `alayhi wa sallam said: « Allâh does not accept the deeds unless they are done in sincerity for Him. » When one is doing the good one must seek the reward only from Allâh.
Another criteria for acquiring the knowledge is for one to receive it from knowledgeable people, and not by merely reading books. The scholars of Islam, like Al-KhaTîb Al-Baghdâdiyy, explicitly stated: « The knowledge is taken from the mouths of the scholars and not from the pages of books. » The reasons are clear: one cannot ask a book about an ambiguity and receive a clarification. Even a scholar might have a slip of the pen and write in his book an incorrect statement that he did not intend to write ; some of scholars' writings did not escape the perversions of innovators of misguidance who planted errors in them. However, if one studied with a qualified teacher, the teacher would draw one's attention to such matters. As related by At-Tirmidhiyy, the Prophet Muḥammad Sallâ lLâhou `alayhi said:
« مَنْ سلكَ طريقًا يلتمسُ فيه علمًا سَهَّلَ الله له طريقًا إلى الجنةِ »
which means: « Allâh facilitates a route to Paradise for the one who follows a route seeking the knowledge of the Religion. »
Another criteria for acquiring the knowledge is to be neither shy nor arrogant in acquiring the knowledge. Imam Mujahid, who was a follower of the Companions (Tabi`iyy), said: « The one who is shy or arrogant does not acquire the knowledge. » Hence, the one who wants to acquire the knowledge and arrive at the truth of a matter should neither be shy in acquiring the knowledge nor arrogant. One must acquire the knowledge in order to gain the benefit, regardless of one's age or social status.
In praising the women of the Ansar, Lady `A'ishah said:
« نعْم النساءُ الأنصارِ، لم يمنعْهُنَّ الحياءُ أن يتفقَّهْنَ في الدينِ »
which means: « Praised are the women of the Ansar, their shyness did not stop them from acquiring the knowledge of the Religion. » The Ansar are the people of al-Madînah who supported the Prophet Muḥammad Sallâ lLâhou `alayhi wa sallam ; those who received the Prophet Muḥammad Sallâ lLâhou `alayhi wa sallam in al-Madinah when he immigrated there.
Also among the criteria for acquiring the knowledge is to take that knowledge from someone who has that knowledge, because he who does not have the knowledge cannot give it. In addition to this, that person must be trustworthy. Therefore, the knowledge is acquired from someone who is knowledgeable and trustworthy. In what was related by Imam Muslim, Imam Ibn Sirin said:
« إن هذا العلمَ دينٌ فانظُروا عَمَّنْ تأخذونَ دينَكُمْ »
which means: « This knowledge is Religion, so watch from whom you take your Religion. » One should stop for a moment and remind oneself of far simpler matters. If one was seeking a particular university, one would spend a great deal of time looking into and checking the different ranks of universities to determine which was better. If one needed a treatment from a doctor, one would usually look for a recognized specialist. If one wanted a house to be built, one would search for the best qualified in that field. Most definitely, the knowledge of the Religion is of a far higher priority, and one needs to check the person from whom to take the knowledge.
Those who seek the knowledge exert effort in acquiring that knowledge. In reviewing the biographies of the great scholars of Islam, one will find they traveled extensively and covered long distances at a time when no airplanes, cars, or luxury vessels existed. They used to ride a camel for months to cross the desert to get the answer to a single case, or to acquire one chapter of knowledge from trustworthy and knowledgeable teachers. Ibn Rislan said:
« مَنْ لم يَجِدْ مُعلمًا فليرحلِ »
which means: « If one does not find a teacher where one is residing, then let one go to where one can find a trustworthy, knowledgeable teacher. »
Among the criteria for acquiring the knowledge is for the student to observe the proper manners with their teachers. This is part of acquiring the knowledge, and it has many secrets. This is why a person like Imam Ash-Shafi`iyy turned the pages of his book so softly in the presence of his teacher, Imam Malik. To acquire the knowledge without disturbing his teacher, ^Abdullâh Ibn ^Abbâs, a family member of the Prophet Muḥammad used to wait without knocking at the door of another Companion, until that Companion came out.
Also among these criteria is for the knowledgeable person to implement that knowledge and perform according to it. Al-Junayd Al-Baghdadiyy said a piece of poetry in Arabic that means: « It is a great contravention to have a scholar who does not implement his knowledge and commits enormous sins instead. Worse than that, however, is a person drowning in ignorance who pretends to be a pious person. »
The one who acquires the knowledge, satisfying the criteria for acquiring it usually becomes sincerely more humble. This humility is a sign of knowledge ; it is in the heart and it appears on the outside. Yet, the humility of the heart entails more than talking softly or lowering one's gaze in a shy manner. Some frauds talk softly and lower their gazes in a shy manner, yet their hearts are like stone. The more knowledgeable one is, the more aware one becomes of the greatness of the Creator and the smallness of one's self, and the more aware of the fact that one acquired only the knowledge which Allâh enabled one to acquire.
