The Muslim and His Own Self

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2- His Mind

Knowledge is an obligation and an honour for the Muslim

The Muslim believes that exercising his mind and seeking knowledge and discovering the signs of Allah in the universe is an obligation, because of the saying of the Prophet (s):

īSeeking knowledge is a duty on every Muslim. (Bukhari)

Therefore the Muslim must continue to pursue knowledge, as long as the breath of life remains in his body. The fact that Allah has raised the status of those who have knowledge, and described them alone as truly fearing Him, should be enough to encourage the Muslim to apply himself to seeking knowledge. For He said:

( . . . Those truly fear Allah, among His Slaves, who have knowledge . . . ) (Qur'an 35:28)

No one truly fears Allah except those whose minds are enlightened enough to see the greatness and power of Allah manifested in the creation of the universe and all living things, and these are the people of knowledge. So He has preferred them over those who have no knowledge:

( . . . Say: 'Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know? It is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition.') (Qur'an 39:9)

Safwan ibn 'Assal al-Muradi came to the Prophet (s) in the mosque and said, "O Messenger of Allah, I have come seeking knowledge." The Prophet (s) told him: "Welcome, O seeker of knowledge! Truly the angels surround the seeker of knowledge with their wings, gathering around him in ranks one above the other, until they reach the first heaven, out of love for that which he seeks."8

The texts that extol the virtue of knowledge and exhort its pursuit are many, therefore the true Muslim is either a scholar or a seeker of knowledge, and cannot be anything else.

Note: 8. Reported by Ahmad, al-Tabarani, Ibn Hibban, al-Hakim with a sahih isnad.

Continuously seeking knowledge until death

True knowledge does not mean obtaining a degree or diploma that will let one earn an income and guarantee a good standard of living, after which one turns away from learning and does not explore the treasure of knowledge any further; true learning means that one continues to read and study, increasing one's learning day by day, in accordance with the words of the Qur'an:

( . . . But say, 'O my Rabb Advance me in knowledge.') (Qur'an 20:114)

Our righteous predecessors never stopped seeking to increase their knowledge, no matter how high a level of learning they had achieved, and they would continue their pursuit until the end of their lives. They believed that knowledge was a living thing that would thrive if it were actively pursued, but would wither and perish if it were ignored and abandoned. Many sayings are attributed to them that eloquently express their respect for learning and their keenness to acquire knowledge. Examples of their sayings are given below.

Imam Ibn 'Abd al-Barr reported that Ibn Abi Ghassan said: "So long as you are seeking knowledge you are knowledgeable, but as soon as you abandon this pursuit you become ignorant."

Imam Malik (r) said: "No one who has knowledge should stop seeking knowledge."

Imam 'Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak was asked: "How long will you seek knowledge?" He said, "Until I die, for probably I have not yet learnt the things that will benefit me most."

Imam Abu 'Amr ibn al-'Ala, was asked: "For how long does it befit a man to seek knowledge?" He said, "For as long as he has life in him."

Imam Sufyan ibn 'Uyaynah gave an excellent answer when he was asked "Who is most in need of seeking knowledge?" He said: "Those who have the most knowledge." He was asked, "Why?" and he replied, "Because if they make a mistake, it is worse."

Such was Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 606 AH), the great mufassir (Qur'anic exegete) and prominent scholar in philosophy ('ilm al-kalam) and other disciplines, who authored many works. Allah gave him such fame in knowledge that people would come from all over to see him whenever he visited a city. When he came to the city of Merv (in Turkmenistan), flocks of scholars and students came to have the privilege of listening to and learning from him. Among the seekers of knowledge who attended his circle was a young man, less than twenty years old, who was very well versed in literature and genealogy. When Imam Fakhr al-Din realized that this student was an expert in genealogy, a field in which he knew very little, he asked his student to teach him. He did not find it unacceptable to become the student of his student, and he even made him sit in the teacher's place while he himself sat at his feet. Such an act was characteristic of Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, and it did not detract from his high status, as he was the Imam of his age.

This remarkable story was told by the literary historian Yaqut al-Hamwi in his book Mu'jam al-udaba, (Dictionary of literary authors), where he gives a biography of 'Aziz al-Din Isma'il ibn al-hasan al- Marwazi al-Nassabah al-husayni, whom Yaqut met and spent much time with, so was able to write a comprehensive biography of him. In this biography he says:

"'Aziz- al-Din told me: 'Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi went to Merv. He had such a great reputation and was held in such awe that nobody dared to argue with him; they would barely breathe in his presence. I went to meet him, and I often went to study with him. One day he said to me: "I would like you to write me a book giving the genealogy of al-Talibiyyin (the descendants of Abu Talib) so that I may study it, for I do not want to remain ignorant of it." I asked him: "Do you want it presented as a family tree, or written down as a narrative?" He said, "A family tree cannot be learnt by heart. I want something that I can memorize." So I went away and wrote the book, which I called al-Fakhri. When I brought it to him, he took it, then got up from his mattress, sat on the mat, and told me to sit in the place he had just vacated. I thought this was too much, and told him: "I am your servant." I reprimanded me severely, saying, "Sit where I tell you!" Allah knows, I felt that I had no choice but to sit where he told me. Then he began to read the book to me, while he was sitting at my feet, asking me about anything he did not understand, until he finished the book. When he had finished, he said, "Now sit wherever you wish, for in this field of knowledge you are my teacher and I am your student, and it is not right for the student to sit anywhere but at the feet of his teacher. So I got up, and he sat in his rightful place, and I began to read to him, sitting where he had sat previously.""

After quoting this incident, Yaqut said, "Indeed this is good manners, especially for a man who enjoys such a high status."

How great was the love and respect these scholars gave to knowledge! How highly they regarded it, and how great is the need for the later generation to learn from the attitude of their forebears!

What Muslim needs to know

The first thing that the Muslim needs to know is how to read the Qur'an properly (with tajwid) and to understand its meaning. Then he should learn something of the sciences of hadith, the sirah of the Prophet (s), and the history of the Sahabah and Tabi'in, who are prominent figures in Islam. He should acquire as much knowledge of fiqh as he needs to ensure that his worship and daily dealings are correct, and he should ensure that he has a sound grasp of the basic principles of his religion. This is the duty of the Muslim who is not a specialist in the sciences of Shariah. If he is a specialist in a branch of Shariah, then he does what every true Muslim should do, which is to do his best to learn his speciality thoroughly and be successful in it. It goes without saying that every Muslim also needs to learn Arabic properly.

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