by Aisha Bewley
It is related from Anas ibn Malik in al-Bukhari that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Among the signs of the Hour are the disappearance of knowledge, the establishment of ignorance, the drinking of wine and the appearance of fornication." Abu Hurayra was heard to relate from the Prophet, "Knowledge will be taken away, ignorance and sedition will appear, and there will be a lot of killing."
The first of these signs of the deterioration of humanity and approaching end of time is the disappearance of the knowledge which we are commanded to seek in words of Allah, "Say: Lord, increase me in knowledge." (20:114) The importance of knowledge and its consequences is expressed throughout the Qur'an: "Only His slaves who have knowledge fear Allah," (35:28) and "Only those with knowledge will understand it," (29:43) and "And they say, 'If only we had listened or used our intellects we would not have been among the people of the Blaze." (67:10) The list of ayats about this goes on and on. Without knowledge you will not fear Allah and will not understand, and hence are likely to end up in the Fire.
The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "If Allah desires good for someone, He gives him understanding in the deen. Knowledge is gained through learning." Abu Dharr pointed to his neck and said, "If you were to put the sword here and I thought that I could finish one sentence which I heard from the Prophet before you finished me, I would say it."
'Ali stated, "Knowledge is better than riches, for knowledge guards you while you guard riches. Knowledge governs while riches are governed. Riches diminish with spending but knowledge increases with it."
The people of knowledge are 'the heirs of the Prophets', as the Messenger of Allah said. He also said, "Wisdom adds honour to the noble and exalts the slave until he attains to the level of kings." He also said, "A single faqih is more formidable to Shaytan than a thousand worshippers." This is because the one with knowledge can distinguish between the halal and the haram, and see the perils and machinations of Shaytan and thus avoid the traps he sets.
But you must take care with knowledge. Knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Knowledge can be confused with information and knowledge can be misused. Hammad ibn Salama, who was thought to be one of the Abdal, said, "Whoever utters hadith for the sake of other than Allah is deceived by it." A commentator pointed out that knowledge can deceive him because knowledge is like the ferocious lion and hadith is the core of knowledge. This lion can only be overcome through the help of Allah by having fear of Allah and sincere intention. Even if you overcome the lion, you must still be alert because if you ignore and neglect it, it will become unsubmissive. Then the lion will attack its owner and kill him. So knowledge is a dangerous creature requiring great caution and care.
This is reflected in what the Prophet said which is reported in al-Bukhari, "Allah will not take away knowledge from His servants, but knowledge will be taken away as the men of knowledge are taken away until there is not a single man of knowledge left. Then people will take ignorant men for their leaders who will be asked something and will give a fatwa (decision) without any knowledge. They will go astray and lead others astray." This does not mean that they do not have libraries of tafsir, hadith and commentaries. Other hadiths and sayings of the Prophet describe people who know the Qur'an by heart, but do not know what it means or what it says. Their knowledge is in the books and on the tongues, and not in the heart or on the limbs.
Abu'd-Darda' related that he heard the Prophet say, "Allah revealed to one of the Prophets, 'Say unto those who study fiqh for a purpose other than the deen and to those who acquire knowledge for a purpose other than that of acting according to it, that they appear before people in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravening wolves. Their tongues are sweeter than honey, but their hearts are more bitter than colocynth. They act deceitfully against Me and scorn Me. I will confront them with temptations which would confound even the wise."
Ibn Mas'ud stated, "The Qur'an was revealed in order that men may direct their lives according to its teaching. But instead you have made it your life work."
Abu Allah ibn 'Ata' said, "Knowledge is dependent upon acting on it." It is just as Imam ash-Shafi'i said, "Knowledge is not what is memorised. Knowledge is what benefits." In other words, that which has results.
Hence we can see that knowledge must entail action. 'Umar b. al-Khattab asked Ka'b who the lords of knowledge were. He replied that they are those who act according to what they know.
The goal of Muslim knowledge is to seek the pleasure of Allah and to create and maintain an environment in which one can act without hindrance for the pleasure of Allah, worship Allah as He should be worshipped, and follow the commands of Allah and avoid the things He has prohibited. It is exceedingly difficult to put one's knowledge into practice if one is drowning in a sea of usury, bereft of any leadership to show one which way to swim, let alone how to get out. Hence the neccessity of recognising the destructive and haram nature of usury and the fact that amirate is necessary to help implement action by knowledge.
