Right n. 16: The Right of the Trainer through Knowledge
حق سائسك بالعلم
وأَمَّا حَقُّ سَائِسِكَ بالعِلْمِ فالتَّعْظِيمُ لَهُ والتَّوْقِيرُ لِمَجْلِسِهِ وَحُسْنُ الاسْتِمَاعِ إليهِ وَالإقْبَالُ عَلَيْهِ وَالْمَعُونةُ لَهُ عَلَى نفْسِكَ فِيمَا لا غِنَى بكَ عَنْهُ مِنْ الْعِلْمِ بأَنْ تُفَرِّغَ لَهُ عَقلَكَ وَتُحْضِرَهُ فَهْمَكَ وتُزَكِّي لَهُ قَلْبَكَ وتُجَلِّى لَهُ بَصَرَكَ بتَرْكِ اللّذَّاتِ وَنقْص الشّهَوَاتِ، وَأَنْ تَعْلَمَ أَنَّكَ فِيمَا أَلقَى إلَيْكَ رَسُولُهُ إلَى مَنْ لَقِيَكَ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْجَهْلِ فَلَزِمَكَ حُسْنُ التَّأْدِيَةِ عَنْهُ إلَيْهِمْ، ولا تَخُنْهُ فِي تَأْدِيَةِ رِسَالَتِهِ وَالْقِيَامِ بهَا عَنْهُ إذا تَقَلَّدْتَهَا. وَلا حَوْلَ وَلا قُوَّةَ إلا باللهِ.
And the right of the one who trains you through knowledge is venerating him, and respecting his meetings, and listening well to him, and being responsive to him,1 and helping him for yourself in the knowledge that you need by freeing your mind for him, and presenting your understanding to him, and purifying your heart for him, and fixing your eyes on him by means of abandoning leisures and diminishing lust.
And you should know that regarding what he teaches you, you are considered as his messenger to teach when you meet the ignorant ones. Therefore, it is binding upon you to render on his behalf properly, and not cheat in the fulfillment of his mission, and strive to deliver what you undertake. And there is no power but in God.
We can therefore summarize the following rights of teachers as expressed by Imam Sajjad :
1 - Respecting our teacher
2 - Seeking our teacher’s help in acquiring knowledge
3 - Getting whole-heartedly prepared to attend our teacher’s lectures
4 - Not raising our voice over our teacher’s voice
5 - Not responding to questions that others ask him before he does
6 - Not talking with others while we are in the presence of our teacher
7 - Not gossiping about anyone
8 - Defending our teacher if someone speaks bad of him
9 - Covering up the faults of our teacher
10 - Advertising our teacher’s nobility
11 - Not associating with our teacher’s enemies
12 - Not acting as an enemy towards his friends
Before discussing the rights of teachers, we must consider the high value of knowledge from the viewpoint of Islam and the Holy Qur’an. The value of knowledge is clear to all. Everyone values knowledge, and is naturally humble to those who possess it. The Prophet of God who was the seal of the Prophets is told to read in the very first instance of receiving divine revelations:
اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ
"Read! In the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created…” [The Holy Qur’an, al-‘Alaq 96:1]
Then the subject of teaching the use of the pen is revealed:
الَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِالْقَلَمِ عَلَّمَ الْإِنسَانَ مَا لَمْ يَعْلَمْ
"… He who taught (the use of) the Pen. Taught man that which he knew not.” [The Holy Qur’an, al-‘Alaq 96:4-5]
It is very important to notice that the very first instance of revelation of divine teachings is about reading, teaching, the pen, etc. This shows that it is teaching and knowledge that can elevate man from the lowest ranks to the highest positions, and finally approach the threshold of God. The Holy Qur’an asks man’s conscience to judge about knowledge:
قُلْ هَلْ يَسْتَوِي الَّذِينَ يَعْلَمُونَ وَالَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ إِنَّمَا يَتَذَكَّرُ أُوْلُوا الْأَلْبَابِ
“Say: Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know? It is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition.” [The Holy Qur’an, al-Zumar 39:9]
Consider the following verses:
قل لا يَسْتَوي الخَبِيثُ و الطَّيِّبُ
“Say: Not equal are things that are bad and things that are good …” [The Holy Qur’an, al-Maida 5:100]
وَمَا يَسْتَوِي اْلأَعْمَى وَالْبَصِيرُ
وَلا الظُّلُمَاتُ وَلا النُّورُ و لا الظِّلُّ و لا الحَرُورُ
The phrases “things that are good”, “the seeing”, “the light”, “the heat of the sun” all represent the results of having knowledge, while “things that are bad”, “the blind”, “depths of Darkness” and “the chilly shade” all represent the results of ignorance.
