The Etiquette of Allah’s Elect

Adab 03: The Etiquette of Allah’s Elect – Ustadh Tabraze Azam

Ustadh Tabraze Azam writes on the adab or etiquette of Allah’s elect among the scholars and students of knowledge as attested to by various sources.

In our desire to become true students, we have to uphold the kind of adab, or right etiquette, that colors Allah’s elect. People of knowledge are chosen by Allah Most High, and we cannot do anything more but to aspire to the way of those whose scholarship is recognized by one and all in the hope that we may become of them in our own distinct ways. It is reported that Imam Abu Hanifa said, “If the jurists (fuqaha) aren’t the elect (awliya’) of Allah, then Allah has no elect servant (wali).”

The one who acts according to his knowledge with sincerity is the true faqih, even if he knows only a little. What we see from the righteous, godfearing scholars is that they had a tremendous amount of adab in their seeking of sacred knowledge. Imam al Halwani, a giant of the early Hanafi tradition, famously remarked, “I’ve never touched even a piece of paper without wudu.” This was his state with that which will [eventually] contain knowledge, so what then of the knowledge itself? Being true students is a tall order, and we can only hope that if we traverse in the right direction with the right attitude, that Allah will complete this matter for us.

Continuing on from the last post, the following are the remaining points of adab which we can all strive to uphold in our respective journeys. Entire monographs (and commentaries!) have been written on the duty of upholding adab in seeking sacred knowledge, so keep in mind that this is a brief listing of some important points, and certainly not an exhaustive study.

Seeking Beneficial Knowledge and Practice

Beneficial knowledge is a light which Allah casts into the heart of the one who possesses it. This light brings about reverential awe (khashya) of the Divine which manifests upon the limbs and in the person’s character and dealings, transforming him into an “imam,” a leader to be followed and a prophetic inheritor. Thus, the fruits of your knowledge should be plain in the way you are. If you aren’t doing what you’ve learnt, there is a problem.

Sufyan ibn ‘Uyayna once remarked, “The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, is the perfected criterion, and everything is measured against his character, disposition and guidance. Whatever corresponds to it is truth, and whatever contradicts it is falsehood.” The upshot is that beneficial knowledge is that which is transformative. It calls you to an increase in everything from righteous works to your state with Allah, and makes you put Allah first in life such that you see Him before you proceed with anything.

Humility and Saying “I don’t know”

Sajiqli Zada mentioned a report in his brilliant treatise, Tartib al ‘Ulum, where he says that our master ‘Ali, may Allah ennoble his face, was asked a question whilst he was upon the pulpit and he responded with, “I don’t know.” He was told that this isn’t where you should be standing if you don’t know the answer. So he remarked, “This is where you stand if you know things and don’t know others. As for somebody who [thinks he] knows everything, he has no place.” Such a person is all dressed up for people, with no place to go.

The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “No servant ever humbled himself before Allah Most High except that He raised him.” (Muslim) Imam Shafi‘i stated that he saw Imam Malik being asked forty-eight questions to which he responded to thirty-two of them by saying, “I don’t know.” What this should teach us is that there is no shame in not knowing something. Rather, it is shameful to respond when you don’t know. Studying is a lifelong journey and the religion is deep and vast, so take your time and avoid making false claims.

Good Companions

Allah Most High said, “O believers! Be mindful of Allah and be with the truthful.” (Sura al Tawba 9:119) And the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “A person is on the religion of his close companion, so let each of you look well to whom he takes as a close companion.” (Tirmidhi; Abu Dawud)

Companionship (suhba) is important (we’ll be looking at this in more detail in a future article, insha’Allah). Ibn Jama‘a noted that “dispositions take from one another.” Naturally, then, a student of knowledge would do well to surround himself and keep the close companionship of those who will increase his state, either in knowledge or character, or some other virtuous trait like his work-ethic or resolve. The simple idea is that when you see hardworking people, for example, you are more likely to work hard.

Gratitude and Honoring Knowledge and Its Folk

One of the secrets of Divine Increase is sincere gratitude to Allah. Whether you understood the lesson or you didn’t understand, be grateful for the opportunity and what little you did understand, even if only the words themselves (and not the meanings intended), and you will see an increase. Allah Most High says, “If you show gratitude, I will surely increase you.” (Sura Ibrahim 14:7) If you strive with sincerity and are truly grateful, you can be sure to receive a tremendous windfall.

Gratitude, namely, directing blessings toward that for which they were created, includes benefiting from people of knowledge. But in doing so, we need to give scholars of sacred knowledge the respect and honor they deserve by being inheritors of the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace. This sense of veneration (ta‘dhim) is a duty of those seeking closeness to Allah. As one of the elect said, “Nobody deems the rank and worth of the elect of Allah to be tremendous, except somebody who is of tremendous rank and worth with Allah.”

Allah Is the Giver

This is a return to the point we began with: Allah chooses beneficial knowledge for those He wishes. As we learn from our studies in Theology (‘aqida), there is no necessary correlation between cause and effect. Allah is the creator of everything, and He gives to whosoever He wills. Studying day and night for a decade doesn’t necessarily make a deeply learned person, just as studying on weekends for a decade doesn’t make a well-educated Muslim. Of course, this is usually the case, but the point is that these matters are means which are necessary, but not intrinsically relied upon.

Hence, we should focus our hearts on Allah in our seeking, and not busy ourselves with knowledge from Allah who is the point from beginning to end. If knowledge isn’t making you more Allah-centered, then it is not true knowledge. When somebody remarked to Imam Ahmad that Ma‘ruf al Karkhi, an early ascetic, scholar in his own right, and deeply devotional man, wasn’t very [outwardly] knowledgeable (in comparison to those who were busy with knowledge, but missing the greater point!), he said: “Be quiet! May Allah pardon you. Is the point of knowledge anything other than what Ma‘ruf attained unto?”

May Allah Most High bless us with an ever-increasing state of adab in all our affairs, deep gratitude which He is pleased with, and a heart which can discern truth from falsehood by His Grace. “Our Lord! Grant us mercy from Yourself and guide us rightly through our ordeal.” (Sura al Kahf 18:10)

In this series of articles and podcasts, Ustadh Tabraze Azam discusses the meaning of adab and what it means for a Muslim to do things in the right way.