'Ilm - Gotta Have It
by Muhammad Alshareef
I was sleeping one morning when it was exam week at the University of Madinah, and my wife came in the house with a startle. I heard crying coming from our Bulgarian neighbors’ apartment. When my wife came into our apartment she had tears in her eyes. It was the kind of crying that when I saw those tears, I knew that her father must have died. And she didn’t say it first, I even asked it. I said, "Has your father died?" And she said, "No,” and then she said, “Shaykh Bin Baz rahimullahu ta’aala passed away."
There is not a single family member of mine that I have cried for more than I cried for Shaykh Bin Baz rahimahullah. You could have your own uncle die and you would not feel the sadness that someone would feel when Shaykh Bin Baz rahimullahu ta’aala died. On Friday, every single masjid in the entire kingdom gave their Khutbah on the death of Shaykh bin Baz rahimullahu ta’aala because of all the lives he had touched in his life. The sadness had swept all around Madinah Al-Munawwarah and all over the world.
I went to Masjid Qiblatain for Jumah salah. There was a very eloquent imam who lived there. He gave powerful khutbahs, but he never cried in them, except on this day. The first half of the khutbah was about the virtue of the ‘ulama and the importance of seeking knowledge. The second half of the khutbah was about Shaykh Bin Baz specifically, rahimullahu ta’aala. When the shaykh announced the news and said, “The death of...” he started crying at that moment. And I noticed that almost every single khateeb at the Ka’bah, and all these places, when they would give the news of the death of the shaykh, rahmiullahu ta’aala, they would all start crying at that moment. In fact, on ‘Idaatul Qur’an Al-Kareem, a Qur’an station in Saudi Arabia, there is an announcer who would often do fatwa questions and answers with Shaykh Bin Baz. He would be the one asking him the questions. On this day he was the one broadcasting the news of the janazah salaat at the Ka’bah and he himself broke down on the radio, and he could not perform his duty because of his crying on the radio. He could not make the words come out. *
PART II: Seeking Knowledge
It is a phenomenon in our community that we have a desire to learn about Islam, to learn about this deen. If we ask the question “Who wants to memorize the entire Qur’an?” almost everybody will raise their hands. “Who wants to learn the Arabic language?” “Who wants to learn the fiqh of the deen?” Everybody will raise their hands. And with that raising of the hand, good news will happen. You’ll say, “Oh, there is an Arabic class coming up, you’ll be able to fulfill your dreams!” But those same people who raised their hands will say, “Sorry, but I’m a little bit busy you know,” and the hands come down. “And there’s a Qur’an class!” and they say, “Oh, you know, I have my exams coming up, I can’t really do it right now,” and the hands fall down.
If there is this thirst for knowledge and learning the deen, then why are we not coming forward with the opportunity?” The table is set, and the invitation is sent out, and nobody comes to it. So if you come, you may see two or three brothers studying. Come to another halaqa, you may see six or seven brothers studying. There will be studying here and there, but they are very few in comparison to how big our community is.
Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala says, and indeed this is a very powerful statement:
Say: Believe in it or do not believe…
It doesn’t matter; it is all for you. Many times you will see a celebrity become Muslim and it is as if we are so proud that they became Muslim. No, the pride is for that person who became Muslim. It is them who will benefit from their eman. Allah then says:
…indeed, those who were given knowledge before it - when it is recited to them, they fall upon their faces in prostration. / And they say, "Exalted is our Lord! Indeed, the promise of our Lord has been fulfilled." / And they fall upon their faces weeping, and Allah increases them in humble submission (Al-Isra’ 17/107-109).
At the end of our classes we take questions, and many times the questions are, “Are marshmallows haram?” or “What about the moon-sighting issue?” or “Are mortgages—” and so on and so forth. But an interesting person would raise his hand to ask the question, “What is the ruling on seeking knowledge on the deen?” The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) said about it: “To seek knowledge of the deen is fard on every single Muslim.”
Let it sink in, that it is fard. No one is giving you the different rulings. The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) is telling us that it is fard to seek knowledge of this deen.
