Ten Adab of Seekers of Knowledge
by Ayaz Siddiqui
Recently, I've been taking an interest in learning about manners that every person, Muslim or Non-Muslim should adopt. Islam has a lot to offer in this area, through the examples of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) as well as his Companions. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said "The only reason I have been sent is to perfect good manners". What piqued my interest in this area was my interest in the topic of Tazkiyyah, which I have been interested in for a number of years.
In pursuit of learning more about Tazkiyyah, I bought "Purification of the Heart: Signs, Symptoms, and Cures of the Spiritual Diseases of the Heart." In this book, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf provides commentary on Imam al-Mawlud's Matharat al-Qalb. In this book, Shaykh Hamza provides commentary on the following verses from Imam Mawlud's work:
"I begin by starting with the heart of beginnings,
For it the highest and noblest of beginnings."
Commenting on these two lines, Shaykh Hamza informs us that, as is often the case, we have lost some intricacies of these two verses due to translation. Focusing in on "heart of beginnings", the word for beginning in Arabic is ba'du and the word for heart in Arabic is qalb. Another meaning of qalb in Arabic is to reverse, so in Arabic this phrase can also be read as "qalb ba'du" or "reverse beginning". If we take this literally, what happens if we reverse the word ba'du? In Arabic, we get the word adaab, which means to be courteous, but also to have good manners, morals, etiquettes, etc.
"...one of the keys to purifying the heart is to adorn oneself with good morals..."
- Ayaz Siddiqui -
After reading Shaykh Hamza's commentary where he points out this hidden gem and commented upon it, I realized that one of the keys to purifying the heart is to adorn oneself with good morals, characteristics, etiquettes, and manners.
In order to learn more about the topic of manners, I recently registered for the Prophetic Conduct: Islamic Manners in Everyday Life. Before the course started, we received a lecture describing the Ten Adab of Seekers of Knowledge given by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani (hafidhahullah). My notes on this lecture are below. If I left anything out, mistyped anything, or misunderstood anything, it is from my own shortcomings.
In this lecture Shaykh Faraz expounds upon five outward manners seekers of knowledge must adopt as well as five inner manners.
The Five Outward Manners of Seeking Knowledge
1. Repeat and Review
- Commenting on this advice, Shaykh Faraz tells us that by repetition, even donkeys learn so there is no reason why we humans cannot learn through repetition.
- What do you have to review?
- Key Concepts, conditions, and integrals because if you understand these clearly, you understand what you are studying
- Definitions (e.g. What is ghusl? What is wudu? What is wiping?)
- Shaykh Adib Kallas (rahimahullah) said that matters are known by their definitions.
- So, it is of utmost importance that one learns the definitions of what is being studying.
- Definitions bring out the meanings of things
2. Take Notes
- Take notes while listening, but also make your own notes on readings that are prescribed or supplemental material described in the lecture
- Have pen and paper to jot down the most important things described or items to be researched at a later time
- Diagram what you are studying because diagramming helps to visual concepts
- Diagramming helps you actively engage in what you are learning.
- A seeker of knowledge is called a seeker because they are an active participant in learning. The term "seeker" means that you are the one who is searching and acquiring knowledge. You are not being sought for knowledge.
- Example: Seekers ask "What else can and should we be reading?" when studying a topic with a teacher.
- The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, "The cure for confusion is but to ask".
- We shouldn't be scared to ask questions from our teachers because if we don't ask, it may lead to confusion and misunderstanding. Questions should, however, be asked with the proper etiquette and manners.
- Asking is half of knowledge
- Part of why it is half of knowledge is to know how to ask a question, and the right way of asking questions
- Ask also to confirm what you do understand because Ilm is decisive knowledge so it is imperative to make sure your understanding is correct.
4. Extra Readings
- You must do extra readings in a guided way, not randomly.
- The strong student of knowledge is one who learns the core of their knowledge through teachers but at the same time they continue reading to gain breadth of knowledge.
- You can potentially read many things, but you would be foolish to read books above your current level Ilm. So, ask what is appropriate
- Anytime you are studying one book, try to read a similar book on the same level
- This will deepen your understanding of any topic
- Read actively
5. Prepare for class
- The best way to prepare for a class is to prepare so much that you know the subject better than the teacher
- It is important to prepare for class, just as you prepare to go to school or work.
- It is best to read and understand the text of the section being discussed, however, if nothing else, read over the text of the section.
- When reading, you may encounter questions which you can then ask when given the opportunity
- Many Ulema say that one should prepare for five hours for each one hour of class, however, others have recommended less time for preparation.
The Five Inward Manners of Seeking Knowledge
- Have a high intention of why you are seeking knowledge. Is it to seek the pleasure of Allah (may He be exalted), or are you seeking knowledge to show off?
2. Clear & Defined Goals
- Have a clear sense of what you are seeking, and define what your goals are for seeking knowledge. What are you trying to achieve? How are you going to go about seeking knowledge? Do you want to be able to teach others?
- Have a deep, unshakeable respect for scholars (even when we disagree), writings of scholars, books (which are the vessels containing the water of guidance), and even knowledge itself
- Scholars are inheritors of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace)
- Disrespect of Ulema is sickness of our times
- Have wudu when studying
4. Adab (Manners)
- Have proper adab (manners) - you can only have adab if you learn about it
- Learn something every day and review every day. Our lives are busy, but at the same time we should set aside some time every day to learn
- Seeking knowledge should become intrinsic for the true seeker
- Part of consistency is to have a routine
BONUS: Always act upon knowledge learned
Ayaz Siddiqui is an IT professional working in the DC Metropolitan area and an avid seeker of knowledge.