The Place of Knowledge in Islam

The Virtues and Necessity of Knowledge

This is the second part of a series of articles that are based on al-Fawa’id al-Mukhtarah, one of the seminal works of the great scholar al-Habib Zayn bin Sumayt. The book focuses on a range of topics relevant to daily life and modern challenges for Muslims living in the West.

This article is a summary of the second episode of the podcast The Masters and Millennials by Shaykh Abdurragmaan Khan.


In the name of Allah, Most Merciful and Most Compassionate

Seeking knowledge is beloved to Allah

Knowledge is very important. It has a prominent place in Islam. Allah Most High said to His beloved (peace and blessings be upon him): “Qul Rabbī zidnī ‘ilmā” (Say: my Lord, increase me in knowledge) (Qur’an 20:114). When Allah commands His beloved to do something, that thing is beloved to Him. He instructed the Prophet to ask for an increase in knowledge because it is one of the noblest and honorable possessions. So we should ask Allah as often as possible to increase us in knowledge.

 

Knowledge is the Prophet’s legacy

Abu Hurayrah once announced in the marketplace: “O people, what is preventing you from taking your share of the Prophet’s inheritance? It is being distributed.” They asked where it was being distributed, so he answered, “in the mosque”. They went to the mosque and returned, saying, “O Abū Hurayrah, you said the Prophet’s legacy is being distributed in the mosque, but we found nothing except people praying, reciting the Qur’an and revising knowledge – the fiqh of ḥalāl and ḥarām.” Abu Hurayrah said, “Woe to you, the inheritance of the Prophet is in the gathering of knowledge.” He quoted the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace): “Indeed, prophets did not leave wealth as an inheritance. They only left knowledge as an inheritance.”

 

Seeking knowledge sincerely betters the state of Islam

The Prophet also said to his companions: “You are living in a time when the jurists are many and the teachers are few, those who ask are few and those who give are many, and action is better than knowledge. But a time will come when the jurists are few and the teachers are many.” This statement is very apt in our time. Many people study merely so they can deliver talks. The Prophet referred to this as a bad development. People are not focused on knowledge, but on how well they are able to speak. He went on to say: “A time will come when many will ask and few will give, and knowledge will be better than action.”

 

Knowledge is more splendid than the sun and worldly gains and is food

Ḥasan al-Baṣri said that had knowledge taken a form, it would have been more splendid than the sun, the moon, the stars and the sky. Imam Shāfi’i said whoever desires this world or the next should seek knowledge because he is in need of knowledge in this life and the next. Allah Most High gives worldly things to those He loves as well as to those He does not love, but He only gives knowledge to those He loves.

Ḥabīb ‘Aydarūs bin ‘Umar al-Ḥabshi said knowledge is food for the heart. Therefore he would make the du’a that is made after eating at the end of every gathering of knowledge.

 

Correct worship requires knowledge

Without knowledge, we are not able to worship Allah truly. A man may worship Allah the way angels do, but if he does so without knowledge he will be one of the losers.

‘Umar bin ‘Abd al-‘Azīz said that the one who acts and does good without having knowledge spreads more bad than good. Sayyidina ‘Umar bin al-Khaṭāb (Allah be pleased with him) said that someone who has not studied is not allowed to buy and sell in the marketplace. One who does not study the law of commercial transactions ends up consuming ribā unknowingly.

Consider the following telling example: A man from Morocco was known to exert himself in worship. One day he purchased a female donkey that he did not use for anything. Someone asked him why he was keeping it if he was not using it. He replied that it was there to keep him chaste. He was engaging in bestiality not knowing it is ḥarām. 

It is really important to participate in classes of knowledge. Learning is a cycle that should never end. Imam Ghazāli said one should attend a class every day. We should start by attending at least one a week, and then increase our attendance slowly until we are able to attend a class every day.

 

Author’s Biography

al-Habib Zayn bin Sumayt is a member of the Prophet’s family. His lineage goes through many pious forebears, such as al-Faqīh al-Muqqadam and al-Imām Aḥmad bin ʻIsa al-Muhājir, through Sayyidina Ḥusayn to the Prophet Muḥammad. He is an authority on Shāfi’i fiqh and taṣawwuf. From a young age, he sat in the company of the pious and studied with various scholars and institutes. His most senior teacher was Ḥabīb ‘Alawi bin ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Aydarūs bin Shihāb. He was also taught by Ḥabīb Ja‘far bin Aḥmad al-‘Aydarūs and Ḥabīb Muḥammad bin Sālim bin Ḥafīẓ. Ḥabīb Zayn taught the Islamic sciences in Bayḍa’ for thirty years. Thereafter he moved to Madīnah and opened a ribāṭ that attracted many students before it was forced to close. He was very attached to his wife, as our beloved Prophet was to Sayyidah Khadījah (Allah be pleased with her), and was saddened when she passed away a few years ago.