Action is necessarily wider than the sphere of the individual. It is also important not to turn Islam into a private religion and divorce it from the arena of political and social action - as the Reformation ultimately did to Christianity by demolishing the political unity of Christendom and replacing it with the nebulous area of private conscience. In fact, this modern Reformationist trend is attempting to insinuate itself into Islam along with the view that if one's private spiritual state is sound - or seems to be sound - then there is no pressing need to carry the business into the social arena. This results in complacency and a gradual weakening of Islam, an erosion of its natural economic, political and social thrust. What was once a small crack soon becomes a vast chasm.
Allah says, "You have a good model in the Messenger of Allah." (33:21) The word which Allah uses for model is "uswa" which means an example or exemplar and the root of the word also carries a connotation of healing and consolation. The healing in the root of the word "asa" is a surgical healing. The healing involved is of a surgical nature. It is cutting away the source of the poison to heal the body. The body in this case is the Muslim Umma which is failing to act upon what it knows. Or indeed, it is failing to act because its so-called leaders are stifling real action and many aspiring leaders are directing people in the wrong direction.
The Muslim Umma is definitely a body which is in need of healing. The question is: where is one to find it? The answer is: in the model of behaviour shown by the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, which continued to be practised in Madina where the bulk of Companions were located. 'Abdullah ibn 'Umar said, "When a sedition occurs, if people would only refer the business to the people of Madina, and if they agree on something, then the business would be right. But when a dog barks, people follow it." This is because, as we said, hadith is a lion. The jurist 'Abdullah ibn Wahb said, "The hadith misguide people other than the men of knowledge. If it had not been for Malik and al-Layth, I would have been lost.' He was asked, "How is that?" He replied, "I knew a lot of hadiths and it confused me. I used to present them to Malik and al-Layth and they would say, 'Take this and leave that.'"
Hence the stress on following those who KNOW what is meant by the hadith and whether it is acted upon in a general manner or not. 'Umar ibn al-Khattab said, "I forbid by Allah, the Mighty, the Exalted, that a man relate a hadith of action different from it," i.e. than what the practice ('amal) of Madina was. Malik ibn Anas said, "The men of the people of knowledge among the Tabi'un reported hadiths which had been conveyed to them from others and they said, "We are not ignorant of this, but the past action is other than it."
Ibn Mahdi said, "Often I will have many hadiths on a particular subject but will find the people of the Suffa, the people of Madina, following something contrary to it. Therefore those hadiths become weak in my opinion." Ibn al-Mu'adhdhil said, "I heard a man ask Ibn Majishun, 'Why did you relate the hadith and then leave it?' He replied, 'So that it will be known that we left it with full knowledge of it." It is worth noting that none of the various seditions and sects which developed did so in Madina because they applied this criterion.
The process which they followed is described in a letter of Malik ibn Anas to al-Layth ibn Sa'id:
"After he (the Prophet) was gone, the people followed those from among his community who were given authority after him. When something happened to them that they had knowledge about, they carried it out. If they did not have knowledge of it, they asked about it and then took the strongest of what they found concerning the matter in hand through ijtihad helped by recentness of their contact (with the Prophet). If someone opposed them or said something else which was stronger than the ruling they had made and better than it, they left the former and acted upon the latter.
"Then the Tabi'un after them travelled this Path and followed those sunan. Since the business in Madina was outward and acted upon, I have not seen anyone who opposed it because of the inheritance they had received which no one is allowed to plagiarise or lay claim to. If the people of other cities had begun to say, 'This is the action which is in our city and this is what happened in it from those before us, they would not be certain about that."
Part of this Path is to be extremely careful about rushing to declare something unlawful (haram): Malik said, " Nothing is harder for me than when I am asked a question about the halal and the haram because this is absolute in the judgement of Allah. I met the people of knowledge and fiqh in our land and if one of them was asked such a question, it was as if death were dearer to him. But I see the people of this time desiring to discuss it and give fatwa. If they had understood what it is that they are heading for Tomorrow, they would have done little of this. As for 'Umar ibn al-Khattab, 'Ali and the best of the Companions, and the best generation to whom the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was sent, when questions came to them, they would gather together the Companions of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and ask. Then and only then would they give a fatwa on it. The people of our time now pride themselves in their fatwas and the knowledge they have. It was not the business of the people nor of those who passed away before us who are followed and on whom Islam is based to say, 'This is halal and this is haram,' but they would say, 'I dislike this' and 'I think this.' But as for the halal and the haram, this is inventing things against Allah"
Malik also forbade arguing about the Deen. He said, 'Quarrelling and argument in matters of knowledge remove the light of belief from the heart,' and 'Disputation hardens people's hearts and brings about rancour.' Malik was asked, 'Should a man with knowledge of the Sunna argue about it?' He said, 'No. He should inform people about the Sunna if they will accept it from him. Otherwise he should remain silent.' This does not preclude active discussion of matters of fiqh for the sake of discovering the truth but it does exclude debate for the sake of debate because it leads to a hardening of positions in the heat of argument and condemning one's opponent out of hand.