Is everything of this entire deen fard? No, because no one will be able to encompass all of that knowledge. But the scholars have said that there are certain portions of the deen of which the person will not be left alone or not be forgiven if they didn’t know these things. Of those things everyone must know are the things that they are directly involved with in their ibaadah. For example, a person has to make wudu for salah. A person cannot be Muslim, live his entire life as a Muslim, and say,“Oh, I just never learned to do wudu for salah.” It is fard on him to learn how to make wudu, and he will actually be taken to account for not seeking how to make wudu. The same goes for salah. A person cannot say, “Oh, I’ve never learned Al-Fatiha, it’s been ten years and I never learned it, so I just recite it in English.” A person will not be excused for this.
Al-Hasan Al-Basree said about the one who learns and acts upon his knowledge: “He is beloved by Allah, a friend of Allah, the cream of Allah's creation. Out of the inhabitants of the earth, he is the most precious to Allah. He answered Allah's call and invited others day and night to answer Allah's call and then did good. And he announces to the world, 'I am a Muslim'. This is the khalifah of Allah on earth.”
Ibn Al-Jawzee radi Allahu anhu in his book Miftaah Daar As-Sa'aadah explains those aspects of knowledge which are fard for a person to learn. He mentions four:
Firstly, a person has to know usool al-eman al-khamsah. He has to know the principles and the pinnacles of our belief that are encompassed in the statement, “Aamantu billahi wa malaaikatihi, wa kutubihi wa rusoolihi, wal yawm al-akhir.” A person has to know those principles.
Secondly, a person must have knowledge of the law of Islam. There is the fard of that which a person must perform like salah and the zakah, but similarly, if a person is dealing in business, it is fard for him to know what is Islamically correct and incorrect in his business transactions.
‘Umar radi Allahu anhu would take a stick in his hand and ask the merchants questions, and hit them if they didn’t know the proper ahkaam, rulings. And he would hit them in the marketplace if they didn’t know them. He said, “Whoever doesn’t know these rulings, he will eat riba’, whether he likes it or not; because of his ignorance, he will fall into it.” Thirdly, there are certain things that are haram which all the prophets came with. Ibn Al-Jawzee rahimahullah said this is mentioned in the verse of Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala:
Say: the things that my Lord has indeed forbidden are shameful deeds, whether open or secret; sins and trespasses against truth or reason; assigning partners to Allah, for which He has given no authority; and saying things about Allah of which you have no knowledge. It is fard for a person to know this.
Finally, those interactions of a person when he deals with his family. He has to know what is fard upon him in regards to taking care of his wife and children. If a person doesn’t do this, those children and that wife can take this man to the Muslim judge and he can force him and take this away from him, because it is fard that he know that this is the law of Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala upon him. Many times we will go to a workshop, seminar, or conference and come back satisfied that we got a little bit of knowledge. But this idea of being satisfied with what we have learned is not a characteristic of the people that came before us. Their satisfaction would never reach its fullest. They would always want to satisfy themselves more and more to get this knowledge.
Ibn Al-Jawzee said, "Let me tell you about my own situation. I am never content, saying to myself that I have read enough books. If I find a book which I haven't seen before,” notice he says seen, not read, “it is as if I have stumbled upon a pot of gold." For him, finding a book that he had never seen before was like finding a treasure chest.
We should contemplate over why we do not see this sort of drive towards knowledge. It could be the sins of our very community that are holding us back and putting a wall between us from moving forward and studying this deen, learning it, and acting upon it.
Ibn Mas'ood rahimahullah said, “I think that a person could forget the knowledge that he has learned because of his sins.”
It is mentioned in Tabaqaat Al-Hanafiyyah 2/487, that when Abu Haneefah had a question that he could not figure out, he would say to his students, "This forgetfulness is due to nothing other then a sin I have committed." So when he had a mental block in his halaqa he would say “Astaghfir Allah.” He would ask Allah ta'aala for forgiveness, or he would get up in the middle of a halaqa, leave the students, and go pray, hoping that Allah would forgive him. Then, when the issue would become clear to him, he would become happy and say, "It is my good news that perhaps Allah has forgiven me."
This was told to Al-Fudayl ibn Iyaad, and when he heard this he began to weep and commented, "This is because of the upright life that he lives. As for others, they would not realize this." Abu Haneefah understood that the mental block comes from our sins, but few others do.
