61. Knowledge

Allah, the Wise, has said:

وَ عَلَّمَكَ ما لَمْ تَكُنْ تَعْلَمُ‏

“And He has taught you what you did not know”1

The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) said:

لاَ يُحِبُّ الْعِلْمَ اِلاَّ السَّعِيْدُ

“None loves knowledge except the one, who is fortunate (and prosperous)”2

Short Explanation

The way to attain cognisance of God and the Sharia’h is by means of knowledge. Knowledge is an embellishment for man in this world, and causes its owner to become one of those with whom God is pleased.

One who possesses knowledge, ought to realize that the acquisition of an hour of knowledge demands a life-time of practice (in accordance with the knowledge). Thus, when one seeks to acquire knowledge he should bear in mind that he has to practice what he acquires. This is because God, regarding a scholar that does not act in accordance with the knowledge that he possesses, has said: “From seventy of my punishments (that I would subject him to), the least that I would do to him is to remove the sweetness of My remembrance from his heart.”3

Knowledge does not mean mere memorization of terminologies, or information that is not beneficial, or information that is accompanied by evil intentions such as exhibiting one’s scholarly calibre before other scholars - in which case it would only serve to be an encumbrance and burden - rather, it means the comprehension of piety, (divine) cognisance and certainty.

1) Al-Hajj Sheikh Abbas Qummi

The late Sheikh Abbas Qummi, the author of Mafatih al-Jinan narrates:

“When I had compiled and published the book Manazil al-Akhirah, it reached the hands of Sheikh Abd al-Razzaq who used to explain religious rulings daily before dhuhr time in the holy courtyard of Hadhrat Ma’sumah (peace be upon her).

My father, Kerbalai Muhammad Ridha, was greatly fond of Sheikh Abd al-Razzaq and would attend his sessions every day. The Sheikh had procured the book Manazil al-Akhirah and used to read from it for his audience.

One day my father returned home and said to me: O Sheikh Abbas! I wish you would be like that person, who explains religious rulings, and climb onto the pulpit and recite from the book in the manner he recited for us today.

Several times I felt the urge to tell him that the book was authored by me, but I restrained myself and just said to him: “Pray to God that He may grant (me) grace and success (for such a venture).” 4

2) The Tutor of Jibraeel

Once, Jibraeel was engaged in a conversation with the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) when Imam Ali (peace be upon him) entered. As soon as Jibraeel’s eyes fell upon him he stood up and displayed great respect towards him (peace be upon him).

Witnessing this, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) asked: O Jibraeel! For what reason did you display such respect for this young man? Jibraeel replied: How could I not exhibit deference towards him when I am under his obligation by virtue of the fact that he has taught me!

The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) inquired: What teaching? Jibraeel replied: After God created me, He questioned me: “Who are you and who am I?” I did not know what to answer and so remained silent for some time whereupon this youth appeared before me in a state of light and taught me that I should say: “You are the Glorious and Beautiful Lord while I am Jibraeel, a lowly servant.” And it is for this reason that when I saw him now, I paid my respects to him.

How old are you, Jibraeel? Asked the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny). He replied: O Prophet of God! In the heavens there is a star, which rises once every thirty thousand years, and I have witnessed it thirty thousand times!5

3) The Practicing A’alim

Sheikh Ahmad Ardabili, popularly known as Muqaddas Ardabili (d. 993 AH) was an abstentious and practicing scholar, and lived contemporaneous to scholars such as Sheikh Bahaai, Mulla Sadra and Mir Damaad. His grave lies within the holy shrine of Imam Ali (a.s.) in the city of Najaf. It has been reported that once a person had come to Najaf for pilgrimage and not recognising him, had requested him to wash his clothes.