Consider the following verse:
ً قُلْ كَفَى بِاللّهِ شَهِيدًا بَيْنِي وَبَيْنَكُمْ وَمَنْ عِندَهُ عِلْمُ الْكِتَاب
In this verse, those who have knowledge have been described to be as a witness to Prophethood along with God, and their high rank near God is clarified.
To stress the importance of acquiring knowledge, the Qur’an says:
يَرْفَعِ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ دَرَجَاتٍ
“… God will raise up to (suitable) ranks (and degrees), those of you who believe and who have been granted (mystic) knowledge …”[The Holy Qur’an, al-Mujadila 58:11]
Now that we have briefly expressed the value of knowledge, we will attend to the worth of the teacher.
God’s Prophet said:
زَيارَةُ العُلَماءِ أَحَبُّ إلى اللهِ تَعالَى مِن سَبعِينَ طَوافاً حَولَ البَيتِ وَأَفضَلُ مِن سَبْعينَ حِجَّةً وَعُمْرَةً مَبرورَةً مَقْبولَةً وَرَفَعَ اللهُ تَعالى لَهُ سَبعِينَ دَرَجَةً وَأَنزَلَ اللهُ عَلَيهِ الرَّحْمَةَ وَشَهِدَتْ لهُ المَلائِكَةُ أنَّ الجَنَّةَ وَجَبَتْ لهُ.
“Visiting the knowledgeable people is more loved by God than seventy circumambulations of His Holy House, and more excellent than performing seventy Hajj and ‘Umrah (obligatory or recommended) pilgrimages that are approved and accepted. God will raise the status of the one who visits knowledgeable people seventy degrees, and send down mercy upon him and the angels will bear witness that Heaven is guaranteed for him.”2
The Noble Prophet encouraged the people to attend the meetings held by the knowledgeable people:
يَا أبَا ذَرٍّ! الجُلوسُ سَاعَةً عِندَ مُذاكَرَةِ العِلمِ أحَبُّ إلى اللهِ مِن قِيامِ ألْفِ لَيلَةٍ يُصَلّى في كُلِّ لَيلَةٍ ألفَ رَكْعَةٍ. و الجُلوسُ سَاعَةً عِندَ مُذاكَرَةِ العِلمِ أحَبُّ إلى اللهِ مِن ألْفِ غَزْوَةٍ وَقِراءَةِ القُرآنِ كُلِّهِ.
“O Abu-Dharr! Attending a scholarly discussion for an hour is more loved by God the Almighty than a thousand nights of standing in prayer, performing a thousand units of prayer each night. Attending a scholarly discussion for an hour is more loved by God than attending a thousand battles and reciting the whole Qur’an.”3
The Prophet said:
ما مِنْ مُؤمِنٍ يَقْعُدُ ساعَةً عِندَ العَالِمِ إلاّ نَاداهُ رَبُّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ: جَلَسْتَ إلى حَبيبي، وَعِزَّتِي وَجَلالي لأُسْكِنَنَّكَ الجَنَّةَ مَعَهُ وَلا أُبالي.
“No believer sits with a scholar for an hour but that his Lord, the Exalted, the High, calls out to him: You sat with My beloved. I swear by My Majesty and Honor that I will make Heaven your abode. There are no obstacles for this.”4
We can see that the Prophet has stated that one who is busy teaching is loved by God and is considered God’s friend. Both him and the students attending his lectures are given a promise to enter Heaven. We should add that this reward is only meant for the teacher and the student who have pure intentions and work for God’s sake.
