Knowledge and its Possessors

Today we live in a time where little or no importance is given to sacred Islamic knowledge. Ignorance of the very fundamental aspects of the religion of Islam is becoming widespread among the Muslims. Even those who write, talk, or debate on Islamic discussions have little or no knowledge of what they speak of, rather they speak out of ignorance and from their whims and desires. With the rapidly advancing world of communications we live in, new names and faces speaking on behalf of Islam as so-called Islamic "scholars" and "experts" are appearing, very few of who are firmly grounded in Islamic knowledge. It was this that the Prophet (SAW) prophesized when he said:

“Allah does not take away knowledge by taking it away from the hearts of the scholars, but rather by the death of the scholars, till when no scholar remains, people will take as their leaders ignorant ones who when consulted will give their verdict without knowledge. So they will go astray and will lead the people astray.” [Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, and Ahmad]

In the following lines I hope to shed some light on the true essence of knowledge, the status of the People of Knowledge, and some of the virtues of knowledge and its possessors, hoping that it serves as a reminder to myself and my brothers and sisters in faith, and encourages us to strive to seek this sacred knowledge.

The True Essence of Knowledge

Knowledge consists of many branches, but according to the scholars of Islam what is meant by knowledge in the absolute sense is Islamic knowledge. So this is the intended meaning of knowledge when it is mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunnah. Therefore, knowledge is what Allah and His Messenger (SAW) have said, it is the knowledge of the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger (SAW), and all that assists its understanding. And so in the absolute sense it is: knowledge regarding Allah, His names and attributes, knowledge of His rights over His creation and what He has prescribed for them, it is the detailed knowledge of the path that leads to Allah, knowledge of the purpose of our creation and the end which the slave will result in, in the Hereafter.

The Status of the People of Knowledge

This knowledge is to be acquired from its authentic sources, namely the Book of Allah and the authentic Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW). We understand and interpret it based upon the understanding and interpretation of our Pious Predecessors who are known as the Salaf. They are the first three generations of Islam. They transmitted this knowledge to their successors, the students of knowledge from each generation, who later became scholars and People of Knowledge. They in turn transmitted what they acquired of this knowledge to their successors, passing it on through the generations until it finally reached us. This is what the Prophet (SAW) spoke of when he said:

“The upright in every generation will carry this knowledge, rejecting the distortions of the extremists, the false claims of the liars, and the (false) interpretations of the ignorant.” [Ahmad]

So it is upon us to acquire this knowledge from those who inherited it from their predecessors, namely the scholars of our time. The Prophet (SAW) said:

“Verily, the scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets, and verily, the Prophets did not inherit a Dinar nor a Dirham, rather they only inherited knowledge, so whoever takes a hold of it has taken a hold of a great fortune.” [Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban, and Bayhaqi]

When one is ignorant of the truth then it is compulsory upon him to ask the People of Knowledge and the genuine scholars. Allah says:

“So ask the people of the message (i.e. former scriptures) if you do not know.” [An-Nahl 16:43]

A genuine scholar is recognized by his perseverance, his Taqwa, and his fear of Allah, striving to do what Allah has made obligatory and keeping well away from what Allah and His Messenger (SAW) have forbidden. Allah says:

“It is only those who have knowledge among His slaves that fear Allah.” [Fatir 35:28]

So here Allah exclusively mentions the People of Knowledge as those who fear Him from among His slaves, He doesn’t make mention of anyone else, showing that the scholars are the most fearful of Allah among mankind due to their knowledge of Allah, His religion, and His names and attributes.

Allah further clarifies the distinction between the possessors of knowledge and the ignorant when He says:

“Say: ‘Are those who know equal to those who do not know?’ It is only men of understanding who will remember.” [Az-Zumar 39:9]

Therefore, the people of knowledge and the ignorant are not alike. The person who has knowledge that what Allah has revealed is the truth, guidance, and a way to success, is not equal to the one who has been blinded to this way and to this knowledge. There is an immense difference between the knowledgeable and the ignorant.

