One: Counsels for Students of Knowledge
by Shaykh Salih al-Ghursi
The following article presents the first set out of four counsels. These were recorded by the esteemed Shaykh Salih al-Ghursi for SeekersGuidance. They have been translated and transcribed with subtitles – the video can be found here.
Shaykh Salih al-Ghursi is a senior theologian and scholar of the rational sciences based in Konya, Turkey. He delivers a class for Dar al Fuqaha: SeekersGuidance seminary in Istanbul.
In the Name of Allah, the Encompassingly Merciful, the Particularly Merciful. All praise belongs to Allah. May blessings and peace be upon our master Muhammad ibn Abdullah, and upon his followers, his companions, and those who follow them.
The following are counsels for students of sacred knowledge.
- Making one’s intention sound.
The most important thing for the student of knowledge and the first thing one should pay attention to and take care of is to make their intention sound, making the intention sincerely for Allah’s sake alone.
One does this out of obedience to the Divine Command to learn and read. Because of this, the first revelation Allah sent down from His Book upon his Messenger was: “Read, in the Name of your Lord” (Quran, 96:1). That is, one should read in the Name of God. That means one does not read in the name of worldliness, position, or money, but solely in obedience to the Divine Command.
Likewise, one should refine oneself with knowledge and act on it. One should make it a means to teach, provide guidance, convey the message—all of these are foundations of Islam.
All of this relates to rectifying one’s intention.
Because of the importance of the intention, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) emphasized it, saying: “Verily actions are by their intentions, and one shall only have that which one intended. So whoever’s migration was to Allah and His Messenger, then their migration was to Allah and His Messenger. And whoever’s migration was for some worldly gain, or for a woman to marry, then their migration is for whatever they migrated for.”
In both cases, the individuals are performing migration, getting tired, passing much travel and travail, and forsaking rest. However, one of them attains great reward, of the greatest of rewards; the other does not gain any reward at all—it is enough for them to not be held to account, neither incurring loss nor gain.
Because of the great importance of intention, scholars advised that an author of a book in any of the Islamic sciences should begin with this hadith. They also said that this hadith is a third of the religion.
- Studying under a scholar who is proficient in the science studied.
This is important because proficiency is the foundation of taking sound knowledge. The teacher should be someone with recognized proficiency and mastery of the science, who themself has to have taken it from trustworthy, recognized, and well-known scholars In addition, the teacher must have correct tenets of faith (‘aqida). This is because the student grows accustomed to the teacher’s character, ideology, and beliefs. Therefore, scholars constantly emphasize that one should take knowledge from a scholar whose tenets of faith are sound.
Today, theology has become weakened, and ideologies have become confused, especially in universities. And among many academics and professors, tenets of faith have been greatly corrupted. Thus, a student of knowledge, especially when studying under academics, must be very cautious. This is because scholars who studied under traditional scholars never—or very rarely—have corrupt beliefs, because they generally would have taken their knowledge from people of sound beliefs. Only very rarely would their creed be unsound. Academics, on the other hand, constantly place us in danger of corrupt beliefs. This is due to the pressure of Orientalism and Western influence, which attempts to use them as tools for its own goals and purposes: to destroy Islam in the name of Islam. Hence, one who takes their knowledge from academics and university professors must observe caution in taking knowledge from them, and likewise regarding whom they take knowledge from and who is unsuitable to take from.
- Studying in an ordered and step by step manner.
This is the third foundation of learning and study. That it be in an ordered manner means that it follows an established method of teaching and learning. Not—as often occurs—that one takes a class with this sheikh, just like that, and a class with that sheikh, likewise, and a class with another sheikh… This is all done in an unordered manner. It does not bring a good result. It has a weak result. One who studies in this manner does not become strong in their knowledge. Their grounding will always be unsolid; the edifice of sound knowledge cannot rest upon its foundations.
Knowledge can only be built on method-based knowledge. This means there that must be a method which has been approved by scholars experienced in establishing educational methodologies. This must be in a step by step manner: from the first text to the intermediate level to the detailed works; from the basic sciences to the more complex, and from the most important sciences to the other sciences. Imam Ghazali laid this out in his work The Revival of the Religious Sciences. Ibn Khaldun, too, laid it out in his Muqaddimah. Likewise, everyone who discussed the methods and means of education affirmed these: that seeking knowledge must be done in an ordered fashion, that it follow a method— a method placed for it accepted by those of expertise in the field, taught, examined, affirmed, and accepted. Then one follows this method.
Imam Ghazali referred to the first level of this step by step process of learning as al-iqtisar, to the second, intermediate level as al-iqtisad, and to the third level as al-istiqsa’. Meaning that every science has these three graduated levels.
Thereafter, one moves from one science to another. The ideal case is that one becomes proficient in one science before moving onto another. One does not join between two sciences at one time. This is the ideal. This is because if one focuses on one science at a time, one will become proficient in it, then one will move on to another. And if one becomes proficient in a science, one will become accustomed to studying to the level of proficiency. Thus, one will learn the second, third, and forth sciences proficiently. Whereas if one divides one’s attention, often one does not achieve proficiency. This is what is ideal, but this ideal might not be feasible or facilitated; it is not a condition. It is what is better in terms of educational methodology and learning.
- Striving and struggling.
The fourth foundation we mention—without which firm, sound knowledge does not happen—is striving and struggle in knowledge and making the most of one’s time and spending it on knowledge. It is the ideal and important in seeking knowledge that one devotes one’s time to seeking knowledge; one does not affiliate anything else with knowledge. That is why it is said that knowledge does not accept a co-sharer.
Scholars say, “If you do not give knowledge your all, it will not give you a thing.” If you do not give it your all, it will not give you anything. However, if you give it your all, it may give you something. This is what relates to striving, struggle, making the most of one’s time, and freeing oneself up for knowledge.
- To observe the proper etiquettes (adab).
It is important for the seeker of knowledge to be observant of the etiquettes of knowledge. Firstly, with one’s teachers: holding them in high esteem and regard, honouring them and respecting them. One is cognisant of the teacher’s rights even more so than one’s father’s. This is because the teacher is the father to the soul, while one’s parent is the father to the body. They have said, “One who is recalcitrant towards their parents, Allah will not place blessing in their lifespan. And one who is recalcitrant towards their teacher, Allah will not place blessing in their knowledge.”
The second component of this is observing the Islamic etiquettes and the etiquettes of brotherhood with one’s peers in seeking knowledge: always honouring them, holding them in high regard, serving them, and being careful with their feelings.
The third component is one’s manners towards books, whether those one is studying or other Islamic texts. One does not place them on the floor. One does not put them in an unbefitting location. Even one of the etiquettes is that, when placing books on top of each other, to put the most important above the others. Firstly, one puts the Book of Allah highest; then works of tafsir, then hadith, then the books which contain the most Quranic verses or hadith, and so on.
The scholars have laid a principle regarding observing the foundations of learning and teaching. They said: “People were only prevented from attainment because they squandered the foundations.” These foundations which we have mentioned must be observed. If one does not observe them, one will be prevented from attaining unto knowledge and from the goal of knowledge.
And Allah Most High knows best. We will suffice with this amount of counsel.
Blessings and peace be upon our Master Muhammad, and his followers and companions.
And all praise is for Allah, Lord of the worlds.
Shaykh Salih al-Ghursi and Dar al Fuqaha
It is an honour to have Shaykh Salih teach within the SeekersGuidance seminary in Istanbul. Read about him here.