Imam Jawad said:
مَنْ أصْغَى إلى ناطِقٍ فَقَد عَبَدَهُ؛ فإنْ كانَ النّاطِقُ عَن اللهِ فَقَد عَبَدَ اللهَ، وإنْ كانَ النّاطِقُ يَنْطِقُ عَن لِسانِ إبْلِيسَ فَقَدْ عَبَدَ إبْليسَ.
“Whoever listens to a speaker has worshipped him. If the speaker is from God, (and is teaching divine things,) then the listener has worshipped God. But if the speaker speaks through the tongue of Satan (and is saying evil things,) then he has worshipped Satan.”5
In this tradition, the role of speaking, and its possible influences is stressed to the extreme points of being divine or Satanic. If the listener considers the words of the teacher to be valuable, it can be very effective on him.
In the following addressed to Malik al-Ashtar, Imam Ali recommends associating with people of knowledge:
أكْثِرْ مُدارَسَةَ العُلَماءِ وَمُناقَشَةَ الحُكَماءِ في تَثْبيتِ ما صَلُحَ عَلَيهِ أمْرُ بِلادِكَ وإقامَةِ ما اسْتَقامَ به النّاسُ قَبْلَكَ.
“O Malik! Study often with the scholars and have frequent discussions with the wise in consolidating what is suitable for the prosperity of your land, and in establishing that by which the people before you were in a sound state.”6
Umar ibn Abdul Aziz was a child from the Umayyad clan. He used to repeat a slogan devised by Mu`awiyah against Imam Ali when he played with other children. One day when his teacher was passing by, he heard him. Later in class when the teacher was teaching, he gave Umar a mean look. Umar asked the teacher for the reason.
The teacher said: “O’ my son! Today I heard you curse Imam Ali . Since when have you become sure that Ali deserves to be cursed?” Then Umar promised his teacher to quit doing that. This advice of the teacher was so effective that when Umar ibn Abdul Aziz became the Caliph, he banned this practice, and instead ordered the following verse to be recited:7
إِنَّ اللّهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالإِحْسَانِ
“God commands justice, the doing of good…” [The Holy Qur’an, al-Naĥl 16:90]
The son of Yazeed was called Mu`awiyah. When he became the ruler, he ruled for only a few days. Then he invited the people, climbed up the pulpit and resigned from his Caliphate. His mother and Marwan opposed his decision, but it was of no use. Then they tried to find out the reason behind his resignation.
They found out that Umar al-Maqsoos who was his teacher had been very influential in changing the course of life of Mu`awiyah and his viewpoints. Then they went to him and interrogated him as to why he had established the love for Imam Ali in the heart of Mu`awiyah. Then they dug a ditch and buried the teacher alive.8 This is how a teacher can influence someone and change his life.
In the following verses, God has clarified this for us:
فَلْيَنظُرِ الْإِنسَانُ إِلَى طَعَامِهِ أنَّا صَبَبْنا المَآءَ صَبّاً ثُمَّ شَقَقْنا الأرْضَ شَقّاً
فَأَنبَتْنَا فِيهَا حَبًّا
“Then let man look at his food (and how We provide it): For that We pour forth water in abundance, and We spilt the earth in fragments, And produce therein corn.” [The Holy Qur’an, ‘Abasa 80:24-27]
These verses apparently refer to our food since they discuss rain, the earth and the production of food. However, the Immaculate Imams have interpreted them to refer to our spiritual food. The late Fayz Kashani reported in his Tafsir-i-Safi: “Imam Baqir was asked about the meaning of “then let man look at his food”. The Imam replied: “By ‘his Food,’ it is meant knowledge. One must be careful where he gets it from.”9
Fayz Kashani then goes on to say: “There are two types of food - food for the body and food for the mind. This is because we are composed of the body and the spirit. Man should think about how food is produced. It rains, the earth gets soft, and seedlings emerge. Man should also think about his food for the mind. He should ponder over how knowledge is revealed in the lands of the Prophets to the hearts of the Prophets, and how the minds of those who are ready to become educated receive this descended revelation and blossom.