Furthermore, Allah has honored the people who possess this knowledge and has raised their status high by making them bear witness to His Oneness. Allah says:

“Allah bears witness that none has the right to be worshipped but He, and the angels, and those having knowledge (also bear witness to this); (He always) maintains His creation in justice. None has the right to be worshipped but He, the All-Mighty, the All-Wise.” [Aal ‘Imran 3:18]

This verse shows the superiority of knowledge and its people, for Allah chose the People of Knowledge to bear witness to His Oneness over and above the rest of His creation. He further honored them by mentioning their testimony along with His testimony and the testimony of the angels. And lastly, He made them bear witness with the greatest and the most excellent testimony, and that is, “none has the right to be worshipped but Allah.” Allah does not bear witness except to matters of great importance and only the greatest from Allah’s creation bear witness to this.

From the Virtues of Knowledge and its Possessors

As for the virtues and merits of knowledge and its possessors then they are many. It is the most noble thing that one can ask for, and the best thing a seeker can strive to attain. The Prophet (SAW) said:

“Whenever Allah desires good for a person He grants him the understanding of the religion.” [Bukhari]

This Hadeeth shows us that from the virtues and benefits of knowledge is that if Allah wants to show goodness to His slave He grants him with the understanding of the religion, so that he can distinguish truth from falsehood and guidance from deviation. It also shows us that whoever doesn’t make an effort to learn and understand his religion then Allah has not desired good for such a person. Whoever is happy with remaining in ignorance, by turning away and not making an effort to understand the religion, Allah has not wished good for such a person.

In another Hadeeth the Prophet (SAW) said:

“Whosoever pursues a path to seek knowledge therein, Allah will thereby make easy for him a path to Paradise. Verily, the Angels lower their wings for the Seeker of Knowledge out of contentment for what he does. Verily, everything in the heavens and everything in the earth, even the fish in the water, asks forgiveness for the scholar. The superiority of the scholar over the worshipper is like the superiority of the moon over the rest of the stars. Verily, the scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets, and verily, the Prophets did not inherit a Dinar nor a Dirham, rather they only inherited knowledge, so whoever takes a hold of it has taken a hold of a great fortune.” [Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban, and Bayhaqi]

This Hadeeth shows us the great excellence of the students of knowledge, for whoever corrects his intention in seeking knowledge and desires only the reward from Allah, he is on a road to salvation from the Fire and happiness in Paradise.

Other virtues and merits of knowledge and its possessors:

1. Knowledge is protected for the one who possesses it, because if Allah bestows knowledge upon you it enters your heart and is safeguarded there, so you don’t need boxes, keys, or anything else to protect it. Whereas, if you had money you would place it in safe-boxes, lock it and hide it, and yet even then you’re not reassured.

2. Knowledge is a light that illuminates the servant’s path so that he knows how to actually worship and serve Allah, and it is also a light that guides people in their religious and day-to-day affairs.

3. Knowledge remains with a person even after he dies, and so it follows him to his grave and benefits him there, whereas material things vanish and do not enter with its possessor into his grave.

4. Having envy for someone due the bounties that Allah has favored him with is forbidden except with regards to two bounties: seeking knowledge and acting upon it, and a wealthy person who uses his wealth to serve and aid Islam.

5. Everything in this Dunya is accursed except for the remembrance of Allah and the People of Knowledge.

6. Allah never ordered His Messenger (SAW) to ask for an increase in anything of this Dunya except once:

“And say: My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.” [Ta-Ha 20:114]

7. Knowledge raises the low in society to a status of nobility and increases the noble in their nobility. There was once a scholar from the great scholars of Islam known as ‘Ataa' ibn Abi Rabbah, he was a slave owned by a woman in Makkah. One day, the Khaleefah Sulaiman ibn Abdul-Malik came with his two sons and sat by him as he was praying, then when he finished from his prayer he turned to the people, and they continuously asked him about the rites of Hajj until Sulaiman said to his two sons: “get up,” so they got up, and he said: “O my two sons! Do not neglect seeking knowledge for verily I will never forget our lowliness before this slave.”

We ask Allah to bless us with beneficial knowledge and righteous actions, and grant us understanding of the religion.

Madeenah, Saudi Arabia
19th of Shawwal 1428