Once a student sat with a teacher to read a text. As he opened the book, the teacher turned to him and said, “Have you ever asked yourself why the scholars use the word bāb (door) to title what you call chapters in English?” The student responded, “Yes, but I did not give it a lot of thought.” What followed was one of those special moments that can only happen when knowledge is passed from one heart to another:
“The word bāb is used because it reminds the student that he is entering a new realm. The realm of knowledge; that he is leaving a place of ignorance and entering into a place of understanding. Thus, he needs to have the proper character so the knowledge will touch his heart and mind.
“The word bāb is used because it reminds the student that, just as you enter a person’s home and are careful to make sure you have the right location, to knock with respect, to enter with humility, to sit gracefully, not complain about the food, if served, or the home, he has to seek knowledge, approach his teacher with humility and be satisfied with whatever is given to him, being thankful for what is given, polite and kind to his hosts.
“At the same time, it reminds the Shaykh to be gracious to his student, to treat him like his own, welcome him with a large heart and serve him the best he can, seeking God’s pleasure alone. In short, this one word contains every adab (etiquette) that al-Ghazzali mentioned in the etiquette of the student and the etiquette of the teacher. Amazing!
“Finally, it reminds that student to be sincere, seeing God alone, since the bāb in the book reminds him of the doors (abwāb) of Paradise! You see, there are gems to be found in these old works. Be patient and God will show you more!”
Next time you read a book with a master, be sure to ask him/her about those things; you will learn to see the prophetic light found in the texts, the symmetry of tauhid (oneness) in its lines.