Studying and Learning

Musa Kâzım GÜLÇÜR

The basis of acquiring knowledge is reading and studying. The first revelation of Gods Word to Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), the first command of his Prophethood, began with the command, “Read!” This announced a fundamental principle. Let us revisit these verses in Sura Alaq, the first verses of the Qur’an to be revealed:

(1) Read in and with the Name of your Lord, Who has created-

(2) created man from a clot clinging (to the wall of the womb)!

(3) Read, and your Lord is the All-Munificent.

(a) Who has taught (man) by the pen-

(5) taught man what he did not know! (96: l-5)

The first revelation begins with the command to read the miracle of creation through faith in God and knowledge of Him. Then it refers to the creation of human beings, encouraging contemplation on this miraculous occurrence in the second verse. It continues with another directive to “read,” and refers to “the pen,” “teaching/learning” (between God and people), “knowing” and “knowledge.” It is one of Gods great blessings that man, at first an insignificant being, was given knowledge that elevated humankind to the highest level over all other creatures. Being taught not only knowledge, but also the use of the pen, humankind has thus been entrusted with the duty of spreading this knowledge far and wide, using it for development and progress, and preserving it for future generations. If it were not for the revelation of God and the blessings of abilities that are represented by “the pen” and “the book,” humanity could not have accomplished all the achievements that have been constructed on the accumulated wisdom of centuries.

The basic state of humanity was unenlightened until God blessed us, allowing us to grow in knowledge. At every stage knowledge was given as a blessing and the doors of learning were opened by God. That which people thought they themselves had developed, in truth was given to them by their Creator without their realizing it. For this reason, everyone who has some knowledge should recognize the true Source of such blessings, praising and turning to the One Who granted them, and employing them in a manner that is pleasing to God. This will ensure that knowledge will never separate a person from God or cause them to forget Him.

Any “knowledge” that distances a person from their Creator is divorced from its basic purpose. It can never be ofbenefit to people or make them happy, for it can produce only evil, depression, or destruction. As such knowledge has deviated from the Source of knowledge it has lost its direction and no longer leads to the Path of God. Therefore, it is crucial thar someone who attains knowledge not forget, even for a moment, that the power and authority the knowledge has brought can be used for right or for wrong, and all persons will be responsible to dre Originator of that knowledge for the way it is used.

“Knowledge is power,” or as the Qur’an says “…whoever is granted the Wisdom has indeed been granted much good” (Baqara 2:269). In this verse, the word al-hikma -often translated as “the Wisdom”- means “beneficial knowledge.” Knowledge that is beneficial to people will also elevate the status of the person who knows. The Qur’an also says that those who know God cannot be on the same level with those who do not: “Is he who worships God devoutly in the watches of the night prostrating and standing, who fears the Hereafter and hopes for the mercy of his Lord (to be likened to that other)? Say: ‘Are they ever equal, those who know and those who do not know?’ Only the people of discernment will reflect on (the distinction between knowledge and ignorance, and obedience to God and disobedience,) and be mindfull” (Zumar 39:9). This last verse makes it clear that knowledge must be used together with the ability to reason, drawing particular attention to the fact that any knowledge based on knowledge of God is true knowledge and beneficial to those who possess it. In fact, knowledge has a potentially destructive power in the hands of those who do not use their reason, merely acting in sheer ignorance of God. Beyond this basic adab of knowledge, let us now examine the further sayings of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, on this topic.

At every opportunity, the prophet drew attention to the importance of knowledge. One day he said to Abu Dharr, “O Abu Dharr, if you leave your home in the morning to go out to learn a verse of the Qur’an, this holds more blessings for you than performing a hundred rakats of supererogatory prayer. And if you leave your home in the morning to go out to acquire knowledge, this holds more benefit for you than performing a thousand rakats of supererogatory prayer.”[1] In another hadith Gods Messenger said, “When God wills blessings for someone, He makes them knowledgeable in religion.”[2]

Moreover, keeping knowledge from people, unless one is forced to by circumstances, is not a desirable act. This was made clear by the Prophet, who said, “If someone is asked to share their knowledge but they hide it and do not speak, they will be bridled with a bridle of fire (on the Judgment Day).”[3]

The Prophet also made it known that spirirual knowledge, which puts a person on the right parh and leads ro righteousness, is more valuable than the greatest worldly treasures: “By God, it is better for you that God should give gurdance to a single person on the right path through you than that you should acquire a whole herd of red camels.”[4] At this time, red camels were very precious, and a person who owned such a camel was rich; extremely few people owned an entire herd of red camels. This comparison, therefore, clearly shows the value of knowledge that leads to good, and of leading others to good.