Therefore, we should try to obtain our knowledge through divine lines such as the Prophet and the Immaculate Imams . Spoiled or poisoned food is harmful to the body. At times digesting such food might take us to the border of death. Likewise, what we hear and see affects our nervous system, our mind and our spirit. We might be misled, and lose our chances of Prosperity. It might result in both our life and our Hereafter to be ruined. We have already discussed the rights of hearing and sight before in detail.
Imam Baqir said:
إذَا جَلَسْتَ إلى عَالِمٍ فَكُنْ عَلى أنْ تَسْمَعَ أحْرَصَ مِنْكَ عَلى أنْ تَقولَ. وَتَعَلَّمْ حُسنَ الإسْتِماعِ كَما تَتَعَلَّمُ حْسنَ القَولِ، وَلا تَقْطَعْ عَلَيهِ حَديثَهُ.
“When you sit with a scholar, be more eager to hear him than to talk yourself. Learn how to listen well just as you learn how to speak well, and do not interrupt his speech.”10
In general, it is rude to interrupt someone who is talking. It is even ruder to interrupt your teacher. A polite student should wait for his teacher to finish talking, and then ask his question.
Imam Sadiq quoted on the authority of Imam Ali :
إنَّ مِن حَقِّ العالِمِ أنْ لا تُكْثِرَ عَلَيه السُّؤالَ وَلا تَأخُذَ بِثَوبِهِ وإذا دَخَلْتَ عَلَيهِ وَعِندَهُ قَومٌ فَسَلِّمْ عَليهِم جَميعاً وَخُصَّهُ بالتَّحِيَّةِ دونَهُم وَاجْلِسْ بَينَ يَدَيْهِ وَلا تَجْلِسْ خَلفَهُ وَلا تَغْمِزْ بِعَيْنِكَ ولا تُشِرْ بِيَدِكَ وَلا تُكْثِرْ مِن قَولِ (قال فلانٌ وقَالَ فُلانٌ) خِلافاً لِقَوْلِهِ وَلا تَضْجُرْ بِطُول ِصُحْبَتِه، فإنمَّا مَثَلُ العالِمِ مَثَلُ النَّخْلَةِ تَنْنتظِرُها حتىّ يَسْقُطَ علَيكَ مِنها شَيءٌ.
"The rights of a scholar include the following:
1 - You should not ask him too many questions,
2 - You should not take hold of his cloak.
3 - When you go to see him and there are some people with him, greet them all and give him especial greetings.
4 - Sit in front of him, and do not sit behind him.
5 - Do not wink, or point with your fingers.
6 - Do not keep saying ‘So and so said’, in opposition to what he has said.
7 - Do not get upset if you have to wait a while to talk with him, since his case is similar to the case of a palm tree, that is, you have to wait for a while before you can get some dates.”11
Next, we will describe the case of a teacher and a student both of whom were Prophets. We will see how they respected their teacher and how they taught ways to teach, question and how to learn to everyone.
