IMAM AL-SHA'RANI'S LAWAQIH AL-ANWAR AL-QUDSIYYAH FI BAYAN AL-'UHUD AL-MUHAMMADIYYAH
COMMANDMENT NO. 4
ENGAGING IN KNOWLEDGE IS BETTER THAN PERFORMING SALAT
[We took the general oath of allegiance from the Messenger of Allah, on whom be the regard and salutation of Allah], that we will be addicted to reading books of knowledge and teaching people day and night apart from performing the prescribed prayers and attending to necessary needs
The opinion of Imam al-Shafi'i is that طلب العلم على وجه الإخلاص أفضل من صلاة النافلة [seeking knowledge by way of sincerity is better than supererogatory prayers]. The blessed Prophet did not categorise the various ibadat in the gradation of their rewardability except he having the knowledge of the occurrence of boredom or weariness for those who perform them even in matters of obligation. Thus if boredom occurs they move to another obligatory act to that matter which is least preferred. Likewise if the boredom happens again in that they will move to another lesser preferred or preferred or more preferred obligation so long as they do not find in their selves boredom in it. The reasons for the variety in obligation is due to the presence of boredom in it if one continues to perform it.
Imam al-Shafi'i used to divide his night into three parts: one part for sleeping, one for reading hadith and deducing ahkam, and the last for tahajjud. He is reported to have said "had it not for the intellectual discourses with the brothers and the tahajjud at night I would not have loved to stay in this world". But then it is required of one to devote his night and day in reading books only if his intention in respect of it is righteous.
According to Dawud al-Ta'i طالب العلم كالمحارب فإذا أفنى عمره في تعليم كيف القتال فمتى يقاتل [the seeker of knowledge is like a warrior, hence if he spends his life in learning the method of fighting, then when will he fight?]. Therefore it is a must for every person to practice what he learns. To engage in one of the two without the other is defective.
Among the many ahadith extolling the importance of seeking knowledge:
[a] من يرد الله به خيرا يفقهه في الدين
"Whomsoever on whom Allah intends a good He will instruct him in the religion".[narrated by both Bukhari and Muslim tracing it to the Prophet]
[b] إذا أراد الله بعبد خيرا فقهه في الدين والهمه رشده
"If Allah intends good on a servant He will instruct him in the religion and His will inspire him (in respect of) his (conscious) actions".
[c] أفضل العبادات الفقه وافضل الدين الورع
"The best of the 'ibadah (service to Allah) is to engage in fiqh (pondering or instructing on religious matters) whereas the best of the religion is wara' (pious disposition)".
[d] فضل العلم خير من فضل العبادة وخير دينكم الورع
"The merit of (seeking) knowledge is better than the merit of (engaging in) 'ibadah, whereas the better part of your religion is wara'".
[e] قليل العلم خير من كثير العبادة وكفى بالمرء فقها إذا عبد الله وكفى بالمرء جهلا إذا عجب برأيه
"(Seeking) little of knowledge is better than (performing) more 'ibadah. Suffice is for a person to have (knowledge of) fiqh when he serves Allah, whereas suffice is for a person to be ignorant when he feels proud of his own opinion".
[f] من سلك طريقا يلتمس فيه علما سهل الله تعالى له به طريقا إلى الجنة
"Whosoever tread a path in search of knowledge Allah, the Self-Elevated, will facilitate for him through it a path towards the paradise".
[g] إن الملائكة لتضع أجنحتها لطالب العلم رضا بما يصنع و إن العالم يستغفر من في السموت ومن في الأرض حتى الحيتان في الماء وفضل العالم على العابد كفضل القمرعلى سائر الكواكب وإن العلماء ورثة الأنبياء إن الأنبياء لم يورثوا دينارا ولا درهما إنما ورثوا العلم فمن أخذه أخذ بحظ وافر
"Verily the angels will lay down their wings to seeker of knowledge pleasing with what he has produced and certainly for the 'alim (scholar) all that in the heavens and earth seek forgiveness for him even the fish (including the whales) in the water (meaning the sea) as the the merit of the 'alim over the 'abid (pious servant of Allah) is like the merit of the moon over the entire constellations, for the 'ulama' are the heirs of the prophets.Certainly the prophets do not bequeath any dinar or dirham, but in fact they bequeath knowledge. Therefore, whosoever get hold of it has indeed taken an abundant portion".