Imam AHmad Ar-Rifa^iyy, may Allâh raise his rank, sometimes had 100,000 people in his session who, by the will of Allâh, would hear his lesson without the aid of audio equipment. Out of humility, he used to say about himself: « I am no one. »
Imam ^Aliyy said: « The people of knowledge are of three categories: First, a scholar who implements his knowledge, the one who has observed the criteria for acquiring the knowledge, and implementing it. The second is the person who learns and is on the path of success ; he is the one who learns following the proper methodology, implementing the rules, and observing the criteria. The third type of person is the one who does not have the knowledge ; the one who does not seek to acquire the knowledge in the proper manner, but rather follows any speaker who says anything out of ignorance. »
This third type runs rampant and is of great danger. We see many people stand on platforms and address masses of people, while they, themselves, are ignorant. They themselves are astray, and they lead others astray. This is of grave concern, and we need to be very cautious.
The cure for the agonies many of our communities face depends on the extent of our obedience to Allâh in applying the rules of the Religion. The one who learns the Religion and implements it satisfying the methodologies and criteria discussed above is pious and sincere. If such a person wants to marry, he conducts his marriage in a valid manner. He observes what is lawful and unlawful in the marital relationship ; he fulfills his obligations, and he fears Allâh. Since he knows how to have a valid marriage contract, his children will not be a result of adultery. He eats and drinks what is lawful, dresses in what is lawful, and lives in a lawful place, because he differentiates between what is lawful and what is unlawful. He neither takes someone else's place by force nor cheats others, because he observes the rights of others. If he goes out to buy things, he does so in a lawful manner, because he learned how to transact business according to the rules of the Religion. He implements the great manners the Prophet Muḥammad Salla lLâhou `alayhi wa sallam taught. This person performs his Prayer in a valid way, because he knows what makes the Prayer acceptable to Allâh. Likewise, his Fasting, Dry Purification (Tayammum), Pilgrimage (Hajj), Purification, and other aspects will be performed in a valid manner. He does all of that with sincerity to Allâh, because he knows this is a condition for earning the reward, the blessings, and the benefits in this life and in the Hereafter.
Once the members of the community attain these qualities, the relationships that goverm them will improve, and the society at large will improve. The wealthy person who is sincere and knowledgeable will spend in the ways of Allâh - out of generosity and love, and seeking the reward from Allâh. Also, the one who is poor, like other pious people who are poor, will be patient and have complete reliance on Allâh. They would implement the Hadîth of the Prophet Muḥammad Salla lLâhou `alayhi wa sallam:
« لو أنكم تَوَكَّلْتُمْ على الله حَقَّ توكلِهِ لرزقَكُمْ كما يرزقُ الطيرَ تَغْدُو خِماصًا وتَرجعُ بِطانًا »
which means: « If you rely on Allâh perfectly, then Allâh will sustain you and provide for you as He provides for the birds. The birds fly away from their nests in the morning hungry, yet they return with full stomach. » Allâh will provide for the one who is poor and sincere, and has the proper reliance on Allâh, just as He provides for the birds.
Examples of success in this life are to have a valid marriage, buy and sell lawfully, be knowledgeable and implement the knowledge, and perform the Prayers, Fasting, and Pilgrimage in a valid manner. The one who is knowledgeable will be led by his knowledge to piety and sincerity. The one who is pious will fall under the Qusdsiyy Hadith of the Prophet Muḥammad Salla lLâhou `alayhi wa sallam:
« أعددتُ لعبادي الصَّالحينَ ما لا عينٌ رأتْ ولا أذنٌ سمعتْ ولا خطرَ على قلبِ بشرٍ »
which means: « Allâh said: I prepared for My pious slaves in Paradise that which no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no one thought of before. »
The ultimate success is to be successful in the Hereafter. The person who acquires the knowledge as it is prescribed in Islam enters the gateway to success in this life and in the Hereafter. So be eager to acquire that knowledge. Be eager to be around the scholars. Be eager to associate with the scholars, for the Messenger of Allâh said:
« إن مَثَلَ العلماءِ في الأرض كَمَثَلِ النجوم في السماء يُهتَدَى بها في ظلمات البر والبحر »
which means: « The scholars on earth are like the stars in the heavens with which one is guided through the darkness of land and sea. » At-Tabaraniyy related the saying of the Prophet Muḥammad, in highlighting the importance of the scholars,
« لَموت قبيلةٍ أيسرُ من موتِ عالمٍ »
which means: « The death of an entire tribe is easier than the death of one scholar. »
Be warned of those ignorant people the Prophet Muḥammad Salla lLâhou `alayhi wa sallam spoke about in his Hadith related by At-Tirmidhiyy:
« إنَّ الله لا يَقْبِضُ العلمَ ينتزعُهُ انتزاعًا من بين الناسِ، ولكن يقبِضُ العلمَ بقبضِ العلماءِ، حتى إذا لم يبقَى عالمٌ اتخذَ الناسُ رؤساءَ جُهالا فاستفتَوْهُمْ فَضَلُّوا وَأَضَلُّوا »
which means: « Allâh does not take away the knowledge by ordering it pulled out of the hearts of the people. Instead, Allâh takes the knowledge away by making the scholars die. When no scholar remains, people take for the themselves ignorant leaders whom they ask for religious answers. These leaders will answer them with ignorance, thus straying and leading them astray. »
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الحمد لله رب العالمين
Praise be to Allâh, the Creator of the world.