In Chapter al-Kahf of the Holy Qur’an, we read the story of the mission of Moses to go after a teacher and learn what he does not know from him. The Qur’an does not name Khidhr, but calls the teacher “one of Our servants”. However, this knowledgeable wise man has been called Khidhr in many traditions.12 Even though the Prophet Moses was one to whom God spoke directly as evidenced by the following verse:
وَكَلَّمَ اللّهُ مُوسَى تَكْلِيمًا
“And to Moses God spoke direct … [The Holy Qur’an, al-Nisaa 4:164]
And he was a Prophet and had a Book of Commandments. Moses was ordered to go to a teacher. He was accompanied by a brave young man from amongst the Israelites called “Yusha’ ibn Noon” (Joshua) to seek and finally find the teacher as we read in the following verse:
فَوَجَدَا عَبْدًا مِّنْ عِبَادِنَا آتَيْنَاهُ رَحْمَةً مِنْ عِندِنَا وَعَلَّمْنَاهُ مِن لَّدُنَّا عِلْمًا
“So they found one of Our servants, on whom We have bestowed mercy from Ourselves, and whom We have taught knowledge from Our own Presence.” [The Holy Qur’an, al-Kahf 18:65]
The especial characteristics of this great teacher include his attainment of the high rank of becoming a servant of God, his prosperity in receiving divine mercy, and his knowledge being taught to him by God. What is obvious is that this student has many advantages over his teacher, but he recognizes that he does not know everything, and suffers the hardships of traveling in order to benefit from the teacher’s especial knowledge. When he meets the teacher, he politely asks a question as we read:
قَالَ لَهُ مُوسَى هَلْ أَتَّبِعُكَ عَلَى أَن تُعَلِّمَنِ مِمَّا عُلِّمْتَ رُشْدًا قَالَ إِنَّكَ لَنْ تَسْتَطِيعَ مَعِيَ صَبْرًا وَكَيْفَ تَصْبِرُ عَلَىٰ مَا لَمْ تُحِطْ بِهِ خُبْرًا قَالَ سَتَجِدُنِي إِنْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ صَابِرًا وَلَا أَعْصِي لَكَ أَمْرًا
“Moses said to him: May I follow thee on the footing that thou teach me something of the (Higher) Truth which thou hast been taught? (The other) said: Verily thou wilt not be able to have patience with me! And how canst thou have patience about things about which thy understanding is not complete? Moses said: Thou wilt find me, if God so will, (truly) patient: nor shall I disobey thee in aught.” [The Holy Qur’an, al-Kahf 18:66-69]
We can see some recommendations that students should use:
1 - Moses introduces himself to be a follower of his teacher, and recognizes his rank to be lower than that of his teacher.
2 - His statement “May I follow thee, on the footing that thou teach me something of the (Higher) Truth which thou hast been taught?” is a sign of absolute humbleness to his teacher.
3 - By saying “that thou teach me” he introduces himself to be ignorant relative to his teacher, and highly respects his noble teacher.
4 - The concepts of following, teaching and patiently learning are all introduced in order to show that a student should follow his teacher. Then he can benefit and learn from his teacher if he is patient.
5 - By “that thou teach me something of the (Higher) Truth,” Moses shows that he is only seeking knowledge, and he is not after a higher rank and position. Therefore, all students should benefit from these words, and expect nothing from their teachers but benefiting from their knowledge.
6 - From “of the (Higher) Truth which thou hast been taught,” we realize that Moses is referring to divine knowledge that God has taught Khidhr. We also learn that the position of being a teacher is a divine rank, and man has learned knowledge from God.
7 - Moses was seeking guidance from Khidhr. He wants to benefit from the blessing of his guidance.
1 - From “Verily thou wilt not be able to have patience with me,” we realize that one cannot learn if he is impatient. One must struggle hard and strive to learn.
2 - The teacher talks this way with the student in order to get him prepared not to rush into conclusions regarding the philosophy behind what Khidhr does.
3 - What is Moses after for which he suffers the hardships of the trip? He is after a good teacher. This teaches us that we should be very patient in order to get a good teacher. We have also read in traditions that we should not seek knowledge from just anyone but try to seek it from divine sources, such as the Teachings of the Immaculate Imams . In what follows, Moses objects to the acts of his teacher when he scuttles the boat; he slays a young man, or he sets up straight a wall they find at the verge of falling down. Moses objects to these acts, but later he is told the reason for doing them.13
Muhammad Ghazali has said that man has several states regarding wealth and knowledge:
3-Benefiting from it.
4-Helping others with it.
He believes that the best state for a teacher is when he is teaching and others are benefiting from his lectures. In this state, he is giving the people insight.
A student should look at his teacher as a patient looks at a psychologist. The psychologist prescribes medications for his patient in order to help his patient gain his health. Likewise, a teacher invites his students to mental perfection and development of higher human characteristics. The teacher uses advice for healing. Thus, a student should carefully listen to his teacher in order to be saved from illnesses such as greed, haughtiness and excessive pride.14
One of the knowledgeable people in the old days used to give a small amount of money in charity on his way to class each day, and asked God to cover up the faults of his teacher from his eyes, and to secure the continuation of the blessing of his teacher’s knowledge for him. Another knowledgeable man never loudly flipped the pages of his book so as not to disturb his teacher.15
Hamdan Isfahani narrated that he was with Sharik when Mahdi, the son of the Abbasid Caliph entered the room. He leaned on the wall and asked Sharik a question about one of the traditions. Sharik did not pay any attention to him. He repeated his question again. Again, Sharik ignored him.