The people before us would spend their money in seeking this knowledge. Often, a number of classes are free and you would think that the people would come to the halaqa more, but that is not the case. You would think that if there is a charge on the class they would say, “I’m going to pay money to learn about Islam?” and the numbers would lessen. But this is not the case. In the past they would spend their wealth in this cause.
The scholar Ali ibn Aasim said, “(When I was young) My father gave me 100,000 dirhams and he said, ‘Take this money and go. I don’t want to see your face until you replace this 100,000 dirhams with 100,000 ahadith. Until then, we don’t know you and you don’t know us.’” From Al-Bidaayah wan-Nihaayah we learn about Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Ahmad An-Nasafee, that he lived in such poverty (as did many scholars) that his son asked, “When are we going to relax in this poverty that we are in?” So he went to sleep one night in sadness and depression due to the poverty and need and the debts that he owed. As he sat there in his sadness, suddenly his mind went on a tangent, and an issue of fiqh, which had caught him, came to his mind and suddenly he knew the solution to it. So he jumped up in the middle of the darkness cheering and shouting. He said, "Ayn Al-Mulook!" which is akin to saying, “Who’s the man!” in our times. His wife thought he must have had one of these million-dollar-schemes to get all the money, so she asked him, “What happened?” He said, “Don’t you realize that I have just figured out the solution to this fiqh issue?” And she was shocked at all this happiness. Even though they were in the state they were in he was happy because Allah opened up this issue for him.
It took Abu Ubaid Qaasim ibn Salaam 40 years to write his book Ghareeb Al-Hadeeth. In explaining the days when he was writing the book, he said, “Perhaps while listening to some scholars I may benefit one point, a gem, from what they said, and then hurry home to write it in the proper chapter of the book. After that I would spend the entire night with a grin on my face. I would sleep with a smile in utter happiness because of that point I just benefited.”
We have all heard of Nawawee and others’ books that are so long that if we ever opened them, we would never finish them. Where did they get the time to learn the knowledge and write it? We could never read it cover to cover, forget even writing it! Imam Nawawee rahimahullah didn't go to the library and just have the knowledge evaporate into his head. He said he used to make du’a for the knowledge. And this is true – you should make du’a for knowledge but follow it up with actions, and in sha Allah, Allah will bless you. In his schooling days, Imam Nawawee used to attend 12 halaqas or classes every day, from morning to evening. And they weren’t really the type of feel-good-halaqas where the people would go back without having really written anything. You can see the knowledge that he gained from every single class.
I remember in Madinah University there was a student who used to sleep in class. He didn’t pay; he got scholarships so he would just sleep in class. We had 25 classes a week and he slept for all 25 every single week of the entire year. In the final class before the final exam, there is always a designated person to ask the teacher to make the exam easy. Our tawheed teacher came in and this guy woke up and said, “Khaffaf, yaa shaykh,” “Make it easy for us, yaa shaykh.” So the shaykh didn’t really know who this guy was and he felt kind of shy as he was put on the spot, and he was trying to make excuses saying, “You know, it is not in our hands, the universities make us make it hard,” and so on. But this person, and this was the only time he was ever awake, went back to sleep after making that statements. So the shaykh begins lecturing and it turns out that guy is asleep, so the teacher started knocking on the table. He said, “No sleeping, oh he who is looking for an easy exam. Wake up.” It was a valuable lesson. If you want your exams to be easy, then you have to wake up.
A poet once related the story of a woman who used to get mad at her husband for spending all his money on books and spending everything in his right hand to buy these books. One day he said, “Just leave me alone. Perhaps in these books I will find a book that will help me to take my book in my right hand on the Day of Judgment.”
PART III: Lazyboy
When you see someone wanting to buy a sofa, they say, “I want the American sofa, it’s called Lazyboy.” This is an icon of American lifestyle, so everyone likes the sofa. They don’t even feel insulted by the name, and of course, overseas they are trying to copy this tradition.
