by Alaa Suliman
“One of the ways to acquire proper akhlaq (character) and adab (manners) is to seek knowledge,” our teacher told us. “To seek knowledge with a scholar who has studied with someone.”
Last night, our teacher shared that advice before we started our weekly fiqh (Islamic law) class. He then shared a story with us.
“My first teacher was an ocean of knowledge, may Allah protect him. One time, while I was studying with him in the masjid, he told me to wait for him. I sat there and waited for him from `asr (late afternoon) prayer till maghrib (sunset prayer). He then came back and told me: today you learned a lesson which you can never learn in books. After that, he told me to leave.”
Reflecting on what our teacher said, along with the story he shared, I can’t help but realize how and why we, as students of knowledge wannabes, fall into many debates and useless arguments. Most of our scholars (if not all) have studied under knowledgeable shayukh (spiritual leaders) who disciplined them and taught them manners and adab before they taught them any Islamic science. They understood very well that their sincerity, humbleness, and down-to-earth attitude with fellow Muslims and everyone was far more important than memorizing volumes of books. However, they weren’t served these beautiful manners on a golden plate; rather, they went trough a rigorous process of discipline, challenge and self-evaluation. While they were memorizing the Qur’an and Sahih Bukhari, they trained their hearts and minds and rectified things within. And because Allah (swt) helped them to do that (and much more), they are now able to deal with our communities. They are able to have respectful discussions and debates with those who disagree with them. They are able to handle criticism and slander and use it as a means to become better. Most importantly, they are able to help bring goodness to their community and humanity at large wa alhamdulilah (and all praise is to Allah).
Comparing the process our scholars and shayukh went through to how we should “pursue Islamic education” is quite interesting. Most of us here in the west refer to Wikipedia or “Shaykh Google” for our questions. Some of us exert more effort and sign up for classes at our local mosques or institutes. Some even take it to the next level and committed to study under a shaykh or student of knowledge. Alhamdulilah, we are all working hard and doing our best with the kind of resources we have. But to be quite honest, taking weekend classes or attending weekly halaqas (discussion circles) will never be the same as dedicating 4-5+ years of your life for studying. Learning from books will not always humble you and shock you with the reality that there’s so much knowledge out there that you’re ignorant of. Yet…
How many of us witnessed (or even worse, got involved in) endless debates about this opinion or that fatwa (religious ruling)? How many times have we doubted the credibility of our scholars (who dedicated most of their lives for this da`wah (call to Islam)) simply because we didn’t feel comfortable with their opinion? What about when we debated our teachers and challenged them, lacking proper character? Or we started labeling people and groups and confirmed who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell? The sad reality is that all of these scenarios have happened countless times – and continue to happen.
The Prophet ﷺ said (roughly translated): “May Allah have mercy on he who knows his worth.” As students of knowledge wannabes, we need to first and foremost rectify our intentions and humble ourselves before Allah (swt). We need to remember that any knowledge Allah blessed us with is to be used for His service and humanity but not for debates and long online arguments. We need to make sure that while we take all these classes, we simultaneously work on our own self development and purification insha’Allah (God-willingly).
May Allah (swt) teach us that which benefits us. May He grant us the sincerity and the humbleness to seek knowledge and the wisdom to practice it. May He make us amongst the scholars, or at least bless us with their company so we may learn from their manners and benefit from their training.
May He reward all of our scholars, teachers and mentors, and grant them and their families beautiful patience. May we learn to respect, appreciate, love and make du`a’ (supplication) for them.