The son of the Caliph told him: “Are you insulting the son of the Caliph?” Sharik said: “No. However, knowledge is more glorious at the threshold of God. I do not want to be disrespectful to it for the sake of others.” Then the son of the Caliph stepped forward and sat down politely. This is how we must seek knowledge.16
That is why Imam Sajjad advises students to be humble to God. A teacher is like a spiritual father who provides sufficient food for the mind for his students. That is why students must respect their teacher. He uses his student’s hearing faculty as a gateway to provide him with this food for the mind. The student must carefully listen to his teacher.
A student should realize that a teacher is the one who provides him with food for his mind and is similar to his father. He should respect his teacher as he respects his father. Therefore, he should not raise his voice above that of his teacher’s. He should be very polite in front of his teacher.
A student should strive to cover up the faults of his teacher, and stress his teacher’s nobilities. They asked Alexander why he respected his teacher so much, and honored him more than his parents? He replied that his parents were only the source of his worldly existence that is ephemeral, while his teacher was the source of his eternal prosperity. A society can be developed if it has capable and sympathetic teachers. Teachers have sacrificed their most valuable asset - that is their life, in order to revitalize the society and save the people from the grips of the ignorant ones and cultural thieves.
Once when Socrates was imprisoned, his students made every effort and sacrifice to save him. However, he did not accept. He preferred to die rather than break the law and harm social order.
Finally, we mention the practice of Imam Husayn . Aba Abdul Rahman Solami taught one of the children of Imam Husayn to recite the Chapter Fatiha of the Holy Qur’an.
Imam Husayn gave him one thousand coins, one thousand robes and a mouthful of pearls. Some people considered this too great a reward. However, he said: “How can this reward compensate for his generous grant? Nothing is enough to compensate for teaching the Holy Qur’an.”17
- 1. In the other version it is followed by:”You should not raise your voice toward him. You should never answer anyone who asks him about something, in order that he may be the one who answers. You should not speak to anyone in his session nor speak ill of anyone with him. If anyone ever speaks ill of him in your presence, you sh ould defend him. You should conceal his faults and make manifest his virtues. You should not sit with him in enmity or show hostility toward him in friendship. If you do all of this, God’s angels will give witness for you that you went straight to him and learned his knowledge for God’s sake, not for the sake of the people.”
- 2. Al-Hayat, v.2, p.272, quoted from ‘Uddat’ul Da’i, p.66.
- 3. Ibid. quoted from Bihar al-Anwar, v.1, p.203.
- 4. Ibid.
- 5. Tuhaf al-‘Uqul, p.336.
- 6. Nahjul Balaghah, letter no.53.
- 7. Al-Kamil, Ibn Athir, v.5, p.42.
- 8. Hayat al-Hayawan, v.1, p.88.
- 9. Tafsir Safi, v.2, p.789.
- 10. Al-Hayat, v.2, p.273, v.1, p.222.
- 11. Mishkat al-Anwar Fi Ghurar al-Akhbar, tradition no.687.
- 12. Khidr means ‘green’. His knowledge is fresh and green, and drawn out of the living sources of life for it is drawn from God’s own Presence. See Yusuf Ali’s Translation of the Holy Qur’an, n.2411, p.748.
- 13. You can read the detailed account of this in the Holy Qur’an, al-Kahf 18:62-82.
- 14. Al-Mahajjah al-Bayda, v.1, p.119.
- 15. Adab-i-Ta’lim wa Tarbiyat Islam, p.333.
- 16. Ibid. p.323.
- 17. Lu’lu wa’l Marjan, p.44, quoted from Manaqib Ibn ShahrAshub.