Muqaddas agreed and after washing it, brought it to the pilgrim. It was at this point that the pilgrim happened to become aware of his identity and felt greatly embarrassed at his own behaviour, and the people too rebuked him for his conduct. Muqaddas, however, said:

Why do you censure him? Nothing (significant) has happened. The rights of brethren-in-faith are far more than what I have done for him.6

4) The Dangers of Possessing Knowledge without Prior Purification (of the Soul)

Ali Ibn Muhammad al-Mawardi, an inhabitant of Basra, was a judge, a teacher of the Shafi’i jurisprudence and a contemporary of Sheikh Tusi. He narrates:

I had expended great effort in writing a book on the religious rulings relating to transaction and business, and had memorized all the details in connection with the topic such that when the book reached completion, it crossed my mind that I was the most learned of all in this topic; I was overcome with pride, conceit and vanity.

One day, two Arab bedouins came to my assembly and sought to know from me the ruling in connection with a transaction that had transpired in their village. The issue also had four other offshoots to it; however I was unable to provide answers to any one of them.

For a while I was lost in thought, I then said to myself: You claim to be the most learned of all your contemporaries in this chapter of jurisprudence; how is it that you are unable to answer the questions of the inhabitants of the village?

Turning to them, I confessed: I do not know the answers. Astonished, they said: You ought to study more in order that you are able to answer the questions.

They left me and proceeded to refer their queries to a person, who in terms of knowledge, was inferior to even some of my students, but when they presented their questions to him, he was able to provide them with the answers. The Bedouins were delighted to hear the answers and praising him, left for their village.

Al-Mawardi says: This incident caused me to come to my senses and extricate my soul from conceit and vanity of knowledge so that I may not incline towards self-praise in the future.7

5) Asma’i and the Officious Grocer

Asma’i8 narrates:

The initial period of my education was endured in poverty and indigence. Every morning when I would leave my house for acquiring knowledge I would have to pass by an officious grocer who would question me: Where are you going? I would reply: I am going to gain knowledge. On my way back home, he would repeat the same question.

At times, he would say: ‘Don’t waste your life. Why don’t you learn some work so that you can become wealthy and affluent? Give me these books and papers of yours; I shall put them in the wine-jar and you will see nothing shall remain of them.’
He would constantly reproach me as a result of which I would become disturbed, mentally.

Days passed by with such great financial hardships that I would be unable to buy even a garment for myself.

Years passed till one day a messenger of the ruler of Basra approached me and asked me to present myself before the ruler. I said to him: “How can I present myself before him in this torn garment?“ The messenger departed, only to arrive again with some clothes and money. I wore the clothes and arrived before the ruler. He said: I have selected you to educate the Caliph’s son and so you must proceed to Baghdad.

I set off for Baghdad and approached the Abbasid caliph, Harun al-Rashid, who ordered me to educate his son Muhammad Amin. With this, my financial state gradually became extremely good.

Years passed and when Muhammad Amin had achieved a high level of knowledge, Harun desired to test him asked him to deliver a sermon. One Friday, Muhammad delivered an extremely eloquent sermon, which greatly pleased Harun and so, turning to me, said: What do you aspire for? I replied: I wish to return to my birth-place, Basra. He accepted my request and arranged for me to return to Basra with great honour and esteem.

The people of Basra came to meet me and amongst them was the officious grocer. As soon as my eyes fell upon him, I said: Do you observe the fruits which that knowledge and those papers have yielded?

Apologetic and rueful, he said: I uttered those words out of ignorance. Even though the returns may be delayed, but knowledge does yield returns that possess worldly and religious benefits.

  • 1. Qur’an, 4:113.
  • 2. Jami’ al-Sa’adat, v. 1, p. 104.
  • 3. Tadhkirah al-Haqaiq, p. 58.
  • 4. Seema-e-Farzanagan, p. 153; Mard-e-Taqwa wa Fadhilat, p. 48.
  • 5. Tuhfah al-Majalis, p. 80.
  • 6. Muntakhab al-Tawarikh, p. 181.
  • 7. Safinah al-Bihar, v. 2, p. 162.
  • 8. A'bd Al-Malik Ibn Qareeb Basri (d. 213 A.H.) had been of the great narrators of poems and Arab traditions, and has several books to his credit.