Yazid ibn Balama once asked, “O Messenger of God! I have memorized many of your sayings. But I am afraid that those I memorize later will make me forget those I memorized earlier. Tell me a word that will help me retain all the things I have learned without forgetting the others!” The prophet replied, “Stay upright before God in what you have learned (and that is enough for you)!”[5]

One of the most esreemed Companions of the prophet, Ibn Abbas, gave the following advice: “Tell people one hadith per week. If this does not seem enough, recount two or three. And never cause people to become bored with the Qur’an! When people are talking amongst themselves, never let me see you walk up and interrupt them to teach them something. When they are speaking, be quiet and listen. If they come to you and ask you to talk, then you should teach them on their request.”[6]

In addition to choosing the appropriate time, it is also important when teaching ethical principles or religious knowledge to choose a level that can be understood by one’s audience. Some people try to appear knowledgeable by using a style and manner which is not clear or understandable. This is wrong, as it goes against the proper manners of speaking to people in a way that makes sense to them. No less a person than Ali ibn Abu Talib said, “Tell people rhings they can understand. Do you want ro be responsible for making God and His Messenger misunderstood?”[7] He meant that plain and clear speech should be used, especially when speaking of spiritual matters. Ibn Mas’ud also said, “If you say something ro a gathering which is above their intellectual capacity, it will certainly lead some of them into mischief.”[8]

Someone who lives an exemplary life and tries to please God by teaching other people and sharing knowledge is on the path of God, and God is indeed pleased by such a person. Kathir ibn Qays explains, “I was in the Mosque at Damascus sitring beside Abu al-Darda. A man came and said, ‘O Abu al-Darda, I came from the Prophet’s city of Medina to ask about a hadith that I have heard you are relating.’ Abu al-Darda, in order to find out whether this was really the man’s intention, asked, ‘Could you also have come to do business (trade)?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘I did not come to do any such thing.’ He asked again, ‘So you did not come for anything else other than to hear a hadith?’, The man replied, ‘No, I came only because I heard that you know hadith.’ Only when he had established that the man had truly come to win God’s pleasure did Abu al-Darda say, ‘I heard the prophet of God say, “God will make the path to Heaven easy to anyone who takes to the road looking for knowledge. Angels lower their wings over the seeker of knowledge, being pleased with what he does. All the creatures in the earth and sky, even the fish in the sea, pray for God’s help and forgiveness for those who acquire knowledge. The superiority of the scholar over the worshipper is like the superiority of the moon over the stars (i.e., in brightness). Scholars are the heirs to the Prophets. For the prophets left neither dinar nor dirham (units of money) but knowledge as their inheritance. Therefore, he who acquires knowledge has in fact acquired an abundant portion.[9]

The following points can be deduced from the hadith:

1. Any effort or endeavor that is expended on acquiring knowledge is counted as effort or struggle made on God’s way, and this leads a person to paradise. To put it simply, the path of knowledge is the path to Heaven; what a beautiful path it is. The angels come to the aid of one who is on this path, and all creation offers prayers for them.

2. The difference between the scholar and the follower is like the difference between the moon and stars, for knowledge is a light that illuminates a person’s whole surroindings and the community of the knowledgeable person. It shows the right path to everyone. However, a person who simply follows, even if they perform a great deal of super-erogatory worship, does nor benefit others in the same way. Their worship benefits only themselves. Those who choose knowledge, on the other hand, bring blessings down upon themselves and all those around them.

3. Scholars are the heirs to the Prophets; the only thing the Prophets left as an inheritance was knowledge. When scholars choose the path of learning and the pursuit of knowledge, they win the honor of inheriting the legacy of the Prophets. One of the Prophet’s Companions, Abu Hurayra, was almost always at the Prophet’s side. He would listen to all the Prophet’s teachings, carefully memorizing his sayings. One day in Medina, he spoke aloud to the people milling about on the street: “The prophet’s inheritance is being divided up; why are you wasting time here? Go and claim your share!” The people said, “Where is it being distributed?” Abu Hurayra said, “In the mosque.” So, they ran to the mosque. But soon they tumed around and came back, and Abu Hurayra asked, “What’s happened?” They said, “We went to the mosque, but we did not see anything like what you said being distributed.” So, he asked, “Was there no one in the mosque?” They answered, “Yes, we saw some people; some of them were praying salat, some were reading the Qur’an, and some were talking about the permissible and the prohibited.” Hearing this, Abu Hurayra told them, “Shame on you. That was the Prophet’s inheritance.”[10]

The Qur’an mentions the adab of sitting in the gatherings where a scholar or spiritual guide is teaching to increase one’s faith and knowledge:

O you who believe! When you are told, “Make room in the assemblies (for one another and for new comers),” do make room. God will make room for you (in His grace and Paradise). And when you are rold, “Rise up (and leave the assembly),” then do rise up. God will raise (in degree) those of you who truly believe (and act accordingly), and in degrees those who have been granted the knowledge (especially of religious matters). Surely God is fully aware of all that you do. (Mujadila 58:11)

When knowledge, which leads one to greater piety and a better religious life, and allows others to benefit, is added to faith, God will exalt its owner by many ranks. God commanded the Prophet, “(O Muhammad,) Say, ‘O my Lord, increase me in knowledge!” (TaHa 20:114).

