Imām Tirmidhī relates in his sunnan that on the Day of Judgement a person will not shift until they have been questioned about five things: 1. Where did they while away their age? 2. How did they spend their youth? 3. Where did they acquire their wealth? 4. How did they spend their wealth? 5. How did they act on the knowledge that was given to them?
The key points of this ḥadīth are the first two questions, relating to how a person spends their time and more specifically how they spent their youth. We are often conscious of how we generate our wealth and spend it, however our time is a free commodity given to us by Allāh which we will also be questioned about.
Whoever desires to be one who inherits from the prophets and one who reaps from their fields of cultivation, let him learn beneficial knowledge – it being knowledge of dīn – for in a ḥadīth [it is mentioned], ‘The ʿulamāʾ are the heirs of the prophets.’ Let him also attend the gatherings of ʿulamāʾ, for indeed they are meadows of Paradise.
“The difference between a learned person (true Alim) and an ignorant person (Jahil) is that the ignorant person severs relationships due to a difference of opinion, whereas a learned person does not allow it to affect established relationships.”
Source: Madrassah Al Zahra Publication – Al ‘Ilmun Nafi’
Before one sets out to seek knowledge we must bear in mind there are etiquettes for seeking knowledge. Only when one attains knowledge according to them, will the knowledge gained be beneficial. If we have no respect for the knowledge that we gain, that knowledge will merely remain information. Knowledge can only be beneficial for us if we gain it according to the following guidelines:
Be patient – To gain ‘ilm is not easy and a lot of hard effort and sacrifice is required. For this reason it is very important that one remains patient.
Pure intention – Before the commencement of an act one must ensure that an analysis of one’s intention is undertaken. The conclusion of this analysis should be that one is performing this action to gain the pleasure of Allah Almighty and not for show. If the latter is the case, then one needs to rectify one’s intention in order to gain beneficial knowledge.
Act upon the knowledge one gains – It is important that one acts upon what they know; only then is the knowledge that one has attained beneficial. By not acting upon what one knows, disrespect is being shown to the knowledge that has been obtained.
Bear in mind Allah سبحانه و تعالى is Watching – It is important that one keeps this in mind at all times as only then will one think twice before commiting a wrong deed. By continuously remebering Allah سبحانه و تعالى, a person will always make Du’aa and obtain closeness to Allah سبحانه و تعالى. Insha’Allah, any difficulties in attaining ‘ilm will then be removed.
Utilise Time to the Best of One’s Ability – Knowledge does not come with ease. Therefore, it is vital that one uses their time well. When given the oppurtunity to obtain knowledge, one should not reject it as one does not know when they shall taste death. One must understand the struggle our pious Predecessors went through to gain ‘ilm and so one must not take for granted that which is so easily accessible today.
To be very cautious – When beginning to attain knowledge one should not spend too much time argueing with others on topics and getting ones self confused. Rather one should spend maximum amount of time trying to fully undestand individual topics in order to become fully competent in these topics.
To be precise and certain – It is good to memorise certain things. Before committing anything to memory one should ensure what is being learnt is correct by clarifying with ones teacher. Then one should memorise and go over what has been taught to ensure nothing is forgotton.
Studying a variety of books – When one is confident in quite a few fields then one should study a variety of books on one topic to increase ones knowledge in a variety of ways on that particular topic.
Good company – Pious company and friends should be kept so that one can attain their good qualites. It is also good to keep company with those who have a great zeal for knowledge instead of those who do not. This is so that one can never be put off wanting to learn more. The ‘Ulama state, that in order to gain good habits and to acquire beneficial knowledge, it is vital to stay in the presence of good and pious people. If one is not able to be in the company of the pious, then one should read the books written by these pious people.
Respect and have good conduct with the teacher – One should ensure that respect is always shown towards the teacher. One cannot gain all knowledge from books without the guidance of a good teacher.
Knowledge makes you free from the chains of ignorance, and revives your heart, knowledge takes you out from the darkness of suspicions and superstitions, and gives a new light to your eyes. Hazrat Abu Ali Saqfi
If you attend a study-session, behave only like someone who wishes to increase his knowledge and to win greater recompense from God. Do not behave like someone who is content with what he has, who is looking for some fault to criticise or a curious detail to hawk around. This would be the behaviour of vile men who never succeed in their studies.
If you come to it with good intentions, you will always obtain the best results. Otherwise, to stay at home would be less tiring for your body, more worthy of your moral conduct and more salutary for your religious life.
Extract from Al-Akhlâq wal-Siyar (Morals and Behaviour) By Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi
Ilm is that asset which not only increases one’s knowledge and respect in his community, but it also makes his heart pure and keeps it protected from evils. It also teaches the heart and soul to live according to the commands of Allah Taa’la.