Al-Hasan al-Basri said, "Two innovations have appeared in Islam: a man of bad judgement who holds that the Garden will be the reward only for those who see eye to eye with him, and a man of luxury and extravagance who worships this world. .. Reject these two for they are doomed to the Fire."
So we have three types of people in respect of knowledge:
- one who follows true knowledge and applies it;
- one who seeks to satisfy his appetites,
-and one who seeks to have people follow his opinions.
Incidentally, Plato also puts mankind into these three classes according to the element of the soul which prevails in them.
As far as truly useful knowledge is concerning, there is the following story of Hatim al-Asamm and the knowledge that he acquired from his teacher, Shaqiq al-Balkhi. It is reported that Shaqiq asked Hatim how long he had been with him. Hatim replied that it had been thirty-three years. Shaqiq then asked, "And what have you learnt during this period?" Hatim said, "Eight things." Shaqiq exclaimed, "We belong to Allah and to Him we return! I have spent my life teaching you and you have only learned eight things!?" Hatim stated, "I have learnt nothing else and I do not like to lie about it."
Shaqiq said, "So tell what these eight things are then." Hatim replied, "I looked around and saw that everyone has something or someone he loves and with whom he remains until the moment he dies. Then they part. Therefore I made good actions the object of my love so that when my hour of death comes, that which I love will accompany me to the grave." Shaqiq said, "You have done well, Hatim. So what is the second thing you have learned?"
Hatim said, "I reflected on the words of Allah, 'As for the one who fears the station of his Lord and holds his self back from passion, the Garden will be his dwelling-place.' (79:40-41) I know that what Allah said is the truth. Therefore I struggled with myself and strived to repel passion (hawa) until I was well settled in obedience to Allah.
"As for the third point, I looked at people and found that everyone treasures and exalts whatever valuable things he has in his possession. Then I examined the words of Allah, "That which you possess will vanish and that which is with Allah will go on" (16: 98) I then began to give to Allah anything valuable which came into my possession so that it would remain in His preservation.
"As for the fourth item, I looked around at people and saw that everyone places his trust in wealth, descent, honour and lineage. When I examined these things, I found them to be without substance. Then I considered the words of Allah, "Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the one who has the most fearful awareness (taqwa). (49:13) Therefore I devoted myself to fearful awareness of Allah so that I could have honour in the sight of Allah.
"Fifthly, I looked at people and saw them slandering and cursing each other out of envy. Then I examined the words of Allah, "It is We who distribute the livelihood they have in the life of this world." (43:31) So I abandoned envy and I befriended people, knowing that one's portion comes from Allah. Therefore I no longer harbour enmity for people.
"Sixthly, I saw men fighting each other and oppressing each other, so I turned to what Allah said, "Shaytan is an enemy to you, so take him for an enemy." (35:6) So I took shaytan alone to be my enemy and strove hard to be on my guard against him because Allah has testified that he is my enemy. Accordingly I ceased to hate anyone else.
"The seventh thing was that I saw everyone running after their daily bread and debasing themselves and entering into all sorts of haram things to obtain it. Then I examined the words of Allah, " "There is no creature on the face of the earth but that its provision is Allah's responsibility." (11:8) I knew that I was one of those creatures whose provision is Allah's responsibility, so I occupied myself with what I owe Allah and left my property with Him.
"The eighth thing was that I looked at people and saw that they all put their trust in something created - one in his estate, another in his wealth, another in his work and yet another in his physical health. They all put their trust in things which are created just as they are created. I referred back to Allah's words, ""Whoever puts his trust in Allah, He will be enough for him." (65:3) So I placed my trust in Allah and He is enough for me."
Shaqiq exclaimed, "Hatim, may Allah make you prosper! I have studied the sciences of the Torah, the Gospel, the Psalms, and the Immense Qur'an and I have found that every variety of good and religion revolves around these eight things. Whoever practises them practises all four books."
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