In full submission to this Divine order, the Prophet prayed, “O God, make the knowledge You have taught me benefit me, and continue to teach me knowledge that will benefit me. Increase me in knowledge. God be praised at all times.”[11] This prayer in which Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, asks God to make his knowledge beneficial to him is also complemented by another prayer in which he sought refuge in God from knowledge drat would not prove beneficial.

Why do humans learn? Why should knowledgeable people be so highly regarded above all others? The answer to these questions can be found in the Qur’an: “Of all His servants, only those possessed of true knowledge stand in awe of God…” (Fatir 35:28). So it can be said that one reason for this is that scholars make it possible for others to know God better and to better understand the message of the Prophets of God.

God’s Messenger taught that it was worthwhile to envy two things. One of these is when someone takes the possessions God has bestowed on them and spends them in the way of God. The other is when someone blessed with knowledge and wisdom becomes a teacher and shares that wisdom with others.[12] This means that when one acquires knowledge, one should then teach it to others; it is not wrong to “envy” (desire to be like) a person who does this.

The Prophet said the following regarding studying, literacy, education, making our knowledge a source of good for others, and educating others: “It is incumbent upon all Muslims to acquire knowledge.”[13] As we can see, studying and learning are of critical importance in Islam. These hadith confirm the Prophet’s teaching, “Knowledge and wisdom are the common property of every believer; wherever they are found, they should be acquired.”[14]

The technology we have today is without a doubt the product of knowledge. It is easy to understand, looking from the perspective of the heights of knowledge, from the science and technology that have been achieved in the modern world, why Islam emphasizes knowledge and education so strongly. Is it possible to ignore its importance when we are surrounded by all the useful fruits and products of intellectual inquiry? Certainly, we must listen well to the teachings of Islam on this matter and show greater concern for educating the next generation if we are to solve some of the current harmful trends. Instead of leaving them material possessions, we should spend our money to make sure they receive opportunities to become truly “rich” in knowledge. Ali ibn Abu Talib said, “Someone who has money will have to protect it, whereas a person who has knowledge will be protected by it. Knowledge is a king; possessions are captives. And when possessions are spent, they diminish, while knowledge increases when shared.”[15] Highlighting the excellence of knowledge Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Be of those who teach or those who learn, those who listen, or those who love knowledge. If you are not in at least one of these groups, you are headed for destruction.”[16]

The adab of learning applies not only to those who are teaching and learning religious studies but all types of useful knowledge. Here we give some details for our younger brothers and sisters who are students, regarding the adab of learning to add to what has been quoted above:

l. If at first you don’t succeed do not lose heart.

2. Classes should be entered with a mind that is prepared and willing.

3. Listen to a teacher with your spiritual ears.

4. When you don’t understand something, always ask.

5. Try to make friends with successful students and get tips from them.

6. Always plan and organize your time.

7. Always try to be the best.

8. Don’t go on to something else until you have understood what you are working on.

9. If what you are studying is practically applicable, learn it through application.

10. Do not maintain ties with people who discourage you from learning or dislike your studying.

11. Be respectful and humble towards your teachers.

Translated by Jessica ÖZALP


[1] Ibn Maja, Muqaddima, 16.

[2] Bukhari, Ilm, 13: I’tisam, 10; Muslim, Imarat, 98, 1038; Zakat, 98, 100, Tirmidhi, Ilm, 1, 2647.

[3] Abu Dawud, Ilm, 9, 3658; Tirmidhi, Ilm, 3, 2651.

[4] Abu Dawud, Ilm, 10, 3661; Bukhari, Ashab al-Nabi, 9; MusIim, Fadail al-Ashab, 34, 2046.

[5] Tirmidhi, Ilm, 19, 2684.

[6] Bukhari, Daawat, 20.

[7] Bukhari, Ilm, 49.

[8] Muslim, Muqaddima, 5.

[9] Bukhari, Ilm, 10; Abu Dawud, Ilm, 1; Tirmidhi, Ilm, 19; Ibn Maja, Muqaddima, 17.

[10] Haysami, Majma al-Zawaid Manba al-Fawaid, Vol. I, pp. 123-124.

[11] Ibn Maja, Muqaddima, 23.

[12] Bukhari, Ilm, 15.

[13] Ibn Maja, Muqaddima, 17.

[14] Tirmidhi, Ilm, 19.

[15] Ghazali, Ihya al-Ulum al-Din, I/7.

[16] Haysami, Majma al-Zawaid Manba al-Fawaid, Vol. l, p. 122.

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