This is the fourth part of a series, click here for the previous article.
In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
No matter how much a student develops, the etiquette with his teacher is of the utmost importance. Seventy percent of knowledge is gained through the student’s connection with his teacher – through his love of and attachment to his teacher, and through his adab and respect. More than five thousand students attended the classes of Imam Ahmad Bin Hanbal. The majority of them attended to learn adab, while around only five hundred attended to record hadith.
Imam Haddad said, in his book Adab Suluk al-Murid, that if a student is filled with reverence, love and respect for his shaykh, and this is apparent inwardly and outwardly, and he follows the way of his teacher, he will inherit his teacher’s secret. Sayyid Imam ‘Ali Ibn Hasan al-‘Attas said a student will receive knowledge, openings, light and unveilings in proportion to the amount of etiquette he adopts towards his teacher.
Imam Baha’ al-Din al-Subki (d. 1372AD/773AH) told the following story: “We were travelling to greater Syria. My father (Imam Taqi al-Din al-Subki) was riding his horse, and we passed a farmer who said he had asked Imam Nawawi something. It was clear that he had met and studied under Imam Nawawi so my father descended from his horse, saying I will not ride a horse while someone who has seen Imam Nawawi is walking.” Imam al-Subki never met Imam Nawawi but he read many of his books and adopted him as his teacher. So when he met the student of Imam Nawawi he made him ride the horse while he walked.
Habib Salim al-Shatiri was regarded as the most senior teacher in the ribat of Tarim. He met Habib Muhammad al-Haddar, the father-in-law of Habib Zayn and Habib ‘Umar. Habib Salim was Habib Muhammad’s junior, so he tried to kiss his hand. However, Habib Muhammad kept refusing because Habib Salim’s father, Habib ‘Abd Allah, was one of his teachers. He said, “how could I ever allow my teacher’s son to kiss my hand?”
When they both lived in Madinah, someone gave Habib Muhammad a first-floor apartment and gave Habib Salim an apartment on the ground floor below him. Habib Muhammad refused to live on the first floor. He insisted that Habib Salim move into the first-floor apartment and he took the ground floor one, saying, “how can I sleep above the son of my shaykh?”
This etiquette must be emphasised. We do not revere our teachers. We must make dua that Allah hides the faults of our teachers so we do not see them. These days we look for our teacher’s faults, and when we find them we think less of him and, worse than that, we talk about them and make others think less of the teacher.
We should pray for our teachers. Abu Hanifah said, “I made istighfar for my teacher after every salah after he had passed away. I will continue making istighfar for every teacher from whom I have learned and every student I have taught.”
According to a narration, a man has three fathers – his biological father, the father whose daughter he marries, and his teacher, and the teacher is the best of fathers. By honouring and respecting our teachers, we will succeed in our studies and gain knowledge from our teachers.
Imam Hakim developed a dangerous wound that was infected and would not heal. His student, Imam Bayhaqi, asked the resident imam in a town through which he travelled to make dua for Imam Hakim. The imam did so, and a lady who was present at the gathering where the dua was made went home and made dua for him. She fell asleep and dreamed that the Prophet told her to tell Imam Hakim to build a well and give people water to drink and through that he would receive a cure. She told the resident imam who told Imam Bayhaqi who told Imam Hakim. So he built a well and gave water as charity to passers-by and he was soon cured. He received his cure through giving charity, not through medicine.
The outward means we take to become students, namely putting in many hours of effort and hard work, is very important. However, a big part of acquiring knowledge is about lowering ourselves in front of our teachers, and adopting the right etiquette towards them. The companions were the best examples of excellent etiquette. For instance, Ibn Mas‘ud used to carry the Prophet’s sandals (Allah bless him and give him peace).
The more you hold your teacher in great esteem, the more Allah holds you in great esteem. Habib ‘Ali al-Habshi said he did not see the human aspect of his teacher, Habib Abu Bakr. He only saw perfection.
Many academics think they only need books, not teachers. An academic once read the hadith that the Prophet said black seed is the cure for all ills. The Arabic word for seed is habbah (), and he read it incorrectly as hayyah (), which means snake, so he thought the hadith said the black snake is the cure for all ills. He ate a venomous black snake and went blind and eventually died from the snake’s poison.
It is often the case that we make subtle mistakes when we read books without the guidance of teachers. This can lead to diseases of the heart which can cause our hearts to die. It can also cause us to develop an ego. We imagine that we have different titles and think we are better than our teachers. Imam Ghazali said this is one of the things that will lead to our destruction in the hereafter. We must ask Allah to keep us from taking this path.