A Guide to Seeking Knowledge – Part 1

It is by the grace and bounty of Allah that today we see a large number of our youth going forward in the path of seeking knowledge. In the last few years we have seen an increase in the amount of Islamic schools, institutes, and centres of learning in the Western world. Islamic education is in high demand as the youth have renewed their interest in seeking knowledge of their Deen. However, it must be noted that the quest for knowledge is a passion that can lead to hastiness. Being heedless of the correct methodology of seeking knowledge could send the student right off the path of knowledge into all forms of deviance. Therefore, one of the first things that a student of knowledge needs to be aware of is how to go about the task of seeking knowledge. He needs to be shown clearly the proper way to attain Islamic knowledge and how to avoid the pitfalls that lie in his path. I hope the following will help to guide every student of knowledge in his quest for Islamic knowledge.

Before setting out on the path of seeking knowledge, there are some essential points a student of knowledge must keep in mind:

1. Sincerity of intention. The student of knowledge must make his intention for seeking knowledge solely for the sake of Allah, and not desiring by it to fulfill some worldly goals, such as fame, assuming leadership, gaining status and wealth, or having people praise him. Allah says:

“And they were not commanded except to worship Allah, being sincere to Him in religion, inclining to truth, and to establish prayer and to give Zakah. And that is the correct religion.” [Al-Bayyinah 98:5]

The Prophet (SAW) said: “Whoever learns knowledge which is sought for the sake of Allah, does not learn it except to fulfill a worldly gain, he will not find the scent of Paradise on the Day of Judgment.” [Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah]

Sufyan Ath-Thawri said: “I did not try to rectify anything that was more difficult upon me than my intention.”

Others from among the Salaf would say: “We sought this knowledge for other than the sake of Allah. But the knowledge refused that it should be sought except for the sake of Allah.”

It is reported that Imam Ahmad said: “Nothing equates knowledge for the one with the correct intention.” It was said to him: “And how is the intention corrected O Abu Abdullah?” He said: “By intending to lift the ignorance from oneself and from others.”

2. Personal etiquette. The student of knowledge must adorn himself with the best of Islamic manners, such as humbleness and putting arrogance and pride behind, contentment and abstaining from being attached to worldly pleasures and that which is in the hands of others, showing humility in the face of the truth, forsaking luxury, dealing gently with others, trustworthiness, piety, and other noble praiseworthy Islamic manners. At the same time one should beware of lowly manners that tarnish ones honour whether it be in speech or action, such as envy, evil suspicion, excessive joking, being conceited, showing off, boastfulness, arrogance, looking down upon others, spreading rumours from one group of people to another, and being seen in doubtful places.

Ibn Seereen said: “They (the Salaf) used to learn manners as they would learn the knowledge,” and Imam Ash-Shafi’i said: “We are in more need of a few good manners than we are in need of a lot of knowledge.”

3. Following up knowledge with action. From the most imperative objectives of seeking knowledge is implementing and acting upon the knowledge that one gains, Ibn Mas’ud said: “When one of us would learn ten Ayahs, he wouldn’t surpass them until he knew their meanings and acted upon them,” and Alee’ bin Abi Talib said: “Knowledge calls out to us with actions. It is either answered by actions or it goes away.”

Implementing ones knowledge is of the most significant ways by which knowledge can be firmly rooted in a person, as Wakee’ said: “We would seek help in memorizing Hadeeth by acting upon them,” and Abu Abdullah Ar-Roodhbari said: “Whoever leaves in pursuit of knowledge, desiring knowledge, the knowledge will not benefit him; and whoever leaves in pursuit of knowledge, desiring action, the knowledge will benefit him a little.”

By implementing ones knowledge one is giving the Zakah of his knowledge, as Bishr al-Hafi said: “O people of Hadeeth, give the Zakah of this Hadeeth: act upon five out of every two hundred Ahadeeth.”

Furthermore, the student of knowledge must beware of committing sins and acts of disobedience, for it contradicts everything that knowledge entails. Imam Ash-Shafi’i said in some famous verses of poetry:

"I complained to Wakee' about my poor memory
So he advised me to abandon sins
And he informed me that knowledge is a virtue
And Allah's virtue is not given to a sinner."

4. Choosing the right teacher. The only way a student of knowledge can excel and become proficient in knowledge is by receiving his education at the hands of a pious scholar. A pious scholar is recognized by his perseverance, fear of Allah, and upright character. By receiving ones knowledge from a pious scholar, one is ensured that his search for knowledge is based upon correct principles taken from the Qur’an and Sunnah, along with ensuring that he understands the material he is studying correctly. Furthermore, by sitting with a pious scholar the student of knowledge acquires the good behavior, noble manners, and piety of the scholar. As-Sam’ani mentioned that Imam Ahmad’s sitting would be attended by five thousand: five hundred of which are writing, and the remainder taking from his good manners, character, and behaviour.

As for the one who makes books his teacher he will not achieve any of the above. This is because the one whose books are his teacher frequently falls into mistakes and rarely is ever correct. Al-Awza’i used to say: “This knowledge used to be noble, passed down from men to men, but when it entered the books the wrong people became involved in it.”

5. Moving up the ladder of knowledge in a gradual stage. This is achieved through building a strong foundation by beginning with the most essential and important aspects of Islamic knowledge, the aspects that one is in most need of with respect to his Deen and Dunya, and then building upon that step by step. It is said that, “Whoever does not perfect the foundation, is prevented from reaching their aim in knowledge,” and that, “Whoever wants to attain knowledge in one go, will lose it in one go.” So the student of knowledge must concentrate on one subject at a time, and not move on to the next one until he has perfected the first one.

These are some of the main points a student of knowledge must keep in mind before setting out on his path of seeking knowledge. Of course one should not forget that all success lies with Allah, and so the student of knowledge should not neglect making Du’a, asking Allah to shower His mercy upon him by opening for him the door of knowledge and granting him of it what He wills.

Madeenah, Saudi Arabia
17th of Dhul-Qa'dah 1428