They have what is called in Arabic nadee at-farfeeh, which is an amusement park. In this amusement park, someone had put up on the third floor whatever games they could think of, and they called it Nadee at-Tarfeeh. This should have been translated as ‘Amusement Park,’ but whoever they got to do the translation did a very good job, for he translated it as ‘Distraction Club.’ He hit the nail right on the head. It was the exact meaning of what these places are.
What will our excuse be in front of Allah subhaanahu wa ta'aala when this knowledge that is fard upon us to learn is not acted upon because we are following a certain soap opera that we cannot miss? Or we may have season tickets, which means that we are going to go to eighty games in a year and we’re so happy to get these tickets? Or we may make the television our life? We make these games and amusements our life. This is a harb, a battle with Shaytan who is our #1 enemy and the leader of his army of enemies.
Allah subhaanahu wa ta'aala says:
Indeed the Shaytan is your enemy, so treat him like your enemy (Al-Fatir 35/6).
Do not treat him like a best friend. You always see in these cartoons that Shaytan is always the good one, the one who takes them to have fun. They go up to Paradise and it is just someone playing the harps, but in Hellfire, they are having a party. This is the tazeen. They make all the people think that it is so beautiful to go to Hellfire and to live this life.
In the Qur’an Allah subhaanahu wa ta'aala says:
Iblees said, "By your might, I will surely mislead them all / Except, among them, those servants of yours who are sincere.
Take a look at two of the weapons Shaytaan will use against you.
One: in the fight against Shaytan, the sofa. The name of this in English actually has a meaning in Arabic. In Arabic, ‘sofa’ means ‘to procrastinate.’ In Arabic, when a person says, “I want you to study for your exam,” he will say in Arabic, “Sofa.” It’s called ‘tasweef.’ If you ask the teacher to define it: “What is tasweef?” He will say, “Sofa, sofa, sofa, sofa.” It means, “I’ll do it tomorrow.”
Or someone will say, “The halaqa is on Saturdays, let me just get through this semester and then I’ll start to come to the halaqa. Let me finish the university, and then I’ll start learning the deen. Let me pay off these debts that have accumulated, after I finish the debts, then I’ll come to the halaqa.” He finishes the debts, halfway through he gets married, and now he says, “You know, let me get my house, let me get my nice car, let me have ten children, and then I’ll come to the halaqa.” If you have ten children, when are you going to come to the halaqa? You have to take care of those kids.
This is how Shaytan leads them until finally the person is really saying that after he’s dead, that is when he’ll really come to the halaqa. And when he gets to that stage right before his death, he will say, “I wish I had done it differently.”
Two: a person might not lead an upright life so when they hear of a halaqa they say, “I can’t come to this halaqa because I’m not at their level.” This is the wrong attitude, because it is in the sequence of knowledge that the person will come closer to Allah subhaanahu wa ta'aala. By not learning about the deen, the person will go further away from Allah subhaanahu wa ta'aala.
If someone is sincere and feels like that, he should know that the tawbah is there in those halaqas. When a person comes forward and takes a step toward Allah subhaanahu wa ta'aala, then He will come closer to them.
PART IV: The Rewards of Seeking Knowledge
First, if you study the deen then know that there is paramount reward from Allah subhaanahu wa ta'aala for those who seek knowledge sincerely for His sake and pass it on to others.
Second, if you pass it on to others, not only will you see the reward yourself, but you also see and get the continual reward of those following it. To teach someone something is a sadaqah jaariyah (continusou sadaqah). For example, if a person learned how to pray from Imam Abu Hanifah, and it is correct, then Imam Abu Hanifah gets continual reward because he learned it from him. Similarly, if that person teaches someone else how to pray based on Abu Hanifah’s teachings, Abu Hanifah and that person both will get the continual rewards for the person following them. So the teacher will continue to get the reward for the knowledge he/she passes on.
Third, know that this knowledge is the inheritance from the prophets. The prophets never left any money behind for anyone, but they left behind knowledge.
Finally, know that when you seek this knowledge, and alleviate yourself of this ignorance, you will be walking in happiness. It is only those people who have knowledge of the deen that are the ones who truly fear Allah subhaanahu wa ta'aala.
*Official announcement of the death of Shaykh Bin Baz http://fatwa-online.com/audio/other/oth014/0020304.htm