[h] طلب العلم فريضة على كل مسلم وواضع العلم عند غير أهله كمقلد الخنازير الجوهر واللؤلؤ والذهب
"Seeking knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim and the placer of knowledge on one who is not worthy of it is like garlanding the pigs with jewel, pearl and gold".
[i] من جاء أجله وهو يطلب العلم لقي الله ولم يكن بينه وبين النبيين إلا درجة النبوة
"One whose final hour has come while he is engaged in seeking knowledge, he will meet Allah and there will be between him and the prophets (no difference whatsoever) except the status of the Prophethood".
[j] قال لي رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم لا تغدو فتعلم آية من كتاب الله تعالى خير لك من أن تصلي مائة ركعة ولأن تغدو فتعلم بابا من العلم عملت به أو لم تعمل به خير لك من أن تصلي ألف ركعة
"The Messenger of Allah, on whom be the regard and salutation of Allah, said to me: Do not leave your morning, for you learning a verse from the Book of Allah (ت), is better than you performing one hundred raka'at (in salat). Moreover to leave early morning after learning a portion of knowledge which you acted upon or did not act according to it is better for you than you performing one thousand raka'at".
[k] العلم علمان : علم في القلب فذلك العلم النافع وعلم في اللسان وذلك حجة الله على إبن آدم
"Knowledge is of two (types): a knowledge that pertains to the heart and that is the beneficial one and a knowledge in the tongue which is the proof of Allah against the son of Adam".
[l] إن من العلم كهيئة المكنون لا يعلمه إلا العلماء بالله تعالى فإذا نطقوا به لا ينكره إلا أهل العزة بالله عز وجل
"Certainly among the knowledge is something like hidden aspect, none know it except the the Godly 'Ulama', thus if they were to speak by it he will not be denied except the People of Dignity with Allah (عج)".
Know that all these narrations which pronounce the merit of knowledge and learning it is in respect of those who are sincere in that respect. Therefore do not fault in that, for the critics are wide awake. It is important, according to al-Sha'rani, to tread the path of knowledge under the tutelage of a master who can pull you out of these thoughtlessness and ignorance and false claims and you will begin to cry over your negligence in respect of your actions till you start shedding tears of two black lines on your face. But if you do not tread the path as explained above your discomfort in the hereafter will be prolonged. What a great lost is your discomfort in your possession for the word.
Quoting his master 'Ali al-Khawwas, the author says with reference to the hadith إن الله ليؤيد هذا الدين بالرجل الفاجر [indeed Allah will support this religion with sinning man] meaning that people will benefit from the knowledge of the sinner through his studies, rulings and teachings even he is in the form of practicing 'ulama', whereafter Allah will make him enter the hellfire due to his insincerity.
The author has marshaled convincing evidences from reliable sources to support his earnest appeal to Muslims to pursue knowledge. But from the aforementioned discussion, the author has tried to tie the learning of fiqh with the practice of tasawwuf and portrays these two fields as inseparable and as such are essential for a Muslim. That is why he empahsises the need to select a master as guide.
The hadith the explanation of which is given by his master al-Khawwas is an interesting one, particularly on the attitude a Muslim must display in seeking knowledge from anyone regardless of his moral standing is worth noting. He has opened the door wider for Muslims to learn from anyone even if the teacher is a known sinner. But he did not qualify what sort of knowledge one can learn from such sinners, for in another hadith it recorded that the blessed Prophet as having said: إتقوا عمن تأخذوا دينكم [be wary of from whom you take (instruction on) your religion]. Certainly one cannot take instruction on religious matters from one who is known violator of fiqh and ethics. In my opinion the above interpretation of the hadith by al-Khawwas should be taken in its wider context to mean in the sense of defending the faith from foreign or external aggressions, which also include the descriptions by al-Khawwas.
Perhaps people who study Islam under the guidance of the Orientalists may be taken as a distant meaning of the above hadith. No doubt whatever the intention of these Orientalists, they have no doubt created the interests in Islam in the West. Now it is thanks to their great efforts in vilifying Islam many enlightened Westerners have embraced Islam in multitudes thereby disproving the scores of lies churned out by the churches in their desire to protect their followers.